Book review: Accidentally a Supervillain by H.L. Burke

So this is an odd little story. I’ve known the author for a long time, and I’ve been doing the cover art for her superhero books. Well, she was writing this new book and I got interested, because it was sort of like We Might Be Villains, that book I just read last week. So I gave it a read last night.

Superpowers are a super pain.

The non-powered middle child of a superhero family, Abigail Park has always taken pride in being “the normal one.” No flying and throwing power blasts for her, thank you. Just a safe, steady office job, evenings in with her cat, and weekly hot yoga when she’s feeling adventurous. Genetics can be cruel.

When Abigail finds herself in the line of fire during a superhero and supervillain standoff, her latent abilities literally explode—blasting the HERO unconscious and catching the eye of sound-manipulating villain Thunderstruck. Threatening to send proof of her “aiding” him to the authorities, he blackmails her into helping him in his next big heist—against her own boss.

Abigail wants out, but as her antagonistic banter with Thunderstruck turns to something weirdly resembling flirting, the smirking villain hints that his intended target isn’t as innocent as Abigail believes him to be. Can Abigail get Thunderstruck to trust her with his secrets or is it all a cover for a more malevolent plan?

If Abigail can’t figure this out, she’s never going to hear the end of it at family dinners … if she even manages to make it out alive at all.


Anyway, I dove into it and had a thoroughly good time. Abagail is normal except that she sees sounds as colors, so she wears earplugs all the time. This is fine until the battle with the bank robber in the beginning, when she uses her sound colors to blast the superhero by accident. Whoops. Now it looks like she’s a villain, herself. The superhero organization keeps asking questions about this villain’s partner who is more powerful than he is, and she gets into hotter and hotter water.

But what actually happens is that the villain guy isn’t really a villain, more of a vigilante operating from the shadows, trying to take down this corrupt banker and his pals. He drops the blackmail pretty quick in favor of training Abagail to not destroy everything around her when she hears a loud sound. There are some pretty good fight scenes as the real villains come on screen. The sound-based powers wind up being a very strategic thing, because her powers don’t work if it’s too quiet. She winds up having to do creative things like set off her most annoying ringtone, or even speak or scream to create ribbons or knives or spears.

It sort of had the same premise as We Might be Villains, especially for the first few chapters. But after that they diverge and Accidentally a Supervillain goes off and does its own thing. Being an elderly, crusty adult, I liked the adult characters and the less panic-attack-inducing heroine. There’s a bit of romance, but it’s limited to a little attraction and a kiss. And the villain in Accidentally is not a murderer, choosing nonlethal options for everything, whereas the villain in Villains was a straight-up killer and murders people on screen. So, weirdly, I would recommend Accidentally to young readers before I would recommend Villains.

Buy the book here!

My quest for books with male healers

My quest wasn’t actually all that serious at first. I’ve been writing my own guy healer in After Atlantis for a while, and I wanted to read some other books with male healers to get ideas. I wanted cool action stuff, weird wounds/sickness/poison getting healed, strategies for pain management, how you deal with blood loss when it comes to magic, etc. etc. You know, I just wanted to read something clever to get more ideas.

So I started asking around in my author circles. Surely somebody has written something like that, right?

Well. Turns out male healers almost don’t exist. They especially don’t exist as the main character. Healers are seen as a support role, not interesting enough to carry the story as the hero. Or they’re women. Women are ALWAYS healers. I’ve read plenty of those, like Coiled by H.L. Burke or Thorns at Sunrise by Janeen Ippolito. They’re fine books, but the healer is the girl. I wanted books with guy healers.

I took a side detour through The Darkwater Saga by Patrick Carr. It was very good, and the hero is a dude with the personality profile of a healer, but he’s more of a wounded warrior type. Like I said, very good read, but still not a healer.

Multiple people pointed me to A Healer’s Gift by Tao Wong. I tried it, but … I just couldn’t. It’s not that it’s RPGlit (meaning it takes place inside a videogame), it’s that the author loads us down with actual character sheets and stats. The first several chapters are just the hero leveling up and constantly looking at his own stat sheet, and … like, I know there’s an audience for this kind of story, but it’s not me. It constantly shattered my suspension of disbelief. Kind of a shame, too, because a healer training to be a warrior because his healing power is seen as weak is an interesting premise.

