Tag Archives: historical fiction

One Must Tell the Bees: Abraham Lincoln and the Final Education of Sherlock Holmes by J. Lawrence Matthews Audiobook Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The secret history of the infamous detective of Baker Street comes to center stage as his first case centers around the assassination of a US President, the protection of his son, and the hunt for a ruthless assassin in author J. Lawrence Matthew’s audiobook, “One Must Tell the Bees: Abraham Lincoln and the Finale Education of Sherlock Holmes”. 

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The Synopsis

“What do you get when you cross Abraham Lincoln with Sherlock Holmes? The alchemy of creative genius. Matthews brings us to the intersection of history and fiction in this beautifully written epic full of unfathomable twists and turns. It’s elementary: this book is sensational.” (Jim Campbell, syndicated radio host and author of Madoff Talks: Uncovering the Untold Story Behind the Most Notorious Ponzi Scheme in History)

“President Lincoln is assassinated in his private box at Ford’s!”

When those harrowing words ring out during a children’s entertainment in Washington on the evening of April 14, 1865, a quick-thinking young chemist from England named Johnnie Holmes grabs the 12-year-old son of the dying president, races the boy to safety, and soon finds himself enlisted in the most infamous manhunt in history.

One Must Tell the Bees is the untold story of Sherlock Holmes’ journey from the streets of London to the White House of Abraham Lincoln and, in company with a freed slave named after the dead president, their breathtaking pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. It is the very first case of the man who would become known to the world as Sherlock Holmes, and as listeners will discover, it will haunt him until his very last.

At a time when Western history is being reexamined and retold, old heroes cast aside and statues torn down, and even the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, “the Great Emancipator”, is questioned, One Must Tell the Bees is a timely reminder that our history deserves to be understood before it is entirely undone.

©2021 J. Lawrence Matthews (P)2021 J. Lawrence Matthews

The Review

Such an incredible story! The combination of the author’s ability to capture the tone and writing style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the narrator’s fluid and thematic speaking voice helped to draw the reader into the narrative. It was incredible how the author was able to bring to life the style of the original Sherlock Holmes novels that made him such an iconic literary figure. The amount of detail and precision that the author put not only in the narrative but into the dialogue of Sherlock Holmes himself was fascinating to read and watch unfold. The narrator was superb, really bringing that nineteenth-century English accent into the story and capturing the emotions and nostalgia that these characters and stories held for so many over the years.

The narrative itself was such a great story. The author found the perfect way to pay tribute to the original Sherlock Holmes stories through tone and atmosphere while shaking things up by exploring a young Sherlock Holmes and giving an alternate history that shows the famed London Detective taking to the streets of Washington DC and more. The addition of the detective’s hero being revealed as a Pinkerton agent was fascinating as well and allowed readers to get a glimpse into the formation of who Holmes would become known as in his future career. 

The Verdict

Nostalgic, entertaining, and thought-provoking, author J. Lawrence Matthews’s “One Must Tell the Bees” is a must-read historical fiction mystery novel! The audiobook version really created the theatrical nature of the setting and the narrative harnessed that classic literature style that really made this feel like an authentic Sherlock Holmes read. The captivating addition of this time period and the era of American History being so influential on the foundation of Holmes and his career in the future was brilliantly told, and if you haven’t yet, you need to grab your copy of this incredible audiobook today!

Rating: 10/10

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Author: J. Lawrence Matthews

Narrator: Thomas Judd

Length: 19 hours 13 minutes

Publisher: East Dean Press

Released: Oct. 1, 2021

Genre: Mystery

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Rise: Birth of a Revolution (The Ricchan Chronicles Book 1) by Mark Moore Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young man finds himself at the center of a complex revolution in author Mark Moore’s historical fantasy novel, “Rise: Birth of a Revolution”, the first in The Ricchan Chronicles series. 

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The Synopsis

Finalist for the 2019 OZMA Fantasy Fiction awards, Chanticleer International Book Awards

Damien Flynn finds himself in the midst of growing turmoil that he foresaw but was not equipped to handle. Denied the quill for speaking his mind, he finds himself shackled to a path spiraling downward. A brush with death can do wonders to help one re-evaluate their priorities and their morals but it remains to be seen just how Damien will proceed with his newfound perspective on mortality.

Political espionage, assassinations, scandalous affairs, underhanded deals, and dirty politics threaten to plunge the known world into chaos with Damien Flynn in the middle.

A powerful general, buoyed by a second with fractured morals, provides early and tangible victories but success brings attention they may not be ready for. Erudite and ruthless cunning stalks the would-be revolutionaries with pragmatism and patience. A threat of extinction that looms over every step forward.

Damien Flynn must draw lots, he must choose a side; the wrong choice could end his life, so could the right one.

The Review

This was such an engaging and rich story. The way the author wrote this book readers were able to get the fantasy feel with this fictional world and countries that many readers will see mirror our own world, but the narrative also gives a healthy dose of history, drama, and action. As a fan of history and the American Revolution as a whole, the attention to detail the author brought out into this narrative shows the parallels between the real-life revolution that birthed the United States and the rebellion of Ricchan. 

The novel’s heart however comes from its rich tapestry of characters. Not only are the interactions and bonds formed between these characters so inviting, but the complexity of this cast of characters is so profound to read as this first novel in the series comes to life. What was also amazing to see was how these characters on all sides of this conflict really highlight the concept of war and the horrors it always wrought in our own world are perfectly mirrored in this narrative, showing how these horrors can happen on either side of a conflict, and the “heroes” of war are not always as apparent as say WWII, where villains like Hitler and the Nazi Regime were so clearly outlined. More often than not, the true “villains” are those few in power who rule a people and force them into these conflicts. 

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, action-fueled, and brilliant historical fantasy novel, author Mark Moore’s “Rise: Birth of a Revolution” is a must-read first novel of the author’s THE RICCHAN CHRONICLES series. The adrenaline-fueled narrative will keep readers not only entertained but engaged in the character’s overall arcs and a shocking twist ending will change the dynamics of the world the author has created leading into the highly anticipated sequel. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Mark Moore began writing his first book in November of 2015. What started as a hobby quickly morphed into a passion that consumed long nights and lunch hours during his day jobs. With the help of his editor, JMR Literary Services, he published his first book, Rise, in November of 2018 and followed it with its sequel, Stand, in December 2020. His current work in progress is a departure from the low-fantasy genre, focusing on more traditional fantasy.

