Behind Picketwire by M. Day Hampton

Not your usual love story

This book is going to be complicated to review, for the simple fact that it is too easy to give away spoilers. Indeed, especially towards the end, even the tiniest detail is a spoiler!

But I will start with this – as soon as Red had his fall, this was one of the few times that I wanted to skip to the end, to see what happened to him. I resisted the urge and in many ways I’m glad I did, as the ending is too strong and would have spoilt the rest. Instead, I stuck with it, with Red and the dog(s) (minor spoiler), on their journey through the wilderness.

In some ways, this could be classified as Dystopian – a world where people, law, order, the modern world, has all disappeared. It’s like a One Man and His Dog version of The Land Before Time. There’s just the wilderness, with all of nature as it once was and could be again.

So, considering it all, even before starting, we know that Red has to be in some dream-like state. Is it a coma? Is he already dead? Will he wake up? All those questions are hard to tell, as the book trundles slowly on. And yes, I did find it a slow read. I think probably because for the first part of the book, it did move slowly. It makes it hard in that the only dialogue is between Red and his dog, or random into the wilderness, or memories. Yes, there are many flashbacks, that help us understand Red better as he starts to understand himself better, too, from his childhood to more recent memories. He sees his triumphs, but he also sees his faults, and wonders why he couldn’t have been a better person at the moments when it mattered. He knows that he cared in those moments, yet was unable to show it better. Regrets, yet rediscovering the love that he moves forward to refind.

Not everything goes to plan in the wilderness. When he does finally set off, with such certainty of where he has to go, where he will find his wife again, between disasters and durability, he somehow finds his way forward.

Once you get into the final thirty percent of the book, the ending can be seen coming. Yet, somehow, you still hope for more.

So, we know what happens to Red, right at the end, yet what about Jake? And who was his coyote companion, he named Lady?

Another note is that there are Christian elements throughout, but in such a casual way as to not be overbearing. I appreciate a book that can give insights into someone’s religious, or semi-religious life, without trying to preach to you or force it down your throat (unfortunately I’ve had a few of the bad kind of late). This is pretty safe for anyone, no matter their spiritual- or non-beliefs.

On the whole, this is a book that deserves forbearance. When the emotional moments come, they are overpowering. In between is a journey that is far more than it first seems.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Join or Die by J. Adrian Ruth

The race to save Otherworld

This book is initially set in the human realm, before Alex suddenly receives a visitor who tells him that his absentee father is a “Creature”, the various monsters out of myths and legends, and that he most likely will transform into one, too.

So there Alex is, a half breed with a human mother, suddenly taken away to a private boarding school for Creatures in another realm, Otherworld, leaving behind his best friend, Carlos, his mother, and everything he’s ever known. Worse than that, he’s told that he’s the Scion Heir (leader of all the Creatures), being a descendant of the original Scion, and that he’ll eventually have to battle the other Heir to become the leader of all.

Luckily, he somehow manages to find his place in this new world, making new friends who gradually form a part of his Ciorcal (Celtic for “circle”), the group that will support, protect, and guide him, if and when he does fulfil his destiny.

In the meantime, however, he has no idea what Creature he himself is going to be, and has to face off a Creature who has been killing off all of the Heirs. Along with some other hijinks with his Ciorcal, it’s a fight for survival he hadn’t been warned of or planned for.

I must say that the beginning didn’t thrill me quite so much, but the last part of the book made up for that and was pretty good. I can only assume that this is because this is quite obviously the author’s first book, with it having at times too much information, then at others not enough. There are still quite a few typos in this book, but I’m guessing that that is because it is, at the time of ARC release, still not fully edited.

However, despite its similarities to other Paranormal schools, it has enough differences in it to make it a new take on the idea, somewhat familiar yet with unique elements.

Hopefully the sequel, once it’s finally released, will further develop the ideas here and, after reading the preview, it looks like we will find out more about the current Scion and the ongoing war against him.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Infamous by Arizona Tape

Good start

This book was still in Beta when I received it, so the author is now currently busy with amendments based on my and other reader’s suggestions. But, from the beginning, we already have a great story going on here!

We have Rie, with her sentient deck of cards (or, at least, the “character” cards), who regularly talk to her and give her advice. She’s also very good at pickpocketing, noticing targets with high-value items or money. It’s her only means of survival. Until she pickpockets the wrong target…

Oh, but her mistake only ends up working in her favour, as she is forced to repay her debt by joining a gang of hustlers, who only want to rob the richest man in the city!

