Thank you to Aconyte Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Shadows of Pnath: An Arkham Horror Novel is available now.
Shadows of Pnath is a rollicking, massively entertaining foray into the world of Arkham Horror. The very first page sets the tone, with the Comte d’Erlette (who is not a very nice character) showcasing just how evil he is. This world of less-than-savory characters, supernatural beings, and hazardous undertakings is established from the get-go. From there, the story moves on to Alessandra Zorzi, sort-of reformed thief. She’s trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but when multiple groups find her, all looking for the same thing (okay, she did steal it in the first place, but that’s beside the point), she gets drawn into a madcap adventure and a race to avoid some seriously nasty consequences.
I enjoyed the heck out myself, reading this book. The characters are all fantastic. It turns out that Shadows of Pnath is a sequel of sorts, but I was able to follow along just fine, despite not reading the previous book. I think this speaks to the setup of the book. The author gave information as the book progressed, avoiding the dreaded info dump and providing important details without bogging anything down. In fact, the excitement and fast-paced storyline never let up for a minute.
Alessandra Zorzi herself, the thief turned heroine, is a blast to read. She’s clever and tenacious and seemed to be channeling Indiana Jones (but with far more poise and moderately more success- sorry, Indy). Add in Pepper, Zorzi’s plucky apprentice/sidekick (although that relegates her to the background and she is far from just a background character), and several other great characters and there isn’t a dull moment. Each character in the female-led cast is utterly unique, with their own motivations. The twisty and tenacious alliances added an extra layer of entertainment to an already extremely readable book.
I loved the noir-meets-supernatural vibe of the book! Zorzi would have been equally at home with a Sam Spade style of narration, but instead, she pops right out of the pages into an action-packed book with a fast pace. This is a quick, engrossing read that brings the best of both noir and occult horror stories and mashes them together into a world that is just flat-out fun.
I had a blast reading Shadows of Pnath, and I’m planning to grab other Arkham Horror novels. Pick this one up. You’ll thank me.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Everyone in My FamilyHas Killed Someone will be available on January 17th.
How can you see a title like this and not be immediately intrigued? The book blurb hinted at intrigue and some wacky secrets waiting to be revealed, and the book more than delivered. The story starts with a murder and the body count piles up as the pages turn. The twists had twists and the narration was a delight.
Ernie is on his way to the most awkward family reunion he’s ever attended and that’s saying something. He prefers to avoid them, but this one is different: his brother, just released from prison, will be there. And that’s the awkward part. Ernie is the one who cemented his brother’s conviction. Ernie expects a long, uncomfortable weekend. He just didn’t expect the dead body. As far as family drama goes, the drama in this book is a doozy.
Ernie’s narration guides the reader through a morass of secrets and mysterious happenings. He isn’t an unreliable narrator (as he mentions multiple times), but he manipulates the information he gives, leaving you guessing. Okay, maybe he is a bit unreliable. He was a fantastic character. Oh- and he happens to be a writer. Can you guess what he writes? Books on how to write mysteries! He talks to the readers, even guiding us through the hows and whats of mystery writing. I loved when he admitted that something happening was stereotypical of a murder mystery (he had a lot to say about phone batteries). He was fully aware that he wasn’t any less guilty of deception than any of the other characters in the book, he just felt a little bit worse about it.
His tone was wry and more than a little snarky. And the chapter titles cracked me up! There was one chapter that consisted solely of an “I don’t want to talk about that”. Genius.
A book like this relies on strong characters to keep it interesting. If the characters are boring, then the mystery becomes stagnant. Ernie’s family members were all shifty and dishonest, with their own agendas. It was awesome. They were more than just caricatures, instead being fully developed, shady people. Relationships and alliances shifted throughout, adding an extra layer to this already complex story.
Some of the twists were overly convoluted, but the majority landed and added fogginess and fun. I did call the final “whodunnit” (I have a knack for that in books, for some reason), but I missed a million other things and I had the motive way wrong. Going back through, the clues were all there. Mysteries like that are the best.
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is smart, bloody, and darkly funny. This is my first book by Benjamin Stevenson, but I guarantee it won’t be my last. I loved it.
I’m not a Trekkie or a huge Brent Spiner fan, although I’ve seen a decent chunk of multiple versions of the show and a previous tenant left an Ol’ Yellow Eyes cd in the garage of my apartment (possibly my favorite odd moving-in gift that I’ve found over the years). The premise of Fan Fiction appealed to me, though, and I went into it curious and hopeful.
Alas, this didn’t connect with me, although there were some positive points. The book follows Brent Spiner as he navigates death threats, twin crushes (or is it the same person?), and a mystery that needs to be solved as soon as yesterday. It also adds in a generous dose of Hollywood anecdotes and self-deprecating humor.
