I’ll be honest – the cover didn’t do it for me at all. In fact, it probably had the opposite effect, but the opening sentence of the blurb mentioned a single-parent mother as the protagonist and I was suddenly very interested…
BLURB: Pregnant and alone at twenty-one, Chandler Parrish sought refuge within the Northern Circle coven’s secluded complex. Never revealing the identity of her child’s father, Chandler has raised her now eight-year-old son, Peregrine, in peace, and used her talent as an artist and welder to become a renowned metal sculptor. But her world is shaken to the core when Peregrine shows signs of natural faerie sight—a rare and dangerous gift to see through faerie glamour and disguises that could only have come from his father’s genes. Worse yet, the boy has seen a monstrous faerie creature trailing Lionel Parker, a magic-obsessed journalist determined to expose the witching world.
But the very man who threatens the witches’ anonymity may also be key to healing Chandler’s long broken heart. As dangerous desires and shocking secrets entangle, new faerie threats and demonic foes close in on the coven and High Council. Loyalties will be tested. Fierce magics will be called upon. And Chandler will have to face her past to save all she holds dear: her coven, her child—and perhaps even her own soul.
REVIEW: It is relatively rare to find mothers looking out for their children within urban fantasy, so I was immediately attracted by this dynamic and was delighted to be able to get hold of this one. Which was when I discovered it was the third book in the series… However, while I’m sure that if I’d gone back to the beginning and read these books in the correct order, I would have benefitted from a deeper, richer knowledge of the characters and the ongoing dynamic, Esden has made it possible to crash into this series without readers unduly struggling.
I quickly bonded with gutsy Chandler, who makes things out of metal and is fiercely protective of her young son. There is a strong backstory which has the Northern Circle coven still reeling from the aftereffects and adds to the tension when apparently another threat turns up, perhaps related to the previous trouble.
Overall, this was an entertaining and smooth read with plenty going on, a nice magical system and sympathetic characters. The romantic thread had a bit of heat, but it wasn’t too steamy – while the climactic denouement worked well. I enjoyed the resolution and recommend this urban fantasy adventure to those who enjoy stories involving witchcraft. Though I’d advise you begin with the first book, His Dark Magic. While I obtained an arc of Entangled Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I was looking for more fantasy crime goodness, when this striking cover caught my eye, so I was delighted when I was approved to read it…
BLURB: He’s done a deal with Death herself. But unless he can send beasts back to the Otherworld, losing his life will be the least of his worries… PI Bellamy Vale’s near-immortality doesn’t give him a moment to rest. Completely worn down as Death’s supernatural detective, he’s starting to think he got the short-end of his do-or-die deal. So when a string of savage attacks grip the city, Vale abandons all hope of sleep and sets out to discover who let the Otherworld beast free…
REVIEW: I have cut the rather chatty blurb, because I think the above nicely sums up where things stand at the start of this entertaining whodunit. Bellamy Vale, known as Bell to his friends, is a sympathetic protagonist, with a nice line in humour which goes over well in the middle of his various adventures. He is an agent for Lady McDeath, who issues him with tasks and gives him suitable magical protections to carry them out.
It was an enjoyable read – Cold City is an interesting place with plenty of corruption going on behind the scenes. There are a number of scary antagonists, while Bell has his own set of friends to help – my favourite characters were computer geek Zian, who also happens to be Greek god Hermes’ son. And Hermes is very protective of him, to the extent that Bell is left in no doubt that he’ll die an agonising death, should anything nasty happen to Zian. Given that Bell is given highly dangerous jobs by his immortal patron, this is an ongoing problem for him.
