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I've been slush reading our group's #SPFBO5 books over the past three weeks and have been making some good progress.  So far five books that I've read at least 25% of are still in the running for my semifinalist picks.  I don't know if any of them will make the cut but some will at least get consideration along with full reviews and scores.  Sadly, there have also been some books that I have had to eliminate for various reasons.  I just wanted to list those four now and briefly mention the reasons why they were DNFs for me.  I want to stress that these HAVE NOT been eliminated from overall team consideration.  Ultimately that will be decided as a group later on as everyone completes their own reading and our scores are averaged out.  Rather, these are books that I myself have decided to move on from as an individual team member of RockStarlit Book Asylum.  And so here they are:





THE ASHEN LEVELS by C.F. Welburn - I wanted to connect with this book so badly.  So much so in fact that I even gave it 50% instead of the required 25%.  Ultimately, it just never had any focus or coherent story to grab onto in my opinion.  Much of the book is simply following the main character Balagir after he awakens from a long slumber to find that he doesn't know who or where he is.  The problem is he spends the majority of half the book performing one task after another without any hint of why he's doing these things.  And it never really gets on track.  So for the sake of time I had to cut bait.  The writing is good but I need more direction in a story. 
(My Score: 4.3/10)



BENEATH CRUEL FATHOMS by Anela Deen - This book was sort of a flipping of The Little Mermaid story where the person shipwrecked is the female lead character and the person who rescues her is a merman.  I liked the writing and the story was mildly interesting but two factors really sunk this one for me (pun intended).  The first was the romance element which I really don't particularly care for in my reads.  I don't mind if it is sprinkled in here and there but when it is a significant part of the book, it just becomes too much for me to stay interested.  The major reason why I decided to abandon this one however was the lack of any real action.  Too much conversation with not a lot else taking place. 
(My Score: 3.9/10)



JESS RISING by D.M. Guay - This one was just too "Twilighty" for me.  Lots of teen angst and the drama associated with what goes along with it.  I'm not much of a fan of books like this where high-schoolers are juggling crushes and love triangles and are trying to cope with hidden powers that they don't fully understand.  It's a trope that has been done so many times and this book unfortunately didn't offer much to keep me wanting to read. 
(My Score: 2.9/10)



DRAGON DESTINY by Helen B. Henderson - Another Fantasy-Romance that just didn't click with me from the very beginning.  The main character is a dragon shifter who can take the form of his dragon soul's twin.  Sounds cool right?  Unfortunately not much is done with this and the majority of the first quarter of the book is spent on a love story and not much of that is very compelling.  Again, just not my cup of tea and the story taking a backseat to the romance element turned me off to reading any more of this. 
(My Score: 2.7/10)


And there you have it, the first of my DNF cuts.  I will continue to post more updates, mini-reviews for books that I thought were okay but not semifinal worthy, and also full reviews of books that I enjoyed a great deal that may make it to my semifinal picks.  For those who are unaware, you can follow my reading progress on my personal #SPFBO5 page.  I update this page daily with where I'm at with regard to my reading progress for all of the books assigned to Team RockStarlit Book Asylum.  For all official #SPFBO5 team updates, you can click on our team page HERE.

That's all for now, but more to come soon!
Nick
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Title: Chasing Graves

Author: Ben Galley

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 7, 2018

Rating: 9.5/10


I am extremely excited to be a part of the #UltimateBlogTour featuring #BenGalley and hosted by Dave and the gang over at the phenomenal website The Write Reads!  And it's an added honor to be kicking off the tour here on Day 1 with a host of other amazing bloggers who I respect enormously.  The book that I am reviewing by Ben is CHASING GRAVES.  Ben Galley is a self-published author who writes incredibly diverse fantasy books.  Further biographical info about him will be included at the end of my review for those who would like to know more, as well as a link to purchase this book on Amazon.  Now without further delay, here is my review of CHASING GRAVES by Ben Galley!

