Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book review: Archangel's Viper by Nalini Singh


Title: Archangel's Viper
Author: Nalini Singh
Publication date: 28th September 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Guild Hunter
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Once a broken girl known as Sorrow, Holly Chang now prowls the shadowy gray underground of the city for the angels. But it’s not her winged allies who make her a wanted woman—it’s the unknown power coursing through her veins. Brutalized by an insane archangel, she was left with the bloodlust of a vampire, the ability to mesmerize her prey, and a poisonous bite.

Now, someone has put a bounty on her head…

Venom is one of the Seven, Archangel Raphael’s private guard, and he’s as infuriating as he is seductive. A centuries-old vampire, his fangs dispense a poison deadlier than Holly’s. But even if Venom can protect Holly from those hunting her, he might not be able to save himself—because the strange, violent power inside Holly is awakening…

No one is safe.

My thoughts: Long-time readers of the blog will know that I'm a big fan of Nalini Singh's books. Before I started the book, I wasn't sure how I felt about Venom as the hero: he's quite cold and scary in the other books, and has mostly had an 'off-stage' role so far. All of my doubts quickly vanished once he walked onto the page. Venom and Holly have a very prickly relationship. Venom has helped Holly through the most difficult time of her life, while she was adjusting to being a newly-made not-quite-vampire with powers that couldn't be anticipated. She trusts him, but she's very snarky and sarcastic with him. Of course, Venom gives as good as he gets, and I loved reading their bickering.

Venom has been away from New York City for the past two years. Now he's back, and Holly has to work with him again. But just after she's collected him from the airport, some (rather incompetent) mercenaries try to kidnap Holly. The two main arcs of the story are Holly & Venom investigating the reason for the attempted kidnapping, and trying to deal with Holly's growing, changing powers, which are developing quickly as the fragments of Uram's power left inside Holly begin to change.

I did feel like it was a much less complex plot than some of them in this series; the focus is much less on 'what's going on here and how do we fix it' and more on the 'how do we fix it' element alone. However, the romance between the two characters balances that out. They already know each other quite well by the time the story starts, so the fact that it develops into more of a romantic relationship as events in the book nudge them into closer proximity to each other felt believable. They're both interesting characters, and Holly is still dealing with a lot of personal problems that have resulted from her change. Venom presents a hard exterior to the world, but Holly manages to soften him up eventually.

Archangel's Viper answers some questions that have built over previous books, and fills in some gaps of what was happening in New York during the time Archangel's Heart takes place. It's an exciting plot, and throws some more light on Michaela, who has been (and remains) a rather enigmatic character so far. The relationship between Holly and Venom really steals the show, though, and I know that this is one of Nalini's books which I'll read again and again for that sparky, fun relationship. Overall I'm giving Archangel's Viper 8 stars.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli


Title: The Last Namsara
Author: Kristen Ciccarelli
Publication date: 12th October 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: There are some stories that are too dangerous to be told…
Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she's sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the terrible deed she committed as a child; she told one of the forbidden stories, one of the stories that summon the deadly dragons and that killed her mother. In doing so she almost destroyed her city and was left her with a terrible scar.
Only the death of Kozu, the first Dragon, will bring Asha true redemption, unite her father's fractured kingdom and allow her to avoid a horrifying arranged marriage. But no matter how hard she tries, the temptation to tell forbidden stories is something she cannot resist.

My thoughts: Oh my goodness, what a book! There is so much wrapped up in this wonderful story it's hard to know where to start.

Telling a story out loud calls to dragons, and causes people to become ill. But since Asha needs to get close to dragons in order to kill them, she tells old stories when she's alone. It's worked well for her so far, and things seem set to carry on that way - except that Asha is due to be married very soon. It's quickly revealed that her fiancé Jarek is vile. He's abusive, physically harming Asha's cousin to manipulate Asha into doing things he wants. There were so many ways throughout the book that he controls Asha, and others. This was a bad guy who I could truly hate.

Knowing she doesn't want to marry this man, Asha's father promises that if she kills the oldest dragon, he'll break the engagement. Like the best traditional stories, she's got just a few days to achieve the impossible task, with new challenges and setbacks interfering all the time. Add in to the mix a slave who she's rescued from the vile Jarek and is now trying to keep secret, while he challenges her loyalties and ideas about the slave class, along with protecting her cousin and keeping her storytelling a secret, it's a lot to handle for one young woman.

What I love about this book is how stories are so intricately woven through it. Apart from the obvious aspect in the plot with stories being forbidden and their magical ability to summon dragons, sections of the book are broken up by short stories from the history of the city & its people, which provide a nice interlude, deepen the world-building, and, you gradually realise, add more clues about some of the plot twists. Then there's the feeling of the story itself - I mentioned an impossible task, and it feels like a very traditional, old-fashioned story in that way - something like the Thousand And One Nights, or a fable. The story has a strong emphasis on spoken storytelling; oral tradition. I think the book itself echoes this: I could definitely imagine sitting on the floor by the fire while someone tells this story.