The plot was well constructed. I didn’t see the solution – and to be honest, for me this one was all about the journey, anyway. While the trope and setup is very familiar, the story is peopled with a host of memorable, quirky characters brimming with personality so that I turned the pages to find out who would pitch up next. The book ended with an interesting development about to happen and fortunately, Himself, who is a gem, had already got hold of the second book in this series, so I don’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next. Recommended for fans of enjoyable urban fantasy. While I obtained an arc of Hostile Takeover from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I was rather taken by both the quirky cover and the even more quirky blurb at a time when reading about anything remotely similar to what is going on around us was unbearable. So I was really pleased to be approved to read this one.
BLURB: 10/10 Jared does not have friends. Because friends are a function of feelings. Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about. But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.
REVIEW: The blurb rambles on for a bit longer – but to be honest, I don’t think it is particularly helpful as it manages to omit the bit that is important. Jared is a bot, built and designed to be a dentist – a job the humans in our future society don’t particularly want to do. This is set in the near future, where bot labour does most of the dangerous, difficult tasks. But most bots are encased within fast-growing human bodies and able to communicate fluently and reasonably naturally. The big difference is that they don’t have any feelings – don’t experience boredom, loneliness or unhappiness, or love, friendship and delight. As they are programmed to put human lives above their own, they are ideal as construction workers, firefighters and… dentists. While humans concentrate on creative and artistic pursuits, rather than the soul-sapping jobs they used to do. Except that Jared starts to feel emotions… The story is told in first-person viewpoint and I absolutely loved the quirky voice of the bot, which I found absolutely enchanting. Though I’m aware it is something of a risk, because if that highly individual voice annoys a prospective reader, it would be impossible to get through this one. As it happens, I fell in love with it.
Naturally, Jared finds the world around him becomes quite a different place, as he learns to navigate the odd sensations assailing him, using the Feelings Wheel that Dr Glundenstein, his sympathetic human friend and neighbour gives him. Dr Glundenstein advises him to go the movies and watch films – not the modern rubbish which is all about killer bots on the rampage – but older films which get shown in small, shabby little cinemas. One of the ongoing delights is trying to identify classic films from Jared’s quirky descriptions throughout this story. As I cared about Jared, I quickly became invested in his story.
It won’t be a huge surprise that this book is actually an exploration of what makes us human, as well as what happens when we start to regard other folks living among us as less than human. While this is an oft-trodden favourite science fiction trope, I thought this particular take on the whole subject interesting and immersive. And while I was grinning through a lot of the book – there were also moments of great tenderness and sadness, with moments of lovely poetic beauty. All in all, this is a real gem and one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Highly recommended for fans of well-told A.I. tales. The ebook arc copy of Set My Heart to Five was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 10/10
I’ll be honest – it was the cover that drew my attention to this offering, as it looked so quirky and space-age, though that is rather ironic, given that it is set on Earth in the near future…
BLURB: The year is 2050: automated cities, vehicles, and homes are now standard, artificial Intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, and quantum computing have become a reality, and climate change is in full swing―sea levels are rising, clouds have disappeared, and the planet is heating up. Quinn Buyers is a climate scientist who’d rather be studying the clouds than getting ready for her wedding day. But when an unexpected tragedy causes her to lose everything, including her famous scientist mother, she embarks upon a quest for answers that takes her across the globe―and she uncovers friends, loss and love in the most unexpected of places along the way.
It took me a little while to get into this one, which is set only thirty years into the future. Now, I’m aware that writing near-future sci fi is incredibly difficult, but I did feel that the world changing beyond all recognition in such a radical manner was rather a big ask. I was also not wholly convinced by the characterisation – all the cast, including Quinn, felt a bit unnatural. However, I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and that initial catastrophe to want to read on.
This wasn’t a difficult book to read, as the action never lets up. While it is mostly in Quinn’s viewpoint, I didn’t ever fully bond with her. It’s always a tricky business, writing socially awkward protagonists, because there is a higher likelihood they won’t click with the reader. I was particularly repelled by her unpleasant treatment of the merecat, whose programming meant it was powerless to do anything other than respond in a kindly and positive manner and she effectively bullied and belittled it. I wasn’t all that convinced by the ‘love’ story, either, as it was essentially more about lust than anything else. However, at no stage was I tempted to put this one down, as the plotting was suitably action-filled and unpredictable and I was happy to see where the story went.
