Provided for Review: Advocatus (Culpa Magum #1) by A.R. Turner

Advocatus tells the tale of Felix, a junior lawyer with one last case before he can strike out on his own.

His client? A terrifying magical warlord accused of, amongst other horrifying crimes, two counts of Attempted Genocide (and six counts of Theft). His plea? Innocent, of course! All in a day’s work for Felix.

Psychic frogs, downtrodden goblins, time-traveling wizards, and a whole host of other magical defendants become his caseload as Felix begins trying to make a name for himself as a successful lawyer in a world rife with sorcery.

The biggest case of his life: defending humanity in front of Habeus, the God of Justice himself. Lose, and it’s all over. Not just for him, but for the whole of mankind.

This book was provided for review by The Write Reads. Thank you!

Advocatus follows the story of Felix. A young lawyer who has finally struck out on his own. Having joined a law firm, he is anxious to really get his career going. To make a name for himself and to help his fellow man…woman…frog…??

The overall premise for Advocatus might sound a bit heavy – the whole having to argue for humanity’s continued existence against incredible odds, etc. I can assure my readers that the truth is anything but. Advocatus is a very funny and entertaining book.

There are a wide variety of characters and they run the gambit from sweet and charming to dark and malevolent. The lead character, Felix, is well written. He could have very easily been written as the stereotypical lawyer character, only caring about himself until some great revelation. But for Felix the opposite is true. Felix is a great lawyer in that not only is he smart but he cares about his clients. He – and the firm he works for – work hard to help the little man, taking on cases that most would pass up.

The praise of being well written extends to the actual book as well. It has a very tongue-in-cheek style, serious at times without becoming maudlin. It has a dry humor and reminded me very much of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. It pokes fun at others while also making fun of itself.

I will be honest dear reader when I say I had a good time reading A.R. Turner’s Advocatus. I eagerly recommend it to my readers, especially those who enjoy British humor like the above-mentioned Adams and Pratchett. It is an amusing and feel-good type of story and I eagerly look forward to more in the series.

Thank you again to A.R. Turner and The Write Reads for hosting this book tour!

Provided for Review: Hag of the Hills (The Bronze Sword Cycles #1) by J.T.T. Ryder

“Nothing is unconquerable; even our gods can die.”

Brennus is destined from birth to become a warrior, despite his farmer’s life. But when the Hillmen kill his family and annihilate his clan, he now has the opportunity to avenge those who he loved.

Brennus must survive endless hordes of invading Hillmen and magic-wielding sidhe, aided by only a band of shifty mercenaries, and an ancient bronze sword.

Failure means his family and clan go unavenged. Victory will bring glory to Brennus and his ancestors.

This book was provided for review by The Write Reads and the author. Thank you!

Historical-based fiction has long been a favorite genre of mine. Regardless of the era – from paleolithic such as Clan of the Cave Bear to the Victorian Era with my beloved Sherlock Holmes stories – tales set in another time are quite enjoyable. So one can easily imagine I would enjoy reading J.T.T. Ryder’s Hag of the Hills. And they would be right.

Hag of the Hills follows Brennus, a young man who longs for the fame and prestige being a warrior brings. His father was known far and wide for his bravery and Brennus wishes to follow in those footsteps. His destiny however centers around farming life regardless of whether he likes it or not.

A poor decision on Brennus’ part leads him to make a kind of Faustian deal with the hag of the hills. She offers Brennus the fame he seeks but at a price. And it is only when his clan is decimated does Brennus understand just how high the price might be.

Hag of the Hills could almost be labeled a “sword and sorcery” type of book. Though the book is based on a factual time in history, there are magical elements to it that add a supernatural feel to the story. Goddesses, witches, and giants make appearances and there are mentions of other types of non-human creatures. They live side by side, the influence of one always being felt on the other.

One thing that might detract some readers is how this is a violence-heavy book. It is true, that there is a good deal of violence. It was a part of everyday life and Hag of the Hills does not shy away from that fact. Wars and raids were common, and taking prisoners and slaves were expected.

