Provided for Review: Ink & Sigil (Ink & Sigil #1) by Kevin Hearne

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails–and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective–while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

This book was provided for review via sweepstakes by Goodreads. Many thanks!

Trigger Warning: General violence. Mentions of trafficking, both human and otherworldly.

Ink & Sigil is the first book by Kevin Hearne in the series by the same name. Some readers might recognize Hearne’s name from the Iron Druid series. Others might be new to Hearne’s writing and his unique style.

Ink & Sigil takes place in a modern day world where the pen is quite literally mightier than the sword. With the right inks and the right written characters a person can accomplish almost anything. Heal wounds. Gain super strength (albeit only for a short while). Even alter another person’s mind. The art is heavily protected and Al MacBharrais in only one of a handful of practitioners.

As with his Iron Druid series, with Ink & Sigil Hearne manages to fuse fantasy and reality in to a very entertaining read. In its pages (virtual or otherwise) we are introduced to Al MacBharrais, who thought he might bristle at the term is a hipster through and through with his penchant for unique fashion and even more unique drinks. We are also introduced to Nadia, who works as Al’s accountant in his print shop but also moonlights as a pit fighter. Rounding out the trio is Buck Foi, a foul mouthed hobgoblin who loves “Your Mom” jokes.

Since this is the first book of the series, the universe and its rules must be spelt out for the reader. In Ink & Sigil this is generally done through flashbacks though on a few occasions Al explains something to Buck since he is new to the human realm.

In the genre of urban fantasy, authors must tread a fine line. They must combine the real and the fantastical in a manner that is both plausible and entertaining. Relying on too much of one or the other shatters the illusion and can be disappointing to a reader. Kevin Hearne has proven that once again he has the ability to walk that line and create a world that is so like and yet unlike our own.

Fans of Hearne’s other works will likely enjoy this book if they haven’t read it already. Likewise the same can be said for fans of urban fantasy. Personally, I really enjoyed reading Ink & Sigil and look forward to further adventures.

It Devours: A Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

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Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the small town of Night Vale. Working beside the town’s top scientist Carlos, her guiding principles are fact and logic. These principles are put to the question when Carlos gives her a unique assignment; investigate the strange rumblings and disappearances that have been occurring around town.

Not wanting to disappoint her boss, Nilanjana follows the clues to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God – and to Darryl, one of the congregation’s most devout followers. Grappling with her beliefs as well as her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect there is more to the congregation that meets the eye. And that they are planning a special ceremony that could threaten the lives of every person in town.

Welcome to Night Vale is a currently ongoing podcast that mimics the style of NPR and small town talk radio. The difference being that Night Vale is not your typical town. Strange and mysterious events happen aplenty and the town is populated with a wide variety of individuals – from a mysterious glow cloud (all hail) to a literal five headed dragon and from numerous humans of all walks of life to some who are mostly human. And for the most part, the citizens of Night Vale get along well enough.

The reader who decides to pick up It Devours should have some prior knowledge about Welcome to Night Vale. While they don’t need to be fully caught up on the podcast, some knowledge about the town and characters is essential. The novel itself focuses on two original characters – Nilanjana Sikdar and Darryl Sanchez – but other characters such as Cecil and Carlos do make appearances. There are also references to the hooded figures, the black helicopters, and the Smiling God – all of which have been referenced before in the podcast.

This aside, It Devours is an interesting book. The two main characters come from opposite side of a unique spectrum. Nilanjana believes in science – that we should question everything and always seek the truth. Darryl believes in his religion – that we should question nothing and should believe the truths given to us. Naturally they butt heads but they both eventually realize they are simply different sides of the same coin. They both want the same thing even if they end up going about it in different ways.

The ideas of religion versus science are handled very well in this book. Neither is lauded above the other, neither is declared “right”. And the individuals who proclaim that their way is the right and only way are actually shown the error of their ways. Whether it be by being eaten by a giant sand worm or by realizing that they are in fact the creator of the tremors that are decimating the city.

The characters themselves are also presented in an uncommon manner. Very little is dedicated to their actual physical appearance. Instead, the reader is encouraged to get to know Nilanjana and Darryl by their words; their thoughts and actions dictating the kind of person they are. The same can be said of all the characters of Night Vale. So little is known about what they physically look like, the only exception being we know that Carlos has “perfect hair”. This allows the reader to imagine themselves or any person in any of the roles.

