The Dancing Crow is an urban fantasy tale about Ares, a vampire prince who goes into hiding from his own kingdom. He creates a gang of followers and together they try to protect innocent humans and stop them being taken as blood slaves by other ruthless vampire royalty.
This is an action packed story with lots of blood and gore from multiple battles. The author has created a world filled with mythical creatures and most of the action takes place in and around an unnamed city. There is a large cast of characters, many living in their own gangs and at times, it was hard to remember who they all were. Although the main plot of this story ends in this book, there is also an opening left for the continuation of the series.
I liked the mythical creatures and Ares was likeable for his principles and his sense of humour. However, I thought that his character needed deeper development to back up the purpose of the whole story arc. There was also room to make some of the other main characters more rounded and unique; at the moment too many of them act and sound too similar which makes them harder to picture.
Overall, I liked the story idea, but it still needs a bit more attention to the plot and the characters, then a good polish and tidy up; there were too many editing and proofreading errors for me to ignore.
Life as we know it is coming to a close. Vampires emerge from the shadows to rip dominant species on Earth from our grasp. There is no hope.
Or… is there? An unusual hero rises up from the depths of the city streets to fight for mankind. He’s a powerful vampire gang leader named Ares, and while he has plenty of flaws, he tries to stay true to his morals as much as possible. Blood runs like a river down the streets as the vampire war erupts all over the world, and magic starts to kindle from the slumber humanity locked it in.
Can Ares and his gang manage to pull through for at least his city and the innocent humans that reside there? Or will they fall like the rest? Time is ticking as the vampire tyrant known as Ash Elapid claws his way up through the ranks and tries to take the city, and nearby kingdom, for his own. Eventually this leads Ares to unusual allies, like a half-dragon and tasmanian devil shapeshifter.
Of course, saving his city isn’t the only thing on his mind. A vampire hunter known as Cecelia, indoctrinated heavily due to a religious cult, is trying to off him. While she’s a miserable failure, could she prove to eventually rise up and slay him?
Many humans are blind as to how vampires truly work, on top of all this. Not only are they very much alive, a sister humanoid species to them, but methods such as sunlight (which vampires are sensitive to since they’re nocturnal), holy water, crosses, and the light do not work to kill them. Some got it right with silver, at least, which is a deadly poison to vampires. None of that matters now–humans were taken off guard and will likely never recover.
Small areas of harmony can be established if people like Ares have any say in it.
This is the “Crow Version” of Book 1 in the “Kingdoms of Blood” series. The other version, Red Viper, features Sam Viper, a half dragon, and Darcia Deville, a tasmanian devil shapeshifter.
Sherry has been reading Something Wicked by Tom Williams
Detective Chief Inspector Galbraith is called to the home of Lord Penrith when the lord’s body is found dead. The strangeness of the death is that the body has been drained of all its blood but the room is not covered in blood.
The investigation begins and soon, DCI Galbraith is joined by a mysterious visitor from Section S—a section no one in the precinct has heard of before. This mysterious officer is John Pole and he explains his section deals with issues of national security and the investigation of the death of Penrith flagged in their office.
They team up to try to figure out who killed the lord and how. DCI Galbraith learns some things about an unknown group who operate in the dark in London. There are some scenes of the past that are intriguing and enjoyable to read.
I enjoyed this book and it seems there may be additional stories involving this crime solving duo in the future. Both have good qualities and seem to have a great working relationship. The way they deal with the crime is clever and a bit surprising. I, for one, am hoping for more adventures with these characters. I give this one 4 stars.
A peer of the realm dead in his study, his body drained of blood
A tango club where the Undead and the living dance together
Ladies Of The Magna Carta is a non-fiction book about a selection of women who either lived around the time of the 1215 Magna Carta, or women who were affected, influenced by or made use of the clauses within the document.
Almost all were members of the peerage or the royal families of England, Scotland and Wales. For instance, there are chapters for Nicholaa de la Haye, Ela of Salisbury as well as the daughters of King John, to name just a few that were talked about in this book.
The author sets the scene of the era with an introduction to King John, including how he got to the throne and what led to the barons’ demand for the Magna Carta document. In the appendix, there is a copy of all sixty-three of its clauses as well as a list of the barons chosen to enforce it.
Although at the time the Magna Carta document was almost immediately ignored by the king, it was re-enforced upon his death and it became a very important document, as it meant that future kings could no longer be above the law and therefore could no longer seize lands and goods without the proper legal writs in place. It is said that the Magna Carta started England on the road to a democratic government.
