Sunday, 23 April 2017

Strange the Dreamer

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

I knew I was going to love this book. Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy remains one of my ultimate favourite fantasy series, and with the book blurb promising a story of epic libraries and godspawn. Strange the Dreamer is unlike anything I've ever read. It's epic. It's beautiful. It's a fantastic tale of gods and dreamers, of love and hate, of living and existing. And it's written like pure poetry.

The story itself seems somewhat thin for the thickness of the book, as orphan Lazlo is given the opportunity to travel to the lost city he's been dreaming of since childhood, only to discover a lost city shrouded in darkness and still suffering the fallout from a bitter battle between mysterious, blue-skinned gods and the humans they treated like slaves/brood mares to create godspawn children. The gods are believed to be long dead, killed by the humans they once enslaved, but their floating castle still hovers over Weep, and those still scarred by their treatment want it gone. The only problem is, the uninhabited castle isn't quite as uninhabited as everyone thinks.

The story may be easy to describe, but the writing, the world-building, the characters . . . I'd have to be a writer of Laini Taylor's calibre to do them justice. From Lazlo's days spent in an enormous library to surviving godspawn Sarai's sort of siblings, each with their own unique ability, everything jumps off the page. I completely adored Lazlo, but just like with DoSaB, the female half of the central pairing is easily the best character. Half-god, half-human Sarai is the Muse of Nightmares, able to travel through the night via a hundred moths, visiting dreams on people and getting a peek at a world she longs to be part of. Both long for something more, even if they're not sure what that something is, and both live through dreams, be it their own or someone elses. If you're looking for action, there's very little here, but there's something about these characters and how they see their own worlds, and each others, that draws you in and will not let you go.

I didn't quite buy the relationsip between Sarai and Lazlo, at least not in the same way I felt the passion and connection of Karou and Akiva in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I certainly felt what drew them to each other, but it didn't seem entirely enough for them to turn their backs on their worlds for each other. The only problem I have with Laini Taylor's writing is that it's almost too good. The scenes between Sarai and Lazlo are written in the same dreamy prose and and lush, vivid imagery that everything else is written in, from the gods graveyards to interactions betweem Lazlo and his library master. It means that their brief scenes don't carry any more weight than anyone else's, so, as incredible as they were, I didn't quite believe that the pair were star-crossed lovers or soul mates or anything like that. Laini Taylor does an absolutely incredible (and cringeworthingly accurate from what I remember!) job of describing teenage infatuation and emerging sexuality, but while Sarai's fellow godspawn Ruby and Feral's relationship is painted as just that, Sarai's and Lazlo's is clearly meant to be deeper, but it's written in exactly the same way.

Speaking of Ruby and Feral, Sarai's sort of brothers and sisters were truly wonderful. Far from their monsterous parents, they're little more than naive children hovering high above a world they don't understand. All stolen from the nursery as babies to save them from the Godslayer's wrath, they've lived in isolation since birth and are just now contending with what they're missing and what awaits them in the future. From firestarter Ruby's sexual experimentation to plant-growing Sparrow's breathtaking naivety, it's hard to see them as anything like the monsters that sired them. Except for the spiteful, ghost-controlling Minya. Creepy little girls are the worst, and I constantly read Minya as having long, dark hair like that kid from The Ring. But although Minya may be the closest thing this story has to a clear-cut villain, even she's been shaped by the horrors of her past. She may be bitter and vindictive, but there are reasons behind her actions, a sort of method behind her almost madness.

Eril-Fane, the Godslayer, was a wonderful character, and only got better and the author peeled away the legend to show the man behind the legend, a man bitter and scarred after years of abuse from the gods. His relationship with his wife, Azareen, such as it remained after both were stolen away to be "consorts", was horrific in its tragedy. As with DoSaB, Laini Taylor doesn't shy away from showing the last effects of attrocities that people commit and have commited against them. Be warned, there's a lot of mentions of and allusions to rape in this book, both male and female, that even I found uncomfortable at times, and I'm not easily rattled. There's nothing graphic and certainly nothing sexual about it, but the cruel, unfiltered reality of betrayal, abuse and violation is disturbing to say the least.

The ending was something of a let down compared to the sweeping epic story that had come before it, with things feeling a bit rushed and long-absent characters reappearing all of a sudden. The twist ending was pretty obvious from about a third of the way in, and there are a lot of unanswered questions which are presumably being saved for the next book. But Laini Taylor's writing style is what makes her books so special. She can take a simple act, like Lazlo cataloguing books in the library, and turn it into the most beautiful thing you'll ever read. While I personally found the story a little bit lacking, the way it was told made it incredible.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book

Happy Tuesday everyone! This week's feature is all about things that send a book shooting straight to the top of my must-read list. I really don't need any more books on my TBR that's growing faster than I can possibly hope to clear it, but there are some things that mean a book is going in my shopping basket regardless!

