Monday, June 26, 2017


Title: Blackwing
Author: Ed McDonald
Publisher: Gollancz
Publication date: 27th July 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: Set on the ragged edge of a postapocalyptic frontier, Blackwing is a gritty fantasy debut about a man’s desperate battle to survive his own dark destiny…

Nothing in the Misery lasts…

Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.

Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.

Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…

My thoughts: I love a good fantasy novel, and when I heard an excerpt of Blackwing earlier this I knew I had to read it. I'm pleased to say it absolutely lived up to my expectations and hopes! The book begins with Galharrow and a small group of mercenaries travelling through the area known as the Misery, chasing down some criminals. It sets the scene well, as the book takes place along the border of the Misery and this episode introduces some of the creatures that result from the creepy magic that infects the Misery - many humans who go in don't stay human, and if they do, they're constantly under threat from the things that didn't.

From here, the story never slows down. As Galharrow tries to protect a local noblewoman, he discovers that the machine which should be protecting his country from the Deep Kings who live on the other side of the Misery might not be being maintained the way it should. As he tries to uncover the truth, various parties try to keep him quiet.

I loved the little revelations as Galharrow uncovers different pieces of information and tries again and again to fit them together. I really didn't see the end coming the way it did - Ed McDonald's skill in writing it this way is excellent. It's a very grim book in a lot of ways. Galharrow is an alcoholic, the setting is - pardon the pun - miserable, and the baddies get to do a lot of bad things. I also really liked the version of magic in Blackwing: 'spinners' can collect moonlight and channel it into power, often for mundane things like lighting but it can also be thrown in a blast as a weapon.

This is dark, gritty fantasy, and it's been executed perfectly. I was kept in suspense throughout, and couldn't put the book down. Ed McDonald is a great new talent in the fantasy genre, and I already can't wait for his next book. I'd recommend this for fans of Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch, but if you're relatively new to fantasy it's also a great book to get stuck in to. Overall, I'm giving this 10 out of 10 - it's one of the best books I've read this year.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Boy Who Saw by Simon Toyne

 Title: The Boy Who Saw
Author: Simon Toyne
Publication date: 15th June 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Thriller (with supernatural twists)
Source: Review copy from publisher

Blurb: Only one boy can see the darkness.
Only one man can save him from it.

‘Finishing what was begun’

These are the words written in blood beside the body of an elderly tailor who has been tortured and murdered in the ancient town of Cordes. He leaves behind a cryptic message for his granddaughter and her son, Leo – one that puts them in immediate danger. When the mother and child are forced to go on the run, accompanied by the enigmatic Solomon Creed, they find themselves hunted across France, on a journey that will take them into the heart of Europe’s violent past. What begins as small-town murder will become a race to uncover a devastating secret dating from World War II. The few men who know the truth are being killed by a powerful organisation, and only one man stands in its way.

Only Solomon Creed can stop the murders.
Only he can save the boy.

My thoughts: The Boy Who Saw is the sequel to Solomon Creed, which I read when it came out and really really enjoyed. It left me really wanting to know more about Solomon Creed, who he was, and where he came from, so I was excited that proofs of The Boy Who Saw arrived in the office while I worked at HarperCollins.

The book gets off to a dramatic start, with the gruesome murder of a tailor, who is being tortured for information. The killer wants information about a list. As police begin their investigation, Solomon Creed enters the picture. As in Solomon Creed, he has very few memories - in fact this book takes place just a couple of weeks after the events of the first. There are two main threads to the story, wrapped around each other. The first is the Dan Brown-esque mystery of what the murderer was looking for, and the flight of the granddaughter and her son across France, aided and abetted by various others along the way as they try to remain ahead of the killer and also solve the clue left behind by the tailor.

Entangled with that is Solomon's quest to figure out who he is and where he came from, a quest that is exactly why I wanted to read this book so badly! There are a few more clues and a little bit more light shed on the situation, but if like me you wanted to find out 'who is Solomon Creed' you'll remain disappointed for now. The upside of that is that there must be more books to come!

As with Solomon CreedThe Boy Who Saw is full of elements that make you think 'Is something supernatural going on here?' Most of them can be explained away, or dismissed as overactive imaginations, but then, like in book one, a couple of things happen which unquestionably are something magical. Simon Toyne has written very skilfully to keep the reader guessing about this, and the plot is full of twists and turns. Fans of Solomon Creed will not be disappointed with this followup, and overall I'm giving it 8 out of 10.

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!

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