In general, the average reader could possibly enjoy It Devours. While knowledge of the universe via the podcast does make the read more enjoyable, the opposite could also be true. By reading the book one becomes interested in the universe and seeks out the podcast. Either way, I enjoyed It Devours and recommend it to my own readers.

Provided for Review: Lionhearts (Nottingham #2) by Nathan Makaryk

All will be well when King Richard returns . . . but King Richard has been captured.

To raise the money for his ransom, every lord in England is raising taxes, the French are eyeing the empty throne, and the man they called, “Robin Hood,” the man the Sherriff claims is dead, is everywhere and nowhere at once.

He’s with a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, raiding guard outposts. He’s with Nottingham’s largest gang, committing crimes to protest the taxes. He’s in the lowest slums of the city, conducting a reign of terror against the city’s most vulnerable. A hero to some, a monster to others, and an idea that can’t simply be killed.

But who’s really under the hood?

Content Warning: Pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Profanity (so much profanity), violence, murder, rape (mention of and offscreen), necrophilia (mention of), theft. Aside from bestialities, this book has it all.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the author for providing Lionhearts for review!

The story of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws is one that has become so ingrained that one often forgets that at least some of it is based on truth. King Richard really was captured and held for ransom and in order to pay his ransom every English lord raised taxes much to the people’s dismay. And while bandits and outlaws likely did roam Sherwood Forest at the time, that is where truth and fiction diverge.

First of all, I did not realize Lionhearts was a sequel. Because it was not described as such on Netgalley’s website, I went in thinking it was either a standalone book or the first book in a possible series. That it is the second book and the book Nottingham comes before it could possibly make a difference when reading.

Secondly, this book is violent and some parts are not for the squeamish. A trigger or content warning of some kind would have been welcome. While I am not the most squeamish of readers, there were a few scenes that even I found difficult to stomach. Readers who are familiar with the content of Game of Thrones will have an idea of the kind of sometimes over the top violence that Lionhearts contains.

In many ways it is obvious that Makaryk was influenced by the wildly popular Game of Thrones series when writing Lionhearts. Each chapter is dedicated solely to an individual character and their actions at a specific time and place. At the beginning of each chapter we are given the name of who we are following and exactly where they are. We then follow them as they negotiate the countless plots and subplots as well as the very real danger that surrounds each person.

To sum things up, Lionhearts is not for everyone. The story is dark and violent, the characters are often cruel. At over 500 pages it can be a bit much for even the most stalwart of readers. Readers who are looking for a retelling of the Robin Hood myth should be careful because this is not an easy read.

Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an arrogant bachelor insistent on a wife who meets the strictest of requirements–deserves his comeuppance.

The Honorable Jeremy Malcolm is searching for a wife, but not just any wife. He’s determined to elude the fortune hunters and find a near-perfect woman, one who will meet the qualifications on his well-crafted list. But after years of searching, he’s beginning to despair of finding this paragon. And then Selina Dalton arrives in town…

Selina, a vicar’s daughter of limited means and a stranger to high society, is thrilled when her friend Julia invites her to London.  Until she learns it’s part of a plot to exact revenge on Mr. Malcolm. Selina is reluctant to participate in Julia’s scheme, especially after meeting the irresistible Mr. Malcolm, who seems very different from the arrogant scoundrel of Julia’s description.

But when Mr. Malcolm begins judging Selina against his unattainable standards, Selina decides that she has qualifications of her own. And if he is to meet them he must reveal the real man behind…Mr. Malcolm’s List. 

Mr. Malcolm’s List is one of those books that I would advertise as a fun and fluffy beach read. It’s one of those books that has a decent enough plot, the characters aren’t the worst, and it’s overall fairly enjoyable.

That is, as long as you’re okay with a Regency romance that isn’t quite Regency era and characters that while they try to be endearing also make one want to slap someone silly.

The actual writing for Mr. Malcolm’s List isn’t too bad but it is a bit basic. As I was reading it I got the feeling that Ms. Allain was going off some kind of checklist as to what a good Regency romance should contain. And all the points are there – riding in a hackney, visiting family/friends in the country, a masquerade ball, at least one misunderstanding between characters. Plus add in that while the story is set during the Regency era, it doesn’t feel like it. The characters speech and mannerisms are far too modern when compared to their actual historical counterparts.

