The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games ended with a bombshell, and now heiress Avery Grambs has to pick up the pieces and find the man who might hold the answers to all of her questions—including why Tobias Hawthorne left his entire fortune to Avery, a virtual stranger, rather than to his own daughters or grandsons. 

Thanks to a DNA test, Avery knows that she’s not a Hawthorne by blood, but clues pile up hinting at a deeper connection to the family than she had ever imagined. As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, two of the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions. And there are threats lurking around every corner, as adversaries emerge who will stop at nothing to see Avery out of the picture—by any means necessary. (taken from Amazon)

The Hawthorne Legacy is a sequel to The Inheritance Games ( you can find my review of that book here) and there are some unavoidable spoilers to book one below. You have been warned!

Ah, where to start with this book? After finding The Inheritance Games to be a rollicking good treasure hunt complete with riddles and double-crossing, The Hawthorne Legacy was left with some pretty big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me.

While the spirit of the series was alive and kicking, a good chunk of the book seemed a little disorganized. After solving the riddles and thwarting the plots in book one, Avery is left trying to navigate the newfound “responsibilities” that come with her fortune, while at the same time trying to find Tobias Hawthorne. He seems to have vanished into thin air, leaving very little in the way of how to find him. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery involving Avery’s mom, and then Avery’s dad shows up…see what I mean about it being a little disorganized? Some of the threads end up tying together while others seem to fade into the background without there ever really being a resolution.

The mystery was not particularly compelling to me, simply because the reveals were often found in letters etc, as opposed to being cleverly puzzled out. The reader wasn’t given all the clues needed to solve the puzzles along with the characters, which was a bummer for me. I love getting the solution and having a “Why didn’t I see that?” moment. I didn’t really get the chance for that here.

That’s not to say The Hawthorne Legacy didn’t have its fun moments. It most definitely did. Avery’s best friend became a larger part of the storyline, which I loved. Her spunk and individuality were a breath of lighthearted fresh air and her interactions with Xander in particular were a lot of fun. She also gave us a window into the thoughts of the other characters, as she would demand details that wouldn’t otherwise have been given. She pushed the story along when it seemed to start to falter.

The relationship complications became more of an issue, which is most definitely not my jam. The love triangle might actually appeal to a lot of readers because it was done in a pretty classy way, considering. It’s just not my thing.

So, what did I think of the mystery? I felt that, while it was creative and led to lots of tense moments, the way it was done changed this book from a mysterious puzzler to a thriller. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it was unexpected. The Inheritance Games had a bit of a Knives Out vibe in my opinion. The Hawthorne Legacy went in a much different direction.

While it ended up not quite being my thing, the book is still well written and the characters are still interesting enigmas. Avery’s best friend Max stole the show, but there were plenty of great moments with the other characters too. We are shown more of the relationship dynamic between the brothers, particularly between Jameson and Grayson, which I thought was fantastic. Even though they are extremely competitive and often work at cross purposes, it was clear they care about each other.

The Inheritance Games is a blast to read and I still recommend it. The Hawthorne Legacy was a bit of a letdown, but I might be in the minority in my final takeaway. I suggest you give it a go yourself and tell me why my opinion is wrong.

Have you read it? What did you think?

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent. (taken from Amazon)

If We Were Villains is a story of a group of Shakespearean students at an art college who let the line between the real and the pretend blur, and the disastrous events that follow. While it could be seen as a mystery- or even a thriller- what stuck out to me were the relationships. In a case where life imitated art instead of the other way around, already out-of-touch personalities devolved into baser natures and the results were fascinating.

The story is told from the point of view of Oliver, one of a group of seven students. He is reminiscing and filling in the blanks after serving ten years for the murder of another in his group of seven. Did he really do it? Why? The memories have the fascinating quality of real, often-revisited recollections: they were gilded, sharpened to put unconscious emphasis on certain points, made fuzzier with time in others. There was always a small hint of suspicion that maybe Oliver was still playing a part, that he was in truth an unreliable narrator.

