The Hangman’s Daughter (The Hangman’s Daughter #1) by Oliver Pötzsch

It is 1659 and the Thirty Years’ War has finally come to an end. There has not been a witchcraft mania in the area in decades but the discovery of a drowned boy changes things. Badly beaten and tattooed with the mark of a witch, the boy is recognized as one of the many orphans in the small village. With the boy being seen at the local midwife’s home on more than one occasion, fingers soon begin to point in her direction.

Jakob Kuisl is the town’s hangman; living with his family of wife and children on the outskirts of the village. It is he who is charged with getting a confession from the midwife and torturing her until it is given. He, however, believes her innocent. He is also not the only one; his daughter Magdalena and the village doctor’s son, Simon, believe her to be innocent as well.

When another tattooed orphan is found murdered, and then a third, the village becomes frenzied. Walpurgisnacht is approaching, a night when witches are said to dance in the forest and have consort with the devil. Some have even claimed to see the devil himself – a man with a hand made completely of bone. With the deadline fast approaching, Jakob, his daughter and the doctor’s son must try and find if they are dealing with mass hysteria or a very real enemy.

The Hangman’s Daughter is one of those books where the title and the description do not quite match the story inside. If one were to go by the description on Goodreads or on Amazon, one would be led to believe that Magdalena is the main character. Unfortunately, she is not and is at best a secondary character; one might even argue that she is a tertiary character.

The book description leads us to believe that Jakob Kuisl is a secondary character when in truth it is HE who is the main character. It is he who does the most when it comes to proving the accused’s innocence or guilt. It is he who first learns the truth behind the killings and who eventually faces the man with the hand of bone.

Description differences aside, The Hangman’s Daughter is a fairly well written story. Jakob Kuisl was a real hangman and his family as described did exist. The town he lived in and some of the people also did exist. Everything else though must be taken with a healthy grain of salt.

It is evident that Potzsch often takes dramatic liberty. However good a man that Jakob Kuisl might have been, it is quite unlikely he would have gone to the same lengths to prove a person’s guilt or innocence. Jakob is also one of the few characters that is actually “fleshed out” for want of a better word. Many of the characters, especially the townspeople, are little more mannequins – used to voice the cruelty and superstitions of the time.

The mystery itself is quite slow to develop. And when resolution finally comes, it feels almost anticlimactic. As if Potzsch ran out of steam when it came to the end of the book. Although maybe this could be attributed to the translation, one cannot be truly sure.

All in all, The Hangman’s Daughter is fairly enjoyable. The reader must of course take in to consideration the liberties the author has taken, but even with that it is a decent read. Over time I am sure I will be seeking out the rest of the titles in the series.

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Bill the Vampire (The Tome of Bill #1) by Rick Gualtieri

There are reasons we fear the night. This guy is not one of them.

Bill Ryder is your average dweeb; he’s a computer programmer, gamer geek, and absolutely hopeless when it comes to the opposite sex. All he’s ever wanted in life was to hang out with his friends, collect his paycheck, and one day meet the woman of his dreams.

Bill’s life takes an unfortunate turn when he meets Sally. She was mysterious, aggressive, and beautiful – the poor sod never stood a chance. When she invites him to a party, he initially has his reservations but goes anyway. Too bad the party is a trap and when Bill awakens he’s now a member of the undead. And at the bottom of that particular food chain.

The head vampire has given him a 90 day ultimatum – either prove he belongs or be killed in a more permanent manner.

Poor Bill is in way over his head but he’s not about to go down without a fight. He’s got more than one trick up his sleeve; along with some unlikely allies and a severe attitude problem. The one bit thing Bill has going for him is a vampire like him hasn’t been seen for over 500 years. With all this going for him, Bill just might make the 90 day deadline, if he doesn’t get his teeth kicked in first.

Bill the Vampire is one of those books that was recommended to me several times but I never got around to reading. Upon reading it though, I see why I put it off for so long.

Allow me to be blunt, dear reader – Bill is a jerk.

Bill and his roommates embody everything of the stereotypical neck beard. And not in a good way. They believe themselves to be “witty” and “snarky” yet they are anything but. They are misogynistic, viewing the women around them as items to be ogled over and little more. And should any woman give them a dirty look or other verbal smack down, she is immediately labelled a “bitch”.

