Category Archives: Fantasy

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness – Book Review

Patrick Ness is an author who has been on my TBR list for years. I’ve heard so many great things about him, so I treated myself to a break from the Netgalley books to pick up one of my own – The Rest Of Us Just Live Here. But, in the end it left me with some mixed feelings.

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness

The premise is an original and intriguing one – the idea of taking your typical YA fantasy and turning it on its head; instead of following the character at the heart of the action, this story instead focuses on the outsiders. But, what I quickly realised, is this essentially makes the story just a standard YA contemporary tale instead. While there’s plenty of action going on with vampires, ‘the Immortals’ and a precious amulet, this activity is sidelined to small snippets which appear at the beginning of each chapter, while the main focus is on Mikey and his group of friends who are living their own lives, watching the aftermath of the ‘indie kids’ encountering ‘the immortals’ from a distance.

This clever concept ironically pokes fun at stereotypical YA novels, whilst being one itself. But once I settled into the unsettling way this novel does things, I found it excelled at both. The background action is fun, there’s echoes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a general sense of nostalgia for this genre. But the strongest thing that really carries this novel is the characters Ness has created in Mike, his sister and their friends Henna and Jared. These characters have all the typical teenage problems and then some, but they’re relatable and entertaining and the strength of their relationships is touching. I finished this book a few weeks ago and the characters still feel as strong as real people.

This wasn’t exactly the epic tale I was perhaps anticipating from such an established author, but it is well-written, quiet novel about friendships, relationships and growing up, set against an original backdrop. Ness is clearly a talented author, and I’m excited to go back and read some of his other novels.

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The Bear And The Nightingale, Katherine Arden – Book Review

I received The Bear And The Nightingale in exchange for an honest review.

This book took me a little out of my comfort zone; set in another time and place, with a strong undercurrent of fantasy. It left me in a strange situation, where I didn’t really get along with the story – but I can’t quite put my finger on why. The writing was beautiful, the author weaves elements of religion, mythology and fantasy amongst a story of a very likeable young girl. And yet it wasn’t quite for me.

The Bear And The Nightingale, Katherine Arden

Set in the historic wilderness of Russia where winter stretches most of the year and the country is ruled by Grand Princes, this story follows a family in a small village as they forage for food and share fairytales together around the fire to keep warm at night. The protagonist is Vasya, a headstrong young girl who has a touch of magic in her genes. Vasya is almost at one with the Russian wilderness; she understands every nook and cranny of the forest from a young age, and she can see things which others can’t. Continue reading

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Caraval, Stephanie Garber – Book Review

I received Caraval in exchange for an honest review

I was drawn to this book due to its inevitable comparisons to The Night Circus and – while the similarities with my favourite book are only slight – I’m so glad I gave this young adult fantasy novel a try. I don’t read much YA and, as I started Caraval I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on with it – there are some cliches and there’s a very strong romance angle right from from the off which was a little too much at times – but it’s also incredibly fast-paced, engrossing and addictive.

Caraval, Stephanie Carber

“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest things you’ll ever find to magic in this world.” Continue reading

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The Comet Seekers, Helen Sedgewick – Book Review

I received The Comet Seekers in exchange for an honest review

This was an absolutely beauty of a book. It’s been compared to two of my favourite books – One Day and The Time Traveller’s Wife – and this is one of those rare occasions where I feel those comparisons are spot on. Evocative, elegant prose and an achingly romantic story with a dose of poignant symbolism and magical realism, I don’t know why this beautiful debut hasn’t received more attention already.

thecometseekers

Weaving back and forth through time following the trajectory of the characters’ lives only at times when a comet is high in the sky, this story felt truly unique. It opens during comet Giacobini and introduces Róisín and Francois. The two are working at an isolated research station in Antarctica, Róisín as a scientist and Francois at the station’s chef. The two meet under the stars at the end of the world, and then the story spans back through time and across continents, following the journey of the characters and their families which lead them to that point. Continue reading

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Blood, Ink And Fire, Ashley Mansour – Book Review

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
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Blood, Ink and Fire has such an exciting premise, and a gorgeous cover to boot. A YA dystopian story set in a world without books, where instead all information is controlled and filtered as a constant stream of images through an AI computer system called Verity. It had promise, and I had to click request when I saw it was available for review. But, unfortunately, it didn’t deliver for me – and if this hadn’t have been a review copy I probably would have abandoned this book.

