Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Young Adult

The Diviners

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

I loved Libbra Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty series when it came out, but I haven’t really kept up with her other books over the years. I can’t remember if I found The Diviners series because I stumbled on the series while looking for comp titles on Amazon or an IG post from author Roshani Chokshi inspired me to check out, but both together ultimately motivated me to order the first book in the series.

I usually keep my reviews on Isle of Books positive these days and only review books I thoroughly enjoyed. And I DID thoroughly enjoyed this one, but I have to say I did not like the way Evie spoke. I DO think her voice is very true to the time…I just personally don’t like the way people spoke at that time in American history. I find it grating and I have a hard time watching old movies for the same reason. So while I’m commenting on this to say that the main character does have a distinctive voice that didn’t appeal to me…the story and series is so darn good and intriguing I read it anyway. And I already bought the next book. That should give you an idea of how strong I think this book is overall that I’m still recommending it despite having a personal beef with the main character’s voice!

This book does an excellent job laying the groundwork for what I think will be a unique, immersive, and addicting series. The first book is rather lengthy, but it does an extraordinary amount of world-building, introduces us to a big cast of characters, opens the door to what I think will be a series-spanning arc of solving a cataclysmic problem, and combines the best of many different genres into one neat package (History! Paranormal! Horror! Mystery! Young Adult! Steampunk!) The Diviners feels like the start to a boldly ambitious series and I. Am. Here. For. It.

I will note that I’m not a big fan of horror because I’m easily scared…and this book creeped me out in places. It’s definitely on the more horror-y side of things. And still I kept going because I was intrigued by the characters and the story, both the plot that spans the pages of The Diviners and the larger plot that we just get a taste of in this book.

As I mentioned above, I already bought the second book in the series and am excited to dive back into this quartet of books!

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Mystery, Paranormal, Reviews

The Girl With No Face

The Girl With No Face by M.H. Borosan

It’s the end of the Nineteenth Century. San Francisco’s cobblestone streets are haunted, but Chinatown has an unlikely protector in a young Daoist priestess named Li-lin. Using only her martial arts training, spiritual magic, a sword made from peachwood, and the walking, talking spirit of a human eye, Li-lin stands alone to defend her immigrant community from supernatural threats.

But when the body of a young girl is brought to the deadhouse Li-lin oversees for a local group of gangsters, she faces her most bewildering—and potentially dangerous—assignment yet. The nine-year-old has died from suffocation . . . specifically by flowers growing out of her nose and mouth. Li-lin suspects Gong Tau, a dirty and primitive form of dark magic. But who is behind the spell, and why, will take her on a perilous journey deep into a dangerous world of ghosts and spirits.

Not too long ago I raved about how much I enjoyed The Girl With Ghost Eyes. Well, The Girl With No Face managed to be even BETTER.

The second in the Daoshi Chronicles series, The Girl With No Face took everything that I loved about the first book and paired it with even stronger character development for Li-Lin and other returning characters. In particular (and this is a slight spoiler) the relationship between Li-lin and her father is a standout in this book.

What this series does really well I think (but it often isn’t mentioned in reader reviews and I didn’t mention this myself when I reviewed the first book) is it presents a strong female character that also feels contextualized to her time and culture. So yes Li-lin is a kickass heroine, but she doesn’t feel wildly anachronistic. She feels like she belongs in 1899 San Francisco and that makes her struggles and character development feel believable. There are also some nice gendered cultural touchstones in this book that are very, very well done (in particular, a conversation about foot binding and a conversation about why Li-lin’s father wanted a boy, not a girl).

The other thing it does well is present Chinese culture in a way that doesn’t feel Westernized or watered down. I would say I have an above-average knowledge of China, her history, and her culture (compared to the average American which is, I know, a super low bar), but a lot of the stories, figures, and cultural practices are things I’ve never heard of or even have the glimmer of a memory that maybe I learned about it in the past. Obviously I can’t comment on the accuracy of everything that’s used, but wow am I learning a lot by reading this series.

If you liked, but didn’t love the first book in the series, I would recommend continuing on to this one because it raised the bar on the series and I’m very, very excited for the next to come out (whenever that is).

