Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: The Ten Most Recent Additions to my TBR Pile

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fabulous Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in with future topics here!

The problem with to read piles is that they literally never end. They just grow bigger and more unruly until they fall over and crush us, thereby cutting short all dreams of ever finishing reading them.
So of course I've been adding to mine recently! Pretty much all of these are based on the blurb and/or cover, except for the Tessa Dare books, because apparently I'm just on a Tessa Dare binge right now...

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

‘I am a Duke. I’m not asking you to marry me. I am offering to marry you. It’s a different thing entirely.’When the Duke of Ashbury returns from war scarred, he realises he needs an heir – which means he needs a wife! When Emma Gladstone, a vicar's daughter turned seamstress visits wearing a wedding dress, he decides on the spot that she'll do.
His terms are simple:
- They will be husband and wife by night only.
- No lights, no kissing.

- No questions about his battle scars.
- Last, and most importantly… Once she's pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.
But Emma is no pushover. She has secrets and some rules of her own:
- They will have dinner together every evening.
- With conversation.
- And teasing.
- Last, and most importantly… Once she's seen the man beneath the scars, he can't stop her from falling in love…

A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare
Unexpected lovers find themselves together in Spindle Cove with A Week to be Wicked—the second book in Tessa Dare’s utterly delectable historical romance series. This Regency Era delight finds a restless British lord desperate to escape the quaint and too quiet small seaside resort he’s trapped in…and he gets much more than he expected when he eagerly agrees to escort a beautiful, brilliant, socially awkward lady scientist to Scotland.

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

When Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, returns home from a year at sea, he finds his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, all Teach wants is to return to the vast ocean he calls home. There’s just one problem: he must convince his father to let him leave and never come back.
Following the death of her parents, Anne Barrett is left penniless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne takes a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks and Anne longs to escape the confines of her now mundane life. How will she ever achieve her dream of sailing to Curaçao—her mother’s birthplace—when she’s trapped in England?
From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn together by a shared desire for freedom, but kept apart by Teach’s father, their love is as passionate as it is forbidden. Faced with an impossible choice, Teach and Anne must decide whether to chase their dreams and leave England forever—or follow their hearts and stay together.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Mehr is a girl trapped between two cultures. Her father comes from the ruling classes of the empire, but her mother's people were outcasts, Amrithi nomads who worshipped the spirits of the sands.
Caught one night performing these forbidden rites, Mehr is brought to the attention of the Emperor's most feared mystics, who try to force her into their service by way of an arranged marriage. If she fails in their bidding, the gods themselves may awaken and seek vengeance...

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Ph dre n Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Ph dre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Ph dre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Ph dre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear. Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies.

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

Teodora di Sangro is used to hiding her magical ability to transform enemies into music boxes and mirrors. Nobody knows she's a strega--and she aims to keep it that way. The she meets Cielo--and everything changes. A strega who can switch outward form as effortlessly as turning a page in a book, Cielo shows Teodora what her life could be like if she masters the power she's been keeping secret. And not a moment too soon: the ruler of Vinalia has poisoned the patriarchs of the country's five controlling families, including Teodora's father, and demands that each family send a son to the palace. If she wants to save her family, Teodora must travel to the capital--not disguised as a boy, but transformed into one. But the road to the capital, and to bridling her powers, is full of enemies and complications, including the one she least expects: falling in love.

Wicked Saints by Emily A Duncan
A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.
A prince in danger must decide who to trust.
A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.
Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan's devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy

Romanov by Nadine Brandes
The history books say I died. They don't know the half of it. Anastasia "Nastya" Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family's only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he's hunted Romanov before. Nastya's only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn't act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya's only dabbled in magic, but it doesn't frighten her half as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her... That is, until she's on one side of a firing squad... and he's on the other.

Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway

A pilot raised in revolution. A princess raised in a palace. A world on the brink of war.
Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan's mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it's the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania--Aurelia's mother. Determined to avenge his wife's murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan's mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he's been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it--a war in which Athan's father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they've been raised to believe.