The lives of the students reminded me a little bit of the movie Dead Poets Society in that the group was incredibly close and they were fully immersed in their own way of thinking, up to the fact that it even affected their speech. Where in Dead Poets Society, you see the group often quoting poetry, If We Were Villains finds them using the Bard’s verse to speak truths that they otherwise hide. It is enthralling and made me appreciate Shakespeare, something that is new for me (I’ve never been a fan). The author uses the anger, fear, and desperation felt by the characters to bring the quotes into a different context. Or maybe she uses the quotes to bring a new dimension to the characters?

The characters themselves were engrossing. They were both more and less than the parts they played. There’s the fill-ins who find themselves chameleons onstage and in the group dynamic, the villain, the hero, the love interest, the ingénue, and the antihero. The students play their roles so well it left me wondering if they were, in fact, only acting. And that’s half of the brilliance of If We Were Villains.

There’s a microworld that I was drawn into, one that is very much real to the characters despite being centered around a dead writer. The atmosphere is fascinating: like a play, everything is heightened and larger than life. The stakes are higher, the relationships more intense yet brittle. The break, when it happens, is on an epic scale. This small world suddenly feels huge.

It is difficult to pick one particular thing that made me love the book as much as I did. I can’t take the characters separately from the language, the atmosphere, the pacing. It all moved together so well that there wasn’t a single thing that I didn’t love. From the very first sentence to the final curtain, everything was perfect.

I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want it to end. The ending itself, however, was perfect. The story was ended satisfactorily, but with room left to wonder. I continue to find myself thinking about it, questioning my reactions, and moving pieces of the narrative around in my mind.

If We Were Villains is smart and compelling, one of the very best books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.

William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia and one ultimate, inescapable truth… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Spirit Engineer will be available October 7th.

I will be honest: I didn’t know much about William Jackson Crawford going into The Spirit Engineer, so everything written was a surprise to me. That being said, if I had been an expert on his life, I still would have been engrossed. The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.

Professor William Jackson Crawford is a man of science who doesn’t subscribe to paranormal nonsense, thank you very much. He thinks himself too smart to fall for any trickery and is preoccupied with dreams of rising far in his field. However, William learns that his wife has been visiting mediums and takes it upon himself to disprove the idea of communicating with the deceased. Thus, the Spirit Engineer is born.

I don’t usually comment on the characteristics of those that are based on real people, but William is not likeable at all. Nor is he relatable. At most, I could say he’s pitiable, and even that is a stretch. William is condescending and feels he is superior to others. He is a man who desperately wants to be in control of himself, of his work, of others. The more he feels his orderly life slipping away, the more paranoid and desperate he becomes. Things go in unexpected directions when, instead of proving the medium is a fraud, William sees and hears the spirits himself. Is he deceived? Or has he stumbled upon something otherworldly? Of course, I don’t need a character to be likable or relatable to enjoy a book. Instead, he was fascinating, which is much more important to me.

The writing was fantastic. It was smart and engaging. I’m assuming that there was some embellishment, but the author obviously tried to stay close to the sprit (pun intended) of the facts. The story developed well and the pacing was perfect. It didn’t skip over details, but it also didn’t drag. I raced through this book because I just couldn’t put it down.

The Spirit Engineer is a riveting book. While it’s interesting from a historical standpoint, what really drew me in was the exploration of the human psyche because, when it comes right down to it, that’s much more fascinating and mysterious than anything supernatural.

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: The Midyear Freak Out Tag

Banner Credit: Anca Antoci

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to post nearly as often as I wanted to during Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. I have been planning on giving this tag a go for ages, however, so I can’t let the week end without taking this opportunity to finally get it done. I don’t know who came up with the original tag, so please let me know if you do. I’d love to credit them.

These are all self-published books, which goes to show (yet again) that any stigma against self-publishing is completely without merit. I encourage you to read off the beaten path!

Best Book You Read So Far This Year

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known. But Aram is more.

Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

This is actually a three-way tie at the moment (I reserve the right to add to this number at any given time), but since I think everyone and their brother should read Dragon Mage, I’m going to go with this one. Aram is one of the most wonderful main characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. I’ve gushed at length about the book here, but there really isn’t a single thing that I didn’t love about Dragon Mage. Definitely read this book, if you haven’t yet.

Best Sequel You Read So Far

The Infinite Tower (Heroes of Spira Book 4) by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.

In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.

Both my oldest and I are loving this series. From the characters and their relationships, to the world-development and the fantastical creatures, this hits every checkmark on my list of favorite things in fantasy books. It’s quickly become one of my most given fantasy recommendations and for good reason. Not only am I looking forward to seeing what happens next, I am planning on rereading from the beginning of the series before too much longer. You can find my review here.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet

Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes

Yuu wants nothing more than to forget the mistakes of her past. The Gods have other plans.

Once a renowned strategist and general, five years ago Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Now she is on the run, royal bounty hunters snapping at her heels. But what if there was a way to get back what she lost, a way to bring back a murdered prince?

Every century, the gods hold a contest to choose who will rule from the Heavenly Jade Throne. Each god chooses a mortal champion, and the fate of all existence hangs in the balance.

On a battlefield full of heroes, warriors, assassins, and thieves can Yuu survive long enough to learn the rules of the game, let alone master it?

Why haven’t I read this yet? WHY???

Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

Mirror in Time by D. Ellis Overttun

As the sun sets, eerie contrails appear on the dome of the firmament, ghostly streaks that have replaced the stars that should fill the night sky. These “ribbons in the sky” appeared 70 years ago. Since that time, planet Arkos has experienced increasing climatic and seismic activity.

Jo’el is the director of the Jomo Langma Mountain Observatory, a high‑altitude astronomical facility situated atop its namesake. Tasked with finding a solution to this problem, he has concluded something outside the universe is tearing apart the very fabric of space‑time. He has also discovered a gateway to another universe. Sadly, any pathway to this portal has now become compromised.

The solution?

Go back in time and engineer a planetary exodus to the safe haven before it becomes inaccessible. It is a seemingly impossible task, but desperation is the mother of invention and the stuff of storytelling. Jo’el is not alone in this quest, with him are two lifelong friends, Chief Physician Kyros and Chief Psychology Officer Auberon. While only aware of Jo’el’s need for their support, they have a camaraderie born of trust that enables them to jump into the unknown knowing they will land safely.

Space‑time mechanics are outside the realm of Jo’el’s expertise. So, he has enlisted the aid of Prefect Godvina, head of the Cosmological Data Collection and Compilation Center. His plan is to meet with her, confirm his findings and proceed on with his friends. However, their meeting arouses the interest of Prefect Tarsus, Head of Intelligence. The unwanted scrutiny disrupts Jo’el’s plans. Now, the Director must improvise, and he reluctantly includes Godvina in the fold.

Are they successful in their travel back through time? Of course! Without it, there is no story, but how do they get there, what do they find and do they make good on Jo’el’s plan?

Mirror in Time will take you on a journey beyond the galaxy then to the ancient world of Ziem as a band of intrepid time travelers struggle to save existence.

I’m not going to say too much because my review is still forthcoming. I’ll just point out that any reader of sci-fi needs to add this to their tbr right now.

Biggest Surprise

Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland

Villains aren’t born, they’re made.

Witt was an ordinary NPC—a non-player character in a video game. As a kobold skald, he sang songs to empower heroes before they entered the local dungeons.

Every day was a fresh start. Every day Witt woke with no memory of his previous encounters with all those so-called heroes. And every day he forgot the countless beatings and deaths he took at the hands of the murder hobos he valiantly buffed.

But when all of those memories suddenly come flooding back, he only wants one thing:

Revenge.

I honestly expected a fun, entertaining little story. I got that and more. It was more violent than I expected, but it was also much more thought-out than I expected. Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale was a blast to read and I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author.