The only thing I actually don’t like about The Daoshi Chronicles series is that I’m discovering this when it’s only two books deep. I could use about ten more of these right now haha.

I also want to note this series would be a great quarantine choice. They’re fun, fast-paced, magical, transportive, non-depressing, and they’ll teach you something if you’re open to learning, but you’re not at all required to do deep, meditative thinking.

 

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Mystery, Paranormal, Reviews

The Girl With Ghost Eyes

The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M.H. Borosan

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on the hunt for possible comp titles for Shadow of the Magician in historical fiction. That means I’ve been deep diving on Amazon and Goodreads to find atypical novels of historical fiction to read and consider.

Of course, saying The Girl With Ghost Eyes is an atypical novel is the understatement of the decade. The Girl With Ghost Eyes is a wonderfully weird, intoxicating blend of Chinese myths and legends, ghosts, kung fu, and female empowerment set in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century.

This book was a fun ride from start to finish. I had to put it down when I went to Colorado for Christmas since I chose to bring (and finish!) Kingdom of Ash instead, but once I was back home, I could scarcely stop reading it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read and is absolutely delightful. I really hope someone makes it into a movie or tv show in the near future.

But aside from being a lot of fun, the history feels real, visceral, and well-researched. Reading through the author’s note at the back, I get the sense the author knows his stuff and so bends the facts of history/story/culture with a careful, precise hand to tell this compelling story.

I’ve already picked up the second book in the series to read, The Girl With No Face, which just came out in October. I’m looking forward to tucking into that as well, though after that’s done I’ll be stuck waiting for the next one to come out!

Fiction, History, Mystery, Reviews, Thriller, Young Adult

Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about Stalking Jack the Ripper since it came out. But now with the release of the fourth book in the series, I finally decided to pick it up and give it a read.

After being on the fence for a long time if I’d actually like this book, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I was supposed to be reading a different book for book club, but often found myself picking this one up to read a chapter or two before bed instead. It’s told in a breezy, yet period-appropriate style that keeps the pages turning. I probably could have read this in one sitting if I had that much time (which I don’t these days).

I haven’t read many fictional takes on the infamous Jack the Ripper murders (the only one I can think of that I’ve read is The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson), but I really enjoyed Maniscalco’s vision for who the Ripper really was. Yes, in this book we do get an answer about who the killer was!

While I enjoyed this book quite a bit, I’m even more excited to see where the series goes from here! I know there are three more books out and with names like Hunting Prince DraculaEscaping from Houdini, and Capturing the Devil, I can only image what exciting adventures await Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell as they presumably cross paths with Dracula, Houdini, and…the devil?! Speaking of Audrey Rose and Thomas – while I was surprised at how forward the romance was (I was expecting more of a enemies-turned-best-friends-turned-lovers slow build), the chemistry between the two crackles off the page from their first conversation and I’m looking forward to watching it progress over the next few books!

Stalking Jack the Ripper is the perfect atmospheric, spooky Halloween read that’s not too scary. Pick it up before the month’s over!

Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Personal, Publications, Sci-Fi, Writing

Cursed Collectibles Anthology to Be Released October 1st

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I’m so excited to share I have a story coming out in the Cursed Collectibles anthology and it’ll be available for purchase on October 1st – just in time for Halloween!

The story I have in this anthology, entitled “The Garden Party” is actually one I wrote way back when I was going to UCSD – and then rewrote and submitted for this! I love the theme, the cover art, and can’t wait to read/hear the rest of the stories. Thanks for all the hard work Jace Killan!

Authors with stories in the Cursed Collectibles anthology are Dave Butler, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Joy Johnson, Martin L. Shoemaker, Gama Martinez, Mike Jack S, Lyn Worthen, Shannon Fox, Karen Pellett, Jessica Springer Guernsey, Jennifer Blair, Steve Ruskin, Tanya Hales, Frank Morin, Lauren Lang, Jo Ann Schneider Stringer, Kelly Lynn Colby, Heidi Andrus Wilde, Adric Mayall, Chris Abela, Martin E Greening, John David Payne

Edited by Angela Eschler

Cover art by Novae Caelum

And audiobook narrated by Shaun Smith and Hillary Andrus Straga

All profits from the sale of this anthology go to the Don Hodge Scholarship Fund (which is a scholarship that helps people attend Superstars Writing Seminars)

The anthology and audiobook will be available for purchase on Amazon.

