Monthly Archives: February 2019

Crown of Feathers – Nicki Pau Petro

I received a copy of this book from the publisher on NetGalley… Thanks!

Crown of Feathers (Crown of Feathers #1) – Nicki Pau Petra


I had a sister once.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Sometimes the title of Queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And, meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy about love’s incredible power to save or to destroy. Throughout is interspersed the story of Avalkyra Ashfire, the last Rider Queen, who would rather see her empire burn than fall into her sister’s hands.


“Draws you in with the first flaming feather and doesn’t let go.” – Kendare Blake

“A feast of magic, action, and romance.” – Elly Blake

“A fierce and incendiary tale of warrior women, sisterhood, and the choices that define us.” – Lisa Maxwell

“A beautifully told story about justice, sisterhood, and warrior women. This richly woven world had me turning pages well into the night. Nicki Pau Preto is one to watch.” – Shea Ernshaw

“The unique and imaginative world of the Phoenix Riders had my rapt attention from the first sentence. Nicki Pau Preto is a bright new talent, and I can’t wait to read more!”– Morgan Rhodes

“An action-packed adventure that will leave fans of epic fantasies eager to find out more. The ending is the perfect setup for a sequel.” – School Library Journal

“This is a new twist on fantasy favorites, and Pau Preto’s first novel is as ambitious as it is lyrical.” – Booklist

“Epic in the truest sense . . . it’s the perfect series kickoff.” – Quill and Quire

“Debut author Pau Preto’s series opener steadily gathers steam before closing with a pulse-pounding crescendo. Veronica, Tristan, and conflicted imperial soldier Sev trade chapters, their stories interweaving to heighten tension, deepen character, and illustrate the importance of empathy, equality, community, and knowing one’s own truth.” – Publisher’s Weekly

I got an email this week saying that this book was on NetGalley, and I was instantly hooked. Look at that cover art! It’s spectacular! Imagine the story of the Riders from Empire of Storms, but fleshed out into their own fully realised world! And also, warring sisters! I was SO on board with this story, so I requested it immediately.

Once approved (and delighted), I sat down to read it last night, and boy, did I regret that in the morning. Not because it was a bad book! But rather, because I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and getting up this morning was difficult, because I finished the entire thing. At 496 pages, this was no mean feat, so you can imagine how heavy my eyelids were by the time I finished.

The beginning of this book is… well, it’s slow. There’s a lot of information dumped on the reader almost straight away. Veronyka and Val are sister, on the run from the Empire, where magic is outlawed, and in search of phoenix eggs. But the first chapter of the book is laden down with information about the world, the magic system, the history, how magic was outlawed, what phoenixes are. There was just too much of it, and I felt bogged down before we’d even gotten started.

But I persevered through the info-dumping, and once the plot actually got started, it was really interesting. There was a tendency throughout to throw down large chunks of information rather than interspersing it through the story, but that can probably be put down to the fact that this is a debut novel.

The infodumping also badly affected the pacing of the novel, where the opening chapters felt glacial, and the last few chapters fairly raced by. The revelations in the final pages felt almost thrown out, as it the book had to be capped at 500 pages and all the information had to be put across.

This wasn’t enough to make me dislike the book. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Veronyka and Val’s relationship is complex and multi-layered, the magic system, although somewhat simplistic, is well-structured, and the phoenixes (phoenices? phoenix? Like sheep?) were magnificent.

There are three POV characters in this book – Veronyka, who is the clear main character, Tristan, a training phoenix rider, and Sev, a soldier in the Empire’s army who’s hiding the fact that he’s a forbidden animage – he has magical affiliations with animals. Veronyka’s chapters far outweigh the other two, but they add a certain amount of depth to the story as they flesh out beyond just Nyka’s perspective. Looming large in the story but not getting her own POV is Val, Nyka’s sister – for reasons which are clear by the end of the book.

There’s definitely scope here for a sweeping story of sisterly affection, phoenix riding, war, rebellion, and the inevitability of fate, and there was loads here that I really liked – enough that I’ll look out for the next book when it’s released – but it’s marred by heavy-handed info-dumping and romances that just… don’t hit the spot for me. But I might be terribly cynical.

Even still, it’s a good read, and certainly engaging, judging by the fact that I finished it in one night.

Three (and a half) stars

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The Red Ribbon – Lucy Adlington

I attended a Hot Key Bloggers Brunch last week, in which Lucy Adlington acted as moderator to a discussion with Heather Morris, author of the best-selling Tattooist of Auschwitz. I was excited to hear more about Cilka’s Journey, the followup to Morris’s runaway bestseller, but also delighted to be given a signed copy of The Red Ribbon, Adlington’s novel set in Birchwood, better known as Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Red Ribbon – Lucy Adlington

Rose, Ella40046433.jpg, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood.

