April Wrap Up

Well. It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, isn’t it? As much as lockdown in the UK is for a terrible reason, I appreciate actually having time to do everything I want to! My blog has been terribly neglected for, well, most of its existence if I’m being honest, for various reasons, but hopefully this enforced period of staying at home will get me into better habits!

So, April. I know a lot of people have been finding it difficult to read at the moment, but I don’t appear to have the same problem. In fact, if anything, I’ve had the opposite problem – I read instead of doing the many, many other things I should be doing! As a result, I have read twenty-five books in April. Twenty-five! I usually manage somewhere between ten and sixteen, so twenty-five is a bit ridiculous. I’ve also found myself reading a lot of adult romance, which is not something I pick up very often, but has very definitely suited my mood in the latter half of this month.

april books

Five Star Reads

  • The Pieces of Ourselves by Maggie Harcourt. I love Maggie’s books, and this was no exception. In some ways it’s quite different to her previous two books, but it has a wonderful romance at its heart and I absolutely loved learning the history that Hal had come to uncover. Flora, the main character, has also been diagnosed with bipolar ii, and I thought the impact of that on her was explored really well.
  • Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger. So, confession time – I was sent this a really long time ago by Gollancz and had just never got round to reading it. I’d heard lots of good things about it, but it had been buried in the TBR pile, and having excavated it at the end of March, I decided it was time to finally read it. And it blew me away. I loved the way the four main characters’ stories interweaved, and the character development was fantastic, as was the world building. It did actually feel like a saga in the way it was written too.
  • Hold Back The Tide by Melinda Salisbury. I’m a huge fan of Mel, and so I can say with confidence that this is by far her best book yet. The setting, the characters, the plot, all of it was amazing and I was genuinely creeped out, even reading it on a bright sunny day. Also, can we talk about that ending?! Brilliant.
  • Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans. I talked about this in my Easter readathon wrap up. Weird but brilliant is a good summary though.
  • Before Mars by Emma Newman. Also in my Easter readathon wrap up.
  • The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman. Reviewed here.
  • Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. This was the start of my adult romance kick. I’d seen a few people talking about this, and it was only £2.99 on kindle so I thought I’d give it a try. And it was brilliant. Chloe Brown is a plus-sized, chronically ill person of colour, and a complete disaster. I laughed out loud many times at the situations she found herself in, but the romance was also wonderful. I’m so glad I picked it up!
  • Wonderland by Juno Dawson. I received an early copy of this via Netgalley, and it was actually the last book I read in April. I thought it was fantastic, and is possibly Juno’s best. It’s an Alice in Wonderland retelling, and the way Juno weaved in the original plot and characters while staying true to the story she was telling, was amazing. I loved Alice, with all her secrets and self-doubt, and I really liked the way it tied in with Clean (and, to a lesser extent, Meat Market). It’s out at the end of May, and I definitely recommend you pick it up, although be aware that there are a number of content warnings listed at the front of the book.

Four Star Reads

  • Boy Queen by George Lester. Easter readathon again!
  • The Rules by Tracey Darnton. And again!
  • Harley In The Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Another one from the Easter readathon!
  • Atlas Alone by Emma Newman. I love Emma Newman (pretty certain I’ve mentioned this before) and her Planetfall books have all been brilliant, covering a wide range of mental health issues, just in a sci-fi setting. I’ve rated all the previous books 5 stars, but I’m not sure what it was about this one that just didn’t click as well. Maybe because it’s the first one that’s a direct sequel? It can still be read as a standalone, but we’re with characters we met in After Atlas (which is my favourite of the series) and I just found it a bit more difficult to read. I enjoyed the spaceship and gaming setting though, and it was still good, just not as good as the prevous three books. I was sent this as a review copy by Gollancz (although I also bought a copy because I’m an idiot).
  • The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman. This was a reread after I finished The Deck of Omens, because I wanted to spend more time in Four Paths, and I greatly enjoyed going back to the beginning of the story.
  • Hex Life, edited by Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering. This was a review copy from Titan Books, and I started reading it in October. And then my dad died and I really didn’t feel like reading about witches anymore. I finally picked it back up a week ago and finished it, and I enjoyed it a lot. There were some stories in there that I hated, but there were a lot more that I liked, and a couple that I loved (but most of them I read in October and I have no chance of remembering which ones now!). It’s a really well put together anthology, and even though not all the stories were for me, there was enough good stuff for me to rate it 4 stars.
  • 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne. I got this out of the library after a friend had been raving about The Hating Game by the same author (which the library didn’t have). It’s another adult romance, and although the main character is rather abrasive, I liked her, and the story,  a lot. I notice from goodreads that a lot of people who read this after The Hating Game were disappointed, but without having read that first, I thought 99 Percent Mine was great.
  • The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. So many people have been raving about this, and as it was only 99p on kindle and I’d loved Autoboyography by the same authors, I thought I’d give it a go. And it was good! But I didn’t love it, and I downright hated the way Olive is treated for good portions of the book. Still, it was good enough overall to merit four stars.
  • That Kind Of Guy by Talia Hibbert. This was the fifth Talia Hibbert book I read in April, and my second favourite. It’s part of the Ravenswood series, set in a small English town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. By the time I got to this book, I knew almost all of the characters already and I don’t know if that made me more invested in the relationship than in the prevous three books, or if it was the fact that Rae, the main character, was my age and therefore more relatable than another 20-something. Whatever it was, I really enjoyed this book and would love to see more of the central relationship.

