I listened to the first book in this series, Twin Crowns, and quite enjoyed it. Though I did feel that Wren, in particular, took crazy risks to spend quality time with the man in her life, almost at the expense of everything else. Like the future of the kingdom and the fate of all witches within it, including her family. It didn’t make me all that fond of her. So I was hoping there was less romance and more story in this slice of the adventure.
BLURB: Twin queens Wren and Rose have claimed their crowns . . . but not everyone is happy about witches sitting on Eana’s throne. Cool-headed Rose sets off on a Royal Tour to win over the doubters, but soon finds herself drawn to the Sunless Kingdom. Here secrets are revealed about those closest to her, and Rose finds her loyalties divided.
Meanwhile rebellious Wren steals away to the icy north to rescue their beloved grandmother, Banba. But when she accepts King Alarik’s deadly magical bargain in exchange for Banba’s freedom, the spell has unexpected – and far-reaching – consequences . . . As an ancient curse begins to arise from the darkness, the sisters must come together and unite the crown. Their lives – and the future of Eana – depend on it.
Break the ice to free the curse, Kill one twin to save another . . .
REVIEW: I enjoyed the premise and the overall ideas driving the narrative in Twin Crowns, as well as the contrast between careful, responsible Rose and reckless, adrenaline-junkie Wren. What niggled me was the emphasis on the romantic thread within the story, which I felt took too much precedence in an adventure-packed plot where far more interesting things are going on. Twin Crowns finishes on a major cliff-hanger, so I was glad to have this offering.
Cursed Crowns is far more about the precarious situation both queens now find themselves in. Although they have now successfully claimed the throne for themselves, they are far from out of trouble. The rabid fear of witches and their magic hasn’t disappeared and there are those determined to take advantage of the situation.
Meanwhile, Wren is determined to go after her beloved grandmother. Despite everyone, including fierce Banba, warning her not to do so. This time around, as the next tranche of perilous escapades unfold, there is far less about smouldering looks being exchanged, which I appreciated. Particularly as both authors are capable of throwing sudden twists into this story that takes the danger up a notch. I certainly hadn’t expected some of the developments that took place. In amongst all the danger, what sets this one apart are the regular dollops of humour. And some of it proves to be very dark. Or perhaps I’m just a very bad person, but I did find the outcome of Wren’s spell to try and save her grandmother’s life both poignant and hilariously funny…
Rose’s storyline proves to be every bit as gripping as she desperately attempts to gain help for her troops against the incipient rebellion, where the population’s fear of magic is being manipulated in a bid for power. We’d heard a great deal about the Sunless Kingdom in the first book, so I was very happy to see this plotline explored – as well as the seers’ stronghold, which was another hilarious interlude. The comic relief stops this from becoming yet another grim scrabble for power within a fantasy setting – and instead turns it into something more quirky and unpredictable.
While I hadn’t been completely convinced by the rave reviews for Twin Crowns, I’m joining the chorus of approval for this second slice of the adventure. But whatever you do, don’t skip the first book. This one tips the reader straight into the middle of the action, where Twin Crowns leaves off – and while both authors are too deft to leave you floundering for too long, I think it would dent your enjoyment, which would be a shame. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy adventures featuring interesting magic with two contrasting protagonists. My only niggle is the inclusion of a possible love triangle – but hopefully that will be ironed out in the next instalment, which I’ll definitely be getting. While I obtained an arc of Cursed Crowns from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I’m a fan of Nash’s writing – see my review of A Spell of Rowans, which was the book that introduced me to her work. Then I was lucky enough to encounter this fantasy Gaslamp series – see my reviews of Delicious Death and Spirit Guide, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
BLURB:When the ghostly Gray Lady walks, a lover dies. Can Elinor stop destiny?
The young Coralie Floquet desires to marry but the spectral appearance of a Gray Lady portends that her end might be soon. Called in to help by Tristan Fontain, the Duke de Archambeau, Elinor plans to chase spirits and rumors at a country estate in a seaside town.
