Ink and Bone (A Novel of The Great Library) by Rachel Caine

“You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you.”

So my local library just launched an ebook service which is a) amazing, b) about blinkin’ time!
In the course of perusing the offerings of the library, I stumbled upon Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine. Now, I had heard of her as the author of the popular vampire series The Morganville Vampires, but I have never actually read any of them (still scarred by the travesty that is Twilight) but just look, LOOK, at the fabulous cover of this book.

LOOK at how beautiful this is!!
LOOK at how beautiful this is!!

 

It fascinated me.

It called to me.

It whispered in my ear promising that the words inside would match the elegant beauty of the pictures outside.

 

So I read the synopsis and that was it. I borrowed this book and the sequel and read them in one day. Both of them. I barely stopped to eat.
In the world of The Great Library, the 48AD fire that destroyed the library was stopped before much damage could be done. Instead of becoming a footnote in history, The Great Library of Alexandria grew in wealth and power and is now a separate country, a superpower that unquestionably holds sway over other countries in the world. Protected by its own standing army, The Library controls access to books and to knowledge. The Library and its daughter libraries around the world- the Serapeum- hold the original copies of books which are translated in the Archive by a form of alchemy only known to the Library and its Scholars. People who wish to read a book can request it from their Codex, a ‘blank’ book that will then translate (using the same alchemy) a copy of the book from the Archive. The Codexes and blanks reminded me very much of the concept of Ebooks but instead of electricity to power them and the internet to supply the books, we have alchemy.
As with all worlds where one institution holds the power over something, there is a thriving black market of book smugglers, a persistent Resistance in the Book Burners, and even an element of the perverse in the ink-lickers who take a very much socially unacceptable pleasure in literally eating the pages of the books they buy.
We are introduced to all this through Jess Brightwell. He is born into a family of successful book smugglers in London and spends his childhood ‘running’ books through the streets of London, avoiding the High Garda (armed forces of The Library), and delivering the original books to whoever has the moeny to pay for them.
He also loves books, and when his father, a man with little familial affection, recognises that is love for the books will interfere in his ability to run the family business he buys a place in the next class of Postulants- young people from around the world who travel t the Library in Alexandria and compete for a chance to be a library Scholar. The plan is for Jess to aid the family business from inside the Great Library machine.

What follows has been described as The Book Thief meets Harry Potter meets Farenheit 451 meets 1984 and although I feel  that does not accurately describe the book at all, I would be hard-pressed to come up with the words to do it justice.

What I can tell you is that the world-building is incredible. Just amazing. This world feels real, I can absolutely see this happening. Wales and England being at war? Plausible. France being conquered by the forces of the Library after a failed rebellion? Believeable. Automatons and Greek Fire used as weapons of war? Totally.
The care and attention that went not creating a plausible world has made this book into a something much more than a plain old alternative history. The subtle politics of the Library and their interactions with the rest of the world, the little changes in technology, the use of real historical locations- it all works.

As for the characters- it was refreshing that the main protagonist was male, this is so often not the case in YA books. Jess’s journey and character development is realistic and he isn’t irritating-not even when the love interest arrives.
The secondary characters are fairly well formed and fleshed out and actually there are at least three other characters who could have worked as primary protagonists- I suspect there may be a lot of fan fiction on the internet. The character most interesting to me is that Scholar Wolfe- his motivations are difficult to work out at first but as his back story is slowly revealed, he becomes more and more interesting (this continues into the sequel). I also liked a particular element of his story line, which I won’t spoil, that I wholeheartedly approved of in a YA novel.

I want to say a lot more about this book but I’m not supposed to write a dissertation for each review!
The central concept of this book, the world building and the insightful commentary on control of knowledge (which resonates more and more these days) make me recommend this book to everyone without reservation.

4 bites

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson

There were several things about this book that drew me in. The title- obvious comparisons with the Steig Larsson books, the cover- bold and a bit film noir-ish, and the description- promising intrigue and excitement:

tgwcfahGeorge Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

So I was expecting great things. I was expecting to finish it in one go; I was expecting a twisty, exciting plot; I was expecting characters with flawed yet fascinating personalities and I was expecting a thrilling denouement…

I did not receive great things. I didn’t finish in one go; it took several reading sessions. It wasn’t especially exciting although was quite twisty. The characters were flat with no development and an annoying tendency to make unrealistic and outright stupid decisions. The denouement was either a last minute attempt to lay the groundwork for a series, or an example of an author getting totally bored with the story and ‘phoning in’ the ending.

The story plays out in two different times- when George and Liana/Audrey/Jane are at college and 20 years later when they meet again. Aside from the fact they are set in different locations, it is difficult to distinguish them- the voice of the character doesn’t change. There is no hint of development in the way they act or view the world- this is a huge problem considering the experiences the characters, especially George, go through in the intervening time.

The secondary characters are lifeless or unrealistic. The police characters do not act like the police and although they need to make the decisions they do in order make the story work, the fact that the police would never act like they do just makes it all messy and not a great read.

George in particular is not a good character- he is boring and he makes stupid unrealistic choices. Characters making stupid choices I can live with if the author has given them the right motivation for them. George’s motives and his choices do not align, and if I cannot believe in a character’s motivations for his choices, the character is not well written. There is no way that George would make the ridiculous decisions he does simply for the sake of the chance of being with a woman he last saw 20 years ago whom he KNOWS is wanted for criminal activities. He only went out with her for a couple of months. And she certainly isn’t written as an addictive femme fatale so it’s not that she’s just so marvellous he HAS to be with her. It just doesn’t make sense. And this, above all other flaws, is what makes this book so disappointing.

So… yeah. Not great things. Not even good things. Perhaps mediocre things…?

1 bite. Not recommended.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

There’s a certain difficulty reading the latest in a book series that you’ve been invested in from book one. Yes, you’re already predisposed to enjoying it; yes, you can slip back into the world and the characters easily; yes, you get the satisfaction of knowing what happens next to these fictional people that you’ve been hearing about, sometimes for years.
But you also risk the disappointment of the characters’ lives treading down a path you would not have sent them. You risk the annoyance of their character development turning them into someone unrecognisable. Most importantly, you risk the rage of the author taking all that beautiful world building, all that potential of kick-ass female characters, all of that realistic character development and throwing it away on an over-blown, over romanced, over-done MESS.

And, ladies and gentlemen, when that rage comes, it is a bitter one indeed….

eos-coverSarah J. Maas has been the recipient of two very positive reviews from me for the previous two installments in her Throne of Glass series (Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows) and would have for the first three if The Bookeaters had been up and running then. So it is with much rage that I say Empire of Storms is not that good.

