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.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The life of an orphan is harsh, and sometimes quite short, on the island city of Camorr.

Locke Lamora, however, is determined to defy the odds. Gifted with a quick wit and talent for thieving, Locke escapes a life of slavery and its subsequent death to find himself in the employ of a blind priest named Chains – a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

Chains is a con artist of incredible talent – a talent he passes down to his “family” of orphans. Under his tutelage they are the Gentlemen Bastards and in time Locke becomes their leader. He becomes the Thorn of Camorr, more myth than man; fooling everyone from the most wealthy nobles to the criminal underworld’s most feared.

Soon though, Locke learns of a new player in the criminal game – a man calling himself The Gray King. Powerful and ruthless, The Gray King seems determined to rule Camorr’s criminal underworld and isn’t above using Locke as a pawn to do it.

I found The Lies of Locke Lamora an incredibly entertaining read. Certainly not for the squeamish or faint of heart, it brings to mind epic fantasies such as Game of Thrones or tales of revenge like The Godfather.

Richly detailed in both characters and world, Lynch has penned an enthralling tale. The characters themselves are very realistic and it is easy to cheer (and cry) with them as the story goes on.

If I have one complaint, it would be how Lynch didn’t quite successfully juggle the two main plot lines. He spent a great deal of time building up the con game plot line that Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards were play only to leave it dangling to concentrate on the Gray King thread. The con game is left almost forgotten, only to be brought back at the end of the book for a kind of resolution.

Aside from that one tiny quibble, I rather enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora. It seems to be the first in a series and it one I shall definitely be looking in to. Readers who enjoy a good fantasy with a healthy dollop of violence are likely to enjoy this one too.

Provided for Review: We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity, but with the ability to read and erase other people’s memories—a power he uses to hold up banks to buy coffee, cat food and books.

Zoe is also searching for her past, and using her abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And she’ll occasionally put on a cool suit and beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the archrivals meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize the only way to reveal their hidden pasts might be through each other. As they uncover an ongoing threat, suddenly much more is at stake than their fragile friendship. With countless people at risk, Zoe and Jamie will have to recognize that sometimes being a hero starts with trusting someone else—and yourself. 

Many thanks to MIRA/Harlequin Publishing and NetGalley for providing this book for review.

With great power comes great responsibility…sometimes.

Jamie is your typical 20-something single guy. He enjoys reading, good coffee, and doting on his beloved cat, Normal. What makes Jamie unique is the fact that he has no memory of his life before two years ago. And that he has the ability to read minds and manipulate memories.

Zoe is your typical 20-something single girl. She likes cheesy horror flicks and works delivering fast food. She too has no memory of her life before two years ago and in exchange has super speed and super strength. Plus, she can fly.

Jamie is The Mind Robber and Zoe is Throwing Star. Each is a villian or a vigilante, depending on who you ask.

We Could Be Heroes is a cute and quirky look at what can happen when ordinary people one day wake up with extraordinary powers. The paths they decide to take and the consequences of their decisions. The feelings and thoughts that arise when one believes they are alone in the world; and the hope that comes when one learns they are not alone.

The world of We Could Be Heroes is based on the modern day world. While the city of San Delgado is fictional, it could easily be any major metropolitan area. This is nice since it allows the reader to come up with their own ideas about the city and it’s surrounding areas.

Both Zoe and Jamie are well written characters. The progression of their friendship I think was handled very well. There is very little trust between them in the beginning, especially when they each realize who the other person is. Throwing Star and The Mind Robber are arch-rivals after all. Yet when they realize they are more alike then they think, and when they start to work together to try and piece together who they each were, do we see the trust deepen and their friendship really blossom.

And their friendship remains just that – a friendship. All too often in books with a male and a female lead they end up in a romantic relationship. This does not happen in We Could Be Heroes. Over the course of the book, Jamie and Zoe become good friends and remain that way.

Due to the way the story ends, We Could Be Heroes could be either a stand alone novel or the beginning of a new series. It is heavily implied that what happened to Zoe and Jamie happened to others, so where are those people? What are their stories? Who did they become?

As a fan of superheroes in almost any genre, I can say with confidence that We Could Be Heroes should be added to the literary roster. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to my readers – regardless of whether they prefer Marvel or DC. It is a fun and entertaining read.

Oddjobs (Oddjobs #1) by Heide Goody

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but someone still needs to do the paperwork.

Incomprehensible horrors from beyond are going to devour our world but that’s no excuse to get all emotional about it. Morag Murray works for the secret government organisation responsible for making sure the apocalypse goes as smoothly and as quietly as possible.

In her first week on the job, Morag has to hunt down a man-eating starfish, solve a supernatural murder and, if she’s got time, prevent her own inevitable death.

The first book in a new comedy series by the creators of ‘Clovenhoof’, Oddjobs is a sideswipe at the world of work and a fantastical adventure featuring amphibian wannabe gangstas, mad old cat ladies, ancient gods, apocalyptic scrabble, fish porn, telepathic curry and, possibly, the end of the world before the weekend.

