Daughter of the Burning City – Amanda Foody

This debut fantasy novel was mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago, and the cover drew me in instantly. Thanks to the publisher (HQ Young Adult) and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ahead of publication!

b3b93af9ec940e8b07a36bbeada3fa81A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

I really very much enjoyed this book. It took me approximately forever to read it (two weeks) due to a combination of circumstances – mostly that it’s been too hot to do anything but sit miserably on the couch and moan about how hot I am, but also because I’ve been quite busy the last few weeks. So my experience of this book was somewhat disjointed, as several days would pass between times when I could actually sit down and get into it. And, to be honest, that’s something I regret, because Daughter of the Burning City was a really enjoyable experience. It’s unusual to read a standalone fantasy which succeeds in building a world that convinces the reader to come and explore the smoky, seedy world of Gomorrah with Sorina as she tracks down a killer that she’s not even sure exists.

Populated by a cast of freaks and weirdoes, largely the creation of Sorina’s own mind, the underlying themes of family, belonging, what it means to be human, and how to fit in in a world where you’re not quite normal were delicately handled and left me thinking long after I finished.

I also very much appreciated the diversity in this book. It’s hard not to be diverse when your main character has no eyes and her family includes a girl who’s part hawk and two boys who share a body, but you know, I liked as well that the main character is bisexual, her love interest is demi-sexual, and one of her sisters is lesbian (or possibly bisexual/pansexual, it’s not specified). In a city-circus which is known for being a travelling den of debauchery, a few same-sex relationships wouldn’t raise so much as an eyebrow, so the book gets props for that.

All in all, this was an exciting and darkly dangerous standalone fantasy which succeeded in building a world that I solidly believed in, accented with throwbacks to biblical stories from which the inspiration for Gomorrah must have arisen. Complex and layered, and with a satifying mystery and several twists that I didn’t see coming, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and am only sad that life got in the way of being able to sit down and consume it as it probably should have been consumed – in one dark night of indulgence, like a visit to the city-circus itself.

Due to my own fragmented reading of the book, I think I lost elements of connection with the characters and also managed to forget the thread of the story, so for me this was not quite as good as I think it could have been if I had read it at a different time, but I think that’s on me, rather than on the book itself!

Four Stars
****

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Aurabel – Laura Dockrill

29979298I read Lorali, the first in this Mer series, almost two years ago, after being sent a copy by Hot Key Books. Aurabel, the follow-up, has many of the same strengths- including beautiful prose, wonderfully imagined societal structures, and the main narrator being the Sea, which was fun, but unfortunately it fell down in some of the same places as its predecessor as well. I was provided a copy of this by the publisher.

Aurabel – Laura Dockrill

Laura Dockrill makes a dramatic return to the sea set in the same world as the sparkling and magnetic mermaid story, Lorali.

It has been two years since Rory drowned, and Lorali is in Hastings, living the quiet life of a normal teenage girl. But her safe life on land won’t last for long. Life in The Whirl has become a hotbed of underwater politics and as the council jostles to oust the king, one Mer in particular has her eye on Lorali as the key to her own rise to power.

Meanwhile, Aurabel, a lowly Mer from the wrong side of the trench, is attacked by sea beasts and left for dead – and without a tail. Raging with righteous anger, she rebuilds herself a mechanical tail and reinvents herself as a fearless steampunk Mer seeking revenge. But she never expected the most important job that was about to drop into her lap.

Laura Dockrill’s imagination explodes any pre-conceived ideas about mermaids and creates a curious, hilarious, riotous adventure not to be missed.

First things first! This book is truly beautiful. Seeing the cover art online doesn’t do justice to the shimmering, shifting glory of the potato print shells on the cover. The envelope it came in was adorned with a tiny shell sticker, which is now decorating my computer at work, and the internal pages are just as lovely. Water marks spatter the corners of the first pages of different chapters, Lorali’s chapters are headed by a beautifully italic signature, and the visual design of the book is simply stellar.

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Lorali got a new cover as well to match its younger sister, and while I have something of a pang of regret at losing the blue gorgeousness of the original cover, this new soft pink repeating pattern sets of Aurabel beautifully, and I can see them being absolutely stunning on a shelf together.

But besides the visual gorgeousness of these two books, what about how Aurabel actually reads?