Favorite New Author

I’ve decided that M.L. Spencer could write a book about sandpaper and I’d pre-order it.

Newest Favorite Character – Merovich

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

Merovich was a delight. They were so child-like and sweet, while at the same time they invented the most dangerous of things. I loved that juxtaposition. Honestly, all of the characters in Small Places are fantastic. You can find my review here.

Book that Made You Cry

The Archive by Dan Fitzgerald

In Hollow Road three companions discovered the monsters of legend were all too real…Rumors among the Maer tell of an underground library called the Archive, which houses a wealth of knowledge and terrible magics that could be used to start the biggest war seen since the Great Betrayal. A mixed group of humans and Maer set off on an historic quest to find the Archive and protect it from those who would use it to destroy everything they hold dear. As the cold of winter bears down upon them, they trek through forbidding mountains beset by dangers they could have never imagined. They follow a set of ancient clues deep into the Silver Hills, forging surprising alliances and making new enemies.The humans and Maer are linked by more than their quest to find the Archive and stop an insidious war. A mystical surrogacy may bridge the gap between two peoples, and many hearts entwine as their adventure hurtles toward its bloody conclusion. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t often cry over books or movies. This one had me tearing up, though. Author Dan Fitzgerald used it as a kind of mirror, to show the best and worst in all of us. It was beautiful. Find my review here.

Book that Made You Happy

Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton

The aged and still cocaine-addicted Sherlock Holmes submits entry forms at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic, naming a peculiar goal: “No more solutions, but true resolution,” and finds that his worst enemy has left him the key to his wish, if he can give everything in return. Can his friend Watson stop the clock that has been ticking toward Holmes’ demise, or will he be forced to sit powerless and watch as Holmes walks straight into danger? (Taken from Amazon)

Oh, how I loved this book! The mystery was great, the author nailed the characters, and the ending was absolutely perfect. This was a brilliant homage to the foremost Consulting Detective. You can find my review here.

Most Beautiful Book You Got this Year

Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain

Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.
In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions. 
As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept. (taken from Goodreads)

I mean…look at it! Gorgeous!

What Are Some Books You Need to Read By the End of the Year?

Oh, jeez! My tbr has a longer life expectancy than I do, so this is one of those questions that could be answered with many many titles. I’m looking forward to : A Troll Walks Into a Bar: A Nori Urban Fantasy Novel by Douglas Lumsden, Sacaran Nights by Rachel Shaw, and A Ritual of Bone by Lee C. Conley are a few that come to mind.

Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton

The aged and still cocaine-addicted Sherlock Holmes submits entry forms at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic, naming a peculiar goal: “No more solutions, but true resolution,” and finds that his worst enemy has left him the key to his wish, if he can give everything in return. Can his friend Watson stop the clock that has been ticking toward Holmes’ demise, or will he be forced to sit powerless and watch as Holmes walks straight into danger? (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is available for purchase now.

I am very picky when it comes to Sherlock Holmes and how he’s represented. I am not an expert or anything like that, but I’m a big fan of Conan Doyle’s famous detective and have read the original mysteries more than once (or twice). I’ve noticed that often a newer Holmes iteration will either match Doyle’s original consulting detective in writing style or spirit of character, rarely in both . I was both delighted and surprised to see that Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable managed to do both!

I fairly flew through this book, slowing down only to savor the story for a little longer. It’s extremely well written and the main players match my memories of the originals while at the same time growing and developing as only the best characters can. The additional characters (there must be suspects, after all) are all fantastic, quirky without being over the top.

The mystery itself was fantastic. It wasn’t forced, the final solution made perfect sense in response to the clues, and it was very clever. What I really enjoyed, though, was the ability to explore how Holmes himself ticked. He toyed around with hypnosis, and I’m sure you can imagine the tangled web that presents. Not only is his psyche bared, but his friendship with Watson is put to the test. I was so on board for that!

