Rage and Ruin – Katie Roman Review

Bridget O’Malley’s temper has always been trouble. It’s made her the black sheep of the family, cost her customers at her bar, and ruined relationships, but it has never put her life in danger. That is until she tries to rescue her cousin from a demon summoning cult. In picking a fight with one of Chicago’s most powerful witches, Bridget finds her bar being picketed, her witch’s license suspended, and demons on her trail. Annoyed and afraid Bridget uses the only weapon at her disposal to get her life back to normal: her temper.

Why did I pick this up?: Urban fantasy is my jam, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Good points: Interesting premise and world-building. It’s clear she’s done a lot of work on this novel and it shows. I also really like the idea of a heroine with faults – her temper – rather than the usual female main characters we get that are perfect.

Quibbles: I just… didn’t notice anything special. I really wanted to, but it didn’t really hook me. I wish I could have connected to the characters a little more, or at least found something within the plot that I just HAD to know more about. But honestly, I could have taken it or left it, and that’s a shame when an author has done such hard work to produce a book.

Overview (TL;DR): A novel with a lot of work put into it, but that didn’t manage to hook me.

-K Hart

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Den of Shadows – Christopher Byford Review

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One…

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One night to forget all your troubles. But once on board there is more to the show than meets the eye: enter Franco, the elaborate ringleader, Wyld the stowaway thief and Misu the fire breathing showgirl.

In a kingdom ruled by the law Franco ensures his den remains in line, ruling with an iron first. But when he’s faced with saving the fate of the train, and those on board, he may be forced to break his own rules. Life on the den isn’t just a job but a way of life. And now you’re about to find out why!

Welcome to the den…

Why did I pick this up?: Comparisons to the Night Circus, a train running across the desert with an elaborate ringleader aboard? Sounds like my cup of tea.

Good points: The Gamblers’ Den is a Vegas on wheels, but better. Beautiful descriptions of the casino, the show they put on for the customers, everything. The flamboyant manners of the characters are exactly my style, and it’s got such a unique premise that the idea swept me along immediately. It’s one of those ideas that as a writer I wish I’d thought of first!

Quibbles: It takes a long time to get started. And I mean a long time. I was wondering what was going to happen well into the fourth and fifth chapters of a twenty chapter book. And, beautiful as it was, it failed to catch me and make me desperate to read more, something I look for in books I add to my shelves.

Overview (TL;DR): A beautiful book with an exciting premise that just missed the mark for me and my shelves. Someone else may find it exactly to their taste.

-K Hart

Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell Review

“There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.”

Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.

Why did I pick this up?: First thing, I loved the cover. I have a thing about playing cards – I absolutely love them. Don’t know why, don’t know how, but I just bought six decks myself because they were pretty. So the cover, and the title, drew me in straight away. I wanted to know more about any story that has playing cards in it.

Good points: Where do I start? I loved this. I really did. Ferius I adored. I want to be her. She talks smart, and she has CARDS, what more could you want? I loved how Kellen developed through the story, too, as he understood more about his people and the things that had happened. Also, squirrel cats? Annoyed, grouchy squirrel cats? Why not? They’re not supposed to be, but they still sound sort of cute to me. This was also so much darker than I expected it to be, and I love that. Dark is my thing. The magic of the Jan’Tep was fascinating, and I’d love to learn more. All in all, I don’t really have much bad to say about this at all. I loved almost everything. Which brings me to…

Quibbles: I’m not sure what to say here. I’m honestly not. I expected to dislike this story as it was a chance pick, but I utterly loved it and plan on getting my hands on a print copy asap to add to my shelves.

Overview (TL;DR): It’s gained an honourary place on my shelves!

-K Hart

Blood and Ink – Holly Evans Review

It turns out that saving the day comes at a cost. In this case, my home in Wildrun. Oh, and my freedom.

Keirn called in a few favours with his friend, Fein. In return for a new life and some help hiding the fact that I’m an ink magician, we belong to the elf that runs half of Prague. Some rumours say he runs half the continent.

There’s an art thief in town, and Fein’s decided it’s my job to find and stop them. I didn’t dare point out that I’m a tattoo magician, not a detective.

The real problem is, I’m terrified that this is a slippery slope, and I don’t like where it’s going.

Why did I pick this up?: This is the second book in Holly Evans’ Ink Born series, which I was lucky enough to get an ARC of from the author after reading and loving the first.

Good points: Keirn and Dacian = perfect. Tyn is adorable. Vyx is incredible and awesome and I wish I was more like her. Characterisation throughout this book is REALLY good. You really get into and feel for each different character as you read on. I read this book in the space of two days, happily between working on my own writing as a break, and it was the best break I could hope for. Urban fantasy at its best! It’s also set in gorgeous Prague, which is just perfect!

