Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Posted On 19 September 2021

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Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

Last week I missed my update so I’ll double post this week.  As per usual I am behind at the moment as a result of travelling to see family and friends.  Still, good times – just, I am fed up with myself sometimes!  Anyway. The past two weeks I’ve been pressing on with my reading although I need to sit down now and catch up with some reviews and blog hopping.  The week before last I read By the Pact by Joanna Maciejewska and also The Women of Troy by Pat Barker.  I’ve also read A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington, continued with my buddy read of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law (75% into this one now) and read one of my SPFBO books – Little White Hands by Mark Cushen.

Next Week

This week I’d like to complete my buddy read, read Wisdom of Crowds and pick up another SPFBO book – of course, we all know what ‘they’ say about the best laid plans.

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

#SPFBO 7 : My Fourth/Final Batch of Books

Posted On 18 September 2021

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SPFBO 7 is now into its third month and today I’m highlighting my next batch of four books.  To date I’ve read and reviewed 12  books and my updates for Batch 1, 2 and 3 can be found here, here and here.  I am a little late posting my final batch of books but I have already completed one of these and so hopefully will finish the final two books by the end of the month.

For those of you unfamiliar with SPFBO here and here are two posts that might provide some enlightenment.  Basically, SPFBO is the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, brainchild of Mark Lawrence.  300 hopeful authors submit their word babies.  10 Judges are allocated 30 books each.  Each judge chooses a finalist, the competition narrows to 10 hopeful candidates.  Alas, there can be only one winner so following an intense reading session where all the judges read and score each others finalists a winner finally emerges.

The main change for myself this year is that I am joining up with the wonderful Critiquing Chemist and her lovely boffin.  We are very excited to start reading our batch (at the moment equally divided between the two blogs).  I love this part of the competition, it’s full of expectations and hope.  As in previous years  I will give a brief introduction to the books and authors that I’m picking up that month together with an update at the end of the month where I may roll some books forwards and cut others.  I know!  It’s a part of the competition that I’m not overly fond of but it is unavoidable.  Personally, I like to think that as the competition begins we already have 300 winners who each took that bold step to throw their hat into the ring and join in.  So, enjoy yourselves, take the opportunity to make friends and become part of the community.

This month the three books that I will be reading from my fourth and final batch are:

***

Little White Hands by Mark Cushen

LWH

Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war. Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost.

Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.

But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.

Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.

Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.

With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?

The fate of the world rests in his hands.

About the Author

***

The Throne of Ice & Ash by JDL Rosell

TOIAA

A throne in peril, a tragic betrayal, two heirs struggling to save their land, and a prophesied war threatening to engulf the world…

Bjorn, youngest heir to the Mad Jarl of Oakharrow, has always felt more at ease with a quill than a sword. Yet when calamity strikes his family, he must draw a blade and lead a company of warriors into the cold, deadly mountains in pursuit of a mysterious foe. Though he seeks vengeance, an ancient power stirs within him, and the whispers of prophecy beckon him toward an ominous destiny…

Aelthena, Bjorn’s sister, was born with the aptitude to lead, and she’s eager to prove it. But her society’s rules for women, and her love for her brother, restrain her efforts to command. As she walks the fine line between ambition and virtue, enemies of both mankind and myth rise against Oakharrow’s throne, and even her allies question her right to rule…

A harrowing tale of the struggle for power and the dawning heroes who rise above it, The Throne of Ice & Ash is Book 1 of the Norse high fantasy, coming of age series The Runewar Saga. Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time won’t want to miss this new sweeping epic fantasy!

About the Author

J.D.L. Rosell is the internationally bestselling author of Legend of Tal, Ranger of the Titan Wilds, The Runewar Saga, The Famine Cycle, and Godslayer Rising. He has earned an MA in creative writing and has previously written as a ghostwriter.

Always drawn to the outdoors, he ventures out into nature whenever he can to indulge in his hobbies of hiking and photography. Most of the time, he can be found curled up with a good book at home with his wife and two cats, Zelda and Abenthy.

***

Out of the Dust by Joe Coates

OOTD

There are few things more dangerous or more destructive than a bad man who thinks that he is doing a good thing…

The Aska Isles are burning. An unseasonable drought is slowly killing the land; crushing it in a patient and merciless fist of rising fire and dust.

On the prosperous Northern Isle, King Taavi Fulbright, senile and raving, edges closer to death while his Viceroy, the flint-hearted Corbin Cadmael, continues with his plans for subjugating the South and bringing the contemptible, stinking peasants that farm it under his yolk.

On the beautiful and brutal highlands of the Southern Isle, an outfit of desperadoes, bandits and cattle-thieves, led by the infamous Shaw siblings, is in the midst of murdering a team of the Crown’s cattle drovers and nicking their stock. It’s a final payday before the head of their crew, Viggo Shaw, leaves the road-life for good and settles down to fatherhood. Viggo cares little for the fate of the many, being concerned only with the lives of those closest to him; his sister and brother, Ylva and Destin, his lifelong love, Erika, and their unborn child.

That is until the delightfully psychotic Cormac Latrell comes strolling back into their lives after a decade-long absence. Latrell is a monster and, like all good monsters, is a monster of Viggo’s own creation. Once a polite and conscientious young nobleman, Latrell is the bastard son of Viceroy Cadmael and has been twisted by a love unrequited, the scorn of those he wished only to help, and the revulsion of a father who only ever saw him as a disappointment.

Latrell is hunting Erika’s sister, Fenella, who is rumoured to be endowed with powers long believed to be lost to legend. They are the powers of the Empathy, an elemental magic that could bring the Aska Isles back from the brink of the fire –– or cast it into the flames.

Now, Viggo and his band find themselves inexorably drawn into a choking world of revisited childhood sins that have sown the seeds from which fiends grow, soul-ripping jealousies, false prophesies, and blood-soaked feuds that promise little in the way of relief for any of them.

Viggo Shaw must face a trifecta of hard questions and an even tougher choice; is the saving of his world, the keeping of a final promise and the defeating of a monster he helped mould worth becoming a monster himself for?

Or should he just do what he aches to do, and surrender to death?

Or perhaps, Viggo might learn on his journey that the human heart is a torment and a masterpiece.

About the Author

***

Good luck to this month’s authors.

Friday Face Off : Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

Firstly, you may have noticed a lack of content on here recently, or the fact I’ve been somewhat missing – I haven’t taken a hiatus, I’m not burnt out – I’ve been travelling and seeing people, kind of catching up after all the isolation and lock down from Covid and it’s quite simply been busy.  So, I’m yet again behind both with reviews and blog hopping – apologies everyone.  I’m hoping to get back on track now after a funny couple of months.

So, books with ‘murder’ in the title.  I did have a few in mind for this one but I certainly didn’t want to go over again with books I have already used.  Instead I’ve gone for a fairly recent read that was a buddy read with Lisa at Way Too Fantasy – of course I was a bit of a washout even though I was enjoying the series!  Anyway.  The second book, A Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop (The Others #2).  Here are the covers:

 

My favourite

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : A favourite thriller

2021

September (RIP event)

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

#SPFBO : My Third Batch of Books – Update

Posted On 11 September 2021

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Today I’m posting an update for my third batch of SPFBO books (which can be found here).  This year I’m teaming up with the lovely ladies from the Critiquing Chemist and we split the batch of books equally – which gives me a little more time this year.

This month I read and reviewed all four books from my third batch and today I’m providing my feedback on which books will be cut or rolled forward.  At this point I’m not making any decisions on semi-finalists as the semi finalists will be decided by both blogs before agreement on a finalist is reached. We will each put forward hopefuls and then take it from there.

I would mention that this is ultimately the most difficult part of the competition for judges and authors.  I don’t find making cuts easy to be honest however it’s the nature of the competition.  There can be only one. I would also like to thank the authors of the books that are highlighted today for taking the decision to throw their hat into the ring.  It can’t be easy and I definitely applaud you for taking this step.

Without further ado here is my feedback from the third batch of books:

Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation #1) by Phillip Blackwater

Rising Shadows

As tension rises between the southern and northern nations of the small continent of Exitium in the world of Anteris, the Elves turn to their eastern neighbors, the Humans, for help. They wish to learn the ways of combat, which they are not accustomed to, for they have always wielded a power far greater than forged steel. The Shards of Creation, mystical artifacts of great and virtually infinite power, have always been their prized weapon, but times have changed. They now face the same threat as the Humans: the southern nation known as the Ethula.

Wariel Ritch, general of the Human army, will take upon his shoulders this burden. But when a shadow of a past long forgotten threatens what little stability is left in the world, he will have to leave everything behind to stop it. Medregal Tergrast, an Ethulan king, dead for a thousand years, plans his return to the world of the living to gain back his former glory and finally fulfill his destiny by gaining control of the Shards of Creation. But is he really the threat people make him out to be?

In the meantime, in the bowels of the Human Kingdom, the reign of Dana Crystaloak is put into jeopardy when people around her start questioning her decisions. If she falls, war could break out across all lands.

My review is here.

In a nutshell: Rising Shadows is a quest style fantasy story involving a number of characters, racing against time, before an army of souls is released to fight for a King who has returned from the dead.  There are a number of different threads to the story that all provide their own element of added threat.  I didn’t struggle to read this but I did have a few issues and whilst this might not have totally worked for me it could be a gateway into fantasy for readers new to the genre

Conclusion: Cut

***

By the Pact (Pacts Arcane and Otherwise 1) by Joanna Maciejewska

Bythepact

High mages lied: Veranesh, the demon who destroyed the continent is still alive. And it’s up to their former student to expose the truth—even if it means another Cataclysm.

When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?

My Review is here.

In a nutshell: I enjoyed By the Pact.  It has some new (to me at least) notions around demons and magic that I haven’t seen explored before.  I enjoyed the central characters and apart from a few issues related to editing (as opposed to the story itself) I would undoubtedly like to read the next instalment.

Conclusion: Roll Forward

***

Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Iarr

ON THE NIGHT THAT HE WAS BORN, THE DEVIL CAME TO KILL HIM The son of a farmer in Iron Age Britain, Nuadhu finds himself thrust into a destiny he is ill-prepared for. After his king murders his parents, he and his brother are forced to flee into the Roman Empire under the protection of the archangel Anael. Meanwhile, a plague of the undead is sweeping across Europe from the east, raising their slain enemies as new allies. Their goal is not the conquest of one tribe or nation, but the subjugation of all humanity. Can one warrior-in-exile, hungry for vengeance, build a force to repel this existential threat?

My review is here

In a nutshell: This was a short but enjoyable story about a man who is born to be the ‘champion’ of the people, a protector from evil if you will.  Set in the Iron Age we follow a young man as he trains with a celestial being.  My only problem here is that I felt the length of the book worked against it in terms of the author really being able to draw a picture of the way of life, or to really given strength to the characters.  As it is it felt like a fairly quick, episodic narrative that quickly sees the main POV grow up and finally face the threat he’s been training for.  I think readers who like a quick read and fast pacing might enjoy this one.

Conclusion: Cut

***

Carrion by Alyson Tait

carrion

The Rook legacy: duty at all Costs. Regina’s family are the last living members after a long line of magical families. Their heritage is a promise to the world; they can be trusted to keep magic from corrupting power hungry witches — In doing so they keep an unearthly evil from crushing humanity.

When Regina Rook’s mother dies a sudden, violent death, the living coven members come from around the world to attend the funeral, and begin breathing down her neck as next in line to lead. Trying to find a balance between her own goals and her family’s demands, all the while keeping her recent nightmares hidden where she becomes the very thing they fighting.

But when those things become intertwined, can she do anything but watch as the world around her crumbles to ancient horrors?

My review is here.

In a nutshell: Carrion is a story about a coven of witches who use their magic to protect the world.  When the coven’s lead witch dies it falls to her eldest daughter to pick up the reins.  The eldest daughter however has long rebelled against the coven’s ways and traditions and with a new threat emerging this could spell trouble for the world we know.  Again, this is a very quick read and a fairly short novel. I found myself struggling to really connect with the main character though and that could simply be because I wanted more backstory.  I admit that shorter stories often leave me wanting more detail so this could potentially appeal to other readers who want something a bit more snappy.

Conclusion: Cut 

 

My thanks again to the authors.

I will be posting my final batch of books very soon.

Friday Face Off : Kings or other Emperors/rulers

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

So this week I’ve gone for a book from a series that I know I’ve highlighted before – so, why this book, well I don’t think I’ve used just this one book alone because at the time it didn’t have quite as many cover options.  So King of Thorns (The Broken Empire #2) by Mark Lawrence.  And here are some of the covers:

My favourite

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

2021

September (RIP event)

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Can’t Wait Wednesday : Scales and Sensibility (Regency Dragons) by Stephanie Burgis.

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is :Scales and Sensibility (Regency Dragons) by Stephanie Burgis.  I love this author.  Plus this title and the cover!!  I can’t wait.  Here’s why:

Scalesandsensibilit

Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.

However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.

A frothy Regency rom-com full of pet dragons and magical misadventures, Scales and Sensibility is a full-length novel and the first in a new series of standalone romantic comedies.

Expected publication : October 2021

#SPFBO Review : By the Pact (Pacts Arcane and Otherwise #1) by Joanna Maciejewska 

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By the Pact by Joanna Maciejewska is the fourth book from my Third Batch of books. My update post will be up soon and I shall be posting further information about my final three books asap.   My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first and second batch of books here and here and further information on SPFBO here.

Bythepact

By the Pact is a tale of demons and mages, sand and sorcery, I confess that I liked the way the author turns certain tropes on their head a little and I also found myself connecting quite well with the central duo.

