Friday, May 17, 2019

May Reading Goals


One of the reasons I've not been blogging much recently is that I've been talking about books on my YouTube channel as well. As I get back into the habit of writing out my reviews, I'm going to be cross-posting my videos to here as well. So without further ado, here are my May reading goals!



Books mentioned:
Smoke in the Glass by Chris Humphries
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Leaf By Niggle by J. R. R. Tolkien
Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you think of them! And if you have a booktube channel of your own, leave a link in the comments and I'll check it out.

~Ailsa

Monday, May 13, 2019

Book Review: Smoke in the Glass by Chris Humphreys


Title: Smoke in the Glass
Author: Chris Humphreys
Publication date: 16th May 2019
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: A thrilling new dark fantasy series about immortality, war and survival, from the bestselling historical author Chris (CC) Humphreys
Three lands, peopled by humans and immortals. In Corinthium a decadent endlessly-lived elite run the world for profit and power. But when a poor, honest solider dies, and is reborn, everything changes. In wintry Midgarth, where immortals are revered as deities, one of them has realized that something - or someone - is killing the gods. And in Ometepe there is only one immortal, for he has murdered every other. Until one woman gives birth to a very special baby. Yet there is a fourth, hidden land, where savage tribes have united under the prophecy of 'the One': a child who is neither boy nor girl. Now they plan to conquer the world. Unless a broken soldier, a desperate mother and a crippled god can stop them...


My thoughts: 
I thought the concept of a society where everyone knows immortals exist, but you don’t discover someone is immortal until they die, was really interesting and I couldn’t wait to see how the story unfolded. Told in third person, it dips into other narrators from time to time but for the most part we follow three people: Luck, an immortal in the cold country that sounds quite Nordic; Atisha, in a warm but mountainous country with volcanoes nearby; and Ferros, in a slightly less-defined country that has hills, grasslands and some sea areas. There are four countries in this world, each divided from the others by unclimbable mountains, uncrossable seas, etc etc, so while people might suspect that there is something else beyond their borders, no one has ever come from or gone to those places. In each country immortality works slightly differently, which I enjoyed seeing too.

At first, the stories of our three main protagonists exist slightly separately, but very quickly Chris Humphreys starts to connect them with the impending threat from the mysterious fourth country. As the reader you can see how the events in one place will affect the others, and for me that made it more compelling and added to the tension in each person’s storyline.

It’s a book about tyrants (and how to overthrow them), bringing diverse tribes together (when all they want to do is fight) and coming to terms with a new life path (when you we’re perfectly content before). And it’s about the enduring power and effect of hope.

I loved that the ‘gift’ of immortality had slightly different forms in each of the counties, and that within the plot Chris Humphreys explores how that has lead to different developments of society, without the exploration slowing down or detracting from the overarching plot. I think it’s a very clever idea, and not one I’ve come across before.

Chris Humphreys skilfully weaves together several different storylines without any feeling like they’re rushed over and still manages to keep the momentum of the plot going throughout the book. It’s an intriguing new look at immortality in a fantasy novel, and I highly recommend it. This is the first in a series, and I’ll definitely be looking out for the sequels. I’m giving Smoke In The Glass 8 stars!

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Earl's Countess of Convenience by Marguerite Kaye


Title: The Earl's Countess of Convenience
Author: Marguerite Kaye
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Publication date: 4th April 2019
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

Description: Eloise Brannagh has witnessed first-hand the damage unruly passion can cause. Yet she craves freedom, so a convenient marriage to the Earl of Fearnoch seems the perfect solution! Except Alexander Sinclair is more handsome, more intriguing, more everything, than Eloise anticipated. Having set her own rules for their marriage, her irresistible husband might just tempt Eloise to break them!

My thoughts: The book opened with several pages of serious info-dumping as Eloise and her family discuss their past and set up the facts of the story opening: that the Earl has written to propose a marriage of convenience with Eloise. The slew of telling went on to the point that I completely lost track of who was being talked about. Despite that quite off-putting start, I did quickly get drawn in once Alexander Sinclair arrive at Eloise's house and they started talking. Each had formed various opinions about the other and now found that not only were those ideas quite wrong, but actually the other person was quite attractive and they were really enjoying talking to them.

I loved that the drama of the story is totally built around their relationship. Often in the historical romance books I've read, there is some kind of dramatic event near the end - a duel, a kidnapping, blackmail - that causes the hero and heroine to realise their true feelings for each other. In The Earl's Convenient Countess, Marguerite Kaye keeps the focus on the evolving relationship between Eloise and Alexander, looking at how time changes their opinions of each other, how they modify their behaviour based on what the other is saying or doing, and how they questions their own plans and desires. It gets so much more into the little actions that affect dynamics of a relationship than some historical romance novels do.

