Book Reviews: Part XIII

Four books to review in this installment, including a pair of books from personal favorites, a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid, and a new superhero entry that’s so damn readable.

Destroyed by Madeline Dyer

DestroyedI suppose with a title like Destroyed, an unhappy ending was inevitable.

And that’s all I’ll say about the ending, because to spoil the ending would be to deprive you of the satisfying yet heart-wrenching conclusion to one of the best, most intense, most well-written dystopian series I’ve read. Madeline Dyer is at her best in Destroyed, the fourth and final installment in the Seven Sarr series. The result is a fast-paced, action-packed, intellectually-fraught read where neither the characters nor the reader can relax and take a breath.

The pacing issues from previous installments are a thing of the past. Seven is at her strongest now, but she’s also stretched beyond her limits, she constantly questions herself… as Chosen One tales go, I feel like this series does a great job of balancing the certainty of action with the uncertainty of being human.

Being the Chosen One is a heady responsibility, one I feel most in this genre forget. Dyer makes sure her protagonist never feels relief from the weight that responsibility places on her. And with such a worthy antagonist in Raleigh, who is at his most devious (if not his most violent), and this is the satisfying build-up and payoff a series finale should be.

I did have to read the ending twice, because I’m so conditioned to expect a zig that any zag, of any degree, hits at first with a sense of “…Huh?” But it fits perfectly with Destroyed, and it fits perfectly with the series as a whole. The TV show Angel‘s finale was controversial in some circles because of how different it was, but it fit the overall philosophy of the show.

Such is also the case with Destroyed.

Dyer has become an author whose work I will support no matter what genre she tackles, and given how deft she showed her skills in Destroyed, I eagerly await her next narrative venture. If YA dystopias are your thing, and the Untamed series isn’t on your shelf, then you are seriously missing out.

Rating: *****

Buy Destroyed on Amazon


Order of the Lily by Cait Ashwood

Order of the LilyIf The Seekers was a coming-of-age tale, then its follow-up, Order of the Lily, is all about what it means to be of age — and the ugliness and beauty within. Whereas Audrey faced metaphorical adolescence in the first book, the second book is where she, in a sense, reaches adulthood, stepping up to make difficult decisions.

For much of the book, those decisions are the typical sort for dystopian fiction. There’s a coordinated rescue, uneasy alliances, and Audrey finally being honest with herself about who she loves. All this while she’s dealing with being a mother of twins and still handling the pressure of being what amounts to this timeline’s Chosen One.

But then there’s the end… and an impossible choice that goes far beyond genre convention of “will they/won’t they?” and “who will the heroine be with?”

Again, Cait Ashwood carries a deft pen. Her prose is simultaneously easy to read and powerful; so many in this genre go so overboard with the prose that reading becomes a chore, because they spend so much on the prose that they forget what really matters. But Ashwood continues to keep the characters, their feelings and thoughts and motivations, at the forefront. Epic does not have to mean hard to read, and Order of the Lily is a perfect example of that.

Order of the Lily is every bit a worthy follow-up to The Seekers, and one would be hard-pressed to finish this one and not immediately clamor for the next installment. Dystopia and fantasy readers alike need this series.

Rating: ****

Buy Order of the Lily on Amazon


Someday I’ll Be Redeemed by Kelly Blanchard

Someday I'll Be RedeemedI’ll readily admit that I’m not as familiar with high fantasy as some others, so I don’t know how frequently the genre is married with others, but I’m engrossed by the way Kelly Blanchard has married high fantasy with science fiction in her novel Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, the first installment in the Chronicles of Lorrek.

The sci-fi angle isn’t immediately apparent — much of the open is establishing the typical fantasy trappings: kingdoms occasionally at odds with each other, royalty and its relatives in various stages of trouble, magic, etc. But as Blanchard slowly introduces the sci-fi elements, she changes not only the world these characters inhabit, but the characters themselves.