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.

Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.

Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration with her captors, or is it a means of staying alive?

Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose?

One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.

This book was a really heartbreaking and interesting look at life for young prisoners in Birchwood, intertwined with a long-running theme of hope that underpins everything Ella, the main character, does in her long imprisonment in the concentration camp.

Ella and Rose, the two main characters, are unlikely friends in a horrendous place, grasping tightly to anything they can find to give themselves hope in the midst of one of the worst atrocities of human history. This book deftly weaves their story of friendship and hope with the tales of other women in Birchwood, from Guard Carla to Boss Marta, and with the underpinning structure of Ella’s dream to open a dress shop once she gets out of Birchwood.

There is so much going on here – it’s hard to actually take in the atrocities of concentration camps, and the casual dehumanisation of the prisoners – but Adlington deftly highlights the aspects of the camp that she wants to show the reader. The frequent divergences into reveries of food serve to underpin the constant hunger that plagues Ella’s every moment, and the casual violence from guards emphasises the dehumanisation of the prisoners.

On top of that, though, Adlington’s work as a clothes historian shines through very clearly. Ella’s intention to be a dressmaker and her position as a seamstress in the upper tailoring studio allow the narrative to muse on the importance of clothes, of fashion, of identity. Referring to prisoners as Stripeys and guards as Them, the distinction between the two classes of people is clear. There are some really heartrending thoughts on what clothes mean to people, what it is to wear clothes, how crucial fashions are to who we are as people. Hearing Adlington speak on that last week was really eye-opening. Clothes can tell us so much about who a person is, how they live, what they like… Why isn’t this given more thought?

The friendship between Ella and Rose was one of the strongest parts of the book, and the not knowing which pervaded the latter parts of the book was heartbreaking in its own way. I loved the strength of friendship between these two girls, the way they created stories to take themselves away from the horror they were living in. Loads to really love here.

My only complaint is that the final parts of the book felt somewhat… twee? For want of a better word. I’m not sure. I felt like the ending wasn’t quite what it needed to be. But I can also understand the reasoning for the choices made in how to end the book, so I don’t think that’s a major difficulty – just not what I would have done.

A really heartbreaking and thought-provoking book, it could also serve as a good primer for anyone who doesn’t know a lot about the concentration camps. Well worth the read, and I’m looking forward to Adlington’s next book, about a refugee fleeing WWII.

Four Stars

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Catching up and panicking

I was at a Hot Key bloggers brunch on Saturday (at which I met Heather Morris and Rebecca Adlington, and thoroughly enjoyed their chat about historical writing, and got all the goss on the sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey), and having a chat with two other bloggers about how you keep it all going. My answer at the time was that I try not to pressure myself and just accept if I miss a few days of scheduled posting. But, funnily enough, that coincided with my missing two posting days, and now I’m starting to feel bad about it.

I try to post every Tuesday and Thursday, so that’s two posts a week, which is a very minor commitment. But I don’t always manage it, because there’s so much else going on in life. And although I tell myself that it doesn’t matter, and it’s fine if I miss a few posts, because really, life is more important than blogging, but that doesn’t stop my heart from going ninety, feeling like I’m a failure as a blogger, and guilt weighing down on me. But I’m trying to shrug that off, and remember that this is supposed to be fun, not stressful.

So today’s post is a couple of one-liner reviews, to catch up with what I’ve read in the last few weeks, and see if I can shrug off some of the guilt!

The Day We Met – Roxie Cooper
Four Stars ****

The strapline on this book says ‘the perfect epic love story to read this Valentine’s day’, and I have to say I don’t agree with that, but I still enjoyed this ten-year will-they/won’t-they story of two people who feel an instant connection, but are both already in relationships. What an ending, though!

The Valley of Fear – Arthur Conan Doyle
Three Stars ***

This is actually the last Sherlock Holmes story I read, so now I can say I’ve read all 56 short stories and four novels. I don’t think this was the greatest, though. Quite disjointed in terms of how the story played out, with two disparate sections, one of which had NO Sherlock at all. Disappointing.

The Marble Collector – Cecelia Ahern
Three Stars ***

It was unusual to listen to an audiobook by an Irish author, read by Irish voice artists. Unusual, but very refreshing. Interesting story, but I’m not sure I really loved it. It felt very crammed into an artificial timescale.

A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult
Three Stars ***

I normally love Picoult, but I don’t think this was her greatest book. I didn’t like the timescale, and the way it played out by going back through a single day. I’d have liked more about what happened after the point at which the book opened!