I read the Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff, and it was exactly what I wanted. It’s historical fiction about Rome, though, so the hero is a military surgeon who gets embroiled in a cloak and dagger plot. It was lovely, especially the ending, when he’s constantly switching between his medical tools and picking up his sword. It encouraged me in my search. Healers can be heroes! Surely somebody else has written this?

I got pointed toward We Could be Villains by Megan McCullough, which I just finished last night. It was surprisingly good. Like, it has a very Young Adult voice and the heroine is annoying, and we kept having to read about how she ‘pushed back her red waves’ … which I eventually figured out meant her hair. But there was enough suspense to keep me reading. She gets grabbed by this supervillain guy who she thought was just a character in a movie, except he’s real. He threatens to kill her family unless she joins him, so she does … but she goes to this world’s superheroes and agrees to become a double agent. So she begins to sort of fall for the villain guy, and he starts to sort of fall for her. But then the story takes a left turn and instead of leaning into the lust, like the last YA book I read, it turns into a story about trust and selfless love vs. selfishness. There’s lots of plot twists, and I keep thinking about them. Anyway, it’s kind of a spoiler, but the villain guy is a healer, which was primarily the reason I put up with the heroine.

It was an all right book, but … I want a healer as the HERO. This book was all right, but he was the VILLAIN. Sort of. More of an antihero.

So my quest continues. I’ll probably pick up the Elven Healer’s Apprentice next, because the pickings are just so slim. Gosh, you wouldn’t think that a male hero healer would be so hard to find. There’s millions of books out there, so why can’t I find what I want to read??

Two After Atlantis comic issues finished!

The whole time I’ve been writing my After Atlantis superhero books, I kept saying, “I wish these were graphic novels, they’d work so much better that way.” Finally, after hanging around the extremely encouraging authors of the Legends of Amora comic, I decided to take a crack at drawing it myself.

I decided to start at about the midpoint of Waygate. Waygate is a short novella that comes right after book 5. It’s a nice, self-contained story, and it has some cool fight scenes I wanted to draw. I had no idea that I’d get hooked on drawing these characters and their struggles. I’ve just finished two issues and concluded Waygate, and I’m thinking of what to draw next. The logical thought is to go back and draw Bloodbound, but it’s a whole book, not a novella. Kind of like trying to drink the ocean with a straw. But I think if I take it a couple of chapters at a time and turn them into comic issues, it shouldn’t be too bad.

Issue 1 and issue 2

How about some character sheets?

I need to do some character sheets for the characters in Bloodbound, especially the villain, Omniscient. He wears a fox mask and a suit and ought to be really fun to design. 😀

The fairytale books I never meant to write

So, true confessions time. I don’t really care for fairytale retellings. Somewhere between Disney and Robin McKinley, I kind of lost my taste for them. I guess because it’s always the same plot? Like, I know Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are good stories, but … there’s really only so many twists you can put on those stories to freshen them up. Believe me, I’ve read a few. All paranormal romances are Beauty and the Beast, pretty much without exception.

Anyway, I had the bright idea to stick tieflings in space and frame it as a Beauty and the Beast story. I can’t even remember why I thought this was a good idea. It was a week before Christmas, and the folks on my writing Discord were writing stories to swap on Christmas Eve. So I bashed out this little story in a few days about a human girl and an alien guy living in the same house as political hostages to ensure the good behavior of their politicians during peace talks. Naturally they fall for each other, and naturally a bad guy interferes.

My writing group loved it and begged me to expand it into a book. I liked the story, and I had some ideas about how to expand the worldbuilding, so I took a month or two and rewrote it into a nice novella. It became The Song of the Rose.

Well, once I’d written one story in this universe, I wanted to write another one. A Cinderella plot began to write itself in my head. What if, instead of the prince seeking Cinderella because of a glass slipper, he was seeking her because she’s the pilot of a living warship nobody else can tame? And what if, like, she and her ship have to fight really bad aliens? And what if the prince is kind of useless and lovable? So I wrote it, just to see if I could. It became Of Stars and Ashes.

