Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an arrogant bachelor insistent on a wife who meets the strictest of requirements–deserves his comeuppance.

The Honorable Jeremy Malcolm is searching for a wife, but not just any wife. He’s determined to elude the fortune hunters and find a near-perfect woman, one who will meet the qualifications on his well-crafted list. But after years of searching, he’s beginning to despair of finding this paragon. And then Selina Dalton arrives in town…

Selina, a vicar’s daughter of limited means and a stranger to high society, is thrilled when her friend Julia invites her to London.  Until she learns it’s part of a plot to exact revenge on Mr. Malcolm. Selina is reluctant to participate in Julia’s scheme, especially after meeting the irresistible Mr. Malcolm, who seems very different from the arrogant scoundrel of Julia’s description.

But when Mr. Malcolm begins judging Selina against his unattainable standards, Selina decides that she has qualifications of her own. And if he is to meet them he must reveal the real man behind…Mr. Malcolm’s List. 

Mr. Malcolm’s List is one of those books that I would advertise as a fun and fluffy beach read. It’s one of those books that has a decent enough plot, the characters aren’t the worst, and it’s overall fairly enjoyable.

That is, as long as you’re okay with a Regency romance that isn’t quite Regency era and characters that while they try to be endearing also make one want to slap someone silly.

The actual writing for Mr. Malcolm’s List isn’t too bad but it is a bit basic. As I was reading it I got the feeling that Ms. Allain was going off some kind of checklist as to what a good Regency romance should contain. And all the points are there – riding in a hackney, visiting family/friends in the country, a masquerade ball, at least one misunderstanding between characters. Plus add in that while the story is set during the Regency era, it doesn’t feel like it. The characters speech and mannerisms are far too modern when compared to their actual historical counterparts.

As I said above the characters in Mr. Malcolm’s List aren’t the worst but neither are they very good. Selina is very wishy-washy and only in the final third of the book does she seem to actually grow a spine. Julia, who is supposedly Selina’s friend from school, is an awful brat and is almost unrecognizable by the end of the book. Her falling in love with Henry (and he with her) is so sudden and out of left field that it felt very out of character for both of them. As for the titular Malcolm himself, he had his moments but often came across as a bully. Certainly not the kind of person someone like Selina would fall for.

At roughly 200 pages, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a pretty quick read. Perfect for poolside or on the beach where light fluffy stories are an ideal fit. I can’t readily recommend this book to my readers but neither can I tell them to stay far away. All I can say is that it isn’t a perfect book and for some that is good enough.

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.

A Dark Anatomy (Cragg & Fidelis Mystery #1) by Robin Blake

The year is 1740.

George II is on the throne but England’s remoter provinces remain largely a law unto themselves.

In Lancashire a grim discovery has been made: a Squire’s wife, Dolores Brockletower, lies in the woods above her home, Garlick Hall, her throat brutally slashed.

Called to the scene, Coroner Titus Cragg finds the Brockletower household awash with rumor and suspicion. He enlists the help of his astute young friend, doctor Luke Fidelis, to throw light on the case. But this is a world in which forensic science is in its infancy, and policing hardly exists. Embarking on their first gripping investigation, Cragg and Fidelis are faced with the superstition of witnesses, obstruction by local officials, and denunciations from the Squire himself. 

Long time readers of this blog will likely have realized by now that the majority of what I read falls in to the fiction category. And of those quite a few fall under historical fiction. It is a genre I greatly enjoy and one I enjoy finding new authors in.

Sadly though, I do not believe I will be adding Robin Blake’s Cragg & Fidelis series to my list.

Like most mystery novels, A Dark Anatomy opens with a grisly murder. Dolores Brockletower has been found in the woods near her home. Her throat has been brutally slashed but other than that she is untouched. Her fine clothes, her jewelry, all is as it was when she was last seen leaving Garlick Hall for her morning ride.