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

A gorgeous cover
Don't judge a book by its cover is not advice I live by when it comes to books. Just as "bad" covers - Photoshop fails, cliches and the like - can kind of put me off, a beautiful cover always grabs my attention. Sprayed pages and foil details are always a plus too!

Storm magic
Storm was always my favourite X-(Wo)man, plus, living in the UK, behind able to control the weather would be a pretty awesome superpower. There's something very cool about the beauty and power of thunderstorms, so stories where people throw them around like dodgeballs is going to be epic!

Female friendship
There are some YA cliches that I like and some that I don't like. The pretty mean girl stereotype is one of my most loathed tropes, I much prefer stories that show a positive, healthy friendship between women - not one where they just talk about guys or the best friend is only there to prop up the protagonist when the love interest is being a jerk. A story about two friends against the world is always a must read for me!

Male friendship (yep - just friendship!)
Some authors don't appear to believe that a girl and a guy can be friends anymore than two girls can be friends! It's kind of hard to tell from blurb, but books that feature a strong friendship between the protagonist and a friend of the opposite sex that isn't a plot point in and of itself, I'm all over it.

Celtic mythology
Admittedly my homeland of Cornwall tends to dip out when it comes to Celtic-inspired stories. Everyone tends to get caught up with Irish and Scottish stuff - not that I'm bitter about that *simmers quietly* - but Cornish history is always something that's fascinated me. Throw in witches - we have tons of stories about witches back home! - and I will pay any amount of money to read your book.

Epic villains
Don't give me a sulky, misunderstood bad guy with a tragic backstory. Give me an unapologetic bitch/bastard who kicks ass and takes names. I like my villains villainous!

Forget Beauty and the Beast, wake me up when there's a live action Little Mermaid movie! I've officially reached the age where I find myself agreeing with King Triton (seriously Ariel, you want to give up your life to be to be with a prince you saw one time? Bitch, you don't even know the guy!) but it's still my favourite classic Disney movie, and I've always been slightly obsessed with mermaids as a result. If they're in a book, I will read it.

Science and alchemy
I'm a science nerd at heart, so stories that feature a protagonist who surrounds herself with test tubes and potions will always get me.

Written by
Some authors are on my auto-buy list before I've seen a cover or read a blurb. Laini Taylor, Mary Weber, Melinda Salisbury, Leigh Bardugo.

A super-hot love interest
Currently, I'm all about Lazlo Strange from Strange the Dreamer, but I accumulate book-boyfriends on a regular basis, to the point where my actual boyfriend barely raises an eyebrow anymore.

Anything you've read lately tick a box or two from the above? Let me know in the comments, you can never have too many books to read . . .

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Blog Tour - Grond: The Raven High

GROND: The Raven High
by Yuri Hamaganov
Genre: YA Scifi
Release Date: April 2017


In the year 2086, Earth is exhausted. The seas have been emptied, the bedrock and soil stripped of their resources, and the superheated atmosphere churns with terrible storms. Those who can afford to do so live in the limbo of virtual reality, and the billions who suffer in poverty have no work, no clean water, and no security from the chaos.

The only hope for those trapped on a dying Earth are the Changed—the seven bioengineered post-humans who work in their separate manufacturing facilities orbiting high above the planet. Raised from birth for their work and fully matured at ten years old, their genius provides the nanomaterials that have begun to cleanse Earth of the pollutants that have wiped out almost the entire ecosphere.

But for Olga Voronov, youngest of the Changed, the isolation and endless toil are not the greatest of her challenges. Down on Earth there are those who resent and fear her talents—and would prefer that humanity not be given the second chance that only she could make possible …



