The Sacrificial Man ~ Ruth Dugdall

  • Title: The Sacrificial Man    
  • Author: Ruth Dugdall
  • Genre: Dark Fiction/Thriller
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Netgalley
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  What I want to say is that suicide is my choice. No-one else is to blame. Man seeks beautiful woman for the journey of a lifetime: Will you help me to die?’

When Probation Officer Cate Austin is given her new assignment, she faces the highest-profile case of her career. Alice Mariani is charged with assisted suicide and Cate must recommend a sentence. Alice insists her story is one of misinterpreted love, forcing those around her to analyse their own lives. Who is to decide what is normal and when does loyalty turn to obsession? Investigating the loophole that lies between murder and euthanasia, Cate must now meet the woman who agreed to comply with her lover’s final request. Shocking revelations expose bitter truths that can no longer be ignored.

Review:  The story of a woman charged with murder for her role in an assisted suicide. Is this murder, or compassion?

Such is an ethical dilemma for our time, but here the implications are deeper for the woman consumed some of the dead man’s flesh.  Was this just offering a merciful helping hand or something more sinister? The question is not only if a crime was committed, but if so, is the culprit sane? and how much of a punishment does she deserve? It is up to her probation officer to recommend a sentence. The plot largely traces and reveals the motives of the characters involved.

The novel has so many secrets that get revealed. Some are subtle and made me grin at the author’s craft. At least one made my jaw completely drop to the floor

The point of view switches often from first person to third, to prose to chat messages to journal. Normally when I would see something written in this manner I would think it was too complicated and took too much work to read. Not so here. It blended together seamlessly and  I looked forward to each change of pace. It was like a multi-media experience.

The narcissism of the first person narrator is done with a cold, self aware style that you won’t soon forget, and offers flashbacks to her time as a child that is full of emotion. There was a sharp realism here that is touching, but none of it bubbled up from the suds of soap-opery moments.

I requested and was accepted this novel on Netgalley, partly because I was looking for a Gillian FLynn-like experience. (If Gillian Flynn ever goes missing, the first place one should look is my own basement.)

As I read I “The Sacrificial Man,” I first thought, ‘No, this isn’t Gillian,’ then I thought, ‘Heck yeah, this is Gillian’s twin,’ and then I found the author had a voice all of her own. Overall, this is a fantastic story, with writing that is lyrical, flowing, and eloquent, yet with an unmistakeable edge.

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A Study in Silks ~ Emma Jane Holloway

  • Title: A Study in Silks
  • Author: Emma Jane Holloway
  • Series: The Baskerville Affair #1
  • Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Review copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.

Review:  A Study in Silks kicks off a new lightly steampunk series, The Baskerville Affair. I say lightly steampunk, because although the world is powered by steam and clockwork creations abound, the world really does not feel all that different from traditional historical romance. Hmm, romance is not really the right word, either, maybe historical chick lit? Clearly, it is difficult to pin down exactly which category owns this book, and well, defining books by genre has very little practical use, so I’ll move right along.

One can definitely define this book as a mystery. The main character, Evelina Cooper, has an inquisitive mind and a touch of magic, neither of which help her blend into London society any better than her dubious heritage. She is a guest in the family home of her best friend, with whom she is preparing for her introduction to debut into society when a series of mysterious events begin to unfold. Being niece to the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, Evelina, of course, sets out to discover the truth and hopefully protect those close to her.

I have mixed feelings about the use of Sherlock Holmes within the books. Other than solidifying Evelina’s natural inclination toward solving mysteries, I am not sure that it really serves much purpose in progressing the plot of the story. It almost feels as if the author is trying to create the effect of the celebrity cameo, a device which I find trite. Perhaps Holloway intends to use this relation as a resource in future books. Only times will tell.

For a book that is not really a romance, the story relies heavily another over-used trope, the love triangle. Throughout the book, Evelina finds herself torn between her affections for her BFF’s brother and someone from her questionable past. Both characters are depicted as intelligent, dashing, and full-of-life. They are also both a bit full of themselves and prove themselves unworthy of Evelina by the end of the book. I truly hope that Ms. Holloway does not try to use them as potential romantic interests in future books. I feel that both kind suitors leave behind burnt bridges in regards to Evelina’s affections. I have to admit that I love this. It is refreshing to read a story where the female lead is not defined by finding her true and everlasting love by the end of the book. Well done, Ms. Holloway.

