Blog Tour: I Hold Your Heart

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Please be aware that this review discusses the themes of I Hold Your Heart and as such contains references to abusive relationships.

I am a HUGE fan of Karen Gregory – Skylarks was my favourite book of last year – so I knew as soon as I heard about I Hold Your Heart I had to be part of the blog tour. I am therefore absolutely delighted to be reviewing this book as one of the first stops!

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‘You make me feel like there’s something good in the world I can hold on to,’ Aaron says. He kisses me again, draws me so close it’s almost hard to breathe. ‘I love you, Gem. And I promise I’ll hold your heart forever.’

When Gemma meets Aaron, she feels truly seen for the first time. Their love story is the intense kind. The written-in-the-stars, excluding-all-others kind. The kind you write songs about.

But little by little their relationship takes over Gemma’s life. What happens when being seen becomes being watched, and care becomes control?

Told in both Gemma’s and Aaron’s words, this is a raw, moving exploration of gaslighting in teenage relationships that skewers our ideas of what love looks like.

I absolutely loved I Hold Your Heart. It’s a brilliant, and important book, looking at something that isn’t really covered that often in YA. A lot of contemporary YA is all about the romance, the cute relationship, the happy ending, but I Hold Your Heart looks at what happens when that cute relationship is actually an unhealthy and controlling one. Where it really comes into its own though, is in giving us both points of view. In doing so, it doesn’t invite us to empathise with Aaron, or make excuses for him, but to see how easy it is to become entangled with someone who has poor intentions.

Given that, it’s definitely important to go into this book aware of its contents. There is an emotionally abusive relationship throughout, it’s sometimes physically abusive and violent and there’s a scene where the main character is unable to give full consent to sex. These scenes were difficult enough to read without any personal experience; I can’t imagine what it would be like if you’ve lived through similar situations.

Obviously, as someone who doesn’t have any personal experience of the situation in the book, I can’t speak to how realistic the portrayal is, but it seems very realistic to me. Gemma, our main character, has some brilliant friends who see Aaron for what he is immediately, but he still manages to isolate her completely, and persuade her that her friends are jealous of their relationship and she’s better off without them. The first chapter from Aaron’s point of view is quite chilling, because he knows exactly what he’s doing. Does he set out to purposely abuse Gemma? Probably not, because I don’t think he thinks of what he’s doing as abuse. But I do think he wants to be the only person Gemma cares about and he will do whatever it takes to get that.

Gemma herself is a fascinating character. Ostensibly, she has a good life. She has parents who care about her, a nice house to live in, friends who love her and dreams to follow. But her brother (who is adorable by the way) is on the road to becoming a professional footballer, which takes most of her parents’ time, and she feels she matters less because of it. Her dad wouldn’t let her go to the college of her choice because it was too far away, but he’ll drive her brother anywhere he needs to go. It’s easy to see how Aaron is able to exploit that feeling. Aaron makes Gemma feel seen, that she is the most important thing in the world to him, and it’s the first time she’s ever felt that. I absolutely understand why she can’t see what her friend, Esi, sees, and I can equally understand that she wants to show she reciprocates. I loved (while hating that it was happening) that you could see Gemma changing right there on the page. She starts off so confident, and you can actually see her confidence being whittled away. I’m in awe of Karen’s writing skill to be honest, because that’s so hard to do when it’s written in first person.

I need to talk about Esi for a bit, because I loved her, and there’s a part of me that would have liked to see more of her, even though that wouldn’t work in the story. She’s the best sort of friend, the sort who isn’t afraid to call you out on your BS, but is also fun and caring and looking out for you, even if you aren’t doing the same in return. Everyone needs an Esi in their life!

I can’t actually talk about some of my favourite things, because they would be firmly in spoiler territory, more so than what I’ve already talked about, but trust me when I say the entire book is fantastic. It is, as I said above, hard to read at some points, because you can see what’s happening so clearly and it’s frustrating that Gemma can’t, and there are scenes that are actually painful, but that’s what makes it so brilliant. I can’t recommend I Hold Your Heart enough – Karen Gregory has definitely done it again!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

5/5

I Hold Your Heart is out on 11 July from Bloomsbury. Many thanks to Bloomsbury and Faye Rogers for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

When Stripes Publishing did a blogger callout asking for people to review Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I’m so glad I did, because this is a stunning book I might not have picked up otherwise.

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A powerful coming-of-age story about grief, guilt and the risks a Filipino-American teenager takes to uncover the truth about his cousin’s murder.