Another thing that some might take issue with is how one-dimensional the handful of female characters are written. On the surface this is accurate, the few female characters are little more than background fodder. But when one realizes Hag of the Hills is written as the Brennus recounting his younger years, it makes sense. One doesn’t have to like it, but it does fit the narrative.

It is obvious to see the amount of research Ryder put into writing Hag of the Hills. It is also not surprising to know he is an archaeologist specializing in the Iron Age, specifically the time this story takes place. The characters are well thought out and well written and while I did not always agree with their decisions, neither could I blame them.

My readers who are real history buffs will likely enjoy reading Hag of the Hills. I encourage all of my readers to give it a try.

Provided for Review: The Dollhouse by Sara Ennis

Alfred needs Dolls. Blonde, blue-eyed human dolls that will help him rewrite his past and change his future.

When Peter Baden’s daughter Olivia was abducted nearly a year ago, he left his career as a respected journalist to find her. Now he spends his days searching for Olivia, and helping other families of abducted children survive the emotionally and physically exhausting experience of finding a missing child.

Twins Angel and Bud are used to making do. Their dad is in prison, and their mom won’t win parenting awards. Bud thrives on neglect, but Angel isn’t so strong.

Now they’re captives in a place called the Dollhouse, and things have gone from bad to worse. The Dolls are forced to re-stage old photographs, but satisfying Alfred is not easy. He has a twisted sense of humor and a violent temper that explodes when things don’t go his way — and sometimes when they do.

Angel knows that if she and the other Dolls are to survive this warped playtime, she can no longer be needy and afraid. She must prove how strong she can be — fast.

There aren’t many photos left …

Trigger Warnings: Physical torture, psychological torture, emotional torture, kidnapping, rape (mentioned, happens off-screen), murder, death of an animal (mentioned, happens off-screen), suicide

Everyone has moments from their childhood they would like to do over. Moments where if we had only done one thing differently then maybe everything could have changed. Moments we often think about later in life, replaying them over and over again in our minds.

How far would you go to truly replay those memories?

The Dollhouse by Sara Ennis is a book that explores this idea – albeit in a very creepy and disturbing way.

There are times when writing a review can be very difficult. When I find myself struggling to come up with the words to convey how a particular book made me feel. Whether it be because I did or did not enjoy the book, or like in this case how troubling the subject matter is.

The Dollhouse is a disturbing book. It is creepy and strange and dark. It is not a happy book and even though the ending could be considered a “good” one, it really isn’t. There are scenes of physical torture as well as psychological torture. The kids in the book are put through a LOT.

Normally, when I review a book I say whether I would recommend it to my readers or not. Whether I think it would be enjoyable to a specific group or for everyone in general. The Dollhouse is one of those that I hesitantly recommend. Is it a good book? Yes, I thought so. But it is also a deeply triggering book. Some readers could have a very difficult time with it.

So while I do recommend The Dollhouse, I also urge anyone looking to read it to pay attention to the trigger warnings.

The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles (Warlock Holmes #2) by G.S. Denning

hellhound

Warlock Holmes is back again! Sort of.

Warlock Holmes last adventure left him just a little…dead. Not one to let a little decay stop him, Holmes is determined to solve the cases that come to his door. Together, he and Watson will face the Pinkertons (the real ones), flesh-eating horses, a parliament of imps, boredom, Surrey, a disappointing butler demon, a succubus, a wicked lord, an overly-Canadian lord, a tricycle-fight to the death, and even Moriarty himself.

Oh, and a hell hound, one assumes.

Back when I reviewed the first Warlock Holmes novel, I recall saying how much I enjoyed it. How Denning’s take on two so well known and well loved characters was incredibly done. And how I would be eagerly looking forward to the second (and subsequent) books in the series.

With the second book, I am pleased to say that Denning continues in the vein of the original. Taking two characters and their stories and turning them on their ear. Yet Denning also strays from Doyle’s stories, not in a way that detracts but in a way that adds and makes the characters truly original.

I am reminded of one of my other favorite authors – Terry Pratchett – taking what we know (or what we think we know) and making us see it from a different angle.

