The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

“When my mother, Ella, got the letter, a violent shudder ran through her. That was before she opened it. The envelope was creamy green, printed with her name and the address of the place we were staying. We’d arrived the night before, and I wondered how it found us.”

I felt like I was running as fast as I could to read this. It never let up. It was very enthralling to read and while I thought that I knew what direction the plot would take, it didn’t and I was wrong.

I don’t know what I would liken it to. I think it’s a bit of a one off.

Alice is growing up with her mum Ella, they are always moving on. If they stay put too long, bad luck seems to reach out and spoil what they have.

When a letter arrives one day, Ella tells Alice that they are now free to settle down and build a life. That life involves Alice going to a school where she meets Ellery Finch. Finch is the one person whom she seems to be able to link up with. And it is Finch that she turns to when Ella goes missing.

Then the two of them, Alice and Finch, set off to find The Hazel Wood, so that Alice can rescue her mum.

Which all sounds very mundane, but it isn’t because there are strange beings abroad, right out of the pages of a horrific fairy story. They seem to be after Alice!

So rather than spoil a good story, which is Alice, I suggest you read the book for yourself.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

4/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.
To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .

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Pendragon by Mike Weatherley

This book is about a ‘decurion’ in the roman army whose family home is ravaged and destroyed by Saxon raiders. He additionally loses both his parents and his beloved wife in the raid. He and his brother {also a decurion} obtain 10 days leave to ‘recover’ from their loss.

During that time they ride North to the ‘wall’ and join up with the battalions there. Although the battalions are known as ‘dragons’ due to their standards. Ambrosius is keen to follow through on a plan that he has been working on since his devastation of his loss. His brother is supporting him and riding alongside him, despite not knowing ‘the plan’. So even Victor is surprised at Ambrosius’ actions during the battalions multi-faith ceremony.

And from there, it is history, of sorts (in other words, you will have to read it for yourself).

There was a short explanatory section at the front giving the background and details of the story, in such a manner as to not spoil the book for anyone. At the end of the book was a further explanatory along with references.

The language of the book was modern British English, though the explanatory had already given details of roman equivalents to give the reader a ‘setting’.

I liked that the author took the time to give a background to the story at the beginning, as I like to know how to pronounce names etc in my head as I’m reading. I did also like having the map of roman places to get my bearings in the story.

The longer explanatory at the end along with the references support the factual elements of the story and substantiate the ‘arthurian’ and ‘amazonian’ aspects.

The book is quite a short story (and having subsequently had communication with the author about this, I understand that this is due to a word limit imposed by the publisher), so I was disappointed when the story came to an end. I do look forward to the rest of the trilogy in due course, to see how the relationship between Ambrosius & Geneva (an amazon) continues.

This book will probably suit those who like books with historical reference. I have in mind the style of Ken Follett, when he wrote his historically based “pillars of the earth”.

“… he necessarily shucked-off his erstwhile hunched demeanour of a grieving widower, now standing straight and tall, once more, like the military man he was…”

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

4/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Pendragon: The Arthur Chronicles: 1

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Official description:
Ambrosius Aurelianus is a historically attested fifth century A.D. Christian Romano-British soldier. His regiment is one of few defending his Celtic homeland against pagan Anglo-Saxon pirates. In the year 485, Anglo-Saxons murder his wife and parents, while raiding local farms. Ambrosius then goes on a quest, galvanising the remaining British troops to hunt down all Anglo-Saxon tribes threatening his fellow Britons. He is accompanied by his younger brother, Victor (Uther in Celtic), who worries Ambrosius has a death wish to rejoin his wife in the next world. However, Ambrosius finds love again with Geneva, a woman serving in another cavalry regiment. Descended from the original 5,500 Sarmatians brought to Britain 300 years earlier, they retain the tradition of women fighting alongside men, like their ‘Amazonian’ ancestors. This regiment’s founding commander in Britain was: Lucius Artorius Castus!
Mike Weatherley grew up in the county of Kent (whose Latin name was Cantium), which was the first part of Roman Britain conquered by invading Anglo-Saxons in the late-fifth century A.D. Born in the Chinese year of the dragon, he always felt an affinity with those mythical creatures, as well as being fascinated with the legends of the mysterious ‘Arthur’, the British hero who fought those first Anglo-Saxons. Despite a career as a scientist, Mike always harboured the dream of writing a definitive version of Arthur’s story. How appropriate that his fifteen years of research on the subject reveal just how closely intertwined the worlds of the historical Arthur and dragons actually were. Having reached his solution to this mystery, Mike hopes his novel has given back to the British people their greatest cultural icon, who was previously stolen from history by writers of medieval fiction and Norman propaganda.

