Review: Thief of Souls by Brian Klingborg

Series: Inspector Lu Fei Mysteries #1
Author: Brian Klingborg
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Released: May 4, 2021
Received: Goodreads Giveaways

3 1/2 kitties

Thief of Souls is the start of a new mystery series (Inspector Lu Fei Mysteries #1), written by Brian Klingborg. It’s the first time (I think) that I’ve read a murder/mystery series based in China, so I was really excited to dive into this novel.

A brutal murder has occurred in a rural village in Northern China. While everyone is shocked by its brutality, most people are more interested in gossip than justice. Fortunately, Inspector Lu Fei is not one of those people.

Unfortunately, Inspector Lu Fei is facing pressure on all sides to merely close the case and walk away. The people have made up their minds on whether justice was deserved, and the government isn’t interested either. Yet Lu Fei can’t walk away from this one.

“On the night the young woman’s corpse is discovered, hollowed out like a birchbark canoe, Inspector Lu Fei sits alone in the Red Louts bar, determined to get gloriously drunk.”

I’ve read many mysteries over the years where I was fascinated by the investigation while annoyed by the protagonist. That’s the case here, though admittedly, I wasn’t incredibly annoyed with Inspector Lu Fei. I just didn’t like him all that much.

But if he gets the job done, that hardly matters, does it? It was fascinating to see this tale (the murder of which felt very familiar in some ways) in such a different setting. The cultural and political implications of it all completely changed the story, at least for me.

I should mention that the violence within this book does get fairly…detailed. I tend to assume the worst when it comes to graphic descriptions when reading a murder/mystery, but it still feels like a good idea to warn about here.

Overall, I found that the inclusion of all the details (specifically the ones I mentioned earlier) helped to raise Thief of Souls up higher in my mind. Still, I found myself torn on how to rate it. It’s somewhere between a three and a four, and for systems where I can use half stars, I’d feel very comfortable with a three and a half star rating.

Thanks to Minotaur Books and #Goodreads for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Review: Orient Vol. 1

Series: Orient
Author/Artist: Shinobu Ohtaka
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Released: April 7th, 2020
Received: NetGalley

3 1/2 kitties

I received a copy of Orient Vol. 1 in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Orient Vol. 1 is the start of a new shonen manga, created by Shinobu Ohtaka (known for Magi), and published by Kodansha Comics.

In a world where demons are real, what is a person to do? Well, there are a few options. They could lie down, and accept the lies that they are being told (that demons are gods, and worthy of worship). Or they can rise up and fight the demon overlords.

You can probably guess which option Musashi chose. He had always been enchanted by the tales of the Bushi, as told by his best friend, Kojiro’s father. So it didn’t take much motivation to convince him to take up the battle, and try to create his own Bushi clan.

Orient Vol. 1 is the story of two very different friends. One, Musashi, is stubborn to a fault, and determined to become a Bushi. No matter the cost. The other, Kojiro, feels the weight of his ancestor’s, as well as the precieved pain and guilt they dumped on him. He loved the idea of becoming a Bushi – as a child. But he has since grown past that point.

Or so he thought. His friend is stubborn, and apparently quite good at getting into trouble. That’s really the entire premise of this first volume. There’s a lot of backstory, hopes, dreams, and fighting to be found in Orient Vol. 1.

The artwork is pretty bold – which is no surprise, given the genre we’re talking about. There’s a ton of fighting sequences and dramatic poses. Sometimes expressions (and eyes) seemed slightly…off, and that was mildly off-putting. But overall I enjoyed the art style, and everything it had going for it.

All things considered, this was far from a bad introduction to the world or the characters. Though I’ll confess that I’m not as fully invested as I had hoped I would be. Then again, some of my favorite manga took a few volumes before I was head over heels, so I’d be willing to read a bit more before I wrote off this series.

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The Phantom of the Opera (Graphic Novel Adaptation)

Author: Varga Tomi
Publisher: A Wave Blue World
Released: October 20th, 2020
Received: NetGalley

4 kitties

I received a copy of The Phantom of the Opera in exchange for a fair and honest review.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. This is really happening. There’s a graphic novel adaptation of the classic novel, The Phantom of the Opera. Honestly, I almost find it more surprising that it’s taken this long!

As a huge fan of The Phantom of the Opera, I knew that I had to give the graphic novel adaptation a try. Going into it, I obviously knew that some changes would arise, as is the case with any adaptation. There simply isn’t enough time or space in a graphic novel to fit everything from a complete novel, especially not one such as The Phantom of the Opera.