Three Star Reads

  • Word Nerd by Susan Nielsen. I read this right at the beginning of the month in an attempt to clear some of my TBR. The idea was to read a chapter and decide if I wanted to carry on with, except I couldn’t bring myself to stop. This was a nice enough read, nothing special, but I did like Ambrose as the main character.
  • Sky Thieves by Dan Walker. Read for the same reason as above. This was so nearly a four star book, but it didn’t quite make it. Very enjoyable though, and I’d be interested in reading the sequel.
  • The Girls’ Guide To Summer by Sarah Mlynowski. Again read for the same reason as the above two, again it came close to getting four stars. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, because I’d heard not great things about it, but it was a fun, summery YA read. I’m not someone who has a huge problem with instalove though, so that might be why!
  • The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik. I talked about this in my Easter readathon wrap up.
  • All Out edited by Saundra Mitchell. This is an anthology of LGBTQ+ historical stories, and I so wanted to love it. Sadly, for me, the quality of the stories just wasn’t consistent enough and I was quite disappointed. Some of the stories were great, but it really was a minority.
  • A Girl Like Her, Damaged Goods and Untouchable by Talia Hibbert. Grouping these together because my thoughts are pretty much the same on all of them. They were fun stories, I like that Hibbert’s characters have a lot of things going on with them, and the romances in all of them were incredibly hot. There just wasn’t the same depth in these stories as there was in That Kind of Guy or Get A Life, Chloe Brown, hence the three stars.

DNF

  • I didn’t finish The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart. It wasn’t bad, I just got 100 pages in and realised it really wasn’t my thing and I didn’t want to waste time reading it. It’s a shame, because I’ve met Martin and he was lovely, but this type of book just isn’t for me.

And that’s it for April! I can’t tell you how many books I’ve acquired in April because I completely failed to keep track, but there’s at least seven in the above list, plus I pre-ordered a copy of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L D Lapinski, which arrived on the 30th.

I suspect May will be a quieter reading month, not least because I’m back in the office two days a week instead of sitting at home constantly. However, I did finish a book this morning and I’ve bought four which are all due this month, so maybe it won’t be as quiet as I expect!

Let me know in the comments if you a) managed to make it through that screed, b) if you’ve read any of the above books, or c) what you’ve been reading!

Blog Tour: Rebel With A Cupcake

RebelBlogTour

Today I’m excited to be opening the blog tour for Anna Mainwaring’s new novel, Rebel With A Cupcake. I really enjoyed Anna’s Tulip Taylor last year so I was looking forward to reading Rebel. It didn’t disappoint!

(I was gifted a copy of this book as part of the blog tour, but all opinions are my own.)

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Jesobel Jones is bold and brash, the daughter of a hand model and a washed-up rock star. Jess sees no need to apologize for her rambling house, her imperfect family, her single status … or her weight. Jess is who she is. She makes her own cupcakes and she eats them, too. No regrets.

That is, until Own Clothes Day rolls around at school. Jess and her friends dedicate the requisite hours of planning to their outfits, their hair and their makeup for the one day they are free from school uniforms. But a wardrobe malfunction leaves Jess with a pair of leggings split open at the worst spot, and a mean girl calling her the one thing that’s never bothered her before: fat.

