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.

Provided for Review: Lionhearts (Nottingham #2) by Nathan Makaryk

All will be well when King Richard returns . . . but King Richard has been captured.

To raise the money for his ransom, every lord in England is raising taxes, the French are eyeing the empty throne, and the man they called, “Robin Hood,” the man the Sherriff claims is dead, is everywhere and nowhere at once.

He’s with a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, raiding guard outposts. He’s with Nottingham’s largest gang, committing crimes to protest the taxes. He’s in the lowest slums of the city, conducting a reign of terror against the city’s most vulnerable. A hero to some, a monster to others, and an idea that can’t simply be killed.

But who’s really under the hood?

Content Warning: Pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Profanity (so much profanity), violence, murder, rape (mention of and offscreen), necrophilia (mention of), theft. Aside from bestialities, this book has it all.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the author for providing Lionhearts for review!

The story of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws is one that has become so ingrained that one often forgets that at least some of it is based on truth. King Richard really was captured and held for ransom and in order to pay his ransom every English lord raised taxes much to the people’s dismay. And while bandits and outlaws likely did roam Sherwood Forest at the time, that is where truth and fiction diverge.

First of all, I did not realize Lionhearts was a sequel. Because it was not described as such on Netgalley’s website, I went in thinking it was either a standalone book or the first book in a possible series. That it is the second book and the book Nottingham comes before it could possibly make a difference when reading.

Secondly, this book is violent and some parts are not for the squeamish. A trigger or content warning of some kind would have been welcome. While I am not the most squeamish of readers, there were a few scenes that even I found difficult to stomach. Readers who are familiar with the content of Game of Thrones will have an idea of the kind of sometimes over the top violence that Lionhearts contains.

In many ways it is obvious that Makaryk was influenced by the wildly popular Game of Thrones series when writing Lionhearts. Each chapter is dedicated solely to an individual character and their actions at a specific time and place. At the beginning of each chapter we are given the name of who we are following and exactly where they are. We then follow them as they negotiate the countless plots and subplots as well as the very real danger that surrounds each person.

To sum things up, Lionhearts is not for everyone. The story is dark and violent, the characters are often cruel. At over 500 pages it can be a bit much for even the most stalwart of readers. Readers who are looking for a retelling of the Robin Hood myth should be careful because this is not an easy read.

Provided for Review: The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton

Orphaned young, H is sent to live with her doting aunt in London. H’s life is a happy one until her lecherous cousin robs her of her innocence, and the plague takes away the city and the people she loves. H is cast out—friendless, pregnant and destitute–into the rapidly emptying streets of London under quarantine.

Forced to fend for herself, she is determined to gain back the life she lost. H will face a villain out for revenge, find love in the most unexpected places, and overcome a betrayal that she never could have foreseen. Weathering it all, can H charm, or scheme, her way to the life of freedom and independence that she longs for? 

Thank you to NetGalley and Legend Press for this Advanced Review Copy

Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual assault/rape; Teenage pregnancy; Infanticide

The Strange Adventures of H is much like the title says. Sent with her sister to live with their elderly aunt after their father’s death, H is almost immediately surrounded by an eclectic cast of characters that reside in 16th century London. When fate deals H a cruel hand, it is to these individuals that she must turn if she is to somehow survive.

London in the late 16th century was tumultuous time in history. Not only was the city and surrounding areas besieged by the plague, but it was also decimated by the Great Fire, and again it later survived the Shrove Tuesday riots. Through all of this H is there with her insights and views and opinions on matters. Through her eyes we the reader are a witness to history, walking alongside one who –  though fictional in this case – was one of countless there at the time.

In reading The Strange Adventures of H, it becomes obvious almost immediately the amount of research Burton has put in to the novel. Not only for H herself, but for the people around her (whether they be friend or foe) as well as the city of London itself. The descriptions given are vibrant and full of detail and are given from someone who absolutely loves the subject matter.

The life that H leads is not an easy one and Burton doesn’t shy away from that fact. Though in the end H does prevail, it is a difficult road for her. Several times I had to remind myself that H was just a teenager, a young woman who had yet to even reach 20 during the events of the novel. Such is her strength of character and such are the trials she is put through.

In the end, despite the difficulty I sometimes had reading The Strange Adventures of H, I really enjoyed it. I say difficulty simply because of the sometimes heavy subject matter and also that the book is a bit of a long one. History buffs who are looking for a novel that really seems to grasp the era it is set in and portray it accurately will likely enjoy it. Readers who are looking for a novel with a strong female character, one who is well rounded and well written will likely enjoy it. Readers who are looking to branch out and try something new will likely enjoy it.

I invite any one and every one to pick up a copy and delve in to The Strange Adventures of H.

Provided for Review: The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick

Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. When the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.

With rebellion comes consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. She has however made a mistake, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.

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

Trigger Warnings: Infidelity, Mentions of rape, Teenage pregnancy, Racial slurs (Specifically the word “gypsy”)

“The times they are a-changin’…” So goes the line in the song by Bob Dylan and so goes the overall theme in Serena Burdick’s The Girls with No Names.

Told from the point of view of a variety of individuals, The Girls with No Names is a story about change. The changes that come with age, that come with knowledge, that come with the inevitable march of time. Events that change the way one sees the world regardless of how large or small it is.

As it is primarily set in the early 1910’s, the way of thinking of some characters might be off-putting for some. When Effie and Luella come across the Romani camp in the beginning of the book, they are enamored of the “other” ness of the group. There is a sense of playing with the forbidden when the girls continue to visit the camp even after their parents express their distaste. It is something that comes up again when the girls’ Grandmother complains of “foreigners” taking over the city.

