The House in the Cerulean Sea: A Review

“Change often starts with the smallest of whispers. Like-minded people building it up to a roar.”

TJ Klune wrote something special. The House in the Cerulean Sea is so bursting with perfectly placed imagery, it manages to be a visual experience even though you’re reading it. While our main character, Linus, has a narrative that starts off with a tinge of sadness, the book keeps this cozy feel throughout it. There’s a dreamlike quality to Klune’s writing that entices you and pulls you along.

All the while, I had this protective feeling of Linus Baker. He’s that person you see that deserves more love than he’s receiving, the one that you want to wrap your arms around and tell them that YOU see them and appreciate them. I think Klune can strike this chord in most of us, there’s often going to be moments in life where you feel like you’re not enough, that your light doesn’t shine brightly enough for others to see.

“Oh, there was no specific event that brought along this line of thinking. It was just that he felt… dimmer than others. Like he faded in a crystal-clear world. He wasn’t meant to be seen.”

As we follow along on Linus’s journey, I think the best way I can describe the way I felt is that I was wholly charmed. Linus is called by Extremely Upper Management to take a job of inspecting a very unusual orphanage. When he gets there, he finds that these magical, misunderstood children are impossible to be impartial to. He finds a headmaster whose methods may be unusual, but is full of compassion for these children. This is a tale about finding your place, accepting yourself and others, and creating a family.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an extraordinary book that manages to keep a foot in reality. It seems close enough to believe but far enough to be swept away into this alternate world. Every word is calculated to add to this experience, it’s entirely immersive in a way that few novels can claim. If you’re like me, you’ll feel a sense of wonder, that enveloping feeling of coziness while reading it.

The thing is, this book could have been grim. Bleak. Kids in orphanages… a middle aged man in a dead end, corporate, soul-sucking job. Klune’s tone makes you forget that. He brings humor to the page, alternating between dry and cheery, and deals expertly with some hard topics. There’s an amazing sense of comedy threaded through this novel. We get little hints of adult humor here and there, but it is still kept wholesome enough for a younger kid to read.

“Just because you don’t experience prejudice in your everyday doesn’t stop it from existing for the rest of us.”

There’s moments of such lightheartedness amongst these funny, magical little children. Lucy is one of my favorite characters and the way Mr. Parnassus interacts with Lucy’s destructive tendencies will have a smile quirking at your lips. There’s tender moments displayed by each of these “unique” children. Unraveling who these children are is one of the most fun aspects of this book.

Klune has some amazing follow-through in this novel. I love the way he would present a topic or idea and apply it at the perfect moment later in the book. Additionally, Linus was a delight to watch grow. His perspective on the psychology of these children and relating it to his work evolves before our eyes when he’s allowed to really dig in and become a part of his work instead of a clinical bystander.

“I don’t pretend to know the minds of men… They fear what they don’t understand. And that fear turns to hate for reasons I’m sure even they can’t begin to comprehend.”

One of the things that really made my heart burst was the innocence of these kids. They know they’re different, they know people are scared of them, but they still have hope and little acts of kindness make their day. There’s such positives messages in this book. Messages about love, about social injustice, about discrimination. There’s a male/male relationship, and the author is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. I couldn’t ask for more from this book.

It’s truly just a feel good, endearing read. It is the book that you NEED as a bright spot after the way the world has been lately. I don’t usually rate books on the number scale lately, except for goodreads, but this is easily a 5/5 stars.

“Regardless of what else he is, he is still a child, as they all are. And don’t all children deserve to be protected? To be loved and nurtured so that they may grow and shape the world to make it a better place?”

The Highlights: 2020 Book Edition

There’s something about a new year that gets my reading juices goin’. Maybe it’s just that a fresh start, figuratively or literally, is something humans need. We need a point where we can look and say, “this is when I do more/less of this” and we need periods of our life to be definable. We need the chance at rebirth, again and again. People scoff at the reflection of a year or the excitement of a new one, and I can be as cynical as the rest when it comes to that. One of the major things I can look back at this year with joy about is the books I read. I completed my goal of 110 and read 151. I read independently published novels, guilty pleasure reads, nonfiction, and my favorite: fantasy. This year, I jumped across so many genres and truly enjoyed it. I read things that were definitely NOT the epitome of fine literature and still LOVED them. Reading truly became an escape this year. Receiving advanced copies from publishers or indie authors got me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to books that I might not have read otherwise.

So, here’s going to be a jumbled, long list of my favorites this year. I am not going to limit myself to top ten or anything, so I hope you are able to find some things that interest you! Not all of these were 5 stars for me but they all imprinted themselves in my mind. We will start with indie and self published and move to different categories!

