Thursday, 28 December 2017

Bookish New Year Resolutions

I'm trying something a bit different with this post. I'm stepping outside my comfort zone of book reviews, and into the murky waters of 'New Year Resolutions'. I'm not a resolution maker, but I do like a good list. So this year, I plan on making some bookish related resolutions. Something achievable other than just my usual 'goodreads challenge'. So here goes:

  •  I know I've just said 'other than my usual goodreads challenge' BUT my main goal is still to read 100 books in 2018. There's something deeply satisfying about reading, and making the time to read, that many books in one year. It opens up so many books to me.
  • I will read at least 5 books outside of my normal genre. My normal genre is fantasy, YA, science fiction and historical fiction. This still leaves a large number of options open to me, and ideally I'd like to try something really outside my comfort zone. I'm hoping that by doing so I can find some really good new reads. Read: killman creek (thriller), the child finder (thriller)
  • I will read at least 5 books on my TBR long list on Goodreads. These are books that are more than 1000 pages, that have been sat in my TBR shelf for a long time, and that I really want to read but never seem to find the time or I find too intimidating.
  • I will get my TBR list below 150. I'm ashamed to say I have over 250 books on my TBR list at the moment. These are books I physically own, either on my kindle or on my bookshelf, and have probably been meaning to read for a long time. I will also not purchase any more books until I am under this amount.
  • I will read and donate at least half of all the physical books I currently own. This is for my own sanity and clutter free dreams.
  • I will read at least 12 'classic' books that I have not previously read before. 'Classic' books are those as defined on my Goodreads shelf under 'classics'. Read: Twelfth Night, The Importance of Being Earnest
  • I want to revisit at least 5 old favourite books. These are the books that made me fall in love with reading, and that I always feel guilty about returning to because I feel I should be reading ARCs instead. Read: Northern Kights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass

And that's all of them. A lot of them link into each other, making the challenges helpful to each other. I'm really desperate to get my TBR list down, but I do fall into the trap of reading old favourites for pleasure. But sometimes, I find a good old favourite comforting. Like revisiting an old friend.

I'll try to update this as 2018 trundles along.

Book Review: Close To Home by Cara Hunter

Close To Home follows Detective Inspector Adam Fawley and his search for missing 8 year old Daisy. As is often the case, the kidnapper may be closer to home than everyone thinks, and Adam is tasked with finding out who lying.

Adam Fawley is a dynamic leading man. He's charismatic, likable and obviously good at his job. I liked that. Too many times in novels like this we see police officers who are so incompetent its a miracle they even catch the suspects. I was happy to see this was not the case in this book.

The other characters in this were all a little annoying and unlikable. Daisy's mother doesn't seem to care that her daughter's gone missing, and her father is more concerned with 'keeping up appearances' than actually trying to find his child. As the story continues, we see why the parents are acting like this, and the reasoning behind their behaviors is explained well - but I just still didn't like them. As we see Daisy's backstory unfold and we see a precocious intelligent little girl, I couldn't even bring up any feelings for her. I had no sympathy for any of them, and that made it difficult for me to care.

The story itself is also a little all over the place with flashbacks to back fill and flesh out the main characters and develop their history and significance to the case. This meant the plot jumped around at times, and disrupted the flow of the story. I'm not a fan of this type of story telling personally. I like a more linear approach. I also would have appreciated less of the police reports which seemed to reiterate or repeat information the reader already knew, making the plot a little too long winded.

Look, I'm very picky with my contemporary thrillers. I like something a little out of the ordinary, and something that's going to really shock and surprise me. Unfortunately, I think this subject matter is very common at the moment, with a flood of novels relating to missing children etc. and I think in some parts the novel suffers because of this. I didn't find it particularly original or griping enough at all - and the ending requires a large amount of suspension in belief, and made no real sense to me.

Unfortunately not for me.

Close To Home is available to purchase now from: Amazon


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Book Review: The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden

Well this was truly magical to read. I loved the previous novel in this series, The Bear and the Nightingale, and had high hopes for the follow up. I was not disappointed. Everything I loved from the first novel - the atmospheric setting of medieval Russia, the richness and depth of characters, and a strong background rooted in Russian folklore were developed and expanded upon to make one of the best reads of the year.

The Girl in the Tower continues to follow Vasya, as she struggles to find herself now she's free from her strict father and the rules she has been made to follow. Above all else she wants freedom. She wants to travel the world with Solovey, her companion horse, and taste the feel of adventure. But the constrictions of her time, and the imminent dangers that face her family in Moscow - particularly her sister Olga and brother Sasha, bring her crashing back to face her responsibilities. The only way to taste the freedom she longs for is to disguise herself as a boy, and join her brother in the hunt for men determined to topple the Grand Prince of Moscow from rule.

Mixed in among the politics of a developing nation, we have a story steeped in Russian folklore. The domovoi and creatures of Midnight seen in the previous novel return, and of course we have Morozko - frost demon and Winter king. Slayer of human girl's hearts, and Vasya's lover. Although labeling him this makes it seem everything is black and white, when it's far more complicated than that. Morozko is deeply conflicted in his feelings for Vasya. He is immortal, and should be unable to feel such things as love. Yet he struggles to let her go and lead the life he wants her to live. He's grown attached to things that should be forbidden to him. He's got so much emotional depth as a character, even though his time with Vasya is often so fleeting and void of conversation. Honestly, I think I'm a little bit in love.

Vasya has also grown so much as a character since we first saw her in The Bear and the Nightingale, and it's great to see her develop slowly. It's almost as if I've grown up with her, and faced these troubles by her side. She's determined to rule her own life, not needing anyone and anything to do what she wants. Her relationship with her older siblings Olga and Sasha has also developed, now that she's meeting them for the first time as an adult. She's challenging them on an intellectual level, yet she loves them deeply - to the point where she would sacrifice her happiness and freedom to keep them safe. She's not perfect either. She's rash, and bullish - at one point taking someone's choice out of their hands when it is not her decision to make. She's refreshing and wonderful.

Father Konstantin also returns - after being banished by Vasya in the previous novel, although he is woefully missing from most of the novel. I enjoy the complexity of his character - his deeply ingrained belief in his faith, yet with a love/hate of Vasya and a yearning to belong.

The plot itself to contain all these wonderful characters is great. It's well paced, as we travel with Vasya and Solovey on their journeys around Russia and then onto Moscow with Sasha, and the plot developments largely left me surprised. There's horse races, magic and little girls in danger. Unlike the previous book, I also thought the ending was well defined and didn't end abruptly. I was satisfied (and sad).

