Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction Mysteries Science Fiction

Audio/Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

In an effort to read more books that are already on my shelves this year, I finally picked up The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter by Theodora Goss! I read a short fairytale retellings collection of hers last year, and between that and the book featuring an Athena Club, (added bonus because I like things with my name in it), this seemed like a good pick right now!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s daughter
  • Series: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1
  • Author: Theodora Goss
  • Publisher & Release: Gallery / Saga Press, June 2017
  • Length: 417 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of mysteries and retellings!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

Audio:  I did listen to some of this on audio, and omg.  From Simon & Schuster audio, narrated by Kate Reading, she won an Audie in 2018 for best fantasy. Kate was just perfect. Every character has a unique voice, she speaks clearly and enunciates everything beautifully. I would absolutely 100% recommend this as an audiobook

The Story/Plot:  I think the synopsis tells you everything that you need to know about the plot!  This is a fantastically fast-paced book, starting with Mary Jekyll and gradually expanding to the full cast of characters as the women find each other. Along with each woman’s individual story, each of which were some of my favorite parts of the book, the crew is attempting to solve the Whitechapel murders.  These murders are re-written and worked in as part of the mad scientist plot!

The Characters: most of these characters are either completely new or Rewritten with their own personalities, but any fan of classic literature will hopefully appreciate them.  Characters worked from Jekyll & Hyde, Frankenstein, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dracula, Jane Eyre, and more are here, but it’s not necessary to know the original stories to read this at all.

The characters really are an interesting group, from poisonous Beatrice to super strong Justine to catwoman Catherine, and Hyde’s daughter is absolutely hilarious.   They refuse to be limited by being women in Victorian London.  Holmes and Watson take on new personalities too!

The Mystery:  no spoilers, but since I’ve never been a big Sherlock Holmes reader it was interesting to see how his murder investigation unfolded. The women were also running investigations and although the why shortly became apparent, the who and big picture- not so much. I just think it’s really cool how Goes pulled all of these characters into one coherent novel

Content: I got nothing for ya here.  Someone pees in holy water and they inspect a few dead bodies

Overall:  I can definitely recommend this one for fans of classical retellings and Mysteries!

Categories
Adventure Fantasy

Book Review: To Unite A Realm by Mary Beesley

Thank you so much to Mary Beesley for the finished Kindle copy of her newest book, To Unite A Realm!  This is an enemies to lovers story set in a very low fantasy world, so if you like adult fantasy romance… Check it out!  I read the book in two sittings and have no regrets at all.

My main point to keep in mind: the plot and characters totally carry this book, so if those are your preferred elements, read on!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: To Unite A Realm
  • Series: ?
  • Author: Mary Beesley
  • Publisher & Release: Boroughs Publishing Group, November 2020
  • Length: 252 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ for those looking for a quick read!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Through a prism of lies…

Vera Wilson, youngest daughter to the leader of her country – a county conquered by the tyrannical Grays – agrees to marry Angus Gray, heir to the throne of The United Realm. She hates him and everything his clan represents. But she has to protect her family and believes this marriage will keep them alive – unlike the friends the Grays have already murdered, one right in front of Vera. After a hasty ceremony and an awful wedding night, Vera travels to Alta Glenn, home to the Grays.

At first, life there is excruciating, but over time she learns that everything she’s been taught, everything she believes about the Grays and their clan is nothing more than a web of well-constructed lies. Almost too late, Vera protects Alta Glenn from impending disaster and realizes her husband is the exact opposite of what she expected him to be. Now, she doesn’t know if it’s possible for him to ever love her

The Story: I think the plot/story itself is a great idea.   A marriage to promote a peace between the rulers of a realm and a conquered landholding, the only catch being that the Grays are murderous, terrible people.

We follow Vera very quickly through her  meeting, marriage, and travel to her new husband’s homeland.  Once there, she starts learning the truth about how things really are in the Realm…and surprisingly the Grays aren’t the bad guys.  Well. Not the worst anyway.  The levels of betrayal and intrigue keep the story moving.  There is a side plot of a disease being used as biological warfare, to which a vaccine is available but controlled by Vera’s father.

The book progresses them rapidly from enemies to… well, you’ll have to read to find out if they become lovers.

