Friday, December 29, 2017

2018 Reading Challenge: Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo

I've planned a couple of reading/blogging goals for myself to aim for in 2018, which I'll post more about next week, but I've also decided to join in on the Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo that Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm has set up. It's a simple bingo card of themes etc in SFF books, and they're all quite broad categories, as you can see:


I can already think of a few books from my shelves that will fit some of these categories, and I think it'll be another fun way of choosing what to read. 

If you'd also like to take part, Ellie is running a giveaway for people who sign up on her original blog post, here. Let me know if you're doing it! 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Title: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Release date: 8th February 2018
Publisher: Raven Books (an imprint of Bloomsbury)
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Description: A brilliantly original high concept murder mystery from a fantastic new talent: Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie

‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath... 

My thoughts: The premise of this book caught my attention right away: someone repeats a day again and again in a different body each time, until he can solve a murder. And having read it over the past week, it's snuck in at the last minute to be one of my favourite books of the year. I'm already planning to buy copies for a couple of people when it comes out.

The tension kicks in on page one and barely lets up through the entire book. At first, Aidan has no idea what's going on. Gradually he's given instructions and starts trying to put everything together. Stuart Turton's fantastic plotting means that every little conversation you see has a significance, every detail or interaction is important. It's a long book, but it didn't feel like it dragged at any point - I was on the edge of my seat through the entire thing. There are so many twists and turns.

The story takes place at Blackheath House, a crumbling manor deep in the woods. It's the age where guests arrive in horse-drawn carriages, and when someone is offered the option of driving a car to the village, he's horrified at the idea of getting in the vehicle at first. It's a dark, atmospheric setting, and combined with the intricate murder investigation I was strongly reminded of Agatha Christie books.

I can't say much more about the plot without giving things away, but I don't think I need to: Aidan does his best to investigate the murder, talking to various characters and trying to piece together the puzzle of what's going on in the present day, and what happened nineteen years ago when Evelyn's younger brother was murdered. It's clear early on that there's a connection between them, and he hopes that by figuring out the truth of the first, he might untangle what's going to happen to Evelyn and why.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredible book. Stuart Turton has done a great job of keeping the tension high throughout the entire book. It's like The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August crossed with your favourite Agatha Christie novel. If you love a good mystery novel, I one hundred percent recommend it. Ten out of ten.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Book review: I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan

Title: I Am Thunder
Author: Muhammad Khan
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication date: 25th January 2018
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Source: Review copy from the publisher through NetGalley

Description: Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem is passionate about writing and dreams of becoming a novelist. There’s just one problem - her super-controlling parents have already planned her life out for her: Step 1) Get educated. Step 2) Qualify as a doctor. Step 3) Marry a cousin from Pakistan. Oh, and boyfriends are totally haram. No one is more surprised than humble Muzna when high school hottie, Arif Malik, takes an interest in her. But Arif and his brother are angry at the West for demonizing Islam and hiding a terrible secret. As Arif begins to lead Muzna down a dark path, she faces a terrible choice: keep quiet and betray her beliefs, or speak up and betray her heart? I Am Thunder is the debut novel from stunning YA voice, Muhammad Khan, which questions how far you'll go to stand up for what you believe.

My thoughts: I heard about this book when the publication deal was announced in The Bookseller magazine, and thought it would be very interesting to read this sort of book written by someone who is actually Muslim. The book begins with Muzna as a 13 year old, and it introduces what life is like for her. Her parents already have high expectations for her and are determined that she'll be a doctor one day. They disprove of her friend who is becoming more interested in boys, and who they believe is leading Muzna astray from being a good, dutiful daughter. While I liked this section of the book in that it set up the family, their expectations, as introduces some of the racism that the whole family faces in everyday occurances, Muzna herself annoyed me quite a bit - she makes some very silly choices and I was quite skeptical that in this day & age any teenager would be that ignorant.

The story then jumps forward to Muzna when she's about 16 (if I remember correctly). She moves to a new school, and it's the opportunity of a fresh start. I loved the supportive English teacher, and how he tries to encourage Muzna, and handle the anger and racism amongst his class. You could definitely tell in the classroom scenes that the author Muhammad Khan has worked as a teacher in the past.

I thought that the slow steps Muzna is lead down towards extremist views were quite believable. It was done in small enough increments that you could see why she was agreeing to Arif's suggestions and going along with his view of Islam. There were times again where I wanted to shake her because she couldn't see that teachers and friends were genuinely concerned about her and wanted to help her, and that she'd drastically changed from who she had been before she met him.

I found I Am Thunder to be a really interesting book giving a believable look at how young women can be radicalised. It was also very educational for me to read another book about someone from a Muslim & Pakistani background, as I really don't know as much about the culture as I should. That said, the book wasn't quite as interesting or gripping as I had hoped. Taking that into account, I'm giving it 6/10.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Book Review: Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Title: Last Christmas in Paris
Author: Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Release date: 3rd October 2017
Publisher: William Morrow (available in the UK through Harper 360)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review copy from Harper 360

Christmastime in Paris... Thomas Harding travels to the City of Lights, a packet of cherished letters in hand... letters that tell a story of love a loss, friendship and family, and the innocent hopes of a generation devastated by war. As he reads the letters one more time, Tom is transported back to 1914 and the sunlit August day when Evie Elliott waves goodby to him and her brother Will, as they head to the Western Front. 

All believe the war will be over by Christmas when the trio plan to reunite and celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris. But it is not to be. As months slip into years, Tom's and Evie's lives become bound together by the letters and telegrams, notes and stories that travel between them, from the front line in France to a quiet suburb of London. But as their friendship flourishes, there is far more than words held between the pages of Tom's and Evie's letters. 
Now, decades later, Thomas finds himself once again in his beloved Paris, determined to fulfill a last promise and to lay to rest the ghosts of the past... but one final letter is waiting for him. 

My thoughts: 
The basic premise of Last Christmas in Paris is quite straightforward: Evie and Tom write letters to each other during the First World War, with occasional letters to other friends and family included too. Tom and Will go off to France all excited, eager to do their part, sort out the enemy, and meet their friends a couple of months later. We all know how it actually turned out, and the horrors of the Front.

I loved that it was all told in letters, and I found it very quick to read in that format - 'just one more letter' is a lot faster than 'one more chapter', so I'd end up reading far more at once than I expected to! It was really interesting seeing how their lives developed, and how things went unsaid, and their slow realisation that in fact they did love each other. But the framing of the story is that Tom is rereading these in Paris years later, and it's vague enough that you really don't know up until the very end if it all turns out ok for them. I liked the fact that that tension remained throughout the whole book.

Although this is a fairly typical war story, with ups and downs and lots of personal growth and a slow building romance, I did really enjoy it, and was in tears in several places. A well written book, in a really enjoyable format that managed to sustain the tension right through to the end. Overall I'm giving it 7 out of 10.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Book review: Ramses the Damned by Anne and Christopher Rice

Title: Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra
Author: Anne Rice and Christopher Rice
Publication date: 21st November 2017
Publisher: Anchor Books
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC from publisher

Ramses the Great, former pharaoh of Egypt, is reawakened by the elixir of life in Edwardian England. Now immortal with his bride-to-be, he is swept up in a fierce and deadly battle of wills and psyches against the once-great Queen Cleopatra. Ramses has reawakened Cleopatra with the same perilous elixir whose unworldly force brings the dead back to life. But as these ancient rulers defy one another in their quest to understand the powers of the strange elixir, they are haunted by a mysterious presence even older and more powerful than they, a figure drawn forth from the mists of history who possesses spectacular magical potions and tonics eight millennia old. This is a figure who ruled over an ancient kingdom stretching from the once-fertile earth of the Sahara to the far corners of the world, a queen with a supreme knowledge of the deepest origins of the elixir of life. She may be the only one who can make known to Ramses and Cleopatra the key to their immortality--and the secrets of the miraculous, unknowable, endless expanse of the universe.