I thought the subject matter was fascinating; I live just a few miles from King John’s castle in Odiham, where it is said the king set out from when he went to Runnymede to sign the document. The author has done a remarkable job of piecing together the lives of so many women in this early medieval period when documentation about women was rare; in fact, often it was through their fathers, brothers and husbands that the author found details of many of these women during her research.
Then there is the complication of popular women’s names, such as Eleanor, Joan, Matilda and Isabel appearing many times, although I thought that the author did a good job of differentiating between them. It did mean some overlapping of details in places, but it was often needed to show the full lifeline of each of the women.
This book would make ideal research material for writers of historical fiction set in this era, or I could recommend it to readers who have an interest in King John and the famous Magna Carta.
Magna Carta clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
This clause in Magna Carta was in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Matilda de Braose, the wife of one of King John’s barons. Matilda was not the only woman who influenced, or was influenced by, the 1215 Charter of Liberties, now known as Magna Carta. Women from many of the great families of England were affected by the far-reaching legacy of Magna Carta, from their experiences in the civil war and as hostages, to calling on its use to protect their property and rights as widows. Ladies of Magna Carta looks into the relationships – through marriage and blood – of the various noble families and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken.
Including the royal families of England and Scotland, the Marshals, the Warennes, the Braoses and more, Ladies of Magna Carta focuses on the roles played by the women of the great families whose influences and experiences have reached far beyond the thirteenth century.
Terry has been reading Black Irish Blues by Andrew Cotto
4.5* Black Irish Blues is a long novella (or possibly a short novel) featuring Caesar Stiles, a man whose childhood was spent in a rough area of a small town in industrial New Jersey. His father left the family when Caesar was thirteen, and his two brothers are now dead; he loved the older one who died in a tragic accident, whereas the middle brother was a vicious thug. Caesar spent most of his life travelling all over the country, but returned when his mother died, moving into the family home and buying the local inn.
The story centres around blasts from the past, friends reunited, mysterious disappearances and the local gangsters. Written in the first person, much of the narrative details Caesar’s observations about small town life and his impressions of the town and people in which and with whom he grew up.
The plot is perfectly paced and structured, and fits well into the shorter length; although the story itself is fairly standard, I loved Caesar, the writing itself is as good as that of any classic American novel, and the characterisation is outstanding, making it a real page turner. All the side characters are beautifully observed, the dialogue is spot on, and the atmosphere is vivid and so well described without ever being wordy. I could tell by reading this that the author really knows his subject, along the place, time and people about whom he has written. I’ll definitely read something else by him, probably the book before, which I’ve already had a look at. Highly recommended.
Black Irish Blues is the return-to-origin story of Caesar Stiles, an erstwhile runaway who returns to his hometown with plans to buy the town’s only tavern and end his family’s Sicilian curse.
Caesar’s attempt for redemption is complicated by the spectral presence of his estranged father, reparation seekers related to his corrupt older brother, a charming crime boss and his enigmatic crew, and – most significantly – a stranger named Dinny Tuite whose disappearance under dubious circumstances immerses Caesar in a mystery that leads into the criminal underbelly of industrial New Jersey, the flawed myth of the American Dream, and his hometown’s shameful secrets.
Black Irish Blues is a poetic, gritty noir full of dynamic characters, a page-turning plot, and the further development of a unique American character.
Shelly has been reading Something Wicked by Tom Williams
Vampire novels are my favourite, so I jumped at the chance to read Something Wicked when I spotted it on Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team list.
The story begins with a murder – always a great hook! The body of Lord Christopher Penrith is discovered by his butler, drained of blood. We meet Detective Chief Inspector Galbraith, who is tasked with solving the case.
In my mind, Galbraith was a cross between Columbo and Horatio Caine. He gives off the tortured detective vibe. His investigations lead to the dance hall, La Cieguita. Before he can get too deep into the case, Galbraith comes up against Section S, a counter-terrorism department. Enter John Pole, a 500 year old policeman who shares an interesting hidden world with Detective Galbraith.
Trying to solve a murder using modern policing isn’t going to work. Galbraith needs to rethink how he deals with the various suspects and additional killing and how on earth he hopes to close a case like this.
Something Wicked is well written with plenty of atmosphere. For me, it was a bit too deep into police procedure over vampire action. I had hoped for blood and gore, but instead, there was a hefty amount of ‘crime novel intermingled with historical fiction and politics’.
It was a good novel for anyone dipping their toe into urban fantasy, but my personal tastes meant it didn’t quite work for me. I like my vampire novels to have a bit more bite!