There is a great list of side characters here, but unfortunately we don’t get to know them enough in depth. A few months on and I can’t remember all of their names and don’t have access anymore. Yet what I can say is this – there’s already a great storyline, but I would love to see some more background. And, of course, there’s a nice ending, where Rie manages to realise one of her dreams. And, I believe, there’s another story to be had in that, too.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital Beta copy via the author in exchange for an honest review*

Forgotten Gods: The Complete Series by Laura Greenwood

Ups and downs

This is a series based on Egyptian Gods coping with living in the modern world. Each book in this box set is reviewed individually below.

Book 1: Protectors of Poison
Serket has been hiding for years, pretending to be the human, Sera. She moves around a lot, so not to create suspicion on the fact that she ages extremely slowly. She’s quite happy to have left her old life behind, despite her waning power, but nothing lasts forever.

Serket just happens to be the God of Poisons, her animal form being a scorpion. She’s quite far away from her many scorpions, when it appears someone is not only trying to wipe her out, but has managed to use her scorpions to fix a crime onto her…

This, unfortunately, ended with no full conclusion. I was a bit stumped by the ending. The story itself was full of lots of promise, which didn’t pan out fully. I still enjoyed it overall, though, just not as much as if it were complete.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Book 1.5: Priestess of Truth
I actually read and rated this book before, which can be found here. Unfortunately, the reread didn’t make me feel any better about the book.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

Book 2: Daughter of the Sun
Sekhmet is the Goddess of Vengeance. She has been cursed by her father, Sun God Ra, and has been trapped inside a sphinx for millennia. Yet, her father wants to find her again, not to apologise for the years she’s been trapped, but to gain her help in stopping the God of Chaos, Seth. Yet, her freedom has a caveat – no blood-blind vengeance…

She is encouraged, throughout the story, to embrace her alter-ego, Bastet. A surprise romance somehow manages to calm her fiery side, bringing her closer to peace than she’s been in many years.

And, of course, she finds out the truth about the curse and why she has been “disabled”…

Unfortunately, this is another story with no true progression or resolution. It was enjoyable, but the ending left me disappointed again.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Book 3: Servant of Chaos
This story follows Rhodopis, one of Seth’s slaves. It is loosely based on the legend, which is a kind of Cinderella story (and, according to Wikipedia, the earliest known variant of this). She has some power within the household, yet is unable to escape – anyone caught escaping is brutally beaten, even killed. Anyone even daring to anger Seth in even the smallest way can be subject to this fate. As the God of Chaos he, of course, likes nothing better than upsetting people and causing mayhem. Yet Rhodopis tries to keep the peace as much as possible, encouraging the other slave girls to follow the rules and not stand out. Unfortunately, she cannot save them all…

Rhodopis herself is saved when she attracts the attention of one of the party of a visiting dignitary. Yet she knows that any brief moment of escape will only make the following years of torture worse.

This has a loose ending and no true resolution. Rhodopis knows she’ll never be free from Seth, so how is that an ending, trying to “pretend” that everything will be OK? Or, at least, that’s how it seemed.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

Conclusion:
What’s most annoying about these books is that they don’t actually follow on from each other. There are snippets that you believe should, with hints of things to come in the previous books, yet there’s no story arch at all! I had expected at least some reference between books two and three, at the most, considering this one defining factor is mentioned. Yet, there is nothing. It’s a real shame, as each story has such an incomplete ending, that it would have been so much better if the stories were linked in some way. I should be rating the series lower than the average of 3.5, but I’ll round it up as it was still good in places.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Valkyrie’s Choice by Arizona Tape

Resolution, but no resolution

Yes, we get a resolution to everything that happened in the previous book! The true characters all come out! Bryn finally stands up to her grandmother, in several ways, managing to impress her as much as piss her off! And Bryn finds out what she truly wants to be as well. But…

Yes, there’s always a “but”. The ending left me quite disappointed. We have here a slow-burn romance, which doesn’t fully resolve. Everything is building up to something that doesn’t quite happen. Maybe in the main series, we’ll get to see how that develops, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen here. I believe that that was the biggest let down of the two books, knowing that there could have been so much more.

What I liked most, however, was the deeper digging into the mythology, as Bryn travels through the afterlife on her own, discovering other lines in the mythology belonging to some of the other beings, which she in turns relates back to these other beings in the living world.

All in all, it isn’t bad. Bryn learning “BSL” (in this instance, Banshee Sign Language instead of British Sign Language) is an interesting one, along with why they use the sign language. Along with other little quirks, it makes it an interesting story.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Valkyrie’s Oath by Arizona Tape

Well…

My ambiguous title is due to my mixed impressions. I was so confused when I started the book that I hated the first couple of chapters. Well, hate might be a bit strong, but I disliked it. Even up to the point of the MC becoming attracted to a new teacher. Eurgh! It just wasn’t for me at that moment.