As the story begins we step into a sort of Indiana Jones type adventure with two characters searching the desert for an old ruin and a valuable artefact.  Of course, you could be forgiven for immediately suspecting traps and trickery and you’d be spot on, up to a point – however, this particular trap has been laid by a demon. Imprisoned many years ago by archmages and believed to be dead by the majority of the world following a cataclysmic event, Veranesh is very much alive and not entirely happy at having spent the last few centuries entombed in crystal beneath the sand. The only way for the two to escape alive, albeit a temporary reprieve, is for one of them to make a pact.  Ultimately Veranesh wants freedom but how can anyone justify releasing the very monster who caused such widespread death and destruction?  Regardless, a pact is formed and the two main characters buy themselves a little time in which to think up a Plan B.

Now, I would point out that as I started this I felt a little overwhelmed at first, well, perhaps not overwhelmed so much as in the dark a little.  There were lots of references about past events, mages, highmages, archmages, demons and their ranks not to mention arcanists and mage killers.  So, yes, at first I was trying to figure out all the whys and wherefores at the same time as wondering if I was being incredibly dim witted.  As it happens, I think that you simply have to run with this because the author does a great job in gradually bringing you up to speed with the world, the characters and the demons and their own hierarchy – so, be patient.

The two central characters are Kamira, who potentially gave up a promising career as a highmage following a dispute with one of her teachers and turned instead onto the path of the arcanist and her friend and adventuring partner Veelk who is a very capable warrior and mage killer. Alongside this there are a couple of other plotlines involving certain characters.  A queen whose lands have been taken over by an army of demons following an unlikely pact between four stronger demons who has been forced to flee and seek refuge.  Her people have become dependent on magic that they thought kept them protected, they’re also addicted to the essence of magic that has been constantly available to them through a structure or relic that is now destroyed.  The other storyline involves one of the Archmages who seeks power and is constantly trying to manipulate those around him.  As these three storylines develop the nature of the demons and the role they play is revealed and it definitely turns things on their head a little in a rather surprising way.

I found By the Pact very easy to read.  I may have got off to a slightly hesitant start but as the story progressed I found myself forming attachments to the two central characters.  They have clearly been on a lot of adventures together and obviously care about each other and this comes through in their banter.  I also really appreciated the twist on the demon trope.  Don’t get me wrong – the demons are still, well, demonic, but at the same time they have their reasons for behaving the way they do, the pacts they form are usually beneficial to both parties and there is a well thought out element to why humans really need them (probably more so than the reverse). That’s not to say I’d be rushing to make any pacts myself but I think what basically comes to light is that, as with any race there are elements of good and bad and so whilst I wouldn’t say that you’re going to get any soft and fluffy demons here you do encounter those that live by a certain code of conduct – (although even those might rip your arms and legs off if you annoy them too much). Just saying.

In terms of the pacing.  Well, certainly this seemed to gather in strength as the story got underway.  The author steadily adds layer by layer to the characters.  We find a little more of their back stories and definitely in terms of Kamira her character arc was really quite pleasing as certain traits were teased out of her.  Veelk was perhaps a little less well drawn.  He came across like a Conan the Destroyer type warrior, hench, rushing into the fray with a smile on his face like a killing machine and womanising on his days off.  I didn’t dislike him, I enjoyed the friendship he shared with Kamira but he was a little bit predictable. Veranesh? Well, I ‘m not going to say I liked him – he’s a demon, can you really trust him? I mean, your basic definition of ‘demon’ is ‘an evil spirit or devil’ – however, he definitely added a certain something here even if I don’t buy into his ‘nicey-nicey’ side.

Criticisms.  Well, a slightly slow start whilst I was getting used to all the dynamics. One of the central characters could use a little more fleshing out, but, I think the only issue I really encountered was quite a number of mistakes or perhaps typos.  I mentioned in a previous review that I don’t usually mention such things but this one felt like it needed another once over with a red pen and whilst it didn’t spoil the read I think it could very easily annoy other readers.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  9. Carrion by Alyson Tait
  10. Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens
  11. Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation, #1) by Phillip Blackwater 

#SPFBO Review : Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation, #1) by Phillip Blackwater 

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Rising Shadows by Phillip Blackwater is the third book that I picked up from my Third Batch of books.  I’ve actually completed all four books now so will be posting my final review and update post very soon.  I then have three books remaining to be read which I shall elaborate on very soon.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first and second batch of books here and here and further information on SPFBO here.

Rising Shadows

Rising Shadows is a return to old school fantasy in many respects.  Set on the continent of Exitium the story centres on the ongoing war between North and South and the eventual pacts that will need to be forged between humans and elves in order to hold back the forces of Ethula.  The world of Anteris has many different inhabitants (at least those we viewed from this first instalment, humans, elves and dwarves to mention a few.  There are also some fantastical creatures such as griffins and wendigoes.  The magic of this world is provided through the Shards of Creation – most of which seem to reside within the world of the elves who, to all intents and purposes, misuse them greatly relying on their magical qualities simply to live comfortably within a beautifully carved city.

As the story begins we make the acquaintance of Wariel Ritch, general of the human army.  Summoned by the Queen, Dana Crystaloak, Wariel is sent on a mission to train the Elves in swordsmanship following an agreement reached by the Queen and the King of the Elves.  It is hoped this sharing of knowledge will help to create a strong alliance between the two.  At the same time, Medregal Tergrast, once the proud king of Ethula but dead these past thousand or so years, seeks to return to the land of the living.  He needs five keys to unlock the realm of the dead and flood the world with his army of souls.  Finally, during Wariel’s absence, the ruling Council seek to undermine the Queen’s rule, plotting to replace her with a more pliable alternative.  Eventually, the quest to find the keys overrides all other instructions as Wariel and Medregal race to find the pieces.

In terms of the characters.  Wariel is the main focus.  He is joined on his journey by a number of others including two brothers who seem to share some genetic makeup with the tall warriors of the Northdran race and a woman fighter who joins the group for personal reasons, her identity remains hidden for a good portion of the story and so I shalln’t elaborate further at this point.

The setting will be familiar to fantasy readings.  It has a typical mediaeval feel to it in terms of weapons, mode of travel etc.  The author succeeds in showing readers quite a good portion of this particular continent as we follow the quest for the keys.  We obviously travel to the main Elven city, we visit the dwarves in their mountain and risk the cold heights where the Northdran live.

For the most part I found this an easy read.  It put me in mind of a strange mash up of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but, I don’t think it shares the complexity of those novels.  Not necessarily a bad thing as this could work as a gateway novel for some.

Personally, I had a couple of issues.  Primarily relating to language.  Firstly the dialogue which felt too modern.  Without going into particular examples the word ‘sure’ is used a lot.  And, I know it probably sounds a bit trivial but it actually pulled me out of my reading wormhole on a number of occasions.  There were other modern terms used but ‘sure’ is the one that immediately springs to mind.  The second element relates to some of the ‘naming’ elements, such as ‘the Human Army’ – I couldn’t help thinking that giving the army a name might have worked better somehow – but that’s obviously a very small personal preference. Perhaps the author is going for a very easy to access novel that won’t put off ‘new to fantasy’ readers.and I confess, I wasn’t expecting lots of olde worlde language – but this really struck a chord with me and unfortunately it wasn’t one that I really enjoyed.  Now, on top of this, I have mentioned that this has an old school feel and that leads to my other issue.  This felt too familiar.  Sometimes that familiarity is a source of comfort and so it could be a ‘mood’ experience as much as anything else, but, I didn’t really feel like this tested some of the overused tropes or brought anything new to the fantasy scene.

Little quibbles aside, I had no problem reading through this one and I think it could appeal to new readers, plus, I don’t think there was any (that I can recall) profanity or other issues such as an overabundance of violence (although there were clearly a number of fight scenes) or sexual content (which I think occurred off page) making this quite a clean read (although, I could be wrong – such things don’t always jump out at me so check with the author first!)

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  9. Carrion by Alyson Tait
  10. Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

Last week I was absolutely determined to finish reading The Empire’s Ruin plus another of my SPFBO books and I’m pleased to report that I stuck with the plan.  I loved Empire’s Ruin – yes, it took me a while to get through it but that wasn’t due to lack of enjoyment just that I was savouring it and it was a book that was very easy to step back into.  I’m now almost half way through my fourth SPFBO book – I’ll then be onto my final three books – woot.  I am a little behind and that’s why I’ve not been posting additional extras such as interviews and guest posts – I just want to forge ahead at the moment and catch up with my reading commitments and blog hopping.

Next Week

This week I’m hoping to complete my current SPFBO read and hopefully read The Women of Troy by Pat Barker.

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

Friday Face Off : noir detective

Posted On 3 September 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags:

Comments Dropped 4 responses

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

1920s feel, noir detective

I literally have no idea what I wa thinking this week so I went with a series that I started, enjoyed, but unfortunately didn’t find time to continue.  The Ray Electromatic Mysteries by Adam Christopher:

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week :’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

2021

September (RIP event)

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn.  This is a book set in a village riddled by plague in 1665 and is a fictional story based on true events.  

Hemlock

It is 1665 and the women of Eyam keep many secrets.

Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about Wulfric, the pious, reclusive apothecary.

Mae, Wulfric’s youngest daughter, dreads her father’s rage if he discovers what she keeps from him. Like her feelings for Rafe, Isabel’s ward, or the fact that she studies from Wulfric’s books at night.

But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.

When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae will place them both in unimaginable peril.

And meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all . . .

Based on the real history of an English village during the Great Plague, The Hemlock Cure is an utterly beguiling tale of fear and ambition, betrayal, self-sacrifice and the unbreakable bond between two women.

Expected publication : February 2022

Feral Creatures (Hollow Kingdom #2) by Kira Jane Buxton

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Knocked it out the park

FeralCreatures

Wow – mind blown.  With dubious feelings I picked up Hollow Kingdom just shy of a year ago and managed to completely fall in love with a strange crow known as ST.  Such a unique concept, an apocalyptic world, destroyed by humans, or mofos as we are known in the Hollow Kingdom, and a story told by animals as they try to survive.  A world where nature is slowly reclaiming her lost territory, until further changes and abominations begin to slowly surface.  I really enjoyed this strange mix of refreshingly original, darkly funny and sometimes slightly horror soaked storytelling and I highly recommend it.

Again, with a dubious heart, I picked up Feral Creatures.  Dubious simply because, well, firstly, I wasn’t expecting a second book so it was a surprise – a very welcome one of course – but then, let’s be honest, sometimes second books suffer the dreaded Middle Book Syndrome and I had such good memories of the first in series – anyway, hold the phone because this book was even more of all the goodness that made Hollow Kingdom such an excellent read.  More animals, more emotion, more fantastic writing.  I loved it.  Now, I know you’re all super excited and want to pick this one up right now, but, listen to my wise words – if you haven’t already read the first then pick that up before reading this- also spoilers may be present for book one so be warned, if you haven’t yet started the series, stop reading now.

Feral Creatures starts almost immediately where Hollow Kingdom left off.  ST is looking after a young human nestling, a baby if you will, known as Dee.  Between ST and the owls they take care of this fragile little human who seems to attract wildlife and nature with apparent ease.  In certain respects you could call this a coming of age tale, also a tale of a parent letting go of their beloved child.  This is a dangerous world and ST doesn’t want to let go, he wants to run and hide with his beloved mofo.  Dee has other ideas.  She thinks she’s part crow, part owl, part bee, well, basically she’s a carefree and wild young woman simply trying to win the approval of her strange family. At the same time as all this ‘coming of age’ tale is taking place the world is changing, humans are changing, and the nature of the wild is in danger.  Dee could be the key to maintaining balance but ST, having already lost two beloved family members, is more intent on keeping her hidden and out of harm’s way.  At the end of the day ST is about to come to terms with the lesson that most parents eventually learn – your children grow up, they want to become adults, they want you to be proud but they want to make their own choices.

In one word I can tell you what I loved about this: everything.  The story itself is again intriguing.  The author manages to bring to you a story of family and the difficulty of letting go of your fledglings.  Dee is a fantastic character but she’s supported by a wonderful cast of animals and birds that simply makes the goosebumps stand up on your arms.  Imagine being beloved of such a range of critters.  It gives me happy feelings.  Then Dee.  Desperate for acceptance, longing for approval, making bold strides forward when ST simply wants to hide her under a rock.  I just loved this dynamic.  How on earth can we have a post apocalyptic world of, quite possibly the strangest make up I’ve ever read, and yet have a completely domestic, family feel between such a discordant bunch of characters. It’s absolutely mind blowing and I loved it.

Now, add to this the writing.  Oh my giddy aunt.  The writing is beautiful. It’s funny  There are references aplenty.  But, more than that, the writing is simply bewitching.  Like, every little bit of what is on the page feels ‘animalistic’ or ‘birdlike’ or from the realm of insects.  It’s simply wonderful.  I feel completely in awe of the writing because every element feels as though it was chosen to help you delve into the wonder of nature.  The animals and their movements are described with a charming simplicity but on top of that all the descriptions have a natural feel to them that brings another element to the story.  Also, wow, so clever.  Don’t be thinking to rush through this because although it is actually a quick read – you need to pay attention or else you will miss so many of the little plays that are going on and they’re just delightful.

My emotions ran riot.  I did actually cry whilst reading this and that is not something that I do lightly or actually admit to very often.  It was the emotional impact of what was going on.  I just couldn’t help myself. There’s a beauty to this, a simplicity and at the same time it just resonates.  How that can actually be possible? I don’t know.  Basically the author has tapped into something here about all creatures and the roles they play.  It’s touching, it’s familiar and it’s insightful.

And of course there are still the horror elements.  This is a world altered beyond recognition.  The beauty of this story is that we don’t really follow or reflect on the human struggle as such and that’s what makes this so gloriously original.

