Review

Review: A Mighty Dawn (The Wanderer Chronicles #1) by Theodore Brun

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

A Mighty Dawn was offered to me by the publisher, because of my love for archaeology and history. The book itself is written by an archaeologist, specialising in the Dark Ages. I have to say the fact that the publisher clearly researched bloggers with these kinds of interests really impressed me, and immediately warmed me to the book.

The story follows Hakan, the young heir to the Lord of the Northern Jutes. His life seems calm, uneventful – until one day, their village is struck by tragedy, and Hakan leaves, unable to bear his grief. I have some familiarity with the history and mythology that this book is based around, but I feel that any reader would understand Hakan’s world regardless of their background knowledge. However, there were some instances of unexplained terminology, and it would have been nice to fully understand these.

The battle scenes in this book were so well-written, I found myself flying through the pages and following the action with bated breath. It was easy to read, but also so gripping and somehow even managed to drag me away from Mass Effect: Andromeda – an impressive fate when it’s a game I’ve been anticipating for years.

With a truly detestable antagonist, a dark historical fantasy setting and the genuine feeling that the protagonist is slowly crumbling away and perhaps slightly losing his mind, A Mighty Dawn was an enthralling read that should appeal to all fans of the genre. It is a shame that I felt less drawn into the story during the second half, but following Hakan along on his journey from the heir of a lord, green in battle, to something very dark and twisted, kept me reading.

If you’re interested in this period of history or want something a little dark, or a historical fantasy, then this is a great choice for your next read!

Review

Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Because I don’t have a lot of space for storing books, I do quite often donate them to charity after reading if they aren’t favourites or I don’t think I will re-read them. This allows me to buy even more without taking up more space, so my book collection pretty much remains at the same size. Revolution was in my ‘donate after reading’ pile, and as I will soon be moving I’ve been trying to work through more of these so I don’t need to take them with me.

I’m not really sure what I expected when I picked up this book. In fact, after a couple of chapters I almost DNFed it because of the main character, Andi. The book opens with Andi hanging out with her friends, and they immediately seemed so pretentious and ridiculous, but I decided to keep going. And whilst I finished the book, Andi was definitely not my favourite of characters. I loved that she was so passionate about music and art, and really knowledgeable, but at times she felt elitist and a bit of a snob. Not to mention the whole very ‘try hard’ emo style she was going for. I get that she’s grieving. I get that she’s gone through this horrible event. But it kind of felt lazy for the author to use the emo look to portray someone who is struggling to get over the death of someone close to them.

However, Revolution was a clever story. I thought the use of the French Revolution, and entwining both Andi and Alex’s stories to be very well done. I maybe didn’t enjoy reading Alex’s journal entries as much as I’d expected – they just didn’t flow as well – but it was nice to revisit this area of history that I studied in detail eight or nine years ago.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read, and actually a lot more enjoyable than I’d reckoned – but let down in places by the portrayal of the main character.

Review

Review: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

The Winner’s Curse is a tricky book to define – I honestly have no idea what genre to put it under. The setting doesn’t quite feel fantasy, but it also doesn’t quite feel science fiction. I suppose it could considered to be a dystopian novel, but in a very different way to other Young Adult dystopian such as The Hunger Games or Divergent. I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I picked it up – there are a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads – but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

The setting seemed a little odd. There was obvious Graeco-Roman inspiration, e.g. the empire, slaves, villas, names such as Trajan and soldiers with names ending in ‘x’, but there were plenty of names that didn’t fit. I suppose it doesn’t have to be inspired by one particular culture, if any at all, but it does make it feel more grounded and ‘real’, in a way. The world-building didn’t feel very strong. There was a vague sense of history – the Valorians enslaved the Herranis a while before the events of the book, but that was about it.

