Cover Reveal: Taming Shadows by Fiona Skye

One of the great things about self-publishing is that we learn by doing.

Author Fiona Skye released a novel called Faerie Tales about a year ago, and while she
was quite satisfied with the novel itself, she wasn’t entirely happy with either the title or the
cover. Unwilling to let it stand, she came up with a new title and engaged the talented
Rachel Bostwick to make a new cover, and here it is:

Four years ago, she changed the world.
To be fair, it wasn’t entirely her fault.

See the book trailer:
(This book was previously published under the title Faerie Tales.)

Art and trailer by Rachel Bostwick:

Book reviews

Review: Hard Luck (Book 1 of The Saga of Menyoral)

Click Here. Buy This Book. Seriously. Now.

4 stars of 5

No one element in this book is astonishing, but calling that a negative would be like taking a bite of an incredible new cookie and saying, “Meh. It’s just another cookie. Flour, sugar, butter and some other things. Same as any other one.” Some things are more than the sum of their parts. Some cookies are so good that I keep the whole jar in my lap and refuse to share it with anyone, not even Beloved In-House Reader.

This book is that kind of good.

It being a book and not a cookie, belly-selfishness does not apply. I am eager to share. Hard Luck is a big bucket of good old-fashioned fantasy fun, and more than that, it is more than just that. Holy wow, is it more. I love this world and the characters M. A Ray has created for it.

Fantasy stories do not have to be about originality, especially not ones that are coming-of-age stories about unwanted outsiders finding a place to belong and setting out on the path to become a shining star. Especially not fantasy stories about unwanted outsiders who have a hidden heritage/destiny that they will have to take up. There’s a reason those tropes are so popular. They touch on emotions and conflicts that speak to almost everyone. They made a great foundation.

The trick is building something interesting on the bedrock foundation–creating a world that is complex enough to feel real and  creating a hero who has struggles that make sense. M. A Ray does that, and then presents the result in prose that is deceptively simple and yet shifts seamlessly with the perspective of the characters.  Every detail revealed as the plot develops adds to the reader’s understanding that there is much more to every situation than meets the characters eyes. The world-building is right where it should be: in the background. The past is where it should be: in stories and asides and comments. The action moves along fast enough to hold interest, but with plenty of room for characters to interact and develop.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know I am not inclined to gush. I am a nitpicker, and a detail-noticing critical reader of the most demanding kind. Hard Luck has structural flaws that usually drop me out of a story the way cutting the cords of a parachute sends a skydiver plummeting to the earth. It contains indie-publishing foibles that usually bother me the way the sound of fingernails on a blackboard bother other people. There are issues, yes, but I would have to give it 6 stars out of 5 if it didn’t have those flaws. I liked it that much. Seriously.

Sometimes–rarely, oh, so rarely– a story comes along that is so much itself, so solidly designed and so beautifully presented that I stop noticing little things like too-exuberant use of adjectives, weird paragraph structure, odd name choices, and grammar hiccups.

This is one such book. The first few pages did not spark my interest, because prologue,  but then, a few paragraphs into the main story, I stopped reading. I immersed myself in the words and rolled around in them like a cat in catnip.  I stopped reading and started living the story along with the characters. That doesn’t happen often even with books that are polished to a much higher technical standard. It was an amazing experience, and that’s not even the best part.

The best part? There are two more books, and each one gets better. Oh, yeah.

Book reviews

Review: The Bazaar by Jen Ponce

3.5 stars
Here’s another installment in a review series I call, “You haven’t read this yet, but you should.”
All the ingredients are there for a great story, and it’s a good one.  I give it a solid double thumbs-up.  It didn’t move me to tell everyone I know to read it immediately, but I enjoyed every twist of the plot, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who likes portal fantasy, quirky fantasy and just plain great writing.

Let’s take a more detailed look at what kind of delights you’ll find on a visit to The Bazaar:

