Book Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Billy Summers by Stephen King

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (August 3, 2021)

Length: 16 hrs and 57 mins

Author: Website | Twitter

Stephen King books can be hit or miss with me, which is why I don’t often pick them up right at release, preferring to hang back to see what other reviews are saying before I take the plunge myself. With Billy Summers though, I broke with that trend. Maybe it’s because I had a rather good run with the last few King novels I read, or the fact that the synopsis to this one sounded a bit different from what I was expecting. In any case, I became too overconfident, and in hindsight I probably should have passed on this one. Admittedly it wasn’t a complete miss, but personally speaking, it was also far from anything I would call a hit.

The eponymous protagonist of Billy Summers is a former sniper in the Marines and a veteran of the second Iraq War. Ever since leaving the military, he’s been making a living as a killer for hire, making a name for himself as being the best in the business because he always delivers. His only rule? The target must be a truly bad person, because he will not go after innocents.

When we find Billy at the beginning of this story though, he has come to grow weary of the assassin’s lifestyle and is contemplating retirement. However, as these things always go, there is one last job, and it’s a doozy. Not only is the client paying $2 million, the biggest offer Billy’s ever received, the hit will also require him to go undercover for months in a small conservative town, living under a whole different identity. There will also be lots of challenges in the way, but if he can pull it off, the money will set him up for life.

And so, Billy moves into the quiet neighborhood his clients have arranged for him under the guise of being an author looking for a quiet place to work on his new book. But with months still to go before the big hit, there’s a lot of downtime, and even though his new identity is only a cover story concocted for the job, Billy thinks, what the hell, and decides to try his hand at this whole writing thing anyway. As a result, what we have here is something akin to a novel within a novel, the present story featuring embedded snippets from Billy’s work-in-progress which is essentially an autobiographical account of his life.

I confess, my feelings were all over the place with Billy Summers. There were some really good parts, but then plenty of low points as well. Since most of the positives were towards the end of the novel, I’ll begin with the negatives. Stephen King books are a lot of things, but rarely are they tedious or dull, which is why I was shocked at how often I found myself bored and my attention drifting off with this one, especially since I was listening to the audio. After a strong intro, the momentum simply petered out, perhaps not surprisingly coinciding with the chapters where our protagonist’s own life story was just starting to take shape. I have to say, I did enjoy the early sections where Billy recounted his childhood which included the tragic circumstances around his little sister’s death. This terrible event would eventually shape the man he’ll one day grow up to be, playing into many of his actions and motivations in the second half of the novel.

However, I was much less impressed with the “war story” part of Billy’s novel. These sections were overflowing with war movie tropes and felt very much like a narrative cobbled together using a bunch of scenes from some of the most iconic war films ever made. Coming from King, this heavy reliance on clichés was somewhat disappointing, not to mention some of the inaccuracies, particularly when it came to certain details like military terminology or weaponry. On the whole, what probably should have been the most compelling chapters of the novel focusing on the protagonist’s service in Iraq ended up being the sections I wanted to skip over the most, which was beyond frustrating.

But what floored me the most were the circumstances around Billy’s first meeting with Alice, a young woman with whom he forms a fascinating and unique bond. To be fair, I loved her character, and as a duo, the two of them would go on to share some incredibly harrowing and also touching moments on the page together. Still, that doesn’t really change the iffiness of those early scenes, and without having to reveal any spoilery details, I’ll just say there were overall some problematic issues in the portrayal of certain topics, including trauma victims and rape. There was just an “off” vibe to it all that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Fortunately, the ending was pretty good, but alas, rather predictable again, robbing it of any surprise. Like I said, this book wasn’t all bad, and I didn’t dislike it. There was always enough intrigue and an entertainment factor that keep me going. But still, even after you take into account all that was positive and done well, it’s impossible to ignore everything else that went awry—uneven pacing, the drawn-out lulls where not much happens, as well as the predictability of the plot and overabundance of clichés, etc. I’m sure Billy Summers will find tons of fans, as Stephen King novels never fail to do, but overall I can’t really say it did much for me.

Waiting on Wednesday 09/01/21

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert (June 28, 2022 by Flatiron Books)

As someone who adored Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood series, I just can’t help my excitement! This one sounds a little different, but I’m intrigued by the urban fantasy and witchy vibes.

“Secrets. Lies. Super-bad choices. Witchcraft. This is Our Crooked Hearts, a darkly gripping contemporary fantasy from bestselling author Melissa Albert!