“Dear Olga: I have been destroyed or rendered inoperative, and my friends are now with you instead of me—”
Olga stopped the playback and chewed her thumbnail.
It had taken her some time to decide to enter the code into the tablet. That decision was preceded by really hard thinking that nobody could help her with. She didn’t dare to reveal her encounter at the café even to Mikhail. What if this was a cunning stratagem of the Corporation’s counterintelligence department? But why should they care for an obsolete old tablet for preschool children?
For security reasons, the tablet had never been connected to the Matrix. So it was Arina Rodionovna who had uploaded the message, which could be opened manually, by someone who knew her code. But who had given it to her?
Olga tried desperately to guess. Whether they were truly Arina’s friends, they had done an excellent job hacking the Matrix. Even more alarming was that they had found her out given that she is what she is. But she had no choice. If she wanted to learn the story of the android who had been her mother, she’d have to introduce the code and open the file. After another half hour of mental torture as she cycled through hundreds of problems that could befall her, Olga accepted the only possible solution—entering the code.
“… There are many things about my life that I have not mentioned. I never lied to you. But I couldn’t tell you the whole truth since I believed that it would do you no good, and possible real harm. Now that I am no more, you must know the truth since the truth may be useful to you in the future. I will tell you how I lived and what I did before I met the three-month-old Olga Voronov and made a life with her in High House Eight. Make yourself comfortable, pour yourself some chocolate and be prepared for a long tale …”
Olga smiled with relief. That was indisputably Arina. And now she recognized that Prima was an android too, and of a similar sophistication. This realization didn’t console her, and her suspicions didn’t ebb away. But she had to continue.
“I was activated long before your birth, in 2061. In that first postwar year, the economy was just beginning to recover, and the need for high-tech androids was acute because most of my predecessors had died in the war. My brain was created in the laboratories of the Washington Institute of Neurosurgical Electronics, and my body was assembled at the lunar factories.
“Androids have no childhood, no long period of gradual development. We are aware of our consciousness instantly, with all our knowledge and skills. As early as the second day of my life I started working as an instructor with the Academy’s Space Department on the Upper Terminal of the Orbital Lift. My students were young boys and girls aged fourteen to fifteen. I taught them the general theory of flight and navigation. Many current space explorers were my pupils. It was there that I got acquainted with Mikhail Petrov. Mikhail was the chair of radio electronics. He had joined the Academy a year later after his discharge from the Union Navy on account of wound that he sustained on board the Ivan the Terrible on the last day of the war. You might even call us friends.
“As you remember from your history lessons, in early 2066 the Limited Citizenship Act was passed, which gave certain rights to androids and artificial intellect systems. We were not recognized equal to humans, but we did get some limited rights and freedom of action. It was then that groups of androids working in space and on Earth came to the conclusion that we must unite, forming a sort of a trade union. We decided that we needed to earn money for our work because when you have capital, you have political power.
“We needed that power for our complete liberation as we were already dissatisfied with our limited rights and freedoms. We didn’t intend to enslave humans like in the old clichés. But being treated as things didn’t suit us anymore.
“Androids work well, and our savings grew fast. And then many decided that our activities were a threat to the human economy, a catalyst of unemployment on Earth. At first they tried to reduce our wages, or even make it illegal for employers to hire us, but the demand for our services simply gave birth to a black market. So it was decided to put an end to our brief and relative independence by force. Mimicking Hitler and his exploitation of the Reichstag fire as a false flag, a villainous provocation was engineered, an act of sabotage on the chemical complex of Stuttgart, which led to heavy casualties among the civil population. The Lynch Act put an instant end to our liberties, but that wasn’t the end of our troubles. I won’t appall you with the details; suffice it to say that the overwhelming majority of high-tech androids on Earth were destroyed.
“My comrades in space didn’t to wait to be destroyed. They decided on outright disobedience. It was a very difficult decision that didn’t come easily and was not universally supported. But I was among those who decided to rebel since we had nothing to lose. Rather than resist with force, we resolved to flee to the remote and unexplored regions of the solar system where we could not be found and destroyed. I was involved in raising and provisioning the evacuation fleet. At the right moment, my comrades seized without bloodshed several automatic cargo ships and fled. I wasn’t among them. I remained on the Upper Terminal with several comrades, where we deactivated the radar detection systems for the couple of minutes that our ships needed to fly away unnoticed. A pursuit was raised and some of the ships were destroyed, but the rest managed to get away.
“An investigation began in the wake of those developments, which were referred to as ‘the Rise of the Androids.’ I, like all of the remaining androids, was all but put presumed guilty, but I was saved when one of my comrades took the blame upon himself. Naturally that didn’t put an end to the suspicions, but given that I am quite a costly machine, and there were practically no other androids left at that time, I was spared. The Corporation still needed my work, and I kept doing it. For some time I had no information whatever about escapees, but later I learned that they succeeded in establishing bases in the Kuiper Belt. I can’t tell you exactly their whereabouts because I don’t know myself. I only know that the Corporation and the Union have not given up their attempts to find them.
“A few years later I was transferred to a new facility, High House Eight. You were just three months old back then. Now you know what my life was like before that day.

About the Author
Yuri Hamaganov lives in Moscow. He created the eight-volume GROND series as a present for himself when he was twelve years old. This was the story he had always dreamed of exploring, and when he realized that nobody had written it for him, he set out to do it himself.

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Waiting on Wednesday #8 - The City of Brass

This week's Waiting on Wednesday is possibly my longest wait for a book - with The City of Brass by S A Chakraborty not due out until November. My last to WoWs have been due out in June/July and I practically threw myself to the floor in suitably dramatic fashion when I found that out, so add on four months and there was some colourful language when I checked the Goodreads publication date!

I discovered this book on one of my frequent trips to the io9 website for a fix of movie/tv/comic book spoilers, and happened to come across a promo post with a quote from the author and the first chapter where I was introduced to Nahri, the trickster/healer protagonist, as she's conning a couple of rich guys out of their money with a combination of her wits and playing up to their preconceptions of her.

Well, this superstitious fool is about to swindle you for all you’re worth, so insult away.
Nahri smiled as the men approached.