The Best of Indie/Self Published:

•ML Wang – The Sword of Kaigen (favorite standalone of the year, fantasy)

•Matthew Samuels – Parasites (sci-fi and YA)

•L. Steinworth – Asunder (fantasy and romance)

•Dan Fitzgerald – The Maer Cycle (fantasy)

•Marcus Lee – Kings and Daemons (fantasy)

•Eddy Telviot – The Stone Thieves and the Honourable Order of Inventors (fantasy, historical)

The Best of Fantasy:

•John Gwynne – The Faithful and the Fallen series (favorite series of the year)

•Evan Winter – The Rage of Dragons

The Best of Non-Fiction/Memoir:

•Jia Tolentino – Trick Mirror

•Mikel Jollet – Hollywood Park

•John Moe – The Hilarious World of Depression

•Lori Gottlieb – Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

•Ava Homa – Daughters of Smoke and Fire

•Molly Wizenberg – The Fixed Stars

•Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman – The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (must listen to audio version!!)

The Best of Rom-Com/Romance:

•Casey McQuiston – Red, White, and Royal Blue (bonus points for being LGBTQ+)

•Hannah Orenstein – Head Over Heels

•Lyssa Kay Adams – The Bromance Book Club series

•Jen DeLuca – Well Played (read Well Met first)

•Beth O’Leary – The Flatshare

•Rosie Danan – The Roommate

•Christina Lauren – In a Holidaze

The Best of Contemporary/Literary Fiction:

•Mary Pauline Lowry – The Roxy Letters

•Cristina Henriquez – The Book of Unknown Americans

•Sally Rooney – Conversations with Friends

•Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

• Gabriella Burnham – It is Wood, It is Stone

•Brit Bennet – The Vanishing Half

•Sophie Cousens – This Time Next Year

The Best of Guilty Pleasure:

•Sarah J Maas – A Court of Thorn and Roses series (also could fall under YA/NA)

•Cate Tiernan – The Sweep series (also could be under YA and reread)

The Best of YA:

•Brigid Kemmerer – A Curse so Dark and Lonely (fantasy)

•Lori Lansens – This Little Light (pretty heavy dystopian fiction)

The Best of Historical Fiction:

•Bernard Cornwell – The Last Kingdom (and the Saxon Stories books 1-4)

The Best of Thrillers:

Alice Feeney – His and Hers

The Best of Poetry:

•Kate Baer – What Kind of Woman

The Best of Rereads:

•Patrick Rothfuss – The Kingkiller Chronicle

•Robin Hobb – The Farseer Trilogy

•Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings/Words of Radiance

I hope you enjoyed your year of reading and I hope this year is even better! Let me know your favorites

Dear Edward: A Review

“This was not a tragedy. Dying on your couch watching TV by yourself is a tragedy. Dying while doing something you love with every part of your body is magic. I wish you magic, Edward.”

I finished out the year reading Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Edward is the only remaining member of his immediate family, after being the lone survivor of a plane crash. This is a tale of how one survives the aftermath of devastation, of how you reconcile with the person that you were and the person you become because of it. It’s inspired by a plane crash that happened in 2010, where a 9 year old boy was the only survivor.

Don’t expect this to be a rollicking tale, it is slow burning. The build up to the crash is quiet, chilling, and unassuming. It seems more real because she didn’t dramatize the crash. I felt anxious while reading, knowing the characters’ fates and hearing the direction their life was taking before they tragically passed. I had goosebumps and a lump in my throat as the book progressed.

Most of us haven’t been through something as traumatic as our whole family dying in a plane crash, thankfully. Ann Napolitano’s writing still struck a chord with me. She evokes that keen sense of melancholy that one feels after they’ve experience a shock, a heart break, the loss of a loved one. The capacity to be numb and deeply, deeply sad all at once.

One of the hardest lessons portrayed in this book, is dealing with the fact that everything DOES NOT always happen for a reason. Edward’s friend Shay wants him to be “the boy who lived” and relates him to Harry Potter. She speculates that his powers will show themselves. Sometimes we have to recognize that bad things happen. Life is about learning to deal when they do. We sometimes have to live through being a mess before we heal. There isn’t always a bright side to tragedy. We live in those dark places until we have enough strength to climb out of them.

I’m not sure the slow burn of this book would have resonated with me as much if it wasn’t at this exact point in my life. 2020 has been rough for me even if you took the pandemic out of the equation. I found myself relating to Edward’s reaction to trauma, the numbness that is only dispelled when you allow yourself to feel the pain and break down. This can relate to many moments of our lives, even when they aren’t as intense as what he’s going through. Sometimes books find you at the perfect time and you enjoy them all the more.

“Humans need community, for our emotional health. We need connection, a sense of belonging. We are not built to thrive in isolation.”

