The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library #1) by A.J. Hackwith

Books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.

Trigger Warnings: suicide, alcohol consumption, gun violence, knife violence, murder, and drowning.

The idea of a library filled with unfinished stories is not a new one. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series we find such a library in the realm of Dream. And here in The Library of the Unwritten, we find such a library residing in Hell of all places. Why Hell? Sadly, that point is never explained.

As much as I wanted to enjoy The Library of the Unwritten, I had such a hard time with it and there was more than one occasion where I almost walked away. The overall plot was interesting enough, it was the characters that got in the way. For me, this was especially true of the character Claire. While I am sure there were those readers who found her brusque nature refreshing, I personally found her to be quite mean. Because of her often aloof and brash nature, she became almost one-dimensional and that made it difficult to like – much less relate – to her.

The rest of the characters – and honestly the book itself – come across the same way. Because it takes so long to learn any of their backstories, it was hard to care for any one person/demon/angel in the book. The same for the overall plotline – the true stakes are never quite fully explained so again it becomes hard to care.

I know there are numerous readers who thoroughly enjoyed reading The Library of the Unwritten as well as the second book in the series – The Archive of the Forgotten – I am just not one of them.

The Strings of Murder (Frey and McGray #1) by Oscar de Muriel

Edinburgh, 1888. A virtuoso violinist is brutally killed in his home. Black magic symbols cover the walls. The dead man’s maid swears she heard three musicians playing before the murder.

But with no way in or out of the locked practice room, the puzzle makes no sense…

Fearing a national panic over a copycat Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss – Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray – actually believes in such nonsense.

McGray’s tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next…

Trigger Warning: Murder, general gore, death of an infant

Set in the Victorian Era, The Strings of Murder follows Inspector Ian Frey as he is sent to Edinburgh to investigate the brutal murder of a well-known violinist. Upon his arrival, he is paired up with Detective McGray, a local detective who has also been selected to investigate. Immediately the two men butt heads; their personalities could not be any more different.

With McGray’s fervent belief in the occult and Frey’s skepticism, I was reminded of another pair of investigators – the X-Files Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

Though I never wanted to slap Scully as much as I did Ian Frey.

Frey’s penchant for what could only be considered whining was irritating and quickly became tiresome. McGray wasn’t nearly as bad but sometimes he felt more like a stereotypical caricature of a Scotsman and less like an individual.

The actual resolution to the murder itself though was a unique one. Locked room mysteries can be solved in so many different ways and de Murial was able to accomplish it in a way I had yet to encounter.

Final thoughts: Good mystery, satisfactory ending, incredibly irritating characters.

Provided for Review: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

Meet Chloe Sevre. She’s a freshman honor student, a leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her.

Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smartwatches that track their moods and movements.

When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

Trigger Warning: Alcohol use, Mentions of rape (rape occurs off-screen before the beginning of the book)

To the casual observer, Chloe Sevre is the typical teenage “girl next door”. An honor student in her first year at college, she gets along well with her classmates and doesn’t really stand out.

Chloe Sevre however, is also a psychopath. She has been concocting a meticulous plan to kill Will Bachman – a fellow college student and someone from Chloe’s childhood who hurt her. Attending the same college is just one step in her overall plan.

Because as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold.

The overall story contained in Never Saw Me Coming is a multi-layered one. On the uppermost layer is the storyline centered on Chloe and her revenge on Will. An act of revenge she had been planning for years and finally is about to come to fruition. Beneath that is the murder mystery Chloe finds herself involved in. As one of seven psychopaths, she is at the university taking part in a specialized study. When one then two members of the study are killed, Chloe finds herself as both hunter and prey. Finally, beneath that is the rest of college life for Chloe including things like classes and parties and such.

The first two-thirds of Never Saw Me Coming are very well done in my opinion. Watching as Chloe tried to juggle getting close to Will as well as try to figure out who else was in the study and would want to kill her while also maintaining her facade as a typical college girl was entertaining. The issue came when Chloe was able to get her revenge but there was still so much of the book left. With what I considered to be the main driving plot point gone, the rest of the story kind of fell flat.

And personally, the final reveal of who was behind the murders wasn’t that satisfying either.

Final thoughts: Excellent premise, decent followthrough, needed a better ending.

Provided for Review: Lying with Lions by Annabel Fielding

Edwardian England.

Agnes Ashford knows that her duty is threefold: she needs to work on cataloguing the archive of the titled Bryant family, she needs to keep the wounds of her past tightly under wraps, and she needs to be quietly grateful to her employers for taking her up in her hour of need.

