Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Book Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Read: December 28-29   Verdict: 4 Stars

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

Emily and Charlotte Bronte are some of the best known names in the world of classic literature, along with their younger sister Anne. But when they were teenagers with their brother Branwell, they created other characters in other worlds. Worlds of Ink and Shadow plays with the story of the younger Bronte siblings and slips in a thread of magic that makes their stories come to life. But soon things become dark, and the siblings have to work together to save themselves but may set their tragic fate in stone along the way.

Magic realism meets classic Bronte characters is the best way to describe this book. It's easy to see the basis of Heathcliff, Rochester and Jane Eyre in the early characters created by the siblings and I really loved being able to identify them.

I loved the idea in this book of story characters running away from their creators to make their own story. Anyone who is a writer knows the strange ability fictional characters have of suddenly writing their own lines and how a story can be intended to go one way and ends up the complete opposite. And what writer wouldn't like to physically step into the world they've created and converse with their own imaginings. I loved how Coakley played with this idea.

I didn't know much about the Bronte sibling's history so I think it's one of the big reasons the book worked so well for me. I'm sure, like all fictional books about real people, there are some flaws in it but I thought there was enough classic Bronte, magic and adventure for me.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Book Review: No One Wants To Be Miss Havisham by Brigid Coady

Read: December  26-28   Verdict: 3 Stars

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

Edie Dickens has it all as far as she's concerned. A great job doing what she loves - being a shark of a divorce lawyer with a reputation as ice cold and a repertoire of successful cases, a beautiful home and a good income. Edie doesn't need love, marriage or any of the mush that comes with it. It's hard enough having to go to all her friend's weddings and play bridesmaid then have one of her own. Edie thinks life is great until she's visited by the ghost of her old friend Jessica Marley who tells Edie that if she doesn't get her act together and be nicer and thaw out her heart, she's facing an afterlife of misery. Edie is about to be visited by three ghosts and she's not sure if she wants to see what they have to show her.

First off, the whole idea of this story is genius. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol meets chick lit. Yes. Plus the names of the characters just made me so happy - Edie Dickens, Jessica Marley, Timmy, Jack Twist. Yes. I laughed out loud at Edie's ghost chain being made out of glitter boas and penis straws as a sign of all the times she was the sourpuss at the hen parties. Edie was very much a Scrooge. She was cold, calculating and downright mean without seeing what she was doing wrong and it certainly took her a lot of convincing to prove it to her. She is definitely quite hard to like as it does take a while for her to really warm up and much like Jack see, she does crack sometimes and show the softness she's constantly holding back but sh just patched up the crack, said something bitchy and then I was back to hating her.

There were times were I felt like the book was written to give some cheap laughs and not all of it was totally realistic, asides from the whole being haunted by ghosts of weddings thing. I've read my fair share of 'chick lit' and I enjoy it for the most part as I did this book but there were definitely times that I groaned a bit at the cliches. I also felt a bit off at the slight accusation that because Edie didn't believe in marriage, she was an ice queen. I agree that her take on love was very much bitchface but that doesn't mean she has to believe in marriage and babies and all that jazz. And just because she was good at her job didn't mean she was a cold stone bitch too. 

I would have liked more emphasis on Edie's abseil, I felt like the actual event just popped up out of nowhere though maybe this was on purpose to show Edie's lack of thought and proper planning that went with it. An epilogue of how Edie's relationship with Rachel and Jack, not to mention her dad, wouldn't have gone amiss for me either,

I really liked Jack and how steady he was in wanting to see the real Edie. I did feel like the pair were running around in circles at times and it was frustrating but eventually it seemed to settle well enough for me. Overall, a great piece of fun reading with a Dickens' twist!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Read: December 22-26    Verdict: 5 Stars

All The Light We Cannot See is a tale of two teenagers on the opposite sides of war and how events eventually bring them together to help them save each other and to touch each other's lives in unexpected ways. Marie-Laure is a blind girl living with her father in Paris and Werner is a young German boy living in a mining village who comes to the attention of the Hitler Youth.

I loved this book. From the setting to the way it was written and how both Werner and Marie-Laure told their stories and step-by-step they drew closer and closer to one another. It was utterly captivating. The first few pages in the book are set in a French village in 1944 and it becomes clear that the two main characters are in the same location. The way the story skims through different views is like a standing moment in time and I really loved it and it really set the scene.

