Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz


Title: A Conspiracy of Alchemists
Author: Liesel Schwarz
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: August 2013
Genre: Steampunk/Fantasy
Source: Bought

Description: In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly among us, a deadly game of Alchemists and Warlocks has begun.

When an unusual cargo drags airship-pilot Elle Chance into the affairs of the mysterious Mr Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse.

My thoughts: I love this sort of fantasy novel: a slightly historical setting, lots of steampunk creations, and a female lead who knows what she wants from life and won't let the fact that she's a woman stop her. The book begins with Elle in Paris, meeting a contact who gives her a mysterious package to take back to England. Unfortunately, she's attacked before she can leave Paris, and this kicks off a journey where she and the enigmatic Mr Marsh are chased to her Cambridge home, then across Europe, to Constantinople.

The chase added a sense of urgency to the book, which I think might have lacked a little otherwise. Although there is a deadline driving the bad guys, our good guys are just trying to keep one step ahead of the danger. In a lot of places, then, Elle is forced into action because of outside factors, rather than her own drive. The events of A Conspiracy of Alchemists affect her a lot, however, so I'm optimistic that she'll be different in the rest of the trilogy.

The descriptions of the settings and scenery around our main characters are very well done. Liesel Schwarz brings Paris, Venice and Constantinople to life. I hope book two has as much traveling for Elle, because I'd really like to see what else Ms Schwarz can conjure up for the reader.

Overall, this was a great book. The plot carried me along, I feared for the characters' safety, despaired over some of their decisions, and cheered at their successes. I love the world Liesel Schwarz has created, and I found it a lot of fun to read this book as well. It's not written to be funny, as Gail Carriger's books are, but there is a certain sarcasm to some of the interactions which made it very entertaining. I really enjoyed the book, and I'm looking forward to the sequel when I can get a copy. I'm giving this one 7/10.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Book Review: Doing It by Hannah Witton


 Title: Doing It
Author: Hannah Witton
Publication date: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Wren & Rook
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Swapped with a friend

Description: Sexting. Virginity. Consent. The Big O ... Let's face it, doing it can be tricksy. I don't know anyone (including myself) who has sex all figured out. So I've written a book full of honest, hilarious (and sometimes awkward) anecdotes, confessions and revelations. And because none of us have all the answers, I've invited some friends and fellow YouTubers to talk about their sexuality, too. My book is for everyone, no matter what gender you identify as or who you fancy.

We talk about doing it safely. Doing it joyfully. Doing it when you're ready. Not doing it. Basically, doing it the way you want, when you want. So. Let's do this ...

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Doing It candidly and openly explores topics like masturbation, slut-shaming, pornography and consent, as well as how to maintain healthy relationships in a digital age.

My thoughts: Doing It is a guide to all things relating to sex, relationships, and bodies. It's broken down by topic, and I found it to be very accessible easy reading. What made it particularly interesting to me was that it's full of personal stories from Hannah Witton and her friends about their experiences with a certain thing. It's very frank and open, which I think is important in a book dealing with these subjects.

I did find that a lot of it wasn't so relevant to me, because it was things I'd learned in high school or already experienced and learned how to handle. So from that point of view, I'd say it's a book for people in their tweens or early teens, and definitely a good one to have in high school libraries. That said, with the personal anecdotes I found some bits particularly interesting because they were about experiences very different from my own.

Overall, the book really does what it says in the blurb. It's hard to rate, because it wasn't so relevant to me but still interesting, and still a very useful book for many people. So, I'm giving it 6/10. I liked it, it was interesting.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: Ivan by Kit Rocha


Title: Ivan
Author: Kit Rocha
Publication date: 31st March 2018
Series: Gideon's Riders, book 3
Genre: Post-apocalyptic Romance
Source: Review copy

Description:
As the sheltered princess of Sector One, Maricela’s life is defined by duty: to her people and to her family. Her wealth and influence have allowed her to build a better world, but they come with a price—the responsibility to secure political stability with a practical marriage. Maricela cherishes the idea of marrying for love, but there’s not much romance in the endless line of suitors interested only in prestige and power.
And her handsome, brooding new bodyguard isn’t helping the situation.
Ivan is the perfect, deadly warrior, a man trained from childhood to be the ultimate protector to the Rios family. His focus on keeping her safe is intense–and a little intoxicating. When the threat of danger cracks his icy control, Maricela realizes she’s not the only one fighting against temptation.
Ivan knows that the blood on his hands makes him unworthy of the pure-hearted princess. But from the first kiss, their forbidden affair feels inevitable. He can give her a glimpse of life outside her gilded cage and a lover who wants the woman instead of the crown. The only thing he can never do is promise her forever.
Because spurning her noble suitors to marry her bodyguard wouldn’t just be a scandal. It could set off a political firestorm that would tear Sector One apart.