My thoughts: 
The book opens with a preface that sums up some key events that happen before the start of the story, and touches on some of the main characters. I found it very odd that some of the book reads like a sequel, while large portions of it don't, and nowhere on the proof did it suggest it was a sequel. Goodreads, however, says that it is book two of the series. I think it worked fine to read it without having read the first book, but it's something to keep in mind.

Ramses, former ruler of Egypt, is an immortal and has recently woken up in 1914 after hibernating for hundreds of years. He's heading to England with his fiance for an engagement party, but both of them are troubled by thoughts of Cleopatra. Ramses used the magical elixir that gave him immortality to resurrect her mummified body, but she ran away and now they fear she'll come after them and attack them. Added in to the mix are two other immortals who are far older, who have yet to meet Ramses but have heard rumours about a mummy coming to life and guess that he might be immortal.

I liked that none of the characters are 100% likeable - they're all flawed in some ways, and make dreadful assumptions about each other and the motives of other people. Ramses and his fiance Julia both presume that Cleopatra is mad and that she means them harm. Cleopatra thinks Ramses hates her and wants to kill her. It made me want to shake them sometimes and tell them they were being silly, but it also made the multiple points of view in the story more interesting to read, because you get to know the true motivations and also see how their actions are misinterpreted.

The writing style is quite old fashioned. In some ways this fit with the time: the way Julia and another character, Sibil, narrate their parts makes sense, as they're born into the early 1900s. At other times I felt like there was just too much description when I wanted to get on with the action of the story.

It's an interesting story that looks at some of the moral and philosophical problems of these immortal creatures, how characters may or may not change over time, and how both humans and immortals are affected and changed by their experiences. I enjoyed the story a lot, even though it wasn't as fast-paced as some books, and I'd definitely like to read the next book in the series to see what happens next. Although some plot threads are left unresolved, the book does have a satisfying conclusion. I'm giving Ramses the Damned 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book review: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Title: King of Thorns
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publication date: April 2013
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Free copy through previous job

Description: To reach greatness you must step on bodies. I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

A six nation army marches toward Jorg's gates, led by a shining hero determined to unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength, Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan...

My thoughts: I love a good epic fantasy, and all of Mark Lawrence's books are that promising door-stopper size that suggests a good adventure happens within the pages. King of Thorns is book two in the trilogy, and picks up about four years after the end of book one. I was a bit thrown off by this, as it seems like a lot has changed, and I wondered if I'd misremembered the ending of book one, but luckily the story splits into two timelines: one carrying on in the present day, and one that starts four years previously and gradually shows how Jorg got from where he was to where he is now.

It's a fairly grim series in a lot of ways. Jorg hasn't had an easy life and it doesn't get any better. But despite that, he fights his corner and has quite a lot of luck to help him out. I like that there's a strong 'characters move from city A to city B and encounter various stumbling blocks on the way' plotline to the book, and that Jorg's personality continues to evolve as he grows up and experiences more. It was a satisfying book, and once I got stuck in, I couldn't put it down. Luckily I already have book three, so I'll be starting that one soon! I'm giving King of Thorns 7 out of 10.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review: Heart of Granite by James Barclay

Title: Heart of Granite
Author: James Barclay
Publication date: 18 May 2017 (paperback)
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Science-fiction/fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: The world has become a battleground in a war which no side is winning. But for those determined to retain power, the prolonged stalemate cannot be tolerated so desperate measures must be taken.

Max Halloran has no idea. He's living the brief and glorious life of a hunter-killer pilot. He's an ace in the air, on his way up through the ranks, in love, and with his family's every need provided for in thanks for his service, Max has everything . . .

. . . right up until he hears something he shouldn't have, and refuses to let it go. Suddenly he's risking his life and the lives of all those he cares about for a secret which could expose corruption at the highest levels, and change the course of the war.

My thoughts: I wasn't sure what to think of this book going in to it: the cover said sci-fi, kind of, and the description puts it on future earth. But my boyfriend insisted I would like it, so eventually I listened... and I really enjoyed it! The set up for the story is that at some point, humans obtained some alien DNA samples from an asteroid or something like that, and reverse engineered it to end up with various giant lizards which can be controlled. There is some debate over where these things are machines, or have some kind of sentience. Max and his fellow pilots live on a giant ship, except the ship is actually an enormous reptile engineered to be filled with human living quarters, storage areas... everything they need. Max is a fighter pilot, but rather than a small aeroplane, he flies a dragon, by sitting inside a pouch on the front of the animal and linking in to its brain.

All this is fed out to the reader in little moments. It took me a bit of time to get used to that and to have a clear picture of what was going on, but it gets better. I think James Barclay was trying to be intriguing at the start and create a sense of 'ooh, what cool thing is happening here?' but for me it didn't work. Thankfully, the politics of the war and their role in it, and the smaller ship-board politics, soon becomes the focus of the story. Max is not a sit-down-quietly sort of guy. He's arrogant and short-tempered, which quickly gets him in trouble, but he cares deeply for his squad and works hard to protect them.

It's a gripping, intense story, with dragons done in a new way. I really can't go in to many more details without spoiling things, but I loved Max's character growth over the story. Many parts of the book made me think of it being Top Gun but with dragons, which was a lot of fun to read! I highly recommend this book - 8 out of 10!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Short review: When Breath Become Air by Paul Kalanithi

Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
Publication date: January 2016
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Memoir
Source: Borrowed

Description: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

My thoughts: I was intrigued to read about the experience of a man who had been a successful surgeon becoming a patient with a serious illness. I wasn't expecting the book to be as philosophical as it was. Paul writes about how, in his university life, he was very interested in why people do certain things, what motivates people, etc. From there he moved to looking at, medically, how the brain works. He discusses why he himself was compelled to push on with his work as a surgeon despite it being an incredibly intense profession.

He also talks a fair bit about how people adjust to the news that they have a serious illness, maybe a terminal one, and how being in that position himself gave him a new perspective on many things.

Personally, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. It was all very reflective, thoughtful, and philosophical... so quite boring from my point of view! I think I had been hoping for more about the doctor/patient relationship, and how that was affected. I've read better books this year about working in the healthcare industry. While When Breath Becomes Air was an interesting book, and I'm glad I had the chance to read it, it didn't blow me away and I don't think it stands out on a shelf as being overly special. I'm giving it 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book review: Beyond Forever by Kit Rocha

Title: Beyond Forever
Author: Kit Rocha
Publication date: 24th October 2017
Genre: Dystopian/Romance
Source: Review copy
Series: Beyond (bonus novella)

Blurb: Before they were the King and Queen…
Six years before the Beyond series started, an ambitious bootlegger named Dallas O’Kane caught a very pretty thief named Lex with her hand in his safe.
The rest is very sexy history.
In Beyond Forever, follow Dallas and Lex through the turning points in their relationship, from the night he caught her trying to rob him, through his rise to successful bootlegger, to legend, to Sector Leader--with Lex always there, willing to give him the push he needs.

