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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Review - Recursion by Blake Crouch


Recursion
Author:  Blake Crouch
Publisher:  Crown, June 11, 2019
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  US$27.00 (print);  US$13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781524759780 (print); 9781524759803 (eBook)

Review - Recursion by Blake Crouch
From the New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines trilogy comes a relentless thriller about time, identity, and memory—his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

“An action-packed, brilliantly unique ride that had me up late and shirking responsibilities until I had devoured the last page . . . a fantastic read.”—Andy Weir, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?



Qwill's Thoughts

Recursion was difficult for me to read at first as Blake Crouch alternates POVs and periods of time. I felt disoriented. We are programed to think linearly - yesterday, today, tomorrow. Recursion turns that on its head and inside out. What if you could change your memories and have a do over? Prevent an accident from killing a loved one? Go back in time and prevent an atrocity? Would it be the ethical thing to do? How would altering your memories affect the reality of those around you? Crouch asks these questions and more.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith is driven to find a way to help preserve memories because her mother is losing hers to Alzheimer's. She is given unfettered access to everything she needs to create a machine that will do just that by Marcus Slade. He is incredibly wealthy and known for philanthropy and being the founder of many cutting edge technology companies. With Slade's resources Helena's work speeds ahead and she is hopeful she will be able to help her mother and others like her.

Barry Sutton is a NYPD detective whose life has fallen apart since his daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver when she was a teen. He begins to investigate False Memory Syndrome (FMS) after trying to prevent the suicide of a woman suffering from it. FMS is occurs when someone has memories of 2 different lives one more vivid than the other. Trying to reconcile these differing lives is causing people to kill themselves. Barry's investigation into the woman's suicide and FMS puts him on a very dangerous path.

Recursion is a stellar thriller which explores memory, identity, and reality. Crouch takes a bit of hard science and pushes it well beyond its limits to create an intense speculative novel. Recursion is deeply emotional, dark, frightening, and at the same time hopeful. With great pacing, engaging characters, and non-stop twists this is Crouch at his mind-bending best.

Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J. Pryor


Blood Broken
Author:  Lindsay J. Pryor
Series:  Blackthorn 8
Publisher:  Bookouture, May 20, 2019
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 500 pages
List Price:  US$14.99 (print); US$4.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781786813992 (print); 9781786813985 (eBook)

Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J. Pryor
‘Our love could save us both. Or it could destroy everything.’

Leila McKay is both blessed and cursed. Her potent serryn powers are growing stronger, but they come with a heavy price. And to prove her love for vampire leader Caleb, she needs to bring his murdered brother Jake back to life. The only way is to cast a spell no one has dared to attempt before, that could tear apart the fabric of time itself…

But Caleb fears that treachery runs deep in Leila’s veins. Although the heat between them grows hotter by the second, Caleb’s past has left him with a hard heart and a mistrustful nature, and it was at her sister’s hands that Jake was killed… but with his brother’s life in the balance, giving in to his primal instincts is more tempting than ever.

Time is running out for Caleb. In a matter of hours, Jake will be past the point of saving: and around them, all-out war rages in Blackthorn. With genetically modified lycans and vicious convicts roaming the streets, Sirius Throme at the Global Council has secret plans that threaten to devastate the whole district… and Leila is the only one powerful enough to save them all. But can Caleb really trust her?

With countless lives at stake, will Leila and Caleb’s fierce attraction be strong enough to see them through the ultimate test? Or in unleashing the darkness within, will they destroy everything they hold dear?

The explosive, action-packed conclusion to the utterly addictive Blackthorn series will leave fans of paranormal romance breathless. Blackthorn is an eight-book series with an overarching plot, so if you’re at the start of your Blackthorn journey, read BLOOD SHADOWS to discover how it all began…



Melanie's Thoughts

I can't believe the time has come when I have to say good-bye to Leila, Caleb, Kane, Caitlen and the rest of the Blackthorn crew in this final instalment of the Blackthorn series, Blood Broken. The prophecy that has threatened our heroes and heroines over the last 7 books is about to come to pass....or is it? The fourth dimension has broken through, super lycans have wreaked devastation, the cons have escaped out of their territory killing innocents all while the Global Council has a devastating plan to rid the world of the 3rd species. Blackthorn has become a battle ground and Leila has the solution to all their problems. Can she be trusted? Will she succeed and save Blackthorn? I will leave it to you to find out.