Descendent of the Crane by Joan He
"Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own." Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she's thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father's killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer--a treasonous act, punishable by death... because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira--a brilliant and alluring investigator who's also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

Now it's your turn! What's made it onto your to read pile recently?

Monday, 28 January 2019

Review: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Publication date: August 22nd 2017
Publisher: Avon
Pages: 389

When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules… 
Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.
His terms are simple:
- They will be husband and wife by night only.
- No lights, no kissing.
- No questions about his battle scars.
- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.
But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
- They will have dinner together every evening.
- With conversation.
- And unlimited teasing.
- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

I have developed a bit of a love for all Tessa Dare novels. It started a couple of years ago, but my flirtation with "Do You Want to Start a Scandal?" over Christmas simply solidified this.

The Duchess Deal is no different. It's smart and funny and seductive and I adored both Ash (lambkin, darling, sweetmeat) and Emma. It's always satisfying when the heroine is both resourceful and strong in her own right. Sure marrying Ash is a smart choice that makes her life easier, but she doesn't just fall into his arms fluttering her eyelashes and wailing at him to save her. No, she doesn't need a man, but if there's one willing to satisfy her in bed then yes please sign her up. Basically I adored her.

Dare also walks the fine line between depth to a story and super dark destruction of all romance. There's enough sass and snark between Emma and Ash that I never tipped into pitying him - he's had a really tough time of it and been treated appallingly, but it's a big case of him just needing to be shown that his ex-fiancée is a terrible person and Emma is totally amazing.

It's got a great cast of supporting characters, including a nice trio of ladies that I'm expecting to get their own novels (OH HEY COPY OF THE GOVERNESS GAME ALREADY ON MY NIGHTSTAND) and the most under appreciated and amazing butler ever. Seriously, I want Khan to appear in all novels from now on.

Basically this has cemented my love for all things Dare. It's smart, it's funny, it's super toe-curlingly-swoon-worthy, and it was exactly what I needed right now. On to the next!

Friday, 25 January 2019

Game of Thrones Re-Watch: Season 1

It's nearly April. More specifically it's nearly April 14th and that means that the time has come, at long last, to start the Thrones re-watch.
With so many characters, plots, random easter eggs etc. it's the kind of show that really rewards re-watching. Plus it's a good way to dive straight into the new season all caught up and ready to go without the moments where you inevitably have to pause the episode and go 'but who is this guy???'

Season one had an insane amount of weight on its shoulders - arguably more than the ridiculously anticipated final season. It was a hugely popular fantasy book, being made into a hugely expensive HBO show. It was breaking all the rules and doing something no one had done before. It could have gone horribly wrong, flopped, and never had any follow up seasons. But it didn't. Fans of the books loved it for the faithful adaptation it provided. Fans of good TV loved it because it is incredibly good TV. And by the end of the season it had broken all the usual rules of engagement and done what a lot of shows are too afraid to do. Audiences were hooked.

Now I came a little late to the game - I didn't have Sky so I had been mildly spoiled for the end of the season before I launched into the box set. It took a few episodes to really hook me because there's a huge amount of information to bombard the viewer with to get them up to speed; I was intrigued enough to watch, but not yet into full binge territory. And I think that still holds true even now when I'm watching the season in full for the seventh time. Sure it's good, it's filled with insanely impressive set pieces, an amazing cast, and has an engrossing quality that sucks you in. But it's a slow burn. The kind that rewards you for watching, for going back and fitting previously unnoticed pieces together. No matter how much I'm enjoying it (and believe me, I always am) it doesn't fully grab me until the end of episode 6 - my first sit up and take notice 'oh hey you're really not messing around' moment.

