Review: Crooked Kingdom

SYNOPSIS

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

WHAT I KNEW GOING IN

Quite a few people have told me that the Six of Crows duet is their favorite of Leigh’s series. At the end of the first book, I could see why. This group of misfits pulled off an impossible heist only to have things go sideways at the very end. Kaz was prepared for part of it, but he was not prepared for Inej’s capture. I knew there would be hell to pay for whoever took her. I also knew that things would inevitably get more complicated. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it was going to be epic and full of the unexpected. So, I started reading. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I knew this story was going to be different in size and scope than the other. We pick up mere days after the end of Six of Crows where things have not progressed much. Inej has a good grasp of her surroundings and Kaz is already working on his plan to rescue her. Things, naturally, get rather complicated rather quickly. The battle to gain control over the jurda parem continues as the crows tuck their new scientist friend away somewhere safe. I got the feeling this would be less of a single con and more of an intense, delicate game of chess played between multiple players. And I was right.

WHAT I LOVED

The characters we know and love get a chance to shine even brighter in all of their messy glory. They are back on their home turf, in the city of Ketterdam, yet that is not entirely a point in their favor. Ketterdam is a messy, complicated city run by thieves and con artists posing as businessmen. Our story follows some of the best and one of the men who will one day run this city. That is, if they can survive the building battle for the jurda parem. A drug that with drastically alter the fate of all Grisha, no matter whose hands it falls into.

Instead of being one heist with a single focus, this is a series of heists and cons daisy-chained together. A domino effect of plans that work and plans than fail leading to the final showdown between Kaz Brekker and the men who think they run this city. Dreams are made and found and, in some cases, achieved. 

There may be no heroes in Ketterdam, but that does not mean the city cannot be saved.

WHO I RECOMMEND IT TO

As I mentioned, Leigh Bardugo is an excellent fantasy author who has a gift for weaving together secrets of the past with mysteries of the future to tell a story that you cannot put down. 

If you are a fan of stories that linger near the darker side of fantasy that center around a charming group of misfits with somewhat questionable morals, this is the story for you. The world is rich and the Dregs from the Barrel may be poor but they are very good at what they do. They want to change Ketterdam, but they may just change the world. 

Review: Six of Crows

SYNOPSIS

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first. 

WHAT I KNEW GOING IN

I bought this book soon after finishing Shadow and Bone mostly because we were sold out of Siege and Storm, the second book in the series. I also had all of my coworkers who had read them telling me that this second series was much better than the first. I also knew that it takes place a few months after the end of Ruin and Rising, set in a different part of the world. So the stories don’t overlap and I was assured there weren’t any major spoilers. At the time I knew it was going to be at least a few weeks before we got the second book into the store, so I decided to dive right in. Between the fact I enjoy groups of misfits running a heist and that Leigh Bardugo’s writing was already starting to grow on me, I had a feeling I was in for a good time. 

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Right off I knew the world was going to have a totally different feel and I love it. Ketterdam is a place full of gritty streets and messy people doing whatever it takes to survive. I very much enjoyed being able to learn more about the wider world of the Grishaverse and see for myself how these different companies treat the Grisha. It is a step away from the coming of age type story that is the Shadow and Bone series and into something that is more dark, more raw, and more human. I quickly found myself growing fond of several of the characters and incredibly curious about the others. When we were introduced to the impossible job and its incredible reward, I knew I wouldn’t be putting the book down for a while because I had to know if this crew of talented misfits could pull it off. 

WHAT I LOVED

Leigh Bardugo is an incredible author and seeing how much her skill has grown from one series to another was mind blowing. I love the way she toys with your expectations of where a scene is going to go in a way that feels natural and leaves you guessing. 

This story features some of my favorite things. Found families. Incredible world building. Complex characters with their own fears and dreams. HEISTS! Everything is woven together so beautifully that I devoured the book in a few days. 

