Book Review | Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne returns to the world of the Iron Druid Chronicles in book two of a spin-off series about an eccentric master of rare magic solving an uncanny mystery in Scotland.

There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

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How was it?

It seems like the banter is the main driving force of this story; it works at times, there’s even a few memorable quotes and pearls of wisdom in there but that’s about it. The adventure we go on this time around seemed mysterious and exciting but kind of fell flat in the end. If it weren’t for the innuendos behind some of these jokes, I’d swear this was a so-so middle grade book.

As much as I love re-entering the world of the Iron Druid Chronicles, I don’t remember it being so…underwhelming is not the right word, I guess I’m whelmed. It almost makes me doubt my fond memories of the main series. It’s the same lavish, mystical world building with Al MacBharrais having his own interesting way of using magic – through ink sigils on paper – and yet I’m hardly captivated or excited by what I’m reading. I wasn’t bored at least the book has that going for it but I’m frustrated because the way the inks and sigils work are great, the little backstories on how they’re made is interesting, and Al’s group of friends/employees are awesome – Nadia in particular. There’s also a strong supporting appearances of three, well four characters from the Iron Druid and it didn’t help as much as I thought it would. I still feel like these characters’ potential is not fully realized but I still have hope.

I may have preordered this book before reading Ink & Sigil but I’d still give a shot to the following book in the series, in hopes that the first two were intro and filler episode before a grand finale or a thrilling new entry.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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Book Review | The Scars That Bind Us by Michele Notaro

The Magi Accounts 1 – The Scars That Binds Us by Michele Notaro

Sometimes the worst scars are the ones you can’t see.

World War III broke out 130 years ago when humans found out that my people—magi—and shifters were real. They’ve been imprisoning and enslaving our two species since. But now humans need our help protecting the world from the strange monsters they let cross the veil between realms. 

Eighteen years ago, my world changed. Suddenly I was allowed freedoms I’d never had before, but I was still at the Non-Human Specialties Operations’ beck and call. Which is how I found myself on a team with my best friend, five shifters, and a human.

Now, I have to figure out a way to work with others—with shifters. I’ve never been one to trust easily, and I don’t see that changing, but this shifter pride has a way of getting past my walls. Unfortunately, all that means is now I have even more people I need to protect against the evils of this world, and I really don’t know how I’m gonna do it.

All three species have been at odds for more than a century, but maybe Cosmo—a lion shifter—and I can put aside our differences to work together and keep everyone safe. And if I’m secretly crushing on the guy, well, I think I’ll keep that to myself.

The Scars That Bind Us is a 115K word novel and the first book in the MM urban fantasy series, The Magi Accounts

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How was it?

The first entry of The Magi Accounts is both heavy and sweet. The history that introduces this world of Magi and shifters is brief but the effect of that gruesome past is very much felt throughout the book. So the weight of that 130 years history permeates the book, meaning speciesism – to use a word from the book – established discriminations of all sorts, and microaggressions. On top of that there are – brief – mentions of past abuse, and yet it never takes away anything away from the core story. It doesn’t overtake it, it just grounds the story in a chilling realistic way. Because humans can be trash – it’s just my opinion.

I very much like the pace of the story, it’s well-balanced. A lot of it establishes the world, its magic and paranormal and interdimensional species. It also has an interesting dynamic when it comes to the main characters, because the bonded friends, Madeo and Jude, take as much space in the overall story – if not more – than Madeo’s romantic pairing. I loved that. It show a deep, non-sexual friendship between two queer men. Some might call it fantasy but they do exist, and if Jude hadn’t been giving his dues he totally would’ve seem like Madeo’s servent.
While establishing Mad and Jude’s relationship Notaro manages to build a new one between these two with Logan creating a small family unit for them. On the other side of that the close-knit relationship between Cosmo and the members of his shifter pride is very much felt if not as heavily detailed. So when both families start to merge it’s very endearing, in particular taking into account the Magi’s past.

Romance-wise the relationship between Cosmo and Madeo is only at its beginning, a good one with a solidifying base as we go along. Because the story is told through Madeo’s perspective, Cosmo doesn’t seem to have as much depth but again it’s the beginning of their relationships and this book is the start of a series.

