Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Assassin's Curse

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn't really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.

I wasn't expecting much from The Assassin's Curse. I picked up a copy at a book swap, drawn by little other than the dreamy cover. The book blurb sounds like YA fantasy 101, so I wasn't really expecting much from the plot. It turns out I was pleasantly surprised when it started off much better than I expected it to be. Then I was kind of underwhelmed as it settled in to a saggy second act, then just bored by the finale. All in all, The Assassin's Curse is very much a mixed bag.

First up, the good. Protagonist Ananna, who I constantly want to type as Anna, is a brilliant character. The first person pov captures her rough and unpolished inner voice, and she's got attitude to spare. About to be married off to an attractive but dull fellow pirate, she runs away to make her own fortune. The opening few chapters crackle with energy, and it helps that Ananna talks like me after five vodka and cokes when my regional accent starts to come out. It's hard not to get swept away by such a lively and well-written heroine.

The problems start to arise when Ananna meets the titular assassin, Naji. Sent by her jilted fiancee, Naji also brings with him the introduction of magic. Some people have it, some don't, but I couldn't tell you why. There's mention of The Mists and Otherworlds, but nothing really gets fleshed out. The magic in this universe is frustratingly unexplored and appears all too frequently in obvious "because magic" plot devices.

I tried to find a magic GIF, but all I kept getting were Magic Mike GIFs. So enjoy!

It's disappointing, because the writing in this book is so vivid and descriptive, that it's a seriously missed opportunity for some truly amazing world-building. Ananna and Naji are bound together by an impossible magic curse - isn't that always the way? - but all we know about it is that it's magic. And impossible to break. There's something about Ananna saving Naji's life (by killing a snake that was about to bite him, which I see several problems with, but I'm not going to get into them) but unbreakable magic bonds are something of a "get out of jail free" cards for YA fantasy authors, a lazy way of explaining why supposedly strong characters don't just tell their jackass love interest to get lost. Sure, you could argue that with a first person pov, the reader only knows as much as Ananna. Which is what Naji is willing to tell her. Which isn't a lot. But that only compounds the issue of why such a strong-willed character would let herself get dragged across the empire by a stranger for something she doesn't understand.

The obvious answer is; to propel the plot, and this is another issue I had with the book. The pacing. The first third, where Ananna runs away from her family and ends up bound to Naji? Great. The story zips along, showing Ananna to be brave, resourceful and determined. I loved it. The middle act, where the pair cross the desert to find Naji's old flame who might be able to break the curse? Ok, a little dull, lots of walking and pretty-girl hate, but there's a bit of action and some new information to be gleaned. The finale, where Ananna and Naji end up stranded on a magical, floating island, trying to find a wizard who might be able to help them? Boring. Really boring. Pages and pages are spent starting fires, looking for water and building shelters. And then the book just ends, like a damp firework that promises a big bang but doesn't deliver one. Whether you believe the journey is more important than the destination, or the other way around, this book fails to deliver on either count.

Perhaps if there was more to go on, I'd have felt more invested. But I fail to see why Ananna would give a damn about the assassin who tried to kill her, and I can't buy in to a plot thread that isn't explained. I need more than the fact it's an impossible curse and no one really understands it to go on. I don't think that every plot detail needs to be spelled out, but "because I said so" isn't a reason that I'm willing to buy. Extra details are added at random too, like Naji will be in pain if he's too far from Ananna, and her being in danger (which is another incredibly vague definition) seems to injure him, which doesn't help my sneaking suspicion that the author was making things up as they went along. And ultimately that makes it harder to get invested in the stroy because the rules can change from one chapter to the next, and suddenly the game has changed without the story or characters earning it.

I was torn between two and three stars for this book. The plot is pretty standard YA fare, and the second half didn't hold my interest, but Ananna is such a well-written character, I persevered and saw the book through to the end. Will I pick up the sequel? Probably, and that's entirely down to the strength of the protagonist. I could have done without her hatred of Naji's old flame Laila (Ananna doesn't like beautiful people you see) based almost entirely on the fact that she's pretty, but the author is certainly all about equality on that front, because Ananna hates her fiancee for being too handsome (#firstworldproblems). Naji is a fairly bog standard love-interest, although the hints of romance don't really get going in this book (I'm guessing that's material for book two), but he's too cold and detached to really get invested in. Other characters come and go, but none - save for ship navigator Marjani - have much of an impact.

