Provided for Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

This book was provided by the kind folks at NetGalley. Thank you!

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls? (via Goodreads)

The Bird King is one of those novels that offers a unique mix of truth and fantasy. Set in 1491, it is the story of a young concubine and her witnessing of the fall of the sultanate and the only life she had ever known. When her dear friend is threatened with death, she makes a bold and daring choice. In their travels they meet both friend and foe, as well as some who are both.

The shift of story from almost non-fiction to fantasy is quite smooth. Wilson weaves a tale of friendship and love, of loss and betrayal, and does it in a way that is very realistic. She incorporates non-human characters in a natural way, having them interact with the human characters that is very believable.

One of the story points that really stuck out to me was how Hassan’s sexuality is treated. It is explained that he prefers the company of men and has no interest in women. Aside from the few Christian’s they meet, no one cares who Hassan lays with. Also, the fact that he is homosexual isn’t treated as a big deal, it’s a part of who he is just as much as his ability to draw maps of places he hasn’t seen.

Fatima loves Hassan just as Hassan loves Fatima in return, however they do not end up a couple at the end of the book. Their love is the love of good friends and the fact that it doesn’t change nor is it made light of that I found enjoyable.

On the whole, I greatly enjoyed reading The Bird King. There is some subject matter that some might find triggering, but I believe that the majority of readers will like this book as much as I have. I heartily recommend it to all my readers.

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Provided for Review: The Fairy’s Tale (The Pathways Tree #1) by F. D. Lee

This book was provided for review from the author via Facebook. Thank you!

Enter the world behind the stories, where ‘Happy Endings’, ‘True Love’ and ‘Rags To Riches’ are all just a means to an end – and a promotion. Here we meet Bea, a cabbage fairy who dreams of being so much more. She wants to be a Fiction Management Executive (godmother division), but no one at the General Administration will take her seriously – until now.

One day a strange, solemn Plotter pulls Bea into his office and offers her the chance to make her Dreams Come True. All she has to do is finish a straightforward story by getting a poor girl married to a rich man. Simple. Easy. It practically tells itself. Except Bea soon realizes that the heroine doesn’t love the hero, and the so-called ugly sister is much more important than the Plot suggests. Plus, she’s pretty certain that there’s an actual, real life villain in the mix – and why is it so important that the Plots always stay the same, anyway?

Bea soon discovers there’s something rotten behind the simplicity of the stories, and suddenly she is faced with a choice, and it seems whichever option she picks will be wrong: Will she commit treason by changing the story and saving her characters from their endings, or follow the Plot and save herself from the sinister Redaction Department?

After all, what kind of fairy godmother really cares about true love?  (via Goodreads)

I don’t think there is a person around today who wasn’t raised on fairy tales in one aspect or another in their childhood. No matter what our background, we were all exposed to these tales as children and as adults. And while the stories themselves might have different casts of characters and different settings, the end results were almost always the same with lessons learned and love found.

The Fairy’s Tale takes us behind the scenes of the stories; asking the question, what if the events in the fairy tales weren’t completely random like they seem? What if the events were carefully plotted out as part of some grander Plot? Who are the individuals doing the plotting? And lastly, what happens when the so-called “characters” don’t want to be part of the story?

Lee has penned a top notch fairy tale within a fairy tale with The Fairy’s Tale. (Try saying that 5 times fast!) Her characters are well thought out and well rounded and each adds their own little piece to the story as a whole. Many questions are posed and while some are answered, there are just as many that have an answer alluded to but are not answered out right either. This keeps the reader guessing and keeps them reading.

There are an additional two books to the series that will hopefully answer the questions left dangling and wrap up any loose threads.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Fairy’s Tale and am grateful for the opportunity given to me. I heartily recommend this tale to my readers and will be looking forward to more from the author!

Provided for Review: Populace by A.M. Wilson

This book was provided for review from the folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

America 2151. New York. Washington. Chicago. Los Angeles. All wiped out from nuclear blasts.

The New United States of America is centered in Omaha, where the Leviathan Corporation provides a muted, controlled existence for its populace. Synthetic drugs keep them sane. The people are safe – for now – from the threats on the outside.

Summoned to the president’s office, unlikely hero Thomas Ignatius Stout receives an extraordinary mission: Hunt down and return, dead or alive, the vicious killer responsible for destroying the lives of millions and millions of Americans, Joe Ikowski, who remains a thorn in the government’s side.