Well, I was kind of torn on it. On the one hand, I absolutely loved returning to Lorali and how she’s adjusting to life in Hastings, and I was so enamoured with Aurabel, our new heroine, who struggles through the most adverse circumstances to forge a new life for herself. She was awesome. I aboslutely love Aurabel, and would have loved a book which was more about her, and less about the rest of the characters that we had seen in the first installment.

Then there was the third protagonist, Opal, who I really felt added absolutely nothing to the story. She might have been an interesting story in her own right, but set against Lorali and Aurabel, I just was not a single bit interested in her.

I loved, once more, how the Sea was a new type of omniscient narrator, although some of the ways in which she/he/it was able to narrate were a bit, well, forced – again, notably in Opal’s case.

I also really enjoyed that Aurabel and Lorali had very distinct voices, totally different to the Sea, and appreciated it a lot more than I had in the first book. I think the contrast between Lorali’s panic and Aurabel’s stream of consciousness added far more to the experience than just having Lorali did in the first book, and their very real feelings bled through in a way which was really lovely when contrasted against the Sea and its detachment in its omniscience.

However, I had some serious issues with this book. All the worldbuilding was done in Lorali, and having read it two years ago, to be honest, I’ve forgotten it all. The occasional flash of reminder would have been beyond helpful, but it was really lacking. If someone came to this book without having read Lorali, I can see them being utterly confused, as there’s really no level of callback to the first book, just an assumption that you remember everything that happened.

While this works in some ways for Kai and Victor, it’s generally a weakness of the book. For cod’s sake, I’ve read Lorali and I was still left confused a lot of the time.

Aurabel is much more streamlined than Lorali, with fewer subplots going on, but having set them all up in the first book, it feels a bit like a letdown to have nothing of them in the second. What happened to the pirate crews, and the harpies, and what’s the deal with the selkies? Too much was left unexplained in this book, and while it had so much going for it, there was just too much left for the reader to work out, or imagine, and I was left quite disappointed.

Finally, my last complaint is once again with the blurb. We know from the beginning that Aurabel is going to be attacked by sea monsters and have to rebuild her tail, so why is it built up so much in-text? If it’s meant to be a dramatic reveal, don’t put it in the plot! I loved Aurabel’s working her way back to strength and developing friendships and a revenge plan – everything that happened after the attack was awesome, I just wish I had more of it!

Last compliment, though – I loved that Aurabel’s mate is female. In a world where reproduction happens by grabbing drowning people from the sea, there’s no reason not to have badass lesbian couples. I am so on board with this.

Lots of potential, but not as well-executed as it could have been.

Three Stars
***

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Cover Lover

We’re nearly halfway through the year and I’ve had a really busy week, so haven’t finished any books to review (I know, the shame), so I’m going to do a retrospective today of all the cover art of books I’ve read this year, and pick out some good, bad, and great ones.

The reason I’m writing this is because when I was glancing at my site, the GoodReads widget on the side showed my currently reading, and all three of them are blue/purple, which I thought was quite fun.

Although, looking at them now, there’s a lot more red in The Gift than I thought. In any case, having looked at the cover flow of my 2017 books, a few themes become immediately visible.

  1. Mostly/largely Black

    Some of these I really liked, because the darkness made them so visually striking. Sometimes I Lie, for instance, or Ariadnis, work really well. And I’ve made no secret of how much I love Maria V Snyder’s books’ cover art. I really don’t like, however, the Tamora Pierce covers. They just don’t work for me at all. They’re too dark for the lightness of the stories contained within. And I’m not entirely sure I should have included Give Me The Child in this section, but it’s too hard to take it out of the mosaic now.
    I also wasn’t sure about The House of Mountfathom, because it’s white around the outsides, but I put it in the black section because the overall feeling of it is quite dark.

     

 

2. Mostly/largely White/light

Have you noticed that He Said/She Said is in both of these first two categories? Yeah, the half and half split was something I found really interesting. But there are several books in there this year which are a starkly bare background, with the title standing out like a beacon. I think this is really effective, since it puts the black/white contrast right in front of your face before you even pick up the book. It’s interesting that it’s mostly red and black used as the accent covers on the white books. Maybe that’s because they’re such strong contrasts?

On the other hand, there are a few with soft pinks and blues and greens on the white background, which gives them a much more gentle feel. All very intriguing.