Kestrel, the protagonist, was a relief. She may have been from an aristocratic family, but she wasn’t amazing at everything, despite all the opportunities. She was clever, quick-witted and musical, but not a good fighter. She doesn’t mope about, there’s no talk of how she’s plain or any ‘special snowflake’ behaviour. And she has a genuine friendship with a female friend that doesn’t just revolve around the friend being a handy way for Kestrel to discuss her feelings – although it does seem that way at first, it is later shown that Jess is truly important to Kestrel. However, Arin felt quite flat. There was a little bit of his history, but I wasn’t able to get a real sense of his personality. It’s a possibility that he was meant to be mysterious and aloof, but it didn’t really come off that way.

I am writing this review a few weeks after reading the book, and I have to admit that if it weren’t for my notes, I’d have great difficulty writing this. Despite having read the book not that long ago, it took me a little while to recall all of the details. It may not be the most memorable of stories, but I do know that I really enjoyed it! And the best bit? No insta-love!

Review

Review: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1)

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

The Dark Days Club combines two things I love to read about:

  • a fantastical spin on a real historical period
  • real historical figures as minor characters

 

And it did it wonderfully! I absolutely loved the idea that behind this delicate society, where main concerns are the latest fashions, finding an appropriate husband before the spinsterly age of 23 and discussing who has been snubbed from the latest social event, there is a group of demon hunters. A group of demon hunters in Regency England, comprised of not just aristocratic gentleman who would be familiar with hunting and other such pursuits anyway, but society ladies, who swap their petticoats for trousers (scandalous!), and evenings filled with balls, champagne and dancing for hunting dark creatures. The book really exposes the ridiculousness of society at the time, where things seemed prim and proper on the outside, but often there was something darker hidden away.

I liked Helen as a character. She longs for the independence that her society will never grant her, and won’t settle for just being married off to the first available bachelor who will take her. Unfortunately, due to some family history, her name is not as desirable as it once was, and her uncle (and guardian) pretty much just wants to be rid of her. Helen is curious and intelligent, eager to learn and quick-witted. It wasn’t just Helen that was likeable, but also Darby, her maid. Their relationship in particular really stood out. Darby was more than just a maid, and the friendship between her and Helen felt so genuine. She could have easily been scared off by Helen’s abilities, but instead she was loyal and just as curious as Helen about what she could do.

I was a little dismayed by the pace of the book – it really was quite slow moving, and it is a good third of the way in before Helen even finds out what she is, let alone starts using her powers. I just wanted the demon hunting to commence asap! Sadly there just wasn’t enough action or demon slaying by the end for my taste, which is one of the reasons why this is a four star read rather than five stars. I’m hoping for a lot more in the second book to make up for it, but it also seems like Helen still has a lot to learn. One of my other issues was that it was quite predictable – none of the ‘shocking’ events were a surprise and it was easy to guess what was going to happen. Finally, at times there was quite a bit of info dumping, which can be quite frustrating.

However, I found The Dark Days Club to be a really fun novel, if slow to start. I absolutely loved the concept, and the contrast between the genteel society and the demon hunters. I’ll definitely be looking out for the second book in the series!

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2016: Review of New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I can actually remember when I first heard about New Pompeii. I’d just finished reading A Darker Shade of Magic, and flicked to the back of the book to read about upcoming titles from Titan Books – and there it was. A Jurassic Park style element involving ancient Romans? Err, yes please and thank you. I felt my little archaeologist heart drop a little when I saw the words ‘Expected publication 2016’. It felt so far away!

Fast forward to a year later, and what turned up on my doorstep, courtesy of Titan? My very own shiny copy of New Pompeii. Obviously when you’ve been waiting for something for so long, your expectations are pretty high, and I was actually worried that after all this time that it might not live up to my own hype – but as it turns out, there was no need to worry.

There have been a lot of stories of people undertaking foolish activities and studies, where you know things are going to go wrong – Jurassic Park is obviously the big one. But there’s something quite terrifying about that scientific project that could potentially go catastrophically wrong being human beings. The main error that NovusPart make is that they don’t seem to see the citizens of New Pompeii as actual people; they’re from the past so naturally they’re less intelligent, less developed, less civilised (ha!). These were the people who were responsible for so many human advances, so many things we’d be so stuck without now, and the people of NovusPart saw them almost like cavemen. New Pompeii raised some really interesting questions relating to this – what rights do these people have? But also, most terrifyingly – what effect will their presence have on the future?

