Monday, May 15, 2017

March & April Book Haul

I haven't posted many book haul type posts for a while, because mostly they go onto my BookTube channel and I forget that I haven't talked about the books here on the blog, too. I don't think that's going to change, but I will start cross-posting my videos more often, and you might see more 'book post' type posts on my Instagram.
Anyway, here is my epic March & April book haul, featuring some excellent books from the Orion Blogger Fest, amongst other things!

What books have you received recently?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book review: The Draughtsman by Robert

Title: The Draughtsman
Author: Robert Lautner
Publication date: February 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review copy

Description: Speak out for the fate of millions or turn a blind eye? We all have choices.

1944, Germany. Ernst Beck’s new job marks an end to months of unemployment. Working for Erfurt’s most prestigious engineering firm, Topf & Sons, means he can finally make a contribution to the war effort, provide for his beautiful wife, Etta, and make his parents proud. But there is a price.

Ernst is assigned to the firm’s smallest team – the Special Ovens Department. Reporting directly to Berlin his role is to annotate plans for new crematoria that are deliberately designed to burn day and night. Their destination: the concentration camps. Topf’s new client: the SS.

As the true nature of his work dawns on him, Ernst has a terrible choice to make: turning a blind eye will keep him and Etta safe, but that’s little comfort if staying silent amounts to collusion in the death of thousands.

My thoughts: I enjoy stories set in the World Wars - the significance of them is undeniable and I think it's important to keep alive all the heartbreaking aspects of the wars: "Lest we forget." I came into The Draughtsman with high hopes that this would be a book I could recommend to people as another great snapshot that captured emotions and also, given that it's told from the point of view of a man working for the S.S., a different point of view. It let me down a bit.

While The Draughtsman is an interesting story, I felt like it took a long time to get going. The author's style also grated on me quite a lot, with his frequent use of incomplete sentences. While it certainly shows the uncertainty of life in Germany during the final months of WWII, and the horrors of concentration camps and bombings, it didn't hit my feelings as much as I had hoped. It's not a standout. It's not that it's a poor story, but I wanted to be blown away, and I wasn't. It might be my own fault for coming in to this with high expectations, but I was let down by The Draughtsman. Interesting book set in Germany during the last few months of World War II, but there are better books with similar settings that I would recommend first. This one gets 5/10 from me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

Title: From Darkest Skies
Author: Sam Peters
Release date: 20th April 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Sci-fi
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Five years after the murder of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keon Rause returns to the distant world of Magenta to resume work with the Intelligence Service.
With him he brings an illegal artificial recreation of his wife, an AI built from every digital trace she left behind.
She has been constructed with one purpose - to discover the truth behind her own death - but Keon's relationship with her has grown into something more. Something frighteningly dependent.
Something that verges on love.
But as he investigates his wife's death, Keon begins to realise that he didn't know everything about Alysha.
And if he couldn't trust his wife, how can he trust her copy?

My thoughts: While I'm a huge sff fan, I stay a lot more on the 'fantasy' end of the scale. When I do dip in to sci-fi, From Darkest Skies is a perfect example of what I like to read. It's fast paced and while the technology is significantly more advanced than our own, the book doesn't get bogged down in trying to explain the science behind everything. In fact, most things just 'are' in the book - when something like a high tech weapon is used, there's enough description of how it's fired and the damage it does that a reader can picture what's happening, but doesn't go into more detail.

From Darkest Skies is a police procedural crime novel, set on a tiny colonised planet sometime in the future. There are glimpses of how humanity came to leave earth, but that's not a big part of the story. Keon Rause has barely returned to Magenta, the planet, when he's pulled into investigating the death of a partying society girl. While it appears she overdosed somehow, the drug in question doesn't normally do any long-term damage. As Rause and his team investigate, the stakes get higher and higher - several someones do not want the truth to come out. Tied around this is Keon Rause's personal investigation into the death of his wife.

I really enjoyed the speed of the novel - Sam Peters has created a tight plot where there is always something happening. I love shows like C.S.I. so reading a book like that with futuristic technology on a colonised world was a lot of fun. Peters has also built a brilliant cast of central characters. The other members of Rause's team have distinctive personalities and a variety of personal backgrounds and issues. My favourite was Rangesh, who certainly doesn't do things by-the-book and had me laughing a lot, even though he irritated me a little at first. I really hope there are other books set around these characters in future so we can continue to see them develop.

