Why It Matters

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“I’m not homophic, but I just don’t get why people keep shoving LGBT characters in my face!”

“Does everyone have to be gay nowadays?”

“Why do I need to know a character’s sexuality? It doesn’t matter! This isn’t romance!”

 

The above statements are all things I have heard or seen in response to articles and blog posts about representation of LGBT+ characters in books, television and film. The number of people I have had lodge complaints to me about this very subject, especially concerning Hellbent Halo, has increased with the release of the third book.

As I sat down to start working on the 4th book in the series, it occurred to me that I could and should address the question. I’m in a unique position to do so as someone who is a part of the LGBT community, and as an author who does not write romance or reverse harem.

Why does genre fiction—horror, science fiction, and fantasy specifically—need one more LGBT character?

My gut response it to ask…Why do we need another cisgender straight hero? Going back, western literary tradition is chock full of straight white men falling in love with women. Every aspect of western storytelling has literally thousands of examples of cis hetero relationships, from film to books to oral traditions. As a friend of mine put it on Facebook, “Imagine if I stopped reading books about straight people. I’d never have anything to read.”

To be honest, it’s actually fairly easy to find lesbian or gay fiction outside of romance in 2019. There are lesbian and gay couples everywhere. I’ve been able to have same-sex romances in most of my video games for several years now. Gay themes and gay coming out stories are everywhere.

But what about the bisexuals?

The B in the LGBT is so often overlooked when it comes to representation in the media, but that’s especially true outside of romance. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to see more bisexuals being represented in niche genres like reverse harem, but something about that just makes me a little uncomfortable too. It’s as if bisexual characters are only allowed to be bisexual in a sexual setting. None of these stories—at least none of the ones I’ve picked up—have talked about the bisexual experience, coming out as bi, and the unique challenges and struggles of bisexuals in a world that’s sometimes very binary.

Sadly, this is particularly true in the indie urban fantasy market, which is painfully full of toxic masculinity tropes, and where I’ve put down far too many series for making fun of anyone who doesn’t conform to the gender and sexual norms.

When I started writing Hellbent Halo, there were other authors actively discouraging me from writing in what one reviewer called “the unnecessary gay element” of Josiah’s past relationship with a man. Even the reviewer got it wrong. It’s not a gay element. It’s a bisexual element. We are invisible even to our readers, even when we put characters like us right in front of them.

But I’m not offended. I didn’t write Josiah as a homoromantic bisexual for them. I wrote it for me and people like me who didn’t grow up knowing bisexuality existed, for readers who grew up without an open dialogue, or who felt like they had to hide their attractions because they didn’t fit in a prescribed binary. Growing up, I often felt like a rectangular peg trying to fit in either a circular or square socket. If I twisted just the right way, I could fit in with one side, but that still meant being squished, contorted. Unhappy.

We need more bisexual characters in non-sexualized roles. More bisexual stories. More representation. It’s not an unnecessary element, it’s stories that haven’t been told, voices that have yet to be heard. Voices that should not be silenced because they make others uncomfortable.

Why do we need more LGBT characters in genre fiction outside of romance? Because we exist and we have all sorts of stories yet to tell.

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Josiah Quinn is the lead character in the Hellbent Halo series. You can read the books for free with Kindle Unlimited by clicking below:

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On Signing with a Publisher

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I’m excited to announce I recently signed a 21-book deal with LMBPN Publishing! That means The Judah Black Novels, Hellbent Halo, and The Lazarus Codex all have a new home.

When I first started publishing in 2016, I decided to indie publish my books for a variety of reasons. Urban fantasy was a hard sell in traditional markets, partly because a few big names were dominating the playing field, and agents/publishers just weren’t taking on new books in that area. As an indie published author, I also got to keep a much larger chunk of my book royalties and have 100% control over my publishing schedule, brand, and advertising. After talking to several authors on both sides—traditionally published and indie published—I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

I learned very quickly that it was more involved than I expected. When book sales started picking up with the publication of Death Rites, I was quickly overwhelmed. I was putting in 16- and 18-hour days and frequently working myself sick. You see, aside from all the writing, production of a book also requires spending a lot of time talking to designers, formatters, other authors for promotion, learning ads and marketing, editors. It was being “on” all the time, which is genuinely difficult for me, even if I enjoyed it.

