A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourne

London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

I discovered the Veronica Speedwell series quite by accident in my local book store. While perusing the new books, I came across A Perilous Undertaking and it sounded quite interesting. Unfortunately, I saw it was number two in a series and since I almost never start a series in the middle, I sought out the first book; which is being reviewed here.

A Curious Beginning introduces us to the character of Veronica Speedwell. Raised by two spinster aunts, she has traveled quite extensively – both as a child by moving from town to town, and as an adult in the pursuit of the passion of butterflies. She is an intelligent and head strong young woman, a trait that she uses many times to her advantage. She is also incredibly astute, noticing things about her and about the people around her that many would overlook. At times she reminded me of a beloved character – Sherlock Holmes; yet she also reminded me of another beloved character – Amelia Peabody.

In many ways, Veronica Speedwell is much like Amelia Peabody. Both women are brilliant in their respective fields and more often than not are looked down upon by their male counterparts simply because of their supposed weaker gender. Yet while there are times they must “play by the rules” of society, they are more than content to do things their own way.

One thing I thoroughly enjoyed – and hope Ms. Raybourn continues to play with in subsequent books – is the relationship between Veronica Speedwell and Stoker Templeton-Vane. There is a chemistry between the two characters that is difficult to deny and yet it seems they each treasure the other’s friendship too much to risk ruination with a more physical relationship. There are times they get on as well as cats and dogs, but in the end each is more than content to come to the aid of the other when needed.

Overall, I enjoyed the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series, A Curious Beginning. Readers who have previously enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series or any other series with a strong female character, should give this one a try.

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Dark Nocturne (Vampire Hunter D Volume 10) by Hideyuki Kikuchi

A siren’s song has been drawing young men to their deaths in the hills outside of Anise Village. No one in the village is able to locate where the song is coming from, so an outsider is hired to unlock the strange secret.

The village of Shirley’s Door has a dark secret. A yearly ritualistic sacrifice meant to protect the town and keep the monsters at bay. When an outsider finds himself caught between the young woman being sacrificed and her beau, the whole village itself might be doomed.

Countless years ago, two sides in a devastating war create their own living weapons. Genetically engineered creatures set to fight to the death; and though the war has been over for centuries, two remaining individuals are still set to battle. And in doing so, they could re-ignite a fight that has been dormant for a very long time.

Readers who have been a part of the graphic novel/manga/anime fandom for some time will immediately recognize the name ‘Vampire Hunter D’. Western audiences were introduced to the character via the first animated movie in the late 80’s, with the novels themselves not coming out in translated form until some years later. Individuals, like myself, were ecstatic with the release of each novel and while some are better than others, we still seek to collect them all.

While Dark Nocturne is labelled as number 10 in the Vampire Hunter series, it could actually fit any where in the early series itself. It is compromised of three short stories that were published independently in magazines before being collected for the novel here.

With all this being said, unfortunately I find Dark Nocturne to be one of the weakest books in the series. The stories themselves do not have to coherency of earlier novels and the characterization is often very weak. They feel as if they were written much earlier than previous novels, when Kikuchi was just beginning to write about D and had yet to get a hold on the character himself.

Compared to other novels in the series with the same protagonist, the D here feels off somehow. He is flippant and at times almost uncaring; and while in other stories D can be off putting, it is not to this degree. It was actually hard to like him, while he is a character I have enjoyed reading about for some time.

Purists like myself will of course want to add this book to their collection so they might have the whole set. Casual readers will want to skip this one as it does not add anything to the series and I think can be ignored as a whole.

Skip Dark Nocturne, dear readers. As much as I love Vampire Hunter D, I cannot in good faith recommend this one.

Monsters (I Bring The Fire #2) by C. Gockel

The last few months have been rather difficult for Amy Lewis. After being attacked by a serial killer and saved by Loki – the aptly titled God of Mischief, Lies, and Chaos – dragged to Aflheim and back, having her bank account drained by the aforementioned god, and taking care of her elderly grandmother, she had lost her scholarship to veterinary school.