The encounter shakes Jess’s formerly iron-clad confidence, and she starts to wonder if she’s been just a little too comfortable in her own skin. When the boy of her dreams invites her to a party, she must decide whether to try to fit in for the first time in her life, or remain true to herself — whoever that really is.

I must admit that, at first, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rebel With A Cupcake. I didn’t want to read a book where the fat protagonist loses weight and everybody suddenly realises how pretty she is, but fortunately, that’s not what this book is. Part of the storyline does involve Jess trying to lose weight, but she’s actually pretty confident in the way she looks until a perfect storm of events has her questioning her outlook on life. I actually really liked that even when she is trying to lose weight (to fit into a dress her mum deliberately bought in a size too small), she’s conflicted about it all the time. She knows she’s only doing it because it’s what people expect, and there’s a part of her that hates it. I also liked that even when she couldn’t be positive about her own body, Jess was still all about body positivity for others.

I liked Jess a lot. I liked her friends a lot too – always supportive, willing to call Jess out when necessary, and ready to listen. I did not like Jess’s mum and sister, who were obsessed with Jess’s weight. If my mum had bought me a dress that she knew was too small to try and make me lose weight, I would have been devastated. It’s such a passive aggressive thing to do! Cat, Jess’s sister, wasn’t much better, although it was clear her attitude sprang from her own issues, and when she was given the chance to support Jess, she took it. Jess’s Gran, on the other hand, was amazing and I loved her. I would talk about the staff at Jess’s school, but they made my blood boil, and I think it would end up a rant, so I won’t!

In terms of actual plot, the romance storyline did feel a bit obvious, and I got annoyed at Jess for being so oblivious to thngs that seemed so blatant to me, but I realise that Jess is only 16, and Matt is really the first boy she’s had a major crush on, so I guess I can forgive her. And I suppose we all know how it feels when that person, you know, the one that has always seemed so out of your league, pays you a bit of attention and you can’t believe your luck. I thought Mainwaring showed that really well and I was definitely getting flashbacks to my own teenage days.

I enjoyed Rebel With A Cupcake a lot. Jess is a great protagonist, with a great message for her YA audience. I did find it difficult to get into at first, as I was still getting to know the characters, but it’s worth sticking with because I grew to love both it and Jess. A very entertaining read!

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

4/5

Rebel With A Cupcake is out now. Thanks to Faye Rogers and Firefly Press for sending me a gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Wonderland

Sometimes you read an anthology just because you like some of the authors involved. In the process you discover many new potentially favourite authors, and that’s what happened with Wonderland, an anthology of stories inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published by Titan Books in September. Titan were kind enough to send me a copy for free in exchange for an honest review and look, I’m only two months late reviewing it. Go me!

(I was only two months late reviewing it. Now I’m seven months late because I didn’t realise I hadn’t actually finished and posted this. Oops?)

wonderland cover

Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland, in an anthology that bends the traditional notions of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel. Contributors include the bestselling M.R. Carey, Genevieve Cogman, Catriona Ward, Rio Youers and L.L. McKinney.

Within these pages you’ll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical. There’s even a Wild West tale from Angela Slatter, poetry, and a story by Laura Mauro which presents us with a Japanese folklore-inspired Wonderland.

Alison Littlewood, Cavan Scott and Catriona Ward make the more outlandish elements their own, while James Lovegrove instead draws on the supernatural. Cat Rambo takes us to a part of Wonderland we haven’t seen before and Lilith Saintcrow gives the legend a science-fiction spin. The nightmarish reaches of the imagination are the breeding ground for M.R. Carey’s visions, while Robert Shearman, George Mann, Rio Youers and Mark Chadbourn’s tales have a deep-seated emotional core which will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings.

So, it’s time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or… But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you’re already there, can’t you see?

I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually enjoy Wonderland, as it seemed to have quite a horror bent, and that’s not my thing at all. Fortunately, although there is a fair bit of horror in this anthology, it’s not overwhelming, and I enjoyed almost every single story. That’s quite unusual for me with anthologies, but each author had such an interesting spin on Alice. My favourite was probably The White Queen’s Pawn by Genevieve Cogman, but each story was interesting in its own way. At least part of the fun is working out the spin the author is taking – some base their story on the real Alice, others concentrate on Lewis Carroll, or just give the original story a new setting, like a dreamscape on a spaceship to keep the crew sane while they’re in deep sleep for three thousand years. Some of them are a bit strange, I’m not going to lie, but I enjoyed them nevertheless.

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this anthology. I loved seeing how each writer interpreted the brief, and I highly recommend it, whether you’re a fan of the original or not!

