Blog Tour: Bright Steel

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I’m thrilled that today is my stop on the blog tour for Bright Steel, the last book in the Masters & Mages trilogy by Miles Cameron. I reviewed the first book in the series here, and hopefully my review of Dark Forge, the second book in the series, will have been posted by the time you’re reading this. I have, with a few caveats, really enjoyed reading this series, and I’m actually feeling quite sad to say goodbye to Aranthur and co!

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Every war come down to the flash of bright steel.

Even when the air is full of magic . . .

Aranthur and his friends have come together across different continents and realms with one purpose: to strike back against the forces which have torn a hole in the heavens and threaten to tear the world beneath them apart as well.

With time running short, and treason at home, there are battles to be fought on the field, in the magical arena, and in the ever-deadly realm of politics, and they cannot fail anywhere or everything will fall. Victory will require enemies to trust one another, old foes to fight together, spies to reveal the truth and steadfast allies to betray long-corrupt rulers.

Is Aranthur, a twenty-year-old student, really the master strategist to bring it all together?And can he and his friends build enough trust to overcome aeons of lies when their plans inevitably fall to pieces?

Do they even know, for sure, who the enemy is . . . ?

It is, I think, going to be very difficult to review Bright Steel without spoiling the first two books in the series. As is the nature of series, the stories follow on, and I can’t really explain this one if you don’t know what came before. I will, however, say that this is the best of the series. It’s exciting and breath-taking, and you know the characters well enough to properly care about what happens. Aranthur’s utter despair at what war is making of him is as heartbreaking as if Cameron had decided to kill the character. I’ve watched Aranthur grow from a naive farm boy to a hardened soldier and battlemage, and it hurts to see him hurting (and boy does Cameron put him through the mill in this book!). It’s not just Aranthur of course, but Dahlia, Sasan, Drako and Inoques, and Aranthur’s loyal band of soldiers under his command. Some of them we know more than others, but we know enough to worry about them.

I did find some of the book confusing, as I did with the previous two. I think it must be something about Cameron’s writing style that doesn’t quite mesh with my brain, because I sometimes feel like I’m being asked to make leaps of logic that there’s no evidence for. It’s also, purposely I think, choppy. While this can be a bit frustrating, I think it also emphasises how Aranthur is feeling and how his brain works. Those leaps of logic that I struggle with? They’re how Aranthur keeps going, and how he makes his plans, some of which are more successful than others, and so I’m more at peace with the style than I was when I read and reviewed Cold Iron.

The world-building is less obvious in Bright Steel than the previous two books. They’ve already done all the heavy lifting, and so Bright Steel is able to concentrate more purely on the story. However, the descriptions are as lush as ever, and Aranthur’s continued development of his magic as he gains knowledge from his travels and merges different styles of magic makes perfect sense. I loved the period we spend in the Emperor’s palace, especially all the polictical machinations, and I also really liked his realisation of exactly why the Empire has its rules for magic, and the consequences his work could have in the future. It felt like something the story had been building to and not something thrown in as an afterthought. The other thing I really liked was Aranthur’s sword. I can’t tell you why without spoiling both Dark Forge and Bright Steel, but I loved it.

I would have liked a bit more information at the end about what happened next, but I suspect Cameron is saving that for his next series. This might be the last book in a trilogy, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a new trilogy a bit further down the line with new characters and cameos from our favourites. If such a thing came to exist, I’d definitely be picking it up!

Bright Steel is a fantastic book, full of adventure (although with more than a smattering of gore). It ties up almost all of the loose ends of the trilogy, and has some great callbacks to events in the first book. It’s a fitting end to the Masters & Mages series and I’m very glad I got to know Aranthur and his friends.

4/5

Bright Steel is out on 22 August. Many thanks to Waseem and Stevie at Gollancz for the gifted copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review. 