Honestly, I enjoyed this immeasurably, and I cannot wait for the final book - and bringing Vasya home.

The Girl in the Tower is available to purchase now from: Amazon

 - 5 stars

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Book Review - The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries by Mimi Matthews

The Pug Who Bit Napoleon takes a unique look into 18th and 19th century European history, by looking at the pets and other animals associated with the people of the time. From Fortune, the pug belonging to Napoleon's new bride, to Looty, the stolen Pekingese presented to Victoria on the sacking of China.

As I may have mentioned once (or twice), I'm the proud owner of a miniature dachshund named Monty. Because of this, I have a keen interest at the moment in anything dog related - and I really enjoyed the sections relating to dogs in this. Relatively short, I managed to read it in one afternoon, I particularly enjoyed reading about the different personalities of the dogs and the fondness often (although not always) shown by their owners. Dog really has been man's best friend for a long time.

The chapters on Fortune were my favorite. I'm a sucker for French history, and I'd never heard of Fortune's tale before and how he was used as a 'spy' during the revolution. The research was well thought thought in this regard, and I could tell that Mimi Matthews really enjoyed regaling Fortune's exploits with Napoleon. I also enjoyed the sections on the bloodhounds used in the Jack the Ripper case and the introduction to rabies that's mentioned near the end when discussing foxes as pets. It's actually got me interested in researching more on the rabies virus.

I was less enthralled by the later sections of the book, which featured birds, horses and smaller mammals (and rather randomly, sharks). I would have preferred more time with the various dogs and their owners as I felt the research done here was not as strong, and it just wasn't as interesting.

I also wasn't fond of the authors use of other writers texts that make up good chunks of the chapters. I felt it took away some of the author's credibility by using up half of the book with other people's work - especially as it was so short.

Started strong, but too short and not enough dog content for my liking. However, a rather unique look at an area of history I like to read about.

 - 3 stars

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Book Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

In The Last Hours we find ourselves in the village of Melcombe, Dorset 1348. The Black Death has taken Britain, and all - old or young, rich or poor, are subject to its whim. Many believe it is a curse sent from God, but Lady Anne has other ideas. Raised by nuns, she has the foresight that could save her household - by barring the door to the sick and isolating them from everyone else. But how long can the survivors stay isolated when food stock dwindles and tempers fray?

This is such a well researched novel, of an extremely compelling period in history. The author has clearly done her homework and this shines through. It's incredibly detailed in its description of the infrastructure and hierarchy present at this time, from the gentry to the working serfs - which is invaluable information as the story progresses. It has left me desperately seeking out more information with regards to this part of British history I have little previous experience of.

The characters are also wonderfully complex. Lady Anne. our leading lady, defies her station and her upbringing to befriend the serfs of her lands - teaching them to read and treating them as something other than slaves. Because of this they have a deep sense of loyal towards her, and she has a deeper understand of their plight. This leads to Lady Anne having an innate need to protect them and help them when the plague comes, bringing them into her fold within her home. Eleanor her daughter. by comparison is volatile and self centered. Similar in nature to her father, a brute who Lady Anne does not love or respect. As the story progresses we see Eleanor descend into madness as a mirror to Lady Anne's unbreakable will to survive.

This is really an intimate look at an almost apocalyptic society, as social constraints fall away within such a confined space. Paranoia and mistrust run rampant, and we see these characters forced to come to terms with each other. and share everything they have. The tension at times is palpable. I enjoyed the section where a 'party' goes out beyond the walls of their sanctuary in search of other survivors and food, as the serfs realise that such a catastrophe could actually lead to their freedom. It was a real turning point in the novel.

My only real issue with this was the pacing. It was incredibly slow at times, and as such it took me a long time to get through this as I got distracted and yearned for a little 'action'. At times I was desperate to know what was going on outside of the walls out characters were confined by, and I struggled to keep reading. This is at heart a character novel. The characters define this world and compel the story along. I just wish the editing at times could have been a bit more cut throat.

 - 3 stars

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Book Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

There are hints of many classic novels in this, including The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Prydain series, with its depiction of a plucky young hero and a trusted sidekick. But Weylyn is slightly different from these characters, as Weylyn can control the weather. And bring plants back to life. And talk to animals. From the moment he was born, sprinkling the doctor with snow, he's been special. After the accidental death of his parents, Weylyn is left to survive with a pack of wolves. And then he meets Mary.

This reads a bit like a modern day fairy tale. It's full of magic, wonder and adventure. I liked the descriptions of the various weather events, ranging from snowstorms and rain, and I felt the magical aspects of the tale were woven together well into the story. It never felt overly 'fantasy', and kept itself grounded in realism.

The characters Weylyn meets are vastly varied - including a pack of wolves and a talking pig. However, I felt aside from Mary, they were rather woefully underdeveloped with no depth or dimension to them. I also didn't really connect with Weylyn himself. Perhaps this is because we don't hear from him directly, as the story is told from these characters he comes into contact with rather than himself. I would have preferred to have had a few chapters from Weylyn's perspective to gain some kind of emotional attachment to him, and get to know him better. However, that said I like the interesting way the author told the story through these 'bystanders' as opposed to the main character - it showed the story in a rather unique way. Perhaps this would have worked better if there were fewer narrators which were more 'fleshed out'.

I also found the plot a little lacking in direction. Although we see, essentially, Wenlyn on a journey to self-acceptance and a 'home' to call his own, I found myself wondering - what's the point?

A short read, that would have been better if longer and the characters more developed. But I liked the ideas, the imagination, and the memories it invoked.

 - 2.5 stars rounded up to 3

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Book Review: These Violent Delights by Victoria Namkung

There's no denying that in the current climate, this book serves a purpose. It's insightful, and promotes an area of abuse and sexual assault that is often swept under the carpet. These Violent Delights follows four women: a journalist and three victims of abuse from a former private school teacher, and their reactions following the exposure and subsequent re-exploration of their past.

The subject of  sexual abuse is sensitively approached, and clearly researched well. All the women are from different social backgrounds (although granted, they're privileged enough to go to a private school) to cover the issue that sexual assault can affect anyone and everyone. The text itself is hard-hitting and to the point. Some of the scenes where the women are retelling what happened to them is uncomfortable to read. It also doesn't shy away from the psychological damage this abuse has caused these women, and how they have each dealt with their issues in their own way - whether it be turning to drugs, denial, or religion. I would have liked to have seen some more diversity in the characters however. Yes, they come from different walks of life - but they're all middle-class, white or mixed race (Asian/American).