Picking up almost immediately where Queen of Shadows left off, we follow Aelin and her court on their journey back to Terrasen, Dorian in his recovery, Elide in her escape and Manon in her continued evolution from bad-ass and evil to bad-ass and not evil. Things happen and because of ‘reasons’* all the major characters end up in the same location embarking on a quest to find a McGuffin that will end the fight against darkness, restore balance to the world etc etc blah blah. To be honest, I forgot what they were doing half the time…

(* not entirely believable)

I do want to pick out some good points before I launch into what sparked the rage-

Manon Blackbeak, for the majority of her scenes, continued to be an amazing character- she’s fierce and determined, loyal to her Thirteen and sparked all of the out loud ‘WTF’ moments of the book. Her story line, right up to where it converges with Aelin’s, was the absolute highlight of this book.

Oh, erm, that is about it on good points… oh dear.

Moving on then, to the aspects of this book that enraged me:

The over blown writing – oh my goodness, someone take away Maas’s thesaurus immediately. I’m not sure what has gotten into her but the descriptive elements of this were over the top and very repetitive. Very repetitive. Very repetitive. Sorry, I’ll stop now…. except to tell you that they were very repetitive. Annoying isn’t it?

The excessive amounts of drama llamadom – I get it. This is an epic fantasy story but every. single. aspect. was the biggest deal in the history of big deals in a land where big deals were super-sized. Every fight was super-duper life threatening, every hint of danger was an immediate ‘oh no, we’re about to die horribly, the stakes have never been higher’, every victory was the most dramatic show of raw power ever, every conversation was heart felt and emotional and just. stop.

The romance-  one of the things I loved about previous installments was the move away from typical YA love triangle type first-love-is-last-love. So the fact that almost every character found their one true love (and all B/G too) was nauseating. WHY??? Why do they all have to pair up? Why do they all have to do it when they should be concentrating on saving the world?

The change in genre AKA god-awful sex scenes- Closely linked with the romance aspects is the fact that this title is decidedly not YA- it’s New Adult. The difference?  Explicit sex scenes. I’m not really against sex scenes in a book if that’s what character and plot call for but I do not think they have a place in a book series that started life as a Young Adult series. Particularly when they are so ridiculously badly written and are shoe-horned into a plot at the most unrealistic moments. Seriously…. Lovely lightening? Palm trees on fire? Invisible hands? And nibbling… so much nibbling! Concentrate on saving the world you idiots!

I could go on. I could tell you about the confusing POV switches, the lack of distinct character voices, the heroine who is an ABSOLUTE idiot but I can’t really be bothered. There’s only so much angry ranting a girl can do.

2 bites- 1 for sentiment and 1 for Manon.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

Before continuing with this review, you might want to read the following disclaimers:
Firstly, this is the sixth book in Aaronovitch’s PC Grant series and although there are no spoilers for this book, there are for previous books (mild ones but even so). If you do not want to be spoiled, stop reading.
Secondly, I received an advance copy of this book for free in return for an honest review. And it is all entirely my own opinion.
Thirdly, you should probably be aware of my deep and abiding love for this series. It is far reaching and all-encompassing*. This review is inevitably coloured by this love and by the many months of anticipation leading up to it. Some people prefer reviews to be entirely objective. I have unashamedly written this review in the context of being an established fan. #justsaying

*Not that much of an exaggeration.

 

tht

There was much hyperventilating and excited squealing in my house last week. All from me…
My advanced copy of Ben Aaronovitch’s The Hanging Tree had arrived and the excitement levels had reached Def Con 1.

Fans of the Peter Grant series have been waiting many months for the sixth instalment- not helped by the repeated postponement of the release date- and inevitably some sequel anxiety had set in.
What is it wasn’t as good? What if Aaronovitch had run out of ideas? What if he’d written himself into a corner he couldn’t get out of? What if… what if… what if…

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I began.

The Hanging Tree sees Peter enter the world of the super-rich after a party in one of the most expensive buildings in London, attended by Lady Ty’s daughter, ends in tragedy. Peter owes Lady Ty a favour and she’s calling it in.
Using his usual mix of proper police work, annoying his colleagues with his ‘weird Falcon stuff’, and asking the right questions at the right time he follows the investigation to a black market of arcane items, many of which interest the Folly greatly. Unfortunately for Peter, there are others who are also interested in the items… others who are not quite as keen on upholding the Queen’s Peace as he is…

I’ve read this book three times now. And fully intend on reading it again at the weekend.

To sum it up in a word- HOORAY!!!

There was no need for the sequel anxiety, no call for the trepidation- Ben Aaronovitch hasn’t lost his touch!
That’s not to say this book was perfect but I really enjoyed it and felt it was an excellent example of his writing skills.

The world that Aaronovitch has built over the series gets richer and more nuanced with every instalment- and I include the comic books in this- and some sub plots that have been weaved into the previous stories come to fruition without feeling rushed or shoe-horned in. Aaronovitch isn’t afraid to play the long game on this series and as a result there are many ‘no way!’, ‘blimey’ and ‘WTF?!!’ moments in this book as storylines and characters that have been waiting their turn suddenly get a chance to shine.

The plot cracks on at a very speedy pace and, as usual, twists and turns and doubles back until you end up at a place that you could never have predicted from the opening chapter but are very glad you’re there.

There were moments of high tension, moments of light relief and moments where I laughed my socks off. There are the usual geeky references, science/magic mashups, and the slightly dark, somewhat nonchalant humour that seeps into the prose, imbuing it with a perfect blend of comedy and drama. As a fan, there was an awful lot to keep me on side and happy.

The cast of characters is becoming more extensive every time and the additions here are worthy ones, be they brand spanking new or previously mentioned characters who now have an expanded role in the series.

Inevitably, this does mean there is less room for some of the other characters and I must admit that I did miss some of my favourites- the lack of much going on in the Folly itself was disappointing and I also wished that there had been more of Beverley. But you can’t have everything and what we did get was top notch!

 

4 bites for this excellent addition to the PC Grant canon! Read the whole series right now…

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

narrow-roadWinner of The Man Booker Prize 2014, this extraordinary novel on the surface is about Dorrigo Evans, an army surgeon who finds himself in command of several hundred fellow POWs forced into hard labour to build the notorious Burma Railway between Bangkok and Rangoon in WWII. Flanagan’s approach to telling the Story of Dorrigo turns the novel into much much more than just a run of the mill WWII saga. We see vignettes not only from Dorrigo’s life before, after, and during the Second World War but also snippets from those around him- Amy, the great love he leaves to go to war, his fellow POWs, the Japanese Army officers who oversee Dorrigo’s section of ‘The Line’. It is, as the marketing hype suggests, “a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.”

One of the best things about this book is that although it is fiction, it is based within a history that is vehemently real. Knowing that, although these specific events didn’t take place, the bravery, strength, cowardice and evil depicted really happened adds an extra dimension to the tale.
Getting inside the heads of the Japanese and Korean soldiers blurred the lines between what I believed to be the established truths behind this history and ripped apart my black and white approach to this era. Shades of grey fill the page with humanity and the unfairness of history.

