Blood Queen – Book Review

Blood Queen is the last book in the Divine Series written by S.M. McCoy. For three books, we have grown and suffered with Chrystal while she desperately attempts to navigate the world of the supernatural, and the usual sufferings of a teenage girl. Though perhaps a bit more extreme when you’re a demon, and a vampire… and a diviner. The girl has a lot on her plate! 

In Blood Queen we are reunited with a collection of well-written characters from the previous books and a few new experiences. Chrystal is reunited with loves, enemies and frenimies that end up meaning more to her than she ever would have thought. The story itself gives us a much more in-depth look at the world of the supernatural of the Divine Series, given this book takes place entirely in the deepest and darkest corners of their world. This gives us more of an idea of the world as a whole, which, while covered in the first two books, had a lot of questions left to answer about it.

Blood Queen does a fair job of completing the Divine Series, allowing Chrystal to find her destiny, even if it was not what she planned when she first went in to this dark adventure, honestly how it ended was a bit of a surprise to me as well. As with the first two books, Chrystal has a bit of sexual tension with her male associates, making the book perhaps not the best choice for a younger audience, though certainly much cleaner than many books in the same genre. 

My only real complaint was while Chrystal’s story was wrapped up nicely in this book, I wondered what happened to some of the side characters after all was said and done. As with the other books, S.M. McCoy did a fine job with following the story. This book was a bit different from the previous two as while most of the story takes place in the first person, as told by Chrystal, there are also a few chapters told in the third person that cover Lathar’s actions. And boy, does that man get in to some pickles. 

So is Blood Queen worth the read? If you enjoy paranormal fantasy of any type, and a bit of romance, never mind a hunky vampire, this is a must read! Oh, make sure you read the first two before you pick this up or you will have absolutely no idea what is going on! But the series is a great read so you should have a blast!

You can find more information here at Reedsy Discovery where I picked up the ARC copy of this book

The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu Review and Interview with Tom Vator

I was not sure of what I was getting into when I picked up The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu. I tend to stick to certain genres I enjoy and only slip out of them to read books that are sent my way. Though the lovely people who do the Blackthorn Book Tours always offer up quality books so I was looking forward to reading this novel. And my oh my, this book was one hell of a trip.

This story happens in different periods of time. 1976 and 2000. The story in the 70s follows a group of hippies on a drug fueled tour through Asia. Along the way, they meet amazing people, dangerous people, and even lose some people. While the story that takes place in 2000 follows the remainders of the group, plus one adult son, through the side effects of their younger, though perhaps just as wild, days. Danger seems to follow this group, and old grudges spring up in the most insane ways with an ending that leaves you thinking “Well, damn!” 

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is that the stories are told side by side. One chapter will have information regarding the 1976 story, while the next may cover the 2000 story. This allows some aspects of the earlier story to be a bit of a mystery till you get closer to the end of the book, leaving one wanting to come back for more.

So is The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu worth ready? Oh yes, pick up this book!

In addition to this review, I have an interview with author Tom Vator I will share below. He was kind enough to share with me the answers to a few questions regarding how he writes, how he comes up with characters, and his processes. You can find it below. I have made sure to mark questions and answers with our names for ease of reading!

Tawny: How did you get into writing?

Tom: Hm, that was long process. I knew quite early on in life that I wanted to do something creative. I played in punk rock bands in my 20s, toured round Europe a lot and learned a bit about sound recording. In 1993, I traveled to Asia with a small grant of the British Library to record and document indigenous music. In 1997, in Kathmandu, I met a couple who had cycled from Europe to Nepal and were writing about it. I edited their stories and accompanied them to the local newspaper. When they managed to sell their stories, I asked the editor whether he’d take one of mine. A month later I had the weekend supplement, a long feature on Nepali traditional music. I never looked back…within a year I was writing travel guides to get by, was working on my first novel, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, and my first non-fiction book Beyond the Pancake Trench. All that then provided the foundation for a career in journalism, non-fiction and fiction, screenplays etc.

Tawny: What is your writing process? Do you outline and such?

Tom: I do outline – for the novel I’m working on now, The Green Panthers, an eco-thriller, not published yet, I wrote a detailed plot outline, and separate outlines for the major and even some of the minor characters. For the plot outline, I break the story down into several acts and then as I go along, even chapters. I don’t stick to the outline religiously when I write, but I try to keep the original narrative arc intact, otherwise there’s a real danger of getting lost or writing myself into a corner.

I take around 3-4 months to write a first draft of around 80000 words. Kolkata Noir is 42000 words and I wrote that in three months while researching my subjects, story lines and locations. I then take 8 months to a year to edit the text. It goes through many different incarnations. I get others to read it, comment and then re-edit again and again. Once a novel is with a publisher, they usually demand or suggest more changes. And they are usually right.

