Sunday, January 31, 2016

Excerpt from Wickedly Powerful by Deborah Blake and Giveaway

The Qwillery is thrilled to share with you an exclusive excerpt from Wickedly Powerful (Baba Yaga 3) by Deborah Blake which will be published on February 2nd by Berkley!


THE EARLY MORNING fog blanketed the area surrounding the fire tower, stippling the windows with condensation and cloaking the ground below in mystery. Even the twittering of the birds was muffled, as if the world itself had fallen away behind the mist.
     To Sam Corbett, perched on a stool in the tower with his coffee mug gripped between tense fingers, the fog looked like smoke and brought back nightmares.
     Eventually, he set down the cooling coffee and turned his back to the windows, doing push-ups and crunches and working with the free weights until he had an excuse for the sweat on his brow and the tremors in his hands, and the sun had burned away the fog and welcomed in a bright new day.
     The radio crackled around the time he was going into service, and Tiny’s voice from down below gave him a heads‑up to expect a scout troop within the hour. Sam scowled, feeling the scar tissue pulling at the skin on the left side of his face. He hated having people invade the tower; it was his space, his sanctuary. But of course, it wasn’t, not really. It was a job. And visitors were part of the job. Few of them stayed long anyway, after they’d met him.
     At about nine thirty, Sam heard the clatter of feet outside, along with the usual preadolescent griping about the absurd number of stairs that had to be climbed to reach the top of the tower. He grabbed his Yankees cap, a souvenir of a long-ago trip to the Big Apple—a place far, far away from these woods around the Black Mountain in Wyoming, both geographically and spiritually—and tugged it down low over his forehead. The shadow it cast didn’t so much hide as soften the effect of his disfigurement. For Sam, this fire tower was as close as he could get to hiding, and as evidenced by the gangly figures currently wandering around the catwalk outside,it wasn’t close enough.
     Sam went out the door and greeted Dennis, the scout leader, and the two women with him, probably mothers to one or another of the shouting, laughing boys they were attempting to herd. He had met Dennis before, but the moms were new, and didn’t do a very good job of covering up their shock at the sight of his face.
     “Hey, Sam,” Dennis said cheerfully. The scoutmaster was a thin, energetic man who ran the general store in the nearest town. He happily made up boxes of groceries and necessities for Sam and had them delivered to the tower so Sam didn’t have to come into town as often; the two men got along well. “This is Claire and Felicia. They’re helping me out today. Ladies, this is Sam Corbett. He’s manning the fire tower this season; it’s his second year here, so he’s practically an old pro.”
     “Hello,” Sam said. He didn’t say much these days, not liking the permanent rasp of his voice, damaged by the smoke he’d inhaled at the same time his face had been burned. He’d give the boys the tour, but Dennis would do most of the talking. The gregarious store owner didn’t mind, and it made things easier for everyone.
     “Hi,” Felicia said, looking at the view instead of at him. She was a little plump, and still trying to catch her breath from the climb. “Thanks for having the boys here. I can’t believe anyone lives up in this tower for four months. Don’t you get lonely? I’d never be able to stand it.”
     Sam shrugged. “I get more visitors than you’d think,” he said. There was no point in adding that he preferred the solitude; loneliness was a constant companion, no matter where he lived. “And someone needs to watch for fires. I’m happy to do it.”
     Claire, the other mother, had been studying him unobtrusively, eyes hidden behind big designer sunglasses. She was blond and pretty, and stood a little too close for comfort. Sam had met her type before, and he had a bad feeling about what was coming.
     Sure enough, she pulled off the glasses and stared at him more openly. “Sam Corbett. Weren’t you one of the Hotshots crew they called in a few years ago to deal with that terrible forest fire up on the ridge? I remember reading about what happened.”
     He kept his expression neutral through long practice. “Yes, I was, ma’am. Shall we gather up the boys now?”
     Felicia clapped her hands to her mouth. “Oh. Oh, that explains the . . . I mean, oh dear, I’m sorry. For, you know, the fire and everything.” Tears sprang into her eyes, and Sam’s stomach knotted. He didn’t know which reaction he hated worse—the voracious interest or the pity.
     “Hazards of the job,” he said, as he always did. “I got off easier than some.”
     Dennis rescued him, blowing a whistle to bring the scouts over for their informative tour of the tower.
     “Boys,” the scoutmaster said, “this is Mr. Corbett. He’s going to tell you all about his job as a fire spotter, and show you how he watches out for fires so he can keep the forest—and us—safe.”
     “Do you have to run down all those stairs to put out the fires?” one skinny boy asked with a hint of awe. He was staying well back from the railing, unlike some of the others. Not everyone liked the heights up there, but they’d never bothered Sam. Heights didn’t scare him. Nothing scared him anymore. He’d already been through the worst and survived. More or less.
     “He doesn’t put the fires out himself, stupid,” one of the other boys said with a sneer. “Real firemen do that. He just sits up here with a pair of binoculars and watches.”
     “Now, Tommy,” Dennis said, with the air of someone who has repeated himself so often, the response was automatic. “We don’t call anyone stupid, do we? And Mr. Corbett’s job is just as important as that of the people who actually put out the fires. In a way, he is a firefighter too.”
     Sam tried not to grimace, hearing the echo of his own voice inside his head. That was the same thing he told himself every day. That the job he was doing was vital to the effort; that he was still doing his part, in the only way he now could. It was the one thing that kept him going.
     The problem was, he didn’t really believe it, any more than that young scout did.

