Monday, July 30, 2018

Mini Book Review: Big Bones by Laura Dockrill

Title: Big Bones
Author: Laura Dockrill
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: March 2018
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Borrowed

Description: The latest teen novel from the sparkling Laura Dockrill, introducing Bluebelle, and her moving, hilarious take on food, body image and how we look after ourselves and others

A heart-warming teen story from the unique voice of Laura Dockrill, about Bluebelle, aka BB, aka Big Bones - a sixteen-year-old girl encouraged to tackle her weight even though she's perfectly happy, thank you, and getting on with her life and in love with food. Then a tragedy in the family forces BB to find a new relationship with her body and herself. Moving, memorable and hilarious. 

My thoughts: Big Bones opens with Bluebelle at the doctor's, being told she should keep a food diary because of her weight. At first she refuses, but then makes a bargain with her mum: if she keeps the diary all summer, her mum will let her start an apprenticeship in the autumn rather than going back to school. Each chapter is named for a food, usually something BB eats during that chapter. But rather than just a list of foods, she also brings in memories of that food in her childhood, feelings associated with particular comfort foods, people associated with certain things, etc etc. It's a lovely look at the importance of food in a life beyond just sustenance.

It's very body positive, which is great to see in a young adult book. BB's attitude and thoughts are shaken a bit after an accident in the family. I found it interesting to read about how her opinions developed over the course of the book. Overall, it's a nice, upbeat book with a good message but it's not going to be something which stands out to me in December when I think back over what I've read this year. I'm giving Big Bones 6 out of 10.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Book Review: Snakewood by Adrian Selby

Title: Snakewood
Author: Adrian Selby
Publication date: 19th January 2017
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Traded with a friend


Mercenaries who gave no quarter, they shook the pillars of the world through cunning, chemical brews, and cold steel.

Whoever met their price won.

Now, their glory days are behind them. Scattered to the wind and their genius leader in hiding, they are being hunted down and eliminated.

One by one.

My thoughts: I heard Adrian Selby read from this book last year at Super Relaxed Fantasy Club in London, and thought the concept mercenaries who drank potions to help them in battle, then suffered various side effects from those potions, was really interesting. It sat on my wishlist until a friend was giving away his copy earlier this year, and I snapped it up. At the beginning of the book, two friends who used to be part of an elite group of mercenaries are going into a fight, and one of them gets shot, leaving him with a wound which they both know will be slowly fatal. They start to make the long journey across the country so that he can die at home, but quickly discover that they might have bigger things to worry about when the leader of their old band sends them a message to say that members of the group are slowly but surely being killed off.

For a fairly simple core concept, this book is full of drama, twists, and huge fight scenes. It's brilliantly executed, and had me absolutely gripped from the early chapters all the way through to the end. It's a fantasy novel which sprawls across a continent, with multiple narrators, including the 'baddie', flashbacks to the glory days of the mercenary band, and past events which shaped the motivations of some of the key players.

It's hard to find a uniquely new idea within the fantasy genre, but I think Adrian Selby has pulled that off with Snakewood. The tension stays high through the whole book, and I was really rooting for the characters. I laughed, I cried, and at the end of the book I was recommending it to anyone within earshot. It's one of the best books I've read this year, and I think all fantasy fans should pick up a copy if they get the chance. I'm giving this one 10 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Book review: Ravencry by Ed McDonald

Today I'm taking part in the blog tour for Ravencry by Ed McDonald!

Title: Ravencry
Author: Ed McDonald
Publication date: 28th June 2018
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Raven's Mark #2
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: For Ryhalt Galharrow, working for Crowfoot as a Blackwing captain is about as bad as it gets - especially when his orders are garbled, or incoherent, or impossible to carry out.

The Deep Kings are hurling fire from the sky, a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady has begun to manifest in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power while the city burns around them.

Galharrow may not be able to do much about the cult - or about strange orders from the Nameless - but when Crowfoot's arcane vault is breached and an object of terrible power is stolen, he's propelled into a race against time to recover it. Only to do that, he needs answers, and finding them means travelling into nightmare: to the very heart of the Misery.