When Jay Reguero hears of his cousin Jun’s death, everything changes. Although years have passed since they were last in contact, the stories about Jun just don’t fit with the boy Jay knew. Hoping to uncover the truth, Jay travels to Jun’s home in the Philippines – but the shocking realities of life there lead to even more questions. Can Jay find the answers he seeks?

A gripping and lyrical YA novel for fans of Angie Thomas’s THE HATE U GIVE, Patrice Lawrence’s ORANGEBOY and Nic Stone’s DEAR MARTIN.
I’m not going to lie, I did put off reading Patron Saints of Nothing for a little bit because I wasn’t in the mood for such a heavy topic. I was wrong to do so, because it meant I took so much longer than I should to find out just how good this book is. I absolutely loved it, even though it did make me cry, but then it made me laugh too, and the journey it took me on was hard, but amazing.
Jay Reguero, our main character, is a Filipino-American, who left the Philippines with his family when he was very young. He’s only ever been back once, when he was ten, but while he was there, he bonded with his cousin, Jun, who was only three days younger than him. They keep in touch through letters until they’re about 14, when Jay finds other things to do with his time and just never writes back. Four years later, he learns Jun has been killed as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, but can’t rationalise the Jun he knew with a drug dealer and addict, and so he decides to travel to the Philippines to try and find out the truth.
Jay is such a great character. He doesn’t really feel like he fits in at school – there aren’t many other non-white kids for starters – and he doesn’t really know what he wants to do once he graduates. He has a college place at a good school but he’s not excited by it at all. HIs older siblings seem to know exactly what they want and are out getting it, but Jay just feels a bit lost. And then he finds out Jun has died. Not only that, because of the way he died, there’s not going to be a funeral or memorial, and nobody will mention his name. Jay is completely thrown by this and his grief practically swarms off the page. He can’t concentrate on anything other than Jun. He researches what’s happening in the Philippines, something he’s never done before, and he starts to feel ashamed that he had no idea what’s been going on there. He also realises he’s never going to find out what actually happened to Jun by just sitting in his bedroom and he persuades his parents to let him go and visit the rest of his family – which they allow, on the condition he obeys his uncle and never mentions Jun.
I loved how we got to see Jay learning more about his family and getting to know them as adults. It was also interesting to see how he felt he didn’t fit in there anymore than he felt he fitted in in America. His uncle takes every opportunity to denigrate Jay for being too American and not Filipino enough, and he’s disgusted Jay doesn’t know more about the history or language of the Philippines. Even his nice relatives don’t think Jay can understand what’s happening in the country because he’s too much of an outsider. As we go through the book, we see Jay learning and understanding more and more about a heritage he left behind years earlier, and unpacking his identity and privilege. Also, his Tita Chato and Tita Ines were awesome and I’d quite like to see them in a book of their own!
I also loved how we got to know Jun through the letters he wrote to Jay. It was really quite bittersweet, knowing that the person who had written them had died, but it was also very effective in making us care about Jun, and allowing us to see why Jay was so convinced that he was being lied to.
The other thing I thought Ribay did really well was educating his readers about the war on drugs in the Philippines. I must admit, I had no idea this was happening, and I thought he included the information we needed in a very readable, but still sensitive  way. He doesn’t pull his punches though. The consequences of Duterte’s brutal war are laid bare on the page, and it can be a hard read at times. There’s also an author’s note at the back with resources for your own research.
This review has in no way done justice to the book, but I think it’s definitely one of those books you just have to read. Once you’ve read it, you’ll understand. I really didn’t expect to love it in the way that I do but there you go. Sometimes a book surprises you, or you read it at just the right time. I urge you to give Patron Saints of Nothing a go – but I’d probably make sure you have tissues nearby!
(If you’d like to read what Filipino reviewers think of the book – and I highly recommend that you do – check out the US blog tour hashtag on twitter #PatronSaintsPHTour)
5/5
Patron Saints of Nothing is released in the UK on 27 June by Stripes Publishing, who kindly sent me a gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Tulip Taylor

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It’s my turn on the Tulip Taylor blog tour today, and I’m delighted to be sharing my review with you. Contemporary YA is my go-to read at the moment, so getting to read Tulip Taylor [gifted] by Anna Mainwaring was a real treat!

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Challenged to go on a `survival’ reality TV show, fifteen-year-old make-up vlogger Tulip only accepts to escape her mother’s money-making schemes and protect her younger brother and sister. Set up to fail, can she prove to the TV show, to Harvey – the cute but annoying boy who got her on there – and most importantly to herself, that she’s more than just a pretty face? As Tulip puts down her phone and heads for the hills, she finds she has both the courage and insight to take on each new challenge. But as ‘reality’ gets ever more crazy, will either teen escape their families and their time in the spotlight unscathed?

