A Hold on Me, by Pat Esden

One of the things I’m trying to be better about this year is reviewing books that I read. I’ve promised myself I would do at least one per month, although -ideally- I’d like to try for two.

And therefore, January’s first review is:

A hold on me (2)

I was given an early copy of this book by the author (who is a friend of mine), and read it back in November when I was travelling. November….that gives you an idea how slow I am.

My thoughts:

First of all, I loved the atmosphere of the novel, which managed to keep me on edge throughout. It was creepy and misty and foggy, and made the interaction between the characters that much more intense.

The story follows Annie Freemont as she takes her father to their ancestral home in Maine–Moonhill. It’s there that things begin to spin out of her control. Her father’s taken away from her and she’s left to fend for herself (mostly) in a creepy side wing of the family mansion.

Over the course of the next few days, she learns more about the inhabitants of the mansion, and the secrets of her family (but I can’t say anything more about that) as well as the mystery of Chase, the family’s servant? pool boy? gate keeper? (OK, I’m kidding about the pool boy part).

What Esden does exceptionally well here is craft a relatable and believable heroine, one I’m willing to follow through a stressful adventure. I’m eager to see the next book in this series as well, so I’m hopeful that it will come out soon!

5/5 Stars


There’s also a giveaway for this book over at Goodreads. You can sign up for it here.


Strong Female Characters (from Childhood)

I’ve got an article up at the Ragnarok Publications Blog, where I’m talking about a Strong Female Character from my childhood, Mrs. Frisby. 

My article is about the character who can’t fix her problems by herself, something that’s very very common in real life, but not as common in fiction.  So drop by and give it a look (although I don’t think there’s any way to comment.)


Tropes in Genre Fiction: Beyond the Beards – Deciphering the Surly Dwarf! by Josh Vogt

My guest today is Josh Vogt, novelist with Pathfinder Tales.  His new novel will be released June 9th, and is available for preorder just about everywhere. (click on the cover to go to Amazon.)


But today, he’s here to talk about something he knows all too well…dwarves!

So take it away, Josh!

Tropes in Genre Fiction

Beyond the Beards – Deciphering the Surly Dwarf!

What could be more of a fantasy trope than angry, violence-prone dwarves? Even people who aren’t into fantasy at all can name familiar elements that define dwarves in our cultural mindset. These often include “short and stout,” “love of gold/mining,” “lots of ale,” beards, beards, and more beards,” and “never toss one.” Oh, and their penchant for swinging axes in the thick of battle.

In Forge of Ashes, my Pathfinder Tales sword and sorcery adventure set in the world of Golarion, my main character is Akina, a dwarven barbarian. While she lacks the beard, she definitely has the “battletude” dwarves are famous for, preferring to solve problems with a good whack of her maulaxe or laying into foes with her fists. On the surface, she exhibits a lot of the traditional dwarven characteristics (aside from the beard). However, one of my goals in the story was to dig deeper with her and discover what really drove her unique passions and what it really means to be a dwarf in this world.

Akina has a bit of a different perspective because, as the adventure begins, she’s just returning home from fighting abroad for a decade. She’s lost touch with her cultural identity to a degree and is wanting to reconnect with her family and rediscover a sense of purpose beyond just fighting to live beyond the next battle. Unfortunately, things hardly go as planned and she’s plunged into a quest to save those she cares about from a terrible fate.

And that’s the thing. She truly does care about others, though she certainly shows it in odd ways. In fact, one of the quickest ways to rouse her fury is to malign or threaten her companions or family. She’s willing to step into the breach for their sakes, even if they aren’t able or willing to return the gesture. Why? Because, while Akina might not say it outright, she sees other lives as holding inherent value. They’re worth protecting at all costs. She fights to defy all that’s wicked and vile, to preserve the rich legacy of her people, and to make the world just a little bit safer for those who aren’t always able to defend themselves.

This is where things go beyond “a dwarf fights because she’s a dwarf and dwarves fight…” It’s more than mercenary work, where it’s just a job with the promise of gold at the end. The dwarves of Golarion are a proud people, with a vibrant culture and infinite variety in their pursuits and passions. I enjoyed writing Forge of Ashes because I got to explore more unique facets of dwarven identity and culture, questioning the stereotypes while finding fresher approaches to how they’re represented. I got to write about dwarves as priests, as explorers, as lovers, as villains, as heroes, as artists, and more.

Yes, the axes and mugs of ale are still there but, once readers finish the story, my hope is they come away with a better understanding of how dwarves can remain relevant and fascinating despite how much they’ve been boxed-in over the years. There’s always new layers to uncover; we just have to be willing to delve deeper.