Then I took a year off to write some other stuff. In the meantime, people read my two fairytales and asked for them in paperback. But the books are so little, I didn’t want to make paperbacks of teeny tiny books. So I promised that I would write a third one, and then make a paperback of all three books together.

I knew I wanted to do Snow White, and I wanted to do it as a political assassination story. (Think about it–the wicked queen trying to murder Snow White over and over? It’s political assassination attempts!) But I couldn’t come up with a guy to be the prince who rescues her. It took me the better part of a year to figure out how I wanted to frame this story, and to figure out the personalities of both the guy and Snow White.

Two different things made it click. The first was reading a book with an introverted healer character. The second was a discussion on my writing discord about how all women are written as spunky, bratty chicks who don’t need no man. Where are the gentle, soft-spoken girls who are genuinely nice and kind of shy?

I instantly knew that I had my male lead and my Snow White. The introverted human medic and the shy alien girl who is the target of a vicious political assassin. So I present to you the latest installment in the Celestial Fairytale series: Fairer than Snow!

I’ve also got an omnibus with all three books in it. By the time you read this, the paperback should be available here.

Anyway, I already have another story in mind that I want to write. It will be based on Snow White and Rose Red, except it will be a brother and sister who help out a Rox guy in trouble.

Help, I’ve fallen down the fairytale rabbit hole and I can’t get out!

The fantastic cannot exist without the mundane

I’ve had a few thoughts bouncing around in my head lately and I’d like to try to articulate them.

So, I’ve been reading a bit more widely than I have in years, dipping into westerns and historical fiction and stuff like that. And really, the venue doesn’t matter as long as the story is a ripping good yarn. Good guys are good guys whether they carry revolvers or swords. Bad guys are bad guys whether they’re robbing a bank or assassinating a king.

One funny thing I’ve noticed is that there are two sides to all stories. There is the fantastic and there is the mundane.

The heroes still have to eat, drink, and sleep. They still have to live somewhere and hold down jobs. They have daily responsibilities, or they did before the story kicked in. They have annoying neighbors and coworkers. They have lives, because if there’s no mundane, the fantastic becomes the mundane.

I tried to read this really weird book that was weird for the sake of being weird. Eventually the flying beasts pulling the chariots and the floating orbs in the air and the weirdly shapeshifting monsters just became pedantic. This was meant to be super fantastic and immersive and interesting. Instead, it just was so weird that it was boring. I slugged along for a couple of chapters, trying to get to the plot advertised on the back of the book, but eventually I gave up. There was so much weirdness, the story never grounded itself in anything I could understand. I needed that mundane element, the slice of normal that makes the fantastic interesting by contrast.

As I’ve been reading historical fiction, I’ve noticed that all you have to do is change a few elements to make it fantasy. Change the names of Roman Britain to made-up words and you have an instant fantasy novel. Change the horses to spaceships and the western becomes a sci-fi. As long as the story and characters are solid, the genre elements just add window dressing. Because the story, itself, is grounded in the mundane. The fantastic is the icing on top.

The more books I chuck into my Read pile this year, the more I encounter authors who struggle with this balance. As a longtime reader, I tend to think that this is self-evident, but apparently most authors don’t read enough. So let me tell you, authors: build your story from the mundane up. I know the fantastic elements are the most fun to think about, but you need that mundane grounding. It keeps your characters human and lets readers connect with them better.

Book release: Irregulars

After a whole year’s delay, the next After Atlantis book is out!

Three lost isles to protect Atlantis …

James Chase needs magic from seven elements in order to deploy the Lighthouse island from the pocket dimension where it was built. However, the element of Air is missing, its elemental long dead.

Chase turns to healer Jayesh Khatri, who used to work with magic smugglers to illegally track shard carriers. Jayesh joins forces with Nell and Max, a couple of streetwise teenagers struggling to straighten out their lives. They have questions about the fate of Omniscient, the dead ringleader of the smugglers, questions that Jayesh doesn’t dare answer. As they work together to track down the person carrying the last fragment of air magic, Nell and Max press their healer for the truth, dangerous though it may be.