In 2021 Mark also began collecting his thoughts and putting together a writing advice youtube channel which can be found below with the goal of sparing other authors from the mistakes he’s made over the years and sharing what he’s learned.

https://www.marksmoorebooks.com/

https://www.instagram.com/redbeardflynn/

Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/redbeardflynn

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPUuN1cUwQDgJYOdC8Uvccg

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KJW8RRF/ref=x_gr_w_glide_sin?caller=Goodreads&callerLink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goodreads.com%2Fbook%2Fshow%2F43084591-rise%3Fac%3D1%26from_search%3Dtrue%26qid%3Dcudu9hE1yc%26rank%3D2&tag=x_gr_w_glide_sin-20

Traveller Manifesto (Traveller Book 3) by Rob Shackleford Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The exploration of ancient history by modern scientists and historians becomes political as government bodies work behind the scenes to develop their own versions of the Traveller technology, and former Traveller Michael Hunter must flee with his wife and daughter in 11th century Giolgrave and the whole of Aengland whilst avoiding the modern-day military sent to hunt him down in author Rob Shackleford’s “Traveller Manifesto”, the third book in the Traveller series.

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The Synopsis

Traveller Manifesto is Book 3 of the Traveller Trilogy, the explosive final sequel to Traveller Inceptio and Traveller Probo.

To use the enigmatic Transporter and send Special Forces trained Researchers back a thousand years is now the biggest game in world politics.

But not only politics, as academics scramble to outdo each other and harness prestige in the increasingly influential field of History.

As Professor Taylor is rescued from Byzantine Rome, a heavily-armed US Traveller team explores Mississippian Cahokia to experience a situation beyond even their control. Michael Hunter and Tatae flee Giolgrave in the hope of finding safety from modern interference. But at a terrible cost.

And something seems to be happening in Israel, resulting in the creation of a high-profile investigation team to uncover if there is a clandestine Traveller mission operated by the US and Israel.

From the windswept mountains of Wales to the hills of Cahokia and the dusty wadis of the Negev, researchers find that visiting the past may not necessarily provide the answers they seek.

The Review

This was such a compelling and monumental narrative for fans of this sci-fi and historical fiction thriller series. The way the author elevated the narrative of this series by taking the hinted at black-ops level military operations being taken out in various historical periods using the technology, and increasing this tenfold as not only does the military hunt down one of the Traveller programs former operatives, but attempt to utilize the technology illegally to further their own interests, really does a great job of mirroring events using technology or discoveries of our own world, and how government bodies often will claim “national security” to further their own attempts at seizing more power and control. This added an increased level of intrigue and suspense as this impacted several of the main cast of characters throughout their various Traveller missions.

What always strikes me about this series and the author is the vast amount of detail the author puts into the series. From both a historical and a narrative standpoint, the author explores not only the sci-fi side of the series from the use of the Traveller technology, but the historical fiction side of each period of time these missions take on with an attention to detail that creates a sense of imagery and tone that bursts with life and vibrancy. The exploration of history’s impact on our world and the means by which the direction that history takes is often dictated by those who emerge victorious from a situation made this story feel so thought-provoking, and readers won’t be able to help being drawn down the rabbit hole that is this heart-pounding historical fiction thriller.

The Verdict

A gripping, intense, and richly diverse historical fiction thriller and sci-fi tale, author Rob Shackleford’s “Traveller Manifesto” is a must-read novel and the perfect historical fiction read to finish out 2021 with. The rich cast of characters and detailed settings bring together a beautiful yet dangerous world of the past and present and the dramatic final chapters lead to a shocking loss and an open-ended finale that leaves plenty of room for more stories to be told in the future. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

This is just a quick bio about me, Rob Shackleford.

  • Born in Leicester, Leicestershire, England.
  • Emigrated to Australia with parents and brother, Neil, as 10 pound poms in the early 1960’s.
  • Childhood in working class suburb of Acacia Ridge, Brisbane. Brothers Aaron, Paul, and Philip and sister Kathy were born.
  • Attended Watson Road State School and Acacia Ridge State High School. I don’t think the high school exists any more.
  • Attended University of Qld and studied Journalism and Ancient History.
  • My work experience is varied and has included Customs Officer, SCUBA Instructor, in the media, college teacher and as operated own businesses.
  • I have two wonderful kids: Son – Kyle, and Daughter – Bree.
  • Finally completed 2 degrees – in Arts and in Business at Central Qld University. Each completed With Distinction.
  • Completed first novel “Traveller – Inceptio”, Traveller book 1 – published in 2019 by Austin Macauley.
  • The rest of the Traveller Books are ready to go, as are 3 other completed manuscripts, so I have completed 6 novels in all.
  • I am also currently finalizing the illustrations on 3 children’s books with my daughter Bree.

A Death in Bloomsbury (The Simon Sampson Mysteries #1) by David C. Dawson Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A renowned BBC Radio host and investigator must put his loyalty to the King of England to the test in 1930’s London as a plot to assassinate the King forces Simon Sampson to investigate, but at the risk of exposing his secret life as a gay man in a time when being gay meant facing prison time in the country in author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Bloomsbury”, the first in the Simon Sampson Mysteries series. 

The Synopsis

Everyone has secrets… but some are fatal.

1932, London. Late one December night Simon Sampson stumbles across the body of a woman in an alleyway. Her death is linked to a plot by right-wing extremists to assassinate the King on Christmas Day. Simon resolves to do his patriotic duty and unmask the traitors.

But Simon Sampson lives a double life. Not only is he a highly respected BBC radio announcer, but he’s also a man who loves men, and as such must live a secret life. His investigation risks revealing his other life and with that imprisonment under Britain’s draconian homophobic laws of the time. He faces a stark choice: his loyalty to the King or his freedom.

This is the first in a new series from award-winning author David C. Dawson. A richly atmospheric novel set in the shadowy world of 1930s London, where secrets are commonplace, and no one is quite who they seem. 

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The Review

This was such a captivating and thought-provoking read. The author’s utilization of mystery and historical fiction was superb, showcasing a clear understanding and attention to detail historically that showed the amount of research that went into this narrative. The balance the author found with the history behind this intriguing mystery and the LGBTQ cast of characters that made up the novel’s main cast was so refreshing and fantastic to read.

What stood out to me was definitely the emphasis on the LGBTQ narratives, not only the characters as a whole but their experiences and the amount of secrecy that went into leading what was considered back then to be a “double life”. The way this mirrored so much of the novel’s noir and espionage elements within the mystery unfolding around the characters was perfect, and the emotional ups and downs the protagonist, in particular, went through all the way to the book’s final pages was so emotional to read.

The Verdict

A thoughtful, gripping, and entertaining read, author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Bloomsbury” is a must-read mystery and historical fiction thriller this fall! The representation within the cast of characters and the struggles the LGBTQ community faced nearly a century ago was perfectly balanced the twists and turns in the book’s mystery, and the cliffhanger ending will leave readers eager to read more of this exciting new series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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A Death in Bloomsbury - David C. Dawson

David C. Dawson has a new gay historical crime thriller out: A Death in Bloomsbury. And there’s a giveaway!

Everyone has secrets… but some are fatal.

1932, London. Late one December night Simon Sampson stumbles across the body of a woman in an alleyway. Her death is linked to a plot by right-wing extremists to assassinate the King on Christmas Day. Simon resolves to do his patriotic duty and unmask the traitors.

