Tombyards and Butterflies

Montague & Strong Case Files #1
by Orlando Sanchez

I’m a sucker for a good Urban Fantasy novel, so of course I was incredibly excited to start reading this one when it came my way. In short, it’s terribly fun: incredibly fast paced and with a fantastic cast of characters, you’re going to want to add this to your TBR!

Summary34419392

An emissary from the Dark Council has just materialized in the office of the Montague & Strong Detective Agency, and makes Simon Strong an offer he can’t refuse. Charon is missing. The legendary ferryman responsible for transporting sorcerer souls across the river Styx hasn’t been seen in days. And with each passing hour, those unable to cross the river are left to walk among the living, tilting the world further out of balance.

Meet Simon Strong, an immortal, who is also the best private detective in New York City. Together with his surly partner-Tristan Montague, a mage of indeterminate age, they must find the Ferryman and get him back to work before another Supernatural War ravages the earth, destroys humanity, and Simon’s local coffee shop.

Time is running out. His landlord wants the rent and Karma with a capital K is paying him a visit, and she can be a real…

Join the Montague & Strong Detective Agency and help them locate Charon, so he can restore balance to the universe, put the dead sorcerers to rest, and maybe solve the age old conundrum-coffee or tea?

Musings

Meet Simon Strong: an immortal and a detective. His partner, Tristan ‘Monty’ Montague is a mage; not a wizard, and don’t you dare ever calling him a sorcerer. When an incredibly deadly emissary from the Dark Council breaks into their offices and gives them a job, they know it’s something they can’t refuse. She can’t be involved, so you know it’s going to be bad.

Simon wasn’t always an immortal: we learn more about this curse, and the person behind it, as the story progresses. He’s still getting used to it, and doesn’t want to test how far this immortality goes. There’s a mark on his arm that links him to a god, who seems both intent on protecting him and making his life a miserable hell. Maybe both at the same time.  The author leaves a lot of the backstory unspoken, so there are details with the characters yet to be revealed. It showed them all to be complex and exciting.

My one qualm with the book was that I felt like I was reading a sequel. Many times the characters referenced a moment in their shared history that seemed like something I should have know about. This is the same with Simon’s relationship with Karma: when she first appears, she isn’t given a name in the entire chapter, and I was left confused until she was properly introduced later on. It’s like I skipped the Pilot Episode entirely – but this might not be a bad thing.

The writing style took me a bit to get into, but once I did, the ball was really rolling. I loved the character of Simon, with his funny quips and witty remarks, always breaking the tension with a joke. He seems like someone you’d want to be friends with. And Monty? Still a bit of a mystery, but one I’d really like to uncover.

The overarching plot was masterfully crafted and exciting to unravel. There’s so much happening in this book you, you wonder how it fits in only 300 pages. It’s fast paced and exciting, with fun characters along the way.Seeing Hades, for example, working at the head of a fancy company; or the special Uber created just for people in supernatural muck; these were proof of fantastic world building and a fun and enjoyable read. And if you love puppies, you’re going to adore Peaches!

All in all, if you love UF, then this should be on your shelf. It’s fun, enjoyable, and a series I personally will be reading a lot more of. Enjoy!

Caught on Camera

by Madelle Morgan
Reviewed by SA

Let me start off this review by saying I don’t usually read romance – heck, it’s a genre I rarely ever connect with. But when the author sent me a copy of her book, I though it might be high time to give it a chance. And I was right: Caught on Camera was such a blast, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Did I mention it has a playlist?

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To achieve her dream of working on Hollywood film sets, star struck chambermaid Rachel Lehmann needs $35,000 for film school tuition by the end of the summer. When she’s asked to fill in for a missing bridesmaid at a movie star’s wedding and pretend to be the bride’s cousin, it’s her big chance to secretly take photos of celebrities and sell them to the entertainment media! Then Mickey, one of the groomsmen, sweeps her off her feet.

Mickey McNichol, talent agent to the stars, believes everyone in show business is out for what they can get. When he falls hard for the bride’s “cousin”, he thinks he’s finally met a beautiful woman he can trust. But if Rachel betrays the wedding party, Mickey will ensure she never works in Hollywood.