My thoughts:
This is the third book in the Gideon's Riders series, and I feel like we're really starting to get stuck in to things now. The lay of the land has been set, the political landscape painted, and now Kit Rocha is starting to poke at those foundations and show us where the weak spots are. Is it all going to tumble down around the ears of the Riders, our main focus in the series? Or will they manage to build something better in place of it? Let's be honest, this series, and each individual book in the series, is a romance, so I know there will be a satisfying conclusion, but it's all about the journey, isn't it? And Kit Rocha writes the journey very well.

There have been hints of the romance between Ivan and Maricela brewing so far in the series, and of the boxes Maricela is being pushed into by her family and the role she was born into. Now we get to explore how she feels about aspects of the role, and what's going on behind the dutiful front which the public see. She's a princess, she's beautiful, she's the perfect role model, and she does 'her duty', including being expected to make a marriage which will be helpful to the stability of the area they live in.

I loved the simmering tension between Ivan and Maricela. She wants some kind of fling, and overcomes her shyness to try to pursue it, but Ivan is determined that it's a bad idea - he knows he would care too much. Lots of the fun in this book was seeing them each fighting to hold out against what they wanted, especially when the other was encouraging that want!

As usual with a Kit Rocha book, there's a lot of sexual tension and a lot of steamy scenes. A new aspect of society, expectation, and loyalty is examined in each book, and with Ivan, it's really demonstrated that the series is going to be just as good as the 'Beyond' series (which is set in the same world). Overall, I'm giving this 8 out of 10.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Release date: May 2016
Publisher: Pan
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Gift

Description: Agnieszka loves her village, set deep in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest's dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. One young village woman must serve him for ten years, leaving all they value behind.

Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she's everything Agnieszka is not - beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it's not Kasia he takes.

My thoughts: This book has been on my wishlist for a while, and I'm so pleased to say that it lived up to my expectations. The opening couple of chapters set the scene: Agnieszka growing up in her quiet little village, spending time with her best friend who live a couple of hours cart-ride away in the same valley. Their friendship is only tainted by the knowledge that when they're seventeen, the magician who protects the valley from the magical, mysterious Wood will pick a girl from their year-group to come and help him in his tower. Since he chooses the girl who has something special about her, everyone knows it will be Kasia.

It's one of those books where I can't say much about the actual plot for risk of spoiling things. It was very satisfying to experience each twist and turn and added layer as they came along, with no idea of where the story was heading. I love that it incorporates so many aspects of fairytales: a 'dragon', a scary forrest, a girl trapped in a tower, a missing royal, magic, castles, saving something/someone, the importance of friendship, and of course, how we change as we get older. Each time I came across another little nod to the traditional stories, it made me smile.

The writing itself is beautiful too. Agnieszka is telling it in first person, and it reminded me of Robin McKinley's Sunshine. Her voice is very compelling, and I was drawn completely in to the story from the very beginning. I also thought that, like a classic fairytale, it could be simplified to tell to a younger child. I know I'll reread this book again, and I hope that one day I'll be able to share it with my children, too.

Uprooted might be a brand new fairytale, but it has everything you'd expect from a classic. Beautiful storytelling, full of twists, and I could hardly put it down. Overall I'm giving it 9 stars.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Review: The Unmumsy Mum by Sarah Turner


Title: The Unmumsy Mum
Author: Sarah Turner
Publisher: Bantam Press
Release date: 11th February 2016
Genre: Non-fiction, advice/memoir

Description: The Unmumsy Mum is a blogging and Facebook sensation! Her posts are adored by thousands of fans for delivering a hilarious, unapologeticaly honest account of motherhood. From the soaring highs of life as a parent to the emotional lows of feeling like you might not be cut out for the job, this uncensored portrayal of what it's really like to be a mum has won a place in the hearts of parents everywhere. 
No subject is off limits for the Unmumsy Mum - from distinctly unglowing pregnancies to seemingly endless night feeds; from finding your feet at baby group to the reality of returning to work; from dealing with toddler tantrums to navigating around soft-play hellholes. 
This book won't tell you how to parent, what to buy or how you should feel. Its refreshing frankness is guaranteed to make you laugh, may well make you cry, and will no doubt leave you breathing a sigh of relief that it is definitely not just you...