If you've not yet experienced Thrones, I cannot recommend it enough. It's the kind of show that rewards re-watching and you'll never experience it exactly the same way twice. Yes it's brutal and bloody, yes it has a rather ridiculous boob quota (although that calms down in later seasons), but it's about so much more than that. Even if you don't consider yourself to be a fantasy fan, I guarantee you'll enjoy this. It's about people and power and relationships. The scheming of powerhouses, the resentments that run decades deep. Ignore the White Walkers and Dragons for a minute (the first season certainly does) and you still have an incredible, compelling, sweeping saga of a story.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Review: The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

Spoilers for the books!
Publication date: September 30th 1999
Publisher: Egmont Books
Pages: 192

Dear Reader,
If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I'm afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether. The story may seem cheery at first, when the Baudelaire children spend time in the company of some interesting reptiles and a giddy uncle, but don't be fooled. If you know anything at all about the unlucky Baudelaire children, you already know that even pleasant events lead down the same road to misery.
In fact, within the pages you now hold in your hands, the three siblings endure a car accident, a terrible odor, a deadly serpent, a long knife, a large brass reading lamp, and the appearance of a person they'd hoped never to see again.
I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

These are such quick reads that after finishing the first book I launched immediately into the second. I adored the first part of "The Reptile Room" for the TV adaptation (UNCLE MONTY WE DON'T DESERVE YOU.) and I was really excited to explore it again.

There is a certain amount of suspending disbelief that's needed with both the books and show - why is Mr Poe the one in charge of these kids? Why does no one actually believe and/or listen to the Baudelaire's? etc. But put that to one side and just embrace the crazy of this world (because this place is definitely crazy) and you'll love it.

I found I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first one, which surprised me. I found that Uncle Monty has a bit more to him in the TV show, and he frustrated me more in the book, which was a huge shame. It's also the first point that it feels like it gets super dark.

Sure the first book is dark, the kids are made orphans, they're sent to live with the awful Count Olaf etc. But there's something about seeing them happy and settled at the start of this book only to have it snatched away so brutally that's really distressing. I've never really gotten over the TV show and sudden lack of Uncle Monty. They tackle really dark and difficult things for kids, and they don't pull any punches, but it works and you just need to lean into it, because it's heart breaking and wonderful.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Totally Meant to Read in 2018 and Failed to

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fabulous Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in with future topics here!

Sure, 2018 was a year of me finally climbing (slowly) out of my reading slump, but there were a whole load of books that sat forlornly on my to read pile as I kept promising I'd get to them and (repeatedly) failed to. This year, books, I promise...

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
I loved Seraphina and then loathed Shadow Scale. So I both desperately want to read and don't want to read this latest from Hartman. I'm working up to it slowly. I'll start it when it least expects me to and take it by surprise.

Onyx & Ivory by Mindee Arnett
I totally meant to read this one over the festive break but never quite got to it. It's another one that I'm super excited to read though, so it won't be long before I get there. And I totally haven't been saying that since I bought it in July...

Hunted by Meagan Spooner
So many good things have been floating around about this, and I've picked it up to start it several times, only to get side-tracked by other things. I'm probably mostly just afraid it won't live up to my high hopes.

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn
I seem to be a year behind on these... I read book two as book three was coming out, and now I'm getting to the third book just as the fourth book is released. One day I'll catch up!

The Other Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
I adore Julia Quinn's books so I have no idea why I've failed so terribly at getting on to this one. Maybe I'm just saving it for a rainy day when I really need a burst of sunshine and happy romance.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
I'd hoped to read this one before the fourth season came out, but I think I missed that window of opportunity. Alas, it will wait and tide me over when the season is over and I'm missing Claire and Jamie.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
I've finally caught up with Strange the Dreamer in the first few weeks of this year, but I still haven't caught up with everyone else and read the sequel to the dark and beautiful tale from Laini Taylor. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with the first book, and going into the second I still don't really know, but I'm excited. 

Prudence by Gail Carriger
Following the completion of The Parasol Protectorate series, I've managed to miss all of Gail's new novels. They're stacking up nicely on my to read pile for an excellent binge session soon.