At the same time all that was going on, I was involved in a child custody case with one of my stepchildren. The case dredged up some repressed memories and I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office while she explained complex post-traumatic stress disorder to me. The legal battle and the c-ptsd diagnosis affected me deeply late last year and I buried myself further in my work.

The downward spiral eventually meant I hit burn-out in November of 2018. I was so sick, mentally and physically, I couldn’t get out of bed for a week. At that point, I knew something had to change.

As much as I wanted to be in total control of my publishing empire, I knew I wasn’t doing a good job. In addition to the slow down in my publishing schedule, I brought on a personal assistant who took over a lot of the background work, saving me a TON of time. Working with Grace, I discovered giving up some control wasn’t a bad thing.

When a friend introduced me virtually to Michael Anderle at LMBPN publishing, I was skeptical. I was making a decent income. Signing with a publisher meant reduced royalties for me and I had just broken into making a livable income.

But working with a publisher also means I don’t have to shoulder the burden of publishing alone. It also meant having the backing of a powerhouse like LMBPN. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve been able to invest very little in advertising on my own. I don’t come from means. I jokingly call myself the Cinderella of indie publishing since I literally started doing this with negatives in my bank account. I can’t always pay for the multiple passes of editing and proofreading that the books need to be their best, or get the covers I think my books really need. I’m operating on a shoestring budget that hinders my reach as an author. I hope signing with LMBPN will help change all that for the better.

I have promised my readers from the beginning that I won’t ever put my name on a book that isn’t my absolute best work. That means every book I publish must meet minimum quality standards. That will continue to be the case. I will continue to write and publish the best books I possibly can for my readers. I firmly believe that my new relationship with LMBPN publishing will further those goals, and allow me to create a better work-life balance for myself and my family.

Thank you for supporting me and my publishing journey so far!

 

If you have any questions about the changeover, feel free to post them below or email me at eacopen@eacopen.com. There will also be more posts coming on the subject. 😊

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Fractured Souls: Change in Release Date

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Life is stressful. Deadlines are stressful. Having a life and writing on a deadline? Insanely stressful.

As an independently published author, I didn’t used to use deadlines. I didn’t like the idea of being boxed in by having a date to meet. It felt like added pressure and the very idea scared the hell out of me. When I started using them, however, my productivity jumped from only putting out 4 books a year to releasing 10 last year and completing two more. I tripled the number of books I completed per year with one simple tool.

Deadlines.

Basically, I started out releasing Death Rites, Organ Grind, and Shallow Grave a month apart. That meant I had to have really tight scheduling and not miss any deadlines. I was writing books in 21 days. Was it stressful? Oh, you bet. But the payoff was worth it.

Eventually, I decided I couldn’t keep that up because of some personal things going on—family stress, moving, etc—and I spaced the book releases out to one every 60 days instead of one every 30.

Right now, however, The Lazarus Codex books are coming out even slower at one every 90 days. That’s because all that wonderful productivity ground to a halt when I moved from Ohio to Kentucky. I was blindsided by a serious bout of depression. As the work piled up, the darkness around me only seemed to multiply and I found it near impossible to get out of bed every day, let alone get to the keyboard and churn out thousands of words. From the date the move was confirmed in October 2018 until halfway through February of 2019, I wrote one book, Dark Revel. It took me 4 months to complete an 80,000 word novel where it used to take me just days.

By the time Dark Revel came out, I was feeling much better. I had my depression under control, and I was settling into life in Kentucky.
However, I was hopelessly behind. Turns out writing thousands of words a day wasn’t something I can just sit down and do after not doing it for 4 months. I fell out of practice. Concentrating for long periods was even more difficult. More days crept by where I didn’t get as many words down as I wanted.