Musings

Rachel needs a whole lot of money if she’s ever going to get into her first choice film school in LA – a problem that’s so wholly relatable to other New Adults like this reader right here. I remember looking up how much money I could make selling my kidney. Rachel’s smarter though – she gets a job working the summer at a hotel in Muskoka, sneaking snaps of celebrities she hopes she can sell to reach her financial goal.

But when a bridesmaid fails to turn up at the huge, star studded wedding that had rented out the hotel for the weekend, the bride needs Rachel to go from maid to bridesmaid in a flash. This gives Rachel a fantastic opportunity to sneak pictures of the event. What she didn’t count on was love at first sight. When she meets Mickey, there’s an instant attraction – but what if he learns her secret?

Sure, there are a whole lot of clichés and tropes in this novel… but it’s a Rom Com! And it will have you laughing out loud, let me tell you. You have a bridezilla with a temper; a tiny, very needy dog; a comedy of errors as Rachel’s luck flip flops all over the place. And, of course, you have the couple you want to root for so much you could burst.

I think what holds me back when I read romance is the suspension of disbelief. A lot of things happen by ‘coincidence’ which are a little too convoluted. And we have a lot of coincidences in this novel that made my eyes roll… until I started to really get into it and want Rachel and Mickey to end up together. After the climax of the novel, as we push for resolution, I found myself thinking of how perfect this ending was, how much I wanted every second. I realized that the author had fully managed to reel me in, despite my annoyances with Rom Coms! I closed the book thinking how brilliant of a movie this would be, with butterflies in my stomach and a craving for chocolate.

So. Fantastically. Sweet!

I think what sold me was Rachel. She’s so relatable and fun! I love her ethical dilemma, I love the classic makeover scene, I love watching her fall for Mickey. She’s a perfect stand in for the reader.

Oh, and did I mention this novel comes with its own soundtrack? You listen to the playlist at key moments and are sucked right in! So unique! The playlist itself is perfect even without the book, great songs to listen to on repeat.

So while I’m not a big fan of the genre, I’m still a huge fan of this book. Perfect feel-good weekend read!

Pick up your copy right here!

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But I’m not Depressed!

 

A Memoir of Disintegration
By Lia Rees

It’s not often that I read memoirs, so I didn’t know what to expect with this one. To my surprise, I was blown away by how profound it was: it was a personal and intimate look into the loss of self, which still resonates long after I put the book down. I think you should read it: let me show you why.

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This is what happened when something devastating crashed into an unusual mind.

When I suffered a brain injury at the age of 19, I was not told what I had. The world became a dreamlike haze. I was cut off from my own thoughts and memories.

Instead of receiving medical treatment, I was sent into psychotherapy. So began a ten-year battle to recover my lost self. This memoir is a window into the surreal internal landscape of a brain injury survivor striving to find reality once more.

Positive thinking and pills couldn’t fix me, but a bizarre and cutting-edge field of medicine just might.

Musings

What happens when you suffer a brain injury and begin to feel your mind crumble away – but no one believes you? What sounds like a nightmare is actually the daily life of Lia Rees, the author of this book. Faced with her fantastic mind suddenly turning against her, she struggles to find help in a world where doctors still carry a bias.

The writing style is so gorgeous that it’s hard to believe the author is struggling so much, another example of how her high functioning stops doctors from taking her seriously.She describes mental states in a way that is so incredibly relatable and visual. It was painful to read how her knowledge about her own body and mind were refuted by well meaning specialists. As a reader, you just want the doctor to listen: if any of them took the time to thoroughly listen, we think, they might just be able to help.

But in the meantime, life as a brain injury survivor is an uphill battle, one where the energy you need to make it through the day is not enough to fight. It reminded me of a TED talk I watched recently, where Jennifer Brea describes the obstacles she’s faces in seeking treatment for her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She too had to use her reduced functions to find out what was wrong by herself, when the medical world would not.

This memoir is powerful. While the writing can get a little verbose at times, it was still witty and incredibly poignant. From brain injury to doctor to doctor to failed treatment after failed treatment, her road to recovery is filled with huddles she’s still fighting today.

