The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

A murder on the high seas. A remarkable detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.

But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered. Anyone could be to blame. Even a demon.

And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board. (taken from Amazon)

I loved Stuart Turton’s first book so much, that I had ridiculously high expectations for The Devil and the Dark Water. This book didn’t meet my expectations. It far surpassed them. In fact, this might very well be the best mystery I’ve read since The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which was also written by Stuart Turton (we got an extra half death in the U.S., which never ceases to amuse me). The Devil and the Dark Water has everything I want in a book and then some.

To say it is a mystery is to simplify this book almost too much. It’s a mystery. It’s a thriller. It’s a supernatural whodunnit (or is it?), and it’s a genius trip into the evil lurking in the Dark Water.

So, what made this so incredibly engrossing? Well, first I need to start with the setting. Both the time and place were fascinating. It takes place in the early 1600’s aboard the Saardam, a ship bound for Amsterdam. Normally, the expectation would be of a voyage filled with boredom, possible plague, and bad weather. Instead, the Saardam gets violence, mysterious symbols pointing to a possible possession, and danger from someone or something on board the ship. It became a locked-room mystery, with the entire ship being the locked room. It was fascinating, to say the least.

Now for the characters. There is a small cast of characters, and every single one of them is hiding something. First and foremost, I have to mention Sammy Pip. He has the mind of Sherlock Holmes and is quite possibly the only one on the ship who could easily decipher what is going on. Unfortunately, he is a prisoner, locked in a cell. Instead, it falls to Arent, Sammy’s bodyguard and friend, to try to either exorcise a demon, or catch a villain. Arent is a fantastic character. He’s smart, but doubts himself. He’s also gigantic and is used to his brawn being what others need him for. As with everyone on the ship, the reader gets to decide: is he what he seems?

There are several other amazing characters on board, including a cutthroat captain, a Governor General who also happens to be a jerk of epic proportions, his wife Sara, and his mistress. There are other noteworthy characters, but I’ll leave it to the book to introduce them all. Suffice it to say, every single one of them has the potential to be a devil-or maybe summon one.

The story itself was superb! The mysteries had mysteries and every time I thought I had figured something out, the plot would twist again, leaving me delightfully confounded. I spent the entire book attempting to sleuth along with Arent, and had a blast doing so. The book had a kick of an ending, although I would have happily continued reading for another several hundred pages. Stuart Turton’s writing is just that good.

If you only read one book this year, make it The Devil and the Dark Water. It is utterly brilliant.

The Wolf and the Water by Josie Jaffrey- The Write Reads blog tour


The ancient city of Kepos sits in an isolated valley, cut off from the outside world by a towering wall. Behind it, the souls of the dead clamour for release. Or so the priesthood says.
Kala has never had any reason to doubt their word – until her father dies in suspicious circumstances that implicate the city’s high priest. She’s determined to investigate, but she has a more immediate problem: the laws of the city require her mother to remarry straight away.
Kala’s new stepfather is a monster, but his son Leon is something altogether more dangerous: kind.
With her family fractured and the investigation putting her life in danger, the last thing Kala needs is romance. She would rather ignore Leon entirely, however difficult he makes it. But when she learns the truth of what really clamours behind the wall at the end of the valley, she faces a choice: share what she knows and jeopardise her escape, or abandon him to his fate along with the rest of the city.
If she doesn’t move fast, then no one will make it out of the valley alive. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book, and to The Write Reads for including me in this blog tour! Here’s a creative and unique young adult fantasy, perfect for those who like a generous sprinkling of romance in their books.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter

In Victorian England, a savvy spiritual medium must outsmart the most important client of her career: a scientist determined to expose frauds like her.

But their game of wits has fatal consequences when a vengeful spirit answers their summons. If they cannot put aside their prejudices—and growing passion—and find a way to banish the ghost together, one of them could be its next victim.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by bestselling authors Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene has many of the trappings of good horror: an old manor with a violent history, a medium (albeit a skeptical one), and plenty of things that go bump in the night. There were things that worked well, and things that didn’t.

This book followed Beatrix Greene, a spiritualist by profession, but not in actuality. She doesn’t believe in that stuff, thank you very much, but a job is a job. However, if she is exposed as a fraud, there goes her livelihood. So when she meets James Walker, a scientist who makes a habit of debunking fake mediums, Beatrix is justifiably nervous. Instead of trying to expose Beatrix, James hires her to spend a night in an old manor to decide if it is truly haunted. Joining them are: Harry, Beatrix’s friend and a rather lousy actor; Amanda, a hired photographer; and Stanhope, a friend of James. Hijinks ensue.