Araxes is a city full of ghosts.  Not the figurative kind mind you, and also not the playful and prankster kind that you see on certain paranormal television shows.  These ghosts have been ripped from their formerly living bodies, often through brutally violent murder, and then are subsequently bonded as slaves to serve whichever masters are the highest bidders.  It's not called the City of Countless Souls for nothing.

This is also not a city that you want to be walking around in alone, but that's just the situation that petty thief and locksmith Caltro Basalt finds himself in after being summoned to do a job by an anonymous employer residing in a large tower known as Cloudpiercer in the heart of the city.  Caltro simply can't resist the possibility of a huge payday and so he disembarks a ship into the dangerous streets.  His mission is to seek out the enigmatic occupant of Cloudpiercer and find out what he may be offering.  

It's not surprising though that immediately following his entry into Araxes, Caltro is jumped by a gang of soulstealers and killed in a vicious and horrific way.  He soon finds himself just another soul in the countless masses of shades and ghosts who roam the city to perform laborious tasks for their wealthy masters.  Caltro can't believe his misfortune and how suddenly his life was extinguished.  He is determined to figure out a way to free himself from the bond he is now forcibly committed to.

In this city of the undead we also find Nilith, an embittered woman who murders her husband in a fit of rage after she discovered his frequent infidelity.  The opening pages describe her dragging his soul across the desert in the hopes of binding his body and collecting on the huge inheritance that she will receive as a result of his death.  It's the ultimate case of payback for an unfaithful and lecherous husband.

Araxes however, is a city that may be about to experience a change in the usual running of things.  There are rumors of an ancient cult that is bribing local soulstealers and amassing a ghost army for purposes that are as of yet unknown.  Then there's the ambitious princess who has her sites set on the Emperor's throne, thrusting the future of the city into further uncertainty.  The ultimate outcome of all of this instability and treachery will be set against the backdrop of a city where the dead don't stay dead for very long and supreme power lies with the richest and most willing to commit murder for their own benefit.

I was absolutely haunted (no pun intended) by CHASING GRAVES from first page to back cover.  This book is a wonderfully unique blend of dark fantasy, horror, paranormal fiction, and ancient mythology that is driven by an incredibly suspenseful and gradual convergence of storylines.  I'm ashamed to admit that this is the first Ben Galley book that I've had the opportunity to read, but after this experience I will definitely be picking up more books of his.

The premise of CHASING GRAVES is such a unique one, involving bonded ghosts forced into servitude against their will.  When I first read the synopsis I originally thought that it sounded like a cool idea, but after reading the book I have to say that Ben delivers on that cool idea even more than I ever even imagined possible.  The story is told through a few POVs, but it never gets confusing and every time the book changes perspectives it just builds on the story and pushes it to what you know is going to be an amazing conclusion.

I thought the character of Caltro was very well done and he perfectly embodies the helplessness and anger that many of the bonded souls feel as they had their lives snuffed out simply so that a rich aristocrat could have free labor that they don't need to pay or feed.  He's an often snarky character who is constantly searching for a way out of his predicament.  And the supporting characters, while not as deep or complex as Caltro, are still compelling enough to make you care about their individual stories as well.

I loved CHASING GRAVES and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different kind of fantasy with great world-building and awesomely creepy ghosts.  This really is one of the most original fantasy books I've read in quite some time.  Pick it up and read it.  The pages and all of your free time will fly by but you will relish every minute of it.  The good news is that there are also two more books after this one that round out the Chasing Graves Trilogy.


You can purchase a copy of CHASING GRAVES on Amazon by clicking (here)



About the author:



Ben Galley is an author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Vistoria, Canada.  Since publishing his debut The Written in 2010, Ben has released a range of award-winning fantasy novels, including the weird western Bloodrush and the epic standalone The Heart of Stone.  He is also the author of the brand new Chasing Graves trilogy.
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Out of this World SFF Reviews is delighted to present the official Cover Reveal for Jon Auerbach's upcoming book GUILD OF TOKENS!  Jon is a self-published author based out of New York who has been very hard at work lately getting his new book ready for its forthcoming release.  

