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

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Book Review - We See Everything by William

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

London is divided. War damaged and savage. 

Lex lives in The Strip, poverty stricken and constantly surveyed by drones, he longs for something more - a world with fresh air and space. Alan is a drone operator. His task, as he sees it, is little different from the computer games he loves, spying on the people of The Strip, with power coming from his armed drone. As rebels rise, can faith be restored in a city deeply damaged?

This had a lot of promise, and for a relatively short novel, it still managed to pack a reasonable punch. Lex is as likeable as Alan is unlikeable. They're the ying and yang to each other, which sets a good balance to the novel. The concept is also intriguing - a near future dystopian London, with surveillance similar to Big Brother, filled with citizens prone to paranoia. I found the imagery wonderfully described. 

However, I often found it difficult to like the main characters. Lex is dull at times, to the point I would have preferred to see things through his father's point of view, while Alan is deeply unlikeable with next to no redeeming qualities. This often made it difficult for me to feel anything towards him, and I admit I did struggle to finish this. The story itself wasn't bad, but the characters themselves really let this novel down. A little more charisma and affection goes a long way. 

I also would have appreciated a bit more backstory as to why London is like the way it is. More dedication to some world building would have prevented me from getting confused about what was going on, and where people were in relation to each other.

 A promising idea, with detailed descriptions, but a little lacking in content.

 - 3 stars

Book Review - The History Of Bees by Maja Lunde

'In order to live in nature, with nature, we must detach ourselves from the nature in ourselves...' 

I really enjoyed this. Eventually. The History of Bees tells three separate stories, all intrinsically linked by bees, weaving through a combination of future dystopian, historical fiction and contemporary literature. William is...

This was such an interesting and unique concept. I've read family sagas before, which manage to weave the story of generations of families together, but I've never read anything with such a wide scope of history centred around bees. I have to say I enjoyed Tao's story the most. The future dystopian world was well described and unique (yet ultimately also scary in its similarity to 'real life'). Right from the start I liked Tao and her family unit, and I was intrigued to learn more about her world.

William's story, although a slow burner in the beginning, picks up about 40% when the issues with his son Edmund become apparent, and he begins his research. Though I found him a little naive about his son's 'problems', and at times just plain stupid. His development of the hive without actually looking at any research before hand - knowing he was a previous academic, was something a self described 'learned man' wouldn't do. No wonder his mentor is so disparaging.

Seeing as I don't read much contemporary fiction, it came as no surprise that I didn't really enjoy George's story until about 2/3rds in. I found the pacing slow, and it was very much about familial relations, particularly between father and son, rather than the bees. I also found George quite patronising at times, although I think this was down to his portrayal as a salts of the earth farmer, without any appreciation for things other than the survival of his business. As his story started to link into Tao's, and then William's, it became infinitely better and also helped to broaden my understanding of Tao's future. It also served as a good bridge between Tao and William' stories.

I do think it's Tao's story that makes this a 4* review for me. Her story was very fast paced and full of suspense. The scenes in the hospital and in the unsafe districts were harrowing, and I was constantly rushing through the following chapters to get back to her story. If it wasn't for this pace I might have given up on the book, but I'm so glad I persevered.

The eventual unravelling of the stories and how they are all linked was beautifully done. From George reminiscing in his desolate fields and his destruction of the charts, to Tao reading in the library and her presentation of The History of Bees, I thought the conclusions were wonderfully done and interlinked marvellously. This was a lovely, yet sometimes scarily real, imaginative story.

 - 4 Stars

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Book Review - The Dazzling Heights by Katharine McGee

There's no denying this series is my guilty pleasure (the first book in the series review can be found here). It's not high brow, or the most imaginative, but it's definitely addictive.

The story continues pretty much straight where it was left after the events of 'The Thousandth Floor'. All our main characters are still coming to terms with what happened on that night on the roof, and we see how each of them is struggling to cope. Of all the characters this time round, Leda was the most believable and complex. I loved her development and story line and thought it was a big improvement from the previous book. I loved  the tension between her and Watt. However, I did find that a lot of Leda's issues were skimmed over or trivialised. She just suddenly stops her addiction and moves on without any problems, and the issue with Eris being her sister is never really addressed.

We find Avery still continuing to struggle with her relationship with Atlas. I found her storyline the least appealing, as a lot of it was the same as in the previous novel but without a lot of the tension. However, I did like her interactions with Cord as it tried to add another dimension to her, as she's basically just a beautiful doll with not much of a personality. I was disappointed this was explored further, and ended with Avery mainly mooning over Atlas all the time.

Rylin had the most far fetched storyline. She's somehow picked on a scholarship to join the highliers at their school, where a Hollywood director with a ridiculous name makes her his film assistant. And it seems she's also naturally gifted at producing films (or 'holograms'). All the stuff with her ex from the previous book is conveniently forgotten. I thought the story may have picked up slightly when she goes to LA, but the peak of her storyline was a big let down as nothing really happens except her pining for Cord.

I liked the introduction of Calliope and her mother. It brought a fresh story and different characters to the tower. Calliope is an interesting character, I liked that she basically had the same opinion about Avery as I did (ie dull but beautiful) but somehow I couldn't really connect with her. I think this was mainly because for most of the story she's a bit of an enigma with no backstory other than the con artist shtick which has been done before.

Eris is spoken about, but it feels almost as if it's a different person with a completely different personality to the Eris we saw in the last novel. I didn't think she came across as 'different' or 'a magpie for anything sparkly', and it was weird to see her friends describe her like this. The scene at the graveyard is also a little strange, and cringy and felt out of place within the rest of the book. Girlfriend Mariel, who has such a predominant role previously, is also glossed over with her only having two chapters - the first and last.