The World: honestly the world just makes no sense whatsoever, but the plot is moving too rapidly to need that information.   The Realm apparently consists of multiple countries or landholdings.  One has colleges and labs and science and trains, another had an army and weapons stockpile, one seemed to have marshland and maybe boats, and the leading one, Alta Glenn, seemed to be a Scottish highland retreat community with only horses for transportation and the occasional revolver, although they did have electricity.   I don’t know how the heck those people obtained or stayed in power!

The only magic in the book consists of Euns, magic birds that are probably my favorite thing in the book.  They are sarcastic, murdery, able to talk, and act as lie detectors.  They are essentially giant murder parrots.  Although this isn’t enough for me to label the book an epic fantasy at all, I’ll give it low fantasy.

The mix of modern and old just doesn’t always make sense, even if the geography is fairly well described and gorgeous.  What were the streets of Alta Glenn even made out of, and how big is the place? I kept picturing a village vs a large town with a main shopping street… I loved the views out the windows though and the journey through the mountain passes.

…and a horse pops out a baby and weans it in a 3 month time period.  The other thing I REALLY needed more info on was the disease and bio warfare aspect, what was this thing? Manmade? Lab made? Where did it come from? It’s way too big not to elaborate!

Like I said – just don’t think about the world and enjoy the story.  If I hadn’t started thinking this would have been an easy 5 star book for how quickly I devoured it.  The characters and story are meant to just carry the book

The characters: Vera is the daughter of the ruler of the scientific country.  She has a huge character arc, showing strength and wisdom way beyond her upbringing.  Watching her get stronger and meld into the Gray family was lovely.

Angus… I mean he’s a man, but he means well I think.  Once the miscommunications are cleared up he gets SO much nicer.

Bear! Bear and Naira are supposed to be evil and terrifying but I really just need y’all to read the book and meet them yourselves.  There are a whole host of amazing Alta Glenn side characters that give the book a found family feel.

Content: the book is fairly low on content.  There is sex, between a faithful married couple, that is mostly closed door. It’s not entirely consensual at the start but they agree that they made their choices.  Otherwise there is some bloodshed, poison, a burned animal, and miscarriage.

Overall: I read the book in one day, so what can I say.  Great characters and plot are 100% enough to carry the book through the world that it exists in. 

Categories
Fiction Thrillers

ARC Review: Judas Horse by Lynda La Plante

Hello thriller fans, there’s a new (to me) detective in town! Thank you so much to Zaffre Books & Bookish First for my early copy of Judas Horse, in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Judas Horse
  • Series: DC Jack Warr #2
  • Author: Lynda La Plante
  • Publisher & Release: Zaffre, 3/9/21
  • Length: 320 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 5🌟 and yes for fans of the genre!!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Not all killers can be tamed… The thrilling second book in the Sunday Times bestselling Detective Jack Warr crime series.

Wild mustangs are difficult to rope, their lead stallion wary and protective of his herd. To capture that special stallion takes time. He is separated, roped, and lead back to the ranch. Once tamed, he is sent back into the wild. And before long, he will lead the entire herd back to the ranch. He is given the name ‘Judas Horse’. When Detective Jack Warr identifies an informer, the terrified man begins to give details of a massive robbery planned by a team of unscrupulous and dangerous men. These men have already orchestrated many audacious robberies, leaving terrified victims in their wake. And they have already killed to get what they want. Detective Jack Warr and his team must use their informant as a ‘Judas Horse’ to draw in the unsuspecting robbers, so that they go ahead with the planned robbery. However, one false move, and more blood will be spilled . . .

This is my introduction to Jack Warr, and I like him!  I think in every new thriller/detective series we should look at the main character first!  Jack is a no nonsense, f*ck-all attitude kind of detective, and also a good guy.  He just has a big personality at times.  He has such a soft spot for his fiancee and daughter, some scenes were so cute!  I like Jack as a cop and as a family man, and he has a good potential character arc going forwards in the series so I will be excited to keep reading forward!

There is a group of robbers targeting rich houses in the Cotswalds, and they are GOOD.   They are violent, smart, and have an informant pointing out targetable houses. The local police reach out to London, and recruit Jack Warr to help with the case.  Jack is great with people as long as they aren’t trying to give him instructions, and quickly gets everyone on the same page to catch these guys.  The banter, lingo, and practical jokers in the bunch really add to the book too.  The group of officers reminded me of the average Sandford novel! I think one reason I liked the book so much is because Warr and Davenport are kind of similar.