SAM SHOWED THE boys around the inside of the tower, and let them each take a turn looking out through the big binoculars in different directions. Most took their turns eagerly, almost hoping to be the one to spot a fire. He told himself not to be angry with the youngsters; to them, the prospect of seeing actual flames was an abstract idea, an adventure, not a grim reality. But he could still feel his teeth clench and his shoulders tighten.
     Peter, the smallest of the scouts, squinted seriously as he looked through the lens, then pointed out into the forest with one slightly grubby finger. “Mr. Corbett? Who lives down there in that little house?”
     Dennis and Sam exchanged glances. There weren’t any residences in that quadrant, and the ranger station was too far away to be seen from the tower.
     Sam held out his hand for the glasses. “Let me take a look so I can see what you’re talking about,” he said, expecting something like a large, vaguely house-shaped boulder. Instead, once he’d adjusted the binoculars, he spotted the structure Peter was referring to—except that it wasn’t a house, exactly, more like a modern gypsy caravan on wheels, parked in a clearing in the forest.
     “Huh,” he said. “Just somebody camping, I guess.” Or someone who had wandered into the woods and gotten lost. That happened occasionally too. Out of habit, he swung the glasses around to check out the surrounding area, and felt his hands grow clammy at the sight of a column of gray and white smoke, shooting up less than a mile from where the caravan stood.
     Dragging a harsh breath in through scarred lungs, he turned to Dennis and said quietly, “You need to take the boys down now. Right now.”
     Dennis’s eyes widened, but he didn’t ask any questions, just called the scouts and the two moms together, had them say a quick thank-you to Sam, and hustled them out the door and down the stairs. As soon as the last pair of sneakers was on the top step, Sam ran over to the two-way radio.
     “Dispatch, come in,” he said. “It’s Sam. I’ve got a smoke.” He quickly relayed the coordinates, as well as the information that there might be a civilian in harm’s way.
     The dispatcher called it in, sending the first response team on their way, then switched back to Sam and asked a few more questions about what he’d seen.
     “So, this caravan you spotted,” the dispatcher said. “Did you see anyone near it?”
     “Nope,” Sam said. “Whoever it was could have been inside, or out hiking.” Or just maybe, setting a fire.
     They’d had too many fires already this season . . . some caused by a series of fluke lightning storms, but there had been a couple that no one had been able to explain. No sign of campers being careless with their campfires, or any indication that some moron with a cigarette had decided to go for a walk in the woods. Just fires, when there shouldn’t have been any. They’d been lucky so far and Sam had spotted them all while they were still easily controlled. But sooner or later, they were going to run out of luck.
     In Sam’s experience, you always did.