One thing which really intrigued me with this group was the massive range of genres it covered. From YA fantasy to women’s fiction, with thrillers in-between, there’s nothing about a white background which affects your ability to slot into any genre. I thought this was pretty interesting!

3. No faces

So many of these books have people on the covers, but their faces are either partially or entirely obscured. I thought this was interesting, especially since it was mostly the women’s fiction that did this. Was it to make it easier to identify with the characters and imagine them in our heads, rather than getting caught up in the cover model? This is something I’d love to know more about!

Admittedly the two Violet Vaughn books have side views of both characters, but it’s not exactly a full view of either face!

4. Red

Apparently I’m drawn to books which have a big splash of red across them. Maybe because it’s such an eye-catching colour? The Diabolic, although it doesn’t look particularly red here, has a red spine, which is awesome.

 

5. Patterned covers

Rather than having an image of a person or a thing on the cover, lots of the books I’ve read just have the title and a patter/mostly only a pattern on the cover. This tells you almost nothing about the book. Is this a good thing? Yeah, I think so. Means you go in with fewer preconceptions. The Lost Sister, which you can see above in the Red section, had a very misleading cover – I was expecting something very different to what I got, so perhaps patterns are better for not creating preconceptions?

 

6. None of the above

Of course, there are a few books that don’t fit any of the trends I’ve picked out above. They stand on their own, and both actually look really nice. I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with a category that they and a few others would fit into, but nothing is coming to mind right now.

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Pride Month: Books with LGBT+ characters

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June is Pride month, and since today Ireland elected its first LGBT+ Taoiseach* ** *** I decided today I’d do a run-through of a few of my favourite books that feature LGBT+ characters. They’re not all main characters, nor is their sexuality always a main feature of the story, or in fact relevant in any way, but there you go. These are some of my favourite books which feature LGBT+ representation.

Clariel

The main character in this, Clariel, is asexual, aromantic, and doesn’t care about it, or you. It’s never really discussed much in-text, and Clariel doesn’t angst over it, it’s just a fact of her life.

Far From You

A female friendship which might be more? Drug addicts? Disabled main character? Bisexual love triangle including siblings? Sign me up!

One Of Us Is Lying

Tthere are many things that any of us might be lying about, including being a murderer and being LGBT, but finding out who’s lying about what is most of the fun of this murder mystery breakfast club book!

This Is Where It Ends

So much going on in this book, but I really appreciated that amongst the characters who worked their way through the school shooting, was a lesbian couple who not only had to deal with the difficulties of finishing school and moving into the wider world, but also worrying if the other had been shot.

Like Other Girls

Semi-own-voices, this bisexual narrator has much bigger problems than accepting her sexuality, which she did years before, but the narrative still has some awesome nods towards the erasure that bi people in straight relationships face, as well as showing an honest and not always endearing portrayal of the process of accepting one’s friends for who they are.

Gone

In this entire series, Dekka was one of my favourite characters. Marginalised in several ways, she takes no nonsense from anyone and is one of the strongest teenagers in The Fayz.

The Knife Of Never Letting Go

Maybe it’s not really gay representation to have a gay relationship in a town where there actually are no women, but Todd’s dads are awesome, and they deserve to be on this list! Not only because they successfully raised a child together after his mother died but also because even though you see very little of them, you can FEEL the loving environment Todd was raised in.

The Hidden Oracle

Apollo, even in human form, spends a massive amount of his time thinking back on his past conquests, both male and female. Yay for the perfect acceptance of bisexuality. Not that Apollo isn’t problematic for a whole host of other reasons, but he is funny and self-absorbed as heck.

Special Mention:

A Dance With Dragons

10664113Who knew a lesbian sex scene could be so decidedly unsexy? And how did Martin do it? By use of the word swampy. I have never been so turned off in my entire life.

*(seriously, he’s not a Prime Minister, it’s not that hard to say)

**(although he’s problematic for a whole host of other reasons)

*** (and also our first PoC head of government, and the youngest Taoiseach in our history, but still unlikely to be good for, you know, anyone)

Other books with LGBT+ characters that I’ve read & enjoyed:

 

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S.T.A.G.S. – M.A. Bennett

*I was provided with a NetGalley copy of this book by the publisher*

S.T.A.G.S – M.A. Bennett

35154365Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of Looking for Alaska and The Hunger Games

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Although aspects of this book were very good, with a likeable narrator, an irreverent sense of humour, deliberate flagging and self-awareness of the ridiculousness and slightly farcical nature of the book, there were a few things which dropped it down from very good to just good for me.