But Simon Sampson lives a double life. Not only is he a highly respected BBC radio announcer, but he’s also a man who loves men, and as such must live a secret life. His investigation risks revealing his other life and with that imprisonment under Britain’s draconian homophobic laws of the time. He faces a stark choice: his loyalty to the King or his freedom.

This is the first in a new series from award-winning author David C. Dawson. A richly atmospheric novel set in the shadowy world of 1930s London, where secrets are commonplace, and no one is quite who they seem.

About the Series

The Simon Sampson Mysteries start in London 1932 and continue through the 1930s across Europe. Set against the rise of fascism in the continent, the series features a man who does his patriotic duty to fight the enemy, even though as a gay man he’s an outlaw.

Amazon | Goodreads


Giveaway

David is giving away a $20 Amazon gift card with this tour:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d47212/?


Excerpt

Simon arrived at Piccadilly Circus at ten minutes to eight that evening and waited to cross the road to the statue of Eros on its traffic island. This part of London always gave Simon a thrill of excitement. It buzzed with activity, like a giant beehive. There were swarms of people hurrying from work, or strolling towards a restaurant, theatre or bar. The metaphor was apt, because within fifty yards of where Simon stood there were so many queens.

Across the road was The Trocadero. Its Long Bar was always guaranteed to provide a gay evening for gentlemen in search of pleasure. A little farther on was the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square. Its Upper Gallery was popular with painted boys and men dressed in smart suits who spent an evening either exchanging acid-tongued witticisms or seeking a friend for the night.

Even at that time of the evening the traffic on Piccadilly Circus was almost stationary. Simon stepped off the pavement and wove his way between taxis and omnibuses queuing to drive up Shaftesbury Avenue or down the Haymarket. Cameron was waiting for him, and Simon was pleased to see he was once again soberly dressed in his immaculate black coat. This time with a grey scarf and black leather gloves. Young men of a similar age to Cameron were also standing on the steps of Eros, and they wore far more flamboyant clothing. Simon preferred to be inconspicuous when out with a gentleman friend. There was less chance that they might draw the attention of the police, or busys as his friends in the Fitzroy Tavern would call them.

“I do hope you’ve not been waiting long.” Simon took Cameron’s outstretched hand and squeezed it firmly. “It’s getting awfully cold. I think it might snow this Christmas.”

Cameron reached out his other hand and rested it on Simon’s hip. Simon pushed it away. “Best not here, old chap,” he whispered. “Awfully public you know.”

He released Cameron’s hand and pointed across the road. “We need to head towards Leicester Square. The Lily Pond is two roads up. And we can walk past the Trocadero on the way and see who’s out gadding tonight.”

“I’m glad I’m wi’ ye,” Cameron replied. “I’m still finding ma bearin’s in London. I’ve nae come down to this part of town since I moved to York House.”

“Oh, you should.” Simon led the way through the still stationary traffic to Coventry Street. “It’s frightfully exciting. And you can always be sure of meeting someone interesting.” He pointed to the corner of Glasshouse Street. “That’s the Regent Palace Hotel. Awfully good bar. Perfect place to meet gentlemen from overseas, and they can hire a room for you by the hour if that interests you.” He grabbed Cameron’s arm and pulled him to safety as a motor car attempted to circumvent the traffic jam and drove up onto the pavement.

“Try not to get yourself killed, my dear.”


Author Bio

David C. Dawson

David C. Dawson is an award-winning author, journalist and documentary maker. He writes gay romance and contemporary thrillers featuring gay heroes in love.

His latest book The Foreign Affair was published in 2020. It’s the third in the Delingpole Mysteries series.

The first in the series: The Necessary Deaths, won an FAPA award in the best suspense/thriller category.

David’s also written two gay romances: For the Love of Luke and Heroes in Love.

He lives near Oxford, with his boyfriend and two cats. In his spare time, he tours Europe and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

Author Website: https://www.davidcdawson.co.uk

Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/david.c.dawson.5

Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/pg/davidcdawsonAUTHOR/

Author Twitter: https://twitter.com/david_c_dawson

Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/davidcdawsonwriter/

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7244384.David_C_Dawson

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/david-c-dawson/

Author Amazon: https://geni.us/DCDawsonAmazonAuthor

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To Sleep With Stones (A Hollystone Mystery 2) by W.L. Hawkins Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The discovery of a powerful Egyptian artifact lands a man in prison for murder, and his only hope rests in the Wicca Priest he has befriended, Estrada, who must solve the crime before it’s too late in author W.L. Hawkins’s novel, “To Sleep With Stones”, the second book in the Hollystone Mystery series.

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The Synopsis

“Estrada scrutinized the tats, wondering how far the ink extended beneath the worn leather kilt, and just how painful it would be to have your genitals tattooed. He knew about ink—wore the black lacy wings of an angel on his back. Her feathers extended across his shoulders and down his glutes. That ink had broken more than his skin. “

When a renegade archaeologist discovers an ancient Egyptian

artifact in Scotland, Dylan McBride’s world implodes. Imprisoned for murder, he summons his friend, the Wicca Priest, Estrada, to solve the crime and set him free. Unable to turn down Dylan’s cry for help, Estrada abandons his melancholy lover in Canada where he gets targeted by a vicious vampire.

Estrada faces his inner demons. After playing vampire for years, Michael Stryker confronts a real vampire in a life-changing showdown. And, sweet, virginal, Dylan McBride, faces his greatest fears in one of Scotland’s most terrifying prisons. Who will survive?

A fast-paced murder mystery spiked with edgy urban fantasy, that opens portals into the realm of witches, faeries, and vampires.

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The Review

I absolutely and truly love this series! It speaks to me on so many levels, from my fascination and interest in Wicca and my passion for mythology and history to the chilling fantasy and murder-mystery elements of the narrative. The suspense and corruption within the police department that Estrada faces early on in the narrative adds a human threat element into the more magical and historical nature of the narrative, keeping the story balanced between grounded realism and magical and historical fiction.

The characters were so enjoyable to watch grow and develop on the page. The whole narrative plays out like an HBO show waiting to be developed, combining elements of LGBTQ+ and adult storytelling into a complex character study of those who seek the answers hidden within the most complex systems of our universe, from historians and archeologists to Wiccans and Pagans. Estrada is a complex character, and readers won’t be able to help getting invested in his story as he balances his desire to protect and help his friends and the innocent with his personal romance and personality developments. 

The Verdict

A memorable, fantastic, and action-fueled fantasy murder mystery, author W.L. Hawkins’s “To Sleep with Stones” is the perfect second book in the Hollystone Mystery series. The story’s inclusion of everything from faeries and corrupt cops to magick practitioners and the gods themselves, the brilliant mythos that the author incorporates into the narrative, and the cliffhanger ending with particular characters will have readers eager to learn more and get into the rest of this amazing series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

W. L. Hawkin writes myth, magic, and mayhem designed to inspire and entertain. Described as “intoxicating, lush, magically-edgy, page-turners,” her Hollystone Mysteries series features a coven of witches who solve murders using their wits and ritual magic with a little help from the gods. Wendy is also a published blogger, book reviewer, Indie publisher, and poet, with a background in Indigenous Studies and English literature. She loves myth and magic, so when she’s not writing, she’s studying Druidry, shamanism, and mediumship. Although she is an introvert, in each book, her characters go on a journey where she has traveled herself.

