Provided for Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him.

By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

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

When I first saw the blurb on NetGalley for The Death of Jane Lawrence, I was intrigued. Especially once I saw it compared to Crimson Peak – a personal favorite in both book and movie. So it leaves little doubt that I had to request it.

The Death of Jane Lawrence on the surface has a basic enough premise. There is a young woman with a potential decision to make and there is a handsome young man with a dark secret. Add in the ubiquitous crumbling manor house and you have the recipe for most any gothic novel. That however is where the comparison ends because this book contains so much more.

I think what I liked best about The Death of Jane Lawrence was how unexpected it was. What I mean is, while reading it I was quite sure I knew the direction in which the story would go. Having read my fair share of gothic novels – both modern and historical – I tend to be able to guess how a story of this kind will end. And while sometimes I am correct there are other times where I am wrong. The Death of Jane Lawrence proved that point to me, that one cannot always guess how a book is going to go.

I quite enjoyed reading this book. Starling does a wonderful job of creating the perfect moody setting with Lindridge Hall and its surroundings. She peoples it with characters that are sympathetic and ones that are insensitive and at times they are the same person.

As a fan of gothic novels, I heartily recommend The Death of Jane Lawrence to my readers. With the colder months soon upon us it the perfect spooky book to settle down with on a dark night.

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.

Tidelands (The Fairmile #1) by Philippa Gregory

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, England is in the grip of a civil war between renegade king and rebellious parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even the remote tidelands —the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, trapped in poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbors. This is the time of witch mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

It is dangerous for a woman to be different. 

Trigger Warning: mentions of abortion, mentions of childbirth

England, 1648. It is a dangerous time to be a woman. It is an even more dangerous time to be an intelligent woman.

Alinor is one such woman. A skilled midwife and herbalist, she is determined to make a life for herself and her two children. Not knowing if her husband is alive or dead, she lives in a kind of limbo as neither a widow or a wife. Meeting the mysterious James in a graveyard at midnight only complicates matters. He has taken a liking to the lovely young mother and worse still, she has taken a liking to him.

Author Philippa Gregory is well known for her historical novels. Sweeping stories with a variety of characters from all walks of society. Tidelands is her latest novel, the first in a new series. Different in that the main focus is on the “common” man as opposed to royalty with her other books yet alike in showing that while the way of thinking might change and become more modern, the old ways never truly leave.

The romance between Alinor and James is best described as a slow burn. And it is a very slow burn. Any real action between the two characters doesn’t happen until the second half of the book. With the first half being dedicated to mostly describing Alinor’s life and routine in the tidelands it is easy to understand how some readers were unable to finish the book.

While it is obvious Gregory has once again done a great deal of research in to the time period and lays it out for us the reader, it comes at the expense of character development. Especially in regards to the main character, Alinor. The term “one note character” is often used in reviews and this term can also be used here. It is quite understandable that for a woman in Alinor’s circumstances a smart move would be to keep one’s head down and be unobtrusive. But how many times can a person be expected to turn the other cheek and not show some kind of reaction?

I can understand wanting to keep the peace but surely some kind of emotional reaction would have been felt? A grimace, grit teeth, clenched hands hidden in an apron, something? Sadly, on more than one occasion Alinor simply takes what is dished out to her and says nothing.

The ending of the novel felt very rushed and had an abrupt stop. It is obviously meant as a lead in to the next novel in the series but a little more to the story would have been nice. A better explanation of what happened to the characters between one scene and the next would have been most welcome.

As someone who has read and enjoyed other novels by Philippa Gregory, I felt rather let down by Tidelands. It is one of those books that while I cannot readily recommend it, neither can I tell anyone to firmly stay away. All I can say is try it and make your own decision.

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: Burden of Truth (After the Green Withered #2) by Kristen Ward

I thought I understood the truth.

I thought I knew the whole story.

But no one really did.

In a country defined by scarcity and control, Enora Byrnes leaves the watchful eyes and secret agendas of the powerful and enters a society living on the fringes. Life beneath the surface brings her face to face with a world struggling to survive. Armed with knowledge and honed into a weapon for the resistance, she fights alongside those whom society deems rebels and uses her skills to steal a secret kept hidden from humanity. Enora becomes what she has hunted: a traitor.

As Enora embarks on a fateful quest, will she find the one thing that could give her world hope or a truth that is far worse than she ever imagined? 

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

Burden of Truth is the sequel to After the Green Withered. Read my review for the first book here.

Picking up almost immediately after where After the Green Withered left off, Burden of Truth picks up the story of Enora Byrnes as she tries to learn more about the people behind the DMC.

Having decided to join the resistance, Enora is faced with numerous difficult decisions and must deal with the sometimes heart-breaking consequences. It is not an easy path she and Springer have decided to take.

Much like with the first book, Burden of Truth is a fast paced and multi faceted story. Many of the same characters from the first book return with a few new ones introduced along the way. Time has passed for everyone and it hasn’t always been kind.