Jon credits the earliest influences that helped shape his love of Science-Fiction and Fantasy as being: the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the Robot and Foundation books by Isaac Asimov.  He describes his new book GUILD OF TOKENS as "a unique mix of Neverwhere, Harry Potter, and World of Warcraft."  


                                  
                                  (Author Jon Auerbach - Website)


The official release date for GUILD OF TOKENS is June 25th and is currently available to preorder on Amazon by clicking the following links:

Click here for AMAZON U.S. Preorders
Click here for AMAZON INTERNATIONAL Preorders

You can also read the opening chapter of the book by clicking (here)

But now, let's get to the moment that you've all been waiting for!  

Here for the very first time is the dazzling new cover for Jon Auerbach's brand new Urban Fantasy/LitRPG book GUILD OF TOKENS!!!!



                            (Cover Artist: Meir Srebriansky - Website

She wants to level up her humdrum existence.  But her next quest could spell life or death.

All Jen Jacobs has achieved in life is loneliness.  So when she stumbles across a real-life game of epic quests on the streets of New York, she jumps at the chance for some excitement and gold tokens.  Little does she know that the items she strives to collect hold a darker purpose.

After a particularly harrowing quest pairs her up with Beatrice Taylor, a no-nonsense and ambitious mentor, Jen hopes she's on the path to becoming a big-time player.  But as she dives deeper into the game's hidden agenda, she realizes Beatrice has her sights set on the Guild, the centuries-old organization that runs the Questing game.  And the quests Jen loves are about to put both of them in grave danger.

Will Jen survive the game before powerful forces cut her real life short?

GUILD OF TOKENS is a thrilling urban fantasy twist on conventional LitRPG.  If you like determined heroines, gritty cityscapes, and vampire-free adventures, then you'll love Jon Auerbach's rollercoaster tale.
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Last week I was totally crushed by the news that legendary Fantasy author Gene Wolfe had passed away.  I feel a special connection with certain books and writers for a number of reasons (mostly because I read them during different stages or moments in my life).  In Gene's case, I read his Book of the New Sun series when I was a younger man and working as a bookseller at Borders.  I remember how much it affected me in a good way and also how mesmerized I was by the prose.  It served to further ignite my passion for reading Fantasy books.  At that time I hadn't read much Fantasy and I didn't think that Fantasy writing could be done with both intelligence and excitement in equal measure.  

I hope that doesn't sound too snobby, I was a stupid kid after all.  I've since learned better, having read oodles more Fantasy books over the past twenty five years or so of my life, but The Book of the New Sun has always remained one of my favorite series of all-time.  Naturally, I then began to ponder what a list of 10 series that I would put as my all-time favorites would look like.  Admittedly, there were some that were easy and jumped right out at me.  I just knew that they had to be included.  The rest were a little more difficult to pick, but I think that I have compiled a pretty accurate account of the ones that, for whatever reason, just sit on a higher shelf than all of the others I have consumed in my life.

And so with that, here are MY 10 FAVORITE FANTASY SERIES OF ALL TIME!  (In descending order, because I have to create some drama right?)





10. DEVERRY by Katharine Kerr - This series is not for those who are looking for a straightforward and cozy read.  I say this because it is a long series that is separated by three different arcs.  In addition to that, the characters in each of the books are different reincarnations of themselves at different time periods in the history of Deverry.  There is quite an involved grid at the front of each book showing who is who at any given time period.  Having said all of that, if you want to read a Fantasy series that will reward you like no other if you choose to put in a little work, this is the one to read.  It is a mythical Celtic Fantasy that has a very comfortable feel to it and should appeal to anyone who enjoys classic Fantasy done incredibly well.  So definitely check this one out if you have the time and patience to commit to it.