Surprisingly, the ending left me both incredibly satisfied and a little sad. It felt like the perfect epilogue to a brilliant character’s lifelong accomplishments, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the book to end. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is a fantastic love letter to Conan Doyle’s original works, and a wonderful representation of literature’s most inimitable detective.

I most definitely suggest picking this book up.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone- Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour

Twelve years ago my life began again.
But it was a lie.
With the startling twists of Gone Girl and the haunting emotional power of Room, Mirrorland is the story of twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind.
Cat lives in Los Angeles, about as far away as she can get from her estranged twin sister El and No. 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.
But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to the grand old house, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. No. 36 Westeryk Road is still full of shadowy, hidden corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues all over the house: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

Thank you to the author and to Dave at The Write Reads for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. I am so excited to be invited onto the book tour! Mirrorland is available now.

Mirrorland is disorienting and unsettling, the sort of book that will keep you up at night. It is a harsh book, but it is also an incredibly interesting look at the secrets and the horror that has hidden itself away in Mirrorland, waiting to be revisited.

The book follows Cat, one half of a set of twins. She’s hasn’t seen her twin sister, El, or her sister’s husband in years. Their relationship has gone from strained to nonexistent and Cat has avoided visiting her childhood home, only returning when she learns that her sister is missing. The police think El is dead, but Cat knows better. She would know if her twin had died, right? Plus, Cat suddenly begins receiving clues- the kind that El would leave- that lead her on a hunt for answers. But Cat might not like what she finds…

Mirrorland was unique in that, while I was sometimes left confused, it was done intentionally by the author. There’s a sense of uncertainty throughout the book that left me off balance and wanting to know more. I felt like I was putting together the clues right along with Cat. It made it hard to put the book down: I needed to know where the trail would lead next! I figured it out just a teensy bit before the big reveal and felt a huge sense of accomplishment when it turned out that my guesses were right. The suspense, though! I loved that the book moved at a breakneck pace, without giving the characters (or the readers) a chance to breathe.

There was a small cast of characters and their personalities were revealed in bits and pieces, left to fit together like a puzzle. I didn’t like Cat, the main character, all that much, but I can’t deny she was interesting. The author painted a picture of an unsure person who was desperate for approval. She waffled between anger, bitterness, and jealousy, which is always an interesting combination in a character. Where this book shines, though, is in its mysteries and how they’re revealed.

I do think I need to give a heads-up: this book is very disturbing. Enthralling, but disturbing. If you can handle a harsher storyline, definitely give this book a read. Mirrorland is a fascinating psychological thriller, one that kept me engrossed from beginning to end.

About the author:

Carole Johnstone is an award-winning writer from Scotland, whose short stories have been published all over the world. Mirrorland, a psychological suspense with a gothic twist, is her debut novel.

Having grown up in Lanarkshire, she now lives in the beautiful Argyll & Bute, and is currently working on her second novel: a very unusual murder-mystery, set in the equally beautiful Outer Hebrides.

Where to find Mirrorland:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BZXHFR2/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54304146

In the Garden of Spite: A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. In the Garden of Spite is available for purchase now.

Belle Gunness wasn’t always a murderer. Once she was a girl wronged. Once she was a child looking to escape. Once she was a hopeful mother. Maybe. Or maybe she was always vicious, always dangerous, and always hungry for violence. This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.

I had honestly not heard of the Widow of La Porte prior to this book. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m the most knowledgeable when it comes to the bloodier side of individuals. I was completely sucked in and spent most of the book wondering how much of this grisly story could possibly be true. It turns out, quite a bit.

Belle was originally named Brynhild and spent her childhood in Norway. The reader joins the story right at what could be viewed as the catalyst to Brynhild’s bloodlust. I have to be honest: I did skip past the opening experience that Brynhild suffered. I was able to infer what happened without reading it, and it is something that I personally choose not to read about in books. I don’t usually give trigger warnings, but please be aware that this book is harsh (it is about a serial killer, after all).

