My Favorite 2019 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to—but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2018 (by a whole percentage point, so…). These are the best of the bunch.

(alphabetical by author)

You Can Date Boys When You're FortyYou Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About

by Dave Barry

My original post
Barry at his near-best. This reminded me for the first time in a few years why I became a life-long devotee in high school. I could relate to a lot of it, and what I couldn’t was just funny. His reaction to Fifty Shades was a highlight—the chapter about his family’s trip to Israel was fantastic, funny and moving.

4 Stars

Have You Eaten Grandma?Have You Eaten Grandma?: Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar, and Good English

by Gyles Brandreth

My original post
I remembered rating this higher, but I’m not going to second-guess myself now. I’ll steal from my original conclusion for this: It’s the kind of thing that my college-bound daughter could use on her dorm bookshelf (and will probably find), and I know more than a few people who find themselves writing reports and the like for work who could use something like that. If you need help, might as well have a good time while you’re at it—and Have You Eaten Grandma is just the thing.

3.5 Stars

Dreyer’s EnglishDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

by Benjamin Dreyer

I haven’t written a post about this yet, but it’s a great book. I can see why it was so popular this year—so much so that it got its own card game! The only more useful book I read in 2019 was the next one on the list. I’m not sure if I read something that made me laugh more. Fun, smart, incredibly quotable, and a resource you’ll return to time and time again.

5 Stars

How Not to DieHow Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone

My original post
One of the doctors that I’m seeing this year recommended this book to me, and it’s literally been a life-changer. This is an information-packed resource. But it’s not dry—Greger tells this with humanity, wit and concern. It’s a great combination of theory and practice.

4 Stars

The Art of WarThe Art of War: A New Translation

by Sun Tzu, James Trapp (Translator)

My original post
The classic text about military strategy—a great combination of psychology and management. It’s simple and profound, and approachable enough that there’s no excuse for not reading it.

5 Stars

What the Dog Knows Young Readers EditionWhat the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World

by Cat Warren, Patricia J. Wynne (Illustrator)

My original post
I loved the “adult” version of this a couple of years ago, and this is just as good—but edited so that middle-grade readers can tackle this exploration of the life of Working Dogs and their handlers.

4 Stars

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald: A Contemporary Legend in the Making

When We Were Vikings

When We Were Vikings

by Andrew David MacDonald

eARC, 336 pg.
Gallery/Scout Press, 2020

Read: December 9-13, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


We meet our protagonist, Zelda, as she turns 21. It’s a pretty big day for most Americans, and it certainly is for Zelda. Things are going well for her—she has a boyfriend, her meetings with her therapist are going well, the brother (Gert) she lives with is taking college classes as a way to make their lives better, and Zelda’s friend/Gert’s ex gave her an actual small sword.

Zelda, you see, is a major fan of Viking culture and wants to be a Viking hero—and this sword is another step on her way to becoming a Viking legend. She also was born on the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum—as she says her Mom accidentally poisoning her resulted in Zelda being short, with trouble sitting still and thinking.

She has a fantastic therapist, Dr. Laird, who helps both her and Gert (when Gert will let him) navigate her challenges and Gert’s own issues. He’s a few years older than his sister, and once their mother died (their father disappeared years prior to that), he took on the responsibility of taking care of her.

This is a good thing for Zelda, incidentally, they’d been placed with an Uncle after their mother’s death—and he’s about as worthless a character as you can imagine. Gert does some business with people he shouldn’t to get them out of that situation and into their own apartment. This comes back to haunt him around the time of her birthday and old debts and favors need repayment. Meanwhile, his ex had convinced him to take courses at a Community College and helped him get the funding to start.

Gert’s ex/Zelda’s sword provider is known as AK47, by the way. Which says a lot about their neighborhood, I think. She’s actually the moral center of this novel and provides most of the wisdom displayed (although Zelda is a close second on both fronts, especially with AK47’s help).

While Gert’s trying to improve their station in life, Zelda goes to classes at a community center with similarly-aged people with developmental disabilities There, in addition to spending time with friends (including her boyfriend), Zelda learns behavioral and life skills. The staff there are fantastic and really impressed me with the way they interacted with everyone.

Honestly, though the deck seems stacked against these two—they’re taking care of each other and making their way in the world. Things are going as well for them as they could realistically hope (not that Zelda’s great at realistic expectations, she’s convinced she’ll be a Viking legend, for example). Except for that thing I’d said earlier about old debts and favors. And the expenses related to Dr. Laird (even on a sliding scale) and other ways Gert has to take care of Zelda. Oh, and maybe school isn’t going too well, either.

