Provided for Review: Advocatus (Culpa Magum #1) by A.R. Turner

Advocatus tells the tale of Felix, a junior lawyer with one last case before he can strike out on his own.

His client? A terrifying magical warlord accused of, amongst other horrifying crimes, two counts of Attempted Genocide (and six counts of Theft). His plea? Innocent, of course! All in a day’s work for Felix.

Psychic frogs, downtrodden goblins, time-traveling wizards, and a whole host of other magical defendants become his caseload as Felix begins trying to make a name for himself as a successful lawyer in a world rife with sorcery.

The biggest case of his life: defending humanity in front of Habeus, the God of Justice himself. Lose, and it’s all over. Not just for him, but for the whole of mankind.

This book was provided for review by The Write Reads. Thank you!

Advocatus follows the story of Felix. A young lawyer who has finally struck out on his own. Having joined a law firm, he is anxious to really get his career going. To make a name for himself and to help his fellow man…woman…frog…??

The overall premise for Advocatus might sound a bit heavy – the whole having to argue for humanity’s continued existence against incredible odds, etc. I can assure my readers that the truth is anything but. Advocatus is a very funny and entertaining book.

There are a wide variety of characters and they run the gambit from sweet and charming to dark and malevolent. The lead character, Felix, is well written. He could have very easily been written as the stereotypical lawyer character, only caring about himself until some great revelation. But for Felix the opposite is true. Felix is a great lawyer in that not only is he smart but he cares about his clients. He – and the firm he works for – work hard to help the little man, taking on cases that most would pass up.

The praise of being well written extends to the actual book as well. It has a very tongue-in-cheek style, serious at times without becoming maudlin. It has a dry humor and reminded me very much of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. It pokes fun at others while also making fun of itself.

I will be honest dear reader when I say I had a good time reading A.R. Turner’s Advocatus. I eagerly recommend it to my readers, especially those who enjoy British humor like the above-mentioned Adams and Pratchett. It is an amusing and feel-good type of story and I eagerly look forward to more in the series.

Thank you again to A.R. Turner and The Write Reads for hosting this book tour!

Provided for Review: Hag of the Hills (The Bronze Sword Cycles #1) by J.T.T. Ryder

“Nothing is unconquerable; even our gods can die.”

Brennus is destined from birth to become a warrior, despite his farmer’s life. But when the Hillmen kill his family and annihilate his clan, he now has the opportunity to avenge those who he loved.

Brennus must survive endless hordes of invading Hillmen and magic-wielding sidhe, aided by only a band of shifty mercenaries, and an ancient bronze sword.

Failure means his family and clan go unavenged. Victory will bring glory to Brennus and his ancestors.

This book was provided for review by The Write Reads and the author. Thank you!

Historical-based fiction has long been a favorite genre of mine. Regardless of the era – from paleolithic such as Clan of the Cave Bear to the Victorian Era with my beloved Sherlock Holmes stories – tales set in another time are quite enjoyable. So one can easily imagine I would enjoy reading J.T.T. Ryder’s Hag of the Hills. And they would be right.

Hag of the Hills follows Brennus, a young man who longs for the fame and prestige being a warrior brings. His father was known far and wide for his bravery and Brennus wishes to follow in those footsteps. His destiny however centers around farming life regardless of whether he likes it or not.

A poor decision on Brennus’ part leads him to make a kind of Faustian deal with the hag of the hills. She offers Brennus the fame he seeks but at a price. And it is only when his clan is decimated does Brennus understand just how high the price might be.

Hag of the Hills could almost be labeled a “sword and sorcery” type of book. Though the book is based on a factual time in history, there are magical elements to it that add a supernatural feel to the story. Goddesses, witches, and giants make appearances and there are mentions of other types of non-human creatures. They live side by side, the influence of one always being felt on the other.

One thing that might detract some readers is how this is a violence-heavy book. It is true, that there is a good deal of violence. It was a part of everyday life and Hag of the Hills does not shy away from that fact. Wars and raids were common, and taking prisoners and slaves were expected.