The changes are subtle, easy to miss at first, but just past the midway point, the tenor of the book changes — and without spoiling anything, the shift — while jarring — sucks in the reader. The pages really fly by at that point, and watching all the chess pieces move in both predictable and unexpected ways is a joy.

There are unanswered questions, but considering there are eight books to follow in the series, that’s to be expected. A small amount of patience is in order for just that reason, but the way Blanchard marries two genres together — to say nothing of the multi-layered protagonist at the heart of it all in Lorrek — makes me confident the wait will be worth it.

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed lays the foundation for what promises to be a great series, and while it’s neither truly high fantasy nor sci-fi, it’s a fascinating blending of the two, and fans of both will find plenty to enjoy here.

Rating: *****

Buy Someday I’ll Be Redeemed on Amazon (available in three-book box set)


Burden of Solace by Richard L. Wright

Burden of SolaceWith Burden of Solace, Richard L. Wright takes comic book-style superheroes from the panels to prose, and in the process, he gives the genre something it often lacks: a protagonist that doesn’t default to punching things.

The result? An engrossing, refreshing take on the genre.

My only qualm with this book was the villain; specifically, for a man with such grandiose plans (and they were grandiose; I wish they had been fleshed out more), he was too fixated on being a sexual predator toward Cassie, the protagonist. It’s an overdone trope that extends beyond the superhero genre — the threat of sexual violence against a female character — and I feel it merits discussion, should any potential readers be triggered by that sort of thing.

The rest of Burden of Solace is a tremendous read. Cassie is an easy protagonist to root for, in large part because Wright gets us to care about her before she becomes what she becomes. Along the way, Wright also introduces us to Guardian 175 — not only giving us a peak at the legacy-style superhero we often see from the likes of Superman, but also doing a good bit of worldbuilding.

Granted, politicians meddling in the affairs of superheroes is nothing new; even the bigwigs at Marvel and DC do it. But Wright handles it in such a way that feels grounded in reality, and the result is a superhero story that still feels grounded. No matter how big the action gets, we’re still rooted at the ground level, with Cassie and the Guardian.

In all, Burden of Solace is a great superhero story, a fun read, and the beginning of what I hope to be a great series. The superhero genre needs more love from the book world (and yeah, I’m a bit greedy in saying that), and books like this are a big reason why.

Rating: ****

Buy Burden of Solace on Amazon

The Best Books I Read in 2018

In many ways, 2018 was a struggle.

That includes my reading. I went into 2018 hoping to read 40 books. I’ve managed 28 — and frankly, I’m lucky to have even gotten that far. But I did come across some gems this year, and in this, the third year of me compiling this list, we have a first: a non-fiction entry.

NOTE: These are not the best books that came out in 2018, just the best ones I read this year.

5. Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Reaper at the GatesI can’t compare Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series to the rest of the YA dystopia set of genres, but I know her novels are intense, emotional, and a blast to read. Reaper at the Gates, the third entry in the series, is no different, and I daresay it’s the best of the series to this point.

This book juggles three points of view — Elias and Laia and Helena — and what could become a jumbled mess instead takes readers on a journey between three disparate and occasionally overlapping perspectives, which only adds to the readability. A great book leaves you wanting more once the last page is turned, and Reaper at the Gates delivers in that regard.

Reaper at the Gates is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

4. Death Rites by E.A. Copen

Death RitesWhat do you get when you take Harry Dresden and drop him in a mythology-rich city like New Orleans? Something a lot like Death Rites, the first book in E.A. Copen’s Lazarus Codex series. While I will go to my grave defending Judah Black (Copen’s other mystical whodunnit series), she’s found a winner in Laz.

Copen shows a deft touch not only when it comes to worldbuilding and creating memorable side characters, she’s a master at making Laz a sarcastic little son of a bitch who’s also the sort of lovable loser you can’t help but root for. In a genre that’s almost overflowing, Copen has found a way to stand out, and I put the Lazarus Codex on the same level as R.R. Virdi’s Grave Report books.