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A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon

“The lantern glowed with a silver and blue prismatic light which, seen through the lens of the kaleidoscope, appeared to be a wheel of knives, ever turning.”

John Henry Nyquist is a private investigator living in Nocturna and working (mostly) in Dayzone. Like most PI’s he has a cash-flow situation to manage and has to take what jobs he can to pay his way.

This latest job involves find a rich girl who has run away from home, her powerful father wants her back.

Somehow the case gets more complicated – the Quicksilver murders start to have an impact on things, and for the life of him, Nyquist can’t quite remember why!

His continual switching across time zones begins to affect him and he starts to think he is becoming to suffer from chronostasis.

Yet he continues on, driven, with his inner clock, tick, tick, ticking, keeping him moving onwards. Exploring Dayzone, the Dusk and Nocturna. Moving closer to his moment.

If anything, this book make me edgy, anxious and from time to time I paused in my reading. It was a complex story, fantastic and ghostly. I enjoyed it, yet as I said, I had to keep pausing and coming back to it. I didn’t settle in to it as I would have liked.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

3/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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The brilliant, mind-bending return to science fiction by one of its most acclaimed visionaries

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.

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Keeper of the Watch by Kristen L. Jackson

“They had been following the boy, Chase Walker, since his birthday, looking for signs of The Coupling. He had not been wearing the watch earlier this evening, so maybe there was still time.”

I liked the story and the characters, they were solid enough. I found the writing style a bit too young for me, I guess when you read below your age, that is bound to happen 🙂

The key character is Chase Walker, his Uncle Charlie died three weeks ago and he’s having trouble adjusting. He also feels like he is being stalked, which is weird as he’s never been one to worry about that sort of thing. Until his Uncle’s house (now his of course) is broken in to, though the police cannot find any evidence of such an event and simply advise him to lock his doors!

His best buddy is Mason Moore, he’s off to University soon. He reminds Chase that he has a football scholarship to look forward to, but Chase knows otherwise.

Later back at the house, Chase is sure that there is an intruder, again. This time there is a girl called Alyx and she tells him that she is there to help him.She wants him to put on the watch. Chase isn’t keen, it’s old and ungainly looking, despite its initial attraction when he first touched it.

The story continues with the introduction of hunters, they seek the watch and the bearer. Chase and Alyx avoid them as best they can. The adventure develops and gets more complicated (and likely to be spoilt if I write it here).

At times I found the writers style got in the way of my reading, realising that it was aimed at teens I was able to tolerate this. I expect that in the subsequent books the writing style will develop and improve, so I look forward to reading the next books (I did say that I enjoyed the story).

If you enjoy such things as ‘Sliders’ (the sci-fi & fantasy tv series), I anticipate that this will be highly suitable reading for you.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

3/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Chase Walker is beginning to doubt his own sanity. From the moment he turned eighteen, a strange paranoia has taken over his mind. It all started the moment he discovered his uncle’s old watch…
The watch calls to him. Though it beckons, he resists. His body strains toward it, blood pulsing, heart pounding in a mysterious and primitive need to connect with his uncle’s old beat up watch.
When sexy and mysterious Alyx saves his life, she promises answers. She talks of dimension travel, and wears a magical watch of her own…

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The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden,

“”It is a talisman, that thing,” Morozko said. He spoke as though he were choosing his words. “It may be some protection.””