As I said above the characters in Mr. Malcolm’s List aren’t the worst but neither are they very good. Selina is very wishy-washy and only in the final third of the book does she seem to actually grow a spine. Julia, who is supposedly Selina’s friend from school, is an awful brat and is almost unrecognizable by the end of the book. Her falling in love with Henry (and he with her) is so sudden and out of left field that it felt very out of character for both of them. As for the titular Malcolm himself, he had his moments but often came across as a bully. Certainly not the kind of person someone like Selina would fall for.

At roughly 200 pages, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a pretty quick read. Perfect for poolside or on the beach where light fluffy stories are an ideal fit. I can’t readily recommend this book to my readers but neither can I tell them to stay far away. All I can say is that it isn’t a perfect book and for some that is good enough.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

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Global warming has changed the surface of the globe and its politics. Wars are now fought over water and China is a ruling state. It rules over the majority of what was known as Europe, including the old Scandinavian Union where Noria Kaitio lives.

Noria is following in her father’s footsteps; learning to become a tea master with all the responsibility it entails. Tea masters are keepers of old ways and of great secrets – the greatest being the source of hidden water that once served the whole village.

Secrets, however, almost never stay that way for long.

Memory of Water was a very interesting read. So often we do not realize how vital something is until that thing is taken away, in this instance water. It is the stuff life and is kept under strict control.

Like the water that is so precious in Noria’s world, it is mimicked in Itäranta’s writing style. Words and emotions ebb and flow; sometimes running smoothly and other times crashing down abruptly. Noria is in a constant battle with herself and with the government she has come to fear.

Memory of Water is a quick and somewhat satisfying read. The ending is not quite happy and open ended enough for the reader to consider what likely happens next. Set in an interesting world, I would enjoy seeing it revisited sometime in the future in a possible sequel.

A Dark Anatomy (Cragg & Fidelis Mystery #1) by Robin Blake

The year is 1740.

George II is on the throne but England’s remoter provinces remain largely a law unto themselves.

In Lancashire a grim discovery has been made: a Squire’s wife, Dolores Brockletower, lies in the woods above her home, Garlick Hall, her throat brutally slashed.

Called to the scene, Coroner Titus Cragg finds the Brockletower household awash with rumor and suspicion. He enlists the help of his astute young friend, doctor Luke Fidelis, to throw light on the case. But this is a world in which forensic science is in its infancy, and policing hardly exists. Embarking on their first gripping investigation, Cragg and Fidelis are faced with the superstition of witnesses, obstruction by local officials, and denunciations from the Squire himself. 

Long time readers of this blog will likely have realized by now that the majority of what I read falls in to the fiction category. And of those quite a few fall under historical fiction. It is a genre I greatly enjoy and one I enjoy finding new authors in.

Sadly though, I do not believe I will be adding Robin Blake’s Cragg & Fidelis series to my list.

Like most mystery novels, A Dark Anatomy opens with a grisly murder. Dolores Brockletower has been found in the woods near her home. Her throat has been brutally slashed but other than that she is untouched. Her fine clothes, her jewelry, all is as it was when she was last seen leaving Garlick Hall for her morning ride.

While this is certainly an intriguing enough lead up, sadly the follow through is rather lacking. Told from perspective of lawyer and coroner Titus Cragg, we the reader are subjected to long stretches of novel that more often that not have little affect on the overall story. While Cragg is supposedly a well renowned lawyer, he spends a good deal of the narrative stumbling from one person to the next. The clues are so blatant that any reader paying attention would likely have figured things out in the first fifty pages.

Though the prose itself is at often dry and bland, what I truly found upsetting was the way the characters themselves were handled. Generally the first book in a series is used to introduce recurring characters to readers. To endear them to the reader so that they care about what happens to the characters in subsequent books. This unfortunately was not done very well in A Dark Anatomy. Instead of introducing us to the main characters of Titus Cragg and Dr. Luke Fidelis, rather they are plunked down in front of the reader. We are given little to no information on them and as such it is hard to care about them in any way.

I will give Blake points for illustrating just how deaths were investigated in England before the advent of a true police force. When local persons were often forced to play multiple roles. That in itself was interesting. The rest of the book though? Sadly, not so much.

The Patient by Jasper DeWitt

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility’s most difficult, profoundly dangerous case—a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide.