As someone who is very sceptical of reality shows and incredibly popular vloggers, I wondered how I’d get on with Tulip. I’m pleased to report it was very well indeed, and I very much enjoyed reading her story. Tulip herself is a great teenage character – she’s very confident on the outside, but inside she’s plagued with all the usual anxieties. She’s found that make-up helps calm her down – she’s literally putting on a face to the outside world, presenting herself as she wants to be seen. She’s incredibly accomplished at what she does, but also very aware that because it’s make-up, and a ‘girl thing’, others think she’s daft and vapid, and this was something that rang so, so true. It also serves as the trigger point for the story – Harvey, new to the school, thinks that because Tulip is obsessed with make-up, she’s also stupid, and is very surprised to find out that’s not true.

I didn’t get on as well with Harvey as I did Tulip. At some points early on, he seems incapable of realising people can have many facets. Fortunately, he does eventually realise the error of his ways, and as the book goes on, I did become much more sympathetic to him. Harvey has his own issues he’s dealing with, not least that it’s clear to him his older brother is the favoured son. There were some really interesting parallels between Tulip and Harvey and the way their respective parents behaved, and I enjoyed seeing the two of them become closer as the book went on.

Speaking of Tulip’s parents – oh my goodness, how she hasn’t already killed her mother I don’t know! Tulip’s mum has completely thrown herself into the world of online influencers in a desperate bid to make ends meet, and she makes some quite suspect decisions as part of this – including installing cameras around the house so the whole family can be recorded 24/7. Tulip tries to reign in the wildest excesses, but there’s only so much a 15 year old can do, and in the end, the only way she can find to stop her mum’s scheme is to go on the show being run by Harvey’s father, and give her own father time to come up with some money. As reasons go for pushing yourself to do something you know you’ll hate, it’s a pretty good one, and I loved that Tulip’s main motivation was to protect her younger brother and sister.

I think I pretty much knew how the survival section would go, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun finding out if I was right or not! I did get frustrated with some of Tulip’s fellow contestants and how judgemental they were, but I loved Tulip proving them wrong again and again. There were definitely a few moments when I wanted to cheer, on both Tulip and Harvey’s behalf!

In short, I really enjoyed Tulip Taylor. It’s a fun YA contemporary with a serious message about discovering who you are and being true to yourself. It’s also, I think, got a good message about switching off from social media every now and again – nobody needs to be online all the time, and you never know what you might discover about yourself if you give it a try!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4/5

Tulip Taylor by Anna Mainwaring is out on 20 June from Firefly Press. Many thanks to Firefly, Bounce Marketing and Faye Rogers for my gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Somewhere Close To Happy

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Today I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Somewhere Close To Happy, the debut novel by Lia Louis. I’ve followed Lia on Twitter since before her book deal was announced, so I jumped at the chance to receive a gifted copy from Trapeze Books and review her novel!

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Lizzie James is happy. She has a steady office job (with a steady stream of tray bakes), has had the same best friend since secondary school, and she sees her family every Thursday night for take-away and TV. Granted, some members of her family she’d rather not see, and they definitely don’t want to see her after what happened back then… but on the whole she’s happy. Or somewhere close to it, anyway.

Until a letter arrives one day from her best friend, Roman. A letter dated 12 years ago, the exact day he went missing.

It brings all her painful memories flooding back: the new school she had to go to when she was ill, losing her beloved granddad, Hubble, and then losing her first love. As Lizzie uncovers the secrets of the letter, she starts to discover what really happened the year her life fell apart – and all avenues lead back to Roman.

Who sent her the letter, and what happened to Roman?

I won’t lie, Somewhere Close To Happy isn’t my usual choice of book. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know I tend to read either middle grade, young adult or fantasy books. But sometimes I just fancy a really good piece of adult contemporary fiction, and that’s what I got with Somewhere Close To Happy.

The story is told through a mix of present day and flashbacks, and I really liked this style as it gently led us to the only ending there could be. It worked really well, and allowed us to get to know all the characters. Obviously this was particularly important in Roman’s case, because otherwise we would only get to know him through Lizzie talking about him, and I don’t think we would be as invested in her trying to find him in that case. The flashbacks allow us to see why he means so much to her, rather than just being told, and we come to care about him as much as Lizzie does. It also gives us insight into Lizzie herself, as we see that she essentially put her life on hold when she was 16, because that seemed to be the easiest way to deal with it.