This was really quite good, I finished it in about three sittings and usually found myself bummed when I had to put it down.  La Plante kept the story moving forward with a mix of action, home life, and character/group building.  The action and atmosphere made this a real thriller for me, especially towards the end! I felt the danger, was worried for the characters, and cheered that civilian pilot during the helicopter chase.

As an American too I really found the European English slang hilarious at times!

I also want a whole series about Oaks including many, many practical jokes and humor.

I was never bored, loved the characters, and found the buildup to the big bust exciting and well executed. No anti climax here! I am 100% definitely interested in more La Plante books, including Jack Warr #1.

What noise does an octopus make?  Check out the book to find out 😁

Thank you again to Zaffre and Bookish First  for my copy!!

Categories
Fiction Science Fiction Suspense Thrillers

ARC Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

I was so incredibly shocked and thrilled to receive an ARC box from Tor Books for The Echo Wife!! After a great giveaway on Instagram, I dug into the book and finally collected my thoughts on it!

One part science/medical fiction, one part domestic thriller, with some psychological and ethical thriller aspects too, I can safely recommend The Echo Wife for just about anyone!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Echo Wife
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Sarah Gailey
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Books, 2/16/21
  • Length: 253 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟⚡ for pretty much anyone!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride, perfect for readers of Big Little Lies and enthusiasts of “Killing Eve” and “Westworld­”

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty…

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This book truly has so many interesting aspects, including clones, ethics, life falling apart, and obviously murder. It had me in a Black Mirror style mind kerfuffle, especially at the end, and it was great.

The Echo Wife is what you get when a cheating husband steals research and clones his wife, then makes a life with the clone.  How far outside of regular scientific ethics did he go?  Do ethics even apply to clones?

Martine, the “new wife,” eventually snaps and murders the husband in self defense, at which point Evelyn has to get involved to protect her research and her own skin.

This is so much more than a sci-fi murder fest though. Evelyn’s research is mostly about making cloned body doubles for politicians and then she exterminating the specimens. While the clone conditioning process comes across as brutal, in theory it make sense to create realistic doubles. Martine forces Evelyn to take a deep look at cloning ethics and whether or not they might be people.

There is also a look back at Evelyn’s childhood where abuse or at least fear of it is implied, and a sobering look at how marriages fall apart.  Why were they so silent in her childhood home? How does love turn to hate? These parts read a bit slowly but it felt very real, eerie at times, and it was interesting to see how Evelyn’s behavior is influenced by her upbringing, and maybe why she can see “murder” from such a detached standpoint.

Is Evelyn turning into her mother or her father, or parts of both?  Which would even be worse? This is a shorter book and while slower moving at times, gave me many scientific “what ifs” to ponder. The end is just 😳 omg, straight out of Black Mirror.

The Echo Wife is definitely a book that I can recommend for a wide range of genre fans!  Actual science fiction, medical fiction, domestic thriller fans, even some general fiction and literary readers might enjoy the perusal of human nature found here.

Thank you so much again to Tor Books for my early copy!!! The book is out 2/16 so preorder now if it sounds up your alley!!

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Suspense

ARC Review: Dead on the Delta by Sherry Knowlton

Thank you so much to Milford House Press for the digital ARC of Dead on the Delta!  Seeing as I live in frozen western NY, this armchair safari to Botswana was a good pick for me right now

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dead on the Delta
  • Series: Alexa Williams, #5
  • Author: Sherry Knowlton
  • Publisher & Release: Milford House Press, 2/16/21
  • Length:254 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ for fans of the genre!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Alexa Williams is about to spend four months doing lion research in the African bush with her boyfriend Reese. She looks forward to witnessing the elemental life and death struggle of the wild, but she never imagines she’ll become one of the hunted on the remote Okavango Delta.

Botswana protects its wildlife with strict policies and an entire army deployed to combat poaching. So Alexa and Reese are shocked when poachers wipe out an entire herd of elephants. At the site of the mass slaughter near their lion project, they promise authorities that they’ll watch for suspicious activity as they travel the Delta.

When the country’s strict wildlife conservation policies come under debate in the capital, tensions flare and Alexa begins to suspect the ongoing poaching incidents may be about even more than the illicit ivory trade. Especially when a close friend dies when caught in the crossfire.