Desperate and fearful, the hospital’s directors keep him strictly confined and allow minimal contact with staff for their own safety, convinced that releasing him would unleash catastrophe on the outside world. Parker, brilliant and overconfident, takes it upon himself to discover what ails this mystery patient and finally cure him. But from his first encounter with the mystery patient, things spiral out of control, and, facing a possibility beyond his wildest imaginings, Parker is forced to question everything he thought he knew.

The story of The Patient by Jasper DeWitt is presented to the reader in a series of online posts. On an internet message board Dr. Parker H. begins his story in a thread titled “Why I Almost Quit Medicine”. In the thread one can assume that other doctors had made posts about circumstances that made them almost leave their profession, whether it be from stress or workload or what have you.

In his first post Parker admits that the story he is about to relate will sound outlandish. He knows that there will be those who think him a fraud and his story is an effort to garner attention. He knows these things and doesn’t ask the readers to believe him, he only asks that they listen.

In The Patient, DeWitt has created a very dark and disturbing tale using a unique storytelling style. With the bulletin board style posts one can easily imagine how anxious the readers would have become. With each update from him more pieces of the puzzle surrounding Joe are revealed and with each question answered more are added in their place.

Some reviewers have tagged The Patient as ‘psychological thriller’ while others have tagged it as ‘supernatural horror’. In my opinion, both are accurate. The way the story is set up and eventually resolves, one is left to wonder if what Parker observed was true? Or was it the slow descent of an overworked mind?

At just over 200 paged The Patient is a fairly quick read. It is something the average reader would likely be able to finish in a day. However, I recommend the reader to take their time and savor the story DeWitt has created. Give thought to the things Parker writes about and decide for yourself whether monsters are real or imagination.

The Mechanical: Book 1 of the Alchemy Wars by Ian Tregillis

Every so often an invention comes along that changes the world. It revolutionizes it’s particular field and nothing is quite the same afterward. One example – and one that is important to the story – is the pendulum clock. Invented in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, is was a breakthrough in timekeeping, allowing accuracy unheard of in its day.

The Mechanical takes place in a world where the pendulum clock wasn’t Huygens only great invention. Along side the clocks, he also created a clockwork man called a Clakker. Imbued with a mixture of alchemy and science, these mechanical men and women are considered the perfect tool. They are able to fill any role – soldier or servant. They are tireless and obedient and they allow the Dutch to become a world power. Yet what the Dutch do not know – or perhaps deny knowing – is that the Clakkers are thinking and feeling beings and that they desire their freedom.

Our story takes place in 1926, but it is a very different age. The Dutch have built a grand world on the backs of their metal men conquering much of the known world. The French have been defeated and now live in exile in what know as Nova Scotia, Canada. Though the French have a better understanding of chemicals, scientific discovery and spies among the Dutch, and even with a shaky cease-fire between the two powers, the French know it is only a matter of time before they fall to the Clakkers. However the French believe they have found a way to not only defeat the French but to free the Clakkers.

There are three separate narratives creating this story, each showing a different view of this world. At first they seem separate and only as the book goes on do we see how entwined they truly are. I won’t go too much in to it though because to say too much will spoil the plot. And believe me dear reader, discovering how everything fits together is half the enjoyment of this book.

What also makes this book enjoyable is how it makes you think. Not only does it make you question how we define what means to be a human but also what it means to truly be free. It also asks that question ‘what is a soul?’ – it is something that can be measured or even manufactured? Questions that have been asked for millenia are posed again but without being preachy or sad but inquisitive.

To sum up, this book is EXCELLENT. With fabulous writing set in a fascinating well-built world, characters that are interesting and diverse and a truly original plot, this is a very good read. I am definitely looking forward to the second (and third? and more?) book in this series.

Provided for Review: Breaking Ava Lake by K.P. Ambroziak

From as far back as Nolon can remember, he has been under Alexander’s rule. Ever since they were children, and Alexander watched him accidentally kill a man. He got away with the murder only to find himself serving a different kind of life sentence, as the plaything to Alexander’s whims.

Alexander’s demands have always been unreasonable, but now as a colleague in Nolon’s father’s law firm, he is making Nolon’s life untenable. Nolon knows he won’t be free of Alexander unless he can dig up dirt on him and make his own crime seem like child’s play in comparison.

When Nolon’s wife Ava is assaulted one night in their home, causing her to miscarry, Nolon finally has what he needs. As a lawyer, he has the skills to make it seem plausible. As a rich man, he has the resources to set it up. As a lifelong victim of Alexander’s schemes, he has the know-how. But there’s a hitch. The detective on the case has Nolon in her sights since Ava’s unborn child wasn’t his.

