@UnRealms #bookreview #mystery #crimefiction #psychologicalthriller @JenniferHillier

This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who's been searching for the truth all these years . . .

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong's remains are discovered in the woods near Geo's childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he's something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo's first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela's death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?

Cathrina's Review

Listening to the audio book, I cringed many times. I was terribly disturbed by the story. The author, Jennifer Hillier held nothing back, painting a horrific picture of murder, death, and the main characters stint in prison.

However, the enticing narrator had me on page one. And while the story was alarming, I couldn't put it down. Every blunt detail crawled under my skin and grabbed me.

I've read many reviews, and disagree with those readers complaining about the rushed ending. It was excellent. I couldn't have written a better ending. Throughout all the pulsating trauma, I could breathe again, and found a smile on my face.


The Importance of Book Reviews Especially For Speculative Fiction Tales


I'm sure you've heard authors pleading for reviews, and while they are important for all writers, they're even more so for speculative fiction. Romance books get a lot of ratings, and that's followed closely by crime and thrillers. Fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk and everything hard to categorize in speculative fiction are lowest on the list when it comes to reviews.

Why is this? It may be readers feel they can't review something that isn't so easily slipped into a definite genre slot or they're timid about sharing their thoughts on world-building or societal issues. They might be intimidated by what they believe are intellectual books, and there are others who consider speculative fiction "lazy intellectualism." No matter what movies and shows we see in the media, readers still shy away from fantasy and sci-fi books.

No matter the genre though, reviews are beneficial to both the authors and readers.

For authors:
- reviews help them see what readers like and what they don't like.
- they can help motivate authors.
- the more reviews a book has, the more visible it is to other readers.
- reviews help authors and readers connect.

Reviews are even more important to readers. The number one reason a reader buys a book is because they know and like and an author. Yet to gain new readers, the best way to do so is through word of mouth, and that is done primarily through reviews. Over fifty percent of readers state they read reviews before they consider buying a book from an author they don't know.

Sometimes speculative fiction can be hard to categorize, but readers shouldn't feel the need to do so. Reviews can be simple. Something along the lines of: "I liked that there were fairies in a steampunk world flying on airships and using magical cannons." This tells potential readers this is a mix of genres, and even if they are attracted to one aspect of that statement, they may like it as a whole.

While some people may fear one and two star reviews, those can also be very helpful. A person might say: "I hated it. Too much elf politics." Another reader may enjoy politics in a book and be happy to discover there is a lot of it in the story. Not every reader is going to like a book.

Writing a review doesn't need to be complicated. The star rating is easy to follow. Don't feel bad if you give a book three or two stars while saying: "I liked Fred. He made me laugh. I didn't like annoying Marcy." It's not an insult as long as it's an honest review.

Speculative fiction is a great big melting pot of characters, worlds, and ideas. It may intimidate readers who might want to venture into the genre, but reviews will greatly help bring in those readers. I tell myself that writing reviews is like a super power as a voracious reader who wants other readers to like fantasy and sci-fi as much as I do. A super power which you, too, can have if you put the reviewer cape for a minute or two after finishing a book.


Happy Holidays from the Untethered Realms Authors - Our Favorite Holiday Reads

 “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Happy holidays from the authors of Untethered Realms!

What is your favorite holiday read?

Christine Rains - Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. The Hogfather, Discworld's equivalent of Father Christmas, is missing and Death takes his place. As Death goes about his job, his granddaughter Susan tries to find the Hogfather and must deal with an assassin looking for him too. Hilarious, surprising, and wonderfully fun. It's a different sort of holiday read, but right up my alley.

Gwen Gardner - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is always my go-to Christmas read. Ebenezer "Scrooge" became synonymous with someone who hates Christmas. But through the visit of three ghosts over the course of a single night, Scrooge learns the real meaning of Christmas. 

Here's my favorite quote: 
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.

“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”


Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - The Rayatana Series by Tyrean Martinson #scifi


Blurb: A spaceship in disguise,

An Earth girl searching for a sense of home,

And a Thousand Years' War between alien races,

All collide on a summer afternoon.

An old movie theater welcomes Amaya in and wraps her up in the smell of popcorn and licorice. But one sunny afternoon during a matinee, the movie screen goes dark. The theater rumbles.