As for the writing itself, the book was really accessible and did not resort to overly complicated terminology or anything like that to explain exactly how the process worked. It was simplified, and maybe not fully explained – but it’s science fiction. We’re already believing that people can be brought back through time, we don’t then have to criticise the how. And to be honest, I was much more interested in the clash of modern and ancient cultures and the idea of Nick trying to fit in with these people to learn from them, than the sciencey mumbo jumbo behind how they got there.

Overall, maybe New Pompeii didn’t feel quite as fleshed out as I was expecting. But it was a really good, fun novel, with plenty of action-packed scenes, I absolutely LOVED the concept and wouldn’t hesitate to read a sequel. What I would give to walk through those streets and interact with genuine ancient Pompeiians… A very strong four stars from me – or should I say IV stars? 😉

Review

Review: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Shortly after starting this book, I knew I’d made a huge mistake.

It was going to stop me from sleeping for a while.

I’m not normally too creeped out by books. Unlike films, you can alter how something might look, make it seem a lot less threatening or scary than it actually is. However, when it came to HEX I had troubles ‘adapting’ the book in my head. My housemate was away for a day or two whilst I was reading it, and during that period I wouldn’t touch the book because I couldn’t possibly be alone in the flat at night after reading it.

HEX follows the inhabitants of a small town called Black Rock. It might be your usual image of small town America – if it were not for the 400-year old witch that lives there. Katherine, ‘the Black Rock Witch’, is a seventeenth century woman who is still hanging around the town of Black Rock, four centuries later. With her eyes and mouth sewn shut, she can just appear around the town at random – including in people’s houses. For the residents of Black Rock, this is normal and they’re used to it. But they can’t possibly let outsiders know, so great efforts are made to conceal the existence of Katherine from the rest of the world. Therefore this small American town is in fact under constant surveillance.

Not only is it super creepy that Katherine’s eyes and mouth are sewn shut and there’s obvious fear of what might happen were the stitches to be removed, but I found it absolutely TERRIFYING that she could just basically appear anywhere at any time. Just drifting off to sleep in your warm cosy bed? Oh look, there’s Katherine at the foot of it. HOW ARE THESE PEOPLE USED TO IT. IT WOULD NEVER NOT BE TERRIFYING. Needless to say, I may have slept with the light on that first night after reading HEX, ready to spot Katherine when (because in my mind it was when) she appeared.

What I really like was how modern technology was weaved into this tale of horror. Due to the efforts of the town to prevent knowledge of Katherine reaching elsewhere, it is forbidden to record or photograph Katherine. Despite this, one of the main characters is a rising YouTube star, and as the story progresses him and his friends start taking more risks when it comes to Katherine, which leads to some truly shocking scenes.

So in conclusion… if you’re looking for a creepy read that’ll keep you up late into the night – because it’s both scary and a great read – this is it.
Hex-BlogTour

Blog Tour, Review

Blog Tour + Review: The Sisters of Versailles by Sallie Christie

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’m pretty picky about the blog tours I take part in nowadays, and will only sign up if I know I’m going to enjoy the book. So of course I knew I would enjoy The Sisters of Versailles – whilst I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do enjoy a bit of steamy historical fiction – but I didn’t realise just how much I would enjoy it. Told from the point of view of the Nesle sisters, this novel is unique in that whilst its main characters were historical figures, very little has been written about them in English. Four of the five Nesle sisters became mistresses to King Louis XV of France, and whilst this was of course a huge scandal at the time, it doesn’t seem to be something that has been recorded quite as much as you would think. In fact, I’m pretty sure more people would be nore familiar with Madame de Pompadour, another of Louis XV’s mistresses, than Louise, Marie-Anne, Hortense, Diane or Paulie Nesle.

