Ariadnis – Josh Martin

A few weeks ago, Books With Bite offered proof copies of Ariadnis, a new fantasy book by Josh Martin, to their Twitter followers, and I was delighted to snap one up. It arrived in a fabulous envelope, with gorgeous character cards and a promise to be something really fabulous, so I was delighted to start reading it very shortly after.

Ariadnis – Josh Martin

30983420Back then I thought that if it weren’t for that cliff, our cities would be one and there would be no need for all this fierceness toward each other. But then I learned about pride and tradition and prophecy, and those things are harder than rock.

Joomia and Aula are Chosen. They will never be normal. They can never be free.

On the last island on Erthe, Chosen Ones are destined to enter Ariadnis on the day they turn eighteen. There, they must undertake a mysterious and deadly challenge. For Joomia and Aula, this means competing against each other, to end the war that has seethed between their cities for nine generations.

As the day draws nearer, all thoughts are on the trial ahead. There’s no space for friendship. No time for love. However much the girls might crave them.

But how you prepare for a task you know nothing certain about? Nothing, except that you must win, at whatever cost, or lose everything.

I went into this book with high hopes. A diverse case of characters, two Chosen ones who probably didn’t want to be Chosen, two warring cultures, and a task which may well be a fight to the death between two young women who never really wanted to be a part of this anyway.

There were lots of great things about this book. Like I said, the diversity was great, as were the two distinct cultures, and the two main characters, Joomia and Aula, had very clear voices, so even as the narrative switched between them, it was easy to keep them apart in my head. There was casual mention of periods, and gay relationships which weren’t framed as anything particularly noteworthy, sex positivity, one main character who was effectively mute (with a few exceptions) and some really beautiful writing.

The main problem I had with this book was, well, the story wasn’t all that great. I found myself putting this down and picking up other books instead because I wasn’t drawn in, and didn’t really care what happened next. The blurb of the proof that I got made a big deal of the fact that on the Chosen Ones’ birthday, they would have to enter Ariadnis, making it seem like what happened in Ariadnis would be the bulk of the book, but actually, it’s almost none of it. I did actually like that, because I thought the leadup was much more interesting, the pressures of being a Chosen One and having to prepare for something, even if you don’t know what, but it wasn’t the book I was expecting, without doubt.

Even though parts of Ariadnis felt like it was subverting tired old tropes, other parts seemed just as clichéd as ever, and there were no moments in the book where I went ‘wow’ or really felt anything at all.

One other thing I find infuriating is books which are set in a post-apocalyptic Earth (or Erthe, as it is in these books) that somehow have magic in them. The Queen of the Tearling is a prime example of this, and I find it infuriating. Similarly infuriating is the presence of magic here on Erthe.

The one thing I can say is that the ending was good. It wrapped everything up nicely as a self-contained story, but left room for development if wanted. There will be another Erthe book to follow – called Annassa – but I’m not all that sure I’ll be interested in reading it. I might have gone into this expecting too much – it was good, but not really great, I thought.

Three Stars
***

 

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Waiting-On Wednesday

new-wow
As before, graphic and concept are taken with grateful acknowledgement to Breaking the Spine

There are plenty of books and worlds from my childhood that I would love to revisit for longer than the available texts allow.

Funnily enough, despite the fact that I adored the Potterverse, I still haven’t read the Cursed Child script, even six months later. But other worlds, other writers, I have long wished to be able to return to them.

Sometimes, just sometimes, a wish is granted. Garth Nix returned to the Old Kingdom after a break of twelve years, bringing out two new stories which bracketed his original trilogy and making my inner fangirl absolutely explode with excitement.

There are other books from my childhood that I would equate to the Old Kingdom, though, and would love to return to. Marianne Curley’s Guardians of Time trilogy is a long-time favourite of mine that I would love to read more about. Cliff McNish’s The Doomspell series was one I really loved. Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart books never failed to enthral me, all four instalments, and I would be more than terribly excited if I were able to return to the Singer world of William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire trilogy.