Tom accepts his burden and leads an expedition past Omaha’s protective barrier and into the great unknown. That’s when Tom’s journey really begins.

Taking him from Kentucky to Arizona to Mexicali and the Rocky Mountains, Tom finds far more than he is searching for – and starts to learn the deeply complicated, disturbing truths of his own identity and a world in which he had only before scratched the surface. In this poignant page-turner, a novel that blends elements of science fiction, political thrillers and an Orwellian-style future, rising novelist AM Wilson takes readers on a wild ride inside what could become the future of the United States, if we ruin ourselves from the inside. It’s a novel that will make you think, no matter what you think of America.  (from Goodreads)

Much like the blurb provided by Goodreads says, Populace starts with a distinct Orwellian type future.

A series of unknown events leads to the major cities of the United States being wiped out in a series of nuclear blasts. With those cities and the surrounding areas unlivable, a new capital is created – in Omaha, Nebraska. Those who reside inside the walls are cared for to an extent; food, shelter, and entertainment are all provided for by the Leviathan Corporation. Drugs are also provided in untold quantities to keep the population calm and therefore controllable. The people of Omaha do not question their lot in life, they simply exist, living moment to moment.

Thomas Stout is one of these individuals. Working for Leviathan in one of their countless buildings, he is little more than a face in the crowd. He begins to question his place in and purpose in Leviathan, but unlike the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984, Thomas is not tortured but is instead given a seemingly random mission. He is sent in to the wild unknown beyond the walls around Omaha; his mission to capture Public Enemy Number One, Joe Ikowski.

Populace is an odd book. There are portions that feel very probable, as if they could possibly happen in the future, while others seem completely random. The beginning of the book, before Thomas leaves Omaha, is well written. Nicely paced, the prose gives a feeling of the drabness that certainly surrounds the characters on a daily basis.

Once Thomas leaves the city though, the story tends to go off the rails. The writing becomes disjointed and at times I found it difficult to keep track of who was where and doing what. Also, Wilson does not always provide full details on the characters, what their motivation is, etc. and doing this left gaps in the story. And while certain revelations at the end supposedly fill in those gaps, I found it rather unsatisfactory.

On the whole, Populace was a good idea with maybe not the best execution. Fans of dystopian type futures could enjoy it but this book definitely isn’t for everyone.

Her Cyborg (Bound by Her #1) by Nellie C. Lind

CAN’T FIND MR. RIGHT? WHY NOT CREATE HIM? MedAct is the company that can make all your dreams come true! Just give them a call and let them create the perfect man for you. But remember, you can never give him up. It will kill him, literally. 

Loneliness and failed relationships made Phoebe want a cyborg of her own. With him, she would never be heartbroken again, but getting a cyborg is not easy. So when she turned to the medical and scientific company MedAct, she never expected to become one of the few people who passed their tests to be able to apply for one. 

Now, months later, his creation is complete, and they are about to come face to face for the very first time. The day she has waited for has finally arrived, and it is about to change everything.  (via Goodreads)

Her Cyborg is one of those books where the premise was very interesting but the actual execution ended up being somewhat lacking.

First off, all the cyborgs mentioned in the book are male. There is no mention of female cyborgs either having been created or even considered for creation. This means that the only individuals who can create their “perfect” mate are heterosexual women or homosexual men, and while the former are mentioned numerous times, the latter are not mentioned as being candidates at all.

Second, the “bond” that is created between cyborg and human is mentioned to the point of being ridiculous. Practically every page there is some mention of this bond, of how it is part of the core programming of the cyborg and should the female they are bonded to sever it, how the cyborg will die or go insane. Every character, whether human or not, talks of this bond – of its importance – and it gets tiring pretty quickly.

Third, there is almost no character development to speak of. We are given so little background on Phoebe or any of her friends that I found it difficult to actually care about them. Even when certain events came to pass and lives were in danger, it was hard to be concerned.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, was a detail I noticed that might make some readers uncomfortable. It’s mentioned that when a cyborg first awakens the bond between him and his human is particularly strong. So much so that the two of them must be practically isolated for their first month together. The way Lind describes Shade’s thoughts and actions during this time, it borders on the obsessive and could be triggering for some readers. And while his possessiveness is dismissed as part of his programming and will lessen with time, it was still troublesome to read.