But as soon as she arrives, ill-will seems to swirl around her, along with tittle-tattle about her relationship with Tristan that has gossips talking. Though Elinor doesn’t care much about stolen government documents, her heart might be lost when the duke finally reveals the truth about his past and why he took Elinor home when he first met her.
REVIEW: I really enjoy Elinor as a protagonist. She is an experienced, rather cool character who, after a family tragedy, joined the Morpheus Society and has extended her natural talent for seeing ghosts by means of rigorous training. We start this latest adventure with Elinor at a very low ebb. She is still struggling with an injury she sustained in a previous escapade and she has lost her apprentice. And while she complained vigorously and at length about said apprentice’s shortcomings – she is badly missing her young charge. Not least because she’s seriously worried about what she’s being asked to do on behalf of the Morpheus Society, as Elinor’s faith in the organisation has been seriously undermined.
So being invited to investigate a gray lady – a particularly dangerous and persistent form of ghost, who has appeared over the years to young females, all of whom have ended up dying within the year – makes a welcome break from her melancholia. We finally see some progression on the very slow burn romance between Elinor and Tristan. I’m not sure whether I’m completely convinced by Elinor’s behaviour regarding their relationship – it strikes me as rather modern. But that’s probably the only quibble I have regarding the whole adventure.
As usual, the handling of the ghost mystery is written with plenty of pace, a nice number of suspects and the solution to this one worked particularly well. I loved the rather gossipy nature of the house party and how we were included in the machinations within a number of complex relationships that aren’t anything like their initial appearance. I tore through this one as the pages whipped by far too fast – and all too soon I realised I’d devoured the complete book, despite this one being longer. Highly recommended for fans of historical whodunits with a twist of ghostliness about them – but whatever you do, don’t start with this one, go back to the first book, Ghost Talker. This delightful series deserves to be read in the correct order. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
We’ve had a series of warm, sunny days this week – yippee! So it was a real shame that yesterday King Charles and Queen Camilla had such soggy weather for their Coronation. At the end of yesterday morning’s practice, Oscar returned to the car after sloshing around the football pitch, looking like he’d just emerged from a rather muddy lake. The coaches are heroes for giving up their Saturday mornings to assist youngsters in improving their skills – especially in such conditions. As for the Coronation – I was so impressed with the blending of old and new within the service at Westminster Abbey and how the whole event ran on rails. It made me proud to be British.
Another milestone – it was local Government elections earlier this week, and so Ethan voted for the first time. I recall so clearly walking down the same road with his mother and voting with her. Where does the time go??
Other than that, it’s been a quieter week – partly because I’ve been struggling with my energy levels after last weekend’s busyness. So I haven’t managed to get as much writing done as I’d wanted, although I’m still having huge fun writing my novella – Casta and the Giggling Knight. I did watch a bit more TV and finally got around to the Magpie Murders series, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It felt a tad like an Agatha Christie whodunit, but with a modern twist. The acting and production values were top notch and the plotting was witty and funny. It’s been a very long time since I enjoyed a murder mystery series so much.
Last week I read:-
AUDIOBOOK – Twin Crowns – Book 1 of the Twin Crowns series by Catherine Doyle & Katherine Webber Wren Greenrock has always known that one day she would steal her sister’s place in the palace. Trained from birth to return to the place of her parents’ murder and usurp the only survivor, she will do anything to rise to power and protect the community of witches she loves. Or she would, if only a certain palace guard wasn’t quite so distractingly attractive, and if her reckless magic didn’t have a habit of causing trouble…
Princess Rose Valhart knows that with power comes responsibility. Marriage into a brutal kingdom awaits, and she will not let a small matter like waking up in the middle of the desert in the company of an extremely impertinent (and handsome) kidnapper get in the way of her royal duty. But life outside the palace walls is wilder and more beautiful than she ever imagined, and the witches she has long feared might turn out to be the family she never knew she was missing.