I also didn't adjust well to the writing style. At times I found it clinical, with an almost secondhand feel to it in its retelling of the story. The characters felt devoid of any deeper affectional behaviour, and there's not much provided to flesh out their backstories that could make me feel any attachment towards them - aside from feeling sorry for what had happened to them. In particular, I didn't care for Jane's side story with her former co-worker. It felt very out of place and didn't really fit with the overall feel of the book- although I perhaps get the meaning behind it, offering up a 'normal' relationship as a parallel to the 'relationship' the girls had with their teacher.

I understand the importance of telling this kind of story, and can grasp that the author wrote this with the best of intentions. But unfortunately this just didn't work for me because of my disinterest in the main characters.

 - 3 stars

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Book Review: The November Girl by Lydia Kang

What starts as an unusual romance develops into something wild and untamed in this unique tale of a girl, a boy, and the November storms. Hector is running from his home life, ending up on the deserted Isle Royale, when he meets Anda - born of the lake and the maker of November storms. Known as the November Witch, she's more inhuman than mortal. But Hector's made from violence too, and somehow the two collide - but Anda cannot hide from her fate forever.

This was so atmospheric. The prose really transported me into the Autumnal stormy weather, and the descriptions of the lake and the storms in particular were wonderful as we are transported to the scene of a shipwreck through Anda's eyes. A lot of the plot takes place on the water, and my favourite scene involves Anda and Hector traversing the lake to an old shipwreck where 'Mother' makes her presence known. The Isle Royale itself is haunting in it's stillness and devoid of life - which I felt echoed Hector's personality as a boy on the verge of adulthood who's deeply lonely and without any outlets for his pain.

Anda as the other main character is just as complex and unique. Wild yet giving. naive yet dangerous, a creature of chaos who is constantly struggling with her 'true nature'. She's a character quite unlike any I've seen before. Hector is her companion completely in this respect too. Hurt by a past too painful to confront, damaged and angry like Anda - she can see herself reflected in him. Their relationship is different to a typical 'romance' too. Anda is not out to be 'rescued' by Hector, although she does try to suppress the murderous side of her nature for him (understandable). She knows what she is, and what she can do. There's an obvious spark between them on first meeting, which felt natural as the story progressed.

The plot is possibly slow to start, as we see Hector struggle to thrive on the island, and there's lots of time spent dithering about food and fishing and tip toeing around each other. I found myself wanting Anda and Hector to interact quicker than they did, to the point where I was getting frustrated - but in reality I think this was just a reflection on their personalities. One has never interacted with humans before (other than her father), and the other is afraid too. As the story progressed, I found myself enjoying the story more.

I actually think that Hector's past is addressed relatively sensitively. It's never thrust on the reader, rather we are given glimpses of what happened to Hector as he's allowed to tell his story in his own way to Anda. The subject matter is also dealt with delicately, and is rather an extension of why Hector behaves the way he does, rather than let it define his character.

I thought the ending was very fitting for the story, and works perfectly as a stand alone novel. A wonderful read, perfect for Autumn, and fans of magical realism with a splash of winter storms.

 - 4 stars

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Book Review - This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

If your father was responsible for the apocalypse would you try to set it right? That's the dilemma Catarina faces when a mysterious man shows up at her cabin after a virus wiped out most of humanity, and drove the rest underground, two years ago. But there's more to Cole than meets the eye - genetically enhanced to protect, he arrives to guide Catarina towards the cure they've all been searching for, and she's the key.

The writing for this was wonderfully descriptive, and the overall plot and pacing was good. I never felt bored, or feel the need to skip text to get into the action - the action was pretty much continuous, and I didn't want to stop reading.The world building is also done well, and fully explores the world in which the characters inhabit. However a downside to this was that I wanted to send more time with Catarina on her own in the world, especially when we first meet her. More time spent exploring the horrors that the people left behind must face, and the sacrifices they make, would have helped to better understand the virus itself, and why everyone is so afraid of it. I feel I could have understood the former Neurosurgeon and his family more, and perhaps had more sympathy for them, if I had a better understand of what they'd been through. As it was, I just really wanted Catarina to punish them, and I felt a little let down by her actions.

Aside from this, I liked Catarina as a main character. She's intelligent yet insecure about her abilities, brave yet still reckless and foolhardy. I would have liked to have seen her portrayed in the eyes of the other main characters as someone who can look after themselves though. Too often I've seen these YA protagonists portrayed as fragile young women who need protecting. I want more badass female characters who don't need wrapping up in cotton wool. However, that said I did enjoy her early interactions with Cole, and the playful too-ing and fro-ing of their relationship with some obvious chemistry. This later evolved into something a little forced in my opinion, and it lost the early charm that the author had managed to develop as soon as their feelings progressed.

I would have liked to have seen more interaction with Agnes, her friend first introduced early on. She's quickly dropped as soon as Cole arrives, and barely mentioned again aside from a few offhand comments about her comms link. It felt a bit like she had served her purpose to the early plot, and was quickly left without any further thought until near the end.

However, I did like the moral ambiguity that we see with all the characters throughout the novel, especially with Catarina's father Lachlan. Often the characters are put into morally questionable situations and must decide what course to take. Questions such as: to save millions, is it ok to let a few suffer? What would you do to survive?

The most unique aspect of this book was the inclusion of DNA and technology as the driving factor behind the virus, and humanities growing reliance on it to maintain all aspects of their life. Genetically modified food which tastes like nothing unless an app is downloaded. Apps that allow a person to alter their sight, make them fast, strong. Although sometimes the jargon got in the way of the story at times, I appreciated it for the unique quality it brought to the text.

The ending left me feeling a little bit left down. Not giving anything away, I had very mixed feelings with regards to how the novel developed and I felt I invested a lot of my time in a character that ultimately turned into something else entirely. I thought it was a little bit like taking the easy way out.

That said, this is still a decent science fiction YA novel, and I'd read the sequel.

 - 3.5 stars (rounded up)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Book Review - Fire Lines by Cara Thurlbourn

Disgraced by her father's rebellion against The One City, Emi and her mother have been banished to the impoverished Red Quarter. Here they are subjected to nightly raids by ruthless Cadet's in search for anything magical - outlawed since the fall of the cities outside the walls of The One City. But Emi has a secret. She's magic. When her secret is exposed, she must leave everyone she loves behind in search of the truth that could save her family. But can Emi really live up to her destiny beyond the walls?