While this is certainly an intriguing enough lead up, sadly the follow through is rather lacking. Told from perspective of lawyer and coroner Titus Cragg, we the reader are subjected to long stretches of novel that more often that not have little affect on the overall story. While Cragg is supposedly a well renowned lawyer, he spends a good deal of the narrative stumbling from one person to the next. The clues are so blatant that any reader paying attention would likely have figured things out in the first fifty pages.

Though the prose itself is at often dry and bland, what I truly found upsetting was the way the characters themselves were handled. Generally the first book in a series is used to introduce recurring characters to readers. To endear them to the reader so that they care about what happens to the characters in subsequent books. This unfortunately was not done very well in A Dark Anatomy. Instead of introducing us to the main characters of Titus Cragg and Dr. Luke Fidelis, rather they are plunked down in front of the reader. We are given little to no information on them and as such it is hard to care about them in any way.

I will give Blake points for illustrating just how deaths were investigated in England before the advent of a true police force. When local persons were often forced to play multiple roles. That in itself was interesting. The rest of the book though? Sadly, not so much.

The Patient by Jasper DeWitt

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility’s most difficult, profoundly dangerous case—a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide.

Desperate and fearful, the hospital’s directors keep him strictly confined and allow minimal contact with staff for their own safety, convinced that releasing him would unleash catastrophe on the outside world. Parker, brilliant and overconfident, takes it upon himself to discover what ails this mystery patient and finally cure him. But from his first encounter with the mystery patient, things spiral out of control, and, facing a possibility beyond his wildest imaginings, Parker is forced to question everything he thought he knew.

The story of The Patient by Jasper DeWitt is presented to the reader in a series of online posts. On an internet message board Dr. Parker H. begins his story in a thread titled “Why I Almost Quit Medicine”. In the thread one can assume that other doctors had made posts about circumstances that made them almost leave their profession, whether it be from stress or workload or what have you.

In his first post Parker admits that the story he is about to relate will sound outlandish. He knows that there will be those who think him a fraud and his story is an effort to garner attention. He knows these things and doesn’t ask the readers to believe him, he only asks that they listen.

In The Patient, DeWitt has created a very dark and disturbing tale using a unique storytelling style. With the bulletin board style posts one can easily imagine how anxious the readers would have become. With each update from him more pieces of the puzzle surrounding Joe are revealed and with each question answered more are added in their place.

Some reviewers have tagged The Patient as ‘psychological thriller’ while others have tagged it as ‘supernatural horror’. In my opinion, both are accurate. The way the story is set up and eventually resolves, one is left to wonder if what Parker observed was true? Or was it the slow descent of an overworked mind?

At just over 200 paged The Patient is a fairly quick read. It is something the average reader would likely be able to finish in a day. However, I recommend the reader to take their time and savor the story DeWitt has created. Give thought to the things Parker writes about and decide for yourself whether monsters are real or imagination.

The Mechanical: Book 1 of the Alchemy Wars by Ian Tregillis

Every so often an invention comes along that changes the world. It revolutionizes it’s particular field and nothing is quite the same afterward. One example – and one that is important to the story – is the pendulum clock. Invented in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, is was a breakthrough in timekeeping, allowing accuracy unheard of in its day.

The Mechanical takes place in a world where the pendulum clock wasn’t Huygens only great invention. Along side the clocks, he also created a clockwork man called a Clakker. Imbued with a mixture of alchemy and science, these mechanical men and women are considered the perfect tool. They are able to fill any role – soldier or servant. They are tireless and obedient and they allow the Dutch to become a world power. Yet what the Dutch do not know – or perhaps deny knowing – is that the Clakkers are thinking and feeling beings and that they desire their freedom.

Our story takes place in 1926, but it is a very different age. The Dutch have built a grand world on the backs of their metal men conquering much of the known world. The French have been defeated and now live in exile in what know as Nova Scotia, Canada. Though the French have a better understanding of chemicals, scientific discovery and spies among the Dutch, and even with a shaky cease-fire between the two powers, the French know it is only a matter of time before they fall to the Clakkers. However the French believe they have found a way to not only defeat the French but to free the Clakkers.