There were a few moments when I wished the story was told was told in a more linear way – it was frustrating to try and work out what exactly The Grove was, for example, or what had happened to make Lizzie’s aunt hate her so much – but on the whole the style worked for me, and I enjoyed the background being filled in slowly.

Character wise, I loved Lizzie and her immediate family, and couldn’t stand her Aunt Shall, although I’m pretty certain you’re supposed to feel that way about her! She’s so vile to Lizzie and constantly make everything about her, so when Lizzie finally stands up to her, I almost cheered! Fortunately, Lizzie is mostly surrounded by good people – her best friend Priscilla is an absolute darling, as is her sister-in-law, Katie – and they are there to support her as she revisits one of the most painful times in her life.

I also wanted to mention the mental health rep in Somewhere Close To Happy. It’s a really excellent portrayal of how mental illness can be an ongoing battle – maybe not constant, but often there in the background – how there are good and bad days, how easy it can be sometimes to hide the bad days, and how much a lack of understanding from your loved ones can affect you. It also covers grief, addiction, unwanted pregnancy and family drama, dealing with them all sensitively and realistically, without ever taking your focus away from the main story.

I really enjoyed Somewhere Close To Happy. It’s a quiet, gentle book about life and journeys, and the people we meet on the way who shape it in ways we could never imagine. It’s an incredibly well crafted book, and well worth your time.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4/5

Somewhere Close To Happy is released in the UK on 13 June by Trapeze Books

Blog Tour: Smoke In The Glass

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Today I am thrilled to sharing my review of Smoke In The Glass, by Chris Humphreys, as part of the blog tour. Huge thanks go to Stevie at Gollancz, for the opportunity and my gifted copy of the book!

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Three lands, peopled by humans and immortals.

In Corinthium a decadent  endlessly-lived elite run the world for profit and power. But when a  poor, honest solider dies, and is reborn, everything changes.

In wintry  Midgarth, where immortals are revered as deities, one of them has realized that something – or someone – is killing the gods.

And in Ometepe there is only one immortal, for he has murdered every other. Until one woman gives birth to a very special baby.

Yet there is a fourth, hidden land, where savage tribes have united  under the prophecy of ‘the One’: a child who is neither boy nor girl.  Now they plan to conquer the world. Unless a broken soldier, a desperate  mother and a crippled god can stop them…

So I’m not going to lie to you, I was wary when I saw the blurb for Smoke In The Glass. “Savage” tribes and an intersex baby? So much potential for fail. But actually, I was pleasantly surprised. There are some derogatory terms used, so you might want to be careful when reading, but they’re generally from characters who are supposed to be “bad”, and they’re challenged by other characters. It is something to be aware of though.

The point of view is split between the three lands (none of which know of the existence of the others), with the occasional interlude from the fourth. Our main characters are Ferros from Corinthium, the land where immortals represent the elite and the rich, Luck from Midgarth, a land which bears a strong resemblance to Scandinavia and where immortals are seen as gods, and Atisha from Ometepe, where there is only one immortal who is worhsipped as a god. Ferros and Luck are immortals themselves, and Atisha is the former consort of immortal Intitepe, abandoned and sent to the City of Women after becoming pregnant. Each point of view offers something different for the story – Ferros is finding his feet as an immortal, whereas Luck is already hundreds of years old, and Atisha provides the non-immortal point of view. We also hear from Lara, Ferros’s lover, who is disappointed with the change she sees in Ferros.

Luck was by far my favourite character. I enjoyed the Norse-like setting of Midgarth, and the constant battling of Luck’s village with their neighbours. It’s also the land where we find out much of the detail of the plot, which I think helps you to like it. Luck is also the brains of the story – he’s the one who notices something weird going on and investigates it, he’s the one who takes the initiative to travel across the land, he’s the one who persuades his fellow gods to unite Midgarth so they are better able to face whatever’s coming.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Ferros’s and Atisha’s parts of the story, because I did. I particularly enjoyed Atisha’s time in the City of Women, among other women who had been in her situation, and the support some of them gave her. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there are some great humorous scenes here, as well as a rollicking action sequence. Ferros is a little bit harder to talk about. The book begins with him, and I thought I was really going to love him, but his story actually got a little bit boring to be honest. He seems to spend a lot of time not learning anything, and while it’s true he’s being manipulated by other immortals, he started off seeming much cleverer than he ended up being. I felt very sorry for Lara, who’d given up everything to be with him. However, despite that, there were moments in this strand of story that I found very interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Smoke In The Glass has to do a lot of work in setting up the world, and Humphreys does a great job here. I love the information we get about where immortality comes from – it’s different in each land – and how each land is completely separate from the others. Ferros and Lara give us the perfect opportunity to see Corinthium from an outsider’s point of view, and because Luck is essentially the history keeper of Midgarth, he can provide lots of interesting tidbits through explaining them to the other gods. I also really liked the idea that there’s no way to tell if you’re immortal unless you die. Each main character is surrounded by a bevy of interesting supporting characters – again, Luck’s fellow gods are my favourites, mostly because they actually listen to him and work hard to make sure his plans succeed, although I did love Atisha’s older companions in the City of Women.

