BLURB: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
REVIEW: I really enjoyed this one. Addie’s reason for making the deal and her whole mindset really engaged my sympathy, so that very early on in the book I was right alongside her. This is important, because while Schwarb goes on to describe her trials and travails in poignant and gripping detail, those very experiences could have taken her outside the everyday orbit of the rest of us and make her less relatable. This is the problem that I sometimes encounter in North’s writing – while I enjoy reading the alterative premise, I’m conscious of a gulf opening up between the protagonist and myself.
However, Schwarb’s poetic, accomplished prose didn’t allow that barrier to occur – which allowed me to continue to very much care for Addie, and later on – Henry. What I hadn’t expected, was the stunning quality of the writing. The descriptions of the span of experiences in Addie’s life – the terrible lows and the marvellous highs, are brilliantly captured on the page. Schwarb’s writing encompasses the full range of sensory experiences, so that we not only can visualise it, we can smell, taste and touch it, too. It takes serious writing chops to pull it off, such that the author not only encapsulates all of that – she does so within the confines of the narrative arc, in a way that doesn’t derail the pace and tension.
I am not a huge fan of literary fiction, as far too often the style prevails over the story. So I’m very impressed that Schwarb has managed to produce nuanced, complex characters who interact in a really complicated way with each other. Luc and Addie’s relationship is a tortured one, and the story hinges on our understanding of just how complex that becomes. I absolutely loved the whole narrative arc, particularly the final twist.
In short, this is a tour de force – a really intriguing read that has had me pondering Addie’s plight since I put it down, and executed by a writer at the height of her powers. Very highly recommended for fans of the literary end of fantasy – and those who simply love a cracking read with an interesting premise. While I obtained an arc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
NOVELLA Silver in the Wood – Book 1 of The Greenhollow Duology by Emily Tesh BLURB: There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.
When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.
This is a lovely, otherworldly read with a strong poetic cadence that chimes well with the magical protagonist, Tobias. I loved his persona and the slow unwinding of the story – though I’m still torn, as I would have preferred to have read a fuller account, which would have probably been a novel, about the events leading up to the instant that we are first plunged into this tale. Highly recommended for fans who enjoy magical, woodland tales. 8/10
SHORT STORY The Hedgeway by Vivian Tuffnell BLURB: Leading from the overgrown grass and thicket of brambles were the distinct signs of feet passing: small, bare human feet. A child had walked here, breaking the crisp coating of hoar frost, and had stood only yards from the kitchen window. Cathy thought: They’re only footprints, so why do I suddenly feel so scared? Daniel’s grandmother’s house seems only a few years from becoming a ruin but the roof is still sound and unlike his rented accommodation, the whole place is his. It seems the perfect time to ask girlfriend Cathy to move in with him and together they plan to renovate the house. But the old house has secrets that it wants to share with them whether they want to know or not. (This is a longer short story of around 17,000 words)
I was immediately drawn into this atmospheric short story, which is a poignant ghost story with a tragic backstory. The main characters are engaging and with the vivid, accomplished writing, I was in the neglected, rambling old house alongside the young people as they attempted to rescue it from becoming a ruin and turning it back into a home. I read this one in a single sitting and emerged blinking and slightly disorientated – as you do when you’ve been immersed in a world. A short satisfying read that isn’t too creepy or horrific, but with a definite tingle factor. 9/10
I picked this up when it was free, after one of my book blogging buddies recommended it – through I can’t recall who! Grovelly apologies and if you know you recently featured this one, nudge my elbow and I’ll namecheck you!
BLURB: For Jack Shepherd, tiger shape-shifter and former soldier, life is heading for a dead end. Dead End, Florida, to be exact. When he learns that he inherited a combination pawn shop/private investigation agency from his favorite uncle, Jack’s first job is to solve his uncle’s murder. Because sometimes it takes a tiger’s eye to see the truth.
REVIEW: This is a spinoff series – something I didn’t gather until well into the story – and it didn’t remotely impact on my enjoyment, as Day does a solidly good job of providing bonding moments with the main protagonist. As you may have gathered, this is a paranormal urban fantasy whodunit, though the shapeshifter isn’t the main protagonist featured in the blurb, instead, it’s a sparky young woman called Tess. Like many people in Dead End, she isn’t exactly normal, either, but she does her best to overcome her issues by not touching people if she can avoid it.
I really like Tess, who comes across as warm-hearted and amusing – there are a number of laugh-aloud moments in this book, despite it being a murder mystery. While the investigation is the engine that powers this narrative, there is a lot more going on in the story. Jack’s homecoming is a major feature, for starters. And Tess’s reaction to him… It probably won’t hugely shock you if I mention there is a powerful physical attraction between them, which helps them become a solid team when trying to figure out who is the killer.