Marguerite Kaye's writing really flows, and I thought her descriptions of people and places were just right: bringing a scene to life without it feeling laboured or overdone. It's not a book full of glamorous parties (although there are some nice dinners and a shopping trip) or too much intrigue, but I don't think that detracts from the story in any way or made it feel like less of the kind of historical romance I was expecting. Overall, I'm giving The Earl's Countess of Convenience 7 out of 10. I found it a really interesting study of a relationship and it definitely lived up to my expectations of Marguerite Kaye's writing, which I've always enjoyed in the past.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Book Review: White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock


Title: White Rabbit, Red Wolf
Author: Tom Pollock
Publication date: 3rd May 2018
Publisher: Walker Books
Source: Review copy from publisher
Genre: Young Adult Thriller

Description: 
Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy. He also suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as well as Ingrid, his only friend. However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Pete is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine. Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength.

My thoughts:
I’d read one of Tom Pollock’s other books before, which has a strong fantasy element, and while this is very different I knew going in that I liked his writing, and I was intrigued by he fact it deals with an eating disorder and other mental health issues. White Rabbit, Red Wolf gets started very quickly, and is one of those books that's packed with twists and turns, making it very hard to talk about without spoilers!

The portrayal of Peter's panic attacks and how they link in to compulsive eating and other actions was fascinating. I've read that Tom Pollock has an eating disorder himself, and I wonder if that's part of what made it feel so authentic, understandable and real. Peter's best friend in the book, Ingrid, also has OCD and their mutual problems are part of what help them bond so strongly.

While there was the odd twist that I could anticipate, for the most part, I was completely surprised by them. Unlike some books where the 'surprising twists' just seem to crush the story so far and laugh at the reader for how they've been misdirected, the turns in White Rabbit, Red Wolf felt totally believable within the story. It's fast paced, dramatic, and one of those books that when I finished it, I immediately wanted to reread it knowing what you do by the end of the book. I completely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a thriller, even if you wouldn't normally read YA. Overall I'm giving it 8 out of 10.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Book Review: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare


Title: The Governess Game
Author: Tessa Dare
Publication date: 23rd August 2018
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

Description: The accidental governess…

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart... without risking her own.

The infamous rake... 

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling . . . and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

My thoughts: I'll start by saying that this is the best historical romance I've read in a long while. The writing is very smooth, the plot flows along at a good pace, and the characters are very likeable and fun to read about, with the secondary characters seeming just as well developed as the main pair. Beyond that, it does a few particular things which I enjoyed reading about.

Alexandra, or Alex as she's known to her friends, works for a living and is lucky enough to know a trade: she maintains clocks for wealthy customers in London. She's very practical, but that hasn't stopped her from daydreaming about the man who literally bumped into her in a bookshop several months ago. When they meet again, he thinks she's there to fill the vacancy of Governess to his two wards. The encounter leaves her flustered, and she ends up losing the mechanical piece she needs for her clock-setting business. Instead of accepting help from her close friends, she returns to Chase and takes up his offer of the governess position.

Right from the start, there is a lot of sexiness between them. She's very attracted to him, and he to her, and all of their interactions sizzle. In the last few years, I've become much more aware of the significance it can have on a 'relationship' when one person has power over another. Although Chase is employing Alex, none of their kisses (or beyond, and there is *plenty* of beyond-kissing) felt like Alex was in an uncomfortable position. She can leave this job if she wants to; her reputation isn't watched as closely as it would be if she was on his social level.

That ties in nicely to one of my other favourite things in The Governess Game: consent. There is a lot of emphasis on her consenting to things. Chase even says "I need to hear you say it" at one point, when Alex has just nodded. I love that Tessa Dare included things like that, and made it sexy in itself.

The final aspect I want to mention is Alex's friendship group. I gather that there may have been a previous book with one of these women as the main character, who is married in this book, and I'll be looking out for that to read it as well. The women are from slightly different societal backgrounds, but they haven't let that get in the way of their friendship. There is a hugely deep loyalty between them all, and they're very protective of each other. They are slightly unconventional for their time, without it ever coming across as there being a 'you're not like other girls' aspect to it in Chase's relationship with Alex.

The Governess Game was a really lovely, sexy book, and a perfect example of Regency romance. Beyond the romance, the importance of family, and building a found-family, is such a key theme and brought me to tears several times as it looked at the bonds being built between the wards and Alex and Chase. I highly recommend this to all fans of the genre, and will be looking for more Tessa Dare books to read soon. I'm giving it 9 out of 10.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book Review: Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake by Janice Preston


Title: Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake
Author: Janice Preston
Publication date: 23rd August 2018
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

Description: 'He’s completely unsuitable… he’s a rake.'

