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Short Stories For Autumn

November 8, 2017 in Book Reviews, Short Stories

There’s something about this time of year that lends itself beautifully to curling up in a favourite chair with a cuppa, a blanket and a compilation of short stories. Don’t you think? So today I thought I’d share with you two of my recent reads that I think are perfect for reading right now!

Short Stories For AutumnThe Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
on 26th September 2017
Genres: Short Stories, Fantasy
Format: Hardback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
five-stars

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.

I’ve long been a Leigh Bardugo fan and her Grishaverse is one of my favourite worlds to visit. So when she announced she’d be publishing a collection of Grishaverse short stories inspired by myth, fairy tale and folklore I was beyond excited! Like many folk, I’d read a few of the tales years ago but this collection brings together three of these stories and three brand-new tales! What’s more they are packaged within the most gorgeously finished book I think I’ve ever seen!

This beautifully illustrated edition contains imagery which changes with every turn of the page – the more you read, the more of the image you see until the final page when we are introduced to the final full-spread illustration.

As you’d expect from Bardugo, her stunning, rich writing pairs perfectly with these illustrations. Each tale is beautifully crafted – each page one to savour. I can’t recommend this enough, it’s just a thoroughly breath-taking book.

 

Short Stories For AutumnThe Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell
on 2nd November 2017
Genres: Short Stories, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Format: Hardback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
four-half-stars

'These days, you can find anything you need at the click of a button.
That's why I bought her heart online.'

Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve haunting stories; modern fairy tales brimming with magic, outsiders and lost souls.

I’ve been excited for this book for a long time – Jen Campbell’s first collection of adult fiction. Up until now, she’s written non-fiction, poetry and this year she released her first children’s picture book (it’s fab) so I couldn’t wait to dive into this collection of short stories. I wasn’t disappointed!

Jen shares with us 12 tales which draw upon her love of myths, fairytales and their histories. Her writing is captivating as she weaves stories that are all individual and highly memorable. It’s dark at times, strange and whimsical too – and you’ll find it impossible to put it down after each story. I intended to savour this book but I devoured it, I didn’t want to leave Jen’s writing. The perfect mixture of fantasy and magical realism, this book is not to be missed.

I hate to mention the word Christmas so soon but this would make the perfect Christmas gift, and Jen will even sign, dedicate and wrap copies for you if you order through her website – the ultimate special gift!

Review: Darien

November 4, 2017 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: DarienDarien by C.F. Iggulden
Series: Empire of Salt #1
Published by Michael Joseph on 13th July 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

TWELVE FAMILIES. ONE THRONE. WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE OF SALT.

The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Twelve families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. The people of the city endure what they cannot change.

Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king. It will summon strangers to the city - Elias Post, a hunter, Tellius, an old swordsman banished from his home, Arthur, a boy who cannot speak, Daw Threefold, a chancer and gambler, Vic Deeds, who feels no guilt - and Nancy, a girl whose talent might be the undoing of them all.

Their arrival inside the walls as the sun sets will set off a series of explosive events. Before the sun returns, five destinies will have been made - and lost - in Darien.

In the past I’ve very much enjoyed Conn Iggulden’s works of historical fiction – his Emperor series being one that really captivated me. So upon hearing that Iggulden would be releasing his first work of fantasy, Darien, (under the name C.F. Iggulden) I knew I had to read it!

Darien is the city around which most of this novel revolves. Headed by a King and twelve families, Darien is a city of power, where those that crave it use whatever means to attain or retain it.

I’m not going to go into the detail of this novel; the synopsis above tells you all I think you need to know. What I will say is that we are introduced to some very interesting characters in this book, each of whom have their own stories, skills and motivations. Although there are many characters in this novel, Iggulden (in my opinion) does them all justice. I always admire this skill in a writer – the ability to introduce depth of character in many characters without overwhelming the reader.

I really enjoyed how the author has drawn upon his great historical knowledge to help to build this world, add the details and merge fact with fantasy.

I became thoroughly swept up in the story, remembering just how much I’ve always enjoyed Iggulden’s writing. As for the fantasy aspect? Well, I love it! It’s hard to describe fantasy as realistic but the building of the world and the characters, if not the magic element itself, make it so.

In short – I’m eager for book two!

four-stars

Review: Good Me Bad Me

October 31, 2017 in Book Reviews, Crime, Psychological Thriller

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Good Me Bad MeGood Me Bad Me by Ali Land
Published by Michael Joseph on 12th January 2017
Genres: Psychological, Crime
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

How far does the apple really fall from the tree?

Milly's mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother's trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother's daughter.

Good Me Bad Me is one of those books that I’ve been seeing all over social media with the general consensus being that readers found it hard to put it down – they were so right!

15-year-old Milly’s mother is a serial killer, and the only person who knows is Milly. It’s Milly who finally tells the police, Milly who is the sole witness and the only person who can see her mother brought to justice.

Milly isn’t her real name though. She’s been given a new identity to help to protect her from the huge media attention and contempt of the public. Only a handful of people know her history – his foster parents and her new headteacher.

She has been put in the care of Mike, a psychologist, and his family as she prepares for the upcoming trial. But Mike’s own teenage daughter, Phoebe, is less than pleased by Milly’s presence, even without knowing her history. Phoebe makes life even harder for Milly as she tries to forge a new life in a new city, a new school, a new family away from her mother’s abusive control.