An encounter with the fanatical Cult of the Dawn sends the investigation into a tail spin. Can Jayesh win the trust of Nell and Max, or will the Emperor of Atlantis and his cult capture the last remaining Aspect of Air?

Available on most retailers!

I’m kind of embarrassed at how long it’s been since Sanctuary released. This is what I think of as a bridge book, that is, it fills the gap between the previous plot arc and the big finale. It builds up the tension and worldbuilding, and sets up a bunch of dominoes for the next and final book. And it was super hard to write! I wrote an entire novel and discarded it between Sanctuary and Irregulars, because it didn’t fit and it didn’t work.

Irregulars starts off as the breathing space after the frantic events of Sanctuary. Jayesh and Kari are settling in together, things are going great, everybody is happy. But James Chase can’t seem to find the last type of magic he needs to launch his island into the real world. Jayesh pitches in to help, and the slow build begins to a crazy showdown against the Emperor of Atlantis himself. I’ve wanted to drag in the teen characters from Bloodbound for ages now, and they fit this world like a glove. I’m really looking forward to the teen mystery series I have planned, where Max and probably Nell will solve superhero-related mysteries.

Meanwhile, the next book features the big war for Atlantis, and that will take the majority of my attention for the next few months. I want to end the series with a boom and reward you guys for sticking with it for so long! I promise to have no major character deaths! I really hate it when books do that to you, so I’m making sure everybody survives.

Considering Noblebright

I’ve been considering the books I like to read and write lately, and how to connect with authors who also read and write the same things I do. As I’ve been sniffing around the internet, I happened across this Noblebright term. This is the official definition:

Noblebright fantasy is about how hope, courage, integrity, generosity, and kindness are not silly, pointless, and naive, but rather courageous choices that make the world a better place. Actions have consequences, and even good characters can make terrible mistakes, but in a noblebright story, even villains are not without hope. Redemption is possible, and justice is expected. Noblebright stories remind us that good is worth fighting for.

-C.J. Brightley

Apparently, it was started to help readers to find hopeful, moral epic fantasy just when the market was being flood with grimdark Game of Thrones copycats.


a type of fantasy fiction with characters who behave in ways that are morally bad and a subject matter that is sad, hopeless, or violent.


Incidentally, Christian fanfiction writers on is doing the same thing with the Salt and Light tag. I was happy to see this and immediately added it to my own work. has a list of authors whose books fit this profile. They don’t necessarily have to be Christians, but their books tend to embrace a Judeo-Christian worldview: namely that good is rewarded, evil is punished, and virtue, nobility, peace, and justice are real things and they are worth fighting for.

I’ve been hanging around other authors whose books fit this profile, namely Shari Branning, JC Joiner, H.L. Burke, Marc Secchia, and others. I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying Clean Fiction Magazine, an indie magazine that reviews clean books in the general market to new adult age bracket. At last, an escape from the all-encompassing Young Adult scourge! I’m currently making my way through a nice little book called Grimkeeper that I found in the magazine, and I’ll be buying back issues to get more recommendations.

As I’ve gotten older, I find that I’ve aged out a lot of popular tropes in the fantasy market, and Christian fantasy in particular. For instance, I am 40 years old and I don’t want to read about high school anymore. I don’t mind reading about teens, just … don’t make me go back to cliques and mean girls and jocks, as well as all the other tired old stereotypes (“They call me a freak because I’m different from them”). I don’t want to read about people who doubt their faith. (“OMG God must not exist because he allowed that fairy to take away my magic!”) (Bonus points if this person is a burned-out pastor, which for some reason is a staple of contemporary Christian fiction.)

I want to read people who are grounded in their faith and stick to their principles no matter what. This means they don’t sleep around, they fight for what’s right and just and true. They get smacked down a lot, but they triumph in the end, because Good is ultimately rewarded and Evil is ultimately punished. (Especially the not sleeping around. I can’t tell you how many otherwise moral characters I’ve read who are so promiscuous you have to wonder if the author realizes how broken their worldview is.)