A memoir that took strength to write and really shows. If you or someone you know has suffered a brain injury and found their daily functions impaired, you might want to grab this book. It is truly an eye opener and a fantastic read.

KHOLVARIA + Interview with ANDREW GATES

The Color of Water and Sky, Book 2
By Andrew Gates

Last year, we had the pleasure of interviewing the debut author Andrew Gates, for the release of his Science Fiction novel “IRIS.” Having just read the ARC of KHOLVARIA, the upcoming sequel, I just had to have him back to tell us more!  I like to describe his Color of Water and Sky series as being a science fiction series with the scope of Game of Thrones but the world building of Asimov, and Kholvaria does not disappoint. Potential spoilers if you have not read Iris yet!

Summary51mrkwhf2al

The ancient ones called it America. The survivors call it the New World. Others know it only as Kholvaria.

It is a desperate time for the Federation. The Atlantic Station, the last known city on Earth, has been destroyed. Humankind is on the brink of extinction. Nine survivors flee the crumbling city in a dire effort to survive. Their destination: the planet’s surface, a poisonous landscape untouched for generations. Plagued by danger, disease, hunger, and mystery, they do whatever they must to stay alive. But they are not alone. Other eyes, above and below the sea, watch the survivors with great interest.

For the first time in generations, humanity is coming home. But it may not be to the home they expect.

Musings

If you loved Iris, then this book is definitely not to miss. After the devastating ending, which left most of humanity dead, including one of our favorite characters, Iris and the eight other survivors have finally reached the surface. It’s a combination of excitement and shock, as well as complete abject terror. This new world is beautiful, but it hades many dangers, and you never know what to expect.

Once again, the author’s style completely pulls you into the world he created. The imagery is so vivid you truly do feel as if you’re actually there. Unlike the claustrophobic sense that came from Iris, Kholvaria on the contrary feels open to so many opportunities. It’s like taking a caged bird and releasing them into the wild: it’s almost overwhelming for the characters, and that’s something that really comes through.

The pacing is a lot faster than Iris, especially towards the ending when you feel like everything is life-or-death. And, in fact, there is quite a major death, one that left me personally reeling for days.

We also finally get some answers about what we were contemplating in the first book. While we might have guessed some things, or at least tried to, we finally get proof in Kholvaria. The author definitely rewards his readers’ loyalty by validating theories.

We also have a new character who’s introduced who’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. He might be my favorite POV of the entire series so far, and I just can’t help but want to know more about him!

Andrew Gates proves once again that he is a master of world building and suspense. it’s an addictive, fast paced read that will leave readers begging for more. A must read for scifi fans everywhere.

Compass

Interview with Andrew Gates

Hi Andrew! It’s great to have you back on Readcommendations. We here are very excited about your new book, Kholvaria.

Last year, you described Iris in one sentence: There’s an underwater city in the future and the people who live there think they’re safe, but now they may not be.

I made you recap Iris to one sentence; think fast, can you recap Kholvaria in a single word?

Kholvaria in a single word – Unknown

I love that! So Kholvaria takes place right after the events of book 1. What can the reader expect out of the sequel?

Well, without giving too much away, it’s a pretty dark time for humanity right now. The characters are basically starting over from scratch, hence “unknown”. They don’t know what to expect. They don’t know the trials or challenges they’ll face and a lot of surprises are thrown at them.

It sounds like there’s a lot more action in this book than in the first one. Would you say it’s faster paced than Iris?

I certainly would. Ironically though, it takes place over a shorter duration of time. While Iris elapsed the timespan of about 4 months, Kholvaria elapses closer to 2.

Now at the end of Iris, we lost a major point of view character. Will we have a new point of view to fill the void?

 Great question! Iris had 5 perspective characters (not including the prologue). Kholvaria has the same amount. I really like the 5 character format. I think that’s a good number. I plan to maintain that number throughout the entire series.

I’d just like to add that the new perspective character in Kholvaria is probably my favorite character in the series so far. He’s a very different type of character from anyone in Iris. The first chapter where he is introduced is probably my favorite thing I’ve ever written. I think readers are really going to like it.

So, let’s say another perspective character dies, which is purely hypothetical of course, I would fill that void in the next book and so on.

