A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

Here is Grey London, a dirty and boring city with no magic and a mad king. Then there is Red London, a city of excitement where life and magic are revered. There is also White London, a city slowly dying from being drained through magical war. Once, there was a Black London, but no one speaks of that land now.

Kell is from Red London. He is one of the last magicians that is able to travel between worlds. Officially he acts as ambassador and messenger, moving between the different Londons in service of the Maresh empire. Unofficially, he is a smuggler; a dangerous hobby that becomes even more so when he comes across a forbidden token from Black London.

Fleeing in to Grey London, Kell runs in to Delilah Bard; a thief with aspirations of her own. First she robs him, then she saves him, and finally she forces him to take her to another world for what she believes will be a proper adventure.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one of those books that several people, both online and offline, had recommended to me. With my love of fantasy type stories, I knew it would simply be a matter of time before I eventually read it.

Oh, dear reader, I do not know why I waited so long.

From the first page where we are introduced to Kell and the multiple Londons to the last page when we are forced to part ways with him, I was enraptured.

Schwab does a most admirable job in creating a world that is both familiar and new. Those who have been to London will recognize some of the places she describes; because even though they are in an earlier time, many of these places stand today. The Grey London she describes is the London of the early 1800’s, it is messy and dark and it isn’t always pleasant. But it is real.

The same can be said of Red London and White London as well. There is the air of familiarity but there is also the foreign. The people who inhabit these places are a result of the realms they live in and it is evident when Kell and Lila interact with them.

At times the background characters can come across as a little one dimensional, but this is often the case. Because they are often deemed as not important, the author often gives only the most basic of information to us, the reader. I am not terribly affronted or concerned with this as it happens quite often.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one of those rare books that I eagerly recommend to all of my followers. I am quite sure every one will find something in this book to love. Personally, I am looking forward to getting the next book in the series to read and review.

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The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1) by Dot Hutchison

Somewhere in upstate New York lies an older mansion with a beautiful garden.

Not just trees and flowers grow in the garden, it also has a vast collection of “butterflies” – young women who have been kidnapped and each bearing an intricate tattoo on her back. Overseeing it all is a man known simply as the Gardener and his obsession goes beyond capturing these lovely creatures to preserving their beauty for all time.

When the garden is discovered, one of the girls is brought in for questioning. The FBI agents tasked with piecing together this intricate puzzle find more than they bargain for when the girl they’re questioning is just as much of a puzzle herself.

The Butterfly Garden is one of several books I picked up when I was given a free preview of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

I admit, dear reader, that I was a little hesitant when I first picked up The Butterfly Garden. Just from the quick blurb I had read, it reminded me of The Girl Before and while I enjoyed that book, I was also left unnerved by it. The same can be said of this book too.

Told primarily from the viewpoint of Maya, one of the survivors of the “butterfly garden”, The Butterfly Garden is a creepy tale of obsession and redemption. The Gardener is a man obsessed with the perfection of youth, his precious butterflies almost never making it past their 21st birthday. The handful that do are cast aside, ignored for their fading beauty and causing them to become bitter.

The Butterfly Garden is a difficult read. There are a variety of subjects that would make it off-putting for some – including kidnapping, rape, and murder. It is deeply disturbing which is why I can’t recommend it for all of my readers.

Readers who enjoyed such psychological tales such as Gone Girl or The Girl Before might enjoy The Butterfly Garden. A fairly quick read but one that is likely to stay with the reader long after they’ve finished the last page.

The Carrot Man by Theo A. Gerkin

Finding that one perfect roommate is never easy. When a 30-something writer meets his new roommate, he’s in for a shock when he meets a carrot.

Not a literal carrot; but instead the human vegetable kind. Lazy, ugly, and broke.

Dishes pile up in the kitchen, the bathroom resembles a literal dump, and Carrot Man never takes out the garbage. All of these things begin to bother the author to no end until he finally seems to snap.

The Carrot Man is a short story provided to me by the author for review.

The Carrot Man is one of those stories that I find difficult to write a review for. Mainly because the experience I had while reading it is quite different than the majority of the reviews I have seen about it over on Goodreads. In cases like this, I find myself having to be blunt.