Beyond Forever is a prequel novella that jumps through time to tell the story of the biggest moments in the formation of the O’Kanes and their King and Queen. It will be far more enjoyable if you’ve already read Beyond Control, and contains spoilers for the entire Beyond series.

My thoughts: Beyond Forever begins with the reopening of the Broken Circle after the events at the end of the Beyond series. It then jumps back to the very beginning of Dallas O'Kane's journey in the Sectors, and his first meeting with Lex, and hops forward to critical moments in the founding of the O'Kane gang & business and Dallas's relationship with Lex, finishing a little bit before Beyond Shame begins.

As a big fan of the series, I loved this novella. It's my favourite sort of extra: when we first meet Dallas & Lex, it's obvious they've already got quite a history together, so to go back and see some of that history was great. Partly that's because they're characters who bash up against each others' personalities a lot, which is always fun to read about, especially when you know that they're going to end up very much together in the future.

There isn't a particularly strong plot line as such; instead it's a series of little glimpses at crucial moments. Each chapter looks at one critical moment, and gives enough information, context and conflict for that little bit. And it was so much fun to see Lex upsetting Dallas's world, from his personal opinions to how the business was going to run to how the gang was running. Through the little snippets you get a really good picture of how Dallas and Lex each became who they are at the beginning of the Beyond series.

As an extra to read after you're done with the series, Beyond Forever is a real treat, and I'm sure all Kit Rocha fans will love it. It's intended as a happy bonus, and it definitely delivers as that. I loved getting to know some more secrets about the founding of the O'Kane legacy, and particularly the peaks of Nessa, one of my favourite characters, when she was younger. I'm giving Beyond Forever 7 stars.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Book review: Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

Title: Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe
Author: Debbie Johnson
Publication date: October 8th 2017
Publisher: HarperImpulse
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher, through NetGalley

Description: Welcome to the cosy Comfort Food Café, where there's kindness in every cup of hot chocolate and the menu is sprinkled with love and happiness…

Moving to the little village of Budbury, Zoe hopes the crisp Dorset sea breeze and gentle pace of life will be a fresh start for her and her goddaughter, Martha.

Luckily for them both, the friendly community at the café provide listening ears, sage advice, shoulders to cry on, and some truly excellent carrot cake. And when Martha's enigmatic, absent father suddenly turns up, confusing not only Martha but Zoe too, the love and support of their new-found friends is the best present they could ask for.

Have Zoe and Martha truly found their home at the Comfort Food Café?

My thoughts: I've read a couple of the Comfort Food Cafe books before, and really enjoyed them, and I'm happy to say that Coming Home... is another excellent book from Debbie Johnson.

Zoe is our narrator for this book, a new character who hasn't been in the previous ones. The story starts in the summer of the year Zoe's best friend (and Martha's mum) has died. Following Kate's wishes, Zoe has become Martha's guardian, and they now live together, but unsurprisingly they're both struggling a lot. For 16-year-old Martha, that's taking form in her sneaking out the house, sneaking into clubs, and drinking too much. Zoe is worried for both of them, so uses her savings to quit work for a few months and take them down to the Dorset coast to stay in a picturesque holiday village.

One of the things I like about Debbie Johnson's writing is that she does a 'tragic backstory' very well. It's not overdone, it doesn't feel forced - she writes grief very well, and that comes through in all the Comfort Food Cafe books. I'm reluctant to call the book 'contemporary romance' - there is a slight romantic element to the book, but predominantly it's about dealing with tragedy, making fresh starts, and raising a teenager. I really enjoyed the focus on those elements, and how the importance of friendship shines through in the books. The village of Budbury, with its social focus being the Comfort Food Cafe, has a really strong little community, and gradually Zoe and Martha both start to engage with it, and discover some incredibly supportive friends.

Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe is a beautifully heartwarming story that will have you crying both sad and happy tears! It's about the ups and downs of starting over, the importance of friendship, and about being a parent. Cosy autumn reading, with a lovely Christmassy finish. I'm giving it 7/10.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book review: The Bastard Legion by Gavin Smith

Title: The Bastard Legion
Author: Gavin Smith
Release date: 5th October 2017
Publisher: Gollancz 
Genre: Science Fiction 
Series: The Bastard Legion #1
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and "rehabilitated" in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Corbin, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman's Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska's own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?

My thoughts: I loved the concept of the book as soon as I heard it, and since I'd heard good things about Gavin Smith's writing, I thought it would be a good book to start with. The story starts as Miska is about to take a small group of the prisoners she has been trying up onto an asteroid to take back control of it from a rebel group. It quickly becomes apparent when they arrive that Miska has not been given the full story about the rebels, their capabilities, and any reasons they might have to rebell. The bulk of the story focuses on the campaign to take over the asteroid, with occasional flashbacks to Miska's past: partly as she was securing the job and beginning to train the prisoners and partly looking at the events that led her to steal the prison ship in the first place and the bigger reasons for her taking it.

There aren't too many scientific terms or explanations in the book, but there are a lot of sci-fi weapons, equipment and body modifications. The fights between Miska's team and the rebels, and a few other people, are described in great detail. Personally I didn't need to know the names of each weapon being used at any time, but as Miska has been a marine, I think it makes sense that she (as the narrator) would call things by their proper names, so I adjusted to it after a while.

I liked the characters, particularly Miska who we get to know best. Some of the others are very intriguing as well, and I'll be interested to see how they develop over the trilogy and to learn more about their backgrounds. Overall I enjoyed the book - it's a fun read with a lot of mouthy mercenaries and vivid gunfights, as well as some interesting imaginings of technology and society in the future. I'm giving The Bastard Legion  by Gavin Smith 7/10. And I'm glad to hear that book 2 is also out this month, on ebook! 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Book review: Wychwood by George Mann

Title: Wychwood
Author: George Mann
Release date: 12 September 2017
Publisher: Titan
Genre: Crime
Source: Bought

Description: After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother's house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-Under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong. Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwood: a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. 
Elspeth recognizes these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court ddp in the forest. As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades. 

My thoughts: The story begins with Elspeth pulling up to her mum's house, come to stay for a while, only to find that police have blocked off the road. No one is allowed into the crime scene area, but Elspeth pops through her house and hops over the wall at the bottom of their garden. While sneaking around, she not only sees the body, but also bumps into her childhood friend Peter, now a police officer.

I really liked Elspeth as a character. She's warm and relatable, and determined to get back on her feet after the blow that sent her back to her mum's. She works hard, and her curiosity almost always gets the better of her. Wychwood is a fairly standard police investigation into a string of murders, with Elspeth accompanying Peter as he interviews several people who might be able to shed light on things.

It's a really good book, I was hooked early on, but I was disappointed by the lack of magic or fantasy elements in the book. I guess I went into it expecting something more like Ben Aaronovitch or Paul Cornell's books, where police discover that there's magic in the world, and the magical becomes a big part of the story. In Wychwood, the only reason the reader knows that magic is definitely involved is because of occasional short interludes from the killer's point of view. I'd also hoped that it might be the start of a series, but while there can easily be more cases for Elspeth and Peter, I'm not sure how believably anything magical could be tied to the town again, after the events of Wychwood.