After her first murder, Belle traveled to America to begin a new life. This “new life” led to the deaths of many men, including two husbands. The way the story unfolds is nothing short of enthralling. Author Camilla Bruce had an amazing way of portraying a damaged woman who can hug her children and plan a murder in the same moment. It was disturbing and brilliant in equal measure.

In the Garden of Spite is told from two perspectives: one is Belle’s sister, who is initially unaware of Belle’s tendencies, and the other is Belle herself. It was fascinating to see Belle’s sister, Nellie, as she begins to notice that there are things that are off about Belle. As the story progresses, Nellie wrestles with her desire to protect her sister and her knowledge that she might be keeping secrets for a serial killer. I really felt sorry for her, while at the same time wanting to shake her. Her dream of “saving” her sister from a bad life in Norway left her with feelings of guilt and fear. It also left a hefty body count.

Belle herself was terrifying. She was cold-blooded but was able to mimic the emotions others expected from her. She was smart but rash. She was never overwritten, if that makes sense. Instead, she was incredibly well-developed with many layers. She definitely got under my skin.

I flew through this story and was equally fascinated by the author’s afterward, explaining where facts ended and speculation began. Holy crow, author Camilla Bruce was able to mesh truth and fiction brilliantly! I was left with shivers and the hope that In the Garden of Spite won’t be her only foray into the true crime genre.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat- Books Set In or Around Water (that I actually like)

I’ve never been a big fan of books that take place in or around water. Books such as Treasure Island, or even The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have never appealed to me. It’s just not my thing. So when I read a book with a watery setting that I actually really enjoy, it sticks with me. Here are a few boatish books that I’ve really liked.

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker (The Tide Child Book One)

A brilliantly imagined saga of honor, glory, and warfare, The Bone Ships is the epic launch of a new series from British Fantasy Award winner, RJ Barker.

*British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy Novel, winner
 
Two nations at war. One prize beyond compare.
 
For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.
 
The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.
 
Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favor. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory but the war. (taken from Amazon)

I think my concern with books involving ships is that they will feel small. The opposite is the case with this series. The setting allows for a greater view and understanding of author RJ Barker’s world, which is magnificently developed. Plus, the characters are awesome.

Review of The Bone Ships (The Tide Child Book One)

Review of Call of the Bone Ships (The Tide Child Book Two)

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.
But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.
If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. (taken from Amazon)

It’s been a while since I’ve read The Girl From Everywhere, but I remember being impressed by the writing. At what point do you let go of a past sorrow to embrace a present happiness? The choices that Nix has to make encompass themes of family, loss, grief, and acceptance. Oh, and the settings are both familiar and mysterious. It’s quite the balancing act between adventure and the heavier storyline, but author Heidi Heilig managed it beautifully.

The One Kingdom (The Swans’ War Book One) by Sean Russell

The cataclysm began more than a century earlier, when the King of Ayr died before naming an heir to the throne, and damned his realm to chaos. The cold-blooded conspiracies of the Renne and the Wills—each family desirous of the prize of rule—would sunder the one kingdom, and spawn generations of hatred and discord.
Now Toren Renne, leader of his great and troubled house, dreams of peace—a valiant desire that has spawned hostility among his kinsmen, and vicious internal plots against his life. In the opposing domain, Elise Wills’s desire for freedom is to be crushed, as an unwanted marriage to an ambitious and sinister lord looms large. As always, these machinations of nobles are affecting the everyday lives of the common folk—and feeding a bonfire of animosity that has now trapped an unsuspecting young Valeman Tam and two fortune-hunting friends from the North in its high, killing flames.
But the closer Toren comes to achieving his great goal of uniting two enemy houses, the more treachery flowers. Nobles and mystics alike conspire to keep the realm divided, knowing that only in times of strife can their power grow.
And perhaps the source of an unending misery lies before an old king’s passing, beyond the scope of history, somewhere lost in a fog of myth and magic roiling about an ancient enchanter named Wyrr—who bequeathed to his children terrible gifts that would poison their lives…and their deaths. It is a cursed past and malevolent sorcery that truly hold the land, its people, and its would-be rulers bound. And before the already savaged kingdom can become one again, all Ayr will drown in a sea of blood. (taken from Amazon)

