I know I gush about covers a lot, but this one is really enticing. It's half the reason I chose to read this book.
Heartbreak Incorporated by Alex de Campi is an adult urban fantasy romance featuring Evie, a struggling freelance journalist in NYC who stumbles into a new temp job as a receptionist for an investigative firm associated with a big law firm. The boss is Misha, an overly hot and mysterious guy who seduces clients’ spouses to give the client a cleaner way to not break prenups but still file for divorce. The fantasy element comes later in the book, and I won’t spoil it for you exactly, but you’ll see it coming, don’t worry.
I really liked the concept of the book. A detective that breaks people up for a living? Juicy! (Too bad that’s not the main focus, though.) The first half of the book really had me. I got invested in the characters, even if Evie made some really bad decisions. (You want to break an ironclad NDA, girl? No!)
On the downside, the fantasy element brought it later kind of lost me. The first half of the book was so normal and so set in the real world that the introduction of fantasy was really jarring. There was also a ten page sex scene in the middle of the book, which was much more graphic and awkward to read on my commute than most other sex scenes I’ve happened across. I also was able to predict the rest of the plot elements from that fantasy element introduction onward, maybe because I’m so familiar with urban fantasy tropes, maybe because it was very reminiscent of Twilight. (This is not shade.)
This book is for you if you love urban fantasy, especially those with heavy romance elements. It’s not a classic vampire situation, so it’s for you even if you’re over vampires/werewolves. It’s also for you if you like the concept of a detective breaking people up, just don’t expect that to be the focus. It’s not for you if you are over normal-girl-falls-in-love-with-immortal-being stories, if you don’t want an extremely detailed/lengthy sex scene, or if you are looking for a more detective-focused story.
Have you read Heartbreak Incorporated? What did you think of Evie and Misha? Let’s discuss in the comments.
Wilbur posing with HOM by James Moore. Photo by Kate Ota 2022
HOM by James Moore is a YA Christian fantasy novella (172 pages in paperback). The main character, Hom, was raised in a lab to cultivate his powers—he is visited by angels and demons and can teleport to Hell. However, when demons attack the facility, he learns he’s not the only teen with powers. He teams up with the ragtag group to escape, but when they learn the truth of what the demons are planning, they must make a tough choice—their own freedom, or saving the world.
James is part of the Judging More Than Just the Cover Book Club Podcast, and I was even a critique partner for many parts of this book. I also know it started as a storyboard type outline for a videogame. And it certainly feels like a videogame, with big boss fights, specified powers, and unique uniforms. I also liked Frieda, Hom’s pseudo-mom figure, the interesting settings, and the morally-gray scientist.
The novella went by super quickly, as novellas tend to do. There was a lot more action than emotion, which is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your mood. I know indie books are sometimes bashed for typos, but the ones here are few and far between, so worry not.
This book is for you if you like Christian fantasy (i.e. angels, demons, and biblical God on the page), if you are in the mood for videogames but don’t want to actually play it yourself, or if you’re looking for a quick paced, high action read. It’s not for you if you aren’t into biblical content in fantasy, if you’re looking for deep emotion, or if violence in a novel is not your cup of tea.
Have you read HOM yet? I know James would love your support! Be sure to review indie books, it helps the authors get more readers.
Updraft by Fran Wilde is a 2015 YA fantasy which was nominated for the Nebula award (2016), won the Andre Norton Award (2016), and won the Compton Crook Award (2016). It's about Kirit, a young woman in a city made of bone spires (which are continually growing) who wants to pass her flying exam (wings are removable, like a backpack) so she can become a trader like her mother. Of course, things go awry and she ends up being threatened into the world of the Singers, the overseers of the city who break rules to maintain order. Kirit is far from cutthroat and must choose between her own life (where she must be a Singer) or her closest loved ones’ lives.
Fran Wilde is known for worldbuilding, so I really studied what she did in this book. She never apologized, metaphorically, but also never held our hands like a tour guide. She basically said, here’s what happening, trust me to make sense later or leave now. So even though the first scene was rough for me, with all sorts of events happening that I didn’t understand, I was still able to picture it. It taught me that as long as the reader has enough information (who, where, and what) they will stay with the story, even if the why or how isn’t explained right away. I liked the totally different world of Updraft, it didn’t feel familiar at all, yet wasn’t so alien that I was lost. The foundational relationships in Kirit’s life were relatable, even if flying or a tower made of bone were not. Fran Wilde struck an excellent balance there.
This is the start of a series, so on the downside, if you’re looking for everything to be explained (if the city is made of live bone, then what sort of creature are they on??) then you’ll be disappointed in having to wait for answers. This could be a plus side though, if you’re looking for a juicy, award-winning series to dive into. I think my only complaint was a lot of plot beats were predictable to me—this could be because I’ve been studying plotting and examining a lot of stories for their structure. I think most readers would be a little more surprised than I was.
This book is for you if you like fantasy that is different from what you’ve read before or if you’re looking for a series to start. If you’ve always wanted to fly or travel, you’ll relate a lot to Kirit. It may not be for you if you want your YA to have romance, or your fantasy to have magic (neither is required, but tend to be expected). It’s also not for you if you want a stand-alone read.
Have you read Updraft or other books by Fran Wilde? What did you think? Let’s discuss in the comments!
The cover of This is How You Lose the Time War.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is an adult literary science fiction novella. It’s focused on two secret agents, Red and Blue, from opposing organizations who wish to control the timeline. Or, many timelines. There are oodles of parallel threads of time that the agents move around, tweaking and prodding so events eventually turn in their organization’s favor. They touch on Victorian England, Genghis Khan era East Asia, the far future, and even the far past with dinosaurs. It’s mostly in epistolary style (aka letters) between Red and Blue, with some short scenes of discovering the letters—which are often anything but ink on paper—in between.
The story was well done. Classic opposing spies falling in love, with the time travel twist. The literary wording was beautiful and the plot was clear enough to follow, though it certainly made you work to piece things together. It was also a short read, as a novella.
The downside is that sometimes the literary prose ran purple for me—but of course, this is a subjective opinion. The book also rarely described how the characters or even places looked in those rare scenes between letters, so I had trouble picturing them. I’ll also be honest and say I didn’t get the romance between the main characters. There wasn’t enough interaction between Red and Blue for me to feel the sparks, but this is often a problem I have with romance-via-letters stories.
Overall, this was a well written book and I see why it’s won so many awards and so much praise. Alas, it was just not my taste, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see it being someone else’s. It’s for you if you love a literary bent on your reading, if you are into science fiction spies, and if you’re into time travel stories. It’s not for you if you’re looking for epic romance, traditional prose storytelling, or less literary/flowery writing.
Have you read This is How You Lose the Time War? How about other time travel novellas? Do you love literary or do you want an author to just cut to the chase? Let’s discuss in the comments!
I'm so excited to announce that my short story "Please Don't be a Serial Killer" will be published in Nightmare Sky, a night sky themed anthology from Death Knell Press. My story is my first attempt at publishing horror rather than scifi, so I was surprised and thrilled! I will say that there's a lot of humor in my story compared to most horror, so it's still very me.
You may recognize the name Red Lagoe, the editor, as someone who was on my 2021 reads post. She has two anthologies of horror out now, Lucid Screams and Dismal Dreams. She also recently released a stand alone short story, "Black Feathered Fury" and has many shorts published in other anthologies.
Nightmare Sky will be published in January 2023!
Transparency note: I know Red Lagoe in real life, as we have been in the same writing group. She did not see my short story in advance. I did not think submitting to her was a guarantee for inclusion.