There’s not one moment when I think a story is perfect. At some point I reach saturation, get distracted by other writing projects or the book simply slips away and goes to the printer.

I write anywhere any time, not precious about location, mood or timing – it’s a job after all. Can’t imagine a plumber saying, ooh, today I don’t feel like laying pipes. Similar with journalistic work. There are usually deadlines. With writing fiction, I do get stuck sometimes. But usually, when I am in the flow, I leave the text for a few days, then return to it, look at the outline again and get right back into it. I have never had writer’s block, touch wood, never will.

Tawny: How do you come up with your characters?

Tom: Major and minor characters are a mixture of people I have met and characters I read about, see in news stories, or in movies. As a journalist I get to meet and interview a wide variety of people, rich and poor, crooked and straight, smart and stupid, entitled and humble etc. Some characters are really based on these real life encounters, some are entirely made up, most are a mixture of both. I do try and nail them down in character studies I commence before I start writing, and then add to as I get into the text.

Tawny: How do you come up with your stories?

Tom: I read a lot, I travel for my job (I am Southeast Asia correspondent for Reise Know How, a German travel publisher, and Thailand expert for The Daily Telegraph), pretty constantly before Covid19 hit.

For the novels, it takes me quite a long time to come up with a basic premise/central idea that is strong enough to sustain a long story. I have long lists of such ideas, but most don’t pan out. In the particular case of Kolkata Noir, I was selected as artist in residence by the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan for the Indo-European Art Residency in Kolkata in 2019. I spent three months in Kolkata – never slept, just drifted around the city and wrote, wrote, wrote, and came up with three novellas and a short story. As I had been visiting Kolkata for many years, I decided to set one story in the past I knew (1999), the present I was observing (2019) and the future I could imagine (2039) – the latter crammed with ideas of what might become of Kolkata.

Kolkata has a fictitious detective called Feluda, the brain child of well-known art house film maker Satyajit Ray. Feluda is the city’s equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. I would never dare to write a Feluda story, but I did create a female character for Kolkata Noir, a police inspectress who’s his grand-niece.

Tawny: Do you read yourself? And if so what genre do you enjoy? I know they say to read what you write, but I have met authors who enjoy reading outside their genre from time to time.

Tom: Writing without reading, as anyone will tell you, is not possible. I read widely. I just saw that I have read 900 articles in The Guardian this year so far. As well as aticles in countless other publications. I read a lot of fiction, I guess two or three novels a month when I am on form and have the time. I read commercial fiction, crime fiction and espionage because that’s what I write, but I am always interested in reading other stuff – at the moment I am ploughing through a very good coming of age story set in Leningrad in WWII (City of Thieves by David Benioff) and a book about left wing and anarchist resistance to capitalism in Berlin since WWII (Berlin/Stadt der Revolte by Sontheimer/Wensierski).

Tawny: What are your hobbies outside of your writing?

Tom: I play guitar, occasionally in bands. But most of the time I travel, read and write. Being a freelance writer has been a full-time job for 25 years – that doesn’t leave all that much energy for other endeavors.

Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work.

Chubby’s Tale – Children’s Book Review

Chubby’s Tale The true story of a teddy bear who beat cancer, is adorable. It is a children’s book written by Carola Schimdt whose books I have covered one of her books before I will link that review at the end of this one if you are curious. 

Chubby’s Tale is a delightful children’s book about a little teddy bear who feels sick and seeks the help of doctor toys in the store he lived in while he waits to be purchased. It is close to Christmas time, and he wants to make sure he can be purchased for a happy child.

The story easily holds attention, from Chubby feeling sick to his cure, cancer, particularly Leukemia, is explained simply for a child to understand, as is bone marrow transplant. These difficult subjects are covered in a warm narration. In addition to the excellent story and information the artwork is cute and warm. 

So is Chubby’s Tale something to read to your child? I think so. I also think it would make a fantastic stocking stuffer this holiday season.

Here is another work by Carola Schimdt.

The Four Suitors – Book Review

The Four Suitors by Sophie Jupillat Posey is a wonderful fantasy romance novel following the life of a spoiled princess who, after having her well for many years, is suddenly put in to the care of four suitors who are tasked with the duty to educate her. The one who does the best to be her husband. A strange demand, even in this fantastical world.

The Four Suitors is a solid fantasy novel, the world is well designed with some clear and solid world building elements. The universe is touched on briefly, showing that the author has put some serious thought in to even the various planets of this novel’s universe, not just the various countries needed for the novel. As world building can be a daunting task, it is always good to see it done well.

The characters in the story are also interesting. The main character in particular is shows some intense development, which everyone wants to see in a major character, though admittedly at the start of the book I found her to be such a repulsive child I also put the book down for a few hours, however, she does grow on the reader as you progress through the story.