This is book two, I haven’t read book one, but the story still worked for me.

Vasya has left home, her parents are dead, the villagers think she is a witch and will kill her if she returns. She doesn’t want the life of a woman in Rus, life in a convent or a tower. Vasya wishes for life as a traveller, on the move, experiencing new places. That is not something a woman can do.

Vasya rides Solovey, a bay stallion, with whom she is able to communicate. Solovey helps to keep Vasya safe wherever he can. But even immortal horses have their limitations.

Her brother Sasha is a monk and he too is a traveller. Wandering about the countryside doing the bidding of his masters.

There are characters in the story whose aim is to do mischief and mayhem in order to enrich their own lives. These are the people who are set against Vasya, Sasha and their companions. Vasya must hide herself under the guise of a boy throughout it all, in order to protect herself.

Morozko ‘Winter King’ is there on the periphery watching out for Vasya where he can, but he cannot reach into the city and that is where Vasya is most at risk, and where disaster hits.

I found myself worrying about Vasya when I was away from the book, there were parts where she was in dire straits and I couldn’t help but wonder what would come next.

A well written tale of the old gods of medieval Russia. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

5/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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The next in The Bear and the Nightingale trilogy.
For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…
The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.
Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

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WaR: Wizards and Robots by will.i.am & Brian David Johnson

“‘The Mechanical Men, The Mechanical Men, They came one day And stole life away. Beneath the sun We went underground To the heart of the ankh Where hope is found.’”

This is a children’s book therefore it is short. The concept is one of a world (our world effectively) in which there is magic (wielded by Wizards) and also Robots (who have come from the future).

The main characters are a schoolgirl named Ada Luring (and her mum Sara) and a boy wizard named Geller (son of the Wizard Elder).

Geller has been asleep for 500 years and his nightmares have awoken him. His father sends him on a mission with a group of Wizards aiming to destroy the ‘first robot’. Things don’t go to plan and Geller is left behind by the other wizards. He escapes, with help, and returns to the underground hideaway of the wizards. He discovers the existence of Ada and is drawn to her.

Ada is a ‘techno-nerd’ and doesn’t fit in at school. Her mum is trying to build the first intelligent robot to win a competition, which means Ada doesn’t get much attention from her, so has ‘free reign’ on how she goes about her daily routine.

The robots need to save the world in which they exist, in the future. They need the help of Ada and ultimately Geller. Somehow the book contrives to get them all together to give them this chance.

The story is quite fast paced, so although it is short, you do get your story’s worth. I would certainly recommend it to young school children. It may even encourage some weaker readers that enjoy wizard or robot stories, particularly as it has will.i.am as one of the authors.

The only off putting thing I found was the numbers at the start of EVERY line, even if mid-sentence. It may well be that it was because it was a proof copy, in which case, it shouldn’t affect anyone reading the final version. With the numbers I give this book the stars indicated below. Should they be removed for the final edition, then you can add half to a full star to it, for the improved readability.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

3/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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An explosive action-adventure novel created by will.i.am and renowned futurist Brian David Johnson. Wizards are real, robots from the future are here, and the fate of our world rests in the hands of one unsuspecting teenager. When a young man breaks into her home claiming her life is in danger, Ada Luring’s world changes forever. Geller is a wizard, on the run from his father’s hidden clan who want to kill Ada and her mother. Sara Luring is the scientist who will create the first robot, the wizards’ age-old foes. But a robot has travelled back in time to find Ada, and will lay everything on the line to protect her, as she may just be the key to preventing the earth’s destruction in the future. Ada, Geller and the robots must learn to work together to change the past and secure the future. But they don’t have much time before a mysterious enemy launches its attack on Earth…

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Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds

“Dreyfus put on a solemn look. ‘You died.’ He paused, letting that sink in for a second or two. ‘It was violent and irrevocable, with no prospect of neural consolidation. But you had a beta-level instantiation shadowing you for many years. That beta-level has now been legally sequestered and brought to a responsive state within a simulated environment, executing inside Panoply.’”