Look, I’m going to stop here.  I think I’ve quite possibly gushed enough.  Frankly I think this will  be one of my top reads of the year.  It certainly surpassed the first and if there is a further instalment, which I suspect might very well be a possibility (please make it happen), well, consider me here for that. In fact just give me the book, now.  Pretty please.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

Another slow week –  in terms of reading and blogging (hectic in other ways) – but, although I’ve only completed one book this week it was such a good book that it has me on a book high at the moment.  I picked up Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton and it was absolutely brilliant.  Better than the first imo – which I don’t see how it’s even possible but there we go.  I actually cried.  And the writing – wow.  Review to follow very soon.  I’ve also been continuing with The Empire’s Ruin which is also an amazing book, I’m about 75% in so should finish that this week.   I will also be completing my third SPFBO book – which does put me a little behind, to be honest I was hoping to do some reading this weekend but after a trip to the dentist my past three days have been all about the migraines! Not very pleasant and definitely no good for reading.

I need to finish my current SPFBO book and pick up the fourth in the batch.  I will be primarily concentrating on these for the next few days so that I can put together my update post.

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

Friday Face Off : Sunbathing or on the beach

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

Sunbathing or on the beach

This week I’ve gone for a book that I read a long time ago and loved.  It was recommended to me by a colleague who to a large degree, without doubt, swayed my reading tastes and definitely influenced my future reading, The Beach by Alex Garland.  I loved this book, a lot more than the movie (NGL) but regardless of that here is a very small selection of the covers.:

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : 1920s feel, noir detective

2021

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

#SPFBO Review : Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Posted On 26 August 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: , ,

Comments Dropped 2 responses

SPFBO71024_1

Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens is the second book that I picked up from my Third Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month which will then be followed by my update post.  After this batch I will have three books remaining and will post my fourth and final batch of books during the following month.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first and second batch of books here and here and further information on SPFBO here.

Iarr

Iarraindorn took me a little by surprise because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this one and it fairly quickly managed to intrigue me with it’s unique style.

As the story begins three Druids, under the cover of night, make an animal sacrifice to the gods and watch for a sign.  Unfortunately, what unfolds as the storm clouds gather is the last thing they expected.  They are beset by demons like beasts with red eyes and sharp teeth who storm the village.  At the same time, in an inconspicuous mud hut a man and wife (Caiside and Genovefa) await the birth of their first son (Nuadhu).  The timing of these events is no coincidence and it soon becomes apparent that the attack on the village was driven by an enemy eventually known as the Great Adversary and his army, the Sons of Cain, who seek the newborn child.  The warriors make a good stand and eventually, with some divine assistance the village succeeds against this deadly threat.  The Archangel Anael came to their aid, her mission to protect Nuadhu who becomes known as the Champion of Man.

From there onwards we follow Nuadhu through the years and observe his training and relationships with his parents, his younger brother Pwyll and Anael.  Eventually the villagers begin to resent what they see as a potential threat and Nuadhu’s position becomes a little more difficult until one day the King of the tribes visits the village.  He has heard of Nuadhu and has made the decision that the risk he poses is to great and his life is forfeit.  Anael manages to escape the village with Nuadhu and Pwyll after their parents are murdered and the brothers are determined to seek revenge.

I must admit that the early chapters were probably my favourite parts of the read with Nuadhu and his brother growing up and training – however, I would point out that these chapters move at a rapid pace with little time spent on descriptions and the like.  To be honest this is another fairly short read at a little shy of 200 pages and so there’s a lot to get through and I guess it could have become quite wieldy if the author dwelled too long.  As it is, we are fairly soon introduced to an adult Nuadhu – a young man who plans to bring down his enemies.

In terms of setting.  The story takes place during the Iron Age, I think towards the latter years as we have the inclusion of the Roman army as the story unfolds.  I’m certainly not an expert though so I could be wrong on that score.

Overall I found this an easy read, it went in a direction that I hadn’t seen coming at all and was a bit shocking but at the same time I have a little light bulb at the back of my head about where the story might go next and I am intrigued enough to want to see what actually happens.

In terms of criticisms. Well, I hate to sound like a broken record, but, I think that the length of this is perhaps my biggest issue.  I think with a little extra the characters could have had a lot more impact and felt more rounded, the same really with the setting which was very thinly drawn with little detail about everyday life thrown into the mix.  It is an interesting concept but I would have liked to have a better feel for the people and place is all.  Obviously this is a personal preference and short and sweet works well for some readers.

I received a copy courtesy of the author for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  9. Carrion by Alyson Tait

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis:

theoriginsofAuthor of the critically-acclaimed debut The Wolf Road, Beth Lewis returns with her brand new novel The Origins of Iris where Wild meets Sliding Doors.

‘I opened my eyes and the woman wearing my face opened hers at the same time.’

Iris flees New York City, and her abusive wife Claude, for the Catskill Mountains. When she was a child, Iris and her father found solace in the beauty and wilderness of the forest; now, years later, Iris has returned for time and space to clear her head, and to come to terms with the mistakes that have led her here. But what Iris doesn’t expect in her journey of survival and self-discovery is to find herself – literally.

Trapped in a neglected cabin deep in the mountains, Iris is grudgingly forced to come face to face with a seemingly prettier, happier and better version of herself. Other Iris made different choices in life and love. But is she all she seems? Can she be trusted? What is she hiding?

As a storm encroaches, threatening both their lives, time is running out for them to discover why they have been brought together, and what it means for their futures.

An important, searing novel about one woman’s journey in fleeing an abusive relationship and confronting the secrets of her past

This is literally just published (about five days ago) – and I’d completely missed this so I’m very excited to find out it’s already out there on shelves.  Can’t wait to go buy a copy 😀

#SPFBO Review : Carrion by Alyson Tait

Posted On 24 August 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: , ,

Comments Dropped one response

SPFBO71024_1

Carrion by Alyson Tait is the first book that I picked up from my Third Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month which will then be followed by my update post.  After this batch I will have three books remaining and will post my fourth and final batch of books during the following month.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first and second batch of books here and here and further information on SPFBO here.

carrion

As the book begins we meet Riley Rook.  Riley is the coven matriarch of the Rooks – basically a long line in witches who protect humanity against evil.  Riley is in the process of observing a young witch who is not part of the coven and trying to decide whether this young woman can be persuaded to join the Rooks rather than facing the alternative, which is to control this youngster by any means necessary before her power runs out of control.  Unfortunately, Riley meets with a dreadful accident which makes the decision a moot point.

Regina Rook is the first daughter of Riley, her sister Renee being slightly younger.  As such she is expected to step up and serve the coven in her mother’s place.  The problem is that Regina has rebelled against the nature of herself and her family and taken to living alone wanting no part of the magic.  Unfortunately all of the family are unaware of the threat that looms.  The young girl that Riley watched is more powerful than they suspected and another person of interest also seeks power.

To be honest I expected to enjoy Carrion much more than I did as stories of witches and covens are basically my catnip and, I must say that this gets off to a very good start with the opening chapter introducing us to Riley.  However, with Riley’s death Regina takes the lead role and for some reason I found her a difficult character to connect with.

So, as mentioned, the Rooks are basically a coven of witches.  They have worked their magic for many many years but unfortunately due to dwindling numbers they are less powerful and more vulnerable than ever as the story begins.  The setting here is contemporary, easy to imagine without much description and we flit primarily between the family home, the morgue and the graveyard as ancient rituals must be observed following the death of a coven member.

The characters.  Well, as I mentioned above the main pov is Regina and unfortunately I did find myself struggling to get on board with her.  Don’t get me wrong, I can understand her rebelling against the family, it’s traditions and the responsibilities that are being put upon her shoulders, but, for me she came across a little unfeeling and somewhat difficult and I couldn’t really get a grasp on why that was the case.  Her mother dies at the start of the story yet I never really got a sense of any emotion from her and this is something that persisted throughout even during times of stress and danger.   The other characters only played a periphery role including Regina’s sister Renee – who I would have liked to spend more time with.  In terms of the antagonist – Sasha is the rogue young witch with the excess of power, again, I didn’t really feel that her motivations came across – apart from one episode where she rails against the coven and the way they fail to use their power – I think I wanted something a little more in depth.

The writing is actually very easy to get along with although there were quite a lot of errors.  I wouldn’t normally raise that as an issue but it did kind of stop me in my tracks quite often and probably contributed to my inability to really connect.

To be fair to the author this is a relatively short story with probably just over 100 pages and so a very quick read. I admit that short stories and novellas often fail to work their magic on me because I feel myself wanting more and I think that’s the case here.  I feel like I came away from this not really understanding the nature of the coven or their magic, having very little understanding of their adversaries or really what they would eventually face if their magic failed and so whilst this could possibly work for others as a short introduction to this world I felt like I wanted more information (although I do appreciate that this might be forthcoming in future instalments).

I received a copy courtesy of the author for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale

Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Posted On 23 August 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
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Comments Dropped 6 responses

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

I’m very bad at the moment I must admit.  I just seem to be so busy that the blog, catching up and reading are going very slowly.  This is not deliberate, nor am I going on hiatus I just simply don’t have enough hours in the day at the moment.  I’ve kind of written August off and now remain hopeful that September will be much better for me.

This past week I read and enjoyed The Maleficent Seven and took part in the blog tour (thank you Angry Robots books).  I also completed another of my SPFBO books (so almost on track – phew).  I picked up Velvet Was the Night – as you may be aware (or not) I love the author but at the moment I’m struggling to get into this one.  I think it’s probably linked to my current weird and hectic August so I’m not giving up.  I’ve continued to read and love The Empire’s Ruin and I also started The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach – NGL – this is kind of hard work at the moment as it mimics (very well) the style of writing of the period in which it’s set.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a lot of classics and enjoyed them but it can be difficult to get back into this form of writing.  We’ll see.  I think I’ll try something different this week.

I’m still going to be reading review books and also another SPFBO book.  But, I’m going to go for something a little different.  I have two review books that I’m really looking forward to – Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton and The Women of Troy by Pat Baker.

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Carrion by Alyson Tait
  3. Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Friday Face Off : Dressed to kill

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

Woot – wifi is restored.  I will be catching up with comments and blog hopping slowly but surely 😀

This week’s theme:

Dressed to kill

This week I’ve gone for a very recent read by an author I’m really enjoying reading.  Being a new book there aren’t a lot of covers but I feel like the book and the covers really fit the theme – of course you’d need to pick up a copy to find out why that is.  Don’t be fooled by the character’s seemingly sweet and respectable appearance – she is anything but.  A chilling read that takes you into the mind of a serial killer.  This is also a book with two different titles – which do you prefer:

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : Sunbathing or on the beach

2021

August

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston @angryrobotbooks #themaleficentseven

Today I’m very happy to be joining the book tour for Cameron Johnston’s very aptly titled ‘The Maleficent Seven’ (check out the banner below for all the dates and details).

M7

I would start out this review by saying that this is a bloody, no holds barred, grim and dark murderfest.  Over the top much – just a tad!! There is plenty of squick and a little bit of nasty not to mention some colourful cursing.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, well, you’ve been warned.

I must admit that having read some of the superb reviews I think I was expecting a good deal more belly laughs with this one, but, I guess that’s the thing with humour, it’s all rather personal at the end of the day, and yet, regardless of the number of laughs this elicited it is undoubtedly an entertaining, fast paced read with a twisted ending and some very vibrant characters.  To be honest it’s a clever story because it completely turned me around and I thought the ending was brilliant.

As we set off on this journey we witness Black Herran, dreaded demonologist and fearsome general, on the brink of success, as she abandons her army.  Forty years later she returns and starts to reassemble the warriors that captained her army.  As you might imagine, the six warriors in question were none too pleased about being left in the lurch just as glory stood within reach, add to that the level of mutual mistrust, disgust and general hatred that they mostly feel towards each other and this will give you a loose idea of the magnitude of the endeavour.  Why did Black Herran disappear and why has she come back to reunite her old squad some 40 years later.  I won’t broach the first part of that question because there lies the land of spoilers.  The reason for this new summons is Black Herran is trying to protect a small,almost insignificant if you will, village, against a religious fanatic who is currently terrorising the country, destroying the peace and killing all those who refuse to worship his chosen deity.

For the most part, the plot itself is fairly simple, collect together a curious, ragtag band of warriors and incentivise them enough to join together.  Then shore up the village defences and wait for war to approach.  It seems fairly basic on the face of it but there is more to this than at first appears to be the case.  Also, let’s just get out of the way the play on the title and the ways in which it relates to the similarly named Magnificent Seven.  Firstly, the fundamental difference between magnificent and maleficent is enough to clue us in that this is not a band of reluctant heroes in the making here.  These are a bunch of nasty mofos who have come together for totally selfish reasons.  Never doubt that.  We have the small village under attack and the outrageous odds of seven, albeit very capable characters, standing up against what feels like inevitable defeat.  The villagers of course idolise them, even though they’re afraid and a number make a good stab (not sorry) at trying to learn the basics of survival.

To the characters.  Obviously Black Herran, general and demonologist, feared by all.  Her captains are Maevan – a necromancer with revenge and rescue in mind. Lorrimer Fella – a vampire who wants to restore his land. Tiarnach – a demigod who lost his status when his worshippers were all killed and sought solace in finding the bottom of many bottles.  Verena Awildan – a pirate Queen who demands loyalty from all her brethren and is accompanied by a curious animal that offers her strage protection. Amogg – a female Orc who has succeeded in gaining renown and status due to her strength and fighting abilities. Finally, Jerak Hyden – an alchemist with a warped and deviant sense of right and wrong.  To be honest, at first, I struggled to like any of them.  And, I think that may be intentional on the part of the author.  However, as the book progressed I realised that I had quite easily found myself liking Amogg – she’s a very simple character in many respects, honourable, fierce and says things the way they are, she takes on the training of a bunch of women and Penny in particular is a character I liked and would like to see more of.  I then found myself warming to the vampire even though his early penchant for bloodletting and what felt like cruel torture turned me off a little at the start.  I found myself rooting for him.  Go figure.  I even came round to the booze soaked demigod and his ridiculous antics.  What is going on here – these characters ‘snuck’ up on me when I wasn’t watching.  I never got on board with Jerak – in fact remove one of the vowels in that there name and I think you have a more apt moniker for him.  Again, though, I think this is deliberate on the part of the author.  There are no shortage of characters and without doubt you’ll find yourself on somebody’s team.  To be fair I liked the pirate queen as well.  The demonologist and necromancer are a good match for each other – I won’t say more because there are a few surprises up Cameron’s sleeve in this respect and I have to give a shout out to the way he managed to turn me around, give me characters to shout for or shout at

The writing is very easy to get on board with.  There aren’t hefty descriptions weighing down the story and yet at the same time there’s a good enough feel for the place and I felt like all the characters had their time in the spotlight.  In fact the characters are the shining grace here really because they undoubtedly went through something of a development arc for me anyway.  Well, the characters and the final chapters where we finally get some answers – don’t get me wrong, there are little reveals along the way but the final denouement is the real winner for me.  That and the epilogue which I hope means that there will be at least a further instalment.

