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.

Provided for Review: A History of the World Through Body Parts by Kathy Petras and Ross Petras

From famous craniums to prominent breasts, ancient spleens, and bound feet, this book will bring history to life in a whole new way.

With their inimitable wit and probing intelligence, authors Kathy and Ross Petras look at the role the human body has played throughout history as each individual part becomes a jumping-off point for a wider look at the times.

In far-ranging, quirky-yet-interrelated stories, learn about Charles II of Spain’s jaw and the repercussions of inbreeding, what Anne Boleyn’s heart says about the Crusades and the trend of dispersed burials, and what can be learned about Lady Xoc’s pierced tongue. 

A History of the World Through Body Parts is packed with fascinating little-known historical facts and anecdotes that will entertain, enlighten, and delight even the most well-read history buff.

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

A History of the World Through Body Parts: The Stories Behind the Organs, Appendages, Digits, and the Like Attached to (or Detached from) Famous Bodies (whew, what a mouthful!) is exactly what the title says. It is a brief look at the history of humanity and the certain body parts that played important parts in key moments.

From the stone age to the space age, the Petras trace the rise and fall of history and the accompanying body parts that played a role. There are twenty-seven chapters and each chapter focuses on a certain body part – such as Qui Jin’s feet, Anne Boleyn’s heart, or Charles II of Spain’s jaw. Each piece tells a story of the times and tells us not only what was popular at the time but also how the times were changing.

While each chapter is fairly short, there is also a good deal of information given. For me, this made the book enjoyable to read. The information is given in a way that is easy to take in, not relying on overly scientific terms that might push a more casual reader away.

A History of the World Through Body Parts is an entertaining as well as educational read. Some of these stories I already knew but there were just as many I did not know the whole truth behind. I definitely recommend it for any of my readers who are looking not only a fairly quick read but one that will help them learn something too.

Corpse Rider by Tim Curran

Poor Christina is young and alone. Her every relationship seems cursed, each one slowly turning to poison. The only one that doesn’t seem to have soured is the one with her co-worker.

Christina is also at times kind. When visiting her mother’s grave, she notices a nearby grave left derelict. Thinking she is helping, she pulls the weeds growing around and tidies the tombstone up a bit.

Her simple act of kindness causes someone to notice and Christina realizes she is no longer alone. For what was laid to rest beneath that stone has attached itself to her and to it she will be the perfect wife. And, God help her, the perfect mother.

Corpse Rider by Tim Curran is the perfect creepy story to start off the month of October with. It is a short story – more a novella than a novel – and is therefore a fairly quick read.

This is the first book by Curran that I have read, but judging from his titles on GoodReads, he has a flair for the strange. His books run the gambit and it looks like his readers love them.

Corpse Rider is very much a psychological book. Written in a way that makes the reader wonder just how much is real and how much is in Christina’s mind. Did she really see a figure in black on that hot, sunny day in the cemetery? Was there really a hearse driven by that same figure at her work a few days later? As Christina is the only one seeing these things, one cannot help but wonder if perhaps she is going insane.

At times, it certainly feels that way. Every one around her is skeptical as there simply isn’t any proof. No proof until the very, very end.

I won’t go too far in to what happens next because to do so will ruin the ending for any one who decides to read this. Personally, I recommend it to my readers. Especially to those who like a good, creepy read. So grab your favorite hot drink, a warm fuzzy blanket, and curl up with this great thriller.

A History of What Comes Next (Take Them to the Stars #1) by Sylvain Neuvel

Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.

Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.

But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.

A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them… 

When I originally picked up A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel, I was intrigued. As someone who has had a lifelong love of space and science fiction, I have always enjoyed reading books where characters dream (and often achieve) going to the stars.

Unfortunately though, what I got when reading A History of What Comes Next was vastly different than what I was expecting. While the general story itself was quite interesting, the writing was often dry and lackluster. The characters of mother Sarah and daughter Mia were difficult to connect to. It was difficult to actually care about what happened to them over the course of the book. Much like the characters do with the people around them, we too are held at arms’ length and are not let in close.

Neuvel relies heavily on the scientific and technical details throughout A History of What Comes Next. And while this is fine for some scenes, it simply does not work for others. It also means a good bit of background information is left out. Like, who exactly are the Kibsu? Why must there only be two? Why do the daughters look exactly like the mothers? What is the significance of the necklace mother passes down to daughter?

None of the questions are answered and when there is the occasional interlude into previous eras it leaves one with only more questions and few answers.

There is a second book in the series and I am curious about it. It continues where the first book leaves off with Mia. I will likely be reading it only to see if any of my questions are answered.

It would be hard for me to recommend this book to any but the most hardcore space enthusiasts out there. Perhaps if the book were handled differently, written in a smoother style it would be easier to read and enjoy.

Provided for Review: The Dali Deception by Adam Maxwell

Five criminals. Two forgeries. And one masterpiece of a heist.