The plot moves swiftly but the twists and turns kept me guessing. The capabilities of the AIs were a bit creepy at times, and there's a very 'big brother is watching you' aspect to the world with cameras everywhere. I thought the loopholes people found to work around that were really interesting. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it, both to fans of sci-fi and those (like me) who read it less frequently. A police team solving crimes in space - what's not to like? I'm giving From Darkest Skies 9/10.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Fragile Lives: Non Fiction Book Review

Title: Fragile Live
Author: Professor Stephen Westaby
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Memoir
Release date: 9th February 2017
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: An incredible memoir from one of the world’s most eminent heart surgeons and some of the most remarkable and poignant cases he’s worked on.

Grim Reaper sits on the heart surgeon’s shoulder. A slip of the hand and life ebbs away.

The balance between life and death is so delicate, and the heart surgeon walks that rope between the two. In the operating room there is no time for doubt. It is flesh, blood, rib-retractors and pumping the vital organ with your bare hand to squeeze the life back into it. An off-day can have dire consequences – this job has a steep learning curve, and the cost is measured in human life. Cardiac surgery is not for the faint of heart.

Professor Stephen Westaby took chances and pushed the boundaries of heart surgery. He saved hundreds of lives over the course of a thirty-five year career and now, in his astounding memoir, Westaby details some of his most remarkable and poignant cases – such as the baby who had suffered multiple heart attacks by six months old, a woman who lived the nightmare of locked-in syndrome, and a man whose life was powered by a battery for eight years.

A powerful, important and incredibly moving book, Fragile Lives offers an exceptional insight into the exhilarating and sometimes tragic world of heart surgery, and how it feels to hold someone’s life in your hands.

My thoughts: I don't read much non-fic but I'm challenging myself to read 6 nf books this year. I had Fragile Lives on my shelf from a giveaway which HarperCollins ran while I worked there, and I was very intrigued by the premise, so it seemed like a good place to start the challenge.

I loved this book. Broadly, it follows Stephen Westaby's career, from university through to the present day, and takes you on a journey through some of the big developments in heart surgery during that time, looking specifically at valve alternatives and external mechanisms. While it's generally chronological, the book also looks at some of the most interesting cases Westaby has worked on, some of which are mentioned in the blurb above.

While he uses plenty of technical terms, the author explained things well enough that I, with no knowledge really of how a heart works or the problems it can have, was able to follow quite easily what was going on in each situation and what the significance of certain details was. Fragile Lives is a fascinating look into an area of surgery where the stakes are very high and everything must be done very precisely. It was a really really interesting read, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Title: Our Chemical Hearts
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Release date: October 2016
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre: YA contemporary romance
Source: Gift from friend

Description: 'I always thought the moment you met the love of your life would be more like the movies...'

Henry Page is a film buff and a hopeless romantic. He's waiting for that slo-mo, heart-palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's seen in the movies. So the last person he expects to fall in love with is Grace. 

Grace Town is not your normal leading lady. She dresses in oversized men's clothing, smells like she hasn't washed in weeks and walks with a cane. She's nobody's idea of a dream girl, but Henry can't stop thinking about her. 

There's something broken about Grace; a small part of her soul is cracked from the secrets in her past. Henry wants nothing more than to put her back together again, but will she let him?

John Green meets Rainbow Rowell in this heartbreaking tale of bittersweet first love. 

My thoughts: This is not your typical YA romance, and I loved all the things that made it different. Unfortunately I can't talk about some of my favourite bits without giving away too much, so I'll keep this brief!

Henry is drawn to Grace right from the start, but for the first few months, they're just friends. Good friends, a lot of the time, but Grace never talks about why she left her old school, or what happened to her leg, and although Henry eventually figures those things out, there's not much he can do to help her on the days she's miserable and dwelling on the past. On her bad days, she barely talks, and even once their relationship drifts past friendship Henry still mostly skims over these days in his narrative.

I loved that his attention and the relationship didn't 'fix' Grace. She doesn't 'come out of her shell' or move on from the past. She changes, sure, but in believable ways. It was a little heartbreaking to watch through Henry's eyes and see the problems with their relationship: things which he doesn't acknowledge as problematic, or skips over as being just a blip or ordinary part of things, when from an outside perspective you can see that it is a problem, and that he really should be looking at that.

I think we need more YA books like this which show... not unhappy but un-ideal relationships. I would have benefited a lot from reading this as a teenager.