I got overwhelmed trying to play catch up, both with my writing and all the other aspects of running my own business. There were taxes to take care of, people to email back, plans to set in motion.

So when it came time to set a release date for the very first book in my new spin-off series, Hellbent Halo, I sort of just picked a date and went with it. It felt like April was a really long way away.

Then, yesterday, while I was looking at a countdown to Avengers: Endgame I realized I’d set Fractured Souls to release the same day as Endgame! Since it’s basically going to be the cinema event of the year among my geeky core fanbase, that was a BIG mistake! Rather than push it back a week, I moved the release date up to the 19th.

Sadly, I’m still not caught up and it’s leaving me scrambling a bit. No fear, however. I’ll get it done in time. It just means some 12 and 14-hour work days between now and then. But that’s the life of an independent author, isn’t it?

I’m hoping to settle back into a routine soon that allows me to get back to writing more impressive word counts like I used to, and completing a book in 3 weeks or less. That’s going to take time. It also means there won’t be another Lazarus book out until June, since Dark Horse was actually supposed to be done in February. As of April 10th, it’s not even half done, but getting there in record time.

After Dark Horse, I’ll be starting work on the second Hellbent Halo book, due out in July. That should put me back on schedule to get a book out every month the second half of this year.

I want to thank my readers for their patience and understanding. I know it’s not easy to wait on books. I just finished a book (Grave Destiny by Kalayna Price) and now have to wait a good while until book 7 is out, so I know the feeling! But I love the Grave Witch books and I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait, as I hope the rest of The Lazarus Codex books will be for my readers.

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A rogue wizard. A reckless mission. Who knew rescuing the devil’s daughter would raise holy hell?

Click the cover below to reserve your copy of Fractured Souls for release day!

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Meet The Devil’s Daughter

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     As soon as I finished writing Shallow Grave, I knew I wanted to tell Khaleda Morningstar’s story. I mean, she’s the Devil’s daughter. You don’t get to be a much more interesting character than that in my book. Plus, the only side of her story I was ever able to tell in The Lazarus Codex got filtered through Lazarus’s cis-het white male POV. While he tries to be a progressive male, he’s still himself. I knew Khaleda deserved her own story, but was never sure exactly how to weave it into the complex world of gods, monsters, angels and demons.

     Until Death’s Door. After the events of Death Match where she convinces Lazarus to help her in her (failed) assassination attempt against her father, dear old dad decides she’s in need of some parental guidance. Of course, being the Devil, his version of punishment is twisted and monstrous. Death’s Door only lightly touches on some of the torture that Khaleda undergoes.

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While Fractured Souls doesn’t unpack all of it, it does go further into showing her cope with PTSD, finding her identity as a person and not just a weapon, and reclaiming control over her own future.

Fractured Souls is very much a story about overcoming PTSD, both for Khaleda and Josiah, a topic I’m intimately familiar with. I’ve battled my own complex PTSD hard over the last two years, coping with traumatic events from my childhood. Coming out on the other side of such a fight is disorienting. Once you’ve come to terms with past abuse, and left behind your abusers, there’s a moment where you’re not quite sure who you are without that painful past to define you, something I tried to showcase in Khaleda’s narrative in Fractured Souls. Childhood trauma often goes on for years and leaves PTSD sufferers without a strong sense of identity. The challenge for adult survivors of PTSD is to re-define themselves and their purpose.

Raised by Lucifer to be an assassin for Hell, Khaleda’s identity was formed early on, not by her choices, but by the choices her father made for her. He sent her all over the world where she seduced and killed whomever she was ordered to, or helped Lucifer cement alliances and favorable business deals.

By the opening of Fractured Souls, she’s left this life behind. The perpetrator of her abuse—her father—is dead at the hands of the Pale Horseman and Josiah, who helped rescue her. While she’s also dealing with a sense of loss (her father is dead and she feels the need to mourn him, despite all that’s happened) she’s also confused by the sadness that overtakes her. After all, why would she want to mourn the man who handed her to demons to torture?   

