Monday 6 March 2023

Review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Thank you to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 9th March 2023
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Pages: 368

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that's their secret weapon.
Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. But now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates their real-world resourcefulness in an age of technology.
When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realise they've been marked for death.
To get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They're about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman - and a killer - of a certain age.

I adore Raybourn’s historical novels so I was fascinated to get stuck in to her latest novel, and whilst very different from her previous fare, this is no less delightful. Billie is a fantastic protagonist who offers us a human and flawed view into this crazy world. I loved how real she was, how grumpy, how very hacked off she was with the situation thrust upon her. I was rooting for her right from the start, even through the darker, grittier morally grey moments.

Raybourn is particularly skilled at creating intriguing shades of grey characters who are delightfully human in their navigation through the story, and this is no exception. I loved the juxtaposition of the present day older ladies and the pieces of history that fit in to round out the story of how they came to be the women they are today in the situations they’ve found themselves in.

This had all the trademarks of Raybourn’s work, whilst also feeling fresh and exciting, further cementing her place as a favourite author of mine. I loved it, and I’m desperately hoping we get more in the world of the Museum, even if Billie is getting her well deserved retirement.

Thursday 2 March 2023

Review: The Vintage Shop of Second Chances by Libby Page

Thank you to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 16th February 2023

Publisher: Orion Pages: 384

 Among the cobbled streets of the Somerset town of Frome, Lou is embarking on the start of something new. After the death of her beloved mother, she takes a deep breath into the unknown and is opening her own vintage clothes shop.
In upstate New York, Donna has just found out some news about her family which has called into question her whole upbringing. The only clue she has to unlock her past is a picture of a yellow dress, and the fact it is currently on display in a shop in England.
For Maggy, she is facing life as a 70-something divorcee and while she got the house, she's not sure what to fill it with now her family have moved out. The new vintage shop in town sparks memories of her past and reignites a passion she's been missing...
Together, can these three women find the answers they are searching for and unlock a second chance at a new life?
It's never too late to start again...

A charming plot set in the lovely Frome, this had all the markings of a cosy read that I’d zip through in no time. However, whilst I did enjoy the interweaving stories of the three women, and the ways their lives connected it didn’t hit all the marks for me.

Ultimately it was a quick and relatively enjoyable read, but sadly lacking in substance. I was excited to read this one, but never really connected with it. The writing style just didn’t work for me personally, a lot of telling the reader and dumping lots of information at once rather than exploring and allowing it to unfurl naturally. 

I also found the exploration of grief and loss of Lou’s mother to be rather flat and unrealistic. This is a particular bugbear of mine following the loss of my own mother, and I know won’t be a problem for many readers, but for me personally it just didn’t sit well.

However I really loved the theme running throughout of second chances, hope, and finding a new lease later in life. This will definitely be one that many people will love, it just didn’t quite spark for me as I had hoped it would.

Tuesday 28 February 2023

Review: A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon

Thank you to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 28th February 2023
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 880

The stunning, standalone prequel to the New York Times bestselling The Priory of the Orange Tree.
Tunuva Melim is a sister of the Priory. For fifty years, she has trained to slay wyrms – but none have appeared since the Nameless One, and the younger generation is starting to question the Priory's purpose.
To the north, in the Queendom of Inys, Sabran the Ambitious has married the new King of Hróth, narrowly saving both realms from ruin. Their daughter, Glorian, trails in their shadow – exactly where she wants to be.
The dragons of the East have slept for centuries. Dumai has spent her life in a Seiikinese mountain temple, trying to wake the gods from their long slumber. Now someone from her mother's past is coming to upend her fate.
When the Dreadmount erupts, bringing with it an age of terror and violence, these women must find the strength to protect humankind from a devastating threat.
Intricate and epic, Samantha Shannon sweeps readers back to the world of A Priory of the Orange Tree, showing us a course of events that shaped it for generations to come.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is one of my favourite fantasy epics - sweeping in scope, lush in vivid rich details, and breath taking in its audacity. Which meant that I had both high hopes and huge fears when it came to A Day of Fallen Night - how could it possibly compare? 

I should not have worried.

Priory will always be excellent, but A Day of Fallen Night is a masterclass that showcases Shannon’s growing talent. She is a force to be reckoned with, a writer who can craft incredibly rich and detailed stories and never lose their reader for an instant. Fallen Night is a behemoth, an epic 880 pages long, but none of that feels bloated or unnecessary. Instead it is a tapestry of interweaving characters and plots, layered over years, coloured through time, and embroidered with the acts of humanity that make it feel raw and real to the reader.

I have struggled over the days since finishing it to articulate fully how I feel about this book. It’s hard to distil it down to a few choice words and phrases. Instead, I will simply press the book into people's hands with the instruction to read it. Read it and fall in love with the world, with the characters, with the scope and force of this novel. 

It is a masterclass in writing, an epic to rival big name fantasy epics, but frankly executed better and with a richer and diverse world. This is one that I will revisit time and time again, and I’m already excited to explore it through the audiobook.