Sadly, this is a book where the sum of its parts is greater than its whole. With pirates, assassins, magic, deserts, maybe sort-of witches, the ingredients are all here for an epic read, but The Assassin's Curse doesn't quite reach the bar it sets.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Feature & Follow #11

Feature & Follow is back with a new look! This time, rather than a question, we've got a more open ended prompt. More of a struggle if you're not feeling creative, but luckily you get a pretty good prompt to get you thinking!

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. It's a really cool way to find out what people are reading and connect with other bloggers. Added bonus, the aim of a blog hop is to follow others. You follow me, I follow you. Wins all round! I'm happy for followers on GFC, Twitter, Bloglovin', Goodreads, whatever works for you. I guess I'd prefer Bloglovin' follows if I had to pick one. Make sure you leave me a comment so I know you're a new followers, I'm kind of scatty with keeping track of new followers on Bloglovin' and the like!

A big thank you to the hosts this week for picking me as the featured blog!

The post prompt:
Name one or more standalone books that you wish were a series.

It's a tricky one this week, as my go-to genre is YA fantasy, and it's rare to find one that isn't a series, or at least a trilogy, or the increasingly popular duology!

Lorali - Laura Dockrill
Despite this book wrapping up nicely, I'd still love to read more about mermaids.

The Girl With All The Gifts - M.R. Carey
I don't think I'd want to read a sequel to this, but I'd definitely pick up a prequel! Post-apocalytic/dystopian books always pick up after the drama that caused the end of the world, but I always think it's a missed opportunity!

The Girl Who Would Be King - Kelly Thompson
One of my favourite books! I thought this was setting up for a series - the ending certainly leaves the door open for a sequel - but there's no sign of one.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Feature & Follow #10

Feature & Follow is back with a new look! This time, rather than a question, we've got a more open ended prompt. More of a struggle if you're not feeling creative, but luckily you get a pretty good prompt to get you thinking!

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. I've just started getting involved in these features and they're great fun! It's a really cool way to find out what people are reading and connect with other bloggers. Added bonus, the aim of a blog hop is to follow others. You follow me, I follow you. Wins all round! I'm happy for followers on GFC, Twitter, Bloglovin', Goodreads, whatever works for you. I guess I'd prefer Bloglovin' follows if I had to pick one. Make sure you leave me a comment so I know you're a new followers, I'm kind of scatty with keeping track of new followers on Bloglovin' and the like!

The post prompt:
Five websites you hang around that aren't shopping sites.

Technically not a shopping site, although it does end up costing me a fair amount of money! My "want to read" list is a mountain I'm never going to climb!

I spend entriely too long on Cracked! Their articles are a bit hit and miss at times, but when they hit, they're pure gold! Soren Bowie, Seanbaby and David Wong are undoubtedly the best writers of the bunch, and while their comedy stuff is brilliant, the quieter, more serious articles are utter genius. This site introduced me to the wonderful writing of David Wong, and for that I'll always be greatful!

Lonely Planet
If I'm not travelling, I'm armchair travelling. I'm always organising, planning or dreaming of my next escape, and Lonely Planet has plenty of inspiration to get me started.

Aside from the adorable panda logo, BoredPanda has all the wins from me. Whether it's list of the most impressively sarcastic Facebook posts or photos from a random office somewhere in Europe where a newbie has the misfortune of falling asleep and finding that their co-workers Photoshopped them into all sort of famous photos, it's usually irreverent, but always very funny.

DeviantArt isn't a website. It's a black hole of time and energy. You head over to it to have a browse, and before you know it it's three hours later. It really is incredible how many utterly fantastic artists are out there and some of the work on display is mindblowingly good! 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Dynasty - Everealm #5

Trouble has been brewing in Everealm ever since Queen Breestlin was named the new ruler of Junacave. Meddling kings, queens, wizards, and imps, have wreaked havoc on the land and its inhabitants. After the assassinations of kings in two separate kingdoms, followed by a stern warning to ward off retaliation, the balance of peace has come to a head. Our rulers must decide how to deal with the tyrant King Silas, once and for all.

Magic has shifted ever since the breaking of the Blood Moon Crystal and return of female magics to the realm. The Elder Mage must set forth new boundaries for all wizards and sorceresses, in hopes to earn their trust and prevent another war between the divine creatures. But secrets hiding in the shadows could unravel Sidonie’s plans before they can even begin.

Join us for the exciting conclusion to the Everealm Series!

First up, I was given a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review, and also a word of warning; minor spoilers are included in this review for those who haven't read Dynasty, or any other books in the Everealm series. If you don't want to be spoiled, be like Ross.

So, it's finally here, the end of Everealm! This was one of the first books I reviewed for my blog almost a year ago, and book two was the first blog tour I got involved with, so this series has a special place in my heart.