Gert tries to insulate Zelda from all that, but it doesn’t go too well. Zelda doesn’t try to insulate Gert from the fact that she and her boyfriend want to progress their relationship to physical intimacy, but man, he wishes she would (and that she’d drop the idea in general. Spoiler: she doesn’t).

We watch Zelda navigate these changing times, while she deliberately tries to mature and take on added responsibilities to help Gert. And Gert’s life gets out of control.

There are threats of violence. Actual violence. Relationship troubles. A new job for Zelda. And pressures on the two siblings that test their bonds.

The attentive reader is always aware that Gert’s in trouble and that he’s not being all that honest with Zelda—don’t misunderstand me, he’s trying his best to take care of her, but he’s hiding things from her and taking advantage of the fact that she can’t understand everything that’s happening. AK47 is a great character and I wish we’d gotten more time with her—things would’ve gone much better if Gert had stuck with her and listened to her.

Zelda’s an unintentionally unreliable narrator (but man, she tries), and MacDonald does a wonderful job putting us in her head while she navigates these obstacles along the way to becoming a legend. Obviously, your appreciation for the novel will hinge on how much you relate to/connect with/root for/like Zelda. I didn’t really get invested in Zelda as a character until the last 15-20% of the book, despite being hooked almost instantly and enjoying the novel. I think if I’d become invested early on, I would be jumping up and down excited about it.

But, I didn’t. So all I can really say is that MacDonald did yeoman’s work here and I have nothing but respect for the voice and craft displayed here. But I’m not able to muster the excitement that I think this book just might deserve. Part of that might be because I felt that I was supposed to find a lot of this amusing (and it did have its moments), and it is marketed as humorous, but it felt too much like laughing at Zelda, not with her (not that MacDonald ever mocked her).

I can’t tell you why this really didn’t click for me, but I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to (or thought I should). I imagine that I’m going to be in the minority with this and that most readers will rave. I liked the characters, I liked the story, I admire the way MacDonald wrote this—capturing Zelda’s voice and thought-process in a way that is both sympathetic and realistic. It’s a good book, one that will earn fans by the truckload, I expect—if the story/characters sound interesting to you at all, go read it. You’ll probably like it. Do me a favor though, and come back and tell me why I’m wrong not to swoon.


3.5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Gallery, Pocket Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this opportunity.

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Pub Day Repost: Going Rogue by Neil Lancaster: Tom Novak and His Own Brand of Justice are Back!

Going Rogue

Going Rogue

by Neil Lancaster
Series: Tom Novak Thriller, #2

Kindle Edition, 322 pg.
Burning Chair Publishing, 2019

Read: November 12-14, 2019

I’m a little afraid that this doesn’t sound positive. It should because I enjoyed the book. I shelved the post for a day and tweaked it to help. But, if anything, I think I sound less positive than I did before. So here’s what this post is supposed to say: Great first part, really strong second part, with a couple of hiccups. Hopefully, that’s what you get out of it.

Following his exploits in Going Dark, DS Tom Novak has got himself a new assignment. He’s part of a task force investigating corrupt public figures—politicians, police, military, judiciary and whatnot. This is a much better fit for him than his old job, with a supervisor that he won’t have to battle with (much)—as this series progresses, I really look forward to spending more time with this group.

When a new domestic terrorist group begins attacking Muslim targets, the nation goes on high alert. It’s clear that the terrorists aren’t amatuers—they likely have military training and it’s possible they have assistance from someone in the government or police as well. Enter Novak’s group (every officer in London is looking to get into the hunt for the terrorists, but this team has a legitmate interest).

The man who carried out the first mission is in prison and he’s really the only lead anyone has into the Aryan Defence Front. Novak enters the prison as a Slovenian veteran under suspicion for the murder of a Muslim to gain his trust and hopefully an invitation to enlist. I really can’t describe more of the plot than that, as much as I want to—you need to see what happens from there.

The ADF is a small, but very well organized (and funded) group looking to create and increase divisions between Muslims and Non-Muslims in England—leading to Whites vs. Everyone Else with public riots, mayhem and the rest until supposed Right Thinking and Superior Whites kick everyone else off the island. Something about this group seems easier to believe than similar groups in other novels that I’ve read in the last couple of years—I can’t put my finger on why that is, I’ll just run with it and enjoy it.