 

Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Uncategorized

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

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I have a weird OCD habit where I have to mark off where halfway is in the book I’m reading. I really don’t know why I’m so compelled. It usually doesn’t create an issue, except in this case where it revealed the fate of a character. And knowing the fate of that character without any context made me suspect all along that they were the one responsible for Megan’s disappearance. And sadly I was right. So most people talk about the big twist in this book, but for me, it wasn’t really a twist because I was already suspecting that.

Still, this was a great book. I read so much and so often that it really takes a lot for me to have that craving to finish a book. Because 99% of the time I read every night before bed even if it’s just a few pages. So since I know when I get to read the book next, the intervening time doesn’t bother me so much. But with this one it did. When I got to the middle of the book, I was irritated that I had to go to bed because I had work the next day. And then all day long I couldn’t wait to get home and read the rest of the book.

The concept of this thriller was unique in my opinion…Rachel, the narrator, riding the train back and forth to London and observing the people who live in this house. Until one day she sees something bad.

Rachel was a character I wanted to reach into the book and shake. An alcoholic and a person who has trouble leaving things alone, I constantly wanted to yell at her for being stupid. But she didn’t bother me all that much.

I liked that there were actually three narrators for this novel and all of them were women: Rachel, Megan, and Anna. And the three narratives work together to cast suspicion, remove suspicion, cast suspicion, and ultimately reveal the true suspect at the center of the investigation.

I’m planning to see the movie soon. I think Emily Blunt is a good choice for Rachel. Emily is pretty, but in a sort of unconventional way and she has a mournful face that is a good choice to play an alcoholic. I’m not familiar with the other actors and actresses, but am looking forward to seeing how this book was translated to film.

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Fiction, Mystery, Reviews, Thriller

Crimson Shore

By Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

A secret chamber.

A mysterious shipwreck.

A murder in the desolate salt marshes.

A seemingly straightforward private case turns out to be much more complicated-and sinister-than Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast ever could have anticipated.

Pendergast, together with his ward Constance Greene, travels to the quaint seaside village of Exmouth, Massachusetts, to investigate the theft of a priceless wine collection. But inside the wine cellar, they find something considerably more disturbing: a bricked-up niche that once held a crumbling skeleton.

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Pendergast is in as great of form as ever. Instead of the wide-spread cast of characters that can crop up in a Pendergast book, this book featured only Pendergast and Constance Greene.

Some reviewers mentioned that it felt like Preston & Child couldn’t decide which book to write, so they wrote both of them. Maybe there’s truth to that, but it was still a wildly thrilling wild filled with mystery, horror, new developments in Pendergast and Constance’s relationship, as well as the return of one character we all never wanted to see again, but secretly did…

I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next book!

Fiction, Mystery, Reviews, Thriller

Ochoco Reach

By Jim Stewart

Freelance investigator Mike Ironwood doesn’t hesitate for a moment when a lovely stranger asks him to help her get to the bottom of suspicious happenings on her family cattle ranch. The case is intriguing, and Willimina even more so. Six days in, the case has turned up two dead bodies, an alphabet soup of secretive federal investigators, and a client who just might be The One. That’s when things get complicated. When a greedy DEA agent and his complicated and deadly triggerman kidnap Willy, Mike enlists help from his brother and sets out to rescue her from a conflicted cartel jefe. The trail leads them deep into Mexico, but they come home with dangerous unfinished business. Ochoco Reach introduces Mike Ironwood, his special ops brother Daniel, and Bucket, a Catahoula leopard dog who is equally at home herding cattle and pinning bad guys to the floor. Together, they are formidable allies who also seem to attract trouble at every turn.

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When I was a kid, I love a series called Hank The Cowdog by John R. Erickson. This series was about a loveable cowdog named Hank who sees himself as Head of Ranch Security. The series follows Hank as he solves crime and catches bad guys all while getting himself in hot water over and over again, to hilarious results. This reminds me that I used to do series feature…I probably should do this one. It’s truly one of the greatest series for kids out there.