After an alarming series of near escapes, gunmen attack the safari camp where she and Reese are staying, and Alexa must brave wild animals and the dangerous labyrinth of Delta channels in a desperate attempt to save the hostages, including the man she loves.

The book definitely has two strong points: setting and atmosphere.  I never had trouble picturing the sights, smells, and animals of Botswana.  Whether they were bouncing along in the camp vehicle or hanging out on the deck at the lagoon, Knowlton exceeds at providing even the sounds of the environment.  The prevailing mood was always apparent as well which was a great way to keep me immersed in most of the scenes.

Alexa, Reese, and the other characters are a good bunch and they seemed to have realistic relationships.   I liked that none of them were perfect and they all had real life issues to work through as well.  The romance is pretty cute too, I can tell they care deeply for each other.

This is Alexa Williams book #5, and my first read of the series.  That said, I don’t expect an info dump but I spent the first few chapters not knowing if Alexa was a researcher, tourist, detective, Interpol or what the heck. Come to find she is a lawyer.  A very brief introduction to Alexa and Reece was definitely needed, I felt like the characters were moving shadows in the environment as everyone except Handsome Harry lacked physical descriptions as well.

The book had plenty of harrowing danger and political intrigue, although Alexa was only involved peripherally in the poaching investigation.  She stumbled upon them by accident at every encounter and we never really knew if the Defense Force was making any progress with the poachers.

I also tuned out a bit when the commission was discussing conservation policies.  It was interesting to learn about poaching and some of the wildlife conservation issues though, I think more detecting, poking around by Alexa, and overall suspense would have made it a better read for me.  It seemed like either total disaster mode or everyday life with little between mood wise.

Overall – I totally enjoyed the reading experience.  I might have even googled safaris to see what was involved in booking one.  I would like to go back and read the first Alexa novel to learn a little more about her, but I can definitely safely recommend the book for fans of good characters, strong settings, lawyers, animals, and conservation efforts!  

Free book received in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own

Here are some links for the book and author!

Categories
Fiction Literary Fiction

ARC Review: Sophomores by Sean Desmond

Thank you so much to the publisher for my giveaway digital ARC of Sophomores!  I don,’t always gravitate towards general / literary fiction but read the last 50% of this one in one night and have no regrets!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Sophomores
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Sean Desmond
  • Publisher & Release: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1/26/21
  • Length: 384 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of fiction, nostalgia, and literary discourse!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

The late 1980s come alive in this moving and keenly observed story of one boy’s unforgettable sophomore year, and his parents’ surprising journey alongside him.

It’s fall 1987 and life as normal is ending for the Malone family. With their sterile Dallas community a far cry from the Irish-American Bronx of their youth, Pat and Anne Malone have reached a breaking point. Pat, faced with a debilitating MS diagnosis, has fallen into his drinking. Anne, his devoutly Catholic wife, is selected as a juror for a highly publicized attempted murder trial, one that raises questions–about God, and about men in power–she has buried her entire life. Together, they try to raise their only son, Daniel, a bright but unmotivated student who is shocked into actual learning by an enigmatic English teacher. For once, Dan is unable to fly under the radar, and is finally asked to consider what he might want to make of his life.

With humor and tenderness, Sophomores brilliantly captures the enduring poignancy of coming of age, teenage epiphanies and heartbreak, and family redemption.

Such a great premise.  I latched onto “enigmatic English teacher” and decided to give the book a shot! The book follows each member of the Malone family for about a year, and I think the easiest way to review this one is to give each character/storyline a paragraph!

Let’s start with Dan: he is a sophomore in a private high school for boys, smart but not drawing attention to it. His absolutely brilliant honors English teacher sparks a sense of Give-A-Shit into Dan when Mr. Oglesby challenges the class to not be regular rats, but Norwegian rats! It’s just something you have to read.  Dan deals with his father’s alcoholism and sickness, and the family’s overall dysfunction, while navigating sophomore year amongst a group of realistically loveable and ridiculous friends.  I liked having glimpses into their shenanigans and family troubles, and they were funny!