Violet Winters—a professional thief born of a good, honest thief-and-con-artist stock— has been offered the heist of a lifetime. Steal a priceless Salvador Dali from the security-obsessed chairman of the Kilchester Bank and replace it with a forgery.

The fact that the “painting” is a signed, blank canvas doesn’t matter. It’s the challenge that gives Violet that familiar, addicting rush of adrenaline. Her quarry rests in a converted underground Cold War bunker. One way in, one way out. No margin for error.

But the reason Violet fled Kilchester is waiting right where she left him—an ex-lover with a murderous method for dumping a girlfriend. If her heist is to be a success, there will have to be a reckoning, or everything could go spinning out of control.

Her team of talented misfits assembled, Violet sets out to re-stake her claim on her reputation, exorcise some demons, and claim the prize. That is if her masterpiece of a plan isn’t derailed by a pissed-off crime boss—or betrayal from within her own ranks. 

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

Readers who have been with me for some time know that the majority of the books I review tend to skew towards the science-fiction and fantasy variety. Every so often I read and review something “modern” but those tend to be few and far between. When I was contacted by Adam Maxwell and asked if I was interested in reviewing his book The Dali Deception, I admit I was a bit hesitant. Once I read the book description, however, I was intrigued. And once I actually started reading the book itself, I was hooked.

When is a painting not quite a painting? When it’s a blank canvas signed by Salvador Dali.

After being away from Kilchester for almost two years, Violet Winters is given the chance to get back in the con game. All she has to do is steal a priceless Dali painting and replace it with a fake. The only hitch is the painting is located in an underground bunker apartment owned by a security-obsessed banker. There’s only one way in and one way out and enough security to make the US federal government jealous.

As she’s been away for a while, Violet has to assemble an all-new team. This she does by calling in old friends and making new ones along the way.

The character of Violet Winters – and the rest of her motley crew – are an interesting bunch. It would have been so easy for Maxwell to rely on character tropes that readers have seen countless times. But Maxwell doesn’t do this and instead subverts what readers are expecting and in effect take them by surprise. While there are some criminal cliches that are almost impossible to avoid, even with those Maxwell takes them and gives them a unique twist.

Personally, I think my favorite characters were Zoe and Katie. As someone who has perpetually looked younger than she actually was, I can completely relate to her sometimes frustration. And as for Katie, I find her whole person intriguing and cannot wait to get to know her better. In The Dali Deception, we do not learn much about her but it is easy to like her.

Maxwell’s writing style with The Dali Deception is fast-paced and funny. While reading it I couldn’t help but think how well this story could translate to screen – preferably a tv series type thing that would allow the whole story to be told.

In the end, I really enjoyed reading The Dali Deception by Adam Maxwell. I’m glad to know there is a second book featuring this crew and it has already been added to my extensive To Be Read list. I absolutely recommend it to my readers and to anyone looking for something a little bit different.

Many thanks to Adam Maxwell for allowing me to read and review this book!

Provided for Review: The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

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

“Words had power. Words could kill. And secret words all the more.”

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston is a fictional fantasy story of con men and cards, of gamblers and games, and the lengths some are willing to go to win.

The world that Livingston has created for The Knave of Secrets is a complex one. There are numerous cultures featured, not all of them friendly but all with one thing in common – the love of gambling and games. The same can be said for the characters, they too are complex with their love of gambling the main thing in common.

The main character Valen Quinol isn’t a young man but is described as one of middle age. A rarity in that most books of this kind feature a younger character often just starting out on their journey. Valen is well on his journey, having traveled it along with his wife and friends for some years already.

All of the characters are interesting in their own right and thankfully none of them are perfect. Mistakes are made and learned from. Fights and disagreements happen over plans. Even when things seem to go smoothly they don’t. Because of this, the characters are easy to relate to. Who doesn’t have arguments with their friends? Who doesn’t disagree sometimes with the ones they love most? It doesn’t mean we love them any less.

The only real quibble I have with The Knave of Secrets is the lack of “show don’t tell” in the storytelling. This is especially true during the many scenes featuring one game or another. In these instances, Livingston tells us what happens in the game but doesn’t really show us the action. While these scenes are intended to move the story along, sadly they fall flat while they attempt to do so.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Alex Livingston’s The Knave of Secrets. While the book is meant to be a standalone, I would very much enjoy seeing more tales from this world he has created. I recommend this book to my readers and I would remind them of an adage that every gambler knows:

The House Always Wins.

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant (Fred, The Vampire Accountant #1) by Drew Hayes

Some people are born boring. Some live boring. Some even die boring. Fred managed to do all three, and when he woke up as a vampire, he did so as a boring one. Timid, socially awkward, and plagued by self-esteem issues, Fred has never been the adventurous sort.

One fateful night – different from the night he died, which was more inconvenient than fateful – Fred reconnects with an old friend at his high school reunion. This rekindled relationship sets off a chain of events thrusting him right into the chaos that is the parahuman world, a world with chipper zombies, truck driver wereponies, maniacal necromancers, ancient dragons, and now one undead accountant trying his best to “survive.” Because even after it’s over, life can still be a downright bloody mess.