Two sisters separated at birth and raised into entirely different worlds are about to get to know each other’s lives a whole lot better. But as coronation day looms closer and they each strive to claim their birthright, the sinister Kingsbreath, Willem Rathborne, becomes increasingly determined that neither will succeed. Who will ultimately rise to power and wear the crown? Aspects of this one worked really well. I liked the fact that both sisters really struggled to adapt in each other’s world and that the envisaged plan didn’t go remotely to plan. What I did find a bit frustrating was the hefty dose of romance that at times meant the girls – Wren in particular – was busy mooning over the man in her life, instead of focusing on keeping alive… But I’m aware I’m not the target audience for this book, so did make a few allowances for the YA genre conventions. Looking forward to reading the next book in the adventure. 8/10
Humanborn – Book 1 of the Shadows of Eireland series by Joanna Maciejewska Less than a decade ago, the Magiclysm, a tear between Earth and another place, brought magic to Ireland—and worse, it brought back the mythborn. The war that followed left Dublin scarred, and cursed Kaja Modrzewska with chaotic magic that will eventually claim her life.
Struggling with wartime nightmares, Kaja seeks normalcy amongst the volatile peace working as an information broker when a series of explosions across Dublin threatens to reignite the war. Both sides are eager to blame the other, so Kaja reluctantly agrees to investigate.
But finding the terrorists responsible means working alongside the mythborn’s elite killers, and uncomfortable wartime secrets coming to light. Kaja, who had saved a mythborn’s life during the war, finds out she has a life debt of her own, and as she juggles her allegiances and obligations, she’ll have to decide where her loyalties lie, with her old human allies or the mythborn. I enjoy Joanna’s writing – so was delighted when she asked me if I’d like a review copy of this new urban fantasy series. It’s a wonderful read. Kaja is a strong protagonist in a difficult place, but manages to give us a vivid insight into the full extent of her troubles without coming across as a victim, which is great deal harder to pull off than Joanna makes it look. Review to follow. 9/10
Gray Lady – Book 4 of the Madame Chalamet Ghost Mysteries by Bryd Nash The young Coralie Floquet desires to marry but the spectral appearance of a Gray Lady portends that her end might be soon. Called in to help by Tristan Fontain, the Duke de Archambeau, Elinor plans to chase spirits and rumors at a country estate in a seaside town.
But as soon as she arrives, ill-will seems to swirl around her, along with tittle-tattle about her relationship with Tristan that has gossips talking. Though Elinor doesn’t care much about stolen government documents, her heart might be lost when the duke finally reveals the truth about his past and why he took Elinor home when he first met her. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this engaging Gaslamp fantasy series – to the extent that I pre-ordered this one. Which didn’t disappoint – I loved the change of scene, Elinor’s struggles to recover after her last escapade and the deft plotting around this particular mystery. Review to follow. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds 2057. Humanity has raised exploiting the solar system to an art form. Bella Lind and the crew of her nuclear-powered ship, the Rockhopper, push ice. They mine comets. And they’re good at it.
The Rockhopper is nearing the end of its current mission cycle, and everyone is desperate for some much-needed R & R, when startling news arrives from Saturn: Janus, one of Saturn’s ice moons, has inexplicably left its natural orbit and is now heading out of the solar system at high speed. As layers of camouflage fall away, it becomes clear that Janus was never a moon in the first place. It’s some kind of machine – and it is now headed toward a fuzzily glimpsed artifact 260 light-years away. The Rockhopper is the only ship anywhere near Janus, and Bella Lind is ordered to shadow it for the few vital days before it falls forever out of reach. In accepting this mission, she sets her ship and her crew on a collision course with destiny – for Janus has more surprises in store, and not all of them are welcome. This audiobook version is a joy. I particularly liked the narration by John Lee, who did a masterful job in depicting the various voices and delivering this story full of unexpected twists. I never knew where the story was going to go next – and Reynolds’ fertile imagination provided some of the grossest aliens ever. Musk dogs – ewwww… Overall The Rockhopper’s mind-bending adventures took me on an amazing journey that would make a wonderful TV series. Highly recommended. 9/10
I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the previous two books in this fantasy Gaslamp novella series – see my review of Delicious Death. So I was delighted when I realised the arc for Spirit Guide was also available on Netgalley.
