Friday, 17 November 2017

Review: Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe - Melissa De La Cruz

Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa De La Cruz, published by Hodder on 16th November 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
As partner at a major New York hedge fund, Darcy's only serious relationship is with her work cellphone. The truth is, she's too busy being successful and making money to have time for Christmas... let alone to allow romance into her life.

But this year Darcy is coming home to Pemberley, Ohio, for the holidays. There, she runs into her old neighbour and high-school foe Luke Bennet - the oldest of five wayward brothers. When Darcy's enmity with Luke is re-opened, along with a hefty dollop of sexual chemistry... well, sparks are sure to fly. Can Darcy fall in love - or will her pride, and Luke's prejudice against big-city girls, stand in their way?

A contemporary Pride and Prejudice retelling with a difference, involving gender swapping and a small town place called Pemberley, Ohio.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this book when I first picked it up.  Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favourite classics and I was curious to see how Melissa De La Cruz was going to put a fresh spin on the story.  For the most part, I really enjoyed it, although there was never any doubt that Austen's original would be knocked off its perch.

The main character Darcy Fitzwilliam, is now a woman.  Yes, that took me a minute to wrap my head around too.  She is a successful partner in a New York hedge fund and is extremely wealthy. Like mega-bucks wealthy.  She has the means to buy anything she could want, but the one thing she has failed to attain so far is love.  When her mother is taken seriously ill, she returns home to her family for Christmas - the first time in years that she has returned Pemberley.  At her family's Christmas party she meets Luke Bennet, who she once went to school.  Sparks fly and before you know it Darcy has fallen heard for her own small town guy. 

The gender-swapping aspect of the novel actually worked really well.  It was interesting to see Darcy being the successful and independent businesswoman who has never had time to find real love, while Luke has never left Pemberley and has four brothers to contend with.  In the original, a lot of the sub-plot revolves around Lizzie's sister Jane and her romance with Mr Bingham.  This time, Jane is now Jim, Luke's older brother and Bingley is Darcy's gay best friend.  I thought Jim and Bingley were really sweet together and this was a good way of bringing the story more up-to-date. 

The story itself was pretty predictable and resembled quite a light-hearted rom-com that I finished fairly quickly.  I enjoyed a new spin on a classic tale and the festive touches particularly appealed to my love of Christmas.  If you are a fan of the original then sit back, curl up and enjoy this contemporary re-telling which I guarantee will make you want to dig out your battered old copy of Austen and read it all over again.         


Thursday, 9 November 2017

Review: Bonfire - Krysten Ritter

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter, published by Hutchinson on 9th November 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

I was hugely intrigued to read 'Bonfire' after I found it was penned by Krysten Ritter, star of Jessica Jones and Breaking Bad.  This is her debut novel, a psychological thriller that sounded pretty dark and twisty.  Exactly what I was in the mood for. 

The story follows Abby Williams, an environmental lawyer, originally from the small town of Barrens Indiana.  Abby has returned home for the first time in ten years to investigate Optimal Plastics, a company that has set about transforming her home town but whose presence Abby has her suspicions about.  Abby's investigation leads her to suspect a possible connection with local girl Kaycee, who supposedly ran away and was never seen again.  She was both Abby's friend, as well as her tormentor but Abby has never been able to put her disappearance behind her.  She's about to open up some old wounds that might have been better left alone. 

I liked the character of Abby but there were times when I wished that she had been able to stand up for herself a bit more.  She has made a success of her career and moved on to better things but she still seemed to let people walk all over her at times.  I also would have liked to know more about her family history and childhood.  Both were touched upon but I think if there had been more details provided, it would have given a better insight into her character. 

I loved the claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere of the small town setting, where everyone knows everything about each other and where peoples' reputations follow them - past mistakes are never forgotten and secrets can't be buried forever.

I thought that the ending was slightly rushed and the big expose could have been more dramatic, although it did take an interesting turn in the last few chapters.  I enjoyed all the twists and turns, as it made me suspicious of everyone and I constantly felt like I wasn't sure who could be trusted and who was waiting to stick the knife into Abby's back.  All in all, a brilliant debut from Ritter and one that I would definitely recommend if you are keen on psychological thrillers.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Review: Namsara - Kristen Ciccarelli

Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli, published by Gollancz on 5th October 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

When I started 'The Last Namsara' I was a little bit worried that it was going to be too fantasy-driven for my tastes.  However, after the first few chapters I was completely drawn into the amazing world that Kristen Ciccarelli has created.  There's danger, dragons, romance and a whole cast of unforgettable characters that had me turning the pages faster and faster. 

The story tells the tale of Asha - a dragon slayer.  Marked by a dragon when she was just a child, Asha's whole life is about redemption.  After making a deal with her father the King, she sets out to track down and kill one particular dragon - but not everything is as it seems and Asha begins to uncover a web of lies, along the way to some truly startling revelations. 

I thoroughly enjoyed all the mini stories that were interwoven throughout the book.  They were fascinating and linked with certain things that were happening in the plot, adding a level of depth and richness to the storytelling.

One of my favourite parts of the story was the romance which develops between Asha and one of the slaves.  There is a lot of focus in the book on the divide between the people of the city and their slaves.  The treatment of the latter is often cruel and degrading and they do not have any rights at all.  A relationship with a slave is forbidden, so Asha takes some huge risks when her feelings begin to develop for one particular slave.  Asha is an incredible character and she really drove the story along and kept me riveted throughout.  I enjoyed seeing her personal development and the way that she gradually becomes more enlightened as she uncovers secrets and truths which have been kept from her for far too long. 

'The Last Namsara' is an amazing YA fantasy which will captivate and entrance readers.  The first in a new series, I'm very intrigued to find out what will happen to Asha next.      

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: The Warrior in the Mist - Ruth Eastham

The Warrior in the Mist by Ruth Eastham, published by Shrine Bell on 24th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Aidan's village is under siege. A fracking company has moved on to the land.
Once drilling is complete, the paddocks looked after by Aidan's family will be gone, along with his home and the horse he loves.

Aidan and his best friends Emmi and Jon have one last hope. Legend has it that the warrior queen Boudicca is buried close by. If only they can find the tomb... prove this is the site of her last great battle against Roman invaders...

As the mists of time separating ancient history from present day swirl and fade, Aidan must face a deadly enemy. He must fight to uncover the truth of the ghostly sisters, before it is too late.

I've previously read 'The Memory Cage' by Ruth Eastham which was very good, so I was looking forward to starting 'The Warrior in the Mist'. The blurb sounded interesting and I also like supporting British authors. 