Some of them exist in that grey area where they are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and sometimes I am not sure if they know why they are doing what they are doing aside from a sheer need to survive. The leader of the group, Kaz, is an absolute enigma even after we are finally introduced to what he is trying to accomplish and why. Yet it is hard not to root for the Dregs as they lay it all on the line to follow Kaz’s plan to break into an impenetrable prison to steal a man whose invention could set the world ablaze. 

Needless to say, I loved everything about it. 

WHO I RECOMMEND THIS TO

As I mentioned, Leigh Bardugo is an excellent fantasy author who has a gift for weaving together secrets of the past with mysteries of the future to tell a story that you cannot put down. 

If you are a fan of stories that linger near the darker side of fantasy that center around a charming group of misfits with somewhat questionable morals, this is the story for you. The world is rich and the Dregs from the Barrel may be poor but they are very good at what they do. And this story has an ending that will have you immediately reaching for Crooked Kingdom

Review: Ruin and Rising

SYNOPSIS

BOOK THREE of the Shadow and Bone Trilogy

The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne. Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army. Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives. Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

WHAT I KNEW GOING IN

The end of Siege and Storm had me screaming on the inside for a variety of reasons. I had a coworker say not great things about it but I was enjoying the story far too much to bother worrying about his opinion. I was far too eager to witness the further downfall of the Darkling and whatever else happened leading up to his final showdown with Alina. 

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I had no idea what kind of situation Alina would find herself in after running to the Apparat. I also was not sure if I particularly trusted him or his motivations to begin with. But Leigh Bardugo pulled out all of the stops for this finale so I buckled myself and held on for dear life. 

The king’s former spiritual advisor has essentially become the leader of a fanatical cult that is worshipping a girl who never wanted to become a saint. The fact that he is doing what he genuinely believes is the right thing to do makes it all the more unsettling, because belief is a powerful thing. It can lead people to do all kinds of unexpected and sometimes unspeakable things. Belief is what is powering the Darkling as he continues on in his quest to make Alina his equal. His queen. And Alina has to decide just how far she is willing to go to make sure that she does not end up like him. 

WHAT I LOVED

This finale is absolutely epic. Leigh Bardugo pulled no punches with this one. The relationships between the characters are twisted and strained as they deal with the sheer impossibility of what they are trying to do. The Darkling has already succeeded in taking over the Ravkan throne. All he lacks is a queen. 

Throughout this book we get to see several characters who have been with us since the beginning really come into their own. Everyone gets a chance to shine, for good or for evil. 

I loved watching Alina’s continued struggle between the girl she used to be and the saint she has had to become. Couple that with the weight of the situation and the truth of the Darkling’s past that is finally fully revealed, it makes for a deliciously complicated situation. And we get the joy of 

WHO I RECOMMEND THIS TO

If you are looking for:

  • A coming of age story featuring someone who has had to fight for everything
  • Well developed characters and realistic dynamics between those characters
  • The juxtaposition between those with political power, magical power, and those who have neither
  • The impossible choices that come with being the person who is supposed to save everyone

Review: Siege and Storm

SYNOPSIS

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

WHAT I KNEW GOING IN

I had to wait a few weeks after finishing Shadow and Bone to be able to get my hand on a copy of this book but I was so excited when I did. I had some expectations about how the story could go after the last book ended with Alina trying to kill the Darkling and then disappearing with Mal into the unknown after a long trip across the sea, but after reading the back synopsis I wasn’t sure. So I just curled up and started reading. 

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This book very quickly takes a turn from where I expected it to go into territory I honestly never saw coming. But looking back some work had been done to foreshadow it. You can already see a vast improvement in Leigh’s writing skills from the previous book to this one. She started off great and just keeps getting better. I quickly realized that she is yet another author where try as I might, I will never quite be able to guess where she is going to take a particular plot thread. And honestly, I love that. It just makes the journey that much more exciting. 