It's such a rich book. The writing is incredible, I want to read it again, and get the audiobook so that I can have that experience of listening to it; it really really feels like it's intended to be spoken, like the interlude stories. It reminded me of what I love about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - there are many little episodes along the way which make a cohesive whole. There are so many twists in The Last Namsara. Part way through, when I could see the general structure of the story, I thought 'there's no way she can wrap everything up and do it justice in one book'... and yet, Kristen Ciccarelli does exactly that. The ending leaves it open for a sequel, but everything was wrapped up in The Last Namsara that I wanted to see. I could gush about this book all day, so let me stop there, and add only that it's a ten star read for me, and one of my top five books I've read this year. Just incredible storytelling.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Book review: Vigil by Angela Slatter


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

Description: Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book review: Freshers by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book review: The Major Meets His Match by Annie Burrows


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review: Marked by Sue Tingey


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

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

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

But Kayla is not all that she appears. 

Then again, neither is Lucky... 

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book review: Deacon by Kit Rocha


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

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

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

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

And their sparring matches are driving him wild.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book review: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book review: Tempted by the Bridesmaid by Annie O'Neil


Title: Tempted by the Bridesmaid
Author: Annie O'Neil
Release date: 1st August 2017
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: The last time brooding Italian surgeon Luca Montovano saw bubbly heiress Francesca Martinelli was at his best friend's failed wedding. Sparks flew then, and now she's made a surprise appearance at his mountaintop clinic, bringing a much-needed whirlwind of laughter!

Aristocratic Luca just wants to be left alone to care for his orphaned niece. The scars on his face reach right to his heart, and he's learned to push people away. Until Fran forces him to see the world through her eyes!

My thoughts: I've always liked romance stories, and what I particularly like about a Mills & Boon book is that I can pick one up and read it in just a few hours. It's a nice cosy evening thing to do and leaves me feeling all happy. Tempted by the Bridesmaid begins with Fran standing at the altar with her best friend, forcing herself to tell the bride and the priest that the groom is having an affair. As another good friend of the bride, Luca can't understand why Fran would 'wreck' everything, so they get off to a bad start on their first meeting.

However, their mutual friend has arranged for Fran to work with Luca over the summer: Fran trains therapy dogs, and is going to work with Luca's niece, who is in a wheelchair. Career path changed by the accident that disabled her, Luca is renovating some land to create a medical treatment facility for disabled patients, which has its grand opening part way through Fran's stay.

I liked that their romance is balanced by the questions of whether the clinic will be ready in time, and then whether it will be a success. Fran is a lovely woman who always sees the best in everything and is always trying to help with anything she can at the clinic. However, I have a problem with Luca. Their relationship is very 'sparky', they argue despite being very attracted to each other, but I noticed halfway through the book that Luca will be thinking about some nice, thoughtful thing Fran is doing, and how she's so wonderful, then he'll snap out something grumpy and hurtful at her, then immediately be thinking that he regrets it. He does it again and again and again. I think if he really did regret it, he would have stopped doing it. To me, it did not read as a healthy, happy relationship and I couldn't buy in to Luca being an appealing hero, or the two of them having a happily-ever-after with the way he was shown in this book. By the end, I could believe that the ending was the start of his redemption, but I would have liked to see the change on the page, rather than being left to imagine it.

This is getting a solid 5 out of 10 from me. There are elements of a sweet romance, and a nice secondary plot with the clinic, but it's a pretty straightforward story, and the hero being a dick so much of the time was very off-putting.

Buy it here: Amazon

Monday, August 7, 2017

Book review: Protecting Their Mate (Part 3) by Moira Rogers


Title: Protecting Their Mate (Part 3)
Author: Moira Rogers
Release date: August 7th 2017
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Erotica
Source: ARC from the authors

Description: As the full moon raises tensions–and appetites–Ashley indulges her wildest fantasies…and discovers what it truly means to belong to the pack. But Blake’s control is tested as outsiders descend on the pack’s territory, and Ashley discovers that following her heart may be the only way to find her mate.

Ashley’s heart longs for one man, but her wolf demands that she test herself against the alpha. Can she settle for a life of never knowing, or will she risk everything for Blake?

Protecting Their Mate was originally published as an eight part serial under the penname Mia Thorne. It has been repackaged, but the story remains the same.

My thoughts: This is the final part of a serialised story - here are my reviews of Part 1 and Part 2.

The sex in Part 3 is as steamy as in the rest of the story, and Ashley continues to explore her sexuality with all five other members of the pack. A deeper plot comes back a little here, which I thought was good - it got a bit lost in Part 2, I think. The threat of another pack who have made contact throws up some issues in this part of the story, as does the fact that the other pack have a female wolf of their own. Ashley's pack suspect that the other female might not be there willingly, so they come up with a plan to get to the bottom of things, and fix it if need be.

I love all the sexiness in this book, but I need plot, not just porn, so I was glad to have the additional conflicts become an equally large aspect of Part 3 as the quest for Ashley to find her mate is. I will read on in the series - the sequel is coming out later this year - but it'll be as a cheer-me-up, guilty pleasure sort of read, not because I'm desperate to find out what happens next with any aspects of the story.