This is Richard Flanagan’s tribute to his father who was an Australian POW on the notorious Burma Railway. Richard’s father was on the railway with the famous Weary Dunlop who, in the words of one of his men, became “a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering”. When asked if Dorrigo is inspired by Weary, Flanagan emphatically responds that “Dunlop is too extraordinary a character for fiction.” For such an extraordinary book with such extraordinary characters, that says so much.

Flanagan’s style of writing, particularly some of his grammatical choices, and his approach to chronology take some getting used to but you are quickly swept up into the rich fabric that Flanagan weaves with his descriptive writing.

I must have written and rewritten this review two dozen times over the past month or so. To try and get my thoughts and feelings about this book down on ‘paper’ feels at the moment like my own personal Everest. I simply do not have sufficient words to describe the impact this book had on me.

In despair, and with my deadline looming, I looked back on the conversation I had with my fellow Book Eaters ten minutes after finishing and decided to share with you my initial thoughts.

“I’ve just finished The Narrow Road To The Deep North.
It’s taken 8 months. I’ve had to put it down and leave it alone so many times and stop myself from picking it back up until I’m able to deal with the emotions it brings. I’ve read the last 75 pages with tears streaming down my face. It’s a book that has punched me in the gut over and over. I don’t know if I’ll ever be strong enough to read it again and yet I don’t know how I can bear the thought of never again opening the pages of a book that has truly changed the way I think in a fundamental way.

I truly don’t know if I recommend it. In almost every way I do, but it is a book which is fiction and yet not fiction. The truths in the story have shred my heart into tiny pieces.

 

5 bites. If only there were more bites to give…

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

“There are choices. There are always choices”

TSS
As an example of how intricate the illustrations are… the writing and vines are actually the book jacket, and the girl is the cover of the book

It warms my soul when come across a book like this imaginative retelling/rebooting/retwisting of Sleeping Beauty/Snow White written by Neil Gaiman, and illustrated by Chris Ridell.

Gone is the idea of the passive princess waiting around for her knight in shining armour, her Prince Charming, her male saviour. In is the idea of being a master of your own fate, master of your own choices.

Although much lighter on substance than Gaiman’s stories usually are, the illustrations more than make up for this and are in fact the highlight of this book. Deft drawings add literary colour to the tale of a queen who goes off to rescue her kingdom from a rumoured plague of sleep. Fine line pictures of the environment and characters give an extra layer to the story.

I’ve seen some reviews bemoan the fact that this book is priced as if it were novel length instead of 72 pages. They are, in my opinion, completely undermining the addition that the illustrations make to the overall feel of the book.

The slightly gothic illustrations marry well with the descriptive slightly creepy nature of Gaiman’s tale with certain fairy tale tropes turned on their heads and characters you would expect to act in a particular way surprising you.

It’s a quick read, and a long look at the pictures but is a solid 3 bites today.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Whilst looking for a suitable picture to accompany this review, I came across the reviews on a certain well-known review website. The first volume of Terry Goodkind’s long running saga, The Sword of Truth series, is certainly divisive. The majority of reviews are either overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative. Wizard’s First Rule, it would appear, is a Marmite book.

So which camp do I fall into?
Well, with regards to Marmite, vehemently in the hate camp… I hate the smell of it, the look of it, the taste of it. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!

WFRWith regards to Wizard’s First Rule, I’m in the minority… I neither love it or hate it. I find it enjoyable, I find it flawed, I see the basis for the negative reviews, and I see the reasons for the fervent love.
I would consider this the porridge of the book world; it’s ok, some people think it’s the bees’ knees, some people think it’s glue in a bowl. I think it’s alright, a bit bland, a bit prone to inducing literary indigestion. I need to be in the right frame of mind for it but in certain circumstances it’s a delicious bowl of stodge filling me up with nothing too complicated.

Wizard’s First Rule is the first in an eleven book series (plus prequels and a follow up series) called The Sword of Truth. It introduces us to the world Goodkind has created, the central characters of Richard, Kahlan and Zedd (Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander to be precise), and the myriad of peripheral characters.  Richard embarks on a quest, aided by Kahlen and Zedd to overcome a great evil, and to discover his true self.

Goodkind has often claimed that his books are not fantasy but character novels and he does spend a lot of time of developing his characters. Unfortunately he sacrifices this character development at times to further the plot- you find that Kahlan and Richard in particular act outside of the established boundaries of their character in order to make a point, or to introduce a new concept. It’s jarring but not an insurmountable problem.

What is more problematic is the treatment of good and evil. Evil in this book is truly evil- torturing, maiming, killing for fun, child molesting evil. And we are continually told that people commit acts that are evil not because they themselves are evil but because they believe they are doing what is right- Life is murder is a concept that is explained at one point.  The two don’t really match. On the one hand we are shown despicable acts committed by people who truly enjoy the sadism of it all and on the other we are urged to understand that these acts are committed by people who have truly believe that these actions are the only way, that they are justified by the rightness of their cause.
On the flip side of this, we are shown heroes and heroines on the side of right and truth and justice who are just as willing to commit atrocities to get what they want. They consider killing innocent children with their bare hands, they attempt to kill old men because the men do not believe helping them is in the men’s best interests, they casually talk about skinning someone they believe has betrayed them and this is all only in the first book… don’t get me started on their actions in the rest!

It’s tricky; it’s something that keeps me mulling over my feelings about this book long after I’ve finished it. Combine it with the bizarre BDSM-on-steroids sub-plot/plot thread and the beginnings of a political ideology I disagree with and it makes me frequently consider putting this book in the Marmite category.

But it isn’t. It’s porridge. It’s been read and re- read a dozen times. Why is that??
Well it is pretty enjoyable, the story ticks along nicely and there are numerous interesting episodes along the way. The world Goodkind has created is complicated, magical, and full of little pieces of history that make you want to know a bit more.
The writing isn’t complicated, you don’t need to wade through indecipherable prose to get to the heart of the matter.

Yes, it has its issues, yes, I can see why people loathe it, but for me, it’s just a pretty decent book to read when I want something a bit familiar and a bit enjoyable to read.

3 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Written In Dead Wax (The Vinyl Detective 1) by Andrew Cartmel

I think any semi-regular reader of this website will be fully aware by now of my deep and abiding love for Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/PC Grant series. Whilst waiting for the sixth book in the series to come out (due August 25th… not that I’m counting the days or anything…), I have been getting my fix by reading the two comic books in the series, Body Work and Night Witch. Co-written by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, they are the reason I jumped at the chance to read the latter’s debut novel. I love finding new authors and who better than one so clearly endorsed by one of my favourites!

Vinyl DetectiveThe Vinyl Detective is a record collector.. but you know, a proper one, collecting actual vinyl records (we don’t call them vinyls…) and either adding them them to his extensive collection or flipping them to make enough money to keep his cats in biscuits.
When a mysterious but deeply attractive woman shows up on his doorstep with a commission from an even more mysterious but incredibly wealthy client to find a priceless and lost record, he can’t resist- the search or the woman.
What starts out as a fairly standard and likely to be protracted search turns sinister when one of the record shop owners who has been helping them turns up dead and it becomes clear that they aren’t the only ones searching for this elusive recording….

I thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed this book. Those of you who follow our Facebook feed will already know that I finished it in one sitting of only 3 hours… not bad for a book that is 474 pages long!

The plot takes a little time to get going, but the time spent at the beginning to establish the characters is well spent. There is quite a large cast of characters and I didn’t feel that any were superfluous to the story or shoehorned in for any reason.  The supporting characters were as deftly drawn as the main protagonists and I get the feeling that they are going to appear a lot in the sequels- Cartmel has already written two follow up novels whilst waiting for Written In Dead Wax to be published.

There is an attention to detail in the writing which enhances the story- Cartmel clearly knows his stuff on both jazz and vinyl records as well as the subtle complexities of being a collector of anything and hunting for that hard to find prize. He doesn’t shy away from the more mundane aspects of the search which balances the helter-skelter actions scenes but rather than being boring, as mundane scenes often can be, he injects light comedy into them or uses them as a way to develop the characters.

The story itself is slightly unrealistic but not entirely out of the realms of possibility and after all, we are reading fiction! It is engaging and absorbing, and full of little laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not going to change anyone’s life with its deeply philosophical ideas but its not meant to. It’s meant to give you a few hours of pleasure, a few hours of amusement and it succeeds 100%.

I really want to be able to tell you more about this book but I don’t want to take away from the joy of reading a new and exciting story with new and engaging characters! So really, you should just go and buy it- it was published yesterday!

A very rare 5 bites from me… yes, I enjoyed it that much!

 

NB- I did receive an ARC but all opinions are decidedly my own. And I’m going to be buying this as a present for pretty much all my friends anyway….!

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

I read this book courtesy of the publishers allowing me to read an advance copy through Netgalley (thanks! And as always, opinions are entirely my own!) and actually I’ve been dying to share my thoughts since closing the book on the last page. It has been pretty tough to keep schtum until the release date but it’s almost here (Tuesday) and I can break my silence and shout my opinions to the heavens… well, to you guys!

Sleeping GiantsAll the information I had on this book was the blurb and the really pretty cover. I love these patterns on the front cover and they really help to bring to life some of the imagery in the book.

The synopsis was equally beguiling.
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—the object’s origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top-secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the relic they seek. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and finally figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?”

Now how’s that for an intriguing premise?!
The story is told through a series of interview transcripts, diary entries, official reports and new articles and, at first, I thought the lack of traditional prose might hinder my enjoyment of the book. I was expecting to find it too objective, too far removed from the characters and too much like a non-fiction book to really get into the character development and plot. I was wrong.
Only a few pages in I was hooked- the format may be unusual but it absolutely works. I was able to get engrossed in the story and relate to the characters- in fact, the mysterious interviewer ended up being one of my favourite characters- who on earth are they and how did they end up being able to pull the strings on such a project? Are they secretly Blofeld or Scaramanga… but not so evil? There’s a location introduced into the book that really backs up my potential Bond villain theory but alas, I suspect I may be barking up the wrong tree!

The rest of the characters are a bit of mix of back grounds but each are introduced in a realistic way and have a lot to add to the story. It’s a bit difficult to say too much about their development as I don’t want to ruin the book for you but each has a particular arc to journey along and they are interwoven into the central plot well.

The plot rockets along at a fair old pace. The format can take much of the credit for this as we skip out a fair amount of the intervening piffle and focus on the main events of the search for the meaning of the giant hand. It’s a really intriguing concept- the idea that there is a machine that is not demonstrably of this earth re-awoken once humanity reaches a particular point in it’s development. Will it be used for good or as a weapon? Can it be used? What does it mean for Earth’s place in the universe?
Sleeping Giants manages to be deeply philosophical and a riotous ride all at the same time, and I found it to be enormously absorbing and interesting.

That’s not to say it was perfect, there were a couple of bum notes. There was a bit of a sub-plot that involved an ‘outside character’ having a wealth of knowledge that seemed a bit unrealistic- yes, I know that this is essentially a book about a giant potentially alien hand but it was unrealistic within the story.
The ending also seemed a little rushed and although the story line was logical and the actions of one particular character was logical, I felt it deserved more time to be developed fully.

There is a sequel (I assume from the epilogue!) and I will be rushing it to the top of my tbr list!

4 bites today, it’s a lovely treat!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Escape From The Past: The Duke’s Wrath by Annette Oppenlander

EFTP“When fifteen-year-old nerd and gamer Max Anderson thinks he’s sneaking a preview of an unpublished video game, he doesn’t realize that 1) He’s been chosen as a beta, an experimental test player. 2) He’s playing the ultimate history game, transporting him into the actual past: anywhere and anytime. And 3) Survival is optional: to return home he must decipher the game’s rules and complete its missions if he lives long enough. To fail means to stay in the past forever. Now Max is trapped in medieval Germany, unprepared and clueless. It is 1471 and he quickly learns that being an outcast may cost him his head. Especially after rescuing a beautiful peasant girl from a deadly infection and thus provoking sinister wannabe Duke Ott. Overnight he is dragged into a hornets’ nest of feuding lords who will stop at nothing to bring down the conjuring stranger in their midst.”

Now, I’m not a big gamer and I always play the few games I do on the easy or beginner mode. Having said that, if I chose the master level on a historical adventure computer game and found myself actually transported to the past, I do not think I would have coped as well as Max does. Yes he freaks out for a decent portion of the book, and yes he draws attention to himself for being weird (aka knowing about hygiene and other modern ideas!) but generally he does alright. At first. He finds food and shelter and a friend. And a girl. Then it goes…. less well. To say more would be ruining things.

It took me a while to get into this book and at first I put it down quite a lot. I can’t really pinpoint the reason why now that I’ve finished it because it is an exciting and realistic tale with a protagonist that is actually someone you want to root for. I think perhaps I would have liked to have seen Max in his real life more before he is transported to 1471. To jump pretty much straight into suspending my disbelief was a bit much- I would have liked the time to warm up to the concept.

Once Max is more thoroughly rooted in the story and more accepting of the idea that it isn’t really just a game, the story begins to fly by. Oppenlander is a gifted writer and her attention to the smallest details really allows her world to come to life. She has clearly done a hefty amount of research into this time period and even my finely-tuned ‘historical inaccuracies in fiction’ radar didn’t ping. The world that Max enters is the medieval world of the peasants- harsh, gruelling, relentless, unhygienic, smelly, really bloody hard! The realism of the world was a definite strength and helped to make what could have been a silly concept exciting.

Some of the characters were real historical people and there is an author’s note at the end to expand on this, and I think that this may have been the reason why some of the characters didn’t feel very well fleshed out. The highlight though is the character of Max. He feels very ‘teenagery’ but not in a cliched way. He just seems like you really could meet him on the street and he wouldn’t seem any different from any other teenager you may know. His trails and tribulations are pretty dire at times and you find yourself rooting for him all the way. This is not the type of book that could have worked with anything less than a strong protagonist.

