Sunday, September 17, 2017

Book review: Vigil by Angela Slatter

Title: Vigil
Author: Angela Slatter
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication date: July 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Verity Fassbinder #1
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Description: Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds.

The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength - and the ability to walk between us and the other - as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.

But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale - and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways - and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.

And Verity must investigate - or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

Vigil is the first book in award-winning author Angela Slatter's Verity Fassbinder series.

My thoughts: Thank you, Angela Slatter, for writing the urban fantasy book you wanted to when many people have said that 'trend' is over. I'm always looking for new urban fantasy novels, and Vigil is so well written and has a complex, multi-facted plot; I'll be buying the sequel very soon.

Verity is half-human, half-Weyrd. However, her father (the magical parent) was convicted of a horrific crime while she was a child, and many people still shun her. She seems to do odd jobs for Weyrd people who need help - a bit like a PI. She also regularly works for the local magical council, and her contact with them is a vampire, Bela, who you quickly learn she's had a relationship with in the past.

This is one of those stories that hits the ground running - Verity doesn't explain in her internal monologue how long ago she broke up with Bela, or the specifics of how she's badly injured her leg, or how she knows the man who frequently acts as her driver. She's quickly asked to investigate the problem of disappearing children, and we're off. I liked that there is a lot going on in this book. Verity is trying to balance several cases at once, and while I suspected that some of the strands might tie together later in the book, there are a lot of different things happening, which kept the pace swift; I couldn't stop turning the pages.

I felt like all the main characters had a lot of depth to them. Each major player is interesting enough that I'd like to read at least a short story of novella that just focuses on them, and I'm glad that some of my favourites will undoubtedly be regulars in the series as it develops. I really enjoyed having Verity as the narrator, too: she's a very likeable character, quite sarcastic, but working very hard to protect the people living in her city (Brisbane) whether she likes the individuals or not.

Vigil is a great new urban fantasy novel: crimes to be solved in a world of both humans and magic. The characters are intriguing and the plot has many layers. I'm giving the book 8/10, and I'll definitely be buying book two of the series!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book review: Freshers by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

Title: Freshers
Author: Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
Release date: 3rd August 2017
Publisher: Chicken House
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Won

Description: Phoebe has been waiting all summer for uni to start and her life to finally begin. And knowing Luke Taylor is going to be there too makes the whole thing even more exciting...

But Luke's relationship is secretly falling apart and campus life isn't proving to be the escape he thought it would be. 

When the two collide in the madness of Freshers' Week, everything changes - and they both get sucked into each other's worlds in the most messy, intense and hilarious ways imaginable...

My thoughts: As soon as I heard that this book was set at university, and wasn't a 'new adult', insta-love, lots-of-sex-with-an-older-guy type story (as so many are with a university setting) I knew I had to read it. Since I went to uni, I've noticed the lack of good stories set there. I love this book for many reasons, and I'll try to cover a few here, but I think what it boils down to is that, all my life I had books to guide me through experiences, except at university. The YA genre provides so many coping strategies for different high school situations, and so many examples of people with different opinions, different hobbies, different attitudes, that I could always find something that fit with my experiences. And there are so many books aimed at adults that gave me an idea of what to expect for when I entered the 'real world'. But there's this big gap across university life. I desperately wish I'd had this book during my first year at uni; it would have helped me a lot.

Phoebe has come to a university far from her London friends, but in a happy coincidence, her high school crush is going there too. Their first meeting in Freshers' Week is predictably awkward, but by the end of the week they're friends. While their somewhat on-again-off-again romance that runs through the year has a big part in the story, I love that the book manages to cover so many situations and so many of the different ways people experience university in just one book. Phoebe makes some great friends almost straight away, a combination of people in her halls, at classes, and through societies. Luke has an easy in with the football crowd, but apart from that, he doesn't really make friends with people the way he'd hoped, and as the year goes on, football, which had been something he enjoyed & was good at in school, becomes less and less comfortable for him.

