Reviewing the latest titles, along with books I have been dying to read.
Author: A. Siegelster
I am a classicist specializing in Latin and ancient Greek literature, a writer of poetry and short fiction, and an avid reader. I'm based in Los Angeles, California, and am pursuing an MA in classics in Canada.
In this sequel to Widdershins, Whyborne and Griffin are hired to look into another case, this time by Whyborne’s father. So, the two men and their friend, Christine, head to the town of Threshold to investigate supposedly paranormal disturbances in the town’s mine. However, even this investigation has its twists and turns.
Once again, Jordan L. Hawk does not disappoint. I absolutely loved the second book of this series – either as much or maybe more than the first! As I said for the first one, the characters are brilliant, and the story is compelling. Actually, I might argue that the story is more compelling this time around! The writing, of course, is excellent.
I think my favorite part about this particular story is that it feels like the original Star Trek meets the Twilight Zone meets Sherlock Holmes (three of my favorite pieces of literature and media!). All that was missing was Rod Serling narrating the twists, but Whyborne filled that role very well.
And, of course, the romance between Whyborne and Griffin was just to die for. I am so excited to keep reading this series, and I’m so happy there are many more books in it to come!
This first book in the SPECTR series is about Caleb, whose brother’s recently deceased corpse was hijacked by what they think is a demon. But, when an amateur investigation goes awry, Caleb finds himself sharing his body with a drakul (vampire) named Gray. Now the agents of SPECTR, especially John Starkweather, need to find out what is going on, and who the real murdering demon actually is. In the meantime, John and Caleb find they are both attracted to the other, despite their mutual hatred for each other’s situation.
So of course I started this other series by Jordan L. Hawk because he is an amazing writer and I am going to keep reading his work forever! I will say, I still like the Widdershins series best, but this was a fun read. The characters are quirky, and again Hawk’s worldbuilding is really very good. I like the fact that Hawk makes all of the paranormal aspects of his books very matter-of-fact and practical, very normal for the world of his books. This book is no exception. I really want to read more of this series so that I can see if the paranormal aspects are expanded upon – maybe a bit more history of Gray the drakul?
Not much more to say about this book I think. It’s a super fun, quick read, a bit spicy at points, just downright enjoyable.
Twelve Nights at Rotter House is about Felix, a travel writer who writes about haunted places. His goal is to stay in the purportedly haunted Rotter House, or Rotterdam Mansion, for thirteen nights. He doesn’t believe in ghosts. But when he’s joined by his estranged best friend, and believer in ghosts, Thomas, strange things start to happen in the house that even Felix can’t explain.
This was a very enjoyable read, or I guess listen, as I listened to the audiobook on Scribd. It was really good on audiobook, and I recommend reading the book in that way if you can! Definitely a suspenseful thriller, playing on my favorite ghostly authors like Shirley Jackson, and other haunted media like Vincent Price films and The Twilight Zone.
Here is what I liked about the book (these definitely outweigh the things I didn’t like):
Really suspenseful, and compelling, I sometimes had to stop what I was doing while listening and just listen, eyes wide and waiting for the other shoe to drop in the story.
I love me a good haunted house, and J.W. Ocker really knows how to write a good and spooky haunted house. Filled with creaks and footsteps, disembodied screams, even a severed arm that seemingly came from nowhere. It’s such a classic haunted house story, but with its own horrifying twist at the end.
I liked Felix, the main character. He was not necessarily likeable, but he is relatable, and you do feel for him, you want him to succeed, and you feel so bad if and when he doesn’t. What Ocker also does well is write the characters that we don’t see: Thomas and Felix’s wives; the ghostly inhabitants of the house. You felt like you wanted to get to know them, but at the same time keep them in the shadows.
Here is what I didn’t like so much, or what I was confused by (warning: some spoilers ahead):
In the end we aren’t sure if there are ghosts in the house or not. While it was a good plot device to make that ambiguous, I do kind of wish, for myself alone, that there were definitive ghosts present. I am just going to believe that the ghosts were in fact there.
The twist in the end was good, but the way it was executed was a bit confusing. SPOILERS BEGIN HERE: Felix finds out that Thomas was sleeping with his wife, and kills them both at Rotter House. But, why would Thomas and Felix’s wife be there having an affair when they know that Felix is there writing a book? To me that could have been explained better. Actually, I think it might have also been fun if Thomas’ own wife was the murderer. But, I do understand why Ocker ends the story this way. It was definitely thrilling. SPOILERS END.
All in all, it was a good haunted house story, perfect for this coming autumn, if you are looking for something thrilling and spooky.
Bulwark is about a sheriff of a town in Georgia of the same name, named Clay, whose daughter was recently kidnapped, leaving his marriage and psyche in shambles. When a car accident leaves two people rambling about witches and stolen children, Clay starts to wonder if there is a connection to the kidnapping of his child.
