The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade. 

Readers of my blog and of my reviews will likely have noticed that I tend to gravitate towards two types of books – Fantasy/Steampunk and Sherlock Holmes. That is not to say that I don’t review other types of books, it’s just that I keep coming back to those two genres above. And when one book promises to combine the two it certainly grabs my attention.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a wonderous mash-up of beloved characters from Sherlock Holmes and the fantasy genre. A universe where reality is optional at best but some things still remain the same.

Holmes is now Shaharazad Haas, a drug-addled consulting sorceress with a loose grip on reality and even looser morals. Watson is now Captain John Wyndham, newly discharged from being injured in a far off war but not wanting to go home and face his family just yet. The two characters are not complete analogues though there are numerous little nods to the originals. It is more like they were used as a starting point, something to build on yet becoming completely different.

For me, a large part of what made The Affair of the Mysterious Letter so enjoyable was watching the struggle of poor John Wyndham when faced with the force of nature that is Shaharazad Haas. Wyndham hails from a very puritanical country originally and everything that Haas is and does flies in the face of what he was brought up to believe. What is even more amusing is how Wyndham tries to narrate a story with copious swearing as well as wild and appalling behavior without actually placing any of this on paper. The little asides are quite funny and on more than one occasion it gave me a laugh.

In The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, Alexis Hall has written an unconventional and oftentimes outlandish tribute to the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. And my dearest reader, I loved every minute of it. Much like Doyle’s original stories this book is chock full of thrills and chills, is rife with comedy and drama, and has more than its share of tentacles.

Readers looking for something a little more serious in their steampunk novels might want to look elsewhere. For this is a far (very very far) from serious novel. The only thing that makes me sad is that this is currently a stand alone novel. I know I am not alone in saying that I would love to have more of Shaharazad Haas and John Wyndham and their adventures at 221B Martyrs Walk.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The life of an orphan is harsh, and sometimes quite short, on the island city of Camorr.

Locke Lamora, however, is determined to defy the odds. Gifted with a quick wit and talent for thieving, Locke escapes a life of slavery and its subsequent death to find himself in the employ of a blind priest named Chains – a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

Chains is a con artist of incredible talent – a talent he passes down to his “family” of orphans. Under his tutelage they are the Gentlemen Bastards and in time Locke becomes their leader. He becomes the Thorn of Camorr, more myth than man; fooling everyone from the most wealthy nobles to the criminal underworld’s most feared.

Soon though, Locke learns of a new player in the criminal game – a man calling himself The Gray King. Powerful and ruthless, The Gray King seems determined to rule Camorr’s criminal underworld and isn’t above using Locke as a pawn to do it.

I found The Lies of Locke Lamora an incredibly entertaining read. Certainly not for the squeamish or faint of heart, it brings to mind epic fantasies such as Game of Thrones or tales of revenge like The Godfather.

Richly detailed in both characters and world, Lynch has penned an enthralling tale. The characters themselves are very realistic and it is easy to cheer (and cry) with them as the story goes on.

If I have one complaint, it would be how Lynch didn’t quite successfully juggle the two main plot lines. He spent a great deal of time building up the con game plot line that Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards were play only to leave it dangling to concentrate on the Gray King thread. The con game is left almost forgotten, only to be brought back at the end of the book for a kind of resolution.

Aside from that one tiny quibble, I rather enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora. It seems to be the first in a series and it one I shall definitely be looking in to. Readers who enjoy a good fantasy with a healthy dollop of violence are likely to enjoy this one too.

The Rest Falls Away (The Gardella Vampire Hunters #1) by Colleen Gleason

Beneath the glitter of dazzling nineteenth century London Society lurks a bloodthirsty evil…

Vampires have always lived among them, quietly attacking unsuspecting debutantes and dandified lords as well as hackney drivers and Bond Street milliners. If not for the vampire slayers of the Gardella family, these immortal creatures would have long ago taken control of the world.

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake. But as she moves between the crush of ballrooms and dangerous moonlit streets, Victoria’s heart is torn between London’s most eligible bachelor, the Marquess of Rockley, and her dark, dangerous duty.

And when she comes face-to-face with the most powerful vampire in history, Victoria must ultimately make a choice between duty and love. 