To be honest, the murder mystery didn’t take much unravelling. There weren’t all that many suspects and I’d more or less figured out who the main miscreants were just as Tess and Jack got there. But while there are stories where that would be a dealbreaker, this wasn’t one of them. Day writes with a warmth and energy that drew me into this small isolated community, so that I enjoyed the days when the tour bus visited the pawn shop, just as much as Jack facing down the creepy bloke stalking Tess in the middle of the night. Highly recommended for fans of paranormal fantasy. 8/10
Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he contacted me and asked if I’d like the opportunity to read and review his latest book, I jumped at the chance.
BLURB: 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?
REVIEW: While this book is a spinoff from the Ordshaw series and set in the same world – it deals with a separate threat. So you don’t have to have read any of Phil’s previous books to enjoy this one. There are two main narrative threads – those of the Cutjaw gang, who encounter Zip while on the run from successfully pulling off a heist; and the exploits of Sean Tasker, who teams up with unhinged desperado Katryzna while trying to find answers to a series of horrible and mysterious killings taking place across the globe. While I enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series, this one impressed me with the sheer intensity and skill of the writing.
It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Normally action-led adventures tend to be a tad lighter on scene setting and characterisation, which is fair enough, given that a narrative that powers forward at full tilt simply cannot hang around for too much description or nuanced, complex characters. Not so in this case. Reece, Leigh-Anne and Zip ping off the page, full of personality. As for Sean and Katryzna – those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the Ordshaw series can see definite similarities between Katryzna and the psychotic fairy Lettie… Phil writes damaged characters with tenderness and passion so that folks whose behaviour would normally repel me, instead pull me in and make me care. It’s harder to achieve than Phil makes it look. The same dynamic applies to the scene setting – it was a pleasure to be taken across the US, or a certain village in Norway and then into the swamps of Louisiana and the jungle of the Congo.
But what really impressed me was the gothic slant that Phil gave to a mill in the heart of the English countryside. It should have been a quaint, cosy setting – and proved to be nothing of the sort. While this story isn’t full-on horror, it is definitely on the dark side of urban fantasy and once again, Williams gives it his particular spin. I’m delighted there is more to come with these characters – they get under the skin and won’t let go. Recommended for fans of high-octane, contemporary fantasy with strong characters and a swift-moving story. 9/10
I love the cover on this book and, craving something with plenty of humour, I requested it, hoping for mayhem and nonsense in amongst the whodunit…
BLURB: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent. All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. Really, what’s a girl meant to do?
REVIEW: The strapline for this one is: Agatha Raisin meets Sookie Stackhouse, with croquet and zombies. And it’s spot on. Toni is a quirkier, younger version of Agatha, while the paranormal backdrop, though firmly set in rural England, is peopled with characters that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. There is also a similar amount of heat in Grave Secrets as in Charlaine Harris’s books, which means that while it is considerably less explicit than the HBO True Blood series – it still contains several raunchy scenes. This isn’t usually an ingredient I look for in my reads, but it’s done well. Toni’s strong attraction to Oscar is convincingly portrayed – along with her ongoing concerns about his suitability, until she sees him again when once again, she’s swept off her feet.
But what really beguiled me is the strong first-person voice. A breezy, generally can-do attitude, combined with a sharp-edged Brit humour that had me sniggering throughout and a couple of times made me laugh aloud. The vampires are suitably arrogant and entitled, so no surprises there – though I also like the fact that they come in shades of nastiness and some make a real effort to be more caring of the humans in their coterie. I also really like Toni’s relationship with Peter, the other human who is in Oscar’s coterie. James has the ability to write her characters with warmth along with the snarky humour, so it didn’t descend into an adventure where poor put-upon Toni is ranged against all the powerful nasties without any help. To counter-balance the vile behaviour of the antagonists, there are also a number of people happy to assist Toni.
Another plus point – the fact that Toni is a necromancer, who has been raising the dead since a small child. They are normally portrayed as chilling creatures, whose repellent habits make them as unwholesome as the zombies they create – so Toni’s portrayal as a bubbly, impetuous young woman full of strong views on what is Right and Wrong comes as an enjoyable change. As you may have gathered – I was charmed by this one, so I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series. While I obtained an arc of Grave Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10 10.8.20
BLURB: Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. “Deep Roots” continues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.
REVIEW: This series is marvellous and deserves to be far better known. Aphra is desperately searching for more relatives, as far too many houses stand empty in Innsmouth after most of the town was wiped out by the Government years earlier. Such unused real estate is starting to draw unwelcome attention. If Aphra cannot find more of her own kind, they not only risk dying out, but she will no longer be able to meet up on the beaches of her childhood with her Grandfather and the other Deep Ones, who have now transformed and live below the waves. So she is in New York with her brother and a small band of friends, following up on reports of a cousin who has the same bulbous eyes and odd skull configuration as Aphra and her brother.
