Monday, December 30, 2019

Book Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik


Title: Throne of Jade
Author: Naomi Novik
Publication date: 1998 (more recent editions available)
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Bought
Series: Temeraire #2

Description: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo – an unhatched dragon’s egg – Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands – and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East – a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

My thoughts: This is the second book in the Temeraire serious, although it had been about ten years, probably, since I read the first so maybe I should have done a reread! There were a few characters who I didn’t remember from the first book, and some nuances of the internal politics in the fictional Britain of the book that I know I wasn't catching. Even so, I really enjoyed the book. It’s a lovely historical setting and I like the measured pace.

Temeraire is still very young, and over the course of the book, both he and Laurence are forced to look at slavery, servitude and duty in different guises, and consider their opinions on different issues. It’s a very interesting look at culture, I think.

I love the feel of this world, and although Throne of Jade felt like a bit of a set up book for things to come, I still really enjoyed it. I’m really excited to get to the rest of this series. I’m giving this book 7/10.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Book Review: Paris By The Book by Liam Callanan


Title: Paris By The Book
Author: Liam Callanan
Publication date: June 2018
Publisher: HQ
Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: In a city of millions, it’s easy to lose someone…

Twelve weeks before Leah Eady arrived in France, her husband disappeared. Early one morning, he walked out the door and never came back. All he left behind was a scrumpled note in a cereal box, leading her to the bustling streets of Paris.

Once she arrives, she discovers a mysterious unfinished manuscript written by her husband, and set in the very same city. Hoping to uncover more clues, Leah takes over a crumbling bookshop with her two young daughters, only to realise that he might just be closer than any of them ever imagined…

…but what if he doesn’t want to be found?

My thoughts: From the description and cover, I was expecting a light, charming story about a woman running a bookshop in a foreign country, trying to trace clues of her missing husband and struggling with life alone in a new place trying to look after her daughters. Well, the first big difference to that is that it is not light and charming. I found it incredibly boring and slow in a lot of places. It's trying hard to be 'literary', I think, which does not come across in the cover at all.

A good portion of the book is set before the family arrive in Paris. It covers Leah meeting her husband, their hopes and dreams, and how they don't actually communicate very well with each other. It's a look at a not-particularly-strong relationship. Then we get to him disappearing. I found all these flashbacks a bit frustrating, when I was promised a story about a bookshop in Paris. There isn't even much focus on the bookshop when the story does get there. Leah isn't really looking for clues - she's jumping at shadows, looking for her husband around every corner and on every stranger's face, unwilling to move on and accept that he walked out on her and their daughters.

Overall, I found this a very boring book, and I think it must have been one of the last ones that I pushed through until the end before I started embracing more of an acceptance for DNF'ing (did not finish-ing) books. Life is short, there are lots on my shelf I do want to read, so I'm not going to force myself to carry on with books I'm not enjoying. Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan gets 4 stars from me.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Book Review: Sunshine at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson


Title: Sunshine at the Comfort Food Cafe
Author: Debbie Johnson
Publication date: 8th March 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Comfort Food Cafe #4
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

Description: For Willow, the ramshackle café overlooking the beach, together with its warm-hearted community, offers friendship as a daily special and always has a hearty welcome on the menu. But when a handsome stranger blows in on a warm spring breeze, Willow soon realises that her quiet country life will be changed forever.

My thoughts: I love Debbie Johnson's Comfort Food Cafe series - while they've always got some really sad bits (and are quite formulaic with that aspect) they're real celebrations of found-family and how communities can come together. Willow has been in the series from the beginning, a young woman who spends most of the time caring for her mother who has Alzheimers. I was pleased to hear that she was a main character in this book, because we've seen her as a continual side character, and I was eager to find out more about her. Also, she's younger than some of the main characters have been, and at a more similar stage of life to me, so I thought I might relate to her situations more than I have with the characters who already have kids, for example.

When she's not looking after her mum, Willow works as a cleaner, with a business she set up and runs by herself. She's been employed to clean up a big local house, which used to be a children's home, and soon meets her employer, who turns out to be surprisingly handsome and surprisingly young. I loved that Tom was a bit of a geek, interested in sci fi & fantasy and how to survive a zombie apocalypse - a man after my own heart!