Josh-8194-2 - smallest

Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers

Thanks for visiting, Josh!


Book of the Week: Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo

I have been waiting to see one of Cat Rambo’s novels published for a long time, so I’m really pumped that this one is out now!


From the blurb:

When countryboy Teo arrives in the coastal city of Tabat, he finds it a hostile place, particularly to a boy hiding an enormous secret. It’s also a city in turmoil, thanks to an ancient accord to change governments and the rising demands of Beasts, the Unicorns, Dryads, Minotaurs and other magical creature on whose labor and bodies Tabat depends. And worst of all, it’s a city dedicated to killing Shifters, the race whose blood Teo bears. When his fate becomes woven with that of Tabat’s most famous gladiator, Bella Kanto, his existence becomes even more imperiled. Kanto’s magical battle determines the weather each year, and the wealthy merchants are tired of the long winters she’s brought. Can Teo and Bella save each other from the plots that are closing in on them from all sides?

Buy it here: 

Amazon (hardcopy) : (Kindle) : B&N : Smashwords

Here’s a little bit that you need to know. It’s Cat Rambo’s debut novel, but  she’s published a -lot- of short fiction in the past. You can find a listing/discussion of those over on her website.  She’s also been putting up a bunch of free fiction recently as part of the book release–a list with pointers to all of them can be found on that same page.

And just so you know that I’m not alone in my love of Cat’s work, here’s a few of the early reviews:

I can honestly say that Cat Rambo’s Beasts of Tabat is one of the best and most interesting fantasy novels I’ve had the pleasure to read during recent years. -Risingshadow.net

This was a fantastic introduction to Rambo’s writing, and I can say without a shred of doubt that her worldbuilding is outstanding, wrought with care and full of fine detail that makes it all pop on the pages and come alive for the reader. – Bibliotropic

This book is just tremendously written. It’s evocative, and intense, and uncomfortable, and utterly unlike most of the fantasy being produced today. – Amazon review

So go out and  get your copy today!!!


Book of the Week: Disciple of the Wind by Steve Bein (+ Author Interview)

This week I’m featuring the newest book from my friend Steve Bein, the third in his Fated Blades series!


From the cover:
When Tokyo falls victim to a deadly terrorist attack, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro knows who is responsible, even if she doesn’t have proof. She urges her commanding officers to arrest the perpetrator—an insane zealot who was just released from police custody. When her pleas fall on deaf ears, she loses her temper and then her badge, as well as her best chance of fighting back.

Left on her own, and armed with only her cunning and her famed Inazuma blade, Mariko must work outside the system to stop a terrorist mastermind. But going rogue draws the attention of an underground syndicate known as the Wind. For centuries, they have controlled Japanese politics from the shadows, using mystical relics to achieve their nefarious ends—relics like Mariko’s own sword and the iron demon mask whose evil curse is bound to the blade. Now the Wind is set on acquiring Mariko.

Mariko is left with a perilous choice: Join an illicit insurgency to thwart a deadly villain, or remain true to the law. Either way, she cannot escape her sword’s curse. As sure as the blade will bring her to victory, it also promises to destroy her….



Sounds great, huh?

Well, I thought I’d talk to Steve about his work here to celebrate it’s release.


1) So Steve, Disciple of the Wind is the third novel in your Fated Blades series (I should note here for readers that there are two novellas as well), all of which are set in Japan.  Can you tell us a bit about why you chose that setting?

I’m a Japanophile, plain and simple. I was in grade school when the ninja craze really swept the US. Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sho Kosugi, all of them captivated me. By junior high my tastes matured a little and I got into Akira Kurosawa, then James Clavell. In college I found martial arts, which got me reading Miyamoto Musashi, which eventually led me to a whole shelf of books on bushidō.

Around thirteen or fourteen I read my first book on Zen Buddhism, and it really spoke to me. (I’m not a practicing Buddhist, but Zen made more sense to me—and still does, really—than any other philosophical tradition I know.) It wasn’t until college that I started studying Japanese philosophy in earnest, and as I progressed there, I also I got deeper into martial arts. Those two created a kind of virtuous circle, each one encouraging the study of the other. From there I went off to grad school, specializing in Japanese philosophy. Then came a couple of years living in Nagoya and Tokyo, where I was suffused in the culture in a way none of my academic studies could ever duplicate. So today it’s fair to say that Japan is in my blood. I’ve never lost my fascination with it.