My thoughts: Blackwing, book 1 in the series, was one of my favourite books I read last year. I was eager to hear more about the world, and what might have happened following the events at the end of book one. It's four years on from the end of Blackwing, and fortunes have changed a bit for Ryhalt and his companions: they've got a large office building, their rank is acknowledged across the city, and there's not been too much trouble from the Misery recently. But when Ryhalt goes to meet an old acquaintance and ends up almost shot, it leads to a horrifying discovery.

Favourite characters from Blackwing play an important part, including Nenn and Tnota, and I enjoyed reading the insult-strewn camaraderie between them. There are also some new faces, including a 14-year-old orphan who does odd jobs around the office, and a smart woman who looks after all the accounts, and tries to look after the team as well. They're all interesting, three-dimensional people and I'll love to read more stories about each of them, which I think is a good test for how well built a character is.

One of the best bits about Blackwing was the pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you plot twists, which would send the characters scrabbling to adjust their plans. Ravencry was just as capable of surprising me, although I was a lot more on the lookout for twists, and was a bit more nervous than Ryhalt when he thought he had everything figured out a couple of times. There's a lot of action at the begining and end of the book, but there's a bit maybe three quarters in set in the Misery which I found a lot slower, and not as interesting, although it did feel very appropriate to be reading about people slogging through a desert while I was crammed into a hot commuter train.

Overall, I really enjoyed Ravencry. Ed McDonald has produced another fantasy novel packed with action, foul-mouthed characters and enough twists and turns to keep you constantly on your toes. I'll definitely be recommending it to other fantasy fans, particularly if you enjoyed book one in the series, and I'm now anxiously waiting for the next book in the series. I'm giving Ravencry 8 out of 10.

Have a look at the banner below to see the other stops in the Ravencry blog tour.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Book Review: Ocean Light by Nalini Singh

Title: Ocean Light
Author: Nalini Singh
Publication date: 14th June 2018
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh dives beneath the surface of her Psy-Changeling world into a story of passionate devotion and selfless love...

Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment - taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling...

Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won't hide the facts of Bo's condition from him or herself. She's suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret that Bo could never imagine...

My thoughts: I look forward to each new Nalini Singh novel, but there were a couple of things making Ocean Light one which I was particularly eager to read. Firstly, it's only the second book in her new 'Psy-Changeling Trinity' series arc. We're still very much setting up the big conflicts and establishing the focus on the main players involved in the Trinity Accord and the new ruling council. There were some parts in Silver Silence which I didn't think were as strongly written as Singh's previous books, but Ocean Light is a return to force, which was a relief. The other big thing drawing me to this book was its focus on the BlackSea clan, who we knew very little about until now. They're a group of sea-based shapeshifters who largely keep to themselves, and there had only been tantalising glimpses of them in the earlier books set in this world. I've always been intrigued to learn more about them, so I was excited to get stuck in.

Bo wakes up from a coma to find himself on board a BlackSea station anchored deep beneath the surface of the sea. Before the accident at the end of the last book, the chip in his head which stops anyone reading his mind had been rapidly deteriorating, and a scientist on the station thinks she has a possible solution. If it's successful, the deterioration of the chip will stop but if it's not, Bo could be left with his mind badly damaged. The process will take a few weeks, and in that time he falls in love with the station chef, Kaia. Kaia is deeply distrustful of all humans due to events in her past and the recent kidnapping of some of the most vulnerable BlackSea changelings. One of the most recent to go missing was a good friend of hers, and before he did, he shared evidence that pointed to the Human Alliance being firmly involved in the kidnappings. Bo and Kaia have a lot of problems to work through in order to set their relationship on the right tracks, with the impending horrible consequences if the experiment on Bo's chip goes wrong, and Kaia's difficulties in trusting him.