4/5

Wonderland is out now! Thanks again to Titan Books for the gifted copy!

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless and Free

Fierce ,Fearless and Free Banner2

Today I’m on the blog tour for Fierce, Fearless and Free, by Lari Don. Many thanks to Bloomsbury and Faye Rogers for the gifted copy to review!

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A brilliant, inclusive collection of traditional tales from around the world featuring amazing women and girls. Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince who – no, that’s not right! Once upon a time, there were strong, fierce women who plotted, schemed, took action, showed kindness, used magic and trickery, and made their own destiny. From the long-haired Petrosinella who escaped the tower and broke the spell that the ogress had cast over her and Nana Miriam who beat a hippo using politeness and magic, to Kate Crackernuts who tried to save her stepsister from her mother’s curse, these are stories of girls doing it for themselves! With stories drawn from all over the world, including China, Scotland, Armenia, Italy and Nigeria, Lari Don presents heroine stories that don’t leave girls sitting around waiting to be saved by the handsome prince.

When I was asked if I wanted to be part of the blog tour for Fierce, Fearless and Free, I jumped at the chance. I love books that purposely centre women in stories as more than just a love interest, and Lari Don did that really well in this book. It’s aimed at a slightly younger age group than I would normally read, but I still enjoyed it and I think kids of about 7-10 would also really enjoy it. I really loved the choice of stories too – they come from all over the world and therefore there’s a good chance that you won’t have come across most of them before.

The best thing about the stories in Fierce, Fearless and Free is that every single one of them features a girl saving herself, or her family, or her friends. These are girls who see a problem and find a solution, whether that’s building a wall of sand or wrestling a mountain. Some of our heroines have to fight to be seen or valued by others, but they all know their own worth, and I can’t think of a better lesson for children, both male and female.

All the stories were easy to read and I got the impression that Don really knows her audience. The book is engaging and fun and would be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf!

Thanks again to Bloomsbury and Faye Rogers for allowing me to be part of this tour. Don’t forget to check out the other bloggers taking part, and check out my twitter for a chance to win your ow copy of Fierce, Fearless and Free!

4/5

Blog Tour: Angel Mage

ANGEL MAGE BLOG TOUR PART 2

Today is my turn on the massive blog tour for Angel Mage by Garth Nix. I’ve never read a Garth Nix book previously, but I know so many people love them, so I was excited to head into this one. I wasn’t disappointed!

angel mage

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of her country, Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

Liliath’s quest centres round four young Sarancians, all seemingly different but who share something very important. There is Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic.

The four feel a strange, immediate kinship for each other from the moment they meet, but they do not know why, or suspect their importance. Only Liliath knows their secret, and she aims to draw them in to her complex plot, just as she manipulates the Queen and her musketeers and everyone else around here.

The four friends must learn to rely on each other and each of their unique skills if they’re going to stand a chance to outwit Liliath and the angels she commands.

I really enjoyed Angel Mage. Standalone fantasy books are such a rarity these days that it was just nice to read something that ended. That’s not to say there isn’t room for more, because there definitely is, and I would like to read it should Garth Nix ever decide to write it, but the story is nicely self-contained. I would love to learn more about Liliath’s life prior to the start of the book, but we’re given enough information that we can piece it together ourselves, and sometimes that’s good too.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Angel Mage is a retelling of The Three Musketeers, but my entire knowledge of the musketeers comes from watching Dogtanian 30 years ago, so don’t be expecting any clever comparisons!

We have four protagonists in Angel Mage, each of whom has their own flaws and good points, and I thought the differences between them were well written and very clear. My favourites were Simeon and Dorotea, I think because they genuinely just wanted to get on with their vocations and really didn’t appreciate being caught up in the adventure. Agnez and Henri were after glory and fortune – there’s nothing wrong with that, and they each have perfectly respectable reasons for it, but it does make them slightly less sympathetic.

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how good the magic system is Angel Mage, and I have to agree with this. Magic is provided by angels, each of whom has their own scope and strength, depending on where they sit in the hierarchy. However, there is a cost – the summoning of an angel is powered by your life force so the more powerful the angel you summon, the more years of your life you lose, which results in mages dying young, looking three times their actual age. I loved this aspect of the magic! The cardinal, for example, has to really need the angels, because she knows the next time she summons one, it will probably kill her. This in turn leads to her authority dwindling, because her enemies know she can’t act against them unless she’s willing to die for it. I found this fascinating, because it had such an impact on the politics of the city, especially considering the queen, king and church were all vying for control.