I'm giving part three, and Protecting Their Mate as a whole, 6 out of 10.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Protecting Their Mate (Part 2) by Moira Rogers


Title: Protecting Their Mate (Part 2)
Author: Moira Rogers
Release date: 31st July 2017
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Erotica
Source: ARC from the authors

Description: As Ashley settles in to her life at the lodge, she meets more of her new pack mates–including wicked, intense Jud. His touch arouses her hunger–and Blake’s possessiveness.  Lucas, the unyielding alpha, grows concerned with the attachment between Blake and Ashley and sends Blake out on a mission.

While Blake is away, Ashley meets the most elusive member of her new pack—the enigmatic Connor, a hacker who, like her, was raised among humans. For Connor, sex is volatile—dangerous—and being near Ashley draws out the feral edge of the wolf inside him. As Ashley’s connection with Blake–and with Lucas—grows deeper, an outside force threatens the peace of the Last River pack.

Protecting Their Mate was originally published as an eight part serial under the penname Mia Thorne. It has been repackaged, but the story remains the same.

My thoughts: Firstly, my part 1 review is here.

The sexiness of part one continues as Ashley meets the rest of the pack and gets to know them... intimately. My favourite part was getting to see more about Connor, who has clearly had some kind of tough time in the past. He connects with Ashley in a way the others don't, but similarly, he doesn't feel the draw towards her as strongly as the others do, and it's clear to him that while he cares for her, they're not going to mate. I got the strong impression that Connor will have a different book focussed around him.

There are also hints about another pack in the area, who want to get in touch with Lucas's. I expect that's going to be a large focus in the third & final segment of this book.

There is a lot of sex in this part of the story, and not so much plot, but it's very well written sex, so it was a fun read! Since I think that's a big part of what the book was setting out to do, I can't fault it much for having a lighter plot than some Moira Rogers stories. I'm giving part 2 of Protecting Their Mate 6/10.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Mini review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa


Title: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
Release date: 2011
Publisher: HQ Young Adult
Series: The Iron Fey #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: Free copy via previous job

Description: Meghan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined. . .

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school. . . or at home. When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change. But she could never have guessed the truth— that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war.

Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face. . . and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

My thoughts: I have friends who rave about the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa and I like stories that use celtic faery stories so I thought I'd give it a go. Megan lives in the USA, until her brother is kidnapped and she discovers that she can enter a faery 'underworld'. She decides she has to rescue him, but along the way becomes entangled in other plots.

I liked the story to some extent, but it felt very similar to many other young adult fantasy stories, and linked to that, very predictable. I don't really know what else to say about it apart form that, it was a very 'meh' book and a pretty quick read. I do have others in this series on my bookshelf already, and I might read them at some point, but I don't feel any urgency to do so, I'm not feeling excited to find out what happens next. There were fun bits in the book, the writing was alright, but nothing about it stood out to me. This is a 5/10 read for me.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Protecting Their Mate (Part One) by Moira Rogers


Title: Protecting Their Mate (part one)
Author: Moira Rogers
Release date: 24th July 2017
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Erotica
Source: ARC from author

Description: Blake is on a mission from his alpha--to track down a werewolf whose parents dragged her into the human world years ago, one who may be in danger. He expects the lead to go nowhere, given how few wolves live among humans, but he discovers something rare indeed, caged in a basement: a beautiful, curvy woman gripped by the fever, ready to mate.

Ashley Todd has never fit in. She's always been too much--too big, too demanding, too aware of the wolf hiding beneath her skin. She's been locked away for months--been alone for a lifetime--and in walks Blake to save her from her prison. Her rescuer is hard, intense--a dominant wolf whose bossy attitude makes her growl...and yearn to submit.

Soothing Ashley's mating fever is Blake's responsibility--and his pleasure. Their passion is explosive, undeniable. But what started out as a job for Blake quickly becomes something more, and the toughest part of his mission looms: taking Ashley back to his pack so she can choose her permanent mate from amongst his brethren.

Ashley is drawn to dominant Blake, but meeting the rest of the pack reignites her desire. She is overwhelmed by her new life and all it entails, but embracing her inner wolf means embracing the truth: if she doesn't explore her attraction to the other members of the pack, she'll never find her forever mate .

Protecting Their Mate was originally published as an eight part serial under the penname Mia Thorne. It has been repackaged, but the story remains the same.

My thoughts: This is part one of a three part serialisation, with parts 2 & 3 to follow in the next couple of months. The story opens with a young woman called Ashley locked in a basement. She's fighting down her werewolf instincts, which are telling her 1) that she should shift into wolf form and 2) that she needs to find a mate. Luckily, she's soon rescued by Blake, another werewolf, who begins to correct some of the many lies she's been told about werewolf life. The most important thing is that as she's now in heat, only having sex will ease the pain she's experiencing and that she can sleep with lots of different members of the pack before it'll become clear who her mate is.

Blake and his pack have been searching for Ashley for a while, for various reasons. He's angry about the conditions he found her in but more than happy to look after her, doing anything she wants with his body...

