Review: Ash Princess

June 14, 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: Ash PrincessAsh Princess by Laura Sebastian
Series: Ash Princess Trilogy #1
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on 14th June 2018 (UK)
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can't ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser's warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn't expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she's willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she's willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

A Wee Summary

Theosodia Eirene Houzzara, daughter of the Fire Queen aka the Queen of Astrea, was six years old when the Kalovaxians attacked her homeland. She was 6 when the Kalovaxian warrior the Theyn murdered her mother before her young eyes.

She has spent the last decade in the palace of the conquering Kaiser, dubbed “Ash Princess” and given the name ‘Thora’ and under the constant surveillance of her three ‘shadows’. Her only friend is, ironically, the Theyn’s daughter, Crescentia.

Those Astreans who remain alive are enslaved in one way or another, often in the hallowed mines where magical Spiritgems are mined. The Kalovaxians ignore the sacred nature of the gems, disrespecting the Astrean way of life.

There remains a band of Astrean rebels who seek to free their country and see Theosodia (Thora) in her rightful place as Queen. The Kaiser tortures Thora, punishing her for the acts of these rebels. She knows that she must show deference to the Kaiser at all time, lest she be whipped.

When one of the main rebels is captured, the Kaiser forces Thora to kill him. Along with his death goes Thora’s distant hope of rescue.

When the Kaiser’s heir, Prince Søren, returns from his warfare training, it becomes clear that he has feelings for Thora. She begins to wonder if he might somehow be her route to freedom.

My Thoughts

On the whole, I enjoyed Ash Princess. It has a very well-built fantasy world with interesting politics and magic. I will warn you though that some people may find some of the issues tackled triggering. (View Spoiler »

I must admit that I felt this book rather “samely”. Broadly, it resembles many YA fantasies I’ve read in recent years. However, I tend to enjoy this kind of fantasy so this is just a warning if you’re somewhat fed up with such themes. Oh and there’s a bit of a love triangle going on too, FYI.

While I really liked the world building and premise of this book overall, I didn’t really connect with Theodosia (Thora). Although we get a bit of an insight into her mind, I just didn’t feel drawn to her. Perhaps this was intentional as part of the PTSD she suffers from? I’m not sure.

It was those around Theodosia that actually piqued my interest. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m going to be a bit vague with this, but I liked Søren and would’ve loved more on him. There are rebels as well that I hope we get to learn more about in the next book.

Ash Princess is largely set within the confines of the palace, and I’m looking forward to finding out what lies further afield.

While I didn’t feel that this book was anything particularly ‘new’. I did enjoy it. There were a few twists – some I foresaw, others I didn’t. These twists coupled with the darkness and the politics of the world have me genuinely intrigued about book two, Lady Smoke, which will be out next year.

Have you read Ash Princess? Do you share my opinions?

three-half-stars

Review: Thirteen

June 10, 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: ThirteenThirteen by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn #4
Published by Orion on 14th June 2018
Genres: Crime, thriller
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

The serial killer isn't on trial. He's on the jury.

Hollywood actor Robert Soloman stands accused of the brutal stabbings of his wife and her lover, but he is desperately pleading that he had nothing to do with it. This is the trial of the century, and the defence want Eddie Flynn on their team.

The biggest case Eddie has ever tried before, he decides to take it on despite the overwhelming evidence that Robert is guilty. As the trial starts, Eddie becomes sure of Robert's innocence, but there's something else he is even more sure of - that there is something sinister going on in the jury box.

Because of this, he is forced to ask: what if the killer isn't on the stand? What if he's on the jury?

The premise of Thirteen immediately caught my attention on NetGalley – the serial killer is not the one on trial, rather he is occupying a seat on the jury!

I had high hopes for this read and wow, it even surpassed my expectations.

Let me start by saying that this is actually the fourth book in the Eddie Flynn series but you don’t have to have read the other three – I hadn’t and I loved it! Cavanagh makes his characters easily accessible to us, filling us in while, I imagine, refreshing the memories of long-term fans.

A Wee Summary

Hollywood actor Robert “Bobby” Solomon stands trial for the murder of his equally famous wife and their security guard. All the evidence points towards Bobby’s guilt, but Eddie Flynn finds himself believing in Bobby’s innocence and working his case.