Blood, Ink and Fire

I think the big issue for me with this book was not the writing, which was solid, but the fact that the author seemed to have missed the memo about plot and character development. She simply drops the reader into a new world with very little information. We are introduced to Noelle, the protagonist, who suddenly discovers she can read those forbidden written words without ever having been taught what they mean, and runs away from her hometown Vale with her friend, John. It all happened very quickly and there was no real time to build a connection with Noelle, or an understanding of her relationship with John. Continue reading

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The Fairy Wren, Ashely Capes – Book Review

I received this book for review from the author. I don’t accept many direct review requests, but I was intrigued by this blend of magical realism with contemporary drama romance, and The Fairy Wren has received really strong reviews from other reviewers.

The Fairy Wren

The book’s protagonist is Paul Fischer, a struggling book shop owner, recently separated from his wife. When we meet Paul, nothing in his life is going right; he’s bitter, lonely and his short fuse keeps getting him into even more trouble.

Paul is on the brink of losing his business and facing a pending assault charge when he first spots a mysterious fairy wren. The “tiny blue bird with brilliant blue feathers” seems to be watching him; following him, and when it delivers his lost wedding ring back to him, Paul begins to wonder if there’s more to the bird than meets the eye. Soon after, his ex-wife Rachel goes missing, and Paul decides to follow the fairy wren on a weird and wonderful mission for answers.

The thing that I worry about most when reading self or indie-published novels is the writing quality. I can’t help thinking that, without the rigorous editing process you’d expect at a major publishing house, more errors and generally poor writing could slip through the net. But, my experience with this book has proved that view completely unfounded as the writing was excellent, and it has to be one of the cleanest and most well-formatted eARCs I’ve ever received. Ashley Capes is clearly a talented writer and balances the tones of wit, warmth and drama beautifully.

Although I didn’t necessarily agree with all Paul’s decisions, I couldn’t help but root for him – he’s an extremely likeable and well-drawn character, coming across as a genuine guy who has just encountered a terrible run of bad luck. Capes provides the reader with an humorous peek into Paul’s uncensored thoughts – from his rants about caravans; “they were menaces, like giant steel snails painted white for visibility” to the tender self-deprecation suffering a hangover when your entire life seems to be going wrong. “Paul placed his empty coffee cup down, using gentle movements only, lest the sound of contact with the coaster split his skull open and empty the wriggling mess of underachieving thoughts onto the carpet.” I also loved the setting of a quiet coastal town in Australia; there’s a real sense of authenticity in the community spirit, and the way the local business owners come together to face the corporate bosses.

While I enjoyed the writing, the setting and the characters, some aspects of the plot were a little bit hit and miss for me. Balancing and blending themes of drama, romance and small-town relationships with fantasy and magic can be difficult to get right, and this novel did sometimes feel like it veered off in different directions at the drop of the hat. There’s an awful lot going on in Paul’s life to keep track of, and a surprising dark turn in the second half of the novel completely threw me. I struggled to understand the motive behind some of Paul’s decisions and I found that a few of the later elements didn’t really feel in keeping with the first part of the novel, and required a lot of suspension of disbelief.

But, if you’re able to suspend that disbelief and keep up with the multiple strands in this story, you will find a truly original and heartwarming premise at the heart of this book. The Fairy Wren offers a compelling drama, magical fantasy and a story of personal growth all in one and, more importantly, it really is an original read, unlike anything I’ve read before.