As any of you know, I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, and for witches, so you can understand why I was drawn in by this book. I also love me a good novella. I would say this book started off very strong. It set a tragic scene, introduced a creepy, mysterious atmosphere that may or may not exist. The characters weren’t the strongest, but they played well in the atmosphere of the place. There was a good bit of folklore as well.
It’s a good, solid story, but I did have some issues:
I do think that the book might have been better if it was longer. Lunden tried to fit a lot into such a little book, and some of the lore and the exposition got a bit jumbled or lost. I know that there is an anthology that follows this novella, so maybe I will check that out and see if Lunden fleshed out any more of the story there.
There were also some tropes and themes in this story that were not bad by any means, but were possibly a little over-used. For example: the father whose child is either dead or missing and the marriage is failing; a witch that kidnaps children (although this I don’t mind, it was a pretty good Hansel and Gretel retelling).
The book has multiple endings, which, while different, both seemed to have been a bit rushed at the end, and the execution wasn’t the best. Again, I think if they had been written longer they would have been better.
All this said, it was a fun thriller, and I did have the creeps when I read it at night. It reminded me of the VVitch a little bit, though, unfortunately (spoilers) the witches don’t win in the end of this one.
The Magpie Lord, the first book in K.J. Charles’ series, is about the reluctant Lord Crane who is the target of a malicious and magical murderer. Stephen Day, a practitioner of magic, is hired to help Crane discover who is trying to murder him and why. Their search takes them to Crane’s ancestral home, where the two discover more about magic and Crane’s ancestry, as well as possible feelings for one another.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was the perfect balance of paranormal, murder mystery, and romance. Charles is really good at writing atmospheric settings, and I could feel the cold and the dread of Crane’s ancestral home as Stephen and Crane tried to, well, not die.
I liked the way magic is portrayed, and I hope that the magic is explored even further in the next books of this series.
I like the characters. They are simple, but they have a lot of determination and emotion, especially when it comes to one another. The side characters were also well-written, though I do hope we see more of them in the following books.
And the romance, the romance! The lust definitely was not much of a slow burn, but I think the love was. It was completely worth it though, and you could see the characters’ devotion to each other by the end.
The only thing I really would criticize (Spoilers) is the fact that the murderers were people we really didn’t know throughout the story. I think it would have been just a bit cooler if it was someone we knew. But even so, this did not take too much away from the goodness that was this book.
I’m really excited to read the next books in the series!
Widdershins is the first novel in Jordan L. Hawk’s Whyborne & Griffin mystery series. This book revolves around Whyborne, a museum philologist who is recruited by ex-Pinkerton detective Griffin Flaherty to solve a murder that turns out to be much more involved in the supernatural than either had foreseen. In the course of their time together they form a wonderful romance. Together with their Egyptologist friend, Dr. Christine Putnam, they endeavor to solve a gruesome mystery.
When I say this book had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, I mean THE ENTIRE TIME. The mystery and paranormal had me on the edge of my seat – eager to understand the evil that our heroes were fighting and whether they would make it out alive (I had read the last pages of this book so fast at that point) – and the romance between Whyborne and Griffin also compelled me so much that I feared so much for their safety at the end. Suffice to say, I became quite attached to these two goofballs.
And boy were they goofballs. Hawk could not have written them any better – I kept wanting to knock their heads together and at the same time hug them. I’m sure Christine also felt the same way.
Christine is a great character too: a doctor of archaeology in a time when women could barely do such things, she is strong and independent, but also fiercely protective of her friends. I am very excited to see more of her in the next books of this series.
The supernatural side of the mystery was an interesting choice. I have no idea whether it is based of actual ancient Egyptian mythology and folklore, but its complexity and involvement with death on many levels was very intriguing – definitely one of the reasons I kept reading this book!
I really have no criticisms for this book whatsoever. I loved the characters, as I said above, the book was very well-written, and I loved the setting and background of the mystery. Apart from the romance, what drew me to read this book was the fact that the main character is a philologist of ancient languages – much like myself! – and has to use his skills in language to defeat an ancient, supernatural entity. I hope the other books in this series use philology and ancient history as much as this book did. I know me and my classicist friends love books like these!
This is also a great book/series to start right now during Pride Month (or really any time because it’s so good!), as it is a M/M romance written by a very talented trans author.
I recommend this book to all classicists, and to those who like being kept on the edge of their seats.
A Matter of Disagreement is about two scholarly gentleman, Lord Ashcroft (Andrea) and the Marquis (Gregory), who have been rivals in research for some time in a world where magic and machinery are coming together. However, when they actually meet face to face, they realize that what they feel for each other is more attraction than rivalry, and a relationship starts to bloom, very, very slowly.
This novella was a nice short read for me, and has a very sweet plot with two endearing characters. Definitely a worthwhile read for those who like the enemies-to-lovers trope. I think what drew me in to this story, besides the romance, was the fact that both of these characters are passionate about learning. In addition, the time that this book is set is very renaissance in nature, when science and knowledge were at the height of discovery. And, being a scholar myself, I am all too familiar with the struggles a researching academic, like Andrea, goes through (all that’s missing is a handsome marquis to be my patron!).