BELLA YOUNG SAT on the flip-down steps of her traveling caravan and stretched her long legs out in front of her as she looked at the surrounding forest with satisfaction. After being stuck in the dry mountains of Montana battling wildfires for weeks, mingling with local firefighters, she was happy to be back among the peaceful environment of the trees, listening to squirrels and blue jays squabble instead of people.
     It wasn’t that Bella didn’t like people, exactly. She just liked trees and animals and mountains better.
     In a way, that made her the most traditional of the three Baba Yagas who watched over the United States. After all, the original Baba Yagas, powerful witches tasked with guarding the doorways to the Otherworld, keeping the balance of nature, and occasionally—if absolutely forced into it—helping out some worthy seeker, had lived in the deep, dark forests of Russia and its Slavic neighbors.
     These days, Bella’s sister Babas Barbara and Beka mostly handled the eastern and western sides of the country, leaving Bella happily stuck in the less-populated middle. That was just fine, since she and people, well . . . Let’s just say there were issues. Big, big issues.
     The Black Mountain forests, on the other hand, suited her to a T. She hoped that whatever urge had brought her here was due more to wanderlust and less to some mysterious magical crisis. She was due for some rest and relaxation. Or at the very least, fewer things blowing up.
     She took a deep breath, reveling in the sharp, resinous tang of pine needles and the deep, musty aroma of decaying leaves. Compared to the auto fumes of the city, they smelled
better to her than the most expensive perfume.
     “Isn’t that the best smell in the world, Koshka?” she said to her companion, who currently bore the guise of a gigantic Norwegian Forest cat (since it was difficult to either fit or hide a large brown and gray dragon in a small caravan).
     All Baba Yagas traveled with their own Chudo-Yudo, although each dragon chose a different form. And pretty much anything else they wanted. Even the powerful High Queen of the Otherworld rarely argued with a dragon.
     Bella called hers Koshka, which was Russian for a female cat. It was something of an inside joke, since he was neither female nor a cat . . . nor Russian, if you came right down to it. Bella’s mentor Baba, who had found her as a child and trained her for the job, might have been from the mother country, but dragons came straight from the Otherworld.
     “It’s not bad,” Koshka replied, showing off an impressive set of incisors in a wide yawn. “I prefer the aroma of tuna, myself.” He looked back through the open door toward the compact kitchen space inside, in case Bella had somehow missed his point.
     Bella rolled her eyes. “Seriously. Smell that; it’s practically ambrosia.”
     Koshka dutifully lifted his dark pink nose into the air, the wide ruff around his neck and tufts of fur in his ears making him look a bit like his wilder cousin, the lynx. “Huh,” he said.
     “What? You don’t like pine all of a sudden?” Bella shoved herself up off the steps so she could go open a can of tuna.
     “No, I don’t like the odor of smoke in the middle of a forest,” he said. “Can’t you smell it?” He pointed his entire massive forty-pound body toward the west. “I don’t know why they bother to put those puny noses in the middle of Human faces. They’re not good for anything.”
     Bella lifted her head and sniffed deeply, but still couldn’t detect anything out of the ordinary. But she didn’t doubt Koshka for a minute. “Let’s go check it out,” she said, and they set off at a fast lope through the trees.

LESS THAN A mile from her caravan, they came upon the source of the smoke; she clearly would have scented it soon enough, even with her puny Human nose, since there was a bonfire the size of a Buick burning away merrily amid a pile of leaves and downed tree limbs. Bella looked around for any signs of whoever started it, but the area was empty except for her and her faithful dragon-cat.
     “Shit. Fire again,” she said with feeling. Bella had a love/hate relationship with fire. It was the element she was strongest in, just as Barbara was most attuned with earth and Beka with water. But in her experience, that made for as many problems as it did solutions. Still, there was clearly no one around to wrestle with this particular fire but her, so there was no point in wasting time.
     “Want some help?” Koshka asked. As a dragon, he wasn’t even mildly intimidated by fire. If he was in his natural form, he probably could have just sat on it. As a dragon, he was bigger than a Buick too. Much bigger. But it wasn’t a good idea for him to change where anyone could possibly see him, and it was broad daylight in a public forest.
     Bella gritted her teeth. “I’ve got it,” she said. After all, if there was one thing she had experience with, it was putting out fires. Unfortunately, she was also usually the one who started them, but it made for good practice for situations like this.
     She held her hands up to the sky, gathering her power until it made her fingertips tingle and her long, curly red hair crackle like the flames it resembled. Then she lowered her hands until they were aimed at the fire, making a circling motion. The energy flowed smoothly out to surround the burning tinder, encompassing it in a bubble of magic. Then she snapped her fingers, and all the oxygen within that bubble disappeared. A few minutes later, the fire had died down to a few barely smoldering embers, and she snapped her fingers again to return the air to normal.
     “I love that trick,” Koshka said, walking over to sniff at the edges of the burned area. “Pah!” He yanked his nose away in a hurry, stalking off with his tail held high. “That stinks.”
     Bella glanced back over her shoulder as she followed him, moving faster as she heard the sound of incoming men and machinery. Someone must have spotted the smoke from the fire and reported it. Which was good, but she didn’t want to be seen lurking around the area of a suspicious fire. Her cover as a traveling artist was solid, but there was no sense in subjecting it to unnecessary scrutiny if she didn’t have to.
     “What stinks?” she asked, moving faster. “The fire?”
     “No,” the dragon said. “Whatever was used to start it.”
     “Oh,” Bella said. She’d been hoping it was just a fluke of nature. There hadn’t been a storm for days, but sometimes a lightning strike could smolder for a while before bursting into flame. “That’s bad news.”
     “It gets worse,” he said, growling under his breath as he waited for her to catch up to his bounding pace. “Whatever it was, it had the faint scent of magic on it.”
     “SHIT,” Bella said.
     “With a side of crap,” Koshka agreed. “Now, what about that tuna?”

Wickedly Powerful
A Baba Yaga Novel
Berkley, February 2, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

The only thing more fiery than Bella Young’s red hair is her temper. She knows that a Baba Yaga’s power without strict control can leave the people she cares about burned, so to protect her heart—and everyone around her—the only company she keeps is her dragon-turned-Norwegian-Forest-cat, Koshka.

But when Bella is tasked with discovering who’s setting magical fires throughout Wyoming’s Black Hills, she finds herself working closely with former hotshots firefighter Sam Corbett—and falling hard for his quiet strength and charm.