WHAT I LOVED

Things were not exactly clean and straightforward in the first book and they get even less so now. I was personally very excited that Alina’s relationship with the Darkling did not take the direction it felt like it was going to in the first novel. It continues to be complicated, of course, given that they are the only two with comparable powers so there is no telling how long either of them will live. But we get to watch Alina fight against the struggle to become more like him while also being drawn to the items she believes will make her as powerful as him if not more so. The way these power sources are woven into the fabric of the world and its history and folklore blew my mind. There is also the matter of the power struggle involved trying to keep Ravka safe from the threat of the Darkling who could invade from a number of directions. Most of the Grisha have fled with him since, technically, he is fighting for them. We get to learn more of his story and see how far he has fallen in his desire to make the world his version of right. 

A lot of second books can lose momentum as the story is transitioning towards the endgame, but I personally found this one did a good job of keeping the momentum going. Especially with the explosive ending that had my jaw on the floor. 

WHO I RECOMMEND THIS TO

If you are looking for:

  • A coming of age story featuring someone who has had to fight for everything
  • Well developed characters and realistic dynamics between those characters
  • The juxtaposition between those with political power, magical power, and those who have neither
  • The impossible choices that come with being the person who is supposed to save everyone

Then this really is the series for you. This book continues with the twists and turns and human complexities in a way that will keep you on the edge of your seat up until the unexpected ending. 

Review: Gideon the Ninth

Synopsis

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

What I knew going in

I have been aware of this book for a while, but I wasn’t interested in reading it until recently. I guess you could I was judging it by its cover. Sometimes I can be very particular about what I read. Other times, I am less so. When I heard a few good friends of mine discussing how much they enjoyed the book, my curiosity was piqued. So I started doing a little research. I talked to my friends about it. I read some customer reviews. I would pick it up and look at it every so often until I finally just bought it. Then it sat on my shelf for a few weeks before I decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot. 

I was also very intrigued by the line on the back about “the most fun you will ever have with skeletons”. I just had to know. 

First impressions

I went into this book without any real expectations. The pacing was different from the book I had just finished reading, so it took me a second to adjust to it. The world view at first is very narrowed but Gideon’s irreverent tone quickly endeared me to her. She is someone who does not like where she is and is willing to fight tooth and nail to find a better life for herself.  A better world. This is a universe that was once grand and full of life. Now there is an air of decay and loss, but in a world of necromancers, this is not such a bad thing. I found the world fascinating, and when the mystery came in I knew I was a goner. 

What I loved

This whole book is a puzzle. The world is much grander than is shown at first but throughout the story more and more of the greater universe is unfolded. And it’s amazing. I also loved watching the contentious, complicated relationship between Gideon and Harrow evolve as they faced various challenges scattered about the haunted castle. I don’t want to spoil too much about the story, so I am not going into a lot of detail on the situation. But reading this book is like solving a puzzle where you don’t yet have all of the pieces. I actually enjoyed the fact I had no idea where things were going. Like Gideon, I was just along for the ride. 

There are also some things about this book that I can’t quite put into words. Even though the world is so incredibly unlike ours, I found the story incredibly human. The characters are real and they are messy and they are complicated. They all have their own conflicting goals and dreams. They have their own (metaphorical) ghosts haunting them. It’s raw and it’s beautiful. 

Who I recommend this too

Gideon the Ninth pulls elements from science fiction, fantasy, and horror. But, if you ask me, it is ultimately a mystery. It’s an escape room for the characters and a multi-layer puzzle box for the reader. If you are looking for something fresh and new, I highly recommend this. It will take you by surprise into a world unlike any you have ever seen and leave you wishing there were more like it. And it will leave you screaming a little at times. It’s great. 

Review: Shadow and Bone

SYNOPSIS

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

For more information on Shadow and Bone, you can check out Leigh Bardugo’s author website.