BLURB: Saddled with a bumbling apprentice, a drunk soldier, and a prickly nobleman who won’t explain why he hasn’t paid a proper call, Elinor must decide if the Society is hiding something from her. When the investigation reveals a connection to an old rival, she finds herself going it alone, something Tristan had demanded she not do. Will her dance with ghosts be a permanent arrangement? And when Tristan Fontaine discovers her missing, who will be able to face his wrath?
Elinor Chalamet uses her wits and her ghost-talking skills to hunt for her father’s killer in Alenbonné, a coastal city where ghosts walk at all hours. The third of a six-part gaslamp fantasy ghost mystery series featuring a Sherlock Holmes-like female character in a slow burn romance.
REVIEW: These books are set in a country resembling France in a Victorian-type era. Nash gives further information on the world in her excellent appendix which works really well with novellas, as it provides information without holding up the pace of the story. And in a book of a shorter length, particularly an adventure, getting the pacing spot on is important.
I really enjoy the character progression from one book to the next. And this time around, we see cracks in the normally imperturbable Elinor. When encountering Tristan Fontaine for the first time in this adventure, she is thoroughly fed up at his tendency to seem increasingly attracted to her – only to disappear completely until he needs her on a case, again. Not surprisingly, she isn’t happy with his behaviour. However, she is also fraying somewhat at the edges due to having an apprentice foisted on her that she didn’t want.
I also enjoyed the introduction of a newbie to scene. We are introduced to Elinor in the first book as someone already highly accomplished and it’s only when watching the flailing efforts of Twyla that we appreciate just how adept Elinor is. It’s also fun to learn more about the mysterious Morpheus Society, which has been mentioned in the previous two book. I would add at this stage – if you’re in the habit of crashing midway into series, I don’t advise it with this particular adventure. While Nash is too experienced to allow you to flounder, too much going on here resonates with previous events for you to get the full extent of the story if you’re only starting here.
Elinor is in real danger in this book – Nash’s villains are always satisfyingly horrible, but this time around, she actually gets hurt by a particularly nasty antagonist. While I never like seeing my favourite protagonists suffer too much – it was informative to get underneath Elinor’s façade of control. Given there are elements of Sherlock Holmes in her character, it’s important that we see her vulnerability and I think Nash did a very good job of humanising her in this slice of the series. I’m not a huge fan of novellas, as far too often I feel that the pacing or characterisation suffers with the shorter length, but Nash has the writing chops to gauge the story beats absolutely perfectly within the word count. This is a series I’m thoroughly enjoying and looking forward to the fourth book in the series. While I obtained an arc of Spirit Guide from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
It’s been a while since I’ve visited – the days trickle by and I’m a bit shaken that we’re already more than halfway through February. The weather has been a lot milder since the beginning of the month, which I’m pleased about. Though we’re about to grit our teeth as our fixed rate fuel tariff finishes at the end of the month – and we will be confronted with a bill that will be nearly triple what we’re paying now. It wouldn’t be so bad if that was the only thing going up in price – but food just goes on steadily getting more expensive, as well as clothing… shoes… electronic goods… you name it!!
Half term is just coming to an end. Though Ethan has been very busy visiting universities and friends, so hasn’t been here all that much. The brilliant news is that he has had an unconditional offer from one of his top two university choices – and it will be the first time that anyone from his college course has been offered a place there. We’re so very proud of him and what he’s managed to achieve. He still has at least two more visits lined up – but now the pressure is off, so hopefully he can relax a bit and enjoy the process. Up to now, it’s been a rather nerve-wracking business!
Oscar has still been struggling with migraine headaches, so we ended up seeing his Dr. She’s prescribing some medication that is intended to actually prevent them from happening. I am so impressed with the care we’ve received from the NHS despite the pressure they’re under – and very much hope that these new tablets will prove more successful. Poor Oscar has suffered far too much since Christmas.
So far, February’s been a trudge. Himself had a shocking cold during his rest days this week, so the trip we’d planned to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust had to be postponed. Fortunately, he’s recovered well, but we could do with a day out enjoying ourselves and relaxing. What with one thing and another – we haven’t done that since Christmas.