All the while, Flynn is watched from the jury by Joshua Kane who has infiltrated the bench. With chapters told from both Flynn and Kane’s perspectives, we gain a fascinating insight into the minds of the defense lawyer and a highly intelligent killer.

My Thoughts

Cavanagh’s writing is brilliant. He provides us with just enough information that we find our own theories evolving, feeling compelled to read on.

I really liked the character of Flynn, an ex-con-man turned into a defense attorney. I knew I’d love him from the outset, with his tricks in courts piquing my interest.

The whole concept of the trial itself was fascinating to me. The evolving case kept me guessing, with Flynn and Kane head to head.

I don’t think there’s higher praise to give this book than to tell you that the minute I finished it, I downloaded Cavanagh’s first book in the series straight to my Kindle (it’s currently 99p). I’m so excited to learn more about Flynn.

I could gush all day about this book but I’m so wary of any spoilers. It really is an altogether fantastic read. It almost felt like a movie playing out in my mind. Read it!

five-stars

Review: Smoke In The Sun

May 28, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, 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: Smoke In The SunSmoke In The Sun by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame In The Mist #2
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 5th June 2018
Genres: Fantasy, YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice - to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor's ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.

With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.

Following the revelations at the end of Flame In The Mist (warning, this post will contain spoilers for book one), I’ve been desperate to read book two, Smoke In The Sun.

With Mariko ‘rescued’ from the clutches of the Black Clan by her betrothed, Prince Raiden and her brother, the Dragon of KAi, Kenshin, she is taken to Heian Castle in the imperial city of Inako to face the future. With Okami imprisoned in the depths of the castle, Mariko desperately wants to find a way to free him. So she keeps up pretence of her kidnap, and works to convince Raiden of her loyalty to him and the Emperor of Wa.

I really enjoyed the conclusion to this duology. Largely set within Heian Castle and the city of Inako, it has a different atmospheric feel to the Jukai forest of book one, but it’s a setting that Ahdieh ones again captures beautifully with her descriptive writing.

The character development in this second book was so interesting. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone a bit more – with Yumi, Raiden and Roku standing out for me.

I actually discovered after I finished Smoke In The Sun that there are two short stories available that are set between books one and two – Okami and Yumi. They are available for free on the kindle. You definitely don’t need to read them for Smoke In The Sun, they are really just like extra chapters. Okami’s focusses on his ride in the wagon to the castle following his capture. Yumi’s was actually more interesting to me, it gives us a bit more of an insight into her character in preparation for the second book.

To be honest, my only real complaint about this book is that I felt the ending was rather rushed. To me, it lacked the detail that the rest of the two novels possess. I know it’s obviously at a faster pace than the rest, but I just felt like I wanted more. I was so near the end and started to doubt whether this actually was a duology; how could it finish in so few pages? But it does and I’d have liked a bit more from it.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this book and its predecessor. I loved the setting of Feudal Japan and everything that went along with it. Each character has their own individual struggles and issues, drawing me in and making me want to read more about them.

Then, of course, we have Ahdieh’s writing style which just adds to the journey of this tale. She, seemingly effortlessly, painted the feudal Japan setting in my mind, and brought her characters to life. I could smell Okami (warm stone and wood smoke), hear the creaking of the nightingale floors and envisage the colours of Mariko’s silk kimonos.

It’s an easy read, but it’s a fantastic tale and I’m definitely going to miss some of these characters.

four-stars

Review: King of Ashes

May 22, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, High Fantasy

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: King of AshesKing of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist
Series: The Firemane Saga #1
Published by Harper Voyager on 5th April 2018
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as "the Firemane" for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.
As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the "Hidden Warriors," legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

A few years ago I read and enjoyed Raymond E Feist’s Riftwar Saga and have been meaning to read more of his work ever since. So I was delighted to get the chance to read the first novel in his latest series, The Firemane Saga, King of Ashes.

The book opens to the aftermath of a battle where Steveren Langene (aka Firemane), King of Ithrace, one of the five Great Kingdoms of Garn has been betrayed and defeated. He, along with his family, is put to death to ensure the destruction of Ithrace, Kingdom of Flames.

Baron Daylon Dumarch was one of the men to betray his friend, Steveren Langene. So when a baby who is said to be the last remaining Firemane is brought to him in secret, Baron Daylon ensures the child’s safety by sending him to the legendary “Invisible Nation” of Coaltachin, where is to be raised until he comes to manhood.