The bones of the story (pun intended) were interesting and it’s obvious that the authors have a love of the eerie. I loved the atmosphere of the book- at least, I loved the first bit. Later on, it went from creeptastic to gory, which kind of bummed me out. It was an abrupt shift that didn’t really work for me.

There were mysteries to solve, and spooks aplenty. My biggest issue with the book was that it felt rushed. The pacing was off. I felt that it could have benefitted from a few extra chapters and a slower buildup to give the creep factor time to set in. It was almost too quick to really appreciate, honestly. There was so much happening that deserved more attention than it was given.

If I look at this book as more of a campfire tale than a horror novel, I’d say it delivers some fun spook. I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it. My final takeaway is that, while there were some thrills, there weren’t any chills.

Book Spotlight: 2120 by Aithal


Americans today face a toxic mix of COVID-19, a polarized political environment, a sometimes-violent racial upheaval, and climate-change induced natural disasters. And when you add severe constraints to man’s natural urges for exploring new lands and experiences, not to mention flights of fantasy into the future, we are truly in a downward inflection point of US history.  

2120 takes on all of America’s enormous challenges with aplomb, and offers a cohesive vision of the future that addresses the underlying causes of mega-issues ranging from human hubris towards our environment, to parochial interests driving US politics. 2120 makes the flights of fantasy into the future seem all too real, as the audience vicariously lives the future through vibrantly developed and thoroughly believable characters who humanize experiences despite owing their origins to other galaxies.  

Strap on your intellectual seat belts and plan for a binge read through “2120” as it prepares for the 2020 election season and humanity’s challenges in the upcoming decade.

This has been quite the year. Right now, in the U.S., the presidential election is almost upon us. What happens when 2020 meets the sci-fi genre? I have yet to read this book, but this looks like a fascinating and thought-provoking twist on a year fraught with upheaval. I’ve chatted a bit with author Aithal, and after I spoke with him about doing a book spotlight, he also asked me to pass along an important message: “None of us will be around in 2120…but it’s very crucial for the current generation to know how their decision can impact the future.”

About Aithal: I’m the author of four science fiction books. Well, I’d not really call them science fiction as I think it may disappoint science fiction fans if they are expecting hard-core books in that genre. It’s more of ‘political science fiction’. It’s a dystopian look at our future (environmentally) if we stay on our path. They involve space-travel and take a deep-dive into political psychology.

It’s a journey into space and back to future Earth that spans across these books.
 
To know more about his work, visit www.thegalaxyseries.com
FB: https://www.facebook.com/thegalaxyseriesbooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorgalaxy
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thegalaxyseries/
 
YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9ZnpfnmfvY Featured on The David Pakman Show


Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation Book #1) by Phillip Blackwater

As tension rises between the southern and northern nations of the small continent of Exitium in the world of Anteris, the Elves turn to their eastern neighbors, the Humans, for help. They wish to learn the ways of combat, which they are not accustomed to, for they have always wielded a power far greater than forged steel. The Shards of Creation, mystical artifacts of great and virtually infinite power, have always been their prized weapon, but times have changed. They now face the same threat as the Humans: the southern nation known as the Ethula.

Wariel Ritch, general of the Human army, will take upon his shoulders this burden. But when a shadow of a past long forgotten threatens what little stability is left in the world, he will have to leave everything behind to stop it. Medregal Tergrast, an Ethulan king, dead for a thousand years, plans his return to the world of the living to gain back his former glory and finally fulfill his destiny by gaining control of the Shards of Creation. But is he really the threat people make him out to be?

In the meantime, in the bowels of the Human Kingdom, the reign of Dana Crystaloak is put into jeopardy when people around her start questioning her decisions. If she falls, war could break out across all lands. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

This is a strong offering from a new voice in fantasy. Phillip Blackwater takes the familiar things we all know and like about fantasy, and gives them new life and a creative turn.

I must say, I love a good quest. And when that quest means great character development? Even better. The book opens on a fight scene, and the action continues throughout. Sometimes frequent fight scenes come at the expense of the characters, but author Phillip Blackwater has still been able to create characters that are three dimensional. My favorite part of the book is quite possibly the Faceless Reaper: I won’t say anything more, because half of the fun with this character is in the telling.

The world is great and the story moves along at a good pace. The writing could use a little polishing here and there, but overall it was a blast to read. This is a fantastic debut novel and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey


Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it.

Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life – or at least, she’s perfectly fine.

She doesn’t in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.

Ivy Gamble is a liar.

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister―without losing herself. (taken from Amazon)

Ivy Gamble is the ordinary twin. She grew up dealing with her mother’s slow decline in health, while her twin was off at a school for mages. Tabitha-the magic twin-seemed to have all the skill, while Ivy was just an average teen. Fast forward to adulthood: the two estranged twins have followed very different paths. Tabitha teaches at a mage school. And Ivy? She has just been hired to solve a mystery there.

This book has several oblique references to Harry Potter. There is a Chosen One (the italics and capitalization are necessary), an incredibly unique take on a pensieve, and prophecies. The similarities were just noticeable enough for me to appreciate them, but far from actually defining the story at all.

In fact, the book itself is much more mature and goes in directions I would never have expected. Here is the part where I issue a heads up: abortion is one of the themes of this book. While not the main plotline by any means, it is brought up multiple times. This book is most definitely intended for adults, despite the Potter-esque odds and ends.

The characters in Magic for Liars are well-developed and incredibly nuanced. Every action made perfect sense for each character, not because the characters were one dimensional, but because the author knew them so well. I felt like I could sit down and have conversations with any of them. Ivy’s internal dialogue was fascinating because it felt like she began to discover who she was while I was also learning the same things about her. She was a lost person struggling to figure herself out.

The mystery itself was tantalizing and complex enough that I didn’t expect how it all panned out at all. Honestly, though, the mystery ended up not being the important part of the book. It all begins and ends with relationships. The important themes in this books are love, loss, self-discovery and acceptance.

The ending both satisfied and upset me (I can feel both emotions at the same time: I’m complicated like that). It ended on a sad note, but the hopeful kind of sad. Magic for Liars is much more complex and thought-provoking than any “school for magic” book has the right to be.

Ostensibly about a very normal P.I. trying to solve a murder in a backdrop that is far from normal, this book manages to be much more than just a mystery. It will not be for everyone, but if you want a good introspective book with a dash of magic, then I suggest picking this one up.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Mexican Gothic' Review: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Reinvigorates A ...After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.   
 
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
 
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode…

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Vultures by Luke Tarzian- The Write Reads Blog Tour

An enemy slain is not a conflict won…

After decades of war the demon Te Mirkvahíl is dead. But its progeny endure, spilling from the Heart of Mirkúr, sowing death across the land of Ariath. If the people are to finally know peace, the Heart must be destroyed. Theailys An believes he can do just that with The Keepers’ Wrath, an infamous power focus wrought in Ariath’s yesteryears–but the weapon first must be reforged.

War spares no one…

Serece never intended to get involved in Ariath’s war. But history and demons have a way of pulling strings. When she learns Theailys An, a man whom she abhors, bears striking similarity to the first creator of The Keepers’ Wrath, Serece departs her mountain world for Ariath to ascertain the truth.

From patience, hope…

For millennia Behtréal has walked the world alone. Rewriting history to resurrect his people is easier said than done. But Ariath holds the key–soon The Keepers’ Wrath will be remade.

Truth from madness…

As paths converge and a shadow falls across Ariath, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear–these events have played out many times before. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads and the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Vultures is a dark fantasy, told in shades of gray. Dark and brooding, it is definitely not a happy story, but it is engrossing. To me, it felt like most of what happened was really a device used to explore or explain inner torment, as opposed to the inner torment being just a byproduct of the situation, if that makes sense. Luke Tarzian himself described Vultures as being “very much a story about love, loss, grief, and mental illness through the eyes of reluctant heroes.”* There’s no way I could possibly describe the atmosphere of the book better than that. I very much love seeing real issues like mental illness or grief explored in fantasy settings, and I was impressed with the rawness of the book.

The story was told through several points of view, and it was interesting to see how/if the characters’ storylines crossed or what the connections were. My favorite character was Theailys An. He would have blackouts and he would remember nothing of what happened during them (although, violence was generally involved). It made for fascinating character development.

The world itself was incredibly well-developed. There is a ton to this world, and this is a book that very much needs the reader’s full attention. The writing was evocative and made my imagination work overtime. At times, it felt like I was reading someone’s nightmare. It was an uncomfortable but engrossing feeling.

If you like harsher fantasy- I mean really harsh- give this book a read. Luke Tarzian is a writer with vision and a great deal of skill.

*If you want to read my interview with Luke Tarzian, it can be found here.