Into every generation a slayer is born… Oops, sorry…wrong universe…

Although to be honest, dear reader, the comparison between Colleen Gleason’s The Rest Falls Away and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t too far off. Both exist in a universe where vampires and other creatures of the night are real. Where the belief in such things is passed off as foolishness, of fairy tales and stories. Both feature a young woman suddenly having a great destiny thrust upon them. And both follow the young woman as she not only accepts her calling but learns to balance the two halves of her new life.

Yet, just as there are similarities, there are just as many differences. For example, Victoria’s family have been slaying vampires for countless years. The calling to be a Venator (the name for a vampire slayer) is strong in her family and when one is called, they have a choice to either embrace their destiny or to have their memories wiped away. Whereas with Buffy, there is no family legacy of vampire slaying. The duty is simply thrust upon her with almost no warning.

The cast of characters in The Rest Falls Away were an entertaining lot. Because Victoria is the main character we as the reader are supposed to really connect with her and want to know more about her. I personally found Phillip to be a more interesting person and I would have enjoyed having more with him. Sadly, this does not occur and it leaves us with a lot of “What if…?”s.

The writing for Away is decent. There are a few scenes that are quite steamy and as such it does not surprise me to learn that Ms. Gleason is also an erotica author albeit under another name. She does a good job of creating a world and a cast of characters and if it weren’t for some minor details the book could easily be set in modern day.

Overall, I found Away to be fairly entertaining. It wasn’t one of those books that completely blew me away but neither was it one of those books that was completely awful either. It was okay. And I think that in itself is okay.

Provided for Review: We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity, but with the ability to read and erase other people’s memories—a power he uses to hold up banks to buy coffee, cat food and books.

Zoe is also searching for her past, and using her abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And she’ll occasionally put on a cool suit and beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the archrivals meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize the only way to reveal their hidden pasts might be through each other. As they uncover an ongoing threat, suddenly much more is at stake than their fragile friendship. With countless people at risk, Zoe and Jamie will have to recognize that sometimes being a hero starts with trusting someone else—and yourself. 

Many thanks to MIRA/Harlequin Publishing and NetGalley for providing this book for review.

With great power comes great responsibility…sometimes.

Jamie is your typical 20-something single guy. He enjoys reading, good coffee, and doting on his beloved cat, Normal. What makes Jamie unique is the fact that he has no memory of his life before two years ago. And that he has the ability to read minds and manipulate memories.

Zoe is your typical 20-something single girl. She likes cheesy horror flicks and works delivering fast food. She too has no memory of her life before two years ago and in exchange has super speed and super strength. Plus, she can fly.

Jamie is The Mind Robber and Zoe is Throwing Star. Each is a villian or a vigilante, depending on who you ask.

We Could Be Heroes is a cute and quirky look at what can happen when ordinary people one day wake up with extraordinary powers. The paths they decide to take and the consequences of their decisions. The feelings and thoughts that arise when one believes they are alone in the world; and the hope that comes when one learns they are not alone.

The world of We Could Be Heroes is based on the modern day world. While the city of San Delgado is fictional, it could easily be any major metropolitan area. This is nice since it allows the reader to come up with their own ideas about the city and it’s surrounding areas.

Both Zoe and Jamie are well written characters. The progression of their friendship I think was handled very well. There is very little trust between them in the beginning, especially when they each realize who the other person is. Throwing Star and The Mind Robber are arch-rivals after all. Yet when they realize they are more alike then they think, and when they start to work together to try and piece together who they each were, do we see the trust deepen and their friendship really blossom.

And their friendship remains just that – a friendship. All too often in books with a male and a female lead they end up in a romantic relationship. This does not happen in We Could Be Heroes. Over the course of the book, Jamie and Zoe become good friends and remain that way.

Due to the way the story ends, We Could Be Heroes could be either a stand alone novel or the beginning of a new series. It is heavily implied that what happened to Zoe and Jamie happened to others, so where are those people? What are their stories? Who did they become?

As a fan of superheroes in almost any genre, I can say with confidence that We Could Be Heroes should be added to the literary roster. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to my readers – regardless of whether they prefer Marvel or DC. It is a fun and entertaining read.

