The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi

After answering an ad in a local newspaper, an unemployed man wakes up to find himself in a strange location. Wondering if he has perhaps somehow ended up on another planet, he tries to begin his search for others like him. He finds only one other person, a young woman who seems just as confused as he.

The only clues the two have are cryptic instructions beamed to a portable gaming device. They speak of a game and that it has already begun. Neither remember agreeing to playing a game but it seems they have no choice; if they are to return home they have to play. But there are other players in this game and some of them are not so nice.

The Crimson Labyrinth is one of those books that had been sitting in my To Be Read list for a while. In the reviews I had read, it was compared to Battle Royale (a book I have read and loved) and Lost (a TV show I couldn’t get in to). And while there are some similarities between the two books, I liken The Crimson Labyrinth more to The Hunger Games than Lost.

As much as I enjoyed reading The Crimson Labyrinth, I must warn my readers that it is not a book for the squeamish. Much like the books I mentioned before, there are certain scenes that are rather gruesome. It is something that, while difficult to read, makes sense; especially towards the end when we learn the truth behind the game that was played.

Also, while The Crimson Labyrinth was quite good, I personally feel it could have been better. Kishi focuses so much on the action that the characters are almost secondary. Without knowing more about them – their backgrounds, their motivations, etc. – even the main character himself feels flat at times. Had Kishi given more to the characters the book could have easily been twice as long but also a much, much better read.

Overall, I enjoyed this particular book and don’t regret purchasing it. It is definitely a horror novel and not for the faint of heart. Readers who enjoyed Battle Royale and other types of books should check this one out too.

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Grief for Heart (The Journal of Vincent du Maurier #4) by K.P. Ambroziak

The great vampire Vincent is gone, but his descendants remain. Living side by side with the Hematopes, the two groups share a peace that goes on for many years.

That is, until a mysterious boy washes up on their shores.

The young Saba is immediately taken with the new stranger. Though they do not share a language, the two find a kindred spirit in the other. Saba sees the young man as her counterpart – a piece of her that she did not realize she was missing.

All seems well until the boy’s original captor returns to claim his prize. A vampire most believed long dead, his return brings a new reality to the small colony; one of fear and strife.

Saba can save them all for she is the chosen one. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Dearest reader, I’m sure you can imagine my surprise and delight when I received this e-book. In my review of Spite for Flesh, I lamented the fact that it was the third and final book of the series. I, like so many readers, had greatly enjoyed the series and wanted more. So when K.P. came back with book number four – and a soon to be book number FIVE! – I was elated.

Grief for Heart picks up some years after Spite for Flesh. Dagur, whom we met as a boy in the third book, is now a grown man. He has married and has a family of his own; one of his daughters being the fire-y Saba. In some ways she is content with the life she has, but she balks in others. She does not wish to marry and raise children like her sisters. She wishes to become like the vampires she has grown up beside but even they are hesitant.

Unlike previous volumes, Grief of Heart has a slower pace. While there are certainly moments of action, the prose often has a more sedentary feel. There are several scenes with character introspection – not just from Saba herself, but from her father Dagur, as well as the handful of remaining vampires.

Readers will definitely want to read the first three books in the series before trying to read Grief of Heart. Personally, I think it would be far too confusing for the person who wasn’t familiar with the universe. Readers who have read the first three books should enjoy this latest foray.

With characters both familiar and new, K.P. has given us another tale in a very interesting universe. While I am certainly glad to have more of the vampires and humans I have come to know through these books, I will once again lament their ending with the next book.

 

Happy Holidays from Never Enough Books

Happy Holidays, dear readers!

I apologize for my weekly post being late, but this past week has been a bit of a busy one. Like always, I will be taking a few weeks off to spend time with my family.

I will be back in January with new reviews.

So here’s a peek at the books I got this past month and will be reviewing in the upcoming year!

In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu

First published in 1872, this remarkable collection of stories includes such classics as Green Tea and Carmilla.