Sadly, as promising as the premise of Her Cyborg is, the book itself is as one reviewer put it “A hot mess.” There is a second and third book in the series that continues the story with characters introduced in the first book. If they are anything like this one, it is not worth the money or time. Something which makes me sad because I really wanted to like this one.

The Fall of the House of Cabal (Johannes Cabal #5) by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, has come into possession of a vital clue that may lead him to his ultimate goal: a cure for death. The path is vague, however, and certainly treacherous as it takes him into strange territories that, quite literally, no one has ever seen before. The task is too dangerous to venture upon alone, so he must seek assistance, comrades for the coming travails.

So assisted–ably and otherwise–by his vampiric brother, Horst, and by the kindly accompaniment of a criminologist and a devil, he will encounter ruins and diableries, mystery and murder, the depths of the lowest pit and a city of horrors. London, to be exact.

Yet even though Cabal has risked such peril believing he understands the dangers he faces, he is still underestimating them. He is walking into a trap of such arcane complexity that even the one who drew him there has no idea of its true terrors. As the snare closes slowly and subtly around them, it may be that there will be no survivors at all. (via Goodreads)

The Johannes Cabal series is one I have read and enjoyed from the first book to (sadly) the last. Like any series there were books I enjoyed more than others. And like most series I’ve read, I am sad to see this one end.

The one thing I have loved most in reading the Cabal series is watching how Johannes has grown as an individual. From the self-centered, self-serving necromancer in the first book, to the man who willingly gives his brother an incredibly valuable gift; Johannes has come a long way. And with Howard’s writing, his growth is believable.

In this fifth and final book, Cabal believes he has found the one thing he has searched for for numerous years – a way to bring the dead back to life. An esoteric tome of unknown origin promises treasures untold and though Johannes has his doubts, it is the thought of what he could do if the stories were true that drives him on.

And drive him on it does, to a rather fire-y conclusion.

I am sad that this is the final book in the Cabal series because I have greatly enjoyed it. Fortunately, Howard has left the ending open so it is possible that one day he will return to the Cabal brothers. I certainly hope he does.

Provided for Review: The Harbinger by Candace Wondrack

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

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Back in the sixties, the gateways between Earth and the Second – a land of myth and magic – were thrown open. Humanity grew and changed accordingly and eventually the Division (along with the Academy) was formed. The Division handles what most law enforcement can’t, such as the smuggling of goods between worlds. And to join the Division, one must first graduate from the Academy.

Faith is in her fifth year of the Academy. With two years left until she graduates, she is intent on joining the Division and following in her mother’s footsteps. The one path she doesn’t intend to follow though is her mother’s – and grandmother’s – awful luck with men.

On a class field trip to the Second, Faith is startled to learn her path is taking her on a far different journey. She is the Harbinger, the first female to take the title, and it is her destiny to fight the Dread King. To the death.

Faith is going to have to step up and be a hero. Whether she likes it or not.

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I’ve followed Candace on Twitter for some time, but this is the first time I’ve actually read any of her books. Because of this I decided to go in blind and not look at what others have thought of the book before reading it myself. And while some might think this foolish, I’m rather glad I did because while numerous other reviewers enjoyed The Harbinger, sadly I did not.

The world that Candace has created is an interesting one. It is one where the mythical creatures of fairy tales are real to an extent. Creatures such as the fae, shapeshifters, etc. They all inhabit this fictional world even though they do not always live side by side peacefully.

Unfortunately, my issue comes with the actual characters themselves.

The main character, Faith, I found quite hard to like. She is brash to the point of recklessness, a trait that gets her in trouble both before the book begins as well as during it. She does not think her actions through, does not care for consequences, and certainly doesn’t seem to care if what she does causes anyone around her to be hurt. She also claims that she does not want to be a hero, yet she is working towards being just that. Graduates of the Academy and members of the Division are protectors, heroes in a sense. If Faith does not want to be a hero, as she claims, then what is she even doing there?

Another person I had issue with was another main character; Weylon Lightfoot, an elf Faith meets during her school trip to the Second. From his introduction he claims to not like humans, and yet it doesn’t take long for him to get rather close to Faith. I found myself questioning his actions on more than one occasion, something he himself doesn’t seem to do.