Another thing that some might take issue with is how one-dimensional the handful of female characters are written. On the surface this is accurate, the few female characters are little more than background fodder. But when one realizes Hag of the Hills is written as the Brennus recounting his younger years, it makes sense. One doesn’t have to like it, but it does fit the narrative.

It is obvious to see the amount of research Ryder put into writing Hag of the Hills. It is also not surprising to know he is an archaeologist specializing in the Iron Age, specifically the time this story takes place. The characters are well thought out and well written and while I did not always agree with their decisions, neither could I blame them.

My readers who are real history buffs will likely enjoy reading Hag of the Hills. I encourage all of my readers to give it a try.

Provided for Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due. 

This book was provided for review by the kind people at Tor publishing. Thank you!

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood is one of those books I started and put down before coming back to it at a later date. When I first started reading it some months ago I didn’t get very far because the story just wasn’t pulling me in. It wasn’t engaging and I found my attention drifting when I did try to read. Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and I knew that if I put the book down and came back at a later date, I’m sure I would have an easier time.

Which is exactly what happened when I came back to it.

The Unspoken Name is a wonderfully fun and incredibly imaginative book. The characters, while not wholly unique, are at least presented in a way that is fresh. The characters are flawed and imperfect, none more so than the main characters Csorwe and Sethennai. Their relationship is ever-changing, often times bordering on the toxic.

There are a few plot holes that could have been handled better. Several times something happens without any explanation. How did this person know that piece of information? How did those characters know exactly where to go and how to get there? I am purposefully being vague because to give details would be to reveal important scenes and spoilers, something I try very hard not to do.

The Unspoken Name is one of those books that once I started reading I found it hard to put down. It kept me interested and entertained and despite its flaws, I found it to be a fun read. I definitely recommend it to my readers who love a good fantasy and am eagerly looking forward to the second installment of the series.

Provided for Review: The Living Waters (The Weirdwater Confluence Book 1) by Dan Fitzgerald

Wonder swirls beneath murky water.

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.

The mystery of the swirls lures them on to the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.

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

When Dan Fitzgerald originally reached out to me to review the first book in his Weirdwater Confluence series, I admit I was intrigued. At the mention of “fantasy” as a genre, one’s thoughts often tend towards swords and monsters and epic action scenes. The Living Waters does have some action and there can be arguments made for monsters but as for swords, there isn’t one to be found. One would have to look hard to find weaponry of any kind and then one might find an oar or a fishing pole.

As someone who enjoys a good fantasy but doesn’t always want epic fight scenes, The Living Waters was a wonderfully refreshing read.

Much like the river our characters travel on, The Living Waters is a meandering story. It starts and stops never settling in one place for long and when it does actually pause we the reader are treated to lush landscapes and fresh faces. Fitzgerald’s writing captures the lands around the river superbly, evoking thoughts of Mark Twain and his writings on the Mississippi River.

The one and only quibble I have with The Living Waters was the lack of backstory. We are told members of the upper classes paint their faces and exposed skin to protect them from the sun. Why did this practice start and when? The same goes for the rough about Temi and Silvan take. Why exactly is this done? It’s never fully explained and I personally think it would have added to my enjoyment if it had been.

Like I said above, The Living Waters is a wonderfully refreshing read and I enjoyed it very much. It is my understanding there is a second book in the works and I am personally looking forward to it. I recommend this book to all my readers and hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

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 into Grey London, Kell runs into 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 from an earlier time, many of these places stand today. The Grey London she describes is the London of the early 1800s, 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 everyone 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 Paper Magician (Paper Magician #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Trigger Warning: Blood, Fantasy violence, Toxic relationship, Death of a child (occurs off-page), Death of an adult (occurs off-page), Death of an animal (paper animal)

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg is one of those books that’s been sitting on my To Be Read list for a while. I remember downloading it to my e-reader ages ago but I never got around to reading it. Finally, I decided it was time to start whittling down my TBR list and this was one of the first books I picked up to do it with.