Ashley has had a pretty horrible upbringing, but despite the host of revelations she gets as the pack bring her back to their home, she takes it in her stride. She's confident, and embraces the fun of getting to sleep with the other men in the pack, not just Blake.

It's a very sexy story, and there are also some hints dropped about problems in the wider werewolf community. I'm looking forward to seeing more about that in parts 2 & 3. It was a fast read, as you'd expect from part of a serial. I'm giving part one 6/10 - it was very sexy, but most of the plot revolves around that.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book review: Silver Silence by Nalini Singh


Title: Silver Silence
Author: Nalini Singh
Release date: 15 June 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity #1
Source: Bought (at Waterstones)

DescriptionControl. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him.

Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.

Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

My thoughts: I'm a huge Nalini Singh fan, and this world is my favourite. It follows on from her Psy-Changeling novels but as the main story arc of those books has now come to a close, this new book marks a step in a slightly different direction, following a new pack and focussing on a new area of the globe (although there are cameos from some familiar faces).

I was excited about the new characters before I started reading, and I'm pleased to say that they live up to the packs from the original series. There are jokers, trouble makers, and that overwhelming sense of family. There are just a couple of people who we get to know well in the pack, but already several who I want to see get more stage time and explore their stories. I think this is one of Nalini Singh's great strengths - her supporting characters are all detailed enough that you want to know their own story, without them being so strong as to steal the show.

Valentin is very playful, particularly with Silver, who he's decided to pursue before the book starts. Being an alpha, of course he also has a lot of responsibilities, and he's always looking out for the people in his pack. Silver, we've met already in previous books, and I loved seeing more of her family dynamic, and how, despite them being Psy, they're very close as a family.

I enjoyed the political aspects of the story, the conflicts going on in the wider world and how Silver and (to a lesser extent) Valentin are tied in to them. I wasn't so keen on the internal conflicts, like Silver's issues that hold her back from letting go of her Silence. I'm being vague to avoid spoilers, but I didn't like how the issue was resolved - I didn't think it was explained well enough. While we met a lot of the bear pack, who are all a lot of fun and I can't wait to read more about them, we don't meet many knew Psy. I think I would have liked to get a few more new characters on that side of things. One notable exception is Silver's brother, who is gay. I'm so happy that it looks like there might be a male/male romantic pairing getting a more central focus. Nalini Singh has had same-sex relationships between side characters before in the series, but those were already established off-page, and there was never much attention on those characters. With Arwen that might change!

Unsurprisingly, given my love for all the other Nalini Singh books I've read, I really enjoyed Silver Silence. It's not my favourite in the Psy/Changeling world, but I do think it's an excellent start to a new story arc, and I'm already looking forward to the next one. Overall, I'm giving Silver Silence 8 out of 10.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

June Reading Wrap-Up


I hope everyone had a good week? It was my first week back after a holiday, so a bit of a struggle, but I did manage to film a reading wrap up for the books I've read over the last six weeks or so. I'll do some written reviews of books mentioned, but here is a brief summary.


Have you read any of these? What do you think? And what's on your reading pile for the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!

~Ailsa

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book reviewe: You Will Grow Into Them by Malcolm Devlin


Title: You Will Grow Into Them
Author: Malcolm Devlin
Publication date: 12th June 2017
Publisher: Unsung Stories
Genre: Horror
Source: E-copy for review from publisher

Description: The world is a far stranger place than we give it credit for. There, in the things we think familiar, safe, are certain aspects. Our fears and desires given form. Moments that defy explanation. Shadows in our home.
In Malcolm Devlin’s debut collection, change is the only constant. Across ten stories he tackles the unease of transformation, growth and change in a world where horror seeps from the mundane. Childhood anxieties manifest as debased and degraded doppelgängers, fungal blooms are harvested from the backs of dancers and lycanthropes become new social pariahs. The demons we carry inside us are very real indeed, but You Will Grow Into Them.
Taking weird fiction and horror and bending them into strange and wondrous new shapes, You Will Grow Into Them follows, in the grand tradition of Aickman, Ligotti and Vandermeer, reminding us that the everyday world is a much stranger place than it seems.

My thoughts: I read the occasional short story online, but don't buy them very often, but since I'm trying to step out of my reading comfort zones this year, I thought I would give it a try when Unsung Stories offered me a copy of You Will Grow Into Them to review. It's a collection of horror stories with a fantasy element to them, which varies in strength from one story to the next.

I have to say that as a whole, I didn't enjoy the stories all that much, and it was for the same reason with most: the endings. I felt like most of them left the endings on far too much of a 'draw your own conclusions' note, and I would have preferred to have some more concrete answers to what was going on. Let me quickly hop through each of the stories.

Passion Play - A girl acts out the last steps of her missing friend for a TV appeal. I really wanted to know what had happened to the friend, and how many of the things friends & neighbours thought they had seen were actually true, but the conclusion you get is a bit vague.

Two Brothers - The older brother goes off to boarding school, when he returns for the holidays his younger brother knows something's not right. Again, I wanted concrete answers, and in this one the reader is very much left to draw their own conclusions.