They have the usual mix of ups and downs, and deal with problems like Willow's strained relationship with her siblings, the trials of looking after her mum, and the interference of well-meaning neighbours who have seen her work so hard & just want her to be able to have some nice things for herself sometimes. It's an emotional ride in places, but as with the rest of the series, very uplifting and - as you might guess from the name - comforting. I love this series as a quick read to perk up a weekend. Overall, I'm giving it 8/10.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Book Review: The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes


Title: The City Stained Red
Author: Sam Sykes
Publication date: 10th September 2015
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 7/10
Series: Bring Down Heaven, #1
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Cier'Djaal, the City of Silk. This is the great charnel house where poor men eat dead rich men and become wealthy themselves.

Thieves and cultists clash for supremacy of the city's underworld. A religious war is brewing within its walls. The fury of the savage races in its slums is about to explode. Demons begin to pour from the shadows, the language of dead gods upon their lips. 

And it is here that the adventurer Lenk and his unfortunate companions find themselves in the middle once more. 

And the city bleeds...

My thoughts: I believe this is the second trilogy Sam Sykes has written, although this book is my first foray into his work. The story starts with a group of misfits who clearly already know each other well arriving at the port city of Cier'Djaal, armed with a large bag of money with which they will all start their new lives. Very shortly after arrival, the money is stolen.

The City Stained Red feels like a typical 'band of misfits thrown together to save the world' kind of story, with strain between some members of the group, and a budding romance between others. At the same time, it has the added interest of also feeling like "what happens to that band of misfits after they've saved the world?". There are problems in the growing relationship, ties that kept people together seem to be fraying fast, and there's the question of what mercenaries do in peacetime to keep a roof over their heads. I enjoyed this set up, and I think you can read the book happily without having read the previous trilogy, but I think some people might find the gang a trope that they've read before. I found it really fun to look at this aspect, what happens to them next, quite interesting though, as I think it gets to go a bit deeper into how strong the ties formed between people during an intense, stressful experience can really be - or not be.

Another thing I felt like while reading this was like I was playing a fantasy RPG. There was a main aim to begin with - getting into the city, and getting the money back - then side quests came along, and quests that turned out to be much bigger and more important than the initial aim, and romance subplots, and marauding locals getting you caught up in skirmishes, and a host of other fun things! I actually really enjoyed that, but again, I'm not sure it would be everyone's cup of tea.

I did enjoy this book, and Gollancz kindly sent me the whole trilogy, so book two is on my upcoming reads pile. Overall, I'm giving this one 7/10 stars.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Book Review: A Debutante In Disguise by Eleanor Webster


Title:  A Debutante In Disguise
Author: Eleanor Webster
Publication Date: 30th May 2019
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: A society lady... with a secret! 
Determined to help people, Letty Barton has a double life – she’s a trained doctor! No-one must know 'Dr Hatfield' is actually a woman. Called to an emergency, she comes face to face with her patient’s brother, Lord Anthony Ashcroft… They’d once shared a spark-filled flirtation – now he’s a brooding, scarred war-hero. But how long will it be before he recognises her, beneath her disguise, and the sparks begin to fly once more…?

My thoughts:  Letty has been able to train as a doctor, disguising herself as a man and with the help of her brother and his wife. She is popular with the poorer people in her area, respected as a doctor, but lives with the constant fear of discovery. She is determined that she will not marry, never having cared for a man and determined to keep practicing as a doctor.

Tony lost both his best friend and his brother at the Battle of Waterloo, then his father soon afterwards. He’s left with scars, nightmares, and the responsibility for his family estates. He’s heavily dependent on alcohol when he meets Letty and his pregnant sister befriends her. It’s a huge risk for Letty to keep spending time with Elsie when Tony ask Dr Hatfield to be Elsie’s doctor, but she can’t suppress her need to help people.

I loved Letty’s conviction about being a doctor. She is absolutely set on what she is doing and why. She’s not one of these historical romance heroines who either finds a noble calling right at the end of the book, or realised that they can set aside what they’ve always planned to do in favour of marrying the hero. It was also good to see a hero who isn’t the gorgeous rake everyone finds attractive.

