The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Trigger Warning: Torture. There are a handful of scenes where Harry is tortured for information. While the author doesn’t go in to explicit detail, there is enough detail that could potentially bother some readers.

If you could start your life over from childhood with the knowledge you have now as an adult, would you do it? What would you change? What would you not change? Such is a question that has been asked over and over again. And such is also the basis of this week’s review – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Harry August is an ourobouran – a rare and unique person who lives, dies, and is reborn to live their life again and again. He is also a mnemonic – a rarity even among ourobourans – meaning that he remembers every minute of every life.

I am quite unsure how The First Fifteen Lives… escaped my book radar. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I try to keep tab on books that I might enjoy reading. And since starting this blog I have tried even harder to keep abreast of up and coming books in genres I enjoy.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August hits almost every point. North does a great job in building a world that is both familiar and new. She peppers in real world history adding another layer of believability to the story. The twists and turns that eventually develop are designed to keep the reader’s attention and it succeeds. Her characters are imperfect, not one of them is wholly good or wholly bad. The things they do and the decisions they make, each one believes they are acting for the greater good. Even when such decisions could mean the end of the world as we know it.

One thing that might detract a few readers is that the story isn’t told in a completely linear manner. When we first meet August he is at the end of his eleventh life and we are then taken back to his first life. This jumping back and forth could be a bit disconcerting for some, especially once the plot really starts moving along.

Those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy like Doctor Who or the movie Groundhog Day should give The First Fifteen Lives… a try. I enjoyed it a great deal and recommend it to my readers.

Provided for Review: The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

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

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

First and foremost, I would like to thank the very nice people at Netgalley for providing this book to read and review.

The Waking Forest is a beautiful book. The way Wees writes is very descriptive, evoking emotion with even the smallest turn of phrase. The characters of Rhea and her family are portrayed in a very realistic manner thanks to this. Rhea and her sisters squabble one minute then help each other out the next, something someone with siblings of their own will easily recognize.

The drawback though is that sometimes Wees’ descriptions become too much. The narrative becomes bogged down with descriptive words and phrases and the story itself slows to a crawl.

For the first half of the book, the story is told from two separate point of views – Rhea’s and the Witch’s. As each story is unique with its own set of characters, it’s easy to keep track of who goes where. It is only during the second half when the two stories are combined that things become a little more difficult to follow. Individuals who were sisters in one part now have no relation and the same but different.

Sadly, it is almost impossible to accurately describe the goings on without giving away massive spoilers, so I shall refrain from going further.

In writing The Waking Forest, Wees has created a unique story line. While there are some flaws, overall I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to my readers.

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Last Wish cover

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves.

Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.

Technically, The Last Wish is not the first book in The Witcher series though it is often listed as book one. In truth it was printed after The Sword of Destiny – book three – of the series. However, as the events in The Last Wish take place before The Sword of Destiny, it is put first when listing the books of the series.

Since I have not played the Witcher games before reading the books, I did not go in with any expectations aside from the knowledge that this a fantasy series unlike many on the market today. I’m glad for this because from what I understand, there are differences between the two and I know I would be constantly comparing them.

The Last Wish was originally written in Polish and translated to English, a fact that is sometimes obvious while reading. Because while Sapkowski builds a world that is easily believable, the action and story becomes clunky and awkward at times. And as I do not read Polish, I am relying on the English translation when giving my opinion.

The characters that populate the world that Sapkowski writes of are a diverse sort. There are royalty and there are servants, there are those who are human and there are those that are not. These creatures come from a variety of tales and easily recognizable; vampires, elves, goblins, and gnomes.

What gives realism to the world created is that no one character is perfect. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys”. Every character does what they believe is the right thing; for themselves, for their loved ones, for their city or village. Even the titular character – Geralt of Rivera – does not fall in one particular category. As a Witcher, it is his job to seek out the monsters that plague the people. It is a profession he has trained for since he was a child and it is unclear whether he truly enjoys his work or not.

The Last Wish, as well as the rest of the Witcher series, isn’t your ordinary fantasy series. While it does have the creatures that are common in other books, there is also a darkness and a gritty element that may not appeal to everyone. Those who are looking for some realism in their fantasy will likely enjoy it.