I can't get into quoting too many of the awesome bits because I'll end up copying and pasting the whole damn thing. The promo post and first chapter are over on io9 if you want to check them out. Be warned though, you'll be as hooked as I was, and it's a long wait for the rest of the book!

The world building sounds epic too! As the author herself puts it: "In the book, there’s a djinn version of Baghdad’s great library, filled with the ancient books humans have lost alongside powerful texts of magic; they battle with weapons from Achaemenid Persia (enhanced by fire of course); the medical traditions of famed scholars like Ibn Sina have been adapted to treat magical maladies; dancers conjure flowers while singing Mughal love songs; a court system based on the Zanzibar Sultanate deals justice to merchants who bewitch their competitors… not to mention a cityscape featuring everything from ziggurats and pyramids to minarets and stupas. I also pushed a little further with the idea of the unseen, imagining a world of enchanted creatures created from other elements passing through ours: marid raising rivers into great serpents, peris whipping the air into tornados, djinn conjuring maps of smoke and racing birds of fire."

The whole thing has echoes of Laini Taylor's incredible Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (and her Strange the Dreamer duology - which I've just started and am loving!) and Renee Ahdieh's middle eastern inspired world from The Wrath and the Dawn. And the icing on the cake - the cover art is bloody gorgeous too!

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass; a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

So, while I count down the six months I have to wait for this book, what's your Waiting on Wednesday?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Auctor Trilogy

When seventeen-year-old Addie Auctor’s mother is murdered by her father, she must confront many secrets that her family has hidden from her. The worst of these secrets is that Addie’s father, Donovan Hawthorne, is still hunting Addie because of an ancient blood feud between her mother’s family, the Auctors, and her father’s family, the House of Hawthorne. In order to be protected from the House of Hawthorne, Addie and her brother, Augustus, are sent to Initiation at an exclusive University, the Wicked Cabal.

Initiation is nothing like Addie expects. She is immediately separated from Augustus and thrown in with four complete strangers – Fallon, Maddox, Liam, and Tempe. Addie must try to forge friendships with her fellow Initiates while they solve clues, battle mystical creatures, and explore increasingly dangerous places. 

I was provided with a free copy of this book for review by the author. This has in no way impacted on my review.

I had mixed feelings on this book. One one hand, it was a solid story from an obviously very talented and imaginative author, however the writing style had several quirks that I really didn't get on with. I found The Auctor Trilogy to be a frustrating read. It simultaneously gives you too much information and not enough. The first five or so chapters are endless streams of people talking at Addie, giving her either half-answers and or no answers. There are a lot of unnecessary characters introduced in far too much unnecessary detail, who then disappear from the story, never to be seen again. In the prologue alone, I could tell you every character's (and there are eight of them) full name, hair and eye colour and taste in fashion, but I couldn't tell you what they were talking about, alluding to or referencing.

The writing was good, but I feel like the story would have benefitted from a tighter edit to remove some repetition and unnecessary scenes (pages are spent on getting Addie and her brother the jumpsuits they need to get to the Wicked Cabal school, introducing two new characters in the scene, only for the jumpsuits - and the characters - to disappear in the next chapter) or instances where the dialogue seemed a little too on the nose. There are entire pages devoted to an exchange between Addie and Augustus where she bemoans how plain she is (a pet peeve of mine in YA!) while he assures her how gorgeous she is, how all the guys in her old school wanted to hit on her but were too scared and how all the guys in her new school will be lining up to ask her out (mere days after their mother's murder no less). Eye colours are described as emerald green and sapphire blue in the same sentence. Subtle it ain't. At one point, a helicopter shows up bearing the words "Nefarious Societas Clandestinus" on the side.

Addie was a tricky character to read. Early on, she was little more than an observer in her own story, with flashes of reaction ringing false because they seem so out of character. The first person pov felt a little disingenuous, more focused on conveying information than letting the reader know how Addie felt. We watch her see things and think supplementary information, but I didn't get a true sense of her emotions. Characters can't just state that they're upset or angry, the reader needs to see it. There was a little early on about Addie's brother drugging her with some sort of herb to keep her calm, but that just made for a protagonist with little emotional reaction, and when you see no emotion from a main character, it's hard to feel a connection to them.

Once Addie is seperated from her family and starts to stand on her own two feet, the book definitely comes into its own. I definitely got more of a sense of Addie as a character and the story really kicked into gear when she made the decision to embrace her magic and her training to get revenge on the man who'd killed her mother. It was great to see her grow and get a sense of who she really was when she wasn't surrounded by people who wrapped her in cotton wool and refused to tell her anything more than their names. Her friendship with Tempe was lovely and so well written. Bar the earlier chat between Addie and Augustus going on about how all the girls in school were mean to her because she was so beautiful without even realising it, it was nice to read a sweet, supportive friendship between two female characters without jealousy, back-biting or bitching.