The story is set in Carrus Village where a fracking company has moved onto the land.  Aidan and his friends are determined to try to stop them from destroying their homes.  The only way they can think to do this is to find the lost tomb of Queen Boudicca and her daughters which will win the land protected status.  Aidan, along with his friends Emmi and Jon are clever and capable teenagers who soon start connecting the dots and grow closer to the location of the hidden tomb.  However, someone wants to stop them from doing so.  I honestly didn't guess who the baddie was going to be, so it was a good surprise when it was revealed who was standing in their way and the lengths they were prepared to go to in their desire to stop the teenagers

I liked the theme of protecting the environment which ran throughout the story and the battle between the destruction versus the preservation of the land.  It's unusual to see something like this featured in a book for teenagers, so it was quite a refreshing change.  I actually think this book is probably more suited for middle-grade readers, rather than teens, due to the writing style and the fact that the characters are slightly younger.

I also enjoyed the historical aspects of the story but I wasn't as convinced by the supernatural parts dealing with the ghosts of Boudicca's daughters.  It just didn't entirely work for me. 

A fairly quick and enjoyable read, I think it will appeal to the majority of readers.   

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Review: The Crow Garden - Alison Littlewood

The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood, published by Jo Fletcher on 5th October 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Haunted by his father's suicide, Nathaniel Kerner walks away from the highly prestigious life of a consultant to become a mad-doctor. He takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, but the proprietor is more interested in phrenology and his growing collection of skulls than the patients' minds. Nathaniel's only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Harleston: her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions - but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible. Nathaniel is increasingly obsessed with Victoria, but when he has her mesmerised, there are unexpected results: Victoria starts hearing voices, the way she used to - her grandmother always claimed they came from beyond the grave - but it also unleashes her own powers of mesmerism ...and a desperate need to escape. Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of seances and stage mesmerism in his bid to find Victoria and save her. But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded - whether of the body or the mind.

'The Crow Garden' was a really intriguing and enigmatic read.  Described as 'Susan Hill meets Wilkie Collins', I knew from that single line that I had to read this book.  I loved the Victorian meets Gothic meets psychological chiller atmosphere of the story and I found it a real page-turner and exactly my kind of story. 

The setting immediately drew me in.  Crakethorn Asylum is creepy and atmospheric and almost makes you want to shiver.  It becomes the new place of employment of Doctor Nathaniel Kerr who has walked away from his prestigious consultant position, to work in a 'mad house'.  At Crakethorn, he meets Mrs Victoria Harleston, one of his new patients and becomes obsessed with understanding her and finding out her secrets.  This leads to a dangerous experiment in mesmerism which causes things to begin to unravel for the Doctor.

The book is divided into three parts, switching between Crakethorn, London and then back to the Asylum again.  I liked the three distinct sections and the way in which the story was perfectly balanced and kept me glued to the pages throughout.  It really did remind me of some of my favourite nineteenth century Gothic novels in terms of the plot and the storytelling. 

I thought it was very clever how the author drew a veil of intrigue over many of the events in the novel.  I was never quite sure whether I could believe everything I read because it's unclear who still possesses control over their minds and who is being controlled.  Really puzzling to the reader but in a good way. 

I haven't read anything by Alison Littlewood before but I was very impressed by 'The Crow Garden' and will be checking out some of her other novels now, as well as future offerings. 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Review: The Crystal Maze Challenge - Neale Simpson

The Crystal Maze Challenge by Neale Simpson, published by Headline on 17th October 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Packed full of over 100 new games, mind benders and riddles, with this book you can now play the ultimate game show in the playground of your own home. Join ranks with family and friends as you travel through the four iconic zones - Aztec, Industrial, Future and Medieval - guided by Maze Master Richard Ayoade. Some games are quick, so you can have a spontaneous game if you fancy, whilst others require a bit more preparation but they can all be played with household items!

Test your skill, mental and physical abilities as you try to leap around your living room without touching the floor, solve puzzles and brainteasers, and complete treasure hunts around the house, all the while trying to win the crystals before heading to The Crystal Dome ... and remembering not to leave anyone locked in any cupboards!

I love watching the Crystal Maze on TV so I thought that this book was going to be a brilliant and fun read.  My favourite parts of the book were some of the interviews that featured with the creators, the original Maze masterminds and the best quizmaster of all, Richard O'Brien.  I would have loved to have seen more of this.  It could have included features on the other quizmasters: Ed Tudor-Pole, Stephen Merchant and Richard Ayoade, as well as interviews with some of the contestants on the show. 

The majority of the book contained features on how to recreate some of the many games which appear on the show, as well as how to set up your own Crystal Maze at home.  While a few of these would definitely be possible, others just seemed like they would take you forever to recreate, by which time I'm not sure you would have much excitement left to actually play the game. 
Some Crystal Maze mad-fans might still enjoy this but I finished it feeling disappointed and ready to instead re-watch one of the classic episodes of the show which never fail to provide me with an hour of pure entertainment.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Review: Undercover Princess - Connie Glynn

Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn, published by Penguin on 2nd November 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
When fairy tale obsessed Lottie Pumpkin starts at the infamous Rosewood Hall, she is not expecting to share a room with the Crown Princess of Maradova, Ellie Wolf. Due to a series of lies and coincidences, 14-year-old Lottie finds herself pretending to be the princess so that Ellie can live a more normal teenage life.

Lottie is thrust into the real world of royalty - a world filled with secrets, intrigue and betrayal. She must do everything she can to help Ellie keep her secret, but with school, the looming Maradovian ball and the mysterious new boy Jamie, she'll soon discover that reality doesn't always have the happily ever after you'd expect...

Before I started reading this book I had some trepidation about the fact that it was written by a Youtuber.  I'm not terribly familiar with Connie Glynn's videos but I curious to see if she could turn her talents to writing.  I loved the initial idea for the story and it ticked lots of my 'happy' boxes.  It was set at a boarding school, it featured a Princess and it had an utterly gorgeous cover.  I was excited before I'd even read the first page. 

The story centres around teenager Lottie Pumpkin, who is starting her first year at Rosewood Hall, a boarding school that she has always dreamt of attending.  As a bursary student, Lottie worries that she might not be able to fit in with the other girls but she never could have imagined that the reason why they might treat her differently is because they think she is a the Crown Princess of Maradova.  Lottie's roommate Ellie, is the real Princess, a secret she agrees to keep hidden.  Lottie soon finds herself thrust into another world filled with danger, excitement and betrayal.