Going back to the mystery, it is pretty ambitious, if a little convoluted. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt, considering this book is clearly also setting up deep intrigue for books to come. I appreciate that the author was unwilling to scrimp on the complexity of the story in favor of world building. I do so love a good enigmatic plot.

No matter how good the plot, it will remain unsatisfying without decent characters. Evelina is a character that I can like. She is smart, resourceful, and independent. I look forward to following her adventures as they unfold throughout the series. I also think there is more to her sidekick, er, I mean BFF.

My overall impression of the book was favorable. I am definitely interested to see where the author takes the series from here.

**Disclaimer: Reviewer was provided with a digital advance review copy of this book by the publisher via Net Galley.

Die, You Bastard, Die! ~ Jan Kozlowski

  • Title: “Die, You Bastard, Die!”
  • Author: Jan Kozlowski
  • Genre: Thriller/Horror/Dark Fiction
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Claire is a first-rate paramedic, with a heroic devotion to saving lives. She is also a survivor of unspeakable abuse, who has rebuilt herself entirely, as far from home as she could get.

But when her aged father is hospitalized, after a crippling fall, Claire is dragged back into a brutal nightmare of sexual depravity, and deepest betrayal. Where the only question left is, “How can I possibly survive?”

And the only answer is, “DIE, YOU BASTARD! DIE!”

Review:  Wow. How to describe this book? It blew me away. The experience reading it was powerful. Much like the title, this book makes no apologies, and after reading it, I certainly don’t need one.

It started out as a great novel with distinct, interesting characters and intense enough action scenes. I fully trusted the author and entered into her world, ready to partake in a great thriller.

What I wasn’t ready for was a hand to shoot out of the pages and suddenly put a knife to my throat, but that was basically what happened. My eyeballs started to bleed and my heart shed tears.

This is not so much horror as it is ultra-realism. The horror isn’t what is happening in the book as much as what can happen at the hands of humans. Things we want to dismiss. This is a great piece of work, not some gratuitous bit of shock horror. I didn’t ever get that feeling that the author was smirking behind the page, just happy she grossed us out. Characters under pressure had their essence squeezed out of them, and with each bit of action and dialogue these people were brought to life. The sickness that existed in their hearts never wavered, which made the story all that more terrifying. The journey of the main character was riveting, never cliche, and never certain.

But there were moments where I looked away from the pages, thinking, if this continues, I don’t know how much more I can take. The author turns up the intensity and lets you boil for a while, but always seems to gauge where the reader is at and turns the story to a place you can continue. It demanded breaks, but commanded your attention. I became like a kid covering my face with my hands but peeking thru my fingers. This book is no escapism like some horror or dark fiction, but it is a fantastic piece of art.

Silent in the Grave ~ Deanna Raybourn

  • Title:  Silent in the Grave
  • Author:  Deanna Raybourn
  • Series:  Lady Juila #1
  • Genre:  Mystery, Historical, Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Library
  • Reviewed by: Val
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

Review:  There were so many things that I enjoyed about this book. I liked this book as much for what it wasn’t, as I did for what it was.

For example, despite the chemistry and tension between Julia and Brisbane, the author did not give into the temptation to turn this book into a romance. Instead she focused herself firmly on the mystery and suspense, and she did a great job of building the intrigue throughout the plot.

Her approach to the mystery, itself, was well done. She anticipated readers such as me who were able to figure out the “whodunit” from the beginning. Yet, I got the feeling the Ms. Raybourn actually meant for the mystery to lie not in the WHO, such much as the HOW and WHY. Clever girl.

The book was a light read, reminding me of urban fantasy, but it was really more of a historical fiction with the smallest touch of fantasy. It was just the right balance.

The book was really well-written, especially the characters. The author set the story up just right to allow for some excellent character development, and she did not disappoint. In fact, between Julia’s crisis of personality and Brisbane’s tortured hero, Raybourn has left plenty of room for further development throughout the series.