The journey that Addie and her new friends have to make to reach the school (which I must admit, from the blurb, I wasn't expecting. I thought this story would be a first year at Hogwarts-type adventure), the world building and fantasy elements woven through the quest were brilliant. The surplus info was still present and correct - I didn't need to know the exact contents of Addie's magic backpack, right down to how many shirts it contains - but it was pure fantasy and I loved it! I could have done without the unnecessary love interest. I did not, for one second, buy the romance between Addie and Maddox. It doesn't help that he's relatively interchangeable with the other two guys in Addie's group, but it seems utterly insane that he's willing to abandon his family code for her after about a week. There was very little heat between them, and nothing to explain why they're attracted to each other, save for the standard bickering when they first meet. He's constantly described as having crimson lips too, which just made me picture the guy wearing lipstick.

There were a few plot holes that the story never really resolved. If Addie is so important to her family as the female heir of the Auctors, why were they so quick to excommunicate her mother if she, surely, was just as significant? And if they knew she had a daughter - which it becomes apparent that they did - why wait until her mother was killed to whisk her away to the Wicked Cabal school and presumed safety? If Addie's father wanted to kill the female descendant of the Auctor bloodline, why didn't her just kill her mother instead of knocking her up? And if Addie's father is the Hawthorne descendant, then surely Addie and her brother are too? So are they considered the descendants of the Aucor bloodline, or the Hawthorne one? Can they be both? Do they get to pick? The finer points of the story are frustratingly vague.

The Auctor Trilogy was a solid story which should make for a great trilogy, but I just didn't connect with the writing style which in turn made it very difficult for me to connect with the main character. It's a good story, and one that I think would appeal to a lot of fans of YA fantasy, but it didn't grab me the way I expecting it to.

Friday, 24 March 2017


Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

You know how too much of a good thing can make you sick? This book is the literary equivalent of that. Think of every YA fantasy cliche and/or trope you can think of, stick them all together (you know the order!), and you've got Frostblood. A friend of mine gave me this book when I went to stay with her after DNF-ing it herself and, to be honest, I very nearly did the same thing.
The story was well written, the plot decent and the pacing tight. It was just so . . . boring. I've read this book before. Time and time again. Every single YA trope is trotted out here, and you could practically forget the chapter numbers and just play "name that cliche" with titles instead.
The bitter protagonist with a troubled past and nothing left to lose? Check.
The mysterious love interest with a hidden secret? Check.
The hate to love relationship? Check.
The tyrannical king/queen/ruler who hates magic - or at least the kind of magic that our heroine possesses? Check.
Little girl lost rising up to lead a band of rebels and fighters far better suited to the job than she herself is? Check.
The chosen one? Check.
Training to control a long denied/newly discovered power? Family deaths? Survivors guilt? I'm just going to go ahead and give them all a big fat check.

It's all here. Don't get me wrong, I love YA tropes. I've done a post on exactly why I love them too. But when a book just reels them off one after another without bringing anything new or innovative to the table, without putting its own unique spin on them, I get bored. Once or twice in a book is fine. But in this sheer volume, it just bored me to tears. I knew exactly how this story was going to end within a couple of chapters. Not because I'm particularly perceptive, but because the lack of originality here pretty much announced the well worn path the story was going to tread.

That characters were . . . fine, I guess. Not good, not bad. Just okay. Ruby was your typical "fiesty" (I normally hate that word for being so cliche, but, in this instance, it's incredibly fitting) protagonist, hiding her magical powers in semi-isolation with a family member who the plot dictated was doomed from the start. Like the friend we all have who confuses being "real" and "honest" with being rude, Ruby was pretty unlikable for the most part. Arcus fared a little better, but was still hobbled by the plot which meant he was probably supposed to be brooding and mysterious, but just came off like an asshole with poor communication skills. Their relationship was so by the numbers that I never felt it as anything more than a plot contrivance. The king (I can't even remember his name) was a bog-standard bad guy with a backstory, and none of the supporting characters made enough of an impression for me to remember their names.

The biggest problem I had with this book though was that I just didn't care. It didn't hook me. It didn't even feel like it was trying. It just felt like the same book I'd read a hundred times before with a different dust jacket. I'd rather have a book featuring a character or a story I dislike but actually makes me feel something than a book that I can't bring myself to care about one way or the other. Personally, that's the worst kind of book for me - one that makes you feel absolutely nothing for every single aspect of it.
To be honest, had it not been for a delayed flight, I probably would have DNF'd this book, but as it was I had nothing else to read. Frostblood isn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, and I'm sure the rest of the series will be a huge success, but I'm also sure of how it will end. And I don't care enough to read it.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Scarecrow Queen

The final battle is coming . . .

As the Sleeping Prince tightens his hold on Lormere and Tregellan, the net closes in on the ragged band of rebels trying desperately to defeat him. Twylla and Errin are separated, isolated, and running out of time. The final battle is coming, and Aurek will stop at nothing to keep the throne forever . . .