You could be led to believe that this is another story of Caleb the vampire king and the vampire killer Leila but it's much more. All of the main characters across the whole series have full chapters or part chapters dedicated to their own personal story. All our favourite goodies and baddies have something to say about the prophecy and whether the 3rd species should prevail. I especially enjoyed those chapters dedicated to the various baddies that have made our heroes and heroines lives hell over the series. I especially like Sirius Throme. Even his name sounds nasty and boy he is really really nasty. Since most of the characters are paired off with their love interests there isn't a lot of character development until near the very end of the story and be prepared for the big plot twist that comes with that.

Blood Broken is rather a challenging book to read due to the violence, specifically the violence against women. I have mentioned in previous reviews that I have found the sex scenes rather disturbing and this is even more so in this instalment. If you read one of the sex scenes out of the context of this series then you could very much believe that it was a scene of sexual assault and not of love making There was nothing that was loving, romantic or caring about the scene and I am not sure it added that much to the story as a whole.

Violence aside Pryor ensures that fans of this series are left satisfied as every thread of the plot over the entire series are tied up, every baddy gets their comeuppance and there is a bittersweet HEA for certain characters. Pryor delivers a very satisfying epilogue to end the series which I thought was a good touch.  Overall, I liked Pryor's innovative and complex plot and this would have been a 5 star series had I liked the characters a bit more and she toned down the kidnapping and abuse of the female leads. If you like your bad boys to be really bad then this is the series for you.

SPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary Pike


Orconomics
The Dark Profit Saga 1
Gnomish Press, November 22, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 389 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary Pike
A disgraced Dwarven hero. A band of deadbeat adventurers. His last shot at redemption could get him killed.

If Gorm Ingerson really wanted to drink himself to death, he never should have helped the Goblin. When his good deed lands him in a bad contract, Gorm finds himself entangled in a quest that will pit him against business magnates, the king of the Freedlands, and a mad goddess trying to fulfill a suicidal prophecy.

But Gorm’s tarnished circumstances may be hiding a golden opportunity. If he and his half-baked party can overcome deep conspiracies and dark magics, he just might redeem himself and his career enough to be a professional hero once more.

Orconomics: A Satire is the first book in The Dark Profit Saga, a trilogy so funny it’s epic. If you like down-and-out heroes, sidesplitting misadventures, and ingenious world-building, then you’ll love J. Zachary Pike’s dark and delightful ribbing of high fantasy.

Buy Orconomics to join the campaign for a high-energy, hilarious fantasy adventure today!



Melanie's Review

Are goblins ruining your crops? Wyrm nesting in your shrubbery? You found a map to buried treasure but don't have time to find it? Look no further than the Hero's Guild to solve all your problems and to turn a tidy profit in the process. In Arth, speculating on the success of a hero's quest is big business. The success of your business and your shareholders can all depend on the heroics of a single individual. Gorm, used to be the best of the best, a dwarven hero with no rival until a job went bad and he lost his reputation, his clan and his livelihood. When he is offered the opportunity to redeem his fortunes he can't really say no....well the gun held to his head helped make that decision. The next thing he knows Gorm is joined but a motley crew of misfits, all of who have something to prove and something to gain. Orconomics is well and truly an epic adventure with heroes and villains galore, a tale of self discovery and a cracking good mystery to boot.

Orconomics has restored my faith in self-published fantasy. I absolutely loved this book. It was funny, the plot was original and the characters were well developed. When I describe this book as an epic I am not kidding, it really is. It took me ages to get through so many pages. It can be really challenging for me to stay interested in a book that is as long as Orconomics but Pike kept a solid pace that mixed action, adventure and storytelling.