All these things are parts of Khaleda that Lazarus never gets to see, as he’s generally too concerned with his own safety and wellbeing. He views Khaleda as an uneasy ally at best, and a free-will sucking monster at worst. Since free will is one of Lazarus’ most important ideologies, he can never fully trust someone who can take it away from the innocent with something as innocuous as a kiss.

In Fractured Souls, however, I hope Khaleda was able to prove that her most dangerous weapon wasn’t her succubus powers, or her connection to Hell, but her tenacity. Even when the going gets tough, and the monsters seem unbeatable, she won’t walk away. Maybe it’s out of spite. Or maybe there’s something deeper going on.

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You can pre-order Fractured Souls today. Click on the link below to check it out on Amazon. 

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A reformed succubus. A devilish old flame. This rescue mission just went off the deep end…

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DISCLOSURE:
*Affiliate links were used in this post, which means if you click the link and make a purchase, I get a small kickback.* 

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Constantine: City of Demons A (Mostly) Spoiler-Free Review

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In 2005, I went to see Keanu Reeves play a doomed wizard named John Constantine. Having no background in comics, the film left me excited. Excited enough I went on to read and eventually write some urban fantasy of my own. You might call it my gateway drug, and you’d be right. Say what you want about the film (I know many fans hated it) but it got me interested.

Fifteen years later, I finally got around to reading the comics. Or some of them. This year, I read Original Sins and The Devil You Know and I’m about 60% of the way through The Spark and the Flame (a sort of reboot on the original character). I’ve got some frame of reference, but let me preface this by saying I’m no comic book expert.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the film.

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“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there are no happy endings.”

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Ever since watching the doomed show on NBC, Matt Ryan IS John Constantine in my head. When I heard he’d be reprising his role in City of Demons, I got excited. I’d seen Justice League Dark and left wanting more. After viewing the first “episode” on CW Seed, I knew I was in for a treat.

City of Demons opens with a scream and a shot of Ravenscar, a mental health institute. If you know the original origin story (the original, not the one in the New 52 reboot) then you can already guess part of what’s about to play out, and it plays out mostly like you’d expect, except far, FAR tamer than what I read in the comics. Still, it’s plenty disturbing to watch an all-powerful hero like Constantine reduced to tears when he fucks up his first big spell.. Big time. The event lands him in Ravenscar hovering on the edge of sanity and abandoned by most of his friends.

Everyone except Chas Chandler. He’s about the only one who stood by John during all that.

Flash forward after we see John in the midst of a breakdown (and dealing with a little out of control magic) and an older, wiser Constantine is wrestling with his inner demons. Literally. Someone is screwing with his head. Fortunately, Chas interrupts. He’s there to ask for John’s help. Dark magic has his daughter in a coma and to save her, Constantine will have to travel to Los Angeles and do the bidding of a twisted demon…

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“He learned that night that his natural gift wasn’t gift enough.”

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This is very much a film about friendship. Never thought I’d say that about a Constantine movie. The relationship, past and present, between John and Chas really drives the narrative. The two bonded as children, and tragedy brought them even closer only to force them apart again prior to the opening of the film. Without spoilers, I will say John is right when he says early in the film “There’s always a price to pay.” As usual, one could argue that he passes the buck to someone else, though he makes a hefty sacrifice at the end as well.

I’m usually not a fan of comparing story mediums. However, in this instance, it’s something worth talking about. Aside from minor changes to the origin story that reduce the horror aspects, I feel this film is in keeping with the spirit of the character and his dark world, even though some liberties are taken. There are some horrific moments—plenty of blood, guts, and decaying bodies to go around, and yes, even a disturbing sex scene. At least I found it weird… But still in keeping with what I’d expect.

There are places where the dialogue is a bit stilted or felt forced, but mostly from side characters, but nothing huge.