2) And you chose as your main character a Narcotics Detective. That’s a pretty specific niche!  How or why did you choose to go that route?

I had a couple of choices with Mariko. The Fated Blades books are multi-layered, with the modern day police thriller serving both as the primary storyline and the lens through which we get to look back at episodes in Japanese history. All the historical pieces follow the exploits of the Inazuma blades, the deadliest swords ever forged. Whoever the contemporary character was going to be, she had to have good reason to investigate the past, or else she couldn’t fulfill her purpose as a lens.

The first and most obvious choice was a historian, but I wanted to write a more exciting protagonist than some professor sitting in a study reading books. (The historian ultimately did make it into the book: he’s Mariko’s sensei when she takes up swordfighting.) The next obvious choice was a journalist, but again, I wanted a more exciting book than that. Settling on a police detective wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have any natural connection to the past, but at last I figured out what now seems inevitable: the crimes she investigates would revolve around the mysterious Inazuma blades.

As for her Narcotics assignment, that actually didn’t come until the very last draft of Daughter of the Sword. My editor observed that Mariko’s relationship with her sister Saori hadn’t been fleshed out yet. At the same time, I wanted to tease out the already-existing themes of obsession and addiction. One of the Inazuma blades has an effect on its wielder quite similar to—well, let’s be blunt: it’s an homage to—the One Ring. Gollum is an addict, as are the characters who take up this sword. Making Saori an addict afforded me another opportunity to bring out that theme in the book, and it complicated the relationship between the Oshiro sisters. Once Saori became an addict, Mariko suddenly had her mission in life: she knows she can’t make her sister sober up—only Saori can do that—so instead she dedicates herself to bringing down the people who sell the poison that ruined her sister’s life.

3) How do you feel your main character (Mariko) has changed in the process of these stories?

At the beginning of her career she wasn’t as confident as she needed to be. Throughout the three books she’s her own harshest critic, but in Daughter of the Sword she sees herself as too small, too weak, too easily pushed aside to be an effective cop. In Japan law enforcement is still very much a male-dominated profession, so every day is another attack on Mariko’s self-esteem. She has to outperform everyone just to be seen as an equal.

As the books progress, her martial training doesn’t just make her more effective in a fight; she’s also more confident, more self-assured. By the time we get to Disciple of the Wind, Mariko is officially a Certified Ass-Kicker. We get to see her take on a skilled knife-fighter with nothing other than an arm cast. But there’s a downside too. Right from the start she had trouble minding her tongue, and the more confident she comes, the easier it becomes for her to shoot her mouth off. That tends to get her in a lot of trouble.

4) Your novels feature entwined stories, one concerning Mariko and her present day trials, but others feature characters in Japan’s past. This had to take a ton of research, especially since they weren’t all in the same period.  What’s your favorite of those past eras, and is it possible that we might see you focusing on one of them in the future?

The Warring States period (1467-1603) is an era of constant turmoil. The emperor doesn’t even rate as a figurehead, and the rule of law is utterly shattered, replaced by 100 years of civil war. Then, in just forty years, Japan transforms from a rabble of feuding fiefdoms to a unified empire. It’s a fascinating time, and with the lone exception of World War II, I think more books have been written on the Warring States period than any other era of Japanese history.

I do have several characters living in this period. In Daughter of the Sword it’s Daigoro Okuma, a fledgling samurai who returns throughout the series. In Year of the Demon it’s Kaida, a young pearl diver who reappears in my new novella, Streaming Dawn. They’re my favorites to write, in large part because the research is so much fun. The truth is, I’m just as enamored with samurai and ninja stories today as I was when I first discovered them in the fourth grade. I could write a hundred books in this period and never get bored.

5) Since this is your third Fated Blades novel, I wondered whether there will be more. What can we expect from you next?

When my agent asked that question, I said what I really want more than anything else right now is to write a simple book. One era, one storyline, one set of characters. So that’s what I’m going to do, but this one is going to test me in entirely new ways. It’s hard SF, but the POV characters don’t understand enough science to know that. To them it looks like steampunk with a healthy dose of magic stirred in. Think Firefly meets Robinson Crusoe. It’s a story of space-faring people who have lost their way, forgetting so much that now they can’t get back into space. But trouble from space can still get to them, which they discover in the worst way possible.

6) And where can we find you in person this summer?  Will you be appearing at any cons or readings?