Many readers -including me – have compared The Color of Water and Sky series to a Science Fiction Game of Thrones. Do you feel the comparison is apt? Why or why not?

Absolutely it is. There’s a lot of similarities between the two. Tone, pacing, length, style, even the multiple-POV format. I’m a big fan of A Song of Ice and Fire so many of these similarities are largely intentional. What’s cool about those books is that you don’t ever see the full story. You get everyone’s perspective of the story, but there’s no omnipotent “third eye” in the sky showing you what’s going on. Sometimes characters will completely drop out of the book and leave you wondering where they are.

You don’t see a whole lot of writers do that, but I think it’s a smart choice. It’s a way to keep the readers engaged by withholding information, not providing it. If done well I think it’s very effective.

Now I hear you have a novella coming out. What can you tell me about it? How does it tie in with your Color of Water and Sky series, if at all?

Yes! The story is going to take place at the same time as books 1 -3 and will basically provide a linear narrative to the different prologues of each book. Captain Sara Gesetti from the prologue of Iris will make a return, as will Damien Saljov. We’ll find out what happens to them after the Cassidy submarine disaster. We will also get to meet a brand new character, who’s story intertwines with the other two.

The prologues from Iris and Kholvaria will be featured again in the spinoff, this time as regular chapters.

The book will be called Cassidy, named after the submarine that started this whole thing.

You’ve now been a published author for a few months. How has that been? What has been the most surprising thing this change has brought? 

The most surprising thing is – now that I’m part of the “writing community”, I’m amazed by how open and accessible it is. There are lots of people out there willing to provide help, whether it be with advice or with shared writing ventures. I’m amazed to see how open everyone is. And so kind too.

What’s your favorite part of being a published author?

And my favorite part of being a published author is knowing that this hobby of mine is actually worthwhile and profitable. There was a period of time when, if I just did my hobbies, I used to feel like I was wasting my time. But now I feel like I can still do things for fun and be productive.

Once again, you wrote a powerful ending that leaves the reader desperate for more. We didn’t have to wait very long for Kholvaria: is the third book currently in the works?

It is. In fact, I’d say about 60% of the rough draft is already written. It’s going to be a more unique story because each perspective character is on a wholly separate journey, rather than one shared journey. So it has a different flow and pace to it. Going back to your earlier point about A Song of Ice and Fire, I would say the next book is going to resemble that series the most in a sense of the characters all being separate and doing their own thing a lot of the time.

Right now I’m guessing the release will come around this time, early summer-ish in 2018. Followed very shortly by Cassidy. Those two books will likely come out mere weeks apart.

And to wrap up: For those who haven’t started the ACoWS series, if they were to be stuck on an island for a year with access to only one new book, why should they pick Iris?

There’s a lot of mystery in Iris, so if you’re on an island with nothing to do, you’ll have a lot of time to think of theories both during and after you read it.

Are you excited yet? Check out the official page for more information. Kholvaria is set to release on May 27th, but you can already preorder a copy right here! A huge thank you to Andrew Gates for providing me with an ARC and an opportunity to interview him.

If you’re a fan of hardcore science fiction, then you’re going to love The Color of Water and Sky! Check out the trailer for IRIS right here

Fragmented

Untamed, Book 2
By Madeline Dyer

Those of you following my Instagram might have seen my middle-of-the-night post, where an exhausted me at 2 am finished reading the last page of Fragmented and found myself in a whirlwind of emotions. I hadn’t even realized how late it was, I simply could not put the book down. I’ve been so excited I could barely wait until today to tell you about it. Well, it’s Self Published Saturday, and I’m here to tell you about Fragmented!

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After the terrible battle against the Enhanced Ones, Seven and Corin find themselves on the run. With the Enhanced closing in, Seven knows they need to find other people on their side. So, when the opportunity arises to join the Zharat, one of the last surviving Untamed tribes, it seems like the perfect solution.

But the Zharat lifestyle is a far cry from what Seven’s used to. With their customs dictating that she must marry into their tribe, and her relationship with Corin breaking down, Seven knows she has to do something before it’s too late. But that’s easier said than done in a tribe where going against the rules automatically results in death.

