Review: Isle of Blood and Stone

April 10, 2018 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: Isle of Blood and StoneIsle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier
Series: Isle of Blood and Stone #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 10th April 2017
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

Ulises asked, "How can I look at these maps, see this riddle, and do nothing? They are my brothers."

Elias reached across the table and flicked aside two shells with a fingertip. The map curled into itself. "It's bound to be a goose chase. You know that?"

"Or a treasure hunt," Ulises countered, "and you've always been good at those."

Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar's oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way...until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.

The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias's father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king's beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried...and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.

I’d been really looking forward to Isle of Blood and Stone – fantasy, maps, a dangerous treasure hunt, sounded right up my street! Oh, it was! I really enjoyed this book.

When two maps are found that seem to imply that the del Marian Kind’s two brothers survived the attack by the kingdom of Mondrago 18 years ago, King Ulises enlists his closest friend and navigating explorer, Lord Elias to help him uncover the truth. Elias has his own interest in the mystery. His late father, the Royal Navigator Lord Antoni, had been with the young princes when the attack occurred.

The King’s cousin, Mercedes, whose mother was Mondragan, joins Elias and Ulises as they attempt to find out the truth.

I loved the characters in this book. Sometimes a host of characters can feel overwhelming, but that definitely wasn’t the case here. What’s more, I felt like we actually got to know our main characters; at no point did I feel disconnected from them – a testament to Lucier’s writing.

Talking about her writing, I loved her style. It added to the feel of the book, a perfect accompaniment to the world that Lucier has created.

I found this to be a really entertaining novel. It’s easy to read, mysterious and tense at times, while wonderfully meandering at others.

When I finished reading, I actually craved more of these characters, so I was delighted to find out that there will be a second book. With the way that this book finishes, book two could go any way and I cannot wait to see what Lucier treats us to.

If you like the sound of a well-written, easy to read, fantasy treasure hunt with fantastic characters, strong females, fierce loyalty, deception and sea serpents, then this is the book for you!

four-stars

Review: The Unmapped Mind

April 2, 2018 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews

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: The Unmapped MindThe Unmapped Mind: A Memoir of Neurology, Incurable Disease and Learning How To Live by Christian Donlan
Published by Viking on 5th April 2018
Genres: Biography
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

"My daughter took her first steps on the day I was diagnosed - a juxtaposition so perfect, so trite, so filled with the tacky artifice of real life that I am generally too embarrassed to tell anybody about it."

Shortly after his daughter Leontine was born, Christian Donlan's world shifted an inch to the left. He started to miss light switches and door handles when reaching for them. He would injure himself in a hundred stupid ways every day. First playful and then maddening, these strange experiences were the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis, an incurable and degenerative neurological disease.

As his young daughter starts to investigate the world around her, he too finds himself exploring a new landscape - the shifting and bewildering territory of the brain. He is a tourist in his own body, a stranger in a place that plays bizarre tricks on him, from dizzying double vision to mystifying memory loss. Determined to master his new environment, Christian takes us on a fascinating and illuminating journey: through the history of neurology, the joys and anxieties of parenthood, and the ultimate realisation of what, after everything you take for granted has been stripped away from you, is truly important in life.

I enjoy the odd memoir and the description of this particular title grasped my attention. Probably for a variety of reasons 1) my Mum and my Aunt have MS 2) I have my own illness which requires a constant battle of learning how to live and 3) I wanted to learn more about the neurology of MS.

Before I started I must admit I’d no idea who Christian Donlan was, so I’d no idea what to expect in terms of writing – wow this man can write! It turns out he’s an award-winning journalist, I can see why. From the first paragraph, I was hooked. You might look at the title of this book and worry that it’ll be a bit heavy-going. Fear not, Donlan’s writing style is absorbing, he makes the ‘technical’ stuff easy to read. Most of all, it’s like sitting down in a room with a friend, chatting. That’s really the best way I can describe this book. Donlan’s writing and his turn of phrase is a delight – subject matter aside.

Donlan shares with us his journey as a thirty-something husband and new father as he discovers that he has MS.

But it’s more than just his story. We learn about neurology and MS itself. Donlan tells the story of his own illness but also educates the reader on the scope, variety, and stages of MS. As I said, my Mum has MS so I have an understanding of the disease, but Mum’s symptoms are largely different from Donlan’s. I knew this could happen, as everyone’s MS is different, but reading about further symptoms and challenges outwith my own, narrow field of vision was illuminating.