As with the previous novel, there still wasn't much world building, and what there wasn't didn't make much sense. LA for some reason is in a giant bubble that displays adverts. There are weird candles that release endorphins as it melts. I would love to have seen more of an effort given to explain exactly what on earth has happened to the world and why. The climax of the novel also doesn't really feel climactic, with no proper conclusion to many of the issues raised in the novel.

So, this book is completely ridiculous, predictable, unbelievable and yet it knows it is. That's what makes it so fun. It's main purpose is to entertain, and it does exactly what it sets out to do. It's so much like a soap opera and if anything I could have done with more scandals, and more secrets. I'm looking forward to the next one.

- 3 Stars

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Book Review - Broadcast by Liam Brown

Broadcast follows David Callow, an internet vlogger who broadcasts his life to his millions of followers. Feeling like his celebrity status may be failing, and desperate to ensure his popularity doesn't wain, David accepts an offer he can't refuse to take the 'next step' in technological advancement by having a microchip inserted into his brain. What follows is the ability to see David's every emotion, thoughts and memories - broadcast live in billions of people, and David's realisation that you shouldn't always get what you wish for.

The plot for this is sort of predictable, in that you can kind of guess where this is going. Technology is bad. However, it's more of the journey that I enjoyed with this. It's a satire of our current generation, snapchatting and instagramming our way through life, with everything revolving around technology. It's the sharp look at what 'celebrity' means in this day and age, when ordinary people can become overnight sensations just by being 'normal'. But is what we see really a reflection of that person's true self or is it merely an online persona of a 'perfect life'? I liked how thought provoking this was for such a short novel. It certainly pokes a hole in the current perceptions of reality.

I also liked the issues raised around the restrictions David faces about freedom of speech and thoughts. It almost seemed to give off a 1984/Big Brother vibe. Everyone is watching David, his every move and thought is scrutinised and he's even blackmailed because of it at one point. As the plot quickened towards the end, this really came into play as we see David struggle internally to control his emotions, so as not to raise suspicions.

My only main problem with this was with David himself. He's deeply unlikable - at first coming across as selfish and self involved. He cares very little for anyone or anything other than gaining more followers and increasing his celebrity. Nobody seems to see the 'real' him, including the reader. This often made it difficult to feel sympathetic towards him, and up until about 60% of the way through his obnoxiousness was really putting me off reading any further. 

The ending for this was really good. Nothing is neatly wrapped up, reflecting the imperfect balance of the 'true' world, and I felt the despair. Normally this would drive me mad, but it seemed to fit well with the overall theme of the novel.

A great thought provoking science fiction novel, if you can get past the abhorrent main character.

 - 4 stars

Book Review - The Switch by A.W. Hill

The Switch follows 15 year old Jacobus, who pushes a mysterious switch in an odd old house, and starts an adventure into the multiverse to try and get back. Numerous versions of Jacobus exist, all slightly different from the 'original', but can Jacobus make it back to where he started? Because, no matter what you might think, perhaps your life really is better the first time round.

I loved the concept behind this.The belief that there are multiple worlds that run parallel to our own is nothing new, but I appreciated this fresh yet simple approach. One giant switch, seen in multiple forms, can lead to any number of possibilities. The plot is fast, flipping from world to world rapidly as Jacobus tries to get home with increasing difficulty. And even with a fast plot, time is still left to dedicate to world building and explaining the (sometimes quite complex) ideas behind multiverse theory and the associated physics. It could have been very easy to get either bogged down in this, or become confused, but the author does a good job of delicately balancing the two.

I also enjoyed the interactions between Jacobus, and his growing number of friends he meets along the way. In particular the enigmatic veteran Gordon, and the universally constant Jemma. I liked that there was always an underlying link between Jacobus and his 'home world', which helped to underpin the story and stop it unravelling rather quickly. The gradual build up within each universe - starting with small changes and building up to more extreme versions of Jacobus' universe was also a  great idea, as it built up the tension simultaneously within the story-line.

That said, I did find Jacobus a rather fickle character to get to grips with. When he first pushes the switch it's with friend Connor, however on entering the next universe and finding Connor an enemy, he's quick to drop him and move onto the next friend. There's no reconciliation to start with, and Jacobus doesn't really seem all that bothered. I found this lack of emotion rather odd, considering he was suppose to be his best friend. Their eventual reunion felt a little off because of this.

I sometimes also found that the continuing jump from world to world meant there was some missed potential to further explore the more 'extreme' worlds. In particular, I would have liked to have spent more time in the Red Temple/Hiver universe, as the ideology really intrigued me. However, I do understand that for a story with such a limitless potential for worlds, this may not have been practical.

I thought the conclusion was fitting for the novel, and tied together all the concepts nicely.

In conclusion, I found this a solid little YA/science fiction novel. A stronger relationship between some of the lead characters and more dedicated time to specific interesting worlds would have enhanced more rating, but I really enjoyed this.

 - 3 stars

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Book Review - The Doll House by Phoebe Morgan

The Doll House plays out as a psychological thriller, mixed within a contemporary family drama setting - but I was left feeling unsure as to whether it really 'thrilled' me.

The Doll House follows the lives of two sisters, Ashley and Corinne. Ashley is a married mother of three, with a husband who suddenly seems distant - working late at the office and easily distracted. Is he hiding something? When Ashley starts receiving mysterious phone calls, where the caller never speaks, she becomes deeply paranoid that her supposedly happy family might not be so perfect. Corinne is desperate for a baby after several failed IVF attempts. With one last shot on the horizon, can she finally become the mother she's always wanted to be? When she starts finding pieces from her old family doll house left around her flat and workplace, she starts to feel that something sinister is afoot. Will delving into her past help her uncover a secret best left forgotten?

