Tag Archives: romance

Review of KINDLE Ebook Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

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Back in February, I read the first book in this entertaining series, Clean Sweep – read my review here. At that point, Himself bought the other two books in the series so far and tucked into them, but I don’t like reading books from the same series back to back. However, I hadn’t planned on leaving it quite so long before returning to this world.

Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…

Dina is on a mission. Her parents, along with their magical inn, disappeared without trace some six years ago and despite an exhaustive search, no one has seen any hint of them. She has now decided to settle down and run her own inn – though she has also posted pictures of her missing family and watches every guest’s reaction as they walk through the door, hoping that one day someone will offer valuable information – or betray a shocked jolt of recognition. However taking on this particular mission is doing things the hard way.

I loved the sense that Dina is plunged into a situation well over her head and scrambling to keep up, often several steps behind. She is a likeable protagonist – steady and determined, particularly when under pressure, but with the ongoing vulnerability of constantly missing her parents.

Andrews is also good at writing animals – Dina’s little dog is suitably annoying and yappy, except when he… isn’t. And when a cat makes an appearance, I was also convinced – I get a bit fed up when pets are depicted with too much treacly sentimentality. But what sets this intriguing fantasy/science fiction mashup apart is the originality of the premise – and how effectively Andrews raises the stakes. We are left in no doubt as to the high cost of this terrible war raging between two warlike species – and the impact on everyone, those taking part as well as those caught between them.

In addition, Dina finds her own happiness held hostage as to the outcome of the peace conference. Andrews’ pacing and handling of the narrative tension is spot on as she steadily ramps up it up with a mixture of the domestic mundane with a twist of fantasy – the galactic superchef produces wonderful meals and Dina has to spend a lot of time and magic ensuring each delegation’s needs are fully met – with the crucial details we need to understand exactly how important it all is. This is all deftly done, producing a smooth, enjoyable read that covers all the epic consequences of this nasty war through the fallout in Dina’s magical inn.

I have the next book in this entertaining series – One Fell Sweep – and I won’t be waiting so long to get to it and if you are seeking an interesting fantasy with a sci fi twist, then this series comes highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Star Witch – Book 2 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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Himself spotted the first book in this series Slouch Witch – see my review here – which I loved, and was delighted when he told me the next book in the series would be shortly released. Right now, I could really do with an amusing, snappy urban fantasy series to dive into…

Ivy Wilde, the laziest witch in the West, is still entangled with the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. That’s not a bad thing, however, because it gives her plenty of excuses to spend more time with sapphire eyed Raphael Winter, her supposed nemesis. And when he comes knocking because he needs her to spy on the latest series of Enchantment, she jumps at the chance. Hanging around a film set can’t be hard … or dangerous … right?

One of the reasons why I enjoy this series so much is that it is set in the UK and draws on Brit humour. I particularly liked the fact that Ivy gets involved in a reality show about magic which ends up being on location in Scotland – think of The Great British Bake-Off with magic instead of muffins and an over made-up announcer called Belinda instead of Sue Perkins and a wannabe magician wafting around in a purple robe called Terry instead of Paul Hollywood. And rather than working in a marquee with the rain lashing down – the contestants are thigh-deep in heather on the edge of a small Scottish village miles from anywhere…

While there were moments when I laughed aloud, there is still danger and bloody mayhem to deal with as a gruesome murder takes place – and no one quite knows whodunit. Or even if the murderer is human… In the meantime, Ivy opts to become a contestant to get out of the exhausting job of being a runner on the TV set, thinking it must be less tiring. Until she is faced with a muddy obstacle course and a hike up a mountain. The farce and rising tension in the story is really well handled – Harper manages to ensure that the humour doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the crime as the stakes are raised ever higher. It would have been only too easy to have turned this into a knockabout comedy, which doesn’t happen.

The emerging romance between Ivy and Rafe is also well done. I’m not a huge fan of romantic fiction and yet I found myself rooting for this couple, despite their very different attitudes to Life. Any niggles? Nope – not a one. The climactic final scene works brilliantly, wrapping up the mystery satisfactorily yet leaving us with a huge cliff-hanger regarding our main protagonists. However that hasn’t wound me up – because the very good news is that the next book in this series, Spirit Witch, is due out in August.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Slouch Witch – Book 1 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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Himself had bought this book and when he finished it, he said ‘Read this – it’s really good!’ So I did – and he’s right…

Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand, regardless of her actual abilities. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content. However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses. It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work. And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog.