Provided for Review: White Trash Warlock (The Adam Binder Novels #1) by David R. Slayton

Guthrie was a good place to be from, but it wasn’t a great place to live, not when you were like Adam, in all the ways Adam was like Adam.

Adam Binder hasn’t spoken to his brother in years, not since Bobby had him committed to a psych ward for hearing voices. When a murderous spirit possesses Bobby’s wife and disrupts the perfect life he’s built away from Oklahoma, he’s forced to ask for his little brother’s help. Adam is happy to escape the trailer park and get the chance to say I told you so, but he arrives in Denver to find the local magicians dead.

It isn’t long before Adam is the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, he’ll have to risk bargaining with powers he’d rather avoid, including his first love, the elf who broke his heart.

The Binder brothers don’t realize that they’re unwitting pawns in a game played by immortals. Death herself wants the spirit’s head, and she’s willing to destroy their family to reap it.

Many thanks to the kind folks at The Write Reads on Twitter, and the author David R. Slayton, for providing this book for review!

Those who have been following my blog for a while know that I have reviewed my fair share of fantasy novels. Most of the ones I’ve reviewed are often referred to as ‘high fantasy’, ie. the story takes place in a faraway land where magic and magical creatures are commonplace. A handful of them however fall under the category ‘urban fantasy’, where the story takes place here on Earth and generally in the modern day. White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton falls under that latter category being a story of magic and magicians who drive cars and have day jobs.

Adam Lee Binder grew up with his Momma and older brother Bobby living in a tiny trailer in backwoods Oklahoma. People thought little Adam was crazy since he claimed he could hear voices; what they didn’t realize was Adam had a touch of magic in his veins, giving him the Sight – the ability to see other realms. Unfortunately this ability earned him nothing but ire from his alcoholic father and eventually led his brother to have him committed. Several years have passed since then and while the brothers relationship isn’t the best, when Bobby calls asking for Adam’s help, Adam makes the drive to Denver.

There are times when writing book reviews comes so easily and there are times when it is not. Trying to write this review for White Trash Warlock falls in to the latter category. This isn’t because the book is bad, but because it is Just So Good.

The characters are all well written, each with their own nuances and idiosyncracies. It’s so easy to sympathize with Adam and his struggles but it is also just as easy to sympathize with his brother Bobby. The glimpses we are given of the two boys childhood offer a good deal of insight in to why certain events happened as they did.

While there is plenty of action in White Trash Warlock to keep a reader entertained, for me the scenes I enjoyed the most though were the quiet ones. The little scenes between Adam and Vic, where they watched a movie together or just sat and talked. Those soft moments between two people who realize they really like one another. It was those scenes that I simply cannot get enough off.

One review over on WordPress said White Trash Warlock can be compared to “If Supernatural met The Dresden Files” and I could not agree more. It is both funny and poignant, sweet and sad. And once the story pulls you in, it doesn’t let go.

I truly enjoyed reading White Trash Warlock. It is a fast, funny, and over all entertaining read. I am told the second book in the series is coming out in October and I personally cannot wait.

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

girlbefore

This review was originally posted September 5, 2017

One Folgate Street is a very unique property. Built to be almost an exploration of the human psyche, to even be considered to rent it one must go through a long series of questions and interviews.

For Jane, this offers the perfect opportunity to start new. Moving in to One Folgate Street means leaving almost all of her old personal effects behind. It means living with a clean slate, both literally and figuratively.

Yet as soon as she has moved in, Jane learns of the apartment’s previous tenant; a young woman named Emma. Emma, who like Jane, was hoping to start anew but was instead met with tragedy.

The Girl Before is yet another of the psychological thrillers featuring women that seems the be popular recently. Playing with the trope of ‘walking in another’s footsteps’, it takes us through the lives of both Emma and Jane; two different women who have come to live at One Folgate Street.

On the surface, both Emma and Jane are alike. Both have had personal tragedies that they are trying to get through and are hoping by moving they have the ability to start over. And while there are several similarities, there are also a number of differences.