As the story is told alternately from Luke and Phoebe's perspectives, the book can cover a lot of ground with the people shown. There is the guy who always seems to be late to class, a bit of a mess, yet everyone loves; there are very studious people; there are groups of people who hang out almost exclusively with their coursemates & no one else seems to understand. Then some of the situations: first date, finding a part-time job, getting lost, a condom incident, a protest, dealing with cyber-bullying & slut-shaming.

I'd urge everyone who is starting uni, or already there, to read Freshers - it's practically a guide-book to things that could well happen, and how to (maybe) cope with them. I'm sure lots of people have made the comparison to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but I'm going to say it again; if you liked one, you should read the other. Freshers is a fantastically broad book with what it covers, without it ever feeling like they pushed to include unlikely situations; everything is very real and the characters are brilliant. I loved it - this is one of my 10/10 books this year.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book review: The Major Meets His Match by Annie Burrows

Title: The Major Meets His Match
Author: Annie Burrows
Publication date: September 2017
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Wastrel, rebel, layabout…just a few of the names Lord Becconsall has hidden his quick intellect and sharp wit behind over the years. Recently titled, ex-military and required to wed, Jack views ton ladies with a cynical eye… Until he falls upon–quite literally–Lady Harriet Inskip.

After years of being overlooked, Harriet cannot believe that Lord Becconsall is the only person to truly see her. But between his taunts and her fiery disposition, it's soon clear that the major has finally met his match!

My thoughts: Lady Harriet has come to London for the Season to stay with her aunt and be launched into society alongside her younger cousin. More used to the countryside and her academic mother, Harriet is not finding London to her liking, or the endless social events her aunt takes her to. While sneaking out for an early morning ride, she bumps into Lord Becconsall (Jack) and his friends. Jack decides he must find out who she is, and subsequently meets her at a ball.

Their interactions are sharp, as they poke at each other but also allow themselves to be honest, something they haven't done with others in their life recently. I really enjoyed reading about them getting to know each other, and seeing them grow closer, then draw back, then get closer again, and so on. It's a very believable relationship, which is a huge plus in my book - so often, relationships seem rushed to the point that I can't bring myself to believe them, but the pacing in The Major Meets His Match is excellent.

I also loved the other relationships in the book. Harriet gets on well with her aunt and cousin, and really appreciates how her aunt is trying to help her, while still having a good relationship with both of her own parents. Of course we need a little bit of angst, which comes in the form of Jack's disapproving (and now dead) father, who thought his estate would be passed to one of Jack's brothers. Having never expected to inherit anything, Jack must deal with the pressure of learning to manage an estate, and the weight of expectations (or lack thereof) of the various staff tied in to the estate.

This is book one of a series, with the others to follow Jack's three friends, I think. There's an interesting theft plot that kicks off in The Major Meets His Match and isn't entirely solved, so I expect there will be more about that in the next book. I don't think I've read anything by Annie Burrows before, but I'm always looking for more well written historical romance, so I'm going to go and find her previous books now, and I'll definitely read the sequel to this one when it comes out. A believable romance with all the rogues and parties you'd hope for in historical romance, The Major Meets His Match was a great read. Annie Burrows is an author all fans of the genre should try. 8 out of 10.

Amongst other places, you can buy the book from Amazon and Waterstones.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review: Marked by Sue Tingey

Title: Marked
Author: Sue Tingey
Publication date: May 2015
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Source: Bought

Description: Lucky de Salle can see ghosts, but it's daemons she should be worried about. 

With no family and very few friends, Lucky's psychic ability has always made her an outcast. The only person she can rely on is Kayla, the ghost girl who has been with her since she was born. 

But Kayla is not all that she appears. 

Then again, neither is Lucky... 