I thought that the two main characters were very well written and I loved the friendship which develops between Lottie and Ellie.  Although it gets off to a slightly shaky start, they become extremely close and I liked the way that they had each others backs and were willing to stand up for each other.  Their close friendship leads to a surprising twist which I won't reveal, except to say that it certainly added an interesting slant to the story.  Another character that I loved, was Jamie, who has quite a mysterious background but who we gradually get to know more about.  He added a nice touch of romance to the story, which I hope Connie builds on as the series progresses.    

I mistakenly thought that this was a stand-alone but 'Undercover Princess' is actually the first in a series.  It's aimed at a YA audience but I tend to think that it's better suited to middle-grade because the characters are only fourteen which is a lot younger than most of the YA books I read.  There are a lot of big events which happen very quickly in the story and that also surprised me when I discovered that it was a series.  However, I think it was a great start, very enjoyable and with plenty of potential for book two.  I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Lottie next.         

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Review: Chasing Christmas Eve - Jill Shalvis

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis, published by Headline Eternal on 27th September 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Run for the hills temporarily. That's Colbie Albright's plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie's so over it that she's under it. She's also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she's pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won't be a stranger for long.

Spence's commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn't have to worry about the powerful - OK, crazy hot - chemistry he's got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself...just because she's gorgeous and a great listener...just because she gets Spence immediately doesn't mean he won't be able to let Colbie go. Does it?

Now the clock's ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

I know I've said this many times in the past but I truly think that 'Chasing Christmas Eve' may be my favourite Jill Shalvis book yet.  It ticked every box for me and was an absorbing and happy read from start to finish - a real treat to be devoured in one sitting.  I loved it!

The romance between the main characters Colbie and Spencer made me so happy.  I'm sure I was smiling the whole way through the book.  They are both very similar in personality and temperament, as well as backgrounds.  They have both found incredible success in their respective fields but are struggling to deal with everything that goes along with that.  Although it's usually opposites attract, in this case, their similarities are what bring them together and help them to better understand each other.  They have such a short period of time together, that the Christmas Eve deadline is a barrier they must overcome.  Although there are obstacles in both their home and work lives, I enjoyed seeing them trying to work things out and had no doubt that they would get the perfect ending.   

I loved the fact that Colbie's occupation is a YA author.  She is forever scribbling down ideas for her stories on bits of paper and loves nothing more than surreptitiously eavesdropping on other peoples' conversations - perfect fodder for her books.  I thought that the opening chapter was great and so funny when she is at the airport and has an unfortunate encounter with airport security. 

Set in San Francisco, I enjoyed the setting immensely as it's somewhere that I would like to visit one day in the future.  It also features the rest of the gang from the series and I loved getting to see all of my favourite couples again.   

Jill Shalvis writes the BEST romances and this one was hot and sizzling!  I am so thankful that I discovered this author because she has quickly become one of my favourites, particularly when I am in the mood for a romance with real emotion and a heart of gold. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Review: Tarnished City - Vic James

Tarnished City by Vic James, published by Pan Macmillan on 7th September 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Luke is a prisoner, condemned for a murder he didn’t commit. Abi is a fugitive, desperate to free him before magic breaks his mind. But as the Jardines tighten their grip on a turbulent Britain, brother and sister face a fight greater than their own.

New alliances and old feuds will remake the nation, leaving Abi and Luke questioning everything – and everyone – they know. And as Silyen Jardine hungers for the forgotten Skill of the legendary Wonder King, the country’s darkest hour approaches. Freedom and knowledge both come at a cost. So who will pay the price?"

'Tarnished City' is the second book in the Dark Gifts trilogy.  You definitely need to have read the first instalment of the series because the story follows immediately on and just wouldn't make sense without already knowing about what has happened previously.  I loved the first book and had my fingers crossed that this one would be just as good.  While ultimately I don't think it turned out to be quite as absorbing as 'Gilded Cage', it was still hugely enjoyable. 

The story begins with Abi determined to rescue her brother Luke, who has been condemned of a crime he did not commit.  Meanwhile, the Jardines are desperate for power over the country and a terrible fate for the people of Britain hangs in the balance.  There are some truly dark themes in this series and some parts of the story are pretty shocking.  I found that this just drew me even deeper into the lives of the characters and I was on the edge of my seat for a good part of the book. 

I like the way that people in the series seem to be constantly changing.  Good and evil are interchangeable and this led to my feelings about various people in the story fluctuating throughout.  This was particularly true of the Jardine brothers who are incredibly difficult to read and often seemed to have an agenda of their own.  It's also true of the character of Dog who I initially felt sorry for but who I came to dislike immensely. 

Whereas I loved the first half of the book which was really fast paced and gripping, I found the second half quite a bit slower and the action seemed to drag at times.  I think it suffered slightly from being the middle book in the series but I'm confident that Vic James will wrap everything up with a shocking finale when  'Bright Ruin' is published next year. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Review: The Alice Network - Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, published by HarperCollins on 6th June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth matter where it leads.

I've read a few of Kate Quinn's previous books and really enjoyed them, so I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of 'The Alice Network'.  I used to read a lot more historical fiction than I do now but I still enjoy delving into the past and revisiting key historical periods.  This is also a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, so I was intrigued to see what it was going to be like.

Set in 1947, the opening part of the story is told from the perspective of Charlie St Clair, an American girl travelling with her mother to have her unplanned pregnancy taken care of.  Headstrong Charlie however has other ideas.  She wants to use the opportunity for the trip to track down her cousin Rose, who disappeared during World War II. 

Charlie's quest brings her into contact with Eve Gardiner.  The story jumps between the two women, as well as different time frames, to show Eve's life as a spy against the Germans in France in 1915, when she was part of the infamous 'Alice network'.  To start with, I didn't particularly take to Eve but as I learnt more about her and her past, I came to admire her enormously.  We see her taking huge personal risks to help the war effort and her bravery and strength are traits which shine through again and again.  I loved the stories of both women and the way that they intertwined.  Kate Quinn did a brilliant job of blending everything together so seamlessly which made the whole book a real joy to read. 

'The Alice Network' is a tremendous story and an example of historical fiction at its very best.  Tense, gripping and exciting but also with moments of true horror, it had me utterly engrossed.  Love, loss, life and sacrifice all feature heavily within the pages, making it an emotional read from start to finish.  I implore you to pick up this book because it deserves all the plaudits it has already got and more.      

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review: The Potion Diaries: Going Viral - Amy Alward

The Potion Diaries: Going Viral by Amy Alward, published by Simon and Schuster on 24th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Having managed to find her great-grandmother's potion diary, escape Emilia Thoth, save her grandfather's memories AND become a Master Alchemist, surely it's time for Sam to have a good, long rest? And maybe, just maybe, a date with her boyfriend Zain?

But now that Evelyn is married and showing symptoms of the Gergon illness, it looks as though Sam's adventures are just beginning...