Death Rites is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

3. Divided by Madeline Dyer

DividedWhile I enjoyed Fragmented, the second book in Madeline Dyer’s dystopia Untamed series, it lacked something that made me fall in love with the first book. But with book three, Divided, Dyer has fully returned to form, and what unfolds is a gripping, intense, at-times uncomfortable read.

Yet you’ll keep turning the pages. You’ll have to know what happens next. Even knowing there’s another book to go before everything wraps up, the journey is such a thrilling ride that you can’t help but want more. The first book, Untamed, laid out the stakes for Seven, but Divided is the first time I could actually feel them. Divided was so good that I want to read Destroyed *now.*

Divided is available in paperback and ebook.

2. Racing to the Finish by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan McGee

Racing to the FinishFor the first time, a non-fiction book makes this list, and for good reason. Retired NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. paired with ESPN’s Ryan McGee to offer a first-hand account of Earnhardt’s final few years behind the wheel, his battle with concussions, and why that battle ultimately led to his decision to step out of the car.

The intimate first-hand account is hard to read at times, and the revelations contained should put any racing fan’s mind at ease as to why Earnhardt retired. Also, this book was written to help others dealing with head injuries and their aftereffects — and if just one person reads this book and seeks the help they need, then this book is an unmitigated success.

Racing to the Finish is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.

1. Celestial by S.E. Anderson

CelestialJust when I think I can’t love S.E. Anderson’s Starstruck series any more, she puts out a new release. Celestial, book four in the series, is every bit as lighthearted and funny as its predecessors — but for the first time, the stakes feel as heavy as they should. The stark reality of just how out of her element Sally really is slaps you in the face, and you can’t help but keep going.

Anderson strikes a delicate balance in this book, showing how dire everything is without Celestial falling into the same taking-itself-too-seriously trap that so many others in the sci-fi genre do. There are still laughs, but there are also thrills, chills, and a few tears. And with how Celestial ends, the next installment can’t come soon enough.

Celestial is available in paperback and ebook.

Honorable Mention: Console Wars by Blake J. Harris, Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis, Elevation by Stephen King, Traveler by S.E. Anderson, Miracles Not Included by C.A. King, Fortunate Son by E.A. Copen, Leading the Way by Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan

DESTROYED Blog Tour: Excerpt

I’m excited to a be part of the blog tour for Madeline Dyer’s latest release, Destroyed! I’ve already read the first two books in the series — the excellent Untamed and Fragmented — and I’m currently reading the third book, Divided.

The finale of her YA dystopian fantasy Untamed series went live on Nov. 20, and I’m pleased to share an excerpt.



“They’ve ruined it,” Corin whispers. “Why?”ebook (1)

“Because that’s what the Enhanced do.” My voice is soft. Or maybe it was the destruction that did it. The destruction I caused.

I take a deep breath and look at what’s left of Nbutai.

“What do we do?” Corin asks. His face is flushed with heat and sweat, but the coming air will be icy—I just know it will. Corin takes a step closer. “Sev?”

Something cracks high above me, and I freeze, look up: soot and debris, and a large rock. It falls a hundred yards away. Dust plumes up, reaches us, and we all turn, our backs to it.

My dog howls again.

“We have to stay here,” Taras yells, his voice coarse as he and Jana join us. “There’s going to be another storm, but that hut over there looks okay. There must be some game around here too. We need to find food, rest a bit—properly, before we travel to the Tareskl Peninsula and find my people.”

“Your people?” Corin says.

“Of course. They have been left unprotected, with no Seer.” He glances at Jana. “Your people too? Are you their only Seer? How many are in your group?”

Every muscle in Jana’s forehead visibly tightens, and her eyes narrow. “Talking of people we will never see again is pointless.”

“But we will see them again,” Taras says. “They are your family, we will look for them.”

“I have no family. Not anymore.”

“Why?” Esther asks. “You don’t know they’re dead.”

Jana kicks at the ground. “Some of them deserve to be.”