Overall I thought this was a decent read. I think I perhaps would have enjoyed it a bit more had I been younger- given that this book is aimed at the YA market, I don’t consider this to be a criticism.

3 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

What Should A Clever Moose Eat? by John Pastor

What Should A Clever Moose Eat? is not the usual sort of book we review here but we’re an open-minded bunch, and there is no reason to not enjoy non-fiction books just as much as fiction books.

Clever MooseAfter 30 years of research, John Pastor has released this highly informative look at the interconnecting ecological, geological and environmental issues of the North Woods.

“How long should a leaf live? When should blueberries ripen? And what should a clever moose eat? Questions like these may seem simple or downright strange—yet they form the backbone of natural history, a discipline that fostered some of our most important scientific theories, from natural selection to glaciation. Through careful, patient observations of the organisms that live in an area, their distributions, and how they interact with other species, we gain a more complete picture of the world around us, and our place in it.

In What Should a Clever Moose Eat?, John Pastor explores the natural history of the North Woods, an immense and complex forest that stretches from the western shore of Lake Superior to the far coast of Newfoundland. The North Woods is one of the most ecologically and geologically interesting places on the planet, with a host of natural history questions arising from each spruce or sugar maple. From the geological history of the region to the shapes of leaves and the relationship between aspens, caterpillars, and predators, Pastor delves into a captivating range of topics as diverse as the North Woods themselves. Through his meticulous observations of the natural world, scientists and non-scientists alike learn to ask natural history questions and form their own theories, gaining a greater understanding of and love for the North Woods—and other natural places precious to them”

I was a little bit worried that a book like this would be too dry and academic for me, even with the A Level Environmental Studies exam I’m studying for and, in truth, my fears were partially realised. There were elements in the book that dragged a little as it was more geared towards people with a more thorough academic background.

For the most part, however, the book was appropriate for casual readers and for those looking for a more in depth look. Pastor has an engaging style and has structured the book in such a way that you could read it in one go or dip in and out of it.
He draws a very vivid picture of the North Woods and the way that all aspects of the area interconnect and depend upon the others. Reading this book, you get a clear understanding of why this area is like it is, why the beavers are important, why the leaves are the way they area and, yes, what a clever moose really should eat!

It’s not for eveyone, but this was 3 bites for me.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

RTReleased only a few days ago, Real Tigers is the third novel about Slough House, a branch of MI5 where the agents who have screwed up too badly to be trusted- but not badly enough to sack- are dumped; forever doomed to push paper, plod through databases, and generally fulfill the destiny their ‘Slow Horses’ moniker suggests.

When one of their own agents is kidnapped and held to ransom, the rest of them must somehow overcome their malaise, their addictions, their arrogance and their reputation to steal from the rest of MI5, rescue their colleague and find out what the hell is going on!

I wasn’t aware when I started reading this that it was the third in the series and to be honest, it doesn’t matter too much. I was able to read and enjoy this perfectly well as a stand alone novel, although at times I think I would have understood some of the undercurrents of the political machinations and some of the motivations of the characters a little better if I’d read 1 and 2.

This is not your typical spy thriller- this is not Jason Bourne or James Bond free-running around London saving the world from dastardly villains, ricocheting from plot element to plot element whilst looking alternately buff and manly, and suave and sophisticated. This is the very character driven story of some seriously maladjusted people battling their demons, their lost ambitions and their character flaws to get the job done and save their colleague- who they may or may not give a crap about. There was one character in particular whose story and struggle, although it may have seemed very minor in comparison to the overall plot, was very emotive.

Being a character driven story doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of action. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the story, but there is enough action to satisfy anyone searching for a bit of an adventure. And well written action too. Often in character led novels, the action can seem a bit shoe horned in but Mick Herron is clearly an accomplished writer who drew me in to the action sequences as easily as he made me care about a bunch of sub-par MI5 agents.

4 bites for the story about James Bond as it really is. Probably…

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

RBWRWhat could be better than settling down on a cold grey January day and reading a lighthearted, fluffy romance novel?
Settling down on a cold grey January day and reading a lighthearted, fluffy romance novel ABOUT BOOKS of course!

The book opens with Sara, a 28 year old book shop assistant from Sweden, arriving in the small town of Broken Wheel in Iowa. She has left Sweden for the first time ever to visit Amy, an elderly resident of Broken Wheel, with whom she has developed a close pen pal relationship based around their mutual love of books. She has high hopes for the visit and is therefore stopped in her tracks somewhat when, upon arriving at Amy’s house, she walks in to Amy’s wake. Unsure of what to do, Sara accepts the townspeople’s offer to stay as it ‘was what Amy wanted’.
The more time she spends there, the more the kindness of the townspeople bothers her- she never has to pay for food, they have hired someone to drive her around etc. She is also bothered by the fact that Amy seems to have been the only person in town to have ever even cracked open a book!
She eventually comes up with the plan of opening a town bookshop with Amy’s vast book collection, with the proceeds going to the town. Sara prides herself on finding the right book for everyone, finding that one ‘gateway’ book that will open the doors to a reading journey for everyone. These journeys not only change the town but also Sara herself.

This was a very enjoyable fluffy book. It was not making any attempt to be high literature and was perfectly content to have a slightly ridiculous plot, slightly predictable characters, and a fairly obvious romance. And this was fine, the focus was never really on the plot or the characters or the romance, it was always on Amy and Sara’s love of books and how that love of books helps them to relate to people. The whole story is an ode to the power of books to heal, to connect, to enlighten, to educate, to delight, to shock, and to transform. As a Book Eater, this is a message I can absolutely relate to! I spent a fair portion of the book eagerly adding Sara and Amy’s recommendations to my TBR list and found myself on several occasions wondering what books I would choose for the characters!

If I didn’t have such a love of books, would I have enjoyed it quite so much? Perhaps not. The characters were predictable and generally two dimensional (the exception being the Amy we get to know through the flashback letters), the plot really was a bit ridiculous and the book itself was somewhat overlong. I wonder if it has lost something in the translation from Swedish.

3 bites for The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

 

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in return for an honest review- all opinions are entirely my own

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Call of Gelduur by Jack Alriksson

One of the most important ways I choose which books to read is by using the blurb on the back. Nine times out of ten it gives me a really good idea of the tone of the book, the subject matter and often the writing style. Then there’ll either be the little nose wrinkle that accompanies a mental ‘meh’ and the book goes on the No pile, or a pursing of the lips accompanied by a ‘ooh’ and on the never-ending TBR pile it goes.

The blurb on the first book in The Norrland Saga led to the latter of these:

Call“Meet Ivar Skullcleaver. Lovely lad. He likes to read. Plunder. Slaughter. Shamelessly manipulate friends and foes. And he’s the hero of this lighthearted fantasy adventure.