The suburbs, right now . . .
Seventeen-year-old Ivy’s summer break kicks off with an accident, a punishment, and a mystery: a stranger whose appearance in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, heralds a string of increasingly unsettling events. As the days pass, Ivy grapples with eerie offerings, corroded memories, and a secret she’s always known—that there’s more to her mother than meets the eye.

The city, back then . . .
Dana has always been perceptive. And the summer she turns sixteen, with the help of her best friend and an ambitious older girl, her gifts bloom into a heady fling with the supernatural. As the trio’s aspirations darken, they find themselves speeding toward a violent breaking point.

Years after it began, Ivy and Dana’s shared story will come down to a reckoning among a daughter, a mother, and the dark forces they never should’ve messed with.”

Book Review: Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Humor, Dystopian

Series: Book 2 of Hollow Kingdom

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (August 24, 2021)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Soooooooo good! Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton was one of my most anticipate releases of 2021 and what can I say but it did not disappoint. I make it no secret that I absolutely adored its predecessor Hollow Kingdom and fell immediately in love with its protagonist, a cheeky crass-talking American crow named S.T. which is short for Shit Turd—I kid you not. If you’re sitting there thinking, hey, this sounds a little different…well, you’ve got that right.

But obviously, if you’re read the first book, you already know all this. If you haven’t, then I highly recommend picking up Hollow Kingdom before tackling this one. The author does make some attempt to remind readers of prior events or to rehash a few concepts here or there, but for the most part, Feral Creatures is meant to be experienced as a direct sequel. In it, we catch up with S.T. approximately a decade after the previous book ended. Mother nature and her animals have begun reclaiming the planet, now that all the world’s humans have succumbed to a catastrophic disease turning them into ravenous, bloodthirsty beasts (read: zombies).

All except one. Dee is perfect. For whatever reason, this beautiful tiny infant had evaded the viral pandemic which turned the rest of her species into the mindless, hollow shells of what they once were. And S.T., who had found her, immediately fell in love as a mother bird would their nestling. Raised by a human, S.T. still feels a desperate longing for the life he once shared with his owner Big Jim, back when they were still surrounded by the comforts and luxuries of civilization—among them Cheetos and TV. In Dee, he sees a glimmer of hope for humans (or MoFos, as that was the word Big Jim had used all the time to refer to other people) and perhaps an opportunity to one day bring back humanity’s past glory. So, armed with his fond memories of Big Jim and an idealistic view of the future, S.T. resolves to raise Dee “proper.”

Unfortunately, this plan is immediately met with opposition and numerous challenges. First of all, not all of S.T.’s fellow animals are as pleased with the news that a baby MoFo had survived. Many of their kind had experienced cruelty and death at the hands of humankind, unlike S.T., who is a domesticated crow. And second, there’s Dee herself. As the years go by, the girl can’t seem to help growing up more animal than MoFo, no matter how hard S.T. tries to impress upon her the incredible history and achievements of her species. But who could blame her? She is, after all, being raised in the Alaskan wilds by a cussy crow, a parliament of owls, and a clumsy yet lovable young muskox.

When I say Feral Creatures is even better than the first book, I’m not saying that lightly. Hollow Kingdom was a monument to originality and humor, combining the outrageous with the philosophical, and the fact that this sequel was able to carry through and improve upon those trends is nothing short of an amazing feat. This book was gut-bustingly whacky and hilarious, thanks once more to S.T.’s delightfully obscene narrative and larger-than life personality. Everything he knows, he learned from Big Jim. And while we never once get to see Big Jim on the page, his spirit lives on in S.T.’s memories, and from those flashbacks, readers can glean a relationship that goes beyond the simple dynamics of owner and pet.

Big Jim’s influence can also be seen in the way S.T. attempts to raise Dee, and here the novel explores the themes of parenthood in addition to the independence-seeking behaviors of children as they grow older—a touchingly heart-warming and sometimes wrenching commentary on when to let go and allow your little fledglings to fly on their own. Despite our protagonist being a crow, his motivations are surprisingly human and familiar. His fierce love and protective instincts for his child, for instance, not to mention his hopes and dreams for the future as well as his powerful, wistful longing for the happy times of the past are all too easy to relate to.

At its heart though, the point of the Hollow Kingdom series is to put the focus on the animals, and I was thrilled that Feral Creatures continued a tradition that I loved from the first book, featuring brief interludes from the perspective of creatures from all over the world. Some have had a better time adapting to this drastically changed reality than others, and the presence of these chapters also reminds us that what’s happening is a global phenomenon.