Gabra Zackman’s excellent narration helped weave the pervading sense of tension throughout this gripping fantasy, imbued with Lovecraftian monsters. I love Aphra’s character and was delighted that this book continues in her viewpoint. She is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents and community, but trying to move on and recreate a safe place for others like herself and her brother. This book is set in 1940s America, just as the Cold War with Russia is starting to gather pace – indeed there is a point in the book where there is an announcement that the USSR has detonated a nuclear device – and there is also increasing paranoia about anyone who looks are sounds different. Emrys has nailed the sense of time, just as she has also beautifully woven Lovecraft’s pantheon through this engrossing, well written fantasy.
I love books that creak with tension – but then the author has to deliver sufficient plot and action to merit the buildup, which Emrys does in spades. I loved the pacing, which works really well. At no stage was anything unduly hurried, yet the story clips along with plenty happening along the way and the reader fully aware of the consequences should it all go wrong. The supporting characters work well – there were several that I’d encountered in the first book and I was pleased to see that one in particular, who was badly injured, is still battling with the fallout from her encounter in this book, too. All in all, this is another accomplished, utterly engrossing read that left me longing for more in this world. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well crafted fantasy with Lovecraftian overtones – though whatever you do, start with Winter Tide. 10/10
I was looking for a cosy mystery, wanting the comfort of something fixable and tidy as the world continues to spin into havoc – and happened upon this intriguing offering. I don’t often read ghostly investigators, although I know it’s a popular sub-genre of fantasy crime. So would I enjoy this one?
BLURB: After a busy morning dispatching emissaries from Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions to those in need, Bailey Ruth Raeburn is feeling flush with success. So when an urgent call for help comes through from her old hometown, she can’t resist taking on the mission herself. After all, what could go wrong? With the shouted warning of her boss, Wiggins – “Irregular! Problematic!” – ringing in her ears, she arrives to face a shocking scene: Professor Iris Gallagher leaning over the corpse of her colleague Matt Lambert, the murder weapon clutched in her hand. Bailey Ruth is only sent to help the innocent, but things are looking very black for Iris. With Wiggins breathing down her neck, and her old friend Police Chief Sam Cobb casting doubt on her every theory, Bailey Ruth must uncover the truth – or this could be the last trip to earth she’s ever allowed to make.
REVIEW: First, let’s get the fact that this is the nineth book in the series out of the way – it isn’t an issue. While initially I was a bit adrift and do feel that there could have been just a little bit more context as to exactly how Bailey got this particular job, once the investigation got under way, it was fairly easy to work out what was going on. And the fact that this is Bailey’s home patch, where she lived when she was alive made it sufficiently plausible for me to suspend my disbelief.
Besides, I like Bailey. She is generally a very chirpy, upbeat character who seems to thrive on a bit of excitement and chaos going on around her. Although there was a point when everything was going wrong that she became overwhelmed and had a crisis of confidence – I liked that, too. While it was a pleasant change to have a confident protagonist, who wasn’t particularly angst-ridden, I felt Hart successfully avoided her also coming across as unduly smug, which wouldn’t have worked during this particular investigation.
What you won’t get with this one is a foot-to-the-floor action-filled adventure. It’s a steady accumulation of clues, as the suspects are each lined up and eliminated. I very much enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of this story – it was well handled with a reasonable number of suspects. And unlike some cosy mysteries, there was a real sense of loss and outrage at the death of a couple of the victims – at the cutting short of their lives and the waste of what they had to offer. Overall, this is an entertaining, enjoyable murder mystery written by an experienced author who knows what she is doing – recommended for fans of cosy mysteries with a paranormal twist. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Ups Her Game from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
BLURB:“That house is a bad place. Bad things happen there . . .” Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted. What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting.
REVIEW: As ever, we have our usual fix of creepy shenanigans going on, as Ishmael and Penny find themselves spending the night in a haunted house. This book follows directly on from Night Train to Murder, so if you haven’t read that one, do be aware – especially at the beginning – there will be some references to events outside the story. I was interested to see this one build more slowly than usual, but given that Green does it well and I know and trust his pacing, I appreciated the general ratcheting up of the tension. It doesn’t hurt that there are the usual dollops of humour that help lighten the tension in the dark, brooding house.
Though the death and denouement rather knocked me for six. I’m still pondering as to whether Green has managed to pull this one off, as it stretched the bounds of my credulity rather. However, I think on balance, I’ll give him a pass. I certainly was never in any danger of putting the book down before getting to the end. All in all, this is an entertaining, page-turning addition to this quirky series.
Recommended for fans of paranormal murder mysteries that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I obtained an arc of The House of Widow’s Hill from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…
BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”
It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.
REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.
The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.
I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended. 10/10