Blog Tour: Shadows of the Short Days

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjalmsson. Set in an alternate Reykjavik, I was intrigued by the premise of this from the start so I was excited to have the opportunity to read it. Many thanks to Waseem and Stevie at Gollancz for my gifted copy!

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Sæmundur the Mad, addict and sorcerer, has been expelled from the magical university, Svartiskóli, and can no longer study galdur, an esoteric source of magic. Obsessed with proving his peers wrong, he will stop at nothing to gain absolute power and knowledge, especially of that which is long forbidden.

Garún is an outcast: half-human, half-huldufólk, fighting against an unjust government that refuses to grant people like her basic rights. A militant revolutionary and graffiti artist, recklessly dismissive of the status quo, she will do anything to achieve a just society, including spark a revolution. Even if she has to do it alone.

This is a tale of revolution set in a twisted version of Reykjavik fuelled by industrialised magic and populated by humans, interdimensional exiles, otherworldly creatures, psychoactive graffiti and demonic familiars.

The first thing I’m going to say, because I’m always honest in my reviews, is that the first 150 pages or so were something of a struggle. There’s a lot of world-building to do, and although it’s well written, it is also the teensiest bit dull. Or at least, it is in my opinion. Not everyone will agree, and that’s good! But if you do find yourself thinking that maybe Shadows of the Short Days isn’t for you, do stick with it, because it improves massively once we get into the action. I actually found myself breathless at one point, as I wondered if a character was going to escape the situation they’d found themselves in.

Neither of our main characters is particularly likeable, although I did have a preference for Garun, who was at least working for a cause and not just for herself. Yes, she’s pretty reckless and doesn’t really think about the other lives she’s putting at risk, and she doesn’t really value her own life much, but she believes in what she’s fighting for. Saemundar, on the other hand, thinks he’s a misunderstood genius, and sets in motion a chain of events that has unforseen consequences, in an attempt to prove his professors at the university wrong. I found myself thinking “don’t be an idiot Saemundar” quite a lot throughout his point of view chapters!

The industrial/steampunk Reykjavik setting was very interesting. Dark, but interesting. I particularly liked the interdimensional pocket version, which was even darker than the main city, and filled with exiles, huldufolk and forbidden magic. It was also interesting to see how being in that setting affected the characters in a different way to how they normally behaved. I did feel that a level of knowledge of actual Reykjavik was assumed – I might be wrong on that, but I did find it difficult to picture certain parts of the city and I’m normally a very visual reader and I wondered if the descriptions of certain places weren’t as detailed because of that assumption. But like I said, I might be wrong and actually, the Reykjavik in the book is completely different to real life Reykjavik.

There were some loose ends at the point the book finished, and it definitely ends on something of a cliffhanger, so I assume there’s a sequel on the way. I must admit, I’m intrigued to where Vilhjalmsson might take a next installment!

If you like grimdark fantasy with an industrial twist, I definitely recommend you check out Shadows of the Short Days!

Shadows of the Short Days is out now.

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the tour, and thanks again to Gollancz for my gifted copy.

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

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: The Caged Queen

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I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Caged Queen today! If you read my review of the first book in the series, The Last Namsara on Wednesday, you’ll know how much I loved that and how much I was looking forward to The Caged Queen. Fortunately, my copy of The Caged Queen arrived on the same day that I finished the previous book, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed in it.

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Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished – until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax – the heir to Firgaard’s throne – was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax’s promises go unfulfilled. Roa’s people continue to suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises – an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.

In theory, you don’t need to have read The Last Namsara in order to read The Caged Queen. It’s not a direct sequel, in that it doesn’t continue to follow Asha (although she appears), but it does start not long after the events of the first book, and will spoil that book slightly. Personally, I’m glad I read The Last Namsara first, as it gave me a deeper understanding of the world and characters, but you probably don’t need that to enjoy The Caged Queen on its own merits.