The narrative for this is split mainly between the two sisters, with a few chapters also told from Dominic's (Corinne's partner) point of view. Interspersed throughout is also a narrative told from an unknown third person (at first a child), mainly as memories from the past. As the story progresses, these segments begin to intertwine with the sister's history, as well as the history of a house we are first introduced to in the first chapter. I thought this was an interesting premise, as it gave us an insight into the sister's minds, but also this unknown character with a very chequered past. I was desperate to know who this person was, and what their relationship was with the other characters in the novel.

The overall plot was ok. I felt that at times, although there was always a small amount of underlying tension, nothing really progressed as rapidly as I would have liked. The doll pieces are only deposited every now and again, and because of this they felt more like a far off threat. They definitely played more of a secondary role to the overall story arc involving Ashley and Corinne's paranoia and family dramas.

I also would have liked to have had more of a background story surrounding Ashley and Corinne. We never really get a feel for their history, or see their childhood from their perspective other than in brief glimpses. As the story progresses, and the past seems to play more of an integral part to the story, I felt this would have been helpful to further understand certain characters motives.

I was definitely more invested in Ashley's story line over Corinne's. I liked the relationship between Ashley and her children, and the normal struggles she faces as a mother of three. Her paranoia felt natural given her surrounding environment, and I was really invested in her. However, I did feel that most of the tension left Ashley's narrative half way through as her conflict with her husband reaches its natural conclusion. It was my interest in the mysteries surrounding baby Holly and Lucy that kept me reading to the end, and I will say that the climax to her story line was very well done. It was dramatic, suspenseful and shocking. I did not see it coming - which is always a big plus to my very cynical and calculating mind. I'm normally very good at guessing an ending. This time I didn't. Corinne's story, in comparison, felt very flat. I felt that as a character she was very over the top and dramatic, compared to Ashley's more composed nature. I also found the conclusion to her arc was over extremely quickly and felt a little rushed. I found that I wasn't really that bothered about what happened to her.

The premise for this was good, and at times I was really invested in certain characters and their story lines, however in the end it was the consistencies in the narrative that ended up being The Doll House's downfall.

The Doll House is available to purchase from Amazon now.

 - 3 stars

Book Review - The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

It's rare that I find a book as thought provoking as this. I found it opened a lot of questions regarding so many sociological questions, and had me really examine my opinions. On reading the blurb for this, I thought it was going to be a easy dystopian type read, but I couldn't have been more wrong or surprised, but I'm so glad I was.

The Growing Season is set in a sort-of-near future reality whereby the invention of 'the pouch' has made pregnancy obsolete. Men and women can finally share the load of childbearing and equally split their time between child rearing and working. The NHS has been privatised, abortion rates are low, and neonatal deaths are non existent. Within the novel itself we follow a series of women who are somehow intrinsically linked to FullBirth, the company behind the invention of the pouch, and their investigation into a series of coverups by the company following a tragedy.

These women include Eva, an activist who's mother taught her the pitfalls of the pouch, and her determination to expose FullBirths secrets to the world. I liked Eva a lot. I found that as the novel went on she turned from a full blown activist to something more akin to a figurehead, or spokesperson for the average person. She expressed so many opinions on equality and prejudice that I could relate to myself. I especially liked the comments she makes about discrimination in the work place, and how the pouch changes the problem instead of eradicating it in the first place.

Holly, another character, is shown as a matriarchal figure, the first woman to have a 'pouch birth' and at the start of the novel expecting her first great grandchild via a pouch birth. At first she seems to be a perfect example of the success of FullBirth and the pouches, but she comes to see that her decision may have been rash. She trusts blindly in these scientists, not knowing all the facts or possible side effects that could occur in her future generations. She also comes across as very shrewd. She makes a few observations near the end of the novel that resonated with me regarding the fact that men and women aren't identical. If the sexes aren't identical, surely the strive for equality in fertility and childbearing is pointless?

I really enjoyed the overall plot for this, although I'll admit at first it took me a little while to get into it as I was very confused by the lack of world building at the beginning. There is never really an explanation with regards to how the pouches work, and how women can 'move' naturally conceived pregnancies into the pouches and I would have appreciated it.  However, as the story progressed, I became so involved I these woman's stories, that this lack of information started to feel less important. Especially as it brought together such a surprising number of social issues for discussion, including women in the workplace, fertility, equality, IVF, and the risk vs benefits of an artificial birth. It was such an interesting and enlightening novel, and wholly unique within its genre.

The story is interspersed throughout with logs from the mysterious 'Freida', the inventor of the pouch. I wasn't as keen on these sections as I felt they stalled the story too much, and at times I got very confused about what was currently happening and what was 'in the past'. I clearer definitive sectioning of the past and present would have made things a lot easier.

Overall, however, these was a truly unique book that provoked a great amount of internal reflection and brought to the fore a greater understanding of social issues and equality.

The Growing Season is available to purchase from Amazon now.

 - 4 Stars

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Book Review - Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia follows Emmet Atwater, a down-on-his luck teenager from Detroit. Recruited by the mysterious Babel company into entering a mission to mine the substance Nyxia on the hidden planet Eden, he soon learns that he must fight to keep his place in the mission by competing against the other recruits on board the Genesis 11. Ten have been invited to go to Eden, but only eight will make the final cut.