On the whole, this gothic retelling is everything that I could have ever hoped for. The artwork is beautiful, the changes were made with precision and care. It kept true to the story, and to the core premise. Though with a twist here and there. The most notable twist being the decision to focus more on the horror elements of The Phantom of the Opera.

Oh, and that artwork! It’s simply stunning. Every little detail, from the character designs to the backdrops, and everything in between. It all looked so rich and detailed, while leaning towards darker hues of reds. It all was a perfect fit for the time period and theme.

I’ll admit some surprise on stylistic decisions made around the Phantom himself. He looks more like a ghoul in this telling…yet that also fits, in it’s own way. Honestly, my only critique about the artwork is that I had trouble reading everything. That could just as likely have been a formatting issue for my ARC though, so I would be interested in hearing how it reads in printed format.

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Blog Tour & Review: Nanny Dearest by Flora Collins

Author: Flora Collins
Publisher: Mira Books
Released: November 30th, 2021
Received: NetGalley

3 1/2 kitties

Nanny Dearest is Flora Collins’ debut thriller, taking a deep dive into the world of domestic suspense. Fans of this genre will appreciate what this book has to offer.

When her father passed, Sue Keller was legally an adult. Yet, she still felt lost by it all. Without any family to turn to, Sue reached out to the one person she felt she could lean on. Her childhood nanny.

Though perhaps saying she reached out would be a bit of a stretch. Yet Sue didn’t hesitate to let Annie back into her life, as she craved the comfort and structure that this woman offered. Yet the longer Annie stays, the more aware Sue becomes of the past. Including the reasons why Annie was sent away in the first place.

Nanny Dearest is a slow-burning thriller that will keep you turning the pages. At least, that’s how it worked for me! I couldn’t look away from the wreck that I saw happening. All told, the mystery of the nanny was quite compelling.

This story alternates between two points in time. The past (1996) and present day. I know that not all readers enjoy this format, but I personally love it (especially when it’s done right). In this case, it worked well to help build the tension, slowly revealing the truth – and all the reasons for concern.

Flora Collins writing style is extremely compelling – I can see her thrillers making the top of the charts with a bit more time and experience. This is a thriller author to keep an eye on, that much I can promise you!

Thanks to Mira Books and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Review: I Don’t Forgive You by Aggie Blum Thompson

Author: Aggie Blum Thompson
Publisher: Forge Books
Released: June 8, 2021
Received: NetGalley

4 kitties

I Don’t Forgive You is a mystery thriller written by Aggie Blum Thompson and is perfect for those that love a little dash of family drama mixed in.

Allie Ross thought that she was finally making it somewhere in the world. Her photography business was finally doing well enough to move her and her son to an upscale DC suburb, which on the outside seemed like a huge success.

Right up until she got framed for murder, that is. Talk about highs and lows hitting all at once. And to think, it all started because one of the new neighbors knew about the darker past that Allie had worked so hard to hide.

“Symmetry reigns here, and I am askew.”

I think this is the first time I’ve read a thriller novel that used Tinder as a premise. That was unexpected, but I have to admit that it certainly added something to the story! I Don’t Forgive You is very much a mystery and thriller.

This is the sort of psychological thriller perfect for people who like wondering about skeletons and closets. It makes you wonder how big a secret has to be to it to be explosive when finally out in the open.

“Forgiveness is not a luxury but a necessity. Forgiveness is the backbone of love. And love makes life bearable”

I loved Aggie Blue Thompson’s writing style here. It was easy to get to know Allie and her world, appreciating what she was working so hard for. But, likewise, it is so painfully easy to picture oneself as the target of this sort of attack. It feels too easy, given the technology we so frequently take for granted.

Admittedly, this novel ended up having fewer twists than I expected. I won’t say that I hoped for more, as I really did enjoy the read. But I was surprised by the lack of well…surprise. Maybe I’ve just gotten too used to convoluted tales.

Thanks to Forge Books and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Realm Review: Black Widow: Bad Blood Episode 1

A Tense Beginning in Black Widow: Bad Blood Episode 1

Black Widow: Bad Blood is the second Marvel series to launch on Serial Box (now Realm), and it is off to a dramatic start. Natasha Romanoff is getting the series she deserves here, as it is one full of action, espionage, and so much more.