On top of that there are the problems of a new human being accepted on the station, or not, given the tension between BlackSea and humans. Bo is trying to investigate allegations against the Human Alliance and get to the bottom of a serious betrayal, all while stuck underwater on the station. I think Ocean Light is a true return to force for Nalini Singh. She strikes the perfect balance between the romance and a tense, twisting but still believable politically-anchored plot. It harks back to the early Psy-Changling books: a newcomer tries to adjust to a Changeling society which has good reason to be hostile towards him; a tight-nit, intriguing cast are introduced; and ultimately, working together and love are a key part of the solution. There's still a whole lot to learn about BlackSea in future books, but there were some particularly memorable characters in Ocean Light, such as Kaia's host of cousins, who I'd love to see staring in future books.

Ocean Light had all my favourite things about the Psy-Changeling world, and I'm relieved that Nalini Singh certainly isn't running out of steam with the world. I'm giving it 9/10, and as ever, I'm left eager to read the next one.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book review: What Fresh Hell by Lucy Vine

Title: What Fresh Hell
Author: Lucy Vine
Publication date: 8th March 2018
Publisher: Orion
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Description: Lilah Fox has just returned from the hen party from hell, vowing to actually spend time with her boyfriend and focus more on herself. Then she gets the whatsapp from her best friend Lauren to say she's just got engaged. And as maid of honour, Lilah just signed up for weekend wedding fairs and weekly planning meetings for the next year.

Just when she thinks things can't get any worse, she's about to discover a new fresh hell.

My thoughts: What Fresh Hell is a contemporary fiction book about Lilah, who comes home from a horrible hen do, sick of weddings, only to be asked to be a bridesmaid for one of her best friends. In fact, her whole coming year seems to be full of people getting married. It's all putting a lot of strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, and her finances. Add to this some problems at work and with the old folks social group she helps to run, and Lilah really isn't having a great time.

I have to say, I didn't love this book. A lot of the so called 'friends' who Lilah goes to hen parties with, or sits with at weddings, seem completely horrible and I couldn't understand why she was willing to keep putting effort in to those friendships when the other people were treating her horribly. I also got frustrated with Lilah herself over how much she's neglecting her boyfriend. He clearly really loves her, and is trying to do nice things for her and carve out some alone time for the two of them together, but Lilah is completely oblivious to that. She consistently puts him last, and I didn't like that.

It's a relatively light story, about the ups and downs of friendships, the importance of friends, and how the wedding industry can affect some people so much that they seem to turn into a completely different person. I think a lot of people will enjoy this as a light, funny, read-on-the-beach book. Perhaps in a couple of years when more people I know are getting married, I'll find it a bit funnier, but at the moment I like to think that if anyone in my friendship groups was treating others the way some people in this book do, they would be called out on their nonsense. 'Friends' who treat you like crap and take advantage of you are not friends. Despite my problems with the book, though, it was well written, and I will keep an eye out for more of Lucy Vine's books. I'm giving What Fresh Hell 6 out of 10.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Book Review: Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

Title: Flying Tips for Flightless Birds
Author: Kelly McCaughrain
Publication date: 1st March 2018
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Twins Finch and Birdie Franconi are stars of the flying trapeze. But when Birdie suffers a terrifying accident, Finch must team up with the geeky new kid, Hector Hazzard, to form an all-boys double act and save the family circus school.

Together they learn to walk the high-wire of teen life and juggle the demands of friends, family, first love and facing up to who they are – all served up with a dash of circus-showbiz magic.

My thoughts: Flying Tips for Flightless Birds is a lovely coming of age story set in rural Ireland. The book is narrated by Finch, but you also get blog post from Birdie, which give a bit more insight into how she's seeing the world differently from her brother. Finch lives and breathes the circus school, it's his favourite place to be. This is partly because the twins are very much odd ones out at their school, wearing flamboyant clothing and generally attracting the attention of the class bullies. The circus is his safe haven, and he can't imagine not having it in his life. Due to past events (which are eventually revealed, but not for a while), Finch doesn't really trust other people very much, and I liked how that really emphasised how much trust he puts in Birdie when they're on the trapeze. It also means that he's very reluctant to let Hector hang out with them, despite Birdie wanting to make friends.