Quibbles: None that I can think of, really. Sometimes the plot moves very fast and I ran to keep up, but I sort of LIKED that.

Overall (TL;DR): Read it. Well, read the first one first. But still… definitely a great sequel.

Inspector Hobbes and the Bones – Wilkie Martin Review

There’s going to be trouble. Andy Caplet’s wife goes away, someone is out to get him, and he loses nearly everything in a storm. Amazing both himself and his unhuman friend Inspector Hobbes, he heroically rescues flood victims and uncovers something shocking.
Is Andy being set up for blackmail by the apparently charming young woman who attempts to seduce him, or is something even more sinister afoot? Hobbes certainly believes so, and he’s getting worried.

Why did I pick this up?: Truthfully, I kept seeing it, it had an intriguing cover and it was in my sort of genre. When something seems to show up all over the place, sometimes I pick it up just because I need something to read.

Good points: A take on Sherlock Holmes with some ‘unhuman’ elements, sure, count me in. The daft puns had me laughing a few times (I like bad puns, okay, so sue me), and I quite liked Hobbes as a character. The more ‘unhuman’ characters we came across, the more intrigued I was by the world and the setting. I wanted to know more about the world, but not necessarily the characters. Which brings me to…

Quibbles: It sort of feels like it’s been done. I know that sounds awful, but I read a lot of things like urban fantasy, detective stories, mysteries… and it’s very difficult to come up with something new and unique in that genre. Especially with your own take on Sherlock Holmes. It just didn’t do it.

Overview (TL;DR): It was a nice read, but nothing to write home about. Some bad (good) puns, and sadly nothing that stood out as a wow factor.

-K Hart

 

Keeper of the Dawn – Dianna Gunn Review

Sometimes failure is just the beginning

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Why did I pick this up?: There was a call on Twitter for people to read an ARC of this, especially bloggers who are on the aromantic or the asexual spectrum (or both, like me!). I jumped in and ta dah! ARC.

Good points: This is a cute little story, nicely written, reminiscent of the likes of Tamora Pierce and that vein. Perfect for me, of course, since I love Tamora Pierce. There was nicely done asexual representation that may even have been aromantic as well, although the words were never used. I loved that there was a discussion between the characters about boundaries and what they wanted. Also, cute female/female relationship, yes please!

Quibbles: Few, really. I think perhaps the story could have been expanded further, but then, I’m not used to reading novellas, so that could be the novel reader in me talking. Other than that, nothing. It was an interesting read that I managed in the space of a few hours.

Overview (TL;DR): A nice, quick fantasy read with some asexual and same-sex relationship rep. What more could a girl want?

-K Hart

Dreams and Shadows – C Robert Cargill Review

There is another world than our own—one no closer than a kiss and one no further than our nightmares—where all the stuff of which dreams are made is real and magic is just a step away. But once you see that world, you will never be the same.

Dreams and Shadows takes us beyond this veil. Once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, Ewan is now an Austin musician who just met his dream girl, and Colby, meanwhile, cannot escape the consequences of an innocent wish. But while Ewan and Colby left the Limestone Kingdom as children, it has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies argue metaphysics with foul-mouthed wizards, and monsters in the shadows feed on fear, you can never outrun your fate.

Why did I pick this up?: Urban fantasy, a world of faeries close to ours, genies, a darker faery world? Not to mention the gorgeous cover. This book sounded like it was made for me… and spoiler alert, it met expectations!

Good points: This book had an incredible skill and craftsmanship about it. It’s been compared to Gaiman’s work, and I can see why. That underground world of magic fusing seamlessly with our own mundane world, creatures walking amongst us invisible. This book  was everything I wanted from an urban fantasy – it made me believe that maybe, just maybe, it might be real. I loved the dark and the weird: that’s my territory, and this checked all of my boxes.

Quibbles: Honestly, it’s a shame, but it took me a while to really get into it. Starting with the young Colby made me wonder for quite a long time where it was going, and if I’d even like it. I loved the little bits of information we got from the start about the magical world, but the characterisation of young Colby, not so much.

Overall (TL;DR): Please don’t put this down because you’re not sure where it’s going. I promise you, it’s going somewhere great. If you’re willing to come along for the ride, this book will take you to amazing places.

-K Hart

Ensnared – Rita Stradling Review

This is the first review I’ve done as a NetGalley user, so yay! I got a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. As a result, this is going to have a different set-out from some of my other reviews.

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

Why did I pick this up? A beauty and the beast retelling set in the near future with AI and futuristic technology? Yes please. The cover is gorgeous, and I was completely intrigued by how the old tale could be resurrected into something new.

