Book Review: The Roots That Clutch

Those who control the waters control all. They are the god-kings. 

The Roots That Clutch by A.E. Bross is the beginning of a series centered around found family, the struggle for survival and independence, and what it ultimately means to love someone knowing that doing so can lead to loss and heartbreak.

In a world without rain, steady access to water is a privilege enjoyed by few. What little can be found in wells and trickling from dying springs is heavily sought after. To thirst is to know suffering in the shadow of the god-kings that control the water source, tyrants that dominate bustling city-states under false divinity.

Under it all is magic, the thauma. To be a wielder of the thauma, a thaumaturge, is to be hunted and enslaved by the god-kings. 

In a disgraced city on the edge of civilization, we meet a young child, Tirzah, who in her desperation reveals her secret powers and begins a journey for freedom that may change the world of Theia forever.

This is the first book in the Sands of Theia series, and so much of the book is centered around the growth of Tirzah from a five-year-old ‘curse’ tortured by her older sister into a woman running from her past and the ones that would enslave her.

We’re introduced to several characters throughout that become her found family, happiness a fleeting thing that she clings to as harshly as it’s torn from her grasp. Her elder sister Naomi, the steadfast Bariah Iram, and others along the way. Throughout it all ties the question in the back of Tirzah’s mind—is she the curse that her sister Sathar claimed her to be, or is the world simply a cruel place where happiness is found in inches?

The Good:

When we talk fantasy novels and series, the worldbuilding will often be modeled at least partially after the Tolkien genre of Medieval and mythologically influenced fiction. This model is a quick shorthand to get readers into the story more quickly by allowing them to focus on what is different from other fantasy books, rather than focusing too much on what is the same.

Bross took a different approach in The Roots that Clutch. The world is inspired by Arabic climate and culture, something that isn’t unheard of in fantasy but not as common. It was refreshing to get a different take, and the worldbuilding was so seamless it never once got in the way of the story—a sign of a steady hand backed by research.

There was also a lot of diversity, without any of it seeming forced or unnatural. Bariah Iram, one of Tirzah’s adopted family, is non-binary, or neutral as it’s called in Theia. There are same-sex relationships represented in the story. None of this is seen as odd or unusual, but as another natural aspect of the culture.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that about halfway through the story, I came upon a section that had a pretty significant emotional effect on me, to the point where I had to stop reading for a while to process. Without spoiling anything, suffice to say that the section was extremely well written, and the suffering Bross brought out on the page affected me so deeply that it brought up a lot of pain from my own life that I haven’t fully processed. This wasn’t a detriment of the book, rather a testament to how well Bross managed to evoke emotion through these characters that it brought me to tears.

Should You Read It?

As always, please see the triggers before you consider picking up this book. I would like to add that there are areas that can get pretty heavy so practice self-compassion and awareness if you’re reading this (or any book really) and need to step away for a while to process like I did. You can always come back when you’re in a better place.

That said, this book is a great beginning to what feels to be a pretty epic fantasy series in a world that is both unique and treacherous. There are no guarantees for safety in any corner, but even in a world where every shadow can mean danger, there’s time for happiness and joy. That’s what makes this book great. It doesn’t promise a happily ever after but it does promise there will be happiness along the way.

If you like fantasy with a twist; epic reads with treachery, assassins, magic, and fighting; tales of broken families filled with betrayal and revenge; or just want a book you can’t put down, I highly recommend The Roots that Clutch. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Spark Level:

I rated The Roots that Clutch as spark level Torch. I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned along with Tirzah with me throughout my day, remembering that found family is stronger than blood and that the happiness of now, together, is worth a million tomorrows. 

Trigger Warnings: Contains depictions of abuse, violence, and death/dying.

Book Review: Tiny Tales

Tiny tales that cover everything from love, to heartbreak, to murder, and are sure to satisfy even the shortest of attention spans.

I first came across Tiny Tales by Jana Jenkins when I was starting to initiate a new reading habit. It had been nearly a decade since I was an active reader, and while I was making progress, I was struggling to find books that would hold my attention. Tiny Tales is a series of bite-sized stories that range in genre, but all of which leave you with an aftertaste that lingers.