Once again Denning has taken the well known world of Sherlock Holmes for a joy ride. Like the first novel, I laughed my way through the pages and even shed a few tears. And again like the first novel, I recommend this one to all my readers – especially my fellow Holmes and Watson fans.

Provided for Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due. 

This book was provided for review by the kind people at Tor publishing. Thank you!

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood is one of those books I started and put down before coming back to it at a later date. When I first started reading it some months ago I didn’t get very far because the story just wasn’t pulling me in. It wasn’t engaging and I found my attention drifting when I did try to read. Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and I knew that if I put the book down and came back at a later date, I’m sure I would have an easier time.

Which is exactly what happened when I came back to it.

The Unspoken Name is a wonderfully fun and incredibly imaginative book. The characters, while not wholly unique, are at least presented in a way that is fresh. The characters are flawed and imperfect, none more so than the main characters Csorwe and Sethennai. Their relationship is ever-changing, often times bordering on the toxic.

There are a few plot holes that could have been handled better. Several times something happens without any explanation. How did this person know that piece of information? How did those characters know exactly where to go and how to get there? I am purposefully being vague because to give details would be to reveal important scenes and spoilers, something I try very hard not to do.

The Unspoken Name is one of those books that once I started reading I found it hard to put down. It kept me interested and entertained and despite its flaws, I found it to be a fun read. I definitely recommend it to my readers who love a good fantasy and am eagerly looking forward to the second installment of the series.

Star Trek-The Next Generation:Armageddon’s Arrow by Dayton Ward

armageddonsarrow

It is a new age of exploration and the U.S.S. Enterprise is returning to her roots. Sent on a mission to the Odyssean Pass, it is a far-flung region of space that has only been mapped by unmanned probes but is believed to have inhabited worlds. As they approach a star system with two such worlds, Captain Picard and crew come first upon a massive alien vessel.

The derelict ship shows signs of being adrift in space for decades and upon closer inspection a small crew in suspended animation is found. The Enterprise crew soon learn this ship is an ultimate weapon, sent from the future and designed to bring an end to a war that has raged for generations.  With both sides claiming this doomsday ship, Captain Picard must mediate some kind of truce before one side or the other uses the weapon for its ultimate purpose.

Those who know me know I have been a Star Trek fan for a LONG time – like I joined the fandom in the early 90’s long time. So I have definitely read my fair share of Star Trek books. I got out of reading them for a time but came back with Armageddon’s Arrow and I am glad I did.

While there are many of the characters we Next Generation fans are familiar with, there are also numerous new characters added. This mix of old and new is refreshing and enough to bring new readers in while keeping older readers (like myself) happy.

With Armageddon’s Arrow, Ward presents a difficult dilemma – just how far is someone willing to go to end a war? It is one that is handled with aplomb, however to say too much will give away the ending.

Fast-paced with occasional less frenetic passages, Arrow is an excellent addition to the Star Trek universe. There is enough to please old fans and welcome new fans. For those who are fans this is a definite must-read.

Provided for Review: The Living Waters (The Weirdwater Confluence Book 1) by Dan Fitzgerald

Wonder swirls beneath murky water.

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.

The mystery of the swirls lures them on to the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

When Dan Fitzgerald originally reached out to me to review the first book in his Weirdwater Confluence series, I admit I was intrigued. At the mention of “fantasy” as a genre, one’s thoughts often tend towards swords and monsters and epic action scenes. The Living Waters does have some action and there can be arguments made for monsters but as for swords, there isn’t one to be found. One would have to look hard to find weaponry of any kind and then one might find an oar or a fishing pole.

As someone who enjoys a good fantasy but doesn’t always want epic fight scenes, The Living Waters was a wonderfully refreshing read.

Much like the river our characters travel on, The Living Waters is a meandering story. It starts and stops never settling in one place for long and when it does actually pause we the reader are treated to lush landscapes and fresh faces. Fitzgerald’s writing captures the lands around the river superbly, evoking thoughts of Mark Twain and his writings on the Mississippi River.