Start your journey in the mysterious islands of Norrland, embark on an adorable pillaging cruise, sail bravely through a fierce storm and reach the island-kingdom of Ingorle… shipwrecked and defenseless. But don’t worry, it’s not that bad. Not yet. Not until the soldiers of Ingorle turn you into a slave and send you up north to defend their borders from a hidden threat that only reveals itself moments before killing the beholder in a very rude way. Now it’s truly bad. So, again, don’t worry. It should get better. Especially since the hidden threat strikes and…OK, that’s enough for spoilers. Read the book”

I was expecting a sarcastic, humorous, adventurous romp of a book that didn’t take itself too seriously just based on that, but helpfully the author continues with a bit of a laundry list. Having now read the book, I feel qualified, nay compelled, to comment (in blue)…

“SOUNDS INTERESTING, BUT WHAT DO I ACTUALLY GET?
– A delightful adventure in a fantasy world inspired by an Europe at the dawn of the Viking Age. Definitely a delightful fantasy world- there was good world-building and the  Norrlanders fit within the rules of the world whilst clearly showing their Viking inspired roots. The plot was certainly adventurous with lots going on and a fast pace set almost from the outset.
– A story of conquest (yep), vengeance (yep), friendship (yep), bravery (yep) and subtle manipulation (double yep)
– Battles. An obscene amount of battles. Land battles, sea battles, sieges, duels, slaughter, a bit of torture (not much, though. The author is not very fond of it), basically every act that can be performed by upstanding pirates, cutthroats and murderers. It was pretty violent which may put some people off but we’re not talking Game of Thrones or 300 levels of violence-it’s not that graphic.
– A war of wits. Because wars are not won simply by hurling soldiers at the enemy even if that’s a tactic frequently used by some….
– A big and happy smile on the cover, just to brighten your day 🙂 hmmm very cheery!
– Plenty of twists and unexpected turns of events that are overcome with the most powerful form of magic. The magic of the mind I would agree with the twists and turns of the plot but have to say they weren’t always unexpected 🙂
– Definitely not the “you must love the hero because I’ve made him so unbelievably perfect and you must hate the antagonists because they’re bad in such a cheap way” approach. Definitely not that. Feel free to love or hate the characters based on your own morality. Or lack of.  I’m not sure there is a way to love a hero so very much based on the brutality of the Vikings! But this was one of the things I liked about this book- the characters were not cardboard cutouts. It was very much a protagonist/antagonist book as opposed to a heroes/villains. It was difficult to relate to some of the characters because… you know… Vikings!
– A bit of humor and a lighthearted story. Just because the characters are busy slaughtering each other doesn’t mean the tone of the novel has to be dead serious. Absolutely agree- it’s light-hearted, it’s funny, it’s not even trying to be serious. This is a book that just wants you to enjoy reading it!”

And enjoy it I did! It’s a solid 3 biter with the proviso that if you don’t like gratuitous swearing, you may not want to read this…

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow“We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.
But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.
Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.
But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.”

Fiona Barton’s debut novel was apparently the subject of a bidding war by various publishing houses. It has been tipped as the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. ‘The most buzzed about book of 2016’ apparently. I of course knew nothing of this until I googled for a book cover picture to put in this post- shame on me! Call myself a book lover!
In my defence I had read the book and written the review in my little notebook ages ago so the build up and buzz had kind of passed me by. With 5 days left before it is released it is time to give my thoughts to you all!

Fiona Barton was a journalist and self-titled ‘professional observer’ and it shows throughout the pages of The Widow. Told largely (but not solely) from the viewpoints of Jean (the widow), Kate (the reporter) and Bob (the detective), observations on people and society enrich the story and the characterisations. There are shades of grey all over the place and layers upon layers upon layers, and yet the story and the characters are all completely realistic.

It is not an easy or lighthearted book to read, the subject matter alone is probably enough to put some people off- the crime that Jean’s husband was accused of is child abduction and there are also a significant number of passages regarding paedophilia and grooming. Addressing the issue of the family affected by the accusations also makes for difficult reading at times.

This book however was absolutely compelling. The widow’s narrative contrasting with the detective’s near obsession with cracking the case kept the dual timeline and multiple protagonist format working. The characters and social comment seeped slowly under my skin and although I could put the book down, I didn’t want to (pesky need to eat, sleep and work!) and I often found myself thinking about it.

The writing can be a bit too ‘professional’ at times- at times I felt a little bit as if I were being led to a particular attitude towards a character or event. I know this happens in every book but I prefer not to be picking up on it through the writing!

I highly recommend this book. It will not give you a spring in your step, and it doesn’t say anything cheery about the world but it will get inside your head and set up house until you have slowly and carefully read through to the conclusion.

4.5  bites- book released on the 14th Jan 2016. Currently available for pre-orders

 

NB. I received an advance copy free of charge in return for an honest review. Which I’m pretty glad about- I likely would not have picked this up otherwise and I would have missed out on an excellent read!
All my opinions on this are my own and not influenced by the free-ness of the book!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

P&PPride and Prejudice is a Classic (note the capital ‘c’), there is no doubt about that. It appears on countless ‘Must Read’ and ‘Top 10/50/100’ lists, has had numerous film and tv adaptations made, literary analysis coming out of its ears, and even a graphic novel!
There are parodies, homages, sequels, prequels, inspired bys, and fanfiction galore! I’m particularly looking forward to the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies….

None of these things, however, give an indication of whether Pride and Prejudice is actually any good. After all, there are TV adaptations of War and Peace, another ‘Classic’, and I found that book so dull it made me want to cry. In fact, I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice for many years because of its ‘Classic’ status (seriously, War and Peace was a total Classic downer). But one day, on one of my periodic ‘I will stop reading lame books’, I picked it up and didn’t look back.

Pride and Prejudice follows the fate of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, second eldest of the five Bennet sisters, as she navigates fulfilling societal and familial expectations of a marriage for money and following her own principles of a marriage for love. Her sisters’ fates are also explored and the themes of overcoming pride and prejudice, class structure, love and marriage, and manners and morality are addressed through their stories and the stories of the characters linked to them.

The Bennets live in a small village called Longbourn. They are gentry but not particularly wealthy or important in society. The estate is entailed upon a more distant male relative and so in order to secure the future of the family, the Bennet girls must marry well (i.e. into money). When Mr Bingley, a man of more consequence, moves into a nearby estate, Netherfield, he takes a fancy to the eldest Miss Benntt, Jane. His wealthy and grumpy friend Mr Darcy is staying with him but is not as disposed to think well of the Bennet girls.

The characters are richly drawn and each fulfills an important role in illustrating the points that Austen is making. There are no superfluous characters although some can be somewhat one dimensional. Elizabeth Bennet is perhaps my favourite character which is perhaps unsurprising- she does after all appear on my list of favourite literary heroines but I find something to like about almost every character that Austen writes (even if it is that they are unlikeable!)
The story is well paced and tightly plotted, dialogue and exposition perfectly balanced and geared towards driving the story forward. And, you know, it’s one of the world’s greatest love stories so I’m always keen to see it reach its conclusion!
There is so much in Pride and Prejudice that I would think it very difficult to get bored of reading it. The social commentary and literary analysis that I’ve looked at has increased my enjoyment of the book and each time I read it I find something new.

