Perpetuation of Trauma: A Review of The Mirror Man, by Lars Kepler

            Every reader wants to get hooked on a good series, where the author continuously writes new entries featuring favorite characters and new stories within the same framework.  While the trilogy is very common in that regard, it is also common for authors to keep a series progresses for many more than three books.  Something like The Wheel of Time has more than fourteen entries, while The Dresden Files received its seventeenth entry in 2020.  However, with each new book in a long series, there is an ever-growing risk that the author takes.  How do they keep their readers interested, while also providing the same types of stories that drew them in the first place?  Things need to change from book to book to keep the story and characters moving and developing, but change things too much and you may lose readers.  But if an author does not take any risks at all, they also run the risk of losing readers as they will not see a reason to read new entries.  There is a careful balancing act that authors have to consider, balancing the storytelling with the business of selling books, but readers will love the ones who manage it, even if they are unaware of the work going into each new book.

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The Pull and the Take: A Review of Age of Ash, by Daniel Abraham

            Fantasy as a genre is incredibly varied, so much so that it is more accurate to say that fantasy has expanded well beyond a simple genre into a overarching category of fiction.  Fantasy can be combined with any other genre in existence seamlessly, and in fact often is.  Similar to science-fiction, calling something fantasy tells a reader very little about what to expect.  To help readers understand what they’re getting into, it is becoming more common to separate works of fantasy into two general categories: high fantasy and low fantasy.  High fantasy is the more traditional approach, with magic being very common within the setting and multiple fantastical creatures.  Low fantasy shifts that focus.  Magic may exist, but it is either rare or not understood.  The main characters are commoners rather than nobles or chosen ones.  By shifting the focus down, low fantasy can appear gritter or more “realistic” in some ways, while drastically changing what is important to the story from high fantasy.

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Caffeinated Comfort: A Review of Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree

            Not every story needs to have high stakes, or even high tension, to keep the plot interesting and the characters engaging.  There are entire genres of fiction dedicated to the small things in life, detailing the daily lives of people from all walks of life.  The most well-known of these genres is known as slice-of-life, which itself covers a wide range of storytelling methods.  More recently, there has been a new variation of this type of storytelling, simply known as “cozy.”  It started with video games that prioritized creating a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for the player, and has since moved into books as well.  The hallmark of cozy is to make the reader feel safe and secure in the setting and among the characters.  A sort of comfort food of fiction.  The book’s setting, characters, and plot points all work in concert to create a special kind of reading experience, where there is still conflict, but the conflicts resolve in such a way that the main characters are allowed to be happy.  For obvious reasons, cozy fiction also draws a lot of queer readers, finding accepting and loving environments within a book’s pages.

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Blooming Love: A Review of Vampire Blood Drive, by Mira Ong Chua

            It used to be that, in order to get your stories out in the world, a creator needed a publisher.  To get a publisher, you needed an agent, followed by a contract.  As many writers and artists know, just having the talent and the drive is not always enough.  Sometimes it can come down to luck, or connections, or simply perseverance.  However, the internet changed all of that, providing way after way for creators to develop their work and get it in the world independently.  Books can be self-published, and there are even websites to help you design basic covers.  Further, the advent of crowdfunding has provided a source of freedom and a revenue stream, letting creators make some money to focus on their work.  For anyone looking to print copies of their books, crowdfunding can provide the much-needed funds to hire a printer.  Do well on a crowdfunded project, and your new fans will spread the word, helping to bolster future projects.  While there are the stories of crowdfunded projects failing to get off the ground or misleading backers, it has overall been a boon for creativity.

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Enemies to Lovers: A Review of Hunt the Stars, by Jessie Mihalik

            One of the most popular tropes in romance stories is that of enemies to lovers.  In short, two characters who begin on opposite sides of a conflict, whether it be a war or ideological divide, find themselves attracted to one another despite their opposition.  There are a multitude of reasons why this trope is popular, and all of them vary depending on the story being told and the author writing that story.  Sometimes it involves a villain redeeming themselves and turning against the antagonists, other times it involves more compromise in the cases where neither side is outright evil.  In some stories, the characters fall for each other during combat or conflict, but, in others, they are forced to work together for some common goal.  The permutations on enemies to lovers are nearly endless, but they all share one key aspect in common.  No character involved can be truly evil or villainous.  Enemies to lovers relies on walking a strict line, lest it turn into abuse or apologizing bad behavior.  Luckily, the subject of this review is an excellent example of the trope done right.