I liked that we got point of view chapters from all four protagonists, and the antagonist. I always enjoy reading the antagonist’s point of view – why is Liliath doing this? What does she ultimately want? – and I particularly enjoyed being able to anticipate the outcome of events based on reading all the points of view.

Pretty much my only gripe with Angel Mage was the pacing. I found some of it very slow indeed, (I won’t lie – there were moments when I’d put it down and couldn’t bring myself to pick it back up) and then the ending seemed incredibly rushed, and I think the pacing could have been improved. I really enjoyed everything else though!

If you’re already a Garth Nix fan, you’ve probably already picked Angel Mage up. If you’re not, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in it as an adult fantasy book!

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

4/5

Angel Mage is out now. May thanks to Gollancz for the gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Bright Steel

Bright Steel blog tour graphic

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!

bright steel

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. 

Book Review: Dark Forge

So I was sent Dark Forge rather a long time ago (I think at least six months), but it’s a tall book and as so often happens with tall books, it ended up at the bottom of a book pile. The only reason I got around to reading it was because I joined the blog tour for the third book in the series, Bright Steel (keep an eye out for my post on the 20th August!), and thought I should probably get myself up to date! I’m actually quite glad I left it, because being able to go from Dark Forge straight into Bright Steel was definitely better than having to wait six months, but I apologise to Gollancz, who gifted me the copy, for the long delay!

dark forge

Only fools think war is simple.
Or glorious.

Some are warriors, some captains; others tend to the fallen or feed the living.

But on the magic-drenched battlefield, information is the lifeblood of victory, and Aranthur is about to discover that carrying messages, scouting the enemy, keeping his nerve, and passing on orders is more dangerous, and more essential, then an inexperienced soldier could imagine . . . especially when everything starts to go wrong.

Battle has been joined – on the field, in the magical sphere, and in the ever-shifting political arena . . .

Dark Forge is the sequel to Cold Iron (which I reviewed here), but for me it represents a  leap in quality from its predecessor. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Cold Iron, but I did have some problems with it, and although some of those issues are still present, I found that I was much more involved with the story, and it just pulled me along. If you’re not a fan of written battles (and I’m not), Dark Forge is a little slow to start – there’s a lot of military speak that meant very little to me – but I got used to it, and it wasn’t long before Aranthur, our main character, and his friends were getting themselves into trouble trying to fix magical booby-traps. Once we moved past the battle scenes, I found it a much quicker read, and I raced through it in the equivalent of a few hours.

We meet some new characters in Dark Forge, and I loved them all, but especially Inoques, the captain of the ship Aranthur is granted as part of a mission. She’s hiding some big secrets, but I found myself very definitely of the same opinion as Aranthur – the secrets didn’t really matter. And although this isn’t a review of Bright Steel, I did love seeing her develop over the two books, as her relationship with Aranthur changes her.

I’m still not a huge fan of the jumpy writing style, but the more I read, the more I decided it was representative of Aranthur himself and I was therefore more inclined to let it go. It’s still a little bit confusing, but again, it was something I got used to, and in the end it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

I also have to say that Dark Forge jumps right into the plot from the start, and if it’s been a while since you read Cold Iron, you’re probably not going to remember who everyone is. Miles Cameron doesn’t really make any allowance for this in his writing, and although it slowly came back to me, it did take a while! There’s still good character development of all the secondary principles, so it wasn’t a huge problem and I just enjoyed getting to know everyone again.

I liked Dark Forge a lot, and I would definitely recommend picking it up, even if you weren’t a huge fan of Cold Iron. It takes the threads laid in the first book and runs with them, weaving them into a great story with very high stakes. You do need to read Cold Iron first though, because Dark Forge won’t make sense without it.

4/5

Dark Forge is out now in paperback. Thanks to Stevie at Gollancz for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

Blog Tour: Sanctuary

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Today is my stop on the Sanctuary blog tour. Sanctuary is the first adult novel by V V James (who has written YA as Vic James), and I jumped at the chance to be sent a gifted copy so I could read it early. Described as Big Little Lies meets The CraftSanctuary is a story of prejudice and secrets in an America where witchcraft is known and (mostly) openly practised.

Content warning for the book: rape, sexual assault of minors

sanctuary cover

The small Connecticut town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback.