Breadcrumbs - Magic takes over a city tower block and affects all the residents. I think this was the one where I was happiest with the ending, I did quite enjoy how you see the attitudes change over the course of the story, and the gradual acceptance and adaption of the people.

Her First Harvest - on a colonised planet, crops are grown on the humans themselves. This one icked me out a bit, so I skimmed through it - no strong thoughts about it other than the slightly gross factor!

Dogsbody - A few years ago, some people turned into werewolves for a few hours but it's never happened again. I liked this story a lot, seeing the prejudices the main character has been facing and also how his attitude is affecting his whole life. I wanted to know where they would turn into werewolves again but that isn't where the story goes. I guess my own expectations and hopes got in the way a little bit with this one.

We All Need Somewhere To Hide - This had the most promising set up for me. It's an urban fantasy-type story, with a demon hunter as the main character. I feel like there's so much potential in this story for it to be bigger - novella length at least - and obviously in a short story those avenues couldn't all be explored and not all questions could be answered. My favourite story in the collection.

Songs Like They Used To Play - I don't know how to summarise this in one sentence. At one point I thought a cool time travel thing might be happening, but it turns out no. This story was just too weird all around for me, and there are no explanations at all of what was really going on in the spooky house.

The Last Meal He Ate Before She Killed Him - I don't want to give away the twists in this one, because a lot happens in a small space. It was ok, a bit creepy, but not overly memorable or special.

The Bridge - I didn't really understand what was going on in this story that was spooky, or what the story was trying to get at. A bit meh, unmemorable.

The End of Hope Street - Houses on the same street gradually become 'unliveable', killing anyone inside, and the story looks at how the residents adapt. Interesting, but once again, no whys, which was frustrating.

All around, the stories are interesting and have potential, but left me feeling
unfulfilled & frustrated. 5/10.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

May & June Book Haul


I'm going to try over the summer to do more of the things I enjoy, rather than just getting home from work and slumping in front of the tv - so that includes regular blog and booktube posts! Here's my May & June book haul.



Have you read any of these books? What books have you bought/borrowed/been given recently? Let me know in the comments!

~Ailsa

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blackwing


Title: Blackwing
Author: Ed McDonald
Publisher: Gollancz
Publication date: 27th July 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: Set on the ragged edge of a postapocalyptic frontier, Blackwing is a gritty fantasy debut about a man’s desperate battle to survive his own dark destiny…

Nothing in the Misery lasts…

Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.

Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.

Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…

My thoughts: I love a good fantasy novel, and when I heard an excerpt of Blackwing earlier this I knew I had to read it. I'm pleased to say it absolutely lived up to my expectations and hopes! The book begins with Galharrow and a small group of mercenaries travelling through the area known as the Misery, chasing down some criminals. It sets the scene well, as the book takes place along the border of the Misery and this episode introduces some of the creatures that result from the creepy magic that infects the Misery - many humans who go in don't stay human, and if they do, they're constantly under threat from the things that didn't.

From here, the story never slows down. As Galharrow tries to protect a local noblewoman, he discovers that the machine which should be protecting his country from the Deep Kings who live on the other side of the Misery might not be being maintained the way it should. As he tries to uncover the truth, various parties try to keep him quiet.

I loved the little revelations as Galharrow uncovers different pieces of information and tries again and again to fit them together. I really didn't see the end coming the way it did - Ed McDonald's skill in writing it this way is excellent. It's a very grim book in a lot of ways. Galharrow is an alcoholic, the setting is - pardon the pun - miserable, and the baddies get to do a lot of bad things. I also really liked the version of magic in Blackwing: 'spinners' can collect moonlight and channel it into power, often for mundane things like lighting but it can also be thrown in a blast as a weapon.

This is dark, gritty fantasy, and it's been executed perfectly. I was kept in suspense throughout, and couldn't put the book down. Ed McDonald is a great new talent in the fantasy genre, and I already can't wait for his next book. I'd recommend this for fans of Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch, but if you're relatively new to fantasy it's also a great book to get stuck in to. Overall, I'm giving this 10 out of 10 - it's one of the best books I've read this year.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Boy Who Saw by Simon Toyne


 Title: The Boy Who Saw
Author: Simon Toyne
Publication date: 15th June 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Thriller (with supernatural twists)
Source: Review copy from publisher

Blurb: Only one boy can see the darkness.
Only one man can save him from it.

‘Finishing what was begun’

These are the words written in blood beside the body of an elderly tailor who has been tortured and murdered in the ancient town of Cordes. He leaves behind a cryptic message for his granddaughter and her son, Leo – one that puts them in immediate danger. When the mother and child are forced to go on the run, accompanied by the enigmatic Solomon Creed, they find themselves hunted across France, on a journey that will take them into the heart of Europe’s violent past. What begins as small-town murder will become a race to uncover a devastating secret dating from World War II. The few men who know the truth are being killed by a powerful organisation, and only one man stands in its way.

Only Solomon Creed can stop the murders.
Only he can save the boy.