At first, I found myself sympathizing with both Emma and Jane. Both women had gone through a very trying event and were trying to return back to what they thought was normal. Yet, as the story went on, I found myself sympathizing less and less with Emma. She was no longer a sympathetic character and while what happened to her was unfortunate, I can’t say it wasn’t exactly unwarranted either.

To go much further would be to give spoilers about what happens and I have tried my best to not give those in my reviews.

With all that said, I found The Girl Before to be enjoyable. There is subject matter that some readers might find triggering, so more sensitive readers might want to skip this one. Otherwise, Delaney has given us a well written thriller. Decent pacing and interesting characters kept me entertained up to the last page. For those who are in to this kind of story, I recommend it.

Provided for Review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?

A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.

Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?

The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind people at NetGalley. Thank you!

The copy of Highfire reviewed was an Uncorrected Proof provided by NetGalley. Any changes done after distribution were done at the discretion of the author and the publisher.

Being from the state of Louisiana, I am always interested in books (and movies and TV shows) that are set in this state. I almost always find myself comparing the fiction with the truth. Sometimes the two are so far apart as to be laughable and sometimes the two are actually quite close. When this happens, it is always a pleasant surprise.

Highfire is one of those books where fact and fiction are fairly close. At least when it comes to South Louisiana. And while Colfer does take a few small liberties (dancing alligators) for the most part his portrayal of this little corner of the world is pretty accurate.

Thankfully, Colfer sets the scene in the bayou backwaters around the city of New Orleans. It is much easier to fudge things here since the waterways are constantly changing. What doesn’t change is how the people there live and Colfer seems to get this mostly right. He does not try to make any one character sound too ridiculous or have a bizarre accent that no one down here has. There is a certain cadence to South Louisiana speech that Colfer did try to capture in the first part of the novel and it did not feel natural. Thankfully, the prose shifted away from that later on.

The characters that inhabit Highfire are all unique. It is very easy to cheer for Squib and Vern. Likewise, it is very easy to jeer at Sheriff Hooke. There is one particular character I would have liked to see more of before their departure – not named here because of spoilers. They provided a good dose of humor in to what could have become a too heavy story.

I really enjoyed reading Highfire by Eoin Colfer. Because this is a fantasy with a dragon, the action does go over the top in some scenes. Yet it is done in a way that is also kind of believable. The end is also left open with the understanding that we might once again visit the bayous of South Louisiana and a vodka swilling dragon. I certainly hope so.

Steel Hand, Cold Heart by Rachel Menard

On the island of Helvar, women rule. Sixteen-year-old Carina has trained for most of her life to belong to the coveted Daughters of Hel, the steel-handed Viking warriors who provide souls to the Death Goddess in exchange for the prosperity of their island. Gaining her place hasn’t been easy. She was not borne of the island, but another spoil from another raid, raised by the island Chieftain. There are many who would see her fail, and on her first raid, she does. She doesn’t kill a priestess she should have.

Carina needs to prove her worth or risk losing her place. Before she can, her arch-nemesis drugs her wine and sends her off the isle as a captive of three foreign boys. But what is Carina’s greatest misfortune may turn out to be her greatest gift. The young men are taking her to the jewel of the Southern Isles – Fortis Venitis, a place no other Daughter of Hel can venture. Carina can place Hel’s claims on the Southern isle and return to Helvar with the spoils, a victor.

However there are many obstacles to pass before she reaches her goal. Like her rune stone that everyone keeps trying to steal, the mismatched pirates from a country that no longer exists, and the priest with his poison that melts flesh from bones. But the most dangerous obstacle of all are the odd feelings she’s developing for her victims, especially the knife-thieving captain Nik. That could make it difficult for her to kill him in the end.

Trigger Warning: Mentions of abuse, mentions of rape, assorted violence

Sixteen year old Carina the Unstoppable is one of the Daughters of Hel. The Daughters are a group of Viking warriors who provide souls to the Death Goddess in exchange for prosperity for their own island. Becoming a Daughter of Hel is not an easy task, for Carina it is doubly so as she was not born on the island. But Carina is determined to prove herself and prove worthy of the steel gauntlet she wears.

On the evening of her first raid, Carina is drugged by her nemesis and given to three foreign boys as a captive. She learns that the boys are taking her to Fortis Venitis, an island the Daughters of Hel have never been able to raid. If Carina can place a claim on the Southern Isle and return home with a ship full of spoils, she knows she be held in the highest regard and will have truly earned her place.

