Mini Reviews

Hello!

TodayI’m here with a selection of smaller reviews from netgalley reads over the last couple of months, which are mostly fantasy, with a few others mixed in.

Disclaimer: I received an e-arc of these books from netgalley in exchange for an honest review

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Burying the Dead: An Archaeological History of Burial Grounds, Graveyards & Cemeteries – Lorraine Evans

Genre: Non-Fiction | History

Book Summary:

Deep in the heart of North Yorkshire, at a place called Walkington Wold, there lies a rather unusual burial ground, an Anglo-Saxon execution cemetery. Twelve skeletons were unearthed by archaeologists, ten without skulls, later examination of the skeletons revealed that their owners were all subjected to judicial execution by decapitation, one of which required several blows.

Similar fates have befallen other wretched souls, the undignified burial of suicides – in the Middle Ages, the most profound of sins – and the desecration of their bodies, go largely unrecorded. Whilst plague pits, vast cemeteries where victims of the Black Death were tossed into the ground, their bodies festering one on top of another, are only today betraying their secrets.

Although unpalatable to some, these burial grounds are an important part of our social heritage. They have been fashioned as much by the people who founded and used them, as by the buildings, gravestones and other features which they contain. They are records of social change; the symbols engraved upon individual memorials convey a sense of inherent belief systems, as they were constructed, adapted or abandoned depending on people’s needs.

Burying the Dead explores how these attitudes, practices and beliefs about death have undergone continual change. By studying the development of society’s funerary spaces, the author will reveal how we continue to reinforce our relationships with the dead, in a constant and on-going effort to maintain a bond with them.

The Review:

I’ve always had a fascination with archaeology, especially burial archaeology and this book was a delight. Very well researched and written, it was a gripping read from start to finish, although I will say that the writing was more on the academic side and therefore not be as accessible to everyone. However, I would say that the detail and photographs, and absolute attention to research in Burying the Dead would make it a worthwhile and rewarding read for anyone with an interest in history and archaeology, especially that of death and burial and I would wholeheartedly recommend this one and I will be grabbing a physical copy for myself.

The Rating: **** (4/5 Stars)

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US (Preorder)| Bookshop.org | Waterstones

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The Hollow Places – T. Kingfisher

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Horror

Book Summary:

PRAY THAT THEY ARE HUNGRY…

Kara finds the words in the mysterious bunker that she’s discovered behind a hole in the wall of her uncle’s house. Freshly divorced and living back at home, Kara now becomes obsessed with these cryptic words and starts exploring this peculiar area—only to discover that it holds portals to countless alternate realities. But these places are haunted by creatures that seem to hear thoughts…and the more one fears them, the stronger they become.

With her distinctive “delightfully fresh and subversive” (SF Bluestocking) prose and the strange, sinister wonder found in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Hollow Places is a compelling and white-knuckled horror novel that you won’t be able to put down.

The Review:

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a book that wasn’t for me. I’d heard good things about the author, I absolutely loved the colour and the summary had me intrigued, and to be honest it still does. I also have to say that the writing was excellent all the way through, and I will certainly be checking out more of the author’s work.


The Hollow Places is a book that will appeal to many people, because it is a clever piece of horror with a wonderful sense of atmosphere throughout. Where it lost me, and this is entirely a personal thing and not a slight on the book or the author is that there is a lot of humour within this book, which is something that doesn’t generally appeal to me and that I don’t read much of, and I feel wasn’t particularly indicated in the blurb. This is just a case of a reader not meshing with a book, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys horror with a nice dash of sci-fi/fantasy in the mix, and who appreciates some intelligent, witty humour alongside.

The Rating: *** (3/5 Stars)

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Toppings & Company | Waterstones

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Knaves (A Blackguard Anthology) – Edited by Melanie R. Meadors & Alana Jolit Abbott

Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

A medieval swindler gets caught with his proverbial pants down; a foolproof plan to pick up some cash via AI, until things take an unexpected and deadly turn; a legendary bodyguard is hired to protect precious cargo, but who will protect the cargo from him? The protagonists of this short story collection are not all anti-heroes telling their side of the story. They are also heroic people faced with hard decisions, forced to reckon with darker sides of themselves. They are villains surprised to find they have a noble side to themselves, and they are those trying to atone for past evils they have done. The 14 brand new stories deal with the complex idea of morality and will make readers wonder what side is the right side. Featuring original stories from Mercedes Lackey, Cullen Bunn, Lian Hearn, Anton Strout, and many more!