Sometimes, though. Sometimes, wishes do come true. It happened for the Old Kingdom, and it’s happening again this year. His Dark Materials, which I loved, and my older sister couldn’t stand, is one series that I read, loved, cried over, re-read, still loved, and cried over again. Lyra’s Oxford, when it was published, was a delight, although it didn’t look as good on the shelf next to the original matching trilogy as I had hoped, mostly because it didn’t have a black spine.

Last week, Pullman announced the publication date of the first book in his non-prequel, non-sequel, but rather ‘equel’ trilogy The Book of Dust, which is set in the same multiverse as His Dark Materials, and will centre around Lyra but also introduce new characters.

I am super, super excited to return to Lyra’s Oxford and Will’s Oxford, re-meet the armoured bears and the witches, and learn more about Dust. The first book in the trilogy releases on October 19th and I cannot wait! I’m hoping that a return to one of my childhood favourites will be everything I’ve hoped for, and am now counting down until that release date. unfortunately, this also means that I’m going to have to do it two more times for the second and third in the trilogy, but I guess sometimes a little pain will enhance the pleasure when they eventually are released.

Roll on 19th October!

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Dawn Study – Maria V Snyder

16130760Once again, I’ve neglected to mention the middle book in a trilogy, despite having reviewed the first when I read it last year. I picked up Night Study some time late last year, and then Dawn Study, the conclusion to Yelena’s story in Sitia and Ixia, was released only last week.

I had been looking forward to the release of Dawn Study for quite a while. It being the ninth Chronicles of Ixia book, I was more than ready for a big, show-stopping finale, plots and intrigues galore, and demonstrations of magical power and stealth that would blow me away.

I was not given any of those things. Dawn Study ends the Chronicles of Ixia not so much with a bang as with a whimper, and I was left pretty deflated.

32180633New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder brings her Poison Study series to its exhilarating conclusion.

Despite the odds, Yelena and Valek have forged an irrevocable bond and a family that transcends borders. Now, when their two homelands stand on the brink of war, they must fight with magic and cunning to thwart an Ixian plot to invade Sitia.

Yelena seeks to break the hold of the insidious Theobroma that destroys a person’s resistance to magical persuasion. But the Cartel is determined to keep influential citizens and Sitian diplomats in thrall and Yelena at bay. With every bounty hunter after her, Yelena is forced to make a dangerous deal.

With might and magic, Valek peels back the layers of betrayal surrounding the Commander. At its rotten core lies a powerful magician and his latest discovery. The fate of all rests upon two unlikely weapons. One may turn the tide. The other could spell the end of everything.

I don’t think I can really put my finger on what specifically it was about this book that I wasn’t impressed with. On the surface, it had everything that the previous instalments in the series had – wisecracking antics, tension, a villain trying to take over the country, magical influence, the ever-useless Council of Sitia, a frankly intimidating Commander, and Valek and Yelena’s unconventionally lovely relationship. But something was missing. Perhaps it was the spark of Ari and Janco together, or the fact that Valek and Yelena were somehow too closely tied together, muffling the independent yet intertwined relationship which I so admired in the earlier instalments, or maybe the fact that it seemed to be an endless repeat of ‘someone gets captured, scheme, rescue, it doesn’t quite go to plan, repeat’.

32813450I think there were too many characters going on in this book, which meant that none of them got the page time and development they deserved, and there was a serious lack of tension in this book, followed by a terrible feeling of anti-climax at the conclusion.

Furthermore, I didn’t like any of the three cover arts for Dawn Study, and even actively disliked the Harlequin cover (the middle in this post), which is very unusual, because I totally loved their covers for the other eight Ixia books.

There wasn’t anything specifically wrong with this book. It still had a lot of things to be admired, it was engaging, I enjoyed going back to Yelena’s world and it had nods to her past as a poison taster and magician, and everything was wrapped up pretty nicely at the end, giving a conclusion to the nine-book series, Yelena’s six starring roles, and the Soulfinders trilogy, but it was missing a lot of the spark that made me love the earlier books.