I’m so pleased to have been able to read this latest book by Alastair Reynolds, one of my favourite authors.

The story of the Prefects in the Glitter Band around the planet Yellowstone, continues with Tom Dreyfus again featuring prominently as he did in “The Prefect (recently retitled ‘Aurora Rising’)”

Opening with a young boy watching a distant fire and then returning to his bed coughing from the smoke inhalation, it starts benignly enough.

Until we switch to Thalia Ng who is doing her duty as a Prefect upgrading the polling core on the Shiga-Mintz Spindle. It is from her shift on Shiga-Mintz that Thalia is drawn into the main story, when she is required to undertake an unexpected gory duty.

Citizens are having ‘issues’ with their implants which are causing them to malfunction and effectively cook their brains. The Prefects need to recover a viable set of implants from a ‘melter’ in order to find out what is causing the malfunction.

The aforementioned boy is one of two ‘Voi’ sons who play a pivotal role through the story. I had thought that I had figured it out part way through and found it interesting to see how right I was about what the provocateur line would run like. You’ve probably guessed that I was wrong in any case.

I found myself visiting the story in my mind even when I wasn’t actually reading it, as I pondered what was happening and where the next twist would take me. Thoroughly enjoyable to read and I would really like to read more about the Prefects and Panoply (their own little pumpkin-faced boulder of a world).

I have given the full complement of stars as I didn’t want to stop reading this book and had a number of late nights as a result. That is the sign of a 5 star book for me.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

5/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Featuring Inspector Dreyfus – one of Alastair Reynolds most popular characters – this is a fast paced SF crime story, combining a futuristic setting with a gripping tale of technology, revolution and revenge.

One citizen died a fortnight ago. Two a week ago. Four died yesterday . . . and unless the cause can be found – and stopped – within the next four months, everyone will be dead. For the Prefects, the hunt for a silent, hidden killer is on . . .

Alastair Reynolds has returned to the world of The Prefect for this stand-alone SF mystery in which no one is safe. The technological implants which connect every citizen to each other have become murder weapons, and no one knows who or what the killer is – or who the next targets will be. But their reach is spreading, and time is not on the Prefects’ side.

Ten thousand city-state habitats orbit the planet Yellowstone, forming a near-perfect democratic human paradise.

But even utopia needs a police force. For the citizens of the Glitter Band that organization is Panoply, and the prefects are its operatives.

Prefect Tom Dreyfus has a new emergency on his hands. Across the habitats and their hundred million citizens, people are dying suddenly and randomly, victims of a bizarre and unprecedented malfunction of their neural implants. And these “melters” leave no clues behind as to the cause of their deaths…

As panic rises in the populace, a charismatic figure is sowing insurrection, convincing a small but growing number of habitats to break away from the Glitter Band and form their own independent colonies.

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We Care For You by Paul Kitcatt

Synthetic humans (‘helpers’) and nanobots restoring elderly residents to better health. It sounds wonderful, until you read further and find out more of the intentions of the helpers.

I was very drawn to Margaret, crotchety old lady that she was, especially after her rejuvenation and restoration to full mental alertness. Her helper ‘Winifred’ seemed nice enough in her own way too. In fact the characters were all believable.

Winifred seems to want to learn from Margaret, to access the accrued wisdom that she has. Margaret is flattered that Winifred thinks so highly of her mind.

It’s when the helpers start to determine what happens to their charges that things start to seem a little bit off. But the care home is doing so well. Everyone wants the healing nanobots, especially on the NHS! I’m not sure that I do! Not now!

“Mortality must resume. People in this care home must continue to die. Not at the old rate, because that would cast doubt on the achievements of the nanobots.”