Good points: SO MANY. This kept me reading until the very last page. I loved Blue, an AI monkey that helps Alainn throughout, and Lorcan, this reclusive, mysterious man locked away in his house who ordered an AI robot to keep him company and eat dinner with him, is someone I instantly fell in love with. Alainn is a great heroine, ass-kicking throughout, with a hidden secret that OF COURSE plays a part in her life later on. I loved Shelly, too, though I’m not sure I was supposed to. This frightened, incredibly brave woman facing her fears and working hard to deal with a world that terrifies her.

Quibbles: As I just said I liked Shelly, I wanted to know what happened to her. I wanted to see Blue, see them all in their future lives, not just Alainn and Lorcan. Also, there were sex scenes in the middle of this book that for me came out of nowhere – eek, mature content! I don’t normally read romance, or like it, but I have to admit I liked this book, even with the mini-freak out I had in the middle because BAM, sex happened.

Overall (TL:DR): Loved it, would buy a copy, but would probably skim the sex scenes, I have to admit. Worth reading just for cute little Blue. Affection for an AI monkey? Why not?

Soulless – Gail Carriger Review

Progress on Alternate: Well, I’m taking part in PitchWars… anyone on my Twitter may have noticed…

Current Review:

This is an odd one for me to talk about, because I REALLY LIKE Gail Carriger’s work in general. I just shouldn’t. There’s a high level of… shall we say, romantic entanglement in her work that often makes me uncomfortable. No one’s fault, it just is. In fact, the story itself is part romance so OF COURSE it should be expected. I’m just not entirely settled with reading such descriptions, however politely worded they are.

But something in them makes up for it. There’s such wit. And of course, dandies. Give me all of the dandies, all of the time. I love the strong female lead, the sarcasm, even the irritated Scottish werewolf. I love how she’s taken one of the periods of history that, as much as I adore it, is OFTEN used and spoken about, and given it a new twist. Not to mention how her world, in which the supernatural mingles with the known world, is so well-constructed. Give me vampires out in the open. I love that. Polite, organised vampires and werewolves transforming in the streets. Why not? Not to mention the novel begins with Alexia making use of a parasol as a weapon. Parasols are ALWAYS appropriate weapons. I regularly carry one myself, though mine is not really sharp enough to do any damage.

Anyway, I had to talk about it. I think, ignoring my general squeamishness around romance, I would fall completely in love with these books. And perhaps those of you sans that discomfort will do so.

-K Hart

Lost Illusions – Honore De Balzac Review

Progress on Alternate: EEK.

Current Review:

I want to talk a bit about this book. I picked it up primarily due to three reasons: a) it’s by a French author, and right now I’m taking a particular interest in French literature, b) an assurance of a vain, almost unlikeable protagonist, and c) a lot of people talked about it in relation to the Romantics, the prose and poetry movement.

As expected, I really do like Lucien. It’s odd. Perfect, ideal characters are NEVER for me. Give them flaws any day. I’m flawed, they should be too dammit. I love his mistakes, his naivety as well as his vanity and pride. There was a moment where his friends offered to lend him money and he immediately gave it back where I just sort of went ‘okay, other people feel like that too’.

I also loved the detail. As far as I know, Honore De Balzac (excuse the lack of appropriate punctuation, it’s not possible on this keyboard) was involved in the printing business, which explains all of the talk of how it works… but as a writer and someone interested in old methods of printing, I loved that.

Lucien’s friends, poor things, were long suffering and beautiful. Good lord. I wanted to tell them to get out of there. Such beautiful souls. And a shining contrast to this conceited man character. But at the same time Lucien wasn’t, or I didn’t find him, unlikeable. He had his soft side. He was vain, but at the same time truly vulnerable. I love that.

Finally, I have to talk about the social commentary here. I love that sort of thing, particularly in classics, because I find that world fascinating. Full of politeness and careful phrasing, hidden meanings and subtle hints. People tell me today’s world isn’t like that, but sometimes I feel it is. And understanding it can be so difficult, especially if you feel outside of it in some way.

I can really understand why some people don’t like this book. There is a lot of printing detail, there’s a lot of back and forth, political opinions, things that we wouldn’t necessarily include in a book today. But at the same time those are the very reasons I like it. I would consider attitudes to this a little like attitudes to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables… In that the prose is sometimes interrupted with detail that appears odd, or the characters appear to be mouthpieces for the author’s own opinions… but to me, that’s FUN. I very much LIKE to see that sort of thing when I’m reading, because I enjoy the ideas that are put forward. If I was looking for a light, fun read, however, I would pick up something entirely different.

-K Hart