Overall, this one got off to a little bit of a slow start for me.  I think maybe I picked this up with the wrong expectations in mind and so that put me of course for a while.  However, once I got back on track I found myself forming attachments and rather impatiently reading towards the end to see what was really going on.  And that ending, well, it holds plenty of promise.   What can I say?  Be patient, the author has a cunning plan in store, so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a fox.  Again, this isn’t for the faint of heart but if you fancy a good grimdark, blood soaked, over the top story with characters that will give you varying degrees of emotions then what you waiting for?

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars

Here’s the blog tour dates – don’t forget to check out the other reviews:

The Maleficent Seven book tour

Can’t Wait Wednesday : Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

Reckless Girls

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs comes a deliciously wicked gothic suspense, set on an isolated Pacific island with a dark history, for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.

When Lux McAllister and her boyfriend, Nico, are hired to sail two women to a remote island in the South Pacific, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Stuck in a dead-end job in Hawaii, and longing to travel the world after a family tragedy, Lux is eager to climb on board The Susannah and set out on an adventure. She’s also quick to bond with their passengers, college best friends Brittany and Amma. The two women say they want to travel off the beaten path. But like Lux, they may have other reasons to be seeking an escape.

Shimmering on the horizon after days at sea, Meroe Island is every bit the paradise the foursome expects, despite a mysterious history of shipwrecks, cannibalism, and even rumors of murder. But what they don’t expect is to discover another boat already anchored off Meroe’s sandy beaches. The owners of the Azure Sky, Jake and Eliza, are a true golden couple: gorgeous, laidback, and if their sleek catamaran and well-stocked bar are any indication, rich. Now a party of six, the new friends settle in to experience life on an exotic island, and the serenity of being completely off the grid. Lux hasn’t felt like she truly belonged anywhere in years, yet here on Meroe, with these fellow free spirits, she finally has a sense of peace.

But with the arrival of a skeevy stranger sailing alone in pursuit of a darker kind of good time, the balance of the group is disrupted. Soon, cracks begin to emerge: it seems that Brittany and Amma haven’t been completely honest with Lux about their pasts––and perhaps not even with each other. And though Jake and Eliza seem like the perfect pair, the rocky history of their relationship begins to resurface, and their reasons for sailing to Meroe might not be as innocent as they first appeared.

When it becomes clear that the group is even more cut off from civilization than they initially thought, it starts to feel like the island itself is closing in on them. And when one person goes missing, and another turns up dead, Lux begins to wonder if any of them are going to make it off the island alive.

Expected publication : January 2022

Mrs Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott

My five Word TL:DR Review : Jane Eyre, a contemporary retelling

MrsRochester'sghost

I enjoyed Mrs Rochester’s Ghost, probably more than I expected given how much I loved the original.  I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily ground breaking but it was easy to engage with and an entertaining read.

In terms of plot, this doesn’t exactly mirror the original, which to be fair I wouldn’t expect given the modern setting, but it does manage to include a lot of references.

Jane, in this retelling, is a young woman whose mother has died recently, she’s lost her job and her relationship has ended badly.  She can no longer afford to rent her flat and so when her cousin gets in touch with an offer of a rent free cottage she has little option but to accept.  Of course, everything is not quite as peachy as first seems to be the case.  Her new employer, Evan Rochester, owns Thorn Bluffs Estate, as well as other property around the world.  Money is not something which he is short of – although he is investing heavily in a new endeavour that places much of his wealth at risk.  Rochester’s wife died recently, drowning in a tragedy that some felt was suspicious and tongues still wag about whether or not he needed his wife’s money.  Evan is a surly man, he doesn’t particularly take to strangers and he only agrees to Jane using the cottage on the condition that she tutors his teenage daughter – but also stays out of his way as much as reasonably possible.

The case/suspicions against Rochester continue, mainly fuelled by his wife’s brother who is convinced of his guilt and is pursuing further evidence.  The locals are also not averse to a bit of gossip and strange occurences at the house, plus the rather veiled stories of the other staff all fuel Jane’s suspicions of what really happened and lead her to start her own cautious investigations.

What I liked about this.  It’s an easy read.  The writing is good, the pacing is fast, the descriptions and backstory are well integrated and there are no cumbersome info dumps.  It’s definitely an entertaining read and one that I had no problem swiftly turning the pages with.

The setting is well done, the author manages to ramp up the gothic appeal with swirling sea mists adding to the atmosphere and rumoured hidden passageways and secret escape tunnels add to the strange eeriness of the place.  Jane’s cottage is also rather creepily remote from the house – beautiful view not withstanding – and the quirky insecurity of the place add to the overall disquiet and make it easy to see why ghostly apparitions are easy to imagine.

The characters.  I think this is one of my main quibbles with the story.  Don’t get me wrong, I did like Jane.  Rochester I felt a little indifferent to and the supporting cast really didn’t make an impression at all.  Then we have the alternate pov chapters told by Rochester’s wife Beatrice.  Beatrice was stunningly beautiful, hauntingly so.  A former supermodel she eventually was forced into early retirement because of her swift temper and mental instability.  I enjoyed her chapters because although she came across as fragile and a little unstable her perspective delivered a version of accounts that cast doubt on the current inhabitants of the bluff – whilst also coming across as unreliable enough to make you jump backwards and forwards between the husband’s stories and the wife’s. However, and this is my first real issue – I didn’t think that Jane or Evan really shared any on page chemistry.  I didn’t buy into their feelings and didn’t really think the relationship came across as credible.  This is a problem because if you don’t buy into the love between these two characters then the retelling is fundamentally flawed imo.  I also struggled to feel any particular emotion towards Evan which makes it difficult to care about him or have any sympathy with regards to his situation, his experiences with his wife or his financial affairs.  I just couldn’t connect to him at all.

The setting.  As I already mentioned.  I liked the setting and thought the author managed to use it to full affect in terms of gothic atmosphere.  However, and this is just a personal whim, I think placing the estate in a coastal setting, and having the wife’s story revolve around drowning – well, it felt like the waters were muddied and I couldn’t help, more often than not, feeling that the author was channelling Daphne DuMaurier as much as Bronte.

I would say that if you’re a fan of Jane Eyre then you probably need to temper your expectations a little and in some respects I think I would have preferred this to be a story that stood on its own merit with original names, places, etc. but, as it is I would say this is an entertaining read that I completed with ease and enjoyed well enough to blast through at a good clip.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars

Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

Okay, supposedly my internet is restored.  Hopefully I will slowly but surely be catching up.  Yay.

I got off to a good week of reading.  I read Mrs Rochester’s Ghost.  I also read one of my SPFBO batch.  I continued with Empire’s Ruin and I’m onto the final straight and I also started the Maleficent Seven and I’m a quarter of the way in.

Continue with Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley, also complete The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston. If I manage to complete those two then perhaps start Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.  What you all reading this week ??

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Mrs Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott
  3. Carrion by Alyson Tait

Friday Face Off: A favourite holiday read

Posted On 13 August 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 4 responses

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

Okay, I still have no internet.  But.  I am going travelling in the next week so things might improve.

This week’s theme:

A favourite holiday read

Okay, this week I’ve gone for a book that i read some time ago. This is a book that was given to me by a colleague that I ended up loving.  The book I read was known as Cross Stitch but this has more popularly become known as the Outlander series.  This week I’ve simply gone for two covers:

My favourite:

Out1

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

2021

August

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Paper and Blood (Ink and Sigil #2) by Kevin Hearne

Posted On 12 August 2021

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments Dropped 2 responses

My Five Word TL:DR Review: Mixed feelings for this one

PandB

Paper and Blood is the second of the Ink and Sigil books by Kevin Hearne.  This is a series that is set in the same world/universe as The Iron Druid Chronicles and is therefore a contemporary setting with infinite supernatural possibilities.

I really enjoyed the first in series, primarily because of the characters.  Al MacBharrais is a blast of well needed fresh air in the urban fantasy genre.  He’s over 60,a widower and also suffering from a curse that prevents him having any real relationships with others, on top of this he’s a sigil agent which means he can wield magic through the use of symbols drawn onto paper with special ink.  There are a number of sigil agents scattered across the world and in this instalment a real threat is posed to Al’s counterpart from Australia who has gone missing.  Al immediately travels to Victoria to investigate and within fairly short order the body count escalates.

Now, I mentioned in my five word review that I had mixed feelings so let me start there.  What this series really has going for it is Kevin Hearne’s fantastic sense of humour.  I’ve written before about this author and the fact that he clearly enjoys himself when he’s writing and this shines through on the page.  His books are always a good deal of fun and he can create lovable characters with apparent ease.  In fact, as I also mentioned above, the characters are what really hooked me in the first instalment.  I also mentioned in my review of book No.1 that the plot felt a little scattered and wasn’t the winning element of the book for me and I think I had similar feelings in the case of Paper and Blood, which to be fair isn’t to say the plot here is bad (because it isn’t) so much that it, again, wasn’t my favourite part of the story.

I liked the setting with Al and his companions travelling through the bush encountering all sorts of creatures and traps as their journey progressed.  There’s an action adventure feel to this one, quick pacing and plenty of skirmishes, but, at the same time, I think I would have preferred to spend more time with Al in his Scottish setting as that’s something I really enjoyed in the first book and missed a little here.

To the characters – which I think was probably one of my main issues with this instalment.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention here that Atticus (of the Iron Druid Chronicles (IDCs) and his two trusty dogs join Al for this encounter.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Atticus very much and his dog Oberon is quite possibly my favourite fictional pooch – but, for me, it felt like Atticus stole the show a little, or more to the point Al seemed to take a back step and felt much flimsier than in the first book.  In fact, in some respects this felt like an attempt to bring some closure to the IDCs, maybe not even closure now I really think about it because it still felt like certain issues remained unanswered. I think what I’m trying to say in a roundabout fashion is that this felt more like a way to bring Atticus back into the picture and whilst I think IDC lovers will enjoy his role here, the fact that new readers didn’t need to be familiar with that particular series felt like a bonus at the time and so this instalment muddies those waters a little in my opinion.

Overall, this is a series that I would like to continue with but I’m hopeful that Al will recapture the feelings he inspired from Ink and Sigil and regain some of the agency that he seemed to lose a little here.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars

Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

Another week of naff internet and a post a day late – my life at the moment!.  My blog looks like I’ve gone on holiday.  I’m not responding to comments or blog hopping and in fact this post is a day late!  I keep being given reassurances that things are in motion – but basically, they lie!!  I’m beginning to have a general feeling of being ‘fobbed off’.  Oh well, worse things happen.  I’ve not read much this week because I’ve been busy with other life things.  I did manage to complete Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne – I think Iron Druid fans can also prepare to be happy with this one  I’ve also continued with Empire’s Ruin.  I feel like this is taking me a long time to get through and yet this isn’t a reflection of my enjoyment.  It seems a much chunkier book than I realised.  I absolutely love the characters.  I shall continue with this this forthcoming week but also pick up a couple of others.

Continue with Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley – I will finish this even if it feels like it’s turning into a saga.  I’d also like to pick up Mrs Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott and perhaps the Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston. What you all reading this week ??

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne

Friday Face Off : The Motel

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

So, I may have mentioned last week that my internet was pants?  Well, that situation continues with the old ‘we sent somebody out, didn’t they arrive?’ chestnut.  No they didn’t.  Therefore I’m still operating on my mobile data and doing very little other than posting.  I will catch up as soon as somebody (please, anybody) gives me my wifi back. I’m glad I didn’t hold my breath for things being resolved the past week, I’d be stone cold dead by now. On a more cheerful note –

This week’s theme:

“They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

This week I’ve gone for a book that came highly recommended.  I practically pulled something rushing to buy a copy of this one, okay, I may not have read it yet but I will do so very soon.  The Sun Down Motel by Simone St James.  To be honest, this is the very book that I had in mind for this week’s theme so let’s look at the covers:

My favourite:

Motel1

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : A favourite holiday read

2021

August

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce

My Five Word TL:DR Review: One Word Will Suffice: Brilliant

Triflers

Fairly recently I was delighted to discover Camilla Bruce when I read her excellent debut You Let Me In so I was so happy when I saw her most recent work Triflers Need Not Apply (or, In the Garden of Spite as it is also known) become available.  To be honest, the two books couldn’t be more different if they tried but one element they undoubtedly share is excellent writing and the ability to hold you gripped, mesmerised even.

Firstly, I have to hand it to the creator of both titles because they’re  so pertinent.  If pressed I’d probably say In the Garden of Spite is my favourite simply because it resonates in more than one way for me in terms of the story but both have their logic.

Moving on, this is a reimagining of the life of a notorious serial killer known as The Black Widow of the Midwest.  To date it is unknown exactly how many people fell victim to her schemes but Bruce does an amazing job of bringing her story to the page.  It’s like watching a disaster unfold – it’s horrible, grisly, bloody and twisted but at the same time creepily hypnotic, you’re simply unable to drag your eyes away.

We start our story with Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset, a young woman born into poverty and hardship.  Her family are unable to afford land instead working the farms of others.  Brynhild has bigger dreams but unfortunately her schemes backfire and she almost dies when she is viciously attacked.  Living in Norway becomes impossible for Brynhild and with help and some hard work she finally escapes to America, reinventing herself in the process and changing her name to Belle.  Belle moves in with her sister Nellie and her husband and child until eventually marrying herself.