I personally found myself captivated by each individual characters story in this book. Each woman is connected to the others in numerous ways – by blood, by love, by circumstance. Each connection bringing another layer to the story until it is a veritable tapestry.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Girls with No Names and was able to finish the book in just two days. While there is some difficult subject matter, I found it to be written about in a way that sensitive without being overly so.

Readers who are looking for well written female characters are likely to enjoy this book. I recommend they give it a go.

On Night’s Shore (Edgar Allen Poe #1) by Randall Silvis

Standing on the grimy banks of the Hudson River, street urchin Augie Dubbins spots a young woman toss her baby into the water, then jump in herself. As the only witness to the tragedy, Augie sees an opportunity to make a few pennies recounting the events, and in doing so encounters a struggling young journalist named Edgar Allan Poe, a poet and newspaper hack whose penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time has earned him more than a few enemies.

When the unlikely duo discover the body of yet another young woman shortly after, they become entrapped in a mire of murder, greed, and power that stretches from the Five Points slums to the gleaming heights of Fifth Avenue.

Trigger Warnings – mentions of assault, mentions of sexual assault, mentions of abortion, mentions of incest

On Night’s Shore by Randall Silvis is a fictional account of real events.

Much like Edgar Allen Poe, Randall Silvis has a way with words. Whether this is a good or bad thing is completely up to the reader. The writing felt like Silvis had sat down with a dictionary picking as many large words as possible. It was more than a little disconcerting especially when one considers that the narrator is a street urchin.

Once one has become more comfortable with Mr. Silvis’ writing style, then it is easy to enjoy the story itself. It is easy to become drawn into the narrative and to follow along as Poe gathers information. And much like the detective C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s genius is evident as he pieces the clues together.

This is the first book I have read by Randall Silvis. As a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, finding a novel with the famed author as the main character was a treat. I enjoy a good murder mystery and was hoping to enjoy this particular story.

It pleases me to say that I enjoyed reading On Night’s Shore very much. And it is one that I would recommend to my readers.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller (translated by Philip Boehm

Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on all of the group.

One day Adina returns home to discover that her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. On another occasion it’s the hindleg. Then a foreleg. The mutilated fur is a sign that she is being tracked by the secret police—the fox was ever the hunter.

Images of photographic precision combine into a kaleidoscope of terror as Adina and her friends struggle to keep mind and body intact in a world pervaded by complicity and permeated with fear, where it’s hard to tell victim from perpetrator.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter is one of those books that it is quite difficult to write a review for. Simply because – at least for me – the book itself is quite difficult to describe. Told in a lyrical kind of prose, the book has a stream of consciousness feel to it. Müller puts so much attention in the settings, bringing them in to such sharp focus, that the human characters fade in to the background.

Looking at other reviews over on Goodreads, I find that I am not alone in my opinions. There are just as many there who are like me, who just do not “get it” when it comes to this book. Likewise, there are a goodly number who sing its praises. The Fox Was Ever the Hunter did win a Nobel Prize, so there is that as well.

Perhaps much of what makes this book appealing is lost in translation. Perhaps I am just too dense to understand.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson – Provided for Review

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

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

I always enjoy it when a book grabs my attention in the first few paragraphs before taking me on a wild ride. And that is exactly what happened when I read The Dreamers. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by the story and continually wondering what would happen next.

One of the good things about this book is that there aren’t too many characters to try and keep track of. Yes, the book takes place in a small college town, but what is happening is presented from only a few points of view. The fact that the characters are all different ages and come from different walks of life only adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

The only real complaint I have is in regards to the virus itself. So very little attention is given to it, though it plays a major role in the story. Where did it come from? How did Kara, Patient Zero, originally contract it? Where did the virus eventually go? It’s alluded that it simply fizzled out, but because the whole town wasn’t affected, I find that tiny point a little hard to swallow.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Dreamers; I practically devoured it. I wouldn’t recommend it for hypochondriacs, but for those looking for a good fairly quick read, I say give this one a try.

The Eight (The Eight #1) by Katherine Neville

Computer expert Cat Velis is heading for a job to Algeria. Before she goes, a mysterious fortune teller warns her of danger, and an antique dealer asks her to search for pieces to a valuable chess set that has been missing for years.

A chess set whose pieces have been scattered across the globe because the game that can be played with them is incredibly powerful.

The Eight is a book comprised of two different stories set over 200 years apart. One story is set in 1972 and follows Catherine Velis as she is sent to Algeria on a job for her work. The second story is set in the 1790’s and follows Mireille and Valentine, cousins and novice nuns from the Montglane Abbey.

The stories of the women are both separate and intertwined as each revolves around the Montglane Service – a chess set once owned by Charlemagne. The set is said to hold the key to unlimited power and the person who holds the set has control of that power.

The plot of The Eight revolves heavily around the game of chess. Every character is connected to the game itself somehow, but are also connected to the Game of the chase after the Montglane Service. Some have knowledge that they are playing, while others like Catherine, learn they are along the way.

I found the overall plot of The Eight to be somewhat interesting. Personally, I enjoyed the sections set in France during the Revolution more than the sections set in 1972. Perhaps it is because I found it difficult to relate with Catherine, or perhaps it is because I found the people that surrounded her incredibly irritating.

Neville is commendable in that she is able to combine individuals who actually existed with the characters she has created for the novel. Individuals such as Robespierre, Talleyrand, even Catherine the Great are weaved in to the narrative in the search for the Montglane Service.

On the whole, I am rather ambivalent in regards to The Eight. There were times I wanted to stop reading it and there were times I found that I couldn’t stop. Considering my own feelings on the novel, I cannot easily recommend it nor do I believe I will be seeking out the rest of the series.

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.

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.