But that is the major problem for me – there isn’t a single plotpoint completed within this story. Every important element is left hanging, and every single character we encounter who has any impact on the action is facing a major change or challenge by the end of the story. While I appreciate that in a series, you do want to leave a few dangling plot points – I came away feeling a tad short-changed, as the point of this whole book is to set up the ongoing narrative. So while it is a reasonably entertaining read, overall I also found it a rather frustrating experience. Recommended for readers who enjoy action-led, near-future adventures and ongoing stories. The ebook arc copy of Gravity is Heartless was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 7/10 28.5.20
BLURB: The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall Ryx, bringing far too much unwanted attention to this small, but strategically vital country – all centred on an ominous ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle…
And yes – I have seriously tweaked the blurb – because the original spoils that gripping opening chapter that hauled me right into the middle of this story. I was delighted to discover that this book is set in the same world as the Swords and Fire series, as I really loved the clever and original magic system. I also appreciated the tense, political tightrope Ryx is attempting to walk in trying to negotiate a peace between two great political powers, as I thoroughly enjoy that dynamic and Caruso writes it well.
She is a sympathetic protagonist whose life is blighted by not being able to touch anyone, due to her twisted magic draining the life out of any living thing. Her sense of loneliness is poignantly portrayed, without holding up the pace, which is harder to achieve than Caruso makes it look. Her desperate desire to succeed with the peace negotiations is effectively portrayed, for as Warden of the castle, she is supposed to be custodian for all who live within its precincts – a difficult task for someone who cannot even reach out and stroke the palace cat. Her development throughout the story is enjoyable to chart, as is her delight when she realises she has friends, even as her life hangs in the balance.
For my money though, there are a couple of intriguing characters who I desperately want to see more of – Whisper is an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle and The Lady of the Owls, Ryx’s powerful immortal grandmother, one of the feared With Lords. We only see her a handful of times throughout the story, but her presence looms over the narrative. It’s nicely done, as is the mounting tension, punctuated by a couple of dramatic action scenes, all the more shocking for their suddenness, after the build-up.
Caruso deftly brings this story to a satisfying conclusion, but there are huge questions left waving in the wind, so the wait for the next book feels far too long. Highly recommended for fans of well-constructed magical worlds with high stakes and twisting plots. Though my advice would be that if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of the Swords and Fire series, do get hold of it first as there is a lot in here you will better appreciate if you know the backstory. While I obtained an arc of The Obsidian Tower from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
BLURB: Introducing an engaging new amateur sleuth, declutterer Ellen Curtis, in the first of a brilliant new mystery series.
And that’s all there is of the blurb, which is a refreshing change in these days of long paragraphs full of spoilery details. It also does exactly what it says on the tin. While I really enjoyed the whodunit aspect of this story, as Brett is a solidly good craftsman in producing interesting murders and a raft of likely suspects, that wasn’t the highlight of this book. For me, what stands with this one is the gripping backstory that unfurls as the book progresses regarding Ellen’s past life. It is a staple of this genre that private investigators often have a lurid past, but they also often bear the war wounds. It generally doesn’t take the reader long to appreciate that our feisty protagonist is lugging around more baggage than your upper-class Victorian explorer – not so this time around.
Ellen’s job of decluttering houses is clearly a second career, as she has two grown-up children and no husband in evidence. There’s nothing unusual in that. She has an edgy relationship with her mother and daughter – nothing unusual in that, either. Brett does a very nice line in difficult female relationships. I enjoy reading of the unexpressed anger simmering between a daughter who feels her mother made a poor job of bringing her up – it’s a dynamic that isn’t often depicted so honestly. I get a tad tired of seeing fictional family members, both in books and on TV, saying all sorts of scaldingly honest and hurtful truths that would in real life mean permanent estrangement, yet next time around, everything seems to be normal.