All in all, I did enjoy Wychwood a lot, and have been recommending it to people, but it wasn't quite the book I was expecting when I started reading. A page-turning crime thriller set in a cosy English town, this book is a perfect autumn read, particularly with Halloween coming up. I'm giving it 7/10, but I'll be more cautious going into future books by George Mann.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book review: Archangel's Viper by Nalini Singh

Title: Archangel's Viper
Author: Nalini Singh
Publication date: 28th September 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Guild Hunter
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Once a broken girl known as Sorrow, Holly Chang now prowls the shadowy gray underground of the city for the angels. But it’s not her winged allies who make her a wanted woman—it’s the unknown power coursing through her veins. Brutalized by an insane archangel, she was left with the bloodlust of a vampire, the ability to mesmerize her prey, and a poisonous bite.

Now, someone has put a bounty on her head…

Venom is one of the Seven, Archangel Raphael’s private guard, and he’s as infuriating as he is seductive. A centuries-old vampire, his fangs dispense a poison deadlier than Holly’s. But even if Venom can protect Holly from those hunting her, he might not be able to save himself—because the strange, violent power inside Holly is awakening…

No one is safe.

My thoughts: Long-time readers of the blog will know that I'm a big fan of Nalini Singh's books. Before I started the book, I wasn't sure how I felt about Venom as the hero: he's quite cold and scary in the other books, and has mostly had an 'off-stage' role so far. All of my doubts quickly vanished once he walked onto the page. Venom and Holly have a very prickly relationship. Venom has helped Holly through the most difficult time of her life, while she was adjusting to being a newly-made not-quite-vampire with powers that couldn't be anticipated. She trusts him, but she's very snarky and sarcastic with him. Of course, Venom gives as good as he gets, and I loved reading their bickering.

Venom has been away from New York City for the past two years. Now he's back, and Holly has to work with him again. But just after she's collected him from the airport, some (rather incompetent) mercenaries try to kidnap Holly. The two main arcs of the story are Holly & Venom investigating the reason for the attempted kidnapping, and trying to deal with Holly's growing, changing powers, which are developing quickly as the fragments of Uram's power left inside Holly begin to change.

I did feel like it was a much less complex plot than some of them in this series; the focus is much less on 'what's going on here and how do we fix it' and more on the 'how do we fix it' element alone. However, the romance between the two characters balances that out. They already know each other quite well by the time the story starts, so the fact that it develops into more of a romantic relationship as events in the book nudge them into closer proximity to each other felt believable. They're both interesting characters, and Holly is still dealing with a lot of personal problems that have resulted from her change. Venom presents a hard exterior to the world, but Holly manages to soften him up eventually.

Archangel's Viper answers some questions that have built over previous books, and fills in some gaps of what was happening in New York during the time Archangel's Heart takes place. It's an exciting plot, and throws some more light on Michaela, who has been (and remains) a rather enigmatic character so far. The relationship between Holly and Venom really steals the show, though, and I know that this is one of Nalini's books which I'll read again and again for that sparky, fun relationship. Overall I'm giving Archangel's Viper 8 stars.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

Title: The Last Namsara
Author: Kristen Ciccarelli
Publication date: 12th October 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: There are some stories that are too dangerous to be told…
Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she's sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the terrible deed she committed as a child; she told one of the forbidden stories, one of the stories that summon the deadly dragons and that killed her mother. In doing so she almost destroyed her city and was left her with a terrible scar.
Only the death of Kozu, the first Dragon, will bring Asha true redemption, unite her father's fractured kingdom and allow her to avoid a horrifying arranged marriage. But no matter how hard she tries, the temptation to tell forbidden stories is something she cannot resist.

My thoughts: Oh my goodness, what a book! There is so much wrapped up in this wonderful story it's hard to know where to start.

Telling a story out loud calls to dragons, and causes people to become ill. But since Asha needs to get close to dragons in order to kill them, she tells old stories when she's alone. It's worked well for her so far, and things seem set to carry on that way - except that Asha is due to be married very soon. It's quickly revealed that her fiancé Jarek is vile. He's abusive, physically harming Asha's cousin to manipulate Asha into doing things he wants. There were so many ways throughout the book that he controls Asha, and others. This was a bad guy who I could truly hate.

Knowing she doesn't want to marry this man, Asha's father promises that if she kills the oldest dragon, he'll break the engagement. Like the best traditional stories, she's got just a few days to achieve the impossible task, with new challenges and setbacks interfering all the time. Add in to the mix a slave who she's rescued from the vile Jarek and is now trying to keep secret, while he challenges her loyalties and ideas about the slave class, along with protecting her cousin and keeping her storytelling a secret, it's a lot to handle for one young woman.

What I love about this book is how stories are so intricately woven through it. Apart from the obvious aspect in the plot with stories being forbidden and their magical ability to summon dragons, sections of the book are broken up by short stories from the history of the city & its people, which provide a nice interlude, deepen the world-building, and, you gradually realise, add more clues about some of the plot twists. Then there's the feeling of the story itself - I mentioned an impossible task, and it feels like a very traditional, old-fashioned story in that way - something like the Thousand And One Nights, or a fable. The story has a strong emphasis on spoken storytelling; oral tradition. I think the book itself echoes this: I could definitely imagine sitting on the floor by the fire while someone tells this story.

It's such a rich book. The writing is incredible, I want to read it again, and get the audiobook so that I can have that experience of listening to it; it really really feels like it's intended to be spoken, like the interlude stories. It reminded me of what I love about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - there are many little episodes along the way which make a cohesive whole. There are so many twists in The Last Namsara. Part way through, when I could see the general structure of the story, I thought 'there's no way she can wrap everything up and do it justice in one book'... and yet, Kristen Ciccarelli does exactly that. The ending leaves it open for a sequel, but everything was wrapped up in The Last Namsara that I wanted to see. I could gush about this book all day, so let me stop there, and add only that it's a ten star read for me, and one of my top five books I've read this year. Just incredible storytelling.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Book review: Vigil by Angela Slatter

Title: Vigil
Author: Angela Slatter
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication date: July 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Verity Fassbinder #1
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Description: Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds.

The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength - and the ability to walk between us and the other - as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.

But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale - and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways - and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.

And Verity must investigate - or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

Vigil is the first book in award-winning author Angela Slatter's Verity Fassbinder series.

My thoughts: Thank you, Angela Slatter, for writing the urban fantasy book you wanted to when many people have said that 'trend' is over. I'm always looking for new urban fantasy novels, and Vigil is so well written and has a complex, multi-facted plot; I'll be buying the sequel very soon.

Verity is half-human, half-Weyrd. However, her father (the magical parent) was convicted of a horrific crime while she was a child, and many people still shun her. She seems to do odd jobs for Weyrd people who need help - a bit like a PI. She also regularly works for the local magical council, and her contact with them is a vampire, Bela, who you quickly learn she's had a relationship with in the past.

This is one of those stories that hits the ground running - Verity doesn't explain in her internal monologue how long ago she broke up with Bela, or the specifics of how she's badly injured her leg, or how she knows the man who frequently acts as her driver. She's quickly asked to investigate the problem of disappearing children, and we're off. I liked that there is a lot going on in this book. Verity is trying to balance several cases at once, and while I suspected that some of the strands might tie together later in the book, there are a lot of different things happening, which kept the pace swift; I couldn't stop turning the pages.

I felt like all the main characters had a lot of depth to them. Each major player is interesting enough that I'd like to read at least a short story of novella that just focuses on them, and I'm glad that some of my favourites will undoubtedly be regulars in the series as it develops. I really enjoyed having Verity as the narrator, too: she's a very likeable character, quite sarcastic, but working very hard to protect the people living in her city (Brisbane) whether she likes the individuals or not.

