Thursday, 27 August 2015

Book Review: Valour (The Faithful and the Fallen Book Two) by John Gwynne

Read: August 21 - 26 Verdict: 5 Stars

Valour continues on directly after the events at the end of Malice. Now Corban is on a new adventure with his remainign friends and family left alive, and he is soon to discover the secret about who he really is. In other parts of The Banished Lands, Veradis recovers from another battle and worries about the fate of friends. Maguin wakes up looking for Kastell and Fidele is struggling to deal with a pirate lord who doesn't respect her. And so many more characters!

Wow, this book! It was packed with action from start to finish, I feel like no character even got the chance for a breather. Every chapter, from so many different points of view, had some kind of battle scene or even an emotional battle. There was a real sense of camaraderie between a lot of characters in this book, like Corban, Dath and Farrell, Veradis and Bos, Maquin and Orgull and Nathair and...Rhin? (vomit).

This book, even more so than Malice, had a touch of what I'll call George RR Martin syndrome in that Gwynne is not afraid of killing off his characters left, right and center. There was something that happened in the end of Malice that broke my heart and I really hoped it would somehow be okay in Valour, but no, my heart stayed broken. Gwynne has this power of making a reader mourn for the smaller characters in his books, ones that don't have their POV or could only be in the chapter for a few pages before they're killed. Every time I saw a new name, I was like "Oh no, please don't die."

I'm really glad that Veradis is having some sort of feelings towards someone other than Nathair. I really liked the small, subtle thoughts both he and Cywen had about each other. They are pretty well-suited I think. I really loved the relationship between Nathair and Veradis in Malice, but for obvious reasons, I now want Nathair to be eaten by his draig. And the thing is, I hate and like Nathair all at the same time. This book is a bit grey when it comes to good and evil, there are a lot of really great characters (Veradis) fighting on the wrong side and they don't even know it. Hell, Nathair doesn't know it and he's the cause! It makes for both an interesting and frustrating read as I just want everyone to leave Nathair. (view spoiler)

Also, I realised halfway through this book how AWESOME each and every female character is. Something that's rare in an adult fantasy book. There's very little emphasis on romance, love or sex. In fact, there's more or less none. From Cywen, Gwenith, Gerda to even Edana, each female character is really strong, and can fight for themselves. They're not afraid to put themselves in danger even Corban's mam Gwenith.

This was just such an amazing book, and I can't wait to read the next one!

Book Review: Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen Book One) by John Gwynne

Read: May 21- 25   Verdict: 5 stars

This is an action packed book based around a world called The Banished Lands. Similar to book series like A Song of Ice and Fire, the story is told through various characters POVs from several different areas of that world and from both good sides and bad sides. We learn that there are two Gods in this world, Elyon and Asroth equivalent to God and Satan - Elyon has disappeared but the evil Asroth is planning on making a comeback.

A prophecy states that human avatars of the Gods will be born, but who is who? Characters range from Nathair, the son of the High King Aquilus, his brother-in-arms and closest companion Veradis, Kastell and Maquin - two soldiers looking for a destiny, Evnis, a desparate man willing to sell his soul for power and then Corban, a son of a simple blacksmith who wants to become a soldier and learn to fight for his people.

This is so interesting, and despite the various number of characters, really easy to follow. There's no huge gap between good and evil either and it really keeps you guessing for a long time about who is the Seren Disglair (Elyon's avatar) and who is the Black Sun (Asroth's avatar). There's angels among men, both good and bad, giants, huge wolves and much more. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves an action-packed fantasy book but expect to be on the edge of your seat throughout!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Book Review: Vets on Call by Cathy Woodman

Read: August 10 - 21 (I put it down for a week while on holiday)   Verdict: 2.8/3 stars

I'm torn between giving this a 2.8 star or a 3 star rating. I'm honestly torn!

Vets on Call tells the story of Shannon, a veterinary nurse living in the countryside town of Talyton St George. Shannon is pretty content with life until new vet Ross roars up on his motorbike, and ends up claiming her heart. Life is good until a disaster happens and soon Shannon is faced with an ordeal she never imagined. 

This is actually the ninth book in the Talyton St George series but each book is written in a way that it could be read as a stand alone novel. I've never read any of the other books so this was my first Cathy Woodman tale. At first, the title was what made me pick it up in the library, vets yes, animals yes, love story yes! It had all the ingredients, however..I found it a little bit boring.