However, a dark secret she uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit – and into the clutch of their ambitions.

They are prepared to take the new century head-on and fight for their preeminent position and political survival tooth and nail – and not just to the first blood.

With a mix of loyalty, competence, and well-judged silence Agnes rises to the position of a right-hand woman to the family matriarch – the cunning and glamorous Lady Helen. But Lady Helen’s plans to hold on to power through her son are as bold as they are cynical, and one day Agnes is going to face an impossible choice…

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

Trigger Warning: Death of a child (mentioned, happens off-page), Abortion (mentioned, happens off-page), Rape (mentioned, happens off-page)

Set at the end of the Edwardian Era and in to the first World War, Lying with Lions is a page turning tale.

Told primarily from the view point of archivist Agnes Ashford, she is a young woman who has been hired to sort and categorize the countless documents amassed by the Bryant family. It is during this time that Agnes uncovers a secret the Bryant family would rather forget. Armed with this information Agnes positions herself closer to Lady Helen, moving from mere employee to close companion and even lover.

The story of Lying with Lions takes place over many years, through numerous changes both to society as a whole and to the Bryant family itself. There are not only changes without but within as slowly Agnes’ “power” grows. Like Lady Helen, Agnes need only say the right word to the right person and she can move mountains. As the relationship between the two women deepens over time, one is left to wonder who is controlling and influencing who.

It is obvious that Fielding put in a great deal of research to write Lying with Lions. The atmosphere she is able to create is at times breathtaking, as is the way she is able to effortlessly weave historical and fictional events. The relationships between characters – not just Agnes and Helen, but the Bryant children, Harold and Meredith – are so carefully thought out. Each event serves not only to push the story forward but to also subtly reveal new facets of each person involved.

Some readers might have issue with the overall pacing of Lying with Lions. Much like the Bryant family, change – and the overall storyline – can be slow. And while there are a few placed where the story does seem to drag, I encourage any reader to stick with the book as it all pays off in the end.

A wonderfully gothic tale centering on the lengths one will go to for power and control, Lying with Lions is for older readers.

Provided for Review: The Seeker of Well-Being by Indrajit Garai

A practical guide, with a unique perspective on personal growth. Numerous case studies on people who have changed their lives simply by overcoming their inner resistance.

We all want to attain excellence in what we do, but the first resistance comes from within us. We prevent ourselves from doing our best, from approaching our inner richness, and from feeling sincerely well within.

The key to our durable well-being is by aligning accordance with our self, by overcoming our internal resistance, and by acting in synergy with our deepest values. But, how?

Only our original solution, which originates from within us, can provide that.

This book, based on twelve years of client work, reveals why ‘accordance with self’ is the prerequisite for a deep and durable well-being. Why only our original solution can do this, and how we can easily construct this solution from inside out. And attain our inherent potential, by aligning with ourselves.

Others have done this with grace; their results endure. You can do it too.

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

Almost every person is looking to better themselves in some way. Whether it be their physical well-being or mental well-being, the search is almost constant. And while it can be fairly straight forward to better oneself physically, to do so mentally and emotionally can be a struggle.

Fortunately, with a bit of help and insight through books such as The Seeker of Well-Being, it can be done.

Unlike many self-help books, The Seeker of Well-Being does not have a one size fits all solution. It doesn’t even have a one size fits most solution. Instead, it encourages the reader to do a bit of self reflection and derive a solution that fits just them. Many examples are given through past case studies and interviews, each one intended to inspire the reader in their search. It is very much a “What worked for this person may not be completely right for you, but perhaps something similar will?”

Like so many in this difficult time, I too am trying to become a better version of myself. So The Seeker of Well-Being came to me at a most opportune time. I found it to be an excellent read and one that really had me thinking on my own internal conflicts. In time I even hope to put some of the advice I garnered while reading this book to work.

I recommend this book to all my readers regardless of where they are on their path in life.

Provided for Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him.

By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

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

When I first saw the blurb on NetGalley for The Death of Jane Lawrence, I was intrigued. Especially once I saw it compared to Crimson Peak – a personal favorite in both book and movie. So it leaves little doubt that I had to request it.

The Death of Jane Lawrence on the surface has a basic enough premise. There is a young woman with a potential decision to make and there is a handsome young man with a dark secret. Add in the ubiquitous crumbling manor house and you have the recipe for most any gothic novel. That however is where the comparison ends because this book contains so much more.