Vigil is a great new urban fantasy novel: crimes to be solved in a world of both humans and magic. The characters are intriguing and the plot has many layers. I'm giving the book 8/10, and I'll definitely be buying book two of the series!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book review: Freshers by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

Title: Freshers
Author: Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
Release date: 3rd August 2017
Publisher: Chicken House
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Won

Description: Phoebe has been waiting all summer for uni to start and her life to finally begin. And knowing Luke Taylor is going to be there too makes the whole thing even more exciting...

But Luke's relationship is secretly falling apart and campus life isn't proving to be the escape he thought it would be. 

When the two collide in the madness of Freshers' Week, everything changes - and they both get sucked into each other's worlds in the most messy, intense and hilarious ways imaginable...

My thoughts: As soon as I heard that this book was set at university, and wasn't a 'new adult', insta-love, lots-of-sex-with-an-older-guy type story (as so many are with a university setting) I knew I had to read it. Since I went to uni, I've noticed the lack of good stories set there. I love this book for many reasons, and I'll try to cover a few here, but I think what it boils down to is that, all my life I had books to guide me through experiences, except at university. The YA genre provides so many coping strategies for different high school situations, and so many examples of people with different opinions, different hobbies, different attitudes, that I could always find something that fit with my experiences. And there are so many books aimed at adults that gave me an idea of what to expect for when I entered the 'real world'. But there's this big gap across university life. I desperately wish I'd had this book during my first year at uni; it would have helped me a lot.

Phoebe has come to a university far from her London friends, but in a happy coincidence, her high school crush is going there too. Their first meeting in Freshers' Week is predictably awkward, but by the end of the week they're friends. While their somewhat on-again-off-again romance that runs through the year has a big part in the story, I love that the book manages to cover so many situations and so many of the different ways people experience university in just one book. Phoebe makes some great friends almost straight away, a combination of people in her halls, at classes, and through societies. Luke has an easy in with the football crowd, but apart from that, he doesn't really make friends with people the way he'd hoped, and as the year goes on, football, which had been something he enjoyed & was good at in school, becomes less and less comfortable for him.

As the story is told alternately from Luke and Phoebe's perspectives, the book can cover a lot of ground with the people shown. There is the guy who always seems to be late to class, a bit of a mess, yet everyone loves; there are very studious people; there are groups of people who hang out almost exclusively with their coursemates & no one else seems to understand. Then some of the situations: first date, finding a part-time job, getting lost, a condom incident, a protest, dealing with cyber-bullying & slut-shaming.

I'd urge everyone who is starting uni, or already there, to read Freshers - it's practically a guide-book to things that could well happen, and how to (maybe) cope with them. I'm sure lots of people have made the comparison to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but I'm going to say it again; if you liked one, you should read the other. Freshers is a fantastically broad book with what it covers, without it ever feeling like they pushed to include unlikely situations; everything is very real and the characters are brilliant. I loved it - this is one of my 10/10 books this year.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book review: The Major Meets His Match by Annie Burrows

Title: The Major Meets His Match
Author: Annie Burrows
Publication date: September 2017
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Wastrel, rebel, layabout…just a few of the names Lord Becconsall has hidden his quick intellect and sharp wit behind over the years. Recently titled, ex-military and required to wed, Jack views ton ladies with a cynical eye… Until he falls upon–quite literally–Lady Harriet Inskip.

After years of being overlooked, Harriet cannot believe that Lord Becconsall is the only person to truly see her. But between his taunts and her fiery disposition, it's soon clear that the major has finally met his match!

My thoughts: Lady Harriet has come to London for the Season to stay with her aunt and be launched into society alongside her younger cousin. More used to the countryside and her academic mother, Harriet is not finding London to her liking, or the endless social events her aunt takes her to. While sneaking out for an early morning ride, she bumps into Lord Becconsall (Jack) and his friends. Jack decides he must find out who she is, and subsequently meets her at a ball.

Their interactions are sharp, as they poke at each other but also allow themselves to be honest, something they haven't done with others in their life recently. I really enjoyed reading about them getting to know each other, and seeing them grow closer, then draw back, then get closer again, and so on. It's a very believable relationship, which is a huge plus in my book - so often, relationships seem rushed to the point that I can't bring myself to believe them, but the pacing in The Major Meets His Match is excellent.

I also loved the other relationships in the book. Harriet gets on well with her aunt and cousin, and really appreciates how her aunt is trying to help her, while still having a good relationship with both of her own parents. Of course we need a little bit of angst, which comes in the form of Jack's disapproving (and now dead) father, who thought his estate would be passed to one of Jack's brothers. Having never expected to inherit anything, Jack must deal with the pressure of learning to manage an estate, and the weight of expectations (or lack thereof) of the various staff tied in to the estate.

This is book one of a series, with the others to follow Jack's three friends, I think. There's an interesting theft plot that kicks off in The Major Meets His Match and isn't entirely solved, so I expect there will be more about that in the next book. I don't think I've read anything by Annie Burrows before, but I'm always looking for more well written historical romance, so I'm going to go and find her previous books now, and I'll definitely read the sequel to this one when it comes out. A believable romance with all the rogues and parties you'd hope for in historical romance, The Major Meets His Match was a great read. Annie Burrows is an author all fans of the genre should try. 8 out of 10.

Amongst other places, you can buy the book from Amazon and Waterstones.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review: Marked by Sue Tingey

Title: Marked
Author: Sue Tingey
Publication date: May 2015
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Source: Bought

Description: Lucky de Salle can see ghosts, but it's daemons she should be worried about. 

With no family and very few friends, Lucky's psychic ability has always made her an outcast. The only person she can rely on is Kayla, the ghost girl who has been with her since she was born. 

But Kayla is not all that she appears. 

Then again, neither is Lucky... 

My thoughts: Marked gets off to a quick and spooky start, which drew me in and made me very glad I'd picked it up. Unfortunately it then slowed right down for a few chapters, while more of Lucky's life is set up and she meets up a couple of times with a mysterious man who is supposedly asking for her help, but seems to know a lot more than he is willing to share. Lucky also made a lot of really dumb decisions in this part of the story. Hopefully it means that we'll see a marked growth in Lucky's decision making over the course of the series, but it made her a lot more irritating as a point-of-view character for a while when it was obvious she was doing silly things.

After a few slow chapters, Marked thankfully picked up again. My favourite parts of the book happen after Lucky heads for the daemon underworld, accompanied by three bodyguards she has met earlier in the book. I loved seeing her adjust to the underworld, which has a similar feel to it as many of the 'fae lands' you see in other books. Lucky is in a position where she's going to get tangled up with the court politics of the underworld, and she has to learn quickly that things work very differently here than they do in the normal world. I also got a bit of a Merry Gentry vibe as Kayla's retinue of bodyguards is increased and they all happen to be very good looking men, particularly as two of them are very strong in their own right and have clashing magical powers. That's definitely a good thing though, as I loved that series, but I hope the love triangle doesn't end up taking over the plot in the rest of the series.

I really enjoyed the political manoeuvring, and I'm looking forward to more of that in the next book, Cursed. I think the characters are well written - there are a lot of opinionated people, but they all have their own distinct personalities, which can be hard to pull off. And there's a dragon who can change his size, and dragons are always a good thing.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, and will picking up book two in the series when I can find it. I'm giving it 7/10.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book review: Deacon by Kit Rocha

Title: Deacon
Author: Kit Rocha
Publication date: 29th August 2017
Genre: Dystopian/Romance
Series: Gideon's Riders #2
Source: Review copy from author

Description: Book #2 in explosive new series from bestselling author Kit Rocha...

