Provided for Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Undead Client by M.J. Downing

Sherlock Holmes has only been deceased a month when Dr. John Watson, still grieving, recounts his final case with Holmes.  A terrifying mystery, it sends Watson and Holmes into the dark reaches of London’s back alleys – and the human soul. 

It begins when Anne Prescott, a lovely Scottish nurse, begs Sherlock Holmes and Watson to help her find her fiancé and her sister, who have gone missing in the teeming streets of London. Immediately, Watson feels an attraction to her that shocks him. Newly married to Mary, and deeply in love with her, he struggles to put Anne out of his mind.

As Watson and Holmes dig into the slums and sewers of London looking for Anne’s fiancé and sister, they uncover a deadly web of bloody murders, horrific medical experiments, and even voodoo ritual that threatens not only London, but the entire British empire, and beyond.

Watson must call on his unique combination of expertise in the medical sciences, as well as his military training to stop this killer before London —and Anne — are lost to the killer’s bloody plan.

But time is short and the mystery ever more complex. How can he manage his feelings for Anne? What about his loyalty to Mary? He can’t have both.

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

If it hasn’t occurred to my readers by now, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I have read all of the original Conan Doyle tales countless times and continue to enjoy them. I am also one who is more than happy to read other author’s stories starring my favorite detective. And while yes, I will admit, that it is often hit or miss with the books, I still enjoy it.

Unfortunately my dearest readers, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Undead Client is one of those that is a miss.

A great majority of readers are familiar with fan-fiction, and with that they are generally familiar with the term “Mary-Sue”. The term refers to a female character who is absolutely perfect in every way. She is incredibly smart and exceptionally beautiful, whatever task she attempts to do she is almost immediately proficient. And in almost every case she meets a tragic end.

The character of Anne Prescott is, in my mind, such a character. She comes to Holmes and Watson seeking their help in finding her missing fiance as well as her missing sister. At first, her interactions with Holmes and Watson are fairly standard – she is trying to help them find her loved ones after all. Soon though characterization goes a bit sideways and both Holmes and Watson become almost caricatures.

About halfway through Holmes expresses a wish to be more like Anne Prescott with her strength of character. I thought this was completely out of character for him as he had never wanted to be anyone else but himself. Also, about two-thirds of the way through, Anne seduces Watson and causes him to cheat on Mary. Again, this is quite out of character as in canon Watson professed how much he cared for Mary several times.

Aside from the mis-characterization, the writing itself is often over melodramatic to the point where it almost becomes purple. I understand that Downing was trying to capture the particular writing style of Conan Doyle’s Watson but like most everything else, I found it profoundly lacking.

If this book was about original characters fighting zombies in Victorian England, I would be more inclined to give it a better rating. However, because this is book is centered on the well known characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, I must rate it accordingly and advice my readers to skip it entirely.

Provided for Review: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Welcome to Harrow Lake...
Someone’s expecting you.

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and then there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking her every move.

The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her . . .

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

When The Write Reads approached me on Twitter to join the book tour for Harrow Lake, I immediately accepted. As someone who grew up in the 80’s, horror films are as much a part of my growing up as anything else. And while yes, I did have my share of nightmares from them, I also came to appreciate them as the works of art that some of them are.

Harrow Lake is a story that centers around horror films and the hold they can create. It focuses on Lola Nox, 17 year old daughter of horror film director Nolan Nox. Having grown up around her father’s films, Lola believes that nothing can frighten her. Those beliefs are put to the test when Lola is sent – rather unwillingly – to her maternal grandmother’s home in Harrow Lake.

Harrow Lake reminds me very much of the older tv series The Twilight Zone. Any one who remembers the original show will recall that the stories they told were built on the premise of suspense and barely hinted at ideas. Where the shadows lurking in a dark corner could be a hideous monster or could simply be a pile of clothes. Where not everything is as it seems and looks are definitely deceiving.

Like some horror movies, the action in Harrow Lake is a bit choppy. Scenes jump from one to the next with almost no indication. It can be a little disconcerting at times. Also, the main character of Lola can be irritating. This can be explained by not only her age but also by her unique upbringing. Any one raised immersed in the horror genre from a young age is likely to be more than a bit jaded as well.