9. RAI-KIRAH by Carol Berg - Most people have never heard of this series and that is a real tragedy.  Carol Berg is one of the best Fantasy writers out there without question.  This series in particular showcases that fact so beautifully.  Centering on a young man from a conquered race who is enslaved and sold into servitude to an entitled and arrogant prince, this series tackles a number of sensitive issues such as racism, discrimination, and sexual identity at a time when this wasn't happening a lot in Fantasy.  That alone should make it essential reading.  Aside from the social issues, this is also a phenomenal Fantasy tale just teeming with magic, foul demons, court intrigue, and brutally bloody battles.  I highly recommend RAI-KIRAH and it will always be one of my favorites.





8. DIVINE CITIES by Robert Jackson Bennett - One of two fairly recent series on this list, DIVINE CITIES is world-building taken to a ludicrously high level.  I remember picking up an advance copy of City Of Stairs a few years ago and being so impressed by the history that Robert Jackson Bennett constructed and the mythical dead gods that are at the center of this amazing Dark Fantasy.  And boy is it ever dark!  But it is also a series that stands out in my opinion and is so engrossing that you need to keep turning the pages feverishly.  The fact that this is Bennett's debut series is all the more impressive because I believe it to be one of the best Fantasy series of the past 25 years and definitely ranks in my top 10 all-time.  I feel like more people should read it and I hope it eventually gets the proper accolades that it deserves.





7. WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW by Janny Wurts - I have been a huge fan of Janny Wurts ever since I read her collaboration with Raymond E. Feist on the Empire trilogy.  That series made me want to check out more of Janny's writing and so I was drawn to her stupendous WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW.  The first thing that I immediately noticed upon reading the first book The Curse of the Mistwraith was the writing and the characters.  The prose is so different from many other Fantasy books out there.  It is written in a classic Fantasy style very reminiscent of Tolkien.  Some have said that the writing is too dense but I could not disagree more.  The writing lends a charm and beauty to the story that carries through the entire series.  And then there are the fabulous characters.  The story centers around two brothers who could not be any more different and who both possess magical powers beyond imagining.  At times you don't know whether they are friends or enemies and their paths take some interesting and unexpected turns as they attempt to fulfill their individual destinies.  There is also an interesting timeline that alternates and keeps you paying attention to every detail and every chapter.  Just a phenomenal series.





6. THE FAITHFUL AND THE FALLEN by John Gwynne - This is the other fairly recent series that I felt without a doubt had to be included in my 10 all-time favorites.  This series captivated me from the opening scene in the first book Malice.  I'm a sucker for a deep and interesting history as part of my Fantasy reads.  This series has exactly the type of rich history that is the backbone of any great Fantasy story.  And the battles are so incredibly intense, so much so that you can feel every blow and spear thrust.  The series gets better with each book and when you finally get to the last page of Wrath, you will come to the realization that you have just read a monumental series the likes of which do not come around very often.  I'm happy to say that the utter goodness continues in John's brand new series set in the same world titled Of Blood and Bone.  If you have never read anything by John Gwynne I would recommend that you do so.  He's one of the best writers out there and just continues to churn out five-star book after five-star book.  You are really missing out of you don't pick up THE FAITHFUL AND THE FALLEN as soon as possible and read it.





5. THE DAGGER AND THE COIN by Daniel Abraham - Known primarily for being one-half of the writing duo behind the tremendous Expanse series, Daniel Abraham has written one of my favorite and unique Fantasy series of all-time.  This series is so under the radar and frankly it is criminal that it doesn't get more recognition.  Unlike most Fantasy series that focus on battles, quests, or some sort of coming of age trope, Abraham centers his series around the economics behind the warring empires and how the economy can be manipulated to defeat the enemy.  That's not to say that there isn't plenty of action and battles, oh there are!  But this is a thinking-person's Fantasy first and foremost and really hits on a theme that not a lot of Fantasy books dare to explore.  The conspiracies and behind-the-scenes sabotage that goes on just make this such a different story than what I had ever read before or after honestly.  I am constantly recommending THE DAGGER AND THE COIN to people who ask me for something that is a really good Fantasy but with a different twist.  The writing is top notch and I think that everyone should read this while they are waiting for the next George RR Martin book.  It's quite similar in tone and feel.  What a wonderful series.