I inhale sharply and glance at the others. They all look at me, then each other.

A strange silence radiates from Jana as she folds her arms, and then the five of us are moving, and it’s like we’re all pretending Jana didn’t say that. Because why would she? What could they have done?


Pick up your copy of Destroyed (and the other three books in the series) here:

Amazon  |  iBooks  |  Kobo  |  Nook  |  Google Play 


About Madeline Dyer
30591626_2044993659121645_3880142398021435392_n (1)Madeline Dyer lives on a farm in the southwest of England, where she hangs out with her Shetland ponies and writes young adult books—sometimes, at the same time. She holds a BA Honors degree in English from the University of Exeter, and several presses have published her fiction. Madeline has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal, and she can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes.

Copy of Copy of July 11, 2017 (1)

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In which I review a pair of fantastic debuts — from Cait Ashwood and Kerri Maniscalco — and a great sequel from Madeline Dyer.

The Seekers by Cait Ashwood

the-seekersI received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In her debut novel The Seekers, author Cait Ashwood has shown that even in the far future, humanity is not as evolved as it probably should be — particularly with regard to how women are viewed by society. It’s a truth that is, at times, unveiled in an uncomfortable fashion (fair warning, there are a couple passages that are potentially hard to read) — but Ashwood navigates the subject matter without being heavy-handed and without letting us lose sight of what truly matters:

The characters.

Specifically, Audrey. While the book starts off with an ensemble cast, by the time The Seekers reaches the midway point, we’ve shed much of the cast in a variety of ways, leaving us focused mainly on Audrey, Ace, and Hound. While I almost reflexively revolt against anything even remotely resembling a love triangle, I had no such reaction here. I can’t quite account for that, other than the fact that Ashwood creates such vivid, memorable characters that I cared more about them individually — particularly Audrey — than any hint of who might eventually end up with whom.

In some ways, The Seekers is a coming-of-age story. In others, it reads like a future dystopia. But Audrey is at the heart of it all, from the moment we first meet her — fresh out of therapy — until we see her face both her greatest dream and her worst nightmare. The seeds of a vibrant futuristic world have been planted in this book, and there are questions therein, but to think of the world or the Seekers or the Order to be the focus would be a mistake.

While treating us to beautiful twists of language, Ashwood gets us to care about Audrey — and for some other characters I hope to see in the next book. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a character-over-plot guy; get me to care about your characters, and I’ll go on virtually any journey with them. The Seekers accomplishes just that, as Ashwood turns in a remarkable debut effort that succeeds both as a character journey and a commentary on sexist cultures past, present, and future.

This book is highly recommended.

Buy The Seekers on Amazon


Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

stalking-jack-the-ripperAnyone who’s read my work knows I’m a sucker for genre mash-ups — specifically, mixing murder mystery with science fiction. But any cybernetic mumbo-jumbo I come up with pales in comparison to Kerri Maniscalco’s debut work Stalking Jack the Ripper, which is a fantastic romp that introduces us to the world of forensic science in 1880s London.

First and foremost, Maniscalco introduces us to the brilliant Audrey Rose (side note: two of the books I’ve read so far in 2017 feature protagonists named Audrey — and they’re both excellent). She’s a forensic understudy, despite what polite society wants for women in that day and age, yet she still maintains her femininity whenever possible. I love female heroes, especially when the simple reality of their presence flies in the face of convention.

Fortunately, this book is more than a period piece making a gender statement. Audrey’s brain takes readers on a thrilling journey as she tries to piece together who Jack the Ripper might be. There are plenty of candidates who make sense as the book goes along, and while I didn’t see the ultimate reveal coming, it makes sense with a healthy dose of hindsight.

The best mysteries don’t necessarily shock you; they simply keep you thinking as you flip through page after page. Stalking Jack the Ripper does just that.

The sci-fi aspect really doesn’t come into effect until the big reveal at the end, but it’s such a deliciously morbid reality that adds such depth to the world Audrey Rose and the other characters inhabit that it’s more satisfying than I had anticipated. I’ve read my share of mysteries that end with the thud, but this book builds to a crescendo.