WHAT I KNEW GOING IN

This is a series I have been eyeing for a while now. It first caught my attention when I was working my way through the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. Part of this was its proximity on the shelf and the other part was hearing my coworkers say good things about it. I had a great amount of curiosity when it came to the series. I also had 50 other books on my to-read list. So I put it on the list of books that I will buy and read eventually. 

Fun fact about that list: it’s not as much a list as it is an amorphous entity containing countless titles that will eventually be a part of an actual list. There is no rhyme or reason to where books fall on this ‘list’ because I am very much an impulse shopper when it comes to books. 

It got moved up on the list when I learned there was going to be a Netflix show based on it. Then one day I finally gave in and bought it because I knew the show would be out soon. I have a thing with TV shows based on book series where I have to read the book before I watch it. So I did, not knowing much about the book beyond the description on the back and the fact there is a duet somehow connected to it. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

There is a bit of a time jump between the first two main scenes that threw me for a bit, but the story quickly reeled me back in. I always have a soft spot for found families, even if it’s just a single person. So the dynamic between Alina and her best friend, the boy she grew up with, was something I latched onto pretty quickly. I also enjoyed how she went about introducing the world state leading up to the reveal of Alina’s unique abilities. It paints a clear picture without feeling like she is holding your hand or doing an exposition dump. This story hooked me pretty quickly. 

WHAT I LOVED

The world-building was very well done. You can tell that Ravka is based on Russia (I mean, look at the character names), but it’s not a carbon copy. The world is rich and varied and seeing the difference through the eyes of someone who went from having nothing to being viewed as a future savior and the favored one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. 

The Darkling is an interesting character. He is both enigmatic and charming, but he also has an undeniable connection to the Fold, a strip of darkness and death that is slowly crippling this kingdom. A previous Darkling created it and now people are looking to him to find a way to end it. And that way could very well be Alina. 

I know this sounds like the oh-so-common YA fantasy trope of the teenage girl who discovers her power and becomes extra special because she is the only one who can save the world. And yes, she is special and yes, she could very well save her country. But trust me when I say this story does not indulge in tropes. It may play around with some of them, but Leigh Bardugo has a different story to tell. And Alina Starkov’s story is one you don’t want to miss. 

WHO I RECOMMEND IT TO

If you are looking for:

  • A coming of age story featuring someone who has had to fight for everything
  • Well developed characters and realistic dynamics between those characters
  • The juxtaposition between those with political power, magical power, and those who have neither
  • The impossible choices that come with being the person who is supposed to save everyone

You should read this book. It is a fascinating tale that I devoured in 3 days (only reading at night before bed because my life is chaos and that’s my only reading time). I went from there to Six of Crows, book one of the accompanying duet. I am still waiting to grab a copy of Siege and Storm so I can finish out that story. I am probably going to get the final duet as well, so I can have it. 

I started reading because I was interested in the show. It quickly added a new name to my list of favorite authors. 

Camp NaNoWriMo Excerpt 1

Since I have started playing D&D I have discovered that I absolutely love creating character backstories. It’s to the point that I decided to turn the story of a character I haven’t even played yet into a novel. That is actually what I have been working on for Camp NaNoWriMo (as you probably guessed by the title of this post).

Here is a little sneak peek at what I have written so far.  What do you think?

The captain and the bard

“Here you are, Marisol. I am putting your bell right here. I will come to collect you when the market closes.”

“Thank you, Ryan,” she replied, settling carefully into her normal spot on the street in the heart of Neverwinter. Once she was settled she held up her hands expectantly. He placed a small stringed instrument in one hand and a bowl full of cloth in the other. As he turned and walked away she rested the instrument on her lap, spreading the cloth carefully before her and placing the bowl in the center. Then she leaned back against the wall and waited.

People slowly started emerging from their homes, many of them shopkeeps in the process of setting up for the day. A few noticed her and called out greetings, which she received with a smile and a nod. She perked up slightly at the scent of freshly baked goods drifting from the bakery two doors down. Still, she waited for more people to arrive, resting against the cool stone wall, keeping an ear out for footsteps. 