I also still can’t stand the fact that Yelena’s narrative is in first person while everyone else’s is in third-person. What a strange choice.

Overall, while this was good, it wasn’t great, and I would have expected a lot more from what was supposed to be a thrilling conclusion to the story.

Three Stars
***

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In The Hand of the Goddess – Tamora Pierce

Despite not being all that impressed with Alanna: The First Adventure, I had decided to commit to the entire quartet, so I moved on to the second of Alanna’s adventures – In The Hand Of The Goddess. While it had overcome some of the infuriating aspects of the first book, it still didn’t really feel like it was telling a whole story so much as part of a story, and I was left largely unimpressed by the end.

In The Hand of the Goddess – Tamora Pierce

13835Disguised as a boy, Alanna of Trebond becomes a squire, to none other than the prince of the realm. But Prince Jonathan is much more to Alanna; he is her ally, her best friend, and one of the few who knows that she’s really a girl. Now it will take all of Alanna’s awesome skill, strength, and growing magical powers to protect him from the mysterious evil sorcerer who is bent on his destruction, and hers!

Here continues the story of Alanna, a young woman bound for glory who is willing to fight against enormous odds for what she believes in.

 

One good thing I can say about In the Hand of the Goddess – it was a super-quick read. At only 264 pages in the mass-market paperback, I had it finished within a day, and it kept rolling along nicely the entire time, so that’s something to its advantage.

Other than that, though, while this really seemed like the kind of book I should like – butt-kicking heroine! Woman disguised as man! Knightly training! Casual mention of menstrual cycles, preventing pregnancy, and sex positivity! – I was left kind of cold by the whole thing.

When starting the book, I thought I had accidentally picked up the wrong one, as the first pages dump a huge amount of information on the reader, including the death of Alanna’s father and return of her friend/protector Coram to run the family estate. On checking, though, it seems like this infodump was actually how the book is supposed to begin, so that’s something I was decidedly unimpressed with.

Alanna, at this point, is a bit of Mary-Sue, to be honest. She’s only a squire, but she’s able to defeat a fully-grown knight in single combat. She’s got purple eyes and is super special, and has a cat with matching purple eyes that – oh – she can talk to. She needs to learn to love, so she has two eligible bachelors each pledging to wait for her until she’s ready. To be honest, by midway through the book, I was rolling my eyes at how well everything seemed to be going for her. Even the big reveal of her actual gender, near the end of this book, was taken well by all her friends, without so much as a raised eyebrow at the fact that she lied to them for eight years.

This book jumped rapidly through Alanna’s teenage years, starting with a twelve (?) year old and running quickly through her adolescence all the way up to seventeen. The rapid change in age made it difficult to reconcile the mental image of Alanna as a child with her actions in the latter half of the book with regard to relationships, as the reader, I felt, wasn’t really given a chance to reframe her as an adult with adult desires.

My other issue with this book is that it doesn’t really know what age of reader it’s pitched towards. Being released in 1984, it largely predates the emergence of YA as a genre, but it’s certainly not a children’s book. It’s not an adult book either, and it suffers somewhat from inconsistencies in tone, especially as Alanna ages.

There was lots of positive things in this book, which I enjoyed, from the magic system to the school-type atmosphere, but I feel like a lot of potential is wasted in not knowing what this book is doing or where it’s going. Even the big bad who has loomed over the last two books is not all that intimidating by the climax.

I’ll keep going, because I hate to leave a series unfinished, but I’m really failing to see what the appeal of The Song of the Lioness is. I’m hoping the third and fourth books, now that Alanna is an adult, will have a bit more consistency, and will showcase the clearly excellent writing skills that Pierce possesses.

Three Stars
***

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In Love With Love

In honour of Valentine’s day yesterday, I thought I would do a short list of my top five most compelling couples in books I’ve read.

This is by no means a list of my favourite couples, as I find it hard to pick them, but rather couples that I was interested in their story, and wanted to find out what happened to them next, and how they ended up.