The Review:

This is the third in this series of anthologies that I have read, and I found this one a little weaker than the others. On the whole the stories, were enjoyable and well written, but I don’t think there were any that stood out like shining stars for me this time. That said, I love the variety and the exploration of characters that aren’t necessarily villains by choice as much as by circumstance, and it was an entertaining collection that has also introduced me to new authors who I will be exploring further. 1 like

The Rating: 3/5 Stars

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones (Audio only)

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The Word Trove – Elias Vorpahl

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Sci-Fi & Fantasy | Teens & YA

Book Summary:

In this book you meet ‘a word’ that has lost its meaning. On its fantastic journey through the world of language, it attempts to rediscover its meaning all on its own.

“There are thousands of paths for you to take. Recognising the path that gives you meaning is the greatest challenge of all.”

A magical tale about language – wonderful, poetic and profound!

“Saying the right words at the right time is like magic.”

The Review:

This was a difficult book to review, because I loved the writing and the concept behind it, and there were some moments that showed flashes of brilliance. Yet, at the same time it is one of those books that left me unsure of how I felt about it at the end. The execution I feel could have been tighter, and it may have been a book that benefited from being longer, as there were ideas and scenes that felt a little contrived, but I feel would have worked if they had been extended just a little. However, for all that I did enjoy this book, and it was a love letter to language and words, and such an intriguing, unique concept, that I’m glad I gave into curiosity and gave it a go.

The Rating: *** 3/5 Stars

Pre-order Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US |

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The Book of Malachi – T.C. Farren

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

Malachi, a mute thirty-year-old man, has just received an extraordinary job offer. In exchange for six months as a warden on a top-secret organ-farming project, Raizier Pharmaceuticals will graft Malachi a new tongue.

So Malachi finds himself on an oilrig among warlords and mass murderers. But are the prisoner-donors as evil as Raizier says? Do they deserve their fate?

As doubt starts to grow, the stories of the desperate will not be silenced – not even his own. Covertly Malachi comes to know them, even the ones he fears, and he must make a choice – if he wants to save one, he must save them all. And risk everything, including himself.

The Review:

The Book of Malachi is not a book for the faint-hearted, and it certainly won’t be a book for everyone, as it delves deep into some very dark subjects, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this one. It was incredibly well written, and I’m not one for shying away from darker books, but there were a few points in this one where it felt not quite gratuitous but brushing up against the periphery of that.

That said, this was a very unique book that takes that Sci-Fi/Speculative element and makes it disturbingly real and close to the world that we live in now because it does not feel outside the realms of possibility that this could be happening somewhere out in our world. A dystopian future that feels terrifyingly like it could be an alternative present and I think perhaps that was the Book of Malachi’s greatest strength was, because it made it immediate and devasting with its possibility. There is also the fact that this book is an in-depth dive into the way humans can and will treat one another for exploitation, for money or personal gain, and exploration of the depths of human cruelty and morality, and this is another aspect that is dealt with very well. Yes, it’s dark, yes it pushes the limits at times, but it never does so unquestionably, and it doesn’t shy away from exploring them, which while disturbing is to be admired.

The titular Malachi makes for an interesting main character, and the first person POV means that we dive as deeply into his thoughts and feelings, and experience, as we do the world and situation that he finds himself, which creates the sense that we are there, experiencing the horrors of the world, the questions for ourselves. That he is mute provides not only motivation for his participation in what is happening on the oil rig, but it adds depth to his perception of the world and how he experiences, and in a way, it makes his experience and the choices that he makes more visceral because he has to confront himself, his past and what might happen if he chooses to help, or chooses to keep his peace and do his job. We spend so much time with Malachi and his thoughts, that his turmoil becomes ours, that his decisions are weighed as heavily in our thoughts, and it really does add an extra dimension to this book.