Is it a technical five star read? No. Did I enjoy it enough to give it five stars? ...Almost!

There are a couple of reasons that, in all honestly, if this was any other series I'd have given it a lower rating for. First off, there are a fair few grammar and punctuation problems with this book, and although I don't usually count this against indie authors because copy editors are bloody expensive and complaining makes me feel like a bitch, but there were a fair few in the opening chapters alone that did start to impact my enjoyment of reading a little. Similarly, the pov switches happen much more abruptly in this book, sometimes from one sentence to the next and back again, particularly between Daliah and Xavier, which made it tricky to follow who was speaking/acting/thinking. I've always loved the unconventional structure of Everealm, it's one of the things that helps give it its boundless depth and imagination without the author behind tied to certain characters and povs for pages at a time, but it got a little too much even for me.

But quibbles aside, the finale of this series is a wonderful read. It ties up all the dangling plot threads and follows its rich cast of characters through family dramas. After following the characters through so much in the last four books, it's just really nice to see where they end up by the end. Yes it would have been nice if Silas had got the send off he deserved rather than bumped off in a chapter. And yes it would have been nice if not every character had ended up paired off and on the road to marriage and babies (there are other happily ever afters!), but despite its faults, I couldn't stop reading this book, even though I didn't want to get to the end of it. I've absolutely adored this whole series, it's just a really lovely, enchanting read. It's a breath of fresh air after I've found myself getting a little jaded with some of my more recent YA fantasy reads - usually my go-to genre. Not every character has to have a tragic backstory, not every female has to be a unique and special snowflake and not everything has to revolve around a single character, so it's been great to find a fantasy series that hasn't felt bound by these convention, while still managing to retain the best bits of them.

Of course, no Everealm book would be complete without my New Favourite Character, and this time it's the young princess Sarita. Her competitive, bickering relationship with the newly crown king Cassidy is a joy to read, and her fierce independance at something like aged 10, is awesome. Definitely a character I'll be happy to follow in future books!

Speaking of which, J.D.Wright's new/companion series; Songs of Everealm, is starting soon, and the groundwork has been laid with the next generation of characters in Sarita, Cassidy and Gabby. It also means I don't have to go cold turkey now that this series is over. It's one I'm going to miss, but all good things must come to an end!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Top Ten Tuesday

(As always, a big thanks your to the fab bloggers over at The Broke and The Bookish for this weekly meme!)

This week on Top Ten Tuesday the topic is "Ten Reasons I Love X". The X can be a book, an author, a series, a character, something bookish, anything at all. So after a quick glance over at my bookshelves for inspiration, I've gone with; "Ten Reasons Why I Love The Storm Siren Trilogy".

I loved this series. I loved Storm Siren. I loved Siren's Fury. I loved the utterly beautiful and captivating Siren's Song (no pun intended). Will I stop raving about it because it's finished? Never! In fact it only makes me want to rave more, because if you pick it up now you don't have to suffer the interminable wait for the sequel. But if you need a bit more persuading, here are my ten favourite things;

1. Nym
It's not about the power to rain down storms from the sky at will (or not in some cases). It's not about riding a monsterous, flesh-eating war horse. No, Nym is one of my favourite characters ever commited to the printed page because she kicks ass in spite of that. Sold into slavery and changing owners since she was a little kid, she'd be forgiven for lightning-zapping her way through anyone who crossed her. But she doesn't. Instead it's her compassion and desire to help rather than harm that lead her to become something more than just a weapon and the ultimate book themes of choice, compassion and redemption play out through perfectly through this prickly, headstrong, fiercely determined character.

2. Eogan
Ee-o-ghan? O-gan? Owen? I've never been 100% sure that I'm saying this character's name right in my head, but I love the character and his utterly adorable relationship with Nym. The fact that this character is a poc and the book doesn't make a big song and dance of an interacial pairing (as it quite rightly shouldn't. It's 2016 after all!) is an added breath of fresh air.

3. World building
From the feudal, slave-supported land of Faelen, to the steampunk-esque Bron, to the crystal castle of Cashlin, this series is world building 101. Ok, Tulla may get a bit of a fly by, literally, but everwhere else is vividly described and richly imagined. A world to get lost in!

4. Epic bad guys
You know those books that profess that their big bad is something to be really, truly feared? They're the horror stories that make sure kids are home before dark and no one really knows fact from fiction when it comes to tales about them - although both are equally horrific? And then they're introduced and they're just a bit ... limp? Or they smarm and talk a good game, but spend more time monologuing than actually doing anything to justifiy their "bad guy" tag? Well Storm Siren's big bad, Draewulf, is the first half of that, but Mary Weber delivers the villanous goods! Even when he's not on the page, the spectre of the man/monster looms large over the story, and when he is on the page ... ooooh, it's so good!