My thoughts:
I picked this book up from someone who was rehoming it because I thought it would be full of funny, honest stories. It sat on my bookshelf for a little while, than I started it earlier this month, looking for some light reading and a change from fiction.

While the book does have some amusing anecdotes from Sarah's life as a mother, and some short funny things that some of her blog readers have written to her about, the book is much more like an honest look at all aspects of being a mother to very young children. She writes about the miserable side to being pregnant, giving birth, and not getting enough sleep. She talks about deciding to have a second child, and the adjustment needed to cope with having two children rather than one.

It's an incredibly informative book, and I think it would be a very reassuring read for mothers of young children. However, although I might have kids sometime in the next few years, I'm not at that point yet. While it was very educational to read as it went into aspects of parenthood that I didn't know anything about before, or had never even considered, I didn't find it as engaging to read as I think I will in a few years time when I'm expecting a child. I'll definitely be keeping this on the shelf until then, though, because I do think it will be very reassuring and useful when I reach that stage in my life. 7/10.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January Book Haul


My goal to read two books from my TBR shelf for every one that I add to it (and read those two before I add a new one) is off to a terrible start. Here's my video of the books I've received so far this year. 


Books mentioned:
The Night Lies Bleeding by M. D. Lachlan (Gollancz, 22/2/2018)
What Fresh Hell by Lucy Vine (Orion, 8/3/2018)
Doing It by Hannah Witton (out now)
Snakewood by Adrian Selby (out now)
Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain (Walker Books, 1/3/2018)
The Goose Road by Rowena House (Walker Books, 5/4/2018)
White Rabbit Red Wolf: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock (Walker Books, 7/6/2018)

What books have you received recently? Have you read any of these or got them in your TBR pile?
-Ailsa

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Review: Paris Adrift by E. J. Swift


Title: Paris Adrift
Author: E. J. Swift
Release date: February 2018
Publisher: Rebellion
Genre: Science-fiction/fantasy
Source: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

Description: Determined to escape her old life, misfit and student geologist Hallie packs up her life in England and heads to Paris. She falls in with the eclectic expat community as a bartender at the notorious Millie’s, located next to the Moulin Rouge.

Here she meets Gabriela, a bartender who guides her through this strange nocturnal world, and begins to find a new family. But Millie’s is not all that it seems: a bird warns Hallie to get her feathers in order, a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be a chronometrist, and Gabriela is inexplicably unable to leave Paris.

Then Hallie discovers a time portal located in the keg room. Over the next nine months, irate customers will be the least of her concerns, as she navigates time-faring through the city’s turbulent past and future, falling in love, and coming to terms with her own precarious sense of self. 

My thoughts: I first noticed this book because of the cover, and when I read the description I thought it sounded like the sort of thing I would enjoy. I pictured a fairly typical urban fantasy novel, where a main character discovers there's actually magic of some kind in the world, and with the cool setting of Paris as a bonus. In fact, it's not that sort of story at all. In the opening pages, you learn that this book is about time travel. In the not-too-distant future, the world is ending, and a group of time travellers think they've identified some key points in history where events could be steered a different way, with the help of a young woman who doesn't yet know that she's also a time traveller: Hallie.

Jump back to present day Paris, and Hallie is recently arrived in the city. In many ways, this is a contemporary novel about figuring out who you want to be, and dealing with things from your past. Hallie has basically run away from home instead of starting university. Her job at a popular bar brings her into a friend group of other people who have left something, are looking for something, or just want to have fun and not think about anything for a while. They are racially and culturally diverse, but again and again you see that they have so much in common despite their varied backgrounds.

The other aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed was that it brings in real-world politics. The bar staff in Summer 2018 are discussing the US president, the refugee crisis, racism. As Halliee starts to visit different periods of time, she sees the effects of different political strategies played out: people starving in the wake of the siege of Paris; occupied Paris during the Second World War; 2040 when tensions between a peaceful party and a fascist one are coming to a head. It seeps quietly in to the story, not overpowering it, but becoming a central part of the book.

Paris Adrift is a fun, clever and moving book, and I definitely recommend it. It's particularly good if you don't usually like fantasy. I love that Hallie evolves over the course of the story, as do many of the staff she works with. My one little niggle about the book is that there are some tiny set up details about how the time travel works which seemed like they were going to be bigger in the story - like they're setting up a series, rather than a single book. It makes me wonder if this is the start of a series, although the book very much wrapped up tidily. Overall, I'm giving Paris Adrift by E. J. Swift 8 out of 10.
 

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