My thoughts: Marked gets off to a quick and spooky start, which drew me in and made me very glad I'd picked it up. Unfortunately it then slowed right down for a few chapters, while more of Lucky's life is set up and she meets up a couple of times with a mysterious man who is supposedly asking for her help, but seems to know a lot more than he is willing to share. Lucky also made a lot of really dumb decisions in this part of the story. Hopefully it means that we'll see a marked growth in Lucky's decision making over the course of the series, but it made her a lot more irritating as a point-of-view character for a while when it was obvious she was doing silly things.

After a few slow chapters, Marked thankfully picked up again. My favourite parts of the book happen after Lucky heads for the daemon underworld, accompanied by three bodyguards she has met earlier in the book. I loved seeing her adjust to the underworld, which has a similar feel to it as many of the 'fae lands' you see in other books. Lucky is in a position where she's going to get tangled up with the court politics of the underworld, and she has to learn quickly that things work very differently here than they do in the normal world. I also got a bit of a Merry Gentry vibe as Kayla's retinue of bodyguards is increased and they all happen to be very good looking men, particularly as two of them are very strong in their own right and have clashing magical powers. That's definitely a good thing though, as I loved that series, but I hope the love triangle doesn't end up taking over the plot in the rest of the series.

I really enjoyed the political manoeuvring, and I'm looking forward to more of that in the next book, Cursed. I think the characters are well written - there are a lot of opinionated people, but they all have their own distinct personalities, which can be hard to pull off. And there's a dragon who can change his size, and dragons are always a good thing.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, and will picking up book two in the series when I can find it. I'm giving it 7/10.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book review: Deacon by Kit Rocha

Title: Deacon
Author: Kit Rocha
Publication date: 29th August 2017
Genre: Dystopian/Romance
Series: Gideon's Riders #2
Source: Review copy from author

Description: Book #2 in explosive new series from bestselling author Kit Rocha...

Ana has trained most of her life to achieve one goal: to prove that anything men can do, she can do better. Now she’s Sector One’s first female Rider, and being the best is the only way to ensure she won’t be its last. Distractions aren’t allowed--especially not her painful attraction to the reserved but demanding leader whose stern, grumpy demeanor has already gotten into her head.

Deacon has spent the last twenty years trying to atone for his past, but the blood he spilled as a mercenary and assassin will never wash away entirely. If his riders knew the extent of his sins, he’d lose their trust and respect. It’s easier to keep them all at arm’s length, especially Ana. But his newest recruit’s stubbornness is starting to crack his defenses.

And their sparring matches are driving him wild.

The passion sparking between them can’t be denied, but neither can the vengeance barreling toward Deacon. When his old squad comes back to punish him for his betrayal, Ana and the Riders are squarely in the line of fire. The only way to save his people may be to make the ultimate sacrifice.

But first, he has to convince Ana not to follow him straight into hell.

My thoughts: I continue to be a huge fan of Kit Rocha, and I'm really glad that the Gideon's Rider series takes us back to their dystopian future America. In Deacon, readers get to know the group of Riders much better. If you're new to the series, the Riders are a group of men (and now a woman) who protect the area of the city known as Sector One, and particularly its royal family.

Ana is the first woman who has been allowed to join the Riders, so there are a lot of people watching her, and a lot of expectations resting on her. She feels like she's an experiment - that she must do well, otherwise they'll never let a woman join again. She can't risk anyone ever thinking that she got through a test or a hard patch of training just because Deacon went easy on her because she's a woman. And that means she certainly shouldn't be thinking about sleeping with him. I was really interested to see how Ana handled these issues, and I'm pleased with how things turned out.

When a sinister playing card is found at the site of an arson attack, Deacon knows it's a message from the assassin gang known as the Suicide Kings, a gang he used to belong to. Many years ago they sent Deacon to kill Gideon, but he never went back. Now he thinks they're looking for him, and that he must face them head on: kill or be killed. I think the tension was done really well with the Suicide Kings plotline. I really didn't know where it was going, and whether people would come out of it ok or not. There are some very tense moments, and I love how the characters support each other and play off one another.