Like so many who have read and reviewed it, it’s a bit difficult to pin down the exact genre this book would fit into. The main heroine is 19 so does that make it Young Adult? No, not quite. The setting is a pseudo-Victorian era England so does that make it Historical Fiction? Again, no not quite. Over the course of the book, Ceony develops a kind of crush on Emery and it’s hinted that he might like her back. So does that mean it’s a Romance? Yet again, I have to say no.

For everything that The Paper Magician is not, there is one thing I can definitely say. And that is it is an enjoyable read. As with so many books, there are of course flaws. The overall plotline and story can be a bit slow and maudlin at times. The characters can be wishy-washy and sometimes one-dimensional. Some of the violence was a bit over the top as was the overall final “battle”.

Does that mean I won’t recommend it to my readers? Not at all. Like some whose reviews I read in order to write this one – while reading The Paper Magician, I was reminded of Howl’s Moving Castle (both book and movie). It too is a not quite perfect book that gets mixed reviews but there are people who love it deeply. Myself included.

Provided for Review: The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind folks at The Write Reads. Thank you!

“Words had power. Words could kill. And secret words all the more.”

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston is a fictional fantasy story of con men and cards, of gamblers and games, and the lengths some are willing to go to win.

The world that Livingston has created for The Knave of Secrets is a complex one. There are numerous cultures featured, not all of them friendly but all with one thing in common – the love of gambling and games. The same can be said for the characters, they too are complex with their love of gambling the main thing in common.

The main character Valen Quinol isn’t a young man but is described as one of middle age. A rarity in that most books of this kind feature a younger character often just starting out on their journey. Valen is well on his journey, having traveled it along with his wife and friends for some years already.

All of the characters are interesting in their own right and thankfully none of them are perfect. Mistakes are made and learned from. Fights and disagreements happen over plans. Even when things seem to go smoothly they don’t. Because of this, the characters are easy to relate to. Who doesn’t have arguments with their friends? Who doesn’t disagree sometimes with the ones they love most? It doesn’t mean we love them any less.

The only real quibble I have with The Knave of Secrets is the lack of “show don’t tell” in the storytelling. This is especially true during the many scenes featuring one game or another. In these instances, Livingston tells us what happens in the game but doesn’t really show us the action. While these scenes are intended to move the story along, sadly they fall flat while they attempt to do so.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Alex Livingston’s The Knave of Secrets. While the book is meant to be a standalone, I would very much enjoy seeing more tales from this world he has created. I recommend this book to my readers and I would remind them of an adage that every gambler knows:

The House Always Wins.

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant (Fred, The Vampire Accountant #1) by Drew Hayes

Some people are born boring. Some live boring. Some even die boring. Fred managed to do all three, and when he woke up as a vampire, he did so as a boring one. Timid, socially awkward, and plagued by self-esteem issues, Fred has never been the adventurous sort.

One fateful night – different from the night he died, which was more inconvenient than fateful – Fred reconnects with an old friend at his high school reunion. This rekindled relationship sets off a chain of events thrusting him right into the chaos that is the parahuman world, a world with chipper zombies, truck driver wereponies, maniacal necromancers, ancient dragons, and now one undead accountant trying his best to “survive.” Because even after it’s over, life can still be a downright bloody mess.

 

Trigger Warning – blood, violence, general gore

So often when I read a book with a vampire as the main character, the vampire in question always comes across as someone cool and aloof. A badass that follows their own rules and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Someone who is always ready to kick ass and take names.

Fred – short for Frederick Frankford Fletcher (yes really!) – is none of those things. He’s not even close. And that is what makes him great.

In The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, The Vampire Accountant, Hayes has taken a well-known (and often overused) character idea and turned it on its ear. Fred doesn’t suddenly become a super cool guy when he’s turned, he remains his original sweater vest-wearing geeky self. He is aware of the person he comes across as and uses that to his advantage.

The Utterly Uninteresting… is actually five mini-stories in one book. Each chapter is one of Fred’s adventures, introducing us not to just Fred but the friends and colleagues he gains along the way. As the book goes on, we see Fred grow as a person and as a vampire in ways that are not only amusing but satisfying as well.