'The Potion Diaries: Going Viral' continues the series about Sam Kemi, Master Alchemist, as she is called upon to once again save the day.  A strange virus is spreading through the city; Princess Evelyn has disappeared and no one seems to know how to stop events from endangering all of the Talented.  It's up to Sam to work out what's going on and to put things right.

A sub-plot in the book is the fact that Sam is the subject of a documentary being made about her.  As well as following her as she travels to the far-flung country of Zhongou to try to find a cure for the virus, the crew are also interested in the continuing romance between Sam and her boyfriend Zain...if they can ever find the time to go on a date.

When this series started, I thoroughly enjoyed the opening instalment.  It was fun, inventive and entertaining and with a main character that shares the same name as me, what was not to like!  The second book in the series was also pretty good but I felt like 'Going Viral' let the side down somewhat.  Yes, it was fairly entertaining and a quick, light-hearted read but I thought the plot was lacking any real sense of danger or excitement and didn't have enough substance, while although I really like Sam and Zain as a couple, the romance in this title was sadly lacking.  Please Amy Alward, give us more of our favourite ship!

I originally thought that this was going to be the last book in the trilogy but I discovered recently that there is another one scheduled for publication next year.  Maybe the series can still go out on a high.  I'm certainly hoping so. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Review: Even the Darkest Stars - Heather Fawcett

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett, published by HarperCollins on 5th September 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the Emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. But everything changes when the mysterious and eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, arrives in her village and demands to hire Kamzin for his next expedition. This is Kamzin’s chance to prove herself—even though River’s mission to retrieve a rare talisman for the emperor means climbing Raksha, the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas.

The challenges of climbing Raksha are unlike anything Kamzin expected—or prepared for—with avalanches, ice chasms, ghosts, and even worse at every turn. And as dark secrets are revealed, Kamzin must unravel the truth of their mission and of her companions—while surviving the deadliest climb she has ever faced.

'Even the Darkest Stars' is the first in a new fantasy duology and is the debut novel of author Heather Fawcett. This book swept me away on a cloud of adventure and danger. I loved it!
I actually found the first few chapters quite slow and I wondered initially whether this was going to my kind of book.  I was dubious about the characters and the plot and very nearly put it to one side.  Thank goodness that I didn't because a couple of pages later and everything clicked into place.  The action kicked up a notch and I was absorbed completely from that moment on.  It was fabulously entertaining for the rest of the book. 
The main character Kamzin, agrees to lead the Royal Explorer, River Shara, on an expedition to Raksha, a tall and deadly mountain.  He is seeking a talisman that the Emperor has requested he retrieve.  Kamsin was a fabulous character.  She thrives on adventure and exploration and dreams of scaling new and undiscovered territory across the Empire.  She can be hot-headed at times and doesn't like being told what to do, but she is incredibly loyal and won't back down from a challenge.  I thoroughly enjoyed following her journey and I absolutely adored her Familiar, Ragtooth the fox. 
The story was fast-paced and thrilling and there are lots of climactic moments in the book that have you on the edge of your seat.  There is always some kind of danger or peril lying in the path of the characters that they must face and overcome. The book is quite light on romance, although there are hints of it between Kamzin and River and also between Kamzin and her best friend Tem.  I'm quite glad that this took more of a back seat to the main plot as I think it may have distracted from the action otherwise.  
The ending was brilliant and really twisted everything and turned it on its head.  I still think there's more to it than first meets the eye but it has left me desperate for the next book in the series now.  I don't always enjoy fantasy but I really, really loved 'Even the Darkest Stars'.  I read it in one sitting on a wet, rainy Sunday where I ended up dreaming about wintery mountains and a dark and magnetising magic. 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Review: City of Circles - Jess Richards

City of Circles by Jess Richards, published by Sceptre on 10th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Danu is a tightrope walker who is mourning her parents, after a disease has ravaged the circus where she grew up. Her mother has entrusted her with a locket that hides a secret.

Over the years, Danu pushes away her grief and develops elaborate and successful high-wire acts with Morrie, a charismatic hunchback who wants to marry her. When the circus returns to Danu's birthplace, Matryoshka, Danu is enchanted by the temples, spice mists, and pleasure seekers within the intoxicating outer circle district.

Will she and Morrie ever be reunited, or will something far more unexpected be waiting for her in the mysterious heart of the city?

'City of Circles' is an unusual and unique read.  I hadn't heard a lot about it before reading the novel but I was attracted to it by the premise of the story.  It features a character called Danu, who at the beginning of the book loses both of her parents.  She struggles to deal with her grief within a community of fellow circus performers.  Soon after their deaths, she begins a high-wire act with Morrie, a hunchback performer who loves and wants to marry her.  Danu however, is restless and unsettled; unsure about where she sees her life headed.  When the circus arrives in Matryoshka, the city of 3 circles and Danu's birthplace, she is drawn to her new surroundings and attempts to find the answer to a secret from her past.  

There were some things about this book that I loved and others that I wasn't quite so keen on.  I really enjoyed the circus theme which is something that I'm seeing more and more of lately in books.  It's interesting to see characters that are always on the move and with such unique occupations.  There's always something truly magical and mysterious about the circus too.  Although the story is mainly told from Danu's point of view, I thoroughly enjoyed the parts that showed things from Morrie's perspective.  He is a character that I wasn't sure I was going to like at the beginning but he really grew on me throughout the book, particularly as I began to understand more about the depth of his feelings for Danu.

I felt frustrated by Danu at times but she was also a wonderfully interesting protagonist and I loved the second half of the book when she is exploring Matryoshka and all its wonders.  The city was amazing and brilliantly imagined by Richards.  It definitely made me wish that it wasn't purely fictional. 

The big disappointment for me was the ending.  It wasn't at all what I was expecting and after such a big build up throughout the story, it felt like a bit of a let down.  This was a real shame because I did enjoy 'City of Circles' and up until the very end I would have gladly recommended it to others.  It felt somewhat rushed and wasn't the conclusion that I was hoping for.    

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Review: S.T.A.G.S - M.A. Bennett

S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett, published by Hot Key Books on 10th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin' shootin' fishin'. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry's parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports - hunting, shooting and fishing - become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school...

I've wanted to read 'S.T.A.G.S' for ages.  As soon as I heard about it I was interested and intrigued.  I was expecting this to be an edge of your seat thriller, set at a creepy boarding school but that's not quite what was delivered.  My overall impression at the end was that this book could have been so good but sadly veered towards being a bit safe rather than pushing the boundaries.