There is not a lot of light or hope within this book to offset the darkness, and I think perhaps some glimmers might have made this book more accessible, and in some ways would have deepened the sense of horror. There is a glimmer of it towards the end though that was much needed.
Overall, I did enjoy The Book of Malachi, and it is a book that will stay with me for a while, but I think it is very much a book that will not appeal to everyone because it is truly a dark read. However, for those who enjoy dystopian fiction, especially ones with bleak futures filled with terror, or just fiction on the darker (very dark) side, then this may well be the book for you.

The Rating: *** 3/5 Stars

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

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Ninja: Unmasking the Myth- Stephen Turnball

Genre: History | Non-Fiction (Adult)

Book Summary:

The ninja is a well-known phenomenon in Japanese military culture, a fighter who is widely regarded as the world’s greatest exponent of secret warfare. He infiltrates castles, gathers vital intelligence and wields a deadly knife in the dark. His easily recognisable image is that of a secret agent or assassin who dresses all in black, possesses almost magical martial powers, and is capable of extraordinary feats of daring. He sells his skills on a mercenary basis and when in action his unique abilities include confusing his enemies by making mystical hand gestures or by sending sharp iron stars spinning towards them.

That is the popular view, but it is much exaggerated, as this exciting new book explains. The Ninja Unmasked is a revealing, fascinating and authoritative study of Japan’s famous secret warriors. Unlike all previous books on the subject the author, who is an expert in the subject, does not take the ninja for granted. Instead he examines the entire phenomenon in a critical manner, ranging from accounts of undercover operations during the age of Japan’s civil wars to the modern emergence of the superman ninja as a comic book character. The popular ninja image is shown to be the result of several influences that were combined to create the world’s greatest secret warrior.

Many well-known features of the ninja tradition such as the black clothes and the iron stars are shown to be complete inventions. One important feature of the book is the use of original Japanese sources, many of which have never been translated before. As well as unknown accounts of castle attacks, assassinations and espionage they include the last great ninja manual, which reveals the spiritual and religious ideals that were believed to lie behind the ninja’s arts. The book concludes with a detailed investigation of the ninja in popular culture up to the present day including movies, cartoons and theme parks.

The Review:

This was a very interesting book, and I particularly liked that it dove into the difference between historical evidence and commonly accepted ‘truth’ and the role of media and myth. There were a few places, where I felt that more historical sources could have been useful for making points, and I was not as gripped by the writing style as I was by the subject matter. However, a fascinating read especially for anyone with an interest in ninjas whether from the historical pov or because of their role in the eyes of modern society.

The Rating: *** (3/5 Stars)

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company

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Whisper Me a Love Song 1 – Eku Takeshima

Genre: Comics & Graphic Novels | LGBTQIA | Romance

Book Summary:

Bubbly, energetic first-year high school student Himari falls head over heels for her senpai Yori after hearing her band perform on the first day of school. Himari tells Yori she’s fallen in love at first sight, and, to Himari’s surprise, Yori confesse that she has as well! But when Himari realizes that she and Yori are feeling two different kinds of love, she begins to ask herself what “love” really means…

The Review:

Whisper Me a Love Song is a cute, enchanting story that plays on the idea of love at first sight. It’s the story of first crushes, and miscommunication and love, and I was hooked from the start. The art-style is beautiful, the story is fairly simple so far but very engaging and I loved both the main characters, as well as the secondary cast, and I can’t wait to see where this story goes in future volumes.

The Rating: **** (4/5 Stars)

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

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Upon a Once Time – Todd Sanders (Ed)

Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

Fairy tales and folk tales, originally passed down orally through generations, are a fundamental part of our shared world culture.

They are a way to interpret – through magic and monsters, princesses and paupers, queens and quests – lessons on morality and society. They show a once upon a time world of simple archetypes in fantastical situations.

This book gathers twenty-one authors who have brought new focus to fairy tales by combining two well known stories with a literary genre of their choice.