And, with the Enhanced still out there, nowhere is truly safe for the Untamed–least of all for the most powerful Seer in the world…and Seven soon discovers how far people will go in order to ensure she’s on their side in the War of Humanity.

Battling against the emerging web of lies, manipulation, and danger, Seven must remember who she was meant to be. Her life has never been more at stake. Nor has humanity itself.

Musings

Many series suffer from a weak second novel. But Fragmented is the Empire Strikes Back here, and is even stronger than the first book.

I was captivated by the world that Dyer created in Untamed: a future where most of humanity live with chemical ‘augmenters’, and those who refuse the drugs are hunted down. Unlike most dystopias I know, there’s this incredible spiritual element: Seven, the protagonist is a seer capable of speaking with them through dreams. The spirits have a massive, sometimes physical effect on the land, able to change it or roam it at will. All in all, this is astounding worldbuilding which made me desperate to read Fragmented.

Fragmented has a much faster pace because of the short timeframe. While Untamed took place over weeks, months, Fragmented is the course of just a few days. Seven, Corin and Esther are all that is left, and decide for their safety to band with a massive tribe called the Zharat. But just because they’re Untamed does not make them good people.

The Zharat are an incredibly patriarchal society, and part of what I loved about Fragmented was how on edge I was the entire time. To put it simply: these guys are absolute creeps. To keep humanity going, their only weapon is their babymaking. Women are nothing but a tool in this regard. Seven’s strength and abilities are put to the test when the Zharat community refuses to treat her as a real person. I was cringing the entire time they were with them.

The character growth is also pretty incredible here. Seven is not only trying to make her voice heard in this new community, but also trying to keep her relationship with Corin alive and healthy. Not to mention that her Seer dreams are strangely stopped now that she’s with the Zharat, and she can’t mention that fact to anyone, because Zharat culture sees Women-Seers as demons. Not to mention the guilt she feels from the last battle…

We also learn more about the place of the Spirits and Gods within not only this culture, but the war itself. At the climax of the book, I was gripping the page as things became clear and the mysteries unraveled. I wanted to scream at the book.

This book has honestly been very difficult for me to review with a level head, because I’m still shattered from the ending. I just cannot wait to get my hands on Divided, the next book in the series!

You can pick up a copy right here!

I Still Have a Soul

by Kelly Blanchard
Reviewed by SA

Happy self published Saturday! Today, I bring you the sequel to an exciting fantasy epic which I reviewed about a month ago: I Still Have a Soul, the immediate sequel to Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, in the Chronicles of Lorrek (see the first review here).  If you haven’t read the first book – spoiler warning!

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[Goodreads] Stripped of his memories and told he is a criminal of the worst kind, sorcerer Lorrek must commit one last dark deed to earn back his memories. However, he has no idea his target is family or that he is about to step into a war between advanced technology and ancient magic.

[Back of the Book] They said his memories were taken as punishment for the crimes he committed. They said the only way he can regain his memories is by killing a target assigned by them. Lorrek doesn’t know what is true or what he had done, but he decides to take the lead they gave him. He would find her, even if that means following her into the battlefield between advanced technology and ancient magic as two neighboring kingdoms clash. He will find answers. He will restore his memory, and he will kill any who stands in his way. 

Quick refresher: where we last left off, Lorrek had just given up his memories… after revealing to the reader what really happened those ten years ago, in the event that left the world thinking he was dead. He now awakens knowing none of this, at the complete mercy of king Roskelem. The king has one mission for Lorrek: to kill the assassin named Vixen.

Meanwhile, the kingdoms are at war. The tensions between Jechoram and Cuskelom have risen too far, and now it’s technology versus magic in the battle of a lifetime. Countess Veddra is still occupying the nation of Nirrorm, and it seems she has bigger, loftier goals in mind. And Vixen has gotten herself involved with a plot which may restore the very humanity of some non-citizens of Jechoram…

As tensions come to a boil, an epic battle looms on the horizon.

As with the last book, I was much more entranced by the events that took place in Jechoram than the rest of the continent. The storyline with the guardians could have been an entire book, in its own right. It’s brilliant: so creatively crafted and woven into the larger plot, it let the reader ponder what it truly is to be human.  This plot line borders on science-fantasy, a growing genre which combines technology and fantasy into one brilliant story.