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The Witch Hunter, Virginia Boecker – Book Review

I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Release date (UK): 4th June 2015

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This book isn’t perfect; the writing is a little repetitive in places and some of the terminology used to convey romance is a little  cringe worthy “I feel a sickness then, one that’s got nothing to do with the sea.” But, it doesn’t matter. An involving and fast-moving plot, the historical setting and the element of magic makes for some truly captivating, escapist reading.

Witch Hunter

Set in an alternate 16th century England where magic is highly illegal following a plague, the witch hunter in question here is Elizabeth Grey. One of the King’s best, she spends her days hunting down witches, wizards and necromancers until suddenly she finds herself arrested for being a witch herself. Trapped in prison awaiting her execution, she expects her oldest friend Caleb to come to rescue her but is surprised when instead she gets one of the most powerful and feared wizards in the realm show up at her cell, Nicholas Perevil.

From there, Elizabeth is plunged into a new, unfamiliar world where everything she has believed in is turned on its head. In order to avoid being burnt at the stake, she agrees to embark on a mission to help break the curse which was laid upon Nicholas years before. Having been trained all her life to hunt and demolish magic, she suddenly finds herself surrounded by it, and learns that it may have even saved her life. As the story develops, everything Elizabeth has learnt during her life growing up in the palace is thrown into question, and she is forced to choose her own path.

There are many things I loved about this book. The plot moves incredibly fast, and it’s packed full of twists and turns, colourful characters and brilliantly imagined magic. I particularly enjoyed the magic tree and concept of a witch’s ladder which felt like an ingenious little tool you’d be likely to find in the likes of Harry Potter. There’s even a Winter Solstice witch’s party, attended by an array of bewitching creatures; “Witches, of course. Wizards. Revenants, hags, demons…mostly the nondangerous variety, but not always. Ghosts. We try to keep them out, but, you know, that can be hard.” The writer has an incredible imagination, and it shows through in her vivid depiction of magic and the complex plot.

However, in other areas the world-building left quite a lot to the imagination. The blurb of this book attempts to compare it to Game Of Thrones but Game Of Thrones this is not; the complexity of the politics and the history of the place is a little lacking, I would have loved to have known more. Although, on the bright side, I did love that it was set in England – I think it’s the first mainstream young adult fantasy novel I’ve read which is.

The final portion of the book is intense, but the last few chapters do feel a little rushed. I have no idea what’s coming next, but I do know that there’s more to come and I’m looking forward to reading it.

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A Dance With Dragons: Dreams and Dust, George R. R. Martin – Book Review

After having a break from George R. R. Martin’s epic series for a few years, I was very excited to get sucked back into his three-dimensional world and this novel did not disappoint. I’m not really sure how to review this one as I think anyone who’s made it to the fifth book in this series knows what to expect from George R. R. Martin’s writing – it’s clever, engrossing and richly detailed, as usual. I’m going to do my best to avoid strong spoilers for those reading the books or watching the TV series – but there will definitely be spoilers for the other books in the series, and there may be mild spoilers for this book.

Dance With Dragons This book runs along roughly the same timeline as book four, but focuses on different characters. There’s some of my favourites here; Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon and Bran but I did miss King’s Landing a little and the presence of the Stark girls. There’s also a little more Dorne in this book, and a smattering of new points of view which keeps things a little fresh, and widens our view of the seven kingdoms even further.

The character I was most excited to get back to was Tyrion, following his escape from King’s Landing at the end of book three. When I read that he was heading towards Daenerys I was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of my two favourite characters teaming up. Then I calmed down a bit, because I remembered that whenever anyone makes a plan – particularly one involving a long journey – in these books, things can take a long, long time to come to fruition. But it’s okay that Tyrion’s journey takes a long time, because he meets some pretty interesting people along the way.

Then there’s Daenerys herself. Tyrion isn’t the only one travelling towards her, hoping to make her an ally. It seems like everyone wants a piece of the sexy silver queen in this book, except the majority of residents in Mereen, where she’s currently situated. They mainly want to get rid of her. Her storyline is taking an interesting curve, her name is becoming more prolific across the entire seven kingdoms, but she herself is struggling to maintain power over her people and her dragons. With so many people after it’s going to be difficult for her to know who to trust, and I think how she chooses her friends could make or break her as the story develops.

