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.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Book Review: The Chilbury Ladies Choir, by Jennifer Ryan

Title: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir
Author: Jennifer Ryan
Release date: 23 Feb 2017
Publisher: The Borough Press
Genre: Fiction
Source: Review copy

Description: Kent, 1940. In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.

But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.

Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.

Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

My thoughts: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir follows the lives of several different women of varying ages and from various backgrounds over the course of a few months during the Second World War. A young woman mourns a man who has left for the war, and wondering if she should let their childhood friendship turn into an engagement. His mother worries for him and wonders if she's going to lost a son now having lost her husband in the previous war. Someone looks to profit from the concerns of the village. Some learn to stand up for themselves.

All round, it's a story about the life of a small village and its trials. I liked seeing the clashes between the choir of women and the group of home front men who wanted to practice in the church at the same time as them. Some of the twists in the personal stories I think were quite predictable, such as the pregnancy of an unmarried woman (I won't tell you who) but other aspects kept me guessing.

I got this one a while back for review and read most of it on the beach and to me the book fit that sort of holiday mood. It's nice, sweet, and has some poignant moments. Jennifer Ryan has written a good book to read in a relaxing setting, a hug and a nice cup of tea in book form. I liked it, I'll recommend it, but I don't feel the need to reread it, so I'm giving The Chilbury Ladies' Choir 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner

Title: Missing, Presumed
Author: Susie Steiner
Release date: March 2016
Genre: Crime
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Publisher

Description: Mid-December, and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date – the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.

Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman – door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate from a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.

Is Edith alive or dead? Was her ‘complex love life’ at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press? And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning?

My thoughts: I love a good crime novel, so when this book just kept selling and selling I decided to see what the fuss was about. Missing, Presumed introduces D. S. Bradshaw and her teammates, sets up their working relationships and starts to look at some of their individual dramas. In terms of the case they're dealing with, I was intrigued by the title - straight away is the question of whether Edith (the missing girl) is just missing, or presumed dead.

I enjoyed the various twists in the case, as the team follow different leads and uncover new clues. The story is told from several viewpoints, with the most prominent being Manon. As the book progressed I began to have a suspicion of what might have happened, even if I couldn't put together the details of it, but I wasn't sure, and it was good to read through to the end and finally get everything untangled.

While I'm interested in seeing the developments of the police team over future books, Manon's love life in this one did annoy me quite a lot, and I skimmed through large portions of her point of view chapters which didn't relate to the case. She just seemed a bit too grumpy and strange, it wasn't very interesting to read her awkward dating experiences or to see things getting messed up.

Overall, it was a promising start to a series, and hopefully Ms. Steiner can build on it and the characters she has introduced to create a stronger second book. Missing, Presumed was a good, fast read but not memorable once I'd finished - definitely the sort of book I'd class as a 'beach read' or holiday read. I'm giving it 6/10.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Book review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Title: Behind Her Eyes
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Release date: 26th January 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Thriller (supernatural)
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: Louise: Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job. But all that changes when she meets...
David: Young, successful and charming - Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her. But that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife... 
Adele:  Beautiful, elegant and sweet - Louise's new friend seems perfect in every way. As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each, in turn, reach out to her. But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks...Is David really the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears? Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?

My thoughts: Going in to this book, I wasn't sure what to think. I'd heard the first couple of pages at an event and didn't want to read another thriller centred around an unhappy or abusive relationship. Then I heard there was a slight 'weird' or fantasy element to it - a very subtle one, but enough to make it not just a normal thriller. If you're familiar with Ms. Pinborough's work, this shouldn't surprise you, as it's sort of her calling card. I decided to give the book a try.

It's an awkward book to review, because so much of the impact comes from the little twists, and I don't want to give anything away. There were a few times where the pace didn't quite go fast enough for me, but just as I was on the verge of giving up, something would be revealed, sometimes a thing which changed my perception of events so far, and I'd be hooked again.

