Provided for Review: Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

In 2153, cancer was cured. In 2189, AIDS. And in 2235, the last members of the human race traveled to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity.

Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence.

With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony. 

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

In 2153 cancer is cured, and every disease known to man follows shortly thereafter. This allows the human population to skyrocket even though the cost is unknowingly high. When scientists find an earth like planet, it is deemed as humanity’s savior and those who are sent to the distant planet are tasked with bringing about a new age.

Our Dried Voices poses an interesting look in to the idea of ‘What happens next?’. What happens when a virtual paradise is established on a faraway planet? What happens when every need is met and the struggle to survive is taken away? What happens when we no longer have to think for ourselves?

The answers are both frightening and enlightening. With nothing to worry about the people of Pearl live a carefree life. They are perpetually children, never having to worry about a thing. As everything is completely automated, their largest decision is which of the meal halls will they go to that day. It is both a utopia and a dystopia.

I found Our Dried Voices to be a very interesting read. There are parallels with our own society in that every day more and more of our lives are becoming automated. To have an individual thought, to not ‘go with the flow’, is seen as strange.

There is very little dialogue save towards the end; something that adds to the otherness of the book. Most of the story happens in action, in thoughts and deeds. At times I found things teetering close to purple prose in terms of description. Yet again that also adds to the strange planet and unique lands the colonists reside in.

For readers who wonder “What if…?” or would be interested in seeing what could happen when the idea of a utopia is taken to the extreme, Our Dried Voices should be added to their reading list. If nothing else, it gives a frightening look in to a future that could possibly occur.

Provided for Review: Kingshold (The Wildfire Cycle #1) by D.P. Woolliscroft

Mareth is a bard, a serial under achiever, a professional drunk, and general disappointment to his father. Despite this, Mareth has one thing going for him. He can smell opportunity. The King is dead and an election for the new Lord Protector has been called. If he plays his cards right, if he can sing a story that will put the right person in that chair, his future fame and drinking money is all but assured. But, alas, it turns out Mareth has a conscience after all.

Neenahwi is the daughter to Jyuth, the ancient wizard who founded the Kingdom of Edland and she is not happy. It’s not just that her father was the one who killed the King, or that he didn’t tell her about his plans. She’s not happy because her father is leaving, slinking off into retirement and now she has to clean up his mess.

Alana is a servant at the palace and the unfortunate soul to draw the short straw to attend to Jyuth. Alana knows that intelligence and curiosity aren’t valued in someone of her station, but sometimes she can’t help herself and so finds herself drawn into the Wizard’s schemes, and worst of all, coming up with her own plans.

Chance brings this unlikely band together to battle through civil unrest, assassinations, political machinations, pirates and monsters, all for a common cause that they know, deep down, has no chance of succeeding – bringing hope to the people of Kingshold.

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

Kingshold by D.P. Woolliscroft is the first book in the Wildfire Cycle series, and from what I understand his first published book as well. And oh my goodness dear reader, what a beginning! Centered around a country’s transition from monarchy to democracy, for me this book has it all. Fantasy, intrigue, sword fights, wild chases, interesting characters…it’s all there.

Like any large city, Kingshold has its fair share of characters. And we are fortunate that we are given a fair slice of them. From poorer individuals who work every day for a living like Alana and her sister, to those a little higher up the ladder like the wizard Jyuth. From assassins to merchants, Woolliscroft does a good job of peopling the city.

One thing that I thought was handled well was how back story and character information was presented. Many times an author will simply tell the reader pertinent information about a character, acting as a kind of omniscient storyteller. In Kingshold it’s done a bit differently. For example, in one early scene Mareth is sitting at a bar and he hears (eavesdrops on) a conversation between two merchants. The merchants are discussing potential candidates, so while Mareth is gathering information for a song, we the reader are given information about important characters as well.

There are also times when one character or another will remember a conversation or think back on a moment from their past that also gives the reader background info. It helps to fill out the characters and makes them more believable.