This isn’t really that difficult of a list of requirements. Heroism and virtue used to be a staple of adventure fiction, whether the heroes traveled via dragon or spaceship (or both!). But it’s surprisingly hard to find, even among nominally Christian authors. I’ve been trying to get back into reading more fiction, since I kind of fell off the bandwagon in the past few years. Seems like everything I tried to read was something I’d read a thousand times before. And not like … just a well-done trope. If you give me a good rendition of the Chosen One or the Prophecy or Arranged Marriage or the Super Secret Magic Power, I’ll read it all day. But most of them aren’t executed very well.

So I started trying to find specific authors who shared similar views as I did, and tried to work them into their fiction. Patrick Carr is one such author who succeeds in permeating his books with not only a Christian worldview (good is rewarded, evil is punished), but takes time to chew on philosophical arguments like “if God is good, why does evil exist?”

I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what’s out there, so I’ve been very thankful for Clean Fiction Magazine for lending a hand. They’re a new magazine with only four issues out on Amazon, but each issue is nice and thick with reviews in lots of genres. It kind of reminds me of what Reader’s Digest used to be, back when it featured, you know, stuff from books, and not women’s magazine slop. They got onto my radar when they reviewed Song of the Rose, and the next issue will also feature a review of Sanctuary. Fingers crossed that Blade and Staff for Hire makes it into the summer issue!

With a bunch of authors going back to blogging and beginning to drift away from social media, I’d like to join arms with them and help them out. Looking at you, JJ Johnson! I’m still thinking about how to do that, but maybe together we can start carving out a community of ex-social media people who just want to read a good book.

Blade and Staff for Hire – a throwback to adventure fantasy

My latest book Blade and Staff for Hire launches this week, and I’m so excited to share it with you all!

Bayan Avanar is a warrior of whom the bards sing. He travels the lands, seeking his promised bride and slaying monsters with a fiery spellblade.

After two years of searching, Bayan arrives in sunny Leon and at last finds clues pointing to the girl he has only seen in visions. Accompanied by a young half-elf healer Charles Whitmore, who joins him in his quest for a wife, Bayan must confront the monsters in his path if he is to rescue the girl of his dreams. 

Kesara Francesa has dreamed of her dark warrior for months and is terrified that he brings her death. But this dark warrior is her only hope, for her time is running out: on Midsummer’s Night she is to be sacrificed to raise an ancient god. Only Bayan Avanar, legendary warrior, can save her now.

Contains: No smut, soulmates, best friends, bros on a road trip, damsel in distress, ghouls, wyverns, evil sorceress, evil werewolves, friendly centaurs, setting is Fantasy Spain.

Available in most online bookstores!

Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, but most fantasy has gone from being action adventure with guys and strong friendships to being:

  • Girrrl power
  • Too heavy on romance
  • Grimdark
  • Hopeless
  • Not funny
  • Like seriously, let these characters crack a joke

So I set out to write the kind of fantasy I wanted to read. I wanted to read about a warrior and his healer sidekick on a quest … but not to save the world. They’re on a quest for wives. Bayan has visions of the girl the gods intend for him, while Charles is just out to marry the most beautiful girl in Leon. Along the way, they fight monsters and an evil sorceress, and bring along another mage who is a total magic nerd. There are wisecracks. There is peril and more wisecracks. My beta readers asked for a sequel at once. My editor said “it’s like a more wholesome Witcher”.

So if you’d like to read something light, instead of the grimdark that plagues the genre, this might be the book for you. Available on most stores!

Book review: The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

You ever read a book that sticks in your mind as being full of shining things? I know this is an older book, but … gosh, this book did things to my mind.

First off, it’s the sequel to the Eagle of the Ninth. Eagle is a story about a young Roman centurion whose father was part of the Ninth Legion, which marched away into the north of Britain and never returned. He sets out on a quest to find the eagle of the Ninth, which was the legion’s standard, and in the hands of the Britons, could be turned into a dangerous magic talisman against Rome. He’s accompanied by his slave turned best friend, Esca, a Briton who knows the tribes and languages. It’s a total bromance book and was great fun.

