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.

The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library #1) by A.J. Hackwith

Books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.

Trigger Warnings: suicide, alcohol consumption, gun violence, knife violence, murder, and drowning.

The idea of a library filled with unfinished stories is not a new one. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series we find such a library in the realm of Dream. And here in The Library of the Unwritten, we find such a library residing in Hell of all places. Why Hell? Sadly, that point is never explained.

As much as I wanted to enjoy The Library of the Unwritten, I had such a hard time with it and there was more than one occasion where I almost walked away. The overall plot was interesting enough, it was the characters that got in the way. For me, this was especially true of the character Claire. While I am sure there were those readers who found her brusque nature refreshing, I personally found her to be quite mean. Because of her often aloof and brash nature, she became almost one-dimensional and that made it difficult to like – much less relate – to her.

The rest of the characters – and honestly the book itself – come across the same way. Because it takes so long to learn any of their backstories, it was hard to care for any one person/demon/angel in the book. The same for the overall plotline – the true stakes are never quite fully explained so again it becomes hard to care.

I know there are numerous readers who thoroughly enjoyed reading The Library of the Unwritten as well as the second book in the series – The Archive of the Forgotten – I am just not one of them.

Provided for Review: Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic by Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev

“The first time I committed suicide I was ten years old.

There have been many more suicides since.”

Adam is cursed. He cannot die.

But one man’s burden is another man’s blessing, and there are people who are out to harness Adam’s special talents.

However, Adam soon discovers that immortality comes at a cost; every time he dies, he loses a little bit of himself. So when Adam meets Lilyanne—his reason for living—he’s forced to choose between life and love.

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

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, glorification of suicide, death of a parent, murder, child abuse, references to drug use, animal death

Adam cannot die.

Whenever he tries, he wakes up in a new place with only the memory of his name. Any other memories are fleeting and usually lost when he dies again. Adam believes himself alone and unique but he is not. There are more like him and there are those who want to be like him. And they will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals.

My many thanks to NetGalley for approving my request for this book. I generally do not regret my decisions to request an ARC but I deeply regret this one.

I will be honest dear reader, Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic is not a good book. There were times that as I was reading it I was amazed it had even made it to publication. There is fanfiction on A03, fanfiction.net, or even WattPad that is better written and with characters infinitely more likeable.

The basic plot surrounding Strange Deaths… is, I admit, an intriguing one. The opening scene is quite strong and really draws you in but just as quickly descends in to ridiculousness. The plot holes are numerous and many of them could have easily been fixed with some kind of real editing work. Problems and conflicts are solved with little more than a waved hand and are often never mentioned again.

The writing for Strange Deaths is something I could go on about at length simply because it is so bad. Clunky prose and stilted conversations abound. The manner in which Adam describes Lilyanne (or any female character honestly) reminds me very much of the examples from Reddit’s ‘menwritingwomen’ board highlighting what NOT to do. At times I wondered if Mikheyev actually pulled ideas from there.

Unfortunately, the characters that populate Strange Deaths aren’t much better. Adam (or Aristotle) comes to romanticize his suicides. He spends paragraphs admiring the gun he carries and even admits to finding killing himself addicting. His viewpoints on women – along with every other male character – are quite misogynistic. The few female characters falling in to either the “goddess” or “whore” trope with no in-between. The women are very one dimensional and almost every one practically falls all over Adam soon after meeting him.

As I said above, Strange Deaths is not a good book. Clunky and awkward writing, plot holes the size of the Titanic, strange and abrupt shifts in narrator, and deeply unlikeable characters make this an eye rolling read. It is not often that I advise my readers to stay away and NOT read a particular book. This is one of the few times I make an exception. Head on over to fanfiction.net or A03, I know without a doubt you will find something better there.

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

gospelofloki

In the pantheon of Norse gods, there is none like Loki. With a reputation for trickery and mischief, as well as causing as many problems as he solves, Loki is a god like no other. As he is demon born his fellow gods view him with deep suspicion and from some even hatred. He realizes they will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows deepest revenge.

From his birth in the realm of Chaos to his recruitment by Odin; from his days as the go to guy in Asgard to his fall from grace and eventually Ragnarok – this is the unofficial story of the Nine Realm’s ultimate trickster.

Allow me to preface this review dear readers with a small note – this is NOT the Marvel Universe Loki. This Loki is the original, taken from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Readers expecting the Loki made famous by Tom Hiddleston will unfortunately be sorely disappointed.

That is not to say this Loki isn’t as charming or fascinating; he is those things and so much more. He is smart, funny, quick-witted, and at times even heartbreaking. When he is brought in to Asgard’s halls by Odin, all Loki wishes is to be considered among its brethren. When he isn’t and is actively shunned by the Aesir and Vanir, he decides his only course is revenge.