Here’s to more reading in 2021 and hopefully, a better year for all!

The Archive (The Maer Cycle #2): A Review

I had the pleasure of reading Hollow Road by Dan Fitzgerald earlier this year and now I’ve read The Archive. It is set shortly after Hollow Road and has just as much heart, if not more. The Maer and the humans join together to delve into the hidden history of the Maer. It was nice to be greeted by our old friends. Carl, Sinnie, and Finn grew so much over the last book and their storylines continue to captivate in The Archive.

The pacing of this book was excellent. Fitzgerald shows that he can have his hand in many pots and not get burned. Fantasy on a large scale? Check. Romance that comes off as organic? Check. Sexual fluidity and breaking social constructs? Check. Dragons, and cognizant mythic beings? Check!!!! I enjoy the fact that Fitzgerald didn’t drag us through meaningless battles, something that often makes me glaze over. This was definitely plot oriented and he kept on target there. I will be the first to admit that I love a little bit of love in my books, and I also am a book masochist and love a little heartbreak in them, as well. I was not disappointed! I found the exploration of sexuality to be well written and quite tender in this novel.

Fitzgerald caters to the duality that occurs to any living, thinking being. Sometimes we are the advocates, the protagonists, the good guys. Other times we are the malicious, the cunning, the deceitful. We crave power and control while feeling justified in our actions. The Maer and the humans both fall prey to this duality. I thought it was interesting (and well done) that just as we become more endeared to the Maer, we are thrown for a loop. The format of how certain things were revealed in this installment was a touch of genius.

Dan writes the journey masterfully. He doesn’t become a victim of writing too much scenery and too little plot. You’ll be entertained the whole way through. You might even learn a thing or two from the threads of wisdom woven throughout. I definitely recommend digging into this series.

A Tribute to Khaleesi

“The dog looked up in entreaty. Liquid brown eyes begged: Take me with you. I’ll be good.”

Here I am, writing a blog post about one of my dogs again. It is hard to sort through my emotions until I put them down in words. It is safe to say that the year has not been kind to my family. Today we said goodbye to my first baby. I know everyone cringes when people call their pets their babies, but we got Khaleesi when she was only 7 weeks old, even before we owned our home. She was our focus until Ghost came along, and then Sawyer. Obviously my son takes precedence over our dogs, but my love for Khaleesi (for both of our dogs) was boundless. Warning, there will be a lot of pictures, some of them blurry but all reminding me of a perfect moment with her.

Since Khaleesi got diagnosed in September with diabetes, we did everything we could do. Glucose curve after glucose curve, switching to a more attentive vet, emergency visits galore, different brands of insulins, different units of insulin. Her body would fight it all off. She quickly went blind, which turned into her eyes swelling shut. Seizures, neurological issues, etc. Making the decision to put her to sleep was excruciatingly hard. I have woken up nauseous every day since her health started taking a decline. You will always wonder if you did the right thing. You will always feel like you betrayed them even if their quality of life was low. If you love a thing, you will always feel some regret letting it go, even if it was for the best. You’ll always wonder if one more treatment could have been the savior, but it would also be selfish to hold on too long. Khaleesi was still so full of love even while being a shell of the dog she was, it broke my heart.

So now, our tribute to Khaleesi: for the first half of her life, she slept around my neck like a travel pillow. After that, on my shoulder. Or chest. Or stomach. Between the ankles. She craved touch. My back will probably be messed up forever from sleeping around her. As my father-in-law says, she has no sense of when a person doesn’t like dogs. You are required to love her. She would shove her nose into your palm or face until you gave her attention.

She loved when people would whisper stories into her ear, she would just sit with her ear pressed against you and her snout to the sky. You could give her a little Mohawk with her wiry back fur so she looked like a spiky dinosaur. The big dog around the block scared the crap out of her until she had Ghost to back her up. Then she felt tough and would act like a badass walking past that dog.

She loved comfort, never laying on the bare floor if she could help it. Couches, blankets, chairs, and dog beds ONLY for her. When Alex was working and in school, I was pregnant with Sawyer, and he would come home late in the night to dinner. Khaleesi would put her paws on his shoulder and just rest there. We have always had a special bond with our animals. If we could take them with us, they went. Road trips, vacations, boat rides. I have always gotten anxious leaving them behind.

Khaleesi has always been the sweetest, most attention-seeking little dog. She had beautiful, soulful brown eyes. There was so much life in them. She always looks sad, even though she was probably one of the most spoiled dogs I know. She had a sweet little face and wispy fur on her muzzle that reminded you of a wizened old man.

