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

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

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

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

But who’s really under the hood?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 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.

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.

Steel Hand, Cold Heart by Rachel Menard

On the island of Helvar, women rule. Sixteen-year-old Carina has trained for most of her life to belong to the coveted Daughters of Hel, the steel-handed Viking warriors who provide souls to the Death Goddess in exchange for the prosperity of their island. Gaining her place hasn’t been easy. She was not borne of the island, but another spoil from another raid, raised by the island Chieftain. There are many who would see her fail, and on her first raid, she does. She doesn’t kill a priestess she should have.

Carina needs to prove her worth or risk losing her place. Before she can, her arch-nemesis drugs her wine and sends her off the isle as a captive of three foreign boys. But what is Carina’s greatest misfortune may turn out to be her greatest gift. The young men are taking her to the jewel of the Southern Isles – Fortis Venitis, a place no other Daughter of Hel can venture. Carina can place Hel’s claims on the Southern isle and return to Helvar with the spoils, a victor.

However there are many obstacles to pass before she reaches her goal. Like her rune stone that everyone keeps trying to steal, the mismatched pirates from a country that no longer exists, and the priest with his poison that melts flesh from bones. But the most dangerous obstacle of all are the odd feelings she’s developing for her victims, especially the knife-thieving captain Nik. That could make it difficult for her to kill him in the end.

Trigger Warning: Mentions of abuse, mentions of rape, assorted violence

Sixteen year old Carina the Unstoppable is one of the Daughters of Hel. The Daughters are a group of Viking warriors who provide souls to the Death Goddess in exchange for prosperity for their own island. Becoming a Daughter of Hel is not an easy task, for Carina it is doubly so as she was not born on the island. But Carina is determined to prove herself and prove worthy of the steel gauntlet she wears.

On the evening of her first raid, Carina is drugged by her nemesis and given to three foreign boys as a captive. She learns that the boys are taking her to Fortis Venitis, an island the Daughters of Hel have never been able to raid. If Carina can place a claim on the Southern Isle and return home with a ship full of spoils, she knows she be held in the highest regard and will have truly earned her place.

But the trip is difficult and fraught with danger – both known and unknown. If Carina is to make it home again she’ll have to fight hard to survive and somehow harden her heart against the emotions she is beginning to develop for her captors.

Steel Hand, Cold Heart is (I believe) the first full length novel for author Rachel Menard. And from the first few lines of the first chapter, it is a wild adventure.

The main character Carina is neither a hero nor is she a villain. She is a young woman who has trained her whole life to become a raider for her island. She believes that what she does is justifiable, that in the raiding and pillaging she does with the other Daughters of Hel, she insures a prosperous life for her home and those she cares for. Those who suffer from their raids aren’t given a second thought. This line of thinking – as well as Carina’s penchant for rushing blindly in to situations – made it a bit difficult to like Carina as a character in the beginning. Thankfully, she grows and matures some as the story goes on though she does continue to be rash.

The three young men that kidnap Carina – Nik, Flavian, and Mateo – I found it difficult to connect with any of them. It isn’t that they aren’t bad characters, it’s just that I felt there wasn’t enough time truly dedicated to any one of them to get a good feel. With the bits and pieces of information sprinkled throughout the story, we the reader do come to understand each young man a bit better but I still feel more could have been given. Also, one particular character revelation (not stated due to spoilers) felt tacked on unnecessarily and was provided so late in the story as to not lend much in the way of sympathy.

Like I said, they aren’t terrible characters, I just didn’t feel any kind of real connection with any of them.

The one thing that I truly did not like was the way Steel Hand, Cold Heart ended. It was so abrupt it left me wondering if perhaps I had received a faulty e-copy. I am assured that this is indeed how the book ends, it just left me with a feeling of “That’s it? What happens next?” Of course, leaving the ending open like this opens up the possibility for a sequel or even series. I personally hope this is true because while I enjoyed reading Steel Hand, Cold Heart I also want more.

Provided for Review: The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton

Orphaned young, H is sent to live with her doting aunt in London. H’s life is a happy one until her lecherous cousin robs her of her innocence, and the plague takes away the city and the people she loves. H is cast out—friendless, pregnant and destitute–into the rapidly emptying streets of London under quarantine.

Forced to fend for herself, she is determined to gain back the life she lost. H will face a villain out for revenge, find love in the most unexpected places, and overcome a betrayal that she never could have foreseen. Weathering it all, can H charm, or scheme, her way to the life of freedom and independence that she longs for? 

Thank you to NetGalley and Legend Press for this Advanced Review Copy

Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual assault/rape; Teenage pregnancy; Infanticide

The Strange Adventures of H is much like the title says. Sent with her sister to live with their elderly aunt after their father’s death, H is almost immediately surrounded by an eclectic cast of characters that reside in 16th century London. When fate deals H a cruel hand, it is to these individuals that she must turn if she is to somehow survive.

London in the late 16th century was tumultuous time in history. Not only was the city and surrounding areas besieged by the plague, but it was also decimated by the Great Fire, and again it later survived the Shrove Tuesday riots. Through all of this H is there with her insights and views and opinions on matters. Through her eyes we the reader are a witness to history, walking alongside one who –  though fictional in this case – was one of countless there at the time.