My thoughts: The Boy Who Saw is the sequel to Solomon Creed, which I read when it came out and really really enjoyed. It left me really wanting to know more about Solomon Creed, who he was, and where he came from, so I was excited that proofs of The Boy Who Saw arrived in the office while I worked at HarperCollins.

The book gets off to a dramatic start, with the gruesome murder of a tailor, who is being tortured for information. The killer wants information about a list. As police begin their investigation, Solomon Creed enters the picture. As in Solomon Creed, he has very few memories - in fact this book takes place just a couple of weeks after the events of the first. There are two main threads to the story, wrapped around each other. The first is the Dan Brown-esque mystery of what the murderer was looking for, and the flight of the granddaughter and her son across France, aided and abetted by various others along the way as they try to remain ahead of the killer and also solve the clue left behind by the tailor.

Entangled with that is Solomon's quest to figure out who he is and where he came from, a quest that is exactly why I wanted to read this book so badly! There are a few more clues and a little bit more light shed on the situation, but if like me you wanted to find out 'who is Solomon Creed' you'll remain disappointed for now. The upside of that is that there must be more books to come!

As with Solomon CreedThe Boy Who Saw is full of elements that make you think 'Is something supernatural going on here?' Most of them can be explained away, or dismissed as overactive imaginations, but then, like in book one, a couple of things happen which unquestionably are something magical. Simon Toyne has written very skilfully to keep the reader guessing about this, and the plot is full of twists and turns. Fans of Solomon Creed will not be disappointed with this followup, and overall I'm giving it 8 out of 10.

Monday, May 15, 2017

March & April Book Haul


I haven't posted many book haul type posts for a while, because mostly they go onto my BookTube channel and I forget that I haven't talked about the books here on the blog, too. I don't think that's going to change, but I will start cross-posting my videos more often, and you might see more 'book post' type posts on my Instagram.
Anyway, here is my epic March & April book haul, featuring some excellent books from the Orion Blogger Fest, amongst other things!



What books have you received recently?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book review: The Draughtsman by Robert


Title: The Draughtsman
Author: Robert Lautner
Publication date: February 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review copy

Description: Speak out for the fate of millions or turn a blind eye? We all have choices.

1944, Germany. Ernst Beck’s new job marks an end to months of unemployment. Working for Erfurt’s most prestigious engineering firm, Topf & Sons, means he can finally make a contribution to the war effort, provide for his beautiful wife, Etta, and make his parents proud. But there is a price.

Ernst is assigned to the firm’s smallest team – the Special Ovens Department. Reporting directly to Berlin his role is to annotate plans for new crematoria that are deliberately designed to burn day and night. Their destination: the concentration camps. Topf’s new client: the SS.

As the true nature of his work dawns on him, Ernst has a terrible choice to make: turning a blind eye will keep him and Etta safe, but that’s little comfort if staying silent amounts to collusion in the death of thousands.

My thoughts: I enjoy stories set in the World Wars - the significance of them is undeniable and I think it's important to keep alive all the heartbreaking aspects of the wars: "Lest we forget." I came into The Draughtsman with high hopes that this would be a book I could recommend to people as another great snapshot that captured emotions and also, given that it's told from the point of view of a man working for the S.S., a different point of view. It let me down a bit.

While The Draughtsman is an interesting story, I felt like it took a long time to get going. The author's style also grated on me quite a lot, with his frequent use of incomplete sentences. While it certainly shows the uncertainty of life in Germany during the final months of WWII, and the horrors of concentration camps and bombings, it didn't hit my feelings as much as I had hoped. It's not a standout. It's not that it's a poor story, but I wanted to be blown away, and I wasn't. It might be my own fault for coming in to this with high expectations, but I was let down by The Draughtsman. Interesting book set in Germany during the last few months of World War II, but there are better books with similar settings that I would recommend first. This one gets 5/10 from me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters


Title: From Darkest Skies
Author: Sam Peters
Release date: 20th April 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Sci-fi
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Five years after the murder of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keon Rause returns to the distant world of Magenta to resume work with the Intelligence Service.
With him he brings an illegal artificial recreation of his wife, an AI built from every digital trace she left behind.
She has been constructed with one purpose - to discover the truth behind her own death - but Keon's relationship with her has grown into something more. Something frighteningly dependent.
Something that verges on love.
But as he investigates his wife's death, Keon begins to realise that he didn't know everything about Alysha.
And if he couldn't trust his wife, how can he trust her copy?

My thoughts: While I'm a huge sff fan, I stay a lot more on the 'fantasy' end of the scale. When I do dip in to sci-fi, From Darkest Skies is a perfect example of what I like to read. It's fast paced and while the technology is significantly more advanced than our own, the book doesn't get bogged down in trying to explain the science behind everything. In fact, most things just 'are' in the book - when something like a high tech weapon is used, there's enough description of how it's fired and the damage it does that a reader can picture what's happening, but doesn't go into more detail.