In terms of the class system systems between races, with Magi on the lowest rung, it’s good to see the wrong assumptions shifters and Magi have of each other’s lives. I also love how well the microaggressions were depicted but it would have been better if they weren’t always pointed out. Speaking from personal experience, when you’re the target of microaggressions they don’t all always get a response (internal or otherwise), because sadly you get used to them. It would have been more interesting to see how many people would have picked on them if they weren’t made obvious by Madeo’s emotional responses.

I got so reluctant to finish this book toward the end, it was crazy. I sat on that last chapter and epilogue for way too long. This book is immersive, and I’m excited for the future because I suspected more even exciting things are coming.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Scars That Binds Us will be available on Amazon and other book retailers near you.

My ARC copy of the book was provided by GRR for a fair, unbiased review.

The Magi Account book 1 was released on February 22, 2022.

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Book Review: Fluke and the Faithless Father | Sam Burns

After escaping a murderer and resurrecting his boyfriend, Sage figures he deserves a little time to recover.

Unfortunately, life is rarely fair.

So instead of a break, he gets to deal with a magical law enforcement rookie asking uncomfortable questions about his brush with death. The quaesitor is acting downright suspicious. Or is it suspiciously?

Things go from awkward to dangerous when the man who murdered Sage’s mother is released from prison, and soon after there’s a break-in at the bookstore. The situation escalates so fast that Sage is afraid he’s going to end up with whiplash. Or worse, end up dead. He wanted a break, but not a permanent one.

Fluke and the Faithless Father is a direct sequel to The Fantastic Fluke, and should not be read first. It is an ~85k word novel that follows the continuing adventures of Sage, Fluke, Gideon, and their whole family, found and otherwise.

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How was it?

Going back into The Fantastic Fluke‘s world for this second entry, I had forgotten how Sage could be so hard on himself, which is probably why I didn’t rush to this book even though I enjoyed the first.

The story picks right after the events of book one – so if you read both back to back you’re set – so Sage survived an attack from low-level mage killer, and one from a cultist he first taught came to his rescue. You’d rightly think, how unlucky one can get? Being in the crosshairs of two killers with very different agendas? That’s insane. Well turns out Sage never really had a lot of luck. In this entry we get a little more background on the people in his past, the first entry might have given us all the relevant information about it but the focus was on the effects Sage’s past has on him. Here the focused shifts a bit to the people, past and present, who shaped him. In The Fantastic Fluke I was annoyed with Sage belittling himself every chance he got, in this one I was more horrified by the people who raised him and glad to see that he’s developed a bit of backbone and stands up for himself more, even though he avoids and procrastinates a bit too much still – which is rich coming for me.

All I’m saying with this mini “rant” is that the main characters – well mostly Sage – are written in such a way that you can’t help but feel something. The characters have an emotional weight that resonates, whether you want to throw hands, cussed them out – because some of them need it – or hug them. Having Sage’s P.O.V. makes the story personal but his emotional damage means they are ramblings, yet didn’t bother as much as book one.

When it comes to his relationship with Gideon there’s not much happening but I didn’t miss it. I loved addition of Freddy even though I don’t trust him. I love a badass grandma so Iris is the best, also I can’t wait to see what will happen with Roger – and it better be good.  And finally another thing that I particularly enjoy is the commentaries on the Quaesitors, the magic enforcement.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Fantastic Fluke 2 is available on Amazon, Audible and other book retailers near you.

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November readings | Adventures on Land and Sea

Title: The Eye of the World
Series: The Wheel of Time #1
Author: Robert Jordan
Genre(s): Epic, High Fantasy, Adventure
Page count: 814 pages
Published: 15 November 1990

My review | Book | Audiobook

Title: Fable
Series: Fable #1
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre(s): YA, Adventure, Romance, Fantasy
Page count: 357 pages
Published: 1 September 2020

My review | Book | Audiobook

These books are also available on The Book Depository, or you can get them from the links above at no extra cost to you

Book Review: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs-a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts- five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.

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How was it?

I don’t know how this book got on my list but the upcoming Amazon Prime Video adaptation hastened my reading it. I’ve never read the Lord of ring or the Shannara Chronicles but I’ve respectively seen the movies and TV show. The Eye of the World very much falls into the same category as these stories, it’s an epic high fantasy with a dark twist to it.