Daniel’s death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend Harper is the daughter of a witch – and she was there when he died.

Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge – or something even darker?

As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching.

I really, really enjoyed Sanctuary. I wasn’t sure if I would or not, given that its focus isn’t really on the fantasy elements, but I raced through all 450 pages in a few hours and found myself unable to put it down. It’s a very timely book, inspired to some extent by the Me Too movement, but also using the town’s prejudice against witchcraft to examine other forms of prejudice, the consequences of blind faith and scapegoating.

Sanctuary starts with four women toasting their children’s graduation from high school. Sarah is the town’s witch and she’s tolerated more than loved, but that doesn’t stop everyone from coming to her when they need help with, say, a pesky gambling addiction, or when they’ve drunk too much the night before and need a hangover cure. Everyone has their secrets in Sanctuary, and Sarah knows most of them. The other three women are her coven and her closest friends, bound together by something that happened six years earlier. They’re not witches themselves, but they can lend their energies to Sarah to make her magic more effective. Their children are all around the same age, and have grown up together, but they no longer get on, although three of them are at the graduation party in a house across town. James manages to get a lot of information across in a very short time at the beginning of Sanctuary, without it ever feeling like an info dump. The gaps are filled in throughout the book, but the first two chapters set the scene very effectively, and made me want to know more about this small American town.

It must be said that none of the town characters are particularly likeable, even Sarah, who’s probably the best of them, and who we’re clearly meant to empathise with, but I like that in a book. Nobody’s perfect, and it’s good to see the flaws alongside the good because it makes the characters more relatable. Having three main point of view characters worked well for this too – Sarah, Abigail (the mother of the dead boy) and Maggie, the detective sent to Sanctuary to investigate the case. Hearing and seeing Abigail’s grief directly from her makes her actions understandable, at least at first. She’s utterly broken by what’s happened, and it’s natural that she’s looking for someone to blame. Would I go as far as she does in her quest for answers and revenge? I’d like to think not, but who knows how I might react when placed in that situation and handed the perfect scapegoat. I’d also like to mention how despicable her husband is, in oh so many ways. I won’t go into details so as not to spoil you all, but my god, he might be the second most loathsome character in the book.

My favourite character, though, was Maggie. The outsider brought in because Daniel’s death has to be investigated at a state level, Maggie is our way into the town. Seeing it from an outsider’s point of view is so different to the way its residents see it, and she quickly realises there’s more going on here than an accidental death, whatever everyone else might think. She’s also very much treated like an outsider, despite having previously been posted in Sanctuary. The police chief doesn’t like her much right from the get-go, but he likes her even less when she refuses to tie up the case quickly, and his officers actively hinder her investigation. No-one else in the town wants to talk to her either. It’s clear that Sanctuary is a town that looks after their own – if they fit in of course.

Possibly the thing I loved most about Sanctuary was the way James tied in witchcraft and its acceptance (or not) in a plausible way. The persecutions of the 17th century still happened, the Salem witch trials still took place, but in this reality, witches used their magic to help America gain independence and began a (very heavily legislated) journey to rehabilitation and acceptance. The fear’s still there though, underlying most people’s surface tolerance of witches, and this becomes really obvious, really quickly in Sanctuary. Daniel Whitman was not a good person. He was a rapist and sexual abuser. But nobody in the town of Sanctuary wants to believe that of their star football player, even if there’s video evidence. So they blame the witch’s daughter, because everyone knows witches are slutty. And because his death doesn’t make sense, well, that’s probably her fault too. And if it’s not her fault, it must be her mother, because everyone knows what witches can do. And if she can do that, well, maybe she’s responsible for those kids getting ill and on it goes, fueled by the media and people in power who should know better. It was all so familiar too, highlighting the fact that while it might not be witches who suffer in our reality, this happens all day every day. The speed with which the town turns on Sarah and Harper, two women who have lived all their lives in Sanctuary, who are friends with the other townsfolk, whose parents and grandparents also lived all their lives there, is, frankly, terrifying.

Sanctuary is a really interesting read. The town and its residents are vividly evoked, and nothing that happened felt out of place or unrealistic within the story. It really felt like I was there, watching events unfold and not sat in my living room merely reading about them!. The use of transcripts and newspaper reports really added to this and I felt a real sense of trepidation about what was to come. As I said at the top, I found myself unable to put the book down, and if that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is!

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

4/5

Sanctuary is out now. Many thanks to Gollancz for gifting me a 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