Upon a Once Time contains the following tales re-imagined: The Arthurian Cycle, The Bad Wife, Beauty and the Beast, The Boy Who Drew Cats, The Brown Bear of Norway, Caliph Stork, Cinderella, Diamonds and Toads, The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, The Goblin Spider, The Golem of Prague, Iron John, The Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood, Math Fab Mathonwy, Momotaro, The Nightingale, Petrosinella, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed, The Red Shoes, Rumpelstiltskin, Rusalka Tales, Schneewittchen, The Selkie Bride, Sleeping Beauty, The Swineherd, Taketori Monogatari, Thousandfurs, Tom Thumb, The Twelve Months, The Valiant Little Tailor, Vasilisa the Beautiful, Vasilisa the Wise, The Waters of Life, The Well of the World’s End, The Wild Swans, and The Woodcutter’s Daughter.

Stories by by Brent Baldwin. Maya Chhabra, Lin Darrow, Evan Dicken, CJ Dotson, Kit Falbo, Joshua Gage, Taryn Haas, Jamie Lackey, Alex Langer, Anna Madden, Anna Martino, Melissa Mead, Dennis Mombauer, Mike Morgan, Suri Parmar, Cat Rambo, M. Regan, Jude Reid, NA Sulway, and Rebecca E. Treasure

The Review:

The Rating: **** (4/5 Stars)

More Information:

Kickstarter

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The Deception of Harriet Fleet – Helen Scarlett

Genre: Historical Fiction | Mystery & Thrillers

55410200

Book Summary:

The Review:

This was an incredibly atmospheric read, with Scarlett blending the elements of Victorian gothic novels with a more modern approach, to create a gripping page-turner. The tension was there throughout, permeating through the setting – beautifully described, with some truly evocative descriptions of the country house and the north-eastern setting – the mystery, and the relationships between the characters, and there was a feeling of holding your breath throughout the book. There were twists and turns, and the mystery element was handled very well, although I did feel that the ending and resolution was perhaps a little rushed in comparison to the build-up, although I did find the ending itself more than satisfying.

This was a very strong debut, and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for future books by the author and I would recommend the Deception of Harriet Fleet to anyone who enjoys atmospheric reads that will pull you in completely.

The Rating: **** (4/5 Stars)

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Waterstones

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Dryad Vol. 1 – Kurtis Wiebe

Genre: Comics & Graphic Novels | Sci Fi & Fantasy

50891470

Book Summary:

The Review:

I had some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I have to say that the artstyle for Dryad is absolutely fantastic, and was one of the first things that drew me to the book after seeing the cover. I also loved the blending of fantasy and sci-fi elements creating a rich and varied world and storyline, that takes the idea of a human and elf falling in love and turning into some new and exciting. However, it was the storytelling itself were I found myself losing track of what was happening, because a lot happened throughout this volume and very quickly, with a lot of information but not much explanation and more than once I found myself having to halt to try and untangle what was happening. However, this is the first volume, so it was laying a lot of groundwork for the next volume, so it is possible that those questions will be answered then, and I look forward to trying the second volume to see if it does provide those answers. However, Dryad very much has potential, with a fantastic art style, an interesting and varied cast of characters and a world that once it has explained further will probably become one that I love spending time in.

The Rating: *** (3/5 Stars)

Preorder Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Waterstones

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The Princess Knight – G.A. Aiken

Genre: Romance | Sci Fi & Fantasy

52066820

Book Summary:

The Review:

This was a highly entertaining read, and a strong second installment in this series. It didn’t have quite the same impact as the first book although I did feel that the pacing was stronger in this one, but Gemma – who was the focus this time – was a fascinating character, who more than carried the story with her personality and drive. The writing was excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the humour and banter, and that the romantic elements were not overbearing in the slight, and instead complimented the rest of the story. I was invested in all the characters and their relationships with one another, and I will forever be behind the idea of Princess Knights and badass women in general which this series more than provides.

The Rating: **** (4/5 Stars)

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Waterstones

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If you’ve read any of these, or read them in the future please feel free to shout at me about them.

Rowena

One thought on “Mini Reviews

  1. Pingback: December Wrap-up, January TBR and a Peek Beyond

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