Tiny Tales is a collection of microfiction—stories that are three-hundred words or less. In Jana Jenkins case, these stories are the size of a tweet, and were originally posted on her twitter under the #vss365 tag (very short stories 365.) They are at most 280 characters long to fit into the size of a tweet.

It’s broken into five sections: The Wicked Ones, The Wholesome Ones, The Creepy Ones, The Bittersweet Ones, and The Cheeky Ones. Each section has a different tone—you can guess which is which from the section titles. Though each story shares a mood, the characters, settings, genres, and plot are different in each individual microstory.

The Good:

Many of the stories in Tiny Tales employ a literary technique that always, always gets me excited, because it’s one of my favorites that I often use in my own fiction. Most of the stories have a plot twist at the climax or at the end of the action. That is to say, many of the stories lead the viewer into thinking it’s going in one direction, but pull the rug under us surprising us with a creepy, amusing, or heartwarming twist. This technique is a great tool in microfiction which often relies on extreme plot changes for intrigue, and Jenkins wields it well.

The advantage of having the stories fit into categories is that you can pick a story based on the mood you’re in or the mood you aspire to. Feeling down? Read some of The Cheeky Ones. Need a good cry? Read some of The Wholesome ones. The brevity means you’re not committed to spending large chunks of time on any one story, so you can be flexible on where you’re reading.

There are some stories that broke my heart, some that gave me chills, and some that literally made me laugh out loud. It was a rollercoaster that was well worth the minute cost I paid for such a wide variety of moments.

Should You Read It?

The beauty of Tiny Tales is that the stories are so compact. You can read through the stories in one big go through like any other book, but if you have the Kindle app on your phone, you can also read it story by story between waiting in doctor’s offices, between meetings, or on your break at work. The stories themselves can be read in a minute or less, making them easy to swallow quickly in short spurts. This made them such a good break for my mind, taking me a bit out of my life and into another world for just a little while. A small escape.

And that may be the biggest strength of Tiny Tales: it teaches non-readers the fine art of how to escape into a book. When I saw the premise for Tiny Tales, it was like it was written for people like myself. We’re trained by our technology, advertising, and media to not give anything any more than a few seconds of our attention at a time to begin with. It’s no wonder many of us struggle with such an attention-intensive activity as reading a book. While by no means should the novel go by the wayside, there’s something to be said about books like Tiny Tales being used as a bridge between the inattentive reader and the one who can read a full novel. It’s a teaching tool as much as an enjoyable experience.

Spark Level:

I rated Tiny Tales by Jana Jenkins a Spark Level of Book of Matches. Each tale made a small spark that gave me an inkling of an emotion, a tiny moment of time in a life not my own.

Trigger Warnings: None

Book Review: Crowman

Touch the light. Hold the light. The light burns. The light runs away. Hold the light. Lock the light away.

Crowman by David Rae is an ethereal dark fantasy with a striking cast of flawed characters, immaculate world-building, and a swirling miasma of a plot that left me guessing until the very last word.

The story opens around Utas, a silk merchant on the road to a nearby town. Along the rainy road, he picks up the mysterious traveler, Erroi, tall and thin and of few words. After a bandit tries to hold him up for his wares, we begin to learn there is mystery surrounding both the traveler, and Utas’ cargo.

Utas is fleeing the City of the Sun, where the darkness, Vatu, keeps the Sun in a box and opens it but once a year. Vatu wants Utas’ daughter, why we do not know, but Utas’ will do anything in his power to keep her safe. But Utas’ daughter, Alaba, is weakening in the darkness.

As Utas continues his travels, others are pulled into the gravity of his situation, until we are left with a varied cast of characters that are struggling to survive in a world where survival means that no one’s soul is left unscathed. 

The Good:

Though the cast of Crowman seems ever-expanding, There are no ‘throwaway’ characters. Everyone serves multiple purposes to bring the story forward. 

Mukito became one of my favorites, as we see a transformation in him from beginning to end more than any other character, but each of the main characters had their own time to shine.