This book is so hard to put down Told from Milly’s perspective we see a teenage girl trying to fit into a new life, a new school and make new friends. That in itself is a journey, a challenge for any teenager. But then we have the impact of Milly’s history, her battles not to miss the woman who has controlled her life, the woman who has murdered innocent children. We see Milly’s internal battle as she fears she is just like her mother and her preparation for trial, facing that woman again and doing all she can for her mother’s victims.

The writing style in this novel is very interesting and clever, Land adopts a style which seems to reflect the nature of Milly’s mind and further the reader’s experience.

There are so many issues packed into this book, I can in no way do them justice here – strained parental relationships, jealousy, self-harm, drug use, sexual abuse, bullying, all entwined within the story of one 15-year-old.

This is a truly gripping psychological thriller which, though it can be hard to read at times, and is maybe therefore not for everyone, is one that I can’t stop thinking about.

four-stars

Review: Flame In The Mist

October 26, 2017 in Book Reviews, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Flame In The MistFlame In The Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame In The Mist #1
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 16th May 2017
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.

Flame In The Mist is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for so long but inexplicably hadn’t picked up until now. So I was kind of nervous that I might have built it up too much in my head, but actually I really enjoyed this novel.

Mariko is of the Hattori family, the only daughter of a prominent Samurai. Her twin brother Kenshin is a renowned warrior known as the Dragon of Kai. Unlike her brother, Mariko has no control over her life. A girl in her position must do as her father wishes and her father has lofty ideas for her, securing a betrothal to the Emperor’s son, Raiden.

While travelling from her home to meet Raiden in the imperial city, her party is attacked within the Junkai forest – she is the intended target. Escaping with her life as the sole survivor, Mariko suspects the outlaw Black Clan at being behind her attack. Wandering alone through the dangerous Jukai forest Mariko hatches a plan to take control of her own life and dress as a peasant boy in order to infiltrate the Clan to try and uncover who exactly wants her dead and why. Meanwhile, her twin is convinced that Mariko has survived the attack and is doing all he can to find and rescue his sister.

I really did enjoy this book. Ahdieh’s descriptions make for great scene-setting, helping to sweep the reader up in the story.

Mariko is smart and strong-willed. She’s the type of female protagonist I tend to like, one who taps into her previously unknown depth of strength. Her interactions with the Black Clan, a group of men, thieves, who live together in the woods, are interesting. Led by Ranmanu, supported by his best friend Okami, I quickly came to like this group that Mariko suspects of her attempted murder. I really like the relationship between Ranmanu and Okami, but it was the ongoing war of words between Okami and Mariko that I really enjoyed. Somewhat predictably, the mysterious character of Okami was my favourite person in this tale.

As an aside – I received a candle from In The Wick of Time that was based upon this book (in the Fairyloot box that also contained this book). Even before reading the book the “wood smoke and warm stone” scented candle became an absolute favourite of mine. Now, knowing that it is based on my favourite character Okami, I think I’m going to need to buy a new one – mine’s all burnt out! (find it here)

I’ve seen people talk about how “predictable” this book is and I guess in a way they are right, but that didn’t impact on my enjoyment of this book at all.

Two things did bother me though. They are spoilery though so I’ll hide them below.

View Spoiler »

All in all though, I really enjoyed this book. I did however find the end was a bit rushed. I felt that it didn’t have the same flow as the rest of the book. That said, maybe I just didn’t want it to end? Bring on book two!

four-stars

Review: The Alice Network

October 21, 2017 in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Published by William Morrow on 13th July 2017 (UK)
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth ...no matter where it leads.

The Alice Network is a novel built around fact, something that I feel makes this novel particularly special.

Charlie St Clair finds herself pregnant and unmarried in 1947. Her well-to-do family insist she go to Europe to have her ‘Little Problem’ dealt with. Charlie seizes her trip to Europe to try and find her friend and cousin Rose who went missing in Nazi-occupied France. Charlie holds hope that Rose might still be alive and so begins her investigations.

It’s these investigations that lead Charlie to London and to one Eve Gardiner and her driver Finn Kilgore. From this point the story is told in alternating chapters, Charlie in 1947 and Eve starting in 1915.

Eve was part of a network of female spies – The Alice Network. While the character of Eve is fictional, this network existed, led by an Alice Dubois. Quinn incorporates this historical figure, the “Queen of Spies”, as well as some of Dubois’ associates into this novel.

The result is a work of fiction that is not only compelling and addictive but also fascinating and educational. I learned much from this novel with Quinn’s author’s note helping me to distinguish the fact from fiction.

The story, the search for Rose, forms the backbone of this novel but it’s far more than a missing person case. This is a novel of friendship, trauma, love, war, hope and despair. It’s an exploration of the post-war era as well as an accurate account of life in occupied France, and the sacrifices of a group of (generally unheard of) women who had their own important and dangerous roles in the war.

I loved the characters in this novel. The fact that I cared so much about them really finished off this novel for me.

This is a well-written, researched and thoroughly eye-opening novel. I think I’m going to seek out more information on The Alice Network and Alice Dubois herself. Her story and that of her associates is one I feel I need to know more about and I’m so grateful to Quinn for bringing it to my attention through this captivating novel.

Reese Alice Network

NOTE – The Alice Network was picked as a Reese Witherspoon book club read, so if you don’t believe me maybe Reese will convince you to pick it up! 😉

four-half-stars