It’s not a party til someone shoots a firework out of their ass, right? 😂😂

Anne, the mother, is selected to be a juror in a local high profile attempted murder trial, where a Reverend tried to (allegedly) murder his wife .  I think Anne sees herself and her own suffocation in the victim.  What a life, I can’t imagine having a blithering alcoholic husband who loses his job and keeps spending money on alcohol! I would be screaming and picking fights too, but I have to hand it to her for staying in the house.  Anne’s unravelling is pretty sad to see

Pat, the father, is an alcoholic like his own father.  He loses his job at the airline after enough people catch him drinking when he should probably be working or available for work.  He knows he’s sick, with both MS and Alcoholism, and has an epiphany in the hospital at one point where he and this other alcoholic are just taking up beds for people who might be having real emergencies. Yep, that happens.  I really disliked Pat, I’m kind of surprised he wasn’t scared of alcohol after his own childhood.  His point of view served to show the family’s history a bit too though and then he became the broken head of a broken  household, trying to break the cycle he was stuck in.

Would Oglesby like that analysis? I wish my AP English teacher cared so much!

Anyway – all of the storylines form well rounded, thoughtful characters.  Dan’s hilarious friends and high school life offset some of the tougher themes like faith and broken families.  It is a very real story that spares no feelings whatsoever, and I did read the last 50% in one sitting 😳

My only thing was the absolute number of words I had to look up! I consider my vocabulary pretty well rounded and I was still thankful to be reading on Kindle so I could just click words! So many words.

I would totally recommend for anyone interested in high school nostalgia, literary discourse, football, Irish American slice of life, fiction in general, and family stories!

Categories
Crime Historical Fiction Mysteries Suspense

Book Review: Germania by Harald Gilbers

Thank you so much to Thomas Dunne Books & St Martin’s Press for the lovely finished copy of Germania in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

I would start by profusely apologizing for my turnover time on this book, reading has been a little bit impossible as my work schedule still averages 4-5 12hr nights a week! The good news is: this is my last back logged book!! Literally all my books now are publishing in February or later! Yay for small victories and let’s hope the pandemic winds down soon so the hospital can go back to normal

Anyway anyway, without further adieu..

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Germania
  • Series: Richard Oppenheimer #1
  • Author: Harald Gilbers (tr. Alexandra Roesch)
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, December 2020
  • Length: 348 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for mystery/investigative/WWII fans!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From international bestselling author Harald Gilbers comes the heart-pounding story of Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer as he hunts for a serial killer through war-torn Nazi Berlin in Germania.

Berlin 1944: a serial killer stalks the bombed-out capital of the Reich, preying on women and laying their mutilated bodies in front of war memorials. All of the victims are linked to the Nazi party. But according to one eyewitness account, the perpetrator is not an opponent of Hitler’s regime, but rather a loyal Nazi.

Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer, once a successful investigator for the Berlin police, is reactivated by the Gestapo and forced onto the case. Oppenheimer is not just concerned with catching the killer and helping others survive, but also his own survival. Worst of all, solving this case is what will certainly put him in the most jeopardy. With no other choice but to further his investigation, he feverishly searches for answers, and a way out of this dangerous game.

In Germania, Richard Oppenheimer used to be a detective for the Berlin police, but as a Jew under Hitler he is now forced to work a menial job. One SS agent is stumped when a serial killer starts leaving desecrated bodies in front of WW1 memorials, and he consults (forces) Oppenheimer to help catch the killer. Amidst air raids and bombs and constant fear of death in the rubble of Berlin, Oppenheimer and Vogler try to solve this case.

The setting felt so real as well with rubble strewn streets, frequent rain fall, bombed out buildings, and foreigners from everywhere.  It ties in perfectly with the blackouts, oppressive and depressing overall atmosphere of the book.

So much danger, whether from the constant air strikes, Hitler’s regime, or a truly brutal killer, makes this a quietly exciting mystery.  Oppenheimer is clever and an observant investigator, so many pages are spent as he puzzles out the case to his new boss, Vogler.   Some thoroughly brutal descriptions of desecration were enough to really give me the chills about this killer.

I liked the characters too, Richard knows that his life is hanging by a thread but he still feels the thrill of being back on the case.  He is an inherently good person.  I think Vogler is too, he would never admit it but he sticks his neck out for Oppenheimer quite a bit and has at least a small streak of humanity.  I would have liked a little more from the killer – they had a few paragraphs here and there but it was hard to tell when he was the one being featured, and the glimpses were small! I think he had a good and believable arc to insanity though.

As he is investigating, Oppenheimer learns that he is not being told all the facts.  That says, he does a phenomenal job with what he is given.  It’s definitely more of a literary investigative mystery than a thriller, although some parts are exciting.  I don’t know much about German history at all so it was also interesting to read about landmarks, architecture, and some of Hitler’s less than popular Aryan breeding and spy schemes.

