Monday, 16 July 2018

Stillwaters by Yvonne Anderson

Book Title: Stillwaters
Author: Yvonne Anderson
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: E-book review copy provided by the author
Plot Summary: How did she rise from the shrouds of obscurity to become one of the world’s most influential figures? The enigmatic author J. S. Freeman breaks her long silence and tells the whole tale. In Stillwaters, the first of her three-part story, she brings us into the steamy, untamed land of her feral birth. When the City invaders capture her—they call it a rescue, but it sure doesn’t feel like it—her first life ends. She wants only to run free again on Freemansland, but circumstances take her ever farther from home, until one snowy day, her second life ends as well.
Come and see. The truth she tells is better than her fiction.
Thanks to the author, Yvonne Anderson, for providing me with a review copy of this book.

What did I think?

This is not the kind of book I'd usually pick up. I'm not a big fan of genre fiction written in the style of a memoir, but every now and then I like to read outside my comfort zone. It turned out to be a great experience.

The premise is simple: welcome to the autobiography of Jem Freeman, who is famous on a planet that is not Earth.

The book is told in the first person, and I really enjoyed Jem's voice. It's very distinct, natural and I enjoyed reading about her life.

Stillwaters opens with Jem's rather feral childhood and the neglect she endured at the hands of her family. Jem grew up in the countryside under terrible living conditions, and she mistrusts the City for a very long time, even though they saved her life. The only person sticking with her throughout her childhood and later years is her twin brother, and the two have an exceptionally strong bond.

Yvonne Anderson has a vast imagination and describes each scene with vivid details, creating memorable visuals. Jem is an interesting and well developed character and there's a lot of humour in the writing.

The story slows down a bit every now and then, and, especially in the first part, there are a few lulls where the pacing felt off. All in all, it takes a long time for the plot to really get going, and Jem's formative years make up the biggest part of this book.

It takes Jem a long time to let go of her dream of going back to Freemansland, and she feels confined by the City. Her prejudices are strong, and as the reader you're not sure whether to look at the City as a benevolent institution or an oppressive power. Over the next few years, Jem slowly adapts, changes her views and learns to become a part of the City.

At first, Jem holds onto her brother. He speaks for her, shields her, protects her, and one of the things I found fascinating was just how much Jem gets to grow until she's her own person in charge of her own destiny.

I recommend Stillwaters to anyone who likes reading about a world that isn't ours and enjoys memoir-style fiction.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

TTT (28) - Best Books I Read in 2018 so far

Top Ten Tuesdays is hosted over at That Artsy Reader Girl. Read up on the rules here and join in on the Top Ten Tuesday fun.

Follow the link to know more about the meme and join up, it's a great way to find out more about the book blogging community.

This week the theme is best books we read in 2018, at least so far, and this week's post by That Artsy Reader girl can be found here.

We're halfway through the year so this is a great moment to look back and choose a few books that I've loved so far. I've been reading quite a bit. More or less two books a week is my goal and so far I've kept up with that. Actually, I think I'm a few books ahead. But I also have ARCs piling sky high. I've linked my reviews in case any of these pique your curiosity.

These are my top ten books so far:

  • City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. Read this if you're looking for a mystery in an interesting fantasy setting that is different. There's politics, religion and at its heart a murder mystery. My review will be up shortly. 
  • Bright Ruin by Vic James. The Dark Gifts trilogy is a fantasy YA that is about the common man owing the elite, who wield magic, ten years of servitude. It's political, it's intriguing and it's got characters I love. Here's the review of the first one, Gilded Cage.
 
  • Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence. Read this, but start with Red Sister, if you want to see a young girl being trained in a convent by nuns to become an assassin. The protagonist reminds me a lot of Arya Stark and what would have happened if GRRM would have focused on her story.
  • Every Last Minute by Ellen Smith. Time travel. Fast paced. Great couple. What if you could go back and undo something terrible which happened in your past?
 
  • The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. Read this if you're looking for a fun YA romp in the world of the fae.
  • The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts. Read this if you're a fan of lyrical prose and epic high fantasy with a world filled with endless lore and are prepared to take on eleven books.
 
  • Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. Read this if you're into philosophy, history, the age of enlightenment, and don't mind language like Voltaire would have used. This is one of the most different books out there in the SF world.
  • House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds. Read this if you enjoy hard science fiction and are looking for something epic spanning galaxies and centuries.
  • Inda by Sherwood Smith. Coming of age in a military academy, again in a fantasy setting. Read this if you're looking for betrayal and pirates.
 
  • Daughter of the Empire by R. Feist and Janny Wurts. Read this if you're looking for a fantasy inspired by Japan, where a woman is the main character who uses her intelligence to solve all her problems. (It's in the same universe as the Riftwar Saga by R. Feist.)

Special mentions:

  • Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell (because, I technically finished it in July and it'll probably be on my end of the year list.) Read this if you are looking to support an indie author who wrote a complex grimdark fantasy with an amazing plot.
  • Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol (because it was heartwarming and exactly what my news-battered cynical soul needed, a good dose of fantasy romance with irresistible characters.) Read this if you're looking for a m/m romance in a fantasy setting.
 

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell.

Book Title: Kings of Paradise
Author: Richard Nell
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: E-book review copy provided by the author
Amazon UK, Goodreads 
Plot Summary: Ruka, son of Beyla, is a monster. Single-born, twisted, and ugly, Ruka has the bright, golden eyes of a wolf, but his mind is as vast as the open sky.
Born in the frozen, snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom—the land of ash—Ruka was spared from death at birth by his mother’s love. Now, he is an outlaw, and dreams only of vengeance. But can a broken genius find redemption? Or once he has the world in his grasp, will he simply break it apart?
Across a wide sea is the white-sand island paradise of Sri Kon.
Ratama Kale Alaku is fourth and youngest son of the island monarch men call the Sorcerer King. And at sixteen, Kale is a disappointment. His father has sent him away to the navy, perhaps in hopes of salvaging a once-promising child, or perhaps just to get rid of him.
Now Kale must prove his worth - and not just to his father. He must become more than a wastrel prince, or else lose all hope of purpose, or love.
Thank you, Richard Nell, for providing me with a review copy of this book. Also a big thank you goes to Esme over at the Weatherwaxreport for setting up TBRindr.

What did I think?

This is a fantastic debut novel, and by the end, I felt like I'd just stepped off a roller coaster. The story unfolds organically, and is essentially a coming of age tale, connecting several characters. But despite their young ages, be warned, this is a very dark novel. After all, it opens with a boy who has just killed another boy, and he is now eating him.

It's dark, but not bleak. There's hope.

Kings of Paradise is very complex and filled with politics, different cultures and intricate world building, which is slowly revealed through each character's point of view as they grow and mature. The setting feels unique and is rich and detailed. It's a brutal world, but none of the gory events feel unnecessary, all of them are believable.

At over 600 pages, Kings of Paradise is a long book, but it's engaging until the very end, the stakes are incredibly high, and the pacing is fantastic. Throughout the book, I never really knew where the author would take us, and many twists and turns took me by surprise.

Richard Nell is a very talented writer, and I found the prose elegant, and the way plot, world building and character development was revealed pretty impressive.

I am very fond of Kale, the prince, who is a disappointment, but all characters are fleshed out and get developed in incredible ways. They behave in questionable ways, and often repulsed me, but I could understand their actions and reasons to the very end, and despite everything I was rooting for them. However, I don't want to meet any of them in a dark alley. Especially Ruka. He's a fantastic character. One I loved at first but feared by the end. I must admit, he's the only one who ended up losing my sympathy, though I still understood why he was acting the way he was.

I recommend Kings of Paradise to readers who enjoy morally grey characters, grimdark fantasy, and are looking for a complex plot.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Book Title: Before I Let Go
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
My Rating: ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads, Amazon UK
Plot: Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter...
I got a review copy from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

What did I think?

My thoughts while reading this book were mostly one simple word: meh. I never really connected with the characters, didn't care about the town or the mystery and thought the writing was choppy and distracting.