 

Trigger Warning – blood, violence, general gore

So often when I read a book with a vampire as the main character, the vampire in question always comes across as someone cool and aloof. A badass that follows their own rules and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Someone who is always ready to kick ass and take names.

Fred – short for Frederick Frankford Fletcher (yes really!) – is none of those things. He’s not even close. And that is what makes him great.

In The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, The Vampire Accountant, Hayes has taken a well-known (and often overused) character idea and turned it on its ear. Fred doesn’t suddenly become a super cool guy when he’s turned, he remains his original sweater vest-wearing geeky self. He is aware of the person he comes across as and uses that to his advantage.

The Utterly Uninteresting… is actually five mini-stories in one book. Each chapter is one of Fred’s adventures, introducing us not to just Fred but the friends and colleagues he gains along the way. As the book goes on, we see Fred grow as a person and as a vampire in ways that are not only amusing but satisfying as well.

This is a wonderfully light story despite the seemingly dark subject matter. It’s fun and funny and was an overall enjoyable read. I definitely recommend Fred The Vampire Accountant to my readers. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Provided for Review: Hall of Mirrors by Roxanne Lalande

The year is 1682, and the place is the palace of Versailles, where the Sun King, Louis the Fourteenth, reigns supreme over four thousand resident courtiers. Their social and political lives are intricately intertwined within a rigid hierarchy of etiquette.

Behind the brilliant facade of lavish festivities lies a shadowy world of intrigue, promiscuity, sorcery, and murder.

When human remains and a silver locket are unearthed on the neighboring estate of her husband’s lover, the duchess Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans investigates their origin and jeopardizes her own safety when her discoveries lead to the criminal involvement of her most powerful enemies at court.

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

Hall of Mirrors by Roxanne Lalande has the perfect setting for a murder mystery – the court at Versailles under the rule of the Sun King, Louis XIV. In a place where conspiracies and hidden plots were part of the norm, the discovery of human remains and a mysterious locket compel Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans to delve further into the mystery behind them.

My dearest reader, I so wanted to like Hall of Mirrors but unfortunately, it was disappointing. With so many characters it was difficult to keep track of what exactly was going on and to who it was happening. This is especially true since many of the characters have more than one name or title and could be called one or the other. The writing was confusing at times and the dialogue often had a stilted feel to it. Character information was often given in huge chunks of dialogue which I presume is meant to feel like listening to gossip but comes across more like clunky info dumps.

While I did enjoy reading about life at Versailles under Louis XIV and how frustrating it could sometimes be, it would have been nice if the main murder mystery plot had been given the same attention.

Provided for Review: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

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

Trigger Warnings: Physical and emotional abuse, alcohol addiction, mentions of rape, threats of rape, torture, murder, gore, misogyny.

I originally decided to read Iron Widow because of one blurb I saw on Netgalley:

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

Now while I don’t quite agree with the categorization of Iron Widow being a YA book, I do agree with everything else. Iron Widow IS a strangely wonderful blend of ideas both new and old. The characters are taken from Chinese history as well as Chinese literature and they are given a spin that will allow even those who aren’t familiar with their original stories to connect with them.

Set in the nation of Huaxia, Iron Widow is a futuristic reimagining of Medieval China. It is a nation that is constantly under attack by alien robots known as Hunduns. The only way to defeat the Hunduns is through the use of Chrysalises, giant mecha made from the spirit metal of defeated Hunduns. It takes two people to pilot a Chrysalis; male pilots who are regarded as heroes and female co-pilots who are more often than not forgotten.

Wu Zetian volunteers to become a co-pilot so that she may take revenge for her older sister’s death. It is her main driving force even though she knows she will likely die achieving it. When Wu is able to achieve her revenge, that small taste of power spurs her on. Her abilities make her an asset even as she is considered a threat.

In reading Iron Widow, I not only thought of Pacific Rim but I also found myself thinking of the classic anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. For those who are not familiar, Evangelion featured EVAs which were also biomechanical mechas created to battle similar type creatures. They too feature a human pilot – though the EVAs have one pilot while the Chrysalises have two. The pilots in both are young and must also follow the orders of those above them.

Zhao’s writing in Iron Widow is in my opinion quite well done. The action scenes are well-paced and are nicely interspersed with the more character-building scenes. Scenes that feature Wu’s “down-time” do not detract from the overall story but instead, add to the creation of a character that the reader can connect to. We cheer for Wu as she struggles and succeeds.

The only thing I did not like – and which I hope Zhao will expand upon in the second book – is the whole backstory of the Hunduns and the Chrysalises. We are given a tantalizing tease at the end of the first book and I am hoping that we learn more in the second.

I enjoyed reading Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao. I am very glad I was allowed an early peek through Netgalley and I am eagerly looking forward to the second book in the series.