Each of the five stories are purported to be the cases of Dr. Hesselius; a ‘metaphysical’ doctor who is willing to consider ghosts both as both real and as hallucinations. The reader’s doubt and anxiety is meant to clearly mimic that of each story’s protagonist and so create the atmosphere of mystery that is the supernatural experience.

My dear reader, it pains me to end the year with a negative review but I’m afraid that is the way it will have to be.

I was unable to finish In a Glass Darkly and actually had to stop reading it out of sheer aggravation. The prose is so very purple and lurid that there were several times I had to reread a passage simply to try and make sense out of it. And more often than not, not being able to. While I am aware that Victorian writing styles vary greatly from the writing styles of today, I have read my share of books from that era and enjoyed quite a few.

Unfortunately, In a Glass Darkly is not one of them.

I believe I can understand what Le Fanu was trying to accomplish; however the efforts fall short. There is simply too much for the reader to try and digest. I cannot recommend this one, my dear readers, unless you are looking for something to put you to sleep.

 

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Deep in the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year. Hardy souls struggle to carve a life out in a place where the snowdrifts are often taller than the houses.

Young Vasilisa doesn’t mind. She was born to this wild place and happily spends many a winter night huddled around the fire with her siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Of them all, the loves the story of Frost – the blue eyed winter demon who appears in the night to claim unwary souls. Wise is the person who fears him, her nurse says. And wise is the person who honors the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their home from evil.

With Vasilisa’s mother dead, her father; in the realization that his young daughter needs a woman’s influence, marries again. Fiercely devout, the new stepmother forbids the family from keeping the old way and honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa somehow senses that more hinges on the rituals than any one knows.

The Bear and the Nightingale is one of those books that reads like a fairy tale within a fairy tale. As a little girl, Vasilisa grew up on the stories and when she becomes a young woman she finds herself living one. She is the plucky, brave girl with the overbearing and sometimes cruel stepmother. She escapes to the woods or out to the barns where her only friends are animal or spirit. Her father and other siblings are well meaning but they are unfortunately clueless.

Though at times Vasilisa can come across as headstrong, one has to remember that she is a teenager and is reacting as such. Her world is changing, both internally and externally, and she is having to adjust.

Set during a time in history where Russia was undergoing changes both religiously and socially, Arden skillfully weaves a story incorporating these issues in how the characters react. Everyone’s reactions – their anger, their sadness, their fear – all have a realism about them that draws the reader in. The characters are well written and it is easy for one to form an attachment to one or more.

I personally enjoyed reading The Bear and the Nightingale and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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

Warlock Holmes is back again! Sort of.

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

Oh, and a hell hound, one assumes.

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

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

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

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

As Death Draws Near (Lady Darby Mystery #5) by Anna Lee Huber

While enjoying their idyllic honeymoon, Kiera Darby and Sebastian Gage’s seclusion is interrupted by a missive from his father. A distant relative of the Duke of Wellington has had a deadly incident and Lord Gage insists that his son and new daughter in law look in to the matter.

With the incident occurring at an abbey just south of Dublin, Kiera and Gage travel to Ireland intent on discovering just who could be monstrous enough to murder a woman of the cloth. Travelling to Rathfarnham Abbey School, the young couple barely begin to make inquiries when another nun is slain, this time in broad daylight and near a class of young girls.

Though there are some who would wish to send the students home for their own safety, the growing civil unrest in Ireland means the journey would be a dangerous one and the Mother Superior makes the decision to keep the girls in place. This places yet another strain on the investigation as it seems that everywhere one turns, secrets and half truths lie.

As Death Draws Near is the fifth and most recent addition to the Lady Darby Series. It opens with Kiera and Sebastian on their honeymoon, their marriage happening at the end of the fourth book. What is supposed to be an idyllic time is marred when a letter arrives from Sebastian’s father practically ordering them to head to Ireland. Both naturally bristle at this but as neither can resist such a mystery, they head off almost immediately.