The main character Greer is first introduced as a new scholarship student at St Aidan the Great boarding school.  Isolated and friendless, she struggles to fit in, until she is invited by the Medievals to an annual weekend of huntin', shootin' and fishin'. The Medievals rule the school and as Greer already has a crush on Henry, she agrees to go along.  Henry's home, Longcross, is actually the main setting for the story, rather than the school itself, which was a shame as I love boarding school stories. 

Greer is joined by two other pupils of the school, as they begin their weekend with the Medievals, without any parental supervision.  She admits at the very beginning of the book that she, along with the other two, are murderers.  You don't know yet who they are supposed to have killed but as the story unravelled, I had a very good idea who it was going to be.  

I would really have loved to have seen a lot more action, danger and excitement than there actually was.  It felt all the time like the author was playing things safe.  There's a reference in the book to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None which is bone chillingly scary because the characters get picked off one by one and meet some awful fates.  I was expecting 'S.T.A.G.S' to be along these lines but instead it felt a bit like extreme bullying but not life and death by any means. 

The book was an enjoyable enough read and the ending was very good but it could have been a lot more tense and thrilling than it turned out to be.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Review: Domina - L.S. Hilton

Domina by L.S. Hilton, published by Bonnier Zaffre on 10th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Judith Rashleigh has made it. Living in luxury amidst the splendours of Venice, she's finally enjoying the life she killed for.  But someone knows what Judith's done.

Judith can only save herself by finding a priceless painting - unfortunately, one that she's convinced doesn't even exist.  And she's not the only one seeking it.

This time, Judith isn't in control. Outflanked and out-thought, outrun and outgunned, she faces an enemy more ruthless and more powerful than she ever imagined.

And if she doesn't win, she dies.

The opening prologue of 'Domina' knocked my socks off and led me to expect great things from the rest of the book.  Sadly, the reality was that I felt quite disappointed by the time I got to the very end.

An early disclaimer to this review is that I have not read the first book in the series, 'Maestra'. I didn't think that it would matter and I thought that I would be able to follow the plot regardless, but there were so many references to things that had previously happened to the main character Judith, that I struggled to get to grips with everything.  I would definitely advise starting at the beginning of the series.

I assumed that this would be a tense and taut thriller.  Exactly what I was in the mood for.  It turned out to be much slower and more sedate than I first thought and quite a struggle to get through.  I was excited to see that it was partly set in the art world which I was expecting to be really fascinating but instead it almost seemed to hold back the pace of the plot with too many details and references for my taste. What I also didn't like were the lurid sex scenes and the overly graphic nature of the book. 

The main protagonist Judith was an extremely love/hate character.  I actually quite liked her in the beginning but my respect for her dwindled as the story progressed and I didn't know what to make of her by the end.  I liked the flashbacks to her early life with her mother as I thought these helped to show how she had developed the fighting side of her character. 

The story ended on a cliff-hanger which made me wonder a little about what was going to happen next.  Although I don't think that this series is for me, I may be tempted to read the final book in the trilogy 'Ultima' but only if I get around to reading 'Maestra' first. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Review: SweetFreak - Sophie McKenzie

SweetFreak by Sophie McKenzie, published by Simon and Schuster on 24th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Carey and Amelia have been best friends forever. Then Amelia starts being trolled by SweetFreak, a mysterious and hateful online account, and Carey is accused of being behind the vicious comments.

Shut out by her other friends and shunned by Amelia, Carey is determined to find out who's really sending the messages. But as the online threats spill over into real life, events start spiralling out of control...

Can Carey expose the real SweetFreak before it's too late?

'SweetFreak' was another good read by British author Sophie McKenzie, although I didn't love it as much as I was hoping to.  I found it a fairly quick read and finished it in one sitting.  It had a fair amount of drama, but it wasn't as tense or as gripping as other YA novels that I've read lately.  Please don't take that to assume that I didn't enjoy it, I did, but I've also read better edge-of-your-seat thrillers than this.

Best friends Carey and Amelia are at the centre of the story.  Amelia is sent disturbing messages online and Carey ends up accused of being the culprit, something which she vehemently denies.  Carey has to prove who the mysterious SweetFreak is and clear her name in the process. 

Although this book was described as CyberBully meets Gone Girl, I just didn't find it as exciting as I was expecting it to be.  I guessed the culprit quite quickly and although there were some further twists near the end of the story, I didn't feel any sense of real danger. 

I like the way that McKenzie has explored themes of online and offline bullying and the abuse of social media.  It's all too easy now for people to hide behind their computers and I think the book did a good job of showing the harm that online bullying can cause to a person.  This is something which is really topical and I thought that the author very effectively highlighted the danger of this.

'SweetFreak' is probably better suited to slightly younger teenage readers but I think that anyone who is a big Sophie McKenzie fan will still enjoy it.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Review: Lost and Found Sisters - Jill Shalvis

Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis, published by Headline Eternal on 20th June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
After losing her sister in a devastating car accident, chef Quinn Weller is finally getting her life back on track. She appears to have it all: a loving family, a dream job in one of L.A.'s hottest eateries, and a gorgeous boyfriend dying to slip an engagement ring on her finger. So why does she feel so empty, like she's looking for a missing piece she can't find?

The answer comes when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a bombshell secret and a mysterious inheritance that only she can claim. On impulse, Quinn gives up her job, home, and boyfriend. She heads up the coast to the small hometown of Wildstone, California, which is just a few hours north, but feels worlds apart from Los Angeles. Though she doesn't quite fit in right away, she can't help but be drawn to the town's simple pleasures...and the handsome, dark-haired stranger who offers friendship with no questions asked.

As Quinn settles into Wildstone, she discovers there's another surprise in store for her. She must decide if this new life is the one she was always meant to have - and the one that could finally give her the fulfillment she's searched so long for.

'Lost and Found Sisters' is yet another gem from prolific author Jill Shalvis.  She is my go-to author when I'm looking for a heart-warming and emotional read and this book definitely didn't disappoint me on both fronts. 

The story centres around LA chef Quinn Weller who at the beginning of the book discovers a huge secret about her past which ends up changing her whole life.  Cue Quinn deciding to head to the small town of Wildstone which holds more revelations waiting in store for her.  As she begins to settle into Wildstone, she meets handsome 'handy-man' Mick and it seems that romance might also be on the cards. 

Shalvis is the absolute master of writing about small town communities so brilliantly that you can't help but wish that you lived there too.  There's a real sense of community spirit about Wildstone and it almost becomes a character in its own right.  I could definitely understand how it drew Quinn in, even though it took her a while before she realised just how much she had fallen for it. 

