Blog Tour Review: Dragon Mage by ML Spencer

I was so wrapped up in this book.

(I am thrilled to be a part of the Storytellers on Tour Book Tour for this gorgeous book. Please check out the details for the giveaway, and picking up a copy for yourself. All of this can be found after my review.)

I recently decided that I needed to re-evaluate what it means to be a book reviewer.  After reading Dragon Mage, I believe my review for this book will be first of its kind for me, focusing more on the impact the book had on me, and less as a critical analysis of the book.  This shift will hopefully yield an appropriate merging of the book itself with my experience in reading it, along with the potential long-term impact it will have on me.

I feel that this book should mark my change for several reasons, but the most important is a message that is carried through nearly every page of the book.  In the same way that Aram, the primary character, must discover who he is and then ultimately accept that his uniqueness is his superpower (as the author described in a recent article, linked here:, embracing a review style that fits me is essential for my own mental and emotional health.  Rather than stressing about writing reviews or feeling as though my reviews must conform to the style or frequency of other reviewers, I am choosing to write reviews that capture my experience as a reader.

Enough about me.  Why did I love this book?

I was only a few pages into this book when I found myself instantly rooting for Aram.  Perhaps it was that I saw a little of myself in this young boy who was different.  Perhaps it was because I could see a glimpse of the uphill battle that awaited him.  Perhaps it is because I love to cheer on the underdog. I loved him hard and fast.

I also quickly settled into the book in the same way one might settle into a warm bath after a long day.  The writing style was not excessively flowery where I felt I had to read slowly to make sure I understood it, nor was it non-stop action that had me rushing through it.  Rather, it had the feel of a pair of well-worn shoes, and there was something familiar and comfortable about it.

One thing I look for in what I read is well written characters.  I want to feel as though I understand the characters.  I want to be compelled by them.  I want to sympathize with their struggles.  I want to agonize over their decisions.  I want to feel what is happening to them, sharing their grief and their joy.  I want to care about what happens to them.

As I said earlier, I was rooting for Aram the whole time.  This is really his story, and I was swept up and carried along for 800+ pages.  I was proud of him when he was able to do something that no one expected him to do (especially himself).  My heart broke when his heart broke.  And I could relate to several of his behaviors and tendencies (such as separating food and needing tactile stimulation).

I was also inspired more deeply after I read an article by the author where she explained how similar she is to Aram, only without the magic.  I want to thank the author for the courage she displayed in telling Aram’s story, and by extension her own story.  I am also very curious to see more of this story that she still has to tell.

There was an intangible aspect that I want to end with.  There were times when I felt as though this book could have been written just for me.  It felt like the right book at the right time … and for me.  If I had read it 6 months earlier, or two years from now, who knows, but it is what I needed to read now and I am so grateful that I did.

I highly recommend this book and I am so grateful to be a part of this tour to promote this book and its author.  Please, please consider picking it up and read it for yourself.  4.6 out of 5 stars!

(Thank you to the author for sending a copy of the book.  This did not skew my opinion but is nevertheless very much appreciated!)

To enter, just click this link.  The winners will be chosen at random and the giveaway ends this Wednesday, June 23rd at 11:59pm, so enter now!

Book reviews and mental health

I felt it necessary to write out my thoughts about a personal issue.  I realize that no one else may read this, and that is perfectly fine with me, as my main purpose is to clarify my thoughts and to be more kind to myself than I have been.

I write this because I have lost, at least in part, a love of reading which is what brought me into this hobby in the first place.

My mom tells the story of how, when I was very young, she would have to take a book out of my hands and force me to go outside.  Sadly, between my teenage years and my late 40s, thanks to school, raising a family and health issues, I read only occasional books.  But then, about 4-5 years ago, I was trying to discover what books might appeal to my then pre-teen son.  What it actually did was reeled me back in as I listened to the siren call of books, especially the world of fantasy.  I was captivated by stories, I fell in love with characters, and I escaped into worlds.  I was hooked.

Before long, I discovered self-published authors and actually met a few (if only virtually) who were wonderful, and I felt special being able to interact with them.  Some of them were generous enough to give me a free copy of their book and all they asked was for an honest review.  Great books?!?!  Great authors?!?!  Free?!?!  I was in heaven.