The plot for this was so much fun. At first glance it appears to be a space version of The Hunger Games with young people fighting for survival. However, as the story progresses it goes beyond this, as the concept of the Nyxia substance is developed further and the secrets about the mysterious Babel company begin to unravel. I loved that when Nyxia is first introduced we see it as a rather bland black substance that can change shape under the wielders will, but develops into this incredibly dangerous 'semi-conscious' element. It changed the view of the game entirely, and added more suspense to the story above and beyond simply teenagers fighting it out.

The world building is also excellently done. Enough background is explained as the 'competition' progresses, and more examples of life on Eden are introduced into the training that I wasn't confused. However, enough of the mystery remained in the story so that I didn't get bored either. I would have liked more interaction, or explanation, about the local inhabitants of Eden however (the Adamites). I felt we were sort of left hanging with regards to what they actually are, and have the capacity to do, other than their hatred of human adults. I also would have liked to have had some more time exploring the secrets of the Babel company other than the repeated assumption that they thrive on greed and an inexplicable need to harvest more Nyxia. It is hinted that they don't fully know what Nyxia is, although extensive 'tests' have been carried out. More time going into a deeper explanation of what these 'tests' were would have been good, although I did enjoy the air of mystery that surrounded the company. 

The ten individuals on board Genesis 11 were well developed enough that I became deeply engaged in their actions, and I enjoyed the camaraderie and changing dynamics within the group as they became a dysfunctional (sometimes murderous) family. I was impressed with how multilayered the story actually was, as it began to develop upon the mistrust first ingrained and encouraged in the recruits in the beginning by Babel, and then manifested later as more new characters are introduced. 

This introduction of more new characters half way through the novel is a clever move. It helped keep the story from going stale, and continued to change the dynamics of the characters and introduced more challenges. I especially liked the rather enigmatic Morning, although I found her instant trust in Emmet rather out of character as she's suppose to be deeply loyal to her team members.

Emmet, as our lead character, was charismatic and likeable. In the beginning he knows his limitations, and is shown to work hard to achieve his goals. He's also hot tempered and mistrustful of some of the other recruits at first, while forming strong bonds with others - such as Kaya and Bilal. I especially liked that he knew when he was wrong and admitted his mistakes - such as apologising to Jamie later on in the book when he realises he was wrong about him.The only thing I didn't like was the romantic aspect of the story involving Emmet. It felt forced and unnecessary. I also didn't really understand Roathy and Isadora and their persistent vendetta, although the conclusion did try to wrap up their feelings well. Bilal, by comparison, provided the perfect compliment to Emmet as the sympathetic and deeply moral recruit. He was by far my favourite character.

The interlude chapter in the middle of the novel was interesting, as it was nice to see the story from another characters perspective. However, it also felt a little out of place and didn't really add much to the story at all. I also didn't like the fact that most of the mystery's introduced in the novel were never concluded - a problem I find with most 'trilogies'. I was also disappointed that we didn't get a proper glance at Eden. All this time is spent building up the planet, and we never even get to spend anytime on it.

That said, I still thought Nyxia ended up being a high action space race, with plenty of twists and young adult drama to keep me entertained. Near the end, I couldn't put it down as I sped through to find out who would make the cut. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

 - 4 stars

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Book Review - Charlotte Says by Alex Bell

Do you like your novels with creepy little dolls and atmospheric settings? Then this is your story.

Charlotte Says is a prequel to the popular Frozen Charlotte novel from 2015. Not having read the previous instalment, I went into this knowing nothing about the storyline or characters, and I can honestly say I don't think it made any difference. This could easily be read as a standalone story.

A historical novel, this is set in 1901, with our main character Jemima excepting a job at an All Girls industrial school in the Isle of Skye following the death of her mother and step father in mysterious circumstances. Soon after her arrival an usual package arrives from Charlotte's former home which contains a number of Frozen Charlotte dolls. As mysterious occurrences start to happen, Jemima starts to suspect that the dolls may be more dangerous than they first appear.

There's instantly a feeling of foreboding and dread that surrounds the school, and the headmistress is as despicable as you would expect her to be. At times this felt almost like a Frances Hodgeson Barnett novel, with the descriptions of down trodden girls, awful maids and slave labour. I found I had a lot of fondness for all of the girls at the school, especially Estella the outcast of the group. This obviously helped a great deal as the novel progressed and they become more deeply entrenched in the dolls 'games' and misfortunes. I cared greatly about what would happen to the girls, and became anxious when they appeared to be in peril.

The introduction of dolls is cleverly done, and really sets the tone for the rest of the novel. It involves the basement lit only by candlelight and giggling. It's creepy, and scary and the author clearly knows how to set a scene and make the reader feel unnerved. This continues as the story develops, as the dolls get more adventurous in the toy room during the night and as they start to explore the dolls house.

As we move deeper into the novel, the story starts to flit between past and present. We see how Jemima came to be at Whiteladies, her former home, and how the accident with her mother occurred. I would have liked to have spent more time with these chapters as they're short, rather than have them interrupt the flow of the present story so much. Having said that, most of the novel is well paced, with plenty of action and no side stories to get distracted by. All of the focus is on the dolls, and the plot progresses quickly, which is great.

The only aspect I didn't particularly warm to in the novel was Jemima's relationship with Henry. Henry seemed a little useless at times, not really acting as any real help in times of distress, and he often came across as a bit wet. He wasn't as strong a character as Jemima and the girls, and his undying love for Jemima seemed a little far fetched considering he hasn't seen her in a number of years.  However, that said their relationship plays more of a secondary role to the plot, so didn't ruin the story for me too much.