Here’s the thing, I’m not going to go any further with the plot.  I think Bruce has done a fantastic job in researching this story and it clearly shows in the attention to detail both in terms of true events and the historical descriptions provided.

So, characters.  Well, Belle is an unusual character.  Being inside the head of a serial killer is not a pleasant experience, quite rightly so, but she certainly is intriguing to read.  I mean, you can’t like her, she’s monstrous, and I didn’t like her, if anything she scared me but there was just this horrible fascination with her thought processes. Strangely enough I usually struggle to read a novel where I don’t like the central character and yet I had no difficulty with this one. There are moments where you feel you can perhaps see how she found herself on this terrible path and there’s a clear demonstration here of the argument of nature vs nurture.  Belle has not had an easy life in many respects.  That being said, as we follow her sister Nellie’s chapters it does become apparent, fairly early on, that something is not quite right with Belle and as we continue to read her chapters you can’t help but see that she is different, and not in a good way, perhaps psychopathic even –  she doesn’t seem to feel remorse or regret, she seems emotionally detached and yet at the same time she integrates into society with ease coming across as virtuous and kind.

Belle’s sister Nellie, as mentioned above, provides alternating chapters which is a positively inspired choice.  Firstly, it gives a little respite from Belle’s twisted line of thinking and roller coaster emotions.  Secondly, it serves to ratchet up the tension as the story moves along and Nellie becomes increasingly worried about her sister’s actions but is too afraid to confront her.

At just shy of 500 pages this isn’t a short novel but I seriously didn’t feel that this was drawn out.  I think I was enjoying the writing, the setting, the details that helped pull me into the time and place and the stylish delivery so much that it never felt over long to me.  Maybe the fact that this is a serial killer that I wasn’t familiar with also helped with that.  I was hooked completely and in fact it was only on reading the author’s note after completion that I realised this was based on a true character. Mind = blown.

Overall, this was a fascinating reimagining of real life events that even to this day remain shrouded in mystery.  And, whilst I realise that this is a fictional account I loved the way the author portrayed the character of Belle.  Positively chilling.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Can’t Wait Wednesday : Spirits of Vengeance (A Mortal Techniques novel) by Rob J Hayes

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : Spirits of Vengeance (A Mortal Techniques novel) by Rob J Hayes.  I’m so excited to read this one.  I have a copy lined up and I was waiting desperately for the cover reveal – just look at it.  What a beauty:

Spirits
He’ll die as many times as it takes.

The Ipian Empire was once a land that welcomed dragons and spirits alike, but a century of war and bloodshed saw them all but vanish. Now, the lost things are returning and the Onryo have gathered. Five legendary spirits with mysterious powers, bent on freeing an ancient evil that would wreak havoc on humanity.

Haruto swore his soul to the God of Death for the chance to hunt down the vengeful ghost of his wife. Now an onmyoji, he’s tasked by the Imperial Throne to hunt down monsters and malicious spirits. But he knows not all spirits are evil and not all deserve the peace of the sword.

Kira is a student at Heiwa, an academy for children with dangerous techniques. But she has a secret, she’s not like the other students. When the school is attacked, she flees with one of the tutors, determined to hide both from those who would kill her, and those who would use her.

As a plague of spirits sweeps across the land, the Onryo leave a bloody trail for Haruto to follow. But who’s hunting who?

The Mortal Techniques novels are a series of stand-alone stories that can be read entirely independently, set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe.

Expected publication : September 2021

So, because I’m super helpful, because I love good cover art, because a thing of beauty is a joy for ever and simply just because I can – here are all three covers, posted here for your edification and delight – be warned, you may want to sit down as glimpsing all three together is simply overwhelming and might knock you off your feet:

#SPFBO 7 : My Third Batch of Books

Posted On 3 August 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
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SPFBO 7 is now into its third month and today I’m highlighting my next batch of four books.  To date I’ve read and reviewed eight books and my updates for Batch 1 and 2 can be found here and here.  All going to plan I should have only three books left to read, from my allocation of 15, come the end of this month.  

For those of you unfamiliar with SPFBO here and here are two posts that might provide some enlightenment.  Basically, SPFBO is the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, brainchild of Mark Lawrence.  300 hopeful authors submit their word babies.  10 Judges are allocated 30 books each.  Each judge chooses a finalist, the competition narrows to 10 hopeful candidates.  Alas, there can be only one winner so following an intense reading session where all the judges read and score each others finalists a winner finally emerges.  

The main change for myself this year is that I am joining up with the wonderful Critiquing Chemist and her lovely boffin.  We are very excited to start reading our batch (at the moment equally divided between the two blogs).  I love this part of the competition, it’s full of expectations and hope.  As in previous years  I will give a brief introduction to the books and authors that I’m picking up that month together with an update at the end of the month where I may roll some books forwards and cut others.  I know!  It’s a part of the competition that I’m not overly fond of but it is unavoidable.  Personally, I like to think that as the competition begins we already have 300 winners who each took that bold step to throw their hat into the ring and join in.  So, enjoy yourselves, take the opportunity to make friends and become part of the community.  

This month the four books that I will be reading from my third batch are:

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Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation #1) by Phillip Blackwater

Rising Shadows

As tension rises between the southern and northern nations of the small continent of Exitium in the world of Anteris, the Elves turn to their eastern neighbors, the Humans, for help. They wish to learn the ways of combat, which they are not accustomed to, for they have always wielded a power far greater than forged steel. The Shards of Creation, mystical artifacts of great and virtually infinite power, have always been their prized weapon, but times have changed. They now face the same threat as the Humans: the southern nation known as the Ethula.

Wariel Ritch, general of the Human army, will take upon his shoulders this burden. But when a shadow of a past long forgotten threatens what little stability is left in the world, he will have to leave everything behind to stop it. Medregal Tergrast, an Ethulan king, dead for a thousand years, plans his return to the world of the living to gain back his former glory and finally fulfill his destiny by gaining control of the Shards of Creation. But is he really the threat people make him out to be?

In the meantime, in the bowels of the Human Kingdom, the reign of Dana Crystaloak is put into jeopardy when people around her start questioning her decisions. If she falls, war could break out across all lands.

About the Author

If you found your way here, then you must already know I love to write. I am a fan of fiction, mostly fantasy, sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic (amongst others), and in all its forms, whether it is books, video games, movies, or tv-shows.

The first time I truly realized how much I loved fiction, was through The Lord of the Rings’ movies (like probably a lot of people). Since then, I traveled to so many different worlds: Halo, Mass Effect, Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, Witcher, and Fallout (to only name a few). It made me want to explore my own imagination and see what worlds I could create. This is what led me, among other things, to writing.

What can you expect from my books? I don’t bother myself trying to be a flowery writer, I want my writing to be available to everyone. And what I want above all when people read my books, is for them to have a good time and some fun. This is what truly matters to me.

When I’m not writing, I am: A husband. A father of three cats. Reading, gaming, or watching movies and tv shows. A big hockey fan. And when I’m done with all of that, I’m a big geek and collect a lot of stuff (No, I’m not a hoarder, I swear!).

You can follow my Twitter (@phil_blackwater) or my Instagram (@phil_blackwater), or register to the newsletter on my website, to know when new stories are available.

 

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By the Pact (Pacts Arcane and Otherwise 1) by Joanna Maciejewska

Bythepact

High mages lied: Veranesh, the demon who destroyed the continent is still alive. And it’s up to their former student to expose the truth—even if it means another Cataclysm.

When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?

JMAbout the Author

Born in Poland, Joanna spent most of her childhood in Poznan, then moved to Dublin, Ireland, where she lived for over 8 years. In 2016 she moved to the US, where she hopes to finally settle.

She writes speculative fiction, so it goes without saying that she’s a fan of science-fiction and fantasy – mainly books, but also movies, comics and games (both video games and tabletop RPGs).

When she’s not busy writing, reading, or gaming, she enjoys crafts and drawing.

Melfka.com
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

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Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Iarr

ON THE NIGHT THAT HE WAS BORN, THE DEVIL CAME TO KILL HIM The son of a farmer in Iron Age Britain, Nuadhu finds himself thrust into a destiny he is ill-prepared for. After his king murders his parents, he and his brother are forced to flee into the Roman Empire under the protection of the archangel Anael. Meanwhile, a plague of the undead is sweeping across Europe from the east, raising their slain enemies as new allies. Their goal is not the conquest of one tribe or nation, but the subjugation of all humanity. Can one warrior-in-exile, hungry for vengeance, build a force to repel this existential threat? The riveting new historical fantasy adventure from the author of FROM THE HILL OF MEGIDDO and the ARMAGEDDON’S OFFSPRING series!

About the Author

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Carrion by Alyson Tait

carrion

The Rook legacy: duty at all Costs. Regina’s family are the last living members after a long line of magical families. Their heritage is a promise to the world; they can be trusted to keep magic from corrupting power hungry witches — In doing so they keep an unearthly evil from crushing humanity.

When Regina Rook’s mother dies a sudden, violent death, the living coven members come from around the world to attend the funeral, and begin breathing down her neck as next in line to lead. Trying to find a balance between her own goals and her family’s demands, all the while keeping her recent nightmares hidden where she becomes the very thing they fighting.

But when those things become intertwined, can she do anything but watch as the world around her crumbles to ancient horrors?

About the Author:

(I’m a little puzzled with the author info for Carrion.  On Amazon the author shows as Alyson Tate, on Goodreads as Jamie Benson and Alyson Tait, and on the cover Alyson Tait – apologies if I have the wrong author information here).

***

 

Good luck to this month’s authors.

#SPFBO : My Second Batch of Books – Update

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Today I’m posting an update for my second batch of SPFBO books (which can be found here).  This year I’m teaming up with the lovely ladies from the Critiquing Chemist and we split the batch of books equally – which gives me a little more time this year.

This month I read and reviewed all four books from my second batch and today I’m providing my feedback on which books will be cut or rolled forward.  At this point I’m not making any decisions on semi-finalists as the semi finalists will be decided by both blogs before agreement on a finalist is reached. We will each put forward hopefuls and then take it from there.

I would mention that this is ultimately the most difficult part of the competition for judges and authors.  I don’t find making cuts easy to be honest however it’s the nature of the competition.  There can be only one. I would also like to thank the authors of the books that are highlighted today for taking the decision to throw their hat into the ring.  It can’t be easy and I definitely applaud you for taking this step.

Without further ado here is my feedback from the second batch of books:

Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris 

Berserker

Alex is a game developer though he’d much rather stream RPG classics or spend time with Louie. That’s his  adorable corgi. He also hates people.  Not in a homicidal way but rather in an extremely-antisocial one.Unless you hurt Louie.

In such an instant, Alex is pulled in the Apocosmos, where our whole world is just a blip in a colorful tapestry of million others. A multiverse ruled by a strict system. Where Norse, Greek, and Celtic pantheons clash. Where dwarves craft, dragons hoard, and vampires don’t glitter. A world that is as cruel as epic.

Alex wants none of that though. He just wants to earn an early retirement somewhere in Spain. There’s money to be made in the Apocosmos. Alex will take advantage of the market just like he did in his MMORPG days, in what seems like an error-proof plan. But it’s a zero-sum game and some would do anything to eliminate competition.
 

My review is here.

In a nutshell, I had fun with Berserker, it was an enjoyable read that I had a few issues with but nothing that really spoiled the read.  If you like litRPG this could be your next read, I would certainly be interested to see what happens in the next instalment.

Conclusion: Cut

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Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C. Marks

SM

In life, love, and family, there is always strength in numbers.

Something is off balance between the Windsong Sisters, and for Opal and Ruby, the terrible might of their powers may just lead them to catastrophe—or clarity. As half-elf mages in the service of the Order of Aiuna, the sisters spend their days collecting and preserving anything that magic touches, and as their mission takes them further back into their past, the darkness that awaits them there threatens to destroy everything they hold dear.

Despite the dark smoke rising around them, Opal is finding it hard to ignore the flames flickering between herself and Baerdun. There’s just something about it that makes her feel weak, and not just in the knees. With so much happening around them, it’s becoming much harder to keep her head above water and her heart her own.

After everything they’ve lost—what if they lose themselves as well?

Enter a world where shadows exist within and without, and follow Opal, Ruby, and Baerdun down a path that will either bring them together or force them apart.

My review is here.

In a nutshell, this is fantasy and romance combined.  It has a very unusual and unique concept and was easy to get along with.  I think readers of romance who like a fantasy setting may enjoy this one – warning: it does become a little ‘steamy’ as the storyline progresses.

Conclusion : Cut

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Book of Secrets (Merged Series #1) by Claudia Blood 

BoS

Joshua Lighthouse never wanted to save the world, but now he has no choice.

Three hundred years ago, the human world and the world of Myth underwent a cataclysmic Merge. Those who survived – both human and Others – formed factions. Joshua led one faction, the Human Protection Agency, which is charged with maintaining the safety of the humans in his city. He secretly protects an artifact more powerful than even he knows…

My review is here.

In a nutshell, urban fantasy that manages to deliver a unique idea in terms of the Merge.  It felt a little rushed in parts that made it difficult to connect to the central characters but for UF lovers this could be the start of an interesting series.

Conclusion : Cut

***

Dragonbirth byRaina Nightingale

Dragonbirth

In a world where dragons are considered demons and Dragonriders are hunted and killed as witches…

A devout village-girl, Silmavalien, meets a dragon hatchling and discovers a love she could never have dreamed. At the same time, her world is ripped apart as she discovers the gods she has worshipped and everything she has ever been taught or believed is a monstrous lie. Not knowing what to believe – or even if she can trust her engaged, Noren, with her new secret – she must find a way to care for herself and her dragon, Minth, in a wild and hostile world, a world which only grows stranger as the days pass.