Gorm Ingerson, this story's hero, has a great group of characters to interact with. Gorm is supported by a cast of characters that could only be described as supporting cast in your favourite dungeons and dragons-esque video game. The story is largely told from Gorm's POV, however, there are a few chapters where the story is told from other perspectives which all help to enrich the plot. While I am sure that many readers loved Gorm's goblin companion, Gleebek, it was actually the ogre Thane and his unrequited love that made me giggle the most. I feel that I need to warn you not to get attached to any character as Pike doesn't play it safe with his characters.

Hats off to Pike as he has written a truly original story that is drenched in sarcasm and wit. I never quite knew what would happen next which made Orconomics a real page turner. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next to Gorm and his friends. I loved this booked so much that I could easily give it a 9 out of 10. If you like fantasy, have a sense of humour and need a nice meaty read then be sure to get Orconomics on your TBR.

9 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer


Sworn to the Night
The Wisdom's Grave Trilogy 1
Demimonde Books, January 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 429 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer
Marie Reinhart is an NYPD detective on the trail of a serial killer. When she sleeps, though, she dreams of other lives; she dreams of being a knight, in strange wars and strange worlds. On the other side of the city, Nessa Roth is a college professor trapped in a loveless marriage, an unwilling prop in a political dynasty. She's also a fledgling witch, weaving poppets and tiny spells behind closed doors.

When Marie's case draws her into Nessa's path, sparks fly. What comes next is more than a furtive whirlwind affair; it's the first pebbles of an avalanche. Nessa and Marie are the victims of a curse that has pursued them across countless lifetimes; a doom designed to trap them in a twisted living fairy tale, with their romance fated to end in misery and death.

They aren't going out without a fight. As they race to uncover the truth, forces are in motion across the country. In Las Vegas, a professional thief is sent on a deadly heist. In a Detroit back alley, witches gather under the guidance of a mysterious woman in red. Just outside New York, an abandoned zoo becomes the hunting-ground for servants of a savage and alien king. The occult underground is taking sides and forming lines of battle. Time is running out, and Nessa and Marie have one chance to save themselves, break the curse, and demand justice.

This time, they're writing their own ending.



Doreen’s Thoughts

Craig Schaefer’s Sworn to the Night is a story within a story, with a kidnapped narrator interrupting at various points to make comments that are intended to help explain some part of the narrative. This was not as effective as it could have been because it seemed to have nothing to do with the main story until late in the novel.

The main story, however, was engaging and fast-paced. Fascinated with knights and their lieges, Marie Reinhart is a NYC detective investigating the kidnappings and murders of call girls and how their deaths might relate to the new drug flooding the streets, Ink. Nessa Roth is a rich society wife and professor who dabbles with magic and wants to be a witch. When the two first meet it is as if they have known each other forever – which they have, since they keep being reincarnated and finding each before dying violently.

While Schaefer’s format of a story within a story was less than successful for me, his characterization of the main characters is well done. Marie and Nessa are well-drawn, and their actions make sense based on their descriptions. The pacing of the story is good. Gun fights and other fight scenes are nicely choreographed and easy to follow.

I rate Sworn to the Night a 7 out of 10.

SPFBO Finalist Review: The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss


The Gods of Men
The Gods of Men 1
Barbara Kloss, May 18, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 450 pages

Top 10 Finalist in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO 2018

Sable hated the gods. She hated what men did in their name.


Magic is forbidden throughout the Five Provinces; those born with it are hunted and killed. Sable doesn't know her music holds power over souls--not until, at age nine, she plays her flute before the desert court and accidentally stops her baby sister's heart, killing her. Horrified by what she's done and fearing for her life, she flees north, out of Provincial jurisdiction and into the frigid land of exiles and thieves, known as The Wilds. There, Sable lives in hiding, burdened by guilt, and survives as a healer. But now, ten years later, someone--or something--is hunting her.

On the run again, Sable's best chance for survival is Jos, a lethal man from the Five Provinces, who claims to need her skills as a healer to save his dying father, and she needs the large sum of money he's offered. There's something about him Sable doesn't trust, but she doesn't have many options. A spirit of the dead is hunting her, summoned by a mysterious necromancer, and it's getting closer.