Thank goodness for reading – and writing. I’m now working on the third book in my Picky Eaters series – Problems with Power, charting the adventures of grumpy old Castellan the Black, a grandfather dragon who unexpectedly finds himself in the middle of family life after his grandchildren get him evicted from his lair. It has been a rather stop/start affair, given my health issues, but I am beginning to get some momentum going which makes writing so much more fun.
Last week I read:-
Delicious Death – Book 2 of the Madame Chalamet Ghost Mysteries by Byrd Nash Thwarting an assassination wasn’t on the menu. Elinor’s holiday is ruined when a poisoner targets a royal guest. What’s even more irritating? The duke thinks he can solve the case before she can.
In the southern town of Vouvant, Elinor’s goal was to eat rich food at the Winter Revels, but an attempt on the king’s life implicates her favorite chef. Between saving a young society lady and solving the problem of a widower who grieves too much, she has her hands full.
Trained as a medium by the elite Morpheus Society, Elinor Chalamet uses her skills to aid the police while she hunts for her father’s killer.
The second of a six part gaslamp fantasy ghost mystery series featuring a strong female character in a slow burn romance. I thoroughly enjoy Nash’s writing – so finding this entertaining series was a huge treat. The protagonist is experienced and sure of herself, which is a nice change from all those youngsters rather desperately flailing around, trying to work out who they are while grappling with hidden magical talents. There is a nice sprinkling of humour and the slow-burn romance is well handled. All in all, a solid treat. 9/10
Darkwood – Book 1 of the Darkwood series by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch Magic is forbidden in Myrsina, along with various other abominations, such as girls doing maths.
This is bad news for Gretel Mudd, who doesn’t perform magic, but does know a lot of maths. When the sinister masked Huntsmen accuse Gretel of witchcraft, she is forced to flee into the neighbouring Darkwood, where witches and monsters dwell.
There, she happens upon Buttercup, a witch who can’t help turning things into gingerbread, Jack Trott, who can make plants grow at will, the White Knight with her band of dwarves and a talking spider called Trevor. These aren’t the terrifying villains she’s been warned about all her life. They’re actually quite nice. Well… most of them.
With the Huntsmen on the warpath, Gretel must act fast to save both the Darkwood and her home village, while unravelling the rhetoric and lies that have demonised magical beings for far too long. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Gretel and her brother, Hansel, are enjoyable protagonists, as are Buttercup and the White Knight – although my favourite has to be Trevor the talking spider. The humour is unforced and funny – and rides alongside the real danger hanging over the villagers of Nearby village so that I burned through this one, really caring about the characters. It is a joy. I’m always a bit wary of humorous fantasy, as Terry Pratchett has cast a very long shadow over the genre and I’ve read far too many paler imitations. The real disgust at political hypocrisy and lust for power that also runs through Pratchett’s work rang through this one without spoiling the story. I’m really looking forward to reading the next two in the series and finding out what happens next to Darkwood and its inhabitants. 9/10
Before I Sleep – Book 24 of the Bill Slider series by Cynthia Harrod Eagles The clock is ticking for DCI Slider when a woman goes missing. Can he find her – and does she even want to be found?
Felicity Holland is missing. She left her handsome West London house to go to her weekly pottery class and didn’t come back. She’s a mature, sensible woman with a stable home life and a happy marriage – no reason to abscond. Her distraught husband is convinced she must have been snatched.
DCI Bill Slider and his team know that when a woman goes missing, you have to move fast if there’s to be a hope of finding her alive. But with no evidence of foul play – nothing to go on at all – where do you even start looking?
The clock is ticking. But as Slider tries to retrace the last known movements of Felicity Holland, he is led ever further down a dark and twisted path into the secret past of this beautiful, enigmatic woman. This is a cracking police procedural that starts with almost a non-event. A well-known writer insists his wife has disappeared and DCI Bill Slider is put on the case before she’s even officially missing. But as he and his team get stuck in, a picture builds up of a lovely, vibrant person who I really cared about. I’ll remember this one for a long time… Review to follow. 1010
AUDIOBOOK – Zahara’s Gift – Book 1 of the Bond of a Dragon series by A.J. Walker Nineteen-year-old Anders lived a fairly normal life until the only family he had was taken away from him. When he finds himself forced to embark on an action packed adventure, he discovers there is more to the world than he was told. The magical force that flows within everything around him becomes revealed. Dragons, elves, orcs, and goblins lurk around nearly every turn along the path as he pursues his two kidnapped cousins.