Pride and Prejudice is fabulous. I love it. It’s my favourite book. I know I say that quite a lot about many different books, but this one really is. I could, and do, read it over and over. I own three different copies (ebook, ‘clean hands’, and everyday) and will read at least a couple of chapters on every train journey. It’s my go to literary palate cleanser, it’s my emergency ‘I’ve gone off reading’ solution, it’s guaranteed to make me smile.

So it almost goes without saying that this is a 5 biter from me today!

P.S Click here… and you’re welcome!

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Shadowmagic by John Lenahan

John Lenahan was a magician who was kicked out of the Magic Circle, and he had a couple of BBC TV shows, and was the voice of the toaster in Red Dwarf…. clearly it is the last of these that most inspired me to read the first of his Shadowmagic Trilogy, also called Shadowmagic.

SMIt tells the story of Conor, a normal teenager from Scranton in America. Well, if you consider ‘normal’ to come with a single father who lost his hand in a ‘lawnmower accident’ and who speaks to you in ancient Celtic languages and teaches you sword fighting. It quickly becomes apparent to Conor, and to us, that his life is far from normal when his Aunt (whom Conor didn’t know existed) literally appears out of nowhere, on horseback, and accompanied by two guards… and throws a spear at his head. One of the guards is then shot off his horse by a mysterious rider in black and as soon as he touches the floor he vanishes into a cloud of dust which, you know, sucks for him. It also sucks for Conor as his Aunt then vanishes (in a non-dusty way), his father suddenly appears throwing a battle axe at the rider in black and they both end up transported to a dungeon in a castle owned and run by Conor’s Uncle Cialtie (whom Conor also didn’t know existed). Yes Conor, you’re completely normal.

Described by the blurb as

“A Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Only a lot shorter. And funnier. And completely different.”

this isn’t precisely an accurate description. Yes, it’s funnier than Lord of the Rings, and yes, it’s shorter, and yes it’s completely different but no, it’s not a Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Admittedly it doesn’t actually try to be, and I doubt very much the author thinks that it is. It’s a book that doesn’t take itself seriously, and is unashamedly a romp.
Aimed at the young adult market, it actually has enough sophistication to appeal to older generations too. There is action, adventure, fantasy, a bit of history and some (clumsy) romance. A lot of the story is based on/inspired by ancient Celtic legends and I think this is where the Shadowmagic trilogy gets its ‘Percy Jackson but actually funny’ reputation. I actually found it a lot better than Percy Jackson, perhaps because John Lenahan wasn’t shoe horning in the legends into modern day life.

This isn’t high literature and this book isn’t going to change your life, but it will cheer you up on a rainy day!

3.5 bites

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

CoFThis 1990 book from prolific and beloved author the late Maeve Binchy is one of her most popular books and has even been made into a film starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell. The film’s rubbish but that’s no fault of Binchy’s source material and was in fact significantly changed in some places.

It tells the story of Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, two young girls who grow up in the small Irish town of Knockglen. Knockglen is a sleepy town not far from Dublin and, although Benny and Eve come from very different backgrounds, together they can cope with the trials and tribulations of growing up in Knockglen.

Benny is the only child, and a very pampered one, of the town’s men’s outfitters and Eve is the orphan girl brought up in the local convent, rejected by her wealthy family. They could not have more different starts in life but they are inseparable and utterly loyal to each other. This loyalty serves them well when they hit 18 and begin trying to forge their paths in life. Benny is struggling to feel like a normal girl going to university in Dublin in the face of her parents’ over protectiveness and Eve is struggling to enter university and live the life she wants and not the life her relatives have left her to.

The girls meet several people whilst in Dublin- the beautiful and self-confident Nan Mahon, the handsome and popular Jack Foley, and the funny and irrepressible Aidan Lynch. All these characters are on a journey to discover who they are and what they want to be.

I really enjoy Circle of Friends. It’s one of those winter afternoon books, curled up with a cup of tea and some Hob Nobs. Or Digestives. Or chocolate chip cookies. Or… never mind, I digress!

I don’t think anyone expects this book to be high literature, but that isn’t why people read this book.

The cast of characters is large and mainly well drawn. There is a tendency for the ‘evil’ characters to be one dimensional but generally they are very realistic.
The story has good pace, and is enjoyable and entertaining. There are some moments where I think ‘that wouldn’t happen’ but then I have to remember that I’m looking at some of the issues from a more modern perspective.

3 bites from me- it’s enjoyable stuff, nothing too serious!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Reaper’s Daughter by KM Randall

ReaperThe Reaper’s Daughter is the first in a new paranormal young adult series by KM Randall. It focuses on a young college student named Blake who discovers that she is the daughter of Death.

“I’ve always felt like an average girl … except for my strange relationship with death. You could say I like to court it. Whether I’m soaring through the air as a flyer for Specter University’s cheer squad, or speeding down the steepest mountain with only grace and balance keeping me from an icy end, I’ve always needed to feel a rush. But now Death is courting me―in more ways than one. First, there’s Rishi, a rogue death deity who has a penchant for annoying me nearly to my grave and whose intense gaze has the power to see right through me. Then there’s Hades, who I’d rather had stayed just a myth. Now that he knows I exist, he’s not going to leave me alone until I meet the same end as my mother.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention her? I spent my whole life thinking she had died when I was a baby, but now I’ve found out she’s much more than dead. Fifty years ago, Hades banished my mother from the underworld and took away her ability to cross over souls―souls that have wandered lost through the world ever since. Now she wants me to clean up the mess. You may have heard of her before…

They call her the Grim Reaper.”

I received an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review and, although I was intrigued by the premise, the first few pages were disappointing. The writing quality was not as I expected. In particular there was a very clunky sentence about Blake kissing her boyfriend that made me metaphorically face-palm.
The quality improved however and the book turned out to be fairly enjoyable.
Blake as a character is pretty good; she’s knows her mind and seems like a normal college student. Her supposed ‘death wish’ type adrenaline seeking behaviour, which is supposed to be a result of her death deity heritage, felt a bit forced and we never actually see her do much that is particularly dangerous (unless I’m severely underestimating the riskiness of cheerleading?). Her relationship with her boyfriend on the other hand was a refreshing change from the ‘insta-love’ trend that is so popular in YA books these days- it was normal and established and didn’t rely on any mystical powers or what-have-you. There are occasions where Blake doesn’t react in a realistic way and towards the latter third of the novel she gets positively whingy- I understand that she has mummy issues but head in the game girl! Bigger picture!

The secondary characters are ok- the dad is a bit of a non-entity, Rishi is pretty interesting and Shelby desperately needs a flaw (other than the apparent sleep disorder she has- who sleeps that much??!).