The world as we know it may be ending but someone still needs to make sure the proper paperwork has been done.

Oddjobs is the first book in the series of the same name by Heide Goody and Iain Grant. It is a very British take on the Men in Black trope that has spawned several movies, books, and graphic novels. The main difference being while in Men in Black they were trying to stop the apocalypse, in Oddjobs they’re trying to make sure the process goes smoothly. If it’s going to happen anyway, why not make it as easy as possible? And maybe even bring in a few dollars with a line of incredibly cute and cuddly plushes?

As I said above, Oddjobs is a very British book. Peppered throughout are references to persons, places, and events that the average UK reader would recognize but other readers might not. On a handful of occasions I found myself having to look up things referenced simply to try and keep up with the storyline. Not that this is a bad thing per se, but it might throw off the average reader.

Oddjobs is a fast paced book and in some places quite funny. The cast of characters are an eclectic lot, each one bringing their own strengths to the team. While some background is given on each character, it is my hope that we learn more about every one with each subsequent novel.

I really enjoyed reading Oddjobs. As a fan of British sci-fi I found it to be an entertaining mix of seriousness and satire. Readers who are fans of this genre and like classics like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf are sure to like this one as well. Average readers might find the British-isms a bit confusing at time but I urge them to give this a try as well.

Channel Blue by Jay Martel

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This review was originally posted January 2015

Turn on the TV at practically any time of day or night on any channel and you have a good chance of seeing some kind of Reality Program. The programs run the gamut from the serious to the insane and cover any number of subjects. People tune in to them in droves and the people who appear on them become stars overnight. But what if the Earth itself was its own reality program? What if the day to day happenings of the people here, no matter how mundane, provide entertainment to extraterrestrial beings?

That is the question posed in Channel Blue.

At one time Earth was Galaxy Entertainment’s highest ranking show. The viewers couldn’t get enough of the backwards little people. But like most audiences, they are fickle and what was once the biggest thing is now at the bottom of the heap. This is what has happened to Earth, aka Channel Blue. With its ratings quickly going down the tube they plan to draw in the viewers once more with an amazing finale. In just three weeks, the TV show will go out with a bang, and unfortunately so will Earth.

One man however can save our planet from it’s final curtain call, but Perry Bunt’s hardly the hero type.

If that last line sounds a tad cliched, that’s probably because it is. Earth is on the brink of destruction and out of the billions of people on the planet the only one who can save us is some nobody. He is your token white man, non-descript and bland. Like most in the anti-hero trope, Perry starts the book with a “I don’t want to do this” approach which evolves in to a “I guess I have to do this” approach which becomes a “I want to do this!” approach. He continues to try and do the right thing which only gets him in to trouble and usually ends with some kind of physical beating for Perry. As the story carries on this becomes tiring, not only for Perry, but for the reader them self.

With Perry in this mad adventure is Amanda Mundo. Hailing from the planet Eden, but looking exactly like any human, she is one of the many many producers of Channel Blue. At first she’s interested in Perry because he’s an ex-script writer and she needs ideas to keep Channel Blue running. The disappointing thing is that eventually she too succumbs to the trope most female characters are subjected to – that of the love interest. Of course she falls in love with Perry and of course they end up together with a happy ending, the story left open-ended for the possibility of a sequel. In it’s predictability it’s almost disappointing.

Now I’m not saying that Channel Blue is a complete disappointment. There are some rather amusing moments and the book itself does present a sort of critique on our society. It is absurd in its own way but hardly “in the tradition of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut” as one reviewer said it. Adams and Douglas set a precedent when it comes to sci-fi and while Martel does make a good endeavor, he simply cannot match the greats.

alt.Sherlock.Holmes: New Visions of The Great Detective by Gini Koch, Glen Mehn, and Jamie Wyman

Sherlock Holmes and her partner Dr. John Watson have barely set up as consulting detectives in LA before Tinsel Town’s finest come calling.

Joey Jackson and Tony Antonelli are in trouble: their partner, Cliff Camden, has disappeared without a trace on the eve of filming for a new show. The LAPD don’t care and Watson has his own reasons for wanting to stay out of it, but Holmes takes the case. But as she gets to work amidst the neurotic actors, grumbling film crews and low-level sleaze that permeates LA, a fresh murder turns everything on its head…

Winter, and the Soggiorno Brothers’ Traveling Wonder Show has pulled into its berth in Peru, Indiana. Sanford “Crash” Haus, proprietor and genius, and his friend, the retired soldier-turned-surgeon Jim “Dandy” Walker, are looking forward to a quiet few months. By happy coincidence, just as the Strong Man and the Tattooed Lady announce their betrothal, the Wonder Show’s old manager Professor Sylvestri – a minister, no less – rolls into town, with his ward in tow. Preparations for the happy day begin, but violence and misfortune attend on them…

Glen Mehn’s novella is a drug-fuelled descent into the experimental world of Warhol’s Factory. Holmes and Watson are faced with a mystery unlike any other, set against the backdrop of social, cultural and racial issues that rocked society and brought about the fierce (and sometimes violent) changes at the end of the swinging sixties… (via Goodreads)

Trigger Warningalt.Sherlock.Holmes contains subject matter and language that some might find disturbing/offensive. While the language and sentiments expressed are appropriate for their respective time periods, there are some who might find it bothersome. As the stories themselves do not come with any kind of warning, I thought it necessary to put one up myself.