On the other side of the fence are the vampires. They are the diametric opposite to Bill and his friends. Led by the the self named Night Razor, they embody the age old enemy to freaks and geeks – the jock. Every one in the small group is beautiful; the women looking like they walked out of a print ad with the men looking they spend all their time at the gym.

Overall, Bill the Vampire is a decently written book. But that is about all it has going for it. Bill, as well as every other male character, were assholes (pardon my language). There were slight differences to separate the vampire from the humans, but they all felt alike. Much can be said for the few female characters as well, their actions and personalities were so alike it was only their names and physical descriptions that set them apart.

Personally, I think Gualtieri is either trying too hard with the character Bill, or not trying enough. The premise itself was truly promising, but the execution fell woefully short.

Should a person wish to read this first book of the series, I would advise them to tread carefully. The story itself is a virtual minefield of questionable language and other problems. And while it’s been compared to Revenge of the Nerds meets Return of the Living Dead, it’s not a good comparison. The movies are far more enjoyable.

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

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.

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

Here is Grey London, a dirty and boring city with no magic and a mad king. Then there is Red London, a city of excitement where life and magic are revered. There is also White London, a city slowly dying from being drained through magical war. Once, there was a Black London, but no one speaks of that land now.

Kell is from Red London. He is one of the last magicians that is able to travel between worlds. Officially he acts as ambassador and messenger, moving between the different Londons in service of the Maresh empire. Unofficially, he is a smuggler; a dangerous hobby that becomes even more so when he comes across a forbidden token from Black London.

Fleeing in to Grey London, Kell runs in to Delilah Bard; a thief with aspirations of her own. First she robs him, then she saves him, and finally she forces him to take her to another world for what she believes will be a proper adventure.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one of those books that several people, both online and offline, had recommended to me. With my love of fantasy type stories, I knew it would simply be a matter of time before I eventually read it.

Oh, dear reader, I do not know why I waited so long.

From the first page where we are introduced to Kell and the multiple Londons to the last page when we are forced to part ways with him, I was enraptured.

Schwab does a most admirable job in creating a world that is both familiar and new. Those who have been to London will recognize some of the places she describes; because even though they are in an earlier time, many of these places stand today. The Grey London she describes is the London of the early 1800’s, it is messy and dark and it isn’t always pleasant. But it is real.

The same can be said of Red London and White London as well. There is the air of familiarity but there is also the foreign. The people who inhabit these places are a result of the realms they live in and it is evident when Kell and Lila interact with them.

At times the background characters can come across as a little one dimensional, but this is often the case. Because they are often deemed as not important, the author often gives only the most basic of information to us, the reader. I am not terribly affronted or concerned with this as it happens quite often.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one of those rare books that I eagerly recommend to all of my followers. I am quite sure every one will find something in this book to love. Personally, I am looking forward to getting the next book in the series to read and review.

The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1) by Dot Hutchison

Somewhere in upstate New York lies an older mansion with a beautiful garden.

Not just trees and flowers grow in the garden, it also has a vast collection of “butterflies” – young women who have been kidnapped and each bearing an intricate tattoo on her back. Overseeing it all is a man known simply as the Gardener and his obsession goes beyond capturing these lovely creatures to preserving their beauty for all time.

When the garden is discovered, one of the girls is brought in for questioning. The FBI agents tasked with piecing together this intricate puzzle find more than they bargain for when the girl they’re questioning is just as much of a puzzle herself.

The Butterfly Garden is one of several books I picked up when I was given a free preview of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

I admit, dear reader, that I was a little hesitant when I first picked up The Butterfly Garden. Just from the quick blurb I had read, it reminded me of The Girl Before and while I enjoyed that book, I was also left unnerved by it. The same can be said of this book too.

Told primarily from the viewpoint of Maya, one of the survivors of the “butterfly garden”, The Butterfly Garden is a creepy tale of obsession and redemption. The Gardener is a man obsessed with the perfection of youth, his precious butterflies almost never making it past their 21st birthday. The handful that do are cast aside, ignored for their fading beauty and causing them to become bitter.

The Butterfly Garden is a difficult read. There are a variety of subjects that would make it off-putting for some – including kidnapping, rape, and murder. It is deeply disturbing which is why I can’t recommend it for all of my readers.

Readers who enjoyed such psychological tales such as Gone Girl or The Girl Before might enjoy The Butterfly Garden. A fairly quick read but one that is likely to stay with the reader long after they’ve finished the last page.