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
I really loved the first book, I found the second one really weird and thoroughly baffling, and as a result the third book has just sat in perpetual anticipation for me finally finishing this trilogy.

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake
I adored the first two books, yet something didn't quite work when I picked up this third one. I think I must have been in the wrong frame of mind, so I'm waiting for the right moment to go back to it.

Now over to you, tell me some of the books you wanted to get to and didn't quite make it to in time last year!

Monday, 21 January 2019

Review: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

Publication date: September 30th 1999
Publisher: Egmont Books
Pages: 162

Dear Reader,
I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

These books completely passed me by when they first hit shelves. They got tangled up with the parodies of Harry Potter that came out around the same time, and then the film came out and I'm not a fan of Jim Carey, and before I knew it I was (apparently) an adult and had never read A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Then the TV show was released and received such rave reviews that I figured I should really at least try the show. Which I then loved. And then binged. And now it's all over and The End has happened, I'm desperate for my next fix of the Baudelaire orphans. Enter the books.

I think approaching the series like this is an unintended bonus, because I have a lot of really amazing show to picture as it's happening, and I have Patrick Warbourton's voice in my head reading it to me, which is never a bad thing.

You're introduced to the main players in this first book, and I loved going back to the beginning and meeting Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. And even, to a certain extent, Count Olaf who I both loathe and adore. It's a really dark start to what is a wonderful series.

Suffice to say I really loved the first book. It's a quick read - the writing style takes a bit of getting used to but once you're into the flow it works really well. It's dark, it's twisted, it's  unlike anything else I've read. I loved it.

The TV show is incredibly faithful to the first book, and the casting is absolutely spot on - the casting for the Baudelaire's is perfect, and don't even get me started on Neil Patrick Harris as Olaf... I love this overblown, crazy world that they create, and whilst it's dark and a little bit depressing to watch, it's a solid start to the series, sucking you in and refusing to let you go.

If you've struggled with the books, watch the show and come back to them, it's definitely worth it.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Published in the US as "The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle"

Publication date: October 1st 2018
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 528

The Rules of Blackheath
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let's begin...
Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others...

This book kept cropping up everywhere, but I never really took notice until I finally had a look at the blurb - and what a blurb! Decidedly curious, I finally picked up a copy only to find myself completely hooked and unable to put the book down again.

It's been a few days since I finished it and I'm still thinking about it, which is usually a pretty good sign of how I felt about the book. It's an incredible, intricately layered story, that feels like surely it can't work yet it really really does

I've tried explaining bits to my husband and watched his face go all screwy as he tries to make sense of it all, and honestly at times I did feel a little like that. There were parts I had to skip back over and re-read before moving on, just to make sure I had all the threads correctly before I started adding in the next bit of information.

Some of the twists were a little obvious, others sprang out at me and I had to refit all of my assumptions to cater to the new information, so it was a really great mix of being able to work some of it out and then still getting some surprises.

One of the best aspects was Aiden's body hopping from day to day. I know a few readers came unstuck over one of his hosts that he spends a good portion of the time fat shaming. I can completely understand why some people might find that upsetting and stop reading. However, I pushed through to see whether it did get better, and honestly I felt that whilst some elements maybe weren't handled as well as they could have bene, I think that overall the explanations for his initial responses really help. As Aiden hops from body to body he has very little sense of self and identity, he's a bit of a harsh critic, but he is equally harsh of a lot of his hosts. I could understand why someone who is being thrust from person to person at this rate, would struggle with sudden limitations that he isn't used to, and doesn't really have time to adjust to. I liked watching Aiden have to adapt to his differing circumstances, and I loved when he started to become less bogged down in the frustrations and limitations, and really started to work with what each host could offer to help him solve the problem.