Flashback to when the characters were younger and we begin to learn more about them. From Werner's childhood to Marie-Laure's battles with learning how to be independent while blind and her love for her father and Werner's love for his sister. I loved the connection that eventually came about with the stories Werner and Jutta heard on the radio and how we eventually learn how this is connected to Marie-Laure, it was very subtle at first but I loved it.

I found the prose and descriptions in this book extremely beautiful, Marie-Laure's chapters in particular. Because she is never describing what she is seeing, she is using every other kind of sense to bring the scene to the reader's mind eye and it works. I could see where Marie-Laure was even though she couldn't see it herself.

I liked the subtle magical element with the Sea of Flames though I do think the reality of the magic in it was down to the reader. We could decide whether everything was simply a coincidence or whether the diamond did have something to do with the train of events.

I found myself just reading and reading and reading, and because of the way most chapters were quite short it didn't take me long before I was really making progress through the book. While the story isn't action-packed, I found it to be fast-paced in the best possible way. I could have just soaked in the words and descriptions all day long. This was a fantastic historical read and I really recommend it. I can't wait to read more of Doerr's work now.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Book Review: The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden

Read: December 14-19   Verdict: 4.5 Stars

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

This book has been getting a bit of hype recently as people start to review it in time for it's publishing date and I can honestly say that it really deserves it. The Casquette Girls seems to have pretty much everything you want in a book - sense of place, atmosphere, friendship, magic, supernatural and history.

Adele is returning to New Orleans a few short months after the devastating Hurricane Katrina. Adele and her father have no idea what or who they will be returning to and all they do know is that the city is home and it needs them to bring it back to life. But Adele has more to worry about than fixing up the neighborhood when she appears to develop magic powers, plus dead bodies sucked dry of blood are showing up around the French Quarter. With the help of an ancestor's secret diary, Adele must combat an ancient curse and create a secret witchy coven along the way.

One of the best bits in this book is the sense of place and the atmosphere that is described around the areas of New Orleans and specifically the French Quarter where Adele goes. It's so natural for her to have friends who dress as vampires, scientists for café workers, tour guides dressed like romance novel covers and much more and I loved it. Adele is a very likeable character, she takes the devastation of her home and her favourite places so bravely and really strives to carry on with school and work when it would be easy to crawl into a ball. She is also very accepting of her magic and isn't one of these people that keeps refusing it exists. I loved Adele's relationship with everyone in the book and there's a deep sense of Adele's belonging in the place. The way she knows and communicates to everyone and how they respond to her really brings to mind the fact she grew up in the cafes and bars of the French Quarter (in a good way mind you!)

There were so many diverse characters from Africa-America, Creole, French, Italian not to mention personalities. The hot and cold Niccolo, the exuberant but deadly Gabe (who I couldn't help but really like), mysterious Emilio, the absent mother, the caring father (who reminded me of Lance in Arrow), and the unlikely best friends Desiree and Isaac. 

I found myself really enjoying the book and its pace which took a while to build up naturally because of the focus on the effects of the storm. I loved the dip into the history of the place now and again plus Adeline's diary to her father and her details of what had happened with her spell. I would have liked much more about Adeline and what happened to her (why did Isaac keep having dreams about Adeline and fire for instance, was it just the magic thing?) and who the hell her dad was. I felt like i was still grasping for some additional information by the end of the book about Adeline, her father, Isaac and Desiree's sides of the story which was skipped over plus Niccolo's decision at the end. I would love to have been in his mind for a while (NOVELLA PLEASE!). Hopefully some of the questions I have been left with will be answered in the next book.

I recommend anyone looking for a bit of magic to wrap themselves in to pick up this book. I don't think it will disappoint. I'm so looking forward to the next book in the series.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Book Review: A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

Read: December 11-14    Verdict: 3 Stars

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

I'm not totally sure what I just read bit that doesn't mean I hated it. A History of Glitter and Blood is a very weird book about a fairy-dominated city called Ferrum entering into a war with the gnomes who eat fairies and live underground. All the fairies run away except a pack of the youngest and mostly-limbed fairy children - Scrap, Beckan, Cricket and Josha. However, something terrible happens when Cricket is killed by the Gnome King and Scrap and Beckan have to live with the consequences. And then they meet some new friends and for the first time, it looks like peace might be something that could happen.