In short, The Four Suitors is a wonderful fantasy novel with enough romance to get you that romance kick you are searching for. Pick it up, the read is very worth it!

Oliver of the Silver Hand – Short Story Review

Oliver of the Silver Hand is a story by S. Marie Diegutis. It is a short story and prequel to the Dragon Hatcher series. This short story combines commonly known myths and legends such as Merlin and dragons, along with the author’s own characters. This gives the story an interesting feeling of originality while using the wizard we all know from Arthurian legends. This short story is certainly an entertaining one.

Short stories can be a little difficult, particularly when they are attached to a larger series. An author has to connect it to the larger story, while also giving us enough information in the single short story to stay interested, instead of just wanting to skip it and go pick up the novels it’s attached to. Thankfully, with Oliver of the Silver Hand, Diegutis keeps you interested. Tidbits of information are given to us, though enough is left out to make the reader want to pick up the series when it is available. I know I will be looking look for this series when it comes out.

As touched previously, the story uses the Arthurian character Merlin. This is done well and interestingly using lessor known stories about the magic man having a sister, which ties him to Oliver, the main character as his brother-in-law. The Merlin in this story is certainly not limited to the wise and carefully guiding character we are used to, he’s a bit of a drunken playboy in this story. An interesting take on the character and worth reading. As for the other characters of the story, they are equally worth reading about, though of original creation.

As stated before, Oliver of the Silver Hand is a prequel, so there are questions left out that make one want to read the rest of the series. Such as more about the dragons and their various abilities, as well as some of the main character Oliver, who even so early in the series seems to have a huge history that could be fun to learn about.

Over all, Oliver of the Silver Hand is worth reading, and should be picked up by fans of fantasy. Hopefully, the rest of the series will be as entertaining as it’s prequel!

I got my copy of Oliver of the Silver Hand on Reedsy Discovery!

Devil in the Red Dirt – Book Review

The Devil in the Red Dirt is a historical fiction novel by Michael P. Smith taking place in Australia in the mid-60s. It follows a corrupt detective, a damaged but well meaning detective and an aboriginal man who had lost his identity as they search the gorgeous and troubled physical and mental landscape of Australia seeking the demented killer of innocent children who seems to have people in power covering their tracks.

The Devil in the Red Dirt is an excellent read. It covers some incredibly difficult topics ranging from racism to child abuse to death and drug use. These difficult topics are covered in all their filthy detail, making sure this novel not for the faint of heart. If any of the topics mentioned this book easily disturb you, this book is not for you. However, I found the disturbing nature of the story made it an excellent work of fiction, and more so, an excellent mystery. Smith does an excellent job of leaving you wanting to know more and how this villain will pay for their crimes, or if the morally bankrupt society they live in will win out!

As stated before, The Devil in the Red Dirt is an excellent, though very dark, novel. The story is well written and the main characters, who are all well rounded and twisted enough to feel real. The side characters are equally intriguing. Smith has provided us with a cast of colorful and realistic criminals, creating a fantastic display of the Australian criminal world in the 60s. Even when the story slips away from the main characters, you can find yourself still interested in the activities of the background cast. This means the story avoids the dull and mind numbing side stories that can often pop up in a novel’s supporting characters. The lives of each person mentioned form in to a wonderful over arching tapestry of human failings.

The Devil in the Red Dirt is an excellent book that fans of historical fiction, crime, or mystery could enjoy. Though don’t go in to it if you’re too squeamish about the dark side of the human species.

I got my copy of Devil in The Red Dirt from Reedsy Discovery

The Descent a story from Ékleipsis the abyss – A Review

This time of year, October, if you are reading this at another point in time, I like to seek out scary and thrilling reads to get in to the seasonal mood. So upon being asked to review one story from Ékleipsis the abyss, a collection of short stories by Tamel Wino, I thought, hey great timing! After taking a very brief look at what was offered, I agreed to read and review The Descent, a story about a pilot who risks his life to save someone from certain death and finds himself needing to seek that thrill again. That sense that he is defying death by the skin of his teeth.

This is a short story, so a lot is packed in to the page count. The main character, Chris goes through some serious emotional ups and downs. He is a naturally selfish person, ending up always putting himself before everything else, even when he seems to have everything in order, he ends up back tracking to his selfish ways. This story is told in the first person, so the tale is all from Chris’s point of view. You briefly hear his opinions of the side characters. They are as colorful as one can assume after getting to know the main characters.

Now as for the thrill Chris seeks, and readers of horror often look for, oh, oh you will get it! You will get it in the most jaw dropping way. This story was amazing, and it ended with me on the edge of my seat. This is well worth the time to read. When I have a chance, I will go back to read the rest of the stories in this book as well!

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