Obviously, if you enjoyed the first book, then you will probably love this one as well. If you’re contemplating this series though, there are a few caveats. Humor being so subjective, these books won’t be for everyone, and you really have to be okay with the over-the-top premise and the style of S.T.’s narration, namely his coarseness and a potty mouth that just keeps on overflowing. I wouldn’t say it’s too extreme though, and more often than not it was done in a clever and quippy way that made me admire the author’s way with words instead of turning me off.

All I know is, I will never regret the day I decided to take a chance on something a little different and ended up snagging myself a copy of Hollow Kingdom as a result. I was rewarded with mind-blowing creativity, memorable animal characters, and an astoundingly witty yet thoughtful story, and I’m pleased to say that Feral Creatures followed in its predecessor’s footsteps and left even bigger prints besides! What an awesome sequel, and much like her stouthearted corvid protagonist, Kira Jane Buxton is one in a million.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Hollow Kingdom (Book 1)

Review: The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of The Divide

Publisher: Paperback: Tor | Audiobook: Macmillan Audio (August 17, 2021)

Length: 432 pages | 18 hrs and 48 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Andrew Eiden, Nicol Zanzarella

Another fantastic installment in The Divide series! In this second book The Exiled Fleet, we join Rake and the rest of her crew following the exhilarating (and heartbreaking) events at the end of The Last Watch. I will begin by reiterating what I said for my review of the first novel: this series would be great for fans of The Expanse, and perfect for tiding you over if you’re like me and waiting impatiently for Leviathan Falls. 

As The Exiled Fleet opens, we’re catching up with our characters shortly after they’ve narrowly escaped being swallowed up by the crumbling edge of the Divide, or the boundary of the universe beyond which nothing exists. Be aware that the books of this series are meant to be read in order and that this review may reveal possible spoilers for the previous novel if you’re not caught up. Adequin Rake and her ragtag group of Sentinels, formerly assigned to patrol the Divide to guard against any known and unknown threats, are focused on a new directive now that the edge of the universe has started to collapse. Having sustained losses, their current numbers are fewer, but Rake knows she has to put aside her grief in order to do her job and save as many lives as possible. The Sentinels need supplies to survive, and as food and other vital resources begin to dwindle, a new plan is needed—and swiftly—before they all starve to death out here in the middle of nowhere. 

But of course, that’s not where their troubles end. Upon getting the jump drives back online, the crew discover another problem, one that will require them to venture back into the densely populated Core from which many of the Sentinels—made up of mostly criminals, court martialed ex-soldiers, and other societal misfits—have been exiled. They have been away from home for so long that no one is really sure what to expect, but soon, being hunted makes it necessary to seek an alliance from an unlikely source. 

Like The Last Watch, this sequel also left me with such an adrenaline rush when I finished. Granted, I thought the journey to that point was a little bit more meandering and jumbled this time around, due to there being so much more at stake and all this other stuff happening at once. And despite all the action and high energy, I also felt the overall tone of this novel was more subdued, possibly because of the main character’s mindset. It’s true that everyone has been through so much, but given that there are only a few months between the release dates of the first and second book, it’s also entirely possible that I was still feeling the effects of the events at the end of The Last Watch, which were pretty fresh on my mind. Rake feels like she’s barely holding herself together, and though I could sympathize with her situation, I think her emotions and impulsiveness might have also led to a more pervasive melodramatic vibe. 

But heck, there was so much more in this novel that was done fantastically. I continue to enjoy the found family dynamic, for one. Even as Rake, Cavalon, and Jackin take on more prominent roles, the other characters are there to support them. Author J.S. Dewes also uses this sequel as an opportunity to develop some backstories, and some of these major revelations may shock and surprise you. Not only do these new twists make me wonder where things will go from here, they also make me feel a lot more invested in the characters and how they will deal with the fallout.  

As well, I was thrilled with the robust expansion of the world-building and lore. For instance, there was plenty of insight gained into the history and motivations of the Viators, adding more intrigue to what we already know about this hostile alien race. Everything about this world just grow more fascinating the more I learn about it. The action sequences also helped keep me on the edge of my seat, and even though these high-tension scenes were pretty spread out and uneven in the first half of the book, the second half kept them rolling in steadily, providing plenty of excitement that carried me through to the end. 