It’s not the most romantic of lists, but hey, you can’t always read romance, or you’d get bored. A little adversity keeps a reader interested.

418655. Bella and Edward – The Twilight Saga

I read each Twilight Saga book as it was published with a sort of obsessive need to find out where the story was going. Bella’s devotion to a, quite frankly, creepy and abusive man almost a hundred years her senior was lauded as a love story for a generation, and the entire saga was immensely popular. Never a fan of this couple, nonetheless I kept reading to see just how deep Bella could get into this mess. As it turns out she ends up Stockholm Syndrome’d into bearing Edward’s half-demon child which literally kills her, and she lives forever in a family of overbearing vampires who don’t know how to communicate. Happily Ever After? Well I like to reread the series every now and then, so I guess this couple kept me hooked.

4. Lily and Ryle – It Ends With Us27362503

This was a relatively recent read – only last month. But I was hooked on this story of a relationship which repeated the mistakes of Lily’s past and how deep and tender her love for Ryle was. I was torn between wanting Lily to put herself first and feeling her dedication to Ryle and their intensity of feeling. Although I totally supported Lily’s decisions, and she had to make them, and I like Atlas as a character, Lily and Ryle’s relationship was the driving force behind this truly beautiful novel, and they are a couple that will linger with me for a long time.

132067603. Scarlet and Wolf – The Lunar Chronicles

Last year I raced through The Lunar Chronicles and hold a deep and abiding affection for all of the main characters. The three couples, Cinder and Kai, Cress and Thorne, and Scarlet and Wolf, all have great appeal for me, but it’s Scarlet and Wolf that stuck in my mind. Sassy, independent Scarlet and strong, fearsome, dangerous Wolf struggled through a quite frankly ridiculous number of obstacles to their relationship, and had me rooting for them the whole way through. Scarlet and Wolf are one of those couples that actually embody love for me. And they’re so super cute!

67405482. Adam and Mia – If I Stay

Although the love story in If I Stay is not necessarily the leading theme – Mia’s family take centre stage really – Adam is still a huge part of this book (and its sequel, Where She Went). The connection between these two teenaged musicians who found a love that supported and encouraged each other was beautifully written, and I couldn’t help but love them in If I Stay. The sequel, Where She Went, adds a new dimension to their story which deepens and enhances it, bringing them from besotted teenagers to fully realised adults, and helping to convince me sometimes that true love does exist. Beautiful!

1. Henry and Clare – The Time Traveler’s Wife18619684

  • When I borrowed this book from my best friend Dave, he was swept up in the romance of the story, how Henry and Clare were destined to be together, and taught each other through every stage of their lives, battling through adversity and meeting at different stages to come together and become a love story to last the ages.
  • I totally disagree. Henry and Clare never had a choice about each other – Clare was groomed from the age of seven by a man almost thirty years her senior, and Henry at age 24 was essentially forced into a relationship he didn’t even know he wanted – even going so far as to get rid of the girl he already had around because Clare declared that they would be together. Neither of them actually got the chance to honestly get to know the other and fall in love with them, because each was introduced to a relationship which was already fully formed, and just expected to go along with it. Not to mention the fact that Clare, despite being the main character of the book, is defined by her role as Henry’s wife, and not actually as a person in her own right.
  • This couple actually makes me seethe with frustration at how this can be depicted as a romance – it’s almost as bad as Twilight, except that both of them were manipulated into it, and there isn’t the same kind of widespread denouncement of their relationship as a Bad Thing. Gahhhh.
  • Honourable Mentions:
  • Ana and Christian – Fifty Shades: Don’t even talk to me. Twilight on steroids, this is the creepiest, most abusive relationship I’ve ever seen depicted as normal.
  • Callum and Sephy – Noughts and Crosses: being together across racial and political divides, Callum and Sephy’s story is a story of a friendship that crossed boundaries and an examination of privilege from a totally different perspective.
  • Jem and Tessa – The Infernal Devices: Ahh, I loved this couple. So cute together. So torn between their three-way friendship with Will and all that it meant for them. So dedicated to each other and to support and to finding a way through adversity, and fighting evil. Mega cuteness.
  • Lirael and Sam – The Old Kingdom Series: Awkward, tongue-tied, stumbling over words, and yet inexplicably drawn to each other. These teenagers are totally regular in their relationship, despite having saved the world together. My heart might actually burst.