From the very first chapter of the book, I got a really clear and vivid image of life at Versailles. It seemed so colourful and fast-paced, but there was also something darker hiding in the shadows, hinting at what was yet to come. The reader sees it all at first through the eyes of Louise, the eldest of the Nesle sisters and the first to go to Versailles. From the moment the sisters become of a suitable age for marriage, they are obsessed with the idea of it – so it is so sad that Louise’s marriage, to a man twenty years her senior, makes her feel so lonely. Her husband is an imbecile and a horrendous person; when her mother dies he complains of the ‘inconvenience’ of having to travel to Paris to help his grieving wife. Therefore it is completely understandable when she is persuaded by the ladies of the court to have an affair, after all everyone is doing it. But then Louise comes to the attention of the king, and everything changes.

Whilst each sister narrates at least one chapter each, their voices didn’t feel entirely distinctive. They had very clear cut personalities though: Diane the slob, Louise the naive one, Hortense the pious one, Marie-Anne a revolutionary in the making, and Pauline, determined to get whatever she wanted despite the consequences. Pauline’s letters, not so subtly hinting to Louise that she deserved a visit to Versailles, were kind of hilarious. At first I quite liked Pauline, but her later actions turned me against her. Watching her steal the man her sister loves, then reading Louise’s point of view of the whole experience was pretty heartbreaking. Marie-Anne was a surprise, going from seemingly innocent to a real schemer.

As time went on, I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for Louise or whether I want to just shake her and shout ‘Get a grip!’. It was sad watching her pine after someone she couldn’t have, who was clearly not interested in her anymore, whilst sister after sister replaced her. I don’t know how Louis XV is represented in history (having studied his grandson Louis XVI in much more depth), but in this he felt so shallow. He wasn’t outright mean, but the way he treated people, especially women, as objects that he could just use and then toss aside when the next exciting thing came along, was abhorrent. He did it without people even realising they were being replaced until it was too late.

I’m so glad I got the chance to read and review The Sisters of Versailles. I have found the whole ancien regime period of French history very interesting ever since I studied it in school, and I’m always happy to read historical fiction set in that era. What I really loved here was learning about historical figures that aren’t widely written about, and the whole scandalous history of the Nesle sisters. How is the fact that Louis XV slept with four sisters not as widely known as his affairs with Madame de Pompadour? History does love a good scandal, after all.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Sally Christie for giving me the chance to read and review this one! 🙂

 

Links

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Review

Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first received a copy of The Bees. A story told from the point of view of a bee? It sounded like it could be really wonderful and unique, or really fall flat. Luckily, this was definitely the former. The Bees follows Flora, a sanitation worker bee from the lowest kin within the Hive. The Hive is separated into kins, each named after plants and flowers such as Sage, Lily, Thistle etc, and each with ‘typical’ duties, for example the Sages being priestess type figures. Floras are normally mute and unable to fly, but Flora defies all expectations of her kin and proves herself capable of any job that the Hive can throw at her. The story follows Flora as she tries to work out her purpose in this very strict society.

Whilst it might sound like a very strange concept, Laline Paull has taken a really wonderful step in creating this story. I think we need more books told from the point of view of unusual and unexpected protagonists. I found myself entranced by her writing, not only her style but also the way in which she told Flora’s story. It might seem odd to read about bees doing things we expect from humans, such as dancing, but in this case Paull makes it fit in. The bees ‘dance’ in order to communicate with fellow gatherers the paths that they should take to collect nectar and remain safe. Even though this is not dancing as we know it, I completely understood what Paull meant. It was so, so vivid, I could easily imagine the hive and everything within it. The structure of the Hive was quite terrifying: almost a dystopian ‘Big Brother’ society where everyone has to stick to their assigned duties, and anyone who breaks rules or has no purpose is killed.

What I loved most about the book was how alive everything felt. Plants, flowers, bees and other insects – Paull’s writing brought so much life to all of them. If you’re a little unsure of this title because of the strange topic, I would definitely say don’t hesitate and give it a try. It’ll certainly make you think about how important bees are within our ecosystem and what really goes on in the hive.