The book deals with the theme of grief and bereavement and shows how it's possible to experience great tragedy but also to move forward with life and everything that it holds.  It was interesting to see Quinn start a new life based on her own choices and decisions, rather than following the path that someone else has chosen for her.  She was a great main character and I was rooting for her the whole way through. 

I love a new Jill Shalvis book and this one was packed full of real emotion and romance and a sense of the importance of family.  I enjoyed it enormously and found it a truly memorable read.         

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: Breaking - Danielle Rollins

Breaking by Danielle Rollins, published by Bloomsbury on 10th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Charlotte doesn't fit in with her two best friends, or with anyone else at The Underhill Preparatory Institute, her cut-throat school for the rich and gifted. But when those best friends die suddenly, Charlotte doesn't know where to turn.

Were they keeping secrets? Could Charlotte be the reason they did it? Because Charlotte has a secret of her own, and now she must decide how much she will risk to discover the truth.

'Breaking' was a brilliant read, very fast-paced and exciting with a killer twist at the end. 

The story is set at a boarding school called Underhill Preparatory Institute.  Main character Charlotte, is a pupil at the school but has never been good enough or clever enough to satisfy her mother who is always pushing Charlotte to study more and get better grades. Although the relationship between her and her mother is strained, she has her two best friends by her side and with them she feels like she finally has a family. 

Her best friends however, both die in strange circumstances.  Charlotte is desperate to find out what really happened to Ariel and Devon but her investigation puts her in danger, as she begins to get closer and closer to the truth.  The tension builds gradually, as flashbacks reveal more about the three friends and clues are revealed that point to the fact that there may be more to their deaths than first suspected.

Gorgeous Jack who was dating Charlotte's best friend Ariel, has a bigger role to play in the second half of the book and I thought he made a great supporting player.  I was never quite sure whether he could be trusted or not and how he was involved in the mystery surrounding the school. 

The last few chapters had me absolutely hooked and I had to stay up late to finish the story.  The end has left me with high hopes that there might be a sequel.  If so, I most definitely want to read it, as well as any other offerings by Danielle Rollins in the future.  An addictive read with a killer twist that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: The Death House - Sarah Pinborough

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough, published by Gollancz on 29th May 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Toby's life was perfectly normal . . .
Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House. Isolated from the outside world the inhabitants of are watched for any signs of a mysterious illness . . .

Clara was a girl who had everything. Adored by her friends and her family, her life was destined for greatness. Now, Clara is the newest resident of the Death House and she's determined not to allow her life to end there.

This is Toby and Clara's story.

I loved Sarah Pinborough's previous YA novel, '13 Minutes' so I was excited to get stuck into her latest offering.  The premise sounded extremely intriguing and immediately piqued by interest.

The story is set in a world where children undergo a mandatory blood test to find out if they are Defectives.  If so, they are separated from their family and taken away to live in The Death House.  Although the whole concept was fascinating, I wanted more background information.  What are the Defectives, how did the problem start and how was the testing devised?  Answers to these questions weren't given which left me quite frustrated at times. 

The main character in the book, Toby, is one of the oldest in the Death House.  He seems to have accepted his fate and is just waiting for his time to die.  It's not until new girl Clara turns up that Toby finds he may have something to live for after all.  Clara is like a breath of fresh air.  She and Toby have an instant bond and begin to spend their nights awake together.  Their feelings for each other grow throughout the story, as their relationship strengthens because of their shared experience in the House. 

The theme of death seems to be one that is a recurrent in a lot of YA novels at the moment.  I think in the case of 'The Death House' it had even more impact because some of the children featured are so young.  You would expect them to have their whole future ahead of them and instead they are just waiting for the end to come. 

The ending of the book completely took me by surprise and was quite shocking.  I hadn't seen the twist coming and it was so sad and tragic.  I finished the story with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart.     

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Review: Madame Bovary of the Suburbs - Sophie Divry

Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry, published by MacLehose Press on 27th July 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
The story of a woman's life, from childhood to death, somewhere in provincial France, from the 1950s to just shy of 2025.

She has doting parents, does well at school, finds a loving husband after one abortive attempt at passion, buys a big house with a moonlit terrace, makes decent money, has children, changes jobs, retires, grows old and dies. All in the comfort that the middle-classes have grown accustomed to.
But she's bored.

She takes up all sorts of outlets to try to make something happen in her life: adultery, charity work, esotericism, manic house-cleaning, motherhood and various hobbies - each one abandoned faster than the last. But no matter what she does, her life remains unfocussed and unfulfilled. Nothing truly satisfies her, because deep down - just like the town where she lives - the landscape is non-descript, flat, horizontal.

What initially drew me to this title was the idea of it being a contemporary reimagining of Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary' which is one of my favourite books.  This isn't a direct retelling as the author takes her main character in a slightly different direction to Flaubert but there are a lot of similarities.  Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, this was a story that I could identify with at times and which charts the path of one woman's life from cradle to grave.

The book had an extremely unusual and unique narrative style which at first I wasn't sure I was going to get on with.  It employs a second person narrative which I'm not entirely sure I've come across before but Divry uses it so effectively that it just fits the story beautifully.  It almost seems to speak to the reader and I think this works well with the idea that the main character, M.A. shares a fate which could belong to any one of us. Her story is universal.  

Never properly named, M.A. is seen growing from childhood into adulthood and traversing the various stages of life's well trodden path.  She grows up longing to move away from her parents and her childhood home and embark upon a new adventure.  She goes to university, she has her first boyfriend, she marries, has children and does everything that is expected of her, even while she wishes for something more.  Something which she can't quite name and always seems to be just out of her reach.  The circle of life is effectively portrayed as she grows older and morphs into the role that her parents once had. 

This was a very different read to the one that I started out thinking it was going to be and while it reflects many aspects of the original, it is also exquisitely unique.  I love the way in which Divry presents the character of M.A. and her search for more out of life.  She is never content with what she has and always appears to be looking towards the next thing and the next without ever truly being satisfied.  This is a book that I would highly recommend by an accomplished author who I will be keeping my eye on in the future.        

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review: The Girl From Summer Hill - Jude Deveraux

The Girl From Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux, published by Headline Eternal on 2nd May 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Enter Elizabeth Bennet. Chef Casey Reddick has had it up to here with men. Arriving in the charming town of Summer Hill, Virginia, peace and quiet on the picturesque Tattwell plantation is just what she needs. But the tranquillity is broken one morning when she sees a gorgeous naked man on her porch.

Enter Mr. Darcy. What Tate Landers, Hollywood heartthrob and owner of Tattwell, doesn't need on a bittersweet trip to his ancestral home is a woman spying on him. His anger, which looks so good on the screen, makes a bad first impression on Casey - and she lets him know it.