But the trip is difficult and fraught with danger – both known and unknown. If Carina is to make it home again she’ll have to fight hard to survive and somehow harden her heart against the emotions she is beginning to develop for her captors.

Steel Hand, Cold Heart is (I believe) the first full length novel for author Rachel Menard. And from the first few lines of the first chapter, it is a wild adventure.

The main character Carina is neither a hero nor is she a villain. She is a young woman who has trained her whole life to become a raider for her island. She believes that what she does is justifiable, that in the raiding and pillaging she does with the other Daughters of Hel, she insures a prosperous life for her home and those she cares for. Those who suffer from their raids aren’t given a second thought. This line of thinking – as well as Carina’s penchant for rushing blindly in to situations – made it a bit difficult to like Carina as a character in the beginning. Thankfully, she grows and matures some as the story goes on though she does continue to be rash.

The three young men that kidnap Carina – Nik, Flavian, and Mateo – I found it difficult to connect with any of them. It isn’t that they aren’t bad characters, it’s just that I felt there wasn’t enough time truly dedicated to any one of them to get a good feel. With the bits and pieces of information sprinkled throughout the story, we the reader do come to understand each young man a bit better but I still feel more could have been given. Also, one particular character revelation (not stated due to spoilers) felt tacked on unnecessarily and was provided so late in the story as to not lend much in the way of sympathy.

Like I said, they aren’t terrible characters, I just didn’t feel any kind of real connection with any of them.

The one thing that I truly did not like was the way Steel Hand, Cold Heart ended. It was so abrupt it left me wondering if perhaps I had received a faulty e-copy. I am assured that this is indeed how the book ends, it just left me with a feeling of “That’s it? What happens next?” Of course, leaving the ending open like this opens up the possibility for a sequel or even series. I personally hope this is true because while I enjoyed reading Steel Hand, Cold Heart I also want more.

Provided for Review: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Ever since Margot was born, it’s just been her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: a photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. Was it to hide from her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply in to Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing this book for review.

Trigger warnings: Emotional manipulation, Emotional abuse, Mentions of gaslighting

For as long as Margot can remember, it’s just been her and her mom. The two of them just managing to scrape by. The struggle to make it from one day to the next becomes more and more difficult and at times the line between who is mother and who is daughter is blurred.

Desperate to try and stay in her mother’s good graces, Margot decides to try and buy back some of their things from the local pawn shop. Buried at the bottom of a box, Margot finds an old bible and tucked among the pages is a photograph. On the back is a name and a phone number as well as the name of a town – Phalene.

As pieces begin to come together, Margot believes she’s found what she’s been wanting her whole life. A family. It is only that the longer she spends there, the more she realizes not everything is as it seems. Even perfect families have their secrets.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power is one of those books that while the subject matter made it difficult to read at times, neither could I put the book down.

In the first chapter we are introduced to Margot and her mother Jo, and it is here we get our first glimpses of how dysfunctional their relationship is. Their relationship is not a good one, it could easily be described as toxic. A truth that Power does not shy away from and instead lays bare. In showing the dichotomy between Margot and her mother, we see the abuser and the abused. One feeding in to the other in a never ending cycle.

Burn Our Bodies Down is not an easy book to read. While classified as Young Adult, the subject matter might be a little too difficult for some readers. Truthfully, some adult readers might have trouble as well as some scenes could be considered triggering.

This does NOT mean that Burn Our Bodies Down is a bad book – the truth be told, I thought it was a very good book. It is only that a handful of scenes may hit a little too close to home for some readers and would thus take the enjoyment out of an otherwise enjoyable book.

Under most circumstances, I finish my reviews with the answer to the question of whether I would recommend this particular book to my readers or not. With Burn Our Bodies Down, I do recommend it but I also advise my readers to not go in blind.

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays to all of my dear readers!

Yes, 2020 has been the proverbial dumpster fire, but it looks as if there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.

There is no review this week as I am both busy with work as well as spending some time with my family.

I send so much love to you, my dear reader, from the bottom of my heart.