As Anders discovers more about his family’s past, he learns of their involvement in The War of The Magicians and the circumstances leading up to the attack of his hometown. When Anders is told about his potential involvement in a prophecy involving dragons and their powerful magic, he will need to make a difficult decision. Will he continue to follow the path that is laid out for him or can he make his own destiny? Will he ever be reunited with his family again? And if he succeeds, will he ever be able to return to the life he once knew? The plotting and character progression worked well. But I found the dialogue rather clunky and unrealistic – and when listening to an audiobook, that can be trying. It was never bad enough that I was tempted to DNF, but I’m not in a hurry to tuck into the second book. 7/10
I enjoy Byrd Nash’s writing – see my review of A Spell of Rowans. And since I became ill with Long Covid, I’ve been tucking into Gaslamp fantasy tales as I thoroughly enjoy the vibe and historical backdrop.
BLURB: Thwarting an assassination wasn’t on the menu. Elinor’s holiday is ruined when a poisoner targets a royal guest. What’s even more irritating? The duke thinks he can solve the case before she can.
In the southern town of Vouvant, Elinor’s goal was to eat rich food at the Winter Revels, but an attempt on the king’s life implicates her favorite chef. Between saving a young society lady and solving the problem of a widower who grieves too much, she has her hands full. Trained as a medium by the elite Morpheus Society, Elinor Chalamet uses her skills to aid the police while she hunts for her father’s killer.
The second of a six part gaslamp fantasy ghost mystery series featuring a strong female character in a slow burn romance.
REVIEW: I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading the first book in the series – indeed, I wasn’t aware that this was the second book until I opened it. But I decided to plunge in, anyway. And I got away with it, as at no stage was I foundering. I always enjoy reading tales featuring strong-minded, experienced protagonists who know what they’re doing – and Elinor Chalamet is just that. The era is sort of Regency and the setting is very loosely based upon Europe at that time, with the country an approximation of France. I liked the appendix at the back with the cast of characters and details of the world – it’s a growing trend that works well, particularly in shorter books where there often isn’t the length to add all those reminders throughout the story without coming across as repetitious.
There is plenty of humour within the story – in addition to some poignant moments, as befitting a tale where ghosts who cannot cross into the Afterlife are somehow stuck, often due to a trauma or unhealthy emotional tie. Nash’s smooth prose style kept the story barrelling along at a nice clip and the very slow-burn romance (my favourite sort!) simmered gently without impeding the mysteries – there’s more than one enigma to solve in this eventful tale. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable tale, well written and executed in a length that is technically challenging. And best of all – there are five other books to get hold of and enjoy in this entertaining series. Yippee! While I obtained an arc of Delicious Death from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I thoroughly enjoyed Truthwitch and Windwitch, so I was delighted when I was approved for an arc.
BLURB: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night. Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.
But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for. Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.
REVIEW: This is a major shift from the Witchlands series that Dennard has been working on, though I recognised many of the same strengths in the writing. Firstly, Winnie is a gutsy, appealing character. Having spent the last four years being officially shunned by everyone in Hemlock Falls, she has the courage and resilience to still come back fighting. That said, such a hammering from erstwhile friends and relations leaves it mark – and when public attitudes suddenly shift, I was pleased that Winnie is still struggling with her anger at the betrayal. I quickly found myself entirely in her corner and willing for her to prevail as I liked and sympathised with her.
That said, I was a bit flummoxed at her particular habit of clicking her front teeth – the only people I’ve ever come across who did such a thing wore dentures. And on several occasions I was pulled out of the story by wondering exactly how much noise they made and how exactly she did it. I was a bit surprised that such a mannerism survived the editing stage, to be honest, as it’s sufficiently rare to be distracting and rather an off-putting habit.