Sable soon discovers she's just the start of the necromancer's plan to take over the Five Provinces, and she's the only one with the power to stop it. But harnessing her forbidden power means revealing it to the world, and the dangerous Provincial, Jos, she's beginning to fall for.

Fans of Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik, and Victoria Schwab will love this dark and epic fantasy adventure.




Qwill's Thoughts

The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss is the first novel in the series of the same name. The story focuses primarily on Sable, a healer, who had run away from her home a decade earlier, and Jos, who has his own secrets. I am going to be deliberately vague about characters and events in the novel to avoid spoiling anything.

There is so much to really love about this novel. Both Sable and Jos are well written characters. They are both hiding - from who they really are and from things they have done. Sable rejects her magic because of the death she caused and tries to make amends by being a healer in a town in The Wilds. It's a hard and horrible place and some of the things she does are not good but generally done for altruistic motives. Jos works for his father and brother and has spent a lot of time routing out those with magic (with extreme prejudice). He is dangerous and deadly.

Things are shaky in the Five Provinces because it appears that magic is making a comeback in a violent manner. It's not easy to figure out who is behind this resurgence and I was suitably surprised during the big reveal (which is gory and well done).

The world building is very good. Throughout the novel Kloss weaves in history, myths, magic, religion, and the geopolitical underpinnings of The Wilds and the Five Provinces. I enjoyed this immensely as I got a real sense of place and history. That said I would have liked more explanation of the magic system and more about its roots. Of course, Kloss could be saving some of this for later books in the series. 

What truly makes this novel so good though are the characters. Both Sable and Jos journey through the physical world but are also making an emotional journey. They are not static characters; nor are they entirely likeable. While Sable and Jos are the main characters and their back and forth and nascent romance takes center stage, there are so many others who are interesting. Kloss really excels at writing characters who are not wholly good or evil, though there are plenty of characters whot are indeed awful. In particular Jos' older brother gave me some stomach turning moments.

Kloss handles the attraction between Sable and Jos well. It is really not the centerpiece of the novel, but is simply one facet of the relationship that develops slowly between the two. For me the story would have been ruined had it focused too closely on the romance aspects.

The ending is really well done, refreshingly not what I expected and without a cliffhanger. I'm looking forward to reading more in this series.

9 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon


Symphony of the Wind
The Raincatcher's Ballad 1
Steven McKinnon DBA Vividarium Books, June 25, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 660 pages

Longlisted for the Booknest 2018 Fantasy Awards - Best Self Published Fantasy

Current Finalist in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO 2018

A bounty hunter with a death wish. A girl with fearsome powers. A kingdom on the brink of destruction.
Serena dreams of leaving her unforgiving desert home far behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin's knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of the kingdom to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth… And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.

After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.

Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.

Symphony of the Wind is the first book in a gritty epic fantasy trilogy. If you like hardened heroes, bloody action, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.

Buy Symphony of the Wind to climb aboard a brutal, breathtaking thrill ride today!




Melanie's Thoughts

I have read a number of very positive reviews about Symphony of Wind and it has made into the finals of the SPFBO so I was really expecting to like it. Unfortunately, I just couldn't connect with either the characters or the plotline. Part of the book description on the back cover of the novel says this
If you like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.
I like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, dark magic, and monsters so I was sure this would be a good fit for me. I have come to realise that I don't like them all together. I found the steampunk setting mixed with what read like a sword and shield fantasy quite jarring. I think that McKinnon was trying for a very complex epic fantasy but sometimes less rather than more gives you a winner. There were too many elements from other genres all mixed together into one big soup of a story - the steampunk ships, the magic, the wars, the government conspiracy, the prostitute with heart, and on and on.

Had their been fewer characters and perhaps more explanation of the society and culture at the beginning I might have liked the story a bit more. I re-read the first four chapters more than once because I couldn't figure out what was going on. This is never a good sign for me. I need a hook to grab me in, especially when the main character is a young teenager. One of the other books I read for this SPFBO had a teenager for a lead character and I made the decision that there has to be something more adult or 'special' about teenage lead characters for me to enjoy reading youth fiction. In the case of Symphony of Wind Serena was quite immature. In one scene she has just discovered that one of her friends has been murdered - it was supposed to be her that died - and then next minute she is walking down the street with hardly a care in the world. There was a very similar reaction in an earlier scene where members of her Raincatcher crew are killed in a freak accident right in front of her. It was Serena's self involvement and lack of empathy that made her rather unlikeable. While she did mature a bit over the course of the story my interest in her had already waned.

