The Gods Must Clearly Smile review

A review of The Gods Must Clearly Smile, by Aaron Christopher Drown

Note: I received an ARC and this is an honest, voluntary review.

Aaron Christopher Drown has made an art form out of subverting expectations. From the opening story of The Gods Must Clearly Smile, it was obvious all the quirky plot twists I could want would be in this collection, which features everything from aliens and demons to superheroes and meta-fiction as topics.

Path of an Arrow, one of the longer stories, was one of only two short stories in the collection that just didn’t work for me. Though the concept was interesting, with so many clever stories surrounding it, its heavy use of back story (and an unlikely calm and methodical reaction from a woman whose house was broken into while she slept), stood out in an otherwise well-executed collection. There were also noticeably fewer female characters than I would’ve expected, with none appearing as a protagonist until a third of the way in.

The Gods Must Clearly Smile book cover

Some of the stories, like the namesake of the collection and The Milkshake Story, really kept me thinking long after I finished them. In the case of The Gods Must Clearly Smile the short story, I wanted more world-building details, because the murky beginning led to concepts that were absolutely fascinating. If the same world and setting existed in additional works I’d grab them in a heartbeat because I wanted to know more.

Overall, these stories ran the gamut of speculative fiction in a totally unique collection, full of clever twists and thought-provoking concepts. Sci-fi fans may especially appreciate this one.

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit seventhstarpress.com.

Black Water Sister review

A review of Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho

Note: This book has a recurring theme of violence against women and intimate partner violence that may be triggering for some readers.

Black Water Sister is a vivid and engaging read that perfectly fuses the ancient with the modern. And it’s a page-turning story to boot. Narrator Jess is easy to identify with, and I could practically hear the overlapping chatter of the aunties and uncles visiting Kor Kor’s house. Through twists and turns, it delivers a message of family, empathy and redemption.
 
Raised in America, Malaysian-born Jess is forced to return to Penang with her parents as her family’s fortunes take a turn. A recent Harvard grad, Jess has no job prospects and is separated from her very understanding and supportive girlfriend. Jess is not out to her parents (or anyone with the slightest chance of contact with her family) and keeps their long-distance relationship going through covert messages and video chats at odd hours. Living under her Christian aunt and uncle’s roof adds another layer of tension to the balancing act that is new adult Jess.
Black Water Sister Cover

She’s isn’t the only one keeping secrets in her family, either. When Jess’s recently deceased grandmother begins haunting her, Jess’s Ah Ma, whom she never met, becomes a dangerous reality for Jess. Jess is quickly drawn into Ah Ma’s quest for vengeance, which involves saving an old temple from a determined and ultra-wealthy developer. That temple is home to the equally vengeful god known as the Black Water Sister.

In this fascinating and deadly world of spirit mediums and Chinese gods, Jess is just as lost as I was. She makes a wonderful guide, without sacrificing any of her character. She reads as an actual college grad struggling with major life changes and to find her life’s direction. All the while, the world seems to be closing in on her in every direction.
 
The writing gave me a crystal clear image of Jess’s Penang. Sizzling food, decaying temples and blazing heat felt real through author Zen Cho’s descriptions. I was so impressed with Cho’s ability to fuse Jess’s contemporary language with the ancient and mysterious, giving Black Water Sister a strong fantasy atmosphere even as Jess comments on hipster cafes.
 
Black Water Sister is both action-driven and emotional, and filled with relevant (yet timeless) messages. Abused characters are given agency and compassion in a thoughtful way, so that each character, and their pain, felt as real as the settings without ever approaching grimdark status.
 
This story rolls on convincingly and with a lot of heart, no matter how Jess’s life screeches to a halt. By the end, I felt like I went on the journey with her, in the best possible way.

To learn more about this author, visit zencho.org.

Girl of Shadow and Glass release day!

You can get this (new adult dark fantasy novel)!

At long last, my first novel is here! I’ll be keeping the price at 99c for a short while to celebrate and because, you know, marketing.

If you’re still not sure if this book is for you, you can now head over to Smashwords to download a free sample in your preferred file format!

Getting this novel out was a really surprising process for me in so very many ways. I never thought I’d have quite so many file conversion issues! Luckily, I got it all sorted in time and there will be even more retailer options in the days to come.

I would like to say I can relax now, but there’s always more to do. I do hope to be back at work on revisions for the next book in the series, Girl of Glass and Fury, sometime next week.

So what am I looking forward to most? Reading, of course! I barely started Elm Vince’s Tapestry of Night before crunch time started (I previously reviewed a book she co-authored with Helena Rookwood, Throne of Sandand snatched up her debut solo book when it came out)I can’t wait to get back to it. Plus, reading before bed is one of my favorite things. (Not sure my puppy cares for it, though!)

I’ll have more news in the coming days, including about my newsletter exclusive serial novel. Till then, stay healthy, everyone!

-CKB
Author of Girl of Shadow and Glass
😊

Girl of Shadow and Glass is almost here!

I’m happy and relieved to say I just turned in my manuscript for the Kindle edition of Girl of Shadow and Glass! Woo! The ebook is available for 99c for a limited time.

In the coming days, Girl of Shadow and Glass will be available on other retailers, but you can check out this handy universal book link and see where to get it now.

For those of you who don’t know, Girl of Shadow and Glass has its humble beginnings in my first foray into epublishing, the novella A Shadow in Sundown. This release is a completely redone coming of age tale, and will be my first novel.