It's just such a mediocre book. No scenes stand out, no characters stand out, and at no point did I think, yes, this is worth reading. Everything is so bland, that I've already forgotten the name of the main character and the name of the town.

Marieke Nijkamp is probably simply not the author for me. I read "This is Where it Ends" last year and was similarly underwhelmed by the execution. When I spotted this book on Netgalley, I thought the premise sounded fascinating, otherwise I wouldn't have requested it, but the book just does not deliver.

The style is weird. Nijkamp decided to add random scenes written as a script even though none of the characters have anything to do with film, and it didn't fit.

None of the characters get any development and the mystery turned out to be predictable and boring. A small town in Alaska should be a fascinating setting. Creepy and isolated, you'd think it would be perfect for a mystery, but oh well. On top of that, the plot just wasn't credible. In fact, it all felt a bit off. The only reason I finished this is because I usually finish books I request, and because it's such a short read.

I'm really disappointed I didn't like this better.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

Book Title: Sorcerous Rivalry
Author: Kayleigh Nicol
Genre: Fantasy with a strong romantic element
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: A paperback review copy provided by the author

Amazon UK, Goodreads 

Plot Summary: In the peace following the Great Mage Hunt, the king's long-time mistress is revealed as a sorceress. Locked away for the safety of the kingdom, bounties are placed upon the heads of the seven children she birthed. Mage hunters have scoured the kingdom for four years, searching for the seven scattered mage-born bastards.
After growing up in an orphanage, Reshi discovers his parentage and learns to hide his magic, living peacefully in a remote village with an unusual friend. But when an alluring mage hunter comes to town, his secret is revealed, forcing Reshi to reach out to his brothers and sisters for help. A family reunion might be Reshi's only hope for survival--or it might become a spell-slinging battle royale.
Who can Reshi rely on when his own family turns against him?
Thank you, Kayleigh Nicol, for providing me with a review copy of this book. Also a big thank you goes to Esme over at the Weatherwaxreport for setting up TBRindr.

What did I think?

I enjoyed Sorcerous Rivalry a lot and read it on a sunny Sunday, lying on a beach towel in the shade, while occasionally dipping into the Hampstead Heath ponds in London.

It's the perfect read for such a day.

I'm not usually a fan of romance (and this is not strictly romance but more fantasy with a romantic element), but this book turned out to be such a nice surprise. The romance is m/m, and I'm always interested in reading diverse books. The romantic element is not the main emphasis of the book, does not follow your typical romance plot, and the two leads have great chemistry and are basically just perfect.

Sorcerous Rivalry is written in the first person from the point of view of Reshi. Reshi is endearing and fun. His ideal life consists of flirting, drinking and taking pretty things to bed, and you just can't help but find him adorable. (I dare you to read this and not like Reshi!) I fell in love with Kestral, the other lead, almost immediately, because of how serious and correct he is. Plus, they both carry the burden of a hidden and painful past, and, I must admit, I'm a sucker for that!

All characters are well developed, and the pacing is great from the very start. The prose is filled with humour, and everything that happens is just so damn entertaining, that I could not put it down. There's dark moments, but overall the tone is light and uplifting, and there were a few scenes that made me feel all warm and bubbly. Overall, the style is comfortable and made me feel like I belonged. I love when an author manages to do that!

There's plenty of magic, and each mage we encounter has unique powers. The world building is not intricate and detailed, but there's enough to support the fantastic plot, and I can't wait to discover more in the sequel.

I recommend Sorcerous Rivalry to any fantasy fan who likes a bit of romance and enjoys fast-paced battles and is looking for a fun romp.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Sunday Post (31) - Hello Summer!

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

If you participate (and you totally should because the community is amazing) don't forget to link up and if you leave me a comment, I will definitely check out your blog.

The Rules can be found here. And this week's post can be found here.

The week was fairly uneventful, but I've been reading a lot and have lots of reviews lined up. Today we spent the day bathing in Hampstead Heath, London.
In July I'm participating in two events: One is Camp NaNoWriMo, where it's all about writing, and the other is Run Around The World, where it's all about running as many miles as possible in the month of July. In fact, the idea is that your team manages to run the distance around the world. 2 miles done, a million to go.

