Provided for Review: The Three Locks (Sherlock Holmes Adventure #4) by Bonnie MacBird

A heatwave melts London as Holmes and Watson are called to action in this new Sherlock Holmes adventure by Bonnie MacBird, author of “one of the best Sherlock Holmes novels of recent memory.”

In the West End, a renowned Italian escape artist dies spectacularly on stage during a performance – immolated in a gleaming copper cauldron of his wife’s design. In Cambridge, the runaway daughter of a famous don is found drowned, her long blonde hair tangled in the Jesus Lock on the River Cam. And in Baker Street, a mysterious locksmith exacts an unusual price to open a small silver box sent to Watson.

From the glow of London’s theatre district to the buzzing Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge where physicists explore the edges of the new science of electricity, Holmes and Watson race between the two cities to solve the murders, encountering prevaricating prestidigitators, philandering physicists, and murderous mentalists, all the while unlocking secrets which may be best left undisclosed. And one, in particular, is very close to home.

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

The Three Locks is the fourth installment in Bonnie MacBird’s Sherlock Holmes Adventures series. Set during the late summer of 1887, in it Holmes and Watson find themselves tackling three different cases. At first, they seem unrelated but as time goes on and the clues are gathered things are more closely related then they seem.

Bonnie MacBird has once again done an admirable job in bringing the familiar world surrounding 221B Baker Street to life. Her handling of the characters shows a deep love for them, as does the way she is able to craft a story that is engaging and entertaining. Her style of writing is very reminiscent of the original Doyle stories only updated for a modern audience.

Practically every Sherlock Holmes fan has a favorite version of the iconic character. From Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern Holmes to Jeremy Brett’s penultimate Holmes, there is a version for everyone. And in The Three Locks, the same can be said. There are little touches that evoke certain versions of both Holmes and Watson. I personally found it very entertaining to try and figure out which version MacBird was referencing where.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson would do well to check out MacBird’s Sherlock Holmes Adventures series. While it doesn’t need to be read in order, I do recommend my fellow fans and readers to read it all.

Provided for Review: The Vanishing by David Michael Slater

To save her best friend from the horrors of Nazi Germany, an invisible girl must embark on an utterly unforgettable journey of redemption and revenge. The Vanishing is fierce and loving, devastating and compelling, a breathtaking blend of history, fiction, and magical realism.

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

Trigger Warnings: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Semitic remarks, rape, human death, animal death, child abuse.

Life has been pretty good for young Sophie Siegel. While it’s true she and her parents have had to move a handful of times in the last few years, things haven’t been all bad. She’s become a better student and has made a few friends – including the little boy next door.

One December morning Sophie wakes to find her mother sewing a yellow star on to all of their clothes. Sophie initially refuses, somehow knowing wearing the star represents a turning point for her and for the other Jews in the city where she lives. And she is not wrong because shortly thereafter Sophie’s world is turned upside down.

Many times when an author writes a fictional story set during World War 2 and specifically makes mention of the Holocaust, they tend to water the truth down some. In an effort to make the subject matter more palatable certain truths are glossed over. In David Michael Slater’s The Vanishing, the opposite happens. Slater does not shy away from the cruelty that was acted upon the Jewish people during this time. He does not gloss over the sadistic acts and instead lays them bare. Through Sophie’s young eyes we are given a first hand account of this horrible time.

Reading The Vanishing is by no means easy. Though the book itself is just shy of 200 pages, it is the content matter that can cause difficulties. Normally I would be able to read such a book in a day or two but I found myself having to put the book down on several occasions just to ground myself. To settle the anger and despair that bubbled in my own chest at the travesties that occurred over 75 years ago.

The Vanishing is one of those books that I believe everyone should read but it is also very difficult to recommend. It is a remarkable and very well written book but it also one that is gut wrenching and at times hard to read. It is sweet and sad, breath-taking and heart-breaking. It is a book that will stay with the reader long after they have gotten to the last page.