While the town is beautiful and some where I'd like to live, it is common in that it has all its odd assortment of various big and small characters. I felt like these characters were overly described sometimes, and I'm sure they appeared in other books so if they got the same kind of description in each book, I bet that can get very annoying. I also found most of the dialogue in the book a little bit...much? It's almost as if they just said too much and I felt that it seemed unnatural...I don't really know anyone who would really talk in such a way and it threw me off the book.

Also, the life-altering even happened in the last quarter of the book, so there was a really big build up of it happening and then I felt like the event itself and the recovery were slightly rushed. I would have preferred the relationship to have been deeper and progressed better earlier on in the book, there was too much fapping about nothing for a while, and then maybe more time could have been dedicated to the accident. If I come across another book in this series in my library, I'll pick it up but I don't think I'll actively seek it out

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Book Review: Anew: Awakened by Josie Litton

Read: August 14 - 16   Verdict: 2.85 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

When Amelia wakes up in a beautiful mansion with no memories, she has no idea about the secrets she is about to discover. Or the incredibly intense relationship she is about to embark on with the man that claims her as his own.

Anew is described as an erotic retelling of Sleeping Beauty however I would ping it as both a retelling of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. I did have a lot of problems with this book though.

There was definite insta-love between Ian and Amelia, and honestly there were times when the initial plot of Amelia's self-discovery and discovery of the world around her was lost in between the repetitions of 'mind-blowing' sex between herself and Ian. While fantastic and intense sex scenes can be really great to read most of the time, when they just repeat and
repeat, it gets boring and predictable. 

Ian was very back and forth, as was Amelia. Neither of them could decide what to do, or how to feel and it was pretty much like a see-saw. As soon as one of them seemed to know what they wanted, the other had changed their mind.

This would have been a two-star book for me if it was just based on Ian and Amelia's relationship, however, I did enjoy the sub-plot of the type of New York Amelia found herself living in and the new system of living. It was slightly dystopian which made it very interesting. If I do read more books in this series, it will really only be out of curiosity for what happens in the society.

Book Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Read: August 12        Verdict: 3.5 Stars

The Fill-In Boyfriend follows the story of Gia, and her strange relationship with pretty much everyone in her life. Her college boyfriend dumps Gia at prom, before she can show him off to all her friends - and in doing so, prove he's a real person. Gia ends up enlisting a kind stranger in pretending he's her boyfriend and finds some interesting friendships along the way, and discovers some things she never knew about herself either.

I thought this was a really cute book! I flew through it, reading it in more or less one sitting. While I understood the concept of a new girl infiltrating a group of friends and trying to turn them all against one particular person, the action of Gia's friends and family definitely ended up taking off a .5 star for me.

Considering Gia has been friends with these girls for years, and in particular Claire, it's pretty awful that they would act the way they did when Jules tried to undermine Gia again and again and again. And the fact Claire would just go against her like that. Ugh, a bit unrealistic..and the fact that we didn't quite see the friendship mend was a little bit annoying.

As for Hayden and Gia's relationship, it was so cute. Hayden was such a decent lovely guy. His sister was a bit harsh towards Gia for a good while at the start of the book and it did irritate me a little bit but eventually I warmed up to her and obviously her relationship with Gia got better.

And as for Gia's parents, they were definitely a bit biased towards her brother, and it wad very harsh how they treated her compared to him. And I can't believe she never really confronted her parents about the GPS tracker in her phone, creepy much?

Overall, this was a super cute read and I did really enjoy it. I just wish the other people in Gia's life had been a tad more realistic and understandable. And that Jules had got her comeuppance...or a really bad acne breakout. 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Book Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Read: July 31 - August 2 Verdict: 3.8/ 4 stars

I'm actually surprised that I liked this book and ended up giving it 4 stars!

Aza has suffered from a lung condition her whole life and has more or less come to terms with the fact she won't live much longer past her sixteenth birthday. Then, Aza starts seeing ships in the sky, birds start talking to her and she finds a feather in her lung. Before too long, Aza will come to realise that everything she thought about herself is a lie and she discovers who she really is.