My review is here.

In a nutshell this reads like a coming of age story about a young girl who bonds with a baby dragon and must then leave behind everything and everyone she knows in order to keep them both alive.  The writing didn’t quite work for me with this one and the repetition prevented me from connecting to the characters as much as I would have liked.  There are plenty of dragons though and maybe this is aimed more at a MG audience.

Conclusion : cut

 

My thanks again to the authors.

I will be posting my third batch of books very soon.

Booking Ahead/Weekly-Monthly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

This week was a bit poop.  My internet is absolutely pants so whilst I’ve managed to post things to the blog this has been achieved by using my mobile data.  Consequently I haven’t been blog hopping because this would just wipe me out.  Hopefully an engineer is paying a visit in the next few days so normal service may be resumed (fingers crossed).  I have posted four reviews this week though so all good on that front, I completed my second batch of SPFBO books and also read Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce.  My buddy reads were a disaster this month (apologies to my lovely blogger buddies – I will do better this month).

Continue with Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley (which unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to pick up this last week) and also pick up Mrs Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott or Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne.  I will also be posting about my next four SPFBO reads.

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce

Books read during July:

  1. Meet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silvey
  2. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  3. The Past is Red by by Catherynne M Valente
  4. The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi
  5. Come With Me by Ronald Malfi
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  9. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  10. Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce – rtf

#SPFBO Review : Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale

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Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale is the fourth and final book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month which will be followed by my update post on Monday.  I have seven books remaining and will post my third batch of books during the forthcoming week.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

Dragonbirth

As the title suggests, this is a book of dragons.  A young village girl, Silmavalien, finds what she thinks is an unusual stone that eventually hatches into a dragon that bonds with her.  In a world where dragons are thought of as demons the birth of this dragon must be kept secret and the obvious and only course for Silmavalien seems to be to leave her village and family behind and go into hiding with her new companion.

Essentially this book is about Silmavlien’s journey with her dragon and her struggles to keep them both alive along the way.

This one reads almost like a journal with a lot of focus on the everyday essentials of survival whilst keeping a young dragon with a large appetite alive.  To be honest, in some respects there is such a lot of attention paid to these everyday tasks that it makes it difficult to form any real attachments to either the dragon or the young girl and in fact the plot feels a little thin with a lot of repetition.

To be fair to the author she mentions in her foreword that she wrote this story when she was in her early teens and in that respect this is an achievement but, for me, it feels unpolished in its current form and not a book that I would really recommend.

I do love dragons and so I really wanted to love this one but it didn’t quite work out for me.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood

Friday Face Off : Chaos

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

I just would mention that I’ve not been very active blog hopping this week.  I have a problem with the internet and have someone due out to try and fix things in the next couple of days.  I’ve been managing to post by simply using my mobile data but it runs out so quickly so I’m being careful.  Anyway, hopefully, fingers crossed, wi-fi will be back to normal shortly.

This week’s theme:

Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one?

Okay, I’ve gone for a cover that I really like for this theme which seems contradictory.  Veil of the Deserters is the second book in the Bloodsounder’s Arc series by Jeff Salyard.  I haven’t read this one yet even though I really enjoyed the first and do own a hard copy of this one.  The cover I was recalling is crazily chaotic and really stands out.  There are only two covers for this one.  Take a look:

My favourite:

Veil1

I just love it – the colours, all the action, there’s such a lot going on here but in a good way.

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : The Motel

2021

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

#SPFBO Review : Book of Secrets (Merged Series #1) by Claudia Blood

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Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood is the third book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month (my fourth and final book from this batch will be posted on Saturday followed by an update post on the following Monday.  I have read the fourth book now so I have eight books tucked under my belt and 7 more remaining.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here. (Links to all reviews so far are posted below).

BoS

Joshua Lighthouse is the main character of Book of Secrets and also the reluctant hero.  Almost 300 years ago the world as we know it experienced an event that has become known as the Merge.  During a meteor shower the earth and the world of myth collided.  Since that time humans and those known as Others (a term that covers many species of fictional supernatural characters) have existed on the same plane – although not amicably so.

As a result of tension the Human Protection Agency was established, as the name suggests, to protect humans.  Over the course of the years Joshua worked his way to the top of the Agency, always closely guarding a secret that could change his fortune – at the same time becoming (ironically) responsible for a powerful book known as the Book of Secrets.  With the 300th anniversary of the Merge fast approaching it seems that this knew world is under threat from those who want to see their fortunes reversed.  Joshua finds himself discredited and the Book of Secrets stolen out from under him.  He’s in a race against time before the world he now knows is unmerged and his unlikely ally is a Pack member called Serene – herself one of the ‘most wanted’ from the Human Protection Agency.

I would describe Book of Secrets as urban fantasy.  I quite liked the idea of the merge although I did find the execution a little clunky as the book began and also maybe a little rushed as we immediately jump forward almost 300 years to reconnect with Joshua – who has matured and is now an adult, but clearly an adult with an unusually long lifespan – this is accounted for but I won’t share the explanation here.

We largely follow Joshua as he is dragged unknowingly into  a string of events that will bring everything he knows crashing down – at the same time he meets Serena who has experienced the loss of her pack and is determined to find out who is responsible and why. This element of the story develops into a romance although this doesn’t take over the main story.

Book of Secrets is, I felt, quite plot focused.  The pacing is fast, you’re thrown into Joshua’s new world and expected to hit the ground running.  Having read a good deal of UF in the past I didn’t particularly find this a problem, I didn’t mind the fast pace and thought the author came up with some original ideas which is quite an achievement given that this is a popular genre of fantasy.

However, I did have a few issues.  I felt like the characters were a little flat and this made it difficult for me to connect with them or really invest in any potential threats and I struggled in some ways to visualise the world – in my head I was picturing this as a modern world but then in others I was wondering how the Others fit in – what did their part of the world look like, and what developments had occurred in the time that had expired (300 years is a long time after all).  I guess in some respects it felt as though plot dominated the other elements but at the same time I recognise that this is a first in series and I always feel with UF that the first book is usually trying to hook readers and more substance and backstories will follow in later editions.

Book of Secrets didn’t completely win me over in the way I’d hoped, mainly due to the intense pace of the story which prevented other areas from being fully explored or attachments to form but, I think, if you like urban fantasy with a hint of romance and a story that bursts out of the starting blocks then maybe this could be the one for you.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Rise of the Red Monarch (Brontë Sisters Mystery #3) by Bella Ellis

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Rise of the Red Monarch (Brontë Sisters Mystery #3) by Bella Ellis.  I really enjoyed The Diabolical Bones so can’t wait for this.  Here’s the description: 

The Brontë sisters’ first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her friend Lydia Robinson.

Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry’s life.

In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of…The Red Monarch.

Expected publication : November 2021

#SPFBO Review : Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C Marks

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Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks is the second book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

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This is going to be a difficult review to write and quite possibly a short one because it will be difficult to really elaborate on either the plot or the characters without giving spoilers away which I don’t intend to do.  This does however make it tricky to discuss likes or dislikes

As the story begins we meet Opal, travelling back to her childhood home (although not happily given bad memories).  Travelling with her mentor/master Olog the two are part of a religious/magical Order that retrieve and care take magic artifacts, they’ve been sent on a mission to retrieve an item of importance. Unfortunately something nasty still lurks within Opal’s former home, a shadow creature with a particular design in mind, and things don’t go as well as planned.

Next we meet Ruby, Opal’s sister – a scholar as opposed to a warrior/fighter.  Ruby is a gentle female, less assertive than Opal, in fact Ruby was traumatised by the events at the childhood home and has retreated a little.  That is until she struck up an unlikely relationship with a Dwarf called Baerdun – unlikely because Ruby is half elf and many others consider such a coupling beyond unnatural.  In spite of such prejudices though their relationship has blossomed into love and the two are unhappy about the likely split that looms when Ruby will be required to return to the Order – surprisingly, Baerdun decides to accompany Ruby leaving his blacksmithing behind.

Both Opal and Ruby are strong mages but during the course of their travels they encounter an illness and, without spoilers, their magic is traded for a cure.  From there onwards the story involves the return to the Order, accounting for what has happened and trying to find a way to return the girl’s powers.  Understandably both of them are seriously unhappy about this strange turn of events.

Now, I would say that Stone Magus is paranormal romances or fantasy romance if you prefer.  Basically though, I would say that although this is a fantasy setting with elves, dwarves, mages, etc, the real focus of the story is Opal, Ruby and Baerdun and the relationship that the three of them share.  In fact although during their journey they encounter hardships and prejudices along the way, I would say their personal journey is the real purpose here.

 I don’t tend to read a lot of romance but it’s not unknown for me to pick up the occasional book here and there and I have no problems at all with the romance elements here.  However, I did feel like the fantasy side of things played something of second fiddle and, to be honest, I’m not totally sure, even at this point, how much I enjoyed the main concept.  Of course, I can’t really discuss that element further because there is a twist in the tale – and it certainly is a very unique twist indeed – I’m just not really sure at this point how I felt about it.  On the one hand I think its very original and it certainly surprised me, but, on the other hand, it just felt a little awkward in some respects.

In terms of the romance I would mention that things become a little bit hot and steamy as the relationships progress although this is towards the last third/quarter of the book.

To be honest, although this one didn’t totally work for me I wouldn’t discourage romance readers who enjoy a fantasy setting.  

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris

Come With Me by Ronald Malfi

Posted On 26 July 2021

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : I absolutely loved this book

Comewithme

This book just blew me away.  I couldn’t get enough of it to be honest, I loved the way it was written, I was instantly hooked and it took me down a number of routes that had me twisting and turning before finding myself at a dead end.  Seriously, I could read this book again right now and in fact I think I’d probably enjoy it as much if not more than my initial read.

This is going to be a gushing, chaotic, crazy rambling review.  I don’t think I can do justice to the book to be honest because it gave me the chills, it had a ghostly-type horror vibe at the same time as coming across as a dark murder mystery, it looks at relationships and how well you know the person you’re living with and more than that the inspiration for the book is an emotional gut punch.

Where to start.  I’m going to avoid spoilers because I really don’t want to give anything away but the story is told by Aaron Decker.  Aaron’s wife was recently killed in a shopping mall shooting incident.  He finds himself, as you may imagine, a bit untethered, unable to settle and constantly second guessing with a string of ‘what ifs?’ – what if he’d accompanied his wife that fateful morning when she actually asked ‘Come with me?’  Of course, there’s no turning back the clock and Aaron, led by a strange series of weird occurences, all that can be written off as forgetfulness or other random hiccups, begins to go through his wife things – almost as though he is being guided to do so.  In doing so he uncovers a secret side to his wife, something that leads him to start his own investigations and before he knows it his world has changed irrevocably and he finds himself becoming equally obsessed with the desire to find answers.

At its heart this is a gripping murder mystery, dark, creepy, twisted and intelligent.  It also manages to throw in a scattering of paranormal-style occurences that create a spooky atmosphere and add to the tension.  I love the way the author pulls this off by giving us a central character who is level headed enough not to become ‘spooked’ at the same time as realising that he might be putting himself, and others, in danger.  It’s a fantastic balancing act that I have to applaud.  I mean, if this had been me, I would have been running in the opposite direction to Aaron – literally running as fast as my little legs could carry me away from the goosebump inducing scariness.

We join Aaron as he follows in his wife footsteps, working his way backwards, speaking to people she herself spoke to and uncovering a different side to her that he would never have imagined.  It’s brilliant because we go through the same thought processes at the same time as he does, feeling mystified, betrayed, scared or overwhelmed, having our ideas teased out and then finding that we’ve gone astray somewhere along the line.

We travel up and down the country, the miles stacking up as Aaron seeks out more clues before eventually finding himself in the small town where his wife grew up.  There’s a real horror vibe going on at certain points – not a blood-slashing trail of bodies horror type story so much as a Silence of the Lambs uncovering of a dark and twisted mind style tale.

I’m not sure what more I can add to this other than to say do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. I was gripped, I was tense, I couldn’t stop reading.  I just loved it from start to finish and can’t recommend it enough.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks, the above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

I managed to read a little bit more this week plus together with posting three book reviews so I did catch up a little.  I’ve failed miserably with my buddy reads this month so I need to press on with those but at the moment I’m focusing on my SPFBO reads.  I’m still reading Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley.  To be honest I’m loving this one but just taking my time.  Definitely a book to be savoured.  I went off plan a little and read Come With Me by Ronald Malfi which was absolutely excellent.  I also read two of my SPFBO books – I completed Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks and also picked up and finished Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood.

Continue with Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley plus finish my final SPFBO read for this month. 

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

Forthcoming Reviews:

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Come With Me by Ronald Malfi
  3. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  4. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood

#SPFBO Saturday : Excerpt from Hall of Bones (The Brotherhood of the Eagle #1) by Tim Hardie

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As part of the SPFBO Competition each weekend I am hoping to post guest blog posts inviting authors taking part in the competition to visit my blog to either write an article, discuss covers, take part in an interview or post an excerpt or teaser for their work.  If you’d like to pay me a visit then don’t forget to leave me a comment (*ahem* if you’ve left me a comment and I haven’t replied feel free to nudge me) 😀

This weekend I’m really pleased to welcome back to my blog Tim Hardie, author of Hall of Bones, the first book in The Brotherhood of the Eagle series.  Hall of Bones is one of the submissions allocated to Lynnsbooks/The Critiquing Chemist.  I recently interviewed Tim and you can find the questions and answers here and today I’m posting an excerpt from Hall of Bones.

By way of background here’s the description for Hall of Bones:

In the remote land of Laskar the seven ruling clans have vied with each other for power for over a century. The son of the Reavesburg Clan Chief, Rothgar, has been groomed all his life for a role supporting his elder brother, Jorik, in leading their kingdom when their father’s time finally comes to an end.