After a few minutes of waiting, a pair of footsteps approached her, causing her to perk up slightly. The feet were accompanied by the scent of fresh bread.

“Gift from the baker, miss. It didn’t come out quite right looking, but chef says it should still taste alright.”

“Why thank you,” she responded, accepting the pastry. It indeed felt misshapen, but it was still warm and smelled wonderful, so she did not complain. The person hesitated.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked. 

“Well, chef and some of the workers are in a bit of a mood. This dreary weather ain’t helping any. I know you usually wait until people show up to start playing, but if you wouldn’t mind…I know your music always puts people in a good mood.”

“Absolutely. It is no trouble.”

“Thank you, miss.”

“You can call me Marisol.”

“Thank you, Miss Marisol.” 

She chuckled slightly as the boy ran off back towards the bakery. The air was indeed cooler and damper than she had expected. Not enough so to cause concern, but just enough to make one feel rather morose. 

A smile slowly spread across her face as she picked up her lute and began strumming. Gentle music started to fill the street, softly at first, then growing in volume. It was a tune she knew the baker was particularly fond of, as he often sent someone to request it when she played near his shop. Once the song was done she paused to eat part of the pastry, stashing the remainder in her pocket for later. 

Around her, she heard the signs of business as people began trickling into the market. As the shop keepers days began, so did hers. She picked up her lute and began to play once more. It was not a particular song that she played, but one that she wrote as she played, mind filled with the notes, reveling in the joy of playing just to play. Sometimes she would dip into popular tavern songs or pieces of epic ballads that she had picked up listening to other performers. 

As she played she listened to the conversations happening around her. One of the perks of living in Neverwinter was the constant influx of travelers and traders from across the known world. That meant her audience was constantly changing in its composition. They also did not always realize that she and her fellow street performers were homeless. It was why they worked to wear the nicest of clothes and had long ago made deals with several of the shop keepers and traders operating in the market square. Their operation was a mutually beneficial one, and it did well to keep the rest of the homeless population fed and clothed at the very least. 

Coins plunked into her bowl sporadically throughout the morning hours. Some people would request certain songs along with their coin. She was only happy to comply. Others would merely drop in a coin and keep walking. Oftentimes people would stop to speak with her between songs, asking about her life and her skill and if she took payment aside from the coin. Hardy fruits and vegetables found their way onto the cloth, as well as a small amount of dried meat. She quickly gathered those into her small satchel to make sure they didn’t get eaten by any animals. 

Around midday, she caught a conversation between members of the crew of a foreign vessel. She perked up immediately upon recognizing them. Their captain brought them into port every few months and many of the crew would stop by her performance at least once. They were nice people, though she was not entirely sure what they did. She didn’t question, though, as the captain was often very generous. 

She heard his distinctive voice coming up the street and changed the tune she was playing to that of a sea shanty his crew often requested. A few of them stopped and began singing along. It ended up drawing quite the crowd, as it was a genuinely delightful and adventurous song that the crew sang quite well. When the song ended, she set the lute down, grinning.

“I had a feeling you all would be in town soon. How was your latest voyage?” she asked. Small showers of coins and trinkets found their way into her bowl as the crew shared their tale.

She always enjoyed it when they came, bearing tales of adventure and sea creatures and mysterious treasures. True, their tales ate up the time she could be performing for coin, but she didn’t mind. She rather enjoyed the break, as well as the coin they donated, along with the excess wares they shared with her. It was often clothing and blankets and bags, sometimes even shoes and accessories. Whatever didn’t immediately get grabbed up by her fellow street performers was dispersed among the rest of the homeless community or sold. 

The captain, as usual, stayed towards the back and did not say much. She knew he was there, though, shifting back and forth, keeping an eye out as his crew arranged their donations around me and spun their tales. After about twenty minutes, he cleared his throat.