A decent chunk of this epic fantasy involves travel on a mysterious river (yep, it’s a river that’s mysterious. It’s a thing, I promise). The things found both in and along the river tugged on my imagination, painting a vivid picture of a unique and creative world. The mythology behind the enchanter Wyrr is flat-out amazing. The Swans’ War is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies, despite (or maybe because of) the water-travel.

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. Traveling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. Among the other guests is Sara Wessel, a noblewoman with a secret.
But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock dies in the night.
And then the passengers hear a terrible voice, whispering to them in the darkness, promising three unholy miracles, followed by a slaughter. First an impossible pursuit. Second an impossible theft. And third an impossible murder.
Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?
With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board. (taken from Amazon)

At this point, I’m pretty sure Stuart Turton could write a novel about cardboard boxes and I would love it. His writing is outstanding and the mystery of The Devil and the Dark Water kept me riveted from beginning to end.

Review of The Devil and the Dark Water

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people. (taken from Amazon)

I would have to admit that I am sort of cheating on this one, except that this is my post and my rules. So there. Jovis’ storyline, in particular, has a lot to do with ships and such whatnot and he was my favorite character, so it counts. Right? Either way, I’m looking forward to the next part in this interesting series.

Review of The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One)

What about you? How do you feel about books that involve boats or water travel? What are some books that fit the bill that I should read?

The City that Barks and Roars by J.T. Bird

Animals rule the world

They hit cafes for breakfast then nine to five at the office, and fritter away evenings at jazz clubs.

But paradise is still a distant dream, for there are devils amongst the angels.

Lucas Panda is missing; clues on the riverbank suggest he was probably kidnapped. Enter Frank. Who else you gonna call? Hard-boiled penguin and the finest detective in town. And meet his new partner, Detective Chico Monkey – yeah, the wisecrackin’ kid with all the snappy suits. But the stakes have been raised; three more creatures are missing and the citizens of Noah’s Kingdom are faced with possible extinction. Can the grouchy bird and plucky young ape save the city from doom? Or, will evil prevail and escape the claws of justice? (taken from Amazon)

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

Man, this place has gone to the dogs! Okay, okay, I couldn’t help myself. But in this zoo-meets-noir, the joke is mildly appropriate.

The story of The City that Barks and Roars has been told before, many times. You have a a detective that goes missing, and it’s up to his grizzled, cantankerous partner to solve the crime. In this case, the missing detective is named Lucas Panda (what with him being a panda and all). The grumpy partner? King Penguin Frank. Add his new fresh-faced partner, Charlie Monkey, and you’ve got the bare bones of many a detective tale. However, in this case, it’s a detective tail. Badum-tish! (I’ll be here all week folks.)

Now, the fact that the plot isn’t anything new and original does not detract from the story. Rather, it adds to it: we all know which beats to expect, but there’s a twist of the furry variety. It highlights the fun the author had writing The City that Barks and Roars. Think Zootopia for adults.

The mystery was clever, but the book ended up falling a bit flat for me. The characters, other than being animals, did not really have much in the way of development. However, The City that Barks and Roars is a shorter tale, so that could be the issue right there.

Where the author shone was in the descriptions, leaving me thinking that perhaps this story would be better in a different medium. As a TV show or movie, perhaps. The City that Barks and Roars was full of quippy humor, some of which landed, and some that didn’t.

At this point, I’m afraid my review seems to be entirely negative. I truly don’t mean it that way. The City that Barks and Roars was an entertaining tale. It’s wasn’t incredible, but it was fun. I think people who read the detective genre will appreciate what the author did here more than I did, simply because they’ll have more experience with the genre.

My Favorite Reads of 2020

Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.

While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review

Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald

Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review

So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!