Two other male characters are introduced at the very end of the book, and it is my understanding that they too will be drawn to Faith. That in the end, she will have to contend not only with her status as a Chosen One, but also with the small harem she gathers.

As fascinating as the world is that Candace has created for The Harbinger series, I unfortunately do not see myself reading the rest of it. For me, the characters were hard to relate to and I was rolling my eyes in exasperation on more than one occasion. That does not mean I don’t recommend this one to my readers – my opinion is only one among many. I do advise my readers to at the very least try this particular book. Perhaps they will enjoy it more than me.

Provided for Review: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of Rene Descartes by Andrew Pessin

This book has been provided for review by the lovely people at Bookglow.

 

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In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.

Shortly thereafter he was dead.

Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher? 

Turns out: nearly everyone.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year. 

But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.

But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end. (via Goodreads)

The Irrationalist is basically a historical murder mystery using individuals who really existed in the time when they lived. Rene Descartes was a well known mathematician and philosopher and in 1649 he did travel to Sweden to begin tutoring Queen Christina. In early 1650 he became ill and died shortly thereafter, the official reason being pneumonia. And while many didn’t question this outcome, some had doubts, yet once Descartes was buried the issue too was laid to rest.

This is where the similarities between what really happened and what happened in The Irrationalist ends. 

Pessin does an excellent job of taking a real event and spinning a “what if…?” tale from it. His characters – all either real people or based on real people – are interesting and just when one thinks they have a grasp of the person, a proverbial wrench is thrown in the works. Pessin has done his research and does admirably in making sure that everyone is well rounded and their inclusion helps push the story along. 

The tightly woven plot is really what makes this book stand out. To the casual observer, Descartes’ death seems very clear cut, but it is only when one starts to dig do they realize that not everything is as it seems. And in trying to figure out who would want to kill the man, every one has a reason. And again, just when the reader believes they know who the culprit was, Pessin gives a piece of information that casts doubt. It isn’t until the very, very end that we are given the truth about what happened to Descartes and if his death was indeed natural causes.

This is the first work of fiction by Pessin, and in my opinion it is an very good start. I would not be surprised if he continues to write more like this and when he does, I will be checking them out as well. I recommend my readers do too.

Provided for Review: A Brazen Curiosity (Beatrice Hyde-Clare Mysteries Book #1) by Lynn Messina

This book was provided for review by the nice folks at NetGalley

Twenty-six-year-old Beatrice Hyde-Clare is far too shy to investigate the suspicious death of a fellow guest in the Lake District. A spinster who lives on the sufferance of her relatives, she would certainly not presume to search the rooms of her host’s son and his friend looking for evidence. Reared in the twin virtues of deference and docility, she would absolutely never think to question the imperious Duke of Kesgrave about anything, let alone how he chose to represent the incident to the local constable.

And yet when she stumbles upon the bludgeoned corpse of poor Mr. Otley in the deserted library of the Skeffingtons’ country house, that’s exactly what she does. (via Goodreads)

A Brazen Curiosity is every bit a Regency romance and then some. Messina manages to keep the Regency period style language throughout the entire book; from Beatrice’s interior monologues to descriptions of the ongoing action. Readers who are familiar with the rambling style of many Regency novels will find the language familiar, those who are not might find it a bit off-putting. Personally, I found the overly purple prose endearing at some times and annoying at others.

Also like many novels of the era, there is a romance threaded through the story. And like many Regency novels, it is a slow burn romance. Beatrice starts the novel day-dreaming about throwing various food items at the Duke, and by the end she still day dreams about pelting him with various foodstuffs but they have also both started to develop feelings for one another. There are no kisses, they don’t even hold hands. It is the kind of extremely slow build up between two individuals that I absolutely adore.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading A Brazen Curiosity. The quibbles I have are incredibly minor, especially when considering that what I didn’t always enjoy was something that is generally viewed as the mark of many original Regency era novels. As I said earlier, readers who enjoy books written in this time period will be familiar with this rambling writing style and will have little issue with it. 

As of this time there are two other novels in the series and while I haven’t read them yet, I will be adding them to my list. 