Sam may bear the scars of his past, but Bella can see beyond them and would do anything to help him heal. Only before she can rescue her Prince Charming, she’ll have to overcome the mysterious foe setting the forest fires—a truly wicked witch who wields as much power and even more anger than Bella…

About Deborah

Deborah Blake is the author of the Baba Yaga Series from Berkley (Wickedly Dangerous, Wickedly Wonderful, Wickedly Powerful) and has published nine books on modern witchcraft with Llewellyn Worldwide. When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker, tarot reader, and energy healer. She lives in a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magical and mundane.

Newsletter  ~  Website  ~  Blog  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @deborahblake  ~  Goodreads

The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a fabulous prize pack from Deborah Blake including a notebook, a cute stuffed dragon, a mug with all three book covers, and a cute “Be Wicked” broom, along with some postcards and bookmarks.

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a USA mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59PM US Eastern Time on February 10, 2016. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway

2016 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - January Winner

The winner of the January 2016 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is Steal the Sky by Megan E. O'Keefe from Angry Robot Books with 63 votes equaling 36% of all votes. The jacket was designed by Kim Sokol.

Megan E. O'Keefe

Steal the Sky
Scorched Continent 1
Angry Robot Books, January 5, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
Cover: Kim Sokol

Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet – the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful – there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

File Under: Fantasy [ Sky Heist / Doppel Vision / Knives Out / Up Up & Away ]

The Results

The January 2016 Debuts

Thank you to everyone who voted, Tweeted, and participated. The 2016 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars will continue with voting on the February Debut covers starting on February 15, 2015.

Melanie's Week in Review - January 31, 2016

Let's all wave goodbye to January.  I am sure that quite a few of you are glad to see the back of it. Apart from January being both mine and the hubinator's birthdays it was also a month where I read some stonkingly good books. So last week was a bit lack lustre but this week was, what can only be described in the trade as, amazeballs. Want to find out why?

I was pretty lucky when the publisher approved my NetGalley request for J.C. Nelson's The Reburialists. Agent Brynner Carson is the star of the Bureau of Special Investigations. The Bureau's role is to save society from those who don't want to stay dead and Brynner has staked more undead than any other agent....well except for his father, Heinrich. When one of the corpses writes a message for Brynner in hieroglyphics in its own blood the Bureau call in their Senior Analyst, Grace Roberts to translate. Brynner's father seems to have stolen the heart of a god and now she wants it back. Brynner and Grace have to team up to find where Heinrich left the heart before an army of the undead kills anyone and everyone they hold dear.

The Reburialists is a great read. Nelson paces the action at just the right level so that you are interested from start to finish but not at the expense of the plot or characterisation. Both Brynner and Grace were flawed and this was what made them interesting to read about. Nelson also resisted the temptation to get the characters together too early in the story and let the attraction build as the story developed. I did guess a couple of the big reveals before they happened but this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. I hope this is the start of a new series as I want to read more about the hunky hero Brynner and the bookish Grace.

Another fantastic book I read was The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Kobolt. This is Kobolt's debut and he was interviewed here on The Qwillery so check it out. As this was a debut I wrote a full review which was posted during the week. Suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed Kobolt's first foray into urban fantasy but rather than re-writing all the great things I said about it have a read of it here.

I have been very book greedy recently and have read a few books waaaay before their publication date so I can't review them quite yet. Sorry folks but you are going to have to wait to find out what I thought of Patricia Brigg's latest in the Mercy Thompson series - Fire Touched - and Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. I will try to be more organised next time (or maybe not...I can't resist!)

The final book I am almost too embarrassed to tell you about is C. J. Archer's The Sinner. I was caught in a moment of weakness on a really long train journey where I needed a book that I didn't need to concentrate too hard on. This was pretty standard historical fiction with the 'plain Jane' Cat finding herself widowed and in need of a husband. Enter stage left is the playboy Hughe who in his spare time is an assassin.  Hughe feels obligated to see the now impoverished Cat safe and sound after killing her husband. That is pretty much all I can say as that was the sum of the plot. It did it's job however as it was short and easy to read.

That is almost it for me. Just one more thing.  For fans of the  Innkeepers Chronicles  - the first chapter of the upcoming third book, One Fell Sweep, is up at Ilona Andrews' Innkeeper Chronicles site here. Don't forget that Sweep in Peace was in my top 5 for 2015 and I was super excited that the first instalment of the latest book is up already. HURRAH!

The Reburialists
Ace, March 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

The author of Wish Bound and the Grimm Agency novels returns with an all-new urban fantasy novel!

Burying the dead is easy.  Keeping them down is difficult.

At the Bureau of Special Investigations, agents encounter all sorts of paranormal evils. So for Agent Brynner Carson, driving a stake through a rampaging three-week-old corpse is par for the course. Except this cadaver is different. It’s talking—and it has a message about his father, Heinrich.