However, the rulers of their greatest rivals, the Vorund Clan, are in the grip of something older and far darker. They have been conquered by evil, a remnant from the time when the gods warred with one another and the world of Amuran collapsed into the Fallen Age.

Tim very kindly provided me with two excellent pieces but I’ve chosen a scene from Chapter 11 which is an action scene featuring Rothgar Kolfinnarson, a young and inexperienced warrior.  Rothgar finds himself forced to duel with longstanding rival, a character called Gautarr Falrufson, for the right to lead their clan.  This is an excellent teaser, I loved it, and it ends in a way that is guaranteed to leave you wanting more.  Take a look:

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***

The courtyard of Ulfkell’s Keep was deathly silent, although there was a great crowd of onlookers gathered around the large circle chalked on the ground to mark out the boundary for the contest.  There were no rowdy shouts of encouragement as I stepped forward.  Somewhere, someone was sobbing.  Looking up I spied Desta, her long dark hair soaked through by the rain, plastering it to her head.  Etta stood by her, a bony hand resting on Desta’s shoulder, her face almost hidden beneath a dark hood.  I swallowed.  This was not a crowd looking forward to a fight: they were mourners at my funeral.  Well, at least I had a good turnout.

The rain would be a problem.  The heavy downpour had appeared from nowhere, rolling in from the sea and soaking everything.  The cobbles of the courtyard were slick and treacherous underfoot, the water already washing away the hastily-drawn lines of the combat circle.  I rolled my shoulders as I felt the annoying rain dripping down my collar and into my chainmail armour.  I would soon have more pressing concerns as Gautarr strode into the circle to a subdued cheer.  Beaded droplets of water gathered on the banded steel armour he wore and speckled his grey beard.  Ragnar handed him his helmet and he pushed it firmly onto his head.

“Come on, boy.  No one wants to stand around in this weather longer than they have to.”  He looked at the onlookers, expecting some response from his joke.  Other than Audwin laughing half-heartedly there was some faint coughing in the crowd and Desta’s muffled sobs.  Gautarr might have won the vote at the clan moot but out here, surrounded by the people of Reavesburg, it was clear he had little support.  Despite being their favourite it was also obvious no one thought I stood a chance.

“Just remember what I taught you,” muttered Olfridor quietly as he handed me my helmet.  “Gautarr’s blows will be powerful but a sword is faster.  Use your speed to your advantage and there might well be a twist in this tale, son.”  I nodded, the raindrops pattering dully on the surface of my helm as I stepped into the circle.

Gautarr took a few steps forwards, until we were close to one another in the middle of the ring.  Here, the grey curtain of rain hid the onlookers from sight, as if the two of us were alone in the courtyard.  Ragnar’s stifled shout of support for his father registered on the limit of my hearing, as if he’d been calling from the docks rather than a few feet away.  I realised it mattered little if hundreds watched me die.  All my focus was drawn towards the powerfully-built man before me.  Gautarr’s body was packed with hard muscle.  He’d been fighting the Vorund Clan before I was born, and if age had taken some of his speed he’d lost none of his strength or experience.  The hot anger I felt in the Great Hall had long since melted away, replaced by an odd sense of detachment.  Only one of us would leave this circle alive.  I concentrated on the task in hand, embracing the risk of death just as I had on the beach in Noln.  Olfridor Halfhand had trained me to be a warrior: death was just an occupational hazard, after all.  Gautarr’s expression changed as he looked down on me, the big man a head taller.  He had expected to see cowardice and fear in his opponent; now all he saw was determination.

“You meet your fate well, boy,” he said.  “I’ve got to respect you for that.  There’s no dishonour in walking away from a fight you can’t win.”

“Alright.  You can walk away if you want, old man.  I won’t hold it against you.”

Gautarr chuckled.  “I gave you every chance, lad.”  He raised his axe, planted his feet and moved forwards, swinging the heavy weapon round with both hands in a wide arc.

I watched the axe whistling towards my head, cutting through the rain and leaving a trail of spray behind it.  The whole move seemed to take an absurdly long time, easily allowing me to step out of harm’s way.  Raising my shield, I swung my own sword, cutting at Gautarr’s side before he could recover from his stroke.  The man grunted with effort as he changed the direction of his attack, parrying my blow and replying with one of his own.  I blocked with my shield, feeling the impact of the blow as it numbed my forearm and sent a jolt of pain up into my shoulder.  Gautarr pressed on, hammering at my defences, forcing me back, step by step.

My sword darted out, hissing through the rain, missing Gautarr’s body by a hair’s breadth.  Gautarr’s eyes went wide, stark white orbs in the shadow of his helmet.  I cut back again, forcing the older warrior to duck to one side as my blade whistled past his head.  It gave me a chance to go on the attack but Gautarr blocked my next strike with the shaft of his great axe.  I tried to slide my sword down its length to shear away Gautarr’s fingers, remembering how effective that move had been at Noln.  Gautarr was wise to the trick, pulling away sharply.  I staggered forwards, carried on by my own momentum and cursed as my legs were swept from under me by the axe shaft.  I heard a sharp communal intake of breath from the hidden crowd as I rolled with the blow, metal scraping harshly on the slick cobbles.  I found my feet and whirled round to face Gautarr as he bore down on me once more.

I felt a sharp pain stab from my ankle, running up the length of my left leg and into my hip – the fight was aggravating my injury from Noln.  I clenched my teeth and pushed it from my mind as I met Gautarr head on and we clashed in a flurry of blows.  Suddenly my sword locked with the head of Gautarr’s axe.  We stared for a moment, the older man’s face fixed with a fierce grin, as we tested each other’s strength.  My wrist began to ache as I clung on grimly.  I had a knife tucked into my belt – little use against this brute of a man if I allowed him to disarm me.  Without warning I stepped in closer, slamming my shield into the warrior, sending him reeling backwards.  I was aware of a distant throbbing in my leg as I slashed my freed sword left and right, watching as Gautarr lazily parried each blow.  Then I lurched to one side as my left foot skidded on the wet ground, crying out involuntarily with the pain.

“Now that’s unfortunate,” hissed Gautarr, taking a step back to allow a pause in the fight.  “It’s not always the last battle that kills you.  An injury picked up another time can come back to bite you, if your body’s not strong enough.  That’s the difference between seasoned wood and a sapling, I guess.”  I breathed in deeply and watched Gautarr’s chest heaving.  The man was taking this opportunity to draw breath, riling me as he tried to gather his own strength.

“How poetic,” I snarled, springing forward, aware even as I did so that I was now having to favour my right leg.  I raised my sword and brought it crashing down.  Gautarr was faster than I expected, and I cut through clean air, my blade jarring in my hand as it sent up sparks from the damp courtyard stones.  Gautarr jabbed at me with the butt of his axe, the point of the shaft finding its way through my defences and cracking me in my ribs as I struggled to recover my position.  I pushed the pain aside as I swept my sword round, trying to retake the initiative.

Gautarr was a canny opponent.  He allowed me to press forward, blocking my blows and forcing me to come on towards him.  The effort was taking its toll and I realised I was now limping with each step, my breathing ragged, ribs burning with pain.  Suddenly the pattern changed, Gautarr whirling his great axe about his head and hammering my shield and sword with heavy blows, too fast for me to even think of a counter-attack.  I gasped, my mind racing, as I tried to move back quickly enough to take myself out of the warrior’s range.  I needed time to think and catch my breath – Gautarr allowed me no such luxury.

I took another step and without warning my weakened leg gave way under me, sending me crashing down hard onto my back on the stones, winded and gasping for air.  The force of the impact jarred my sword from my hand and I watched, despairing, as it clattered out of reach and Gautarr loomed above me.  My hand scrabbled for the knife in my belt but my foe was unrelenting, blows hammering down on my shield and causing me to cry out in fury as I realised the inevitability of my fate.  Finally, Gautarr hooked the head of his axe onto the rim of my shield and with a great shout he pulled hard, splitting the straps holding it in place.  He sent my shield bouncing off into the crowd and followed through with a kick to my stomach, breaking the knife I clutched desperately in my hand, leaving me sprawled, face down, on the wet cobbles.  All the air was gone from my body.  I could no more find the strength to raise myself than pick up Ulfkell’s Keep, so I waited for the final blow that would end the contest.

**Ends**

Don’t you just love it – if you’d like to find out more here are a few links you can follow:

About the Author:

THTim Hardie grew up in the seaside town of Southport during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, he discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led him into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.

After training to become a lawyer Tim lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where he has worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. His writing began as a hobby in his early twenties and has gradually grown into something else that now threatens to derail his promising career.

Tim writes epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.

Twitter: timhardieauthor

Friday Face Off : A Black Hole

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Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

I had a couple of ideas for this week’s theme but eventually settled onto the second book in the Southern Reach series by Jeff Vandermeer – Authority:

Some unusual covers for this one.  This one – if you look at it for more than a few seconds it almost feels like the black hole at the centre of the face is becoming larger!

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I think my favourite came down to two covers:

The first cover reminds me off a strange Watership Down dream sequences. The second one I like the colours and at first glance the rabbit seems fairly harmless but when you zoom in things seem decidedly off-kilter.  My favourite:

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Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

2021

July

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

My Five Word TL:DR Review : In two minds about this

The Retreat is going to be an unusual review to write because I seriously am in two minds about this one.  On the one hand I loved the writing.  The book is absolutely full of atmosphere.  It’s a locked room mystery.  The setting is excellent and the sense of nature well described but on the other hand I found the ending a little unresolved in some respects and the antagonist lacking motivation or believability.

As the book begins (and after a dramatic opening prologue) we meet Maeve Martin as she arrives at the High Water Centre for the Arts.  Tucked up in the Rocky Mountains is a beautiful lodge surrounded by trees and nature.  The Retreat boasts quiet space, a stunning lodge and small cabins where people can work uninterrupted.  Maeve has taken a two week break and aims to use the time to formulate a plan for her own dance company.  Unfortunately, not long after her arrival disaster strikes.  Ever worsening weather leads to an avalanche and the centre is completely cut off from any means of contact with the outside world.

Without doubt The Retreat excels in terms of the writing.  Mariaffi conjures up a fantastic setting and then proceeds to cloak it in the most creepy and pervasive atmosphere.  In fact the first two thirds of the book held me gripped – I sat up into the early hours reading and I can say that I was genuinely a little freaked out – by which I mean scared!  The final third was where the ploit started to hot up and the body count began to rise.

I think, if memory serves, that there were seven people left stranded following the avalanche, a mix of people, a couple of characters who run the retreat and a mix of creatives including artists, film makers and dancers. Maeve feels a little like an insider as the others have all met previously and she often doesn’t understand the nuances of the group and their inside jokes.  There appears to be rivalry, particularly between certain characters and Maeve’s arrival seems to be the catalyst for things to escalate.  Maeve is coming to terms with a number of things.  She experienced a violent marriage that has now ended and she is also coming to terms with the fact that her dancing career is coming to a conclusion and trying to think of her future.  She’s left her two children in the care of their grandmother although she seemed to have a rocky relationship with her mother that leaves her anxious.  We find out much of Maeve’s history over the course of the story but it’s included in a very natural way and adds to the feelings of tension and fear that Maeve experiences.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think the plot became a little chaotic in the final quarter (or Day 7).  I wouldn’t say that I came away from the book with all my questions answered and the eventual murderer seemed very thinly drawn to me.  I just didn’t buy into the motivations or reasoning to be honest. I noticed a few reviewers mentioned the over long chapters – I wouldn’t say that I found this a problem but each chapter represents one day and some of the chapters are indeed quite lengthy so bear that in mind.

To be fair to the author, and in spite of my reservations I still came away from this read with more positives than negatives.  I loved the writing and I guess the plot played second fiddle a little to that aspect.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating – between 3.5 and 4 of 5 stars

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Liar’s Knot (Rook and Rose #2) by MA Carrick

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Liar’s Knot (Rook and Rose #2) by MA Carrick.  I loved the first book in the series, The Mask of Mirrors, and can’t wait to read more.  Here’s the description:

Liar'sknotTrust is the thread that binds us . . . and the rope that hangs us.

In Nadezra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy back alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He’ll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he’s built.

Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.

And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of corruption that traps her city.

But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than knives to cut themselves free…

Expected publication : December 2021

#SPFBO Review : Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris

SPFBO71024_1

Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris is the first book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

Without further ado let’s get to the review (plus check out this fantastic cover):

Berserker

Berserker is the first book in the Apocosmos series that features a rather angry young man called Alex and his young dog, a Corgi known as Louie.  The book is an example of LitRPG (a genre that combines computer role playing games with science fiction and fantasy.

The story gets off to a rather dramatic start as we meet a bunch of characters who seem to be enslaved and forced to fight in violent (gladiatorial style) games.  This is where we are introduced to Alex as he starts to relate his tale to the other fighters. I confess that I’m rather fond of this style of story telling where we have a character casting back to relate his experiences so for me this got off to an interesting start.

From here we discover Alex works for a gaming company in New York.  His best (well, only) friend is called Leo and his closest companion is Louie, his dog.  Alex seems to have suffered a loss that he makes reference to on a number of occasions but this hasn’t been explored in detail other than it has left him feeling incredibly sad.  Anyhow, following a day in the office Alex and Louie leave to get takeaway and head home.  Unfortunately, they get caught up with a group of unsavoury characters that leads to something of an altercation and without warning Alex’s world is turned upside down when he’s pulled into a multiverse of possibilities known as the Apocosmos where our tiny corner of the universe is barely the tip of the iceberg.

The Apocosmos runs parallel to our world (the Cosmos) – fortunately most of us mundane muggles are happily unaware of the existence of this second world that seems to have actually been the inspiration for many stories, myths and legends that we believe to be fictional.  It appears that natives from the Apocosmos are living amongst us, disguised or hidden in plain sight and occasionally they pull an unsuspecting human into their world for one reason or another.