I really didn't like this book the first chapter or so. It was so cliche, the sick girl with the hot friend and the sick girl fights the sympathetic world by being brass and sarcastic and joking about her imminent death. I'm been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I felt like Aza (or more so the author) was trying so hard to get across how 'funny and sarcastic' Aza was that it was almost like an offence of words being hurled across my eyeballs. I almost felt like i had to duck for cover and shout, 'Okay, okay, I get it!'

Once, shall I say, the ball got rolling and Aza found herself on her ship in the sky, the story progressed a lot more nicely for me. It certainly wasn't perfect and it slowed up a few times (more so around Jason's chapters, I don't think they were that necessary. Also. I'm sick of the sick girl having a male best friend who ends up conveniently really hot. Why can't he just be an ordinary guy?). I liked Aza's character development, she was strong to begin with and she became stronger and obviously learned to use her abilities as well. The whole world of Magonia is amazing, and I would really like to find out more about it.

I don't think the ending was great, it felt a bit meh for me. Maybe, it would have been better to leave it on a cliff-hanger rather than the 'I'm just going to stay here and be comfortable until they find me and the shit hits the fan' kind of motto.'

Overall, the book surprised me and was very different to what I thought it would be. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to more!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Book Review: Gwendolyn's Sword by E.A Haltom PLUS Author Q&A

Read: July 24 - 26    Verdict: 4 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

Gwendolyn isn't like many married women of 1193. In the reign of King Richard, and in the midst of Prince John's rebellion, Gwendolyn carries a sword and knows how to use it. She has been left in charge of her estate by her husband Robert while he fights alongside King Richard.

Now, Gwendolyn has no idea if her husband is still alive and her horrid sister-in-law is intending to strip her of her land and title and take it for herself. On top of this, Gwendolyn's been told that she is a direct descendant of King Arthur and she is destined to received the famous sword Caliburn. Gwendolyn must find a way to save her estate and perhaps she can use her destiny to do so.

I immediately warmed to Gwendolyn. She was fresh, free-thinking and didn't let a man tell her what to do. Despite many historical fiction novels having beautiful, strong women in their own right, many of these characters are still very much confined by what their husbands allow them to do. With the absence of a husband and a title of a Lady, Gwendolyn was able to do what she liked - most of the time. I very much thought her similar to Disney's Brave's Merida with her fearless attitude and long-red hair. I also put her as the 1193 poster woman for the very famous 'We Can Do It' poster. Gwendolyn had a sword and she definitely knew how to use it.

Gwendolyn's Sword wasn't bogged down with a lot of historical information and I feel that because of this, it would be a good book for anyone wanting to read historical fiction for a change of scenery or would be a good book for someone starting out on the journey of historical fiction. All the facts were told in a way that fit very well into the story and there was never a time I was bogged down. As people entered the story, Gwendolyn normally quickly explained who they were in a way that didn't take away from the atmosphere of the scene.

Gwendolyn is also the type of character that her personality sees the good in people, and she ends up with a nice little fellowship around her. William and his unwavering loyalty (and possibly love?), Nigel who also ends up being a great asset, Michael and Ella. The funny thing was that I never detected real romantic feelings between William and Gwendolyn - it was very much trusted advisor and lady. I actually much preferred the idea of Robert coming home and wooing her off her feet.

This was an action-packed feminist adventure, and I loved every moment Gwendolyn proved her might to unsuspecting men. And I have a feeling there's a lot more to come!

Questions and Answers with E.A Haltom.

Q: What attracted you to the legend of King Arthur and Caliburn?

A: Today, heroes are supposed to be flawed characters, to make them more human and accessible, and I get that. But I think we still need to also have heroes who are almost too good to be true, who inspire us to greatness and who show us what tremendous courage, kindness, strength, and sacrifice look like. King Arthur's tale has endured so many centuries and captured so many hearts and imaginations, I was hopelessly drawn to it.

Q: Why did you decide to base the story on a female descendant in particular?