This started off really well. The world building is good - early on we get a story explaining a little of the history and backstory of the world in which the characters inhibit, and it's detailed and well described. It also helps set up Emi's predicament, and the harsh reality in which she lives. I really enjoyed the opening chapters as they were filled with an overlying tension and a strong sense of danger as Emi really struggles to get her magic under control. I was also fond of the characters, and relationships that were formed between Emi and the other Red Quarter inhabitants, especially Hedge.

The execution scene we see early on is also great. It almost felt like there was a gradual build up of emotion among the witnesses that leads to the inevitable outcome. I had high hopes at this point that this would be a really good novel.

However. I felt after this point everything started to unravel. I know it's a fantasy novel, but the story started to take a really unbelievable turn. The 'friend' of Emi's from the Gold Quarter, Tsam, has a rushed and rather far-fetched back story that Emi just believes and accepts blindly. He's woefully underdeveloped at the point of his reveal, and because of this I wasn't interested or surprised. Emi's past is also hurriedly explained, and again, accepted without question even though it's slightly ridiculous.

 Then the author takes this moment to remove Emi from this wonderfully described city and plonk her into the unknown, with a bunch of new characters. I was desperate for more time within the city walls, and further develop the relationships established here. Unfortunately, these new characters are really annoying and one dimensional. All of them.

I lost interest after about 60%. I was so disappointed after such a promising start, but Cara Thurlbourn has proven she's more than capable of building a wonderful fantasy world. I'll look out for future novels.

 - 3 stars for the promising start, 2 stars for the rest

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Book Review - Gather The Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Every summer the girls run wild.

Set on an isolated island, Gather the Daughter follows a series of girls on the verge of their 'fruition', where for one last summer they'll be allowed to roam free without any boundaries or rules before marrying and becoming mothers. The island follows strict rules, or 'shan't nots' which must be obeyed, whereby women must submit to fathers, and later husbands. There also appears to be no technology, or contact with people from outside the island, known as the 'wastelands'. However, one girl witnesses something during this summer that will unravel the truth on the island, and things will never be the same.

This was disturbing, confusing and unsettling in equal measures. The plot hints at things rather than describing them explicitly, meaning the reader has to put the mysteries of the island together themselves through a series of flashbacks and current events  from the older girls narratives. I enjoyed Vanessa and Janeys narratives the most. Vanessa, as a privileged child of a wanderer has access to books and information the other girls don't. As such, she plays a pivotal role in unlocking the islands myseries, and it's the snippets of information she overhears from her father talk that I was most interested to read. I also enjoyed Janey. Her struggle with independence from the islanders, and her fight to prove the truth was endearing. I also really enjoyed her relationship with younger sister Mary. She acts more of a mother to her, and the other younger children, than their biological mothers.

Although I enjoyed the ending, I was left a little disappointed that more things weren't explained. I left the story feeling just as confused and lacking in information as i was from the start. Some explanations of why he island was like it was, and why the first wanderers came to the island would have been helpful to understand the reasoning behind their actions. I never really got any answered to any of my questions, and because of this I just can't rate it any higher.

 - 3 stars

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Book Review - A Skinful of Shadows by Francis Hardinge

I loved The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, and had high hopes for her next offering. I wasn't disappointed. This was the perfect blend of history, magical realism and dark fantasy.

Set in the early days of the English Civil War, Makepeace has been raised by her mother to fear and fight off the dead who want to inhabit her body. When events force her to leave her home and live with her powerful father's family, Makepeace must confront the shadows that lurk in the dark and learn more about her 'inheritance' in order to retain her freedom.

I loved the background of Puritan England. Frances Hardinge paints a vivid picture of this time period, and I really felt part of the story. I never felt at a disadvantage for knowing little about this historical period because everything is explained so well - although I'm sure I would have gained even more from the text if I knew more about King Charles I. There also wasn't extensive details about various battles or sieges aside from what is integral to the plot itself - which allowed me to really just enjoy the story, and stopped it from getting bogged down in facts.

The plot itself starts out a little slow. I wasn't fond of Makepeace's mother, and I found the possessions in the early sections confusing. With no backstory yet developed for Makepeace's family, her mother comes across as extremely strict and almost zealous in her religious fervour without really having a reason behind it. Thankfully, these chapters are swift to get through, and the rest of the story is well paced and carries a good 'adventure' feel to it. The magical realism aspect is well explained, with a good level of mysticism and air of dark fantasy. The Fellmottes are great villains, and the opportunity to have a family completely devoted to living forever through their absolute belief in what they call 'The Inheritance' is wonderful. It's such a unique concept, and I loved it.

Makepeace is great. She's almost a shadow herself in the beginning, an almost parallel to the ghosts who wish to inhabit her. Yet we see as she sets out to save her companions, and with each subsequent possession, how much she grows as a character, and develops an aspect of each character she possesses. She's deeply kind, loyal and at heart a just individual. Unlike James, she doesn't try to better herself in front of her Elders, nor is she swayed by the enticement of power. She's also practical. Whereas James has numerous ideas to escape the ancestral home on discovering her families secrets, she's the voice of reason.

I didn't really warm to James. Aside from when we first meet him, and he rescues Makepeace he comes across as a 'jack the lad'. Easily swayed and taken in, he also readily drops Makepace when a better offer comes along - leaving her behind to face the music.

The story itself is well developed, and well concluded. I felt Makepeace really comes full circle, and I was left feeling satisfied and yearning for more.. Hardinge really is shining at the moment. I don't know anyone who quite blends fantasy and history together quite like she does.

 - 4 stars

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Book Review - Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me, Bad Me had me interested from the first line, and delivered a suitably thrilling look into the mind, and motives, of a child left behind after the killings have stopped.

Milly is the daughter of a serial killer. A serial killer that she's helped to put away. Given a fresh start away from the past, and thrown into a normal family life, Milly hopes to move forward and leave her demons behind her. However, when her new family life begins to fall apart behind closed doors, will Milly be able to keep her bad side in check? Or is she more like her mother than she'd like to admit?

I enjoyed the plot for this. We see Milly go from the early days away from her mother with a middle class foster family, up to and beyond her mother's trial for the murder of several children. As the story develops we see more of Milly's background and childhood, and begin to understand who she is, and why she behaves the way she does. The murders are, thankfully, left largely to the imagination, but I really felt the claustrophobia Milly must have experienced while living with her mother, and the desperation that resulted in her going to the police. At times these flashbacks were quite intense, and I admit I had to put the book down several times to catch my breath. It wasn't an easy read.