Those Other Women – Nicola Moriarty
Four Stars ****

I had had this on my kindle for months before I actually picked it up, and once I did I didn’t regret it. Filled with intrigue and accurate analysis of female friendships and rivalry, the ending was a little melodramatic, but no harm.

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
Four Stars ****

The second last Sherlock Holmes I read, this was definitely better than the Valley of Fear. More cohesive, and probably a better story overall.

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One Minute Later – Susan Lewis

I kind of think of Susan Lewis as a British Jodi Picoult, with sweeping, family-driven, issues-laden stories that focus on human emotion and are generally written from multiple perspectives. I don’t mean that as a criticism at all. I really like those kinds of books. They’re meaty, but not gory – focused on human emotions and human lives, and full of relatable characters. So when I saw that Susan Lewis’s latest book was available for request on NetGalley, I clicked the request button, and was even more delighted to be approved.

One Minute Later – Susan Lewis

41210703.jpgYour life can change in a heartbeat…

Brilliantly emotional, suspenseful and page-turning, One Minute Later is the stunning new novel from the Sunday Timesbestselling author, Susan Lewis.

Susan Lewis – behind every secret lies a story.

The new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author, Susan Lewis.

It’s takes one minute to change everything…

Vivienne Shager has it all. A highflying job. A beautiful apartment. Friends whose lives are as perfect as her own. But on the afternoon of her 27th birthday, Vivi has a heart attack.

Now Vivi’s life shrinks back to how it begun, as she moves back to the small seaside town she grew up in. With her time running out, there is one thing she wants to know the truth about.

Some secrets are best left in the past…

Thirty years earlier, Shelley’s family home, Deerwood farm, bursts full of love and happiness. But one family member has hidden a secret for all these years. Until Vivi comes home demanding answers, and it takes just a moment to unravel the lie at their heart of their lives…

I enjoyed this book a lot. At its heart a romance, the story of Vivi learning to adapt to her new life and how things have changed when she suffers a major cardiac incident is by turns swoonworthy and heartbreaking, and intertwined with Shelley’s story thirty years earlier, there’s plenty going on here to keep you entertained.

From the beginning of the book, I had my suspicions about how things would turn out, and although I got some aspects right, I got some aspects very wrong, and was delighted to see how the past intertwined with the present. Having thought about how the plot played out, I can totally see that there were hints there that I should have picked up on, which is testament to Lewis’ style of writing. I feel a bit like someone being held by the hand and explained something gently after the fact, and then feeling really impressed that there were hints of it laid out throughout the book.

The ending, however, felt a little rushed and a little disappointing, because it could easily have been the best part of the book. Sadly, I didn’t feel like it was given enough time to really land, and resonate, but I can understand as well why that decision was made.

An important theme through the book is the need for people to register as organ donors. Without being preachy, it’s interesting to see how a real-life campaign and person – Jim Lynskey and – can be intertwined with the fictional story of Vivi and finding her heart. I’m already signed up to be an organ donor, and have made my wishes known to my parents, but if even one person comes away from this book and decides to sign up to be a donor, that’s the potential for nine more lives to be saved.

Packed with emotion and enough twists and turns to keep anyone entertained, this was a great addition to Susan Lewis’s huge body of work, and well worth the time.

Four Stars

One Minute Later is released on 21st February (next Thursday!) and should be available in all good bookshops from then.


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Review: King of Scars – Leigh Bardugo

I’ve been looking forward to the release of King of Scars pretty much since the day I finished Crooked Kingdom. A return to the Grishaverse! More stories! More Grisha! More Nikolai!

King of Scars was published last week, and I got the audiobook and read it (listened to it?) over the course of the next few days. It’s a very good book, very engaging, and filled with great characters, but it rests very heavily on the shoulders of its predecessors, which makes it that little bit less impressive.

King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1) – Leigh Bardugo

36307634Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

There is no doubting that this is an excellent book. With several intertwining narratives, from Nina in Fjerda to Nikolai in Os Alta, with Zoya leading the armies and plenty of court intrigue to keep us going, there’s no shortage of storylines going on. Seeing how Nina is coping after the events at the end of Crooked Kingdom is great, because she was one of my favourite characters, and returning to Ravka to see how the aftermath of the civil war is playing out is also thrilling. There’s plenty of new intrigue in the form of diplomatic relations between different nations, as well as Nikolai’s search for a bride to continue to (putative) Lantsov line. Plenty going on here.

There is also an expansion of some of the mythology of the world, some of which I didn’t quite understand. Towards the middle of the book, we begin to learn more about the Saints, and what happened to them – as well as some explanation of how to become a Saint (is Alina a saint? Well, who knows?) and the powers they possess. We return to the Fold, the dead area still splitting the east and west of Ravka, and learn more about the impact of the Darkling’s actions in the original Grisha trilogy.

