Anthology Review: ‘Grimm Mistresses’

Grimm Mistresses


I think the wrong short story collection got named Trigger Warning. Grimm Mistresses deals with some dark, dark stuff. A short and fairly solid five story collection; all by woman and all dealing with a modern take on an old classic story. I didn’t think there was a bad story in the collection but be warned; rape of men and women are included, as is a whole lot of bad things happening to children. Technically this is a collection of horror tales, with one excellent story full of hope hidden in the middle. With only five stories in the bunch I will do something I rarely do; say a few words about each of them.

Little Dead Red by Mercedes M Yardley – An obvious allusion to a famous young girl who just wants to get to Grandma’s house but there are no happy endings to be found this time. A compelling but nasty little story about a woman’s descent into a grief induced madness as she looks for the ‘wolf’ who took her little girl. It had an absolutely chilling opening, one of the best I have read. The only downer (outside of the dark and depressing story of course) was an ending that I could have done without. Some loose ends were tied up that actually hurt the overall feel in my opinion; it was better when I didn’t know some of the things revealed within the last few paragraphs.

Nectar by Allison M Dickson – I take back what I said up top, there was a fairly weak story in this collection. A trail of breadcrumbs story if you catch my meaning; also a story of wish fulfillment gone horrible wrong. Two middle age men go on a blind double date with women who possess goddess like good looks. And then everything goes wrong for those two men as they learn about the nature of houses made of candy. It was interesting for a while but I never really bought the overall premise and it moved into some science fiction weirdness that completely lost me.

The Leopard’s Pelt by S.R. Cambridge – Completely out of place in this collection yet for me it is the highlight. The Leopards Pelt takes place around World War II; before, during, but mostly after. But it is in no way a war story. A man’s time on a deserted island brings with it a magical binding that either a blessing or curse, and it will take the whole story to find out. I have no idea what old tale this is a take off form but I sure did love it; hopeful throughout and full of heart but without a pure fairly tale ending for everyone. Good stuff, if you only read on story from this collection skip right to the middle.

Hazing Cinderella by C.W. LaSart – When the head cheerleader decides to haze her new step-sister she drags a couple of friends along. Meanwhile back at home the newly married stepmother has a few secrets of her own. This story was pure horror. No suspense, no real twists, just nasty things happening to nasty people. Easy to read, pretty good, and would probably be a great movie Carrie style but ultimately a bit forgettable.

The Night Air by Stacy Turner – A family has moved to the country just outside of a strange but quite little town. The mother discovers and old graveyard during one of her walks. The graves have a real oddity to them; the times of death are all one of two dates. Asking around in town gets her nothing but a creepy feeling. Then the real nightmare begins. Heartbreaking more than scary, though again with a touch of hope that strangely feels right. Based on a well-known old tale, but to mention it would give away everything.

The copy for review was provided by the publisher.


Tough Travels – Chess Masters


Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is CHESS MASTERS

A true master knows where all the pieces are at all times.  Others may think they have taken control but alas, the master knew their last move before they played it.

I have a confession; I have no idea how to play chess. Don’t get me wrong I know all the rules (even the one about castling) but have not played against a human in probably twenty years. I tried to teach it to my wife early in the marriage but ultimately decided a happy marriage was much more important than a chess partner.  I would like to think though, that if push came to shove, I could control the whole world around me.

The Blackcollar (Blackcollar, #1)LatheBlackcollar by Timothy Zahn – In a different time I considered Zahn to be my favorite author. He wrote space adventures that were often a bit smarter than the rest of the bad cover sci-fi I found. And if there was one thing he was known for it was super genius characters controlling EVERYTHING. His best known creation is probably Grand Admiral Thrawn from Star Wars who certainly fits the chess master profile. But for me, I decided to with Lathe.

Lathe knows EVERYTHING that is happening. We first meet him as an unassuming old man reliving glory days but that is just a façade. In reality he will be the most important piece in the resistance against the Ryqril; big leathery aliens that have enslaved humanity. Watch him moves his pawns into place; don’t ignore that bishop just because he is moving the queen. This is old school sci-fi, manly men doing manly things, but I reread it last year and still found it enjoyable.

BayazThe First Law by Joe Abercrombie – Perhaps the worst kept spoiler in fantasy, Bayaz is a nasty piece of work. He presents as a kindly old wizard, though without the frail old man look. But he has his hands in everything. Using the most powerful force in the world (money, not magic) he deftly controls every single important person in the land. He would probably control it all but Abercrombie remembers that chess is played by two people.

Bobby Fischer, meet Boris Spassky. And when chess is played with nations, war is the only course of action.

PhedreKushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey –This is an odd one because in actuality Phedre starts off not as a player but as one of the pieces; a powerful one such as the queen but a piece none the less. But she watches from her position on the board as two power chessmasters square off. And when the hand playing her side, mentor and man she loves, can no longer play? The student must become a player.