The Carrot Man by Theo A. Gerkin

Finding that one perfect roommate is never easy. When a 30-something writer meets his new roommate, he’s in for a shock when he meets a carrot.

Not a literal carrot; but instead the human vegetable kind. Lazy, ugly, and broke.

Dishes pile up in the kitchen, the bathroom resembles a literal dump, and Carrot Man never takes out the garbage. All of these things begin to bother the author to no end until he finally seems to snap.

The Carrot Man is a short story provided to me by the author for review.

The Carrot Man is one of those stories that I find difficult to write a review for. Mainly because the experience I had while reading it is quite different than the majority of the reviews I have seen about it over on Goodreads. In cases like this, I find myself having to be blunt.

I did not enjoy The Carrot Man.

The writing itself is decent enough, it is the narrator himself that I took issue with. He comes across as very narcissistic and is very difficult to sympathize with. As he spends the majority of the story telling us how awful his roommate is, he himself becomes an awful person. His liberal use of disparaging remarks is off-putting, as is his usage of problematic terms such as “retard”.

At times the narrator seems to be trying too hard to make himself sympathetic and to paint his roommate in a negative light. This backfires in the way that both individuals become unlikable.

As grateful as I am for Theo for providing his story to me for review, I sadly cannot recommend it. Unfunny and offensive, I must simply advise my readers to skip this one.

Operation Hail Storm (Hail #1) by Brett Arquette

Marshall Hail was a Physics Nobel Prize winner and multi-billionaire, but he was also a loving husband and father. When his wife and children were killed in a terrorist attack, he redirected his vast assets towards one purpose – eliminating every person on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

Calling upon help from his MIT colleagues, Hail designs and builds an arsenal of drones. Piloted by some of the best young minds, these drones are capable of going practically anywhere and creating devastation the likes few have seen. Under Hail’s guidance, the world will come to realize that no one is safe.

I received a copy of Operation Hail Storm from the author, Brett Arquette, in exchange for an honest review.

I generally don’t read books like Operation Hail Storm, so reading it was bit of a step outside the norm for me.

Hail Storm is one of those novels that takes modern day technology and pushes them in a “What if…?” direction. Yes, the ability to make drones smaller and smaller is possible. And yes, the other weapons and technology are in use in some places. So while Arquette got something right in his book, it is unfortunately about the only thing.

The characters are sadly, very one dimensional; many with clunky dialogue to match. While we are surely meant to sympathize with the main character, Marshall Hail, it is difficult when he comes across as arrogant. He believes himself above the law and acts that way on several occasions.  He says he is sad because his wife and children died in a terrorist attack, but his actions tend to speak differently. He believes he is enacting retribution on those who would harm others for money, but it is more like he is getting revenge.

Beyond the writing, Arquette has the unfortunate habit of plagiarism. Many of the descriptions he uses for the higher tech gadgets read as if they were pulled directly from their respective Wikipedia pages. And in one case, he actually quotes the Wiki page instead of trying to use his own words to describe the situation.

At the end of the day, while I am grateful to Mr. Arquette for a chance to read and review his work, sadly I cannot recommend it to my readers. With the help of some decent editors, perhaps one day this book will be ready for the general public. Just not today.

 

Fragments of Your Soul (The Mirror Worlds #1) by E.S. Erbsland

Since the death of her father, Arvid Bergen has worked hard to support herself and her mother. When she accidentally steps through a portal that leads to another world, her only thought is returning home. While she is told the task is incredibly unlikely, if not impossible, Arvid is undeterred.

Upon meeting the god Loke, she strikes a bargain with him. Too late she learns that Loke is a liar and a traitor, and one she should not trust. Still, Arvid is determined to get home one way or another, even if it means pairing up with a murderer.

I will be honest, dear reader, I was first drawn to Fragments of Your Soul because of the artwork. When I joined Tumblr, I saw some of Eleathyra’s artwork for the book and was intrigued. And while I eventually was able to obtain a copy of the book, it has only been recently that I was able to sit and read it.

With that out of the way, it breaks my heart to say that I did not enjoy this book. I tried so very hard to like it, but there were several times I nearly threw my e-reader across the room in anger and frustration.

Firstly, the English translation from the original German isn’t that good. There are times when the dialogue feels awkward and the action is at times clunky. It is also a rather long book, the Kindle edition I read was just over 400 pages. Unfortunately, this means that at times the story becomes kind of boring. There were times I had to force myself to continue just to find out what happened next.