The reanimated stiff delivers an ultimatum written in bloody hieroglyphics, and BSI Senior Analyst Grace Roberts is called in to translate. It seems that Heinrich Carson stole the heart of Ra-Ame, the long-dead god of the Re-Animus. She wants it back. The only problem is Heinrich took the secret of its location to his grave.

With the arrival of Ra-Ame looming and her undead army wreaking havoc, Brynner and Grace must race to find the key to stopping her. It’s a race they can’t afford to lose, but then again, it’s just another day on the job . . .

The Sinner
The Assassin's Guild 4
C. J. Archer, August 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook

Elizabethan England

Lies, desperation and an offer she can’t refuse sends impoverished widow Lady Catherine (Cat) headlong into marriage with the man who killed her husband.

Guilt and desire battle within Hughe, Lord Oxley’s, soul. When the enigmatic leader of the Assassin’s Guild learns that the widow of one of his targets is at the mercy of a cruel man, he does the only thing left in his power to do. He marries her. Then the worst thing happens. He falls in love with her.

With more than one person trying to kill him and a family to rescue, Hughe needs the help of all his Assassins Guild friends to stay alive and keep his wife from learning the truth. Because he knows, and dreads, what will happen when she discovers what he did.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Review: The Children's Home by Charles Lambert

The Children's Home
Author:  Charles Lambert
Publisher:  Scribner, January 5, 2016
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 224 pages
List Price:  US$24.00 (print); US$11.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781501117398 (print); 9781501117411 (eBook)

For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor—and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.

The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.

Deb's Review

Dark fairy tale, neo-gothic horror, allegory, magical realism, psychological tale. The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert does not want to be neatly shoe-horned into any single genre. My eyebrow lifted at the comparisons to some of my favorite authors: Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey. Surely not, I thought. Really?

Morgan Fletcher is a man of considerable wealth. Raised in seclusion by an absentee father and an eccentric mother, he is facially disfigured in an incident as a young adult. Morgan doesn't know what to make of the world outside his garden wall, and is afraid it wouldn't have him anyway. After his parents pass on, he exists alone in a grand mansion with his barely seen servants until the arrival of Engel, a maid who is a gift from his sister Rebecca who runs the family business and hasn't seen her brother in years.

After Engel’s appearance, children begin to show up on their doorstep. First, an infant girl in a basket whom they name Moira, and then a five year old boy with a hand lettered tag around his wrist announcing him as David. Moira and David are the first of many children they take into the home and care for as their own. Their number and age range are never quite clear, but it seems there are more than a dozen, from infant to toddler to child. David is referred to as the eldest at one point, but these are not your average children. They are unusually smart, poised and well-behaved. Endearing them all to Morgan, not one of them is troubled by his ruined face.

A sudden round of illnesses among the children brings the local Dr. Crane for a few house calls. Engel convinces shy Morgan to show his face in front of the doctor, and the men become fast friends over backgammon and Morgan's vast library. Morgan, Engel, Crane and the children fall into an almost family-like rhythm for a short while until two agents from the Ministry of Welfare show up, accusing the household of harboring “stray” children. They deny the existence of any boarder orphans and are able to convince the agents to leave. If children appearing out of nowhere isn't odd enough, events begin to truly take a turn for the bizarre at this point.

The children come and go from the labyrinth of rooms, like ghosts disappearing into the woodwork. When they are not present at meals or in the library, it's almost as if they cease to exist. When they are present, they find some truly strange artifacts in the attic, insist that they be taught to read and write, and seem to be feverishly looking for something in the mountains of books in the library. The adults finally begin to wonder who these children are and what they want.

Overall, the story was entrancing. The layers of uncertainty are skillfully stacked, and the inability to guess much beyond the current paragraph made it hard to close the book at the end of the day. We are given clues about setting and time frame but little confirmation of anything, which adds to the off-balance feeling as the narrative unwinds. The children seem to have a specific purpose, but whatever it is, it is maddeningly unclear.

Written mostly from Morgan’s unworldly, almost childlike point of view, there are moments when you question if everything or anything you see is real. His multi-layered relationships with Engel, Crane and the children bring depth to a character that could have easily been just pitiable.

The comparisons to some of my favorite authors actually do ring true, especially with the Gorey-ish morbid child vibe. Lambert does a fine job with a dreamlike setting that teeters just on the edge of peril. Opinion on whether the ending delivers on the clever build-up will probably vary widely from person to person. It's a grim, thought-provoking tale, and a tidy ending wrapped up with a neat little organza bow would not have been fitting. Although I did not love the ending, I did adore the book as a whole and I'll be watching for more works from Lambert.