She defies genre by writing character-driven fast-paced mysteries and thrillers that involve fantastical characters. See her four book series: To Charm a Killer, To Sleep with Stones, To Render a Raven, and To Kill a King.

Traveller Probo (Traveller Book 2) by Rob Shackleford Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Missions into the past to recover lost artifacts and study ancient and lost civilizations grow as nations vie to use and control the Traveller technology developed to travel into the past in author Rob Shackleford’s exhilarating sequel, “Traveller Probo”, the second book in the historical fiction/sci-fi thriller Traveller series. 

The Synopsis

Traveller Probo is the second book in the Traveller Series.

Would you survive if sent one-thousand years into the past?

Development of the Transporter saw highly trained researchers, called Travellers, successfully sent one-thousand years back in time to early medieval Saxon England.

Traveller Missions now mean enormous national prestige and the recovery of priceless lost artifacts and knowledge, so nations vie for the use of the Transporter and more daring Traveller missions are planned. Politics and power soon come into play.

To study lost peoples and civilizations, Special Forces researchers have to be even better trained, equipped and prepared to put their lives on the line.

While Michael Hunter continues to build a life in Saxon England, the tragically injured Tony Osborne finds his resurgence in a mission to ancient Byzantine Turkey, a mission Professor Adrian Taylor joins to better outmaneuver his calculating academic colleagues.

From the misty shores of New Zealand to the shining splendor of the ancient Byzantine Empire, it is proved how sending modern researchers into the past carries enormous rewards and tragedies.

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The Review

This was such an adventurous and thought-provoking follow-up to the author’s equally exciting first book in the sci-fi series, Travellers. The world-building and character development the author employs here is masterful, as the time-travel element allows readers to experience both the present-day individuals going back to study these ancient civilizations and the historical figures who encounter these strange individuals. The action kicks off from the get-go, with a mission to New Zealand’s past taking a bloody turn, and the balance the author finds with the political and social intrigue of the present with the action and history of the past was so amazing to read. 

The attention to detail and imagery the author uses throughout this narrative was so vibrant and engaging that it felt almost cinematic in quality. I could easily picture this as either an ensemble cast film or streaming series, exploring these vast sets and time periods while employing a unique sci-fi twist that will keep readers engaged throughout the narrative. The themes of morality and western civilization’s mindset that superior technology, intellect, and resources give them the right to change or dictate how others operate and live their lives was felt in every chapter of this narrative and kept readers’ minds active as well entertained. 

The Verdict

A brilliant, gripping, and heart-pounding historical fiction and sci-fi read, author Rob Shackleford’s “Traveller Probo” is a must-read novel. The intrigue and mystery of the growing missions and the back-room dealings surrounding the Traveller tech will keep readers on the edge of their seat, and the shocking cliff-hanger endings for both established and new characters alike and their missions will have readers eager to devour the next chapter in this epic series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

This is just a quick bio about me, Rob Shackleford.

  • Born in Leicester, Leicestershire, England.
  • Emigrated to Australia with parents and brother, Neil, as 10 pound poms in the early 1960’s.
  • Childhood in working class suburb of Acacia Ridge, Brisbane. Brothers Aaron, Paul, and Philip and sister Kathy were born.
  • Attended Watson Road State School and Acacia Ridge State High School. I don’t think the high school exists any more.
  • Attended University of Qld and studied Journalism and Ancient History.
  • My work experience is varied and has included Customs Officer, SCUBA Instructor, in the media, college teacher and as operated own businesses.
  • I have two wonderful kids: Son – Kyle, and Daughter – Bree.
  • Finally completed 2 degrees – in Arts and in Business at Central Qld University. Each completed With Distinction.
  • Completed first novel “Traveller – Inceptio”, Traveller book 1 – published in 2019 by Austin Macauley.
  • The rest of the Traveller Books are ready to go, as are 3 other completed manuscripts, so I have completed 6 novels in all.
  • I am also currently finalizing the illustrations on 3 children’s books with my daughter Bree.

Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Two sisters seeking to shed the restrictions their father and society has placed upon them look to not only discover their identities, but their role in the midst of the Great War in author Suzanne Feldman’s “Sisters of the Great War”.

The Synopsis

Two sisters. The Great War looming. A chance to shape their future.

Sisters Ruth and Elise Duncan could never have anticipated volunteering for the war effort. But in 1914, the two women decide to make the harrowing journey from Baltimore to Ypres, Belgium in order to escape the suffocating restrictions placed on them by their father and carve a path for their own future.

Smart and practical Ruth is training as a nurse but dreams of becoming a doctor. In a time when women are restricted to assisting men in the field, she knows it will take great determination to prove herself, and sets out to find the one person who always believed in her: a handsome army doctor from England. For quiet Elise, joining the all female Ambulance Corps means a chance to explore her identity, and come to terms with the growing attraction she feels towards women. Especially the charming young ambulance driver who has captured her heart.

In the twilight of the Old World and the dawn of the new, both young women come of age in the face bombs, bullets and the deadly futility of trench warfare. Together they must challenge the rules society has placed on them in order to save lives: both the soldiers and the people they love.

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The Review

This was so beautifully crafted and vividly descriptive that readers will feel instantly transported into the narrative. The stark contrast between the restrictive household the protagonists started out into the visceral hellscape of the front lines of WWI and the interlaced story of deeply personal growth with strong themes throughout really made this story shine brightly. The horrors of war the sisters endured showed a much different aspect of the Great War than most projects tackle, highlighting the physical and mental effects the battles had on nurses and physicians in the field. 

The psychology and personal development of both Ruth and Elise were so engaging and brilliantly written. The themes of feminist struggles and the deep hardship of the LGBTQ community who had to remain hidden in the face of overwhelming battles like those faced in WWI really highlighted the intimate relationships they both formed with friends and loves alike, and their bond with one another as well. 

The Verdict

A gripping, thought-provoking, and entertaining women’s fiction and historical fiction read, author Suzanne Feldman’s “Sisters of the Great War” is a must-read this fall. The growth and perseverance the sisters held onto in the face of great adversity, and the way their historical storyline and struggles can resonate with so many readers today made this a thoroughly enjoyable read and is not to be missed. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Suzanne Feldman, a recipient of the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize and a finalist for the Bakeless Prize in fiction, holds an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins University and a BFA in art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her short fiction has appeared in Narrative, The Missouri Review, Gargoyle, and other literary journals. She lives in Frederick, Maryland.

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Q&A with Suzanne Feldman

Q: Your books have won quite a few awards. Do you ever feel pressure when you write a new book to make it an award winning book?