Safe to say, by the time it is all over, there will be a rematch or two between the players Young Miles (Vorkosigan Omnibus, #2)left in the game.   Can’t wait to read another one of these books.

MilesVorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold – Not your typical chessmaster in that he does start anywhere in control. But Miles plays the game I play Mariokart; just because you are a little behind now doesn’t mean some furious maneuvering won’t get you back in the front. He takes control of an entire mercenary group with nothing more than MaGuyver like tools.   He gets his poor cousin Ivan in way over his head; time and time again. But on top he ends up through sheer cunning, each and every time.

Join us next week as we look at VAMPIRES

VAMPIRES are increasingly rare on the TOUR.  They have been attracted over tot he Horror Tour by offers of better pay.  Where they appear, you will find up to date Vampires wear expensive sunglasses and wish to drain you of energy rather than blood.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Over at Lady Business

The wonderful people at Lady Business invited me to join in on their new feature Maps & Legends, a round table style feature to talk about various topics of interest.

This weeks topic was What books are on your auto-recommend list?  This proved harder than I thought it would but in the end I think I came up with a pretty solid list.  Looking over the other contributors I am seeing some awesome books from some awesome people. And I wasn’t the only one to drop a Pratchett book!

Please head over and check it out.

On Ratings and Reviewing

A few recent blog post and comments on my own blog have put me in a musing mood so please bear with me. I have been thinking about reviewing in general and blogging specifically; especially within the context of this site. I talk about blogging itself on twitter and at times on various forums but on the site I rarely bring it up. This is purposeful, I try to keep reviews on point. Even when I am being silly with them I want the text to be about the book or series I am reviewing. In the early stages I took this so far as to write all reviews in third person to keep ME completely off the page (before quickly realizing how silly that was). So this is a little different for me.

It is fair to say that while I had moderate hopes for Fantasy Review Barn I can’t claim I ever saw it becoming what it has. By no means the biggest blog around but I can no longer pretend it is an unknown entity, nor that we are not know in some circles. With that of course comes the extra layers of scrutiny. I have never had my honesty questions but more and more my reviews get attention from unexpected places and I would hate for that to change.  So I want to talk about what often gets the most attention; that rating that sits at the bottom of each page.

I have thought about doing away with a star rating completely. I do believe a review should tell you what is important and that in some ways a star rating is a crutch. But it is a useful one. For myself it helps steer a discussion, ‘this is why specifically I rated the book this way.’ For a reader who trusts my judgment it is a quick and dirty way to scan for what they truly want to read; not everyone has time every day to scar thousand word reviews.

But it has its own issues. To start with I don’t eve follow the rating system on the review policy anymore and should probably revise it at some point. Stars 2-5 are the same but I have stopped using 1 Star ratings for books I don’t finish. Instead I just write about why I didn’t finish and leave a rating off. I save the single star for books so hideously insulting I want to throw it; overtly racist or something of the like would be needed. And because I don’t often go into books blind I am not likely to be reading 1 star books all that often.

This of course tips the scale; two stars are now books I just find to be really bad. Which leads to the real issue I have been having – Three star ratings. I know I have gotten progressively tougher on books as time has gone on; early reviews probably were inflated a bit high at times. But to me a 3 star book is still a good book, a book worth reading. Four stars are books I recommend without reservation, and five stars are books that did something extra well to me. But, again, a three star book is perfectly fine.

Not everyone sees it that way. My comments prove that to me regularly. And I am not sure what to do about it. But it is tied to another quirk in my style. What leads to the ratings in the first place? Some people have some very interesting systems for rating books. Wastrel has a seven part system he uses; you can see everything he is thinking before the final rating is set. Author Zachary Jernigan gives two different ratings; and objective one and a personal one. But I use only one all encompassing, quickly set and decided onstar rating. Want my secret? The magic formula that I use?

I give ratings based purely on how I feel about the book when I finish it. No formula, no heavy thoughts. Did I love it? Rave about it? Or merely read it. That rating, almost he lest important part of the review process, gets the time it deserves in my mind. Yet it seems to count for so much. A Goodreads comment summed it up best. I was asked how I could give 4 stars to Blood Song but 5 to The Barrow. And good old Wastrel again swooped in; ‘Presumably he preferred the other book to this one? ’  But in my mind I was thinking ‘why did I even write a review for each if the rating is all that matters?’

Why does it matter? It may not. But it is important that people know where I am coming from. Because I would hate to have my judgment questions by the nature of the blog. It is true that I get a good portion of my reading material from publishers and authors at this point. When Fantasy Review Barn first started up there was a long e-mail chain between me and Pauline. One of the things that was important to her was that we not become a mouth piece of the publishing industry; something I agreed with. She doesn’t accept ARCs, didn’t want the blog to get into a race with other blogs, didn’t want ‘content’ that didn’t actually consist of anything.