Humphreys has a fairly traditional style of writing which might not be for everyone. As someone who grew up on traditional fantasy, this didn’t bother me at all, but Smoke In The Glass is quite slow-paced and doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. It’s also very much the first book in a series, designed to bring all our protagonists together, and it ends on something of a cliffhanger. I’m intrigued to see what happens next – it’s clear we’re going to get more information from the fourth land and I think that will be fascinating – so I’m really looking forward to book 2. If you’re looking for a new dark fantasy series, I don’t think you’re going to go wrong with Smoke In The Glass.

4/5

Smoke In The Glass is out now from GollanczDon’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

Blog Tour: As Far As The Stars

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I am delighted that today is my stop on the blog tour for As Far As The Stars by Virginia MacGregor. Many thanks to Nina Douglas and HQ for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review!

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How do you change what’s already written in the stars?

Christopher is the sort of guy that no one notices, yet when Air catches sight of him making intricate paper birds in the airport, she can’t look away.

But their worlds are about to collide in ways they never expected. Someone they love is on Flight 0217 from London Heathrow. And it’s missing.

Convinced that her brother was on a different flight, Air drives them hundreds of miles across the country, on a trip that will change their lives forever.

But how do you tell the person you’re falling for that you might just be the reason their life has fallen apart?

So I’ll be honest. It took me a while to get into As Far As The Stars because I just couldn’t understand why Air and Christopher were acting the way they were. I mean, sure, Air convinced herself her brother was on a different flight, but Christopher knew his dad was on the missing one, and yet he still left the airport to go on a cross-country trip with a stranger. But then something suddenly clicked with me, and I found myself really enjoying the story, and the romance that was developing.

Air is clearly someone who can be frustrating. She is very much the organiser of her family, especially when it comes to her brother, Blake, and everyone relies on her to be the sensible one, but this also means that she’s very introspective and doesn’t tell anyone what’s going on. There were moments when I wanted to shake her, and certainly part of the book is about her learning to trust other people.

That obviously comes from the other main character in the book, Christopher. He has his own issues, but their road-trip allows both characters to learn from each other and really start living their own lives and not the ones laid out for them by other people. The romance does develop quickly, but given the situation they’re in, I think it’s entirely realistic that it would do, and it’s written well. I also found that the way the relationship developed gave me insights into the characters. It can sometimes be hard to understand the other characters when a book is written in the first person, but As Far As The Stars is written in such a way that you learn as much about Christopher’s feelings as Air’s.

I also really liked the flashbacks, which meant we got to see just why Air adores her brother so much. Blake is mostly thoughtless, careless and focussed on himself, but it’s clear from the flashbacks that Air is the exception and the adoration goes both ways. Even though they’re opposites in many ways, they absolutely get each other, and I thought Virginia MacGregor did a wonderful job in showing that. I did feel sorry for Jude, Air’s sister, though – it can’t be easy to see your younger siblings form a clique without you!

As Far As The Stars is beautifully written and deals with grief and how different people handle it really well. I was sobbing by the end of the book, and the final third in particular is fantastic. Although it did take me a while to get into, I would definitely recommend it. Just remember your tissues!

4/5

Book Review: Thanos: Death Sentence

I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’ve delved into the comics a few times, so when Julia at Titan Books asked if I’d like to review a prose novel based on the comics, I jumped at the chance. Obviously, Thanos: Death Sentence has been re-released to take advantage of the hype for Avengers: Endgame (which I have seen and loved, but no spoilers here!), but it was interesting to see a different take on Thanos, and particularly to see his actions from his point of view.

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A new life for the Mad Titan! Thanos’s pursuit of the Infinity Gems has always defined him. But when the Marvel heroes defeat him once again, Thanos’s beloved Mistress Death grants him one fi nal chance. Stripped of his powers and his old skin, Thanos embarks on a cosmic walkabout to reassert his power over himself and the Multiverse. This all-new, original tale explores the inner life of one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. Haunted by family – or the semblances of it – the Mad Titan may become something else entirely. Will he maintain his illusions of grandeur, or is this a new path for a lost god?