A: I do love awards and who doesn’t? (I’m striving for a Pulitzer!) But awards are sort of a wonderful perk for what I already love doing, which is making something big from a little spark of an idea. I think it’s a stretch to think to yourself, ‘I’m going to write something for THIS award.’ because what if the book doesn’t win anything? I’m much happier just writing and editing until I think it’s ready to go out into the world–then we’ll see how it does.

Q: What inspired this book?

A: Sisters of the Great War was a four-year project that started one morning as I walked into my classroom at some pre-dawn hour. I’d been thinking about my next project after ‘Absalom’s Daughters’ and I knew I wanted to write a war story–but there were already so many books about WW2. So I thought, what about WW1? Could I write something epic yet intimate about that period? I wrote on a post-it: ‘WW1; epic yet intimate,’ and put it in my pocket. After school that day, I found the post-it and by some miracle, I still knew what I’d meant.  

I started doing research and realized pretty quickly that the reason WW1 literature peaked with All Quiet on the Western Front was because it was a trench war, and over the space of four years, the trenches barely moved so there were very few ‘victories.’ The war itself was awful beyond description. Troops went out and were mowed down by new weapons, like the machine gun, tanks, and poisonous gas. It’s hard to write a glorious book about a barbaric war that had no real point, so I decided to explore the lives of the forgotten women–the nurses and ambulance drivers who were in the thick of the action, but not really mentioned in the movies and books about the period. 

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?

A: I have a room where I write, my ‘office.’ I have all my favorite art, my most-loved books, and a bed for my dog. I love being able to close the door and just get into the groove of writing, but I have been known to write in coffee shops and libraries. When I was teaching, when I would get an idea, I would write on a post-it and put it in my pocket, so, yes, technically I have written at work as well.

Q: Do you have a writing routine?

A: My writing routine involves getting really wired on coffee in the morning and then taking a long walk with my dog, sometimes by the river and sometimes in the mountains. I get my ideas for the day in order, and the dog gets tired. Then I spend about four hours working on writing projects–sometimes novels, sometimes short stories, and drinking a lot more coffee. By then the dog has woken up, and we go out for another walk. I like to treat writing as a job. It’s not too exciting, but it works for me.

Q: Are you a plotter or pantser when it comes to writing?

A: I’m a pantser and proud of it! I love not really knowing what’s going to happen, and I love the discovery of plot points and personalities that might not show up in an outline. My favorite part is when a character does something on the page that I never thought of, and I get to go with that. What’s funny is that as a teacher (before I retired) I needed a plan for everything!

Q: What is a fun fact about you?

A: I was a high school art teacher for almost 30 years, and I am also a visual artist. I do a lot of abstract painting, which you can see on my Instagram account, Suzanne Feldman Author. I’ve taught every art class you can imagine, from darkroom photography to ceramics. I had a wonderful time teaching, and I loved nearly all of my students.

Here is an Exclusive Excerpt from “Sisters of the Great War”

1

Baltimore, Maryland

August 1914

Ruth Duncan fanned herself with the newspaper in the summer heat as Grandpa Gerald put up a British flag outside the house. If he’d had a uniform—of any kind—he would have worn it. People on the sidewalk paused and pointed, but Grandpa, still a proper English gent even after almost twenty years in the U.S., smoothed his white beard and straightened his waistcoat, ignoring the onlookers.

“That’s done,” he said.

Ruth’s own interest in the war was limited to what she read in the paper from across the dining table. Grandpa would snap the paper open before he ate breakfast. She could see the headlines and the back side of the last page, but not much more. Grandpa would grunt his appreciation of whatever was in-side, snort at what displeased him, and sometimes laugh. On the 12th of August, the headline in the Baltimore Sun read; France And Great Britain Declare War On Austria-Hungary, and Grandpa wasn’t laughing.

Cook brought in the morning mail and put it on the table next to Grandpa. She was a round, grey-haired woman who left a puff of flour behind her wherever she went.

“Letter from England, sir,” Cook said, leaving the envelope and a dusting of flour on the dark mahogany. She smiled at Ruth and left for the kitchen.

Grandpa tore the letter open.

Ruth waited while he read. It was from Richard and Diane Doweling, his friends in London who still wrote to him after all these years. They’d sent their son, John, to Harvard in Massachusetts for his medical degree. Ruth had never met John Doweling, but she was jealous of him, his opportunities, his apparent successes. The Dowelings sent letters whenever John won some award or other. No doubt this was more of the same. Ruth drummed her fingers on the table and eyed the dining room clock. In ten minutes, she would need to catch the trolley that would take her up to the Loyola College of Nursing, where she would be taught more of the things she had already learned from her father. The nuns at Loyola were dedicated nurses, and they knew what they were doing. Some were out-standing teachers, but others were simply mired in the medicine of the last century. Ruth was frustrated and bored, but Father paid her tuition, and what Father wanted, Father got. 

Ruth tugged at her school uniform—a white apron over a long white dress, which would never see a spot of blood. “What do they say, Grandpa?”

He was frowning. “John is enlisting. They’ve rushed his graduation at Harvard so he can go home and join the Royal Army Medical Corps.”

“How can they rush graduation?” Ruth asked. “That seems silly. What if he misses a class in, say, diseases of the liver?”

Grandpa folded the letter and looked up. “I don’t think he’ll be treating diseases of the liver on the battlefield. Anyway, he’s coming to Baltimore before he ships out.”

“Here?” said Ruth in surprise. “But why?”

“For one thing,” said Grandpa, “I haven’t seen him since he was three years old. For another, you two have a common interest.”

“You mean medicine?” Ruth asked. “Oh, Grandpa. What could I possibly talk about with him? I’m not even a nurse yet, and he’s—he’s a doctor.” She spread her hands. “Should we discuss how to wrap a bandage?”

“As long as you discuss something.” He pushed the letter across the table to her and got up. “You’ll be showing him around town.”

“Me?” said Ruth. “Why me?”

“Because your sister—” Grandpa nodded at Elise, just clumping down the stairs in her nightgown and bathrobe “—has dirty fingernails.” He started up the stairs. “Good morning, my dear,” he said. “Do you know what time it is?” “Uh huh,” Elise mumbled as she slumped into her seat at the table.

As Grandpa continued up the stairs Ruth called after him. “But when is he coming?”

“His train arrives Saturday at noon,” Grandpa shouted back. “Find something nice to wear. You too, Elise.”

Elise rubbed her eyes. “What’s going on?”

Ruth pushed the letter at her and got up to go. “Read it,” she said. “You’ll see.”

Ruth made her way down Thirty-Third Street with her heavy bookbag slung over one shoulder, heading for the trolley stop, four blocks away, on Charles. Summer classes were almost over, and as usual, the August air in Baltimore was impenetrably hot and almost unbreathable. It irritated Ruth to think that she would arrive at Loyola sweaty under her arms, her hair frizzed around her nurse’s cap from the humidity. The nuns liked neatness, modest decorum. Not perspiring young women who wished they were somewhere else.