The story is told from Milly's point of view, as if we the reader are inside her head. Because of this, the writing can be difficult to get into with short staccato sentences. This sometimes made the story jumpy and confusing - much like Milly's frame of mind, and at times I found this hard to wade through - although I felt it added to the overall feel of the story. We also only see the other characters from Milly's perspective, who at best could be described as an unreliable narrator. Milly's mother is never properly introduced, and we only see flashes of her in Milly's nightmares and flashbacks. This made the mother appear as very enigmatic, and perhaps even more intimidating.Her total control of Milly goes above and beyond. We also never get any insight into what the other characters are really feeling, which I might have appreciated - although I admit this is definitely Milly's tale to tell. 

Milly really carried the story well for me. As a character she's vulnerable and yearning for love, yet her manipulation of her foster family, especially her foster mother, is delicious. It's the off-hand comments and subtle remarks that lead her family to doubt themselves that show she's really coming into her own. The student becoming the master. The slow unravelling of her foster family's life, and Milly at the heart of it, begs the question - is Milly the puppet or the puppet master? I thought this was wonderfully done.

Phoebe, her foster sister, is another great character. In some ways she's Milly's twin - yearning for the love of her mother, yet not receiving it in the way she craves. Acting out, bullying Milly at school, reflects her insecurities with her home life - and you can see the jealousy she has with regards to Milly muscling in on her taken-for-granted family time.

The ending I found strong. The build up to it paid off in such a way that I knew something was going to happen, but not quite what and when. The consequences of actions pans out perfectly.

A great thriller, that I feel has rightly been called one of the best this year.

 - 4 stars

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Book Review - The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook

A book with a lot of potential, with plenty of plot twist and turns, that unfortunately left me a little bit lacking.

The Hanging Girl opens on Skye, a girl who uses her acute observation skills to 'read' her fellow students and give tarot card predictions. Because of this 'gift', she's drawn into an uneasy game with the mysterious Pluto that involves kidnapping one of her school colleagues, the daughter of a Judge running for office. However, the kidnapping doesn't quite go to plan, and we see Skye trying to deal with the aftermath as things start to spin widely out of control as the police start to question her 'gift'.

Unfortunately, I'm somewhat restricted in what I can write in this review without giving too much of the twists away. The plot itself I found rather slow. For a good 60% of the novel, all we see is Skye trying to deal with the kidnapping and the immediately aftermath with 'Pluto', and her inner turmoil regarding the police scrutiny she's placed under. I found the first plot twist clever. I hadn't anticipated it, and found it was a different route for the typical 'mystery' story to go down. However, the further plot twists come a little too late, as so much of the story needs to be wrapped up and concluded in a short space of time. Although the story kept me interested enough for me to continue reading, the ending felt rushed, and a little underwhelming. I felt it would have been better to spread these plot twists throughout the book, to give us time to process them instead of jumping onto the next plot twist so quickly. I also think more of the novel should have been spent on the aftermath of the kidnapping going wrong as apposed to the build up the kidnapping.

I also found myself having to suspend my disbelief with regards to the plot line rather frequently. The police just seem to accept that Skye and her mother have these 'visions' without question, and repeatedly go along with it. I found it hard to believe that a competent police department would involve, or be allowed to involve, an 18 year old girl in a high profile investigation (at one point they mention bringing in the FBI).

I found Skye highly irritating as a main character. She repeatedly lies and lies to the police, digging herself into a deeper hole, yet I felt the author was trying to illicit some sympathy for her when the kidnapping goes wrong. At no point is she really sorry about what happens (she even states that she's not sad about what happens), but rather she's only concerned about herself and what could happen to her. For this reason, I just couldn't find any emotional attachment to Skye. In fact, I wanted her to get her comeuppance.

Skye's mother is probably the worst character however. At first she's merely deeply annoying - calling the media when Skye has her 'visions' which could potentially interfere with the investigation, and milking the media attention for money. However., by the end I thought she may redeem herself by coming across as a loving mother. She didn't.

Skye's relationship with her best friend Drew felt forced. At one point they have an argument about moving to New York, but I felt there wasn't much emotional involvement between the two. At most I felt sorry for Drew having such an awful best friend. She repeatedly tries to open Skye up and make her discuss her problems, but Skye just shoots her down.

Overall, I could see the potential here. The author tries to move away from the typical 'mystery' novel, with a missing girl. The last third of the book was definitely an improvement on the beginning, however I felt it was a bit little too late for it to truly redeem itself.

 - 3 Stars

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Book Review - The Lost Village by Neil Spring

The perfect accompaniment to a chilly October evening, The Lost Village blends together fact and fiction to form a creepy tale filled with ghosts and long-forgotten memories.

Most of the action is centered on the 'lost village' of Imber. Found on the Salisbury Plains, many years ago soldiers forced the inhabitants out to use it as a military base in the first World War. Once a year the inhabitants are allowed back to visit former loved ones buried in the churchyard. However, mysterious ghostly sightings that have driven the soldiers mad, and rumors of the church bells ringing on their own have started to occur in Imber, with many inhabitants claiming it's the former inhabitants rearing up to reclaim their forgotten village. Only Harry Price and his former assistant Sarah Grey can unravel the truth. Is this an elaborate hoax? Or the work of the undead?

After a brief prologue involving an elderly Sarah and a ghostly visitation, we jump straight into the action with a younger Sarah investigating the Brixton picture house, which has a notorious reputation for ghost sightings. I found myself feeling as though I was there with Sarah as she explores the dark rows of seats, and there's an almost palpable tension created as she realises that the 'ghost light', usually left on by the last employee to leave on an evening, is switched off. This opening scene was a great  introduction to the overall feel for the rest of the novel, which was deeply atmospheric, creepy and filled with paranormal activity.

The plot itself, where we find Harry and Sarah in Imber, is fast paced, with plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end. Just when I thought I'd figured something out or solved a mystery, the author threw something unexpected in, which kept me on my toes and allowed me to really enjoy this. It's not often I'm taken by surprise by a story-line, and I was pleasantly surprised. I also liked how the plot all linked together - from the picture house to Imber and the elderly Sarah we see at the beginning. It was cleverly done, and showed that all aspects of the story had a purpose and were thoughtfully considered.

I loved the relationship between Harry and Sarah, which was complex and almost love/hate. It's acutely apparent that Sarah is in love with Harry, but regrets from her past prevent her from acting on this. She also knows just how deeply under Harry's spell she is, and hates herself for it. I loved that aspect of her character. I also liked the fact that the author does not try to present Sarah as anything other than what she is - she feels like a 'proper' person from her time period. There's no 'modern' ideologies, which is great, and nothing about her feels forced.  