At 224 pages, The Children's Home is a compact read with a unique plot and interesting, well-drawn characters that will stay with me for some time. There's a smattering of descriptive gore, but it's not rampant. I would definitely recommend for fans of gothics and dark fairy tales, and any reader who can appreciate that whimsy is not always brightly colored; sometimes it manifests in dismal shades of gray.

Review: A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

A Darkling Sea
Author:  James L. Cambias
Publisher:  Tor Books, January 28, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
Also Available:  Trade Paperback
List Price: US$25.99 (Hardcover); US$9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765336279 (Hardcover); 9781466827561 (eBook)

On the planet Ilmatar, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick, a team of deep-sea diving scientists investigates the blind alien race that lives below. The Terran explorers have made an uneasy truce with the Sholen, their first extraterrestrial contact: so long as they don’t disturb the Ilmataran habitat, they’re free to conduct their missions in peace.

But when Henri Kerlerec, media personality and reckless adventurer, ends up sliced open by curious Ilmatarans, tensions between Terran and Sholen erupt, leading to a diplomatic disaster that threatens to escalate to war.

Against the backdrop of deep-sea guerrilla conflict, a new age of human exploration begins as alien cultures collide. Both sides seek the aid of the newly enlightened Ilmatarans. But what this struggle means for the natives—and the future of human exploration—is anything but certain, in A Darkling Sea by James Cambias.

Brannigan's Review

I was drawn to this book initially because it reminded me of one of my favorite movies Abyss. Instead of surly oil workers, A Darkling Sea has scientists interacting with aliens on the sea floor. James L. Cambias creates a dynamic plot that kept me reading late into the night.

Cambias' world is in our future when Earth begins to truly explore space and the many different planets and moons. During our exploration, we meet a peaceful alien race named the Sholen who resemble six-legged otters. The Sholen fear humans because we remind them of their war-ridden past. They try to control human exploration when a group of humans sets up an underwater base to study the alien race of Ilmatarians who resemble lobsters. The Sholen try to control the contact between the humans and Ilmatarians. I enjoyed the fact that both alien races are very different in their development, even though they both have connections to water-based animals.

Cambias shares the POVs of several different characters for each race that helps to establish their races while also allowing for character development. My only complaint about the aliens was the fact that they were basically lobsters and otters. I like my aliens weirder. I will say I was very happy with their unique cultures though.

Where the book truly shines is the pacing. It helps that Cambias has several different POV characters who keep the story fresh and exciting. It also helps that he's not afraid of action. One of my pet peeves with science fiction is it can be a little dry with very little going on. Thankfully, Cambias doesn't have this problem. He doesn't waste a lot of time before we get a lot of interesting conflicts and battles.

A Darkling Sea is a science fiction political action tale. Besides the animalistic qualities to the aliens, I had a blast reading it. It was also nice to read a stand alone novel. There is violence, language and sexual situations involving otter aliens. I would recommend it to older teens and adults.

What's Up for the Debut Author Challenge Authors? - Part 37

This is the thirty-seventh in a series of updates about formerly featured Debut Author Challenge authors and their 2015 works published since the last update and any upcoming works for 2016. The year in parentheses after the author's name is the year she/he was featured in the Debut Author Challenge.

Part 1 herePart 11 herePart 21 herePart 31 here
Part 2 herePart 12 herePart 22 herePart 32 here
Part 3 herePart 13 herePart 23 herePart 33 here
Part 4 herePart 14 herePart 24 herePart 34 here
Part 5 herePart 15 herePart 25 herePart 35 here
Part 6 herePart 16 herePart 26 herePart 36 here
Part 7 herePart 17 herePart 27 here
Part 8 herePart 18 herePart 28 here
Part 9 herePart 19 herePart 29 here
Part 10 herePart 20 herePart 30 here

Ferrett Steinmetz (2015)

The Flux
'Mancer 2
Angry Robot, October 6, 2015
     (North America Print and eBook)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
Angry Robot, October 1, 2015 (UK Print)
Cover art: Steven Meyer-Rassow

Love something enough, and your obsession will punch holes through the laws of physics. That devotion creates unique magics: videogamemancers. Origamimancers. Culinomancers.

But when ‘mancers battle, cities tremble…

ALIYAH TSABO-DAWSON: The world’s most dangerous eight-year-old girl. Burned by a terrorist’s magic, gifted strange powers beyond measure. She’s furious that she has to hide her abilities from her friends, her teachers, even her mother – and her temper tantrums can kill.

PAUL TSABO: Bureaucromancer. Magical drug-dealer. Desperate father. He’s gone toe-to-toe with the government’s conscription squads of brain-burned Unimancers, and he’ll lie to anyone to keep Aliyah out of their hands – whether Aliyah likes it or not.

THE KING OF NEW YORK: The mysterious power player hell-bent on capturing the two of them. A man packing a private army of illegal ‘mancers.