  • A gentle but determined woman facing hard choices everywhere she turns. Devany Miller is thrown into a violent, initially-incomprehensible world, but unlike most unflappable, indestructible fantasy heroes, she does not take it all in stride. She struggles.
  • A family. It isn’t often that a woman involved in complex personal relationships takes center stage in contemporary fantasy. It should happen more often. Devany does not turn her back on her old life without a second glance. She is a mother, and a wife, and a professional. She fights for her loves and honors her obligations. She has principles, and she clings to them.
  • Emotional drama that neither overshadows nor undercuts the fantasy. Devany’s fight to juggle existing family and job responsibilities in the midst of a personal crisis is presented with brutal emotional honesty. The crisis happens to involve magic, but the agonizing decisions are moral ones, not magical. Devany’s universe gets bigger, and her problems get bigger, but even in the depths of the insanity and , she still worries about the things that matter to ordinary people. Realism in fantasy? Fantastic!
  • A refreshing lack of angst. There’s anguish, there are traumas, and the conflicts have depth and a solid grounding in emotion, but there’s no endless wishy-washy indecisiveness or inexplicable, inappropriate attractions. If anything, I thought some of the development seemed rushed, and some reactions a little too blasé.
  • Magic, mystery and mayhem aplenty. Explanations of all the fantasy systems and creatures carried enough detail to satisfy, without dwelling on description. Important facts were laced into dialogue rather than dumped in narrative, and the conversations never sounded like infomercials.
  • A supporting cast of characters whose purpose in the story extends well beyond being plot devices. Each one has a past, an agenda, and flaws that drive their decisions. Their actions arise from their personal needs and those actions drive the story. Even the villains—with one exception–act out of self-interest, not malicious caprice.

It was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to the next installment of Devany Miller’s adventures.

Get your copy here on Amazon today: Amazon buy link for The Bazaar

Or get the first three for a discounted bundle price: Amazon buy link for Devany Miller bundle


Book reviews

Review: The Thin Places by Laura Cowan


My latest installment in a book review series loosely titled, “You Haven’t Read This Yet, but You Should.”

I’m not a fan of short stories. Reading a collection is usually worse than going out for tapas. I spend too much money to get a bunch of different items, none of them offer enough to satisfy, and I finish up the evening feeling irritated and still hungry.

Not this time. I mean, I want more, but only in the bestest of ways. I’m already looking forward to reading Music of Sacred Lakes.

I have no idea how this got onto my Kindle library, or when I put it there. That isn’t unusual. Any time I see a freebie (or someone recommends one) that looks interesting, I grab it. Eventually, I work my way down the next-to-read list to it. Sometimes I finish them, sometimes I don’t. If I like it, I write a review. If I don’t…I move on.

(Now you see why I worry about the lack of reviews for my own work? Silence is not golden. Silence is tactful condemnation.)

Anyhow. Back to the (Very Good, OMG GO BUY THIS) book at hand.

The Thin Places rocks the room.  Something about the writing reached out of the text and caught me. The stories and the way they’re told both remind me of Neil Gaiman’s early works, and that is no light comparison to make.  Magical Realism has been invoked in other reviews, so I won’t go on and on about the flow of sweet prose or the easy, unpretentious migration from real to unreal and back. The words speak for themselves.

Full disclosure: reviews of other books by the author also mention Christian fantasy and compare the author to Ted Dekker & Frank Peretti. I’ve read those authors. It’s an insult to Cowan, to compare her to them. That’s my not-so-humble, probably-going-to-hell opinion on the topic.  For all that the stories touch on the afterlife and spirituality, there is no preachy feel to the presentation and not a hint of condescension. Cowan’s spare, stripped-down style is as far above Dekker’s stilted prose as the sky is above the depths of the ocean. I honestly don’t care if this is or is not considered “Christian” fantasy. It’s good, and it’s lyrical, and it’s a delight.

Dare yourself to vault over the genre fences and take a walk on the supernatural side of the everyday. Stop to enjoy some beautiful stories along the path.

Available on Amazon here: The Thin Places

Book reviews

Review: Mine by Bryan Fields

After finishing Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, I was hungry for more good reading material. Books are the opposite of food that way. The more you read, and the better the quality of the work, the more room you have in your brain for new and incredible things.

 Ancillary Justice was so good it left me starving, but I worried that whatever I chose would sully the memories, like chasing a shot of 21 year old scotch with a glass of Bud Lite.

Nevertheless I wanted something.  I knew I was not ready to tackle another full novel, so I went prowling through my ebook library in search of a light snack. There in my new-books-downloaded section,  I found this delightful treat. It’s not a major work, nor a long one, but it’s a delicious mental palate cleanser. A nice little nosh between meals.

This tale contains many of the tropes of steampunk that evoke the usual techno-retro feel, but it also tosses some classic fantasy elements into the mix along with a hefty dose of modern sensibility. It’s a refreshing, crunchy-tasty mix. Perfect for snacking.

The title is a play on words. The theme of possession defines the plot, and a mine is the object of contentious ownership. The owner, determined to see his claim worked, refuses to compromise with an interloper who sets up shop on the site. He would rather hire an experienced gunhand to settle the issue with fire and blood than give an inch in negotiating a compromise. Chaos ensues.

I won’t tell you how it ends. Go buy it and read it. Here’s a link: Mine on Amazon

ps: “Hearts Before Diamonds,” by the same author, is another fun little steampunk-meets-full-fantasy mashup. It also has a brilliant piece of wordplay for a title, Great stuff.