I first noted this one after having read the Cap’s excellent review at The Captain’s Quarters – but what stuck with me is that I happen to be a fan of Aaron’s writing – see my reviews of Garrison Girl, Fortune’s Pawn as Rachel Bach, and Nice Dragon’s Finish Last. The final review is of the first book in the Heartstriker series, a stormingly good urban fantasy romp about a huge draconic power struggle. And the reason I particularly mention it, is because Minimum Wage Magic is a spinoff series set in the same awesome world – however don’t worry if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of the Heartstriker series, because this series is written as a standalone.
BLURB: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab. That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.
REVIEW: I have always enjoyed Aaron’s writing style. Smart, pacey and with nice touches of humour and plenty of inventive plot twists, she is one of my favourite authors for a solid reason. Opal is a wonderful protagonist, gutsy and impulsive with a driving need to get away from her very controlling father. She is very much down on her luck at the start of the story, but has a hunch that this particular lot contains something special… Which is when the plot really kicks off. In the tradition of the best urban fantasy adventures, once this story gets going, it doesn’t stop. We have terrifying magic, death gods, grumpy dragons, cybernetic hit men and cockatrice chicks… It’s fabulous and fun and I didn’t want it to stop.
The other aspect of this book I really enjoyed is the world. No wonder Aaron wanted to use this awesome and inventive backdrop for more than one adventure. Detroit was destroyed and the magical city that arose in its place has its own magical entity, who tends to move buildings around when the whim takes her. This makes for some interesting situations. Running away from the villains can become a lot more challenging when the landscape around you is constantly shifting. There are some lovely surprises within the story I didn’t see coming and I’m definitely getting hold of the next story in this excellent series. Highly recommended for fans of well written urban fantasy adventures. 9/10
I loved the strange, rich world that Newman evoked in his first book The Deathless and when I realised that I’d somehow missed the release of this second one, I scooped it up. As luck would have it – the third book The Boundless has recently been released.
BLURB:The Rebel. For years, Vasin Sapphire has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Now, as other Deathless families come under constant assault from the monsters that roam the Wild, that time has come. The Ruthless. In the floating castle of Rochant Sapphire, loyal subjects await the ceremony to return their rule to his rightful place. But the child raised to give up his body to Lord Rochant is no ordinary servant. Strange and savage, he will stop at nothing to escape his gilded prison. And The Returned… Far below, another child yearns to see the human world. Raised by a creature of the Wild, he knows its secrets better than any other. As he enters into the struggle between the Deathless houses, he may be the key to protecting their power or destroying it completely. THE WILD HAS BEGUN TO RISE.
REVIEW: Yep. That’s the blurb – and unless you have read the first book, it will read as absolute gobbledygook for the very good reason that this is one of those series where you MUST read the first book to make sense of what is happening. While you might get the gist of the story – you will not be able to fully comprehend the stakes or what exactly is going on.
I thoroughly enjoyed this second foray into this weird, difficult world fraught with hidden dangers – and not-so hidden lethal creatures, ready to prey on any human who has the bad luck to end up in The Wild. And it didn’t take me very long to recall what had happened in the first book and who was doing what to whom – which is just as well, because all sorts of nefarious plots and double dealing naughtiness are going on. That isn’t good news for the long-term survival of the God road, or those perched above the Wild in their famous floating castles.
Newman has a cast of vivid characters – many of them not necessarily all that likeable, but there are one or two I have given my heart to – I so want Sa-at to find some peace and happiness, and dear Chandri who has had the thankless task of raising her bratty son, Satyendra all these years. And I also loved the reckless, rule-breaking Lady Pari and her desperate attempt to help her brother, while trying to figure out what is exactly going on with Lord Rochant, her former lover. Hm – and what is going on with Lord Rochant? It all seems to hinge on who he actually is and what he’s up to…
With a twisty plot, a marvellous, atmospheric world that is well established without screeds of decription and a cast of charismatic characters, this is an engrossing read that held me throughout. Any niggles? Well, I’m not a fan of cliffhanger endings – and this is one. While the story has definitely been progressed and we now know a lot more about some of the more mysterious machinations that power this world – I would have appreciated at least one storyline to have been brought to some sort of close. Which means I’m really looking forward to getting hold of the final book in this trilogy, The Boundless. Highly recommended for fans of strong, character-based fantasy set in a vividly depicted world. 9/10
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
Himself acquired this ebook through Amazon First and suggested I read it due to the premise and rather clever manipulation of the viewpoint, throughout. I’m glad I did…
BLURB: Florida journalism undergrad Rebecca Sorley is like any other college student. She tries to keep up with her studies, her friends, and her hot-tempered roommate, Ellie, who regularly courts trouble with the law.