Ana has trained most of her life to achieve one goal: to prove that anything men can do, she can do better. Now she’s Sector One’s first female Rider, and being the best is the only way to ensure she won’t be its last. Distractions aren’t allowed--especially not her painful attraction to the reserved but demanding leader whose stern, grumpy demeanor has already gotten into her head.

Deacon has spent the last twenty years trying to atone for his past, but the blood he spilled as a mercenary and assassin will never wash away entirely. If his riders knew the extent of his sins, he’d lose their trust and respect. It’s easier to keep them all at arm’s length, especially Ana. But his newest recruit’s stubbornness is starting to crack his defenses.

And their sparring matches are driving him wild.

The passion sparking between them can’t be denied, but neither can the vengeance barreling toward Deacon. When his old squad comes back to punish him for his betrayal, Ana and the Riders are squarely in the line of fire. The only way to save his people may be to make the ultimate sacrifice.

But first, he has to convince Ana not to follow him straight into hell.

My thoughts: I continue to be a huge fan of Kit Rocha, and I'm really glad that the Gideon's Rider series takes us back to their dystopian future America. In Deacon, readers get to know the group of Riders much better. If you're new to the series, the Riders are a group of men (and now a woman) who protect the area of the city known as Sector One, and particularly its royal family.

Ana is the first woman who has been allowed to join the Riders, so there are a lot of people watching her, and a lot of expectations resting on her. She feels like she's an experiment - that she must do well, otherwise they'll never let a woman join again. She can't risk anyone ever thinking that she got through a test or a hard patch of training just because Deacon went easy on her because she's a woman. And that means she certainly shouldn't be thinking about sleeping with him. I was really interested to see how Ana handled these issues, and I'm pleased with how things turned out.

When a sinister playing card is found at the site of an arson attack, Deacon knows it's a message from the assassin gang known as the Suicide Kings, a gang he used to belong to. Many years ago they sent Deacon to kill Gideon, but he never went back. Now he thinks they're looking for him, and that he must face them head on: kill or be killed. I think the tension was done really well with the Suicide Kings plotline. I really didn't know where it was going, and whether people would come out of it ok or not. There are some very tense moments, and I love how the characters support each other and play off one another.

As for the romance, I liked these two as a couple. Their biggest challenge is to figure out together how to make their personal relationship work alongside their professional one, and where to draw the lines between the two. It leads to some really difficult and really moving scenes - as with many a Kit Rocha book, make sure you have your tissues close to hand! A dystopian twist on the falling-for-the-boss trope, I loved the nail-biting plot and thought the romance meshed with it perfectly - it was one solid story, not a separate love story & action story.
I'm giving Deacon by Kit Rocha 8 out of 10.

You can find it on iBooks and Amazon, amongst other places.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Title: Scrappy Little Nobody
Author: Anna Kendrick
Release date: November 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Autobiography
Source: Gift from friend

Description: A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

My thoughts: I'm aiming this year to read six non-fiction books; combined with the fact a friend offered me a copy of the book, this is mostly why I read it. It's the second non-fic book I've finished, so I need to speed up a little with that challenge.

The book starts at the beginning of Anna's life, with some funny stories about her personality during primary school, before moving to look at how she got involved in professional musical theatre in her early teens. Once it gets to her living in LA, things start to jump around a bit more and become more topical, with stories about learning to live alone, dating, sex, and learning about fashion. She throws in lots of little anecdotes involving famous people she's worked with, which were fun to read.

I found the first section of the book really interesting; I always like to hear about how someone ended up in their career. I did get a little bored in the middle though - I felt like, there are better places to get dating advice, and at this point, a lot of this advice is kind of too late for me, I've learned the lessons myself and am doing ok now, really. I didn't care about the awkward dating experiences she had in high school, those stories just weren't particularly interesting to me.

I did find the book more enjoyable towards the end. I liked the funny stories of things that had happened while filming various movies, and at events like the Oscars. I think if you like celebrity autobiographies, you will probably enjoy this one as well, or if you're interested in an acting career. For me, it slowed down a lot in the middle and I had to push myself to keep going. I don't think I'll be looking at more autobiographies from people this age any time soon. Overall, I'll give Scrappy Little Nobody 6 out of 10.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book review: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson

Title: I Have No Secrets
Author: Penny Joelson
Release date: 4th May 2017
Publisher: Egmont
Genre: YA Crime
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: Jemma knows who did the murder. She knows because he told her. And she can't tell anyone. 

Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate or move, she relies on her family and carer for everything. She has a sharp brain and inquisitive nature, and knows all sorts of things about everyone. But when she is confronted with this terrible secret, she is utterly powerless to do anything. Though that might be about to change...

A page-turning thriller seen through the eyes of a unique narrator, this is a truly original, heart-rending and compulsive book for young adult readers. Perfect for fans of Wonder, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Looking for JJ.

My thoughts: I Have No Secrets is told in first person by Jemma, who is unable to communicate with anyone around her - she can't even move her eyes. I really liked that the book showed me a new perspective; I've never really thought about what life might be like in that situation, or read a book told from that point of view. You really see how powerless Jemma is.

One of the big problems for her is that she's really uncomfortable with her carer's boyfriend. Since the carer, Sarah, lives in, Dan comes round to their house often and makes fun of Jemma when he's alone in a room with her. Early on in the story, he implies to Jemma that he's responsible for the murder of a young man who lives on her street. Then, Sarah goes missing. Of course, Jemma suspects Dan, but she has absolutely no way to tell anyone else about what he'd said to her.

While I did want to know what had happened to Sarah, I have to admit that I got a bit bored reading this book. By her very nature, Jemma is a passive narrator. The plot moves forwards as people talk about things within Jemma's hearing. Someone goes off to do something, comes back, and talks about it. For the majority of the book, things happen around Jemma, not because of her, and I found that very slow and not particularly exciting. So much of the action in the main plot thread (the murder investigation) happens off-page. It really emphasises the struggle Jemma has each day, which is great for broadening the horizons of the reader, but it's not so good at making the story engaging. Overall I have to give this 5 out of 10. It's an interesting idea, but I don't think it worked to make an exciting book - and when it's focussed on a murder investigation, I think the story ought to be exciting.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book review: Tempted by the Bridesmaid by Annie O'Neil

Title: Tempted by the Bridesmaid
Author: Annie O'Neil
Release date: 1st August 2017
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: The last time brooding Italian surgeon Luca Montovano saw bubbly heiress Francesca Martinelli was at his best friend's failed wedding. Sparks flew then, and now she's made a surprise appearance at his mountaintop clinic, bringing a much-needed whirlwind of laughter!

Aristocratic Luca just wants to be left alone to care for his orphaned niece. The scars on his face reach right to his heart, and he's learned to push people away. Until Fran forces him to see the world through her eyes!

My thoughts: I've always liked romance stories, and what I particularly like about a Mills & Boon book is that I can pick one up and read it in just a few hours. It's a nice cosy evening thing to do and leaves me feeling all happy. Tempted by the Bridesmaid begins with Fran standing at the altar with her best friend, forcing herself to tell the bride and the priest that the groom is having an affair. As another good friend of the bride, Luca can't understand why Fran would 'wreck' everything, so they get off to a bad start on their first meeting.