In reading The Strange Adventures of H, it becomes obvious almost immediately the amount of research Burton has put in to the novel. Not only for H herself, but for the people around her (whether they be friend or foe) as well as the city of London itself. The descriptions given are vibrant and full of detail and are given from someone who absolutely loves the subject matter.

The life that H leads is not an easy one and Burton doesn’t shy away from that fact. Though in the end H does prevail, it is a difficult road for her. Several times I had to remind myself that H was just a teenager, a young woman who had yet to even reach 20 during the events of the novel. Such is her strength of character and such are the trials she is put through.

In the end, despite the difficulty I sometimes had reading The Strange Adventures of H, I really enjoyed it. I say difficulty simply because of the sometimes heavy subject matter and also that the book is a bit of a long one. History buffs who are looking for a novel that really seems to grasp the era it is set in and portray it accurately will likely enjoy it. Readers who are looking for a novel with a strong female character, one who is well rounded and well written will likely enjoy it. Readers who are looking to branch out and try something new will likely enjoy it.

I invite any one and every one to pick up a copy and delve in to The Strange Adventures of H.

Lady of Devices (Magnificent Devices #1) by Shelley Adina

London, 1889.

Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.

At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up.

When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It’s not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices . . .

When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .

Lady of Devices is the first book in Shelley Adina’s Magnificent Devices series. It opens with the main character, Claire Trevelyan, causing a rather messy accident in one of her classes. Despite the warnings of her instructors, she combines two reactive ingredients because she wishes to know what exactly will happen. And when she is tasked with cleaning up her mess, Claire seems to act as if this wasn’t her fault. If only her teacher had told her what would occur!

This small series of events was only the start of numerous eye rolling moments I had while reading this book.

Now do not get me wrong my dear reader, I enjoy the Steampunk genre as much as the next person. There is so much that can be played with in regards to technology and science. The way history has been shaped by the technology leaves countless ideas for authors to use. Unfortunately, Lady of Devices barely touches on any of them and when it does it is done with a heavy handed and awkward manner.

While Lady Claire is a smart young woman, she can also be irritatingly obtuse at times. When she takes up with the East End gang, she originally berates them for picking pockets. Yet she then turns around and teaches these same children how to cheat and swindle. She becomes a kind of governess for them with the intention of helping them become proper English citizens. But not some time later she (albeit accidentally) kills another gang leader and takes over his base of operations. For someone who supposedly prides herself on being a proper young woman, Lady Claire seems to follow the rules only when it suits her.

While I personally didn’t particular enjoy reading Lady of Devices, neither do I want to discourage my readers from trying it. Over on Goodreads, just as many readers gave it glowing reviews as others gave it less than stellar ones. Like in so many other instances, the reader shall simply have to decide for themselves.

Provided for Review: The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick

Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. When the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.

With rebellion comes consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. She has however made a mistake, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.

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

Trigger Warnings: Infidelity, Mentions of rape, Teenage pregnancy, Racial slurs (Specifically the word “gypsy”)

“The times they are a-changin’…” So goes the line in the song by Bob Dylan and so goes the overall theme in Serena Burdick’s The Girls with No Names.

Told from the point of view of a variety of individuals, The Girls with No Names is a story about change. The changes that come with age, that come with knowledge, that come with the inevitable march of time. Events that change the way one sees the world regardless of how large or small it is.

As it is primarily set in the early 1910’s, the way of thinking of some characters might be off-putting for some. When Effie and Luella come across the Romani camp in the beginning of the book, they are enamored of the “other” ness of the group. There is a sense of playing with the forbidden when the girls continue to visit the camp even after their parents express their distaste. It is something that comes up again when the girls’ Grandmother complains of “foreigners” taking over the city.

I personally found myself captivated by each individual characters story in this book. Each woman is connected to the others in numerous ways – by blood, by love, by circumstance. Each connection bringing another layer to the story until it is a veritable tapestry.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Girls with No Names and was able to finish the book in just two days. While there is some difficult subject matter, I found it to be written about in a way that sensitive without being overly so.

Readers who are looking for well written female characters are likely to enjoy this book. I recommend they give it a go.

Warlock Holmes – My Grave Ritual (Warlock Holmes #3) by G.S. Denning

As they blunder towards doom, Warlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson find themselves inconvenienced by a variety of eldritch beings. Christmas brings a goose that doesn’t let being cooked slow it down; they meet an electricity demon, discover why being a redhead is even tricker than one might imagine, and Holmes attempts an Irish accent. And, naturally, Moriarty is hanging around… in some form or other. 

My Grave Ritual by G.S. Denning is the third book in the ever popular Warlock Holmes series. In it, Denning once again takes the much loved Conan Doyle stories and gives them a macabre and monstrous twist that would do horror authors like H.P. Lovecraft proud.

Much like the original stories, these are also told from the point of view of Dr. Watson. One story however is from the crayon scribbled journals of Warlock Holmes, giving us an insight in to the mind of such a unique character. Funnily enough, aside from how the story ends, Denning’s version strays very little from the original Doyle version.

While some characteristics of both Holmes and Watson have been switched around, one thing does remain true. And that is how highly Holmes and Watson regard one another. How much each man cares for the other, both as a friend and as a work partner.

So far I have been greatly enjoying reading the adventures of Warlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Mr. Denning has done a lovely job of giving us readers a new version of these characters while still staying true to what makes them unique. I look forward to reading further stories of these two and seeing what kind of mischief and mayhem they get in to next.