This book is told in a strange way that definitely takes some time getting used to. Throughout the book, Beckan and Josha mention how Scrap is always writing and before long it becomes clear that what we are reading is what Scrap is writing. So the story is often interrupted by some of Scrap's musings about Beckan or just him grumbling or giving out to himself. While at first it was confusing, I got used to it and eventually ended up liking it. I liked Beckan and particularly liked Scrap though Josha took a bit of time for me to warm up to as I felt, apart from his grief over Cricket, he was a rather flat character.

There are parts of the book that, among the weirdness, are extremely beautiful especially the inter-species relationship between the pack, Piccolo, Tier and Rig. I also loved hearing about the different creatures that lived in the world from the glitter-covered, otherwise normal, fairies, the rope-spitting two-toed tightropers, the backpackers who have to carve their babies out of their backs at the cost of their own lives and the sharp-toothed, fairy-eating, but surprisingly gentle gnomes. I'm not sure if this is a book I would recommend but it was definitely a book I found myself surprised by enjoying!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Read: December 6-8    Verdict: 4.5 Stars

I pretty much knew nothing going into this book. All I knew was that it was about a girl called Kelsea that, one day, gets called up to take her rightful place as Queen and I think this book works when you have no idea what you're getting into it.

The Queen of the Tearling reads much like a fantasy book, an adult fantasy not a YA fantasy which I kept forgetting, except at some points where America and Britain are mentioned as well as the “seven volumes of Rowling” (which I take to be Harry Potter) as well as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It’s pretty confusing though whether the country of Tearling lies somewhere in America or Central Europe, as well as Mortmense.

I liked Kelsea as a character, and I particularly liked that she wasn’t one of these characters who never gained weight. She describes herself as having a bit of extra girth and she likes second and third helpings. And while Kelsea is aware that she needs to slim down to become a better swordswoman, she doesn’t make huge efforts to do so. Which is refreshing as it’s so very normal.

However, the lack of information about pretty much everything is incredibly frustrating for the whole of the novel. I felt like 50% of the book was Kelsea asking questions, and everyone around her refusing to answer because of a very annoying vow. We find out barely anything about Kelsea’s mother, apart from some not-so-nice tidbits, and considering there’s so much emphasis on the jewels and their power, I still have no idea about them or what exactly they do and what kind of magic Kelsey wields and if she has any kind of control over them.

I did like the lack of romance and how all of the plot focused on Kelsea’s journey to becoming a good Queen. But that doesn’t mean that I’m looking for some more chemistry-laden scenes with the Fetch, and maybe some more bare-chested scenes with Pen, no? I do think that the Queen of the Tearling set up a great adventure to come, and I’m looking forward to reading the Invasion.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Book Review: The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston

Read: November 26-29 Verdict: 3.5 Stars

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

The Silver Witch follows Tilda and Seren, two silver-haired women living in a remote section of Wales hundreds and hundreds of years apart. Tilda is living in the 21st century, dealing with the death of her husband and learning to enjoy life, and art, again. Seren is a shaman for a community living on a crannog, dealing with her affections for a Prince and trying to interpret her visions that show a terrible future. In some way, the women are connected, and Seren might be able to save Tilda's life when an ancient evil is forced awake.

It definitely took me a while to really get into the flow of the writing style of this book. It's written in present tense so instead of, "She stepped outside of the house and looked around", it was "She steps outside the house and looks around." It definitely threw me off at first, especially the way Tilda kind of spoke to herself in third person when she was running. However, after a while I began to connect with Tilda and I enjoyed her character a lot more.

For the first half of the book, I enjoyed Seren's chapters more. At the start, she was a much stronger character than Tilda, who was dealing with grief and anxiety. Seren was very self-confident and she definitely had an air of ancient magic around her (something that by the end of the book Tilda has as well.) But as Tilda's began to develop as a stronger character, I really enjoyed reading her as well. i really felt she had some great character development, and i really appreciated that she dealt with the grief over her husband's death but didn't let her really hold herself back when it came to starting a new relationship and being happy.

I would have liked to have seen Tilda harness her powers a little bit more, the way we see Seren use hers. I still felt like Tilda wasn't 100% in control after the events of the book but in a way it makes sense as well as the magic in this book isn't all for show. There's no sparks or flashes, it's very subtle and understated and very ancient.