4. THE LIVESHIP TRADERS by Robin Hobb - When most people are asked the question what is their favorite Robin Hobb series, the response is usually The Farseer trilogy.  My favorite series by Hobb though has always been this one.  I feel like Robin Hobb really came into her own as a writer with this series.  The plot is way more complex than Farseer and the characters have a lot more depth to them.  The story centers around a seafaring family who owns a sentient ship that can communicate with its captain and also can self-navigate by use of magic.  There is an internal struggle within the family when the head of the household dies, and we get to see the struggle for ownership of the liveship that ensues between the captain's daughter and his son in-law.  There are also a number of political conflicts going on within the town itself as the economy falters and other families begin to utilize their liveships to engage in the lucrative slave trade to survive. This series is so perfectly constructed, written, and realized and I believe it to be the best series Robin Hobb has ever written.  I just love it and reread it every two or three years, it's that good.  So pick it up and read it, you won't be sorry!





3. THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN by Gene Wolfe - As I mentioned earlier, this particular series is the one that motivated me to create this list.  Gene Wolfe's passing recently made me immediately think of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and how much I absolutely adore every aspect of it.  I read this series pretty early on in my Fantasy reading life and have read very few books that are its match in darkness and beauty.  Set on a dystopian planet Earth where the sun is slowly dying, main character Severian is a torturer who is charged with carrying out incredible pain and death on the criminals who are sent to The Citadel of the Autarch.  Then he does the unthinkable by showing mercy to one of his subjects and is banished to journey across a desolate wasteland alone armed only with his awesomely-named sword Terminus Est (translation: this is the end).  This is one of those series that I hold very close to my heart and feel like anyone who claims to be a fan of Fantasy should read at some point in their life.  It is a work of sheer brilliance and genius, with world-building that should be the standard by which every author aspires.  





2. THE FIRST LAW by Joe Abercrombie - This series came so close to being my favorite of all-time but fell just short.  Such an amazing blend of Grimdark and traditional Fantasy.  What I love most about this series though are the vivid characters and the top-notch dialogue.  Nobody writes better dialogue than Joe Abercrombie.  Nobody.  When the characters in this series speak to each other, you feel like you are standing right there with them.  They speak like human beings who are enmeshed in the environment and situations that they find themselves in would speak.  Irreverent, yes.  Snarky and sarcastic, uh-huh.  Downright rude and un-PC, yep!   Yet it is all done masterfully and completely within the flow of an astoundingly great story.  If you love bloody battles, biting humor, dark settings, and flat-out dazzling writing, then you really need to grab all three books in this series and start reading.  It's damn-near perfect and will keep you on the edge of your seat for three meaty volumes.





1. MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN by Tad Williams - I'm always shocked when people tell me that they've never read this series.  Partly because it is my favorite Fantasy series ever and partly because it's just so freaking fantastic in every way.  Not to mention that it contains my most-despised villain of all-time, Pryrates the evil priest.  For my money there is no better antagonist in not just Fantasy Fiction, but Fiction in general.  I've reread this series about 7 or 8 times and every time I read it I feel like I'm coming home to characters that are familiar companions on a treasured literary journey.  You can have Tolkien, George RR Martin, C.S. Lewis, Robert Jordan, and all of the other well-known Fantasists in the genre, I'll take Tad Williams and MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN any day of the week.  This series is simply the greatest of High Fantasies on the grandest of scales.  Just do me a favor and experience this series for yourself.  I'm sure after reading it that that you will agree it deserves to be ranked right at the top of every single Fantasy list now and in the future.  It's definitely at the top of mine and has been for a long time.