The one and only quibble I have with The Living Waters was the lack of backstory. We are told members of the upper classes paint their faces and exposed skin to protect them from the sun. Why did this practice start and when? The same goes for the rough about Temi and Silvan take. Why exactly is this done? It’s never fully explained and I personally think it would have added to my enjoyment if it had been.

Like I said above, The Living Waters is a wonderfully refreshing read and I enjoyed it very much. It is my understanding there is a second book in the works and I am personally looking forward to it. I recommend this book to all my readers and hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

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 into Grey London, Kell runs into 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 from an earlier time, many of these places stand today. The Grey London she describes is the London of the early 1800s, 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 everyone 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.

Provided for Review: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.

But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt. 

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

When I saw Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth available to read on Netgalley, I jumped on the chance to get a copy. Books set in Japan (whether modern-day or historical) are appealing to me. And if there happens to be a mystery and/or a horror element added in? Bonus!

I was so looking forward to reading this book and when I was finally able to I was so disappointed! So much about this book is simply awful!

I know horror can be difficult to write; good horror that keeps you on the edge of your seat doubly so. The juggling of characters, setting, and plot can be quite demanding. Even the most prolific of writers can have trouble. And while Khaw certainly tried with Nothing But Blackened Teeth, it was in my opinion an ultimate failure.

The cast of characters is an unlikeable group of twenty-somethings. Throughout the story, we are told they are friends and have been for some time – hard to believe considering the way they almost constantly bicker. Almost the entire book is like this with them fighting about past grudges and who might still have feelings for who. It added nothing to the story and only made it difficult for me to actually care when something happened to someone.

Because the story is set in Japan and because it is supposed to be a ghost story, Khaw apparently felt it necessary to throw in terms like ohaguro-bettari and shiromoku but without giving any translation or context. Readers who are familiar with Japanese ghost stories will likely recognize the terms – a female demon with no face and a mouth of black teeth and a pure white wedding kimono respectively – but the average readers will not. And without that context or translation, the words mean nothing and add nothing.

The writing for Nothing But Blackened Teeth is just as bad. Khaw’s prose is so purple at times it comes across as ridiculous. In some passages it isn’t purple, it’s ultraviolet. It is excessive and so over the top that I have no words to really describe it. And like in so many novels that have that overly flowery type of writing, it doesn’t add to the story but detracts from it.

I will be honest my dear reader, I did not enjoy reading Nothing But Blackened Teeth. The stilted writing and horrid characters made it difficult to even finish the story. I know there are reviewers who absolutely loved this book and there are readers who like me did not. My only advice is to read it and judge for yourself.

The Paper Magician (Paper Magician #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Trigger Warning: Blood, Fantasy violence, Toxic relationship, Death of a child (occurs off-page), Death of an adult (occurs off-page), Death of an animal (paper animal)

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg is one of those books that’s been sitting on my To Be Read list for a while. I remember downloading it to my e-reader ages ago but I never got around to reading it. Finally, I decided it was time to start whittling down my TBR list and this was one of the first books I picked up to do it with.

Like so many who have read and reviewed it, it’s a bit difficult to pin down the exact genre this book would fit into. The main heroine is 19 so does that make it Young Adult? No, not quite. The setting is a pseudo-Victorian era England so does that make it Historical Fiction? Again, no not quite. Over the course of the book, Ceony develops a kind of crush on Emery and it’s hinted that he might like her back. So does that mean it’s a Romance? Yet again, I have to say no.

For everything that The Paper Magician is not, there is one thing I can definitely say. And that is it is an enjoyable read. As with so many books, there are of course flaws. The overall plotline and story can be a bit slow and maudlin at times. The characters can be wishy-washy and sometimes one-dimensional. Some of the violence was a bit over the top as was the overall final “battle”.

Does that mean I won’t recommend it to my readers? Not at all. Like some whose reviews I read in order to write this one – while reading The Paper Magician, I was reminded of Howl’s Moving Castle (both book and movie). It too is a not quite perfect book that gets mixed reviews but there are people who love it deeply. Myself included.