Provided for Review: Redhand by Tony Leslie Duxbury

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

It is the new age of barbarism, hundreds of years after the collapse of civilization.

Most of the vast knowledge that mankind had accumulated has been lost. The once great cities are either piles of blasted rubble or crumbling ruins. After society imploded, humanity turned on one another. Decades of war followed. The survivors banded together in tribes and clans.

All the bullets and bombs have run out. It’s back to edged weapons and blunt instruments. Technology has taken an enormous step backwards, and so has humanity. 

He belongs to a band of wanderers, mainly peaceful people who gather and hunt. One day they suffer a raid by a group of warriors and in the aftermath, he finds himself alone. All his family and friends killed, and he left for dead. The only survivor was his little sister, which the raiders kidnapped. He vows to rescue her. After a night of mourning, he sets off to get back his sister, not yet a man and without any idea how to go about it. The shock of the raid and the grief that followed it fundamentally changed him. He surprises himself time and again as he tracks down his sister’s kidnappers and gets her back.

Redhand is a book about change. After a catastrophic event referred to only as The Collapse, society as a whole changed. War pitted man against man until the bullets ran out. And even once they were gone, man continued to rally against his proverbial brother; only this time using weapons of metal and stone.

Duxbury does not shy away from showing how brutal and cruel things have become in his novel. His action scenes are vivid and often times gruesome, the protagonist dubbed Redhand unwilling to back down from a fight. The young man isn’t the only one prone to violence though, nearly every character we meet has fought and continued to fight for their survival.

Redhand is told through a series of five short stories; each story a chapter in the young man’s life. The stories are in sequential order so the reader can watch as the protagonist changes from a wide eyed youth to a hardened traveler. The issue comes with the lack of any real character development, even with Redhand himself. Were this a full length novel, it could have allowed for stronger emotional bonds to form between reader and book characters.

The ending of the final story also felt very abrupt. Almost as if Duxbury wasn’t sure how to bring things to an end and simply stopped writing. Such a sudden ending took me by surprise as I was expecting Redhand’s travels to continue at least a little more.

Overall, Redhand is a decent take on the post apocalyptic genre. I think with a bit more work fleshing out the stories and the work of a good editor – the copy I received still had a few editor’s notes left in it – it could become something much better. Readers looking for a fast read might give this one a look.

The Perfect Assassin (The Chronicles of Ghadid #1) by K.A. Moore – Provided for Review

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

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan (spirits) running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target. (via Goodreads)

Many times when an author chooses to write a novel set in a fantasy world, they take their inspiration from European style sources. Doore’s decision to use Middle Eastern style influences for her characters and setting give The Perfect Assassin a refreshing feel. The city of Ghadid is one of sand and stone, where water is oftentimes scarce. Where magic and belief play a influence on every person’s day to day life and in a unique twist, it is the men who cover their faces and not the women.

The main character, Amastan, is easy to relate to. He is a young man just starting his journey in life, and while he has spent years training to be an assassin, he still has his doubts about being able to actually do the job. For many who are just leaving school/college, this is a feeling they will likely understand all too well. Amastan can be brash at times but as the book goes on he learns to trust his instincts, even if things don’t end quite in the way he wants.

Other secondary characters are also introduced. They are Amastan’s “cousins”, individuals related to him (though distantly) who have received the same training as he has and are part of the Basbowen family. The second book focuses on one of these secondary characters, and it is my hope that future books will feature others as well.

I feel I must make mention of the homosexual romance that is a small thread in the overall tapestry of The Perfect Assassin. I know the majority of my readers will be like me and not care over the fact that Amastan falls for another man, but there are some who might take offence and so I give this tiny mention. Personally, I thought the blooming romance between Amastan and Yufit was rather sweet and well done. In my opinion, it was very cute.

My only complaint in regards to the book is how the word God is handled. Any time a character says the word, it is written as “G-d”. Now whether this is a choice of the author’s or of the publisher, I can’t say. What I can say is that I found it irritating and it immediately pulled me out of the story every time I came across it. I do not understand why some authors do this, but I believe if they wish to use this particular name they should either spell it out wholly or come up with another moniker.