There are basically two parts to this book (oversimplification warning) as there was to Going Dark—the undercover work and then what Novak has to do unofficially, using very un-approved methods. The undercover work portion of the book is just great. Yeah, he has to work a little faster than he did in Going Dark, but the short time-frame to get implanted with the group felt legitimate enough (I really hate it when UC officers are put into an inner circle within days of starting). In fact, this part being fast-paced really added to the tension and heightened the drama. Sadly (speaking for the characters’ viewpoint, not the readers’), as effective as the police are—they’re not enough, so Novak ends up Going Rouge to mop up with a little help from his friends that helped him so much last time.

I really have no complaints at all about the part where Novak “goes rogue” to get his man. However, the parts of the book focusing on his undercover work were much more interesting—they’re gripping, taught and seem more realistic. Given that, watching Novak and his allies take the rogue/extraordinary steps to get the job done—it is so hard to talk about this without ruining anything—was a blast. I did (and do) wince at what happens to one of his allies, it’s a relatively minor form of torture, but it literally curls my toes to think about. But aside from that

My biggest complaint is in the dialogue—and it’s not that big of a complaint, I should stress. There were two or three occasions where it seemed to me like that a character essentially repeated themselves. I’m not sure that I was clear there. An example (using the dullest dialogue ever):
George: I watched this TV show last night.
Liza: Good to know.
George: After my evening meal, I viewed a television program.
Sure, people do this all the time in real life, but 1. They are dull to talk to; and 2. I want fictional dialogue to be better than real life (if for no other reason than: editing). Also, some of the threats made by the bad guys toward the end seemed a little lifeless. This is their chance to shine, put some oomph into it.

Then again, if you’re reading a thriller for the sparkling dialogue, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.

Again, nothing against Tom Novak, Action Hero; but Tom Novak, Good Policeman is more up my alley. But either Tom Novak is a real pleasure to read—Going Rogue is filled with great action, a strong protagonist with some good supporting characters, and villains you really want to see thwarted and punished. This is just what you want in a thriller.

I do think that Going Dark was a slightly more effective and polished work, but I won’t hesitate to recommend this one—and I’m already eager to see what Novak is Going to do next.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I sincerely thank him for this.


3.5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Pub Day Repost: The Dead Don’t Sleep by Steven Max Russo: No need to teach these old dogs any new tricks

The Dead Dont Sleep

The Dead Dont Sleep

by Steven Max Russo

eARC, 292 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2019

Read: October 11-14, 2019


This is one of those thrillers that within a chapter or three, you know pretty much how things are going to go for the rest of the book. That’s me being descriptive, not evaluating anything. There’s nothing wrong with this type of thriller—the fun is in seeing the author execute what you know (and think you know) is coming, and just what kind of surprise is in store for the ending. It’s like playing Mousetrap—everyone knows what’s going to happen when you start the machine going, it’s still fun to watch (see also almost every functional Rube Goldberg machine).

That said, there was one death/serious injury that I predicted at least three different times in my notes (one “he” was ambiguous, I really need to be more specific) that didn’t happen and another that I fully expected that didn’t materialize. So I’m not saying that Russo didn’t have any tricks up his sleeve—there were more than those, too. It’s just that on the whole, you know what this book is going to give you pretty soon (see also: just about every Jack Reacher novel).

So what is this set up?

Frank Thompson’s wife died pretty recently, and he’s not dealing well with the loss. After holing up by himself for a while, he visits a nephew (Bill) in New Jersey—really, his first social contact after her death. Frank’s getting up in years himself, but he’s doing pretty well, all things considered.

Frank and Bill go to the shooting range one day. While there, someone confronts Frank, claiming they know each other—Frank pleads ignorance (a white lie), but the stranger soon figures out who he is. They knew each other back in Vietnam while part of a special combat unit. The stranger (Jasper) and his friends are convinced that Frank did a bad thing to one of their own back in ‘Nam. Frank wouldn’t argue with them, but they all were involved in doing very bad things (as they were ordered to), he’d add. Besides, that was a lifetime ago, and he, Jasper and the rest of the unit have all moved on to civilian life and put those atrocities behind them.

If that were true, this would be a much shorter book. Thankfully for us readers, Jasper and his friends carry a grudge. Two of them—Birdie and Pogo (no, really)—are nearby and available. So after Frank goes home to his house on the outskirts of a small Maine town, the three of them head up to pay him a visit. And it ain’t a social call.