Likewise illuminating, inspiring-even is Donlan’s incredible honesty within these pages. As a reader, I felt Donlan was completely open and honest, even when it perhaps might not reflect so well on him. I applaud his bravery and openness.

From my own personal perspective, Donlan’s processing of his diagnosis was, I guess, reassuring. I could relate so much to that realisation that your life isn’t going to be quite like you had envisioned. In fact, I rarely highlight text when I’m reading but there was much of this book that spoke to me, that I felt was worth noting and remembering.

Donlan’s exploration of his relationships with those around him was a further area of great interest to me. It made me consider differing perspectives, not only how hard diagnosis and illness can be on the patient but on those around them too.

I fear I’ve rambled on a bit here, jumping all over – apologies. There is just so much to this book – a glimpse into a family at a turning point in their lives, the honesty, the impressive writing, the informative and educational side. Donlan lets us into his world and I guarantee that everyone will find something to take away from this book.

four-stars

Review: Hangman

March 26, 2018 in Book Reviews, Crime, 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: HangmanHangman by Daniel Cole
Series: Detective William Fawkes #2
Published by Trapeze on 22nd March 2018
Genres: Crime, thriller
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Eighteen months have passed, but the scars the Ragdoll murders left behind remain.

DCI Emily Baxter is summoned to a meeting with US Special Agents Elliot Curtis of the FBI and Damien Rouche of the CIA. There, she is presented with photographs of the latest copycat murder: a body contorted into a familiar pose, strung up impossibly on the other side of the world, the word BAIT carved deep into its chest.

As the media pressure intensifies, Baxter is ordered to assist with the investigation and attend the scene of another murder to discover the same word scrawled across the victim, carved across the corpse of the killer - PUPPET.

As the murders continue to grow in both spectacle and depravity on both sides of the Atlantic, the team helplessly play catch up. Their only hope: to work out who the 'BAIT' is intended for, how the 'PUPPETS' are chosen but, most importantly of all, who is holding the strings.

I’ve been anticipating Hangman, the second novel in this series, ever since I read the first, Ragdoll, last year (you can find my review here.)

Hangman takes place some 18 months after Ragdoll. Wolf hasn’t been seen or heard of since Baxter let him flee the Old Bailey courtroom. She herself is now Detective Chief Inspector Baxter, and is trying to get on with life, until two US Special Agents enter her London office. There has been a murder in New York and they have reason to believe it connected to the Ragdoll murders. The victim, whose chest was inscribed with the word “bait” shares the same name as Wolf – William Fawkes, and was strung up on the Brooklyn Bridge by a man bearing the word “puppet” on his chest.

Baxter isn’t inclined to jump to conclusions, but when a second ‘bait’ and ‘puppet’ murder occurs in London, that once again connects to Ragdoll, she finds herself headed to New York with FBI agent Curtis and the British CIA agent Rouche to work on the case. While also unofficially roping in the only person she trusts, Edmunds, to help her from afar.

I don’t want to give too much detail about this book. Like Ragdoll, this book is pretty dark, with some shocking and graphic scenes. Yet, Cole manages to lighten this subject matter with his humour, which most definitely appeals to me.

As Cole said himself of sequels (when referring to the film Home Alone 2) …

The first movie was, secretly, one of her all-time favourites, but she found the second an uninspiring imitation falling into the age-old trap of believing that by relocating to New York City, they would create a bigger and better sequel.

In this instance, I think the New York sequel was every bit as good as, if not even better than, the original (Ragdoll).

We enter the story in an interview room with Baxter facing questions from multiple agencies, before we rewind a few weeks and follow the sequence of events that ultimately culminate in that questioning.

When I realised Wolf wasn’t going to be the focus of this book, I was a bit nervous as Ragdoll was really all about him. I needn’t have worried. Baxter is a fantastic, snarky character, suffering no fools – no matter who they may be. She’s a bold, brilliant yet flawed character that really shines in this book.

Perhaps part of the reason she shines is Agent Rouche of the CIA. The interactions between the two are fantastic, making a great partnership. Rouche’s story, his personality, along with his choice of inappropriate songs made me fall in love with his character.

It says a lot of Cole that I’m writing about his book which is filled with blood, mutilation, horrific scenes and a significant number of deaths, and I’m gushing about his characters and humour. For me, this is what made such dark subject matter so readable. It’s truly an art, and one that Cole excels at.

I also liked that we got to check in with characters from the first book, particularly Edmunds who ‘goes rogue’ in the fraud department to help out his friend.