When it comes to Bran, I feel a little bit short changed.There’s only two or three chapters with him in this whole book, and I’m not sure how I feel about where his storyline is going. While I love the magical element of the children in the woods, I can’t help feel that Bran is wasting his incredible powers as a warg and a greenseer, taking himself so far away from the war which I was hoping he would be play a big part in. His storyline felt a little hopeless at times but, there’s strong evidence of another powerful warg in the mix, so I’m holding out hope on these two teaming up.

There’s also quite a few chapters from Jon, Davos and Reek whose stories are all developing in different ways. I’m loving how Jon is coping with life as the Lord Commander, and the Red Priestess is very intriguing, although I still find Stannis pretty dull. Reek’s development is interesting too, as Greyjoy has made a full transition from power-hungry fighter to a poor, pathetic creature who I couldn’t help but feel sorry for.

I do have to mention the length of this novel. Book five of the A Song Of Fire And Ice series is split in the UK, so I’ve only read the first half. That was still a lengthy book which took me a while to get through, although this may be because it did take me a little while to get truly stuck back into the world. But seriously – this book is over 620 pages long, not including the lengthy appendices. That means the complete fifth book is an epic tome of over 1000 pages – I would struggle to stick with one story for that long. George R. R. Martin, I love your writing but it is a tad longwinded. I’m going to be taking another break before reading the next installment.

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The Witch Of Painted Sorrows, M.J. Rose – Book Review

Advanced Reader Copy received from the publisher (Atria) via NetGalley

Release Date: 17th March 2015

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“Passion, for better or worse. It can keep a soul alive even if all that survives is a shimmering.”

I requested this book on NetGalley on a bit of a whim; I’d read very little about the book, but but it intrigued me. The cover is gorgeous, the title and short summary were enticing; a magical mystery set against the luscious backdrop of 1890s Le Belle Epoque Paris. I’m grateful for the review copy but – although I seem to be in the minority – this book didn’t really work for me.

The Witch Of Painted Sorrows

Sandrine arrives in Paris one rainy night, turning up unannounced on her grandmother’s doorstep, looking for a new life and somewhere to take refuge from her cruel husband, whom she has left behind in San Francisco. She gets a surprise when she finds her grandmother is no longer residing at the grand mansion she remembers from her childhood, but instead is staying at a flat while the grand house is undergoing renovation work. But that’s just the beginning of her problems.

Sandrine’s grandmother evades questions about what is going on with the mansion, so Sandrine decides to investigate herself. Behind her grandmother’s back she meets handsome architect, Julien, who is working on the mansion, and the two embark on an affair. As Sandrine’s passion for Julien grows, she discovers a darker side to herself, gaining knowledge and skills she never knew she had, as she descends into the grips of possession by a dark, lascivious spirit.

For me, this novel kind of felt like it was trying to be too many things at once. There’s no doubt that M.J. Rose’s writing is beautiful, but the intense supernatural fantasy weaved in with mild erotica, and set against what I believe was supposed to be a realistic historical backdrop just didn’t quite gel. I’ve enjoyed historical fantasy before, but this novel felt like it was straddling between genres, unsure of its place. It required too much suspension of disbelief for me, even in the parts which weren’t rooted in fantasy. It’s kind of like the writer thought up loads of elements she thought would make a good novel – art, sex, ghosts, spells, Paris – and threw them all together in a big melting pot. The result was a story with lots of twists and turns, but it lacked a certain emotional depth and character development. I didn’t feel like I knew or understood Sandrine at all.