It's a thorny, twisty, wonderful novel. I really struggled to tear myself away, and was genuinely quite freaked out at a few points reading at night. If you like dark and sometimes troubling novels, that have a complex and brilliantly plotted narrative then this is an absolute must read.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Publication date: March 28th 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 536

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 to 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've finally done it - I've caught up with the rest of the reading world and finally picked this one up off my shelves.
This book wasn't quite what I expected. I'm not entirely certain what I expected, but it wasn't this. Don't take that the wrong way, I still thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was a curious book that left me following, bewildered, in its wake as it spun out the story for me.

I will admit that I struggled to get into it. It wasn't until I hit the halfway point that I started actively wanting to pick this up and find out what happened. Before that I was mostly reading it out of habit and idle curiosity -I wasn't really gripped by or engaging with the stories and the characters. I think a lot of that is because this book takes its time. It's such a curious world that it needs that room to breathe and expand and thoroughly immerse the reader before the story itself can get underway.

It's a curious and strange story. One that doesn't allow itself to become limited, and I adored the dreams explored, and the conversations that unfurled within the dreams. 

Once the story gains momentum I found it incredibly hard to put it down, and raced through the pages trying to work out what would happen next. It's curious and wonderful and heart breaking, and whilst I could see that ending coming from some way away, it didn't make it any less powerful. It's left me desperate to start the second book, and I'm very glad that I waited until both books were out before making a start.

If you enjoyed Laini's previous tales then you'll love this. It's filled with a rare kind of magic not often seen in stories.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: New to me Authors in 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fabulous Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in with future topics here!

2018 was a bit more of a return to my old reading habits, and I tried to mix up favourite authors with some new discoveries. Some of these worked out better than others, so I've got a few new favourites to add to my auto-buy list, and a few that I probably won't try again.

Naomi Novik
Read: Uprooted
A really fantastic standalone and a great introduction to Novik's writing, I'm now really excited to find more by her and see what I've been missing over the last few years.

Deborah Harkness
Read: The All Souls Trilogy
I'm late to the party, I know, but with the arrival of the TV series these books cropped up on my radar again. I finally gave them a go, and whilst there was a bit of a wobble mid way through the trilogy, on the whole I loved these and they proved to be a highlight of my reading year.

Rebecca Ross
Read: The Queen's Rising
A truly gorgeous book, this one shot straight onto my list of favourites and I am desperately waiting for the second book in the series this spring.

McKelle George
Read: Speak Easy, Speak Love
A curious and gorgeous 1920s retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, this book just worked for me. I loved it, and I'm really curious to read more from George now.

Sandhya Menon
Read: When Dimple Met Rishi
A bright, light, wonderful young adult romance. I absolutely adored this one and I am so excited to read Menon's next novel. This just perfectly captured first love, with a really great cast of characters.

Shea Ernshaw
Read: The Wicked Deep
Lyrical, haunting, with a glorious heart to it, I adored this novel from Ernshaw. It was one of my favourite reads of 2018, and I'm really excited to see what she write's next.

Amanda Bouchet
Read: The Kingmaker Chronicles
These books had been calling to me ever since the first book came out and I read the first few pages and was suitably intrigued. I never got round to actually reading them until last year, and suddenly I couldn't get enough. I stormed through the trilogy in a matter of days, but I think the first book, "A Promise of Fire" remains my favourite.

Becky Albertalli
Read: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda
A fresh and wonderful story, I read this around the same time the film came out and loved both. I finally know why everyone has been raving about this one, and I'm not sure why it took me so long to catch up...

Tahereh Mafi
Read: Shatter Me
I'd heard so much about this series, yet I never really caught the spark. It was enough to keep me entertained for a few hours, but not enough to make me go out and buy the rest of the series.

Kevin Kwan
Read: Crazy Rich Asians
Another instance of 'oh the trailer looks good I should really read the book!' I felt mixed about this book. It got a little bit heavy towards the end, and I've resisted picking up book two, but after really enjoying the film adaptation I think I've re-found my impetus to keep reading.

There you have ten new discoveries for me - are any of these new for you? Or are you shaking your head at how long it took me to pick some of these up?