The story’s influence is quite clear – it’s Tolkien – but I didn’t see Eye of the World as a rip-off. It’s more in the same vein with similar plot points and more women involved. The story does takes a while to get going but once it does it’s interesting. However the déjà-vu, cliché aspects of the plot often make it seem slow, because you’ve got a clear idea of where the story’s going – at the very least when it’s regarding the hero.

I also kind of got fed up with pretending we didn’t know who from the Two Rivers crew was the “chosen one.” So by the end when we’re supposed to be surprised by the reveal I rolled my eyes a bit.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed more some of what happened to the others in the group, in particular who turned out to be a Wolfbrother. But even with them it was easy to figure out who was going to be a problem (i.e. The who took the jeweled dagger).

Overall the story is interesting if a bit cliché. If you read a lot of fantasy, or summarize the main plot points, you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s also and overly detailed but it has enough charm to overlook some of that.

The only made me curious to see how the screen adaptation turns out. The trailers look good and the casting seems on point.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Eye of the World is available on The Book Depository, Amazon, Audible and other book retailers near you.

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Book Review: Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

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How was it? Having read all of The Iron Druid Chronicles books, this one that takes place in the same world should have been an immediate read but I sat on it. Now that I’ve read it I’m a little underwhelmed.

This story sets up a few mysteries, one of which – the investigation of Al MacBharrais’ latest apprentice’s death – spans the whole book. That mystery could have had a lot of potential but it ends up being quite boring. At no point I got pulled into that mystery, there were no hints or clues that got my mind working. As for the other mystery, meaning who cursed him, there’s little here for me to speculate.

The characters in this book are pretty good, in fact Al and Buck’s relationship have shades of Atticus and Oberon but in all the worse ways. The attempt at humor here is sometimes so dumb that it would either work with pre-teens or not at all. It’s not as sly or funny, I’m down for quirky humor but half the time it doesn’t work in this book. It’s a little too heavy handed.

However, I think this book has some potential – or that’s what I told myself because I pre-ordered and got the second book Paper & Blood before even starting this one.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Ink & Sigil is available on The Book Depository, Amazon, Audible and other book retailers near you.

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Nightbooks | J.A. White

Nightbooks by J.A. White published 24 July 2018

A boy is imprisoned by a witch and must tell her a new scary story each night to stay alive. This thrilling contemporary fantasy from J. A. White, the acclaimed author of the Thickety series, brings to life the magic and craft of storytelling.

Alex’s original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping the witch Natacha happy, but soon he’ll run out of pages to read from and be trapped forever. He’s loved scary stories his whole life, and he knows most don’t have a happily ever after. Now that Alex is trapped in a true terrifying tale, he’s desperate for a different ending—and a way out of this twisted place.

This modern spin on the Scheherazade story is perfect for fans of Coraline and A Tale Dark and Grimm. With interwoven tips on writing with suspense, adding in plot twists, hooks, interior logic, and dealing with writer’s block, this is the ideal book for budding writers and all readers of delightfully just-dark-enough tales.

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How was it?

I’m not the target audience for this book, it’s for a middle grade audience, so I didn’t expect to be as into the story as I was. It has a lot of elements that I like in my stories, a smart and adaptable main character, magic, and a bit of a mystery.

I was right there with Alex trying to figure out how to get out of that apartment. Picking the possible clues with him, hatching a plan like I was also trapped with him. I was rooting for him.
I generally don’t like horror but this book is just creepy, whether it’s Alex’s stories to the witch or the plot itself.

The book is also a bit inceptiony in the sense that there are stories within stories, with the main one reminiscent of or connected to a famous classic story. The young writer aspect in Alex’s character is also a big draw for me it seemed very realistic to me. I loved that about him.

The characters are great, they seems and act like their age, and they make sense giving the situation they’re in. The book is a quick read but not as memorable as I would have liked. It distracts and entertain while reading it but a day later I couldn’t remember one of Alex’s stories, and I thought they were great.

Nightbooks is a bit scary like the show Grimm was and a perfect read for creative middle graders.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Nightbooks is available on The Book Depository, Amazon, Audible and other book retailers near you.

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