This is the first novel by Kat Ellis that I’ve had the opportunity to read and review. I enjoyed her style of storytelling and have already looked in to what others books she has written.

Readers who enjoy a good suspenseful story will likely enjoy Harrow Lake. It is the perfect creepy read for a dark night. I recommend it and hope others enjoy it as I did.

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.

The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito—mute her whole life, orphaned as a child—is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbor, she doesn’t know how she’d make it through the day.

Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center’s most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions…and Elisa can’t keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa’s sole reason to live.

But outside forces are pressing in. Richard Strickland, the obsessed soldier who tracked the asset through the Amazon, wants nothing more than to dissect it before the Russians get a chance to steal it. Elisa has no choice but to risk everything to save her beloved. With the help of Zelda and Giles, Elisa hatches a plan to break out the creature. But Strickland is on to them. And the Russians are, indeed, coming

Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia, Violence

Also please note, I have NOT seen the movie.

The Shape of Water is undoubtedly a strange book albeit with a well known premise. American government hears rumors of a strange creature in some far off land and sends someone off to capture it. The creature is brought back alive where it is poked and prodded by government scientists. Through a series of events the creature escapes and is often times killed by the time the credits roll.

The majority of this happens in del Toro’s book, but instead of making the creature some kind of monster and making us sympathize with the scientists and soldiers, he flips the script so to speak. Richard Strickland, the soldier who brought back the creature from the Amazon, is a hateful man. It is incredibly likely he has PTSD because as the story progresses he descends further and further in to a delusional madness.

Instead, we sympathize with the creature. Taken from his home and placed in a sterile tank. Kept prisoner and subjected to torture in the name of science. The only kindness he receives is from one of the overnight janitors, Eliza, who eventually risks everything for him.

The first hundred or so pages of The Shape of Water is a bit difficult to get through. The writing is dry and bland and the story doesn’t move very much. It is only once Eliza and the creature meet does the story start to pick up pace. A pace that gains speed culminating in the climax of the last twenty pages of the book.

I am curious more than ever to see the movie now having read the book so I can compare and contrast the two.

Even if you’ve seen the movie, I recommend reading the book. If nothing else, it will give more insight in to the characters and more background on them than can be given in a 2 hour movie.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Trigger Warning: Violence. Of many kinds. This is a zombie novel so it should go without saying. Some of the violence is directed towards children.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a great and unique take on your typical zombie story. The zombies – or hungries as they’re referred to in the book – are not the main character. They do make a few appearances in the book but most of the time they are referred to by the human characters. Something else that makes this story unique is the origin of the zombie virus.

Also on the unique front is how the book doesn’t focus solely on the zombies, but instead focuses on the human characters and how they interact. The world has changed drastically and not every one is taking to it well.

For me, I believe what truly makes The Girl With All the Gifts an enjoyable read is the mysteries behind the scenes. Melanie is such a lovable individual and she has so much love to give if she could only find someone to accept it. But for whatever reason, no one will get close to her. She doesn’t understand but she is determined to find out.

I really enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts. At times it can be heartbreaking and at other times it can be breathtaking. There is some gore but I still recommend it to my readers.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. 

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide.

Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that when you woke up you could have sworn that it actually happened? That you lived a whole other life? And now that you’ve woken up, you come to the realization that this is your real life and that other life was only a fantasy?

What if you’re told that the life you dreamt of was a result of FMS – False Memory Syndrome? That despite how real it felt that it was all just an illusion? How would that make you feel? How do you think that would make any one feel?

Continuing in the thread of ‘What if…?’, what if you were told there was a special chair. A chair that allows you to revisit past events? And in revisiting the past, the potential to change the future? Would you sit in the chair? What would you change?

All of these questions – and many more – are posed in Blake Crouch’s most recent book Recursion.