The blurb gives an indication of the sharp humour that runs throughout the book as Ivy is pitchforked into the middle of this entertaining mystery, where there is clearly a nefarious plot brewing at the Order. What made this book for me is Ivy’s first person narrative as she is reluctantly dragged into this investigation, when she would far rather curl up on her sofa and watch something good on the telly. It is such a refreshing change to find a protagonist who genuinely would rather be doing almost anything else other than getting involved that I was completely beguiled and found it very difficult to put this one down.

The fact she is partnered with the very focused and ambitious Winter – a complete opposite – heightened my enjoyment. It would have been only too easy for Harper to become so involved in the spiky dynamic of this partnership such that she didn’t pay sufficient attention to the investigation. This doesn’t happen. As events steadily stack up, the stakes continue to become ever higher so that despite the humour and interesting relationship, I was staying up waaay too late because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Of course along the way, Ivy discovers that she is quite enjoying herself – not that she is prepared to admit it, and certainly not to Winter. This entertaining investigation provides plenty of tension and action as well as a genuinely funny main protagonist with a strong voice that pings off the page. If you enjoy your urban fantasy with a feisty protagonist, strong supporting characters and an entertaining mystery, then I recommend you track down this enjoyable book by a talented indie author. I’m delighted to report that the next book in the series, Star Witch, has just been released and I will certainly be getting hold of it just as soon as I can.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

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I love Matt Haig’s writing – read my review of The Humans and The Radley’s. So I was delighted to encounter this offering on Netgalley and even more delighted when my request for an arc was accepted.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

I’m a sucker for any book dealing with time and I also have a real weakness for historical adventure, so this book was bound to be a hit with me. While Tom starts his teaching career in a tough London school, we also have regular flashbacks throughout his very long life which explain how he comes to be so burnt out and sad.

Haig clearly put in the legwork regarding his research. For me, this book really sprang to life during the flashbacks, which start during the reign of Elizabeth I and throughout we gain glimpses of Tom’s life around the world as he constantly is on the move to try and cover up the inconvenient fact that he doesn’t age at the same rate as everyone else around him. In order for this book to really work I had to believe in Tom’s longevity and weariness. Haig triumphantly pulls this off, to the extent that I found parts of this book quite hard to read. I really cared about him and hoped that he would be able to find some peace and comfort. In the supporting cast a couple of characters really stood out for me – Rose, Tom’s first love is beautifully depicted and completely convincing as an Elizabethan girl and Hendrich, who has formed a society to help the “albas” protect themselves from the “mayflies”, is also a convincing character in his desire to keep those who are long-lived, safe from suspicions and anger of the majority of humanity. However, the standout supporting character has to be Camille, the French teacher who is clearly attracted to Tom. She is written with such tenderness and sensitivity that I found myself really rooting for her, to the extent that I was unsure whether she should get tangled up with Tom, who has more emotional baggage than he knows what to do with.

The one thing you can never be sure with Haig is that his stories will end happily ever after. Obviously I am not going to provide any spoilers, but I will say that this one concludes satisfactorily with all the main characters completing a strong story arc. As ever, Haig’s writing lingers in my head and I find myself thinking about this one a lot now that I have finished reading it.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Fallen Kingdom – Book 3 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May

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I was delighted when I got notification from the local library that this book had come in. Having read the first two books in the trilogy – read my review of The Falconer here – I was more than keen to see where May would take this exciting story to its conclusion.

Aileana Kameron, resurrected by ancient fae magic, returns to the world she once knew with no memory of her past and with dangerous powers she struggles to control. Desperate to break the curse that pits two factions of the fae against each other in a struggle that will decide the fate of the human and fae worlds, her only hope is hidden in an ancient book guarded by the legendary Morrigan, a faery of immense power and cruelty. To save the world and the people she loves, Aileana must learn to harness her dark new powers even as they are slowly destroying her.