As always, Natasha, aka Black Widow, is a highly talented character. Do you need intel collected discreetly and professionally? Natasha is your girl. All of this leads to the latest series of events for our heroine. Somebody is stealing the blood of heroes, including Natasha’s. Now it’s personal, and she’s on the hunt.

Like the rest of the Serial Box series, Black Widow: Bad Blood releases an episode each week (on Tuesdays) for us to dive into happily. The first episode of the series, ‘Blackout Protocol,’ was written by Lindsay Smith and Taylor Stevens. Meanwhile, the whole series (well, season) will be narrated by Sarah Natochenny (Ash in the English dub of Pokemon).

Black Widow makes the second series that Serial Box (now Realm) has produced for Marvel. If we’re lucky, it won’t be the last. Jessica Jones and Black Panther are also on the lineup, and ideally, we’ll be seeing more heroes get added with time as well.

The Story Begins

As with Thor: Metal GodsBlack Widow: Bad Blood is a direct reference to one of the critical components in the series. I know that seems obvious, but it’s actually refreshing to see such a strong connection between title and plot.

There’s a lot to love about this first episode of Black Widow. Natasha is given a voice in this story, with her abilities on full display. Some details could never be included in a comic series for the sake of practicality. There’s also so much that makes her feel real and human. It’s wonderfully done.

Lindsay Smith and Taylor Stevens did a brilliant job of capturing Black Widow’s perspective and voice. She feels like the character from the comics – but with a new twist. As any media transitions to a new platform, you’ll find changes. Some are better than others. Serial Box is showing us a new side of the characters we’ve come to love.

This series wasted no time in throwing into the thick of things. The events of the main plot quickly target Natasha, and while we don’t know how far down the rabbit hole things are going to go, we know that she’s going to be along for the ride.

Narration

As with any Serial Box series, you have two choices. You can read it, or you can listen to it. Technically, you actually have three choices, as you can also simply do both (that’s what I choose to do).

Black Widow: Bad Blood is narrated by Sarah Natochenny, and she really got into the character over the course of this single episode. The thriller and more dramatic elements really shone through with her reading. It made the world feel tense, even during the setup phase.

Meanwhile, there is a constant yet subtle element to contend with. The series included background sounds – things that reflect what is happening in the story itself. It’s a careful balance, but one that worked out well in this episode. Especially in the earliest part of the story, as it really set the tone.

Conclusion

Black Widow: Bad Blood was an intense start to Natasha Romanoff’s story. To be fair, I didn’t expect anything less from this character. Her dynamic personality and choice of the profession all but guaranteed that.

It is refreshing to see a series that is fully embracing the details that makeup Natasha’s life. I’m really looking forward to seeing how her character and the plot progress over the rest of this season.

This review was originally written for Word of the Nerd, but has been ported over to Quirky Cat’s Fat Stacks now that the site has shut down.

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Review: The Three Mrs. Greys by Shelly Ellis

Author: Shelly Ellis
Publisher: Dafina Books
Released: March 30th, 2021
Received: NetGalley

3 1/2 kitties

The Three Mrs. Greys is the latest novel to come from the mind of Shelly Ellis, and it is a twisting mystery and thriller.

Three wives. One husband. We all know that this is a recipe for disaster. Noelle, Diamond, and Vanessa all married the same man, though they didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t until a tragedy nearly took their husband away that they learned the truth.

Each woman has a different reason to love Cyrus – and a different reason to have wanted revenge for what he did to him. Yet now, with Cyrus’ life on the line, these women must decide which one is the real Mrs. Grey.

“What other secrets had Cyrus kept from Noelle? What other lies had he told?”

The Three Mrs. Greys is arguably the most complex thriller I’ve read in a long time. Even the description of this book barely scratches the surface of it all. It’s one of those novels that immediately sucked me in and left me lost in a web of lies.

I can only imagine how much worse it would have felt for the characters involved. That’s the magic of Shelly Ellis’ writing, and I’ve got to give her so much credit for the story that was woven here. However, I should mention that this thriller leans more towards domestic suspense than pure thriller, which is absolutely fine by me.

On top of being blown away by the complexity of this tale, I was surprised to learn that this is actually the first in a series. I’ve read multiple novels with the double wife plot, but none that launched a series. I have no idea where this is going to lead, but I’ll admit I’m curious to find out.