Enora continues to agonize over her choices, again and again saying she has blood on her hands for the things she has done. Compared to what other characters have done over the course of the two books (and even beforehand), Enora’s so called sins are a mere drop in the bucket.

Readers looking for a happy ending where Enora and Springer somehow defeat the “evil” DMC should look elsewhere. The ending of Burden of Truth is a truthful one, just not a happy one. Considering the world that Ward has created in her novels, it is also the only plausible one.

As much as I enjoyed reading Burden of Truth, it was a difficult book to read at times. Simply because the base premise of the story is relatable. It is so easy to picture a future as described and it is frightening.

Provided for Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

I’m embarrassed, still, by how long it took me to notice. Everything was right there in the open, right there in front of me, but it still took me so long to see the person I had married.

It took me so long to hate him.

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.

And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up.

Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

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

The basic premise of The Echo Wife is quite good. Evelyn Caldwell is an award winning scientist, her work with cloning is second to none. Unfortunately, her awards comes with a cost – namely, her marriage to Nathan. When Evelyn suspects Nathan of being unfaithful, she hires a private investigator to discover the truth. The truth is something Evelyn never would have expected; Nathan is indeed having an affair and the other woman is an exact duplicate of Evelyn herself.

For such a promising premise and such an intriguing cover, sadly The Echo Wife does not deliver. On more than one occasion I contemplated actually not finishing this book and writing a short review saying just that. However, because I was curious as to how it would end I continued to read and did finish the book.

For me, the majority of the problems I saw with The Echo Wife come from the main character herself. The story is told from Evelyn’s point of view with all her internal thoughts and feelings. And she is a mess. She is almost always upset by something, either from something someone did (as when Martine tidied up Evelyn’s townhouse) or from something someone did not do (such as her co-workers not noticing she was upset despite her keeping her feelings to herself). Evelyn comes across as self-righteous and overly emotional and that became tiring after a while.

Overall, while I did enjoy reading The Echo Wife it was also a struggle. Would I recommend it to my readers? Yes, provided they take my advice and take everything in the book with a healthy grain of salt.

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.

It Devours: A Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

itdevours

Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the small town of Night Vale. Working beside the town’s top scientist Carlos, her guiding principles are fact and logic. These principles are put to the question when Carlos gives her a unique assignment; investigate the strange rumblings and disappearances that have been occurring around town.

Not wanting to disappoint her boss, Nilanjana follows the clues to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God – and to Darryl, one of the congregation’s most devout followers. Grappling with her beliefs as well as her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect there is more to the congregation that meets the eye. And that they are planning a special ceremony that could threaten the lives of every person in town.

Welcome to Night Vale is a currently ongoing podcast that mimics the style of NPR and small town talk radio. The difference being that Night Vale is not your typical town. Strange and mysterious events happen aplenty and the town is populated with a wide variety of individuals – from a mysterious glow cloud (all hail) to a literal five headed dragon and from numerous humans of all walks of life to some who are mostly human. And for the most part, the citizens of Night Vale get along well enough.

The reader who decides to pick up It Devours should have some prior knowledge about Welcome to Night Vale. While they don’t need to be fully caught up on the podcast, some knowledge about the town and characters is essential. The novel itself focuses on two original characters – Nilanjana Sikdar and Darryl Sanchez – but other characters such as Cecil and Carlos do make appearances. There are also references to the hooded figures, the black helicopters, and the Smiling God – all of which have been referenced before in the podcast.

This aside, It Devours is an interesting book. The two main characters come from opposite side of a unique spectrum. Nilanjana believes in science – that we should question everything and always seek the truth. Darryl believes in his religion – that we should question nothing and should believe the truths given to us. Naturally they butt heads but they both eventually realize they are simply different sides of the same coin. They both want the same thing even if they end up going about it in different ways.

The ideas of religion versus science are handled very well in this book. Neither is lauded above the other, neither is declared “right”. And the individuals who proclaim that their way is the right and only way are actually shown the error of their ways. Whether it be by being eaten by a giant sand worm or by realizing that they are in fact the creator of the tremors that are decimating the city.

The characters themselves are also presented in an uncommon manner. Very little is dedicated to their actual physical appearance. Instead, the reader is encouraged to get to know Nilanjana and Darryl by their words; their thoughts and actions dictating the kind of person they are. The same can be said of all the characters of Night Vale. So little is known about what they physically look like, the only exception being we know that Carlos has “perfect hair”. This allows the reader to imagine themselves or any person in any of the roles.

In general, the average reader could possibly enjoy It Devours. While knowledge of the universe via the podcast does make the read more enjoyable, the opposite could also be true. By reading the book one becomes interested in the universe and seeks out the podcast. Either way, I enjoyed It Devours and recommend it to my own readers.

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

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

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

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

But who’s really under the hood?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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