It is also my first German translated book.  I don’t think a lot of German words and phrases translate well, which created some blocky language and curious phrases at times, but not enough to affect enjoyment.  Gilbers is a history proficient theater writer, so I felt like I was getting an accurate portrayal of Nazi politics as well as a dramatic and depressing atmosphere.

I definitely couldn’t figure out why the party cared so much about one murderer… But… You’ll find out why when you read it!

I took the 1.5 stars off for the book being a little anticlimactic – I think Oppenheimer should have been more present during the criminal apprehensions, but his role was only to figure out who did it. Also without knowing the German history I had to look up quite a few abbreviations, and lord knows that German words are a mouthful to pronounce. All the points for setting and atmosphere though and for the characters.

I think this is a wonderfully human mystery and would recommend to anyone interested!

Categories
General Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

ARC Review: The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

Thanks so much to Bookish First and HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for the advanced copy of The Arsonists’ City in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

This is an extremely rich and nuanced look into family, life, heritage, and identity, but I struggled with whether or not to feature this one on the blog.  I try really hard to stick to cleaner content these days and there are more than a few mature sexual situations & adultery in this one, but there’s also a discourse on humanity, immigration, and reconciliation that as a 30-something, I could appreciate, and hey, we are all adults here.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Arsonists’ City
  • Author: Hala Alyan
  • Publisher & Release: HMH, 03/09/21
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of the genre

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home

The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. A Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American children: all have lived a life of migration. Still, they’ve always had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father’s recent death, Idris, the family’s new patriarch, has decided to sell.

The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.

I was originally interested in this book because allegedly my grandfather was a random Syrian exchange student’s brother, and I sometimes feel interested in Syrian books assuming he came from the actual motherland.

So let’s just discuss content first because it’ s the first thing that anyone reading the book encounters.  A man is murdered in the prologue, and it sets the whole book up to be super dramatic and interesting and I am thinking “oh boy this is going to be good!!”  Then the next thing you know one of the characters is on her stomach thinking about a deflated condom, like, shit.  So now I have to remember her depressing sex life throughout the rest of the book, and it’s a theme through all the characters’ chapters, including a heavy discussion of the gay sibling’s sexuality, which is tied to Beirut’s youth culture in general somehow. Between that and pretty much everyone either contemplating or committing adultery at some point, I am like… Well sex is not what I want to read, and it’s depressing.

But it’s part of life, which along with death, are major themes of the book.  Idris and Mazna immigrated to America on asylum when he started his surgical residency, leaving his ancestral house behind.  Years later once Idris’ father dies and the house is empty of family he decides to sell it – which brings the scattered family all back together.  In Beirut.  For one very enlightening summer.

Each of the three siblings and Mazna the mother, were the chapter points of view. This sorted into the present (the kids) and past (Mazna).  It is always interesting to see people struggle bus through their 30s in slice of life style, because that’s me, but a big part of me just didn’t care.  Mazna’s story was legitimately interesting with her life between Damascus and Beirut, and seeing the war, plus being brown in America once they immigrated.  None of the characters were really likeable for me though, like I wanted to like Mazna but she’s so stubborn and then hooked up with that film guy, plus she took Idris (a heart surgeon) for a total moron.

The book spent a LOT of time building each character. It is kind of the point of the book, but some parts involving the siblings were just boring to me.  I didn’t care about Marwan’s band or Ava’s cheating husband, or even Naj, even though she had the most interesting life by far it was all flings and drugs and music. Once they got to Beirut and all the secrets started coming out, it got more interesting.  

There were so many side characters mentioned too that I just couldn’t keep track… Many of them not horribly relevant but still.  Also I liked Alyan’s writing style and language use overall but occasionally just lost her train of thought.  She would get philosophical/ profound at times and drift off into left field to the point where I had no idea where the train of thought ended up.

One thing that I thought Alyan did really well was setting – she gave a good feel for the sights and smells and weather, food, even the knick knacks in rooms, plus the atmosphere in general. 

I can relate a lot of the book to real life though – for example – being entitled to our secrets, and maybe not needing to know all of our parent’s secrets.  Also learning that we (as adults) are maybe a little bit more like them than we like to admit.