Provided for Review: Advocatus (Culpa Magum #1) by A.R. Turner

Advocatus tells the tale of Felix, a junior lawyer with one last case before he can strike out on his own.

His client? A terrifying magical warlord accused of, amongst other horrifying crimes, two counts of Attempted Genocide (and six counts of Theft). His plea? Innocent, of course! All in a day’s work for Felix.

Psychic frogs, downtrodden goblins, time-traveling wizards, and a whole host of other magical defendants become his caseload as Felix begins trying to make a name for himself as a successful lawyer in a world rife with sorcery.

The biggest case of his life: defending humanity in front of Habeus, the God of Justice himself. Lose, and it’s all over. Not just for him, but for the whole of mankind.

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

Advocatus follows the story of Felix. A young lawyer who has finally struck out on his own. Having joined a law firm, he is anxious to really get his career going. To make a name for himself and to help his fellow man…woman…frog…??

The overall premise for Advocatus might sound a bit heavy – the whole having to argue for humanity’s continued existence against incredible odds, etc. I can assure my readers that the truth is anything but. Advocatus is a very funny and entertaining book.

There are a wide variety of characters and they run the gambit from sweet and charming to dark and malevolent. The lead character, Felix, is well written. He could have very easily been written as the stereotypical lawyer character, only caring about himself until some great revelation. But for Felix the opposite is true. Felix is a great lawyer in that not only is he smart but he cares about his clients. He – and the firm he works for – work hard to help the little man, taking on cases that most would pass up.

The praise of being well written extends to the actual book as well. It has a very tongue-in-cheek style, serious at times without becoming maudlin. It has a dry humor and reminded me very much of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. It pokes fun at others while also making fun of itself.

I will be honest dear reader when I say I had a good time reading A.R. Turner’s Advocatus. I eagerly recommend it to my readers, especially those who enjoy British humor like the above-mentioned Adams and Pratchett. It is an amusing and feel-good type of story and I eagerly look forward to more in the series.

Thank you again to A.R. Turner and The Write Reads for hosting this book tour!

Provided for Review: Hag of the Hills (The Bronze Sword Cycles #1) by J.T.T. Ryder

“Nothing is unconquerable; even our gods can die.”

Brennus is destined from birth to become a warrior, despite his farmer’s life. But when the Hillmen kill his family and annihilate his clan, he now has the opportunity to avenge those who he loved.

Brennus must survive endless hordes of invading Hillmen and magic-wielding sidhe, aided by only a band of shifty mercenaries, and an ancient bronze sword.

Failure means his family and clan go unavenged. Victory will bring glory to Brennus and his ancestors.

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

Historical-based fiction has long been a favorite genre of mine. Regardless of the era – from paleolithic such as Clan of the Cave Bear to the Victorian Era with my beloved Sherlock Holmes stories – tales set in another time are quite enjoyable. So one can easily imagine I would enjoy reading J.T.T. Ryder’s Hag of the Hills. And they would be right.

Hag of the Hills follows Brennus, a young man who longs for the fame and prestige being a warrior brings. His father was known far and wide for his bravery and Brennus wishes to follow in those footsteps. His destiny however centers around farming life regardless of whether he likes it or not.

A poor decision on Brennus’ part leads him to make a kind of Faustian deal with the hag of the hills. She offers Brennus the fame he seeks but at a price. And it is only when his clan is decimated does Brennus understand just how high the price might be.

Hag of the Hills could almost be labeled a “sword and sorcery” type of book. Though the book is based on a factual time in history, there are magical elements to it that add a supernatural feel to the story. Goddesses, witches, and giants make appearances and there are mentions of other types of non-human creatures. They live side by side, the influence of one always being felt on the other.

One thing that might detract some readers is how this is a violence-heavy book. It is true, that there is a good deal of violence. It was a part of everyday life and Hag of the Hills does not shy away from that fact. Wars and raids were common, and taking prisoners and slaves were expected.