A peer of the realm dead in his study, his body drained of blood
A tango club where the Undead and the living dance together
Olga has been reading Five Times Lucky by P. David Temple
I didn’t know the author before I came across this novel but after checking a sample of it, I thought it would be the perfect antidote to the dreary mood that seems to hang over everything these days. I looked forward to a light read. This is a funny book (laugh-out-funny at times), but it comes with its share of serious moments as well. And I enjoyed both aspects of it.
What to say about the plot of this novel… Well, I’ve said it’s funny, and it is a comedy, or rather, it touches on several comedy genres at once: a soap opera; a romantic comedy (yes, there is a central love story and other possible ones hovering around the edges); a quasi stand-up comedy routine full of jokes; a madcap comedy at times; there are elements of physical comedy; we have big spectacle as well (and it’s easy to see how handy the author’s experience with the World Wrestling Federation has been); a more intellectual/phylosophical-style comedy, and everything in between. The description of the novel does a pretty job at providing some semblance of a plot, and the story starts with BunnyLee, a —no longer so young— woman who after trying to become an actress has been working as an English teacher in Thailand for several years and is on her way back to LA to attend the wedding of one of her best friends. She is also going to stay at her friend’s apartment for a couple of weeks while she’s away on her honeymoon, but as her luck (she’s been told by a shaman priest that she is five-times-lucky) would have it, through a series of misunderstandings (I forgot to mention the farce, didn’t I?), she ends up staying as a guest in the house of an ageing Hollywood star, Buck LeGrande, who isn’t quite ready to become a has-been yet, and their friendship/perhaps-something-else falls victim to further misunderstandings and more than a fair bit of paranoia and jealousy. Somehow, the novel becomes a road trip for a while, and a whole host of new characters join the motley crew of BunnyLee, Buck, Buck’s chauffeur (and aspiring scriptwriter), Buck’s Chinese cook (for whom popular culture, media, and his Chinese relatives seem to be the source of all knowledge), and Puddles, the dog, a labradoodle and a true star. Austin, a cowboy and WWF celebrity on his way down, is also on the road, running away from a couple of women on a pink camper van, and their paths are, of course, set to cross. Characters from the world of professional wrestling, a local cowboy, a waiter, a Native American fish and game warden, staff at a Zen spa… also come into the story, don’t ask me to explain how. If you want to know, I invite you to read the book.
Fame, the world of TV and acting, Hollywood, celebrity culture, grief and loss, philosophy and the search for meaning, family relationships… these themes and more make it into the novel as well, and as I’ve said, despite the comedic elements I felt quite touched by the story at times.
I’ve mentioned some of the characters we come across, and although a few of them play small parts, all of them are pretty memorable. The book might be written as a comedy, and we might laugh at the characters at times, but they are not mere caricatures, rather all too human, and no matter how distant they might be from our everyday experience, they are universally recognisable and have endearing and redeeming qualities, even when (or because of) they are making total fools of themselves. Because, who hasn’t been there, especially when there are toupees and tight Spandex leggings involved? (If I had to choose one character, I admit to having a soft spot for Austin, the wrestler, although it’s difficult to top Puddles).
The book is narrated in the third person from a number of different points of view, which are clearly separated in the novel, so there’s no risk of getting confused about whose perspective we are following. This is a very self-aware novel, and an omniscient narrative voice sometimes pokes fun at the whole enterprise, in an interesting exercise of metafiction. It is a very visual novel with scenes that scream to be turned into set pieces in a movie or TV series, and this is combined with digressions where characters and/or author wonder about all kind of weighty subjects, from fate, to the nature of love and life itself. We have contemplative moments interspersed with scenes that explode in a whirlwind of action, energy, and laughter creating a perfect combination of light fun and reflection.
I have highlighted many jokes, insightful and crackwise comments, and many of the scenes, but some are far too long to share. As usual, I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the novel before deciding if it is a good fit for them, but I couldn’t resist sharing a few examples of what you might find.
Like the reader of fiction, one needed to have faith in his or her author, faith in the belief that the narrator knew how best to tell the story, faith that what may have seemed like irrelevant philosophical digresssions were in fact well-crafted artifices both necessay and sufficient to the telling of a compelling story.
He wasn’t afraid of heights per se. It was the depths surrounding them that gave him pause —gravity being the one law you should never tempt breaking.
Like so many icons afoot these days in the pantheon of emerging American heroes, Chief Tenaya was a confluence of mixed metaphors. He was an icon in search of a meaning.
The ending fits both the comedy and the romance conventions. It ends up in a high note, and that’s exactly what most of us need right now.
So, if you’re looking for a fun/crazy read, with a bizarre catalogue of characters, are prepared to put your faith in the author and his criteria, are happy to follow him down some unusual and unexpected paths, and are looking for a break from the grey and dreary reality, this is your antidote. I hope this turns into a TV series or a movie, because it will be a hoot.