The conclusion definitely sets us up for more possibilities, and if indeed there’s another installment in the works, I hope it won’t be too long of a wait. Needless to say, I would highly recommend this series for sci-fi fans who enjoy character-oriented stories and lots of action.  

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Last Watch (Book 1)

Bookshelf Roundup: 08/28/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Well, I’m back from my trip visiting the in-laws, and we actually left the day the storm rolled onto the east coast. Needless to say, the rain was coming down pretty hard and traffic was horrendous, but we managed to get home earlier in the week safe and sound, and I even got to take some nice shots of the beach where we were staying at on the evening before the weather turned bad.

Anyway, I’m still trying to settle back into a rhythm because there’s a lot of catching up to do (maybe I still have a chance to get back to my old schedule of pumping out four reviews a week? Ha, I can dream…) not to mention a bunch of new book mail to be picked up and sorted. Last Saturday’s roundup post got skipped because I was away, so this one will cover the last two weeks. I’m happy to say I did get quite a bit of reading done, mostly through listening to audiobooks while on the road (they do make the miles fly by) so now I just need to find time to write all these reviews! But first, let’s get to the new books…

Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

My thanks to Orbit Books for a review copy of Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee, third volume in The Green Bone Saga series. Okay, I’m just a little bit behind on this one, but I absolutely loved the first book and will be getting caught up ASAP. From the publisher I also received an ARC of Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s The Wormwood Trilogy, and if this one is anywhere near as wild as those books, I think it will be very interesting!

And from Orbit’s sister imprint Redhook, I was also thrilled to received a review copy of Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece. It’s beautiful, but I have a feeling it’ll be a bit on the quieter, slower side based on the reviews I’ve seen. Not sure I’m in the mood for that at the moment, but I definitely have plans to read this once I’m over the weird reading funk I’m in right now. With thanks also to the kind folks at 47North for an ARC of Star Mother by Charlie N. Holmberg. This was a new one to me, but I’m familiar with the author and I certainly won’t mind checking this out!

I also want to thank Subterranean Press for an ARC of Square³ by Mira Grant, which is the pen name under which Seanan McGuire writes horror and sci-fi. To be honest, I’ve not had much luck with her Mira Grant stuff, but this novella being so short and having such an intriguing premise, I might just consider picking it up! Also thank you to Del Rey for sending along a galley proof of The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik, the sequel of A Deadly Education. I don’t think I’ve ever received a review copy in this format, but I kinda like the bigger pages and text! Regardless, really looking forward to this one. And finally, with thanks to Angry Robot for a review copy of The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston. I meant to read this one while I was on vacation, but didn’t have enough time. You know how it is! Hopefully though, I will have it finished soon.

 

In the digital pile, I received listening copies of Revelator by Daryl Gregory and No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson, with thanks to the awesome team at Penguin Random House Audio. And with thanks to Hachette Audio, I was also happy to receive The Hawthorn Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, which is the sequel to The Inheritance Games, as well as The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel, a moody sci-fi noir tale that’s a bit of techno-thriller as well.

Reviews

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney (4 of 5 stars)
The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett (4 of 5 stars)
Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne (3.5 of 5 stars)
City of Iron and Dust by J.P. Oakes (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Friday Face-Off: On the Beach

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

ON THE BEACH

Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman

The covers of Catherine Steadman’s books all have the feel of summer, but their stories are never too sunny. Mr. Nobody is mainly told from the point-of-view of Dr. Emma Lewis, a memory disorder specialist who is called to investigate a case of a man found washed up on a beach with no recollection of what his real name is or where he came from. During her first meeting with him though, not only does he speak for the first time, he calls her by her real name—a name she had long abandoned ever since leaving her hometown to start a new life with a new identity. The problem though, is she’s pretty sure she’s never seen the man, so how does he know so much about her past?

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Ballantine Books (2020) – Ballantine Books Paperback (2021) – Simon & Schuster UK (2020)

 

Simon & Schuster AU (2020) – Dutch Edition (2020) – Bulgarian Edition (2020)

 

Winner:

The colors of some of these covers are stunning, especially when you get the contrast between the teals and reds. The Simon & Schuster UK edition is actually quite nice, but the annoying sticker on the lower right corner kind of ruins it. I think I will have to go with the Dutch edition which uses a similar color scheme, but I also love the wide open sky and the expanse of the beach that seems to go on forever.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Thursday Thriller Audio: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (September 7, 2021)

Length: 10 hrs and 22 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Richard Armitage, Stephanie Racine

I never need an excuse to pick up an audiobook narrated by Richard Armitage, let alone one by Alice Feeney. Rock Paper Scissors is the third novel I’ve read by the author, and there are several similarities in its structure and scope to her previous psychological thriller His & Hers, which also follows a couple with a long and complicated history in their relationship.