There are so many different plots going on at once, it might get tricky to keep track of! But this means every reader will find a story they like – or many – and fall in love with the characters. But here’s a fair warning – don’t get too attached. It’s a war, after all, and wars have fatalities. So you have been warned!

I found that Lorrek was a bit of a… jerk, to put it mildly, without his memories. I mean, it’s understandable, seeing as how he can’t remember who’s friend or foe, who he can trust and who needs to be killed. But the result was that he wasn’t as relatable as he was in the first novel. No matter, because with everyone else, there’s so many other characters to relate to. I still hold Vixen as being one of the best female assassins I’ve ever read, and I desperately need to know what happens to her next.

The worldbuilding in this series remains phenomenal. The carefully crafted political tension between kingdoms, making the reader keenly aware of the motivations of their respective leaders, is just further evidence of the author’s skill at creating a complex narrative. The author’s strength really lies in the creation of these realms.

It is an exciting sequel, so if you like Someday I’ll be Redeemed, you’ll love I Still Have a Soul. It’s a must read for fans of Lorrek Vixen! The ending leaves me excited for more, as I can’t wait to see what direction the series will go.

 

Me, Currently

by Chelsea Buyce
Reviewed by SA

I’m quite easy to please when it comes to poetry: it takes just one good poem, one that speaks to me and stops me in my tracks, to really win me over. And this book was full of them.

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“I am falling apart daily Somehow, I continue to be Held together only by dreams.” Everyone deals with the Heat of romance, the Pressure of life, and the Madness of mental health. Me, Currently provides an insight into some of those moments and feelings verbalized as the author has dealt with, witnessed or fantasized them. This collection of poetry is written by an unfinished woman who has felt like a bit of an outcast throughout her life. Her poems prove that we are all more alike than we know. For the author, these poems are an escape and more importantly, they are a release. For some readers, these poems can connect them to a world they may never have otherwise entered. For others, may these poems serve as a hatch from which they can unleash their love, hurt, and hopes.

Musings

I struggle to write reviews of poems: my experience with poetry tends to be in the I like it/I don’t realm, though years of english class with brilliant teachers means I can probably ramble on about a single poem for a while. So here I’m aiming for something in the middle: a comprehensive review of my thoughts on this collection.

The collection is split into three parts: Heat (love, romance, relationships), Pressure (life, stress), and Madness (mental health, anxiety, depression). The title, “Me, Currently,” is a direct reference to the poet’s current state in her life.

Heat was quite beautiful. The poems on the loss of love packed a punch, while the poems on love itself were a little cute. “Earned Grin” was short and sweet: Your Smile/Holds/A secret/ That the rest/ of the world/ aches to learn. I really connected with that one, and many others. Of the three parts, this one might have been the weakest, simply because I’m not sure about the flow of their collection here.

Pressure was insanely relatable. “Moments” was a fantastic poem, and “Motivation” is going on my wall. It’s always a little unsettling for me (in a good way) when a poet puts into words something that’s in my head, and there’s the realization that I’m not alone in thinking that way. A few of the poems seemed like they were meant for the first part of the book, but I trust the order the poet picked.

Madness was beautiful, relatable, and a bit scary. I think this was by far the poet’s strongest part. I want “She was Poetry” etched on my tombstone, please. “Big Plans” has me written all over it. This section slowly becomes darker and darker, until the very last poem, which I think can be read either way: the poet speaks of freedom, weightlessness, though the poem is entitled “Drained” and it ends with “feinting, feinting.” I don’t know if the author has found freedom through her work, or has fallen into deeper despair. It makes me want to check up on the poet, to see if she’s ok.

Overall, the poet has shown herself incredibly talented and insightful at capturing human nature. I do feel that some poems were a little forced, not in content, but in how they might have searched a little too hard for a rhyming scheme that maybe wasn’t necessary. The ones that stood out to me generally had a more free flowing form, which the poet excels at.

All in all, this is a beautiful and evocative collection. It puts into words the thoughts and feelings that need to be talked about.