Greer is a likeable, believable, funny narrator. A scholarship girl at a posh school, she’s naive enough to trust the Medievals, but worldly enough to figure out, once she gets to Longcross, that something very strange is going on. I particularly liked that the story was told as if Greer was discussing it with the reader after the fact, so little addendums increased the humour of the situation as narrator Greer flagged up aspects of her own past character which were, well, dumb.

I also liked the setting, which was firstly an old school, St Aidan the Great, or STAGS, followed by Longcross country estate, in the Lake District. Big points for making the settings sound believable, but adding in that incredulity which comes when one views the archaic nature of the British aristrocracy through fresh eyes.

Thirdly, I liked the plot. Verging on the ridicculous, the idea of these misfits being taken to Longcross to be hunted and mocked was at once twisted, hilarious, and thoughtful at the same time.

However, I had several complaints and irritations about the book as well, so they dragged down the rating.

The book took too long to get going. Perhaps I’m just bloodthirsty, but when the blurb flags the fact that they end up going on a hunting trip where they’re the prey, I wanted it to happen almost immediately, but instead we had to go through pages and pages of Greer explaining how lonely she was, and how she deliberated over whether or not she’d go, and too much backstory about how Greer had gotten into this posh school. It was all tell tell tell, no showing, and I got bored quickly.

I also (and this is a personal difficulty) took issue with the word Savage being used as a negative. Firstly because it was capitalised every time (why…?), but secondly because savage, in Irish slang, is a really good thing. So the mental disconnect for me between savage as a compliment and Savage as a derogatory term was difficult to get around.

Greer’s is big into film. I mean really, really big into it. So her internal narration is absolutely packed with film references. Which, okay, is fine, but I am not into film, and I didn’t get half of the references. The only ones I did get were the disney ones, and even then, when Cinderella was referenced, it took me ages to figure out that perhaps it wasn’t either of the disney versions being referenced, but perhaps the Rogers and Hammerstein version, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. But even still, I don’t remember the particular scene which was referenced, so almost all of those references flew right over my head. They also, I think, will date the book quite badly in years to come.

There’s little to no diversity in this book. I mean, as an upper-class British boarding school, it’s expected that the majority of the students will be snooty,  but even still there was zero diversity here. The one PoC character was referred to as the Punjabi Prince. And okay, this is noted in the text as being extremely problematic, but that’s really the only nod to how homogenous this school and its students are. Greer’s supposed to be somewhat aware, so even an internal comment that it’s strange not to see any LGBT students wouldn’t have gone astray.

My last complaint was that the book was kind of predictable. I mean, the blurb gave away that the misfits were the prey, and the start of the book confirmed who survived, and one person who definitely didn’t, so there wasn’t actually a whole lot to figure out as you proceeded through the book. Even the final reveal was something of a let-down, and I had copped it several pages before Greer herself did.

There was a lot of potential in this book, some very funny parts, and a darkly funny twist behind the writer’s mood-setting. But there were a lot of weaknesses as well, which made this a relatively forgettable book in the end.

Three Stars
***

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If Birds Fly Back – Carlie Sorosiak

I spotted a tweet online a few weeks ago saying that proofs of If Birds Fly Back were available for request, so naturally I requested one. My Kinda Book were kind enough to send me one, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting to. I thought it would be good, but not great, but it was actually wonderfully sweet.

34327163Linny has been living life in black and white since her sister Grace ran away, and she’s scared that Grace might never come back. When Linny witnesses the return to Miami of a cult movie star long presumed dead, she is certain it’s a sign. Surely Álvaro Herrera, of all people, can tell her why people come back – and how to bring her sister home?

Sebastian has come to Miami seeking his father, a man whose name he’s only just learned. An aspiring astrophysicist, he can tell Linny how many galaxies there are, how much plutonium weighs and how likely she is to be struck by a meteorite. But none of the theories he knows are enough to answer his own questions about why his father abandoned him, and why it left him in pieces.