In conclusion, I enjoyed reading The Perfect Assassin. There was a good deal of action without too much gratuitous violence and Doore’s fluid writing really helped to move the story along. I see there is a second book in the series coming out later this year and I am already looking forward to it.

Provided for Review – Daisy’s Run (The Clockwork Chimera Book 1) by Scott Baron

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

Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. They were still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy.

With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a sense of pending dread tickling the periphery of her mind. 

Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality. (via Goodreads)

As someone who is a very big science fiction fan, when I was offered a chance to read Daisy’s Run, I jumped at the opportunity. It isn’t often that you come across a sci-fi book where the lead character is a female. And especially one who is as strong and snarky as Daisy.

Daisy’s Run is one of those books that hits the proverbial ground running. Right from the first page we are thrust in to a dangerous, and possibly deadly, situation. The space ship has been damaged by debris and if repairs are not done it could spell catastrophe.

At first everything seems to be running smoothly, but when one of the crew is inexplicably sucked out in to space, what was supposed to be a quiet trip back to Earth takes on a more dangerous tone. It doesn’t help that aside from Daisy, almost every other crew member is augmented in some way, and it seems that every one of them has a secret they’re hiding.

As the story continues and Daisy tries to figure out what is happening, it becomes harder and harder for her to know who to trust. She becomes incredibly paranoid and the reader is left to wonder if all these dangers she is seeing are all in her head.

As Daisy becomes more and more paranoid, the story itself begins to feel frenetic. The pace almost becomes as frantic as Daisy’s mind is, only slowing down towards the end when things begin to be explained.

Baron does a very good job of making us wonder just who is telling the truth. Small clues are dropped through words and actions that hint at bigger plots behind the scenes.

While the story itself is a bit slow to start, I encourage readers to hang in there and keep going. When the story picks up, it picks up fast and pulls you along with it. And personally, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Provided for Review: Shadow of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

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

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, a new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself. (via Goodreads)

The story of collecting items to summon a magical creature and grant a wish is a trope that has been used throughout history. The incredibly popular manga/anime ‘Dragonball’ uses it to great success. Even the movie ‘The Fifth Element’ uses a variation of the trope.

Shadow of the Fox can be added to the list. Based heavily on Japanese mythology, culture, and traditions, it is a version set in what to some will be a familiar land.

Kagawa has done an admirable job creating a world that is both familiar and unique. She has taken known Japanese folklore and twisted it just so. In the characters she has created, readers will recognize the physical and personality type traits that are seen so often in modern Japanese storytelling.

While the book is aimed towards almost all readers, I personally think those who have at least some knowledge of Japan and it’s stories will enjoy Shadow of the Fox more. As someone who is a very big manga/anime fan, I enjoyed seeing the mixture. Not everyone will like it though and some might even find it confusing.

Manga and anime fans – especially those who enjoyed titles like ‘Naruto’ or ‘Dragonball’ – will likely devour this book. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Provided for Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

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

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls? (via Goodreads)

The Bird King is one of those novels that offers a unique mix of truth and fantasy. Set in 1491, it is the story of a young concubine and her witnessing of the fall of the sultanate and the only life she had ever known. When her dear friend is threatened with death, she makes a bold and daring choice. In their travels they meet both friend and foe, as well as some who are both.

The shift of story from almost non-fiction to fantasy is quite smooth. Wilson weaves a tale of friendship and love, of loss and betrayal, and does it in a way that is very realistic. She incorporates non-human characters in a natural way, having them interact with the human characters that is very believable.

One of the story points that really stuck out to me was how Hassan’s sexuality is treated. It is explained that he prefers the company of men and has no interest in women. Aside from the few Christian’s they meet, no one cares who Hassan lays with. Also, the fact that he is homosexual isn’t treated as a big deal, it’s a part of who he is just as much as his ability to draw maps of places he hasn’t seen.

Fatima loves Hassan just as Hassan loves Fatima in return, however they do not end up a couple at the end of the book. Their love is the love of good friends and the fact that it doesn’t change nor is it made light of that I found enjoyable.

On the whole, I greatly enjoyed reading The Bird King. There is some subject matter that some might find triggering, but I believe that the majority of readers will like this book as much as I have. I heartily recommend it to all my readers.