In FIVE TIMES LUCKY, an intrepid traveler gets more than her share of tabloid celebrity. Who hasn’t wondered what life was like inside the velvet rope of the Hollywood in-crowd? In this fast-moving comedy by P. David Temple, the quest for fame has no boundaries…but celebrity has its downside. We follow ex-actress BunnyLee Welles, who returns to Los Angeles for her best friend’s wedding and finds that she is instantly recognizable. From the customs officer to the baggage clerk to the Lyft driver, everyone knows her single-dimple smile. They mimic her. They take selfies with her. They hand her unsolicited film scripts. In the four years she has been traveling abroad, her sole commercial role for Dial-a-Denture has recently become an online meme. Like it or not, BunnyLee is now famous.
Lynne has been reading Lost Children by Willa Bergman.
Art, history and a very clever mystery – Could this book be any more “up my street”? I seriously doubt it.
Despite what might be for some a slow start, I loved the time the author spent to lay the foundations for this story. With a particularly addictive writing style, she had me hooked.
The background specifics of the main character’s childhood in France – and what she and her mother and brother subsequently had to do – set the scene beautifully (or should I say set the scene perfectly for misdirection LOL) , and it was no surprise that Eloise (Elle) went on to work in the industry of finding lost art and antiquities, after all she had been surrounded by beautiful pieces for years.
At times, it was as though I were in the midst of an art history lesson, with sumptuous details about the painting at the centre of the story, and its fascinating history.
And then, wham! Elle is commissioned to find the Portrait of the Lost Child for an unidentified buyer. Why choose her? She’s not the most senior within her department, but she does have a good track record. However, it soon becomes apparent that she has a particular association with the painting, and finding it before others do becomes vital if she is to keep her family’s secret from getting out.
They say you always have a choice. But what is my choice here? The choice between hurting the ones I love, or helping the ones I hate
Eloise (Lost Children)
From here on, the pace picks up dramatically and it becomes addictive reading, being both informative on the art front and insightful on the personal, family front. Can she find the painting before competitors within her field? And then what? Hand it over and risk exposure to something that could have dire consequences for her family, herself included.
Without disclosing any spoilers, let me just say this is an original and inventive mystery with an extraordinary ending that is both dramatic and satisfying.
My thanks go to the author and Rosie’s Book Review Team for my e-copy of this, which I have reviewed voluntarily and honestly (and loved every minute of it!)
A celebrated painting, the Portrait of the Lost Child, has been missing for over a decade. Eloise Witcham is commissioned to find it, but if she does she will have to confront a past she thought long behind her and face up to the dark fears that still haunt her dreams.
A stylish, intelligent, contemporary thriller set in the secretive world of high end art.
Jenni has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al
I have to be honest, Writedown 2020, a collection of lockdown accounts from writers in the Galloway Glens, was a difficult read for me.
Not because it is bad, quite the opposite. Each writer is beautifully in touch with both their own experience and the world around them, and expresses themselves with stunning combinations of memoir, anecdote, diary, and poetry.
Nor was it difficult because it is overwhelmingly sad. This is not page after page of building sorrow, loss upon loss piled until is suffocates the reader. Writedown contains melancholy, there is pain from these authors as there was pain for all of us across 2020 and the first ten months of quarantine, but it is not oppressive.
What is pervasive though, what made this such a difficult book for me, was the isolation. In one early chapter, an adult daughter is dropping off groceries to her mum and needs to use the toilet terribly. She frets over whether it was safe for her to enter her mum’s home and pee. She worries that a simple bodily function, a necessity of life and that caving to it might accidentally bring the virus to her loved one.
The daughter does enter the house, she touches nothing until she gets to the bathroom, and carefully wipes down every surface in the bathroom after she finishes, giggling through the door with her mum at the ridiculousness of the situation.
She leaves the house without touching her mum.
In years to come, I pray that the mum and daughter in this story continue to laugh at this moment, at the height of lockdown insanity, when going to the bathroom became dangerous. I hope that the children of the family laugh at the craziness of it for years to come when mum and grandmum decide to tell and re-tell it.
I hope that next time I read Writedown, it doesn’t make me cry, because it’s the missing hug at the end that does it for me. The fact that at the end of this silly little episode, mum doesn’t get to wrap her daughter up and tell her everything will be okay. Instead, mum is left alone in her home, while the daughter returns to “her own family where hugs abound.”