I did not enjoy The Carrot Man.

The writing itself is decent enough, it is the narrator himself that I took issue with. He comes across as very narcissistic and is very difficult to sympathize with. As he spends the majority of the story telling us how awful his roommate is, he himself becomes an awful person. His liberal use of disparaging remarks is off-putting, as is his usage of problematic terms such as “retard”.

At times the narrator seems to be trying too hard to make himself sympathetic and to paint his roommate in a negative light. This backfires in the way that both individuals become unlikable.

As grateful as I am for Theo for providing his story to me for review, I sadly cannot recommend it. Unfunny and offensive, I must simply advise my readers to skip this one.

Operation Hail Storm (Hail #1) by Brett Arquette

Marshall Hail was a Physics Nobel Prize winner and multi-billionaire, but he was also a loving husband and father. When his wife and children were killed in a terrorist attack, he redirected his vast assets towards one purpose – eliminating every person on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

Calling upon help from his MIT colleagues, Hail designs and builds an arsenal of drones. Piloted by some of the best young minds, these drones are capable of going practically anywhere and creating devastation the likes few have seen. Under Hail’s guidance, the world will come to realize that no one is safe.

I received a copy of Operation Hail Storm from the author, Brett Arquette, in exchange for an honest review.

I generally don’t read books like Operation Hail Storm, so reading it was bit of a step outside the norm for me.

Hail Storm is one of those novels that takes modern day technology and pushes them in a “What if…?” direction. Yes, the ability to make drones smaller and smaller is possible. And yes, the other weapons and technology are in use in some places. So while Arquette got something right in his book, it is unfortunately about the only thing.

The characters are sadly, very one dimensional; many with clunky dialogue to match. While we are surely meant to sympathize with the main character, Marshall Hail, it is difficult when he comes across as arrogant. He believes himself above the law and acts that way on several occasions.  He says he is sad because his wife and children died in a terrorist attack, but his actions tend to speak differently. He believes he is enacting retribution on those who would harm others for money, but it is more like he is getting revenge.

Beyond the writing, Arquette has the unfortunate habit of plagiarism. Many of the descriptions he uses for the higher tech gadgets read as if they were pulled directly from their respective Wikipedia pages. And in one case, he actually quotes the Wiki page instead of trying to use his own words to describe the situation.

At the end of the day, while I am grateful to Mr. Arquette for a chance to read and review his work, sadly I cannot recommend it to my readers. With the help of some decent editors, perhaps one day this book will be ready for the general public. Just not today.

 

Fragments of Your Soul (The Mirror Worlds #1) by E.S. Erbsland

Since the death of her father, Arvid Bergen has worked hard to support herself and her mother. When she accidentally steps through a portal that leads to another world, her only thought is returning home. While she is told the task is incredibly unlikely, if not impossible, Arvid is undeterred.

Upon meeting the god Loke, she strikes a bargain with him. Too late she learns that Loke is a liar and a traitor, and one she should not trust. Still, Arvid is determined to get home one way or another, even if it means pairing up with a murderer.

I will be honest, dear reader, I was first drawn to Fragments of Your Soul because of the artwork. When I joined Tumblr, I saw some of Eleathyra’s artwork for the book and was intrigued. And while I eventually was able to obtain a copy of the book, it has only been recently that I was able to sit and read it.

With that out of the way, it breaks my heart to say that I did not enjoy this book. I tried so very hard to like it, but there were several times I nearly threw my e-reader across the room in anger and frustration.

Firstly, the English translation from the original German isn’t that good. There are times when the dialogue feels awkward and the action is at times clunky. It is also a rather long book, the Kindle edition I read was just over 400 pages. Unfortunately, this means that at times the story becomes kind of boring. There were times I had to force myself to continue just to find out what happened next.