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He Said/She Said

NetGalley is such a wonderful resource for finding books that I never even knew I would love this much. An email pinged into my inbox last week advertising He Said/She Said, and I was drawn in by every aspect of it, from the electric cover art to the mysterious blurb which promised a thriller which was exactly the kind of thing I would love. And I was not even a tiny bit disappointed. He Said/She Said is a masterfully suspenseful, twisting, turning addictively engaging thriller which had me repeatedly messaging people about how good it was.

He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly
32928314

Who do you believe?

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something – and someone – is always in the dark…

This book was really fantastic. Electric suspense ripped through every page as the story of the 1999 Cornwall incident and the 2015 eclipse unfolded in parallel. The players in the story were revealed gradually, only as the story developed, and I spent the entire book in a frenzy of curiosity as I tried to figure out who had done what and how Kit and Laura had ended up in such a state of fear.

There were lots of really praiseworthy things in this book. Thought-provoking discourses on rape culture, flirtation, consent, and how rape victims are judged, as well as the all-too-prevalent notion that rich white boys can get away with anything were underlying the plot but never felt preachy, only highlighting some incredibly important issues in a way which was effective and intense.
Kit and Laura were fantastically engaging twin narrators – bound together by the trauma they survived and the relationship they’ve forged, their college sweetheart story is a compelling picture of what love can withstand – and what it can’t.
Beth, too, is a gloriously shaded villain – complex and nuanced, she’s every bit as crucial to the plot as Laura’s anxiety and Kit’s eclipse obsession.
If the ending is a little over the top, I allowed it, because the ratcheting tension throughout the book justified it, and it wasn’t out of tone with the brutal beginning of this epic ride.
Not only did I get a thrilling psychological thriller, I also learned some new information about eclipses, making this book both hugely entertaining and educational!
From first to last page, I never knew what was coming next – like an eclipse, some part of each character was cast into sudden darkness and new insights flared like a corona.

Electrically tense and eerily dark at times, this is my first five-star book of 2017.
Five stars
*****

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A Storm of Swords – George RR Martin

In continuing my journey into Westeros, I actually was surprised by the fact that I really quite liked this third instalment of A Song of Ice and Fire. Where the previous two books had been hard going, with a lot of characters introduced and extreme difficulty keeping track of them, by this point I felt like I had gotten a handle on who the main players in the game were, and so I was ready to actually engage with the twists and turns of the story.

A Storm of Swords – George RR Martin

62291Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces manoeuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…

Despite really plodding through the first two books of A Song of Ice and Fire, I was drawn in enough to want to keep going, so I made my way through A Storm of Swords, but as I started it, I wasn’t all that excited about where it was going.

Boy, though, was I pleasantly surprised. Mysteries which had been percolating for two books were resolved, new characters were introduced, new alliances forged, and death poked its head up in all kinds of places – both expected and unexpected.

A Storm of Swords was also the book in which two of the things I had heard spoilers about occurred. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was beyond excited about the release of Goldenhand last year, so it was one of my tracked tags on tumblr. However, the tag was also rife with pictures of Jaime Lannister. Hmmm. Suspicious.

The other great happening of this book was the infamous Red Wedding. I didn’t know whose wedding was the Red Wedding, so I regarded every wedding from the beginning of A Clash of Kings with suspicion and alertness until I finally reached the much-discussed scene, and even though I had anticipated it, I was not disappointed.

I have no love for Sansa, nor Danaerys, although she annoys me much more in the tv show than the books, but there are plenty of really interesting characters here, and I’m beginning to appreciate the shifting narrative more, as it draws a more epic story than a book which followed a single protagonist.

