Provided for Review: Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provided for Review: Five Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley (Edited by David Taylor)

Five new short stories for fans of Sherlock Holmes!

1 – Children are disappearing mysteriously from the streets of London. The only clue is a strange old woman who is seen shortly before the children disappear. Who is she and what does she have to do with the missing kids?

2 – Two sisters and their half brother beseech Holmes to help them with a riddle their father left behind. Will Holmes agree when he realizes what the adult children are truly after?

3 – A train disappears in to seemingly thin air between one village and the next. Just as strangely as it disappeared, it reappeared three years later. How could something so strange happen?

4 – Mycroft Holmes seeks the aid of his younger brother in a unique case. Top level politicians are being blackmailed by someone who has photographs of high level secret contracts. In a room with no windows and only one door, just how did this person get these photos?

5 – An abandoned moving cart and horses is found on the London docks. Beside it lies a man dead, his chest crushed by some unknown force. With no clues pointing to who the man was or what was in the cart, how is Holmes expected to solve this one?

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

I have said it once and I will say it again, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes. So when I am offered the opportunity to read new stories featuring the great detective, I eagerly agree.

5 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley is one such collection. Originally published separately, this is the first time the stories have been combined in one compendium.

Personally, I greatly enjoyed reading these stories. Barkley has done a very good job in capturing the ‘voice’ of the original tales. His writing is very much like Conan Doyle’s as is his portrayal of both Watson and Holmes. This is especially true in the second story – The Legacy of Doctor Carus – where Barkley not only shows Holmes’ serious side but also his more mischievous side, something that is not often seen even in the original tales.

As these are all short stories, every one is a quick and delightful read. It would be quite easy to finish the whole book in an afternoon though I do recommend the reader take it slowly and see if they can figure out whodunnit before Holmes and Watson can.

For fans of the great detective (like myself) I urge them to give these stories a try.

Provided for Review: Postcard from Paris by Holly Willow

When Poppy finds a postcard from Paris, sent by an aunt she didn’t know existed, she books a flight to France to investigate. Just days after arriving in Paris, she accidentally lands herself a job thanks to a case of mistaken identity. To complicate matters further, she soon starts to fall for her new boss. Falling in love with your boss is never a good idea and she knows it. But when he makes her an offer she can’t refuse, her heart just might win the battle against reason and logic.

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

Trigger Warning: Mentions of mental illness, emotional abuse, and suicide. While the actual events happen before the book begins, they are still mentioned.

Poppy Parker is a self confessed workaholic. All of her adult life she has been focused on her career at Belle Cosmetics, working her way up the corporate ladder. Just when she has the position she has been working towards in her sights, it’s snatched away. And when she tries to resign, her boss refuses and instead instructs her to take a small sabbatical.

To add insult to injury, Poppy’s fiance Daniel agrees to take a job in Hong Kong just weeks before their wedding. A job that will have him away for six months. Poppy is sure she can handle things on her end but even that is put in to doubt when she learns that Daniel hasn’t been all that honest with her.

Take all of that, plus a postcard from an aunt that Poppy never knew existed, and she finds herself booking a ticket to Paris, France.

Postcard from Paris is pure fluff. Of the best kind. It’s like cotton candy, ice cream, or any other sweet treat. It’s like a Hallmark movie, complete with dramatic moments and of course a happily ever after.

As I was reading Postcard From Paris, I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. In it there too is a large apartment building with an eclectic cast of characters presided over by a loving, larger than life landlady.

The characters themselves are all quite likable, even the ones who are supposedly more gruff. Poppy is immediately relatable and most any reader will see an aspect of themselves in her. The same can be said for the majority of the characters, a reader is likely to identify with at least someone.

The book itself is quite well written. Willow uses language in a wide variety of ways – to evoke the pain of being passed over for a job to the joy of finding oneself in a new city and hopefully on the path to a new life. She also a nice grasp with pacing as the story moved along at a decent clip without ever feeling too laggy.

There was one small plot point that I didn’t particularly like and felt kind of shoehorned in. To go further in to it could be constituted as spoilers so I will only say that if you have read the book, then you likely know what I am talking about. It had no real bearing on the rest of the book and in my opinion, it wasn’t necessary.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed reading Postcard in Paris. With the summer months fast approaching, I think this would be the perfect poolside read. Or the perfect sunny read on an otherwise dreary day. Many thanks to the author, Holly Willow, for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I urge my readers to go check it out!

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller (translated by Philip Boehm

Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on all of the group.

One day Adina returns home to discover that her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. On another occasion it’s the hindleg. Then a foreleg. The mutilated fur is a sign that she is being tracked by the secret police—the fox was ever the hunter.

Images of photographic precision combine into a kaleidoscope of terror as Adina and her friends struggle to keep mind and body intact in a world pervaded by complicity and permeated with fear, where it’s hard to tell victim from perpetrator.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter is one of those books that it is quite difficult to write a review for. Simply because – at least for me – the book itself is quite difficult to describe. Told in a lyrical kind of prose, the book has a stream of consciousness feel to it. Müller puts so much attention in the settings, bringing them in to such sharp focus, that the human characters fade in to the background.