A bunch, actually. I’ll be speaking on the “Reinventing the Hero(ine)” panel at C2E2, also known as Chicago Comic Con (April 24-26). I’m on a couple of panels at Comicpalooza in Houston (May 22-25), moderating one (“Writing Tips and Tricks: How to Create Believable Worlds”) and speaking on another (“Multiculturalism in Science Fiction and Fantasy”). I’m also on at least three panels at ArmadilloCon in Austin (July 24-26, no topics announced yet). I’ll post all the details and updates—and, when the time comes, pictures—on Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, martial artist, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’sInterzoneWriters of the Future , and in international translation. His first novel, Daughter of the Sword , was met with critical acclaim, and his second novel, Year of the Demon, was named one of the top five fantasy novels of 2013 by Library Journal . Steve’s newest book, Disciple of the Wind is in stores now, and his new novella, Streaming Dawn , is available now for your e-reader. You can find his work at Powell’s , Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Audible.

Steve teaches philosophy at Texas State University. He lives in Austin with his partner Michele and their Black Lab, Kane. On the web he lives at http://www.philosofiction.com.


Book of the Week: Emilie and the Hollow World (Today at 1.99!)


Now, this isn’t a new book–it’s been around for a while. But I’m putting it up here today because it’s temporarily priced at $1.99! (And that price might not hang on much longer…in fact, today might be the last day. With Amazon, who knows?)

So to give you a bit of a feel what it’s like, here’s the blurb:
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

Now I loved these books, both Hollow World and it’s sequel, Emilie and the Sky World:61c85YhDj9L

These -are- young adult novels, BTW. So they’re great threshold books for youngsters wanting something new to read. And at this price for kindle (B&N seems to have it on sale as well.) it’s an easy way to try out the series.

Once more into the breach (Reading, that is…)

So once again, I started off the new year with a promise to myself that I would read more. I’m trying to spend less time doing filler stuff, like endlessly checking FB or Twitter, or randomly watching TV shows that I don’t care about. And so far I have been able to read some.

I read 4 books in January
Rivers of London (AKA Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch (mystery/fantasy)
Quaternity by Kenneth Mark Hoover (western/horror)
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn (historical romance)
The Magician’s Mistake by Katherine Sparrow (urban fantasy)

So far this month I’ve managed to plow through the remaining 4 Aaronovitch books, which are so clever (I cannot write clever for the life of me!) and fun.

I also have one coming by E.L. Tettensor, 4 more research books, plus I need to dig out my copy of Heyer’s These Old Shades, since I’ve joined a Heyer group on-line, and need to try to keep up. Try.

Last year I fell off the wagon by March as writing became too frantic, which is one reason that I’ve already packed away 8 books this year….I’m worried that I won’t get any more done!

Anyhow, I’m hoping to keep up at least a couple of books per month and learn to manage my time better. Now, off to work on a proposal for another book.

Reading Goal, somewhat derailed….

After doing some serious reading in January, I completely fell off the wagon in Feb when I started serious revision of Book 3. By the time evening came, I was worded out, and didn’t get much reading done.

So for February, a total of 3 books. Meh.
10) Where Shadows Dance, C. S. Harris
11) When Maidens Mourn, C. S. Harris
12) What Darkness Brings, C. S. Harris

I will received the next book on the 4th of March (which probably means the 5th), and I hope to have time and brain to read it.

I did also beta-read a novel for a friend, but I’m not sure that counts, since it wasn’t really reading-reading.

After book 3 is turned in May 1, I’ll be diving into serious reading for a week just to reset my brain.


Reading Goal, on track so far…

One of the things I decided to do this year was to get back to reading fiction. I read a great deal of non-fiction, but haven’t done well reading fiction in the last year. So I decided to start of easy: I’m rereading some of my favorites. Not only is that easier (because I don’t have to think hard) but it also lets me skim some parts that get tedious for me (fight scenes, for example.)

So far this year I’ve read:
Margaret Miles’ Bracebridge Mysteries:
A Wicked Way to Burn
Too Soon For Flowers
No Rest for the Dove

and A Mischief in the Snow.

I then started into C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr novels:
What Angels Fear
When Gods Die
Why Mermaids Sing
Where Serpents Sleep

and What Remains of Heaven.

I still have 3 to go in that series, (and I must confess that I didn’t read the last one in depth), but there’s a new book coming out March 4th which I already have on order, so those will all be fresh in my mind. I hope that I’ll get some closure out of Why Kings Confess…because there are some issues that have been dragging on (including a pregnancy) for the last few books.

BTW, the hero, Sebastian St. Cyr, has the same birthday as me. Hah!

Anyhow, that means I’ve read 9! books in January. Even if they’re rereads, that’s still pretty impressive for me. ;o)