Firstly, my firm advice would be not to open this one if you have not yet had the pleasure of reading the previous two books, The Falconer and The Vanishing Throne. While you may well be able to pick up what is going on, there is so much backstory you’ll have missed, you will not be getting the best out of this climactic instalment if you do not know what has preceded this final adventure.

After all Aileana has been through during the first two books, we first meet up with her as she newly emerges after her death. She has no idea who she is or what has happened to her. This is more difficult to pull off than May makes it look. The concluding scene of the previous book, The Vanishing Throne, left our protagonist on a real cliffhanger – therefore, it would have been all too easy for the start of this one to have dropped the energy and tension so successfully built up. Fortunately, May is too canny for that to happen. Aileana’s plight immediately gripped me and despite several months elapsing since reading the previous book, I was at once transported back into this shattered, dying world.

As this is the last book, I am unable to comment much on the details of the storyline as I do not wish to provide any spoilers. However, readers who have already enjoyed this series so far, will be relieved to know that Aileana still possesses all her feisty aggression. One of the major causes of tension is the knowledge that her new formidable power comes at a very high price – every time she uses the deadly magic gifted to her, it continues to kill her. In short, she is little more than a primed weapon forged by one of the Fae desperate to avoid the inevitable apocalypse brought on by an ancient curse. May’s detailed world building and magical rules pass almost unnoticed as I grappled with Aileana’s impending doom. For nothing can be taken for granted as May has already shown us she is not afraid to kill off important characters.

The pages flew by as I followed Aileana’s desperate efforts to save the world. Indeed, it is such a struggle, she finds herself allied with characters I would have expected her to kill on sight. Would she prevail? Would she have to sacrifice those she loves most? And what would happen to her should she succeed? It is one thing to set up such a tense dynamic – it is something else to bring it to a fully satisfying conclusion. I can report that May triumphantly succeeds.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Scarlet – Book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed Cinder – see my review here – and promptly went out and bought Scarlet, which I tucked into while I was still recovering from a heavy cold.

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, is trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her.

This series niftily blends the current trend for fairytale retellings and rejigs it into a science fiction world where the terrifying Lunar Queen Levana is determined to bring Earth under her control. The Lunar operatives have a scary form of mind control which works on most Earthers and is a solid reason why cyborgs are so hated and reviled.

Once again, Meyer tips us into the middle of this adventure and feeds us slices of information as and when we need them in amongst the action and mayhem that kicks off almost instantly. There is a high level of violence in this book with a trail of dead and broken bodies, kidnapping and murder – but then the stakes are so very high. What keeps it from being joylessly grim are the shafts of humour that are delivered mostly through the dialogue as some of the awfulness tips into farce.

The two protagonists, Scarlet and Cinder, are both feisty and determined. Scarlet refuses to believe that her grandmother has just wandered off and will wander back in due course, despite what the local police force are trying to tell her. I really liked her character – a strong-minded, emotional person who plunges into situations and thinks about the consequences later. She isn’t unlike Cinder, who is also stubborn and strong-minded. But she is less grounded and sure of herself. And the reasons for Cinder’s odd lack of self-confidence becomes increasingly clear throughout the book.

Wolf is a very interesting character – a savage and effective street fighter who comes to Scarlet’s attention just as her grandmother goes missing. They form an unlikely team – but I wasn’t sure he was completely trustworthy as it seems far too much of a coincidence that he should turn up just as she needs more muscle. But a complicated, ambivalent main character is always interesting. The growing relationship between them is well handled and I believed in it.

I really like Meyer’s handling of the plot, where you think one thing is happening and as the story progresses, you realise in fact that something else is going on. This means I am not going to be able to discuss much of the plot. The pacing and action continue hurtling forward – this is a book that starts with a bang and doesn’t let up throughout. Recommended for fans of fairytale retellings with a difference.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

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I had just completed reading A Monster Calls which is a wonderful book, but achingly sad so I needed something a bit more upbeat. Fortunately, Himself had just treated himself with this offering…

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners. But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

This is an unusual and engaging read – but don’t be fooled by that beautiful, rose-decked cover into thinking this particularly cosy – it isn’t. After all, roses have thorns that dig in when you’re busy smelling the perfume. This isn’t a criticism, for I was a bit concerned about halfway through that this one was going to end with a nauseating side-order of treacle and I was delighted when it didn’t.