The book does not just focus on the relationship - it also has a great portrayal of the senior experience in high school. I felt like it was so spot on with what the final year is like. The language the characters use and the situations they go through felt real and were similar to what I experienced as a 17/18 year old in high school. Krystal Sutherland has really nailed the older teen experience. I really enjoyed this book, and I did go through a couple of tissues at times - be prepared! Overall I'm giving it 8 stars. If you've read this book, I'd love to hear from you and talk about it more!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt

Title: Duke of Pleasure
Author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Piatkus
Release date: November 2016
Series: Maiden Lane
Source: Bought

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley - and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation . . .

When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be - before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

My thoughts: I always find historical romances a fun escape for a few hours. I hadn't read anything by Elizabeth Hoyt before, and while this is part of the Maiden Lane series, it works well as a standalone book - I think each story follows a different pair, so while there is probably some overlap in characters, I didn't feel like I was missing out.

Hugh quickly realises that the Ghost of St Giles, Alf in disguise, is female, although he is fooled into thinking Alf is a boy for much longer. When he puts the two together, he keeps the information to himself, protecting her identity and safety. But knowing that the Ghost, whom he has been fantasising about, is actually working with him puts him in an interesting position!

The romance in this book is quite sexy, I think partly because unlike in a lot of historical romance novels, the heroine is not part of respectable society. So there is no expectation or assumption that sexual activity will lead to marriage. They are both able to be more free with their affections than in many cases, and it leads to some very steamy scenes!

While the romance is of course a big part of the story, the intrigue of trying to uncover a secret society who are known to do awful things is also a big focus. I really enjoyed the mystery, and following the various characters as they put clues together.

Overall I really enjoyed this book - it was a lot of fun! I don't know if I'll go back & read earlier books in the series, but I do want to read the sequel as it focuses on a character who we see a lot of in Duke of Pleasure. A fun historical romance with a dangerous plot to uncover, I'm giving Duke of Pleasure 7/10.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review: Ashwin by Kit Rocha

Title: Ashwin
Author: Kit Rocha
Release date: 7 March 2017
Series: Gideon's Riders #1
Source: Review copy

Description: Lieutenant Ashwin Malhotra is a Makhai soldier—genetically engineered to be cold, ruthless. Unfeeling. His commanding officers consider him the perfect operative, and they’re right. Now, he has a simple mission: to infiltrate Gideon’s Riders, the infamous sect of holy warriors that protects the people of Sector One.

He’s never failed to execute an objective, but there’s one thing he didn’t anticipate—running into Dr. Kora Bellamy, the only woman to ever break through his icy exterior.

When Kora fled her life as a military doctor for the Makhai Project, all she wanted was peace—a quiet life where she could heal the sick and injured. The royal Rios family welcomed her like a sister, but she could never forget Ashwin. His sudden reappearance is a second chance—if she can manage to touch his heart.

When the simmering tension between them finally ignites, Kora doesn’t realize she’s playing with fire. Because she’s not just falling in love with a man who may not be able to love her back. Ashwin has too many secrets—and one of them could destroy her.

My thoughts: Ashwin launches the latest series from Kit Rocha, which will follow the fates & fortunes of the motorbike-riding bodyguards & enforcers who patrol the area known as Sector One - Gideon's Riders. There are eight 'sectors', arranged around the edge of a city called Eden, and Gideon is the leader of Sector One.

The book launches straight into the action. Ashwin and Kora cross paths in chapter two and you can feel the tension (and heat) between them straight away. Most of the conflict for the relationship comes from Ashwin's side of things: he knows some things about Kora and her past which she doesn't; will he/won't he tell her them? And he has some additional mission on top of inflitrating the riders: will people find out about that, will Ashwin stick to it as he becomes closer & closer to her, what consequences will it have for the relationship?

The story is told from several points of view, mostly Ashwin & Kora and I enjoyed hearing from both of them. Kora is an incredible doctor but is building a life for herself which doesn't just revolve around that. She's made choices to bring her to where she is, and she's a very determined person. Ashwin is very observant but doesn't really have people skills worked out well. He's not my favourite POV character but he was still very interesting to read about.

Looking at the bigger picture, this book lays a lot of groundwork on what life in Sector One is like, and some of the problems which might come up in later books. Kit Rocha has talked about there being a lot of 'court politics' type scheming in these books, with the hierarchy between the noble families being a very important aspect of Sector One. I'm really looking forward to that, but felt like we only dipped a toe into the pool of it in Ashwin.

Ashwin is a really good book to set up a new series and I can't wait to see where it goes. You meet a lot of interesting characters and I want to know more about almost all of them. The romance in this one was enjoyable to read, and I couldn't put the book down once I'd started. I'm giving it 7 out of 10.

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