As Sebastian and Linny converge around the mystery of Álvaro’s disappearance – and return – their planets start to collide. Linny’s life is about to become technicolor, but finding the answers to her questions might mean losing everything that matters.

I feel like books with dead/missing sisters are ‘a thing’ that I apparently like to read. I can think of several – Lost Stars, Love Letters to the Dead, The Sky is Everywhere, Vanishing Girls, All the Bright Places, Now You See Me, Trouble is a Friend of Mine, even. And, honestly, I’m not sure I like them all that much. The question then, of course, is why do I keep reading them?

The answer to that, of course, is so that I find gems like this one. I said already that I went into this thinking that it would be a light summer read, and I would forget it within minutes. But it was much more than that. Linny and Sebastian are developed, nuanced characters, and okay, yes, they fall practically in insta-love but that’s what summer romances are about, right?

This book packed an unexpected emotional punch, which left me weeping quietly for the final eighty pages or so. Emotional hit after emotional hit downed me until it was all I could do to actually see the page through the blurring of tears, but I didn’t want to stop because I was enjoying it so much. Linny’s trying to solve the mystery about her sister’s disappearance, while Sebastian is trying to get to know the father he never met, and the two of them fall in love over the course of a summer of fun, romance, heartbreak, and realisations about themselves and their families.

I was expecting a summer romance, and I got a summer romance, but as well as that, I got a whole lot more. I got two beautiful stories of a boy and a girl, their families, their friends, and finding their place in the world, as well as a whole lot of physics knowledge and theories, a lot of film terminology, and a smattering of Spanish words. Maybe too much physics and film, but it might be that I was reading this at the same time as STAGS (review next up), which was saturated with film references, and I kind of conflated them.

Either way, this was an unexpectedly beautiful and emotional book, which I very much enjoyed.

Four Stars
****

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The To Not To Read Tag

I’ve been terrible at following through on finishing books this week. I’ve got three books on the go at the moment – If Birds Fly Back in hard copy, STAGS on the Kindle, and The Gift on audiobook – but none of them are finished, so I can’t review any of them.

So today’s post is a divergence from the review standard, and is a tag post. The To Not To Read tag focuses on books that you Did Not Finish. I’m not very good at putting down a book when I don’t like it, which means I end up slogging through a lot of ridiculous books (eventually) but I’m hoping I’ll have books for all the categories on this!

Rules are as follows:

Rules:

  • Thank the person that tagged you (nobody tagged me, but I found this on Stephanie’s blog.)
  • Include ping-back to creator of tag (Icebreaker694)
  • Answer questions (See below!)
  • Tag other poor souls to do this (Not gonna do that, but if you do, feel free to link back and I’ll read!)
  • Easy right?
  • Oh and only use books that you DNF as your answer hence the “to not to read” part.

What book would you be willing to finish?

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Knights of the Borrowed Dark. 

My main issue with KOTBD was that the file was damaged. I’m still contemplating picking up a copy of it and reading it, but along with eleven million other books on my TBR, it’s just being ignored.

A dystopian book that you put down.

8529832Oh God. This is a hard one. I really like dystopia, even bad ones, so I find it hard to put them down. I had to resort to Wikipedia, and that says that The Passage is a dystopia, and I abandoned that way back in 2011, so I’ll count that.

Although I wanted to use that for a haunting read… I’ll keep thinking.

A book that you just didn’t want to finish at all.

17412188Second Life

Despite really quite enjoying SJ Watson’s first book, and getting halfway through Second Life, I really didn’t care enough to borrow it from my sister, and the three or four times that I’ve visited since, I just haven’t picked it up. Or looked into getting a copy of my own. I just don’t care about it.

A sequel.

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Days of Blood and Starlight

I wasn’t sold on Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I rapidly lost interest in Days of Blood and Starlight. I might pick it up again some time in the future if I’m very bored, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

A book you’ll never again pick up.

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Taking the Fall

I love Dick Francis and John Francome’s books. Crime, horses, sex, jockeys… it’s all going on. So when I saw that AP McCoy had written a novel, I was so on board with it. But I got 15% of the way into the book, and the main character left a girl tied to a bed in a hotel, and when he came back later, she’d been raped by a member of hotel staff, and the book glossed over it like it was an exciting sexual adventure. I didn’t even bother put this book on any goodreads shelves because I don’t think it deserves that much attention. I felt absolutely sick with disgust at it, and will never, ever read anything he writes.