Anthony finds his way back into his life after a crippling loss by collecting and labelling hundreds, if not thousands, of lost items. His assistant and right-hand woman, Laura, has no idea of the enormity of his collecting habit until she assumes responsibility for it. This is one of the two storylines, as this book is structured as a dual narrative with Bomber, as a reasonably successful publisher and his young assistant, Eunice, being the other strand.

As their stories progress, this novel unflinchingly depicts some gnarly issues. Dementia afflicts one of the main characters and the main antagonist thrives at the expense of those a lot more deserving around her. We witness a girl with Downs syndrome who has been bullied at school find a refuge with an understanding, kindly neighbour, who even so at times hides in a cupboard when she cannot face Sunny’s constant questions. There is an angry ghost who haunts a house after dying far too soon.

So while Hogan’s smooth writing and quirky, charming style beguiles us, she gently yet firmly confronts us with a number of issues that won’t end happily ever after. I’m going to remember poor Bomber for a very long time… However, this isn’t all about plunging us into a maelstrom of misery, so there are characters we care about who do prevail. And in amongst the hard-hitting stuff, there is also an enjoyable romance and a fair dollop of humour. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I suspect I shall be thinking about this one for a while to come.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Broken Ones – prequel to The Malediction Trilogy by Danielle L. Jensen

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If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll know I have a habit of falling into book series without meaning to – and this Netgalley offering is no exception. By pure luck, it happens to be a prequel to The Malediction Trilogy.

Below Forsaken Mountain, a plot is being hatched to overthrow the tyrant king of Trollus, and Marc is the right-hand man of its leader. His involvement is information more than one troll would kill to possess, which is why he must keep it a secret from everyone, even the girl he loves. After accidentally ruining her sister’s chance to become queen, Pénélope is given one last opportunity by her father, the Duke d’Angoulême, to make herself useful: she must find proof that the boy she’s in love with is conspiring against the crown. If she fails, her life will be forfeit.

This YA dystopian fantasy is set in a brutal world where those with the most magical ability are in charge – and if you don’t have any magic, or it has been blighted by iron rot, then you are treated as second-class citizens. If you have the ill luck to be born a cross-breed, then it doesn’t matter how powerful you are, you still will spend your life in servitude.

However, there are those at the highest levels of troll society who feel the draconian rules and constant blood-letting are not only wasteful, but also needlessly cruel. We are in the domain of desperate plotters trying to gain some kind of network of resistance against a scarily powerful monarch, along with courtiers scrabbling for more influence. And two young people are caught in the middle of these mincing machines – can they prevail? This is the question that had me turning the pages.

Jensen has effectively depicted the claustrophobic nature of the society, both literally and figuratively, as the trolls’ kingdom extends underground, with the highest echelons living in beautifully wrought buildings. It is the magical power of the highborn family, who have studied and shaped their abilities enabling them to construct this underworld and prevent it from caving in.

I really liked Marc, the disfigured young man so sharply aware of how the iron rot has scarred his face in a society where appearance is all. It is a nifty way to give one of the main protagonists with a lot of ability some valid vulnerability. Whereas poor, beautiful Pénélope is stunning and wellborn – as well as being compromised with the dreaded iron rot, which has been a closely guarded family secret. She also has the misfortunate to have one of the most truly horrible fathers I have ever encountered in fiction – indeed, the Duke d’Angoulême is a really satisfyingly nasty antagonist.

As for the outcome – well I didn’t see that coming! It left me feeling more than a tad winded and as soon as I’ve shaved off more books off my crazily teetering TBR pile, I shall be returning to this series. I want to know what happens next… And if your taste runs to dystopian fantasy brimful of emotion and unexpected plot twists, then this one comes recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Broken Ones from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Reaper – Book 1 of the End Game series by Janet Edwards

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I am a solid fan of Edwards’ writing, so was a bit shocked to discover that a couple of her novels were languishing in my To be Read pile – see my review of Scavenger Alliance. While I was ill, I took the opportunity to read them…

In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.