Brent’s narration is intriguing in that he does not hesitate to put the best and worst of himself on display. He is naive in so many ways, but also disgustingly piggish in others (really? You can’t tell the sisters you’re crushing on apart? Yuck). His inner dialogue was interesting, and his memories of his stepdad gave him an added level and explained some of who he is later on.
His personal experience and the zany things he shares are the best part of the book. Brent’s meeting with poor Gregory Peck had me laughing out loud while cringing. You can’t make that stuff up. Unless he did. Either way, it was wildly entertaining. I guess even actors get starstruck and trip over themselves sometimes.
The book gives a fun look at the other actors in Star Trek: The Next Generation through their interactions with Brent. Some of the things they said were flat-out hilarious. Each of them had such big personalities that they became almost caricatures; but that was the point, of course. I particularly enjoyed reading about Levar Burton (I’m a big fan, thanks to that butterfly in the sky).
But…there were too many things that I really didn’t like. The mystery ended up being a little unsatisfactory, with the reveal leaving much to be desired both in motive and pacing. In fact, the pacing was a little off throughout Fan Fiction in general. There was too little time spent on big plot points, and after a while the dreams and flashbacks became redundant.
I feel like I’m being much harsher than I generally am, but I suppose I’m ticked off about a certain part of the book and it’s affected my overall opinion. Big breath–now to touch on my biggest complaint.
I absolutely loathe insensitive remarks about mental health, doubly so when they’re couched in terms of “praise” as was the case here. I could try to sum up my issue with a certain part, but I’ll just quote some of it here instead.
“You know, I have been said to suffer from Asperger’s myself, but I think that overstates it. I’d say I’m an honorary Asperger. I’m also an honorary Tourette because I tend to jerk and occasionally I suddenly say something loud. And I’m an honorary bipolar. I suspect we all have a bit of everything inside of us.”
This is only the tail end of about a page and a half of offensiveness. Now, I fully admit that I may be sensitive regarding mentions of mental illness seeing as I have bipolar myself, so take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt. But it really upset me. In fact, I’m getting frustrated all over again just writing about it, so I’ll just warn you that this lovely tidbit is in the book and move on.
Fan Fiction had potential. It did. But at the end of the day, I set my phasers to “nope”, knowing that I’m not the right reader for this book. I am sure that many readers will enjoy what didn’t work out for me.
In My Dreams I Hold a Knife had a lot of potential, but it ultimately did not pay off for me. The setup was fantastic, but the twists and turns seemed to get away from the author a little bit. That being said, there are some things that I really appreciated about the novel.
The book follows a group of people who used to be good friends in college, until the main character’s roommate, Heather, was killed. Jessica, the main character, is excited to go to her college homecoming years later, to prove to everyone that she’s successful, but the shadow of the unsolved murder hangs over her. No one was ever convicted of the crime, but most people assumed it was Jack, Heather’s boyfriend at the time.
Jessica’s triumphant return to her old school is ruined when the victim’s brother shows up, determined to expose the real killer. As the old group’s secrets are revealed, things become less clear and much more sinister than any of them expected.
From the main character to the victim, not one person in the group was likeable. I was completely on board with the cast of rather despicable characters because it kept me from easily guessing the “whodunnit” (generally, it’s the only person in the group who seems nice). It’s a bold choice to write such an unsavory group of characters and it kept things interesting.
The story jumped back and forth from past to present. It also switched between points of view, but each character was unique enough that there was never any confusion. The jumps between time, while sometimes odd, always added a new puzzle piece which finally led up to the big reveal.
My biggest quibble with In My Dreams I Hold a Knife was the sheer number of twists. It got to the point where it was just too much. As twist after twist was added, I ended up losing patience with the plot. Eventually, it got to the point where I’d give a little sigh.
The big reveal was done well, although the follow-up didn’t necessarily feel needed. That is my own personal preference, though. I like endings that don’t tie into a neat bow. If you like seeing everything wrapped up neatly, you’ll appreciate the extra time the author put into doing just that.
I don’t usually post trigger warnings, but I do think it is important to share that there is mention of r**e in this book. It is not graphic, but it is an important part of the plot.
If you like books with many twists that keep you guessing and untrustworthy characters, In MyDreams I Hold a Knife should go on your “to be read” list.
This year has been an amazing one for reading! I was planning on doing a top 10 books that I loved in 2021, but I could only narrow it down to 20. Even that was a difficult thing to do. Eventually I managed to get down to 20 books, but it was hard! So, in no particular order, and after a ton of internal wrestling, here’s my top 20 books of 2021.
*These are books that I enjoyed this year, not necessarily books that were published in 2021.
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.
If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, “A well-written and gripping ode to the stage…A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth.” (taken from Amazon)
“If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.”
The Resurrectionist of Caligoby Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga
With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.
“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)
“A brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.”
The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process. As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help. Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)
“This book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.“
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.