The other main character Tyson Gallows was older but not what I would say much wiser. He was quite two dimensional and spent much of the book reliving memories of the time when his fiancée was still alive. He was cast as a bounty hunter but he came across too soft-hearted for that role and not that heroic. There were a number of other characters that shared the plot with Serena and Gallows. In fact, there were quite a few POVs and you had to really pay attention to who was speaking as the interchange between the characters was quite quick.

This is McKinnon's first novel so hats off to him for being so ambitious as not only is the story complex but it is also very long (a whopping 660 pages). I think the story could have benefited if the plot focused on a few key characters and there was a tiny bit more world building at the start. Without this however, I struggled to finish this tome and due to the complexity supported by weak characters I am going to have to give Symphony of Wind a 5/10.

5 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith Ward


The Anointed
Red Proxy 3
Wardwords, November 2017
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 489 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith Ward
He's a jerk.

She knows it.

Can they save the world anyway?

Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew -- at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he’s flying a dragon one afternoon and stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before, something that can enable invasions of foreign lands. It is a force so powerful that a ruthless king will kill for it.

Along the way, Xinlas meets a mysterious orange-haired girl on a river. Greengrass is like no one he’s ever met. He tries to woo her, and can’t understand why she doesn’t fall for his charms like every other girl.

But Greengrass is not every other girl. She is, in fact, the key to stopping the ruler who would enslave millions and crush the world under his throne.

Xinlas can’t let that happen, but he'll need help. Help from Greengrass. The problem is that she can’t stand him.

Will Xinlas become the hero he believes he can be, or will he break under the weight of his destiny -- and his own arrogance? The fate of civilization rests on his choices.



Trinitytwo's Review

Keith Ward does an excellent job setting the stage for this story - Book 3 of the Red Proxy series. The Anointed is set in Desnu, a world in which each newborn’s span of life is detected by a Span Seer. This Span Seer can also perform a magical ceremony where that lifespan can be transferred to another individual (usually rich or powerful) thus potentially extending their lifespan indefinitely. The downside is the best donors are 99 days old, don’t have a say in the decision, and die upon completion of the transfer.

I had no trouble understanding Desnu’s rules and its magics. I also thought Ward did a great job in his depiction of the very different places and its inhabitants. Peacewood, for instance, is a community shielded by a magical protection. Its people’s relationship with their environment and each other was quite entertaining and well executed. The Fley-Mors dragon ranch was another landscape that was impeccably laid out. The hierarchy of the family, their staff and the dragons themselves lent fluidly to the rising action of the story. The palace, filled with the treachery and malice of a king who schemed and ruled in a ruthless fashion was filled with palpable tension.

Unfortunately, the more I read, the more I struggled. At face value, the characters seem well-developed. I particularly enjoyed the quiet power struggle between maniacal King DuQuall and his dutiful wife, Queen Plyonia. His cruel ambitions pitted against her desperate determination was one of my favorite mini storylines. It’s the protagonist who is most problematic. As the synopsis indicates, Xinlas starts off privileged and egotistical. While eavesdropping on his parents, he learns of a mystery surrounding a seemingly desolate spot. Shirking his responsibilities, he borrows one of the family dragons and accidentally discovers the village of Peacewood. It’s there he meets Greengrass- a brave and adventurous girl who has escaped the confines of her community’s magical protective shield. Eager to discover the mysteries beyond her world, she sets out with Xinlas. Perhaps the inherent goodness and wholesomeness of Greengrass will begin to rub off on Xinlas thus initiating his arc to redemption? Nope. He simply becomes more pompous and self-aggrandizing. His parents, Kertram and Danak are smart, responsible, and loving. Unlike many of this world’s population, they also have a conscience. So how is it that they pretty much just look the other way when it comes to Xinlas’s shenanigans, allowing his reprehensible behavior with few repercussions? His character development goes from bad, to horrible, to despicable. Miraculously, in the final moments he has a change of heart and achieves near enlightenment. This absolutely did not work for me.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some fun bits: I really enjoyed the jail-break, the assassination and the action-packed ending. However, the plot device of the Proxy system made for uncomfortable reading. Surely an entire nation (with the exception of one group of people) can’t believe this system to be good and just? Given the synopsis, I felt that the story itself was too dark and that I was misled. That coupled with poor character development left me with feelings of ambivalence and I rate The Anointed a 5 out of 10.