A friend told me that the Silver Branch’s main character is basically my character Jayesh from my After Atlantis books. Curious, I picked it up and started reading.

The Roman province of Britannia, 292 AD

Justin is an introverted, awkward young military surgeon. His family line, Aquila, has been connected to Britannia for two hundred years, but he has never set foot there till now. A Celtic leader named Curoi, called Carausius in Latin, has declared himself emperor of Britannia and the northern part of Gaul; he has gained temporary recognition from actual Emperor Maximian in honor of Carausius’ sea victories. (By now, the Roman Empire has become a Tetrarchy).

Justin is immediately befriended by a red-headed soldier named Flavius—who turns out to be his cousin, Marcellus Flavius Aquila, direct descendant of Marcus from The Eagle of the Ninth. Flavius is thrilled to meet a kinsman from the Continental branch of the family, and both lads live at the ancestral homestead Marcus and Cottia built when they’re not in the barracks.

One of those whom Justin heals in the infirmary is Evicatos, an exiled Hibernian (Irish) warrior. Cases like his demonstrate Justin’s skills as a doctor and bring him, and his inseparable cousin, to the notice of Carausius himself.

But when Justin and Flavius witness an apparent act of treachery by Carausius’ minister of finance, Allectus, the world as they know it is upended. It’s up to these two, their dignified great-aunt Honoria, Evicatos, a Hibernian jester, an idealistic Centurion, a fussy little man and the boy he rescued from slavery, a washed-up former gladiator, and a small group of elderly farmhands to restore order in Britannia… (Summary from a Goodreads review because the official summary on Amazon is trash)

Anyway, the book is more or less a cloak and dagger spy novel from about chapter 5 onward, with nailbiting tension as Justin and Flavius constantly watch for spies and shadows … And maybe it’s the writing that got to me. The way it’s written paints vivid pictures in your mind.

Everyone’s attention was turned toward the Emperor, who was at that moment preparing to pour the second Libation to the gods. Everyone, that is, save Justin and Allectus. For some unknown reason, Justin had glanced again at Allectus; and Allectus was watching the moth. The moth was circling wildly nearer and nearer to one of the lamps which stood directly before the Finance Minister, its blurred shadow flashing about the table as it swooped and spun in dizzy spirals about the bright and beckoning flame, closer and closer, until the wild, ecstatic dance ended in a burst of shadows, and the moth spun away on singed wings, to fall with a pitiful, maimed fluttering close beside Allectus’s wine-cup. And Allectus, smiling faintly, crushed out its life under one deliberate finger. That was all. Anybody would crush a singed moth—it was the obvious, the only thing to do. But Justin had seen the pale man’s face as he watched the dancing moth, waiting for it to dance too near, seen it in the unguarded instant as he stretched out the precise forefinger to kill.

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

So yeah, I was expecting the cloak and dagger stuff. I wasn’t expecting it to tie into Eagle of the Ninth so beautifully.

Justin had complete faith from the first that the Eagle was what Flavius had guessed it to be, but if he had doubts, they would have left him that night as he worked in the sinking firelight with the soft sou’wester filling the night outside. The thing was strangely potent under his hands. What things it must have seen–bitter and dark and glorious things–this maimed bird of gilded bronze that was the life and honour of a lost Legion. And now, he thought, it must feel that the old days were back. Again there came to him as he worked that sense of kinship with the young soldier who had made a home in this downland valley, the young soldier who surely had brought the lost Eagle of a lost Legion home to its own people, so that Eagle and farm were linked, and it was fitting that the ancient Standard should go out from here to its last fight. The feeling of kinship was so strong that when, just as they had finished their task, someone loomed into the open doorway, he looked up almost expecting to see the other Marcus standing there with the windy dark behind him.

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

There were so many moments like this that just kind of get into your head. But what I was not expecting was that finale, as the heroes fight to save their town from rampaging Saxons. Justin goes from bandaging wounds to fighting with sword and shield and back to tending the wounded. There’s a part where he’s sitting with a dying man as the building is burning down around them, telling him that the roar of the flame is really the crowd cheering for him … and I’m getting choked up just remembering it.