Frank knows that Jasper and others (no idea how many others) are coming, and takes steps to prepare. And then the fecal matter hits the rotary impeller.

That’s a little more long-winded than I’d intended, but I haven’t given too much away. So basically, you’ve got 4 septuagenarians carrying small arsenals in the Maine woods drawing on the training they all received decades ago (one or two of them may have been keeping those skills sharp, but that’s beside the point). None of these guys are in their prime anymore, and more than once I wondered if natural causes would beat an act of violence to the punch (I won’t say if I was right).

Don’t go thinking that this is any kind of comic novel—it’s not Grumpy Old Men III: Locked and Loaded, these are hard men doing violent things. After the trio arrives in Maine, the questions that need to be answered are: how many of these four are going to walk away from this showdown, and what kind of collateral damage will there be?

Not all the characters are as well-rounded as they could be, but they’re all close enough that no one’s going to complain—especially when the action kicks in. You can’t say there are really good guys or bad guys here. Well, that’s not true—there are bad guys and some less-bad guys. No one wears a white hat in this book (at least not those at the center of the action), the hats are all black or dark gray.

This next paragraph contains a spoiler—or something spoiler-adjacent. Feel free to skip it and move on.
There’s a [insert your own Latin-y word here] ex machina element to the last action scene of this novel. I don’t think it was necessary (they almost never are), and a resolution was still possible that would’ve satisfied novels without it. The more that I think about it, what that element means for Frank’s world is pretty disturbing—more than anything else that happened in the book, really. As I write this, it occurs to me that if there’s a sequel, this element is likely going to play a central role, and I’ll retract the last 97 words. Still, I’d have liked to have seen things play out without the             ex machina. But that could just be me.
Back to the no-spoiler zone:

This is the kind of thing that should appeal to fans of Gregg Hurwitz, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder or others in that vein. The pacing is tight, the action scenes are well-handled, and the tension is real. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours with some good escapist reading. It’s possible (probable?) for Russo to return to the survivors for a sequel—if he does, I’ll be at the front of the line for it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Down & Out Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this ride.


3.5 Stars

Going Rogue by Neil Lancaster: Tom Novak and His Own Brand of Justice are Back!

Going Rogue

Going Rogue

by Neil Lancaster
Series: Tom Novak Thriller, #2

Kindle Edition, 322 pg.
Burning Chair Publishing, 2019

Read: November 12-14, 2019

I’m a little afraid that this doesn’t sound positive. It should because I enjoyed the book. I shelved the post for a day and tweaked it to help. But, if anything, I think I sound less positive than I did before. So here’s what this post is supposed to say: Great first part, really strong second part, with a couple of hiccups. Hopefully, that’s what you get out of it.

Following his exploits in Going Dark, DS Tom Novak has got himself a new assignment. He’s part of a task force investigating corrupt public figures—politicians, police, military, judiciary and whatnot. This is a much better fit for him than his old job, with a supervisor that he won’t have to battle with (much)—as this series progresses, I really look forward to spending more time with this group.

When a new domestic terrorist group begins attacking Muslim targets, the nation goes on high alert. It’s clear that the terrorists aren’t amatuers—they likely have military training and it’s possible they have assistance from someone in the government or police as well. Enter Novak’s group (every officer in London is looking to get into the hunt for the terrorists, but this team has a legitmate interest).

The man who carried out the first mission is in prison and he’s really the only lead anyone has into the Aryan Defence Front. Novak enters the prison as a Slovenian veteran under suspicion for the murder of a Muslim to gain his trust and hopefully an invitation to enlist. I really can’t describe more of the plot than that, as much as I want to—you need to see what happens from there.

The ADF is a small, but very well organized (and funded) group looking to create and increase divisions between Muslims and Non-Muslims in England—leading to Whites vs. Everyone Else with public riots, mayhem and the rest until supposed Right Thinking and Superior Whites kick everyone else off the island. Something about this group seems easier to believe than similar groups in other novels that I’ve read in the last couple of years—I can’t put my finger on why that is, I’ll just run with it and enjoy it.

There are basically two parts to this book (oversimplification warning) as there was to Going Dark—the undercover work and then what Novak has to do unofficially, using very un-approved methods. The undercover work portion of the book is just great. Yeah, he has to work a little faster than he did in Going Dark, but the short time-frame to get implanted with the group felt legitimate enough (I really hate it when UC officers are put into an inner circle within days of starting). In fact, this part being fast-paced really added to the tension and heightened the drama. Sadly (speaking for the characters’ viewpoint, not the readers’), as effective as the police are—they’re not enough, so Novak ends up Going Rouge to mop up with a little help from his friends that helped him so much last time.