From Darkest Skies is a police procedural crime novel, set on a tiny colonised planet sometime in the future. There are glimpses of how humanity came to leave earth, but that's not a big part of the story. Keon Rause has barely returned to Magenta, the planet, when he's pulled into investigating the death of a partying society girl. While it appears she overdosed somehow, the drug in question doesn't normally do any long-term damage. As Rause and his team investigate, the stakes get higher and higher - several someones do not want the truth to come out. Tied around this is Keon Rause's personal investigation into the death of his wife.

I really enjoyed the speed of the novel - Sam Peters has created a tight plot where there is always something happening. I love shows like C.S.I. so reading a book like that with futuristic technology on a colonised world was a lot of fun. Peters has also built a brilliant cast of central characters. The other members of Rause's team have distinctive personalities and a variety of personal backgrounds and issues. My favourite was Rangesh, who certainly doesn't do things by-the-book and had me laughing a lot, even though he irritated me a little at first. I really hope there are other books set around these characters in future so we can continue to see them develop.

The plot moves swiftly but the twists and turns kept me guessing. The capabilities of the AIs were a bit creepy at times, and there's a very 'big brother is watching you' aspect to the world with cameras everywhere. I thought the loopholes people found to work around that were really interesting. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it, both to fans of sci-fi and those (like me) who read it less frequently. A police team solving crimes in space - what's not to like? I'm giving From Darkest Skies 9/10.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Fragile Lives: Non Fiction Book Review


Title: Fragile Live
Author: Professor Stephen Westaby
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Memoir
Release date: 9th February 2017
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: An incredible memoir from one of the world’s most eminent heart surgeons and some of the most remarkable and poignant cases he’s worked on.

Grim Reaper sits on the heart surgeon’s shoulder. A slip of the hand and life ebbs away.

The balance between life and death is so delicate, and the heart surgeon walks that rope between the two. In the operating room there is no time for doubt. It is flesh, blood, rib-retractors and pumping the vital organ with your bare hand to squeeze the life back into it. An off-day can have dire consequences – this job has a steep learning curve, and the cost is measured in human life. Cardiac surgery is not for the faint of heart.

Professor Stephen Westaby took chances and pushed the boundaries of heart surgery. He saved hundreds of lives over the course of a thirty-five year career and now, in his astounding memoir, Westaby details some of his most remarkable and poignant cases – such as the baby who had suffered multiple heart attacks by six months old, a woman who lived the nightmare of locked-in syndrome, and a man whose life was powered by a battery for eight years.

A powerful, important and incredibly moving book, Fragile Lives offers an exceptional insight into the exhilarating and sometimes tragic world of heart surgery, and how it feels to hold someone’s life in your hands.

My thoughts: I don't read much non-fic but I'm challenging myself to read 6 nf books this year. I had Fragile Lives on my shelf from a giveaway which HarperCollins ran while I worked there, and I was very intrigued by the premise, so it seemed like a good place to start the challenge.

I loved this book. Broadly, it follows Stephen Westaby's career, from university through to the present day, and takes you on a journey through some of the big developments in heart surgery during that time, looking specifically at valve alternatives and external mechanisms. While it's generally chronological, the book also looks at some of the most interesting cases Westaby has worked on, some of which are mentioned in the blurb above.

While he uses plenty of technical terms, the author explained things well enough that I, with no knowledge really of how a heart works or the problems it can have, was able to follow quite easily what was going on in each situation and what the significance of certain details was. Fragile Lives is a fascinating look into an area of surgery where the stakes are very high and everything must be done very precisely. It was a really really interesting read, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland


Title: Our Chemical Hearts
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Release date: October 2016
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre: YA contemporary romance
Source: Gift from friend

Description: 'I always thought the moment you met the love of your life would be more like the movies...'

Henry Page is a film buff and a hopeless romantic. He's waiting for that slo-mo, heart-palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's seen in the movies. So the last person he expects to fall in love with is Grace. 

Grace Town is not your normal leading lady. She dresses in oversized men's clothing, smells like she hasn't washed in weeks and walks with a cane. She's nobody's idea of a dream girl, but Henry can't stop thinking about her. 

There's something broken about Grace; a small part of her soul is cracked from the secrets in her past. Henry wants nothing more than to put her back together again, but will she let him?

John Green meets Rainbow Rowell in this heartbreaking tale of bittersweet first love. 

My thoughts: This is not your typical YA romance, and I loved all the things that made it different. Unfortunately I can't talk about some of my favourite bits without giving away too much, so I'll keep this brief!

Henry is drawn to Grace right from the start, but for the first few months, they're just friends. Good friends, a lot of the time, but Grace never talks about why she left her old school, or what happened to her leg, and although Henry eventually figures those things out, there's not much he can do to help her on the days she's miserable and dwelling on the past. On her bad days, she barely talks, and even once their relationship drifts past friendship Henry still mostly skims over these days in his narrative.

I loved that his attention and the relationship didn't 'fix' Grace. She doesn't 'come out of her shell' or move on from the past. She changes, sure, but in believable ways. It was a little heartbreaking to watch through Henry's eyes and see the problems with their relationship: things which he doesn't acknowledge as problematic, or skips over as being just a blip or ordinary part of things, when from an outside perspective you can see that it is a problem, and that he really should be looking at that.