The pacing of the story was a bit slow at times, but it was in keeping with the tone of the story, so I found it forgivable. I am definitely looking forward to continuing this series.

Cover note: This is a great cover. The pose is simple and captures the character of Lady Julia very well. The layout is well-balanced and eye-catching and the fonts fit the tone of the story without trying too hard. Finally, the shadow just above her shoulder creates a great visual element of mystery.

 

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves ~ Matthew Reilly

  • Title: Scarcrow and the Army of Thieves
  • Author: Matthew Reilly
  • Series: Scarecrow #5
  • Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Adventure
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Emma, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  At an abandoned military base in the Arctic, a battle to save the world has begun…

THE SECRET BASE Known only as Dragon Island, this long-forgotten relic of the Cold War houses a weapon of terrible destructive force. And it has just been reactivated.

A RENEGADE ARMY When Dragon Island is seized by terrorists, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

ONE SMALL TEAM The only unit close enough to avert disaster is an equipment-testing team led by a Marine captain named Schofield, call-sign SCARECROW. They are not equipped to attack a fortified island held by a small army but will go in anyway – because someone has to.

THE ULTIMATE HERO IS BACK, FACING THE ULTIMATE ARMY OF VILLAINS.

Review:  I absolutely loved this book. Matthew Reilly is my favourite action writer. He has the ability to grab you by the throat and not let go until the book is finished.

I have to say I’m really glad Scarecrow is back, I’ve missed him. The title is a bit naff but that does not reflect on the contents at all. The Army of Theives picks up from where the last one left off.

Scarecrow has been sent to the Arctic to test prototype equipment almost as a punishment for his escapades. The French are out for his blood and it makes sense to have him as far away as possible. It also means he is there with a mixture of Army guys and civilians.

This sets things up very well for what is to come, though I will not give any spoilers about the story. Permit me to say, though, how happy I was to see the return of Mother, and the additions of Baba and Bertie were inspired. I’ll be interested to see what happens with Champion as well.

Please remember, Matthew Reilly writes FICTION. You must temporarily suspend belief when reading one of his books. They are not intended to be educational aids. They are FUN!!! And boy, is this book fun.

I must caution you, though, there are some torture scenes that are extremely graphic and even I found myself skimming those pages. However, they are not purely gratuitous so don’t be put off.

I hope this is not the last we see of Scarecrow, Mother, Baba and Bertie. It was a rollercoaster read that I didn’t put down until it was finished.

The Girl Who Played with Fire ~ Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland (Translator)

  • Title: The Girl Who Played with Fire
  • Author: Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland (Translator)
  • Series: Millennium #2
  • Genre: Mystery, Thriller
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewer: Soo
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

*Potential Spoilers*

Review:  Of the three books in this trilogy, I enjoyed this one the most. I feel that the majority of the build up and movement towards the conclusion of the series was wrapped up well in the middle volume. This book was more active and engaging for me. The first book was a long, winded buildup of the characters, backgrounds, a part of the mystery and environments. The last book is mostly a recap of events that leads towards the conclusion. In terms of overall enjoyment, I really enjoyed this book because there is a nice balance of character development and plot movement.

It’s astonishing to me how popular this series is all over the world. The basic premise behind Salander is a horrifying past that has scarred her forever and marks all her actions in the future. There’s a no holds bar vision of what happened to her and her apt yet barbaric revenge. The other half of the series deals with corrupt, international business shenanigans that caused the leads which Blomkvist follow despite the dangers he face. I wouldn’t have thought such a premise would come about with such a large following but it has. If a friend had asked me if I would be interested in reading a story about a rape victim and corporate espionage, I don’t think I would have said yes.

I read the series because of the impact it made on a good friend of mine. While the book is not something I would have picked up on my own, I did enjoy exploring the world and characters that held a steady fan base all over the world. Kudos to Reg Keeland for writing a great translation of an interesting novel.

Are you looking for startling characters that grab your attention? Need a little mystery to sink your teeth into? You’ve come to the right place! Settle in and take a look into the Millennium Series.