Not so, here. Ellen keeps her thoughts about her mother’s behaviour to herself. But then, she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve at all. She comes across as kind and caring, but also briskly efficient and resourceful. And certainly not a victim – and then as the story wears on, we learn what happened in her marriage and the ongoing consequences of that. And my eyes filled with tears at her sheer gutsy courage and quiet fortitude. Yes… I know she’s a fictional character, but I’ve fallen for her, hook, line and sinker. Ellen is such a refreshing change in these days where everyone’s emotions are on their sleeves and they share all their gladnesses and sadnesses online.
I also appreciated the supporting cast of characters – particularly Ellen’s mother – and that complicated, beautiful best friend. I’m delighted to have encountered this series, because I know Simon Brett is a prolific author and I’m very much looking forward to reading more intriguing murders in this setting – but above all, I’m desperate to meet up with Ellen, again. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent cosy murder mysteries with an awesome protagonist. While I obtained an arc of The Clutter Corpse from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10 26.3.20
BLURB: Firewalkers are brave. Firewalkers are resourceful. Firewalkers are expendable. The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power? Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below. Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope. The Firewalkers.
I won’t deny that initially I struggled a bit with this one. This setting is brilliantly portrayed and therefore rather on the bleak side. Tchaikovsky’s depiction of a parched, dying world where not even heat-adapted animals and vegetation can any longer survive is very well done. As ever, he manages to weave in Mao’s back story in with the ongoing action so that I quickly bonded with this gutsy, capable youngster, struggling to keep himself and his family fed and watered in this harsh environment. The science is well done, again, without holding up the pace with chunks of indigestible information. And soon enough, I was caught up in the adventure as the three youngsters set off into the heat discover why the power from the solar panels isn’t getting back to Anchor.
I couldn’t see how this was going to end in anything other than a rather downbeat, grim message about what we were doing to the planet – and though I won’t deny that is wrapped up within the story – Tchaikovsky also manages to deliver an ending with plenty of hope, after a tale packed full of incident and well executed story twists. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure and it comes highly recommended for fans of clif fi and coming-of-age stories in challenging settings. The ebook arc copy of Firewalkers was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 9/10
BLURB: South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.
Every book North has written under this current pen name – see my review for A Madness of Angels – Book 1 of The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin – has ostensibly been a standalone. However, there is a theme developing here. Individuals who, by luck or some kind of genetic predisposition, find themselves coping with an unusual trait that takes them beyond everyday life and into the realms of the paranormal. William is another of these unfortunates – having been cursed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and when his shadow approaches, he divines the truth of those around him. And as his shadow gets ever closer, he is forced to babble that truth aloud.
This adventure stretches from the 1880s, and ends in 1914 in a field hospital during World War I, so you won’t be surprised to discover that it isn’t long before William’s unique ability draws down attention from the British Empire intelligence services and their department Nineteen. In return for keeping William on the move, so that his shadow is never able to completely catch up with him, he goes where they send him and learns the truth from ambassadors, princelings, other agents all around the world. It gives North an ideal opportunity to chart some of the political shenanigans that goes on during that turbulent time, which she does in impressive detail.
This is, indeed, an impressive book. The prose is impassioned and elegant, the character caught up in a horrible situation so that he is so far out of his comfort zone, he is almost drowning. And yes, if you’re sensing a but, you’re right. I didn’t really like William all that much. I didn’t like anyone all that much. While I sympathised with him intellectually, I simply found him too annoyingly wet and steeped so deeply in his own self-loathing, that I was unable to truly bond with him. And that’s a real shame, because the book is a magnificent achievement. I don’t think I’ve encountered a more impassioned and literate critique of our social value system, both then and now.