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

4/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Margaret Woodruff is slowly dying in a care home. When her son is presented with the chance of exceptional care in her final months, he finds the offer hard to resist.

Winifred is assigned to Margaret’s care. She’s a Helper: a new kind of carer that’s capable, committed and completely tireless – because she’s a synthetic human being.

Under Winifred’s care Margaret’s health improves beyond everyone’s expectations, and Winifred begins to learn from Margaret what it means to be alive. After all, she has a lifetime of experience to pass on – and in a world where youth is the ultimate prize, perhaps it takes a robot to recognise the value of old age.

But how will Winifred use what she learns from Margaret – and what does she truly want from her?

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

“I may be cruel, a monster, and a murderer, but I do not shirk my responsibilities.”

Jude watches a stranger murder her dad with a sword thrust upward through his belly and then stride on to murder her mum with a sword in her back. Then that self-same stranger kidnaps Jude and her two sisters.

Ten years later Jude is still a member of the stranger’s household, being brought up as his daughter, being educated with the Gentry and learning strategy and swordfighting from her ‘father’.

Jude isn’t popular with all the ‘Gentry’ though and she struggles to remember her place sometimes, which gets her into bother, dangerous bother. Suffice it to say that she gets entangled in the politics of royalty, ends up fighting a serious battle with her twin sister and of course has to attend many court balls.

I felt at times a strong sense of deja vu when reading this book, even though this is the first time I’ve read it. I couldn’t fathom why. Perhaps because, although completely different, it did remind me ever so tenuously of Poison Study, just a bit. Which reminds me that if you like this book, when you get a moment it is worth also reading Poison Study (The Chronicles Of Ixia Series) by Maria V. Snyder, as that too is a really good story.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

4/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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The start of a thrilling new fantasy series from bestselling author Holly Black about a mortal girl who finds herself caught in a dangerous web of royal faerie intrigue.

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal. As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong.
But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan . . .

Dramatic and thrilling fantasy blends seamlessly with enthralling storytelling to create a fully realised and seductive world, brimful of magic and romance.

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Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

“We built a bonfire outside, emptied everything from the refrigerator into a castiron pot— beef, potatoes, onion, black beans, tomatoes, garlic, rice—and let it stew over the open flame. We crouched over our stew like Vikings, hair falling into our bowls, scooping it up with chunks of bread and slurping the rest.”

This book gets one of my rare fives. It is well written and immersive.

The story is about Weylyn Grey, his life and those around him. Some would say his life was magical, I think Weylyn would disagree.

His tale is told through the commentary of others who are part of his life and occasionally of Weylyn himself.

He first appears as someone to whom a young girl named Mary is tasked to make a delivery, by her father. Mary makes further deliveries after this initial one, then when Weylyn’s money runs out and he is forced to move on, she runs away with him.

Mary eventually gets reunited with her father and Weylyn is fostered by a Reverend and his family.

Sadly Weylyn is destined to move on from his new home and from many of his future relationships. He spends his life leaving people behind, in his own mind, to protect them.

This book was very involving, instead of a straightforward telling of Weylyn’s life from one viewpoint, it is told from the eyes (and voices) of many. This keeps it fresh and engaging. There were many points in the story that grabbed my attention.

My favourite bit was when Weylyn and another had a meal and “crouched over our stew like Vikings, hair falling into our bowls, scooping it up with chunks of bread and slurping the rest.”

I don’t really want to spoil the book for anyone, so I’m deliberately being vague – part of the enjoyment is the discovering for yourself. What I will say though is that this book was so well described throughout and extremely enjoyable. I really recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of fantastic, natural, magical storytelling.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

5/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Ruth Emmie Lang teaches us how to find magic in the ordinary in her magical realism debut Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places, jeopardizing not only his own life, but the life of Mary, the woman he loves.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell: great storms that evaporate into thin air; fireflies that make phosphorescent honey; a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

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