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.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mini Book Review: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman


Title: The Lost Plot
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Publication date: 14th December 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Borrowed

Description: In a 1930s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force, fedoras, flapper dresses and tommy guns are in fashion, and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon vs dragon contest. It seems a young librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can't extricate him there could be serious political repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai find themselves trapped in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They'll face gangsters, blackmail and fiendish security systems. And if this doesn't end well, it could have dire consequences for Irene's job. And, incidentally, for her life... 

My thoughts: First of all, this is book four of the series. I knew that, but my boyfriend who bought it didn't. However, it stands alone very well, and there are only vague references to the events of the previous books, so I don't feel like it spoiled them. The book kicks off with Irene trying to trade a book with some vampires, and getting into more difficulty than she'd hoped. While making her escape, she's approached by a dragon who asks for her help in retrieving a book, a task that's been set as part of a question of succession. When Irene points out that the Library and it's employees remain neutral in such issues, as this dragon should know, the dragon hints that another librarian is already involved.

Irene and Kai head back to the Library to report their suspicions of librarian involvement, and from there end up in the alternate universe New York. It's a very fast paced book with a lot of twists, and I really enjoyed it. I love Irene's sense of humour and the spark between her and Kai. I'd recommend the series in particular to those who have been missing Gail Carriger's books, with their humour, whimsy and excellent plots. I'm definitely going to hunt down the rest of the series. Overall this gets 8 stars from me.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Book Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman


Title: Planetfall
Author: Emma Newman
Publication Date: 22nd February 2018
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. 

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi. 

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

My thoughts: This book has been out for a couple of years in the USA, and I've heard good things about it, and that it represents mental illness well. So, I was really pleased to hear that Gollancz were going to publish it in the UK, and I jumped at the chance to review it.

The book switches between what's happening in the present, and flashbacks to both life on earth and to when they were first arriving at the new planet. Although it's science fiction, I felt like the book was really an examining of society, what a society is built on, and what people might choose to do to maintain that society. You get little snippets of what Earth is like, what society and politics have descended to on earth that prompted this group of people to try to build a very idealistic culture on this new planet.

Each of the characters you meet throughout the book has a very distinct personality and different motivations for why they came to the new planet. They were all so well built, and I would have enjoyed getting to hear more about any of them. I think that's a good example of how well written this book is. Although you really don't see much of the planet they're living on, you still get a very clear picture of the area that they are in.

Ren has some anxiety problems, which manifests into certain other behaviours, and she keeps this hidden from the other colonists. Given what I'd heard about Emma Newman's handling of mental health problems in her writing, I was expecting it to be a little more prominent than it is in the story. While aspects of it play a big part, it just didn't come in to Planetfall the way I'd anticipated it might. But that's a good thing, that I was surprised in a lot of places in this story. It really didn't do what I expected from what I'd read on the back, or what I imagined in the early pages of the book.

Planetfall was a really interesting read, and such an interesting look at the consequences of our choices, regardless of what the intentions behind those choices might be. The ending also surprised me a lot, although I was content with it. That said, I'm really keen to read more set on this planet. I'll definitely be looking in to other things which Emma Newman has written. Overall, I'm giving Planetfall 8 out of 10.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Book Review: Make Me Want by Katee Robert


Title: Make Me Want
Author: Katee Robert
Publication date: 22nd February 2018
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

Description:
Lucy Baudin’s ex dented her self-esteem and it’s time to regain control. In her job as a lawyer she’s bold, confident. But in the bedroom…she needs inspiration to reawaken her inner seductress. Asking her friend Gideon Novak for help seems wrong, yet so deliciously right!

My thoughts: 
Lucy split up with her ex a couple of years ago, and her confidence has yet to recover from the damage he did. Although she's a successful lawyer, she feels like she needs a partner to be taken seriously for further promotion at work, so she hires Gideon to help her find a husband. He's known as a good head-hunter, but finding a husband is quite different. Then there's the fact that his former best friend is Lucy's former boyfriend, and he hasn't seen her since the break up. On top of everything, Lucy doesn't just want him to find her a husband, she's also asked him to teach her how to get better with physical relationships.

The entire set up sounded fun, and the book jumps right in to the action, with Lucy negotiating with Gideon over her proposal that he find her a husband and give her sexual lessons. You can feel the tension between them straight away, and once it flips to Gideon's point of view, we learn that he has always found Lucy attractive. The main issues which the couple face over the course of the story are Gideon's guilt over how badly his former friend treated Lucy; Lucy's damaged confidence from her last relationship; and how determined each of them is to stick to their initial agreement of the rules of their interactions.

It was a fun and fast read, frustrating at times when the characters chose not to talk about certain things with each other, or jumped to (wrong) conclusions. Of course they ultimately end up together, and I enjoyed the way that was worked out. For all that there is a fair amount of sex in the book, it was actually quite a sweet romance. Which brings me to another point: although this is part of the new Mills & Boon range 'Dare', which is meant to be their sexiest books yet, it didn't stand out to me as particularly more sexy that other things I've read. It's perhaps more detailed than some of the others in the Mills & Boon stable, and it was steamy & well written, but nothing out of the ordinary really.

Overall, Make Me Want is a fun, sexy romance novel, perfect to cheer up a gloomy spring weekend. I'm giving it 7/10.
 

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