But that’s actually something I didn’t really like about this book – yes, it’s really interesting to see what’s happened after the Grisha trilogy, but it feels to me like it’s too much of a follow on to that plot, and not enough of its own story. Nikolai’s inner demon, a remnant of the merzost that the Darkling forced inside him late in the third book of the Grisha trilogy, is surprisingly disappointing in how it works out. And how many times are characters going to die but not die? Also, this obsession with the Darkling is growing dull. I know he’s many people’s favourite villain, but I just don’t find him compelling at all. I’d rather we move on to new problems, please.

For Nina, also, the main villain of her story is no different to before – both Nikolai’s demon and Nina’s crusade are continuations of stories that were started in other series, and I’m a bit disappointed that their expansion is a large part of the focus of this new series. It feels lazy, like already created villains and plots are being repurposed to prop up a new series. But really, why not just continue the old series if that’s the case? Don’t make it sound like we’re going somewhere completely new when really we’re just continuing what we’ve already started.

That’s really my only complaint, though – a little bit tired in terms of who the villains are for two of the main plots. But the third main plot, of Nikolai’s court intrigue and Isaak’s part in that, as he works with Genya and David, together with Tolya and Tamar, was great – old characters, but in new roles, doing new things, tackling new problems.

This book finished on a huge cliffhanger, but having read Six of Crows, I was totally expecting that, and given that it’s a duology, but the third linked series, I don’t think that’s a major problem for me. My only problem is that we don’t have a title or a publication date for the second half of the series.

Four very pleasurable stars

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A Danger to Herself and Others – Alyssa Sheinmel

I really loved Faceless, which I won in a competition a few years ago, and so when I saw on twitter that Sheinmel’s next book, A Danger to Herself and Others, was on NetGalley, I was requesting it very shortly after. Approved a few days later, I started this, left it, then came back and consumed most of it within a single night. Compelling and thoughtful, it is entirely not what I expected – I was thinking of a thriller, of toxic female friendships, and of a self-interested protagonist manipulating all those around her. There were elements of this in the book, but it was much more than that as well.

A Danger to Herself and Others – Alyssa Sheinmel

43207753.jpgOnly when she’s locked away does the truth begin to escape…

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Gold has always been treated like a grown up. As the only child of two New York professionals, she’s been traveling the world and functioning as a miniature adult since the day she was born. But that was then. Now, Hannah has been checked into a remote treatment facility, stripped of all autonomy and confined to a single room.

Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. What happened to her roommate that summer was an accident. As soon as the doctor and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can get back to her life of promise and start her final year at school. Until then, she’s determined to win over the staff and earn some privileges so she doesn’t lose her mind to boredom.

But then she’s assigned a new roommate. At first, Lucy is the perfect project to keep Hannah’s focus off all she is missing at home. But Lucy may be the one person who can make Hannah confront the secrets she’s avoiding – and the dangerous games that landed her in confinement in the first place.

Gripping, heartwrenching and powerful, A Danger to Herself and Others is Girl, Interrupted meets We Were Liars in this new novel from New York Times bestselling author Alyssa Sheinmel.

Very different to the first book of hers that I read, Faceless, this thoughtful piece on mental illness and unreliable narrators is poignantly drawn.
Hannah Gold is clever, independent, and has been grown up since she was four or five years old. Locked up in a secure facility, she’s convinced that all she has to do is convince the doctors that she’s perfectly fine and this is all a misunderstanding, and she’ll be allowed out in time to start the first semester of senior year in high school.
But the arrival of new roommate Lucy might just be the catalyst which leads to Hannah discovering far more about herself than she ever thought would be true.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hannah is arrogant, self-satisfied, and frankly, quite unlikeable. Superior and manipulative, she’s convinced she knows better than everyone, and that she knows exactly how to get them to do what she wants. Starting the book, I was aware that we were dealing with an unreliable narrator, so I took everything that Hannah said with a pinch of salt, especially about what happened to land her inside. But as the book went on, what I thought would be a reveal on a par with, say, Dangerous Girls or Black Cairn Point was much more subtle than that, and thus much more rewarding.

Lacking the emotional heft of Faceless, if I wasn’t comparing this book to Sheinmel’s last offering, I think I would be much more enthusiastic about this book. As it is, my opinion is that it’s very good – but it’s not as good as Faceless. If I wasn’t aware that they were the same author, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to put the same caveats on it.
Ah, the perils of becoming a victim of one’s own success.

Let me try again.
This nuanced and delicate look at mental health and self-perception is really very good, and highly recommended.

Four Stars

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