A book with too much hype.

24480276The Versions of Us

For weeks when I bought this, it was in the windows of bookshops and lauded as the next great thing. I managed three chapters of it before consigning it to my bedside locker, hoping to pick it up again, and then eventually moved it back to the TBR. Last I saw it, my sister had borrowed it. That was about four months ago, and I’m not a bit bothered by its absence. I don’t know what it was about this book, but it absolutely failed to grab me, and just sat there staring balefully at me for months until I hid it out of guilt.

A haunting read.

24280Can I use The Passage again?

I’ve got nothing for this. No idea at all. I can’t think of a single book that would fit. I don’t read haunting stories, let alone abandon them. Rats.

Oh oh oh, wait! I’ve got one! Les Misérables!

It was too big. I couldn’t read it. Maybe some day. When I’m retired. But Fantine definitely flies around as a ghost in that for a while.

Although maybe that’s just the musical. I dunno. I’m taking it.

A contemporary.

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Double Trouble

Free on iBooks, I started this about a year ago and quickly abandoned it. I may return some time. But it’s unlikely I will.

A book you were unsure of.

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Tara Road

Near the end of last year, I was scrambling to finish my book challenges, and was looking for a book from Oprah’s book club. Although I went for The Color Purple in the end, I did briefly toy with the idea of Tara Road, because my mother loves Maeve Binchy, and the two or three I’ve read were alright. But it’s a behemoth, and I was running out of time, so I abandoned it for a number of reasons, but mostly because I had never been sure I wanted to read it in the first place.

 

Surprisingly, I managed (eventually) to come up with a book for every category on this tag. Although some might be stretching it a bit. Nonetheless, that’s my tag finished, and I invite you to do it too!

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A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J Maas

I was very much looking forward to reading this book. Despite having started the Throne of Glass series first, because of the lengths of series and publication dates, I had much less time to wait for ACOWAR to be published than for the final Throne of Glass books to come out. It also helped that this is a trilogy (although there’s a followup trilogy coming, I believe), and ToG is currently seven books. But either way. I was excited for this, because I read the first two last year.

In typical Aislinn fashion, I’ve reviewed the first in the series, but not the second, because I seem to do that a lot. But here is my review of the third in Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, A Court of Wings and Ruins.

A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J Maas

c3wrd23ueai1jm2A nightmare, I’d told Tamlin. I was the nightmare.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

 

Generally, I very much enjoyed this book. Feyre has come into her own, and is embracing her powers, her status as High Lady, and she’s less of a magical guessing girl than in the first of the trilogy. Her family get more of a role as well, which is interesting, and her relationship with her sisters is much more nuanced (from the first book, where it was just… they suck). There are lots of romances and potential romances going on, and plenty of action. Old enmities simmer, new alliances are forged, and obviously the bad guys are defeated.

Lots of my complaints about this book were very spoilery, which makes it hard to discuss them. Basically, though, I was unhappy with the character development of Mor, because of how it framed Azriel, and with the return of a deus ex machina which, seriously, wasn’t once enough? And my third spoilery complaint was that Rhys and Feyre ended on a weirdly codependent note, which soured all of the development of their relationship beforehand. Everything about Feyre and Rhys has been choosing each other, choosing what to do, who to be with, etc. etc., and the final note of their relationship was much less about supporting each other and much more ‘I would die without you’, and it’s a bit bum.

Also, the end of the book was really too much of a HEA. This is supposed to be the greatest threat the Fae have witnessed in centuries. Amarantha killed buttloads of Fae. They’re always off killing each other, too (Tamlin and Rhys’s parents, hello?), but the tally of survivors at the end of ACOWAR? Well… I didn’t see too much ruin there.

While I didn’t have too many issues with the plot, I did have several issues with the way the novel was framed, and I can totally discuss them.

The prologue was narrated by Rhys. I thought this was fun, as then I assumed the narratives would alternate between Rhys and Feyre. But no, Rhys just got the prologue and one later chapter. What’s the point of putting in a new perspective just for those two little snippets? Waste of time, breaks up the flow, and is terribly jarring. I wasn’t impressed with that.