I think what I liked best about The Death of Jane Lawrence was how unexpected it was. What I mean is, while reading it I was quite sure I knew the direction in which the story would go. Having read my fair share of gothic novels – both modern and historical – I tend to be able to guess how a story of this kind will end. And while sometimes I am correct there are other times where I am wrong. The Death of Jane Lawrence proved that point to me, that one cannot always guess how a book is going to go.

I quite enjoyed reading this book. Starling does a wonderful job of creating the perfect moody setting with Lindridge Hall and its surroundings. She peoples it with characters that are sympathetic and ones that are insensitive and at times they are the same person.

As a fan of gothic novels, I heartily recommend The Death of Jane Lawrence to my readers. With the colder months soon upon us it the perfect spooky book to settle down with on a dark night.

Provided for Review: Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic by Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev

“The first time I committed suicide I was ten years old.

There have been many more suicides since.”

Adam is cursed. He cannot die.

But one man’s burden is another man’s blessing, and there are people who are out to harness Adam’s special talents.

However, Adam soon discovers that immortality comes at a cost; every time he dies, he loses a little bit of himself. So when Adam meets Lilyanne—his reason for living—he’s forced to choose between life and love.

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

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, glorification of suicide, death of a parent, murder, child abuse, references to drug use, animal death

Adam cannot die.

Whenever he tries, he wakes up in a new place with only the memory of his name. Any other memories are fleeting and usually lost when he dies again. Adam believes himself alone and unique but he is not. There are more like him and there are those who want to be like him. And they will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals.

My many thanks to NetGalley for approving my request for this book. I generally do not regret my decisions to request an ARC but I deeply regret this one.

I will be honest dear reader, Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic is not a good book. There were times that as I was reading it I was amazed it had even made it to publication. There is fanfiction on A03, fanfiction.net, or even WattPad that is better written and with characters infinitely more likeable.

The basic plot surrounding Strange Deaths… is, I admit, an intriguing one. The opening scene is quite strong and really draws you in but just as quickly descends in to ridiculousness. The plot holes are numerous and many of them could have easily been fixed with some kind of real editing work. Problems and conflicts are solved with little more than a waved hand and are often never mentioned again.

The writing for Strange Deaths is something I could go on about at length simply because it is so bad. Clunky prose and stilted conversations abound. The manner in which Adam describes Lilyanne (or any female character honestly) reminds me very much of the examples from Reddit’s ‘menwritingwomen’ board highlighting what NOT to do. At times I wondered if Mikheyev actually pulled ideas from there.

Unfortunately, the characters that populate Strange Deaths aren’t much better. Adam (or Aristotle) comes to romanticize his suicides. He spends paragraphs admiring the gun he carries and even admits to finding killing himself addicting. His viewpoints on women – along with every other male character – are quite misogynistic. The few female characters falling in to either the “goddess” or “whore” trope with no in-between. The women are very one dimensional and almost every one practically falls all over Adam soon after meeting him.

As I said above, Strange Deaths is not a good book. Clunky and awkward writing, plot holes the size of the Titanic, strange and abrupt shifts in narrator, and deeply unlikeable characters make this an eye rolling read. It is not often that I advise my readers to stay away and NOT read a particular book. This is one of the few times I make an exception. Head on over to fanfiction.net or A03, I know without a doubt you will find something better there.

Tidelands (The Fairmile #1) by Philippa Gregory

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, England is in the grip of a civil war between renegade king and rebellious parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even the remote tidelands —the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, trapped in poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbors. This is the time of witch mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

It is dangerous for a woman to be different. 

Trigger Warning: mentions of abortion, mentions of childbirth

England, 1648. It is a dangerous time to be a woman. It is an even more dangerous time to be an intelligent woman.

Alinor is one such woman. A skilled midwife and herbalist, she is determined to make a life for herself and her two children. Not knowing if her husband is alive or dead, she lives in a kind of limbo as neither a widow or a wife. Meeting the mysterious James in a graveyard at midnight only complicates matters. He has taken a liking to the lovely young mother and worse still, she has taken a liking to him.

Author Philippa Gregory is well known for her historical novels. Sweeping stories with a variety of characters from all walks of society. Tidelands is her latest novel, the first in a new series. Different in that the main focus is on the “common” man as opposed to royalty with her other books yet alike in showing that while the way of thinking might change and become more modern, the old ways never truly leave.

The romance between Alinor and James is best described as a slow burn. And it is a very slow burn. Any real action between the two characters doesn’t happen until the second half of the book. With the first half being dedicated to mostly describing Alinor’s life and routine in the tidelands it is easy to understand how some readers were unable to finish the book.