At times extremely funny, at other times achingly sad, The Gospel of Loki is a very entertaining read. When a book starts with a cast of characters that reminds me of one of my favorite books (Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), I know I am in for a treat. And with The Gospel of Loki, I was not disappointed.

It is quite obvious Harris has done her research for this book. There is a love for the characters that is obvious and a high regard for them as well. All of the well known Loki tales are here, from his birthing of Slepneir to Thor’s adventures in cross-dressing. Told in first person from Loki’s POV, it brings a breath of fresh air to these already well known tales.

Readers familiar with the original Norse tales are certain to enjoy this book. Those who are more familiar with the Marvel version of Loki and are looking to expand their view of the character are likely to enjoy it as well. Personally, I found it an enjoyable read and a fascinating look in to an already fascinating character.

The Chasing Graves Trilogy (Chasing Graves #1-3) by Ben Galley

Welcome to Araxes, where getting murdered is just the start of your problems.

Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.

Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is just the beginning.

See what I thought of the first book of the Chasing Graves trilogy by reading my review here.

Trigger Warning: Depictions of murder and other general violence, mentions of decaying individuals

You know a main character is going to be an interesting one when his first scene has him shitting in a box purely out of spite. Such is our introduction to Caltro Basalt, the narrator and main character of Ben Galley’s Chasing Graves trilogy. Much like I said in my original review, Caltro is a prick. He isn’t the nicest guy but then again none of the characters in the trilogy are very nice. Every one has their own agenda and are willing to do whatever it takes to see it to the end.

The world building that Galley started in the first book of the series continued in the second and third books. We the reader are introduced to more areas not only of the great city Araxes but of surrounding areas as well. We are introduced to more characters, more people who either support Caltro and Nilith or want to see them fail.

Again, like in the first book, the second and third books are peppered with hints. Small asides and throwaway lines that at first make no sense but give the reader a clue that perhaps there is something bigger going on. All of these little things do add up in the end, culminating in a battle that is for the ages.

Because the events of the Chasing Graves trilogy happen in so short a time – just over a month – it is probably a good idea to read them back to back. Of course it isn’t necessary and the reader can space them out however they wish, I just found it to be a more enjoyable reading experience delving in to the second (and third) book with the previous ones still fresh in my mind.

Just as I enjoyed reading Chasing Graves, I enjoyed reading Grim Solace and Breaking Chaos (books 2 and 3 respectively). I recommend it to all my readers, especially those who like me have an interest in Egyptian mythology.

Provided for Review: Ink & Sigil (Ink & Sigil #1) by Kevin Hearne

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails–and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective–while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

This book was provided for review via sweepstakes by Goodreads. Many thanks!

Trigger Warning: General violence. Mentions of trafficking, both human and otherworldly.

Ink & Sigil is the first book by Kevin Hearne in the series by the same name. Some readers might recognize Hearne’s name from the Iron Druid series. Others might be new to Hearne’s writing and his unique style.

Ink & Sigil takes place in a modern day world where the pen is quite literally mightier than the sword. With the right inks and the right written characters a person can accomplish almost anything. Heal wounds. Gain super strength (albeit only for a short while). Even alter another person’s mind. The art is heavily protected and Al MacBharrais in only one of a handful of practitioners.

As with his Iron Druid series, with Ink & Sigil Hearne manages to fuse fantasy and reality in to a very entertaining read. In its pages (virtual or otherwise) we are introduced to Al MacBharrais, who thought he might bristle at the term is a hipster through and through with his penchant for unique fashion and even more unique drinks. We are also introduced to Nadia, who works as Al’s accountant in his print shop but also moonlights as a pit fighter. Rounding out the trio is Buck Foi, a foul mouthed hobgoblin who loves “Your Mom” jokes.

Since this is the first book of the series, the universe and its rules must be spelt out for the reader. In Ink & Sigil this is generally done through flashbacks though on a few occasions Al explains something to Buck since he is new to the human realm.

In the genre of urban fantasy, authors must tread a fine line. They must combine the real and the fantastical in a manner that is both plausible and entertaining. Relying on too much of one or the other shatters the illusion and can be disappointing to a reader. Kevin Hearne has proven that once again he has the ability to walk that line and create a world that is so like and yet unlike our own.

Fans of Hearne’s other works will likely enjoy this book if they haven’t read it already. Likewise the same can be said for fans of urban fantasy. Personally, I really enjoyed reading Ink & Sigil and look forward to further adventures.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

memoryofwater

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

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

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

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

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

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