The other strength of this story is the forest and the monsters that reside there. This terrifying place constantly creates unpleasant creatures who are highly dangerous and the Luminaries are designated families whose task it is to keep them sufficiently culled so they don’t leave the forest and spread out to attack everyone else. I enjoyed the range of monsters, who Winnie obsessively studies and draws, so we also get to discover them and their methods of killing. Winnie wants to become a hunter and has to pass three trials in order to succeed at this demanding role, but is very much hampered because while her family were shunned, she wasn’t able to train using the excellent facilities and equipment to make her sufficiently formidable. I think Dennard gets away with her workaround – I was pleased that Winnie didn’t end up being some kickass heroine who was able to march into the forest and take down a dangerous beast with hardly any problem.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and while the slow-burn romance wasn’t an aspect of the book that particularly drew me in – it was well handled. However, I do have a major grizzle that has knocked a point off my original score – and that was the very abrupt ending. Reading a digital copy meant I wasn’t completely aware of how far through the book I was. And when I suddenly swiped the page to be confronted with the back matter, I wasn’t best pleased. Chiefly because not a single one of the major dangling plotpoints are resolved. I am aware that we do have a complete story arc for Winnie, but that didn’t appear to be the narrative engine powering the plot, so I felt both wrong-footed and more than a little dissatisfied with the sudden ending. That said, I did enjoy the world sufficiently that I definitely want to discover what happens next. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Luminaries from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I was attracted by the intriguing title and the buzz about this book from respected fellow book bloggers, such as Tammy at Books, Bones and Buffy. Which is just as well, because the blurb made it sound like a fairly ordinary romance with a fairy adventure thrown into the mix.
BLURB: Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.
So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her. But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.
REVIEW: This is an enchanting book with lots going on – but for me, the best part is Emily, herself. She is nearly always grumpy, self-absorbed, unquestionably paranoid about her academic colleagues and their willingness to steal her research, socially awkward, often arrogant and outright rude. And I loved her. Because as well as being all of the above, she is also courageous, tenacious, extremely good in a crisis – the more dangerous the better – and despite a lot of grumbling to the contrary, she also has a loathing of injustice and those who use their power to torment others just because they can. Which pretty much sums up a lot of the fairy aristocracy. Yet don’t go away with the idea that she’s on a mission to right any wrongs perpetrated by the fae against the hapless humans who happen to be in their way – as far as she’s concerned, she’s simply there to record what happens for her academic research.
Her voice pings off the page in the book that is mostly written in first person as her private journal, which powers and enlivens the narrative throughout. Of course, if there wasn’t also thumping good story with all sorts of twists, permeated by a wry humour, then I wouldn’t be gushing quite so embarrassingly about this tale. Because I also loved the villagers of Hrafnsvik who are living right on the edge of survival and clearly more than a bit flummoxed by Emily, especially when she first turns up.
In amongst an unspooling adventure about a truly dangerous power struggle within fairy society, there is a comedy of manners where a clash of cultures leads to several misunderstandings and a very slow-burn romance that manages to be amusing at the expense of both smitten and is perfectly paced so that it never gets in the way of the main narrative. I loved Emily’s academic attitude to magic and fairies – and the humour inherent in pulling apart the mystical and unexplainable. Though it cannot be denied that Emily’s expertise comes in handy on a number of occasions. All in all, this is a very clever book that put me in mind of the wonderful series, The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan – and I’m delighted to see that Fawcett plans to write more books featuring Emily – yay! While I obtained an audiobook arc of Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
It was the setting of this one that caught my eye. There are plenty of magical schools out there, which I love by the way, but set in Africa? Drawing on West African culture and origin myths? It was this difference that snagged my attention and made me particularly want to listen to this YA adventure.
BLURB: TJ Young spent last summer fighting to unlock the secrets behind his sister’s mysterious death but found himself battling the magic of the ancient Orishas instead. And some of the answers he sought came with a promise he may not be able to keep: to dismantle new human construction on the coastline of Lagos, Nigeria by the start of spring.