During the 1800’s there was a good deal of strife between those of the Catholic faith and those of the Protestant. Huber uses this to good effect in this most recent book, placing characters at odds and having others question themselves and what they believe in. It’s actually quite fitting considering some of the things that have been going on in the real world.

Like in past books, Huber’s writing is tight and well paced. She is able to capture the characters as well as capture the readers attention. Those who have been following the series so far will enjoy this particular entry. New readers will likely enjoy it as well and are advised to seek out the earlier books as well.

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird

London, 1888. After a disastrous Ripper investigation, Sherlock Holmes languishes in a cocaine fueled haze in his flat on Baker Street. His good friend, John Watson, can neither comfort nor rouse his friend and is more and more worried about the other man’s health. The only thing that can rouse him is a new case and that comes in the form of an encoded letter from Paris.

Mlle La Victoire, a renowned cabaret star, has written to Holmes in great need. Her young son has been kidnapped and she fears his father, a known Lord, is to blame.

Holmes rushes to Paris with Watson at his side, where he finds the missing child to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The theft of a well known statue in Marseilles and the deaths of three children in Lancashire also vie for Holmes and Watson’s attention. The clues in all three cases eventually point to one man – an art collector who is seemingly above the reach of the law.

Art in the Blood is the first novel by movie and television executive and producer Bonnie MacBird. My dearest reader, if this is her first book and she has plans for writing more then I will be one happy person!

Art in the Blood follows our dear Holmes after a disastrous investigation in to the Jack the Ripper case. While what happened is alluded to, it is enough to make the reader guess that what occurred was not pleasant at all. For Sherlock or any one else.

MacBird does a wonderful job of penning a Holmes adventure; well enough to make Doyle himself proud. Clues are dropped throughout the narrative and only at the grand finale does everything come together and make sense.

The books only downfall comes with the way the characters speak at times. MacBird admits she was influenced by the actors who played Holmes and Watson themselves, from Jeremy Brett and David Burke to Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. It is evident that she drew heavily from the latter for speech for there are certain scenes – especially one particular scene with older brother Mycroft – that I heard the actor’s voices in my head.

Is this a bad thing? For me it isn’t as I adore the modern version of Sherlock Holmes just as much as I adore the original stories. However some readers might not like it, particularly those who regard themselves as “purists”.

MacBird says this is the first book in a proposed series. Personally, I greatly enjoyed this first foray and look forward to more.

Night Watch (Watch #1) and Day Watch (Watch #2) by Sergei Lukyanenko

In modern day Moscow, there live an ancient race of humans who call themselves “Others”. Gifted with supernatural powers, they must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. The agents of Dark make up the Day Watch and are tasked with keeping an eye on the city during the day. Likewise, the agents of Light make up the Night Watch and keep watch over the night.

For over a thousand years an uneasy truce has stood between the two sides. When an artifact is stolen from the Inquisitors – an impartial group of Others who keep watch over both sides – the consequences are dire.

Day Watch is the semi sequel to the aptly named Night Watch. I say semi sequel because the events in the book occur side by side with one another. The events that happen are told from two different perspectives, from the different members of the watch in their respectively titled books.

Having a storyline handled in such a manner made for an interesting read. Interesting in how the characters acted and reacted as well as the thoughts going through their heads at the time. How each side sees themselves as being “in the right”.

The Day Watch and the Night Watch are two sides of the same coin; they balance each other out on the cosmic scales. Neither watch is either truly good or truly evil – another thing I liked about these books – but are both cast in shades of gray. While the Day Watch embraces this grayness about them, the Night Watch seek to try and lighten the color. Again, showing how they are different.

Originally written in Russian, these books were translated in to English. Translation from one language in to another is never perfect, yet I felt these were well handled. The prose in Night Watch felt a bit clunky at times while Day Watch‘s translation seemed a bit smoother.

Day Watch (and Night Watch) are not for the casual reader. These books are a little heavier to read and process mentally. Not every one will enjoy them but the serious reader should definitely give them a look.