One character I did enjoy was Sandrine’s grandmother. A glamorous working courtesan who commands respect – Sandrine describes her saying “My grandmother inspired awe. She was like a rare jungle orchid.” Working in 1890s Paris, holding saloons in her lavish mansion and mingling with some of most revered and wealthy men of the time, I would have liked more of her story. Before all the ghost malarky came along, she really seemed to have her head screwed on, and I think I would enjoyed a novel which charted her life more than the flaky Sandrine. I know my difficulty associating with Sandrine probably has something to do with the fact that she was being taken over by someone else while I was getting to know her, but she was just so stupid and mean it made her hard to get along with and left me feeling frustrated.

Having said all this, I did enjoy some of the author’s writing. Her descriptions, while a little over elaborate at times, were evocative and captivating. I enjoyed learning about the Ecole des Beaux-Arts – one of the finest art schools in the world, according to the author’s note –  and fell in love with the Librairie du Merveilleux; a luxuriously decorated, mysterious home to followers of the occult; “This was not a store, not a library; it was a cave of wonders, its secrets waiting to be explored.”. And Le Belle Epoque Paris was definitely a gorgeous setting for a novel. But, I got a little tired of the flowery language, Sandrine’s self-indulgent manner and unrealistic plot developments. I wish I’d given this one a miss – but others may enjoy it.

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Landline, Rainbow Rowell – Book Review

I’ve heard so many good things about Rainbow Rowell lately, and after this book won the Goodreads Choice 2014, I decided I had to give it a go. And, after all the hype I have to admit I felt that the book started out fairly slowly, and the writing was average. This book is pure chick-lit – a genre I don’t read very often – and maybe I’d expected a little too much from it. But I needed something light and cheerful after just finishing Stephen King’s Revival, so I ploughed on with an open mind and, after getting over my initial disappointment, I have to admit I got sucked into the story and swept up in the romance of the tale.

Landline

Georgie and Neal’s marriage comes to breaking point close to Christmas. They had planned to spend the festive season in Omaha with Neal’s family and their two children, but at the last minute Georgie lands a lucrative opportunity in her work as a comedy writer, and has to stay home over Christmas to work on a show with her best friend, Seth. So Neal takes the children and goes home for Christmas, leaving Georgie to spend the holiday without her family.

Even though Georgie insists to those around her that the Christmas separation is simply a perfunctory arrangement made for convenience, deep down she knows it’s more than that. She feels her husband is slipping away from her. She tries to get in touch with him to reconcile their relationship, but instead stumbles across a “magical fucking phone” which allows her to speak to Neal in the past.

The element of the magic phone makes for something a little different. It’s another of the reasons I picked the book up in the first place; when done well, romance weaved with a little fantasy can be a real treat. But at it’s heart, this book is all about the relationships; the phone simply acts as a device to bridge together past and present; a tool which asks the reader if you had the chance, would you change the past? In present day, Georgie and Neal’s relationship is stale, and Georgie wonders whether the opportunity has been presented to help her fix her marriage, or erase it altogether. But as she speaks to a younger Neal, less jaded by the stress of their present-day lives, she begins to remember why she fell in love with him in the first place.

The book moves between present day and flashbacks to their relationship’s formative years. I think the flashbacks to their early relationship were probably my favourite parts of the book – Georgie and Neal are young and naive, they fall in love hard and they move fast, with none of the apprehension or anxiety of their older selves.

“You don’t know when you are twenty-three. You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin.”

Rowell doesn’t only capture young romance well, but she captures the disillusioned, embittered nature of a marriage on the rocks too. Present-day Georgie is realising that love isn’t always enough, that she is to blame at least as much as Neal “Because she wanted him more than she wanted him to be happy.” Rowell illustrates perfectly how the years can eat away at that young hope, even when the love remains.

“It’s like you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping that you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with the ball.”

I guess Landline was a mixed bag for me – it’s cheesy, but it’s also poignant and surprisingly realistic in places. I didn’t realise before I started this novel that it was set around the festive season, and culminates on Christmas Day. This kind of explains its Goodreads award – I think everyone was just feeling full of festive love. This is the perfect novel to read around Christmas – it’s not groundbreaking, but it’ll leave you with the warm, fuzzy feeling that a holiday romance should.

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