I just wish there had been a few more shafts of light and humour, which I know North is capable of writing brilliantly – because by the time I was two-thirds of the way through this one, I was conscious that I’d become a bit numbed to the ceaseless acts of violence against the poor and powerless. That might just mean I’m a really shallow person, but my sense is that if that burning anger against the social injustice of the capitalist, elitist mindset had been just a bit less intense, then there would have been room for me to jump on board, too. I’m also not a fan of the ending.
I’m conscious this sounds like one long moan – but if someone offers me the chance to read her next book, I’ll take it like a shot. North is a remarkable talent, who sees the world in a particular way and although I often find the journey alongside her uncomfortable, there is too much to admire to want to miss it. Recommended for fans of magic realism adventures with a literary edge. The ebook arc copy of The Pursuit of William Abbey was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 8/10
I had just surfaced from reading a fairly intense apocalyptic story, so wanted something light and amusing, but with sufficient story and adventure to engross me – would this fit the bill? I’m linking this to Wyrd and Wonder 2020, celebrating all things fantastical.
BLURB: For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill! But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving. From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know.
That is the first section of a really long and chatty blurb – so my advice would be to skip it, as it reveals far too much that this accomplished author tells you in her own time, within the story. And that would be a real shame, because this is a little gem. I thoroughly enjoyed the first-person viewpoint of Sandra, whose odd upbringing has equipped her with superb organising skills, a hatred of muddle and a real sense of entitlement. That last one isn’t a bad thing – she has been brought up with two showbiz parents, both with egos the size of a planet, so she had two ways to go, either be cowed into permanent submission, or come back with an ego of her own. Which still is a whole lot more attractive than either of her parents, whom I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The fact that she talks about them with exasperated affection says a lot for her inherent niceness, I think.
I very much appreciated the humorous thread running through this one – Sandra makes an amusing narrator, with her enjoyable descriptions. I also liked the fact that when it got dangerous and a whole lot darker – which it does – she neither becomes Supergirl, or collapses in a whimpering heap. In fact, she copes with discovering exactly what her family is and what they can do impressively well, and I appreciated that Messik took pains to set up a premise where it didn’t take a quarter of the book before Sandra accepted the weirdness that was unfolding around her.
And weird it certainly is… Sandra’s family is eccentric to the extent that she decides that marketing some of that oddness to build up the fortunes of the family hotel seems like the way to go. But it also draws down some seriously unwelcome interest and alongside the farcical humour, something a lot darker emerges. It’s very well done – never too much, but there were some genuinely creepy moments. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, taking some familiar tropes and putting a pleasingly original spin on them. The ebook arc copy of Witch Dust was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 9/10
BLURB: Ishmael Jones is someone who can’t afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He’s employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself – is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.
I was expecting some sort of Genesis story here, whereby we learn more about Ishmael and the adventures he had in his long, eventful life on Earth, before he started working for the Organisation. However, that didn’t happen. In fact, if I hadn’t been told that this was the first book in the series, I wouldn’t have guessed. Initially, I was a bit disappointed – but on reflection I think it probably is a strength of this series. Once more, Ishmael is plunged into a tricky situation whereby he is a suspected outsider, looking on a group who all have strong reasons to want to see the back of at least one of their companions. Attending a Christmas party at the urgent request of his boss, Ishmael finds himself driving through one of the worst snowstorms on record. He ends up at a country house in the middle of Cornwall, more cut-off than the moon from any outside help, when it all starts to kick off.
There are a series of gory murders and Ishmael is confronted with trying to discover who the perpetrator is. Green presents us with a series of twists – though I had already guessed who the perpetrator was. Though in this case, it wasn’t a question of finding out who so much as trying to discover how to stop the murderer. I liked the fact that superstrong and inhumanly fast Ishmael had met his match. While there wasn’t quite so much humour in this first offering, there was still enough to make me grin in amongst the mayhem, and it was clear to see the foundations of what has made this series so successful. Recommended for fans of paranormal suspense that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The ebook arc copy of The Dark Side of the Road was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 8/10