“I am afraid we must continue onward. We have a meeting that needs attending. I hope you have a wonderful day, ma’am.”

The crew complained good-naturedly and bade their farewells. She wished them well, scoping some of the coin into my pockets along with the food and other trinkets. They had left a small barrel of mead, which she carefully moved to sit right next to her. The clothing and shoes went to the other side, tucked up next to her so her elbow would brush against them. Long years of performing on the street told her to keep such things close. 

Several hours later things were finally beginning to wind down in the market. Most of the street vendors had already packed up for the day and many of the shops were slowly starting to close things down. Marisol continued to play, though, as she had nothing better to do until Ryan came to collect her. She finished the song she was playing and lowered her lute, sighing.

“Are you going to say something, or are you just going to stand there?” she asked.

“How did you know I was here?” the captain asked, shifting uncomfortably.

“Just because I am blind doesn’t mean I don’t notice things,” she commented. “Plus, I heard you telling some of your crew you would meet them at the ship. You normally go with them when leaving the market, if you don’t already have a room at an inn. That means you want something and the fact that you have been standing there, sighing every few second, means it is something to do with me.”

He chuckled, stepping closer to her.

“I see you are far more observant than I gave you credit, my dear. May I ask your name?”

“Marisol. And you are?”

“Captain Cutler Everit of the PIRATE SHIP NAME.”

“Ah, so that is the name of the ship.  I have been meaning to ask every time you come into port. Where do you hail from?”

“We hail from all over.”

“So you have no home port then? Or is Neverwinter your home?”

“The sea is our home.”

“How interesting.”

“If you don’t mind, I was wondering if you would be willing to join me for a drink at the tavern just down the road. There is something I wish to discuss with you.”

Review: Death on the Nile

Beloved detective Hercule Poirot embarks on a journey to Egypt in one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Death on the Nile.

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything…until she lost her life.

Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

It has been a while since the last time I read a Poirot mystery, so reading this book felt like slipping on my favorite pair of fuzzy socks. Since the success of the movie Murder on the Orient Express, a friend told me that they were going to make Death on the Nile next. So naturally, I wanted to read it before the movie came out. I knew nothing of the plot aside from what I read on the back going in, but I was optimistic.

The story starts with a glimpse into the life of the aforementioned Linnet Ridgeway. We get to see what she is like on her home turf, where she is the most comfortable and the most in control. We get to see what her relationship looks like with her friend Jacqueline, a girl with less fortune who has recently fallen in love. And we get to see her initial reaction upon meeting her friend’s new fiance. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of a woman who always gets what she wants.

Fast forward a few weeks and we find a rather unique cast of characters coming together on a Nile River cruise. I won’t spoil the whole cast, but I will share that it contains the characters I mentioned above.

It also contains a certain Detective Hercule Poirot who is trying to take an honest to goodness vacation from all of the mysteries and murder he deals with on a regular basis. You can probably guess from the title how well this plan goes.

There is one character who, beforehand, had shown an understandable leaning towards murder. Poirot connected with the poor girl and tried to help guide her away from the path she was on to one where she could have a brighter future. I found the whole thing incredibly touching and couldn’t help but feel for the girl.

I also found myself identifying with several of the other characters. The cast was so well crafted and, as per usual, the mystery of who did it had me wondering and bouncing from suspect to suspect. I felt the other officer’s frustration as Poirot sorted out a few smaller mysteries instead of dealing directly with the murder(s). I also found the endings to be rather satisfying. 

One of my favorite things about Agatha Christie is she is the queen of my favorite kind of twist. The kind you never see coming but it makes perfect sense once you get there. This book absolutely did not disappoint.

Review: Endless Night

When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems that all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores an old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal “accidents” happen.

I have decided to take a break from the fantasy world and delve straight into mystery. Agatha Christie, to be specific. She has been my favorite mystery author for a long time now, and one of the few I have read (aside from Robert Ludlum). I look for her books any time I go into a used bookstore and so, had a stack of six that I haven’t read yet.