And what merits they are! I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure of it at first. It took me longer to warm to Roa than it did to Asha, especially as she seemed determined to be mean to Dax, who I’d loved in the first book. However, as we learn more of Roa’s story, we come to see why life in Firgaard’s palace is so frustrating for her, and it becomes clear that she faces an uphill struggle to be accepted as queen. There’s also the tragedy of her sister’s death for her to come to terms with – something she hasn’t been able to do for eight years – and by the end of the book I loved her. Not as much as I loved Dax probably, who continued to be adorable and sneaky and secretive, but still a lot.

The Caged Queen is much more about political intrigue than The Last Namsara and I loved it for it. This is what happens after the revolution, and it makes it clear that you can’t just kill the prevous king and your job is done. You have to work for acceptance, make some dirty compromises to get things done, and wait for the right time to implement drastic changes. Dax gets this. Roa doesn’t, and it was fascinating to see how her very different upbringing affected her world view and brought her into conflict with her husband. In the scrublands, where Roa is from, things are decided based on what’s best for the community, not one particular person, and once a decision is made, it’s actioned. The idea of essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul makes no sense to her, and I really enjoyed seeing her start to work out how Firgaard functions and use it to her advantage.

I enjoyed the storyline with Roa’s sister less than the political intrigue, but it was still interesting, and I particularly liked how it eventually tied in. Ciccarelli is very good at laying the groundwork for eventual revelations throughout the book and I love it when you get that “aha!” moment. And the conclusion of this subplot was…well, I can’t say, because it would completely spoil the book, but it was good and right and it made me cry (that’s not a spoiler, because I cry at almost everything these days, happy or sad!). In fact the same could be said of the end of the whole book. I had a little moment of hugging it to myself when I finished, with that satisfied feeling of knowing you’ve read something excellent.

We get to see more of the wider world this time, particularly Roa’s homeland, for obvious reasons, and mostly through backstory inserts. This really added to the sense of place, and I loved seeing some of the events we missed while following Asha in the last book. Roa’s history was also interesting and I liked seeing what brought her to the point where she was willing to marry someone she hated. The fairytale/myths chapters were back too, and I loved them as much as I’d loved them last time.

I read The Caged Queen in a couple of hours on a Saturday morning when I had a long list of other things I was supposed to be doing. I just couldn’t put it down for long enough to do any of them! It is not a choice I regret making though. Like The Last Namsara before it, The Caged Queen is the sort of book you want to be able to immerse yourself in, without any distractions from the real world. Go and find yourself a copy, make sure you have a free morning or afternoon, and settle in for a fantastic story. You won’t regret it!

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

4.5/5

ARC provided by Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in return for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

View from a Book: Guest Post by Sophie Cameron

ootb-tour

Today is my turn on the blog tour for Out of the Blue, the stunning debut novel from Sophie Cameron which came out on the 22nd March. On the surface, Out of the Blue is a story about angels falling from the sky, but on a deeper level, it explores the different ways we deal with grief and how we can affect the other people around us. I was sent an arc as part of this blog tour, and I absolutely loved the book. Jaya, the main character, is incredibly relatable and I loved seeing her relationships with Allie and Teacake (the only angel to survive the fall) develop.

Sophie kindly agreed to be the second participant in my View from a Book feature, so without further ado, onto Sophie’s post!

View from a Book

View From a Book

  • Where are you and what are you reading?

I’m in Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona, and reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.  

  • Would you recommend the book?

Definitely! I’m only a few chapters in but so far it’s excellent.

  • Is there anything special about this particular spot?

It’s one of my favourite parks in Barcelona and is just a short walk away from my flat, so I come here a lot when I want a wander or some fresh air. In summer it’s too busy to read in peace, but at this time of year you can still find some quiet(ish) spots.

  • Do you have a favourite place to read?

I love reading on the beach – any beach, as long as it’s not too busy.

  • Can you tell us a little bit about Out of the Blue?