Last week on my blog

Review: Everything About You by Heather Child which is a science fiction novel about a young woman whose virtual assistant adopts her dead sister's personality. Freaky, very much for Black Mirror fans.

Review: A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better by Benjamin Wood. A literary thriller, written as a memoir from the point of view of a twelve-year old boy who is embarking on a road trip with his father that will end in utter disaster traumatising the boy.

Review: A Star Reckoner's Lot by Darrell Drake. A heroine that is bad at her job, magic inspired by astronomy, essentially pulled from stars and planets and the setting is ancient Iran. Definitely worth a look for fantasy fans.

Review: Sleep, Merel, Sleep by Silke Stein. A great middle grade novel that young children will enjoy (and adults, and parents, it's a great little book!)

In my kitchen

I've also made a post about what's going on in my kitchen and how to make asparagus topped with ricotta and salmon. You can find the post here.


My own writing

Finally, I've shared a small piece of flash fiction. It's about a small robot, a household helper, and his anxiety. You can find it here. Let me know if you like it!

At the cinema

I've watched Ocean's 8 and it was a lot of fun. I recommend it to anyone who loves heist stories. Especially Helena Bonham Carter was fantastic. The others as well, but I just have such a soft spot for Helena Bonham Carter. (Don't worry, I did notice Cate Blanchett wearing suits!)


 

I'm currently reading quite a few books at the same time, and I can't wait to review them. I love when I can read in the garden while this wonderful weather continues to kill my beautiful lawn leaving nothing but a brown, dry mess. I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Thursday, 28 June 2018

A Star-Reckoner's Lot by Darrell Drake

Book Title: A Star-Reckoner's Lot
Author: Darrell Drake
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: A review copy provided by the author

Amazon UK, Goodreads 
Plot Summary: Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been.
She commands the might of the constellations…though her magic is as unpredictable as the die rolls that decide its fate. But star-reckoners are humanity’s first defense against divs, so if Ashtadukht is to fulfill her duty, she must use every trick at her disposal—risks be damned.
An excuse. A lie she tells herself. All that remains of a life she should have had. She travels the empire to hunt down the div that brought her world to ruin. The longer her pursuit, the more her memories threaten to consume her. The darker her obsession becomes.
Every spell is a catastrophe waiting to happen, every div a tale of its own, every tale a thread in her tapestry of vengeance. This is the story of her path… a warning to those who would follow in her footsteps.
Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Hers is no hero’s journey.
What did I think?

Thank you, Darrell Drake, for providing me with an ARC of this book.

A hero that is bad at her job? Count me in.

The setting is ancient Iran? Again, count me in.

The magic comes from the stars and is unpredictable? Have I mentioned, count me in?

Ashtadukht is a great character, deeply flawed and well fleshed out. The magic system is fascinating, unpredictable and novel. The setting is fantastic and, from what I could tell, well researched. All in all, A Star-Reckoner's Lot did not disappoint.

Every time Ashtadukht uses her magic she has to consider whether or not it's worth the risk. Power given by the stars and planets can be favourable or not, and sometimes things go terribly wrong. I highly enjoyed reading about a protagonist that can't possibly be overpowered because their magic is unpredictable and might let them down.

While I liked all characters, I absolutely adored Waray. She, and her obsession with eggs, turned out to be the highlight of this book. Waray basically dropped in and stole the show!

Darrell Drake tells the story in a dry, detached tone, which adds humour to the tale. The prose is engaging, not difficult (save for a few complex words, which I had to look up) resulting in a quick, enjoyable read.

The book starts out slow, takes time to introduce the characters, but quickly turns into something I could not put down. At the beginning we follow Ashtadukht through a few assignments, all seemingly unrelated, but once the overarching plot emerged, I realised it was extremely well set up. I have to admit, however, that I got confused a few times along the way. There's time-jumps between the chapters, and it took me a while to find my bearings. There's a few twists and turns I did not see coming, but looking back, they were well-foreshadowed.

I recommend A Star-Reckoner's Lot to any fantasy fan who is looking to pick up more self-published books and enjoys a setting that isn't pseudo-medieval Europe.