5 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc


Out of Nowhere
Immortal Vagabond Healer 1
Ink and Bourbon Publishing, July 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 294 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc
An urban fantasy, pacy, funny and compelling to the last page…

Healer Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind enemy lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace—and love.

But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you.

When Sean heals the wrong man, he uncovers a lethal enemy who holds all the cards. And this time he can’t run. It’s time to stand and fight, for himself, for his friends, for the woman he loves. It’s time, finally, for Sean to face his past—and choose a future.

A story of love, of battle—and of facing your true self when there’s nowhere left to hide.



Deb's Review

Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc lies somewhere in the borderlands of contemporary fantasy and urban fantasy. It may also appeal to those who enjoy military history and medical procedurals. The story is, in almost every sense, a mixed bag.

Sean Danet is an immortal with extraordinary healing powers. Working as a paramedic, he quietly uses his gifts to lessen the severity of his patients’ injuries before they arrive at the hospital. A long life stretches out behind him, but his memories are murky. He doesn’t know his origins, has no family, and lives the life of a common man, populated only by his ambulance crew friends and the “world’s oldest cat.” What Danet does remember about his past is that he’s lived his life as a soldier, under siege, and constantly running from the truth. Knowing that people fear what they can’t understand, he keeps his powers a secret. Everything changes when one patient reacts oddly to Danet’s subtle assistance. After this chance meeting, Danet must figure out who this stranger is, and then decide whether to run again, or stay and fight for the life he’s built.

LeClerc engages the reader with colorful tales of a city riddled with drugs and crime, all told in an authoritative voice. He spares little detail of the physical and emotional suffering surrounding rescue medicine, and the magical elements of the story benefit greatly from LeClerc’s expertise. Danet is believable as a healer.

This is a quick read with characters always in motion. That said, the first half of the book, while filled with interesting vignettes that set the scene and round out our hero, does little to advance the plot. The second half is packed with action and twists, but there are weaknesses in how the main conflict is delivered, and this sometimes slows the story’s pacing. The fight scenes are intricately choreographed and told in rapid-fire fashion to great effect.

While there’s a lot of good in Out of Nowhere, there were problems with the characters that undercut its strengths. While the majority of the dialogue is natural and carries the story, the banter between the paramedic crew members is cringeworthy and feels like it’s straining for laughs. The main characters present as racist, sexist, homophobic, and often disdainful of other first responders and the people they all serve. I’d expect dark and biting humor from people who work in this field, but the casually intolerant language makes it hard to relate to most of the characters.

Additionally, Danet’s repeated objectification of female co-workers makes the rapidly developed love interest feel more like a plot device than a romantic epiphany. I would expect a man who has the capacity to feel love — one who has has lived for centuries bathed in blood and battle — to have developed a more empathetic and mature worldview. With his schoolboy attitudes, anything more substantial than a fling would’ve been more believable as a slow burn.

Out of Nowhere is the first book in LeClerc’s Immortal Vagabond Healer series, which feels like a fresh and exciting concept, but this first installment suffers too much from underdeveloped characters and a reliance on cheap, offensive laughs. LeClerc clearly has the skill, the background, and the imagination to tell compelling stories, so perhaps the characters will evolve across the series in a more positive direction. Sexual situations and graphic depictions of violence make this an adult read.

5 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas


Sowing
The Purification Era 1
August 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 387 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas
Top 10 finalist in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO 2018

They can take your house, your daughter, whatever they want.

For Ariliah, life under the militarized Hulcondans is one of order and safety. Despite the soldiers’ ruthless policies, she trusts their judgment. They alone provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the city wall.