Hybern. Although in the first book I clearly missed what Hybern was supposed to represent (i.e. Ireland), in this book Hybern was all over the page. But the incredibly infuriating thing was that Hybern was used as a) the name of the country, b) the name of the King, and c) to refer to the army.

Now, Maas clearly has been able to use the word Hybernian before, as that was what tipped me off in the first book. So why didn’t she say ‘Hybernian army’ at any point in this book? I have no idea. Also, was the king named after the country, or did he name the country after himself? If so, what was it called before it was called Hybern? And what will it be called after he’s gone? Or does he not have a name? Everyone has a name, ffs. But he was just referred to as Hybern, or the King of Hybern, throughout the book. No explanation was given for this, and I was infuriated.

Feyre was also terribly annoying at several points during this book. With a terrible habit of running off on her own and not telling anyone what she’s doing (shades of Aelin there, does Maas only have one MC?), Feyre ends up putting herself in danger and worrying the hell out of her subjects on several occasions when she just doesn’t need to. And there are never any consequences to this. So she just keeps doing it. It’s head-wrecking.

My last, incredibly petty, complaint is that when the characters ask questions of each other, they often don’t use a question mark. So you get lots of instances of ‘Where is she.’, which I don’t understand and don’t approve of, and couldn’t help noticing, again and again and again and again. Way to pull me out of your fantasy world with your weird grammar, Maas!

Overall, while I enjoyed this book, it was a bit too tropey for me, which knocked it down in my enjoyment stakes. Maas can write some excellent books (although too much weird sex, thanks) so I’ll continue reading, but I don’t know if she’s improving or deteriorating as she goes along.

Three Stars
***

 

**** ADDENDUM ***

I totally forgot about this while I was writing the review, but remembered today when I was messaging a friend about the first book, ACOTAR.

Maas egregiously abuses the verb ‘croon’ throughout this book. Rhys croons at Feyre. Feyre croons at the Illyrians. Rhys croons at Keir. Everyone croons at everyone. I can’t tell if crooning is supposed to be sexual or seductive or dismissive or persuasive or all of the above, because it’s used more often than flipping ‘said’ is. I realise it’s good to use other verbs to denote tone and how phrases are delivered, but vary them a bit. Don’t flipping abuse croon to the point where it loses all meaning and infuriates the reader every time they see it. Please!

 

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Give Me The Child – Mel McGrath

The occasional giveaway on Twitter leads to gems which I might not have found in other ways, so I was delighted that Harper HQ sent me a proof of Give Me The Child a few weeks ago!

35174600‘You won’t want to eat, sleep or blink’ Tammy Cohen

An unexpected visitor.

Dr Cat Lupo aches for another child, despite the psychosis which marked her first pregnancy. So when Ruby Winter, a small girl in need of help, arrives in the middle of the night, it seems like fate.

A devastating secret.

But as the events behind Ruby’s arrival emerge – her mother’s death, her connection to Cat – Cat questions whether her decision to help Ruby has put her own daughter at risk.

Do we get the children we deserve?

Cat’s research tells her there’s no such thing as evil. Her history tells her she’s paranoid. But her instincts tell her different. And as the police fight to control a sudden spate of riots raging across the capital, Cat faces a race against time of her own…

Compulsive, dark and devastating, Give Me the Child is a uniquely skilful thriller with an unforgettable twist

I very much enjoyed this thriller. Similar in tone to lots of other books I’ve read this year, including Sometimes I Lie, I actually thought that this one stood out among the crowds. This was for a couple of reasons.

  1. The narrator. Often the narrator in these books is a wine-sodden drunk who’s unreliable in every way, and I find it hard to credit that they could solve this mystery in between their alcoholic blackouts. Cat’s not perfect – she has a lot of stuff going on – but she’s together enough to at least present something which resembles an active and contributing member of society.
  2. Also the narrator: She still has her secrets though, and she isn’t perfect. She does some shady things in pursuit of her goals, and clearly lacks empathy regarding Ruby, a little girl who has just lost her mother.
  3.  Ruby Winter. Always referred to by her full name by Cat (for reasons probably relating to lack of connection/ostracism), Ruby is a dark, tormented little girl who is dealing with some massive life changes, and struggling with it all. But is there more to her than meets the eye?
  4. The neighbour. I’ve forgotten her name, because I’m the worst, but honestly, I think she was the most fun character in the whole book, and I enjoyed every second she was on the page
  5. The ending. Although advertised as ‘a twist that will take your breath away’, I really did not get that feeling. I had already copped what was going on well before it was revealed. What I really enjoyed was the fact that the ending (and epilogue) didn’t involve eighteen deaths and a knife at someone’s throat, while sharks with lasers on their heads swam around (of course, I exaggerate). This book dealt with a single main issue, of Ruby Winter, and dealt with it bloody well, without diverging into fantastical territory of twenty-year revenge plots and the killer actually being your ex-husband, etc. etc. Thumbs up for that.