The conclusion is satisfying and very open ended, which helps it work as a prequel. I was surprised that this is aimed at a young adult audience however, as some of the final scenes are a bit graphic in their depiction of violence. I would be cautious before letting younger readers read this. For me though, I'm already set to read Frozen Charlotte ready for Halloween season.

 - 4 stars

Friday, 8 September 2017

Book Review - Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

I felt like this book chewed me up and spat me back out. It played with my emotions and made me doubt myself. It's been a long time since a book has been able to do that.

Never Let Me Go opens on Lindsey, a single mother of 17 year old Sophie, who left her abusive husband 11 years ago. Learning that Andrew, her ex, has been recently released from prison following a terrible car accident on the night of her escape, Lindsey fears that Andrew will never let her go. As weird things start happening in her home, mysterious intrusions and mind games, Lindsey fears the worst - should she run?

The plot for this was intense from the get go. In the first part there is a mixture of flashbacks mingled in with the present day story, which helps fill in the gaps about Lindsey and her abusive relationship with Andrew. Some of these scenes were quite difficult to read, and I had to step away from the narrative on a number of occasions just to catch my breath. The author seemed to capture the absolute captivity and suffocation Lindsey experiences so well, and the mental abuse she suffers is despicable to read. There was one scene in particular, involving a dog, that I know will stay with me for a long time because of the absolute helplessness I felt in parallel with Lindsey. We also see .

I liked Lindsey as a main character. We see her change throughout the novel from a confident young woman, to a defenceless woman and mother trapped in a highly volatile environment. She's never presented as anything other than an average woman. A normal, vulnerable woman who can still be easily manipulated by a man she thought she'd never hear from again. Her paranoia is infectious, and I felt myself on edge whenever she experienced anything unsettling. I really felt for her character, and shared her hatred and mistrust about Andrew instantly.

The plot also uses narrative not only from Lindsey, but her 17 year old daughter Sophie. I thought this was a great addition to the novel, as it added another opinion to the mix. We see Sophie struggle with her guilt towards her mother as she gets to know her father, and the complex set of emotions she experiences as the story progresses which are easily mirrored in children from a similar domestic background. Love for her father cannot be completely undone by her mother's bias.

We also see Sophie's story start to mirror her mother's past - which I didn't expect. I became really invested in finding out how her relationship with Jared would develop, and how (or if) she would play it out any different to her mother had.

The only real let down, in my opinion, was the 'plot twist' which developed towards the conclusion of the novel. There are hints from about 70% of the way in that things were going to go down a certain path - which were confirmed to me at the conclusion. I liked the little hints, but I felt they were too much of a give away for me. I would have liked a bigger surprise. However, I will say Chevy Stevens did manage to change my opinion about characters that I thought would never have been possible to achieve. She brought a new perspective to my ideas, which I really appreciated, and I came away looking at things from a completely different angle.

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes their thrillers with a touch of anxiety, and a large emotional build up. Great read.

Never Let You Go is available on Amazon now.

 - 4 stars

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

Alex and Eliza follows the love story of two characters from American history - Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler. Set during the American Revolution, the novel opens on the Schuyler ball, as Catherine Schuyler schemes to get her three eldest children (all girls) a husband before their financial ruin is uncovered. During the ball, Eliza - the middle of the girls, catches the attention of the handsome Alex Hamilton. Although a Colonel and right-hand man to George Washington himself, he comes with no family name or money, and as such can only admire Eliza from afar. But when fortune forces the pair together two years later, will they be able to resist their growing attraction?

I want to state first before writing this review that I have no idea what 'Hamilton' is, and have no real inclination to find out. All I know is that it is a musical of some kind. I also know very little about American history - being British I'm obviously much more interested in European history, and as such most of the place names and battles mentioned went right over my head. This possibly meant I didn't get as much enjoyment out of this novel as someone who is interested in this aspect of history will.

I initially picked this up because I thought it would be a YA equivalent to Gone With The Wind, or Little Women - which is perhaps unfair to this novel, as these are two great American classics to live up to. The plot, and the romance itself, is sweet and well written - if a little bland. Alex and Eliza seem to spend more time mooning over each other than actually physically getting to know each other. In fact, Alex admits he's infatuated with this women before he's even met her. At times I also found the declarations of love a little cloying - especially from Alex, who is suppose to be a respected Colonel, but came across as a lovesick teenager.

The strongest aspect of this novel was definitely the relationship between the sisters: Angelica, Peggy and Eliza. I could see similarities and influences from Pride and Prejudice in their conversations about suitors, especially in Kitty's story line, and the love they share for each is palpable. I also would have loved to have had more time devoted to the other men in the Schuyler sister's lives - especially the enigmatic British arms dealer. However, I do believe all three girls came across as rather naive and at times I thought the author was trying to force Eliza's 'progressiveness' on the reader too much. She's described as being intelligent and 'strong willed' - her father's favourite, even over his sons (again, I should mirroring of Pride and Prejudice here) but most of the time I felt this behaviour was rather forced and out of character for a female in this time period.

Some of the wording used in this is also odd. Alex uses the phrase 'alas and alack' at one point. I'm all for using phrases commonly banded about in a specific time period, however this was never consistent and rather jarring to the text.

The conclusion was wrapped up well, if a little cliche and what was expected. I would have preferred a few surprises.

I think this novel is aimed more at people who enjoy their American history with a liberal sprinkling of romance. Unfortunately, that's not really me.

Alex and Eliza is available on Amazon now.

 - 3 stars

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Book Review - A Semi Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I loved this one. Really loved it.