Plus, of course, POV characters can die at any time, so that’s fun, and unexpected, unlike in Allegiant, where the introduction of a second POV was a giant red flag…

This is definitely my favourite of the series so far, and I might even go so far as to say that I actually enjoyed it, rather than plodding through it out of a sense of dogged determination.

A Feast for Crows is now high up on my TBR, although it’s being crowded out by a whole bunch of other books that keep popping up and enticing me to read them.

Four Stars
****

 

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Waiting-on Wednesday

Something a little different from the norm, this post is about the upcoming books that I’m most excited for. Inspired by Breaking the Spine, this specific post is about my current top three reads that I’m looking forward to being published this year, and the thing they have in common is apparently … green in their cover art.new-wow

      1. Frogkisser! – Garth Nix
      2. A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J Maas
      3. The Ship Beyond Time – Heidi Heilig

Frogkisser! – Garth Nix

33784725‘Wise and wondrous’ – Holly Black

Garth Nix is on hilarious form as he spins his very own fairy tale, featuring Princess Anya, who, with her loyal dog, must embark on a terribly important (capital Q) Quest to acquire the ingredients for a reversal lip balm, the vital item needed to change a frog back to a prince . . . oh, and save her kingdom from her villainous step(step)father.

A brilliantly funny take on fairytales and quests for younger readers.

Is anyone surprised about this? I love Garth Nix, and cannot wait to read this fairytale, which I am sure will be infused with his usual wit and wisdom. Plus there’s a dog. Who would not want a dog? This publishes next month. I’m already impatient for it to arrive!
28th February 2017 – Piccadilly Press

A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J Maas

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Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

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.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

Despite only actually starting the ACOTAR series last year, I read the first two instalments in quick succession and am now itching to see how things pan out for Feyre and Rhysand in the final installation of this fairytale trilogy.
2nd May 2017 – Bloomsbury Childrens Books

The Ship Beyond Time – Heidi Heilig

33195435The breathtaking sequel to the acclaimed The Girl from Everywhere. Nix has escaped her past, but when the person she loves most is at risk, even the daughter of a time traveler may not be able to outrun her fate—no matter where she goes. Fans of Rae Carson, Alexandra Bracken, and Outlander will fall hard for Heidi Heilig’s sweeping fantasy.

Nix has spent her whole life journeying to places both real and imagined aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. And now it’s finally time for her to take the helm. Her father has given up his obsession to save her mother—and possibly erase Nix’s existence—and Nix’s future lies bright before her. Until she learns that she is destined to lose the one she loves. But her relationship with Kash—best friend, thief, charmer extraordinaire—is only just beginning. How can she bear to lose him? How can she bear to become as adrift and alone as her father?

Desperate to change her fate, Nix takes her crew to a mythical utopia to meet another Navigator who promises to teach her how to manipulate time. But everything in this utopia is constantly changing, and nothing is what it seems—not even her relationship with Kash. Nix must grapple with whether anyone can escape her destiny, her history, her choices. Heidi Heilig weaves fantasy, history, and romance together to tackle questions of free will, fate, and what it means to love another person. But at the center of this adventure are the extraordinary, multifaceted, and multicultural characters that leap off the page, and an intricate, recognizable world that has no bounds. The sequel—and conclusion—to the indie darling The Girl from Everywhere will be devoured by fans of Rachel Hartman and Maggie Stiefvater. Includes black-and-white maps.

I am so excited about this. I loved The Girl From Everywhere far more than I ever expected to, and I cannot wait for Nix’s story to continue as she takes the helm of her own ship!
March 23rd 2017, Hot Key Books

So those are my top three picks for books publishing in the next three months – any others I should be aware of and excited for?

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The Shadow Queen – CJ Redwine

One of the last books I read last month, The Shadow Queen drew me in with its black-and-white cover, and its presence on a list of books to read while you’re waiting for King’s Cage (which I so am).