There are three separate narratives creating this story, each showing a different view of this world. At first they seem separate and only as the book goes on do we see how entwined they truly are. I won’t go too much in to it though because to say too much will spoil the plot. And believe me dear reader, discovering how everything fits together is half the enjoyment of this book.

What also makes this book enjoyable is how it makes you think. Not only does it make you question how we define what means to be a human but also what it means to truly be free. It also asks that question ‘what is a soul?’ – it is something that can be measured or even manufactured? Questions that have been asked for millenia are posed again but without being preachy or sad but inquisitive.

To sum up, this book is EXCELLENT. With fabulous writing set in a fascinating well-built world, characters that are interesting and diverse and a truly original plot, this is a very good read. I am definitely looking forward to the second (and third? and more?) book in this series.

Provided for Review: Breaking Ava Lake by K.P. Ambroziak

From as far back as Nolon can remember, he has been under Alexander’s rule. Ever since they were children, and Alexander watched him accidentally kill a man. He got away with the murder only to find himself serving a different kind of life sentence, as the plaything to Alexander’s whims.

Alexander’s demands have always been unreasonable, but now as a colleague in Nolon’s father’s law firm, he is making Nolon’s life untenable. Nolon knows he won’t be free of Alexander unless he can dig up dirt on him and make his own crime seem like child’s play in comparison.

When Nolon’s wife Ava is assaulted one night in their home, causing her to miscarry, Nolon finally has what he needs. As a lawyer, he has the skills to make it seem plausible. As a rich man, he has the resources to set it up. As a lifelong victim of Alexander’s schemes, he has the know-how. But there’s a hitch. The detective on the case has Nolon in her sights since Ava’s unborn child wasn’t his.

As Nolon works to keep his past buried, he struggles to unearth enough evidence to banish his rival for good. That is, if he can stomach living without him.

Many thanks to the author for providing this book for review. It’s another good one!

Trigger Warning: Assault, sexual assault, emotional abuse

I can count on one hand the number of authors I have come across that I find so enjoyable to read that I eventually consume every title they have written. Since I started this blog, K.P. Ambroziak (and her nom du plume Vera Mae) is one such author I have encountered. Every book I have read by her – whether it be something modern day or set in some far off future – has been so well done and so well written.

Breaking Ava Lake is the latest book by Ambroziak to add to that list.

Told from the point of view of Nolon Lake, Breaking Ava Lake is a heart rending story that runs the gambit of the human condition. From the first page to the last it is a story of love and of hate, of jealousy and greed, and of envy and revenge. As one delves in to the story, learns of the history between Nolon and Alexander, one cannot help but imagine such a story taking place in the real world. Such is the way the characters – and the story itself as a whole – is written.

As with so many of Ambroziak’s books, there are numerous mis-directions leading one to think they know exactly where the story will go. Only to be surprised (and possibly shocked) when it takes a wild turn and goes in a different direction. Knowing she does this, I should have been expecting something like it but I was still taken aback when it happened.

Breaking Ava Lake is not for every reader. It is a dark book and the subject matter is not an easy one to read about. The book itself starts with an assault and the story goes from there. Some readers could find it troubling and potentially triggering.

Readers who are familiar with Ambroziak’s other works will likely enjoy her latest foray. Even readers who have never read one of her books before but like a good page turner that keeps you guessing until the very end could like it. While I can’t recommend it to every one, I still urge my readers who are comfortable to give it a try.

Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch

Wayward Pines, Idaho, is quintessential small-town America – or so it seems.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in search of two missing federal agents, yet soon is facing much more than he bargained for. After a violent accident lands him in the hospital, Ethan comes to with no ID and no cell phone. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off.

As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into his colleagues’ disappearance turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he make contact with his family in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what’s the purpose of the electrified fences encircling the town? Are they keeping the residents in? Or something else out?