A: Because no one else had yet. I think there's something very powerful in being able to see yourself, even a tiny bit of yourself, reflected in a great hero's tale. Growing up, I was acutely aware that all of the examples of heroes I had access to were male. Every single US president had been a man. All of the generals and explorers and inventors we learned about were men. I was raised Catholic, and even in the church women could not be leaders, and there was a specious rationale about the weakness and spiritual frailty of women that went along with that. As a child it was obvious to me that there was a huge bias working against women, even though I didn't know then that women had been systematically excluded from universities, from politics, from business and industry. When I looked at all of the leaders and heroes I had available to me, none of them were someone I or any other girl could aspire to be. I had the wrong anatomy. As a girl, I didn't count in the cult(ure) of heroes. Gwendolyn's Sword is my small contribution to adding a narrative of a heroic woman to the larger ethos of heroism.

Q: Is Gwendolyn based or inspired by a real person in your life or in history?

A: Not anyone in particular, but there are aspects of people I've known or come across in all of my characters.

Q: It's not often you read a book that has an absence of a romantic entanglement? Was this a conscious decision you made for Gwendolyn?

A: Absolutely. It was 110% deliberate. This is a hero's tale, first and foremost. I think there is an expectation, any time the main character in a story is a woman, that her romantic life is going to be a central part of her story. But that's not true to how women live their lives. We have dreams, ambitions, worries, ideas, and plans that have nothing at all to do with who we're sleeping with or not sleeping with. When the main character is a man, this kind of story is normal; you don't find yourself wondering who he'll hook up with and how he'll handle that and how it will alter his life's course. But when the main character is a woman and you tell her story the same way as if she were a man, suddenly the absence of a central romantic theme is conspicuous. I find this fascinating, and I'm enjoying exploring it and seeing how readers respond to it.

Having said this, there shouldn't be an assumption that Gwendolyn will abstain from entering into a sexual relationship in the sequels. My first priority is to stay true to her story, however that progresses. With strong female characters, there's a tendency for them to be either hyper-sexual or virgins. These are two sides of the same coin, the idea that a woman's sexuality is a central and defining characteristic. I want to avoid that cliché altogether.

Q: William and Mogh are pretty magical people. What kind of research did you do to help you write these characters?

A: On the magical side, I've long been interested in things that we experience that we can't explain. I've had a few of those experiences myself, and I think a lot of people have and don't discuss them openly because they don't know how the person they're talking to will react to it. With William and Mogh, I tried to keep the magical aspects of their experiences just to this side of plausibility. In some ways Gwendolyn serves as an important foil to voice all of our skepticism. For research I read about Celtic mythology and Druids, but the Druids didn't document their beliefs or practices in a way that has survived in the historical record. Everything was oral and memorized, and the basic initiation to become a novice took twenty years--clearly there is a lot there that has been lost. One of the best contemporary sources on the Druids, unfortunately, is Julius Caesar, their conqueror in Gaul. And we all know how fairly and accurately conquerors record the cultures and traditions of the peoples they conquer--it would be reasonable to assume that Caesar was biased in a negative way toward the Druids. So I drew on my readings of American Indian beliefs and view of the cosmos and nature, and also from the writings of Carlos Castaneda, who had a lot to say about sorcery and witchcraft as a real and factual phenomenon. It's not authentic "Druid", but I couldn't achieve that authenticity unless I could figure out how to bend space and time and go spend several years with them. It's important to note, also, that the 12th c. pre-dates the Church's attacks against perceived witchcraft and witches. At this point in the Church's timeline, believing that sorcery or magic could exist was itself considered heresy; it wasn't until later that the Church made an about face and said, ok, there are witches, and it's our job to eliminate them. In the same way, the separation of "rational" and "magical" or "natural" and "supernatural" hadn't really occurred yet, either. The ancient Greek writings were making their way to England in Latin translations, but the world in general still presented itself to the people of the time as a mysterious, unpredictable, and what we would now call "magical" place. Writing from this perspective in a way that was true to the contemporary worldview was extremely challenging, and there were times, for the sake of the story, that I had to bring a more modern perspective to both William and Mogh.

Q: Can we hope to see more of Gwendolyn? And will we ever meet Robert?

A: As it stands now, it looks like we will see more of Robert. And Gwendolyn's story is just getting started. I feel such an obligation to finish the trajectory of her arc. I am reading Joseph Campbell and some other sources on the hero archetype, but her story is truly her own. Gwendolyn is such a strong character, she's like North on the compass, showing me the way. I have spent several years with her in my head already, and she has so much more to do and say before she's done. I'm having a lot of fun being the first person who gets to see where her story goes.