When a male student’s remains are found in alligator-infested waters, the university warns students to stay away from the reptiles. But then a second body shows up, and the link is undeniable. Both men belonged to the same fraternity and had a reputation for preying on and hurting women.
Ellie has previously threatened to kill men who don’t take no for an answer. Rebecca and her friends thought Ellie was kidding. But now a vigilante killer is roaming campus—someone who knows how to dispose of rapists. Someone determined to save female students from horrible crimes…
REVIEW: One of the major reasons I don’t read more murder mysteries, is that I dislike the casual way in which pretty young girls are horribly murdered, often after being raped or assaulted. I’m aware this is a dynamic in reality – but there are books where I find the reliance on beautiful female victims plain unpleasant. So this one really intrigued me.
The situation at this particular university, due to a nasty ongoing challenge running at one of the frat houses, is toxic. After one of their friends falls victim to an assault that leaves her in a coma, the protagonist and her friends ensure they don’t walk around the grounds unaccompanied – and even then they are liable to be harassed. And yes, I’ll freely admit that it’s an extreme premise, but no more so than some others I’ve read, recently – think of The Naturalist, for example. So I was a bit taken aback to read a string of complaining reviews accusing it of being a man-hating book, because I didn’t think men in general were Hutchison’s target. I thought it was those entitled articles who objectify women, particularly young pretty ones, and because they find them desirable, think that gives them the right to act on those urges. Having spent far too much time – from the age of twelve years old – fending off that sort of attention until I thankfully became too old, I read this one with huge enjoyment. And no, I’m not a man-hater, but I did hate it when I was busy shopping/travelling on public transport/working/walking on the beach and some stranger would intrude to tell me how beautiful I was. Or just grab.
I also enjoyed the strong supportive relationship between the young women in the book – far nearer my own experiences of female friendships than those poisonous, backstabbing instances thrillers and murder mysteries are fond of portraying. The nifty way we are given access to the murderer’s viewpoint also works well. And while I’d more or less worked out who it was by the end, I loved the clever manner in which the reveal is handled. Overall, I found this an entertaining read – and I’ll be tracking down more books by this author. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries with a bit of a difference. 9/10
I was intrigued by the premise – and my attention was sharpened when I read glowing reviews from the likes of The Cap from Captain’s Quarters, so I bought myself this one as a birthday pressie from me to me.
BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
REVIEW: What a delightful premise – an alternate history that forces humanity to engage with space travel because of a serious meteor strike. Given this was the event that did for the dinosaurs and we’re overdue another one, this is all too chillingly plausible. Kowal’s engaging protagonist drew me right into the story – I love Elma. Her geeky cleverness, horribly dented by enduring years of social ostracization, nevertheless shines without managing to make her sound unduly entitled or smug. Her ongoing anxiety in certain situations is also completely understandable and gives her character sufficient vulnerability, so that she doesn’t end up being implausibly and insufferably perfect.
Kowal’s description of the institutional racism and sexism is also all too realistic. The weary resignation of many of the black characters over the fact that all the highest status jobs were out of their reach made my heart hurt. As for the determined devaluation of women when they excelled at anything regarded as within a man’s province – that was something I recall as still being firmly in place during the 1970s. I thought the ongoing Space Programme worked well, taking into account the limits of the technology of the time and I enjoyed the occasional news items that provided an effective insight into how the effects of the meteor strike on the climate were playing out around the world. It was nicely judged – much more, and it would have impacted on the pacing and narrative arc.
All in all, this is a classy, well written alternative history where Humanity’s effort to reach the stars has been given much greater impetus. I will be getting hold of the second book in the series in short order, especially as the third book, The Relentless Moon is due to be released later this summer. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well written science fiction. 9/10
BLURB: At a masquerade ball to raise money for renovations to Memorial Library, Kellan finds a dead body dressed in a Dr. Evil costume. Did one of Maggie’s sisters kill the annoying guest who’d been staying at the Roarke and Daughters Inn, or does the victim have a closer connection to someone else at Braxton College? As Kellan helps school president Ursula bury a secret from her past and discover the identity of her stalker, he unexpectedly encounters a missing member of his family. Everything seems to trace back to the Stoddards: a new family who recently moved in. Between the murder, a special flower exhibit and strange postcards arriving each week, Kellan can’t decide which mystery in his life should take priority. But unfortunately, the biggest one of all has yet to be exposed – and when it is, Kellan won’t know what hit him.