Each step toward the truth takes Ethan further from the world he knows, until he must face the horrifying possibility that he may never leave Wayward Pines alive…

Often times when I am looking for books to add to To Read list I will add titles that just sound interesting. Maybe I’ve read something from the author before, maybe I haven’t. Maybe something on the cover catches my eye. Or maybe something in the blurb just piques my interest.

Such is what happened with Pines, the first novel in the Wayward Pines series. Blake Crouch is an author I have reviewed before on here and when looking at some of the other titles he’s written the Wayward Pines series stood out. As a fan of the “survival horror” type video games (ie Silent Hill and Resident Evil) I was especially intrigued and added the title to my queue.

Oh my goodness dear reader, I am so glad I did. It has been some time since a book has held my attention so fully that I read it in one evening. There were times I had to set it down and walk away to take care of one thing or another but I just as quickly returned because I simply had to know what happens next.

If you are familiar with the “survival horror” genre, whether it be via video games, novels, etc. then the basic plotline of Pines will not seem new. Indeed it relies on several familiar tropes that are standard – the perfect little town, the citizens that are a little too friendly, contact with any one outside of the actual town cut off for whatever reason. These things are de rigeur for stories of this type and Crouch uses them all very well.

As in his other novels, Crouch’s writing is tight paced. The action is not just physical but psychological as well. The main character Ethan is easy to sympathize with. As one event leads to another and still there is no way to leave the sleepy little town, one begins to wonder if perhaps it is Ethan himself who is off. In watching him find dead end after dead end you also begin to feel his frustration and despair. And when he does learn what is going on, his horror as well.

Since Pines is the first novel in the Wayward Pines trilogy, I fully expected the story to end on a cliffhanger. I expected few if any questions to be answered and if any were they would simply lead to more. Pines is odd in that it answers most of the questions raised throughout the novel. There is an ending but it is also left open for the subsequent novels in the series. Where Crouch takes the story next, I am not sure but I am curious to find out.

Readers who enjoyed shows like Twin Peaks or X-Files will more than likely enjoy travelling to Wayward Pines. I whole heartedly recommend at least the first novel to my readers. As I have already gotten the second and third books from my local library, readers should stay tuned for those reviews as well.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade. 

Readers of my blog and of my reviews will likely have noticed that I tend to gravitate towards two types of books – Fantasy/Steampunk and Sherlock Holmes. That is not to say that I don’t review other types of books, it’s just that I keep coming back to those two genres above. And when one book promises to combine the two it certainly grabs my attention.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a wonderous mash-up of beloved characters from Sherlock Holmes and the fantasy genre. A universe where reality is optional at best but some things still remain the same.

Holmes is now Shaharazad Haas, a drug-addled consulting sorceress with a loose grip on reality and even looser morals. Watson is now Captain John Wyndham, newly discharged from being injured in a far off war but not wanting to go home and face his family just yet. The two characters are not complete analogues though there are numerous little nods to the originals. It is more like they were used as a starting point, something to build on yet becoming completely different.

For me, a large part of what made The Affair of the Mysterious Letter so enjoyable was watching the struggle of poor John Wyndham when faced with the force of nature that is Shaharazad Haas. Wyndham hails from a very puritanical country originally and everything that Haas is and does flies in the face of what he was brought up to believe. What is even more amusing is how Wyndham tries to narrate a story with copious swearing as well as wild and appalling behavior without actually placing any of this on paper. The little asides are quite funny and on more than one occasion it gave me a laugh.

In The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, Alexis Hall has written an unconventional and oftentimes outlandish tribute to the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. And my dearest reader, I loved every minute of it. Much like Doyle’s original stories this book is chock full of thrills and chills, is rife with comedy and drama, and has more than its share of tentacles.

Readers looking for something a little more serious in their steampunk novels might want to look elsewhere. For this is a far (very very far) from serious novel. The only thing that makes me sad is that this is currently a stand alone novel. I know I am not alone in saying that I would love to have more of Shaharazad Haas and John Wyndham and their adventures at 221B Martyrs Walk.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The life of an orphan is harsh, and sometimes quite short, on the island city of Camorr.