Next, the characters. Arvid is a young woman in her mid-twenties, and like most her age she works a job she doesn’t particularly enjoy and has a strained relationship with her mother. She has anger issues which resulted in a broken hand at the opening of the book, and continues throughout the story. She also has a bit of a superiority complex, her way of thinking sometimes tends to follow the “my way is the only way”, especially when she is met with servants or those who are considered lesser than. When she inevitably tries to persuade them to rise up or act different, she is frustrated when they refuse. She seems unable to understand that just because she thinks one way, not every one around her does.

Loke is another character that quite honestly I did not like. He is cruel and manipulative, and a times even verbally abusive; not just to Arvid but to other characters around him. His past is used as an attempt to explain and even excuse his behavior and the love that Arvid develops for him somehow makes him a better man as if by magic. This, unfortunately, is a trope that has been used too often recently and with little to no success.

While Erbsland does an excellent job of building a world based on Norse mythology, an interesting world itself does not a good story make. There must be equally interesting characters; characters we develop feelings for and root for. Alas, while we have the first in Fragments of Your Soul, the second is severely lacking. I’m afraid I simply cannot recommend this one to my readers. Instead, I encourage them to head over to Eleathrya’s art page, enjoy the pictures there and make up their own stories.

Rhapsodic (The Bargainer #1) by Laura Thalassa

Callie – Callypso – Lillis is a siren with a rather large problem. A problem that stretches up her arm and seven years in to her past.

Seven years ago she began collecting the black beads that make up the bracelet on her wrist. Each bead represents a favor from The Bargainer; the man who can get you anything you want…for a price. Callie has racked up over 300 of these such favors and she knows one day she will have to repay every favor she has garnered.

When The Bargainer comes for Callie, she knows her time is up.

There are very few books that catch my attention from the first page, and Rhapsodic was one of them. Unfortunately, while it was advertised as a fantasy novel, it is more a romance novel with fantasy elements.

And that is what this particular book is, dear readers, a romance novel. Thalassa spends the majority of the book creating the sexual tension between the two main characters that there is little room for anything else. Even the main characters themselves don’t receive too much attention in regards to their respective pasts beyond when they meet. As far as the side characters, they are sadly rather one dimensional and not terribly interesting either.

This unresolved sexual tension takes over the plot of the story as well. So much so that what is supposed to be the main plot of the book takes a back seat and is almost pushed aside. The end of the book is quite rushed as well. Perhaps this is because there is a sequel to this first book and the big bad wasn’t quite vanquished.

Now I am not saying that I didn’t enjoy Rhapsodic, dear readers, because I did. I, however, would have liked more. More of the fantasy elements, less of the fluff.

The Outpost (Outpost #1) by Adam Baker

Moored in the Arctic Ocean, Kasker Rampart is a derelict refinery platform at the end of the world. A skeleton crew of fifteen occupy the place, every day a battle with boredom and despair. As they wait for a relief ship to come take them home, the crew receives word that the world beyond is crumbling. A strange pandemic is ravaging the cities, turning normal humans in to ravenous monsters.

One by one the TV channels die, the radio waves following after. The crew of the Kasker Rampart receive a final message; their relief ship is not coming, help is not on the way. The crew must find a way to survive the long Arctic winter alone, even as the deadly contagion makes slow progress towards them.

The Outpost is one of those titles that had been sitting on my To Be Read list for a while. As intriguing and as interesting as I often find these books, I have to be in the right mood to actually read and enjoy them.

With that said, I enjoyed reading The Outpost and had trouble putting it down once I started. Baker does a good job of creating a tense, enjoyable page turner; one that draws the reader in from the first page and holds them to the end.

There were times, however, that it felt like Baker was trying to add too much to the plot line. Additions that either had little to nothing to give or that ended up going nowhere. Why have the revelation that a character isn’t who they say they are so late in the story? And then do nothing with it? Why have a character go insane yet not reveal what exactly caused them to go down that path?

There is a great deal that Baker unfortunately leaves unresolved. Things that could have easily been omitted and not affected the flow of the story at all. And while what he does resolve is important, at times it also feels rather rushed.

Despite it’s flaws, The Outpost is an enjoyable book. I would recommend it to my readers with the small caveat that it does have it’s flaws. Readers who enjoy a decent thriller will likely enjoy this one as well.