Amaya gets trapped in the middle of an ancient alien conflict. Angry and frightened, Amaya entangles herself in a life-changing cultural misunderstanding with Sol, a young alien who keeps omitting key information, even while they're on the run from his enemies.

What will it take to survive a battle between alien races involved in an ancient war?

Christine's review: Amaya is settled into an old movie theater with friends when suddenly the whole place shakes as if an earthquake. While her friends make it out, Amaya is held back from jumping by Sol (seemingly a guy who works there) as the theater now spaceship propels up into space. Now she's in the middle of a centuries old war and bonded to a cute alien who she doesn't know if she can trust or not. There are so many things she doesn't understand, but she has to learn what she needs soon or she may not survive her next trip through space.

A fantastic start to this YA sci-fi series. I immediately felt sympathy for Amaya, dealing with normal Earth teen problems like her parents being divorced and trying to fit in at a new place. Then the new place becomes a whole new world as the story immediately blasts off with the spaceship. I loved that the ship was disguised as a movie theater and the descriptions of what the high tech the everyday Earthling things hid. We're introduced to a lot of history and aliens in this novella, but it didn't bore me and the tension kept taut throughout. It's a solid ground to set the series on, and I can't wait to dive in to the next book.

Blurb: Amaya is supposed to bring peace to the galaxy. Which is tough when she’s being held for crimes against the Neutral Zone. Her imprisonment is on her own ship with her own crew. But close quarters create tension.

Honestly, her role as Rayatana is a mess.

She may never get to use her powers for anything good. Not if her teacher continues to keep secrets, and not if her powers keep harming others. Putting her mother in a coma should put her in prison, but she has a mission. She wants to bring peace to her people. She needs to become the Rayatana.

Christine's review: Amaya is the child of three worlds, the Rayatana, and she is prophesized to bring peace to the galaxy. She struggles with what to do as she didn't grew up with the knowledge of the vast peoples and the galactic politics. What she must get through first is the Trial of Integrity. In a simulation, not all is as it seems. Amaya wants only to help everyone and bring every-lasting peace, but to do so, she must learn how to control her own power before it destroys everything and everyone she loves.

This is the second book in the YA sci-fi series, The Rayatana. This one is even better than the first! The reader already has the base of the galaxy and the various people. There are many layers in the history and current politics, and even different forces within each species. Amaya tries her best to maneuver through all of it and admirably stays true to her heart and morals. I especially liked Cheleth, the living planet of a species similar to what we would call dryads. It is at once high tech and beautifully natural. As each piece of the action-filled plot unfolds, more surprises are revealed. I cannot wait for the next installment of this fabulous series.


Caution: Over-scheduling Pile-On!

 In the excitement of getting out of my covid cave and rejoining the world, I find that I've waaay over-scheduled myself. It resembles burnout but there are differences. Since I'm now double-vaccinated with a booster shot, I have carefully attended a movie, a concert, and some indoor eating. It feels freeing and hopeful for the future. I want more concerts, more live experiences. 

I am also doing Zoom and online teaching, conferences, and author events. I figured that since I aced Zoom and Canvas and IG live, these online events would not add much to my workload. Wrong. They are still labor intensive, stressful, and time consuming. 

In my exuberance, I signed onto four online author conferences. Two whizzed by in the last three weeks and I still haven't watched the videos! Granted, they are accessible for a month at least, but just the thought of watching all of the lectures is exhausting. While at the same time, I want to see them all. It's too much. It makes my brain hurt.

One excellent thing was that I got a NOV BookBub, granted a free one. It's hard to get any kind, so I consider that a huge accomplishment. Witch of the Wild Beasts is at the time of this post, #1 in Paranormal Witches and Wizards Romance and #1 in Historical Fantasy and #95 in all of free books. Not too bad.

Here's the link in case you want to nab a free copy. Free through NOV. 

Amazon USA, UK, AU, CA, Apple, Nook, Kobo

And some blurbs:

“Adored every moment; from the imaginative, gothic plot to the compelling characters!” - Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

“Witch of the Wild Beasts is a beautiful story… absolutely heartbreaking yet also completely heartwarming. Evalina is such a lovable protagonist, and her rag-tag group of friends is just as interesting. I could absolutely read a book dedicated to Dolly!” 