It’s okay though, as Amy Lewis has a plan. All she has to do is hang on to her day job as a receptionist and her night job as a vet tech, and hopefully her scholarship can be reinstated before accruing too many “additional fees”.

Agent Steve Rogers (not Captain, thank you very much) has major political aspirations. Yet when what is believed to be a suitcase nuke turns out to be much, much worse, and when so-called Norse gods start turning up in his bathroom – his priorities soon make a drastic shift.

Loki, the God of Mischief and Lies, has his own plans and priorities. He is still intent on seeing Asgard burn but isn’t against enjoying a few earthly pleasures along the way.

As different as these three are, they’ll have learn to work together – and maybe even get along – to take down a bevy of mythological creatures along with an ancient evil that has taken resident beneath Chicago’s busy streets. Because chaos has come to town and has decided to stay.

Monsters is the second book in the I Bring The Fire series and picks up several months from where the first book left off. With Loki having disappeared in to seemingly thin air, Amy is doing her best to try and get her life back together. Of course this isn’t easy with Loki having cleaned out her bank account and her grandmother now in a care facility after having a stroke. She is determined though and isn’t about to let a little thing like a house crashing god to stand in her way.

As I have said before, I am always interested in how authors can take such well known individuals and make them their own. It is as true for the Norse gods and goddesses as it is for Sherlock Holmes.

With Monsters, Gockel has brought back familiar characters introduced in the first book and added new faces to the group. Readers who are familiar with the original Norse gods will surely see names they recognize though not in the way they are familiar with. Their stories have been changed in small but noticeable ways.

I found it very interesting and enjoyable to see the subtle ways Gockel changed these characters. The flashbacks she gives to Loki gives us more insight in to him and allows us to understand him a bit better. One might even begin to sympathize with him, but those thoughts are short lived.

Because, in all honesty dear reader, this Loki is at times a dick.

Going in to my reasoning behind this will unfortunately give too many spoilers. Just believe me when I say there were a few times where I found myself quite aggravated by how he was treating Amy and any one else trying to help him.

This is not to say I did not enjoy reading Monsters. Far from it in fact. I enjoyed it very much, there were just a few times that I was gripping my e-reader just a little too tightly.

It is necessary for readers to read Wolves, book one of the series, before reading Monsters. Characters and events from the first book are referenced and someone who is not familiar will only be confused. Otherwise, I recommend this book to my readers. Those who enjoy unique twists on well known characters will likely enjoy it.

 

The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi

After answering an ad in a local newspaper, an unemployed man wakes up to find himself in a strange location. Wondering if he has perhaps somehow ended up on another planet, he tries to begin his search for others like him. He finds only one other person, a young woman who seems just as confused as he.

The only clues the two have are cryptic instructions beamed to a portable gaming device. They speak of a game and that it has already begun. Neither remember agreeing to playing a game but it seems they have no choice; if they are to return home they have to play. But there are other players in this game and some of them are not so nice.

The Crimson Labyrinth is one of those books that had been sitting in my To Be Read list for a while. In the reviews I had read, it was compared to Battle Royale (a book I have read and loved) and Lost (a TV show I couldn’t get in to). And while there are some similarities between the two books, I liken The Crimson Labyrinth more to The Hunger Games than Lost.

As much as I enjoyed reading The Crimson Labyrinth, I must warn my readers that it is not a book for the squeamish. Much like the books I mentioned before, there are certain scenes that are rather gruesome. It is something that, while difficult to read, makes sense; especially towards the end when we learn the truth behind the game that was played.

Also, while The Crimson Labyrinth was quite good, I personally feel it could have been better. Kishi focuses so much on the action that the characters are almost secondary. Without knowing more about them – their backgrounds, their motivations, etc. – even the main character himself feels flat at times. Had Kishi given more to the characters the book could have easily been twice as long but also a much, much better read.

Overall, I enjoyed this particular book and don’t regret purchasing it. It is definitely a horror novel and not for the faint of heart. Readers who enjoyed Battle Royale and other types of books should check this one out too.