Elise, Ruth thought, as she waited for a break in the noisy traffic on Charles Street, could’ve driven her in the motor-car, but no, she’d slept late. Her younger sister could do pretty much anything, it seemed, except behave like a girl. Elise, who had been able to take apart Grandpa’s pocket watch and put it back together when she was six years old, was a use-ful mystery to both Father and Grandpa. She could fix the car—cheaper than the expensive mechanics. , For some rea-son, Elise wasn’t obliged to submit to the same expectations as Ruth—she could keep her nails short and dirty. Ruth wondered, as she had since she was a girl, if it was her younger sister’s looks. She was a mirror image of their mother, who had died in childbirth with Elise. Did that make her special in Father’s eyes?

An iceman drove a sweating horse past her. The horse raised its tail, grunted, and dropped a pile of manure, rank in the heat, right in front of her, as though to auger the rest of her day. The iceman twisted in the cart to tip his hat. “Sorry Sister!”

Ruth let her breath out through her teeth. Maybe the truth of the matter was that she was the ‘sorry sister.’ It was at this exact corner that her dreams of becoming a doctor, to follow in her father’s footsteps, had been shot down. When she was ten, and the governess said she’d done well on her writing and math, she was allowed to start going along on Father’s house calls and help in his office downstairs. Father had let her do simple things at first; mix plaster while he positioned a broken ankle, give medicine to children with the grippe, but she watched everything he did and listened carefully. By the time she was twelve, she could give him a diagnosis, and she remembered her first one vividly, identifying a man’s abdominal pain as appendicitis.

“You did a good job,” Father had said to her, as he’d reined old Bess around this very corner. “You’ll make an excellent nurse one day.”

Ruth remembered laughing because she’d thought he was joking. Her father’s praise was like gold. “A nurse?” she’d said. “One day I’ll be a doctor, just like you!”

“Yes, a nurse,” he’d said firmly, without a hint of a smile. It was the tone he used for patients who wouldn’t take their medicine.

“But I want to be a doctor.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. He hadn’t sounded sorry at all. “Girls don’t become doctors. They become nurses and wives. Tomorrow, if there’s time, we’ll visit a nursing college. When you’re eighteen, that’s where you’ll go.”

“But—”

He’d shaken his head sharply, cutting her off. “It isn’t done, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

A decade later, Ruth could still feel the shock in her heart. It had never occurred to her that she couldn’t be a doctor because she was a girl. And now, John Doweling was coming to town to cement her future as a doctor’s wife. That was what everyone had in mind. She knew it. Maybe John didn’t know yet, but he was the only one.

Ruth frowned and lifted her skirts with one hand, balancing the bookbag with the other, and stepped around the manure as the trolley came clanging up Charles.

Excerpted from Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman, Copyright © 2021 by Suzanne Feldman. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Slewfoot by Brom Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young Englishwoman who moved to a Puritan Colony alongside her new husband finds herself quickly a widow and must learn to survive in a patriarchal society. At the same time, a powerful spirit awakens, and together with the woman they must discover who they are and how to survive in this judgmental and deadly world in author Brom’s “Slewfoot”.

The Synopsis

A spirited young Englishwoman, Abitha, arrives at a Puritan colony betrothed to a stranger – only to become quickly widowed when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances. All alone in this pious and patriarchal society, Abitha fights for what little freedom she can grasp onto while trying to stay true to herself and her past.

Enter Slewfoot, a powerful spirit of antiquity newly woken… and trying to find his own role in the world. Healer or destroyer? Protector or predator? But as the shadows walk and villagers start dying, a new rumor is whispered: Witch.

Both Abitha and Slewfoot must swiftly decide who they are, and what they must do to survive in a world intent on hanging any who meddle in the dark arts.

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The Review

This was such a brilliantly written novel. The author did an incredible job of finding a balance between the historical fiction aspect of the narrative by exploring the Puritanical society of that era and the way it mirrors modern-day sexism, and the mythology and culture of the land settled originally by the Native American people, and later taken over by the Puritans. This clash of cultures allowed for the exploration of magic, nature spirits and so much more in this dark fantasy and horror read. 

What really stuck out as awe-inspiring though was the character growth of the cast of characters. The strength and evolution of protagonist Abitha were fantastic to read, as she represented the women who were mercilessly targeted in this society for daring to go in any other direction other than “God’s Will”. The villainous townsfolk who target Abitha is complex yet gripping as the protagonist’s foil in this narrative, while the mysterious and powerful being of many names, including Slewfoot, gave a challenging performance that straddled the line between hopeful ally and bloodthirsty demon. 

The Verdict

A remarkable, magical, and entertaining read, author Brom’s “Slewfoot” is a perfect horror read this Halloween. The folklore, mythos, and chilling atmosphere and tone will thrust readers into this haunting historical fiction and dark fantasy thriller, and the author’s incredibly chilling artwork will keep readers up at night for sure. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Born in the deep dark south in the mid-sixties. Brom, an army brat, spent his entire youth on the move and unabashedly blames living in such places as Japan, Hawaii, Germany, and Alabama for all his afflictions. From his earliest memories, Brom has been obsessed with the creation of the weird, the monstrous, and the beautiful.

At age twenty, Brom began working full-time as a commercial illustrator in Atlanta, Georgia. Three years later he entered the field of fantastic art he’d loved his whole life, making his mark developing and illustrating for TSR’s best-selling role-playing worlds.

He has since gone on to lend his distinctive vision to all facets of the creative industries, from novels and games to comics and film, receiving numerous awards such as the Spectrum Fantastic Art Grand Master award and the Chesley Lifetime Achievement award. He is also the author of a series of award-winning illustrated horror novels: Slewfoot, Lost Gods, Krampus the Yule Lord, The Child Thief, The Plucker, and The Devil’s Rose. Brom is currently kept in a dank cellar somewhere just outside of Seattle.

https://www.bromart.com/

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A half Reaper, Half-Shinigami warrior must find her place in the underworld and life as a whole while trying to earn the trust of the Goddess of Death in 1890’s Japan in author Kylie Lee Baker’s “The Keeper of Night”, the first in the series of the same name.

The Synopsis

Julie Kagawa meets Scythe in this captivating and evocative journey into Death’s domain as one soul collector seeks her place in the underworld of 1890s Japan. Book 1 of a planned duology.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough yearns for the acceptance she has never found among the Reapers who raised her. When the Shinigami powers she can no longer hide force her to flee for her life, Ren and her younger brother—the only being on earth to care for her—travel to Japan and the dark underworld of Yomi, where Ren hopes to claim her place among the Shinigami and finally belong.

But the Goddess of Death is no more welcoming than the Reapers who raised her, and Ren finds herself set on an impossible task—find and kill three yokai demons, and maybe, just maybe, she can earn a place in Death’s service. With only her brother and an untrustworthy new ally by her side, Ren will learn how far she’ll go to win the acceptance she craves, and whether the cost of belonging is worth any sacrifice.