Adele and David were childhood sweethearts from very different backgrounds, and Sarah Pinborough uses flashbacks and diary entries to show how happy their relationship was at that time. It contrasts dramatically with the present, where something is (or in fact several somethings are) wrong with their relationship. As Louise tries to puzzle out what's going on, the amount of manipulation going on between the three of them seems to get deeper and deeper. It's not a happy story. Told across several different points of view, you never quite know which narrator to trust, or if what they are guessing at is true. With Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has redefined the unreliable narrator, and it's great.

The hashtag for Behind Her Eyes is a bold #WTFthatending, which is what caught my attention, and when I finally got to the end, I think my eyes were as wide as saucers as I read. I loved it - it was a twist that I completely didn't guess and I do want to reread the whole book knowing the full story. Overall, I did very much enjoy the book, so I'm giving it 7 out of 10. If you're looking for a thriller and are prepared for a tiny fantastical twist, this is absolutely the book for you.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha

Title: Beyond Surrender
Author: Kit Rocha
Genre: Dystopian/Romance
Series: Beyond #9
Release date: December 13th 2016
Source: Review copy from the authors

Description: She’s the heart of O’Kane liquor.
For years, Nessa has been focused on work. She keeps the whiskey—and the money—flowing, and life is sweet. Sure, she’s tired of being everyone’s baby sister, and she longs for a man who can stand up to her overprotective O’Kane brothers. But she never thought she’d meet him in the middle of a war.

He’s the brains of the revolution.
War is all Ryder knows. He was raised with one goal: to ensure the sectors’ successful rebellion against Eden. His father and his mentor both died for freedom, and nothing will stop him from securing their legacies with victory. He doesn’t have time for distractions—especially beautiful, impulsive ones like Nessa.

Opposites don’t just attract, they combust. Together, Nessa and Ryder have a chance for something more than the lives they’ve always known. But this is war—deadly, bloody war—and the only way to happily-ever-after is straight through Eden.

My thoughts: From the early days of this series, I've been a fan,  and the authors (two women collaborating under the pen name Kit Rocha) have grown with each book. It makes sense then that this one, the final part of the Beyond series, is one of their strongest. If you're new to the series, don't start here, but go to the beginning safe in the knowledge that it's a series with a well written ending. If you've kept up, then you probably don't need much encouragement to read Nessa's story. Just in case, here are my favourite things about this book.

1) Nessa. Like many people, I've been waiting for Nessa's story pretty much since she was introduced. And which guy was going to be enough for her, and able to stand up to her many honorary dads & brothers? Nessa is sassy and knowledgeable, and even with the scary wartime backdrop of the story, it was a lot of fun to read from her point of view.

2) They don't pull punches. This is war. It would be unrealistic if everyone on the O'Kane side made it through with little to no harm, and I wouldn't have as much respect for the story. Make sure you have tissues close to hand, because you're going to need them, I cried a lot reading certain parts of this book!

3) New points of view! One thing I've enjoyed through the whole series has been that you don't just see through the eyes of the main characters for that book; you get different snapshots of what else is going on through the eyes of a few others as well. And here, we get a whole host of new people. My favourite is Penelope, a hacker who works in Eden. I can't wait to see more of her in future books.

4) The 'bonding time' between Ryder & the O'Kane men. Any time Ryder was hanging out or working alongside O'Kanes, was just fun to read, regardless of the situation they were in. That's especially true once a couple of them know something is going on between him & Nessa. I loved the group interactions, how they're always teasing each other but still clearly caring a lot.

5) How satisfying the ending is. All the big points get wrapped up, you see (I think) every couple from the rest of the series and several favourite characters who haven't had a story yet, and enough is set up for the next arc of the Eden/Sectors story that I can't wait for the new series to come. That new series is called Gideon's Riders, and the first book is out in the spring.

How could I not give Beyond Surrender 10 out of 10? Brilliant, emotional, and very satisfying.

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