So those were five main reasons that I really liked this book. But then there were a few reasons that knocked it from five to four stars for me. The fact that Cat always referred to Ruby as Ruby Winter. I get that it was to create distance from her, but it grated on me after the first, like, three instances. Just call her by her first name, there’s no need for surnames! The lack of development of Cat’s husband as a character. He’s her partner, her lover, her husband, her greatest advocate – but he’s not a very real character. The same applies to Cat’s sister, Sal. She’s there a lot, in the background, but her development is thin to non-existent. But these issues were only minor, and knocked a single star off what was otherwise a hugely enjoyable book, which I read in delight. I will definitely look out for more from Mel McGrath, as I felt like she really has a handle on writing a main character (and a book) that feels really real.

Four Stars
****

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May Roundup

May has been quite an adventure, as I decided to delve into the world of audiobooks. Having subscribed to Audible, I’ve discovered a new world of audio delights, but also some difficulties, as they’re so damned slow! Lots of books finished this month, I’m very happy with how it went.

Books

  1. Things I Want You To Know – Martina Reilly
  2. My Not So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella
  3. Sometimes I Lie – Alice Feeney
  4. One Of Us Is Lying – Karen McManus
  5. The Fifth Letter – Nicola Moriarty
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  7. The Birds and the Bees – Milly Johnson
  8. Two Fridays in April – Roisin Meaney
  9. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
  10. Truthwitch – Susan Dennard
  11. Godblind – Anna Stephens
  12. Windwitch – Susan Dennard
  13. A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J Maas
  14. Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare
  15. Give Me The Child – Mel McGrath

Short Stories

  1. The Rogue Prince, or A King’s Brother – George RR Martin
  2. A Cargo of Ivories – Garth Nix
  3. What Do You Do? – Gillian Flynn
  • All three of these short stories are contained in ‘Rogues‘, but I haven’t bothered read the full collection, hence why they’re listed separately.

Cover Art

Favourite Book This Month

I know that I’m approximately twenty years too late in having read this, but I really totally loved The Princess Bride. Snarky, irreverant, stereotypical, self-aware, meta… It was full of really wonderful things. It was actually much in the same vein as Frogkisser, which is definitley one of my favourite books so far this year, but with added narrative around the actual fairy tale. I watched the film for the first time ever as well, as while it wasn’t as good as the book, it was true to the spirit of it, and had that same irreverent humour shining through.

Least Favourite Book This Month

Godblind was such a disappointment for me. I really don’t think it was the author’s fault (except for the dry firing thing) but it just didn’t tick any boxes for me, and I was left cold after reading it. I was left cold during reading it, in fact, and read/listened to four other books while I was supposed to be reading this. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

Favourite cover art

Tough one this month. A couple of very nondescript covers, especially the Martina Reilly and Milly Johnson covers. I think the two best up there are Truthwitch and Windwitch, but deciding between them is the toughie!

I think Windwitch just about edges it, because I love the lightning (although can windwitches summon lightning? Who cares. The cover of Truthwitch has a swirl of water, and Safi certainly can’t summon that) and it just oozes atmosphere. Top marks to the designer Tor used for both covers, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing the cover of Bloodwitch!

Other…

Five audiobooks listened to this month, and it’s definitely not my favourite method of consuming books. However! It’s more fun than listening to the radio, and helps me keep my count of books up. Not that I’m trying to reach a specific number or anything, just that I have so many books I want to consume, I have no time to spare!

I also read a Shakespeare play this month. Not for any particular reason other than I had never read it before, but I spent the majority of it rolling my eyes at the melodrama of it all. Friar Laurence is far and away the most sensible character in Verona, and he deserves all of the love.

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