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End of an Era: Review of Leviathan Falls, by James S. A. Corey

            Ending a story is always difficult, a difficulty that is only increased when the story is spread across a series.  Whether is it a book series, television show, or movie franchise, the prospect of crafting an ending that will both satisfy and engage fans can be terrifying.  The danger is somewhat mitigated by going into a story already knowing your ending, just having to fill out in the middle sections in between the first page and the last.  In some works, readers or watchers can tell when the creator did not plan for an ending, a phenomenon mostly found in shows.  But, other times, it is clear that the author has a plan for the story, and it can be incredibly satisfying to see that author stick to the plan and deliver a satisfying ending.  However, even with a plan for an ending, every author knows that it can still be difficult to create a loved ending, especially when the story in question has risen to such great heights.

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Sibling Bonds: A Review of Critical Role: Vox Machina: Kith & Kin, by Marieke Nijkamp

            The franchise tie-in novel is a staple of the entertainment business, often presented as a way to consume more of a given piece of media or provide more insight into certain characters and settings.  The larger the franchise, the more likely it is for tie-in novels to be commissioned, sometimes by truly talented authors.  While these types of novels, years ago, were not very good for the most part, overall, the domain of the tie-in novel has been getting better and better.  For example, the recent “High Republic” series out of Star Wars.  Dungeons and Dragons, commonly referred to as the most popular role-playing game in the world, is no stranger to tie-in novels.  From the very beginning, when Gary Gygax controlled the company behind the game, stories were being told in the various official settings, creating fan-favorite characters that still feature to this day.  Today’s book is not an official Dungeons and Dragons tie-in novel, but the game is baked intricately into its DNA, but elevated to the point of just being a great novel.

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Intent: A Review of Blood Like Magic, by Liselle Sambury

            Witchcraft in fiction is an incredible variable, mutable tool in storytelling, although not every fantasy story, or story with magic present, contains witchcraft.  It is one of those things where no one can agree on a single definition, aside from witches mostly being female or female led.  Even region of the world has its own folklore regarding witches, going back thousands of years.  In some, witches are benevolent, helping their communities with potions and spells.  In others, witches made deals with the devil in the pursuit of power and influence.  While authors do pull on some of that, depending on where they decide to set their stories, the lack of a single definition of witchcraft allows writers to create new takes on it, iterating and innovating from story to story. 

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Mechanized Love: A Review of Gearbreakers, by Zoe Hana Mikuta

            Genre can be a tricky thing in writing.  Some authors are very strict about sticking within certain genres, and abiding by the various common plots or tropes that come along with those genres.  For example, ask three different people about what the cyberpunk genre is and you will receive three different answers.  Science-fiction and fantasy are often seen as distinct genres, and many do not think the romance genre could cross over with a noir story.  However, genres are not set in stone.  There is no comprehensive set of rules stating what you can or cannot do as a writer, even the most traditional authors subconsciously mix and match genres all the time.  The terminology is meant less as a set of rules and more as a set of guidelines.  There are common tropes associated with science-fiction, certainly, but there is absolutely nothing stopping an author from combining those with romance.  Many times, the best stories are the ones where authors pick and choose the parts of a genre they like the most, combining them with aspect of other genres until an engaging fusion emerges.

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Chosen: A Review of Cast in Secrets and Shadow, by Andrea Robertson

            One of the oldest genres, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is the coming-of-age story.  A tale concerned with the transitions between eras of life.  Child to teenager, teenager to young adult, young adult to adult.  People are constantly changing and, hopefully, maturing as they grow older, and we all have stories that exemplify these transitional spaces.  Within storytelling, there are so many ways to handle this story, and it has been handled by nearly every author throughout history.  Characters spend the arcs of their stories learning from their experiences, ending the story wiser than they began.  There can be starts and stops across the journey, as we are all familiar with the concept that we have become our perfect selves, only for that notion to be proven false very quickly.  Sometimes, there are even characters who believe to have found the correct path, only to require course correction from a trusted voice.

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