However, their mutual friend has arranged for Fran to work with Luca over the summer: Fran trains therapy dogs, and is going to work with Luca's niece, who is in a wheelchair. Career path changed by the accident that disabled her, Luca is renovating some land to create a medical treatment facility for disabled patients, which has its grand opening part way through Fran's stay.

I liked that their romance is balanced by the questions of whether the clinic will be ready in time, and then whether it will be a success. Fran is a lovely woman who always sees the best in everything and is always trying to help with anything she can at the clinic. However, I have a problem with Luca. Their relationship is very 'sparky', they argue despite being very attracted to each other, but I noticed halfway through the book that Luca will be thinking about some nice, thoughtful thing Fran is doing, and how she's so wonderful, then he'll snap out something grumpy and hurtful at her, then immediately be thinking that he regrets it. He does it again and again and again. I think if he really did regret it, he would have stopped doing it. To me, it did not read as a healthy, happy relationship and I couldn't buy in to Luca being an appealing hero, or the two of them having a happily-ever-after with the way he was shown in this book. By the end, I could believe that the ending was the start of his redemption, but I would have liked to see the change on the page, rather than being left to imagine it.

This is getting a solid 5 out of 10 from me. There are elements of a sweet romance, and a nice secondary plot with the clinic, but it's a pretty straightforward story, and the hero being a dick so much of the time was very off-putting.

Buy it here: Amazon

Monday, August 7, 2017

Book review: Protecting Their Mate (Part 3) by Moira Rogers

Title: Protecting Their Mate (Part 3)
Author: Moira Rogers
Release date: August 7th 2017
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Erotica
Source: ARC from the authors

Description: As the full moon raises tensions–and appetites–Ashley indulges her wildest fantasies…and discovers what it truly means to belong to the pack. But Blake’s control is tested as outsiders descend on the pack’s territory, and Ashley discovers that following her heart may be the only way to find her mate.

Ashley’s heart longs for one man, but her wolf demands that she test herself against the alpha. Can she settle for a life of never knowing, or will she risk everything for Blake?

Protecting Their Mate was originally published as an eight part serial under the penname Mia Thorne. It has been repackaged, but the story remains the same.

My thoughts: This is the final part of a serialised story - here are my reviews of Part 1 and Part 2.

The sex in Part 3 is as steamy as in the rest of the story, and Ashley continues to explore her sexuality with all five other members of the pack. A deeper plot comes back a little here, which I thought was good - it got a bit lost in Part 2, I think. The threat of another pack who have made contact throws up some issues in this part of the story, as does the fact that the other pack have a female wolf of their own. Ashley's pack suspect that the other female might not be there willingly, so they come up with a plan to get to the bottom of things, and fix it if need be.

I love all the sexiness in this book, but I need plot, not just porn, so I was glad to have the additional conflicts become an equally large aspect of Part 3 as the quest for Ashley to find her mate is. I will read on in the series - the sequel is coming out later this year - but it'll be as a cheer-me-up, guilty pleasure sort of read, not because I'm desperate to find out what happens next with any aspects of the story.

I'm giving part three, and Protecting Their Mate as a whole, 6 out of 10.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Protecting Their Mate (Part 2) by Moira Rogers

Title: Protecting Their Mate (Part 2)
Author: Moira Rogers
Release date: 31st July 2017
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Erotica
Source: ARC from the authors

Description: As Ashley settles in to her life at the lodge, she meets more of her new pack mates–including wicked, intense Jud. His touch arouses her hunger–and Blake’s possessiveness.  Lucas, the unyielding alpha, grows concerned with the attachment between Blake and Ashley and sends Blake out on a mission.

While Blake is away, Ashley meets the most elusive member of her new pack—the enigmatic Connor, a hacker who, like her, was raised among humans. For Connor, sex is volatile—dangerous—and being near Ashley draws out the feral edge of the wolf inside him. As Ashley’s connection with Blake–and with Lucas—grows deeper, an outside force threatens the peace of the Last River pack.

Protecting Their Mate was originally published as an eight part serial under the penname Mia Thorne. It has been repackaged, but the story remains the same.

My thoughts: Firstly, my part 1 review is here.

The sexiness of part one continues as Ashley meets the rest of the pack and gets to know them... intimately. My favourite part was getting to see more about Connor, who has clearly had some kind of tough time in the past. He connects with Ashley in a way the others don't, but similarly, he doesn't feel the draw towards her as strongly as the others do, and it's clear to him that while he cares for her, they're not going to mate. I got the strong impression that Connor will have a different book focussed around him.

There are also hints about another pack in the area, who want to get in touch with Lucas's. I expect that's going to be a large focus in the third & final segment of this book.

There is a lot of sex in this part of the story, and not so much plot, but it's very well written sex, so it was a fun read! Since I think that's a big part of what the book was setting out to do, I can't fault it much for having a lighter plot than some Moira Rogers stories. I'm giving part 2 of Protecting Their Mate 6/10.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Mini review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Title: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
Release date: 2011
Publisher: HQ Young Adult
Series: The Iron Fey #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: Free copy via previous job

Description: Meghan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined. . .

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school. . . or at home. When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change. But she could never have guessed the truth— that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war.

Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face. . . and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

My thoughts: I have friends who rave about the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa and I like stories that use celtic faery stories so I thought I'd give it a go. Megan lives in the USA, until her brother is kidnapped and she discovers that she can enter a faery 'underworld'. She decides she has to rescue him, but along the way becomes entangled in other plots.

I liked the story to some extent, but it felt very similar to many other young adult fantasy stories, and linked to that, very predictable. I don't really know what else to say about it apart form that, it was a very 'meh' book and a pretty quick read. I do have others in this series on my bookshelf already, and I might read them at some point, but I don't feel any urgency to do so, I'm not feeling excited to find out what happens next. There were fun bits in the book, the writing was alright, but nothing about it stood out to me. This is a 5/10 read for me.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Protecting Their Mate (Part One) by Moira Rogers

Title: Protecting Their Mate (part one)
Author: Moira Rogers
Release date: 24th July 2017
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Erotica
Source: ARC from author

Description: Blake is on a mission from his alpha--to track down a werewolf whose parents dragged her into the human world years ago, one who may be in danger. He expects the lead to go nowhere, given how few wolves live among humans, but he discovers something rare indeed, caged in a basement: a beautiful, curvy woman gripped by the fever, ready to mate.

Ashley Todd has never fit in. She's always been too much--too big, too demanding, too aware of the wolf hiding beneath her skin. She's been locked away for months--been alone for a lifetime--and in walks Blake to save her from her prison. Her rescuer is hard, intense--a dominant wolf whose bossy attitude makes her growl...and yearn to submit.

Soothing Ashley's mating fever is Blake's responsibility--and his pleasure. Their passion is explosive, undeniable. But what started out as a job for Blake quickly becomes something more, and the toughest part of his mission looms: taking Ashley back to his pack so she can choose her permanent mate from amongst his brethren.

Ashley is drawn to dominant Blake, but meeting the rest of the pack reignites her desire. She is overwhelmed by her new life and all it entails, but embracing her inner wolf means embracing the truth: if she doesn't explore her attraction to the other members of the pack, she'll never find her forever mate .

Protecting Their Mate was originally published as an eight part serial under the penname Mia Thorne. It has been repackaged, but the story remains the same.