Adam and Amelia Wright are celebrating their ten-year anniversary with a trip to the Scottish Highlands, after Amelia won a free stay at an old converted chapel as a prize in a raffle at her work. With their marriage fraying at the seams, she’s hoping this weekend getaway will help them reconnect. A self-professed workaholic, screenwriter Adam isn’t exactly the easiest man to live with, and he also has a condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, which causes an inability to recognize faces, even those who are closest to him.

But although they are experiencing problems in their marriage now, apparently things hadn’t always been so bad. Interspersed between the chapters in the present are letters that Amelia had written to Adam that were never sent. Each year on their anniversary, the couple would exchange traditional gifts, and Amelia would also write a letter to her husband, filled with her private thoughts she never intended for him to read. These writings would eventually reveal that their early years were filled with happiness and love. So, what the heck happened?

Not to mention, things get a little hinky whenever the plot returns to Adam and Amelia in the Highlands, where the couple and their dog Bob have become stranded after a snowstorm. The isolated chapel has been fixed up to receive visitors, but it’s certainly not equipped to withstand such extreme conditions. Next, it turns out that Amelia had no idea how she had won the trip, telling Adam that she was notified out of the blue about her prize, after buying only a single raffle ticket. And then, Bob goes missing. Nothing is as it seems, and as the strange happenings and creepy oddities around them start to pile up, things aren’t looking too good for the Wrights to fix their marriage.

There’s also a third perspective character other than Adam and Amelia, but I will be leaving out the details on them so as not to accidentally reveal possible spoilers. The structure of this novel, as well as the back-and-forth between the POVs and Amelia’s letters truly made Rock Paper Scissors an edge-of-your-seat read for me. In a way, this book is a puzzle, and even though it takes a while for every piece to fall into place, when it does, the full picture will knock you off your feet. As you start to pick up on the clues and other things that don’t feel quite right, you also realize you can’t take anything shown to you at face value, and that none of the characters’ narratives can be trusted.

Adam’s prosopagnosia is also an interesting element, and funny enough, this is the second book I’ve encountered this summer with face blindness as a major part of its premise. I thought Feeney did a pretty good job tackling Adam’s condition, and through Amelia’s unsent letters over the years, we learn more about some of the challenges the two have had to deal with and overcome. Year after year though, we can also see the quality of their marriage degrade, and as readers we have front row seats to this spectacle as the secrets and lies are gradually revealed from both sides.

And obviously, I enjoyed the setting and atmosphere. After all, I make it no secret I’m a fan of horror and suspenseful stories set in snowy, remote places where the hapless characters might become stranded and helpless. Plus, there are perks to listening to thrillers in audio of course, and the sensation of deep immersion is certainly one of them, especially when you have great narrators in this case.

Speaking of which, I’ve already praised Richard Armitage, who never fails to deliver a stellar performance, but much kudos to Stephanie Racine as well for her fantastic job as co-narrator. From start to finish, my attention was held tightly by this tense thriller which revealed its secrets slowly but was never boring. Rock Paper Scissors was very enjoyable as an audiobook, and might be my favorite Alice Feeney novel so far.

Waiting on Wednesday 08/25/21

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Sea Storm by Andrew Mayne (March 29, 2022 by Thomas & Mercer)

The new Underwater Investigation Unit series by Andrew Mayne is getting really good, and I was excited when the synopsis was finally revealed recently. A cruise ship disaster and an incoming tropical storm? Sounds pretty awesome. What do you think?

“An explosive conspiracy sets the ocean roiling for a deep-diving investigator in a riveting thriller by the author of the Amazon Charts bestseller The Girl Beneath the Sea.

A distress call draws rescuers Sloan McPherson and the Underwater Investigation Unit to a cruise ship off the coast of Fort Lauderdale that’s sinking from a mysterious explosion. When it appears to be the work of an ecoterrorist and other ships are threatened, it becomes a race against time. More clues are discovered, and evidence is in danger of being washed away by a coming tropical storm. Sloan grows concerned that key details are being ignored, and a strange lack of urgency by authorities sets off alarms.

