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.