The Review

Wow, that was truly a captivating and visceral reading experience. The author has expertly crafted an original YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction horror tale that will not only entertain audiences but introduce many readers to the rich mythos that exists within Japanese folklore and the culture as a whole. The balance of Asian and European mythology that the author explores is great, but what really is amazing to see is how the European lore is very much a secondary component to the narrative, serving more as a stepping board for the character’s beginning arc rather than taking up the majority of the novel’s mythos. 

The characters were so unique and rich to watch unfold. The protagonist herself was interesting, as she really toed the line between morality and her dark origins the further and further she went on her journey. Seeing how her brother and this new ally of Ren’s served as devil and angel on her shoulders throughout this journey, highlighting the hardship of having others tell you who you are while you are in the middle of trying to decide that for yourself. 

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, haunting, and emotionally driven YA Fantasy and action novel, author Kylie Lee Baker’s “The Keeper of Night” is a must-read novel for YA Fantasy and horror fans this fall! Incorporating truly chilling mythology and brilliant character growth, the shocking final chapter and cliffhanger of an ending will have readers on the edge of their seats, eager for the next entry into this amazing duology. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her writing is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, and Irish), as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Spanish from Emory University and is currently pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she watches horror movies, plays the cello, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://www.kylieleebaker.com/

Twitter: @KylieYamashiro

Instagram: @kylieleebaker

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56030267-the-keeper-of-night

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-keeper-of-night/9781335405661 

Porter Square Books: https://www.portersquarebooks.com/signed/signed-keeper-night-hardcover

Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405661

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-keeper-of-night-kylie-lee-baker/1138317760?ean=9781335405661 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Keeper-Night-duology/dp/1335405666/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=the+keeper+of+night&qid=1613326691&sr=8-2

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kylie_Lee_Baker_The_Keeper_of_Night?id=6asJEAAAQBAJ

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ph/en/ebook/the-keeper-of-night

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/dk/book/the-keeper-of-night/id1540957269

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Q&A with Kylie Lee Baker

Q: What was the hardest scene to write in The Keeper of Night? What was the easiest?

A: The opening scene was probably the hardest to write because I had to introduce a complex magic system. The Reapers control time, and that kind of power makes the story vulnerable to a lot of plot holes if you don’t word it carefully. It’s such a powerful tool that it raises the question of why there’s ever any conflict at all, or why any battle is ever hard for Reapers. I needed to address that very early on so the whole world wouldn’t fall apart, while still making the story move forward. 

The easiest scene to write was an argument between Ren and Neven, when Neven tries to dictate Ren’s identity, and Ren responds: “Why am I the only one with no say in who I am?” That was one of the first scenes I wrote, and it contains a lot of my raw feelings about how biracial people are treated. Very little of the dialogue changed from the first draft of that scene. The challenge, then, was to build up the rest of the book to bring the reader to the point where that question, and that very emotionally charged scene, made sense. 

Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)?

A: I wouldn’t really call these hidden secrets, but a lot of details about the British Reapers are a huge nod to the Black Butler anime, which fans of that show might notice. For instance, the Reapers in The Keeper of Night are known for their poor vision, much like the Reapers in Black Butler who all have to wear glasses, which are important details in both stories. Neven’s love of cats came from Sebastian Michaelis, the titular character from Black Butler who is inexplicably obsessed with cats. Another reference (unrelated to Black Butler) is to Alfred Lord Tennyson–Ren often refers vaguely to themes in his poetry, but she’s talking specifically about a poem called “Love and Death” in which love defeats death, which is something she probably should have internalized a bit sooner. 

Q: What do you hope people remember about The Keeper of Night?

A: I hope people remember how complex, traumatic, and powerful Ren’s existence as a biracial character is. I hope that this gives people more respect for the uniqueness of biracial identity, and that biracial readers feel solidarity in their struggles. 

Q: Did The Keeper of Night have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?

A: I listened to an acoustic cover of Sia’s “Elastic Heart” and Billie Eilish’s “You Should See Me in a Crown” a lot when writing, because those songs reminded me both of Ren’s vulnerability and thirst for power. I also distinctly remember sitting in a coffee shop in Seoul listening to RM’s “Tokyo” while writing some of the first scenes in Japan. It has a very cold, lonely, wistful atmosphere that I tried to emulate. 

Q: What is your dream cast for The Keeper of Night?

A: This question is hard to answer, partially because I don’t often imagine real people when writing, and partially because the pool of mixed race white/Asian actors who you can discover through a quick Google search is much smaller than for actors of other races, not even taking into account things like age or face shape. The closest I can come for Ren is Pom Klementieff (who plays Mantis) with black hair. I know she’s Korean, not Japanese, but she also grew up estranged from that culture, much like Ren. Timothee Chalamet with blonde hair is probably the closest match for Neven, since I’ve heard a lot of people say he looks like he should have been a wealthy Victorian child, and Terada Takuya for Hiro–he’s very silly at times, and very sharp at other times, much like Hiro. 

Enjoy this Exclusive Excerpt from “The Keeper of Night”

chapter two

At the far edge of London, somewhere between nightmares and formless dreams, the Reapers slept by daylight.

The only way to enter our home was through the catacombs of the Highgate Cemetery, through a door that no longer existed. It had been built there long ago, when the Britons first came to our land and Ankou carved a hole in their world so that Death could enter. But humans had sealed it shut with layers of wood, then stone, then brick and mortar, all in the hopes of keeping Death out.

By the nineteenth century, humans had mostly forgotten about the Door and what it meant. Then, when the London churchyards began to overflow with bones, the humans had searched for a place just outside of London to bury their dead. By chance or fate, they’d built their new cemetery right on top of the Door. It turned out that Death drew all of us close, even if we weren’t aware of it.

No streetlights lit the path through Highgate at night, but I didn’t need them to find my way home. Before I’d even passed through the main gate, Death pulled me closer. All Reapers were drawn to him, our bones magnetized to the place of our forefather. As soon as I entered the cemetery, a humming began just under my skin, like a train’s engine beginning to whir. My blood flushed faster through my veins as I brushed aside the branches of winter-barren lime trees and low-hanging elms. My boots crunched shattering steps into the frosted pathways as I ran.

I stumbled through jagged rows of ice-cracked tombstones on uneven ground and through a village of mausoleums, finally reaching the gothic arched doorway of the catacomb entrance. The pull had grown unbearable, dragging me along in a dizzy trance as I descended the stairs into the cool quietness of damp bricks and darkness. The labyrinth would have been unnavigable if not for the fervent pull.

At last, my hands came out to touch the wall where the Door used to be, but now there were only damp bricks and an inscription on the arch overhead that read When Ankou comes, he will not go away empty in rigid script. I dug one hand into my pocket and clutched my clock, pressed my other hand to the bricks, then closed my eyes and turned time all the way back to the beginning.

