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.

If Pigs Could Fly (West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency #1) by Jonny Nexus

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

Whew, what a title!

When a book opens with the line “The mist clung to the moorland like a blanket staple-gunned to a bed.” then you know you are in for an enjoyable read. And that is just what If Pigs Could Fly gives us.

It’s kind of difficult to accurately describe If Pigs Could Fly, but I think the best way would be to say it’s part X-Files part What We Do In The Shadows. In that, I mean that there are some parts of the book that a bit more serious while there are other passages that are just plain ridiculous. This doesn’t mean that those passages are bad – far from it in fact. They are just so silly and over the top that the comparison must be made.

The characters in If Pigs Could Fly are an eclectic bunch. I dare say that any reader would be hard pressed to find someone that they cannot relate to in some way. Also, not every character is likable. The only exception to this would be the Professor and the dog, Jess. Those two are incredibly lovable.

One reviewer on Goodreads compared the book to “a packet of high quality biscuits” – cookies for my American readers – and I must agree. Once you start reading and getting in to the story, it is very easy to binge and read the entire book in one sitting. But like with a delicious treat, one tries to control the urge and dole out small servings, the better to savor and enjoy it.

The ONLY drawback I can find is that this is the only book in the series. While If Pigs Could Fly is subtitled as the first book of the series, sadly there is no second book. This makes me very sad because when one comes across an author who at times channels the great Douglas Adams, one invariably wants to read more. And while I will be reading and reviewing more of Jonny Nexus’ novels in the future, I will have to bide my time and wait for another tale from the West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency.

The Palace of Lost Memories (After the Rift #1) by C.J. Archer

The king’s magnificent palace was built in a matter of weeks. No one saw the builders, no villagers are allowed beyond the gilded gate, and only one servant has ever left. The haunted look in her eyes as she was recaptured by the palace guards is something Josie, daughter of the village doctor, has never forgotten.

For Josie, the palace is a mystery that grows more intriguing after she meets the captain of the guards, a man known only as Hammer, as mysterious and captivating as the palace itself. Whispers of magic fuel Josie’s desire to uncover the truth, but an ordinary girl like her can only dream of ever being invited inside.

When the king decides to take a wife from among the eligible daughters of the noble families, the palace gates are finally thrown open and the kingdom’s elite pour in. In a court where old rivalries and new jealousies collide, the king’s favorite is poisoned and the doctor is summoned. As her father’s assistant, Josie finally sees inside the lavish walls, but she soon learns the palace won’t surrender its secrets easily, for not a single resident, from the lowest servant to the king himself, has a memory from before the palace existed.

In the search for the truth, Josie is drawn deeper into danger, and the answers she seeks might shake the very foundations of the kingdom.

Josie is the daughter of the village doctor. She loves her father as well as what he does and she works hard to learn as much as she can in order to work beside him. The problem lies in that women cannot become doctors and the best that Josie can hope for is to become a midwife. Josie has no problem being a midwife, she cares for her female patients greatly; what she desires though is to be like her father regardless of what stands in her way.

The Palace of Lost Memories is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. Set in it’s own land it abides by mostly familiar rules. Science and superstition walk hand in hand and while there are whispers of magic, there is no proof set in stone. Such is the land that Josie and the other characters of the book must navigate.

The author, C.J. Archer, does a decent job of creating a setting and building a mystery in it. The character of Josie is an interesting one and it is easy to sympathize with her in wanting more that what is expected of her. The castle inhabitants, such as the Captain of the Guards Hammer, is also nicely done. Throughout the story information comes to light and both we the reader as well as Josie realize that not every one is as they seem. There is no real black and white, instead each person is a shade of gray.

The mystery surrounding the castle and its inhabitants could have been given a little more attention in my opinion, however. The fact that we are given barely any clues as to what occurred is a little aggravating. If this mystery is to be the main draw of the series, than I believe the readers should be given something more.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Palace of Lost Memories. Currently there are a total of five books in the series. It is quite likely that I will eventually read and review the rest of the series, so keep an eye out!

Provided for Review: The Devil’s Apprentice (The Great Devil War #1) by Kenneth B. Andersen

Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir. The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy. Philip is terrible at being bad, but Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training him in the ways of evil. Philip gets both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld—but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne?

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

In recent years YA fantasy has apparently found a larger audience and books in the category have come out by the score. And while this is certainly a good thing, sadly many of the books sound and read the same.

The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth Andersen however is not one of them.

Set in a universe that could easily be ours, the story follows what happens when a very good boy mistakenly ends up in a very bad place. Philip is the poster boy for being good; I’m fairly sure other parents point to him and ask their children ‘Why can’t you be more like Philip?’ He is something of an oddity both in the living world and in Hell. It is that good nature though that ends up helping him and the Devil as well.

Andersen’s version of Hell is a combination of familiar and new. There are tortured souls and demons aplenty but there are also demon families, a demon school that young demons attend. There is a town with shops and homes and other familiar things albeit with a slightly sinister twist. It is a unique version of the realm.

The characters in the book are also an interesting bunch. Not just the humans like Phillip, but the numerous demons that make up the denizens of Hell. Andersen obviously references Dante’s inferno with the demons yet also adds his own ideas in to the mix.

I really enjoyed reading The Devil’s Apprentice. I found it to be more than just a simple story of a misunderstanding gone wrong. It is nuanced and layered in a way that few YA books are. And while it might be marketed at younger readers, I could easily see older readers enjoying it as well. Major kudos to Mr. Andersen, I look forward to reading the rest of the series!