Paul’s family is the key to keep the King’s crumbling empire afloat. But offering them paradise is the catalyst that inflames Aliyah’s deadly rebellious streak…

File Under: Urban Fantasy

('Mancer 3)
Angry Robot, September 1, 2016
     (North America Print and eBook)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
Angry Robot, September 6, 2016 (UK Print)

[cover not yet available]
America’s long sent its best SMASH agents overseas to deal with the European crisis. As of today, they decided dismantling your operation was more important than containing the Bastogne Broach. Now you’re dealing with the real professionals.

Paul Tsabo: Bureaucromancer. Political activist. Loving father. His efforts to decriminalize magic have made him the government’s #1 enemy – and his fugitive existence has robbed his daughter of a normal life.

Aliyah Tsabo-Dawson: Videogamemancer. Gifted unearthly powers by a terrorist’s magic. Raised by a family of magicians, she’s the world’s loneliest teenager – because her powers might kill anyone she befriends.

The Unimancers: Brain-burned zombies. Former ‘mancers, tortured into becoming agents of the government’s anti-‘mancer squad. An unstoppable hive-mind.

When Paul accidentally opens up the first unsealed dimensional broach on American soil, the Unimancers lead his family in a cat-and-mouse pursuit all the way to the demon-haunted ruins of Europe – where Aliyah is slowly corrupted by the siren call of the Unimancers…

File Under: Urban Fantasy

Paul Tassi (2015)

The Exiled Earthborn
The Earthborn Trilogy Book 2
Talos Press, November 17, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 420 pages

In this thrilling second book of the Earthborn trilogy, Lucas and Asha have survived the decimation of Earth at the hands of the invading Xalans and seek safe haven with their enemy’s true foes, the Sorans. They find a lush planet inhabited by a civilization far more advanced than their own, waging a seemingly endless war against a constantly evolving enemy.

The Sorans call the pair of them the “Earthborn” and they’re welcomed as heroes, almost as gods. To an audience of billions, they swear an oath to avenge their fallen planet by aiding the Sorans in their war against Xala. But soon Lucas and Asha find Sora just as dangerous as apocalyptic Earth when they’re targeted by the Fourth Order, a rebel collective who decries them as false prophets and harbingers of further bloodshed.

Their friend and turncoat Xalan scientist Alpha believes he’s located someone who can help them turn the tide of the war for good, stranded on a conquered colony planet. But landing on the new world, Lucas and Asha find themselves hunted by a violent, mysterious beast, known only as the Desecrator, let loose by the Xalans.

Escaping Earth was only the beginning. As Lucas and Asha quickly learn, the universe has worlds and creatures far more dangerous than anything their home planet could have offered, and their continued survival hinges on gaining new allies they never could have imagined.

The Sons of Sora
The Earthborn Trilogy Book 3
Talos Press, January 19, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

Set sixteen years after the events of The Exiled Earthborn, this explosive conclusion of the Earthborn trilogy tells the story of two brothers, the sons of Lucas and Asha, tasked with surviving the Xalan war to ensure the continued existence of the human race.

Noah, an orphan from Earth’s last days who, as a child, was smuggled to safety across the stars, is now nearly a man and a leader to the young enclave of Earthborn who reside on Sora. When the tranquility of their settlement is shattered by a shocking assassination attempt, Noah turns to his combative younger brother Erik, Lucas and Asha’s only child by blood, for aid. Their journey takes them to the remnants of a dead planet, an outlaw-infested space station, and back to Sora, whose inhabitants are bracing for a final showdown with the bloodthirsty Xalans.

They find themselves facing a new evil: the omnipotent Archon, who is somehow controlling the whole of the Xalan horde, and his bloodthirsty lieutenant, the Black Corsair, who has an unmatched taste for brutality. The Archon, so-called God of the Shadows, has unearthed knowledge that could wipe both Sorans and humans alike from the face of existence. The descendants of the Earthborn must uncover the true nature of the Archon and the Xalans before he burns everything they know and love to ashes.

Patrick S. Tomlinson (2015)

Trident's Forge
Children of a Dead Earth Book Two
Angry Robot, April 5, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook
Cover Art: Larry Rostant, Artist Partners

They’ve made it this far. If only that increased humanity’s chances on this new planet…

Against all odds, the Ark and her thirty-thousand survivors have reached Tau Ceti G to begin the long, arduous task of rebuilding human civilization. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Tau Ceti G’s natives, the G’tel, are coming to grips with the sudden appearance of what many believe are their long-lost Gods.

But first contact between humans and g’tel goes catastrophically wrong, visiting death on both sides. Rumors swirl that the massacre was no accident. The Ark’s greatest hero, Bryan Benson, takes on the mystery.

Partnered with native ‘truth-digger’ Kexx, against both of their better judgment, Benson is thrust into the heart of an alien culture with no idea how to tell who wants to worship him from who wants him dead.

Together, Benson and Kexx will have to find enough common ground and trust to uncover a plot that threatens to plunge both of their peoples into an apocalyptic war that neither side can afford to fight.