And there you have it!  My 10 Favorite Fantasy Series of All-Time.  Please feel free to comment if you've read any of them or would like to mention a few that you would put on your own list!  I always welcome a discussion about favorite books.  I also hope that reading something about these series may spark a desire for you to read some of them yourselves for the very first time.  As always, thanks so much for visiting and spending some time on the blog.  HAPPY READING!!! - Nick
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Out of This World SFF Reviews is pleased and delighted to be hosting the official Cover Reveal for Luke Tarzian's upcoming new book VULTURES!  Luke is a self-published author who resides in Pasadena, California where he has been diligently hard at work writing and getting book one of the Shadow Twins trilogy, VULTURES ready for the masses. Luke is also an incredibly talented graphic designer and actually designed and created the beautiful cover for his new book (which you will get to see very soon).  


                                     Author Luke Tarzian & Friendo


The official release date for VULTURES is June 11th and is available for preordered now on Amazon by clicking (here).  Make sure you get in early and have it delivered to your preferred device on release day so that you can start reading immediately!  

You can also read Chapter 1 of the book on Luke Tarzian's website by clicking (here)


And now for the moment you've all been waiting for and what my wife proclaimed to be one of the coolest book covers she's ever seen.....Here is the fantastically dark and gorgeous cover for Luke Tarzian's upcoming book VULTURES!!!!





TRUTH FROM MADNESS

In Ariath, this is more than a simple adage.  For Theailys An, they are words to live by, especially in the city of Helveden, where he and his demon brethren, the dissident, are looked upon with scorn.  Viewed as cohorts of the dead progenitor of Ariathan suffering, they are outcasts.

Still, Theailys has a job to do: destroy the Heart of Mirkur and end the war for good.  Though Te Mirkyahil is dead, its progeny leak endlessly from the Heart, sowing death with their passage.  With The Keepers' Wrath. a power focus of his own design, Theailys believes there is hope to restore peace to Ariath once again.

But ending a war is easier said than done, especially for a man haunted by past tragedies and occasionally possessed by a murderous presence keen to take his body for its own.  As Theailys works to forge The Keepers' Wrath, amid a creeping shadow over Helveden, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear:


THESE EVENTS HAVE PLAYED OUT MANY TIMES BEFORE

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Out of This World SFF Reviews is honored and privileged to be hosting the official Cover Reveal for Clayton Snyder's upcoming new release RIVER OF THIEVES.  Clayton is an amazingly talented author who resides in North Dakota where he writes edgy fantasy tinged with a bit of horror and mayhem.  His The Balance series has been very well-received by both reviewers and fellow authors alike, and was described by Fantasy author Dyrk Ashton as "Extremely well-written, thoughtful, and engaging."  


                                            Author Clayton Snyder
                           
Also as a quick aside, the official publication date for RIVER OF THIEVES is April 30th and can be preordered on Amazon by clicking (here)


And now without further ado, let's get to what you've all come here to see: 

The official Cover Reveal for Clayton Snyder's RIVER OF THIEVES!!!!




Cursed thief Cord relies on his partner Nenn to recover his body, stash the money, and convince the authorities that there are no leads left to follow.  They spend their days hitting low-tier lenders and banks, but after a botched robbery, Cord begins to think they need something bigger, something that will set them up for life.

When that thing happens to be a heist no one else in the kingdom has the stones to pull off, he gathers a group of rogues with a particular set of talents: Nenn, handy with a knife and a cool head; Rek, cat fancier and strongman; and Lux, undead wizard.  Together, they converge on the city of Midian to steal the heart of a saint and punish a tyrant.

What comes out of the carnage is so much more - a conflict between gods that could decide the fate of every thief in the worlds.

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