A minor aside: I love that Maniscalco added a section at the end of the book, detailing the facts she kept from the real-life mystery of Jack the Ripper and where she took liberties. It was a nice little peek behind the curtain that I wish more writers would offer.

All in all, Maniscalco has created a fantastic heroine and a vibrant world that straddles the line of reality and fantasy — and I am thrilled another book is in the works. If you love mysteries, or historical stories, or just a damn good tale, you’d do well to give Stalking Jack the Ripper a read. There are a couple difficult passages for those weak of stomach, but that doesn’t deter from what is a clever, well-written tale.

Buy Stalking Jack the Ripper on Amazon


Fragmented by Madeline Dyer

fragmentedWhereas Untamed, Madeline Dyer’s debut novel, was a character-driven YA dystopia, the follow-up Fragmented feels more like a drug-induced mind trip — which is simultaneously frustrating and enthralling for the reader.

This book takes place in the immediate aftermath of Untamed, but before long, we’re left with protagonist Seven and Corin — on the run, on their own. They wind up with a band of people named the Zharat, but what starts as a simple case of finding refuge with potential like-minded allies turns into something else entirely… and for roughly 250 pages, you’ll find yourself thinking you know what’s going on, only to discover you’re nowhere near right.

Along the way, Seven is convinced she’s going mad, and I sometimes felt the same way as I navigated through all the twists. Going back and forth in trying to determine which characters can be trusted and which ones can’t, pushing through the occasional tough-to-read passage (there are a couple of them, fair warning), flipping pages through the ending in which the futility of everything becomes crystal clear… even as the answers became clear, more questions popped up.

Fragmented is an adrenaline-packed read, and Dyer once again establishes her ability to create vibrant, memorable characters. That ability is what makes this a great read, even if you find yourself flipping through pages on numerous occasions asking yourself “WTF?” — and you will be doing just that.

The lack of clarity is occasionally frustrating, and there is a cliffhanger (but it’s abundantly clear going forward that there are two more books to come in this series). Fragmented will keep you turning the pages, will keep you guessing.

And when it’s over, you’ll be asking yourself when the next one’s coming.

Buy Fragmented on Amazon


I’m a huge fan of Madeline Dyer’s debut novel Untamed, a YA dystopia that’s more character-driven than anything else. It was a gripping, intense read, and I can’t wait until the sequel, Fragmented, hits on Sept. 7. In the meantime, I’m proud to show off the cover for Fragmented, courtesy of Prizm Books!


After the terrible battle against the Enhanced Ones, Seven and Corin find themselves on the run. With the Enhanced closing in, Seven knows they need to find other people on their side. So, when the opportunity arises to join the Zharat, one of the last surviving Untamed tribes, it seems like the perfect solution.

But the Zharat lifestyle is a far cry from what Seven’s used to. With their customs dictating that she must marry into their tribe, and her relationship with Corin breaking down, Seven knows she has to do something before it’s too late. But that’s easier said than done in a tribe where going against the rules automatically results in death.

And, with the Enhanced still out there, nowhere is truly safe for the Untamed–least of all for the most powerful Seer in the world… and Seven soon discovers how far people will go in order to ensure that she’s on their side in the War of Humanity.

Battling against the emerging web of lies, manipulation, and danger, Seven must remember who she was meant to be. Her life has never been more at stake. Nor has humanity itself. 

Check out Madeline’s website for more information, including future pre-orders.

And while you’re awaiting Fragmented, pick up a copy of Untamed!

UntamedAs one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven’s life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don’t question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides–because once you’re Enhanced there’s no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy’s power. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she’s to escape and save her family from the same fate.
Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren’t clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.
Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.
About the Author

Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and holds a BA with honours in English from the University of Exeter. She has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal, and can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Madeline is currently working on a YA paranormal thriller. Fragmented is her second novel.