I really enjoyed this one. Edwards has a knack for writing strong young characters with plenty of depth and suitable lack of experience, but who don’t come over as whiny and annoying. It’s harder to achieve than she makes it look, as once again I found myself completely beguiled by Jex, who has a grindingly hard life in common with all children who now grow up in a post-Gamer world. Once the unthinkable happens and a bomb explodes, the high-handed and clumsy law enforcers simply scoop up all the teenagers who were working near and around the frozen stacks of bodies and question them. Such an event on their records will immediately bar them from being accepted by any of the games, dooming her to living in the grey, twilight existence of the real world.

The depiction of the general neglect and bleak surroundings now pervading reality, while all the talented and able adults are away in virtual reality is well done. I found the worldbuilding very nicely handled, given the way Edwards braids into the unfolding investigation. For this is a thriller as Jex finds herself involved in the desperate hunt for the ruthless bomber who has killed thousands and is poised to strike again.

This thriller is a real page-turner, as there are all sorts of plot twists. I also very much liked the unfolding romance which works well. There is plenty of humour when we see the ideal lantern-jawed hero transformed into a geeky teenager who ran headlong into a game rather than cope with real-life relationships. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining YA science fiction offering, which comes highly recommended.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Saven Disclosure – Book 2 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

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I really enjoyed the first book in this entertaining YA science fiction series, Saven Deception – see my review here – where an alien race has infiltrated the human population. This is a tried and tested trope – think of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the TV series V. But this one has a different feel…

Enemy alien ships crowd the skies over Earth while the world waits with bated breath. The Saven have been exposed, and where once they were abhorred, they are now championed as our greatest ally and our only possible savior. Logan and Sadie have been separated, and the longer he is gone, the more their love is tested by duty, doubts, and deception. Sadie and Jarod have infiltrated the highest levels of government, but they are playing a dangerous game. Surrounded by people with conflicting agendas—hell-bent on using her for their own aim—Sadie is confused when the lines between good and evil are blurred. It’s impossible to tell friend from foe, and no one can be trusted.

Sadie is in a unique position with regard to the Saven aliens, which has made her a major target. So she now is being closely guarded – until she gets a job within the Government administration as assistant to the Vice-President. However, all is not as it seems… And this is Davis’ superpower. She sets up a particular situation with Sadie in first person viewpoint thinking that all is going in one direction – until it is revealed that isn’t the case. And the reveal almost always ramps up the stakes so that Sadie’s personal happiness or someone very close to her is put in harm’s way. Of course, in order to continue reading – and I did – I have to care about Sadie and those around her.

This is a YA read, so the protagonist is inevitably feeling out of her depth and the romance is sweet and frustrated rather than steamy with Sadie spending a fair amount of time agonising as to whether Logan really loves her. However, this is science fiction adventure with a romantic element rather than being a romance that uses the sci fi backdrop as a convenient setting for the relationship, so while it part of the driver for the plot, there is a lot more going on than just a love story.

I found Sadie’s steady character development from the first book credible – particularly her growing ability to protect herself when she is attacked, given all the coaching she has received from Haydn, the bodyguard assigned to look after her. As for the supporting cast, they are well written and suitably complex. Logan is desirable and clearly in love with Sadie, yet I still have issues with aspects of his behaviour – not a surprise with the Saven species both aggressive and intent on galaxy-wide domination, before they gained consciences by interacting with humans. His bossiness and tendency to order Sadie around grates with me. The antagonists in the story, including Logan’s father, are suitably horrible and one of them proves to be unexpectedly powerful – another plot twist that caught me unawares.

The action in the last third of the book is continuous, with one shock after another all culminating into a major cliffhanger, whereby the book ends with everything hanging in the balance. I hate it when that happens… At least Davis does apologise for leaving everything up in the air – and the good news is that you don’t have to wait before getting hold of the novella Saven Denial which immediately picks up the story.

This unbiased review has not been influenced by receiving a copy of Saven Disclosure from the author.
8/10