As the troubling questions compound, Sloan is determined to chase down every lead she has. Her persistence is getting her closer to the truth: that there’s something far more troubling at play than the official explanation. It’s also putting Sloan on a collision course with an enemy more powerful than she realizes, in a case so complex and deadly it may be impossible to prove. Now cracking the case is a matter of staying one step ahead of someone with every resource imaginable to bury Sloan and everything she knows.”

 

Book Review: Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Ink & Sigil

Publisher: Del Rey (August 10, 2021)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Al MacBharrais is back in Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne, the follow up to Ink & Sigil which introduced our Scottish sigil agent extraordinaire who is in his sixties, but can still work ink magic with the best of them. All he needs is a pen and paper to work some amazing spells. He’s also part of a global network which polices the travel of supernatural beings to and from our mortal plane, which makes his skills come in handy as magically binding contracts are needed whenever these magical creatures go, and these can only be worked with certain sigils and special ink.

A new adventure begins as Al receives word that a fellow agent had gone missing in Australia while on assignment, leading our protagonist to drop everything and make his way to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to investigate the disappearance. Fortunately, he’s got help. Nadia, his accountant who is also a fierce pit fighter, has offered to lend a hand. And of course, this would not be a true sequel without the return of Buck Foi, the mischievous hobgoblin who has also decided to tag along. But the real surprise is perhaps the appearance of Atticus O’Sullivan, also known as the Iron Druid. The ancient one has arrived with his two dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, to join Al and the rest of them in the Australian wilds, determined to follow the trail of their missing colleague.

First off, I have to say this book was very entertaining, especially the setting and the world-building and the magic system. I loved Ink & Sigil, which made me want to know Al MacBharrais a bit better, not to mention learn more about the lore and fantasy aspects of his world. In this, Paper & Blood delivered exactly what I wanted. The main character also has a great sense of humor, which along with his Scottish brogue brings a kind of unique charm to this series. I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed Al’s genuine and down-to-earth personality, the fact that you don’t see many protagonists of his age and background in urban fantasy. His dialogue and interactions with the supporting cast were also delightful, and it was fun watching the shenanigans and clever banter fly between the members of this motley group.

Still, at some point, I had to wonder why the author felt the need to bring back Atticus O’Sullivan, the protagonist from his Iron Druid Chronicles, from which the Ink & Sigil series spun off. Here is also the part of the review where I will get ranty, because I’m a firm believer that while spin offs can be a great opportunity to continue or expand the worlds and stories we love, they should also come from a different angle and be entirely capable of standing on its own two feet. Otherwise, why bother creating a new series with new characters?

What I’m about to say next is also going to be an unpopular opinion, I think, but what the heck—I can’t stand Atticus! At times his snark can be a bit too much, and I can only take him in small doses. It’s also a huge part of why I abandoned the Iron Druid Chronicles after book three, and why I was so happy with the different tone and direction of Ink & Sigil, because Al was such a breath of fresh air. With the return of Atticus in Paper & Blood though, Al’s presence was diminished and he quickly began to feel like a guest in someone else’s world, playing second fiddle to Atticus’ larger-than-life personality. And it’s a shame, because I really felt Al was just starting to step up to the wheel of his own series. Until his role as main protagonist could be firmly established, or until readers could bond with the new characters, Hearne probably should have backed off on the cameos, or at least had Atticus play a smaller role. Instead, this felt too much like an attempt to write another Iron Druid book, or a blatant attempt to service Atticus fans.

That said, if you followed the Iron Druid Chronicles, I think you will have a blast with this one. My quibbles notwithstanding, I did too. New readers will still have plenty to delight in, as Paper & Blood is bang-up sequel for what it is, a rollicking continuation of Ink & Sigil which touches lightly upon the aftermath of the previous book’s events while featuring a new adventure that can generally be read as a standalone. I have a feeling it’s going to take while for this series to develop its own hook and overall flavor, but that’s pretty common for urban fantasy. Hopefully we can refocus our attention on Al and have him retake the reins going forward.

Friday Face-Off: Dressed to Kill

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

DRESSED TO KILL

Consortium Rebellion by Jessie Mihalik

This topic involves featuring someone on a cover literally dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out. This week I’m doing something different by picking a series instead of a book. The Consortium Rebellion trilogy immediately came to mind, which follows the three kickass sisters of House von Hasenberg, and you can bet they’ve all got style!