I know this is a book that a lot of people are loving for Alyan’s fantastic writing style and the story of love, loss, immigration, and familial reconciliation that she tells, and I don’t blame them at all. I think fans of the genre will love this. I just found it to be a 12 day long snooze fest when the kids were featured and I was limited to one rather long chapter at a time.

Overall: definitely recommend for fans of family dramas, sagas, and character based books!

Categories
Fantasy Historical Fiction

ARC Review: Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

Thank you so much to 47North via NetGalley for my digital arc of Knight’s Ransom!!

Wheeler has finally done it!  It seems like he took every little bit of constructive criticism from the first Kingfountain trilogies, chewed it over while he wrote something different, then came back and wrote an absolutely amazing first novel in this new series!

I just freaking love the world of Kingfountain and it’s lore and magic, and was so psyched to read this as an ARC (before obviously preordering it) heheh.  I have read them all, including the books following Ankorette, but don’t think it’s necessary to read them in order to start here, although you’ll miss some Easter Eggs.

Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Knight’s Ransom
  • Series: The First Argentines, #1
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47North, 1/26/21
  • Length: 431pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of knights, clean reads, epic worlds with a tad of magic

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. A brutal war of succession has plunged the court of Kingfountain into a power struggle between a charitable king who took the crown unlawfully and his ambitious rival, Devon Argentine. The balance of power between the two men hinges on the fate of a young boy ensnared in this courtly intrigue. A boy befittingly nicknamed Ransom.

When the Argentine family finally rules, Ransom must make his own way in the world. Opportunities open and shut before him as he journeys along the path to knighthood, blind to a shadowy conspiracy of jealousy and revenge. Securing his place will not be easy, nor will winning the affection of Lady Claire de Murrow, a fiery young heiress from an unpredictably mad kingdom.

Ransom interrupts an abduction plot targeting the Queen of Ceredigion and earns a position in service to her son, the firstborn of the new Argentine dynasty. But conflict and treachery threaten the family, and Ransom must also come to understand and hone his burgeoning powers—abilities that involve more than his mastery with a blade and that make him as much a target as his lord.

This is such a hard review to write because I just want to gush, I mean I had over a page of notes and highlights 😂

Ransom and Claire remind me so much of Owen and Evie, except they’re more age appropriate and Claire is an absolute firecracker.  They are better childhood characters as well, because Wheeler finally admits that he can’t write age appropriate kids so they grow up pretty quickly, with the book occuring mainly in Ransom’s 20s.

So Polidoro Urbini is back, telling the history of the first Argentine kings.  He finds Claire de Murrow’s journal and it becomes the framework of the story, then fleshed out by current events.

When Devon Argentine takes the throne of Ceredigion, the child hostages of the prior ruler get to go home.  For Ransom, that means trying to become a Knight in his uncle’s household.  Training and warhorses and tournaments, poor choices and hard life lessons including naivety and betrayal mark Ransom’s path to Knighthood.

Could he possibly be Fountain Blessed?  I found it shocking that he hadn’t heard enough legends to put two and two together, but his fighting prowess is unbelievable and it makes him a target.

Without spending hours gushing about individual battles, defeats, more hard lessons, and Ransom’s resilience … He eventually ends up in the service of Argentine’s heir, which is a mixed blessing and curse.

There is an absolutely absorbing plot to overthrow Devon the Elder, and more poor life choices which eventually leads Ransom to, I assume, in book 2 take the pilgrimage to find out if he is indeed blessed by the lady of the fountain.

There is a fountain blessed assassin out and about as well, and it’s crazy because we have no idea who she is or who she is working for.  The line of poisoners is a pretty heavy storyline in the Kingfountain books so she’ll have a bigger part in the coming books.

Pulling from Merlin and Arthur and the Lady of the Lake, Kingfountain takes some of it’s magic and lore from those ancient tales.   Of course there is one magic Wizr board in the story, plus all the legends and lore of Kingfountain (and now Legault, thanks to Claire), that make Wheeler’s world feel so real and immersive.

The characters make it feel real too, take the Argentines: yes they are the royal family but they love and bicker and break like anyone else.  Ransoms Uncle and all the wiser, older lords and commanders, I can’t even list all the great characters.  It feels even realer too that Ransom has such a high standard of Knight’s honor, so the courtship with Claire becomes a side story that he doesn’t think is achievable.