REVIEW: Kellan is an engaging, likeable protagonist with a lot on his plate. On top of his academic duties at Braxton University, he is also trying to bring up his small daughter with the help of his beloved grandmother, Nana D. But his habit of tripping over dead bodies also means he gets caught up into trying to sort out who was responsible for these untimely deaths. A cosy murder mystery needs a few vital ingredients to be a truly enjoyable, engrossing read – there needs to be a sympathetic protagonist we enjoy following. Kellan certainly ticks that box.
We also need a steady supply of suitably plausible suspects with a sufficiently strong reason to off our murder victim. And this is why cosy murder mysteries are often set within small communities, where there are a pool of people at hand. Cudney is very good at this aspect – far too often the mystery component is rather neglected. But every single one of his books has been exceptionally well plotted.
The other tricky part of this demanding genre is ensuring that despite the fact we are dealing with a murder, the tone doesn’t get too dark or gritty – yet, neither can the mood be unduly flippant or descend into outright comedy. After all, there has been a murder. This balance is far harder to negotiate than Cudney makes it look – largely thanks to his knack of writing a varied cast of characters who are largely likeable, yet with edges that mean they aren’t too cute or unrealistic. And once again, the murder mystery part of this story is nailed, with plenty of twists and turns.
I also love the ongoing progression of the story, which also puts this series a cut above many others. Kellan’s relationships with some of the key characters in this community continues to evolve and develop, which gives readers of the series an extra reward that isn’t there for those who crash into it. That said, if anyone wanted to, there is no reason why this one wouldn’t work perfectly well as a standalone, or a prospective entry point. Although there is an ongoing major issue that Kellan is wrestling with regarding his personal life. And I was delighted to see that it is creating a fair amount of havoc – and leaves this story on a doozy of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the fourth book, Mistaken Identity Crisis is available, so I will soon be diving back into this engaging world. Highly recommended for fans of well-written, cosy mystery murders. 9/10
This one was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies and I scampered across and pre-ordered it. I’m so sorry – I cannot recall who it was who suggested it! So… did I enjoy it?
BLURB:Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter. Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.
REVIEW: This epic fantasy is set in an African landscape, where the warring tribes and kingdoms are firmly nested within the culture and magic of the continent. I absolutely loved it, particularly as Rwizi tips us into the world and expects the reader to work a bit to put it all together. I always enjoy SFF that presents a strong three-dimensional world, full of nuances and strong characters – and if I have to pay attention to work out exactly how it all fits together, then that’s fine.
I quickly fell in love with Salo, the apparently timid boy who is paralysed with fear when facing dangerous creatures and can’t fight all that well. Having become very familiar with the dynamic where women and girls are ostracised for wanting to move out of the domestic sphere, I found it a refreshing change that Salo is shunned for not being a warrior, instead being drawn to magic – normally the preserve of the women of the tribe.
Though this form of sorcery isn’t for the faint-hearted. Mastery of magic requires pain and sacrifice and in order to access some of the more powerful layers, lines have to be crossed. It rapidly becomes a lot darker, when the requirement becomes what you have to offer up what you love most… and no, we’re not talking about your favourite item of clothing or jewellery. I was a bit shaken at the brutal cost of it. However, I thought about my reaction and wondered why this magical system struck me as particularly violent. Because it’s not as if European fantasy is remotely cosy, either – but I’ve grown up with that dynamic and am accustomed to how it works. Ditto the stories of sand and sorcery I’ve been reading recently, such as the Daevabad trilogy – just think of Dara’s bloody backstory – but I was acclimatised to tales about djinn since I was a girl. Not so with African magic, which I know very little about. Aspects of it are bloody, coercive and thoroughly dark – like magic systems everywhere else and I think it’s the unfamiliarity of its workings that makes it seem particularly grim.