My thoughts: This is part one of a three part serialisation, with parts 2 & 3 to follow in the next couple of months. The story opens with a young woman called Ashley locked in a basement. She's fighting down her werewolf instincts, which are telling her 1) that she should shift into wolf form and 2) that she needs to find a mate. Luckily, she's soon rescued by Blake, another werewolf, who begins to correct some of the many lies she's been told about werewolf life. The most important thing is that as she's now in heat, only having sex will ease the pain she's experiencing and that she can sleep with lots of different members of the pack before it'll become clear who her mate is.

Blake and his pack have been searching for Ashley for a while, for various reasons. He's angry about the conditions he found her in but more than happy to look after her, doing anything she wants with his body...

Ashley has had a pretty horrible upbringing, but despite the host of revelations she gets as the pack bring her back to their home, she takes it in her stride. She's confident, and embraces the fun of getting to sleep with the other men in the pack, not just Blake.

It's a very sexy story, and there are also some hints dropped about problems in the wider werewolf community. I'm looking forward to seeing more about that in parts 2 & 3. It was a fast read, as you'd expect from part of a serial. I'm giving part one 6/10 - it was very sexy, but most of the plot revolves around that.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book review: Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Title: Silver Silence
Author: Nalini Singh
Release date: 15 June 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity #1
Source: Bought (at Waterstones)

DescriptionControl. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him.

Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.

Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

My thoughts: I'm a huge Nalini Singh fan, and this world is my favourite. It follows on from her Psy-Changeling novels but as the main story arc of those books has now come to a close, this new book marks a step in a slightly different direction, following a new pack and focussing on a new area of the globe (although there are cameos from some familiar faces).

I was excited about the new characters before I started reading, and I'm pleased to say that they live up to the packs from the original series. There are jokers, trouble makers, and that overwhelming sense of family. There are just a couple of people who we get to know well in the pack, but already several who I want to see get more stage time and explore their stories. I think this is one of Nalini Singh's great strengths - her supporting characters are all detailed enough that you want to know their own story, without them being so strong as to steal the show.

Valentin is very playful, particularly with Silver, who he's decided to pursue before the book starts. Being an alpha, of course he also has a lot of responsibilities, and he's always looking out for the people in his pack. Silver, we've met already in previous books, and I loved seeing more of her family dynamic, and how, despite them being Psy, they're very close as a family.

I enjoyed the political aspects of the story, the conflicts going on in the wider world and how Silver and (to a lesser extent) Valentin are tied in to them. I wasn't so keen on the internal conflicts, like Silver's issues that hold her back from letting go of her Silence. I'm being vague to avoid spoilers, but I didn't like how the issue was resolved - I didn't think it was explained well enough. While we met a lot of the bear pack, who are all a lot of fun and I can't wait to read more about them, we don't meet many knew Psy. I think I would have liked to get a few more new characters on that side of things. One notable exception is Silver's brother, who is gay. I'm so happy that it looks like there might be a male/male romantic pairing getting a more central focus. Nalini Singh has had same-sex relationships between side characters before in the series, but those were already established off-page, and there was never much attention on those characters. With Arwen that might change!

Unsurprisingly, given my love for all the other Nalini Singh books I've read, I really enjoyed Silver Silence. It's not my favourite in the Psy/Changeling world, but I do think it's an excellent start to a new story arc, and I'm already looking forward to the next one. Overall, I'm giving Silver Silence 8 out of 10.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

June Reading Wrap-Up

I hope everyone had a good week? It was my first week back after a holiday, so a bit of a struggle, but I did manage to film a reading wrap up for the books I've read over the last six weeks or so. I'll do some written reviews of books mentioned, but here is a brief summary.

Have you read any of these? What do you think? And what's on your reading pile for the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book reviewe: You Will Grow Into Them by Malcolm Devlin

Title: You Will Grow Into Them
Author: Malcolm Devlin
Publication date: 12th June 2017
Publisher: Unsung Stories
Genre: Horror
Source: E-copy for review from publisher

Description: The world is a far stranger place than we give it credit for. There, in the things we think familiar, safe, are certain aspects. Our fears and desires given form. Moments that defy explanation. Shadows in our home.
In Malcolm Devlin’s debut collection, change is the only constant. Across ten stories he tackles the unease of transformation, growth and change in a world where horror seeps from the mundane. Childhood anxieties manifest as debased and degraded doppelgängers, fungal blooms are harvested from the backs of dancers and lycanthropes become new social pariahs. The demons we carry inside us are very real indeed, but You Will Grow Into Them.
Taking weird fiction and horror and bending them into strange and wondrous new shapes, You Will Grow Into Them follows, in the grand tradition of Aickman, Ligotti and Vandermeer, reminding us that the everyday world is a much stranger place than it seems.

My thoughts: I read the occasional short story online, but don't buy them very often, but since I'm trying to step out of my reading comfort zones this year, I thought I would give it a try when Unsung Stories offered me a copy of You Will Grow Into Them to review. It's a collection of horror stories with a fantasy element to them, which varies in strength from one story to the next.

I have to say that as a whole, I didn't enjoy the stories all that much, and it was for the same reason with most: the endings. I felt like most of them left the endings on far too much of a 'draw your own conclusions' note, and I would have preferred to have some more concrete answers to what was going on. Let me quickly hop through each of the stories.

Passion Play - A girl acts out the last steps of her missing friend for a TV appeal. I really wanted to know what had happened to the friend, and how many of the things friends & neighbours thought they had seen were actually true, but the conclusion you get is a bit vague.

Two Brothers - The older brother goes off to boarding school, when he returns for the holidays his younger brother knows something's not right. Again, I wanted concrete answers, and in this one the reader is very much left to draw their own conclusions.

Breadcrumbs - Magic takes over a city tower block and affects all the residents. I think this was the one where I was happiest with the ending, I did quite enjoy how you see the attitudes change over the course of the story, and the gradual acceptance and adaption of the people.

Her First Harvest - on a colonised planet, crops are grown on the humans themselves. This one icked me out a bit, so I skimmed through it - no strong thoughts about it other than the slightly gross factor!

Dogsbody - A few years ago, some people turned into werewolves for a few hours but it's never happened again. I liked this story a lot, seeing the prejudices the main character has been facing and also how his attitude is affecting his whole life. I wanted to know where they would turn into werewolves again but that isn't where the story goes. I guess my own expectations and hopes got in the way a little bit with this one.

We All Need Somewhere To Hide - This had the most promising set up for me. It's an urban fantasy-type story, with a demon hunter as the main character. I feel like there's so much potential in this story for it to be bigger - novella length at least - and obviously in a short story those avenues couldn't all be explored and not all questions could be answered. My favourite story in the collection.

Songs Like They Used To Play - I don't know how to summarise this in one sentence. At one point I thought a cool time travel thing might be happening, but it turns out no. This story was just too weird all around for me, and there are no explanations at all of what was really going on in the spooky house.

The Last Meal He Ate Before She Killed Him - I don't want to give away the twists in this one, because a lot happens in a small space. It was ok, a bit creepy, but not overly memorable or special.

The Bridge - I didn't really understand what was going on in this story that was spooky, or what the story was trying to get at. A bit meh, unmemorable.

The End of Hope Street - Houses on the same street gradually become 'unliveable', killing anyone inside, and the story looks at how the residents adapt. Interesting, but once again, no whys, which was frustrating.

All around, the stories are interesting and have potential, but left me feeling
unfulfilled & frustrated. 5/10.