Mike Ironwood reminds me of a human adult version of Hank. Not because he’s in any way hapless, but his personality is very much like Hank.

I received this book in exchange for an honest and at first I wasn’t sure what to think, though I ended up really liking this book.

I initially picked it up because of its Western Overtures and because Mike’s dog is a Catahoula Leopard Dog. I have a Catahoula-Lab mix myself. Bucket was one of my favorite characters, too.

Ochoco Reach was fast-paced with tons of twists and turns. Mike Ironwood is an ex-solider and his brother Daniel, is Special Ops Native American. The bad guys were really no match for these two. In fact, all of the characters have great personalities!

I’ll definitely be looking for more Ironwood novels starring Mike, Willy, and Bucket!

Dystopian, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Acceptance

By Jeff VanderMeer

It is winter in Area X, the mysterious wilderness that has defied explanation for thirty years, rebuffing expedition after expedition, refusing to reveal its secrets. As Area X expands, the agency tasked with investigating and overseeing it–the Southern Reach–has collapsed on itself in confusion. Now one last, desperate team crosses the border, determined to reach a remote island that may hold the answers they’ve been seeking. If they fail, the outer world is in peril.

Meanwhile, Acceptance tunnels ever deeper into the circumstances surrounding the creation of Area X–what initiated this unnatural upheaval? Among the many who have tried, who has gotten close to understanding Area X–and who may have been corrupted by it?

In this last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may be solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound–or terrifying.

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As I mentioned on my other two reviews, I’m so grateful that when I started to read this series all these books were out. I couldn’t have handled it if I had to wait months or years for the rest of the story.

Acceptance brings The Southern Reach trilogy to a close. Some answers are revealed, but in true VanderMeer form, we get more questions that don’t have ready answers.

The form of this book was quite a bit different than Annihilation and Authority. We jump from character to character as well as backwards and forwards in time. We hear from Control, Ghost Bird, the old Director of the Southern Reach, and Saul, the lighthouse keeper. So many different viewpoints means a lot of the questions and clues were either filled in completely or at least partly elucidated upon.

Finally, we begin to see inside the final days of the Coast and the birth of Area X. We learn a bit more about The Southern Reach and its shadowy controllers and employees. Control’s questions about the old Director get some explanation. And Control and Ghost Bird plunge into Area X, one final time.

I think this was my favorite of the three book. More answers, less secrets, but not all the answers. For those of you who remembered me being so scared while reading Annihilation, this book is not any creepier than that was.

Just go read it already. If you’ve come this far in the series, you might as well finish it!

Fiction, History, Mystery, Paranormal, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Authority

By Jeff VanderMeer

After thirty years, the only human engagement with Area X–a seemingly malevolent landscape surrounded by an invisible border and mysteriously wiped clean of all signs of civilization–has been a series of expeditions overseen by a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten: the Southern Reach. Following the tumultuous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, the agency is in complete disarray.

John Rodrigues (aka “Control”) is the Southern Reach’s newly appointed head. Working with a distrustful but desperate team, a series of frustrating interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, Control begins to penetrate the secrets of Area X. But with each discovery he must confront disturbing truths about himself and the agency he’s pledged to serve.

In Authority, the second volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Area X’s most disturbing questions are answered . . . but the answers are far from reassuring.

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In many ways, I liked Authority better than Annihilation. One of the major reasons is that Authority is nowhere near as creepy as Annihilation. Rather than take place in the mysterious Area X, Authority deals with the Southern Reach, the government body in charge of Area X.

Van De Meer loves to give his main characters thought-provoking names. Ghost Bird in Annihilation. Control in Authority. I read the word “Control” so much it actually started to sound like a decent name. And of course there was a delightful little riff with CTRL and Control.

Authority goes a long way towards putting some explanation to Annihilation and the secrets of Area X. But of course, not everything is resolved and we get new questions with no answers. Some people found this book to be slow or even boring. While it’s true I didn’t gobble this book down in one sitting, my pulse wasn’t at an all-time high, either.

Oh and the ending of this one is a doozy. Be sure to have Acceptance standing by so you can start reading.