Thanos: Death Sentence is structured in four main parts. There’s the surrounding story, which starts and ends the book, with the Avengers and Fantastic Four and X-Men, among others, fighting Thanos, and then there are the sections where Thanos lives as three different people, and tries to get his bearings on the journey Mistress Death has sent him on. Along the way, we get to see Thanos remembering his original life and what set him on his path of destruction.

We also get a insight into some of Thanos’s crew, Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive and Ebony Maw. My only previous reference for these three is Avengers: Infinity War, so this was really interesting for me. I loved how lost they were once the original Thanos disappeared, desperately searching the universe for someone to follow, and Proxima Midnight’s conviction that the person she’d found was Thanos, only to lose him again. Her relationship with Glaive was also fascinating, and I really liked getting the chance to get to know these characters a bit better.

I found it interesting that two of Thanos’s lives in this book had a romantic element to them. Romance is really not something I associate with Thanos, and it did make me wonder how much a lack of love has affected his decisions in the past. This is a theme that does run through the book, as Thanos reflects on family and the events that made him, and it was fascinating to see this side to him. I think all villains should be multi-faceted, and Thanos: Death Sentence certainly increased my understanding of his history. There is a chance that this might smack of rehabilitating someone who shouldn’t be rehabilitated, but I think it’s clear from the book that Thanos will never change.

In fact, this is one of the biggest problems in the book. Thanos goes on this journey, but he’s not changed by it. He still causes chaos everywhere he goes. He still wants to please Mistress Death above all else. The only self-realisation he has is that he doesn’t want to change and that he shouldn’t have to. Which is a great message in a YA contemporary romance, for example, but not so good when it’s a book about one of the Marvel Universe’s greatest villains. It’s also overlong, and drags, and I found parts of the last life very confusing in terms of timescale (and that’s before the great rug-pull at the end of it!). There’s also the problem that all the Marvel prose novels seem to have, which is that they’re trying to bridge the gap between the comics and the films, but it doesn’t work because there are too many differences. They want you to bring the affection you have for the film characters, and apply it to the comic characters, but, certainly for my brain, that just ends up confusing because they’re not the same characters.

It’s a valiant effort though, and I definitely applaud Marvel and, in this case, Stuart Moore, for trying, and for giving the purple Titan a bit more attention. It didn’t quite work for me as a story, but I still enjoyed it, and it’s probably worth reading if you want a bit more depth than the comics give you.

3/5

Thanos: Death Sentence is out now from Titan Books

Book Review: The Near Witch

Before I start this review, I would like to tell you a little story. It starts nearly five years ago, when I was attending Worldcon in London, and I happened to attend a panel on urban fantasy (or possible YA), because some of my favourite authors were on it.* Also on that panel was a 27 year old author I’d never previously heard of, even though she’d already published five books. And she started talking about one of those books, and how it was about a library of the dead, and I was completely and utterly sold. I quite liked the sound of her other books too – the already published creepy superhero book, the forthcoming fantasy book which featured four different Londons, and her debut, about witches and fear and consequences. The Near Witch was already out of print at that point, and almost impossible to find, so I was pretty certain I’d never get the chance to read it. And then suddenly, Victoria/V E Schwab became a (well deserved) phenomenon, and even her more recent books were being published in collectors editions, so it was kind of inevitable that her debut would eventually join them. Thank goodness for Titan, who were also kind enough to gift me a copy of The Near Witch in exchange for an honest review.

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The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. 

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company. 

There are no strangers in the town of Near. 

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. 

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true. 

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. 

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

First of all, can we take a moment to appreciate that cover? When they announced it, I thought it was a bit weird, but now I love it! It’s so striking. If you’re not aware, there are actually three covers – the one above is the standard edition, there’s a grey one exclusive to Forbidden Planet (which is the one I pre-ordered – they now come signed too!) and a yellow one that’s exclusive to Barnes and Noble in the US. The boards underneath the dustjacket are also beautiful – the standard edition is a deep maroon with a silhouette of Lexi in gold and it’s gorgeous.

Second of all, if you follow me on twitter, you may have seen me tweet that the introduction to this book made me cry. Yes, the introduction. It’s Victoria talking about how sad she was when The Near Witch originally went out of print, and how unusual it is for a book to get a second chance like this, and it just made me very emotional, ok? I am, if you haven’t guessed already, a huge fan of Victoria. I think she’s amazing, not least in the number of books she has published in the last eight years, and I think it’s wonderful that her debut is getting a new lease of life.