We then fast forward some 16 years or so and the story largely follows two characters, the first of whom is Declan, an orphan who has been raised and trained by Edvalt, former Master Blacksmith to Baron Daylon. The second character being Hatushaly, or ‘Hatu’, a student of one of the nameless schools of Coaltachin, a nation renowned for producing the finest spies and assassins in the world.

I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot than that!

Raymond E Feist’s world building is incredible. He weaves such detail into the narrative of his story that we feel ourselves transported to Garn.

Admittedly, I was initially somewhat concerned about being overwhelmed by all the names and nations but it didn’t take long for me to get up to speed.

Feist’s characters are so well-formed. Years on, and I still think of Pug from the Riftwar Saga,  if this isn’t the sign of a good character then I don’t know what is. I just know I’m going to feel the same about Declan and Hatu.

This is a thoroughly entertaining read, filled with action and never a dull moment. It is beautifully poised for the continuation of this series and I cannot wait to see where book two takes us.

If you are looking for an accessible, entertaining fantasy, then you can’t go amiss with Feist’s King of Ashes. I’m just sorry to have to wait for book two.

four-half-stars

Review: Whistle In The Dark

May 1, 2018 in Book Reviews, Contemporary, Mystery

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: Whistle In The DarkWhistle In The Dark by Emma Healey
Published by Viking on 3rd May 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-stars

Jen and Hugh Maddox have just survived every parent’s worst nightmare.

Relieved, but still terrified, they sit by the hospital bedside of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Lana, who was found bloodied, bruised, and disoriented after going missing for four days during a mother-daughter vacation in the country. As Lana lies mute in the bed, unwilling or unable to articulate what happened to her during that period, the national media speculates wildly and Jen and Hugh try to answer many questions.

Where was Lana? How did she get hurt? Was the teenage boy who befriended her involved? How did she survive outside for all those days? Even when she returns to the family home and her school routine, Lana only provides the same frustrating answer over and over: “I can’t remember.”

For years, Jen had tried to soothe the depressive demons plaguing her younger child, and had always dreaded the worst. Now she has hope—the family has gone through hell and come out the other side. But Jen cannot let go of her need to find the truth. Without telling Hugh or their pregnant older daughter Meg, Jen sets off to retrace Lana’s steps, a journey that will lead her to a deeper understanding of her youngest daughter, her family, and herself.

Jen Maddox has just been reunited with her 15-year-old daughter, Lana, following Lana’s four-day-long disappearance.

Jen and Lana had gone on a mother-daughter painting holiday when Lana went missing – sparking a huge search and nationwide missing persons campaign. Now that Lana’s back, she won’t tell anyone what happened to her. Seeing her daughter cut, battered and bruised, Jen fears for what Lana has been through. She, husband Hugh, and elder daughter Meg are also concerned for Lana’s mental health – how will this ordeal have impacted upon Lana’s depression?

I thoroughly enjoyed Emma Healey’s debut Elizabeth Is Missing (you can find my review here), so I was so excited to see Whistle In The Dark appear on NetGalley and instantly requested it. The thing is though, when you’ve loved an author’s first book, do you have unfairly high expectations for the next? I fear that was the case with this novel. I enjoyed it but I couldn’t help but compare it.

The mystery surrounding Lana’s disappearance and her unwillingness to share her story is what spurred on my reading with this book. I really did want to learn what had happened to Lana and why she wouldn’t discuss it.

I like the way the story was told from Jen’s perspective – a mother who has long tried to the best for her child, to help her through her mental health difficulties and who finds herself faced with a seemingly changed daughter, with an unknown trauma.

With Jen as narrator, we see the characters through her eyes. Her elder daughter, so together and unlike her mother, her husband who, while supportive, does seem to think she overreacts, and Lana whom she can’t get close to – can’t even tell if she likes her.

I guess I found this book to be overall a bit flat. I kept reading, kept waiting for all to unravel and I was left feeling that I wanted a bit more from this book. I really enjoy Healey’s writing, but as I said at the start, I fear I went into reading this with unfair expectations, and that probably left me feeling the way I did.

I must add though that, like Elizabeth is Missing, this book addresses some important subjects and I’m sure it will help to raise awareness.

three-stars