Out of the Blue is about a 16-year-old girl named Jaya, who has recently lost her mother and whose father has dragged her and her sister to Edinburgh in the hopes he can catch one of the angels or ‘Beings’ that have been falling to earth for the past eight months. It’s Jaya who finds one instead – but rather than telling her dad she decides to keep it hidden from him and nurse it back to health.

  • If you could send someone to anywhere in the world as the perfect place to read Out of the Blue, where would you pick?

It’d have to be Edinburgh! Maybe in the Meadows or the Royal Botanic Garden, if it’s a nice day.

  • And finally, if you could pick any book for Jaya and Teacake to read, what would it be?

I love this question! For Jaya, I’d pick Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee, I think she’d love that. I think Teacake could probably learn to read in English really fast if she put her mind to it, but to start with I’d give her a recipe book with lots of photos of tasty cakes and puddings – maybe Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Thank you to Sophie for this fabulous post – are you all as jealous as I am of that lovely spot?!

Out of the Blue is out now from Pan Macmillan and really is a fantastic book that I recommend you all get your hands on immediately, especially if you like LGBT and disability rep in your books.

Have you read Out of the Blue? Do you want to? Let me know in the comments!

View from a Book: Guest Post by Yaba Badoe

Jigsaw tour4 copy

Today I am really excited to be welcoming Yaba Badoe onto the blog as part of the blog tour for A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars, her YA debut. Published in hardback in September, this beautifully written book has just come out in paperback, and tells the story of Sante, the family she’s lost and the family she’s found.

Yaba has very kindly agreed to write a guest post and launch my new feature, View from a Book, and I couldn’t have asked for a better launch post! I love the book Yaba has chosen and I think the photograph she has sent me is gorgeous – I wish I had somewhere like this to read!

View from a Book

ViewFromABook_YabaBadoe

This is the view from a book I’m currently reading – an edition of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm illustrated by Arthur Rackhman.

The book is open at page 72, on the story of the The Goosegirl. A mild-mannered, ‘humble’ princess on a journey to marry a distant Prince is bullied by her bloody-minded Lady-in-Waiting into swapping her clothes and identity. The Lady-in-Waiting marries the Prince while the real Princess is forced to eek out a living as a Goosegirl. Eventually, the Prince’s father, the King, discovers the Goosegirl’s secret. The Lady-in-waiting is put to death and the true Princess marries her Prince!

I’m reading the story on the sofa of our basement kitchen – a great place to read and relax because it’s comfortable, and has a wonderful view of a large sycamore tree in our front garden. Depending on the season, whenever I look up from the page, there’s either a lot of sky or leaves. That upward tilt of my head to gaze out takes me deeper into a state of reverie essential for entering other worlds. And if the sun is out and I’m in tune with the story I’m reading, looking out dazzles me.

At the moment I’m working on a second book, Wolf-light for Zephyr, the YA imprint of Head of Zeus. My debut novel for Zephyr was A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars – a story about people trafficking, migration and dislocation. Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasures. It seems she is the survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Fourteen years on she’s a member of Mama Rose’s unique and dazzling circus. But from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them.

Wolf-light tells the story of three young women, sisters of the heart, born within hours of each other in Mongolia, Ghana and Cornwall. Zula, Adoma and Linet are custodians of sacred sites and belong to a secret order whose task is to protect and conserve the landscapes they inhabit. When copper miners begin to plunder Zula’s desert home in Gobi Altai and Adoma’s forest and river are polluted by gold prospectors, it is only a matter of time before the lake Linet guards with her life is also in jeopardy.

A couple of the characters in A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars reappear in Wolf-light – so although it’s not a sequel in any sense of the word – it revisits a theme that fascinates me: how, do individuals and communities, in an increasingly globalised world, hold on to what they treasure most.

Thank you for this gorgeous post Yaba! I’m really looking forward to reading Wolf-light in the near future!

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is out now in paperback, published by Zephyr, and is well worth your hard-earned money.

Have you read A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars? If not, are you more likely to after reading this? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour this week!