Three different authors, three different versions of one of the most well known literary characters. That is the gift we are given in the book alt.Sherlock.Holmes.

Jamie Wyman is first, giving us a Holmes and Watson (though neither by that name) that sees the two working in a carnival setting in the 1930’s. Watson – known in this story as Walker – is an African American man whose leg was taken by the war. He is a Pinkerton agent when he first meets Holmes – known as Haus here – and subsequently joins the circus.

Personally, this was my favorite of the three stories. Not only with the story line but with how the characters felt when compared to their original counterparts. Haus very much felt like a slightly updated version of Doyle’s Holmes with his penchant for drawing people to him regardless of how they might be viewed by outside society. Seeing him in a carnival setting seems quite natural given his penchant for the dramatic. The same can be said for Walker; a dedicated and knowledgeable doctor who still carries traces of the warrior and fighter he used to be.

My only complaint was how the story ended because it left me desperately wanting more. I can only hope Wyman writes more stories of these two in this particular universe.

Second is Gini Koch with an offering that has been seen before – a female Sherlock Holmes. Set in the modern day, Ms. Holmes meets up with Dr. Watson when she is brought in to consult on a case. She eventually decides to stay in the States where she continues to solve cases.

This particular version of Holmes and Watson, though not unique in setting it in modern day, is unique in how it handles other aspects of the characters. Holmes has a bad habit – something that is not new – it is the habit itself that is. Holmes is addicted to reality TV and she is well versed in all of the different kinds that grace TV screens today.

It is also implied (at least this is how I interpret it) that Watson is bi. It is mentioned that he goes out with a male acquaintance for drinks but his head can also be turned by a pretty lady. It is even hinted that he has a crush on Holmes and she in turn possibly likes him. That these feelings were hinted at and not acted upon is lovely to see and adds a touch of realism to the story.

Lastly, comes Glen Mehn taking Holmes and Watson to 1960’s New York City. Both Holmes and Watson are part of the underground scene of the time. Holmes’ reasons are hazy at best but with Watson we come to understand that his serving in the Korean War has left him disillusioned and he now uses his doctor’s degree to make and sell drugs.

I will be honest dear reader and say that this last version was my least favorite of the three. I found it to be too dark and downright depressing at times. Not to mention the fact that BOTH John and Sherlock and junkies. Also, to try and add realism, Mehn sprinkles in well known people and events from the time – such as Andy Warhol. However, much of this feels forced and I found it detracted from the story instead of adding to it.

On the whole, I found alt.Sherlock.Holmes to be fairly enjoyable. If any of my readers are considering picking up this book in either paperback or e-book edition, my advice is to read and enjoy the first two and skip the third. Have fun!

Blood Persuasion (Immortal Jane Austen #2) by Janet Mullany

It is 1810, and the Damned are out of favor–banished from polite society.

Jane Austen’s old un-dead friends have become new neighbors, raising hell in her tranquil village just in time to interrupt Jane’s work on what will be her masterpiece.

Suddenly Jane’s niece is flirting dangerously with vampires, and a formerly respectable spinster friend has discovered the forbidden joys of intimate congress with the Damned (and is borrowing Jane’s precious silk stockings for her assignations). Writing is simply impossible now, with murderous creatures prowling the village’s once-peaceful lanes. And with the return of her vampire characteristics, a civil war looming between factions of the Damned, and a former lover who intends to spend eternity blaming her for his broken heart, Jane is facing a very busy year indeed.

Blood Persuasion is the second book in the Immortal Jane Austen series and is the sequel to Jane and the Damned. It picks up approximately 13 years after the events in the first book. Jane has returned to the simple and quiet life with her family; she has even resumed her writing. Another quiet summer is planned and that is when things go awry.

When I originally reviewed Jane and the Damned, I lauded it for its unique take on a well known trope. And while many of the characters introduced in the first book return in the second, sadly they do not have the same impact as they did before. Fitzwilliam (now known as Fitzpatrick) was an interesting character in the first book and in the second he is quite a bore. My real problem was with the characterization of Jane herself; more than once she came across as shrill and irritating. At one point she even berates her vampire lover Luke, screaming “I thought you loved me!” even while knowing herself that vampires are fickle and take numerous partners.

As far as the overall plot, that is something I can’t comment on simply because there really wasn’t one. There were numerous little plots, such as Jane’s niece being seduced by one of the vampires or the business with the feuding vampire families, but aside from where things took place and the characters involved there was little to tie everything together. The epilogue, while bittersweet, also left much to be desired.

Sadly, Blood Persuasion must join the list of books I simply cannot recommend. As much as I enjoyed the first book, the second one let me down. Read and enjoy the first book – Jane and the Damned – dear readers. And stay far far away from this one.

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.