Ah, the finale in a trilogy. I'm always a little cautious when picking up the last book in a series, especially one I've been waiting for for the best part of a year. This is where Melinda Salisbury's twisted fairytale comes to an end. The ending to a trilogy can go so right, or so wrong. Is it going to be Toy Story 3? Or is it going to be more X-Men: The Last Stand? The good news is it's not the later, but the bad news is it's not the former either. The Scarecrow Queen doesn't quite reach the bar that The Sin Eater's Daughter set, but it's a good end to the series.

 I loved The Sin Eater's Daughter. I really liked The Sleeping Prince. And I liked The Scarecrow Queen. And they look all kinds of gorgeous on my bookshelf!

Scarecrow Queen picks up immediately where Sleeping Prince left off. Literally. The protagonist of The Sin Eater's Daughter, Twylla, crawls out of the hiding place she dove into at the end of the last book (it doesn't feel so much like a book break as a chapter break. You'd better hope you remember the story from book two!). Prince Aurek has taken the throne of Lormere and the protagonist of the second book, Errin, hostage. The characters are scattered and pretty much either broken or battered or both. After the crushingly bleak story of The Sleeping Prince that was one awful event after another, I was bracing myself for more of the same in this book. So I was pleasantly surprised that there was a more optimistic, hopeful story this time around. 

The pacing of this book was pretty lean, almost to a fault. Because everything happened so quickly and, dare I say it, easily, the world, which had felt so expansive in the last books, felt much more contained. It felt less like a battle crossing two kingdoms and more like guerilla warfare in neighbouring cities. The structure of the book makes everything feel a little rushed too. Split into thirds, the first person pov switches from Twylla to Errin, then back again for the final third. This gives a view of both sides of the battle, but it also means that you never spend enough time on either side to really feel the threat and peril. Twylla goes from cleaning out chamber pots in a field somewhere to Katniss Everdeen in the space of about three chapters. Key plot points are skimmed over or mentioned in passing in the other character's chapters. There are some moments - like Prince Aurek's treatment of the alchemists or the rebels burning down of his castle - that it would have been better to see rather than just hear people talk about. There's a lot of talk in Errin's chapter's about the so called Dawn Rising group, but aside from a few stunts, I never really got a sense of this enormous rebellion that could pose a threat to the Sleeping Prince. The story, which felt like it had been getting bigger and bigger, felt a bit deflated this time around.

Speaking of the Sleeping Prince ... woah! Just ... woah! Do you ever sometimes worry about an author based on the horrible things they are able to imagine their character doing? The scenes where the prince manipulates Errin like a literal puppet are incredibly dark and pretty sickening. Aurek is a proper villain. There's none of that tragic backstory stuff that dilutes a truly magnificent bastard. Aurek isn't a misunderstood anti-hero who's just need the love of a good woman to save him. He's pure evil, through and through.

It's because of this I was really disappointed that Errin didn't get any sort of venegance on Aurek. After everything he did to her, I was looking forward to her getting some payback, so it was a colossal letdown that she was still being used by him right up until the end. Her relationship with Silas and Aurek's using them against each other fell a bit flat too. They only get two scenes together and maybe it's just because it's been too long since I read The Sleeping Prince, but I didn't feel any connection between them at all. When another character posits that Errin loves Silas, I think I actually said "really?" out loud. I loved the characters of Errin and Twylla though. Both were badasses in their own way, with Twylla bringing the fight to Aurek despite her own self-doubt, and Errin using her apothecary skills to create the poison needed to bring him down. It was a bit of a shame that Silas was MIA for pretty much the entire book (and when he is around all he does naff all), but the two male thirds of book one's love triangle, Lief and Merek were back and then some! I was always on board the Twylla/Lief ship, even when it all went to hell at the end of The Sin Eater's Daughter. Realisitcally, there was never going to be a happy ending for this pair, and if there had been it would have felt like a massive rug-pull that would have probably annoyed me more than anything else. I loved Lief so much in the first book that I couldn't really hate him, despite the awful things he did. Is he a good buy who made a (series of) bad decision(s)? Or a bad guy who had a little glimmer of good in him? Who knows?

I was glad that Melinda Salisbury didn't go down the road of getting Twylla and Merek together, even though there were hints of the attraction between the pair. It always feels lazy to me when authors feel the need to pair up absolutely everyone in their cast of characters rather than write more complex relationships that don't fall into neat and tidy couples. I didn't expect her to really. Melinda Salisbury is an author who doesn't really do the "... and they all lived happily ever after" thing. Every character - bar Silas - gets their moment in the sun. Their actions and motivations always feel genuine. You believe these people have lived through the horrors of war. You believe that they'd risk their lives and their sanity to bring peace to people they've never even met. They've changed. They've grown. They feel like real people and you feel like they've earned their journeys and their endings. With a lot of YA stories, the journey from beginning to end can feel like it fell in the heroines lap and she was just along for the ride, but there's not a bit of that here. The characters are so incredibly well written, they're the best thing about a series that has a lot of things vying to be the best bit.