The world-building is first rate, Rae crafting a world where the Sun shines only one day of the year down to how the economic system would be affected for different classes and ranges from the epicenter. You can tell there was no stone left unturned as far as research went. It definitely shows that Rae is passionate about this world he’s created, and it’s so easy to get immersed into it.

Should You Read It?:

This story is dark. There is nothing included that seems gratuitous, but there are no holds barred either. So make sure you check the trigger warnings below before you read if you’re concerned.

Some of the truths discussed especially by Erroi and Utas can be like nails to swallow, but it makes the reader think. It’s what I love about Erroi as a character, he’s a mischievous, seemingly erratic character who has a plan that the reader can only guess at, but his truths hit home. That said, I would suggest readers make sure they’re in a good mental place to be pondering such things before tackling such a raw, emotional book.

There are areas of the story that are dream-like and experimental. Along some parts of the journey, the threads never quite weave together tight enough to be certain what is real and what is a fantastical reimagining of events. While I loved the uncertainty personally, if you’re looking for a concrete, straightforward book, this won’t be your cup of tea.

Spark Level: 

I rated Crowman by David Rae as Torchlight, lighting our way as we plumb the depths of what we will become, do, or return to, in order to protect the things we cherish.

The Trigger Warnings: Mentions or Rape, Attempted Rape, Torture

Book Review: Creativity Brewing

“Whether you like light roast, medium roast, or dark roast, this collection serves it all!”

Creativity Brewing by Kevin Barrick and Jason Schneider is a flash fiction anthology filled with nuanced metaphor, a swath of genres, and emotionality that drips into every single word.

I was immediately hooked with the first story, Rifts and Orange Orchards, about living between two cultures and what it means to choose diversity and love. I was immersed in stories like The Fruit Eating Hyena that read like passed-down fables. Other stories, such as the darker Losing Control, left me hoping for a full book series of the premise—a testament to how much emotional draw Barrick has been able to introduce in such few words.

The Good:

There weren’t any ‘duds’ in my opinion in this anthology, but there were certainly some that spoke to me more deeply than others.

The Lion Who Forgot How To Roar starts innocuous enough, but hit me in the feels when we got to the crux of his dilemma. My Lighthouse is one that got to me deeply as a widow who’s still in the midst of their grieving. Saturn’s Queen got me pumped to read a full novel of the story (hint, hint, Mr. Barrick!) The Forbidden Library Beneath the Sea was a nice interlude of pursuing our curiosities when the world feels like it’s closing in on us

Despite all the disparate genres and plotlines, I was impressed by how each of the stories still seemed to belong in the same anthology. Barrick and Schneider’s writing styles have certain emotions and lessons that many of the stories come back to. There are also technical tendencies within the actual verbiage, and especially Barrick’s leaning on unique description and metaphor to push the story forward.

Should You Read It?

As always, see the Trigger Warnings section below if you’re concerned about the content within the stories.

Unlike novels, the strength of an anthology is that there’s something for everyone, and Creativity Brewing delivers on this. There are stories across many different genres; from fables to fantasy, science fiction to thriller, murder mystery to horror.

Despite the different subject matter and storyline, Barrick and Schneider do a great job of setting the stories up in an order that keeps the emotionality at a logical level as you’re reading through. It starts off light, gets grittier towards the middle, and ends with a feeling of hopefulness and contemplation. The transition between the three tones is seamless, making it something you could easily read in one sitting without feeling any ‘emotional whiplash’, or one by one if you want to savor it.

That said, if you are a die-hard fan of longer fiction, this may not be your cup of tea. But I would highly recommend watching out for Kevin Barrick’s long-form stories. Keep an eye out on his Amazon Author Page to be updated with future releases.

Spark Level: I rate Creativity Brewing as Hearth Fire. The stories are something that can be read piece-meal in front of a fireplace before bed as a way to escape into something that will entertain you as well as bring you to other worlds. You may accidentally succumb to the one more story motto and read the whole thing in one go, but who am I to judge?

Trigger Warnings:  In the story My Lighthouse: Major Depression, Suicidal Ideation & Attempt

Book Review: The Pyre Starter

With the strike of a match, the flame is lit— but the flames can turn all you love into a pyre.