In it, neuroscientist Helena Smith is searching for a way to preserve memories. To allow important moments to be recorded so that they might be experienced again. To save what little is left of her own mother’s mind before Alzheimer’s claims her completely. And while Helena succeeds in being able to record memories, it is when they are played back that trouble starts. Trouble that could potentially change the world as we know it.

I will be blunt dear reader, Recursion is not an easy read. At times it is science heavy and at other times it is emotion heavy. It is however a very good book and one that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

I absolutely recommend this one to my readers.

The Trouble With Being God: 10th Anniversary Special Edition by William F. Aicher

A naked priest hangs crucified on the wall of an abandoned brewery – the first in a series of grisly murders plaguing the city of Courtsdale. A recurring nightmare of blood, intimacy and death haunts the dreams of journalist, Steven Carvelle.

Someone stalks the city, and with the inside help of homicide detective, Kevin Miles, Steven investigates – searching for the connection tying the terrifying events together. But as the search unfolds and the murders strike closer and closer to home, Steven soon realizes these killings bear an uncanny resemblance to his dreams. Is it connection? Or coincidence? 

Do we really ever know who we are? 

And what is the trouble with being God?

Trigger Warning: Blood and gore as well as graphic descriptions of murder victims.

I admit, dear reader, that I read all of The Trouble With Being God in one evening. I started reading it, expecting to finish it in a few days like I do with most books but found myself so absorbed by the story that I couldn’t put it down.

Yet as much as I enjoyed the story, I simply could not stand the main character, Steven. I found him incredibly annoying. He is verbally and emotionally abusive to his girlfriend. He is rude and sometimes even mean to those he supposedly calls his friends. Though honestly, the same can be said of almost every other character in the book. Aside from Detective Miles, nearly every other character that plays a part in the story is bitter, selfish, and mean.

What saves the book from being a total dumpster fire is Aicher’s writing. The pacing and prose keep the story tight and suspenseful. It is enough to keep the reader engaged and guessing right up to and past the final page.

The way Aicher ends the story will certainly not appeal to everyone. I personally liked it since not everything in real life ends all neatly wrapped up like in books or movies.

The 10th Anniversary edition comes with additional extras like the original epilogue that was not published with the first edition of the book as well as a new afterword by the author. The afterword was interesting and gave insight in to the author and how his feelings towards the book have changed over the 10 years. The epilogue was worthless and didn’t add anything to the story. Personally, I’m glad it was scrapped.

Fans of Aicher’s books will likely enjoy The Trouble With Being God if they haven’t already read it. For any one else, I encourage them to at least give it a try.

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Last Wish cover

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves.

Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.

Technically, The Last Wish is not the first book in The Witcher series though it is often listed as book one. In truth it was printed after The Sword of Destiny – book three – of the series. However, as the events in The Last Wish take place before The Sword of Destiny, it is put first when listing the books of the series.

Since I have not played the Witcher games before reading the books, I did not go in with any expectations aside from the knowledge that this a fantasy series unlike many on the market today. I’m glad for this because from what I understand, there are differences between the two and I know I would be constantly comparing them.

The Last Wish was originally written in Polish and translated to English, a fact that is sometimes obvious while reading. Because while Sapkowski builds a world that is easily believable, the action and story becomes clunky and awkward at times. And as I do not read Polish, I am relying on the English translation when giving my opinion.

The characters that populate the world that Sapkowski writes of are a diverse sort. There are royalty and there are servants, there are those who are human and there are those that are not. These creatures come from a variety of tales and easily recognizable; vampires, elves, goblins, and gnomes.

What gives realism to the world created is that no one character is perfect. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys”. Every character does what they believe is the right thing; for themselves, for their loved ones, for their city or village. Even the titular character – Geralt of Rivera – does not fall in one particular category. As a Witcher, it is his job to seek out the monsters that plague the people. It is a profession he has trained for since he was a child and it is unclear whether he truly enjoys his work or not.

The Last Wish, as well as the rest of the Witcher series, isn’t your ordinary fantasy series. While it does have the creatures that are common in other books, there is also a darkness and a gritty element that may not appeal to everyone. Those who are looking for some realism in their fantasy will likely enjoy it.