Anyway, yeah, this is a good book. And all the book covers try to make out that the Silver Branch is a sword. That’s because apparently nobody who ordered the covers had read the book. The Silver Branch is this odd little instrument like a harp, except it has bells instead of strings. It becomes this running symbol throughout the book, the silver branch with its bells, vs the night moth …

Go grab it on Amazon! It’s also on if you don’t mind reading crummy scanned versions.

Books I read in 2022

I read 31 books in 2022, all kinds of different oddball stuff. Here’s some of my reviews.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: Well duh, it’s Howl’s Moving Castle! It’s so good! It’s very different from the movie, too. The movie followed the book to the halfway point, then threw the book aside and wrote whatever the heck they wanted. The book is so much weirder!

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones. The sequel to Howl, but it starts off as an Arabian Nights story. Just as fun and fascinating.

The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard. I read this to the kids because I like it better than King Solomon’s Mines. Two brothers lose their fortunes and titles and go to Africa to make back their wealth. One brother dies, and the other, the hero, gets landed with a quest to rescue a girl from slavers. The woman who hires him promises him immeasurable wealth in the form of uncut rubies, which the tribe of her people keep secret, the People of the Mist. The hero rescues the girl from the slavers (there is much swashbuckling) and sort of accidentally marries her, except not. So now there’s all this tension between the guy and girl as they go on this quest to steal rubies from these horrible, horrible people way up in the mountains in African somewhere. It’s edge of your seat, swashbuckling, and the final escape down the side of a glacier on stone sleds is pretty much the best part of the book.

Starganauts by C.E. Stone. This book was okay. It’s very clean and Christian, appropriate for homeschoolers and teens. I found the stuff on the desert planet pretty slow, but it picks up once they get their armor.

Nomads of the North by James Oliver Curwood. As a kid, I watched the Disney movie of this book a million times. I think it’s called Niki, Wild Dog of the North. I had no idea that the author of Kazan and Baree, Son of Kazan had written it. Wonderful book, wonderful story, with an ending that tied it all up in a perfect bow. Sitting here with a few happy tears, actually.

Ronnie Akkard and the Brotherhood of Blades, by AC Williams. This was a tough read. The book reads like the first half is missing. What are the armors? How did they get them? The rules of the world aren’t told to the reader. We’re left to fumble around in confusion for the first twenty or so chapters. We meet a bunch of characters who hate each other … and why are they together? Who are they? The second half of the book sort of details it, but … there are layers of things that aren’t explained, like the incident in Texas, and Barb. That happened in the missing front half of the book, but it’s important at the end. Is there a short story that introduced the armors and the tiger and the samurai mentor from another dimension? Something that explains the bad guy robot things? If there is, read that first. I was so confused for this entire book.

Linnets and Valarians by Elizabeth Goudge. This is a beautiful, wonderful book. I just read it aloud to my kids and we loved it. JK Rowling cited it as one of her inspirations, along with the same author’s other book, The Little White Horse. In Linnets, you will find a man with a pet owl, an antagonist named Tom Biddle, and a cat who is not what he seems. There is black magic and white magic, and children having to do homework. It’s not a magical school, but this book is entirely magical.

Holes by Louis Sachar. You take a bad boy, you make him dig holes all day in the sun, you turn him into a good boy. At least, that’s what the warden of Camp Green Lake says. But the hero thinks maybe the Warden is searching for something … Always a great read, so fun to read aloud to the kids.

Salvage in Space by Jack Williamson (short story). This is a story like Alien, but older, and much more positive. If you like space ships haunted by monstrous aliens, this is a very fun read.

The King’s Spell and the King’s Enchantress by EJ Kitchens. I wrote a long review post for these.

Derwood, Inc, by Jerri Massi. I’ve loved this book since I was a kid, and my copy is very dogeared. I recently read it to my kids, because they needed the Fifty-Ton, Mile-Long, Giant Killer Octopus in their lives. We laughed all the way through. We are always on the lookout for funny books, and this one fits the bill perfectly.

Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. Very fun books, kind of exhausting to read aloud because of the pages and pages of dialogue. My kids love this series.

How to Train your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell. Read this aloud to my kids and we had a lot of fun. The book was a lot better written than I expected, coming straight from Tracy West’s Dragon Masters books. The kids want me to read the whole series, so I may have my work cut out for me …

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. A friend of mine recommended the movie, The Eagle, as a solid, wholesome bromance. I haven’t enjoyed a good bromance in a while, so I watched the movie, and it was okay. Then I went and sampled the book on Amazon, and it was so much better than the movie. More emotional depth. But the sample ends before Marcus buys Esca, so I grabbed the book.

Oh my. If you enjoyed the movie at all, you’ll enjoy the book so much more. The bromance starts early and the book follows these bros on their quest to find the lost Roman Eagle standard. The book goes like this:

Historical exposition
Funny thing

Repeat for the whole book. The funny things constantly took me by surprise. I’ve read so many dry historical fiction novels for school, it was a welcome change to read fun characters. I think I’ll pick up the rest of this author’s stuff, because I appreciate an author who can entertain and educate in equal measures.

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. Wonderful kids book, like the kind they used to write. I’ve read a lot of DeJong’s books, my favorite being Along Came a Dog because it’s about a chicken, lol. This one is about the adventures a bunch of kids have while searching for wagon wheels to put on their school to make nests for storks. As the kids say these days, it’s very wholesome. They make friends and help people along the way. Mean Legless Janus has the best character arc, but as a kid, you don’t see it. As an adult, Janus’s change from a mean, depressed crippled guy to the leader of the village is amazing and refreshing. Highly recommend this book.

Power On by HL Burke. Good superhero adventure for teens. Fun powers, decent characters who grow on you, and just enough peril to keep things interesting. Oh, and invisible ferrets.

Watership Down by Richard Adams. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, Watership Down is a fantasy novel. The gang of buddy male rabbits, their epic quests, first for survival, then for mates, then to defeat the crazed General Woundwort, has all the hallmarks of an excellent fantasy novel. Once you get used to all the protagonists being rabbits, it’s such an excellent read.

The Hobbit, the Fellowship of the Ring, the Two Towers, Return of the King, by JRR Tolkien. Reading it aloud to the kids is kind of a chore, and the books get so dark toward the end. But at the same time, I realized that LOTR is actually a WWII spy novel. No wonder nobody’s ever duplicated it, haha.

The Shock of Night, the Shattered Vigil, the Wounded Shadow, by Patrick Carr. I wrote a long blog post review of these.

The Librarian of Crooked Lane by CJ Archer. A very odd mystery that was like watching a BBC period mystery series set in WW1, except with magic.

Sea and Soul by Shari Branning. Wrote a blog review for this one.

Of Ice and Roses by Heather M Elliot. This is a beautifully-written rendition of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. But it starts off with Cinderella, so it’s this kind of neat fairytale mashup. Gemma is a poor girl who catches the eye of a prince, who invites her to a week-long ball. Her stepmother (who is not wicked!) gives her an enchantment to create beautiful dresses, and over the course of the week, she and the prince fall in love. Classic fairytale stuff.
They get married and have their honeymoon–
Why is the snow queen attacking
Why is Gemma’s missing childhood friend Casper mixed up in it
Why has Gemma’s memory of him been altered
Why does her stepmother’s enchantment for making dresses also work to make cold-weather clothing
There are amazing tribal werewolves
Ice monsters
Casper must be rescued from the snow queen and I want to wrap him up in a warm blanket except he wouldn’t like it because the cold never bothered him anyway
Why is this book so amazing

Fate and Fang by Shari Branning. This is a fun sidestory set in the Seer’s Gambit universe. The premise is like Person of Interest: you have Elliot Reed, who has visions of murder, and you have Tristan Quinn, the werewolf who tries to rescue the victims. There is lots of werewolfy brawling and fighting and killing of bad guys, and the bad guy is a really nasty sorcerer. I hope this becomes a whole series, because it’s too good to leave alone.