A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares centres on the Solar family, who are believed to be cursed by Death himself to die from their ultimate fear or phobia. Esther's grandfather is terrified of water, Eugene her twin brother is scared of the night. Her father is agrophobic and her mother is scared of bad luck. Esther, not knowing her fear, makes a list of everything that she's scared of, in the hope that she can avoid them all and never have to face her ultimate fear. However, a chance meeting (and mugging) by an old friend, Jonah, changes the course of her path forever, and the chance to break the curse.

On a base level this is a story about facing your fears, with an interwoven story about Death and an extremely dysfunctional family. However, on a deeper level it's so much more than this. It's funny (there's a brain damaged kitten named Fleyonce Knowles and a rooster called Frank who enjoys breakfast freak outs on the kitchen table) and heartwarming. I loved Esther and her character development. We see her go from someone who is unable to live her life, hiding behind fancy dress costumes so she can go unnoticed by everyone into something more. Something strong and powerful, a sort of role model to all those who have fears.

Esther's love for her family really shines through - especially Eugene. There are moments throughout that are just so heartbreaking, yet their bond is lovely to behold. They are always there for each other, looking out for each other (when they can) yet they can't seem to get over their own problems in order to fully appreciate each other and what they've got. Esther's relationship with Jonah is also complicated and messy and problematic. There's a real sense of development between the two as the story progresses, which was nice to see, as it was more than just instantaneous love.

The way the author deals with mental health, depression and anxiety through the novel is wonderful. It's dealt with sensitively, yet thoughtfully and we are made to realise that mental health is deeply complex and difficult to define and understand. The ending is bittersweet, yet perfectly sums up life.

I also really loved the background story involving Esther's grandfather and Death. I'm not normally a fan of dipping in and out of side stories, but this was done very eloquently, and in a way that flowed well with the story. Meeting in Vietnam, and following Esther's grandfather as he's assigned a police case into two missing girls, there was enough intrigue and magic and mystery to keep me wanting to go back for more. I wanted to see how the relationship between the two developed, and exactly why Death had cursed the family.

The only reason this isn't four stars is because at the beginning I was slightly confused by the concept of Eugene 'slipping' out of existence. It's as though the randomly vanishes into thin air at certain moments, and this isn't really elaborated on. I wasn't sure if it was some kind of metaphor or not.

That said, this is easily one of the best books I've read this year, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

 - 4 stars

Monday, 4 September 2017

Book Review - Wicked Fallout by Kelly Charron

I was drawn to this book with the promise of a psychological thriller with a young female lead character. What I really got left me a little bit lacking.

This is the second book in the 'Wicked' books by Kelly Carron, which follows serial killer Ryann Wilkanson as this time she tries to convince psychologist Nancy that's she's become a reformed character and capable of living back on the outside. It is set 12 years after the conclusion of Pretty Wicked, and most of the book forms a sort of two way battle of wills between Ryann and Nancy. It should be noted that I haven't read the previous instalment of this series, however at no point did I see this as a disadvantage as the author did a great job of recapping everything. This may be an issue for people who have read the previous novel however, as previous events are discussed in great detail, and may feel like a rehashing of old events.

Ryann is an interesting character. She's clearly intelligent, and knows it. She doesn't back down from any challenge made to her, and comes across as cocky and abrasive and deeply unlikable. I think that was my main issue with the story unfortunately - I didn't like the main character, and because of this I didn't really care. She also made Nancy appear ridiculous at times, and as such I couldn't bring myself to like Nancy either. I also wasn't that interested in her backstory or her family issues, (which resolved themselves rather conveniently very quickly) as I wanted more time with Ryann.

The second half of the novel was definitely more exciting, as the run up to whether Ryann will be released or not is revealed. I liked the tension created in the prison with the other girls, and Ryann's inner monologue really propelled this to an interesting conclusion. Having said that, as previously stated by this point I wasn't as invested in the character as I would have liked, and as such I finished the novel with an anticlimactic feel.

Interesting main character, but unfortunately just not for me.

- 3 Stars

Sunday, 3 September 2017

The List by Patricia Forde

'The here and now is only the smallest part of who we are. Each of us is all that we have been, all our stories, all that we could be'. 

Letta is an apprentice wordsmith in the city of Ark, a dystopian world where all technology and animals have been destroyed in a great flood. Her job is to distribute 'The List' a set of 500 words that the citizens of Ark are allowed to use. All other words are censored. So what would life be like to live in a world without words? Without the ability to express hopes or dreams?

I loved the concept of this book, but I must admit I thought it would extremely difficult for the author to convey a world in which most of the characters were extremely limited in their vocabulary. However, I felt this was handled wonderfully. The main characters were all free to speak 'old' (i.e. 'Proper' English), and the story was not hindered by the others inability to speak in this way. I felt the story perhaps took inspiration from our modern world - how often do people speak in abbreviated terms these days? At one point early on in the story, Marco even uses the term 'LOL', although Letta doesn't understand its meaning.

I loved the idea that words truly are our pathway to freedom and power. However, this wasn't a perfect novel for me.

The pace was quite slow at times, only really picking up pace from about 50% onwards when Letta finally realised what has happened to Benjamin, and what Noa (the main antagonist) was up to. The first half seems to concentrate more on Letta's day to day issues and her inner turmoils over the resistance. Also, as a dystopian novel, it follows the predictable pattern of other similar dystopian worlds (i.e. Dictator trying to pass the world off as a Utopia, an uprising of rebels and the conflicted hero) but it had enough of a unique concept to carry me through.

A lovely little dystopian novel.