While it is obvious Gregory has once again done a great deal of research in to the time period and lays it out for us the reader, it comes at the expense of character development. Especially in regards to the main character, Alinor. The term “one note character” is often used in reviews and this term can also be used here. It is quite understandable that for a woman in Alinor’s circumstances a smart move would be to keep one’s head down and be unobtrusive. But how many times can a person be expected to turn the other cheek and not show some kind of reaction?

I can understand wanting to keep the peace but surely some kind of emotional reaction would have been felt? A grimace, grit teeth, clenched hands hidden in an apron, something? Sadly, on more than one occasion Alinor simply takes what is dished out to her and says nothing.

The ending of the novel felt very rushed and had an abrupt stop. It is obviously meant as a lead in to the next novel in the series but a little more to the story would have been nice. A better explanation of what happened to the characters between one scene and the next would have been most welcome.

As someone who has read and enjoyed other novels by Philippa Gregory, I felt rather let down by Tidelands. It is one of those books that while I cannot readily recommend it, neither can I tell anyone to firmly stay away. All I can say is try it and make your own decision.

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott

Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood), Voices offers an unforgettable perspective on an extraordinary young woman.

Along the way it explores timely issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power.

Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.

When I first saw David Elliott’s cover for Voices and read the description, I thought I had a decent idea of what to expect when I finally started reading it.

I was right but I was also wrong.

The poems used to tell Joan’s story come from a variety of sources. And only a handful of them are from actual people. The majority of them come from the point of view of inanimate objects – from Joan’s sword to the “fairy tree” she frequently visited as a child. All weigh in adding depth and nuance to a tale that is already well known.

Interspersed between poems are quotes taken from the two trials of Joan; one from before her death and the second years later. They too add a depth allowing us a brief glimpse at the real words of Joan herself and those who knew her.

The poems themselves are truly interesting. Many of them are formatted in a way to evoke the idea of the thing speaking. For example, the poem from Joan’s swords point of view is formatted to look like the outline of a sword. The recurring fire poem – a personal favorite – resembles a burning fire. Each iteration adds a new line invoking the idea of a fire building in intensity. With each new line added the lines at the end of the poem lose letters, again bringing about the idea of the wood that crumbles to ash as it burns.

While Elliott uses period accurate poetic forms, the poems themselves have a more modern feel. At times I was reminded of the flowing lines of spoken word poetry. And I found it very enjoyable.

While I don’t often read poetry collections, I was intrigued by the idea behind David Elliott’s Voices. As a somewhat easy yet thought-provoking read, I recommend it to all of my readers.

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

gospelofloki

In the pantheon of Norse gods, there is none like Loki. With a reputation for trickery and mischief, as well as causing as many problems as he solves, Loki is a god like no other. As he is demon born his fellow gods view him with deep suspicion and from some even hatred. He realizes they will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows deepest revenge.

From his birth in the realm of Chaos to his recruitment by Odin; from his days as the go to guy in Asgard to his fall from grace and eventually Ragnarok – this is the unofficial story of the Nine Realm’s ultimate trickster.

Allow me to preface this review dear readers with a small note – this is NOT the Marvel Universe Loki. This Loki is the original, taken from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Readers expecting the Loki made famous by Tom Hiddleston will unfortunately be sorely disappointed.

That is not to say this Loki isn’t as charming or fascinating; he is those things and so much more. He is smart, funny, quick-witted, and at times even heartbreaking. When he is brought in to Asgard’s halls by Odin, all Loki wishes is to be considered among its brethren. When he isn’t and is actively shunned by the Aesir and Vanir, he decides his only course is revenge.

At times extremely funny, at other times achingly sad, The Gospel of Loki is a very entertaining read. When a book starts with a cast of characters that reminds me of one of my favorite books (Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), I know I am in for a treat. And with The Gospel of Loki, I was not disappointed.

It is quite obvious Harris has done her research for this book. There is a love for the characters that is obvious and a high regard for them as well. All of the well known Loki tales are here, from his birthing of Slepneir to Thor’s adventures in cross-dressing. Told in first person from Loki’s POV, it brings a breath of fresh air to these already well known tales.

Readers familiar with the original Norse tales are certain to enjoy this book. Those who are more familiar with the Marvel version of Loki and are looking to expand their view of the character are likely to enjoy it as well. Personally, I found it an enjoyable read and a fascinating look in to an already fascinating character.