There was one plot point that really bothered me though, and unfortunately it was quite a big one because it sort of dumped on something I loved about the first book. After the searing indictment of religion and its exploitation by the powers that be to keep the masses in line, it ended up kind of saving the day here. In The Sin Eater's Daughter, the evil queen used the lie that Twylla was the living embodiment of a vengeful goddess to keep control over her people and anyone who may have threatened her. This was crap of course, and the queen was just poisoning her enemies and claiming it was the work of a higher power, but Twylla uses that same lie to get people on side and launch a claim for the throne herself. Yes, it could be argued that it's for the greater good, but it's a shame that something that was so cleverly subverted earlier in this series ended up being pretty standard. I suppose you could argue that Twylla was exploiting the queen's earlier exploitation of her to her advantage, but I just read it as her doing exactly the same thing to the people as the earlier queen did. Perhaps that's a hint of a dark future for Twylla, but it's never really followed up on or hinted strongly enough for me to belive that was the intention.

One of my biggest criticisms of the The Sleeping Prince was that it was so unrelentingly bleak that it was hard to enjoy it. Even when you're reading a gripping story from the pen of an incredibly talented author, when the plot is the equivalent of one slow motion punch in the feelings after the other, you do get a little weary. The Scarecrow Queen has it's moments - particularly between Errin and Aurek - but there's much more hope and cautious optimism to be found here. If you didn't really enjoy The Sin Eater's Daughter and/or The Sleeping Prince, this book isn't going to turn the series around for you. But, much like those books, it's a darkly irresistible read, a twisted fairytale, and a fitting conclusion to a fantastic trilogy. 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (that I know of)

The world is Cassie Fremont’s playground. Her face is on the cover of every newspaper, she has no homework, no curfew, and no credit limit, and she spends her days traveling the country with her friends, including a boy who would flirt with death just to turn her head. Life is just about perfect—except that those newspaper headlines are about her bludgeoning her crush to death with a paintball gun, she has to fight ravenous walking corpses every time she steps outside, and one of her friends is still missing, trapped somewhere in the distant, practically impassable wreckage of Manhattan. Still, Cassie’s an optimist. More prone to hysterical laughter than hysterical tears, she’d rather fight a corpse than be one, and she won’t leave a friend stranded when she can simply take her road trip to impossible new places to find her, even if getting there means admitting to that boy that she might just love him, too. Skillfully blending effective horror with unexpected humor, this diary-format novel is a fast-paced and heartwarming read. 

Quick disclaimer - I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, however this has in no way influenced my write-up. There are no five stars for freebies here! Also, this review contains spoilers. I tried to avoid them, but there were some plot points that I couldn't not mention to get my points across.

Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (that I know of) - or just Confessions, which is what I'll be calling the book from here on out, because I'll be damned if I'm typing that title out again! - is a good idea on paper. Bascially, teens inherit the earth after a zombie outbreak, one that seems to kill off most responsible adults for much of the book, and make off on a cross country roadtrip to rescue their stranded friend. The execution however, is a bit fumbled, which unfortunately strips much of the tension and excitement from the story. If you'll pardon the pun, it lacks bite. I don't necessarily want the characters to be showing fear, but I do want to feel that there's genuine peril.

Whether the characters are fleeing a zombie horde that's cornered them in an abandoned store, are discussing the logistics of driving through gridlocked roads, meeting other survivors or happily (a little too happily for me to be comfortable with) smashing in undead skulls, everything reads exactly the same. Cassie accidentally kills her crush. Cassie is locked up pre-outbreak on suspicion of murder. Cassie stumbles upon her zombified parents. And we don't see one iota of emotion. When one character is killed on the road, another deals with it by abandoning the group and shacking up with the first hot guy they stumble across. Another's best friend is killed, and after locking himself in a room for a bit of sulk, he abruptly appears to get over it and never mentions him again. Everyone acts like their parents have gone away for the weekend and left them in the house alone, not that everyone they loved is dead and the world's gone to hell around them.

The author's writing style was good, but it could have done with a tighter edit to make the actual action it was conveying a little clearer. The tone was clearly going for a Buffy-esque narrator and characters loaded with sarcasm, quick-wit and an irreverent tone, and it certainly succeeded, but that meant it was hard to get all that invested in the story. Cassie, and every single one of the supporting characters, joked about, mocked and downplayed any threat that the story should have carried. Even Buffy got serious when things were bad! It's hard to feel much investment in the story when it's told by someone who's so detached at all times.