Monday, 14 January 2019

Review: A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber

Publication date: July 1st 2014
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 421

Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her dear friend, Lady Kiera Darby is in need of a safe haven. Returning to her childhood home, Kiera hopes her beloved brother Trevor and the merriment of the Hogmanay Ball will distract her. But when a caretaker is murdered and a grave is disturbed at nearby Dryburgh Abbey, Kiera is once more thrust into the cold grasp of death.
While Kiera knows that aiding in another inquiry will only further tarnish her reputation, her knowledge of anatomy could make the difference in solving the case. But agreeing to investigate means Kiera must deal with the complicated emotions aroused in her by inquiry agent Sebastian Gage.
When Gage arrives, he reveals that the incident at the Abbey was not the first—some fiend is digging up old bones and holding them for ransom. Now Kiera and Gage must catch the grave robber and put the case to rest…before another victim winds up six feet under.

The first book in this series completely captivated me - "The Anatomist's Wife" had all the suspense, intrigue, and isolation that I adore in my murder mystery books. Yet the follow up "Mortal Arts" left a lot to be desired and I found myself putting off reading this third book for quite some time, fearing that it wouldn't quite follow through on the promise of that beautiful first book. Sadly, I was right.

Make no mistake, this is still an enjoyable read, and I'm glad to be back in the series and looking forward to continuing it. However there are still a lot of problems that marred my enjoyment. The first is the modern language. There are some places where the language is spot on, and then others where modern phrases and colloquialisms slip in, throwing me out of the story and leaving me frustrated. One of my biggest peeves is a historical novel that can't get the period right.

Secondly, one of my favourite things when reading a whodunnit, is to be able to pick up the breadcrumbs the author leaves and try to puzzle out the mystery myself. Deanna Raybourn is a truly excellent example of an author who gives you the pieces, but doesn't make it blindingly obvious, leaving you to experience a truly thrilling mystery. However I'm finding more and more with Huber's books that the trail of crumbs is thrown haphazardly around, with no real clues just a load of false starts, and then a twist pulled out of thin air in the last fifty pages that you were never able to predict because the set up wasn't there. If there's no real set up then there isn't a payoff, which just leads to frustration all round.

It's still an enjoyable read. Huber creates suspense and thrills like you wouldn't believe, and I adore watching a lot of it play out. I also love her characters. Yes, Kiera can be a little frustrating, but I love the relationships she has with her siblings, how she's finding herself and working herself out at last, and her relationship with Gage is a sight to behold.

So it was an enjoyable read, but a little too frustrating to tip it into one of the higher star ratings. However I'll definitely be picking up the fourth book soon to see where Kiera and Gage end up next.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Publication date: April 3rd 2018
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 455

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

I had heard so much in the run up to reading this, that I couldn't wait to start reading, but honestly, whilst there was a lot that was really important and good about this book, it was also a bit of a mess.

Let's start with the good. The representation. That cover. The bad ass and wonderful ladies at the heart of this story, who are complex and flawed, and who work their issues out. The sexualities represented, the long hard look at the institutionalized racism, how whip smart and clever Jane is and plays with the expectations of those around her. This book had a huge amount going for it, and was a super important read - one that I heartily recommend for all of the above.

But (you knew there was a but coming) the plot was a shambles. No pun intended.
The first third is great, it carries on at a fair clip, and introduces the reader to the world and the main players. Then everything goes a little wrong and the rest of the novel basically wanders around in lost circles, never really going anywhere, becoming increasingly frustrating to read, and essentially ambles until it can set up the second novel in the final forty odd pages. It completely loses its way, and as a result loses my interest, to the point that I'm not sure whether I want to pick up the second book.

I wanted to love it. As I've said above there was an awful lot to love. But it felt like three different books smushed together - the first third, the rest of the story, and then the story being told in the letter excerpts at the start of each chapter, which felt like a different story entirely. As a result it was just left feeling messy and frustrating, despite everything it had going for it to start.