Another thing that some might take issue with is how one-dimensional the handful of female characters are written. On the surface this is accurate, the few female characters are little more than background fodder. But when one realizes Hag of the Hills is written as the Brennus recounting his younger years, it makes sense. One doesn’t have to like it, but it does fit the narrative.

It is obvious to see the amount of research Ryder put into writing Hag of the Hills. It is also not surprising to know he is an archaeologist specializing in the Iron Age, specifically the time this story takes place. The characters are well thought out and well written and while I did not always agree with their decisions, neither could I blame them.

My readers who are real history buffs will likely enjoy reading Hag of the Hills. I encourage all of my readers to give it a try.

Provided for Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due. 

This book was provided for review by the kind people at Tor publishing. Thank you!

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood is one of those books I started and put down before coming back to it at a later date. When I first started reading it some months ago I didn’t get very far because the story just wasn’t pulling me in. It wasn’t engaging and I found my attention drifting when I did try to read. Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and I knew that if I put the book down and came back at a later date, I’m sure I would have an easier time.

Which is exactly what happened when I came back to it.

The Unspoken Name is a wonderfully fun and incredibly imaginative book. The characters, while not wholly unique, are at least presented in a way that is fresh. The characters are flawed and imperfect, none more so than the main characters Csorwe and Sethennai. Their relationship is ever-changing, often times bordering on the toxic.

There are a few plot holes that could have been handled better. Several times something happens without any explanation. How did this person know that piece of information? How did those characters know exactly where to go and how to get there? I am purposefully being vague because to give details would be to reveal important scenes and spoilers, something I try very hard not to do.

The Unspoken Name is one of those books that once I started reading I found it hard to put down. It kept me interested and entertained and despite its flaws, I found it to be a fun read. I definitely recommend it to my readers who love a good fantasy and am eagerly looking forward to the second installment of the series.

Provided for Review: The Living Waters (The Weirdwater Confluence Book 1) by Dan Fitzgerald

Wonder swirls beneath murky water.

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.

The mystery of the swirls lures them on to the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.

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

When Dan Fitzgerald originally reached out to me to review the first book in his Weirdwater Confluence series, I admit I was intrigued. At the mention of “fantasy” as a genre, one’s thoughts often tend towards swords and monsters and epic action scenes. The Living Waters does have some action and there can be arguments made for monsters but as for swords, there isn’t one to be found. One would have to look hard to find weaponry of any kind and then one might find an oar or a fishing pole.

As someone who enjoys a good fantasy but doesn’t always want epic fight scenes, The Living Waters was a wonderfully refreshing read.

Much like the river our characters travel on, The Living Waters is a meandering story. It starts and stops never settling in one place for long and when it does actually pause we the reader are treated to lush landscapes and fresh faces. Fitzgerald’s writing captures the lands around the river superbly, evoking thoughts of Mark Twain and his writings on the Mississippi River.

The one and only quibble I have with The Living Waters was the lack of backstory. We are told members of the upper classes paint their faces and exposed skin to protect them from the sun. Why did this practice start and when? The same goes for the rough about Temi and Silvan take. Why exactly is this done? It’s never fully explained and I personally think it would have added to my enjoyment if it had been.

Like I said above, The Living Waters is a wonderfully refreshing read and I enjoyed it very much. It is my understanding there is a second book in the works and I am personally looking forward to it. I recommend this book to all my readers and hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

Provided for Review: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.

But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt. 

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

When I saw Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth available to read on Netgalley, I jumped on the chance to get a copy. Books set in Japan (whether modern-day or historical) are appealing to me. And if there happens to be a mystery and/or a horror element added in? Bonus!

I was so looking forward to reading this book and when I was finally able to I was so disappointed! So much about this book is simply awful!

I know horror can be difficult to write; good horror that keeps you on the edge of your seat doubly so. The juggling of characters, setting, and plot can be quite demanding. Even the most prolific of writers can have trouble. And while Khaw certainly tried with Nothing But Blackened Teeth, it was in my opinion an ultimate failure.