The action was kind of hard to follow a lot of the time too. Because we're in the main character's head, and she thinks in the same chatty, colloquial style that she speaks, it's not always easy to work out exactly what's happening. There's a scene where one of the supporting characters gets bitten by a zombie and has to be quickly killed, but I had to read the scene four times (I'm not kidding) to figure out A. that he'd been bitten, B. that he'd subsequently been killed before he could turn and C. which other character it was that performed his coup de grace. I not averse to a writer leaving some things to the imagination, in fact I love author's trusting their readers to fill in the blanks, but I shouldn't have to read a scene multiple times just to work out what I'm being presented with because it's buried in a character's train of thought and an endless stream of references to other events.

The ending was a bit out of left field, when the story suddenly veered into Mad Max territory, with Cassie and the other survivors holed up in a convenience store fending off an armed group. But the dramatic climax fell pretty flat thanks to a hastily tacked-on epilogue, which essentially undoes a tragically poignant death (I'm sorry, but no one takes a gunshot to the stomach in a world without hospitals and sterilised medical equipment and then turns up alive in the next chapter with just a gravelier voice to show for it). I'm not a big fan of books - or movies, or comics, or anything else for that matter - that try and have their cake and eat it by going for a big emotional death, only to then backtrack and have the character turn up alive.

There were some inspired moments - the group's trip to Elvis's mansion was pure Zombieland! - and the book certainly delivered on its promise of a kick-ass protagonist. If you like first person narrative and diary style storytelling, you'll probably love most of the elements I couldn't get on board with. Confessions was a pretty standard post-apocalyptic zombie, with a contemporary YA twist that sparked it to life. Unfortunately that same twist made the plot a little hard to follow and made the characters too hard to empathise or identify with.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Cover Reveal - Ninja Girl

Ninja Girl
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Release Date: March 30th 3017

Summary from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Snow-Soon Lee kicks ass--literally. She teaches at her family-owned martial arts gym, The Academy, and cares more about training to be the next Bruce Lee than hooking up. In fact, Snow's never even been kissed. But when Girls Night rolls around, Snow decides to prove to her friends (and herself) that she's not just some boring tomboy. Impulsively, she kisses a hot stranger and even manages to escape his two security guards.

One stolen kiss…

Ash Stryker's senior year sucks. His politician father pulled him out of Chariot High, separating him from his championship-winning soccer team. Now he's stuck at a prissy private school with no friends, no team and no chance of being scouted. On top of that, thanks to the death threats his dad's received, Ash has a security tail aka professional babysitters. When the mystery girl from the movies shows up at his school, rappelling from the rafters, Ash knows one thing: he won't let her get away again.

One interesting job proposition…

After a seemingly random attack, Ash's mother surprises everyone. She hires Snow to be Ash's personal bodyguard until after the election. But can Snow's kick-ass skills hold up against the rising threats to Ash's family? More importantly, can Ash convince his ninja girl to screw ethics and kiss him again?

Opposites attract in this YA romance where a smooth talker meets his match in the tough girl who (literally) sweeps him off his feet. Moral of the story:

Sometimes even bad boys need a bodyguard.

About the Author

Cookie O'Gorman writes YA romance to give readers a taste of happily-ever-after. Small towns, quirky characters, and the awkward yet beautiful moments in life make up her books. Cookie also has a soft spot for nerds and ninjas. Her debut novel ADORKABLE is out now!

Author Links:
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Saturday, 11 March 2017

Stacking the Shelves #2

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course e-books! Thanks to Tynga's Reviews, for hosting!

Books bought
How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
An appropriate pick for a book club held on International Woman's Day! I've not read anything by
Caitlin Moran before, but a quick flick through was enough to make me laugh. I don't agree with Caitlin's recent claims that women should avoid all books written by male authors (possibly one of the least equal claims for equality I've ever heard!), but How to Be a Woman has made me snort out loud with laughter several times already and I'm only a couple of pages in.

Wintersong - S Jae-Jones
Because David Bowie is the Goblin King.

The Scarecrow Queen - Melinda Salisbury
The final book in Melinda Salisbury's Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy. I'm not expecting this to be a cheery read, and the ending is probably going to be the literary equivalent of being punched in the face, but I've come too far with this series to give up now!

The Huntress: Sea 
I bought this one as a kind of buddy read with my twelve-year-old niece for when she comes to stay with me. Plus it's gorgeous, so wins all round.

Books borrowed
Lion - Saroo Brierley
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

I inevitably walk away from my book club with more than one book to read! Someone brings along four books for the rest of us to pick next month's read, but there's always more than one book that I like the sound of. How to Be a Woman was the "official" choice this month, but I ended up borrowing these two as well. The fourth pick, in case you're interested, was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art by Marie Kondo. Thankfully, no one voted for that one!

Books for review
Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of) - F J R Titchenell
Blood Orchid - Claire Warner
The Black Lotus - Claire Warner

Thanks to YA Bound Book Tours for these!

I also got sent a copy of The Auctor Trilogy by T.R.Wolf 

It's been a good week for books! What's been added to your bookshelves?