Two years past and I have broken a great many of those early promises; though I hope it is understood that I have kept the spirit of our vision. I continue to read because I like to read, and write because I love to write. This blog is a hobby to me, if it wasn’t fun I would do it. And I should thinkI have proven ..that I like to have fun ..from time to time. But by accepting, nay requesting ARCS, and by participating in giveaways, I am certainly part of the authors/publishers publicity machine (though I quickly realized that ANY review put in a public space is part of this machine). I have lines that I set for myself, things I have absolutely no problems with other blogs doing but have personally kept away from. I don’t do posts that spotlight a book without saying something about it. Be it cover reveals or Waiting on Wednesday or what have you, it just isn’t for me (a part of me thinks that Tough Travels is probably the most effective marketing tool that has come out this blog and it was designed completely to be a celebration of good books). Thereare things I often love reading and often helm me to discover new books, but they don’t fit my own vision.

One of my biggest struggles last year was deciding if I wanted to run a giveaway for a book I wasn’t that found of. Ultimately I decided to go with it; it was a net benefit to the readers of this blog. Different tastes run through out and just because someone enjoys Fantasy Review Barn certainly doesn’t mean they would agree with our tastes one hundred percent of the time. But in the back of my mind I know that is the type of thing that makes some readers not trust review sites. Many of the same sites reviewing products of all kinds are also accepting getting the majority of their revenue from the people making them.  And while I am not making money or running ads the monetary value of the books sent my way cannot be ignored. It can be perceived as a conflict.

Luckily I am a confident person. I know there is no conflict and I know it shows. So all of this was a long winded way of making a promise that shouldn’t have to be made, and was in all honesty completely unasked for. I will continue to read books I enjoy. I will write about those books in which ever style I feel like and post the reviews on my own time schedule. And you will always, ALWAYS get my true feelings about a book no matter how it was acquired.

Fantasy Review: ‘Kushiel’s Dart’ by Jacqueline Carey

It has been a little while since I read a book that gave me a ‘oh hell yes,’ stand up andKushiel's Dart cheer type of scene. And if the one in the waning pages of Kushiel’s Dart consists of the type of thing that can only happen in movies or books, so be it. Because it was the accumulation of events set in motion many chapters before, with everything finally lain before the reader, and it was a rare climax that matches the buildup. The strangest thing about it? It is pure action in the middle of a war, hidden in a book that is certainly not about either of those things. But hidden in this book of political intrigue, strong sexuality, and a massive game of espionage came one of the most memorable battle scenes around.

I think I may be in love with this book. I love the setting with its almost Christian religion in which the Mary Magdalene of the world is as important as its Christ. I enjoyed each of the characters, both good and bad, none of whom ever feels like a cliché within their role. But most especially I appreciate a book that can keep me hooked from page one to six hundred and something (near a thousand pages in the paperback I am told). I can use a Game of Thrones comparison that is being pushed here because Carey actually includes the phrase in the book; there is something about royal maneuvering that just makes me smile.

If this is to be compared to Game of Thrones then it must be done right. Kushiel’s Dart is what would happen if Martin were more focused, decided Sansa was the main character of the story, then put her through hell all the while remembering that hope is occasionally welcome. So nothing at all like Game of Thrones; outside of a battle of nobility and some high quality intrigue.

If Kushiel’s Dart is known for one thing it is the very sexual tone in the books. And this is a book that lives up to its reputation. Phèdre, protagonist and narrator, is marked by a dart in her eye that labels her as anguissette, or one gets pleasure from pain. In a land where Namaah’s path is a form of worship (temple prostitution if you will) Phèdre is trained by a man named Delaunay to be something even more. She grows to be a weapon, not in a physical sense, but rather as a user of information. And in the collection of information sex is ever hers to use.

It is every bit as kinky as it sounds, but perhaps not as dirty as it seems. It would be easy to mock the prostitute’s path as an easy way to turn up the thrills but Carey takes the time to build the land and the religion that follows it in a way that makes it seem natural. Some may argue she takes too much time building it, and that may be, but as a lover of well-crafted worlds I was happy. Oh I may wonder why so many were ready to take advantage of Phèdre’s unique abilities when it is supposed to be such a rare trait, but only once did it really seem a bit too convenient.

Leave the sex behind, or rather don’t because it is interwoven into the entire canvas, and what you get is a long game of rivals trying to control the land. Double crosses, treaties made and broken, more betrayals, and a whole lot of campaigning make up the majority of the story. With a fair amount of traveling, some rough patches, and perhaps some forbidden love. Phèdre tells the story from a position of knowledge but shows only pieces of it while walking us through her path. This allows her to foreshadow at times and point out what may be important later. It was a relaxed story telling style that fit the story well.