Third of all, it’s actually time for me to talk about the book itself. I know. It’s taken a little bit to get here – I hope you’ll forgive me. So, personally, I loved The Near Witch. If I didn’t know it was a debut, I wouldn’t have picked it up from the writing, although it’s clear that Victoria’s writing has improved with each book. It is quite slow to get going, but to me it was a very lyrical style of writing, and it suited the pacing. I know that’s not for everyone though, so bear it in mind if you’re thinking of picking it up.

The Near Witch is essentially a fairytale, and that’s exactly how it reads to me. The town of Near has a legend that comes with a song even the smallest child knows, and that song is often carried on the wind (incidentally, I’m writing this as Storm Gareth rages outside and the wind is whistling and howling, which seems very appropriate and not a little creepy!). There are no strangers in Near – everyone knows everybody’s business – but that means that when a stranger does appear, he is immediately suspect. The fact that he appears just as children start going missing does not help! Only Lexi is convinced he’s innocent, but she has her own problems, and it’s not easy for her to prove it.

I really liked Lexi. She’s confident in her own skills, but frustrated by the patriarchal society she’s a part of. Her family, particularly her little sister, is her world, and her devastation at the death of her father is an ever-present undercurrent to the story. I was less convinced by her love story with Cole, the stranger who appears one night, but that’s ok, because even Lexi and Cole are tentative about it. I’ve seen some people describe it as instalove, but it didn’t come across that way to me. As it’s a book written in first person, from Lexi’s point of view, we only find out information about Cole as she does, and so he doesn’t have as much depth of character as Lexi, but I liked his story too, and we get to find out more in the novella that’s been packaged in this edition, The Ash-Born Boy.

I thought the world of The Near Witch was beautifully evoked. I live in a city in the north-west of England but I’m close enough to the Yorkshire moors to be able to picture the setting exactly. And I think that’s one reason I liked it so much. It’s never stated where Near is, and I’m sure if you live elsewhere, you can imagine it to be somewhere near you, but for me, it was definitely northern England, and I always have a soft spot for books set in the north!

I’m going to stop rambling on now, but I really loved The Near Witch. It may have been V E Schwab’s debut, but it’s definitely stood the test of time. I’m now sad that it didn’t get the life it deserves the first time round too, but this is a beautiful edition of a beautiful book, and it’s well worth your hard-earned cash. You might think I’m biased, but the only way you can tell for sure is by reading it yourself, so why don’t you?

4.5/5

The Near Witch is out now, from Titan Books

*I didn’t get to spend much time at that Worldcon, thanks to ending up in hospital, and my second most vivid memory of the panel is that the moderator was terrible. But I’m so glad that panel was one I managed to attend anyway, because otherwise, who knows how late to the V E Schwab party I might have been?

Blog Tour: The Everlasting Rose

I am thrilled that today is my day on the blog tour for The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton! I really enjoyed The Belles last year, so I was very interested in seeing how the story was resolved in The Everlasting Rose. Many thanks to Patricia at Gollancz for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Camellia Beaureguard is a Belle. She can make you beautiful. Though there is always a cost. With a price on her head, the evil Queen Sophia out for blood, and no idea who to trust, Camellia must race against time to find the ailing Princess Charlotte, who has disappeared without a trace. Sophia’s imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep Camellia, her sister Edel, and her loyal guard, Rémy, from returning Charlotte to the palace and her rightful place as queen. With the help of a secretive resistance movement called the Iron Ladies – a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely – and the backing of underground newspaper the Spider’s Web, Camellia must use her powers, her connections, and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and restore peace to Orléans.

So, I actually think The Everlasting Rose is the better book of the series. I did enjoy The Belles, but it had a lot of setting up to do. Clayton is excellent at building her world, don’t get me wrong, but it can slow the plot down, so it was nice to be able to jump straight in to the action. And oh boy, do we jump straight in. The Everlasting Rose starts more or less where The Belles left off, with Camille, Edel, Amber and Remy in hiding from the despotic new queen. There’s very few reminders of what happened in the first book, so you really do need to read that one first if you want the faintest idea of what’s happening!

Having said that we get straight into the action, I don’t want you to think that the worldbuilding is lacking, because it isn’t. We get to visit a lot more of this world this time around, and all of it is stunningly described. We also get to find out more of the history of the world and where the Belles came from, and there’s definitely a part of me that hopes we might one day see a prequel covering this in more detail.