Book Tag: 90s Music Edition

I saw this fantastic tag on Read to Ramble’s excellent blog. Make sure to check it out! I’ve been incredibly nostalgic lately, and this tag seemed to feed right into that, so of course I had to take part!

What’s My Age Again- Blink 182:

At what age did you discover your love of reading?

I have always loved books, as long as I can remember. I remember riding in a red wagon when my mom walked to the library. Those trips were always fun, and I’ve carried that love of books and libraries with me ever since.

All Star- Smash Mouth:

What is your favorite genre?

While I’ve branched out over the years, fantasy will always be my absolute favorite. There’s something wonderful about being able to read a book where the limits of the real world don’t apply.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Deep Blue Something:

What’s your go-to reading snack/drink?

I don’t necessarily have a favorite since I’m usually reading anytime I have a spare minute: when folding laundry, while the kids are watching an animated something that I can’t stand, during lunch…I almost always have a mug of coffee, though.

Give It Away – Red Hot Chili Peppers:

What book do you ALWAYS recommend to people?

First and foremost, I have to say for the record: I loathe the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can move on to the question. I tend to recommend differing books based on who I’m talking to, but I find myself suggesting The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman more than any others. The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold is coming pretty dang close to catching up, though, which is saying something since the other books have 10+ years of suggesting on it.

…Baby One More Time – Britney Spears:

A book or series you have read more than once?

If I love a book, I’ll read it more than once. I love revisiting stories that I loved. It’s like seeing an old friend. If I tried to list all the books I’ve read multiple times, I’d be sitting at the computer for a very, very long time.

Tearin’ Up My Heart – N’Sync:

A book that broke your heart to finish?

A Child Called It by David J. Pelzer is the most upsetting book I’ve ever read. I had to finish it in the hope that the poor boy would end up in a better situation. I will never read that book again.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana:

A book that you read as a teen that you still love today?

Oh, there are so many! The Dragonlance books are on the list, of course, as is The Hobbit, Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Paradise Lost…the list goes on.

Hurt- Nine Inch Nails:

What book do you love that deals with heavier subjects?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower talks about harsh subjects that are nonetheless important. Instead of being a complete downer, it handles the difficult themes with grace, dignity, and an underlying feeling of hope. And yes, I added this question myself. I’m a rebel like that.

I’m not going to tag anyone, but I’d love to see some others answer these questions! If you do, please tag me so I can see what you came up with.

Into the Never: Nine Inch Nails and the Creation of Downward Spiral

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Full of information, speculation, and a fair amount of geeking out, this book nonetheless failed to keep my attention. Pretty much everyone over a certain age knows who Nine Inch Nails is. It was one of my “angry” go-to bands for the longest time, and I still listen to their music on a semi-regular basis. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, I think everyone can agree that NIN did things with music that hadn’t been done before. The subject of the book is an interesting one.

Author Adam Stein went deep down the proverbial rabbit hole with this book. He pulled out quotes from years ago, found new points of view, and dug up information that painted an introspective and profound picture of Trent Reznor (founder and singer of NIN) and his emotional state when Downward Spiral was being created. He also waxed enthusiastic over NIN and every move made by Reznor. That enthusiasm made the book much more relatable. It’s difficult to be interested in a subject that the author cares nothing about, so his interest made this book fascinating.

Unlike many such books, Into the Never focused on the artist through the lens of his art, instead of the other way around. The author took a very song-by-song breakdown approach toward the latter half of the book, and made connections that I certainly wouldn’t have known to make. Reznor’s thoughts on faith, religion, and the human condition were both fascinating and sometimes unsettling. While I personally don’t agree much with Reznor’s viewpoints, it was engrossing to read them.

Unfortunately, about halfway through, the author’s extreme love of NIN became a little grating. I felt that the author’s enthusiasm started to cloud the point of the book a little bit. It would be that way with anything written by an extreme fan, though. There’s that moment where it becomes a bit much for “normal people” (aka, people who don’t have driving obsessions). For example, you don’t want to discuss Firefly with me unless you’ve cleared your schedule because I’ll go from Firefly to the actors’ continued careers, and segue into the epicacity (I’m over here making up words now) of Nathan Fillion’s mustache. See? There’s always that point where the excitement needs to be reined in, or at least given direction.

I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed this book much more if I’d taken longer to read it, maybe even putting it down to read something cheerful in-between parts. It’s interesting, but also a bit too much at times. It started out strong and I wanted to love it, but this book ends up getting something closer to a “meh” from me.