This is a wonderfully light story despite the seemingly dark subject matter. It’s fun and funny and was an overall enjoyable read. I definitely recommend Fred The Vampire Accountant to my readers. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Provided for Review: The Ventifact Colossus (The Heroes of Spira #1) by Dorian Hart

A tale of epic fantasy begins…

Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep the monster at bay and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.

Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people.

Dranko is priest-turned-pickpocket, expelled from his church for his antics. Kibilhathur is a painfully shy craftsman who speaks to stones. Aravia is a wizard’s apprentice whose intellect is eclipsed only by her arrogance. Ernest is a terrified baker’s son. Morningstar is a priestess forbidden from daylight. Tor is a young nobleman with attention issues. Ysabel is an elderly farm woman. Grey Wolf is a hard-bitten mercenary.

None of them are qualified to save the world, but they’ll have to do. Even Abernathy himself seems uncertain as to why he chose them.

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind folks at The Write Reads. Thank you!

As a long-time fan of the fantasy genre, I am always on the lookout for new authors and the universes they create. I enjoy meeting new characters and traveling to new lands and I really enjoy seeing the kinds of tropes the author uses. Because while there are some who look down on using tropes of any kind, I personally believe that they can be used effectively.

Plus, there are some that when they are used well, they are a treat.

The main trope that Hart uses for The Ventifact Colossus is the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. And considering the people who make up the chosen team, it is so very true. They could not be more different and yet they will have to learn to at least tolerate one another. Especially if they are going to stop the evil Emperor.

There were a great many things I enjoyed in reading The Ventifact Colossus. For instance, how the team does not initially get along. Many times in a book (or movie or TV show) when a random group of characters is brought together for some reason they almost immediately begin to cooperate and work together with one another. The opposite is true here, these eight individuals quibble and fight almost from the moment they meet one another. This continues through the book even as they begin to rely on one another. They still argue and disagree and have their differences.

The world of Spira that Hart has created for the series is just as fun as the characters that inhabit it. We the reader are taken to a decent number of locations, each one unique. There are more places hinted at in dreams and visions and considering this is the first book of the series I am quite sure we will be visiting many of them.

The overall writing for The Ventifact Colossus was very enjoyable. Hart has an easy and entertaining writing style, making it easy to lose yourself in the story. There is plenty of action as well as humor, even in some of the more serious moments. It is because of these little moments along with the group of characters that makes the story a real page turner.

I really enjoyed reading The Ventifact Colossus and would definitely recommend it to my readers. Fans of fun easy reads will like it, as will readers of fantasy. While it is certainly possible to read all of the book in a day, I recommend the reader take it a bit slower. Revel in the world Hart has created and become friends with the characters. And then go read the rest of the series, I know I will.

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

Trigger Warning: body mutilation, general violence, general blood and gore, character death

There are quite a few Cinderella retellings on book shelves, but there are very few that focus on characters beside Cinderella or the Prince. But that is exactly what Jennifer Donnelly’s Stepsister does. Cinderella and her Prince are merely side characters in this retelling. Instead, the focus is shifted to the “evil” stepsisters and leads the reader to wonder if maybe they weren’t so evil after all.

Who among us has not sacrified part of themself for something they believed they wanted? Who has not changed who they were to make the people they loved happy? Who has not made themselves miserable to please others and done it with a smile?

Isabelle has done all of these things in the belief that one day she will be happy.

Isabelle’s path is one that many will likely recognize and relate to. In order to fit in and make her mother happy she has changed who she fundamentally is even at the risk of destroying herself. When given the chance to have her happily ever after she believes she knows exactly what to do.

The journey Isabelle, her sister, and their mother go on is not an easy one. They are met with the same cruelty and indifference they meted out on Cinderella and some readers might find that hard to take. Their bullying ways are turned back on them making them the ones being bullied. And while it does end up being a worthwhile lesson, it is also a painful one.

I personally enjoyed reading Stepsister. Isabella and her sister Tiva show great character growth from beginning to end. In my opinion it has a good ending and a good message without being too preachy. It is very likely that I will be seeking out more books by this author.