Then a few chapters in, Birdie has her accident, and suddenly Finch has to figure out who he is when he isn't half of Birdie-and-Finch. So much of his life has revolved around his twin, and now there are huge questions that make it seem like maybe she wasn't always as open and honest with him as he thought. I loved the focus on the twins' relationship in this book. Finch really struggles in a lot of ways without her, and at times it made him a not very likeable character, but even so, I felt like that was very realistic: his actions made sense given his past experiences and current uncertainty. Even when I was a bit frustrated and annoyed with him and the choices he was making, I hoped he would figure things out.

I also liked the fact that while Finch is gay, and that's a fairly central thing, it's not a book about him coming to terms with his sexuality. I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that there's a romantic plotline, too, but again it's a subplot, not a main focus of the story.

Flying Tips for Flightless Birds was a really fun book to read. It tackles some deeper topics, and in my opinion does them well, but overall it was a happy book which made me smile a lot. It's a great portrayal of life in a small town, where everybody knows you and you've all been at the same school together since you were five, which is absolutely something I could relate to. If you're looking for an entertaining, uplifting coming of age story with memorable characters, Flying Tips for Flightless Birds is definitely it. I'm giving it 8 out of 10.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book Review: Eat, Drink, Run. by Bryony Gordon

Title: Eat, Drink, Run.
Author: Bryony Gordon
Publication date: 31st May 2018
Publisher: Headline
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Bryony Gordon was not a runner. A loafer, a dawdler, a drinker, a smoker, yes. A runner, no. But, as she recovered from the emotional rollercoaster of opening up her life in her mental health memoir MAD GIRL, she realised that there were things that might actually help her: getting outside, moving her body and talking to others who found life occasionally challenging. As she ran, she started to shake off the limitations that had always held her back and she saw she had actually imposed them on herself. Why couldn't she be a runner?

In April 2017, Bryony Gordon ran all 26.2 miles of the London Marathon. In Eat, Drink, Run., we join her as she trains for this daunting task and rises to the challenge one step at the time. Of course, on top of the aching muscles and blistered feet, there's also the small matter of getting a certain royal to open up about his mental health. Through it all, Bryony shows us that extraordinary things can happen to everyone, no matter what life throws our way.

My thoughts: I read Mad Girl, Bryony Gordon's previous book, in the autumn. To say I enjoyed it is not quite the right sentiment; it's mostly not a happy book, as it documents Bryony's life living with OCD and the frequent lows that the condition brought her to. It was a very moving book that had a lot of effect on me, though, so I was very interested to see what direction her next book would take. While I enjoyed Eat, Drink, Run., it's a very different book to Mad Girl. The book begins by setting up how she decided to run the London Marathon in the first place. It talks a bit about her OCD and how that led to her setting up a support group, beginning to write a lot more about her mental health in her Telegraph column and working on writing Mad Girl itself. She's invited to an event about mental health hosted by Price William, Princess Catherine and Prince Harry, where one thing leads to another and she tells them she'll run the marathon.

While it's just as readable as her previous book, there were places where I felt like Eat, Drink, Run. was an extended column. There are a lot of anecdotes that, while funny, don't necessarily tie in to the rest of the book very well. That aside, it manages to be a very entertaining book while looking at the serious subject of mental health, and how we can all tackle something big by taking it in small steps. It doesn't focus much on Bryony's particular marathon training plan (except to say that for a while there really wasn't one). You get a general picture of how training is progress, but it's more of a background, framing how the increased exercise is changing her habits for the better, and how the journey to running the marathon lead to her crossing paths with the royals on several occasions.

The book is light, entertaining and inspiring, while still drawing attention to what it can be like to live with a variety of mental health problems and how we can do better to help people living with them. It's a very accessible book for those who want to learn a little bit more about OCD without getting into something too emotional or draining, and I think that's who I'd most recommend this book to. If you've enjoyed reading Bryony's columns, but didn't feel like Mad Girl was right for you, I'd suggest picking up Eat, Drink, Run. I'd still very much recommend it to people who did enjoy her other books, but just caution that it is quite different from Mad Girl. Overall, I'm giving Eat, Drink, Run. 7 out of 10.

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