As Nolon works to keep his past buried, he struggles to unearth enough evidence to banish his rival for good. That is, if he can stomach living without him.

Many thanks to the author for providing this book for review. It’s another good one!

Trigger Warning: Assault, sexual assault, emotional abuse

I can count on one hand the number of authors I have come across that I find so enjoyable to read that I eventually consume every title they have written. Since I started this blog, K.P. Ambroziak (and her nom du plume Vera Mae) is one such author I have encountered. Every book I have read by her – whether it be something modern day or set in some far off future – has been so well done and so well written.

Breaking Ava Lake is the latest book by Ambroziak to add to that list.

Told from the point of view of Nolon Lake, Breaking Ava Lake is a heart rending story that runs the gambit of the human condition. From the first page to the last it is a story of love and of hate, of jealousy and greed, and of envy and revenge. As one delves in to the story, learns of the history between Nolon and Alexander, one cannot help but imagine such a story taking place in the real world. Such is the way the characters – and the story itself as a whole – is written.

As with so many of Ambroziak’s books, there are numerous mis-directions leading one to think they know exactly where the story will go. Only to be surprised (and possibly shocked) when it takes a wild turn and goes in a different direction. Knowing she does this, I should have been expecting something like it but I was still taken aback when it happened.

Breaking Ava Lake is not for every reader. It is a dark book and the subject matter is not an easy one to read about. The book itself starts with an assault and the story goes from there. Some readers could find it troubling and potentially triggering.

Readers who are familiar with Ambroziak’s other works will likely enjoy her latest foray. Even readers who have never read one of her books before but like a good page turner that keeps you guessing until the very end could like it. While I can’t recommend it to every one, I still urge my readers who are comfortable to give it a try.

Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch

Wayward Pines, Idaho, is quintessential small-town America – or so it seems.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in search of two missing federal agents, yet soon is facing much more than he bargained for. After a violent accident lands him in the hospital, Ethan comes to with no ID and no cell phone. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off.

As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into his colleagues’ disappearance turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he make contact with his family in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what’s the purpose of the electrified fences encircling the town? Are they keeping the residents in? Or something else out?

Each step toward the truth takes Ethan further from the world he knows, until he must face the horrifying possibility that he may never leave Wayward Pines alive…

Often times when I am looking for books to add to To Read list I will add titles that just sound interesting. Maybe I’ve read something from the author before, maybe I haven’t. Maybe something on the cover catches my eye. Or maybe something in the blurb just piques my interest.

Such is what happened with Pines, the first novel in the Wayward Pines series. Blake Crouch is an author I have reviewed before on here and when looking at some of the other titles he’s written the Wayward Pines series stood out. As a fan of the “survival horror” type video games (ie Silent Hill and Resident Evil) I was especially intrigued and added the title to my queue.

Oh my goodness dear reader, I am so glad I did. It has been some time since a book has held my attention so fully that I read it in one evening. There were times I had to set it down and walk away to take care of one thing or another but I just as quickly returned because I simply had to know what happens next.

If you are familiar with the “survival horror” genre, whether it be via video games, novels, etc. then the basic plotline of Pines will not seem new. Indeed it relies on several familiar tropes that are standard – the perfect little town, the citizens that are a little too friendly, contact with any one outside of the actual town cut off for whatever reason. These things are de rigeur for stories of this type and Crouch uses them all very well.

As in his other novels, Crouch’s writing is tight paced. The action is not just physical but psychological as well. The main character Ethan is easy to sympathize with. As one event leads to another and still there is no way to leave the sleepy little town, one begins to wonder if perhaps it is Ethan himself who is off. In watching him find dead end after dead end you also begin to feel his frustration and despair. And when he does learn what is going on, his horror as well.

Since Pines is the first novel in the Wayward Pines trilogy, I fully expected the story to end on a cliffhanger. I expected few if any questions to be answered and if any were they would simply lead to more. Pines is odd in that it answers most of the questions raised throughout the novel. There is an ending but it is also left open for the subsequent novels in the series. Where Crouch takes the story next, I am not sure but I am curious to find out.

Readers who enjoyed shows like Twin Peaks or X-Files will more than likely enjoy travelling to Wayward Pines. I whole heartedly recommend at least the first novel to my readers. As I have already gotten the second and third books from my local library, readers should stay tuned for those reviews as well.