 - 4 stars

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Book Review - The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Merrick Tremayne is trapped at his home in Cornwall following an unfortunate accident involving his leg. Unable to walk properly, his family thinks he's slowly going mad as he claims to witness his grandfather's statue moving, and the trees exploding. Brought on board by the India Company to harvest quinine in deepest Peru, Merrick feels like the expedition is doomed to fail, like every other expedition before it. However, while in the town of Bedlam, he becomes embroiled not only in the political, but the magical history, behind the majestic statues that stand on a salt line or begins to question what happened to the previous crew.

I really struggled reading this book, to the point where it took me nearly three weeks to finish it. I wanted so desperately to enjoy it, but unfortunately I found I couldn't. It starts extremely slowly, and frequently goes off on tangents within the first third of the book with many discussions about the build up to the expedition and side stories about going to the East India office and how Merrick hurt his leg. I felt these didn't really add anything to the story, and only served to further slow down the already meandering plot.

However, that said I did like the information included about quinine and the danger and politics behind the need for the trees. The author has clearly put a lot of research behind her novel, and this shines through. The novel itself is very well written and beautifully descriptive. When the expedition finally reaches Panama, I could almost imagine myself there, personally experiencing these events. I particularly liked the small comments about the guinea pigs in the rafters. You also get a real sense of atmospheric foreboding as the expedition starts their quest for the trees, which was great.

Merrick, as the main character, is rather dry in his demeanour. Some events that occur throughout the book he mentions without much emotion, and at pivotal points he seems to lack any emotional depth to describe what is occurring in a way that seems hardly exciting. Even when the action cranks up slightly near the end, I felt Merrick hardly mustered up any kind of emotional response. He's very lacklustre, and there's no kind of build up or emotional payoff whatsoever. Raphael by comparison was a much more interesting character, with a purpose and the emotional attachment to Bedlam and the holy statues. At times, I almost wished the story could have been told through his eyes instead. In terms of the other characters mention in the novel, didn't really get a feel for any of them, and I actually found that some characters that were heavily involved in the first third of the novel disappeared and weren't mentioned again until the last chapter. This was disappointing, and felt like I didn't really get the payout I'd invested in during the beginning of the novel.

I think I came to expect more from this novel than what I actually got. I was expecting something magical and adventurous, set in deepest darkest Peru but in reality I felt that this was more like one man's telling of an expedition that didn't really have proper purpose or conclusion. Disappointing.

- 3 Stars

Friday, 1 September 2017

Book Review - Nascent Shadow by Matthew S. Cox

Brooklyn Amari knows she's different. From making a guys head explode at the tender age of ten, to surviving a house fire at her family home with no explanation, she's known there's something a little strange about herself. During a routine night shift as a firefighter, things take a turn down a mysterious path as Brooklyn comes to learn that there may be more to her abilities than she first thought - and the ability to wield magic can lead to some rather odd promotions at work.

I was immediately drawn to the concept of this. The ideas behind the story are great, and not your stereotypical urban fantasy. Brooklyn is more of an antihero, described as a demon - she reminded me of Hellboy, with the matching antipathy for the world. I liked that she never shied away from showing how much she really didn't particularly want to save the world, or anyone really. It was a refreshing change from the usual protagonist in these sorts of novels.

However, I did have major issues with quite a few things in this book. There wasn't enough world building for me. At certain points, particularly in the first half of the novel, various characters describe various 'eccentricities' seen in their world (such as ovens driven by crystals, the classification of magic taught in school etc.) without much explanation. Nothing is greatly developed, and details like this are skimmed over. More time spent explaining the world would have helped to gain a greater understanding of the plot and the type of environment these characters were living in.

The characters themselves, especially Brooklyn, were also lacking in any kind of emotional depth. There are some pretty tense scenes that occur throughout the novel, but it felt like there wasn't much emotion behind them. Everything is described clinically, almost as if it's a third person narrative within a first person role, and also tended to bounce around with a lot of information thrown at us quickly. A pause for breadth, with some description of how the characters were really feeling, would have helped.

Brooklyn also just seems to accept all of her new abilities without question, and displays no emotions, as if she isn't really bothered. I'm sure this is a reflection of her 'laissez faire' personality, but it grated on me personally, and meant that I ended up not really caring either.

The concept for this was good, but fell a little short in execution.

- 3 Stars

Book Review - A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

This is descriptively well written. I particularly enjoyed the sections on medical pathology, and the historical aspects appeared accurate (although I'm by no means an expert in this field). I liked the descriptions on upper class social life during this time, and the brief insight into the medical history of New York. I would have liked more of this, as the research behind it was obviously done with care and thought.

The overall plot is ok. It's your usual run of the mill murder mystery in a historical setting. While attending the engagement party of Allene, socialite Florence is found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Brushed off as an accident, it soon transpires that she has been murdered. As other incidents occur, three old friends - socialite Allene, future medical student Jasper and the beautiful yet fragile Birdie, must unite to identify who is behind the incident. The plot followed the usual pattern of investigation and slow unravelling of information that leads to the discovery of the culprit, with various (predictable) twists and turns along the way. Holly's past was predictably obvious right from the start for example. However, it was the ending that really destroyed this for me. The eventual discovery of the murderer and their motives were just so out of character and unrealistic, especially when compared to their behaviour throughout the novel before hand. It was far fetched, and ultimately I felt a little cheated out of a proper ending as it completely changed the tone of the whole novel.