The Pyre Starter by Jaimie N. Schock is full of heartfelt dialogue, engaging action scenes, introspection on what family means and what lengths we’ll go to in order to protect the ones we love.

We begin with a despondent Dakota, living a jaded and meaningless life while sporadically attending classes at a university. We dive right into his lowest moment—attempting to end his own life.

A college acquaintance, Terrell, attempts to persuade him to give life another go by sharing with him a secret kept behind locked doors for thousands of years: magic is real.

A disbelieving Dakota follows Terrell on an adventure of love and misfortune that spans a cross-country road trip, monumental loss, and new beginnings. The ending will shatter your heart to pieces, then put the broken remains back together again. Not ever the same, but for all it’s mismatched and worn-down edges, still whole.

The Good:

I fully enjoyed the wild ride Schock takes us on. While predictability and tropes are an acceptable vehicle for story in genre fiction, Schock relies on none of them. As a result, I couldn’t predict the next steps of the story as it emerged, let alone the outcome, something I normally pride myself on being able to do.

It was like a puzzle with disparate pieces, until the last ten pages where it all came together in the only way it could. I can’t imagine what Schock has in store for the other six books in the series.

Though The Pyre Starter has a solid plot, the story is very much carried by the genuine and relatable characters.

Dakota sees nothing left to live for at the beginning, but through love, found family, and necessity, he transforms into a character with the fortitude and charisma to carry the series as a protagonist. I related to Dakota on a deeper level than I do most protagonists, and found many of his thoughts echoing my own. The dark places the author goes to is presented without melodrama, but with a tactical observance that allows the reader enough space not to go down that road themselves while reading.

Terrell starts as a character that exudes joy and curiosity, but his obsession with the talismans and revenge blind him to the possibilities of love and healthy companionship. All of the characters experience a transformation, but it’s up to their own personal proclivities as to whether it’s for better or worse.

Should You Read It?:

I’d like to give a forewarning to watch for the triggers if you are prone to having problems reading about certain issues.

That said, what I liked about The Pyre Starter is it’s a modern fantasy novel where diversity is a feature but not the main event. Diverse representation means along with having stories that deal heavily with those topics, we have stories where diversity exists but is not the plotline. While those stories absolutely need to be told, especially from Own Voices, there also a need for stories where diversity is normal and celebrated.

In this book, the issues of homophobia, racism, and ableism aren’t ignored, but it doesn’t become the impetus of the story. The diversity is just a backdrop to the main plot and themes. Diversity naturally exists around us if we let it, and Schock lets it. It’s refreshing.

If you are instead looking for a story where diversity becomes the crux of the conflict, this story may not be for you. There are many wonderful reads by Own Voices that do this, including The American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Dreadnought by April Daniels, and I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver.

Spark Level:

I rated The Pyre Starter, The Talisman War Book 1, as Wildfire. It’s a heavy-hitting coming of age story with a combination of action-packed scenes and heartwarming interludes that warmed my soul like a campfire.

The Trigger Warnings: Major Depression, Suicidal Ideation & Attempt, Explicit Violence, Sexual Content 

Book Reviews

Every other week I release a book review. You can find a list of here of past weeks, and sign up for the newsletter to receive them in your email as they come out!

Creativity Brewing by Kevin Barrick
A flash fiction anthology filled with nuanced metaphor, a swath of genres, and emotionality that drips into every single word.

The Roots That Clutch by A.E. Bross
The first book in a series centered around found family, the struggle for survival and independence, and what it ultimately means to love someone knowing that doing so can lead to loss and heartbreak.

The Crowman by David Rae
An ethereal dark fantasy with a striking cast of flawed characters, immaculate world-building, and a swirling miasma of a plot that left me guessing until the very last word.

The Pyre Starter, by Jaimie N. Schock
Full of heartfelt dialogue, engaging action scenes, introspection on what family means and what lengths we’ll go to in order to protect the ones we love.

Tiny Tales, by Jana Jenkins
A series of bite-sized stories that range in genre, but all of which leave you with an aftertaste that lingers.