Time flowed through the silver-and-gold gears, up into my bloodstream and through my fingertips, dispersing into the brick wall. Centuries crumbled away, the mortar growing wet and bricks falling loose. One by one, they leaped out of their positions in the wall and aligned themselves in dry stacks on the ground, waiting once again for construction. Objects were easy to manipulate with time, for I could draw from their own intrinsic energy rather than siphoning off my own. Rather than paying in years of my own life, I could borrow years before the bricks crumbled and quickly repay the debt when I put them back.

I stepped through the doorway and the pull released me all at once. I breathed in a deep gasp of the wet night air, then turned around and sealed the door behind me. The bricks jumped back to their positions in the wall, caked together by layers of mortar that dried instantly, the time debt repaid.

The catacombs beyond the threshold spanned infinitely forward, appropriated as resting places for Reapers rather than corpses. Mounted lanterns cast a faint light onto the dirt floors and gray bricks. It was almost Last Toll, so only the last Reapers returning from the night shift still milled around, their silver capes catching the dim light of the tunnels, but most had retreated to their private quarters for the morning.

I turned right and hurried down the block. The low ceilings gave way to high-arched doorways and finally opened up to a hall of echoing marble floors and rows of dark wood desks. Luckily, there was no line for Collections this close to Last Toll.

I hurried to the first Collector and all but slammed my vials into the tray, jolting him awake in his seat. He was a younger Reaper and seemed perplexed at having been awoken so unceremoniously. When his gaze landed on me, he frowned and sat up straight.

“Ren Scarborough,” I said, pushing the tray closer to him.

“I know who you are,” he said, picking up my first vial and uncapping it with deliberate slowness. Of course, everyone knew who I was.

He took a wholly unnecessary sniff of the vial before holding it up to the light to examine the color, checking its authenticity. The Collectors recorded every night’s soul intake before sending the vials off to Processing, where they finally released the souls into Beyond. He picked up a pen from his glass jar of roughly thirty identical pens, tapped it against the desk a few times, then withdrew a leather-bound ledger from a drawer. He dropped it in front of him, opened the creaky cover, and began flipping through the pages, one by one, until he reached a fresh one.

I resisted the urge to slam my face against the desk in impatience.

I really didn’t have time to waste, but Collections was a necessary step. I didn’t consider myself benevolent in times of crisis, but even I was above leaving souls to expire in glass tubes instead of releasing them to their final resting place, wherever that was. And besides, a blank space next to my name in the Collections ledger meant a Collector would pay a visit to my private quarters to reprimand me. The last thing I needed was someone realizing that I’d left before Ivy could even report me.

But when the Collector uncorked my fourth vial and held it up to the lamp, swirling it in the light for ten excruciating seconds, I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision.

The bells of Last Toll reverberated through the bricks all around us, humming through the marble floors. In this hazy hour between night and day, the church grims came out in search of Reaper bones to gnaw on. Night collections had to be turned in by then, while day collections had to be processed by the First Toll at dusk.

The Collector sighed as he picked up my fifth vial. “I’m afraid I’ll have to mark your collections as late.”

My jaw clenched. “Why.”

“It’s past Last Toll, of course,” he said.

My fingers twitched. The lamp on the Collector’s desk flickered with my impatience, but I took a steadying breath.

“I was here before Last Toll,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.

“According to my ledger, your collections still have not been processed,” he said, spinning my fifth vial in his left hand.

I sighed and closed my eyes. Of course, I knew what he was doing. Chastising a “latecomer” would earn praise from higher management. It was the easiest way for him to climb the ranks—to exert his power over the half-breed. He would be praised for his steadfastness and gain a reputation as a strict and immovable Collector, while I could do nothing to complain. I could explode his lamp and send glass shards into his eyes, but that wouldn’t make him process my vials any faster. The fastest way to get out of there was subservience.

“Forgive me, Reaper,” I said, bowing my head and dropping my shoulders. I let my voice sound timid and afraid. “I apologize for being late.”

The Collector blinked at me for a moment, as if surprised that I’d given in so quickly. But he looked young and power-hungry and not particularly perceptive, so I wasn’t too afraid that he’d see through my tactic. As expected, he sneered as if I truly had offended him, finally beginning to process the fifth vial.

“It’s a great inconvenience to both Collections and Processing,” he said, “though I wouldn’t expect a half-breed to understand the workings of the educated Reapers.”

The only believable response to his goading was humiliated silence, so I hung my head even further and tried to make myself as small and pathetic as possible. It wasn’t hard, because the memory of the night’s events was still wringing my heart out like a wet rag and my skin prickled with nerves so fiercely that I wanted to claw it all off and escape before Ivy could find me, yet here I was, brought to my knees before a glorified teller. I imagined being a High Reaper, being able to reach over and smash his face into his blotter and shatter his owlish glasses into his eyes for delaying and insulting me.

His lamp flickered more violently and he paused to smack it before finally finishing with my last vial. He placed all seven in a tray and pressed a button that started the conveyor belt, sending the souls down to Processing. The moment he put a black check next to my name in the ledger, I stood up straight and turned to leave.

His hand twisted into my sleeve, yanking me back.

I shot him a look that could have melted glass, but he only pulled me closer.

“There’s the matter of your sanction,” he said.

“My sanction,” I said, glancing around the office to see how many people would notice if I simply twisted the Collector’s neck. Too many.

“For your tardiness, of course,” he said, smirking sourly. From his position stretched across the desk, the lamplight caught in his glasses and turned them into two beaming white moons.

The standard punishment for failing to make curfew was a night on the pillory, hands and feet nailed to the wood and head locked in a hole that was just slightly too tight, letting you breathe but not speak. The other Reapers could pull your hair or pour mead over your head or call you a thousand names when you couldn’t talk back. But the worst part wasn’t the nails or the insults. It was the Reapers who did nothing but look at you and sneer like you were nothing but an ugly piece of wall art, like they were so perfect that they couldn’t fathom being in your place. And far worse than that was my own father and stepmother walking past me and pretending not to see.

“Come back at First Toll,” the Collector said. “We’ll find a nice place to hang you up by the Door.”

It took every ounce of restraint I had left to keep my expression calm. This was the part where I was supposed to say, Yes, Reaper, and bow, but he was lucky that I hadn’t smashed his glasses into his face with my fist.

As if he could smell my defiance, he pulled me closer. His glasses fell out of the lamplight, revealing a deep frown.

“Scrub that look from your face,” he said. “Remember that I’ll handle your collections in the future.”

The future, I thought.

Luckily, I didn’t have a future.

The light bulb flashed with a sudden surge of power, then burst. Glass shards rained down over the desk, forcing the man to release me as hot glass scored his hands. Some of his paperwork caught fire, and he frantically patted out the flames with hands full of shards.

“Yes, Reaper,” I said, bowing deeply so he wouldn’t see my smirk as he sputtered about “bloody light bulbs, I knew we should have kept the gas lamps.”

Then I turned and rushed off to the West Catacombs.

Excerpted from The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker, Copyright © 2021 by Kylie Lee Baker. Published by Inkyard Press.