This was a delightful queer/mlm romance, and with a main character who is trans! I very much appreciated the way that the character explains his transition from childhood to adulthood, and how he talks about the science, magic, and medicine behind it.
The reason I gave this book 3 stars, though, is that there were some things that didn’t wholly sit right with me in my reading.
First are the spelling and grammar mistakes. I read this book on Scribd, so I don’t know if the mistakes are due to an uploading or transcription error, or if the mistakes were there to begin with. Either way, the numerous errors made the text a bit hard to read at times, as I would be too focused on the mistakes than on the story. However, it wasn’t so big a deal that I didn’t end up enjoying the book as a whole.
Second is the world-building. I didn’t expect much of it in so short a book, but I think I would have liked to know more about this world that is combining magic with machinery (a nod to an industrial age). If E.E. Ottoman has written another book that focuses on the magic and machinery aspect of this world, I would absolutely need to check it out. I’d also like a more extended view into the transition that the trans character went through, though it was enough for this length of book.
There are a few other things as well – a sort of abrupt sex scene, not as much insight into some other characters, etc. – that I could have had done in other ways, but it really didn’t hold as much bearing over the overall story.
All of that said, this was a fun and quick read, and I recommend to those who want a short and sweet romance.
Myth and Magic: Queer Fairy Tales is a collection of queer fairy tale retellings written by queer authors. The stories are all based on well-known tales: Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Snow Queen, Cinderella, and others we all know. Some of the retellings are pure fantasy, while others border more on magical-realism.
As any of you who read my reviews know, I love me my fairy tale and folklore retellings. When I saw this collection recommended to me on Scribd, I was so happy. Now, I realize I gave this book 3 stars, but that’s only because I didn’t like every single story that was in it. But the ones I did like, I really really liked.
I think my favorite stories were the ones based on Jack and the Beanstalk, The Princess and the Frog, Sleeping Beauty, and I really liked the story based on The Red Shoes – it was so sweet, and definitely one of my favorite fairy tales in general.
The ones I didn’t like I think I didn’t like either because I wasn’t a fan of the author’s writing style, or because some of them dealt with sex in their story in a way that just wasn’t for me. However, they will definitely be for someone else, which is why I urge everyone to check out this book!
I don’t think there’s much more to say about this book, except that it was a super fun read, and, again, I love me some fairy tale retellings. And, in my opinion, reading queer fairy tales is the best thing to do during Pride month! I recommend this book to everyone, but especially those who want a bit of fantasy and love mingled in their life.
Magic’s Pawn, the first novel in the Last Herald Mage trilogy, is about a young man named Vanyel, who is sent away from his home to live with his Herald-Mage aunt after not meeting his lord father’s expectations. In his new home, Vanyel learns things about the world and himself that he had shut away – he learns about magic and the gifts of himself and others, and most importantly, he learns about love and how to live and grow strong after heartbreak and trauma.
This was my first Mercedes Lackey novel; I had originally bought A Scandal in Battersea to read first, but then Magic’s Pawn caught my eye – perhaps it was the magic, perhaps it was the love story, who knows, but I am very happy I read this one first. And during Pride Month too, which makes it even better.
I think Vanyel is supposed to be a sort of annoying character at first – he carries himself with arrogance to hide his insecurities. However, the way that Lackey wrote his character really just made me sympathize with him all the more. Really, Lackey wrote all of her characters well, even the annoying ones, and the evil ones. Again, with Vanyel, by the end of the story you can’t help but like him. He’s just trying his darndest in the end and, really, aren’t we all?
Because the book is so character-driven, there isn’t as much depth in the world-building. However, what there is of the world-building was written very well. We readers get a sense of the places that Vanyel is, for lack of a better term, flung into. But in truth, what makes the places are indeed the people that live there. Vanyel’s childhood home seems barren and rugged, just like the personality of his unforgiving father; Haven, the home of the Herald-Mages, welcoming and with a curious nature that all of its inhabitants have; and others, though I don’t want to spoil the book by saying more about them.
One final thing that I want to talk about is the way Lackey writes her characters dealing with their emotions. In short, they deal with them in a very realistic, very human way, that I think all readers can and will appreciate. Vanyel, especially, deals with emotions of hurt and despair, as well as insecurities that any of us might find ourselves dealing with. He just has to deal with them longer, and, on top of that, with magic consuming him on all sides. Lackey has him, and others, deal with these emotions in healthy ways, and in loving ways.
Overall, Vanyel is very relatable as a character, and his story here is wonderfully and emotionally compelling. I think I would have loved this book when I was 9 years old and just getting into Lord of the Rings – I am happy to have found this book now though!
I recommend to everyone, and especially to those who want some emotional, raw, and real emotions and love from lgbt+ and mlm characters this Pride Month.
I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Magic’s Promise.