The plot thickens. Sparks fly when Casey is recruited to play Elizabeth Bennet opposite Tate's Mr. Darcy in a stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. As they spar on and off stage, Casey begins to think she's been too quick to judge. But then Tate's handsome ex-brother-in-law, Devlin Haines, who is playing Wickham, tells Casey some horrifying stories about the man she's falling for. Casey needs to figure out who to believe. Is the intense, undeniable chemistry between her and Tate real, or is this just a performance that ends when the curtain falls?

This is the first book I've read by author Jude Deveraux.  I was sold on the description of this as a modern day retelling of 'Pride and Prejudice', which is one of my favourite classic novels.  Set in the small town of Summer Hill, it draws on the idea of a group of local townspeople staging a production of the novel.  Cue all the main characters who fit neatly into the roles of Austen protagonists.  I thought that this was a great twist and I applaud Deveraux for having a go at tackling a contemporary version of such a beloved story. 

Casey, the main character, is a chef but also ends up playing the part of Elizabeth and acting opposite Hollywood heartthrob, Tate Landers, as Mr Darcy.  The opening scene in the book between Casey and Tate is one of the best starts to a romantic novel I have ever read.  Sparks fly between the two from their very first encounter and I have to say that it grabbed my attention in all the right ways.  I was definitely keen to read on and see how the rest of the story was going to unfold. 

'The Girl From Summer Hill' was a fun, light and enjoyable read.  There weren't too many surprises along the way and obviously it wasn't hard to work out how everything was going to end but I enjoyed it regardless.  I adored the setting as small town communities are something that always appeal to me and I thought that the love/hate relationship between Casey and Tate was brilliantly written and fun to read about. 

I'm excited that this is the first in a series and I'm looking forward to reading more by Jude Deveraux.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Review: The Fallen Kingdom - Elizabeth May

The Fallen Kingdom by Elizabeth May, published by Gollancz on 15th June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Aileana Kameron, resurrected by ancient fae magic, returns to the world she once knew with no memory of her past and with dangerous powers she struggles to control. Desperate to break the curse that pits two factions of the fae against, her only hope is hidden in an ancient book guarded by the legendary Morrigan, a faery of immense power and cruelty. To save the world and the people she loves, Aileana must learn to harness her dark new powers even as they are slowly destroying her.

I have been longing for this book ever since I finished the last page of  'The Vanishing Throne'.  The wait has been unbearable but was oh so definitely worth it.  What a spectacular conclusion to The Falconer trilogy.  This was without doubt my absolute favourite book in the series and I never wanted it to end.  It was a truly spectacular read and one of the best books of 2017.  I loved it so, so much!  If you are a fan of this series then you will not be disappointed. 

'The Fallen Kingdom' has everything you would want and more!  It had humour, some deftly comical moments, sadness and romance and so many exciting scenes that you will find it impossible to put it down. 

The story starts with the resurrection of Aileana who is struggling to remember who she is.  Something is different.  She has no memories of her past and doesn't recognise the people who she is closest to.  As she strives to regain her identity, she is also tasked with breaking the curse which is destined to destroy her world and the people she loves. 

I loved every single page of this book.  Aileana is one of my favourite literary characters ever and her story is one that has entranced me from the very beginning.  I couldn't wait to find out what would be the final outcome for her and her fae King Kiaran and I had my fingers crossed for them the whole way through.  As much as I love Aileana, I truly think that there is something to love and adore about nearly every character in the series, even those who seem past redemption.  One of my personal favourites is Derrick the pixie who is always given the best lines and who shows his heroic and loyal side yet again in the story.  Never was there another pixie quite like him.

I thought that the plot was fantastic.  Nail bitingly exciting and epic in scale.  There were so many brilliant moments and the twists and turns of Aileana's journey have been incredible to follow.  I bow down to Elizabeth May.  She has written one of the best YA fantasy trilogies that I've ever read.  I can't wait to see what she writes next and I will definitely be putting her on my auto-buy list. 

An incredible conclusion to a spectacular trilogy.     

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Review: Royal Bastards - Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts, published by Disney Hyperion on 8th June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries. The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . .

'Royal Bastards' has been on my radar for ages.  There's been quite a buzz around this title, so I was hugely excited to get my hands on a copy.  Described as Game of Thrones for teens, I was expecting great things of it. 

The story centres around a group of royal bastards who are brought together under terrible circumstances and end up having to undergo an epic journey in each other's company.  Tilla, the narrator, has longed for nothing else than to be by her father's side.  She has been forgotten however, in lieu of his legitimate children and so instead spends most of her time in the company of her half-brother Jax.  The two enjoy exploring the tunnels beneath the castle and generally getting into mischief. 

The opening quarter of the book was quite exciting as Tilla and Jax, along with Miles and Zell, a Zitochi warrior, witness a terrible crime.  This leads to them having to flee the kingdom to protect the life of Princess Lyriana.  I was immediately hooked on the sense of danger and adventure and couldn't wait to see where their journey was going to lead. 

Although this book falls firmly into the fantasy genre, what I did find quite strange about it was the surprisingly contemporary dialogue which didn't always feel like it fit the style of the novel.  It was an unusual mix and I'm not sure that it worked for me.  I think this is why I didn't properly connect with any of the characters, so although I liked Tilla, I didn't find her as pivotal and engaging a heroine as she should have been.  There are also touches of romance in the book but again, this didn't feel like a romance that I could believe in and root for.

For a series opener, 'Royal Bastards' was pretty good and the concept was awesome but although for the most part I enjoyed the adventure, I want more in terms of character development from the next instalment.    

Monday, 5 June 2017

Review: Caraval - Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 31st January 2017

Goodreads synopsis:

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters' long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show's mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

‘Caraval’ is a book that I wanted to read as soon as I first heard about it. It sounded exactly like my kind of story. I’m pleased to say that I loved it as much as I was expecting to and couldn’t put it down. It was a glorious read that quite literally swept me away.  

The story centres around Scarlett and her sister Tella, who are desperate to escape their home on the Isle of Trisda. Scarlett is the main narrator and paints a bleak picture of life with their controlling father. They are punished if they step out of line and they are not allowed to do anything or go anywhere without their father’s approval. Escape is the only thing on their minds, although they each have different plans for their method of escape.  

Julian is the sailor who comes into their lives and presents them with a way off the island. Caraval is the once a year, week long performance that they are invited to take part in and which gives them an opportunity to win something priceless which might change their lives forever. 

I thought that Scarlett was a fantastic main character and someone that I enjoyed reading about immensely. I identified with the protective nature of her relationship with her sister and her feelings of responsibility towards her. The two siblings are very different in nature but Scarlett knows that she would do anything for her sister. I also really loved the love-hate relationship between Scarlett and Julian and seeing how the link between them changes and grows as the story progresses. 