Because Kingshold is the first of the series, it’s only natural that it has an open ending. Yes, a Lord Protector is elected by the end of the book, but it’s also made clear that this is just the beginning. Questions raised throughout the book are either answered only partly or left unanswered. Likely to be taken up anew in subsequent books.

I personally enjoyed reading Kingshold and am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I highly recommend this book to my readers and I am eager to see what unfolds next.

Provided for Review: Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) by Julie Kagawa

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.

Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos. 

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

Trigger Warning: Blood and violence. Like, a good deal of it. Also, human death and mentions of animal death.

Soul of the Sword is the sequel to Shadow of the Fox in the series of the same name. The story picks up almost immediately after the events in the first book with Yumeko and her friends trying to reach the Steel Feather temple. They also are searching for a way to defeat the demon Hakaimono without having to kill the young man, Kage Tatsumi, that he has possessed.

In my review of Shadow of the Fox, I praised Kagawa in her world and character creation. My praises continue for in the second book she builds on what she established in the first one. Characters and places that we were introduced to in the first book come back and play a part in continuing the narrative. Characters with small parts in the first book are brought back to play a larger part and become more important.

Like in Shadow of the Fox, Kagawa peppers Japanese words and terms in her prose as well as in characters’ speech. It seems to be a bit more prevalent in this book and while I didn’t mind it, some readers could find it irritating. Thankfully, for those who are not familiar with the terms, a small dictionary was provided at the back of the book.

While the first book seemed to be aimed at all readers, Soul of the Sword had a darker feel. Considering some of the subject matter older, adult readers will likely enjoy it more. I am not saying that younger readers can’t or won’t enjoy it, I’m only saying that some readers (whether young or old) might have a difficult time.

As with Shadow of the Fox, I highly recommend Soul of the Sword to my readers. Especially my manga and anime loving readers. Hopefully they will enjoy this series as much as I have and will join me in awaiting the third and final installment.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Grave Mercy is the first book in Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series and it is a thrilling start to what I hope will be an equally thrilling continuation.

Set in an alternate universe that is based on a real point in time in our own, Grave Mercy takes place in a time where old ways and new ones often butt heads. Where women are seen more as a commodity then as a person and if a woman wants to live her life on her terms, she has to make her own way. And oftentimes that way comes in to conflict with those around her.

Like some reviewers, I have mixed feelings when it comes to this book. There were points where I was just tearing through the book, eager to know what happens next. While there were other passages that I found incredibly tedious or the characters boring. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I did, but there are portions that I wish LaFevers had either pared down or omitted completely.

What I can say is that LaFevers does an incredible job of taking a real moment in time and giving it just the tiniest of alterations to create something new. The time period Ismae lives in and many of the people she encounters were real people. A good deal of the events she is witness to did indeed happen. And while LaFevers fudges timelines a bit for dramatic effect, she does so in a way that is completely believable.

Unfortunately, while there were a good deal of strong points in Grave Mercy, there were several weak points too. For me, many of them center on the character of Ismae herself. According to the book, she is trained as an assassin and as such has the ability to get close enough to her target without them suspecting her. And while we do not see much of this training and what it entails, on more than one occasion Ismae finds herself in a situation that is obviously over her head. She flounders in ways that bring attention to herself when she is trying to keep attention off of her.

The romance angle was also a bit off-putting, if only that if felt forced at times. When Ismae first meets Gavriel it’s obvious that these two end up together and it comes as no real surprise when they eventually do.

Overall, I really liked Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. Like I said at the beginning, it is an exciting start to a series and I am eagerly looking forward to eventually reading the rest.

If Pigs Could Fly (West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency #1) by Jonny Nexus

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

Whew, what a title!

When a book opens with the line “The mist clung to the moorland like a blanket staple-gunned to a bed.” then you know you are in for an enjoyable read. And that is just what If Pigs Could Fly gives us.