Review

Review: Winter Be My Shield (Children of the Black Sun #1) by Jo Spurrier

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I have read a lot of fantasy novels in my life; it has pretty much always been one of my favourite genres since as far back as I can remember. Therefore, if I can find a fantasy novel that feels like a breath of fresh air, is unique and original, then I’m happy. Unfortunately, whilst Winter Be My Shield did not quite hit that high note, it was still a good, solid read.

The story follows a girl named Sierra, who until recently was held prisoner and forced to work for a sorcerer named Kell. The reason she was so useful to Kell is because she can use the pain and suffering of others to draw power. The book never really explained how this works; I can only assume that Sierra becomes a conduit of power around those who are suffering or in pain, and others can draw upon that power, as well as drawing upon it herself. Sierra is a bit of a mystery, and for much of the book the reader knows about as much as the characters know about her, which is little. This was both effective in that it kept me reading, wanting to know more, and slightly frustrating in that she was then harder to empathise with.

A quotation on the cover claims that this book will contain ‘villains you will cheer on’, and I can see where the reviewer is coming from. Although Rasten was, quite frankly, disturbing in his thoughts towards and about Sierra, it was also obvious that his mind was twisted by Kell. Occasionally, it was clear that he wanted to be free of his master, and I did want him to succeed in that pursuit, if not others.

By 130 pages in, I had not noted anything that made this fantasy world particularly unique. By 250 pages, I was still waiting for something big to happen. There was a potential romance/relationship which seemed pretty cliche, but then managed to change things round a bit and avoid it. However, it felt like both characters were constantly thinking ‘it couldn’t be love…’, which seemed like foreshadowing. I also had an issue with one of the main male characters, Isidro. We were told that he was, before being captured and tortured, a strong and fierce warrior. However, since he was never shown that way in the book, I had real trouble imagining him as anything but the weak and broken young man he had become. There were also far too many chapters ending ‘And everything went black…’. One of my biggest problems with the book was more edition specific: the font was far too small! Teeny weeny letters…

All in all, I did enjoy Winter Be My Shield. It didn’t feel like a particularly special fantasy novel, not in the way that other series have, but it’s a good, solid fantasy read and I’m interested to see where the second book goes.

Review

Review: A Natural History of Dragons (Memoir by Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A Natural History of Dragons is what you get when you take the sort of memoir written by upper-class female explorers of the nineteenth-century, and add dragons. The writing style as well as the world which Isabella inhabits is not our world, but very similar. In fact, if it were not for the various countries named that Isabella visits or knows of, then I would assume it was our world. Although I am an avid reader of epic fantasies, I also really appreciate and enjoy these more ‘subtle’ fantasy tales, where just one element is a little bit different, or there is something extra.

I was completely enthralled from the start of the book. Being a memoir, we learn of some of Isabella’s childhood, namely how she grew to become obsessed with studying dragons. This is, of course, a most unsuitable activity for a lady of her station, but she finds ways around it until it is impossible to stop her pursuing her passion. To be honest, I have to say that I found the sections of the book before her first major expedition to be the most interesting – they built up the world and society, with a social system not that dissimilar from nineteenth-century Britain. I felt more of Isabella’s passion and love for dragons within the first few chapters, than anywhere else in the book.

In terms of Isabella as a character, she was a fun protagonist – I always love to see studious characters who have something they are really passionate about – but she did occasionally have a bit of an ‘I’m not like other girls attitude’, which can be very grating. She also made a few questionable (read: stupid) decisions that seemed a little out of character for someone so intelligent, although I suppose book smart is not street smart… Her husband was a sweetie, and I would have liked to see their relationship develop a little bit more.

Overall, this was a really solid and fun fantasy read. I loved how Isabella followed her interests and her passion for dragons, even though it was entirely improper for a young lady of her standing. Defying all social expectations of her peers, she did not let them stop her or slow her down. What I would have liked was more detailed information about the various dragons – the book title kind of implies that there might be a lot more ‘scientific’ information than there was, but is in fact named after a book that Isabella holds very dear. I did lose focus on the story about two-thirds of the way through, but the beginning was just so wonderful that I felt it made up for it. One more thing though… can we have even more dragons next time?

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