For her older sister, Rabreah, every glance from a Hulcondan is a threat. Though even a whisper against them is treason worthy of death, Rabreah is determined to end their tyranny. Joining an underground resistance is her only hope – until she realizes she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with at all. Unsure who to trust but unable to back out, she must work alongside the attractive yet infuriating rebel leader who reminds her far too much of the soldiers she hates.

But with subversive posters appearing throughout the city and people dying on the blade of an unknown assailant, the sisters’ world begins to crumble.

And as the line between friend and enemy blurs, both girls must face the truth: everything is about to change.

Sowing is a gritty, slow burn spy thriller set in a dystopian world on the brink of war.

Perfect for fans of the characterization and political tension in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising saga.



Qwill's Thoughts

I had a difficult time with Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas and am going to keep this short.

The novel is set entirely in the city of Totta and centers on 2 sisters - Ariliah and Rabreah.  I found the sisters to be rigid opposites of each other regarding how they viewed their small world just to make it clear regarding only 2 of the ways to view the society in which the live. Ariliah thinks everything is good and the Hulcondans are there to provide a safe way of life. She turns a blind eye to anything wrong with her world. Rabreah is the opposite. Everything is wrong and the Hulcondans and their leaders are to blame. The sisters do not develop much over the course of the novel in any meaningful way. This is not just a problem with the sisters. None of the characters are very well-developed.

The sister's mother is vicious both physically and verbally to the younger sister, Ariliah. I never understood why. I found this really disturbing as I'm sure it is supposed to be. I also found it mostly unnecessary. There are additional uncomfortable scenes of abuse with one of them verging into the gratuitous.

It took me a long time to read Sowing and I frankly would not have finished it if it was not a SPFBO Finalist. I was disappointed when I got to the end. Sowing feels like an extended prologue with not a lot happening and not much at all resolved. The world building is lacking and the characters are unappealing.

3.5 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe


Ruthless Magic
Author:  Megan Crewe
Series:  Conspiracy of Magic 1
Publisher:  Another World Press, May 2018
Format:  Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook
List Price:  US$19.99 (Hardcover); US$12.99 (Trade Paperback),
                  US$12.99 (eBook)             

SPFBO Finalist Review: Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe
In the contest to keep their magic, the only options may be die... or kill.

Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages' Exam.

Disadvantaged by her parents' low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic.

Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth.

Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win?





Melanie's Review

I can't really describe the plot any more adequately as the book description itself so will leave you to read it for yourself. What I can say is that it is a pretty straightforward story of a talented girl from the wrong side of the tracks who falls for the less talented boy from a magically prominent family. The mage examinations are like no exam you ever want to have to take. It is literally a fight for survival and talent doesn't guarantee a pass.

Ruthless Magic is described as a combination of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. While I am a big fan of both of those series I am not a big fan of Ruthless Magic. I found Finn really dull and Rocío was one big stereotype. The fact they were making googly eyes at each other when they were fighting for their lives made me more than a little bit annoyed. Katniss wasn't swooning over Peta when they were in a fight for their lives and Harry Potter didn't even have a love interest. I didn't really find either character that credible and I wasn't really invested in them as characters or whether they survived the mage exam or not.

I really struggled to finish this book and at one point I didn't think I was going to be able to. Authors of YA fiction, who want their work to appeal to adult readers, have an additional challenge. Young adult characters have to be believable for readers in both age groups (Adult and Young Adult) otherwise the story can end up sounding really trite and/or the characters are really bland.  Unfortunately, this was the case for me and Ruthless Magic. I found nothing in either of the main characters that I could grab hold of and say 'yeah, that makes sense, that's how I would expect a 16 year old to act'. It was this lack of character credibility that had me struggling to finish the book and why I only give it a 3/10.
Review - Recursion by Blake Crouch Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J. PryorSPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary PikeSPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig SchaeferSPFBO Finalist Review: The Gods of Men by Barbara KlossSPFBO Finalist Review: Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnonSPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith WardSPFBO Finalist Review: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClercSPFBO Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas SPFBO Finalist Review: Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe

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