After being plucked from peril by resolute bachelor Lord Hugo Alastair, Lady Olivia Beauchamp is secretly outraged that he doesn’t even try to steal a kiss! He’s a notorious rake amongst the ton and as a result, utterly forbidden to an innocent debutante like her. But their attraction is magnetic. Will she risk her reputation for a passionate encounter?

My thoughts: Lady Olivia Beauchamp has had a very fortunate life. Her family are high in British society, she has two older brothers to secure the future of the family, they're well off financially and her father is able to provide a good dowry for her so she needn't worry too much about her future husband being wealthy himself. She knows how to behave in public to appear as a proper young lady, but in private she's a little more rebellious. Her brothers have always overshadowed her, and she feels like her sex has held her back from a lot of opportunities in life. That leads her to the situation at the beginning of the book where she has disguised herself and persuaded her brother to take her to Vauxhall Gardens one night while their father is away. Unfortunately, things go wrong, and Lord Hugo steps in to rescue her.

They then meet several times through various circumstances and despite knowing he has a reputation as a rake, Lady Olivia finds herself very attracted to him. I liked Olivia for her daring, and the way she balanced the lady she needed to appear as to society against the person she was inside. There are a couple of times in the book where she makes very silly decisions, without really thinking about possible consequences, which was a bit frustrating but I think that's an accurate reflection of the fact that she's eighteen and just doesn't have a clear picture of the harsh realities of the world yet.

While you don't get to see much of what the secondary characters are up to, there are references to some adventures which I think must play out in the other books in this sequence, called 'The Beauchamp Heirs'. I'd be interested to read more, I think, but I'm not necessarily going to seek them out over other historical romance books that might be available to me when I'm next choosing something.

Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake was a light, easy read and that was exactly what I was looking for. It's nicely written Regency romance, and I'd read other books by Janice Preston in future. I'm giving this book 6 out of 10.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett


Title: Foundryside
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Publication Date: 23rd August 2018
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Divine Cities trilogy #1
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: The city of Tevanne runs on scrivings, industrialised magical inscriptions that make inanimate objects sentient; they power everything, from walls to wheels to weapons. Scrivings have brought enormous progress and enormous wealth - but only to the four merchant Houses who control them. Everyone else is a servant or slave, or they eke a precarious living in the hellhole called the Commons.

There's not much in the way of work for an escaped slave like Sancia Grado, but she has an unnatural talent that makes her one of the best thieves in the city. When she's offered a lucrative job to steal an ancient artefact from a heavily guarded warehouse, Sancia agrees, dreaming of leaving the Commons - but instead, she finds herself the target of a murderous conspiracy. Someone powerful in Tevanne wants the artefact, and Sancia dead - and whoever it is already wields power beyond imagining.

Sancia will need every ally, and every ounce of wits at her disposal, if she is to survive - because if her enemy gets the artefact and unlocks its secrets, thousands will die, and, even worse, it will allow ancient evils back into the world and turn their city into a devastated battleground.

My thoughts: I haven't read anything by Robert Jackson Bennett before, but I thought the blurb sounded interesting, so I was excited to give Foundryside a go. It starts with a young woman called Sancia stealing a mysterious object for her unnamed client. She wouldn't normally take a job this big and complex, because the consequences if she gets caught could be death or the painful loss of a limb, but this time the money was so good she couldn't say no. She duly gets hold of the box, but she can't resist the urge to look inside - despite having been told specifically not to by the client - and see what someone would go to all this trouble for. It turns out to be a magical object that's totally different from anything else, and Sancia realises her client wont let her live with any knowledge of it.

The book hooked me quickly, with Sancia's street-smart attitude and a lot of action that painted a good picture of the city and how the magic in this world works. Be warned, it's not a short book. I found the 10-20% section dragged a bit, but then things picked up again and I got sucked right back in. The last 30% flew by, and where part way through there had been moments where I wasn't sure if I'd continue with the series after Foundryside, by the time I finished reading it last night I knew I need to read the next book!

The majority of the book is focussed on Sancia, but there are occasional short paragraphs from some of the other key characters. There are a variety of narrators, and I think Robert Jackson Bennett did a really good job at giving the main characters distinct personalities and motivations. I liked the character development of all the key players over the course of the book, and I'm interested to see what happens to them in the sequel.

With Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett has created an exciting, believable world and a plot full of twists. It picks up momentum as it goes along, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the second book in the series has in store for readers. Overall, I'm giving Foundryside 7 out of 10.
 

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