After months in quarantine, seeing no one but my housemates and my cat, I can feel the weight of missed hugs, both my own and others. The absence of back-slaps, shoulder nudges, high fives and handshakes, cheek kisses and warm hugs aches, and that is why Writedown was hard for me, because instead of transporting this reader out of our bleak reality, it nailed me to it, and I have remind myself to be grateful for that. To savor every second in this world, regardless of how isolated I feel these days.
Writedown is beautiful, at times painful, but always honest. It is a necessary record of an extraordinary year, and every contributor should be proud for the part they have taken in it.
Liz has been reading When Murder Comes Home by Shana Frost.
Reopening her grandmother’s neglected inn set in a Highland village in Scotland proves much harder work than she expects for accountant Aileen McKinnon, but the locals remembering her from her childhood are keen to join in. Aileen soon becomes close to Bakery owner, Isla, who helps her with the cooking, but soon they are also working together to solve murder and theft.
As soon as ten guests arrive to the newly opened hotel, a gruesome murder occurs, and Det. Insp. Callan Cameron is certain he can solve the case without assistance. He and Aileen clash, seemingly unaware of an underlying attraction between them. The case becomes increasingly complex as a valuable item is stolen from the safe and then another guest is murdered. Cameron agrees to involve Aileen in the investigation and they gradually discover secrets about every one of the guests.
This is an interesting cosy mystery, and the two main characters show promise for further adventures; the storyline makes it an enjoyable novel. However, it does need a good tidy up as there were too many spelling errors and incorrect word usages for me to ignore. Added to which there was also an overuse of adjectives, idioms and clichés which was a shame; it just needs a good polish to lift the writing to the level of the crime script.
An adventure she’d asked for, being a murder suspect? Not really.
A solitary inn in the Scottish Highlands welcomes ten new guests. But when one is murdered in his own bed and the other dangles over the windowsill, all hell breaks loose. Then a mysterious heirloom goes missing. Who is responsible?
Introverted yet brilliant (former) accountant Aileen Mackinnon needs to figure out whodunnit and save her grandmother’s inn from ruin. But when someone steals a family heirloom from the safe and her guests start to drop dead, her mission gets tougher by the minute.
One-man-show Detective Inspector Callan Cameron finally has a murder to solve, but these ten new guests are not who they seem to be. Can he join forces with the new innkeeper and stay sane?
Aileen and Callan venture into a world of bloody murders, deception, and heists. The tension is high, so is the heat. They might not always see eye to eye, but can they agree: whodunnit?
The Secret Stealers is a World War Two espionage story. It begins in Washington DC, where Anna Cavanaugh has been invited to work for Major General William Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services. This is the American version of the British Secret Service and Anna relishes her new responsibilities.
With her photographic memory and fluency in both French and German, Anna is keen to do more against the war which rages in Europe. She’s also worried about some friends whom she met in Paris when she lived there just before the war, so when an opportunity to be a secret agent is offered, with the purpose of discovering what the Germans are covertly working on, Anna leaps at the chance.
What follows is a thrilling spy story set against the background that surrounded the hardships and bravery of the French Resistance fighters. The narrative had plenty of grit and fear, which I expected to read in this genre, as Anna and those she worked with put themselves in great danger. Anna is a likeable character and I enjoyed her determination to fulfil all her roles.
I must say that I did begin the book with a few doubts because the war was going to be seen through the eyes of an American; I was worried that some of the real suffering and peril might have been glossed over. There were one or two stereotypes which might grate with some English readers. However, I wasn’t particularly bothered by them myself, because the rest of the story was very well written and my doubts were blown away.
So overall, this was a good piece of historical fiction and I would happy recommend it to those who enjoy stories set during the war.
A female American spy in Nazi-occupied France finds purpose behind enemy lines in a novel of unparalleled danger, love, and daring by the Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Beantown Girls.
Anna Cavanaugh is a restless young widow and brilliant French teacher at a private school in Washington, DC. Everything changes when she’s recruited into the Office of Strategic Services by family friend and legendary WWI hero Major General William Donovan.
Donovan has faith in her—and in all his “glorious amateurs” who are becoming Anna’s fast friends: Maggie, Anna’s down-to-earth mentor; Irene, who’s struggling to find support from her husband for her clandestine life; and Julia, a cheerful OSS liaison. But the more Anna learns about the organization’s secret missions, the more she longs to be stationed abroad. Then comes the opportunity: go undercover as a spy in the French Resistance to help steal critical intelligence that could ultimately turn the tide of the war.
Dispatched behind enemy lines and in constant danger, Anna is filled with adrenaline, passion, and fear. She’s driven to make a difference—for her country and for herself. Whatever the risk, she’s willing to take it to help liberate France from the shadows of occupation and to free herself from the shadows of her former life.