This is how Alex finds himself, unwittingly, begrudgingly even, a part of a much bigger universe.  Fortunately, it appears that Leo is also a part of this universe and so Alex isn’t left completely floundering around, although his natural inclinations to be anti-social don’t exactly help him as he never wants to leave his own domain.  In fact Alex has no desire to become further embroiled in this strange new world and has every intention of avoiding it until he realises that he might be able to make some money by crafting items and selling them on a platform not unsimilar to Amazon but much, much bigger in scale and possibility.  What could possibly go wrong with a ‘lets get rich quick’ idea?

I won’t elaborate further on the plot, suffice to say that this is only the first slice of Alex’s story so the ending doesn’t complete his tale.

What I liked about this.  I think it’s an interesting idea with a lot of potential storylines given the size of the Apocosmos.  The author has already come up with a number of cool notions such as gargoyles acting as postmen not to mention the idea of allowing Louie to communicate as a result of a successfully completed quest.  I confess that I’m not a gamer but to be honest I really don’t think this was a deterrent. The story feels like urban fantasy with a contemporary world with supernatural elements and the inclusion of the gaming aspects.

The characters.  I have to say that Louie was my favourite – I can’t really resist the inclusion of a cute Corgi that can communicate – particularly about his desire to eat bacon.  Also the partner that Alex takes on board – a dwarf called Rory – I did like this character especially as he started to open up.  Alex and Leo – well, Alex I find a little over aggressive.  Which I guess definitely feeds into his fighting character becoming something of a ‘berserker’ and for that reason I could relate a little more to what the author was doing.  However, I found him a bit judgemental of others, he makes quite a lot of remarks about other people that seem unnecessary  and he jumps with almost indecent haste from regular, ‘nothing to see here, just walking my dog’ calm to  ‘I want to knock everyone’s block off, mad as a box of snakes’ insanity. Like I said though – Berserker – the clue is in the title I guess.  Leo, well his inclusion feels a little contrived.  He’s a good friend (although not going to lie – I’m not always sure why), he’s indescribably rich, connected and knowledgeable about the Apocosmos – what were the odds?  Maybe there’s a further storyline about this in the pipeline though in fact it will be interesting to see how his inclusion develops.

In terms of criticisms.  I understand the need to include gaming stats in litrpg but, there is a lot of it here and to be honest I think it pulled me out of the story quite frequently.  Like I said, I do understand the need for this but I think maybe some of the lesser characters could be referred to without as much detail or maybe some of the terms could be elaborated upon in a glossary.  Anyway, it did distract from the story a little for me personally.  Also, there’s a heck of a lot of Alex ruminating about his business idea – again, maybe a bit too much information which felt a little dry and again was a bit distracting.

Overall, I enjoyed Berserker, probably more than I expected given that in terms of the RPG elements I’m not really the intended audience.  I think it had a few blips but it was a quick read and I find myself curious about just exactly how Alex comes to find himself in the slave barracks where we first make his acquaintance.  Plus, I’m worried about Louie – if anything happens to that dog – well, we’ll have another berserker on our hands.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts

The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

My Five Word TL:DR Review : A modern day fairy tale

Thepastisred

I will start this review by saying short stories are not usually my thing, in fact I tend to avoid them because I know I’ll be left wanting more – and strangely enough, I want more of Tetley Abednego, but in this instance it’s not a criticism.  I want more because I can’t get enough of this character, this world, the words on the page, the emotional depth and the hope that is delivered in the final pages.

Valente has managed to write a story that on the face of it appears hopeless and yet she infuses this with her own whimsical style and instead of creating something bleak and full of doom comes up with a character who is so supremely hopeful, who sees the beauty in this strange world that is all she’s ever known and gives us a feeling that perhaps things could be better.

Once upon a time a young girl, was born in Candlehole in a place known as Garbagetown.  Having managed to survive this strange and bizarre world, finding beauty in stories and looking for leftovers from the previous world before everything was covered in water, she became known as Tetley.  For a long period she was hated for a terrible mistake she made, although this was carried out in good faith.  She accepted her punishment, expecting sometimes to die on any given day and eventually she came to live alone – until she discovered she wasn’t alone at all.  The end.

Obviously this is a story with a meaning behind it.  Valente handles this well and it isn’t the type of tale that feels like it’s preaching.  More, the author gives the story a kind of inevitability, the world is underwater, a handful of survivors live a bizarre life on a strange floating mass of waste left over from the days before everything went pear-shaped.  There’s a strange kind of irony that the rubbish from our throw away society becomes the means for life in this unusual story.

This could be such a book of despair and yet it doesn’t go down that route.  For the survivors, they have never known any different so there isn’t the strange nostalgia of the ‘good old days’.  Instead, they have these mementoes from the past and they use them – not only to live but to create stories and myths.

Tetley is a fantastic character to read.  She tells her tale simply, she doesn’t become involved in making excuses or feeling sorry for herself or blaming others.  It is what it is and I just loved her refreshingly direct manner.  I would happily read more in fact I would love to do so.

I loved the writing.  Unlike garbagetown, which is made up of waste, Valente manages to give every word and sentence meaning.  Nothing is wasted here and to be honest she is a magnificent storyteller.  She grabbed my attention almost from the first page and I was hooked from there onwards.  She brings her creation to life in the mind’s eye with an ease that belies the difficulty of such an undertaking.

Valente – I salute you.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this last year but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

Last week:

So, this week was a bit slow for me.  I was feeling a bit miserable for one reason or another.  Consequently all my reading and blogging took a bit of a back seat.  I managed to pick up and complete The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi which is a closed room murder mystery set up in a remote retreat isolated further by stormy weather.  I enjoyed it – it certainly had plenty of atmosphere.  I’ve also picked up the second book from this month’s SPFBO batch which I’m about 50% into.  All told, slow week aside, I think this month I should be able to complete all my review books and my four SPFBO books *fingers crossed*.

I’m aiming to complete Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley and pick up The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry.  I won’t make more ambitious plans for now:

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

  1. Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey
  2. A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

Forthcoming Reviews:

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente
  3. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  4. The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Friday Face Off : Books with ‘book’ in the title

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

Books with ‘book’ in the title

Hopefully there are plenty of books out there that fit this week’s theme.  I’ve gone for a fairly recent book that I really loved.  The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix.  Here are this week’s covers:

I think in this instance I’m going to have to plump for the original:

Bookclub1The middle book (top row) did make me laugh.  The book on the left (top row) I quite like but it doesn’t seem to fit as well as the original somehow.  The cover with the cupcakes made me feel squicky (thanks Bookforager for finding me a new word that sounds exactly like it makes me feel – a combination of squeamish and icky) and, I like the final cover, it’s similar in style and colour to the first – but I prefer the layout of the first.

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next week – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

2021

July

23rd – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Bone Ship’s Wake (The Tide Child #3) by RJ Barker

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is The Bone Ship’s Wake (The Tide Child #3) by RJ Barker.  I am loving this series so I’ve been checking each week to see if we had an expected publication date yet – I am excitement!  Here’s the description:

BoneShips Wake

The sea dragons are returning, and Joron Twiner’s dreams of freedom lie shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge.

Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child Joron takes every opportunity to strike at his enemies, but he knows his time is limited. His fleet is shrinking and the Keyshan’s Rot is running through his body. He runs from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer, will end the entire world.

But the sea dragons have begun to return, and if you can have one miracle, who is to say that there cannot be another?

Expected publication : September 2021

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

Mr Five Word TL:DR Review : Took me completely by surprise

MeetMe

Meet Me in Another Life is a book that will defy your expectations, it will feel familiar, you’ll think you’ve got it nailed down, you’ll know exactly what’s going on here (well, sort of) right up until that moment of revelation when the author shows you that you knew nothing at all.  In between times, before that moment of disclosure, we have a story, that feels like a tale of reincarnation two people born again and again into each other’s timeline, playing different roles each time, lovers, teacher and student, parent and child, and then some more.  They’re not always born in the same place, there is constantly a disparity in where they find themselves, and yet, inexplicably they are drawn together through a shared desire to know more.  Let’s start at the beginning.

As the story kicks off we meet Thora and Santi in what appears to be their first meeting.  It doesn’t go particularly well and to an extent this is something that will be repeated over and over again in a kind of Groundhog Day style.  Don’t be put off though, sometimes they live full lives – not always together but always kind of in orbit around each other.

Now, I’m not going to say anything more about the story because, and I know I use this a lot, but it really could lead to spoilers and seriously you need to read this with as little knowledge beforehand as possible as that will only play more into the intrigue.

So, what can I discuss here today.  Well, a few things.

Overall feelings.  I liked this very much, I particularly like it given the ending – which isn’t to say I didn’t like the earlier chapters – just that the ending gives you a whole new bunch of things to think about plus a desire to backtrack and see what you missed along the way because you can rest assured that there is a trail of breadcrumbs just waiting to be pecked up by those hungry enough to pay attention.  I confess, I didn’t have the slightest notion so there we go – what can I say, I missed the breadcrumbs.

Characters.  Well, if you love characters that are well developed you’ll love these two.  Let’s just be honest, the author has a lot of opportunity to teach us different aspects to their nature, to show them in a good light or a not so good light.  To reinvent them on a constant basis but with enough consistencies to make them familiar to us in every iteration. It’s fantastic really because it plays into the whole ethos of just how well can you really know someone?  How long does it take to really know that person?  A lifetime – well, Thora and Santi have a whole bunch of lifetimes and they’re still learning about each other at the end of the book.

The setting.  Another really cool part of this – both characters are repeatedly drawn to the same place.  It’s like a force or irrepressible magnetism that they simply can’t deny.  Set in Cologne we find ourselves visiting over and over to such an extent that it becomes familiar, I feel like I could see the streets, the bars, the clock tower in my own mind.

Let’s not get away from those certain little things that are familiar.  Sometimes ‘familiar’ is comforting and there are definitely elements here that will feel like ‘things’ you know.  Obviously the constant reincarnations have a Life After Life feel.  The way that the two characters arrive at different points and places kind of reminded me a little of The Time Traveller’s Wife, the repetitive nature of certain aspects could be likened to Groundhog Day, the little inconsistencies experienced in each episode – well, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  There are undeniably familiar elements to this story but not only does it stand on it’s own two feet – primarily because of this winning combination between science and theology that is constantly discussed and argued by Thora and Santi, one determined to believe in fate and miracles, the other sticking to science and proven things together – but, it evolves in a direction that I never saw coming.

On top of this, the story is packed with emotion which persists right up to the ending where… well, you’ll just have to read it and find out for yourself.

In terms of criticisms.  Okay, well, firstly, I cannot deny that this feels like a series of short stories with recurring characters.  Now, I’m not a lover of short stories so this could have become very old very fast for me, however, I think the author managed to get the timing perfect in that just as I was starting to feel a little ‘same old/same old’ she started to throw in changes and this is when the real mystery began.  The same thing could also be said of the repetitive nature of certain elements – this definitely had the capacity to become tiresome and yet I didn’t find it to be so because the author makes subtle changes all the time which lent it a fascinating aspect.

So criticisms. that aren’t really criticisms at all, put to one side.  Yes, this was a very good, entertaining, mysterious, fascinating and slightly heartbreaking read.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.

The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

My Five Word TL:DR Review : A Little Slow to Start

Adarkandsecret

A Dark and Secret Place is the first foray into thriller/mystery by an author whose body of fantasy work I love and as such this was also an impressive book although I didn’t love it quite as much as the author’s other books.

As the book begins we make the gruesome discovery of a dead woman, the body mutilated and staged in the horrific style used previously by the notorious serial killer Michael Reeve, known as The Red Wolf, except Reeve was caught and has been in prison since.

At the same time we meet Heather Evans.  Heather is returning to her family home.  A home she left as a teenager and hasn’t visited since.  Heather and her mother shared a strained relationship and Heather’s return has been brought about by the sad news that her mother has commited suicide.  Heather struggles to understand why her mother would take her own life, the suicide note itself is puzzling, but when she discovers a stack of letters between her mother and the serial killer the plot thickens.

Heather takes the letters to the police and becomes caught up in the hunt for a copycat killer – involving visits to the Red Wolf himself to try and discover if he is involved.

The story is told in two timelines.  We have Heather’s current timeline and we jump back to a young version of Michael.

This one does get off to a fairly slow start but I didn’t have a problem with the pace to be honest.  It slowly becomes obvious that Heather is the centre of something very odd.  She finds strange things in the house, there’s a creepy vibe to the place and sightings of a stranger lurking in the rear garden.  To be honest I don’t think  I could have stayed there so Heather was certainly a lot braver than I would have been.  Clearly somebody was leaving these ‘mysterious’ things for her and there was a tension about this element to the tale that was decidedly spooky.

The flashbacks to Michael were also a bit unnerving and dark in nature but I’m not going to discuss those here.

We also have the visits to prison where Heather visits with Michael in a desperate bid by the police to uncover anything about the new murderer.  The visits don’t turn out to be terribly helpful with Michael often behaving rather obtuse, spouting stories that resemble gruesome fairytales.  Michael has a very strange intensity to him that was a little unnerving and I couldn’t help having this odd ‘Silence of the Lambs’ vibe.

The story escalates when Heather decides to take matters into her own hands and the final revelations become a little frantic.

I liked this one, there are some good ideas here and the story is well delivered.  However, I didn’t love this one and I’m not sure that I can put my finger on why that is.  I think on the face of it I struggled to connect with Heather.  She could be a little bit prickly and in spite of her obvious intelligence she made some very dubious and risky decisions.  I was mystified by one of her decisions in particular but,again, I won’t elaborate.

I think my slight hesitation in falling for this was a slight disparity between the first half of the book and the second  They didn’t seem to gel as well as I would have liked.  The ending had an almost chaotic feel with all sorts of elements being woven into the storyline.  And the really odd thing is that now, reflecting on the story itself to write this review I struggle to recall some of the final revelations which is a really strange experience for me.

Overall, though, I did like this, it was a very easy read, gripping in fact, and I would love to see what the author comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars.

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