I also started connecting with others like me who loved to read and some of them had wonderful reviews of their books along with amazing blogs, websites or YouTube channels.  I discovered many, many more books from that, and so many of them were kind and wonderful and welcomed me in.  It didn’t matter that I was new to the scene, was a frumpy older white guy who felt like I couldn’t keep up with them.  We shared a common love:  books!

Eventually I got to the point where I started my own blog, mostly as a way of keeping all my reviews organized.  I knew I didn’t have the time, energy or creativity or to be a top-tier reviewer.  I just was thrilled to be swept along.

But then … I noticed some subtle negative changes.

Reading, almost by its nature, is an isolating activity.  I saw that the more time I spent reading meant the less time I had to spend with my wife and son.  I would either feel guilty because I was choosing to read instead of spending time with them, or I would find myself not fully present with them as my mind would wander back into the stories.

One solution we came up with was for me to read books out loud to them.  So many parents do that with young children and then get away from it as the children age.  As a young boy, my son used to love it, so we tried it.  I have now read dozens of wonderful books with them and over 20,000 pages of text.

That felt like a win-win:  I got to read more great books, and I got to share these great books with my family, which was excellent quality time.

Another problem I started seeing was comparison.  Even though I had no aspirations to be the best reviewer with the most followers, I would wrestle with jealousy or insecurity or any number of other thoughts and emotions.  I constantly felt like I had to write reviews a certain way because of how others might judge them.  Not long enough?  Not enough critical content?  Not enough creative, quotable phrases?  Not enough reviews?  Not fast enough?

This poked at what has been my lifetime of fragile emotional and mental health.  I would read a book and love it, only to be anxious about writing the review.  Or worse, I would like (but not love) a book, but wouldn’t want to disappoint the author, or know how to write how I felt.

All of this has caused a current backlog of reviews that I need to write.  I am hoping that this post will help me get going again with a healthy grip on who I am and why I write reviews.

Finally, the process of writing reviews has made me shift away from being a person who loves books to a person who reads books critically for the purpose of writing appropriate reviews.  I have lost some of the joy, some of the awe and wonder.  It became more of a “have to do” instead of a “get to do”.

So, what does all this mean?

For starters, I think I must first realize some things about myself.  And in that process, I will determine who I am, and who I am not.  I hope that this will allow me to be more kind to myself, and will eliminate some of the self-imposed stress that I struggle with.

  1. I am a nice guy, falling into the old, “Momma always said, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I almost refuse to use harsh language.  If there is a book that wasn’t quite my favorite, in my review I will either mention only a few of the positives I did get from it, or may not review it at all.  I will also give myself more freedom to DNF a book that is just not for me.
  2. Along with the previous point, I tend to be pretty selective and choose books that I expect to like.  As a result I often do like those books that I have chosen.  I have read a few hundred books over the last 4-5 years and I only rarely give a book less than 3 out of 5 stars.
  3. I am giving myself the permission and freedom to get swept up by books again.  I will allow them to tug at my emotions, causing me to literally cry or laugh out loud.  I will try to figure out where the stories are going, not because I want to evaluate the writer’s skill, but because that is what a good book does.  I want to root for the good guys and against the bad guys.  And then, I will write reviews that just might talk about my experience with the book and offer little or no criticism.

In short, I want to return to being a book lover who will write reviews instead of a book critic.  I want to fall in love with books again, and I will be more kind to myself in that process.

Reviews for The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze and The Greatwood Portal, by Dorian Hart

Here are my reviews for the first three books in The Heroes of Spira series by Dorian Hart. These reviews were each written collaboratively with help from my son, who is now almost 16-years-old. I have read all three books out loud to him, and he was eager to share his thoughts about each book.

The Ventifact Colossus

The Crosser’s Maze

The Greatwood Portal

Also, coming soon is the 4th book in the series, The Infinite Tower which will be available soon. We were able to read this as beta readers, and it will make a wonderful addition to this unforgettable series.


Prize: The Heroes of Spira Paperback Book Bundle by Dorian Hart – One (1) bundle of three (3) paperbacks – US & CA Only.

Starts: February 21st, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: February 28th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST

Direct link:

Finally, a huge thank you to STORYTELLERS ON TOUR for running this blog tour. Please follow them for future featured authors and their books. |