Thanks to Dafina Books and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Review: The Future of Work: Compulsory by Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #0.5
Author: Martha Wells
Publisher: Tor.com
Released: December 17, 2018

You’d think that I, a massive Muderbot fan, would have been aware of this prequel short story. You’d be wrong! I only just learned about it, but I am so happy to have had the chance to read it. (Thank goodness it remains online and free to read!).

The Future of Work: Compulsory was originally published in Wired.com magazine and tells readers of a time before Murderbot was free. Well, no, that’s not right. By this point, Murderbot had already hacked their governor module. They were just continuing to do the job they were programmed for.

Personally, this is every bit of a short story I love to see. I’ve always been curious about Murderbot’s time with other clients. Back before, they were treated as anything other than a piece of property.

“My risk-assessment module predicts a 53 percent chance of human-on-human massacre before the end of the contract.”

This short story answered a lot of questions I had, including how the humans from these contracts regarded Murderbot. Yes, I know that Murderbot had been pretty clear on this point before, but there’s a difference between knowing and seeing, isn’t there? That statement probably (definitely) would have made Murderbot roll its eyes. Oh well.

Long story short: The Future of Work: Compulsory is a fantastic short story worth reading, especially for all of the Murderbot fans in the room.

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Blog Tour & Review: Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato

Series: Emilia Cruz Mysteries #1
Author: Carmen Amato
Released: January 27th, 2013
Received: Blog Tour

4 kitties

I’ve been looking for a new mystery series to dive into, when PICT offered up Cliff Diver as part of their blog tour. Naturally, I couldn’t resist! Cliff Diver, written by Carmen Amato, is the first in the Emilia Cruz Mysteries.

Emilia Cruz is the first female police detective in Acapulco, and she’s proud of that fact. Yet the rest of the precinct doesn’t feel the same way about her newest position, with several supposed coworkers striving to see her out.

Now, Emilia is on a high-profile case – one that very well could make (or break) her career. Unfortunately, the murder victim is her lieutenant, and the things she digs up in the process will not be making her new friends anytime soon.

Words cannot express how much fun it was to read Cliff Diver. I really enjoyed Carmen Amato’s writing style, the characters she created (well, I liked one, and loved to hate many others), the plot, everything. It made for a comprehensive story that sucked me right in.

The fact that it was exactly the sort of read I was looking for was icing on the cake. Emilia Cruz is a hard-working detective, with countless odds against her – many stacked by those that can’t stand the idea of a woman doing a job such as this. I know that this isn’t a new plot, but I still am pleased that Amato covered it here. The more we talk about it, right?

Fans of police procedurals will love the details that come up during Emilia’s investigation, that much I am certain of. She’s the sort of detective that leaves no stone unturned, which is so incredibly satisfying to read.

After finishing Cliff Diver, I just know that I’m going to have to check out the rest of the series. Thankfully, it looks like there are several more waiting for me!

Thanks to Partners in Crime Tours for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Review: I Come with Knives by S.A. Hunt

Series: Malus Domestica #2
Author: S.A. Hunt
Publisher: Tor Books
Released: July 21st, 2020
Received: NetGalley

4 kitties

I Come with Knives is the second novel in S.A. Hunt’s Malus Comestica series, and it is seriously not one to miss out on, especially for fans of paranormal horror.

Robin has spent her whole life riding that fine line between reality and illusion. She’s a monster hunter that hides out in the open, making use of YouTube videos to keep her life on the road moving forward. Not that anyone believes her hunting as anything other than fake, thank goodness.

However, that was before Robin was thrown into a dark and complex plot. Now she understands the demon that is hunting her, and she’s finally got a chance to do something about it, especially with the help of her new friends.

“Revelation yawned before her, a chasm of secrets. Afraid, the girl pushed it away.”

I Come with Knives is a fast-paced, thrilling, and intense read. It has the perfect balance of fantasy (paranormal) and horror to keep me fully invested all the way through. Frankly, I enjoyed every moment of this intense read.

To be fair, this is probably not the best series for the faint of heart. Robin’s hunts are far from peaceful jaunts – they are, in fact, quite brutal and bloody as any monster hunt would realistically be if you think about it.

While I adored the first novel in this series, I think I Come with Knives has quickly become my new favorite. I learned so much more about Robin in this story, and it really went a long way in explaining the why and how of it all.

More importantly, she really grew and changed over the course of this story, as she is forced to face such horrible threats and the trauma they bring with them. It’s a lot to take in, to be honest. But it also made the story feel so much more real and human because of it.

Thanks to Tor Books and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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