It’s kind of difficult to accurately describe If Pigs Could Fly, but I think the best way would be to say it’s part X-Files part What We Do In The Shadows. In that, I mean that there are some parts of the book that a bit more serious while there are other passages that are just plain ridiculous. This doesn’t mean that those passages are bad – far from it in fact. They are just so silly and over the top that the comparison must be made.

The characters in If Pigs Could Fly are an eclectic bunch. I dare say that any reader would be hard pressed to find someone that they cannot relate to in some way. Also, not every character is likable. The only exception to this would be the Professor and the dog, Jess. Those two are incredibly lovable.

One reviewer on Goodreads compared the book to “a packet of high quality biscuits” – cookies for my American readers – and I must agree. Once you start reading and getting in to the story, it is very easy to binge and read the entire book in one sitting. But like with a delicious treat, one tries to control the urge and dole out small servings, the better to savor and enjoy it.

The ONLY drawback I can find is that this is the only book in the series. While If Pigs Could Fly is subtitled as the first book of the series, sadly there is no second book. This makes me very sad because when one comes across an author who at times channels the great Douglas Adams, one invariably wants to read more. And while I will be reading and reviewing more of Jonny Nexus’ novels in the future, I will have to bide my time and wait for another tale from the West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency.

The Palace of Lost Memories (After the Rift #1) by C.J. Archer

The king’s magnificent palace was built in a matter of weeks. No one saw the builders, no villagers are allowed beyond the gilded gate, and only one servant has ever left. The haunted look in her eyes as she was recaptured by the palace guards is something Josie, daughter of the village doctor, has never forgotten.

For Josie, the palace is a mystery that grows more intriguing after she meets the captain of the guards, a man known only as Hammer, as mysterious and captivating as the palace itself. Whispers of magic fuel Josie’s desire to uncover the truth, but an ordinary girl like her can only dream of ever being invited inside.

When the king decides to take a wife from among the eligible daughters of the noble families, the palace gates are finally thrown open and the kingdom’s elite pour in. In a court where old rivalries and new jealousies collide, the king’s favorite is poisoned and the doctor is summoned. As her father’s assistant, Josie finally sees inside the lavish walls, but she soon learns the palace won’t surrender its secrets easily, for not a single resident, from the lowest servant to the king himself, has a memory from before the palace existed.

In the search for the truth, Josie is drawn deeper into danger, and the answers she seeks might shake the very foundations of the kingdom.

Josie is the daughter of the village doctor. She loves her father as well as what he does and she works hard to learn as much as she can in order to work beside him. The problem lies in that women cannot become doctors and the best that Josie can hope for is to become a midwife. Josie has no problem being a midwife, she cares for her female patients greatly; what she desires though is to be like her father regardless of what stands in her way.

The Palace of Lost Memories is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. Set in it’s own land it abides by mostly familiar rules. Science and superstition walk hand in hand and while there are whispers of magic, there is no proof set in stone. Such is the land that Josie and the other characters of the book must navigate.

The author, C.J. Archer, does a decent job of creating a setting and building a mystery in it. The character of Josie is an interesting one and it is easy to sympathize with her in wanting more that what is expected of her. The castle inhabitants, such as the Captain of the Guards Hammer, is also nicely done. Throughout the story information comes to light and both we the reader as well as Josie realize that not every one is as they seem. There is no real black and white, instead each person is a shade of gray.

The mystery surrounding the castle and its inhabitants could have been given a little more attention in my opinion, however. The fact that we are given barely any clues as to what occurred is a little aggravating. If this mystery is to be the main draw of the series, than I believe the readers should be given something more.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Palace of Lost Memories. Currently there are a total of five books in the series. It is quite likely that I will eventually read and review the rest of the series, so keep an eye out!

Provided for Review: The Devil’s Apprentice (The Great Devil War #1) by Kenneth B. Andersen

Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir. The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy. Philip is terrible at being bad, but Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training him in the ways of evil. Philip gets both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld—but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne?