My mention of S.A. Chakrobarty’s Daevabad trilogy isn’t accidental – the immersive worldbuilding, strong characterisation and complex magical system in Scarlet Odyssey reminded me of many aspects of The City of Brass – see my review – including the long, eventful journey. The major difference is the lack of a romantic thread, which I don’t mind at all. I am so impressed with this debut novel – and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in an African setting. 9/10
BLURB: Caitlyn Aguirre is no magician … But that doesn’t make her useless. After discovering her true talent and uncovering the long-lost secret behind Objects of Power, Cat returns to school – intent on showing everyone what she can do. But her mere existence is a threat to the balance of power, convincing some to befriend her, some to try to use her … and some to remove her. And when she and her closest friends become the target of a deadly plot, she must use all her wits to save them and escape before she becomes the first casualty in a deadly war.
I thoroughly enjoy well-told fantasy school adventures and Nuttall’s first book in this series, The Zero Blessing, was an excellent start. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you go back and pick that one up before going any further, as there is a chunk of important backstory you’re missing. Caitlyn won’t make much sense to you if you don’t do so… Given the major twist at the end of the first book, I really liked the direction in which this one went – compared to the Molly Harper series, I think the sudden change in the dynamic is far more adroitly handled here.
While I wasn’t completely surprised when the shoe dropped and the stakes were abruptly raised, but I was impressed and gripped by the way the adventure then got a whole lot darker. I’m aware Nuttall is capable of killing off important supporting characters, so was on my toes throughout. As ever, I found it difficult to put this one down until it was over. I will definitely be continuing with this series during the year. He is an accomplished author, whose books are excellent value and this one is highly recommended for fans of exciting magical school adventures.
I have to declare an interest regarding this book – Caron was one of my Creative Writing students at the Worthing campus of the Greater Brighton Metropolitan College and I have seen earlier drafts of After Seth. It was another student who contacted me to say that she had published it, and it was available on Amazon. Naturally, I was keen to read the final version – and then felt I wanted to spread the word about this gripping, intense read. This is my honest unbiased opinion of the book.
BLURB: At Seth Jameson’s funeral, three women gather at the graveside… But they aren’t there to mourn him. Detective Inspector Beatrice (Billie) Nixon is about to retire. Her last job is to investigate whether Seth’s death was misadventure, as previously thought, or murder. As she hears their stories, a different picture of Seth emerges from the one presented to the world. •Roz – driven to alcoholism after years of physical, mental and financial abuse. •Eleanor – withdrawn from the world after a terrifying and life changing experience. •Imogen – obsessed and delusional. And Beatrice begins to wonder not did anyone kill him, but why did they wait so long? But there were other women in Seth’s life and, as she hears all their experiences, Beatrice discovers a story of strength, friendship and love. And after a lifetime dedicated to the law, she is forced to ask herself… Can murder ever be justified?
I really enjoyed reading this one. All too often, it is those who wreak the damage that somehow seem to prevail by kicking over the rules that keep society and individuals civilised, but while Garrod doesn’t flinch from showing some of the darker consequences of Seth’s actions, I enjoyed the powerful feeling of hope in what could have otherwise been a bleak read. It doesn’t hurt that both Roz and Eleanor both have a wry sense of humour that comes to the fore when the going gets tough.
Of course, this is ultimately a murder mystery. Or is it? Has Seth actually been murdered? Even that is up for debate, and it is only as the book progresses and Billie Nixon continues taking the statements of the women involved in Seth’s life, that she learns the truth. There are some nice twists, particularly as the story progresses, that gives the reader an entirely different take on what is happening, which is always satisfying in a whodunit. I think the ending is beautiful – it not only ties everything up entirely satisfactorily, but left me with a lump in my throat.
Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers with a whodunit mystery. 9/10
BLURB: Mirage, a bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may not be a match against powerful magic. Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice: to hunt the hunter and destroy her.
I was just in the mood for this intriguing fantasy story all about identity in a world where both witches and bounty hunters are brought up in sequestered surroundings involving intensive training. Clearly both professions allow women above average freedom in this medieval-sounding era where horseback is the main form of transport, while swords and arrows the main type of weapons.
Brennan manages to give each young woman a distinct identity in this dual narrative, which is harder to do than you might think, given the strong similarities between them. I loved the premise and was interested to see where the author would take this one. Full of incident, with plenty of intrigue and surprises, the pages flew past as I wanted to know what would happen next. And – no… I certainly didn’t see that ending coming! There is also a strong supporting cast, particularly Eclipse, who is a companion and graduated alongside Mirage. The fight scenes are enjoyable and clearly written. I liked the fact that neither Mirage or Miryo took deaths for granted, although they are a regular part of Mirage’s job. Recommended for fans of entertaining and well written swords and sorcery. 8/10