But how does a teenager do away with decades of infrastructure in only half a year? He’ll need to enlist the help of new allies, mortal and immortal alike. And thankfully, after surviving the grueling magical curriculum of Camp Olosa, he’s now headed to the most prestigious magic school in West Africa: Ifa Academy for Tomorrow’s Diviners. But will that be enough as he prepares for what can only end in an all-out war between mortals and gods?
REVIEW: It didn’t take me long to realise that this was the second in the series – but at that stage, I wasn’t sure I would like this one enough to spend one of my precious book credits on listenng to the first book. While T.J. seemed an engaging and sympathetic protagonist, initially the leisurely pace took some getting used to.
That said, the production values on this audiobook are very high – I enjoyed the sound effects at the start of each chapter, as the birdsong, in particular, served as a handy reminder that we’re in Nigeria. And Nekia Renee Martin does a wonderful job narrating this tale. Once I got used to the depth of description, I was able to relax into the story as T.J. struggles to settle into this prestigious magical school. I liked the fact that he battled in most of the lessons and didn’t find much of the magic easy to control, given his evident talent in quirky yet powerful ways. It would have been all too easy to turn him into a Gary Stu and I’m very glad that Bandele didn’t.
The tension continues to crank up throughout the story – the ongoing reminders on T.J.’s phone worked nicely to highlight the countdown to the cataclysmic event. Of course, if you build up such a catastrophe, when the hammer falls it needs to be spectacular. And Bandele’s writing didn’t disappoint. Indeed, I was shaken by the sheer extent of the devastation and some of the deaths – Bandele isn’t afraid to off some of his cast of characters that have played a significant role in the story. In fact, I stayed up later than I should to hear what happened next.
Any niggles? Well, I could have done without the love triangle. I understand that teenage romances are often messy due to the strong emotions and inexperience of those caught up in such feelings – but frankly, I wanted to shake T.J. until his teeth rattled at the upset and hurt he was causing. And he got off far too lightly, in my opinion. So I have taken off a point for that. But otherwise, it’s a cracking YA adventure with a lushly portrayed setting that is both unusual and effective. So, yes – I shall be spending one of my precious credits to read the first book in this engaging fantasy, The Gatekeeper’s Staff, as I want to spend more time with T.J. and those Orishas. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Windweaver’s Storm from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
That eye-catching cover snagged my attention and I thought the premise looked intriguing – though I have tweaked and shortened the rather chatty blurb.
BLURB: Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. In the ten years she’s been rescuing imperilled field agents for the Syntex Corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.
She’s got twelve months left on the clock before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, and she’s hell-bent on using that time to cement her legacy. Sil’s going to be the only Mindwalker to ever pitch a perfect game—even despite the debilitating glitches she’s experiencing. But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced into a situation that for all her tactical knowhow and experience – came as a complete and very unpleasant surprise…
REVIEW: I really liked the premise that Sil’s impressive additions come at a huge cost. It made sense to me that a child’s brain, with its inherent plasticity, would be ideal to work on. And the fact that Syntex has managed to find a way around the law so their representatives can persuade suitable eight-year-olds to sign all the permissions necessary to be turned into a super-agent also rings true. As for Sil – I found her grim acceptance of her impending death at the ripe old age of nineteen both poignant and gutsy.
This is aimed at the YA market, so the narration is in first person and the overall story arc follows a familiar route. That said, Sil isn’t as emotional or self-absorbed as YA heroines often are. And while I wasn’t particularly invested in the inevitable romance, as it wasn’t the aspect of the book that really interested me, it was well handled and I believed in the ups and downs of the relationship between two wary, battle-scarred young people.
What did drive me to keep turning the pages in this well-paced, enjoyable science fiction adventure, was Sil’s ongoing battle to stay ahead of those who wanted to get hold of her and shut her down. And while I did see the final twist coming before it finally dropped – there were ramifications that still managed to surprise me and raise the stakes still higher. All in all, this is an engrossing read about a post-apocalyptic future that is frightening and plausible, which I found hard to put down. Recommended for fans of dystopian near-future adventures featuring a likeable heroine. While I obtained an arc of Mindwalkers from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10