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Spirit Box by George Mann

It is the summer of 1915. As zeppelins rain fire upon the people of London, some of the more eminent members of society begin to show erratic behavior.

A famed suffragette suddenly denounces the women’s movement and just as suddenly throws herself beneath a passing train.

A senior military adviser speaks of surrender before jumping among the tigers at the London Zoo.

A member of Parliament gives a pro-German speech to other members of the House and later that day is found drowned in the Thames.

Desperate for some kind of answer, Mycroft Holmes reaches out to his younger brother – the now retired but still famed detective, Sherlock Holmes.

George Mann returns again with another page turning novel set in the ever familiar Sherlock Holmes universe. This particular tale is set during World War 1, some twenty years after Holmes’ and Watson’s heyday. Both men have retired; to Sussex and to the London suburbs, respectively. Yet when each hears the siren’s call of a new case, age is but a number and neither man can resist.

Astute readers will notice how age has changed both Holmes and Watson, almost reversing some of their traits. In The Spirit Box, Holmes has softened a bit in his mannerisms though certainly not in his detective skills or his wit. On the other hand, Watson has become a bit crotchety – something he admits himself! Time, and the knowledge that comes with it, can change a man and even great minds like Holmes and Watson are not immune.

Mann has done a quite successful job in adding to the Holmes “library” with this particular tale. While not completely reminiscent of Doyle’s original stories, it does have a similar literary flavor. It is also a crossover or sorts; introducing the reader to Sir Maurice Newbury – another character from another series Mann has penned. Newbury’s role is important and is also enough to possibly whet the appetite of the reader and cause them to seek out this other series.

I loved reading The Spirit Box. I certainly don’t need to tell any one here how I eagerly seek out new stories with this fictional detective, and while I am sometimes disappointed, books like this more than make up for it. In my opinion.

El and Onine by K.P. Ambroziak

When a civil war on Venus causes it’s people to seek refuge on Earth, they must quickly acclimate to their new surroundings. When the ruling council decides to adopt the planet as their own, the idea of an interspecies union seems the best way to ensure the survival of both species. This is a problem though as even the smallest touch brings death to one or both individuals.

El and Onine was one of those books I had placed on my To Be Read list back when I started this blog and before I discovered what a wonderful author K.P. Ambroziak was. This was also before I learned what a very nice person she is, as I added this book to my list before we had spoken even one work to each other.

El and Onine is the story of two very different races of people coming to rely on one another. As a civil war erupts on the planet Venus, it’s people – referred to as Kyprians – travel to Earth. Due to their fiery nature, the arrival of the Kyprians is devastating to Earth and its inhabitants; those that survive are soon put to work serving their new masters.

Like with her other books, Ambroziak has built an entire new world for her book El and Onine. We are introduced to it slowly, the history of the place and the people who inhabit it told as flashbacks and memories. This makes it easier to take in the wealth of information given, a welcome change from the “data dump” some authors rely on to fill their readers in.

The only negative thing I have to say about this particular book is how short it is. At just under 200 pages, while it is a quick read it also isn’t enough for us to become totally invested in the characters. The story could have easily gone on for longer to give us more insight and background.

I enjoyed reading El and Onine and will very likely read it again. It is a layered tale that really should be enjoyed over and over. I recommend this one to my readers, as well as anything else by this wondrous author.

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes by Cory O’Brien

For as long as mankind has been able to, they have told stories. Many of the stories told revolve around the gods and goddesses of the time and thus have survived. However, over time the stories sometimes tend to get a bit watered down.

In reality, the original stories are far, far more crazy. And interesting. And funny.

Any person who has been on Tumblr for a while will eventually learn of Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes and the hilarious genius of it. It is truly a book that keeps on giving because while I have read it several times by now, I find it laugh out loud funny every time.

Now, I will warn my readers there is a LOT of swearing and potty humor. However, since most myths center around sex in some way or another this is pretty standard. Still, more sensitive (as well as younger) readers should have a heads up.

Personally, I loved Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes. While it’s a quick read, it’s also one that can be read over and over and enjoyed every time. I recommend it for my older readers.