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

In recent years YA fantasy has apparently found a larger audience and books in the category have come out by the score. And while this is certainly a good thing, sadly many of the books sound and read the same.

The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth Andersen however is not one of them.

Set in a universe that could easily be ours, the story follows what happens when a very good boy mistakenly ends up in a very bad place. Philip is the poster boy for being good; I’m fairly sure other parents point to him and ask their children ‘Why can’t you be more like Philip?’ He is something of an oddity both in the living world and in Hell. It is that good nature though that ends up helping him and the Devil as well.

Andersen’s version of Hell is a combination of familiar and new. There are tortured souls and demons aplenty but there are also demon families, a demon school that young demons attend. There is a town with shops and homes and other familiar things albeit with a slightly sinister twist. It is a unique version of the realm.

The characters in the book are also an interesting bunch. Not just the humans like Phillip, but the numerous demons that make up the denizens of Hell. Andersen obviously references Dante’s inferno with the demons yet also adds his own ideas in to the mix.

I really enjoyed reading The Devil’s Apprentice. I found it to be more than just a simple story of a misunderstanding gone wrong. It is nuanced and layered in a way that few YA books are. And while it might be marketed at younger readers, I could easily see older readers enjoying it as well. Major kudos to Mr. Andersen, I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Provided for Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

For generations, the princes of Ilara have married the most beautiful maidens from the ocean village of Varenia. But though every girl longs to be chosen as the next princess, the cost of becoming royalty is higher than any of them could ever imagine…

Nor once dreamed of seeing the wondrous wealth and beauty of Ilara, the kingdom that’s ruled her village for as long as anyone can remember. But when a childhood accident left her with a permanent scar, it became clear that her identical twin sister, Zadie, would likely be chosen to marry the Crown Prince—while Nor remained behind, unable to ever set foot on land.

Then Zadie is gravely injured, and Nor is sent to Ilara in her place. To Nor’s dismay, her future husband, Prince Ceren, is as forbidding and cold as his home—a castle carved into a mountain and devoid of sunlight. And as she grows closer to Ceren’s brother, the charming Prince Talin, Nor uncovers startling truths about a failing royal bloodline, a murdered queen… and a plot to destroy the home she was once so eager to leave.

In order to save her people, Nor must learn to negotiate the treacherous protocols of a court where lies reign and obsession rules. But discovering her own formidable strength may be the one move that costs her everything: the crown, Varenia and Zadie.

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

Reading Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford it is hard to believe that this is her debut novel. Her talent for creating and describing a new and unique world with equally new and unique characters would make even the most seasoned author proud.

While I enjoyed the lush descriptions of the world the characters live in, it is the interaction between the characters themselves that really drew me in. The relationship of the two twins, Nor and Zadie, is especially well done. They may be identical in looks but they are two completely different people, something that Rutherford does an excellent job in pointing out without being overtly obvious. Reading the way these two sisters get along is very true to life and something any one with a sibling who is close in age can relate to.

The second half of the book – when Nor leaves for Ilara – did not quite grab me in the same way that the first half did. The settings were just as lushly described but there wasn’t the same connection felt. I did like the introduction of characters that roused both sympathy and distaste as well as the beginnings of what secrets the royal family might hold. The instant connection/love between Nor and Talin was a bit off-putting as was the love triangle that seemed to develop between Ceren, Talin, and Nor. There were also a few scenes that made me roll my eyes in their ridiculousness. I will not go in to them for fear of spoilers but I believe many readers will recognize the scenes when they come across them.

Overall, I quite liked reading Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford. Readers who enjoy fantasy and/or romance, whether YA or not, will do well to give this one a try. I personally am looking forward to the sequel – Kingdom of Sea and Stone.

Provided for Review: The Nobody People by Bob Proehl

Avi Hirsch has always known his daughter was different. But when others with incredible, otherworldly gifts reveal themselves to the world, Avi realizes that her oddness is something more—that she is something more. With this, he has a terrifying revelation: Emmeline is now entering a society where her unique abilities unfairly mark her as a potential threat. And even though he is her father, Avi cannot keep her safe forever.