But it’s so sweet how he tiptoes.  Who knows if Wheeler will ever put them together or not, he is 50/50 with OTP pairings and Kingfountain never seems to work that way.

Layers upon layers of betrayals and intrigue and lore make Kingfountain what it is.  I have to mention the Queen’s exile to her tower too, since it becomes such an important landmark in the later books and I loved seeing some of the origins.

Yes please sign me up for more riding alongside Ransom, now one of the richest men in the country after multiple knight’s tournament wins.   I can’t wait to jump into his pilgrimage next and then see where the world takes us ❤

Let me say one more time too – WHEELER WRITES CLEAN FANTASY!! Language and sexual situations (both rare in his books) are kept G-rated, with some sad deaths and  knightly battles but I would happily hand any one of his books to a reader of any age group

Out 1/26 from 47North, thank you again for my early read!

Categories
Adventure Paranormal Thrillers

My Stop on the *Kept From Cages* Book Blog Tour!!!

Thank you so much, as always, to Storytellers On Tour for having me on their book tour for Kept From Cages by Phil Williams!  Thank you as well to the author for my finished copy, all opinions are my own!

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Quick Facts:

  • Title: Kept From Cages
  • Series: Ikiri, #1
  • Author: Phil Williams
  • Publisher & Release: Rumian Publishing, September 2020
  • Length: 261pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of urban paranormal, thrillers, and sass!

Here is the synopsis:

No one returns from Ikiri.

Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows.

Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?

On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?

Kept From Cages is the first part in an action-packed supernatural thriller duology, filled with eccentric characters and intricately woven mysteries

The plot/story: there is so much going on in this book that the action is literally almost nonstop, from the first page. There are two separate storylines that alternate chapters, one being the gang of musicians and the other is agent Tasker. Both storylines are packed with action and I found myself more drawn to the musicians and the little girl.

Bits and pieces of the overall puzzle are brought into the action slowly, so it took a while to start learning what was going on but I was well entertained in the process! Eventually the two storylines start to connect and it’s an absolute whirlwind when they finally do.

The Setting: deep Southern Louisiana is apparently a really great setting for a paranormal clash between criminal jazz musicians and a mysterious, evil man with a sword. The heck were those demons?? Agent Tasker’s story ends up in Ikiri, a village in the African Congo that the toughest men out there don’t return from. Is it civil war or a front for something darker that is leaving all those villages slaughtered? Williams doesn’t waste too much momentum on setting but I never had any problem picturing the layout, and my favorite setting was definitely the homemade town on stilts. For the biblical flood when it comes, obviously.

Somewhere in between the plot and the characters are the supernatural elements too. Power from…a spirit? An energy? Zombies! Unexplained mass murders. Women in trees and a whole pack of apparently undead assassins…. Omg so much packed in that it almost got confusing at times.

The characters: ah gosh the characters are amazing. The band is a sassy group, especially Leigh Ann. I loved their banter and found family-ness, it seems like most od them have lost quite a bit and then found each other! Zip is a cool character once she comes out of her shell, a literally red-eyed child that may or may not be some kind of devil spawn.

Tasker is an agent that investigates magical energy, and he’s trying to figure out what the heck this giant corporation unleashed in the Congo. Why did a village in Norway look like a rabid mob came through? He finds a sort of partner, a super unstable assassin with an imaginary friend, who if not likeable is at least interesting. Tasker’s team is a motley bunch and it’s interesting watching him unravel the international mysteries surrounding … The Source.

Overall takeaways: Anyway – yes, I am totally on board with this. Each chapter has a little cliffhanger that makes the book REALLY hard to put down. I wondered about an English author trying to write Southern American slang, but he does a really brilliant job with the linguistics, then come to find he writes language texts! I would totally recommend for fans of paranormal anything, and fans of thrillers. Kept From Cages is different but totally worth the read, I’m on board for book 2 when it’s ready!

Guys! If you follow this link you can find the other tour host’s reviews, and I highly encourage you to do to so!

Meet the author!

Phil Williams is an author of contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction, including the Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers and the post-apocalyptic Estalia series. He also writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English, two of which are regular best-sellers on Kindle. He lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.

Here are the author and book links!!

Book Links
• Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55115499-kept-from-cages
• Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1913468097
— — —
Author Links!
Website: https://phil-williams.co.uk/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/fantasticphil
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/philwilliamsauthor
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ordshawphil/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6579274.Phil_Williams