Looking at other reviews over on Goodreads, I find that I am not alone in my opinions. There are just as many there who are like me, who just do not “get it” when it comes to this book. Likewise, there are a goodly number who sing its praises. The Fox Was Ever the Hunter did win a Nobel Prize, so there is that as well.

Perhaps much of what makes this book appealing is lost in translation. Perhaps I am just too dense to understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provided for Review: Thirteen by Steve Cavanaugh

It’s the murder trial of the century. And Joshua Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house – and to be sure the wrong man goes down for the crime. Because this time, the killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury.

But there’s someone on his tail. Former-conman-turned-criminal-defense-attorney Eddie Flynn doesn’t believe that his movie-star client killed two people. He suspects that the real killer is closer than they think – but who would guess just how close?

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

Every so often, we as readers come across a book that once we pick it up and begin to read, it is near impossible to put down. It is only with the reminder of Real Life responsibilities – such as school, work, family – that we eventually put the book down and walk away.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanaugh is, in my opinion, such a book. A legal thriller with a case based on real events, once everything got going I found it almost impossible to put down. The first quarter of the book is dedicated to introducing the characters and the case it self, setting them up almost like chess pieces and putting them in place on the board. This part was a bit slow in at times but it was also necessary.

Once the actual trial starts though is when the action really starts to pick up. Between the lawyer, Eddie Flynn, and the actual killer, Joshua Kane, things turn in to a game of cat and mouse; where at times it is hard to decide who is the cat and who is the mouse.

One thing that surprised me was that Thirteen is actually the third book in a series with the lawyer character Eddie Flynn. It certainly did not feel that way reading it, in fact it felt more like the first book in said series. From the way the characters are introduced to the bits of background we are given them, it truly felt that way so one can imagine my surprise when I found this information out.

Is it necessary to read the first two books in the Eddie Flynn series to enjoy the third book? I don’t believe so because I was able to enjoy it with no problems. Like I stated above, I was actually quite surprised. Could reading the first two books add to the backstory of the characters and give more insight to them? Quite likely.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading Thirteen and will hopefully reading more of the series in the future. Because it is a murder mystery as well as legal drama, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and that is okay. Readers who love a good cat and mouse type thriller will do good to pick this one up.

Reboot (Reboot #1) by Amy Tintera

Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders. 

Reboot by Amy Tintera is a new and unique take on the well known trope of individuals returning from the dead. When a person dies, while there is a chance that they do not come back to life, if they do they are not a mindless zombie. They instead come back as a Reboot – a person just like they were only they are now stronger, faster, and less emotional. The longer a person is dead before they “reboot”, the less emotions they have and the less human they seem.

The problem I had with the book was that while the premise was so interesting, it just did not reach its full potential. What caused the virus that creates Reboots is barely touched on. It’s mentioned in an off handed manner that could be easy to overlook. When the book opens we are given a tantalizing view of the world the book is set in but once the romance aspect begins, the setting is forced to take a back seat.

Aside from the setting, another issue I had was with the main character herself. Wren 178 is heralded as one of the deadliest reboots known. She is cold and emotionless and follows orders without question. So why then does she become a completely different person when she begins to train Callum 22? She begins to disobey orders and at one point completely forgets her training. I would say it’s unrealistic but this is a book about people coming back from the dead.

Sadly, Reboot falls in with numerous other YA novels with a female protagonist. Once she meets that special someone, she becomes a different person, all in the name of love. I cannot count the number of books I have read with a similar premise.

For readers who enjoy books like this – ala The Hunger Games or Divergent – then they very well might enjoy reading Reboot. Personally, I thought it had potential but couldn’t live up to it and will likely not be seeking out the second book in the series.

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Trigger Warnings: Incest (mentioned, happens before book starts), Animal Death (mentioned), Human Death, Suicide Attempt

The Witch of Willow Hall is one of those novels that is absolutely perfect for curling up with on a cold winter night. Though it is a novel that was written recently, it’s style is very reminiscent of gothic novels that were so popular once upon a time. Dark and moody, the story takes numerous twists and turns from beginning to end.

I did have a few issues while reading The Witch of Willow Hall. One being the scandal that sends Lydia and her family from Boston to New Oldbury. Lydia makes mention of it several times, stating how terrible it is and how it has brought such shame to the family, but it isn’t until a good halfway through the book do we the reader actually learn what the actual scandal is. I personally think making mention of it earlier in the story would have made it more impactful.

Sadly, I found the plot surrounding witches and how they impact the family to be rather lacking. Very little mention is made aside from a handful of ghost sightings for Lydia until almost the end of the book. And even then the great reveal is lackluster. Like with the aforementioned scandal, if they had been given more attention in the actual narrative I think they could have further enhanced the story.

As a fan of gothic novels, I enjoyed The Witch of Willow Hall. It is hard to believe that this is Ms. Fox’s first novel as it was quite well written. Fans of this kind of moody storytelling would likely enjoy it as well and I urge them to try it out.

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

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

Now he has broken free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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