I think we need more YA books like this which show... not unhappy but un-ideal relationships. I would have benefited a lot from reading this as a teenager.

The book does not just focus on the relationship - it also has a great portrayal of the senior experience in high school. I felt like it was so spot on with what the final year is like. The language the characters use and the situations they go through felt real and were similar to what I experienced as a 17/18 year old in high school. Krystal Sutherland has really nailed the older teen experience. I really enjoyed this book, and I did go through a couple of tissues at times - be prepared! Overall I'm giving it 8 stars. If you've read this book, I'd love to hear from you and talk about it more!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt


Title: Duke of Pleasure
Author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Piatkus
Release date: November 2016
Series: Maiden Lane
Source: Bought

Description: IN THE ARMS OF DANGER
Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley - and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE
Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation . . .

ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER
When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be - before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

My thoughts: I always find historical romances a fun escape for a few hours. I hadn't read anything by Elizabeth Hoyt before, and while this is part of the Maiden Lane series, it works well as a standalone book - I think each story follows a different pair, so while there is probably some overlap in characters, I didn't feel like I was missing out.

Hugh quickly realises that the Ghost of St Giles, Alf in disguise, is female, although he is fooled into thinking Alf is a boy for much longer. When he puts the two together, he keeps the information to himself, protecting her identity and safety. But knowing that the Ghost, whom he has been fantasising about, is actually working with him puts him in an interesting position!

The romance in this book is quite sexy, I think partly because unlike in a lot of historical romance novels, the heroine is not part of respectable society. So there is no expectation or assumption that sexual activity will lead to marriage. They are both able to be more free with their affections than in many cases, and it leads to some very steamy scenes!

While the romance is of course a big part of the story, the intrigue of trying to uncover a secret society who are known to do awful things is also a big focus. I really enjoyed the mystery, and following the various characters as they put clues together.

Overall I really enjoyed this book - it was a lot of fun! I don't know if I'll go back & read earlier books in the series, but I do want to read the sequel as it focuses on a character who we see a lot of in Duke of Pleasure. A fun historical romance with a dangerous plot to uncover, I'm giving Duke of Pleasure 7/10.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review: Ashwin by Kit Rocha


Title: Ashwin
Author: Kit Rocha
Release date: 7 March 2017
Series: Gideon's Riders #1
Source: Review copy

Description: Lieutenant Ashwin Malhotra is a Makhai soldier—genetically engineered to be cold, ruthless. Unfeeling. His commanding officers consider him the perfect operative, and they’re right. Now, he has a simple mission: to infiltrate Gideon’s Riders, the infamous sect of holy warriors that protects the people of Sector One.

He’s never failed to execute an objective, but there’s one thing he didn’t anticipate—running into Dr. Kora Bellamy, the only woman to ever break through his icy exterior.

When Kora fled her life as a military doctor for the Makhai Project, all she wanted was peace—a quiet life where she could heal the sick and injured. The royal Rios family welcomed her like a sister, but she could never forget Ashwin. His sudden reappearance is a second chance—if she can manage to touch his heart.

When the simmering tension between them finally ignites, Kora doesn’t realize she’s playing with fire. Because she’s not just falling in love with a man who may not be able to love her back. Ashwin has too many secrets—and one of them could destroy her.

My thoughts: Ashwin launches the latest series from Kit Rocha, which will follow the fates & fortunes of the motorbike-riding bodyguards & enforcers who patrol the area known as Sector One - Gideon's Riders. There are eight 'sectors', arranged around the edge of a city called Eden, and Gideon is the leader of Sector One.

The book launches straight into the action. Ashwin and Kora cross paths in chapter two and you can feel the tension (and heat) between them straight away. Most of the conflict for the relationship comes from Ashwin's side of things: he knows some things about Kora and her past which she doesn't; will he/won't he tell her them? And he has some additional mission on top of inflitrating the riders: will people find out about that, will Ashwin stick to it as he becomes closer & closer to her, what consequences will it have for the relationship?

The story is told from several points of view, mostly Ashwin & Kora and I enjoyed hearing from both of them. Kora is an incredible doctor but is building a life for herself which doesn't just revolve around that. She's made choices to bring her to where she is, and she's a very determined person. Ashwin is very observant but doesn't really have people skills worked out well. He's not my favourite POV character but he was still very interesting to read about.

Looking at the bigger picture, this book lays a lot of groundwork on what life in Sector One is like, and some of the problems which might come up in later books. Kit Rocha has talked about there being a lot of 'court politics' type scheming in these books, with the hierarchy between the noble families being a very important aspect of Sector One. I'm really looking forward to that, but felt like we only dipped a toe into the pool of it in Ashwin.

Ashwin is a really good book to set up a new series and I can't wait to see where it goes. You meet a lot of interesting characters and I want to know more about almost all of them. The romance in this one was enjoyable to read, and I couldn't put the book down once I'd started. I'm giving it 7 out of 10.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Book Review: The Chilbury Ladies Choir, by Jennifer Ryan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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