Question: Do you get burnout or do you ever waaaay over-schedule? How do you handle it?


Book Review: Elemental Thief by Rachel Morgan


Elemental Thief is book 1 in the young adult fantasy series, the Ridley Kayne Chronicles, by Rachel Morgan. Set in a futuristic dystopian-esque environment, the Global Simultaneous Magic-Energy Conversion caused a devastating world-changing magical overload, which subsequently caused magic to be outlawed, and created a deep divide between the have and have-nots. Ridley Kayne is like a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, in order to narrow that gap. 

Magic, in a land where it has been outlawed, is Ridley's superpower. It's how she's able to slip through the cracks and infiltrate high end properties to steal valuable items, sell them to her fence, collect the money and give to those in need. Chaos is bound to explode when using magic. Using it is risky. But in this world, magic for some is as inherent as the air they breathe. Tamping it down and denying it has dire consequences.

As in most YA, Ridley has a love interest in her nemesis Archer who is good looking and full of secrets. I've no doubt we are going to be seeing the pair working together more in subsequent books because they have a world to right again. 

Though not listed as a dystopian read, the setting in this book has the vibe of a planet damaged by human's overuse of magic and has echoes of the challenges we're now facing with out own planet. It reminded me that we are living in the future now...an interesting thought. 

There is plenty of action in this book, fast-paced with lots of twists and turns. A murder, a wrongful arrest, and a quest for justice where maybe none is due…

Lots to like and hold your attention. I had forgotten how much I liked YA and this book reminded me.

If you'd like to read it, it's FREE on Amazon


Seasonal Reads

Do you find yourself drawn to reread certain books during specific seasons? I certainly do. I never think about rereading The Hobbit until the approach of Thanksgiving in late November. I suspect I associate hobbits with rural life and Thanksgiving is kind of a harvest celebration. I can't imagine attempting another pass through Crime and Punishment except in the dead of winter. I associate Russia with winter, which is silly since Russia experiences all the seasons.

When October rolls around I immediately think of two books: Roger Zelazny's A Night In the Lonesome October and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla.

A Night In the Lonesome October is Zelazny's last novel. Set in late Victorian England, the story tells of a "game," a competition between openers and closers, concerning a gate between this world and the realm of the Great Old Ones. The story draws heavily on Lovecraft's mythos as well as characters from Victorian gothic fiction. Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes, among others, populate the tale. Each player in the game has a familiar. Snuff, the guard dog and familiar belonging to Jack, tells the story. It's fun to pick out all the references to other stories within the narrative. For better or worse, this novel inspired me to craft some fantasy tales with a cat as the protagonist.

The title comes from a line in the first stanza of Edgar Allan Poe's "Ulalume."

The skies they were ashen and sober;

    The leaves they were crisped and sere—

    The leaves they were withering and sere;

It was night in the lonesome October

    Of my most immemorial year;

Carmilla first appeared in the magazine The Dark Blue in serial form from December 1871 through March 1872 and later as part of Le Fanu's collection In a Glass Darkly (1872). Laura, the narrator and protagonist of Carmilla, lives with her father and two governesses in a schloss in Styria, an Austrian province near Hungary. Laura and her father are English expatriates. Her mother, a Styrian lady, died when Laura was an infant. Laura recalls that when she was six, she experienced a nightmare vision of a beautiful young woman in her bedchamber who lay beside her and bit her on the chest, although Laura's nurse found no wounds on her. Laura is nineteen when the events of her narrative take place and leads a lonely, isolated life in the Austrian countryside. 

Following a carriage accident a young girl named Carmilla is placed under Laura's father's care for three months. Laura recognizes Carmilla as the woman from her dream. Carmilla responds with a story of a similar dream involving Laura. Carmilla evinces many strange habits, including apparent sleepwalking, and complains of incessant languor. The pair become close friends despite Carmilla's occasional romantic advances towards Laura.

Yes, this is a vampire story so Laura's life is about to take a sharp turn for the very weird. A highly entertaining story.

Do any books call to you at a particular season? Let us know in the comments.