The cast of characters is an unlikeable group of twenty-somethings. Throughout the story, we are told they are friends and have been for some time – hard to believe considering the way they almost constantly bicker. Almost the entire book is like this with them fighting about past grudges and who might still have feelings for who. It added nothing to the story and only made it difficult for me to actually care when something happened to someone.

Because the story is set in Japan and because it is supposed to be a ghost story, Khaw apparently felt it necessary to throw in terms like ohaguro-bettari and shiromoku but without giving any translation or context. Readers who are familiar with Japanese ghost stories will likely recognize the terms – a female demon with no face and a mouth of black teeth and a pure white wedding kimono respectively – but the average readers will not. And without that context or translation, the words mean nothing and add nothing.

The writing for Nothing But Blackened Teeth is just as bad. Khaw’s prose is so purple at times it comes across as ridiculous. In some passages it isn’t purple, it’s ultraviolet. It is excessive and so over the top that I have no words to really describe it. And like in so many novels that have that overly flowery type of writing, it doesn’t add to the story but detracts from it.

I will be honest my dear reader, I did not enjoy reading Nothing But Blackened Teeth. The stilted writing and horrid characters made it difficult to even finish the story. I know there are reviewers who absolutely loved this book and there are readers who like me did not. My only advice is to read it and judge for yourself.

Provided for Review: A History of the World Through Body Parts by Kathy Petras and Ross Petras

From famous craniums to prominent breasts, ancient spleens, and bound feet, this book will bring history to life in a whole new way.

With their inimitable wit and probing intelligence, authors Kathy and Ross Petras look at the role the human body has played throughout history as each individual part becomes a jumping-off point for a wider look at the times.

In far-ranging, quirky-yet-interrelated stories, learn about Charles II of Spain’s jaw and the repercussions of inbreeding, what Anne Boleyn’s heart says about the Crusades and the trend of dispersed burials, and what can be learned about Lady Xoc’s pierced tongue. 

A History of the World Through Body Parts is packed with fascinating little-known historical facts and anecdotes that will entertain, enlighten, and delight even the most well-read history buff.

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

A History of the World Through Body Parts: The Stories Behind the Organs, Appendages, Digits, and the Like Attached to (or Detached from) Famous Bodies (whew, what a mouthful!) is exactly what the title says. It is a brief look at the history of humanity and the certain body parts that played important parts in key moments.

From the stone age to the space age, the Petras trace the rise and fall of history and the accompanying body parts that played a role. There are twenty-seven chapters and each chapter focuses on a certain body part – such as Qui Jin’s feet, Anne Boleyn’s heart, or Charles II of Spain’s jaw. Each piece tells a story of the times and tells us not only what was popular at the time but also how the times were changing.

While each chapter is fairly short, there is also a good deal of information given. For me, this made the book enjoyable to read. The information is given in a way that is easy to take in, not relying on overly scientific terms that might push a more casual reader away.

A History of the World Through Body Parts is an entertaining as well as educational read. Some of these stories I already knew but there were just as many I did not know the whole truth behind. I definitely recommend it for any of my readers who are looking not only a fairly quick read but one that will help them learn something too.

Provided for Review: The Dali Deception by Adam Maxwell

Five criminals. Two forgeries. And one masterpiece of a heist.

Violet Winters—a professional thief born of a good, honest thief-and-con-artist stock— has been offered the heist of a lifetime. Steal a priceless Salvador Dali from the security-obsessed chairman of the Kilchester Bank and replace it with a forgery.

The fact that the “painting” is a signed, blank canvas doesn’t matter. It’s the challenge that gives Violet that familiar, addicting rush of adrenaline. Her quarry rests in a converted underground Cold War bunker. One way in, one way out. No margin for error.