 While there were many aspects of this book I enjoyed, I felt like there was a lot of potential that went unexplored. I would have liked to see a much more detailed development of Tony coming to terms with his scars and more of a look at him coping (or not) with the after effects of the battle. We very briefly see that he’s clearly an alcoholic, then all of a sudden he’s not drinking anymore. While some people can choose to just stop, most people who are dependent on something have to fight to build new habits without those vices. The author never explains why Letty is called ‘Lettuce’, either. It seems like it was just to make one small joke in the opening chapter. Those complaints aside, it was an enjoyable read, a nice little escape, which is what I always hope for with a historical romance novel. I’m giving A Debutante In Disguise 7 out of 10.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Book Review: Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


Title: Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertali
Publication date: April 2015
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Library

Description: Straight people should have to come out too. the more awkward it is, the better.

Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is - and what he's looking for.

But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hands, things get all kinds of complicated.

Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal …

It's a holy freaking huge awesome deal.

My thoughts: I had heard great things about this book, and planned to read it before Love, Simon (the film adaption) came out last year. Then I ended up getting early tickets with a group of my friends, so I actually came to the book with expectations and impressions for the film. I have a bit of a hit & miss relationship with contemporary YA, and find a lot of it either feels like I've read it before or the stakes just don't feel high enough for me to care about the story, but I was quickly sucked in to Simon Vs.

Simon already knows that he's gay at the beginning of the book, and when someone leaves an anonymous post with the pseudonym Blue on the local community message board, Simon sets up his own anonymous email account to reply. The book is a portrayal of friendship, growing up, and making mistakes, mixed in with a lovely epistolary love story. I enjoyed that with the book, you got to see so much more of Simon's friendships, and his encounters with both the person who turns out to be Blue, and people who Simon thinks might be.

It was a quick, enjoyable, mostly-light-hearted book that I really enjoyed and definitely recommend to fans of YA. I also think that if you enjoyed the film, you should definitely try the book too - as always with a book-to-film adaption, the original has way more stuff packed in, giving a much more emotional journey. Overall, I'm giving Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli 7 stars.

~Ailsa

Friday, May 17, 2019

May Reading Goals


One of the reasons I've not been blogging much recently is that I've been talking about books on my YouTube channel as well. As I get back into the habit of writing out my reviews, I'm going to be cross-posting my videos to here as well. So without further ado, here are my May reading goals!



Books mentioned:
Smoke in the Glass by Chris Humphries
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Leaf By Niggle by J. R. R. Tolkien
Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you think of them! And if you have a booktube channel of your own, leave a link in the comments and I'll check it out.

~Ailsa

Monday, May 13, 2019

Book Review: Smoke in the Glass by Chris Humphreys


Title: Smoke in the Glass
Author: Chris Humphreys
Publication date: 16th May 2019
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: A thrilling new dark fantasy series about immortality, war and survival, from the bestselling historical author Chris (CC) Humphreys
Three lands, peopled by humans and immortals. In Corinthium a decadent endlessly-lived elite run the world for profit and power. But when a poor, honest solider dies, and is reborn, everything changes. In wintry Midgarth, where immortals are revered as deities, one of them has realized that something - or someone - is killing the gods. And in Ometepe there is only one immortal, for he has murdered every other. Until one woman gives birth to a very special baby. Yet there is a fourth, hidden land, where savage tribes have united under the prophecy of 'the One': a child who is neither boy nor girl. Now they plan to conquer the world. Unless a broken soldier, a desperate mother and a crippled god can stop them...


My thoughts: 
I thought the concept of a society where everyone knows immortals exist, but you don’t discover someone is immortal until they die, was really interesting and I couldn’t wait to see how the story unfolded. Told in third person, it dips into other narrators from time to time but for the most part we follow three people: Luck, an immortal in the cold country that sounds quite Nordic; Atisha, in a warm but mountainous country with volcanoes nearby; and Ferros, in a slightly less-defined country that has hills, grasslands and some sea areas. There are four countries in this world, each divided from the others by unclimbable mountains, uncrossable seas, etc etc, so while people might suspect that there is something else beyond their borders, no one has ever come from or gone to those places. In each country immortality works slightly differently, which I enjoyed seeing too.

At first, the stories of our three main protagonists exist slightly separately, but very quickly Chris Humphreys starts to connect them with the impending threat from the mysterious fourth country. As the reader you can see how the events in one place will affect the others, and for me that made it more compelling and added to the tension in each person’s storyline.

It’s a book about tyrants (and how to overthrow them), bringing diverse tribes together (when all they want to do is fight) and coming to terms with a new life path (when you we’re perfectly content before). And it’s about the enduring power and effect of hope.