Harry is more complicated a character. As we only see things from Sarah's perspective, it's hard to get a grasp on who he really is and how he feels about Sarah. He often comes across as quite abrasive, and short with people who do not share is opinion. At one point in the story he's also appears to complete drop his own perspectives about the paranormal after one particular incident, which felt a bit out of place for him - especially as Sarah is convinced that it's a hoax. 

My main issue with Sarah and Harry was that I felt there wasn't any proper closure between the two characters at the end. I wanted the two of them to talk about their past together, which never happened - and so much was left unspoken that I was a little bit disappointed at the potential that was missed there.

However, I found this an exceptionally well written tale with a great amount of atmospheric detail that kept me enthralled to the end.

The Lost Village will be available to purchase from 19th October.

 - 4 stars

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Book Review - The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things...

I ended up really, really enjoying this. The Last Namsara follows Asha - the daughter of the dragon king of Firgaard, as she tries to atone for her sins of the past and embrace the role of dragon slayer, warrior and weapon. The Iskari. Betrothed to the high commander, trapped in a cycle of death and hate from all around her, when she's offered the chance of freedom by destroying the First Dragon Kozu, Asha seizes the opportunity. Forming an unlikely bond with her commander's slave, Asha comes face to face with the beast that haunts her dreams, and uncovers some truths along the way.

At first glance this seems like a straight forward fantasy YA novel with dragons, but on reading it's so much more than that. At the heart it's about a girl overcoming the beliefs and prejudices instilled in her by her father, and a fight for the rights of the slaves and people of her county. It's really about freedom.

Interlaced with this plot is a magical world and a mythology that is well crafted and detailed. The idea that speaking old stories can draw dragons and power to the wielder is a rather unique and a wonderful idea. I loved the interjections of the old stories throughout the text which interweave and support the main story. They felt almost lyrical in their presentation, and I was actually craving for more of them. The dragons themselves also have wonderful personalities, and I really felt a bond with them - especially Shadow. Asha's relationship with them is also great to see unfold - from her initial mistrust (mutual) and her growing love and respect for them. I did cry at one point.

Asha, The Iskari, was a wonderful main character. She's feisty, and powerful yet vulnerable to the men who ultimately hold her in their power. It's her journey that really makes her character so strong however. She starts the novel as a hated warrior, feared by all with no love for anything besides her brother and cousin. She has no respect for the dragons or slaves, yet as we progress we see her begin to warm to others and realize that she might have more in common with these people and creatures than she first thinks.

Jarek is a wonderfully mean character. He's loathsome, mean spirited and resentful with a lust for power and domination over Asha. This is displayed perfectly in the passages about Asha's wedding gown, which Jarek has designed so that she can't get out of it herself and must resort to having someone else do it for her - an ultimate act of submission and humiliation for Asha.

I felt the only weak link in the story was Asha's love interest. It starts out strong, with a 'forbidden love' element that builds slowly, but as the story progresses it becomes a little bit cumbersome to the plot and slows down the pace as we spend time with Asha mooning over him and repeatedly stating that she needs to keep away from him 'for his own good' and 'to keep him safe'. Many times I just wanted her to realise that he could look after himself and get on with the adventure. 

I really believe this is a wonderful fantasy novel, with generally good pacing and plenty of action. I look forward to the next installment.

 - 4 stars

Book Review - Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

'You took that hope away. You decided I didn't deserve to have it'.

Confession: I haven't watched the Netflix show based on this book, so I went into the story with an open mind and completely unaware of where the plot was heading. The result, for me, was a little mixed.

Clay Jensen receives a mysterious package in the mail that contains 13 tapes. On listening to the first cassette, he realises that the voice he's hearing is that of Hannah Baker, a student at his high school who's recently taken her own life. By listening to the tapes, and visiting the places Hannah has been in the recent past, Clay begins to put together the 13 reasons Hannah committed suicide, and why he's made 'the list'.

I liked the premise for this - the idea that it isn't one incident that leads to someone taking their own life, but rather a series of seemingly small and insignificant things that can build up to push someone too far. I felt Hannah's loneliness and desperation in the story, and although some may call her selfish and hyper sensitive, I could relate. I liked her. I understood her reasons behind wanting to finally stop her life, and by the end I was (like Clay) willing someone to intervene - even though we know it's hopeless.

Although we know the inevitable outcome of the story, I enjoyed the journey it took to get there. I was genuinely surprised by some of the revelations that were revealed, and I liked discovering things at the same time as Clay. It felt that we were learning about Hannah together. Having said that, I thought the ending was a little flat. I wanted to see how things turned out with Skye, and what he would have said and acted differently, knowing what he now knows about Hannah.

At times I also found the jump between narrators confusing and a little off putting. I sometimes has to reread previous sentences from one narrator to the other so that I could remember what was going on.

This was an easy read, and although I wouldn't call it enjoyable due to the subject matter, it was interesting, and I genuinely wanted to know more about Hannah's journey.

 - 3 stars

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review - The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Makhne

A perfect book for Halloween.

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures is a guide to the weird and wonderful bits of folklore and legend that roam our earth surrounding mysterious creatures. Each chapter presents a specific type of 'creature' for examination, before providing a number of local legends that relate to that creature with beautifully illustrated prints throughout.

The author does a good job at 'setting the scene' with these creatures. Each chapter is well defined, and categorised well, which makes the writing easy to follow and very engaging. This is certainly one of those books you can pick up and put down with ease, and the author also does a really good job at creating a decent atmosphere. Reading this late at night, I was certainly creeped out by certain chapters (the dolls and ghost in particular).

As with most books of this nature, I found some chapters more interesting than others. I was less interested in the 'flying animal' stories than I was with the dolls, ghosts and vampires. I also would have at least liked a mention of Whitby when discussing Dracula and Bram Stoker. I felt at times the writing was definitely geared more towards an American audience in this sense.

That said, I thought this was a very thorough introduction into the world of folklore, and it's certainly piqued an interest in this area for future reading material at this time of year.

 - 4 stars

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Book Review - The Canary Club by Sherry D. Ficklin

A very YA look into the world of prohibition era New York, with a dash of gangsters and a frothy romance thrown in.

Canary Club follows 'Bad Luck' Benny - fresh out of jail, and Maisie, daughter of the local 'mob' boss who Benny ends up working for. Maisie is head strong, like her father, yet vows not to follow in his footsteps. Benny is determined to keep on the right side of the law, yet is drawn into a murky underworld in order to provide for his ailing family. With Maisie facing trouble as the pawn in her families fight for control of the city, she turns to the one person she thinks will be able to help her. But can love win over business?