But the reason Violet fled Kilchester is waiting right where she left him—an ex-lover with a murderous method for dumping a girlfriend. If her heist is to be a success, there will have to be a reckoning, or everything could go spinning out of control.

Her team of talented misfits assembled, Violet sets out to re-stake her claim on her reputation, exorcise some demons, and claim the prize. That is if her masterpiece of a plan isn’t derailed by a pissed-off crime boss—or betrayal from within her own ranks. 

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

Readers who have been with me for some time know that the majority of the books I review tend to skew towards the science-fiction and fantasy variety. Every so often I read and review something “modern” but those tend to be few and far between. When I was contacted by Adam Maxwell and asked if I was interested in reviewing his book The Dali Deception, I admit I was a bit hesitant. Once I read the book description, however, I was intrigued. And once I actually started reading the book itself, I was hooked.

When is a painting not quite a painting? When it’s a blank canvas signed by Salvador Dali.

After being away from Kilchester for almost two years, Violet Winters is given the chance to get back in the con game. All she has to do is steal a priceless Dali painting and replace it with a fake. The only hitch is the painting is located in an underground bunker apartment owned by a security-obsessed banker. There’s only one way in and one way out and enough security to make the US federal government jealous.

As she’s been away for a while, Violet has to assemble an all-new team. This she does by calling in old friends and making new ones along the way.

The character of Violet Winters – and the rest of her motley crew – are an interesting bunch. It would have been so easy for Maxwell to rely on character tropes that readers have seen countless times. But Maxwell doesn’t do this and instead subverts what readers are expecting and in effect take them by surprise. While there are some criminal cliches that are almost impossible to avoid, even with those Maxwell takes them and gives them a unique twist.

Personally, I think my favorite characters were Zoe and Katie. As someone who has perpetually looked younger than she actually was, I can completely relate to her sometimes frustration. And as for Katie, I find her whole person intriguing and cannot wait to get to know her better. In The Dali Deception, we do not learn much about her but it is easy to like her.

Maxwell’s writing style with The Dali Deception is fast-paced and funny. While reading it I couldn’t help but think how well this story could translate to screen – preferably a tv series type thing that would allow the whole story to be told.

In the end, I really enjoyed reading The Dali Deception by Adam Maxwell. I’m glad to know there is a second book featuring this crew and it has already been added to my extensive To Be Read list. I absolutely recommend it to my readers and to anyone looking for something a little bit different.

Many thanks to Adam Maxwell for allowing me to read and review this book!

Provided for Review: The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

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

“Words had power. Words could kill. And secret words all the more.”

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston is a fictional fantasy story of con men and cards, of gamblers and games, and the lengths some are willing to go to win.

The world that Livingston has created for The Knave of Secrets is a complex one. There are numerous cultures featured, not all of them friendly but all with one thing in common – the love of gambling and games. The same can be said for the characters, they too are complex with their love of gambling the main thing in common.

The main character Valen Quinol isn’t a young man but is described as one of middle age. A rarity in that most books of this kind feature a younger character often just starting out on their journey. Valen is well on his journey, having traveled it along with his wife and friends for some years already.

All of the characters are interesting in their own right and thankfully none of them are perfect. Mistakes are made and learned from. Fights and disagreements happen over plans. Even when things seem to go smoothly they don’t. Because of this, the characters are easy to relate to. Who doesn’t have arguments with their friends? Who doesn’t disagree sometimes with the ones they love most? It doesn’t mean we love them any less.

The only real quibble I have with The Knave of Secrets is the lack of “show don’t tell” in the storytelling. This is especially true during the many scenes featuring one game or another. In these instances, Livingston tells us what happens in the game but doesn’t really show us the action. While these scenes are intended to move the story along, sadly they fall flat while they attempt to do so.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Alex Livingston’s The Knave of Secrets. While the book is meant to be a standalone, I would very much enjoy seeing more tales from this world he has created. I recommend this book to my readers and I would remind them of an adage that every gambler knows:

The House Always Wins.