Strange Practice (Dr. Greta Helsing #1) by Vivian Shaw

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited her family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, family practice. In her consulting rooms she treats the otherworldly citizens of London for a wide variety of worldly ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies – just to name a few. And although she has trouble making ends meet, Greta wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Until a sect of murderous monks arrives on the scene. Killing human and supernatural persons alike. Terror has taken the city in its grip and Greta will have to team up with some strange friends to stop the cult, save her practice, and her life.

Strange Practice was a book I came across while browsing over in Google Play. It was one of those “Recommended for You” type of things. Honestly, I enjoy browsing those areas just to see how accurate – or how totally off base – the recommendations can be. Sometimes I come across a title that interests me, while other times I’m left scratching my head.

Strange Practice is the first book in the Dr. Greta Helsing series and in it we are introduced to the titular character. Greta is a 30-something medical doctor, who after numerous years of study and practice in London’s hospitals, has taken over her father’s practice. It is something she has wanted to do since she was a child as her family has a history of dealing with some of the more unique individuals that walk the city streets. Taking care of others – especially those of the supernatural sort – is something she loves to do and is something she is quite good at.

On the whole, the actual plot of Strange Practice is a tad cliched. A group of young theology students find forgotten information about a long dead sect of Templar Knights. At first, they reenact the rituals for love of the pomp and circumstance, they are not serious in their efforts. That is until an odd, disembodied voice begins to compel them to take things a step further. To rid the world of those deemed “unclean” and “monstrous”.

What sets Strange Practice apart are the characters themselves. Whether human or supernatural – of which there are quite a few mentioned – they are each written in a way that makes them believable. There are moments of joy and of pain, of anger and of self doubt, of surprise and of relief. While the majority of this attention is given to the main characters, even the background characters like Greta’s staff in her clinic, are given this treatment (pun intended). Brief mentions of them as actual people are made so when something happens, we the reader react just as the other characters do. We hurt when they hurt, and at one point even cry when they do.

Though the action can be a bit clunky at times, and some scenes tend to verge in to more morose territory, overall Strange Practice is an enjoyable read. With well written and well rounded characters, it’s easy to overlook it’s small drawbacks. Shaw has given the readers a strong female character that I believe many can relate to. I recommend this one to my readers and hope they enjoy it as much as I have.

Provided for Review: A Conversation with a Cat: A Novel by Stephen Spotte

This book was provided for review by Book Glow. My many thanks to you!

Stephen Spotte’s imaginative novel recounts the tales of a scroungy former alley cat named Jinx, whose memories aren’t just his own but those of other cats who existed before him, one of which was Annipe, Cleopatra’s pampered pet. Through Annipe’s eyes the ancient Mediterranean world of Cleopatra and her legendary lovers, Caesar and Antony, is spread before us in all its glory, pathos, and absurdity. Jinx reveals these stories telepathically one night to his stoned and inebriated owner just home after gall bladder surgery. Annipe’s memories are bookended by Jinx’s own that detail his early scavenging days in bleak urban alleys. (via Book Glow and Goodreads)

Home fresh from the hospital after having gall bladder surgery, our unnamed pet owner is relaxing on his back patio with his cat Jinx. Aside from the copious amounts of pain medicine provided by the hospital, our man has also decided to self medicate with a bit of alcohol and marijuana. With this combination running through his veins, it is not hard to believe he is able to have a kind of psychic conversation with Jinx.

Jinx then begins to tell the tale of one of his predecessors – a cat named Annipe who belonged to the great Cleopatra.

Unfortunately, though the story is about a cat and told by a cat, there is not much cat in the actual tale. The felines are reduced to secondary characters with the humans being pushed to the fore. Annipe and her siblings have very little to do and therefore do not grow as characters as such. With so much attention given to the human characters, it is difficult to actually care for the feline ones.

Another unfortunate point is that the Egyptian story is the only story related by Jinx; aside from a brief telling of his own early years. Early in the novel Jinx says that all cats have a kind of racial memory, where one cat can recall what other cats in the past have experienced. It would have been nice it Jinx had given more than one story from the past.

One good thing I can say about A Conversation with a Cat is that Spotte has done a good deal of research. The struggle between Egypt and Rome is decently told with great detail. Sadly, it isn’t any different from what can be found in any number of history books.

As unique as the idea behind the book is, I’m sad to say it just wasn’t carried out to its full potential. And as rare as it is to have a book with a cat as the main character, I can’t recommend this book to my readers either.