” It isn’t too often that I call a book perfect, but that’s what Dragon Mage is. It is absolutely perfect.”
Exiled by her despotic brother, Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while trapped in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin. The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers. But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)
“Savagely beautiful, The Jasmine Throne kept me riveted from the first page all the way through until the last heart-stopping moment.”
In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.
Only an idiot would ignore his debt to a high mage, and Mennik Thorn is no idiot, despite what anyone might say. He’s just been … distracted. But now he’s left it too late, and if he doesn’t obey the high mage’s commands within the day, his best friends’ lives will be forfeit. So it’s hardly the time to take on an impossible case: proving a woman who murdered a stranger in full view is innocent.
Unfortunately, Mennik can’t resist doing the right thing – and now he’s caught in a deadly rivalry between warring high mages, his witnesses are dying, and something ancient has turned its eyes upon him.
The fate of the city is once again in the hands of a second-rate mage. Mennik Thorn should have stayed in hiding. (taken from Amazon)
Review to Come
We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley
The Render Tracers always say magick users deserve to burn. Aren couldn’t agree more, Keluwen would beg to differ, and Corrin couldn’t care less either way.
In a world where most people use swords for protection, Aren uses tools that let him see what no one else can see, and he takes advantage of loopholes that can undo magick in order to stop the deadliest people in the world. He is a Render Tracer, relentlessly pursuing rogue sorcerers who bend the laws of physics to steal, assault, and kill. But his next hunt will lead him to question his entire life, plunging him into a world where he can’t trust anyone, not even his own eyes.
When Keluwen finally escaped her fourthparents’ home and set out on her own to become a thief, she never thought she would one day be killing her own kind. She honed her magick on the streets, haunted by her past, hunted by Render Tracers, and feared by a society that hates what she is. Now she joins a crew of outcast magicians on a path of vengeance as they race to stop an insane sorcerer who has unlocked the source of all magick and is trying to use it to make himself a god.
Corrin is a sword fighter first, a drinker second, and a…well, there must be something else he is good at. He’ll think of it if you give him enough time. He is a rogue for hire, and he has no special powers of any kind. The most magick he has ever done is piss into the wind without getting any on himself. He is terrible at staying out of trouble, and someone always seems to be chasing him. When he gets caught up in a multi-kingdom manhunt, he finds himself having to care about other people for a change, and he’s not happy about it.
They are about to collide on the trail of a man who is impossible to catch, who is on the verge of plunging the world into ruin, and who can turn loyal people into traitors in a single conversation. They must struggle against their own obsessions, their fears, ancient prophecies, and each other. They will each have to balance the people they love against their missions, and struggle to avoid becoming the very thing they are trying to stop.
All they have to do is stop the unstoppable. Simple. (taken from Amazon)
“We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.”
Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.
Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)
“This book is wonderful. It’s comfort in written form. It’s a reminder that happy endings (or maybe happy beginnings) exist, often found in the most unexpected of places, if only we’re brave enough to look.”
Campaigns and Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Alexander Watt
Grab your dice and pencil, sit your pets down, teach them to play… and immediately regret your choices.
Hilarious collection of Dungeons & Dragons-themed pet jokes by acclaimed comics creators Andi Ewington, Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi
What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?
If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!
…unless your pets are jerks. (taken from Amazon)
“I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns andCompanions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).”
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)
“I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected.”
Goblinby Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins
A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.
One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)
“Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. “
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)
” 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.”
The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor. Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force. Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace. But can she trust them? (taken from Amazon)
“… a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.”
Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.
Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more.
Review to Come
The Infinite Towerby 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.
“Read this series for an escape into a fantastic new world, peopled with some of the best characters you’ll ever read.”
Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.
Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.
For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…(taken from Amazon)
“Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.”
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.
“This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.”
Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.
Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.
It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings … including his first love. (taken from Amazon)
” White Trash Warlock was a supernatural show-down combined with complicated real-life problems.”
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 WeWere 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.
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.
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.
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.
I received this book to read and review as part of the BBNYA 2020 competition and/or the BBNYA tours organised by the @The_WriteReads tours team. All opinions are my own.
BBNYA (or Book Bloggers Novel of the Year Award) is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. I was fortunate to be able to take part as a judge. It was a ton of fun and I was introduced to some fantastic books.
If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also remember to read the terms and conditions before signing up)!
BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (featuring gorgeous, drool-worthy books) and the book blogger support group TheWriteReads.
Congratulations to The Lore of Prometheus for its win as the 2020 Book Blogger Novel of the Year!
So, what is The Lore of Prometheus about?
John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit.
It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.
Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive. (Amazon blurb)
About the author:
Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells.
A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.
He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.
After spending a decade in Canada learning what ‘cold’ really means, and being horrified by poutine, he settled once again in the UK with a seemingly endless horde of children.
To date he is the author of five novels, drawing on a foundation of literary influences ranging from David Eddings to Clive Barker.