I know this book was most likely give a new cover treatment in hopes of catching new audiences that Game of Thrones and Fifty Shades of Gray can provide. Simply by being out there again I know it got my interest and I hope it works on others s well. Because I now know this is a series that deserves a lot more readers.

4 Stars

U.S. Giveaway – ‘Blood’s Pride’ and ‘Fortune’s Blight’ by Evie Manieri

Fortune's Blight (Shattered Kingdoms, #2)The good folks at Tor want you to have the chance to catch up on the Shattered Kingdoms series by Evie Manieri .  Three lucky winners will get a copy of the recently released Fortune’s Blight.  But because they are feeling extra generous each copy will be packaged with a copy of the first book in the series, Blood’s Pride, as well.  Two books in one package?  Tell me what could be better.

To enter just head to the bottom of the page and enter on the rafflecopter form.  It is easy!

Here is what press sheet has to say..


Praise for Evie Manieri

 “Manieri’s BLOOD’S PRIDE, the first book in the new Shattered Kingdoms series, is the perfect mix of romance, family ties, betrayals and agonizing dilemmas…The world created by Manieri is one of love, treachery and intrigue that will keep the audience hanging on until the very last page.”

RT Book Reviews

 “The setting is what sells me on this book:  quasi-Medieval Mediterranean region. Just as with Indian fantasy, I think this subgenre is a really ignored one, and it’s fantastic that Evie Manieri is going to be exploring it in this novel.” Most Anticipated Releases for 2013

“This hefty fantasy, first in a series from debut author Manieri, presents the tangled dynamics of two cultures at war with each other and within themselves….Plot twists, romantic entanglements, and political rivalries make for lots of melodrama.”

Publishers Weekly

A strong new voice in fantasy fiction, Evie Manieri continues on with the second installment in the SHATTERED KINGDOMS series, following Blood’s Pride. FORTUNE’S BLIGHT (A Tor Hardcover; On Sale Today!), is an epic fantasy featuring culture clash and family betrayal in the backdrop of a rich, fully realized world with a dark edge.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: EVIE MANIERI has a degree in Medieval History and Theatre from Wesleyan University. This is her second novel. She lives with her daughter in New York City.   
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tough Travels- Knights


Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is KNIGHTS

Um. Noble rich people on horseback. Come on, you people know what knights are. (Topic provided by Miriam)

Hopefully this one wasn’t too hard for everyone.

Knights are everywhereA Song of Ice and Fire by GRRM – Here a Ser, there a Ser, big burly Sers and wimpy Sers. Even a woman Ser, who ends up being one of the most interesting characters even through at first I hated her chapters.  Old man Georgy likes his knights, E I E I O.

Knights are annoyingDealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede – Too much time Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1)listening to old tales, not enough time paying attention to what people are trying to say. That is the problem with some knights. So let us say Cimorene willingly goes to live with a dragon. That doesn’t mean that she is making a desperate plea to be rescued it means ‘leave me alone!’ No dragon slaying is required here, Cimorene is one princes that has no need of rescue.

Perhaps a sign on the road will keep away the would be ‘saviors?’ Not likely, persistent little buggers those knights are proving to be.

Knights are flyingPern by Anne McCaffrey –You may think I am crazy but I totally think the Dragonriders of Pern count so hear me out.

One – They are aristocracy with cool mounts. Now, unlike the Hold Lords they are not necessarily born that way but they have become the gentle class of the land from the second they impress their young dragons. From that point on they are fed, provided land, and given a place to hunt with their charges. They get a share of everyone’s harvest just because of how they are born. See the respect the old-timers think is their right and you will agree.

Two- They are riding dragons. And dragons beat horses every time. Think the Mountain would be able to slay a dragon that pissed him off after a joust? I think not.

Knights are DeadWarcraft – Arthas is awesome. I don’t read Warcraft tie-ins and when playing World of Wacraft back in the day I was hardly taking the time to read the lore. But I still could the story of Warcraft 3, which introduced Arthas and his (12 year old spoiler warning coming) fall to evil among the best ever in video games. Plus Undead was my favorite to play, Death Coil made microing heroes into easy mode. Good times…

Knights are coming back?Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson –The Knight’s Radiant are gone. They betrayed man and spren to the Voidbringers, supposedly out of greed. But Dalinar has some visions that tell him things may not be exactly as they seem. Is it possible for the knights to come back? Is it? I don’t know, perhaps if we reread the text there could be some foreshadowing of hints that may help clue us in.

Join us next week as we look at CHESSMASTERS

A true master knows where all the pieces are at all times.  Others may think they have taken control but alas, the master knew their last move before they played it.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!