I know that this book won’t be for everyone. There are scenes which are all too close to that witnessed in reality. But I love Cole’s writing, the way he can make your stomach squirm with one sentence, then snort with laughter with the next. I truly look forward to the third book in this series – who knows what way things will turn next?!

four-half-stars

Review: WaR: Wizards and Robots

February 1, 2018 in Book Reviews, Sci-Fi, 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: WaR: Wizards and RobotsWaR: Wizards and Robots by Will.i.am, Brian David Johnson
Published by Penguin on 25th January 2018
Genres: Sci-Fi, YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-stars

When a young man breaks into her home claiming her life is in danger, Ada Luring's world changes forever. Geller is a wizard, on the run from his father's hidden clan who want to kill Ada and her mother. Sara Luring is the scientist who will create the first robot, the wizards' age-old foes.

But a robot has travelled back in time to find Ada, and will lay everything on the line to protect her, as she may just be the key to preventing the earth's destruction in the future.

Ada, Geller and the robots must learn to work together to change the past and secure the future. But they don't have much time before a mysterious enemy launches its attack on Earth...

Well, for the first third of WaR: Wizards and Robots I thought my brain might explode – wizards, robots, high school kids, three times in space – I was somewhat overwhelmed! But once I started to get my head around things I actually quite enjoyed the story – it certainly is action packed!

I made a real attempt to write a synopsis for this book, but quite honestly it hurt my head, so I can only imagine what it would’ve been like for you to read! So, here’s a basic rundown. We have a teenage girl, Ada and her Mum who is a doctor of AI in the 21st century. We have a castle under siege in the 16th century. We have wizards, including a boy called Geller. We have a robot, Kaku, and the world under siege from aliens in the 31st century. There’s magic, technology, time travel, distrust, friendship and the desire to save the world.

This is a fast-paced read which crams a lot into its 320 pages. Because of this, I don’t feel we ever make real connections with the characters – I certainly didn’t. For me, this book is kind of all over the place. We jump between times, characters and scenarios very quickly. It feels like watching a film at 30x speed. That said, I was never bored- there wasn’t time for that! It’s packed full of action and is actually a quick read. But I can’t help feeling it could’ve been more. The underlying story is good – a bit of a fantasy/sci-fi/YA mashup. However, I’m left feeling that there are many threads unexplored, a lack of depth and hence of character building. It could’ve been far more cohesive, but instead looking back it feels kind of a jumble – with the main story tacking its way through the pieces.

All that said, despite feeling overwhelmed – and kind of shocked – for the first third, I did find this book entertaining. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read WaR.

three-stars

Review: The Girl In The Tower

January 20, 2018 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: The Girl In The TowerThe Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Ebury on 25th January 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya
will choose a third way: magic...

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior's training, recognises this 'boy' as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical...

Having read (and loved) the first book in this series, The Bear and the Nightingale last Christmas, I saved my  early copy of book two, The Girl In The Tower for over the festive season. Set in the Russian winter, this is a tale that’s perfect to read at this time of year. But truthfully, Arden’s writing will transport you to the Russian winter no matter the season outside.

If you haven’t yet read the first book, then make sure you check out my review of it here and go pick up a copy! This post will inevitably contain mild spoilers for that first book.

Where The Bear and the Nightingale was set in rural Russia, The Girl In The Tower takes us on an adventure through the rural landscape and into Moscow itself. Continuing from the first book, we follow Vasya who, with accusations of witchcraft lingering at home, looks to follow her dreams, break with convention, shun marriage or the convent and travel.

We also spend time with her older brother Sasha, the monk, who I personally really liked in the first book, as well as meeting other characters – old and new!

Once again, Arden engulfs us in a beautifully written tale, built around Russian history and folklore. Through Vasya she continues to explore the lives of, and expectations towards, women at this time in Russian history – weaving historical fact within her fiction.

Having become familiarised with the conventions of rural Russia, we arrive in Moscow as overwhelmed as Vasya herself. Together we uncover the lay of the land, the customs, expectations, and requirements of the upper echelons in the Russian city.

The development of the characters in this second novel is fantastic. I love the progression of Vasya’s character – she’s everything I hoped she would be!

Arden’s writing is once again a highlight for me. Her descriptions, turn of phrase and writing style swept me up. I felt I was, once again, there in the Russian snow. I loved the continuation of the story. For me, it felt more action-packed than the first book, filled with deception, death… and a sassy horse!

The story itself is unforgettable, the writing enchanting, what more can I say? It’s a must-read for fans of The Bear and the Nightingale!

five-stars