All of kinds of unusual things happen as part of Caraval and the trick for the reader is to figure out what they should believe and who they should trust. Magical, mysterious and enchanting are words that instantly spring to mind about this story. I really never wanted this book to end. ‘Caraval’ was a glorious technicolour adventure with surprises around every corner. I never had any idea what was going to happen next which was such a treat to experience. I’m a reader that nearly always guesses the plot twists!

The ending left me in no doubt that we haven’t seen the last of Caraval and I for one can’t wait to continue the adventure. 

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review: Show Stopper - Hayley Barker

Show Stopper by Hayley Barker, published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land must watch their children be taken by a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.

‘Show Stopper’ by Hayley Barker was a really unique and original read. I whizzed through it pretty quickly because it was gripping and fast-flowing and hard to put down. 

There were two things that I particularly enjoyed about the book. The first was that the author has chosen to base the concept for the story on the divide which is apparent in today’s society between natural born citizens and immigrants. The twist on this, is that she has depicted a near-future society where immigrants have become so reviled that they are called ‘dregs’. Their lives are not valued, they have been ostracised and pushed aside and in some cases, their children have been taken from them. In comparison, the ‘pures’ consider themselves to be the best of society and as the ruling class, they treat the ‘dregs’ as nothing more than servants or a tool for their own entertainment. I thought this was such a brilliant story idea as it’s so topical and explored at its most extreme.

The second thing that I loved about ‘Show Stopper’ is the fact that most of the action is set in the circus. There just aren’t enough stories which use the big tent as a back-drop and yet it’s something that always really attracts me towards a book. Barker’s circus is a place where dreg children are taken and made to perform for the entertainment of the pures. They are given little food, kept in squalid conditions and seen as expendable commodities. If their deaths provide an evening’s entertainment then so be it.

The way that the story wove between the two perspectives of Ben, a pure and Hoshiko, a tight-rope walker was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Hoshiko who is at the mercy of the circus ring-leader and although physically beaten down, never lets her will to live and her desire for freedom, die. Ben is fascinated by Hoshiko and through her, his ideas about right and wrong, freedom and liberation, begin to change. It’s Hoshiko’s relationship with some of the other circus performers though that I especially enjoyed reading about. They have become a family in response to being taken away from their own flesh and blood.

If the thought of a YA novel set in the circus isn’t enough to whet your appetite, then I can tell you that this is also an imaginative and unique read which is wonderfully written and a treat to dive into. Get your hands on this book as soon as you can!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review: The Possible - Tara Altebrando

The Possible by Tara Altebrando, published by Bloomsbury Childrens on 1st June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
It's been thirteen years since Kaylee's infamous birth mother, Crystal, received a life sentence for killing Kaylee's little brother in a fit of rage. Once the centre of a cult-following for her apparent telekinetic powers, nowadays nobody's heard of Crystal.

Until now, when a reporter shows up at Kaylee's house and turns her life upside down, offering Kaylee the chance to be part of a high-profile podcast investigating claims that Crystal truly did have supernatural mind powers. But these questions lead to disturbing answers as Kaylee is forced to examine her own increasingly strange life, and make sense of certain dark and troubling coincidences .

‘The Possible’ is the first book that I’ve read by Tara Altebrando but it definitely won’t be the last because boy, was it good!  I read it in one evening because I couldn’t put it down.
What I particularly liked about this title was that the story wasn’t formulaic and it made me question everything that I was reading.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I could trust Kaylee, the narrator of the book and so this threw a lot of doubt onto some of the events that took place throughout the story.  Did it really happen?  Is Kaylee telling the truth?  Half of the fun of the book was trying to unravel everything and find out what was really going on.  This kept me on the edge of my seat as the mystery deepened and the suspense intensified.
I have to admit that the plot of the book is not normally one that would attract me.  The main character Kaylee is approached by a woman who is making a podcast series about her birth mother Crystal.  Twelve years ago, Crystal was found guilty of killing Kaylee’s younger brother Jack but always maintained her innocence.  At the time of the murder, there was quite a bit of furore surrounding Crystal and whether or not she had telekinetic powers.  This definitely isn’t the type of story that would appeal to me normally but I was in the mood for something different and this fit the bill.  What was so great, is that I ended up loving it.  It really hooked me in and I was desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery. 
As Kaylee finds out more about her birth mother and remembers her own role in events at the time, she becomes more and more curious about her own abilities.  I like the way that Tara Altebrando explores the topic of perception and shows that a lot of things that happen can be interpreted or seen in different ways, according to the individual’s perception of them.  Kaylee is quite a unusual narrator and I wasn’t entirely sure that I liked her in the beginning, but she had grown on me a lot by the end of the book.
I would encourage you to pick up ‘The Possible’ if you are a fan of mysteries, love a good suspense novel or are just looking for something different and original to read.  I want to read Altebrando’s entire back catalogue now which I hope are all as good as this brilliant title.       

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review: Runemarks - Joanne M. Harris

Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris, published by Gollancz on 20th April 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
It's been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion - the Order - has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand - a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don't know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy's only real friend, her ruinmark - or runemark, as he calls it - is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else..

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

I thought that ‘Runemarks’ was magnificent and one of Joanne M. Harris’s best books. I loved ‘The Gospel of Loki’ which I’d read previously and this was just as good, if not better.  

It’s aimed at a YA audience, although the story is so sophisticated and the adventure so thrilling that I think adults would also enjoy it.  

I really love Norse mythology and tales about the Gods – Loki, Thor and Odin. I’ll admit that I don’t always remember every one of the varied cast of characters but I enjoy reading about them immensely, especially Loki the Trickster. I only wish that my knowledge and understanding was better so that I could appreciate all of the nuances even more.

Harris has done an incredible job weaving a story around them. The catalyst for the tale is a young girl called Maddy who lives in the small village of Malbry and has a special mark on her hand – a runemark no less, which gives her magical abilities. She also has an unusual friendship with a one-eyed stranger who visits her every year.     

Maddy and her journey through the World Below with Loki (am I the only one that pictures Tom Hiddleston in my mind every time he is mentioned?!) was thrilling to read and kept me gripped for all 513 pages of this bumper book. There are twists and turns aplenty, as well as tons of excitement and adventure and some life and death situations thrown into the mix too. I loved it all!  

I really need to read ‘Runelight’ now. I didn’t even know that there was a follow-on when I started reading this book but now I want it desperately. ‘Runemarks’ had me enthralled and I can’t wait to continue the adventure.
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