Also to come, I’ll be making the first several chapters available for those who sign up for my mailing list. Till then, take care.

Go Bills!

-CKB

The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

Welcome to The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog! If you’re looking for your next read, titles are listed alphabetically and divided by indie and traditional publishing. (If you look closely enough, you may even find some non-fantasy books.) And while you’re here, don’t forget to check out the author interviews and special features, which include book lists by theme!

Independently Published Books: C.K. Beggan‘s Indie Book Spotlight

Fiction

Reviews of the best (and my favorite) fantasy and speculative fiction novels I’ve come across so far, all by indie authors.

Atheist’s Angel (Anna Velfman)

Avalanche (Anna Velfman)

Between Jobs (W.R. Gingell)

Bride of the Shadow King (Sylvia Mercedes)

The Cracked Slipper (Stephanie Alexander)

The Crown Plonked Queen (Andrew Einspruch)

A Darkness at the Door (Intisar Khanani)

The Daughter of Earth (Callie Pey)

Daughter of Shades (Silvia Mercedes)

Droplets of Magic (Emily Bybee)

The Eastie Threat (Andrew Einspruch)

An Enchantment of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Enchanting Fate (Ashley Evercott)

The Fox and the Briar (Chesney Infalt)

Frozen Hearts and Death Magic (Day Leitao)

Guardians of Talons and Snares (Anastasis Blythe) – live 9/27/22

Heart of Cinders (J. Darlene Everly)

Her Dreadful Will (Rebecca F. Kenney)

Icedancer (Anna Velfman)

Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses (Anastasis Blythe)

Married by Wind (Angela J. Ford)

Married by Fate (Jenny Hickman)

Music of the Night (Angela J. Ford)

Of Heists and Hexes (S.L. Prater)

Of Silver and Secrets (Sylvia Mercedes)

Phoenix Heart, Season One, Episode One: Ashes (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

The Prince and the Poisoner (Helena Rookwood)

A Promise of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

The Purple Haze (Andrew Einspruch)

Rise of the Fire Queen (Alisha Klapheke)

The Road to Farringale (Charlotte E. English)

Stolen by the Shadow King (Alisha Klapheke)

Sunbolt (Intisar Khanani)

Spindle (W.R. Gingell)

Sting Magic (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

Snowblind (Anna Velfman)

Tapestry of Night (Elm Vince)

The Thief and the Throne (Helena Rookwood)

A Trial of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Throne of Sand (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

To Carve a Fae Heart (Tessonja Odette)

Twelve Days of Faery (W.R. Gingell)

Nonfiction

Traditionally Published Books: Reviews of All My Favs

My favorite books in the fantasy, noir, literary and speculative fiction genres that have been released by traditional publishers.

Author Interviews: One Author to Another

A new category! In which I do my best to pose thoughtful questions to some of my favorite indie authors.

Anastasis Blythe, live October 1, 2022 – 11 Questions with Anastasis Blythe, author of Guardians of Talons and Snares

Chesney Infalt, June 3, 2022 – 10 Questions with Chesney Infalt, author of The Fox and the Briar

Anna Velfman, April 15, 2022 – 10 Questions with author Anna Velfman, author of Snowblind

Andrew Einspruch, May 25, 2021 – Questions with the hilarious, award-winning author of The Light Bearer

Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince, April 10, 2021 – Questions with the co-authors of An Enchantment of Thorns

Special Features: Authors, Books and Writing

From Ask an Indie Author to trivia to Book Lists, find blog posts featuring by topic, writing tips andIndie Author Spotlights.

Indie Author Spotlight: Tessonja Odette – August 2022

Of Thieves and Shadows cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – live 8/23/22

Rise of the Fire Queen is here! (Book News) (8/7/22)

Ask an Indie Author with Ashley Evercott – How I make my book covers shine on social media? (7/15/22)

Indie Author Spotlight: Anthea Sharp – June 2022

Six of Crows month content (June 2022)

8 Fantasy Books with Delicious Cliffhanger Endings (Including Six of Crows)

9 Fantastic quotes from the Six of Crows duology

10 Books to read after Six of Crows

Kaz Brekker and my Fjerdan heist level character hangover

Trivia: Do You Know Kaz Brekker?

Trivia: How well do you know Six of Crows?

Trivia: How well do you know the Six of Crows duology characters?

From Storm and Shadow cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/30/22

16+ Awesome Asian-Inspired Fantasy Worlds – 5/27/22 – A book list with settings from the Middle East to the Pacific Islands

Weaver cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/10/22

Vow of the Shadow King cover reveal (BOMM tour) – 5/4/22

A Throne of Shadows Cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 4/28/22

A Darkness at the Door cover reveal – 4/22/22 – in which I discuss the Dauntless Path series and reveal the fabulous cover

Retellings to Thrill Any Fantasy Reader – A complete list of fairy tale and classic book retellings I’ve reviewed on the blog

Supporting Diversity in Fantasy – A mission statement for the blog, plus links to authors who feature diverse characters in their work

Lessons from Bestsellers Part I (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – Learning from Hannah and Leo in The German Girlby Armando Lucas Correa

Lessons from Bestsellers Part II (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A look at the many sides of Ali in S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass

Lessons from Bestsellers Part III (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A mystery and a terrible truth rounds out Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water

5 Awkward Situations to Make Your MC Shine – Examples of awkwardness that endear main characters to readers in some of my favorite books