Locke Lamora, however, is determined to defy the odds. Gifted with a quick wit and talent for thieving, Locke escapes a life of slavery and its subsequent death to find himself in the employ of a blind priest named Chains – a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

Chains is a con artist of incredible talent – a talent he passes down to his “family” of orphans. Under his tutelage they are the Gentlemen Bastards and in time Locke becomes their leader. He becomes the Thorn of Camorr, more myth than man; fooling everyone from the most wealthy nobles to the criminal underworld’s most feared.

Soon though, Locke learns of a new player in the criminal game – a man calling himself The Gray King. Powerful and ruthless, The Gray King seems determined to rule Camorr’s criminal underworld and isn’t above using Locke as a pawn to do it.

I found The Lies of Locke Lamora an incredibly entertaining read. Certainly not for the squeamish or faint of heart, it brings to mind epic fantasies such as Game of Thrones or tales of revenge like The Godfather.

Richly detailed in both characters and world, Lynch has penned an enthralling tale. The characters themselves are very realistic and it is easy to cheer (and cry) with them as the story goes on.

If I have one complaint, it would be how Lynch didn’t quite successfully juggle the two main plot lines. He spent a great deal of time building up the con game plot line that Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards were play only to leave it dangling to concentrate on the Gray King thread. The con game is left almost forgotten, only to be brought back at the end of the book for a kind of resolution.

Aside from that one tiny quibble, I rather enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora. It seems to be the first in a series and it one I shall definitely be looking in to. Readers who enjoy a good fantasy with a healthy dollop of violence are likely to enjoy this one too.

The Rest Falls Away (The Gardella Vampire Hunters #1) by Colleen Gleason

Beneath the glitter of dazzling nineteenth century London Society lurks a bloodthirsty evil…

Vampires have always lived among them, quietly attacking unsuspecting debutantes and dandified lords as well as hackney drivers and Bond Street milliners. If not for the vampire slayers of the Gardella family, these immortal creatures would have long ago taken control of the world.

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake. But as she moves between the crush of ballrooms and dangerous moonlit streets, Victoria’s heart is torn between London’s most eligible bachelor, the Marquess of Rockley, and her dark, dangerous duty.

And when she comes face-to-face with the most powerful vampire in history, Victoria must ultimately make a choice between duty and love. 

Into every generation a slayer is born… Oops, sorry…wrong universe…

Although to be honest, dear reader, the comparison between Colleen Gleason’s The Rest Falls Away and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t too far off. Both exist in a universe where vampires and other creatures of the night are real. Where the belief in such things is passed off as foolishness, of fairy tales and stories. Both feature a young woman suddenly having a great destiny thrust upon them. And both follow the young woman as she not only accepts her calling but learns to balance the two halves of her new life.

Yet, just as there are similarities, there are just as many differences. For example, Victoria’s family have been slaying vampires for countless years. The calling to be a Venator (the name for a vampire slayer) is strong in her family and when one is called, they have a choice to either embrace their destiny or to have their memories wiped away. Whereas with Buffy, there is no family legacy of vampire slaying. The duty is simply thrust upon her with almost no warning.

The cast of characters in The Rest Falls Away were an entertaining lot. Because Victoria is the main character we as the reader are supposed to really connect with her and want to know more about her. I personally found Phillip to be a more interesting person and I would have enjoyed having more with him. Sadly, this does not occur and it leaves us with a lot of “What if…?”s.

The writing for Away is decent. There are a few scenes that are quite steamy and as such it does not surprise me to learn that Ms. Gleason is also an erotica author albeit under another name. She does a good job of creating a world and a cast of characters and if it weren’t for some minor details the book could easily be set in modern day.

Overall, I found Away to be fairly entertaining. It wasn’t one of those books that completely blew me away but neither was it one of those books that was completely awful either. It was okay. And I think that in itself is okay.