I enjoyed the author's descriptions of prohibition New York. It's an area of history I know little about, and I adsorbed every little morsel of description that was written about it.The slang used is also rather delightful, and for the most part the story itself is well written.

However, this is where it sort of all starts to fall apart for me as I really didn't like either of the main characters. Maisie is rather one dimensional, naive and doesn't really have much going for her. At times I found her boring and shallow. She also comes across as too modern for her era. One of my gripes in historical fiction is making a female character appear to be so brazen in her 'repressed woman' status for her time period, which Maisie frequently laments. It seems really out of character for a woman of her era to express herself in such a way, and it irritates me. 

Benny, as Maisie's love interest, doesn't seem very realistic - he's a mash up of every 'down on his luck' 'jack of the lad' character that's been done before, and far better. Again, he's very one dimensional with no emotional depth and little development throughout the novel.

The plot itself is very centred around the romance elements, and unfortunately it's a case of instalove at its finest. There's no build up to Benny and Maisie falling in love etc. or even any courtship - it's just instantaneous infatuation and it all feels a little bit too 'sweet'. You'd expect a bit of grit for a gangster book. Speaking of 'grit; the 'big bad' is also extremely one dimensional, with little input from the author with regards to making him appear more human and less a simple plot device to provide a problem to the main characters. 

I think that's one of the biggest issues with the book - there's just no depth to any of the characters.

The rest of the plot is also rather flat and predictable. I guessed what was going to happen constantly, and I was never surprised by anything in the plot. Because of this, I did unfortunately find myself getting bored. The whole story line just felt a little underwhelming and rushed - especially the ending. I would have preferred it if more time was spent developing and delving deeper into the characters emotions. Because it was so lacking, I just couldn't get emotionally invested in anything that was happening.

Unfortunately underwhelming for me, but I think this will definitely appeal to those looking for a heavy dose of romance mixed with a sprinkling of history.

2 stars

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Book Review - The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

Don’t bleed.

I really enjoyed this, and despite it only being a novella I found the story incredibly well written and unique in its concepts.
Ever since she can remember Molly has watched herself die, hundreds of times. Whenever she bleeds, a ‘molly’ is born. Her twin in every way. Except all the mollys want to do is kill Molly. And as she grows, the mollys do too - and they get better at fighting back.

I’m amazed at how much detail the author managed to pack into this novella. Molly is a deeply complex, intelligent character with a rich background. I warmed to her plight immediately, and enjoyed the relationship she shares with her parents, as they fight to preserve her secret, and later with the people she meets at college. I thought she was well developed, and in essence also deeply flawed. I’ve never really read a character quite like her, and I loved her for it. Her emotion, or lack thereof, at certain points throughout the story really appealed to me. Her parents come across as deeply loving and obviously protective of Molly, yet also allow her a certain degree of independence in a world which would never accept her if they knew what Molly was capable of.

The plot itself is also extremely interesting. Molly’s exploration into why she can produce the ‘mollys’ was great, and the fast pace kept me entertained right until the end. Although wrapped up well, there were also several points hinted at near the end of the story that were left unanswered, and if the author so desired, I would love to see Molly again and learn about the wider world in which she inhabits.

 - 5 stars

Book Review - The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

The perfect book for a cold Autumn night, The Silent Companions kept me up half the night with fright for all the right reasons.

We start by meeting psychiatric patient Elsie Bainbridge, hiding from a traumatic past with the threat of the hangman looming above her. She seems to harbour an irrational fear of wood, and has lost the ability to speak. With the help of a newly enthusiastic doctor, she starts her recovery by writing down her version of recent events. We are then thrown into Elsie's life a year previously, as she arrives newly widowed and newly pregnant at the ancestral home of her late husband with a spinster cousin, Sarah. The housekeeper and servants are inept, and the local villagers openly hostile - holding a grudge following a number of tragic accidents some years ago. On top of this, the house has a menacing atmosphere - with strange noises at night and the sudden appearances of sinister silent companions that seem to move from room to room.With the discovery of a diary from 200 years ago, Sarah and Elsie hope to answer the reasons behind the unnatural feel to the house - but what they discover may have been better left hidden.

There are three main timelines within the story - Elsie within the psychiatric facility, Elsie at the ancestral home a year previously, and the diary story line of 200 years prior. At times, I found the diary story line quite dull and wanted to skip it. A lot of the information provided within this timeline is rather obvious, and is repeated later on by Sarah anyway. I also didn't really warm to any of the characters. I think perhaps if more time had be spent dedicated to this story line, instead of in small chapters that interrupted the flow of the main narrative, I would have appreciated the information it offered more. The other two timelines worked well together, and the characters here were much more well developed.

Elsie is a wonderful main character - to see the change from newly widowed yet still hopeful woman, to deranged mad woman was a large task to take on - yet I feel Laura Purcell handled it well. You feel as desperate as Elsie does when no-one believes her story, and I found myself really rooting for her - even though I knew it was ultimately hopeless.. The subtle hints scattered throughout Elsie's backstory relating to her late mother, father and Jolyon were also craftily done. I like it when books sometimes don't spell everything out for the reader, and allow their own deductions to work out the mysteries.

Sarah I was less enamoured with. On multiple occasions I found Sarah's obsession with her family history grating, and her insipidness really annoyed me. I understood the reasoning behind this though, as I felt that this was how Elsie felt about Sarah at the beginning too - and indeed their relationship development was definitely a positive to the narrative, although I still thought Sarah relied too heavily on Elsie to 'solve' everything.

That said, the book itself has such a good atmospheric, creepy feel to it  that I was immediately drawn into the world. There's an underlying sense of foreboding throughout - and although there's a slow build up of tension, the release at the end of the novel really packed a punch. The ending was pretty obvious,but I was still genuinely left feeling unsettled and frightened, and it will be a long time before I forget about the silent companions. Perfect for spooky nights.

 - 4 stars

Book Review - Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existance by Michael Marshall Smith

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I went into it not quite knowing what to expect, but the result was a brilliant little quest into Hell with Hannah, her family, and a very funny little mushroom.

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence opens, eventually, on Hannah - an eleven year old girl who has been sent to live with her nomadic grandfather while her parents begin the process of separating. Hannah thinks that although a little 'different' with his lifestyle choices, there's nothing especially exciting about her grandfather, until the sudden appearance of a mysterious man in black who appears to call himself The Devil comes calling asking for help from an old friend.