Provided for Review: The Fairy’s Tale (The Pathways Tree #1) by F. D. Lee

This book was provided for review from the author via Facebook. Thank you!

Enter the world behind the stories, where ‘Happy Endings’, ‘True Love’ and ‘Rags To Riches’ are all just a means to an end – and a promotion. Here we meet Bea, a cabbage fairy who dreams of being so much more. She wants to be a Fiction Management Executive (godmother division), but no one at the General Administration will take her seriously – until now.

One day a strange, solemn Plotter pulls Bea into his office and offers her the chance to make her Dreams Come True. All she has to do is finish a straightforward story by getting a poor girl married to a rich man. Simple. Easy. It practically tells itself. Except Bea soon realizes that the heroine doesn’t love the hero, and the so-called ugly sister is much more important than the Plot suggests. Plus, she’s pretty certain that there’s an actual, real life villain in the mix – and why is it so important that the Plots always stay the same, anyway?

Bea soon discovers there’s something rotten behind the simplicity of the stories, and suddenly she is faced with a choice, and it seems whichever option she picks will be wrong: Will she commit treason by changing the story and saving her characters from their endings, or follow the Plot and save herself from the sinister Redaction Department?

After all, what kind of fairy godmother really cares about true love?  (via Goodreads)

I don’t think there is a person around today who wasn’t raised on fairy tales in one aspect or another in their childhood. No matter what our background, we were all exposed to these tales as children and as adults. And while the stories themselves might have different casts of characters and different settings, the end results were almost always the same with lessons learned and love found.

The Fairy’s Tale takes us behind the scenes of the stories; asking the question, what if the events in the fairy tales weren’t completely random like they seem? What if the events were carefully plotted out as part of some grander Plot? Who are the individuals doing the plotting? And lastly, what happens when the so-called “characters” don’t want to be part of the story?

Lee has penned a top notch fairy tale within a fairy tale with The Fairy’s Tale. (Try saying that 5 times fast!) Her characters are well thought out and well rounded and each adds their own little piece to the story as a whole. Many questions are posed and while some are answered, there are just as many that have an answer alluded to but are not answered out right either. This keeps the reader guessing and keeps them reading.

There are an additional two books to the series that will hopefully answer the questions left dangling and wrap up any loose threads.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Fairy’s Tale and am grateful for the opportunity given to me. I heartily recommend this tale to my readers and will be looking forward to more from the author!

The Fall of the House of Cabal (Johannes Cabal #5) by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, has come into possession of a vital clue that may lead him to his ultimate goal: a cure for death. The path is vague, however, and certainly treacherous as it takes him into strange territories that, quite literally, no one has ever seen before. The task is too dangerous to venture upon alone, so he must seek assistance, comrades for the coming travails.

So assisted–ably and otherwise–by his vampiric brother, Horst, and by the kindly accompaniment of a criminologist and a devil, he will encounter ruins and diableries, mystery and murder, the depths of the lowest pit and a city of horrors. London, to be exact.

Yet even though Cabal has risked such peril believing he understands the dangers he faces, he is still underestimating them. He is walking into a trap of such arcane complexity that even the one who drew him there has no idea of its true terrors. As the snare closes slowly and subtly around them, it may be that there will be no survivors at all. (via Goodreads)

The Johannes Cabal series is one I have read and enjoyed from the first book to (sadly) the last. Like any series there were books I enjoyed more than others. And like most series I’ve read, I am sad to see this one end.

The one thing I have loved most in reading the Cabal series is watching how Johannes has grown as an individual. From the self-centered, self-serving necromancer in the first book, to the man who willingly gives his brother an incredibly valuable gift; Johannes has come a long way. And with Howard’s writing, his growth is believable.

In this fifth and final book, Cabal believes he has found the one thing he has searched for for numerous years – a way to bring the dead back to life. An esoteric tome of unknown origin promises treasures untold and though Johannes has his doubts, it is the thought of what he could do if the stories were true that drives him on.

And drive him on it does, to a rather fire-y conclusion.

I am sad that this is the final book in the Cabal series because I have greatly enjoyed it. Fortunately, Howard has left the ending open so it is possible that one day he will return to the Cabal brothers. I certainly hope he does.