The biggest negative thing I have to say about this film concerns a jarring scene transition. The demon he’s negotiating with is standing by a pool of decaying bodies with John and invites him to a party. One moment, John is in a party and clearly believes himself to be physically there. Then suddenly the screen cuts back to them standing beside a pool as if they never left. No one seems too confused by this, and it’s never mentioned. No explanation is given. It was a jump in the narrative that was hard to recover from.

The way Constantine takes down five more demons felt a bit shoehorned in. The demons mention he promised something so he was clearly in contact with them at some point, but we never see that moment on screen. Bummer, especially since I would’ve loved to see how that got animated. The tactic used to defeat those five demons is also unusual and left me wanting more in the way of explanation, but how it played out was cool to watch on screen.

I’m giving it a 4/5. All the narrative holes were things I could fill in on my own and it was entertaining enough I’ll be converting my rental into a purchase. Please keep in mind this isn’t going to be kid friendly, and if you’re easily offended, the surly low-rent mage probably won’t be your cup of tea.

Come on though. It’s Constantine. Expect snark and a fun, if disturbing ride.

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Lazarus is Back: Inspirations for Death Match

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Who saves the people who save the world?

It sounds like a question you might ask about a superhero movie, right? But that’s exactly the question I asked myself when I sat down to write Death Match. As the Pale Horseman, he’s got a lot of power. [Insert great power, great responsibility quote here.] Unfortunately for the people around him, Lazarus’ good intentions don’t always translate into smart decisions. Like everyone, he makes mistakes.

In Shallow Grave, he was warned against getting close to people because his new powers would make him a target. He found out there were consequences for choosing to ignore that advice and things haven’t really let up for him since.

Between having his body taken over by an Archon, and his temporary stint as the Summer Knight while trying to cure himself of the ghoul virus, he’s had a rough couple of months. Running from one realm to the next, saving both Earth and Faerie hasn’t left him much time to consider how that affects other people. Usually, he wouldn’t care. He’s been the pariah of New Orleans’ magical community ever since getting out of prison.

And then I threw a monkey wrench in to his life named Emma Knight.

Poor Laz isn’t used to relying on other people, or having other people step in to try and save him. Yet that’s exactly what Emma has done. She made a choice at the end of Knight Shift, the consequences of which kicked off the events of Death Match.

More than the relationship between Laz and Emma, I knew I wanted to explore what it meant to be a Horseman on a larger scale. Laz spends all his time just trying to save New Orleans, but the Horsemen are really supposed to be working to keep the balance worldwide. That means a larger burden has been placed on the other three Horsemen. Well, the two left anyway. In Death Match, you get to meet Pestilence and War both, and neither is particularly impressed with Laz’s accomplishments.

Of course, introducing two more Horsemen also meant introducing more gods. The tournament was the perfect place to take a snapshot of their world, hinting at alliances and old, bad blood between various gods. I had a lot of fun trying to get different pantheons to work together, particularly when writing about the Norse gods. I hope you enjoy my take on them.

Death Match is available for pre-order on Amazon now and will be out this Friday. You can check it out here. Full disclosure: I get a small commission if you buy through that link. If you’re interested in reading chapters as they’re finished, you can read them by becoming a patron on Patreon.

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5 Urban Fantasy Series You Need to Read This Year

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Book hangovers are real and the only cure is finding your next great read. If you’re looking for your next favorite urban fantasy series, here are a few recommendations to get you started. I tried to include some lesser-known urban fantasy. (We all know about The Dresden Files and Mercy Thompson, right? If not, go read them!) These aren’t in any particular order.

Click the picture to the left to visit the book page on Amazon.

If you have a favorite, be sure you mention it in the comments section!

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Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews

With the series conclusion coming out in just a few days, there’s never been a better time to pick this series up. I started reading them about two months ago and flew through the first few in a matter of days.

 

Why this series?