I loved that Camille’s primary motivation was to get the people she loved out of danger. The fact that that involved overthrowing a evil queen was definitely just a side show for her, but it showed us the main facets of her character very easily. It was interesting to see how her situation had changed – now in possession of knowledge she didn’t really want, she has to shoulder a lot of responsibility, and she doesn’t want to let her burden rest on her friends and sisters as well. I also liked that it was Edel we spent most time with, because she was a complete contrast to Camille.

I did think it sagged a little bit in the middle, and I would have liked to have seen more of the Iron Ladies and how they envision the future actually coming to pass, given that their ideas are very different from the way things currently are. But overall I thought it was well paced and definitely a page-turner – I raced through it in a couple of hours because I needed to see what happened, and I found the ending very satisfying. If you enjoyed The Belles, you’ll definitely enjoy The Everlasting Rose!

4/5

Spotlight on the Backlist: The Relic Guild Trilogy

Welcome to the first post in my new occasional series! Well, it’s intended to be a series, but the last one I started didn’t fare too well, so we’ll see how this one goes quite frankly.

The idea behind these posts is to give older titles a bit of love. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that I’m always attracted to new shinies instead of giving older books a bit of attention, particularly on the blog when you have a pile of review copies which need to be read and reviewed. So this series will highlight some of my old favourites, as well as books that have been around for a while that I haven’t read.

We’re going to start with a series that falls into the latter category. When I started going to conventions more regularly, in 2014, there was a lot of chatter about The Relic Guild by Edward Cox. Ed was actually a participant at some of these conventions, and I remember listening to him talk about his book, which was his debut, and thinking ‘oh, I need to read that’, and then I didn’t. Because I’m a terrible person whose TBR pile was already a mountain. I did buy it on kindle, but see above re new shinies taking priority. So when I got an email from Gollancz (in August. I’m so sorry this is so late!) offering the chance to read and review the entire trilogy, just as I was thinking of starting this series of posts, well, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I’m very glad I did jump at the chance!

(The Relic Guild Trilogy was gifted to me for free by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review)

Magic caused the war. Magic is forbidden. Magic will save us.

It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. The Aelfir who had brought trade and riches, and a future full of promise. But when the Thaumaturgists, overlords of human and Aelfir alike, went to war, everything was ruined and the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind boundary walls a hundred feet high.

Now the Aelfir are a distant memory and the Thaumaturgists have faded into myth. Young Clara struggles to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional city, where eyes are keen, nights are long, and the use of magic is punishable by death. She hides in the shadows, fearful that someone will discover she is touched by magic. She knows her days are numbered. But when a strange man named Fabian Moor returns to the Labyrinth, Clara learns that magic serves a higher purpose and that some myths are much more deadly in the flesh.

The only people Clara can trust are the Relic Guild, a secret band of magickers sworn to protect the Labyrinth. But the Relic Guild are now too few. To truly defeat their old nemesis Moor, mightier help will be required. To save the Labyrinth – and the lives of one million humans – Clara and the Relic Guild must find a way to contact the worlds beyond their walls.

People, the lack of love for this series is criminal! It’s so good! I’m not sure in which subsection of fantasy it should be classified – probably epic, but that doesn’t feel quite right as Labrys Town is dark and dirty – but however you want to class it, if you’re a fantasy fan, this series should be on your TBR. I raced through all three books and loved the characters and the settings. I especially loved seeing the younger versions of the Guild back in the last days of the war and realising how decisions made 40 years earlier had affected the present.

Labrys Town is a really interesting setting. Although The Cathedral of Known Things and The Watcher of Dead Time open things out somewhat, Labrys Town is always the centre of the story, and it’s a fascinating place. Cut off from all outside influences, surrounded by demons, and essentially reliant on one man for 40 years, it’s exactly the town you would imagine would develop under those circumstances. While it’s not somewhere I would like to live, it’s definitely the sort of place I like to read about! I also found the effect that living in a place like that had had on our heroes was interesting – the present day versions are much harder and tougher, not to mention more bitter and cynical, than the people we meet in the earlier story, and while I think this happens to everyone with age, to some extent, it was clear the circumstances of the last 40 years, and of course the losses they’d experienced during the war, had had a huge impact.

The story was well paced over the three books, and the two different chronologies worked very effectively in building the world and emphasising the terror engendered by the villains. There were many points in the plot where I couldn’t see a way out, and obviously that heightened the tension to almost unbearable levels. I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty good at seeing where a book is going, but this series had some twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting at all, and I love it when that happens!

I’m so glad Gollancz offered me the chance to read The Relic Guild trilogy. It gave me the kick up the backside I needed to read the series. I’m not sure I’d have ever got around to it otherwise, and I would definitely be missing out – as are you if you haven’t picked it up yet either!

4/5