But then, something happened. I left it a day and, when I restarted, I just had to read further. I went from “dislike” to “intrigue”. I don’t believe that it had anything to do with the writing per se, just that I’d come from reading a book with a completely different style. Besides, I usually like this author’s works, so maybe coming back with a fresh head meant that I could actually invest myself in this story.

Although I do believe that the beginning didn’t help any. I haven’t read any of the sister series, although that shouldn’t have an effect, as the first book wasn’t published that long before this one. But it felt like being thrown into the deep end without a lifesaver ring, no explanations, surrounded by laughing, warring, teenagers.

So, as I said, maybe that was it – the complete change of pace and style from the book I’d just finished. Although I would have been happy with a few more explanations, once I did finally get into the book, everything was fine!

I should have expected that ending, really. A cliffhanger, but none of Bryn’s supposed “friends” really felt like friends, anyway, especially with their attitude. At least one felt more like a hanger on. Considering how she’s an heir, you can expect that she’d have a hoard of frenemies in place of real friends, those who pretend to look after her but are really just waiting for her to slip up.

Anyway, my complete turnaround meant that I was invested in the story by the end, quite happily so, which came as a real surprise to me. So soon on with the next it is!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Black Magic Voodoo by Nikki Landis

Needed to grow on me

In the beginning, this book didn’t interest me at all. I’ve no idea why. Maybe it was a book slump, maybe it was the writing, but something just didn’t hit with me. I was about a third of the way into the book, when things really started hitting off, that I started to have an interest in the story.

Cassie is getting ready for the month-long celebrations that lead up to Samhain, when her life starts to get turned on its head. Not only is there a dark presence targeting her, but she suddenly has three men there to protect her, whether she likes it or not.

Cassie has power enough on her own, but it takes the help of these three men, her family, and her ancestors to start to face off the dark evil. If only things were more straight forward and they could get on with their celebrations, like planned.

I guess it was the twists and turns that finally piqued my interest and got me “reading” the book instead of just “following along”. By the end, there was definitely enough to make me interested in reading the rest of the series.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Wolf by Chris Fenwick

Needs time to grow on you

In the beginning, I was bored. The constant one-sided POV, with no intermittent dialogue, just dragged. What made it worse was that there were tense inconsistencies: moments of internal monologue in italics written in past tense, or a mixture of the two; moments when the tenses were confused amongst the rest of the story. As the story is all told from Cassidhe’s POV, you have to get used to her voice, and it didn’t warm to me at all in the beginning. Even when the first dramatic event happened, it was near impossible to empathise with her.

Things appear to change when she meets the wolves. The story starts to gain more depth, Cassidhe herself appears more interesting, as well as others that she meets. Although, even then, it takes time for the characters to appear more than one dimensional. The best part of the whole story, for me, was the final dramatic event where, even though Cassidhe was completely on her own, she finally had more character than she had had for the majority of the rest of the book. It’s for this reason alone that my rating finally reached four stars, rather than the two to three it was struggling with at the beginning.

An interesting upcoming point is how the pack is going to deal with the sexuality of the heir, when a key part of pack dynamics is based on the ability to produce children and secure the pack’s future.

Also, a side note is that the cover doesn’t really reflect the main characters, with their described colouring being different from what is shown. A minor niggle, if any, but I do like it when a cover helps to assist me in how to imagine the characters.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Grimm’s Dweller: The Complete Trilogy by Arizona Tape

Magical help for Herr Grimm

This story focuses around the stories of Wilhelm Grimm, with a twist – in this version, he receives magical help from a being known as a “Dweller”, a being that inhabits story universes.

I’m not going to review each part separately, as each passes quickly, but I will comment on them.

The first part is dedicated to how Grisella met Will and their relationship at the beginning, creating the stories together, even though she isn’t supposed to get involved in the actual creating of the universes.

The second part involves Grisella watching from a distance, after Will has fallen in love with and married someone else, and the children he has. But she still keeps an eye on his universes, trying to hold onto his memory by dwelling within them as much as she can.

The third part is dedicated to the end of Will’s life, his final stories, and the reuniting of the story companions. It’s this third part that is the best.

The first two parts barely held my attention. They lacked something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The second part started to improve, with more depth to the story about stories. But it was the third part that really brought it all together. The reason for this is simple – emotion. Suddenly we’re faced with strong emotion as Will comes to the end of his life. How each deal with this is a heartbreaking journey with only one outcome. Suddenly my investment in the story intensified as the emotions did; there was finally a connection for me.

All stories have to end, but Grisella guards the universes so they don’t.

If the story parts had continued on in the slower manner, then this would have received a lower rating. But, purely for that ending, I have to bring it up.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*