While there are lots of urban fantasy heroines out there, very few can manage the level of badass that Kate does, especially with such an extensive and colorful cast of side characters. As much as I love Kate though, she’s not the main reason you should pick up Kate Daniels. Ilona Andrews uses some lesser-known mythologies and shifters and the team writing these books really does their research. As I’ve been reading, I spend a little time looking up the names, places, and creatures that get a mention. The world built in these books is absolutely stunning and the characters are like old friends. I’ll be sad to say goodbye.

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Alex Craft by Kalayna Price

This series veers a little more toward paranormal romance, but if that’s not your cup of tea, don’t pass on it. Alex Craft is a grave witch, a paranormal investigator who raises the dead for a fee. Most of the time, she’s working with the police, but she gets tangled up in fae politics a lot too. Normally, I’m put off by love triangles (why choose?), but these books made me root for both guys even when I hated them!

 

Why this series?

This series has a really unique take on fae and fae court politics. They’re out to the world, but only sort of. Most humans don’t get to interact with them quite like Alex does, and boy does she. I love a book with a heavy dose of political intrigue. The sexy but conflicted winter knight and federal agent, Falin Andrews, is also worth a mention here. I love the complexities of his character and his relationship with Alex. The fact that Death himself is also a love interest is also intriguing.

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The Templar Chronicles by Joe Nassise

Since my last recommendation was heavy on the romance, how about a series that veers away from that angle? Non-romantic urban fantasy? Say what? I was all over this series when I found out about it, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It’s a little action-heavy and the characters take a while to grow on you, but the story is strong and they’re easy page turners.

 

Why this series?

Simply put, Mr. Nassise knows how to spin a good yarn. Sometimes the stories get a little dark. Sometimes you want to smack Cade for the decisions he makes. The one thing you’ll never want to do with these books is put them down.

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Note: Cry Wolf is the first full-length novel, but it’s not where this story begins. Clicking the link will take you to the novella, Alpha and Omega which you should read first.

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Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs

I’m always surprised by the number of Mercy Thompson fans that haven’t read Briggs’ Alpha and Omega books. In this reader’s opinion, the A&O books are superior. I love Mercy, but with such a huge cast of characters and complex plots, her personal relationships and inner thoughts and feelings often take a back seat. In the A&O books, Charles’ and Anna’s relationships are the drivers of the series. Every plot feels personal and the smaller cast of characters makes the world feel more intimate. You also get a fuller picture of the Mercyverse with A&O than you would without these books.

 

Why this series?

I have never had such a love-hate relationship with characters as I have with some of the side characters in the Mercyverse, but Charles really takes the cake. An enforcer, he’s feared by everyone. Unless you read these books, you never get to see the world from his perspective OR how deeply that job affects him. This series is told in alternating close third person perspectives, which allows the readers to explore the world in a way you don’t see in Mercy’s books since everything we see and hear is filtered through Mercy’s point of view (and occasionally Adam’s). This is a series that presents the reader with morally gray characters and doesn’t tell you how to feel about them, but rather trusts the readers to be smart enough to form their own conclusions.

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*This book is NOT young adult and may not be appropriate for all children in this age group. The books contain cursing and violence, but are relatively clean for urban fantasy.  

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The Grave Report by R.R. Virdi

This is a series still in its infancy with only three books out, but it’s definitely one worth picking up. The main character, Vincent Graves, is a man of many faces…literally. He’s a soul who inhabits the bodies of those recently killed by the supernatural and solves their murders. Every book so far has had a killer opening, but the third book, Grave Dealings, was phenomenal. I laughed and cried throughout the book because of how well it manages to hit that emotional resonance. Sometimes, Graves’ snark gets to be a bit much, but he’s always balanced out by his sidekicks.

 

Why this series?

Aside from the gut punch to the feels and the stellar in media res openings, this really is a series with heart and soul, pun intended. It’s also a series I feel comfortable letting my 10-year-old read.* These books stay with you. While there are lots of fluffy, feel good urban fantasy books out there, this series dares to dig deeper and ask you to consider the good, the bad, and all the ugly about being human.

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