5. World map
My heart always lifts when I open a fantasy book to a world map. It's great to get lost in a book, but it's even better to know where you're going.

6. Colin
I've heard a few people bemoan the love triangle in book one between Nym, Eogan and Colin, but I didn't read it that way. To me, Colin is Nym's friend and nothing more. Ok, he's that slightly irritating, little-brother type friend who tries it on after one drink too many, but he brings much needed comic relief to the story that can get a bit heavy.

7. Princess Rasha
If I read one more book where our beautiful protagonist (who swears blind that she's, like, totally plain) has to deal with a pretty mean girl, I will throw said book out of the window. It's tired, it's boring and it's the worst kind of female stereotyping. Which is why I love the friendship between Nym and Cashlin princess Rasha in this series. No girl-on-girl hate here!

8. Airships
The steampunk twist of giant metal airships is brilliant! No more riding for days across a realm that seems to get bigger or smaller depending on whether the plots needs to move more slowly or quickly.

9. Cashlin
The world building is fantastic, but the incredible descriptions of the beautful, if thoroughly impractical, crystal castle of Cashlin are standout. I pity the person responsible for keeping the fingerprints and smudges off that!

10. The moral of the story... 
I won't give away too much about the story for those who haven't read the books - what are you waiting for!? Go, go go! - but it's so much more than unique and special snowflake accepts her destiny (can you tell I'm getting a bit of YA cliche burn-out at the moment?). The lessons of compassion, acceptance and sacrifice are so beautifully woven through the story it was only when I was digesting everything for my reviews that I realised how strong they were. It's refreshing for books to give the readers credit to pick up the subtext without smacking them around the head with it at every given opportunity.

So, there you have it- my ten favourite things around the Storm Siren trilogy. Plus my absolute insistence that you read it, right now! And if you already have, join me in raves in the comments, I'll love you forever!

Thursday, 2 June 2016


Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Hidden behind the everyday screen of school and family life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy, where transformations and shifting identities become second nature.

Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.

** I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review **

Pica is an intriguing read, and certainly not one without its merits. It's a tricky one to review because there were a lot of things I liked about it and a lot of things I didn't. The story of a nature-hating school bully and his gradual transformation to a sort of literal eco-warrior is certainly intriguing, if riddled with implausibilities. Ultimately, it had a lot of good ideas, but a bit of a messy execution.

First up, the good. I genuinely loved Luke's completely relatable hatred of school! I've worked in education before and some of the descriptions of burnt out teachers just trying to get the the next smoke break made me laugh out loud. I also really liked the interesting pairing of Luke and Guy. It's not a sexual relationship (despite what the kids at their school think), but there's a hint of sexual awakening in Luke and his fall from bully to victim is quietly touching. Guy seems more of an asexual character than anything else, but I do wonder if the author was hinting that perhaps Luke burgeoning sexuality was moving in that direction.

Unfortunately that brings me onto something I didn't like so much. The inclusion of Cheryl, an awful cliche of the worst "yoof" stereotypes imaginable, seemed to be included only so Luke could stare at her boobs and assure the reader that he definitely, definitely wasn't gay. It's a bit of a shame, because I quite liked the ambiguity and subtext in Luke and Guy's friendship, and Cheryl pretty much nulified most of it.

Speaking of Luke, I struggled with him from page one. Luke is not a nice person. If he's not bullying kids at school, he's waking up early so that he can shoot birds and foxes in his garden or torturing insects. Seriously, this kids is "serial killer in the making" material. It's a refreshing change to see a YA protagonist who's more than a token bad boy, but to be honest, he was such a little bastard in the early chapters it was hard to care about the character. His parents seemed so lovely too, it was hard to see where all that rage and vitriol came from. As Luke's bullying victim/charity case/eventual friend come spirit guide, Guy is an interesting character. Which makes it a shame that he's MIA for big chunks at a time.

The mix of magic and reality was well done, but felt a bit hurried in places, as did Luke's transformation from nasty, if somewhat misguided, schoolboy to nature embodied. He seemed to accept Guy's shapeshifting (including at one point, in another "are they, aren't they?" moment, to being quite literally inside Luke) too easily and didn't make as much as you'd think about flying through the air in the dead of night.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Pica, it just felt a little bit messy in places and it's a shame that there were some elements of the story that weren't expanded to their full potential.