There's also some kind of weird love triangle aspect interspersed throughout the novel. These three supposedly 'good friends' had no chemistry, and I didn't like Allene or Jasper. Jasper comes across as a know it all, with little to no respect or understanding for his friends. He's more interested in dissecting people than spending time with Birdie and Allene. Allene is completely naive, spoilt and self involved, to the point where several times throughout the novel I wanted to shake her. Her supposed love of Jasper felt really forced, and very unrealistic. The kiss that occurs between them half way through the novel fell flat to me and cringy - although not as uncomfortable as the kiss somehow shared between all three characters at the beginning. This whole aspect of the novel just felt weirdly off and I felt that, basically, all the main characters secretly hated each other rather than care about each other. There was no emotional connection at all. This was seemingly confirmed by the fact that both Jasper and Allene seemed to share a complete ignorance to Birdie's predicaments, which feels so out of character in someone who is suppose to be a genuine friend. In the end I didn't care about either of them.

Birdie was by far the most interesting character, however I felt a lot of her problems were skimmed over to make way for other matters in the books - which was a shame, and on conclusion didn't exactly help the novel explain its reasonings behind the killers motives. I would have liked to have read more about the 'radium girls' in the factory, and a social commentary on the lower classes would have been much more interesting than Allene and her 'uptown' house dramas.

Unfortunately at best I think this could be described as a beautiful mess.

- 3 Stars

Book Review - The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

The Thousandth Floor opens with a beautiful girl falling to her death from the roof of a thousandth floor building, and what follows is a wonderful mash up of every American high school drama I've ever had the pleasure of watching.

This was a complete guilty read for me. I was drawn really easily into all the characters lives, and quickly got caught up in all the secrets and dramas. Avery, beautiful and perfect living in the penthouse, but hiding a dark secret. Eris, who suddenly finds herself having to leave the dizzying heights of the upTowers. Leda, freshly out of rehab and trying to get back on track after her night with Avery's brother Atlas. Watt, hacking expert and quant builder. Rylin, down and out maid who finds an unlikely friendship with her employer. I thought the overall ideas were great, and I enjoyed the fact that the setting was a dystopian type future. If anything I would have liked to have read a little bit more about this world - there was hardly any world building involved in the development of the story, with no explanation as to why there as a thousand storey high building in New York.

If anything there were also maybe too many characters. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a massive fan of multiple points of view, and I found I would skim chapters to get to the more interesting characters - such as Eris and Avery. I also found the characters lacked a great amount of depth to them. Most seemed very one dimensional, and the writing at times seemed very lacking in any real emotion. The ending also left too many things unanswered for me. However, having said all this I still found the book highly enjoyable. I couldn't put it down. A bit like all those American dramas I watch on Netflix. If you love Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl you'll love this.

Was it high brow or intellectual? No. But was it fun and entertaining? Hell yes.

- 3 Stars

Book Review - City of Circles by Jess Richards

This is a magical love story involving two circus performers. Although some may find it magical and entertaining, I rather felt it a bit slow and cumbersome.

The story itself is based around a girl, Danu, overcoming her grief and guilt at the death of her parents. Her only reminder of her mother is a locket, given to Danu on her mothers deathbed. Inside this locket she finds more questions than answers, as she travels with a moving circus as a tightrope walker to her home city - the magical Matryoshka.

I liked the atmospheric feel of the book. The circus environment was exciting and well detailed. I felt at times as though I had stepped into this other world of Matryoshka as the author did a really good job of describing it, and I enjoyed the process of exploring it with Danu and Morrie. However, there's no real sense of what's occurring outside of this environment. I couldn't tell you, for example, where this is set, or even if it's set in the near past or present or how time passed. At times, the writing style of this also seemed a bit overall 'whimsy' or flowery for me, and at times the prose did get a bit irritating.

The character development was ok, although at times the romance element wore a little thin. I also though Morrie often played a supplementary role to Danu, and the plot itself plodded along for far too long with not much happening. It did pick up towards the end enough to keep me intrigued enough to continue however.

This would be a good book for people who enjoy deeply poetic style writing of magical lands. Sadly, I found the writing style wasn't quite for me.

 - 3 stars

Book Review: Magpie's Song by Allison Pang

'Ware IronHeart's breath and IronHeart's claws, for when IronHeart roars, Meridion falls'

I ended up really enjoying this. The story opens with the discovery of a dead body in the slums underneath a floating city, by the orphans Raggy Maggy and Sparrow. The body gives off an ethereal glow and is accompanied by a strange mechanical dragon. Mags and Sparrow soon find themselves embroiled in the mysteries of the slums and  the search for answers surrounding the true reason behind the appearance of a plague known as The Rot, and what goes on in the terrifying Pits - home of the plague victims. Mags and Sparrow, along with another character they meet, know as Ghost, are 'Moon Children', the supposed offspring of the slums, and immune to the plague.

I thought the story itself was well written, and the world building was good (although I would have liked to spend some time in Meridion, the floating city). It felt like a mixture of steampunk, dystopian and fantasy and was unique enough in its world to keep me interested. I liked Mags, I though she was gritty and feral and I enjoyed her relationship with Sparrow and Ghost. Although there was a hint of a possible romance, I liked that it was never the focus of the story.

I also really liked Molly and Copper Betty. The automaton, without even being able to speak, became one of my favourite characters in the few scenes she was in. I'd like to see more of her, and see if she has a back story that could explain why she's mute.

The novel wasn't perfect however. I felt the Lucien subplot was a little bit slapdash, and didn't add anything to the story. If anything I found it a bit confusing. I liked that it wasn't a big deal to be gay though, and it didn't feel contrived.

I also felt the ending wasn't really an ending, and nothing was resolved and no mysteries solved. I understand this is part one of a series, but to have so e kind of resolution to a few of the mysteries involved in the plot would have been a better conclusion.

That said, I flew through this book in 2 days, and really enjoyed doing it. I'm looking forward to reading more from this world.

 - 4 stars

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