I enjoyed the difference in Tilda and Seren's appearance. Not only were they silver-haired but they both had the albino pale skin and pink eyes, and Tilda discussed the problems she had with living with it often, and wondered how Seren had dealt with it as well.

This book just had a beautiful feel to it, and it really thrummed with magic by the time i finished it. It's definitely turned me on to Paula Brackston's writing, and I'm definitely picking up her other books as well - especially as they all revolve around witches, my favourite!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Book Review: Too Many Cooks by Dana Bate

Read: December 4-6        Verdict: 3.25 Stars

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

Kelly has always thought her life was pretty perfect. She has a gorgeous and dedicated doctor boyfriend and a great career as a cookbook ghostwriter but things come crashing down when Kelly's mom suddenly passes away and leave her a letter telling her to shake things up and live life with no regrets. The next day, Kelly finds herself taking a job offer for Natasha Spencer, a very famous actress, and moving across the water to London for a whole year.

I enjoyed this book to an extent. The writing was good and detailed and I really liked Kelly's experimentation with all of the recipes. I'm not someone who enjoys cooking but I still enjoyed reading about the different ingredients used and how they changed the taste of the food. It would have been nice for Kelly to see a bit more of London while she was there and ingratiate herself into a group of friends a bit more. Normally with these kinds of novels, the protagonist finds herself a small group of friends she bonds with and can chat to and have some adventures with. Kelly was very isolated, and in a toxic environment, and I think this made my mood a darken a little bit while reading it. It would have been nice for Olga and Kelly to bond more, I felt like a nice relationship kept being hinted at and it just never happened.

And Natasha, oh my goodness. It's been a while since I hated a character so much and since a character has irritated me that much. I wanted to reach through the pages and throttle her. She, and Poppy, reminded me a tiny bit of Miranda Priestly, especially because Poppy acted like Miranda's assistant Emily, both in her attitude towards her job and towards Kelly.

I knocked off a few points on the ratings (this was originally going to be 3.5-4 stars) because of the relationship between Kelly and Hugh. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. I always suspected it wasn't going to end up great and I hate that, even though he wasn't necessarily a bad guy, he managed to get away with everything, I would have liked some kind of epilogue showing that Kelly did get her book deal for definite but maybe there will be a sequel. Overall, I was impressed with the writing style and strength and despite some of my problems, I enjoyed the story.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Book Review: The Novice by Taran Matharu

Read: November 30 - December 1    Verdict: 5 Stars

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

The Novice is a fantastic new fantasy debut that contains lovable demons, amazing magic and war that consists of elves, humans and dwarves facing off against terrifying orcs. The unlikely hero is Fletcher who, after being gifted a strange book. discovers he has the ability to summon demons and perform magic, meaning he is a vital member of the war effort against the orcs.

This book contains a school of magic which means it's already on the road of being loved by me. Fletcher was a pretty usual character in such a novel. He had no idea who his real family were, lived a modest life but was tough and friendly, meaning he could easily make friends but also make all the wrong kind of enemies. I really loved that the demons in this book weren't the type of demons you automatically think of. They were more like lovable monsters, bonding with the people who summoned them and becoming like pets that you don't want to cross. Ignatius reminded me of a mini Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon and I really loved him and his bond with Fletcher.

I loved all of the characters though there were the typical tropes regarding the relationships between the nobles and the commoners. The way the nobles treated both the commoners and the elves and dwarves reminded me of how the slum people were treated by magicians and nobility in Trudi Canavan's Black Magician trilogy.

The story was paced really well and I got a great feeling for both Fletcher's life in Pelt and then his new life in the Voltans. The last few months towards the tournament were pretty rushed, squashed in one paragraph but other than that I was happy with the pacing of the story and how the lessons went. I really felt the unfairness in the way the noble novices were treated compared to the commoners and i did wonder how it could be so obvious yet it could be brushed away. I also felt that squeezing four years of studying into one year was pretty far-fetched, though with the circumstances in the war, I guess it could be forgiven. Most of the novices aren't completely trained, and they were pushed aside a lot so the nobles could get an advantage, so how can they be expected to survive on a battlefield?

At the end of the day, I loved pretty much everything about this book from the characters, to the magic, to the world (also, there was great world-building though I would have loved more, which I think we'll get in the next book). I can't wait for the second book!