She lived up to her name. She was fire and sun, with a serious nature. She thought she deserved the world and we gave it to her. I will miss our dogs of ice and fire, as I called them. Ghost was cool, collected, and laid back. They were utter contrasts from each other. To me, a home isn’t a home without dogs in it. It already feels lonely. I am sure we won’t be dogless long, but Khaleesi and Ghost will always one of the greatest joys in my life.

Today, Khaleesi passed away in our home, with her head in my lap. She was pet and given neck rubs and told she was a good girl, that we loved her. A Laps of Love vet came to our house and helped us send her off gently. First she got a meal of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, French fries, and an ice cream, because why not? After months of a strict diet, she deserved it. She was lovingly wrapped in a blanket, just as she would have wanted to go.

Now universe, please lay off us for a bit. The past two years have been rough for us. I feel absolutely diminished in spirit but I look forward to loving more dogs, to remembering these ones. The people we are surrounded by have been absolute saving graces to us this year. For that, we can be thankful.

“Dogs die. But dogs live, too. Right up until they die, they live. They live brave, beautiful lives. They protect their families. And love us. And make our lives a little brighter. And they don’t waste time being afraid of tomorrow.”

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Review

“We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”

Oh, where to start. This book has been sitting on my shelf for about a year now, not because I didn’t want to read it, but because I wanted to save it for when I was feeling low. After the year I have had, I knew it was time. Whenever I read a book that involves therapy, it becomes completely evident to me that I could benefit from it. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb is no exception, in fact, it makes me want to talk to someone even more. If a therapist can benefit from therapy, what does that say for the rest of us?

“Will you spot the insecurities that I’m so skillful at hiding? Will you see my vulnerabilities, my lies, my shame? Will you see the human in my being?”

As I read this book (which isn’t particularly sad, Gottlieb has an amazing sense of humor) I found myself on the verge of tears. I think it speaks to her abilities that she can make you feel seen throughout this book, and she validates that even the most self-aware to have things to work through. We all hide pieces of ourselves, moments that shamed us, the secret pride in our heart. Even when we think we are being entirely open, even when we are paying someone to help us work through our issues. This book highlights how the therapists and counselors of the world SEE that. They work through your memories and help you see the truth and the lies that you hide even from them, even from yourself. I found myself wishing Gottlieb was MY own personal therapist.

“An interesting paradox of the therapy process: In order to do their job, therapists try to see patients as they really are, which means noticing their vulnerabilities and entrenched patterns and struggles. Patients, of course, want to be helped, but they also want to be liked and admired. In other words, they want to hide their vulnerabilities and entrenched patterns and struggles.”

Throughout the book, we get to see her through her work with her patients and her time with her own therapist. I found myself incredibly endeared to her patients, even the tough-to-love ones. I cried when they were grieving, laughed when they laughed, and took joy in their breakthroughs. The one that was most insufferable, John, ended up being my favorite. There’s certain people that you’re positive won’t find any clarity in therapy, and yet, they do. John was one of those, and he really found a way to reveal himself to Lori AND to himself.

Gottlieb tackles many issues; death of a loved one, terminal illness, love, guilt, addiction, the lack of societal support when it comes to men and mental health. Especially when it came to the men’s health aspect, I realized how many men are unintentionally angry because they don’t have an emotional outlet. We have conditioned men for ages to not seek help for their mental health. This creates generations of people simmering with unresolved issues, pulling others into their destructive orbit.

“Men tend to be at a disadvantage here because they aren’t typically raised to have a working knowledge of their internal worlds; it’s less socially acceptable for men to talk about their feelings. While women feel cultural pressure to keep up their physical appearance, men feel that pressure to keep up their emotional appearance. Women tend to confide in friends or family members, but when men tell me how they feel in therapy, I’m almost always the first person they’ve said it to.”

During this book, she blends her professional schooling and training with real life experiences. She approaches things from a clinical stand as well as from a tangible, personal viewpoint. She feels like a friend and a professional all at once. I highly recommend reading this! I give it a 4.5 stars out of 5.

There were so many amazing quotes and moments that I can’t pepper this article with them all, but if you’re interested, I put my kindle highlights in this link here!

“In this room, I’m going to see you, and you’ll try to hide, but I’ll still see you, and it’s going to be okay when I do.”

Tristan’s Folly by Marcus Lee: A Review

Yay! I was able to get a spot on Storytellers on Tour’s promotion of Marcus Lee’s new book. Tristan’s Folly picks up where Kings and Daemons left off. I can tell you one thing, the action was immediate. That’s something that I enjoyed in the first book as much as the second book. Lee knows how to pull his readers in.

Straight off the bat, Taran and the crew makes new enemies, as well as new allies. It is fun to see the characters that we followed in the previous novel coming together in this book more. The banter between characters comes easy and made me smile quite a bit throughout the novel. While others are coming together, The Witch King is still up to his dark ways and cruelties.

Maya is one of those characters that is a breath of fresh air. She’s truly good and compassionate and wants the best for those are her. The love story being her and Taran is soft and sweet, just enough to flavor the book without overpowering it or making it feel like a romance. This is a nice contrast to the constant cloud of doom, the battles that are always near. Speaking of Maya’s kind soul, through her and Astren, Lee brings up some thought-provoking conversation about the cost of war, weighing the immediate effect against the the long term effect that will strike a chord with many. There’s such a shade of grey that comes with war. It is easy to say that it is never needed, but sometimes you have to fight back. Sometimes it simply comes down to survival of the fittest. I love books that dig deeper into your subconscious.

Tristan’s Folly is a book that makes for smooth reading. Lee doesn’t fall prey to too much imagery, he sprinkles enough in to capture your attention while keeping the book’s plot at the forefront. No long, meandering paragraphs where you gloss over. I appreciate this in a novel. I like my novels to be driven by the characters, and this is certainly the case.

I also like that we get a lot of Daleth’s POV in this. Often we don’t get to see much of the “bad guy’s” thoughts, we just see them through the eyes of the other characters. Daleth’s sinister thoughts are compelling and at times, humorous. His response and thoughts to Taran’s crew are so entertaining. He leads with strength, and though people know he’s evil, they’re still willing to follow him. Reversely, on the side of good, people are having to accept a leader that isn’t quite up to their expectations. There’s treachery and twists aplenty happening. This treachery adds to the earlier question, how much are you willing to sacrifice to win? For the greater good? Is it worth giving up your own happiness?

Lastly, I just wanna say: I think the storyline Lee gave Kalas is GENIUS. It is so unique and I can’t say much without spoiling it for those that haven’t read the books yet, but he’s such an intriguing character. Whenever he’s in a scene, I always perk up a bit more than before.

Marcus Lee made another compelling read in his series, The Gifted and the Cursed. The lines between friends and foes, dark and light, monster and man are all muddled. These are some fun reads! If you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, enter this giveaway Here. Thanks to Marcus and Storytellers on Tour for including me!

Check out the other bloggers on this tour by clicking Here.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: A Review

“If you fall bravely in war the Valkyries, beautiful battle-maidens who collect the souls of the noble dead, will take you and bring you to the hall known as Valhalla. He will be waiting for you in Valhalla, and there you will drink and fight and feast and battle, with Odin as your leader.”

Would it be Norsevember without reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman? Absolutely not. I have always felt an affinity to mythology, and I was lucky enough to have taken a whole course dedicated to it in high school. Though I learned many mythologies over many cultures, Greek always stuck with me the most because of the general focus on it in literature. I have very much enjoyed Celtic, Norse, and other mythologies over the years, too. I love that they’re all connected. They all feel derivative of each other even though they have major differences and themes. That being said, Norse culture deserves a lot more recognition and Neil Gaiman was just the man to bring more focus to it.

“Odin has many names. He is the all-father, the lord of the slain, the gallows god. He is the god of cargoes and of prisoners. He is called Grimnir and Third. He has different names in every country (for he is worshipped in different forms and in many tongues, but it is always Odin they worship).”

Norse mythology, rightfully so, encompasses the feel of a warrior’s beliefs. Strength, courage, and cunning over all. Odin, Thor, Frey, and Freya. My favorite Norse god, though, is Loki. He provides endless entertainment. He is suave and confident. He finds a way to work his will, even if it often backfired. I have always admired wits over brute strength. Thor takes a backseat because of this. I delight in Loki’s quips and quick thinking, and Gaiman does an excellent job of making his part in mythology seem clever instead of just plain deceitful. Though Loki causes trouble, he will attempt to fix it, if only to save his own ass.

“Loki makes the world more interesting but less safe. He is the father of monsters, the author of woes, the sly god.”

This leads me to one of my favorite things about mythology; the repercussions. Mythology, in essence, is about teaching moral values and lessons. Every culture uses their stories to do this. Loki is punished for his misdeeds. Fenrir is feared because of his sheer power. Many are mistreated, sometimes wrongfully so, and other times, through a misguided attempt to stem off a worse fate. Often, this backfires. Playful Fenrir wouldn’t have become an enemy without Odin’s paranoia. Often, we are our own downfall. When society falls, as predicted throughout our mythologies, it will be because of humanity’s failings. The end of the world as we know it will be because of our mistrust of others, selfishness, our unwillingness to work through our problems with critical thinking and empathy. Every mythology focuses on rebirth, on the cycle of destruction bringing about an end and a new beginning arising from that end. Norse Mythology has a particularly unique end, a wolf that swallows the moon, the epic battle before the rebirth.

“This will be the age of cruel winds, the age of people who become as wolves, who prey upon each other, who are no better than wild beasts. Twilight will come to the world, and the places where the humans live will fall into ruins, flaming briefly, then crashing down and crumbling into ash and devastation. Then, when the few remaining people are living like animals, the sun in the sky will vanish, as if eaten by a wolf, and the moon will be taken from us too, and no one will be able to see the stars any longer. Darkness will fill the air, like ashes, like mist.”

Gaiman reminded me of why I love mythology. Our worlds are connected through stories. We relate to another person through sharing tales, trials, and triumphs. He took the basics of Norse mythology and wove an illusion, where I could imagine mountains and valleys that are made by a blow from Thor’s hammer, where Odin’s eye watches us, and we have to be on the lookout for Loki’s tricks. I adored this novel. Mythology is an interesting subject but the wrong writer can make it seem boring. Gaiman has never subjected his readers to that fate. I mean, he made Odin’s defecation and farts seem interesting. Yes, there actually is a story about this.

“No one, then or now, wanted to drink the mead that came out of Odin’s ass. But whenever you hear bad poets declaiming their bad poetry, filled with foolish similes and ugly rhymes, you will know which of the meads they have tasted.”

Happy Norsevember to all! Read this book, you won’t regret it.

Sword Song (Saxon Stories #4) by Bernard Cornwell

”Oh the joy of being young. Of being twenty-eight years old, of being strong, of being a lord of war. All gone now, just memory is left, and memories fade. But the joy is bedded in the memory.

It is Norsevember, which is the perfect time to read another installment in The Saxon Stories. I finished book four, Sword Song, yesterday. As I read on in this series, I am reminded of why historical fiction and fantasy score a spot in my heart. The battles fought in this time period seem impossible to a man in modern age. Being a skilled swordsman is obviously rather unheard of in our time. The sheer talent that it would take to stay alive during medieval times (and earlier) seems fantastical in itself, and then when you add the belief in sorcery, it’s very easy to see how these lines cross. It’s evident why medieval fantasy is such a hit, because it models itself after times that actually existed, but seem impossible. The Saxon Stories are NOT fantasy, but they are excellent representations on how real historical events can seem like something out of a fantasy book.

“I was death come from the morning, blood-spattered death in mail and black cloak and wolf-crested helmet.

Uhtred is a fictional character, but these books bring to mind all of the forgotten people that helped win wars and forge history. We may not know their names, but they were there. They fought for causes that they believed in, for the honor of their families, for glory. How many influential people have been lost to the black holes of time?

I think it is interesting that Uhtred starts getting more involved in telling this story from his old age. There’s some of mentions of a wife in his old age, one he doesn’t talk fondly of. It’s a big contrast to his loving tone towards Gisela. He refers to himself as an old man and it is a stunning contrast to his youth. I think there’s a great awareness in this novel that though we like to believe good always conquers, there’s a great deal of people that slide by while committing misdeeds. Uhtred starts picking apart his younger years with the wisdom of old age, starts pointing out (to the viewer) the evil in those around him, especially those concerned with purity.

As always, Uhtred is at odds with the Christian religion. The way women are treated by some of the priests is enough to garner disgust from him. It truly is astounding the way even noblewomen are treated and their mishandling reminds me that women have been treated quite unfairly for thousands of years, especially in the name of religion. This series manages to be wildly entertaining, but it doesn’t shy away from the harsher aspects of history.

“Lust is the deceiver. Lust wrenches our lives until nothing matters except the one we think we love, and under that deceptive spell we kill for them, give all for them, and then, when we have what we have wanted, we discover that it is all an illusion and nothing is there. Lust is a voyage to nowhere, to an empty land, but some men just love such voyages and never care about the destination. Love is a voyage too, a voyage with no destination except death, but a voyage of bliss.”

One of my favorite things about this installment is that it radiates with Uhtred’s love for Gisela. You can tell he is truly happy with her, completely content. There’s a theme of love that runs through this novel, where most of Uhtred’s love interests have been more of lust or convenience in the past. Uhtred has found a soulmate and there’s a peace in him that contributes to his victories in war. He has no use for rage at home, it all goes into battle. There’s also a theme of friendship, the previous novel really solidified Uhtred creating a safety net of followers and they carry over into Sword Song.

Another cool thing featured is Norsemen entering into the story more heavily. We often think of Norsemen, Danes, and Vikings as the same. History starts to blend these together and feel they are okay to be grouped together. Much like Native American tribes, they came from slightly different areas but adopt a lot of the same ideals and customs.

“Danes, Norse, Northmen, Vikings, pagans,” I said, “they’re all your father’s enemies.”

One of my only complaints is that sometimes there’s long stretches without dialogue. I love how balancing dialogue can be to a novel and Uhtred is in his head a lot. This doesn’t affect the book in a major way and much of the series has been this way. It is still easy reading, it is still filled with history and humor, blood and death, joy and love, honor and humiliation. It is truly wonderful! Happy Reading.

SFF Books Featuring Animal Companions

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while because I am a SUCKER, a straight up FOOL for animal companions in novels. This goes back to my elementary school days reading Harry Potter (owls, cats, rats, oh my!). The animals have always mattered SO much to me in books. I am especially partial to wolves, as you will see in the list below. That’s likely because I’ve grown up with dogs. If you want to feel your heart grow ten sizes… while spending the entire novel (or series) in a panic, wondering when the beloved animal might get in a scrape, this a list for you!

We will start with one of the most well-known:

1. George R. R. Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire: The original wolves in my heart! The direwolves of ASOIAF are what we all care about, right? Pro: there’s enough of them that at least some HAVE to survive *chuckles nervously* Con: there’s enough of them that you’re having constant heart palpitations waiting to see which ones get ticked off on GRRM’s inevitable kill list. I love Ghost so much, I named my dog Ghost and got them tattooed on me. One of my favorite things about the direwolves in these novels are that you can always count on them to come rip out a throat to protect the Starks. You’ll get a jolt of adrenaline reading about them coming in to save the day. You’ll also spend the rest of YOUR LIFE mourning our fallen friends.

“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”

2. Robin Hobb – Realm of the Elderlings (specifically the books that feature Fitz, starting with The Farseer Trilogy): My number one, my boy, my son… Nighteyes! There’s never been a better doggo. So, a huge part of Robin Hobb’s Fitz books is the Wit bond. This is a bond with ANIMALS. Any animal you can think of, if you’ve got the innate power. For some reason, the townspeople don’t like when people have this bond because they’re LAME AND NO FUN AT PARTIES… er, or something like that. As you imagine, we see quite a few animal bonds in this series but the bond between Nighteyes and Fitz is the best. We can actually hear the thoughts of Nighteyes and he’s snarky, hilarious, and protective. He has also graced my arm because he’s a very good doggo with a rating of 15/10. There’s a bunch of other moments where we will get to see the Wit bond in play, too!

“Come, hunt with me, the invitation whispers in my heart. Leave the pain behind and let your life be your own again. There is a place where all time is now, and the choices are simple and always your own.
Wolves have no kings.”

Keeping with the theme of 15/10 very good doggos…

3. John Gwynne – The Faithful and the Fallen: I read this series after I got tattooed or I’d end up being that weird girl with 500 wolves on her arm instead of just two. The Banished Lands of tFatF heavily features wolven, dogs, war horses and talking birds. You can tell Gwynne is an animal lover! A lot of characters have faithful dogs that follow them from home to battle and beyond. Our main character has a wonderful wolven named Storm and a loyal horse named Shield. Some of our characters have strong relationships with birds, too. Craf the Crow is something special, with a lot of heart in a little dude. The animals all help at some point or another with the overall battle. My heart swelled 500 sizes during this series.

“One shall be the Tide, one the Rock in the swirling sea. Before one, storm and shield shall stand; before the other, True-Heart and Black-Heart.”

4. Robert Jordan – The Wheel of Time: Animals aren’t heavily featured in the three books I’ve read so far (I’m working on it, OKAY?) but the wolves in this book definitely help Perrin and friends out of some messy situations. Perrin is all, “oh, I don’t want a wolf bond,” because he’s CRAZY. Just kidding, I actually like Perrin the most and I’m confident he will grow into his wolf pack. By book three, he’s becoming more accepting of it and they’ve helped out in battle. All hail the wolf pack!

“A young wolfhound must meet his first wolf someday, but if the wolf sees him as a puppy, if he acts the puppy, the wolf will surely kill him. The wolfhound must be a wolfhound in the wolf’s eyes even more than in his own, if he is to survive.”

5. Jane Linskold- The Firekeeper Saga: I’m gonna have to give this one another go. Way back when, someone recommended it to me because if my love for Hobb. I enjoyed the first one but got bored with the second. Basically, a girl is left in the woods and ends up being raised by wolves. She is human in form, but she can communicate with the wolves. Eventually, she is brought back into society because she’s somebody to the Royal line and has to be taught to partake in society. Her pack companion, Blind Seer, comes with her for protection. Lots of political intrigue woven in this animal-heavy novel. This is another book where certain people are able to communicate with various types of animals.

“After a day of watching the two-legs interact from within their midst, she was certain that they could talk as well as any wolf. Unlike wolves, however, they mostly used their mouths, a thing she found limiting. How could you tell someone to keep away from your food when your own mouth was full?”

6. Outlander series – Diana Gabaldon: this isn’t as animal-heavy as some of the others but I would hate to not mention Rollo, the wolfhound/wolf mix. Ian and Rollo’s relationship is truly just heartwarming, especially because much of Ian’s story is heartbreaking. Their companionship is a nice reprieve.

“That dog is a wolf, is he not?’

‘Aye, well, mostly.’

A small flash of hazel told him not to quibble.

‘And yet he is thy boon companion, a creature of rare courage and affection, and altogether a worthy being?”

Now we get away from the wolf theme.

6. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman: okay, this whole series!! Daemons, aka animal companions that are literally a part of your soul!!! Yes, please. Who wouldn’t want a beautiful little furry friend to rely on throughout life? One that only dies when you do? When you’re younger, they change shape. As your personality solidifies, so does theirs, and the settle as one animal. This is an oddly dark series and I haven’t finished the last book yet but I LOVE it so far. Pantalaimon is the daemon we get the most of, he first appears as a moth but takes many forms, ranging from ermine, to eagle, to wildcat, and even a dragon at times. We also see quite a bit of Mrs. Coulter’s absolutely terrifying monkey! There’s a whole cast of furry friends (and enemies) in this one.

“But your daemons en’t just nothing now; they’re part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they’ve gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They’ll never vanish.”

7. Red Rising – Pierce Brown: this happens a bit later in the series, but Sophocles!! A fox kept by House Telamanus. He’s over 700 years old after being cloned 21 times and he’s a loyal companion to Kavax. He loves jellybeans and Kavax trusts his judgement. If Sophocles finds jellybeans on someone, they’re immediately in with Kavax. Sophocles is a fierce protector when he doesn’t trust someone. He will also poop in your room if you give him licorice flavored jellybeans, as an admonishment. Sophocles is a sign of what fun you can have in Brown’s world, even though it is predominately brutal and murderous. Let us not talk about what happens to the wolves in this series, though. *winces*

“Grape! It is a sign. A sign! Sophocles has given Lyria his blessing. There is magic yet left in the world, and Sophocles has found it.”

8. Spellslinger – Sebastien De Castell: I am ashamed to say that I haven’t read De Castell yet, but I WAS told that there is a murderous squirrel cat named Reichis. I’ve done some digging and he is a witty, talking animal companion to a guy named Kellen. It also seems like he enjoys butter biscuits quite plentifully throughout the novels. This series is sure to be a magical ride with a deranged, thieving squirrel cat and I must say, this is a huge selling point for me.

“Eventually Reichis asked, ‘You know why this is such a stupid idea?’
‘You said that already. Like, twelve times.’
‘Yeah, but do you know WHY it’s a stupid idea?’
I stopped. ‘Why?’
Reichis shivered on my shoulder. ‘Because this place is giving me the creeps, and I’m a squirrel cat – normally we’re the ones giving other people the creeps.”

9. Nevernight – Jay Kristoff: Shadow Daemons aka not-cats and not-dogs. Specifically Mr. Kindly and Eclipse. I still have Nevernight sitting on my shelf but these seem to be protectors of our main character(s). As the name suggests, they are animals made up of shadows. I believe Eclipse is actually a wolf from the digging I’ve done. These animals are known to cater to Darkins to help devour their fears.

“Before I found you, I was just a shape waiting in the shadows.”

10. The Old Kingdom Series – Garth Nix: I’ve heard about Mogget the Cat, a being enslaved and forced to take different forms, settling into a cat for the long haul. He’s cantankerous, murderous, with a streak of good in him. There’s also The Disreputable Dog, another being trapped in a physical form. She’s known to modify her form to fly, read, and cross over into Death with her companion, Lireal. I don’t know much about this series but I am pretty intrigued by the little I have heard. It seems complex with heavy world building, and best of all, ANIMALS.

“Life,” said Yrael, who was more Mogget than it ever knew. “Fish and fowl, warm sun and shady trees, the field mice in the wheat, under the cool light of the moon.”

Some honorable mentions that I don’t know enough about or couldn’t find much info regarding the animals, but my friends on Twitter have mentioned:

Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow: (witches and familiars)

•Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey: (referred to as having a whole zoo of animals)

•Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier: (moose and mind-reading bear)

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart: (talking animal companions)

•The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams: (war beasts)

If you know anything about the books I haven’t read and want to let me know how awesome they are, please feel free! I want to know about ALLLLL the animals companion reads.

•If you’re looking for dragons, Alex from Spells and Spaceships has an extensive list! Just click Here

•If you’d like some more animal recs, head over to The Fantasy Hive and check out their post by clicking Here