File Under: Science Fiction

Tom Toner (2015)

The Promise of the Child
Volume One of the Amaranthine Spectrum
Night Shade Books, July 5, 2016, Ship Date: June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback, 464 pages
Hardcover and eBook, September 22, 2015

It is the 147th century.

In the radically advanced post-human worlds of the Amaranthine Firmament, there is a contender to the Immortal throne: Aaron the Long-Life, the Pretender, a man who is not quite a man.

In the barbarous hominid kingdoms of the Prism Investiture, where life is short, cheap, and dangerous, an invention is born that will become the Firmament’s most closely kept secret.

Lycaste, a lovesick recluse outcast for an unspeakable crime, must journey through the Provinces, braving the grotesques of an ancient, decadent world to find his salvation.

Sotiris, grieving the loss of his sister and awaiting the madness of old age, must relive his twelve thousand years of life to stop the man determined to become Emperor.

Ghaldezuel, knight of the stars, must plunder the rarest treasure in the Firmament—the object the Pretender will stop at nothing to obtain.

From medieval Prague to a lonely Mediterranean cove, and eventually far into the strange vastness of distant worlds, The Promise of the Child is a debut novel of gripping action and astounding ambition unfolding over hundreds of thousands of years, marking the arrival of a brilliant new talent in science fiction.

Marc Turner (2015)

When the Heavens Fall
The Chronicles of the Exile, Book One
Tor Fantasy, February 2, 2016
Mass Market Paperback, 736 pages
Hardcover and eBook, May 19, 2015

Marc Turner's When the Heavens Fall is an emerging new voice in epic fantasy, now in mass market

If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.

A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.

However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.

Dragon Hunters
The Chronicle of the Exile, Book Two
Tor Books, February 9, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages

[description not yet available]

Red Tide (The Chronicles of the Exile, Book Three) is slated for publication in September 2016. (Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Book Depository : Books-A-Million : IndieBound)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Review: The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning
Author:  Brandon Sanderson
Series:  Mistborn 6
Publisher:  Tor Books, January 26, 2016
Format:  Hardcover and eBook,
List Price:  $27.99 (print); $14.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765378576 (print); 9781466862678 (eBook)

The #1 New York Times bestselling author returns to the world of Mistborn with the follow-up to Shadows of Self

With The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.

Now, with The Bands of Mourning, Sanderson continues the story. The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

Qwill's Thoughts

I have a confession to make - I have never before read a novel written by Brandon Sanderson. After reading The Bands of Mourning I know what I've been missing. I will be reading the prior two adult books in the Mistborn series - The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self because I have fallen very deeply in like with Sanderson's writing and characters and worldbuilding. Confession over.

Waxillium Ladrian, Wayne and Marasi, along with Steris (Wax's betrothed) and MeLaan (a kandra) are off on a dangerous mission to find the Bands of Mourning, if they exist. This takes them from the comforts of Elendel to New Seran and beyond.

Waxillium (Wax) Ladrian, head of the House Ladrian, Twinborn, and lawman is a marvelous character. He is headstrong, yet understands some of his limits. He is tenacious, courageous, and brave. He can follow a clue with an almost uncanny ability. He's also a decent man, who can learn from others.  He's about to be married to Steris Harms in an arranged marriage that will benefit both of their Houses.

Wax's interplay with Steris is one of the highlights of the novel for me. It reminded me of the interplay between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (or Cary Grant) in some of their wonderful films. Steris more than held her own against the larger than life Waxillium and then some. She is quirky and brilliant.

Wayne is altogether a unique character and a wonderful partner for Wax. The two work extremely well together and I'm not sure that Wax could be as successful a lawman without Wayne's help. Wayne has his own quirks that often bring moments of levity to the story. He's also adept at accents which often is useful.

Marasi Colms is a constable and Steris' half-sister. She feels somewhat overshadowed by Wax, which is understandable, but she is a strong and extremely intelligent, and very, very good at what she does.

MeLaan does her part too and fits in with the group. She has skills that are indispensable to the work they are doing and has a very different view of the world.

Being completely unfamiliar with the Mistborn series and its mythos Sanderson provides enough well-placed backstory in The Bands of Mourning that I had absolutely no trouble understanding the history mentioned in the novel, the way things work and who the historical characters are. This is done extremely well and does not bog down the narrative in any way.

In addition to the wonderful characters, the story itself is incredibly engaging. There is sleuthing, action, and unexpected turns as Wax, Wayne, Marasi, MeLaan, and Steris try to figure out where the Bands of Mourning are, if they even exist. The action sequences are often breathtaking. The warmth between the main characters is genuine and heartfelt.

The Bands of Mourning is beautifully written. This is a fabulous novel with great action and pacing, politics, a quest, a very well developed mythology, and thoroughly memorable characters. Highly Recommended!