Add this to your to read pile, you won’t regret it.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Review: Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother's Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind by Julie Metz

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 6th April 2021

Publisher: Atria Books

Pages: 320

The author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Perfection returns with an unforgettable account of her late mother’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Austria and the parallels she sees in present-day America.

To Julie Metz, her mother, Eve, was the quintessential New Yorker. Eve rarely spoke about her childhood and it was difficult to imagine her living anywhere else except Manhattan, where she could be found attending Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera or inspecting a round of French triple crème at Zabar’s.

In truth, Eve had endured a harrowing childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna. After her mother passed, Julie discovered a keepsake book filled with farewell notes from friends and relatives addressed to a ten-year-old girl named Eva. This long-hidden memento was the first clue to the secret pain that Julie’s mother had carried as a refugee and immigrant, shining a light on a family that had to persevere at every turn to escape the antisemitism and xenophobia that threatened their survival.

Interweaving personal memoir and family history, Eva and Eve vividly traces one woman’s search for her mother’s lost childhood while revealing the resilience of our forebears and the sacrifices that ordinary people are called to make during history’s darkest hours.

I adored “Perfection”, Metz’s memoir, and have incredibly fond memories of being curled up in front of the wood-burner drinking tea and reading, so I was delighted when the author contacted me offering a copy of her latest book to review.

I am, on the whole, a fiction reader. It takes a special kind of book to pull me out into the world of non-fiction, and Metz never fails to captivate me with her glittering words. This book caught on a particularly raw nerve following the death of my mum, and I felt a sense of kinship with Metz as she deals with the grief of her mother’s passing in the first section of the book, and how keenly she feels the loss of the pieces of her mother’s past that she’ll now never have the chance to ask about. That feeling of loss, of loneliness, of the need to understand and fill in the blanks that she never felt able to ask about due to a tumultuous relationship, are the driving force of the story as she picks up, puts down, uncovers a little more of the mystery and then is swept up in her own life again for a while.

Whilst on the surface it is a book about her mother, ultimately it digs into a host of lives that impacted the incredible events that culminated in her mother’s escape from Nazi occupied Vienna. Whilst sometimes keeping such a host of people straight in my head was bewildering, I loved Metz’s attention to detail and how she worked to uncover all the pieces that created this whole. It is a sprawling, beautiful book, that examines the family before, during and after such a cataclysmic and traumatic event, as well as uncovering those who made the escape possible, and Metz’s own exploration of the story and the people who helped her along the way. Her own retracing of her family’s steps added additional layers of colour as she found small ways to connect her present to the past and stand where her mother once stood. It is part an expression of grief, part examination of the America Metz was experiencing at the time of writing and the political upheaval and parallels to her mother’s story, and part love letter to her mother - a truly extraordinary woman.

With a delicate touch, Metz weaves all of this together into an incredible whole, and I found myself quickly captivated and desperate to snatch moments to read further. Indeed, I found myself missing Julius, Anna and Eva’s company in the days after I finished reading. I liked the quiet joy that pervaded their lives in Vienna before 1938, and felt keenly the desperate fear and determination that threaded through their escape.

This is an incredible and thought provoking book that opened my eyes to a slice of history I found I was shockingly ignorant over, and humanised it further with brief snatches of fiction as Metz imagines what life was like for her mother and grandparents in a life altering handful of years. Beautiful, poignant, and filled with love for her lost mother, this is an incredible book that I would not hesitate to recommend.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Review: Aix Marks The Spot by Sarah Anderson

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publications date: June 16th 2020
Publisher: Seabreeze Books
Pages: 380

Jamie has been dreaming of this summer forever: of road trips and intensive art camps, of meeting cute boys with her best friend Jazz. What she didn’t count on was the car accident.
Exiled away from her family as her mother slowly learns to walk again, Jamie is sent to Provence and trapped in an isolated home with the French grandmother she has never met, the guilt of having almost killed her parents, and no Wi-Fi. Enough to drive a girl mad. That is, until, she finds an old letter from her father, the starting point in a treasure hunt that spans across cities and time itself. Somehow, she knows that the treasure is the key to putting her shattered family back together and that whatever lies at the end has the power to fix everything.
Armed only with a high-school-level of French and a map of train lines, she must enlist the aid of Valentin, a handsome local who’s willing to translate. To save her family, she has castle ruins to find and sea cliffs to climb; falling for her translator wasn’t part of her plan… 

After living in France for several years, and experiencing the whole wildly out of water experience of moving to a country where you cannot for the life of you get the words you know to come out in a coherent fashion, I am always keen to find books that distil that experience out onto the page. And this one does, but also doesn’t. It’s a curious mix.

Good things first: I really loved exploring the south of France. There were places that I’ve been to before and I shrieked delightedly at my husband that they were visiting Cassis. And places that I’ve never experienced that I immediately added to the itinerary or our next trip. It made me feel homesick for excellent coffee and pastries and the food. It transported me straight into the middle of a hot French summer, where you can barely think beyond the sound of the cicadas. 