So I grabbed the first book off of the stack and started reading.

One of the things that first struck me about Endless Night was that it is not one of her typical mysteries. Agatha Christie has three main detective series: Hercules Poirot, Mrs. Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. I have read more Poirot than the others, but I do enjoy them.

This book falls into neither of these categories. It is told from the perspective of Michael Rogers (Mike), a young man who has bounced from job to job, never really settling down into anything. He gives off this feeling of someone who is looking for something but has no idea what. All he knows is he wants more.

When he first sees Ellie at the sale of Gypsy’s Acre, it is love at first sight. We follow them through their whirlwind romance and their clandestine marriage as Ellie tries to keep her family as out of her affairs as possible, with the help of her best friend and confidante, Greta.

I found the story of their marriage to be rather quaint, even with his lack of understanding when it comes to finances. He has only ever had enough money to get by, naturally. And she is a rich heiress who is well acquainted with the finer things in life. I could understand some of his hesitancy when it comes to immersing himself in that world. It can be a strange and intimidating one for sure.

There is also the strange gypsy woman who pops up every now and then warning Mike and Ellie about the dangers of living on that particular plot of land. She hints to a curse, something about a burial ground, but nothing concrete. It is very unsettling, but not quite threatening.

It took longer than I expected to get to the death, but then I am more used to her detective novels. It definitely snuck up on me though. There was no build-up. It just happened and we were left to deal with the aftermath. That is when things really start getting interesting. But I won’t spoil the ending.

I found this story delightfully different with a very unexpected twist at the end that was executed masterfully.

Next, I am diving into a Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile. One down, five to go.

To Be Titled Excerpt

This is an excerpt from the second draft of a story I am currently working on. I finished the first draft year before last for NaNoWriMo. I’m still working on a title.

This is where the story begins.

“This changes everything!”

“This changes nothing. I am sorry Monica, but we cannot devote resources we don’t have to a lead that we aren’t sure it will pan out. I appreciate your dedication and we understand your desire to make things better. We just don’t see the point. The magi are gone. It is time that we move on and make the best of the life we have now.”

I was trembling, shaking less from nervousness and more from frustration and exhaustion. “This proves that the corruption can be reversed. Someone was able to trace the corruption to where it began years ago. If it can be traced, if the source can be found, then we can find a way to reverse what was done and bring the magi back. We can save everyone.”

“We understand that you are still upset over the loss of your husband, but you must understand. We feel your pain. We have all lost someone…”

“Don’t you dare try that line with me,” I snapped. “I lost everything, you hear me? Everything. And now I am telling you that we can get it all back and you would rather sit here and let those we have lost rot outside these walls.”

“You will remember your place and to whom you are speaking. It is by our generosity that you were permitted to remain within the city. There are those who would have seen you cast out in fear of your magic returning and bringing with it the corruption. You also provide us a valuable service when it comes to your knowledge, but even that value can run out.”

My breaths were growing harsher with each word, fists clenched tight enough to have shattered my pen had I not already thrown it in a vain attempt to stop them from shaking. I could feel their eyes on me. Assessing me. Scrutinizing me. Waiting for any sign, for any excuse to cast me out.

“Now, Monica, we all know you have suffered worst than most of us,” someone else said in what was likely meant to be a soothing tone. “I cannot begin to fathom what you have been through since the evacuation. The amount of work you have done since regaining consciousness is surely commendable. Some of it has even proven invaluable to helping us settle down here. Maybe it is time you took a break and spent some time focusing on yourself. Take some time to heal, to really think about your life and how you want to spend it.”

Even with my outrage, I noticed the attempted olive branch shadowed by his threat. They wanted me to stop questioning, to stop fighting. They wanted me to fade silently into the background so they could continue to rule as they saw fit.

“I apologize, council members, for my outburst,” I said, bowing. “You are right. I have not been well. I will not burden you with my grief any longer.”