Next, the characters. Arvid is a young woman in her mid-twenties, and like most her age she works a job she doesn’t particularly enjoy and has a strained relationship with her mother. She has anger issues which resulted in a broken hand at the opening of the book, and continues throughout the story. She also has a bit of a superiority complex, her way of thinking sometimes tends to follow the “my way is the only way”, especially when she is met with servants or those who are considered lesser than. When she inevitably tries to persuade them to rise up or act different, she is frustrated when they refuse. She seems unable to understand that just because she thinks one way, not every one around her does.

Loke is another character that quite honestly I did not like. He is cruel and manipulative, and a times even verbally abusive; not just to Arvid but to other characters around him. His past is used as an attempt to explain and even excuse his behavior and the love that Arvid develops for him somehow makes him a better man as if by magic. This, unfortunately, is a trope that has been used too often recently and with little to no success.

While Erbsland does an excellent job of building a world based on Norse mythology, an interesting world itself does not a good story make. There must be equally interesting characters; characters we develop feelings for and root for. Alas, while we have the first in Fragments of Your Soul, the second is severely lacking. I’m afraid I simply cannot recommend this one to my readers. Instead, I encourage them to head over to Eleathrya’s art page, enjoy the pictures there and make up their own stories.

Rhapsodic (The Bargainer #1) by Laura Thalassa

Callie – Callypso – Lillis is a siren with a rather large problem. A problem that stretches up her arm and seven years in to her past.

Seven years ago she began collecting the black beads that make up the bracelet on her wrist. Each bead represents a favor from The Bargainer; the man who can get you anything you want…for a price. Callie has racked up over 300 of these such favors and she knows one day she will have to repay every favor she has garnered.

When The Bargainer comes for Callie, she knows her time is up.

There are very few books that catch my attention from the first page, and Rhapsodic was one of them. Unfortunately, while it was advertised as a fantasy novel, it is more a romance novel with fantasy elements.

And that is what this particular book is, dear readers, a romance novel. Thalassa spends the majority of the book creating the sexual tension between the two main characters that there is little room for anything else. Even the main characters themselves don’t receive too much attention in regards to their respective pasts beyond when they meet. As far as the side characters, they are sadly rather one dimensional and not terribly interesting either.

This unresolved sexual tension takes over the plot of the story as well. So much so that what is supposed to be the main plot of the book takes a back seat and is almost pushed aside. The end of the book is quite rushed as well. Perhaps this is because there is a sequel to this first book and the big bad wasn’t quite vanquished.

Now I am not saying that I didn’t enjoy Rhapsodic, dear readers, because I did. I, however, would have liked more. More of the fantasy elements, less of the fluff.

The Outpost (Outpost #1) by Adam Baker

Moored in the Arctic Ocean, Kasker Rampart is a derelict refinery platform at the end of the world. A skeleton crew of fifteen occupy the place, every day a battle with boredom and despair. As they wait for a relief ship to come take them home, the crew receives word that the world beyond is crumbling. A strange pandemic is ravaging the cities, turning normal humans in to ravenous monsters.

One by one the TV channels die, the radio waves following after. The crew of the Kasker Rampart receive a final message; their relief ship is not coming, help is not on the way. The crew must find a way to survive the long Arctic winter alone, even as the deadly contagion makes slow progress towards them.

The Outpost is one of those titles that had been sitting on my To Be Read list for a while. As intriguing and as interesting as I often find these books, I have to be in the right mood to actually read and enjoy them.

With that said, I enjoyed reading The Outpost and had trouble putting it down once I started. Baker does a good job of creating a tense, enjoyable page turner; one that draws the reader in from the first page and holds them to the end.

There were times, however, that it felt like Baker was trying to add too much to the plot line. Additions that either had little to nothing to give or that ended up going nowhere. Why have the revelation that a character isn’t who they say they are so late in the story? And then do nothing with it? Why have a character go insane yet not reveal what exactly caused them to go down that path?

There is a great deal that Baker unfortunately leaves unresolved. Things that could have easily been omitted and not affected the flow of the story at all. And while what he does resolve is important, at times it also feels rather rushed.

Despite it’s flaws, The Outpost is an enjoyable book. I would recommend it to my readers with the small caveat that it does have it’s flaws. Readers who enjoy a decent thriller will likely enjoy this one as well.