However (you knew it was coming, didn’t you) I just couldn’t connect with Jamie. Whilst I completely empathised with the fish out of water experience, and struggling to keep up in a country where you aren’t fluent, I found her to be incredibly unlikable and frustrating. She is convinced that she’s been exiled to France because her parents hate her, and yet the few interactions she has with them early on do nothing to provide a basis for that. She struggles with the language yet makes zero effort to learn. She finds other tourists with their loud, obnoxious English conversations to be mortifying, yet can’t seem to understand that she is exactly the same.

It’s a light and quick read, and one that I enjoyed up to a point. But it never really finds its feet because it is weighed down by how frustrating I found Jamie. She wasn’t someone I wanted to spend time with - half the time I just wanted to shake her. However, as a book that catapults you right back into the heat of a summer in France it was a good escape.

Monday 13 July 2020

Review: Sisters of Sword & Song by Rebecca Ross

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publications date: June 25th 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 432

From the author of The Queen’s Rising comes a thrilling YA stand-alone fantasy about the unbreakable bond between sisters. Perfect for fans of Ember in the Ashes, Sky in the Deep, and Court of Fives.
After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.
Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

Rebecca Ross hit my auto-buy author list with her debut novel, and this (her third outing with a truly beautiful standalone novel) has cemented that position. It’s a truly beautiful novel, and the fact that it’s contained in a single book rather than investing in a new series just made me love it more. It’s refreshing in a world full of trilogies to be able to enjoy a book on its own.

I adored the world that Ross created, filled with Gods and relics and myths. It’s very reminiscent of ancient Greece, with its own twists and magic seeping into every crevice. Frankly I’d love a masterclass from Ross in world building, because she is just so good and with every story she tells, her world building becomes more complex and brilliant.

It’s a beautiful plot, tripping along from piece to piece and drawing you further into the world. But truly, the characters are what bring this to life. The sisters particularly are so complex, layered and their growth is so wonderful to watch. I was initially curious how the two differing voices would work in this story, but as it unfolds it becomes more obvious precisely why you need to hear both voices. Evadne and Halcyon demand to be hard, and their love for each other is what propels the book. They are two sides to the same coin, and I fell for them hard.

This was a standout book for the year. It’s filled with gorgeous prose, engaging characters, and fully immerses you in a stunning world. It’s a book that has stayed with me long after reading, and will be a story I return to again and again.

Friday 10 July 2020

Review: The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 5th May 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Pages: 400

When King Jameson declares his love for Lady Hollis Brite, Hollis is shocked—and thrilled. After all, she’s grown up at Keresken Castle, vying for the king’s attention alongside other daughters of the nobility. Capturing his heart is a dream come true.
But Hollis soon realizes that falling in love with a king and being crowned queen may not be the happily ever after she thought it would be. And when she meets a commoner with the mysterious power to see right into her heart, she finds that the future she really wants is one that she never thought to imagine.

I do not expect anything deep and meaningful with a Kiera Cass book. On the whole, they’re light, fluffy romances, that don’t really require too much thought and yet are highly addictive books. Which was exactly what I needed when I picked this up, and precisely what I didn’t get. There wasn’t really anything to redeem it - the character’s are flat caricatures that never develop or turn into anything worth sticking with. There is little to no plot until the last part where suddenly what could have been an entire book's worth of plot is rammed in and has little to no emotional resonance because of the aforementioned rubbish characters and lack of time spent developing the plot that’s shoved in. And insta-love. Oh boy, the insta-love. 
There were a couple of characters I would have been interested to have a book from, but nothing is really developed.In short, it is an absolute hot mess, that I’m staggered made it to being published. 

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Review: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Spoilers below, proceed with caution.
Thanks to Netglley for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Publication date: 17th May 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 313

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.
Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.
Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

This book had all the marks of a read that I was going to adore, but sadly ‘The Gravity of Us’ just didn’t pull me in. Part of this was due to not really connecting with Cal, as he often came across as completely selfish and didn’t give any consideration to what was going on with those around him. But the majority of this was due to slightly dubious  issues of consent running throughout.

There are two big instances of this, and they completely marred my enjoyment of the rest of the novel. Firstly, when Cal knows there are cameras on himself and Leon, and that Leon isn’t out, yet chooses to take Leon’s hand and have an intimate moment with him that he knows is being filmed and will eventually be broadcast. Leon is unaware of what’s happening, and only finds out when the footage is released. There’s a brief moment where Leon is horrified about what has happened and the knowledge  that Cal knew and acted with intent, but then it’s completely forgotten about and never discussed or resolved.
The second instance is the entire relationship between Cal’s parents. Cal’s father applies for the space programme without talking to his wife about it at any point. He then uproots the entire family and completely disregards his wife’s anxiety and wishes. Now maybe these are dealt with in conversations that Cal isn’t privy too, but it doesn’t seem like it, and the entire portrayal left me with a bad aftertaste.

The idea is intriguing, but it never really flies. I wanted to like it so much, but ultimately I just felt frustrated and disheartened by the issues I’ve outlined above, and they coloured my overall enjoyment of the book.