I really have no complaints at all about the part where Novak “goes rogue” to get his man. However, the parts of the book focusing on his undercover work were much more interesting—they’re gripping, taught and seem more realistic. Given that, watching Novak and his allies take the rogue/extraordinary steps to get the job done—it is so hard to talk about this without ruining anything—was a blast. I did (and do) wince at what happens to one of his allies, it’s a relatively minor form of torture, but it literally curls my toes to think about.

My biggest complaint is in the dialogue—and it’s not that big of a complaint, I should stress. There were two or three occasions where it seemed to me like that a character essentially repeated themselves. I’m not sure that I was clear there. An example (using the dullest dialogue ever):
George: I watched this TV show last night.
Liza: Good to know.
George: After my evening meal, I viewed a television program.
Sure, people do this all the time in real life, but 1. They are dull to talk to; and 2. I want fictional dialogue to be better than real life (if for no other reason than: editing). Also, some of the threats made by the bad guys toward the end seemed a little lifeless. This is their chance to shine, put some oomph into it.

Then again, if you’re reading a thriller for the sparkling dialogue, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.

Again, nothing against Tom Novak, Action Hero; but Tom Novak, Good Policeman is more up my alley. But either Tom Novak is a real pleasure to read—Going Rogue is filled with great action, a strong protagonist with some good supporting characters, and villains you really want to see thwarted and punished. This is just what you want in a thriller.

I do think that Going Dark was a slightly more effective and polished work, but I won’t hesitate to recommend this one—and I’m already eager to see what Novak is Going to do next.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I sincerely thank him for this.


3.5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch: Emojis, Tweets and Memes May Not be the End of Language…

Because Internet

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

by Gretchen McCulloch

Hardcover, 274 pg.
Riverhead Books, 2019

Read: October 18-21, 2019

I’m a linguist, and I live on the internet. When I see the boundless creativity of internet language flowing past me online, I can’t help but want to understand how it works. Why did emoji become so popular so quickly? What’s the deal with how people of different ages punctuate their emails and text messages so differently? Why does the language in memes often look so wonderfully strange?

That encapsulates the book right there, McCulloch looks into each of these questions—along with some related and foundational questions—about how communication online has and is changing the way we write at each other.

If I was going to do this the right way, I’d need a dozen pages (at least), and I just don’t have the patience to write something that long (and, let’s be honest—who’d read it?). So let me be brief: this is an entertaining and informative book. She discusses the advantage of studying informal writing over edited and published works (and how the Internet Age makes that so much easier), “typographical tone of voice,” emojis and other emotional indicators, memes (and the like), and offers a new metaphor for considering language.

The tone is light and informal, but this isn’t a breezy read. It’s not that difficult, however. But there are times that I will confess that my eyes glazed over when she does some of the nitty-gritty explanations about how this works (and how it’s researched). But that doesn’t happen as often as I might think it would. What she does with the nitty-gritty, how she applies it? Love it. But when she’s “showing her work” (as we used to say in math class), I have a hard time tracking—that’s on me, I want to stress. McCulloch goes out of her way to make even that kind of thing interesting and approachable.

The way she frames the discussion for each chapter is fascinating. Then the conclusions she makes, or application of all that work, is simply insightful and even more fascinating. It’s just the stuff in the middle that didn’t need to be as long. But that’s very likely just me. McCulloch is a bit more open to changes and innovations than a guy who likes the idea of language standards (like me) can truly be comfortable with—but she almost wins me over.

This is probably the most entertaining book about language that I can remember reading (and, yeah, I used to dabble). It feels as alive as the language she’s considering. This is one for the language lover in your life.


3.5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Anbatar: Legacy of the Blood Guard by Anne Dolleri: A Satisfying New Fantasy Adventure

If this one ends up looking intriguing, come back in a little bit to read a Q&A with the author (the link’ll work when it posts) to see if she can convince you to give this a shot.