This reminded me a lot of Good Omens, and in a good way. It was funny, well written and the story flowed well, with some great characters. I liked the relationship between Hannah and her grandfather, and the relationship she starts to build with The Devil. However, the star character in this has got to be Vaneclaw the accident demon. From the moment he is literally peeled off an innocent bystander, Vaneclaw lights up the story. He's funny, and stupid, and offsets the deadpan quality of the Devil. The scene with Vaneclaw and the squirrel in particular stands out, and had me actually laughing aloud.

The story itself was also good. It was fast paced and well developed but not complicated. Everything made sense, and fitted well within the context of the story. There was also scope for any possible sequels within this world, although the ending was satisfactory as a stand alone.

It wasn't perfect however. I would have liked to have seen a little more character development from the rest of Hannah's family - her parents and Aunt Zoe. I felt they were a little lacking in personality compared to the other players in the story, especially Aunt Zoe, who only really comes into her own near the end of the story, and by this point I'd lost interest in her.

All round, an excellent story.

 - 4 stars

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Book Review - The Goblins Of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

Can we just take a minute to appreciate that cover...gorgeous.

Anyway. I thought this was an interesting concept, mixing contemporary fiction with fantasy. I know the author has done this previously with Greek mythology, so I was looking forward to a good blend of fae and magic in a modern setting. From the start I liked the goblins, they're just on the right side on sinister. However, I wished Kit was more engaging. He wasn't particularly charismatic enough to carry the story. I found the first part of the story quite whimsical and entertaining, and just on the right side of creepy. This soon descended into a more traditional romance however. I'm not a romance novel fan.

It felt a bit like instalove with Skye and Grady. I know it's suppose to be explained by this goblin mating pull, but I thought it was an easy way out of giving them a history or some sort of reason as to why they should just suddenly be kissing in the forest. I never did quite find the love story believable.

I guess I was expecting a bit more of the fantasy and less of the romance, which unfortunately didn't really materialise. I think if this was marketed more as a contemporary romance novel instead of fantasy it may gain the right readers.

- 3 Stars

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Book Review - The Diary Of A Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

One of my favourite comedies from the early '00's was Black Books, a comedy set in a second hand book shop and starring Dylan Moran as a misanthropic book seller who hates people and drinks copious amounts of wine. This is the book equivalent to that comedy, and I absolutely loved it.

The book outlines a year in the life of Shaun Bythell, owner of The Book Shop, and his daily interactions with customers and excursions to source books. It's never pretentious, and often very, very funny. I particularly warmed to shop assistant Nicky, who is basically described as a wombling Jehovah's Witness, who often turns up to her shifts in the book shop in an all in one black ski suit with an accompanying assortment of food found in the skip behind Morrisons. The daily struggle with customers was also very funny and informative - I gained a particular fondness for regular customer Mr Deacon, but ultimately reminded me that I never want another career in retail!

The book serves as a great insight into the dying breed of booksellers, and provided a lot of information about books that I didn't know, such as books published before 1501 known as 'incunabula'. I liked the little excerpts from George Orwell which proceeded every month too, as they provided some cohesiveness to the structure of the book and made it feel less like a traditional diary.

I think the only section I didn't enjoy was where the author got sidetracked talking about fishing for a few pages in August. Again, they only lasted a few pages, but they felt a little bit out of place.

In all honesty, I think this is one of the best books I've read this year, and has had me heartily reminiscing about the old book shop that I use to frequent as a youngster. Now, unfortunately, it's been turned into a pub (!) but this book proves just how vulnerable and invaluable book shops are in our country since the rise of the ebook and major retailers. My only regret is that I read this on my kindle, but make no mistake, I'll be buying the hardback.

- 5 Stars

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Book Review - Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

This book was trippy. Really trippy.

Following a drug trial that went wrong, Charlie can now 'hack' dreams - meaning she can alter what happens during a dream, and mould them into anything she wants. Normally her clients for these kind of services are dull, and want help getting over a childhood phobia or to quit smoking. Until she meets Mel Tan - a harpist with a serial stalker problem. Only, her stalker is in her dreams. And this stalker does not appreciate Charlie stepping on his turf.

I was first drawn to this novel because of the concept. The idea that sleep, something we naturally see as a comfort, or someplace 'safe' is flipped on its head and becomes the very enemy that must be avoided at all cost. I thought this was a very unique idea, and the author does a great job at creating a very unsettling atmosphere throughout the whole novel. The idea that Charlie also suffers from narcolepsy adds an additional layer of tension, especially as it's normally brought on by stress, as I found myself urging Charlie not to fall asleep.

I really liked the character of Charlie. She desperately wants to be 'normal', and is never perceived as this 'perfect' woman. She has flaws, and she (for the most part) owns them. At times I did find her rather irritatingly naive however. She repeatedly states that she isn't trusting of anyone, yet time and again she lets people into her life (and mind) that you know she shouldn't. Of her friends, I liked O - the cantankerous, rich, anti-brain technology landlady the best. There was something very enigmatic about her character. I loved that in an age of brain telecommunication, she was still using carrier pigeons. I also really liked Roman - one half of the self-titled 'Dream Police', and I appreciated that there was a suitable hint of a love interest rather than full-on romance. I did find however, that a lot of the character development took a backseat in favour of the plot. I would have loved to have had more time with Shandy, Roman etc.

The plot is slow at first, as it tries to establish the futuristic technology and various 'big wig' companies found in the world. There's also a lot time spent trying to explain how dreams 'work', with a lot of detail into R.E.M. and sleep paralysis. While I did appreciate this later on in the novel as the plot progressed, I found it quite difficult to wade through so much information and quite often I ended up very confused as to what all this technology could actually do/was doing to the brain and sleep. I don't mind a world that's well explained, but perhaps this was a case of  information overload. A little, well detailed piece of information goes a long way. For most of the novel I was also a little unsure of the time period. It was only from about mid-way through, with a few suitable popular culture references, that I realised this was a near-future London.

As the plot progresses, the story takes on more of a 'noir'-esque murder mystery rather than a sci-fi novel. Charlie somehow becomes embroiled with the 'Dream Police' and begins to investigate a series of 'dream suicides' that appear to be linked to the stalker that haunts Mel's dreams. Although this took me a little by surprise, as I was expecting a sci-fi novel, it was a nice surprise. The second half of the novel is well-paced, and the action is continuous. I will say however, that towards the end the story does take on another level of weird. The dreams become increasingly trippy, and the conclusion left me a little bewildered - although not entirely unsatisfied.

A decent novel, that I have difficulty categorising. I'd welcome a sequel in this world.

 - 3 stars