I loved that the ‘gift’ of immortality had slightly different forms in each of the counties, and that within the plot Chris Humphreys explores how that has lead to different developments of society, without the exploration slowing down or detracting from the overarching plot. I think it’s a very clever idea, and not one I’ve come across before.

Chris Humphreys skilfully weaves together several different storylines without any feeling like they’re rushed over and still manages to keep the momentum of the plot going throughout the book. It’s an intriguing new look at immortality in a fantasy novel, and I highly recommend it. This is the first in a series, and I’ll definitely be looking out for the sequels. I’m giving Smoke In The Glass 8 stars!

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Earl's Countess of Convenience by Marguerite Kaye


Title: The Earl's Countess of Convenience
Author: Marguerite Kaye
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Publication date: 4th April 2019
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

Description: Eloise Brannagh has witnessed first-hand the damage unruly passion can cause. Yet she craves freedom, so a convenient marriage to the Earl of Fearnoch seems the perfect solution! Except Alexander Sinclair is more handsome, more intriguing, more everything, than Eloise anticipated. Having set her own rules for their marriage, her irresistible husband might just tempt Eloise to break them!

My thoughts: The book opened with several pages of serious info-dumping as Eloise and her family discuss their past and set up the facts of the story opening: that the Earl has written to propose a marriage of convenience with Eloise. The slew of telling went on to the point that I completely lost track of who was being talked about. Despite that quite off-putting start, I did quickly get drawn in once Alexander Sinclair arrive at Eloise's house and they started talking. Each had formed various opinions about the other and now found that not only were those ideas quite wrong, but actually the other person was quite attractive and they were really enjoying talking to them.

I loved that the drama of the story is totally built around their relationship. Often in the historical romance books I've read, there is some kind of dramatic event near the end - a duel, a kidnapping, blackmail - that causes the hero and heroine to realise their true feelings for each other. In The Earl's Convenient Countess, Marguerite Kaye keeps the focus on the evolving relationship between Eloise and Alexander, looking at how time changes their opinions of each other, how they modify their behaviour based on what the other is saying or doing, and how they questions their own plans and desires. It gets so much more into the little actions that affect dynamics of a relationship than some historical romance novels do.

Marguerite Kaye's writing really flows, and I thought her descriptions of people and places were just right: bringing a scene to life without it feeling laboured or overdone. It's not a book full of glamorous parties (although there are some nice dinners and a shopping trip) or too much intrigue, but I don't think that detracts from the story in any way or made it feel like less of the kind of historical romance I was expecting. Overall, I'm giving The Earl's Countess of Convenience 7 out of 10. I found it a really interesting study of a relationship and it definitely lived up to my expectations of Marguerite Kaye's writing, which I've always enjoyed in the past.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Book Review: White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock


Title: White Rabbit, Red Wolf
Author: Tom Pollock
Publication date: 3rd May 2018
Publisher: Walker Books
Source: Review copy from publisher
Genre: Young Adult Thriller

Description: 
Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy. He also suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as well as Ingrid, his only friend. However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Pete is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine. Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength.

My thoughts:
I’d read one of Tom Pollock’s other books before, which has a strong fantasy element, and while this is very different I knew going in that I liked his writing, and I was intrigued by he fact it deals with an eating disorder and other mental health issues. White Rabbit, Red Wolf gets started very quickly, and is one of those books that's packed with twists and turns, making it very hard to talk about without spoilers!

The portrayal of Peter's panic attacks and how they link in to compulsive eating and other actions was fascinating. I've read that Tom Pollock has an eating disorder himself, and I wonder if that's part of what made it feel so authentic, understandable and real. Peter's best friend in the book, Ingrid, also has OCD and their mutual problems are part of what help them bond so strongly.

While there was the odd twist that I could anticipate, for the most part, I was completely surprised by them. Unlike some books where the 'surprising twists' just seem to crush the story so far and laugh at the reader for how they've been misdirected, the turns in White Rabbit, Red Wolf felt totally believable within the story. It's fast paced, dramatic, and one of those books that when I finished it, I immediately wanted to reread it knowing what you do by the end of the book. I completely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a thriller, even if you wouldn't normally read YA. Overall I'm giving it 8 out of 10.
 

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