Anbatar

Anbatar: Legacy of the Blood Guard

by Anne Dolleri

Kindle Edition, 488 pg.
Nina Döllerer, 2019

Read: October 14-15, 2019


Nareth is a Samerier warrior (a super-soldier of sorts, I’m going to stay vague about that), and single-handedly turned the tide against an invading army in a recent war. Haunted by what happened (particularly is role in it), and determined to prevent that needing to happen again, he goes on a secret peace mission to the country that recently invaded his own. His brother, the king, sends a security force and an ambassador, too. But they can’t move as quickly as he can (nor are they as driven).

Nareth arrives in the capitol city, Anbatar, and is stymied on every front—he can’t talk to anyone in the government. The invasion had gone so awry that the king was killed, so by law, the leaders of the nation are behind locked doors for weeks until succession is decided and a new king is crowned. Forced to wear makeup to disguise his darker pigmentation, Nareth familiarizes himself with Anbatar, starts to get a feel for the politics in the city, and makes some contacts that will help when he (and the coming diplomat) have a chance to negotiate a lasting peace.

When the opportunity arises (forced, actually, by Nareth taking a reckless and potentially calamitous step), it comes tied to dangerous tasks — digging out the remnants of a secret police and protecting the daughter of a popular candidate for the monarchy from forces loyal to the slain king’s family.

This books would work pretty well as Exhibit A in an examination of why I rarely DNF things. There were a handful of aspects to this novel that felt like deal-breakers when Dolleri introduced them. If not deal-breakers, harbingers of a disappointing read, anyway. The kind of things that felt things I’ve read in other independently published Fantasy novels that almost never worked out well. For example: the way she kept most of the details about the Samerier warriors from the reader for most of the book; the seemingly irrational feud between Nareth and his ambassador—and the way the two interacted with each other; the way the inevitable romance was introduced. Dolleri didn’t do a bad job with any of them, but at first blush these things (and others) reminded me of a disappointment in another book and made me think that this book would be the same. But at some point, without me noticing, she won me over. Every time that I grumbled about something in my notes, or rolled my eyes at an idea, I eventually got to the point where not only did the thing not bother me, I ended up liking the way she was dealing with things.

I’m not sure I’m being clear there—so let me put it this way: every negative (or potential negative) that I came across, she turned into a positive. That’s skill, that’s a good instinct (even if she didn’t see what I’m complaining about as a negative), she put enough heart, individuality or chutzpah into her story that I couldn’t help but respond positively.

At one point (I have to be careful here to not give away anything), it became clear to me what kind of ending she was going for (even if I didn’t have all the details guessed, I could see the trajectory) and it’s not what I expected. Even here, I quickly got behind her choices and was able to enjoy them.

There is a real lack of backstory about this world, about the recently completed war and the ongoing tensions between the two countries (pre-war and after). We get a little bit of information on this, but not much. This is both wonderful—no prolonged infodumps—and frustrating—it’d just be nice to know from time to time. Ultimately, I think this was a smart move (and makes the reading easier), but man…I’m curious.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about this character, but there’s a thief wandering around the city. He can get where he wants, when he wants. His mere presence gets people to give him their money—he’s like Batman would be if he turned. His character alone, plus the impact he has on various points of the story, are real bonuses for me. I’d read a book about him at the drop of a hat.

Typically in Fantasy novels, animals are just part of the background, or they’re invested with some sort of near-magic/supernatural quality. Nothing against the latter, but I’d prefer just some good animals. That’s what we have here—Alahar, Nareth’s horse is a good warhorse—he works well with his rider, but isn’t supernaturally fast, strong or smart animal. Nareth also has a dog, Revo. It seems once or twice that Revo might secretly be supernatural, but in the end, he’s just a good dog. I think he gets short-changed a little in the end (and that’s not just because I’m obsessed with dogs in fiction), but he’s nice to see.

The last character that I want to focus on is Keni. He’s a typical street urchin who does some odd jobs for Nareth and ends up being taken under his wing. There was something infectious and charming about his presence, and I think a lot of the affection I ended up having toward this book is rooted in him. At the very least, Dolleri’s use of him magnified my appreciation for the book.

My last point is this—Dolleri isn’t a native English speaker/writer. Which can be a dicey thing when trying to write/translate fantastical elements. If I didn’t know English was a second language for her, I don’t think I could’ve determined that from the book. Major kudos to her for that—no small feat.

Is this the best Fantasy I’ve read this year? No. But it’s a surprisingly satisfying one. I’m ready to head back to this world, hopefully back to some of the characters. It’s an intriguing setting for some enjoyable characters to have their adventures in with an author that has some pretty solid story-telling chops. I’d get this one if I were in your shoes, folks.


3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge