The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Trigger Warning: Torture. There are a handful of scenes where Harry is tortured for information. While the author doesn’t go in to explicit detail, there is enough detail that could potentially bother some readers.

If you could start your life over from childhood with the knowledge you have now as an adult, would you do it? What would you change? What would you not change? Such is a question that has been asked over and over again. And such is also the basis of this week’s review – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Harry August is an ourobouran – a rare and unique person who lives, dies, and is reborn to live their life again and again. He is also a mnemonic – a rarity even among ourobourans – meaning that he remembers every minute of every life.

I am quite unsure how The First Fifteen Lives… escaped my book radar. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I try to keep tab on books that I might enjoy reading. And since starting this blog I have tried even harder to keep abreast of up and coming books in genres I enjoy.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August hits almost every point. North does a great job in building a world that is both familiar and new. She peppers in real world history adding another layer of believability to the story. The twists and turns that eventually develop are designed to keep the reader’s attention and it succeeds. Her characters are imperfect, not one of them is wholly good or wholly bad. The things they do and the decisions they make, each one believes they are acting for the greater good. Even when such decisions could mean the end of the world as we know it.

One thing that might detract a few readers is that the story isn’t told in a completely linear manner. When we first meet August he is at the end of his eleventh life and we are then taken back to his first life. This jumping back and forth could be a bit disconcerting for some, especially once the plot really starts moving along.

Those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy like Doctor Who or the movie Groundhog Day should give The First Fifteen Lives… a try. I enjoyed it a great deal and recommend it to my readers.

alt.Sherlock.Holmes: New Visions of The Great Detective by Gini Koch, Glen Mehn, and Jamie Wyman

Sherlock Holmes and her partner Dr. John Watson have barely set up as consulting detectives in LA before Tinsel Town’s finest come calling.

Joey Jackson and Tony Antonelli are in trouble: their partner, Cliff Camden, has disappeared without a trace on the eve of filming for a new show. The LAPD don’t care and Watson has his own reasons for wanting to stay out of it, but Holmes takes the case. But as she gets to work amidst the neurotic actors, grumbling film crews and low-level sleaze that permeates LA, a fresh murder turns everything on its head…

Winter, and the Soggiorno Brothers’ Traveling Wonder Show has pulled into its berth in Peru, Indiana. Sanford “Crash” Haus, proprietor and genius, and his friend, the retired soldier-turned-surgeon Jim “Dandy” Walker, are looking forward to a quiet few months. By happy coincidence, just as the Strong Man and the Tattooed Lady announce their betrothal, the Wonder Show’s old manager Professor Sylvestri – a minister, no less – rolls into town, with his ward in tow. Preparations for the happy day begin, but violence and misfortune attend on them…

Glen Mehn’s novella is a drug-fuelled descent into the experimental world of Warhol’s Factory. Holmes and Watson are faced with a mystery unlike any other, set against the backdrop of social, cultural and racial issues that rocked society and brought about the fierce (and sometimes violent) changes at the end of the swinging sixties… (via Goodreads)

Trigger Warningalt.Sherlock.Holmes contains subject matter and language that some might find disturbing/offensive. While the language and sentiments expressed are appropriate for their respective time periods, there are some who might find it bothersome. As the stories themselves do not come with any kind of warning, I thought it necessary to put one up myself.

Three different authors, three different versions of one of the most well known literary characters. That is the gift we are given in the book alt.Sherlock.Holmes.

Jamie Wyman is first, giving us a Holmes and Watson (though neither by that name) that sees the two working in a carnival setting in the 1930’s. Watson – known in this story as Walker – is an African American man whose leg was taken by the war. He is a Pinkerton agent when he first meets Holmes – known as Haus here – and subsequently joins the circus.

Personally, this was my favorite of the three stories. Not only with the story line but with how the characters felt when compared to their original counterparts. Haus very much felt like a slightly updated version of Doyle’s Holmes with his penchant for drawing people to him regardless of how they might be viewed by outside society. Seeing him in a carnival setting seems quite natural given his penchant for the dramatic. The same can be said for Walker; a dedicated and knowledgeable doctor who still carries traces of the warrior and fighter he used to be.

My only complaint was how the story ended because it left me desperately wanting more. I can only hope Wyman writes more stories of these two in this particular universe.

Second is Gini Koch with an offering that has been seen before – a female Sherlock Holmes. Set in the modern day, Ms. Holmes meets up with Dr. Watson when she is brought in to consult on a case. She eventually decides to stay in the States where she continues to solve cases.

This particular version of Holmes and Watson, though not unique in setting it in modern day, is unique in how it handles other aspects of the characters. Holmes has a bad habit – something that is not new – it is the habit itself that is. Holmes is addicted to reality TV and she is well versed in all of the different kinds that grace TV screens today.

It is also implied (at least this is how I interpret it) that Watson is bi. It is mentioned that he goes out with a male acquaintance for drinks but his head can also be turned by a pretty lady. It is even hinted that he has a crush on Holmes and she in turn possibly likes him. That these feelings were hinted at and not acted upon is lovely to see and adds a touch of realism to the story.

Lastly, comes Glen Mehn taking Holmes and Watson to 1960’s New York City. Both Holmes and Watson are part of the underground scene of the time. Holmes’ reasons are hazy at best but with Watson we come to understand that his serving in the Korean War has left him disillusioned and he now uses his doctor’s degree to make and sell drugs.

I will be honest dear reader and say that this last version was my least favorite of the three. I found it to be too dark and downright depressing at times. Not to mention the fact that BOTH John and Sherlock and junkies. Also, to try and add realism, Mehn sprinkles in well known people and events from the time – such as Andy Warhol. However, much of this feels forced and I found it detracted from the story instead of adding to it.

On the whole, I found alt.Sherlock.Holmes to be fairly enjoyable. If any of my readers are considering picking up this book in either paperback or e-book edition, my advice is to read and enjoy the first two and skip the third. Have fun!

Blood Persuasion (Immortal Jane Austen #2) by Janet Mullany

It is 1810, and the Damned are out of favor–banished from polite society.

Jane Austen’s old un-dead friends have become new neighbors, raising hell in her tranquil village just in time to interrupt Jane’s work on what will be her masterpiece.

Suddenly Jane’s niece is flirting dangerously with vampires, and a formerly respectable spinster friend has discovered the forbidden joys of intimate congress with the Damned (and is borrowing Jane’s precious silk stockings for her assignations). Writing is simply impossible now, with murderous creatures prowling the village’s once-peaceful lanes. And with the return of her vampire characteristics, a civil war looming between factions of the Damned, and a former lover who intends to spend eternity blaming her for his broken heart, Jane is facing a very busy year indeed.

Blood Persuasion is the second book in the Immortal Jane Austen series and is the sequel to Jane and the Damned. It picks up approximately 13 years after the events in the first book. Jane has returned to the simple and quiet life with her family; she has even resumed her writing. Another quiet summer is planned and that is when things go awry.

When I originally reviewed Jane and the Damned, I lauded it for its unique take on a well known trope. And while many of the characters introduced in the first book return in the second, sadly they do not have the same impact as they did before. Fitzwilliam (now known as Fitzpatrick) was an interesting character in the first book and in the second he is quite a bore. My real problem was with the characterization of Jane herself; more than once she came across as shrill and irritating. At one point she even berates her vampire lover Luke, screaming “I thought you loved me!” even while knowing herself that vampires are fickle and take numerous partners.

As far as the overall plot, that is something I can’t comment on simply because there really wasn’t one. There were numerous little plots, such as Jane’s niece being seduced by one of the vampires or the business with the feuding vampire families, but aside from where things took place and the characters involved there was little to tie everything together. The epilogue, while bittersweet, also left much to be desired.

Sadly, Blood Persuasion must join the list of books I simply cannot recommend. As much as I enjoyed the first book, the second one let me down. Read and enjoy the first book – Jane and the Damned – dear readers. And stay far far away from this one.

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraboty

City of Brass book cover

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. 

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for… (via Goodreads)

City of Brass is the first book in the Daevabad Trilogy and in my opinion it is off to a good start.

As some on Goodreads have pointed out, when you take the overall plot line and boil it down to it’s most basic points, the story does sound a bit cliched. Young woman living on the streets does what she can to survive when she meets a mysterious stranger. The woman’s life is somehow put in danger and the stranger helps her before whisking her away on a perilous journey. The journey itself is fraught with danger and they finally arrive at a grand city that is beyond anything any one has seen. There, the young woman learns she is a lost person of great importance and she is thrust in to a very unfamiliar and lush lifestyle. She must learn who she can trust when it seems everyone has something to hide.

Yes, cliched, and yes done over and over in countless stories. Yet to be honest, one can say that about almost every book ever written. New and unique ideas are rare and most books are a rehashing of previous ones. It is only in how they are rewritten that is important. At least to me.

And it is in that aspect that City of Brass shines (pun intended). Chakraborty has taken a well known and well used fictional trope and brushed it up a bit with her storytelling. The lead female character, Nahri, isn’t one to sit idly by even when she has everything she ever desired served to her on a silver plate. All of her young life she has refused to let any one dictate her future and she will not let any one start now. Not the handsome djinn Dara, not the equally handsome prince Alizayd, and certainly not the king Ghassan al Qahtani.

As lovely as the story is, what really stood out to me were the characters themselves. Every one of them is flawed in one way or another. None of them are perfect despite what persona they present. Even the minor characters, ones who only appear in one or a few scenes, they too are flawed in one way or another. It makes them all feel more real and adds depth to an already fascinating story.

City of Brass is a bit long at over 500 pages so it will take a bit longer to read. However, it is a unique story set in an area of the world that does not get much love in fiction. Plus it has a strong female main character that will appeal to most. The second book was just recently released and I’ve already added it to my list to read and review.

The Eight (The Eight #1) by Katherine Neville

Computer expert Cat Velis is heading for a job to Algeria. Before she goes, a mysterious fortune teller warns her of danger, and an antique dealer asks her to search for pieces to a valuable chess set that has been missing for years.

A chess set whose pieces have been scattered across the globe because the game that can be played with them is incredibly powerful.

The Eight is a book comprised of two different stories set over 200 years apart. One story is set in 1972 and follows Catherine Velis as she is sent to Algeria on a job for her work. The second story is set in the 1790’s and follows Mireille and Valentine, cousins and novice nuns from the Montglane Abbey.

The stories of the women are both separate and intertwined as each revolves around the Montglane Service – a chess set once owned by Charlemagne. The set is said to hold the key to unlimited power and the person who holds the set has control of that power.

The plot of The Eight revolves heavily around the game of chess. Every character is connected to the game itself somehow, but are also connected to the Game of the chase after the Montglane Service. Some have knowledge that they are playing, while others like Catherine, learn they are along the way.

I found the overall plot of The Eight to be somewhat interesting. Personally, I enjoyed the sections set in France during the Revolution more than the sections set in 1972. Perhaps it is because I found it difficult to relate with Catherine, or perhaps it is because I found the people that surrounded her incredibly irritating.

Neville is commendable in that she is able to combine individuals who actually existed with the characters she has created for the novel. Individuals such as Robespierre, Talleyrand, even Catherine the Great are weaved in to the narrative in the search for the Montglane Service.

On the whole, I am rather ambivalent in regards to The Eight. There were times I wanted to stop reading it and there were times I found that I couldn’t stop. Considering my own feelings on the novel, I cannot easily recommend it nor do I believe I will be seeking out the rest of the series.

Provided for Review: Death of an Eye (Eye of Isis #1) by Dana Stabenow

Alexandria, 47BCE: Cleopatra shares the throne with her brother Ptolemy under the auspices of Julius Caesar, by whom Cleopatra is heavily pregnant with child.

A shipment of new coin meant to reset the shaky Egyptian economy has been stolen,and the Queen’s Eye has been murdered. Queen Cleopatra must turn to her childhood friend Tetisheri, to find the missing shipment and bring a murderer to justice

I was provided with this book from Netgalley in exchange for my review. Thank you!

As much as I claim to enjoy the adventures of one Sherlock Holmes and anything set in the Victorian era, there is another era of time that has had my interest for just as long – that of Ancient Egypt. So when I saw this book listed on Netgalley, I immediately put my name in to request said book.

I am so glad my request was granted and I was able to read this book because I personally enjoyed it from cover to cover.

Set in the ancient city of Alexandria, Death of an Eye follows the young Tetisheri as she attempts to solve a murder on behalf of her queen. The Queen’s Eye has been murdered – an average woman who lives and works in the city and is charged with keeping tabs on certain individuals and reporting back to Cleopatra – and a large sum of coins has been stolen. Finding out how the Eye was murdered is simple enough, finding out who would want to murder her and why is another matter.

Stabenow has a masterful grip of the language as she creates the various settings in the novel. From the back streets of Alexandria to the home of Cleopatra herself, Stabenow’s writing makes it easy to envision these places. This however is also a drawback because with so much put towards setting the scenes, there is little left for the actual mystery itself.

Names of characters can also be a bit problematic as many of them use nicknames and Stabenow uses the given names and nicknames interchangeably. There were a few times I found myself having to reread a passage just so I could get a better grasp of who was talking.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading Death of an Eye. With Elizabeth Peters’ passing, there is precious little fiction dedicated to Egypt and Ancient Egypt in particular. Death of an Eye is a promising start to what I hope is an enjoyable series. Readers who liked Elizabeth Peters’ series should definitely check this one out.

Provided for Review: Shadow of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

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

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, a new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself. (via Goodreads)

The story of collecting items to summon a magical creature and grant a wish is a trope that has been used throughout history. The incredibly popular manga/anime ‘Dragonball’ uses it to great success. Even the movie ‘The Fifth Element’ uses a variation of the trope.

Shadow of the Fox can be added to the list. Based heavily on Japanese mythology, culture, and traditions, it is a version set in what to some will be a familiar land.

Kagawa has done an admirable job creating a world that is both familiar and unique. She has taken known Japanese folklore and twisted it just so. In the characters she has created, readers will recognize the physical and personality type traits that are seen so often in modern Japanese storytelling.

While the book is aimed towards almost all readers, I personally think those who have at least some knowledge of Japan and it’s stories will enjoy Shadow of the Fox more. As someone who is a very big manga/anime fan, I enjoyed seeing the mixture. Not everyone will like it though and some might even find it confusing.

Manga and anime fans – especially those who enjoyed titles like ‘Naruto’ or ‘Dragonball’ – will likely devour this book. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Provided for Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

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

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls? (via Goodreads)

The Bird King is one of those novels that offers a unique mix of truth and fantasy. Set in 1491, it is the story of a young concubine and her witnessing of the fall of the sultanate and the only life she had ever known. When her dear friend is threatened with death, she makes a bold and daring choice. In their travels they meet both friend and foe, as well as some who are both.

The shift of story from almost non-fiction to fantasy is quite smooth. Wilson weaves a tale of friendship and love, of loss and betrayal, and does it in a way that is very realistic. She incorporates non-human characters in a natural way, having them interact with the human characters that is very believable.

One of the story points that really stuck out to me was how Hassan’s sexuality is treated. It is explained that he prefers the company of men and has no interest in women. Aside from the few Christian’s they meet, no one cares who Hassan lays with. Also, the fact that he is homosexual isn’t treated as a big deal, it’s a part of who he is just as much as his ability to draw maps of places he hasn’t seen.

Fatima loves Hassan just as Hassan loves Fatima in return, however they do not end up a couple at the end of the book. Their love is the love of good friends and the fact that it doesn’t change nor is it made light of that I found enjoyable.

On the whole, I greatly enjoyed reading The Bird King. There is some subject matter that some might find triggering, but I believe that the majority of readers will like this book as much as I have. I heartily recommend it to all my readers.

Provided for Review: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of Rene Descartes by Andrew Pessin

This book has been provided for review by the lovely people at Bookglow.

 

Elegant divider scroll

In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.

Shortly thereafter he was dead.

Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher? 

Turns out: nearly everyone.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year. 

But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.

But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end. (via Goodreads)

The Irrationalist is basically a historical murder mystery using individuals who really existed in the time when they lived. Rene Descartes was a well known mathematician and philosopher and in 1649 he did travel to Sweden to begin tutoring Queen Christina. In early 1650 he became ill and died shortly thereafter, the official reason being pneumonia. And while many didn’t question this outcome, some had doubts, yet once Descartes was buried the issue too was laid to rest.

This is where the similarities between what really happened and what happened in The Irrationalist ends. 

Pessin does an excellent job of taking a real event and spinning a “what if…?” tale from it. His characters – all either real people or based on real people – are interesting and just when one thinks they have a grasp of the person, a proverbial wrench is thrown in the works. Pessin has done his research and does admirably in making sure that everyone is well rounded and their inclusion helps push the story along. 

The tightly woven plot is really what makes this book stand out. To the casual observer, Descartes’ death seems very clear cut, but it is only when one starts to dig do they realize that not everything is as it seems. And in trying to figure out who would want to kill the man, every one has a reason. And again, just when the reader believes they know who the culprit was, Pessin gives a piece of information that casts doubt. It isn’t until the very, very end that we are given the truth about what happened to Descartes and if his death was indeed natural causes.

This is the first work of fiction by Pessin, and in my opinion it is an very good start. I would not be surprised if he continues to write more like this and when he does, I will be checking them out as well. I recommend my readers do too.

Provided for Review: A Brazen Curiosity (Beatrice Hyde-Clare Mysteries Book #1) by Lynn Messina

This book was provided for review by the nice folks at NetGalley

Twenty-six-year-old Beatrice Hyde-Clare is far too shy to investigate the suspicious death of a fellow guest in the Lake District. A spinster who lives on the sufferance of her relatives, she would certainly not presume to search the rooms of her host’s son and his friend looking for evidence. Reared in the twin virtues of deference and docility, she would absolutely never think to question the imperious Duke of Kesgrave about anything, let alone how he chose to represent the incident to the local constable.

And yet when she stumbles upon the bludgeoned corpse of poor Mr. Otley in the deserted library of the Skeffingtons’ country house, that’s exactly what she does. (via Goodreads)

A Brazen Curiosity is every bit a Regency romance and then some. Messina manages to keep the Regency period style language throughout the entire book; from Beatrice’s interior monologues to descriptions of the ongoing action. Readers who are familiar with the rambling style of many Regency novels will find the language familiar, those who are not might find it a bit off-putting. Personally, I found the overly purple prose endearing at some times and annoying at others.

Also like many novels of the era, there is a romance threaded through the story. And like many Regency novels, it is a slow burn romance. Beatrice starts the novel day-dreaming about throwing various food items at the Duke, and by the end she still day dreams about pelting him with various foodstuffs but they have also both started to develop feelings for one another. There are no kisses, they don’t even hold hands. It is the kind of extremely slow build up between two individuals that I absolutely adore.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading A Brazen Curiosity. The quibbles I have are incredibly minor, especially when considering that what I didn’t always enjoy was something that is generally viewed as the mark of many original Regency era novels. As I said earlier, readers who enjoy books written in this time period will be familiar with this rambling writing style and will have little issue with it. 

As of this time there are two other novels in the series and while I haven’t read them yet, I will be adding them to my list.