As for the romance, I liked these two as a couple. Their biggest challenge is to figure out together how to make their personal relationship work alongside their professional one, and where to draw the lines between the two. It leads to some really difficult and really moving scenes - as with many a Kit Rocha book, make sure you have your tissues close to hand! A dystopian twist on the falling-for-the-boss trope, I loved the nail-biting plot and thought the romance meshed with it perfectly - it was one solid story, not a separate love story & action story.
I'm giving Deacon by Kit Rocha 8 out of 10.

You can find it on iBooks and Amazon, amongst other places.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Title: Scrappy Little Nobody
Author: Anna Kendrick
Release date: November 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Autobiography
Source: Gift from friend

Description: A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

My thoughts: I'm aiming this year to read six non-fiction books; combined with the fact a friend offered me a copy of the book, this is mostly why I read it. It's the second non-fic book I've finished, so I need to speed up a little with that challenge.

The book starts at the beginning of Anna's life, with some funny stories about her personality during primary school, before moving to look at how she got involved in professional musical theatre in her early teens. Once it gets to her living in LA, things start to jump around a bit more and become more topical, with stories about learning to live alone, dating, sex, and learning about fashion. She throws in lots of little anecdotes involving famous people she's worked with, which were fun to read.

I found the first section of the book really interesting; I always like to hear about how someone ended up in their career. I did get a little bored in the middle though - I felt like, there are better places to get dating advice, and at this point, a lot of this advice is kind of too late for me, I've learned the lessons myself and am doing ok now, really. I didn't care about the awkward dating experiences she had in high school, those stories just weren't particularly interesting to me.

I did find the book more enjoyable towards the end. I liked the funny stories of things that had happened while filming various movies, and at events like the Oscars. I think if you like celebrity autobiographies, you will probably enjoy this one as well, or if you're interested in an acting career. For me, it slowed down a lot in the middle and I had to push myself to keep going. I don't think I'll be looking at more autobiographies from people this age any time soon. Overall, I'll give Scrappy Little Nobody 6 out of 10.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book review: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson

Title: I Have No Secrets
Author: Penny Joelson
Release date: 4th May 2017
Publisher: Egmont
Genre: YA Crime
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: Jemma knows who did the murder. She knows because he told her. And she can't tell anyone. 

Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate or move, she relies on her family and carer for everything. She has a sharp brain and inquisitive nature, and knows all sorts of things about everyone. But when she is confronted with this terrible secret, she is utterly powerless to do anything. Though that might be about to change...

A page-turning thriller seen through the eyes of a unique narrator, this is a truly original, heart-rending and compulsive book for young adult readers. Perfect for fans of Wonder, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Looking for JJ.

My thoughts: I Have No Secrets is told in first person by Jemma, who is unable to communicate with anyone around her - she can't even move her eyes. I really liked that the book showed me a new perspective; I've never really thought about what life might be like in that situation, or read a book told from that point of view. You really see how powerless Jemma is.

One of the big problems for her is that she's really uncomfortable with her carer's boyfriend. Since the carer, Sarah, lives in, Dan comes round to their house often and makes fun of Jemma when he's alone in a room with her. Early on in the story, he implies to Jemma that he's responsible for the murder of a young man who lives on her street. Then, Sarah goes missing. Of course, Jemma suspects Dan, but she has absolutely no way to tell anyone else about what he'd said to her.

While I did want to know what had happened to Sarah, I have to admit that I got a bit bored reading this book. By her very nature, Jemma is a passive narrator. The plot moves forwards as people talk about things within Jemma's hearing. Someone goes off to do something, comes back, and talks about it. For the majority of the book, things happen around Jemma, not because of her, and I found that very slow and not particularly exciting. So much of the action in the main plot thread (the murder investigation) happens off-page. It really emphasises the struggle Jemma has each day, which is great for broadening the horizons of the reader, but it's not so good at making the story engaging. Overall I have to give this 5 out of 10. It's an interesting idea, but I don't think it worked to make an exciting book - and when it's focussed on a murder investigation, I think the story ought to be exciting.

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