Emmeline soon meets others just like her: Carrie Norris, a teenage girl who can turn invisible . . . but just wants to be seen. Fahima Deeb, a woman with an uncanny knack for machinery . . . but it’s her Muslim faith that makes the U.S. government suspicious of her.

They are the nobody people—ordinary individuals with extraordinary gifts who want one only thing: to live as equals in an America that is gripped by fear and hatred. But the government is passing discriminatory laws. Violent mobs are taking to the streets. And one of their own—an angry young man seething with self-loathing—has used his power in an act of mass violence that has put a new target on the community. The nobody people must now stand together and fight for their future, or risk falling apart.

The first book of a timely two-part series, The Nobody People is a powerful novel of love and hope in the face of bigotry that uses a world touched by the fantastic to explore our current reality. It is a story of family and community. It is a story of continuing to fight for one another, no matter the odds. It is the story of us.

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

Trigger Warnings: Animal death. Violence of varying kinds.

If you are familiar with the X-Men series – whether comic book, animated, or live action – then you already have a decent grasp of the kind of world that The Nobody People is set in. And if you saw the first X-Men movie in the late 90’s, the overall plot of the book is almost exactly like that. Right down to the Resonant/Mutant powered device that causes a great deal of the general population to change.

The Nobody People is told from a variety of viewpoints, which means there is a LOT going on throughout the book. Even then though there are times where the narrative drags and more than once I considered not finishing the book. Also, when the book ends it does so very abruptly leaving quite a few plot threads dangling. Thankfully the conclusion is set to be published soon and one can only hope that the author will bring them to a decent conclusion.

For me, The Nobody People was one of those books that while the premise was interesting, the execution was lacking. It wasn’t a great book but it wasn’t an awful one either – it was simply okay. Generally when I start a series, I see it through to the end. I don’t think I will with this one.

The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito—mute her whole life, orphaned as a child—is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbor, she doesn’t know how she’d make it through the day.

Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center’s most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions…and Elisa can’t keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa’s sole reason to live.

But outside forces are pressing in. Richard Strickland, the obsessed soldier who tracked the asset through the Amazon, wants nothing more than to dissect it before the Russians get a chance to steal it. Elisa has no choice but to risk everything to save her beloved. With the help of Zelda and Giles, Elisa hatches a plan to break out the creature. But Strickland is on to them. And the Russians are, indeed, coming

Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia, Violence

Also please note, I have NOT seen the movie.

The Shape of Water is undoubtedly a strange book albeit with a well known premise. American government hears rumors of a strange creature in some far off land and sends someone off to capture it. The creature is brought back alive where it is poked and prodded by government scientists. Through a series of events the creature escapes and is often times killed by the time the credits roll.

The majority of this happens in del Toro’s book, but instead of making the creature some kind of monster and making us sympathize with the scientists and soldiers, he flips the script so to speak. Richard Strickland, the soldier who brought back the creature from the Amazon, is a hateful man. It is incredibly likely he has PTSD because as the story progresses he descends further and further in to a delusional madness.

Instead, we sympathize with the creature. Taken from his home and placed in a sterile tank. Kept prisoner and subjected to torture in the name of science. The only kindness he receives is from one of the overnight janitors, Eliza, who eventually risks everything for him.

The first hundred or so pages of The Shape of Water is a bit difficult to get through. The writing is dry and bland and the story doesn’t move very much. It is only once Eliza and the creature meet does the story start to pick up pace. A pace that gains speed culminating in the climax of the last twenty pages of the book.

I am curious more than ever to see the movie now having read the book so I can compare and contrast the two.

Even if you’ve seen the movie, I recommend reading the book. If nothing else, it will give more insight in to the characters and more background on them than can be given in a 2 hour movie.