Despite the short blurb on that page specifically saying that it’s inspired by Snow White, I totally didn’t get that parallel until I had actually started reading the book (no, the dark apple on the cover didn’t tip me off either), but when I did notice it, I was on board with little nods to the original story.

23299513Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

Unfortunately, the Shadow Queen is a pretty forgettable high fantasy story. A dethroned princess, an evil stepmother, an insta-romance and the power of true love overcoming the power of evil all together made for a read which was interesting enough, but not really compelling.

I can’t say that I was really enthralled by the Shadow Queen, and even a week after finishing it, I would struggle to tell you the names of half the characters and kingdoms. Thematically this felt a little like the Grisha trilogy, perhaps because of the Russian-sounding names and the fairy-tale aspects of the story.

While much deeper than Snow White itself, I still wasn’t entirely enamoured with The Shadow Queen. There wasn’t much that I could put my finger on for why I wasn’t sucked in (except for the insta-love), but there wasn’t really much that stood out for me either.

I noticed on Goodreads that this is part of a series, and I was wondering how it would be continued, due to the complete wrapping up of the storyline. However, when I went investigating, it turns out that the other books in the series focus on different countries in the same universe, with nods to past books. While that’s an interesting approach, there wasn’t enough in The Shadow Queen to really draw me in to go for a second adventure in Ravenspire. One for the long-term ‘maybe’ list.

Three Stars
***

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Eyes Like Mine – Sheena Kamal

33785050.jpgI am consistently grateful for the fact that I’m on Bonnier Zaffre’s book blogger list, because it means that I get the chance to read things like this, which ticked lots of boxes for things I like to read.

Crime/Thriller? Tick! Shady past? Tick! Unreliable, alcoholic narrator? Tick! Mysterious circumstances that the narrator doesn’t think they’re connected to, but they end up inextricably entwined in? Tick tick tick!

Eyes Like Mine – Sheena Kamal

It’s late. The phone rings.

The man on the other end says his daughter is missing.

Your daughter.

The baby you gave away over fifteen years ago.

What do you do?

Nora Watts isn’t sure that she wants to get involved. Troubled, messed up, and with more than enough problems of her own, Nora doesn’t want to revisit the past. But then she sees the photograph. A girl, a teenager, with her eyes. How can she turn her back on her?

But going in search of her daughter brings Nora into contact with a past that she would rather forget, a past that she has worked hard to put behind her, but which is always there, waiting for her . . .

In Eyes Like Mine, Sheena Kamal has created a kick-ass protagonist who will give Lisbeth Salander a run for her money. Intuitive, not always likeable, and deeply flawed, Nora Watts is a new heroine for our time.

I thought that this book could end up being more of the same of things that I had read, and would therefore be disappointing. In terms of tone, it started out feeling a lot like The Girl on the Train and Try Not To Breathe, both of which I enjoyed, but the more of these things you read, the more original they need to be to pique your interest.

Eyes Like Mine managed that, though. It kept things interesting in a way that I was actually slightly surprised by. Where I thought it would be another three-star read to file away with a variety of other crime thrillers, this one actually lingered with me longer than a few others I read before it, probably due to its interesting extra dimensions of race, mixed-race heritage, adoption, homelessness, and the lush Canadian setting.

There were a lot of dimensions to this book, a lot of things to really think about, including the position of mixed-race women in Canadian society and the things that you can do if you can have enough money. Nora was a damaged, dark, twisted protagonist with a seriously traumatic past and a single-minded determination to get what she wants done. She was a singularly intriguing MC who really drew me in.

Parts of this book were pretty unrealistic – specifically the deus ex machina (or should that be deus ex oceania) towards the end of the book, and left a bit of a pall on the ending. The second book in this series is already written, and features Nora investigating her father’s death while Brazuca uncovers a crime which is also linked to Nora.. I’m not sure how keen I am on the idea of a series where every crime is mysteriously linked to the investigator, but I did really enjoy Eyes Like Mine so I would be very surprised if I don’t end up reading Nora’s next adventure at some point.

Four Stars
****

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