The plot is not entirely original but maintains interest and enjoyment. The pacing is a little off – way too much time spent travelling considering the high-stakes mission –  and the world building could use some work- soul apps? death deity training school? Doesn’t really fit the rest of the mythology to be honest.

There is enough here to make me interested in reading the sequel when it appears. I’d like to see more time spent in Abaddon and more time spent exploring the in-world mythology.

3 bites today

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan

TrudiCanavan_TheMagiciansGuildSonea is a dwell…. Someone who lives in the slums of Imardin, outside the city walls, away from the rich merchants and nobles who live in the Inner Circle surrounding the Palace. Away too from the quarter of the city given over to the Magicians’ Guild, where the magically gifted sons and daughters of the city train to be Warriors, Alchemists or Healers.

The dwells do not like magicians. They rarely see any benefit from their talents as magicians venture into the slums only once a year. That occasion is known as The Purge. The king sends his guards and magicians to clear the slums every year just before winter begins properly… For the dwells own god of course…

Sonea hates the purge, the disdainful attitude of the magicians, the brutality of the guards and the hopelessness of the dwells’ situation. She joins the dwell gangs in throwing rocks at the magicians- a futile exercise as the magicians shield themselves. Channeling all of her rage and frustration into the throw, she -and the magicians- are flabbergasted when the rock breaches the shield and hits a magician. Flabbergasted because the only way that could have happened is if Sonea possesses magic!

What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse. Sonea on the run from the Guild, adamant that no good can come of them finding her, the Guild desperate to find the rogue magician before her powers grow out of control.

I love this book. I’m just going to lay my cards on the table now… I ❤ this book. It’s up there with Graceling for me.

Sonea is a strong female character trying to find her way through a situation she would never have chosen and can’t control. She has flaws and makes some poor decisions but is always relatable and although I would question her decisions, I had to keep reminding myself that she wasn’t privy to the information about the Guild that I had (cos you know… I’d been reading the book and she’d hadn’t!).

Rothen, the Alchemist in charge of the search for Sonea, is equally well written. He is multifaceted and complex whilst still being likeable. I also really liked the character of Dannyl on the side of the magicians, he provided the youthful counterpoint to Rothen’s older and wiser outlook.

The plot itself races along and yet manages to maintain a good balance between exposition and action. It wasn’t particularly unpredictable but I didn’t mind the familiarity of the plot- the characters were fresh and the world building by Canavan introduced enough that was different to maintain a high level of interest.

I highly recommend this, and the sequels, to anyone who is a fan of exciting, entertaining, lighthearted fiction particularly if they enjoy fantasy and young adult.

4.5 bites….. It’s excellent!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Orb of Truth by Brae Wyckoff

OrbHere at BookEater HQ we receive dozens of requests a week to review books for authors, some self-published and some conventionally published. Often we will receive the book for free in return for the review. This does not guarantee a positive review- our hard and fast rule is that any review we post on the website must be honest and not influenced by the method we receive the book. For the most part this is not an issue- even books I have not enjoyed particularly have had positives to write about in my reviews; I have been able to review honestly and yet not solely negatively.
The Orb of Truth by Brae Wyckoff was a book I received for free in exchange for an honest review and it has been a difficult book to review. I have struggled right up to the posting deadline with what to write- I am aware that for authors sending their novels out into the world for judgement, this is a huge deal for them- negative reviews will hurt- and yet I have to be honest.
The fact is that this was a book that I could not finish. I have had the book for some time and have tried to read it several times because sometimes you’re just not in the mood for a particular type of book. I made the decision today that I was not going to read any more.

The rest of this review will therefore be quite short as I have not read the entire book. My reasons for not finishing are as follows:

  • I found the language used to be overly descriptive to the detriment of the meaning of the sentence. There was little left to the imagination and even the act of smoking a cigarette was described in great detail.
  • I found the characters to be generic and the story overly full of the standard fantasy tropes- A grumpy dwarf, a heroic halfing, a dark lord manipulating puppet kings etc
  • I found the dialogue to be cliched and stilted. Conversations were unnatural and nobody ever just ‘said’ anything, they whispered or growled or exclaimed or muttered etc.

I should note that there are a number of good reviews for this book on both Good Reads and Amazon so maybe there is something I am missing.  I will leave it up to you as to whether you want to find out.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart

5 timesReleased this coming Tuesday, The Five Times I Met Myself is the story of Brock Matthews, a husband, father and coffee company owner whose life is falling apart around him- his marriage is stagnant, his relationship with his son is distant, his business is on the rocks and his brother doesn’t really like him. When Brock starts getting dreams about his father, he turns to a friend to learn about lucid dreaming. He wants the dreams to stop; his life is depressing enough as it is without having nightly visitations from the father he hated.
With the knowledge of lucid dreaming, comes the idea that he can change his life- he has been sent these dreams in order to correct what went wrong in his life, mend the bridges shattered in the past, and change his life. He is able to speak, and give advice, to his younger self in these dreams and for these dreams to have a tangible effect in the present.
However, the more Brock tries to change his life for the better, the worse it becomes. Brock has a long way to go before learning the important lessons about what really matters in life.

This book was an advanced copy that was sent to me free of charge in return for an honest review, and has honestly been an incredibly difficult book to review. The reason for this is simple- I am not the right audience for this book. The message of the book may be best suited to a youngish audience but the writing style and overall story would suit an older audience I believe. Most importantly however, is that this book is a very spiritual book- it is based on the idea that the Christian God has sent these dreams to Brock and that what is happening is God’s will. This idea is not put across subtly but rather openly and triumphantly- deliberately so by the author who clearly has a particular message that he wishes to relay.

I am not religious, nor am I particularly spiritual, and so this message has seemed heavy handed at times. I actually think I am incapable of enjoying the book as the author intended because of my lack of faith/spirituality/religion and almost wish that I had not agreed to review the book. I think a person of faith would feel very differently about the book; I think they would find it uplifting and faith-affirming. However, an honest review is what was promised and that is what I intend to deliver.

Separating the book from the message, it does have a lot to offer. The central concept of the lucid dreaming is something I had heard of before and the idea of being able to influence your past self and therefore your future through dreams is intriguing- and was in fact the initial and main appeal of this book for me.
I liked the way that Brock’s life was shown to be incredibly complex and not easily fixed by a ten minute conversation with his past. The strands that make up Brock’s existence are many and varied, and the more he tries to unravel them, the more entangled they become. These entanglements aren’t always what you think they will be and there were a fair number of surprises along the way.
The pacing of the book, after the initial few chapters was good. The story did race along once it had got going- it did take longer than I would have liked to get going though.
Brock as a character is a very definite shades of grey character- sometimes I liked him, sometimes I thought he was an absolute idiot. He was the most well-rounded of the characters as you would expect, but able supported by the secondary characters.

I would be very interested to have a conversation with someone who is religious, or at the least spiritual, and see how their view compares to mine. Faith is such a central part of this book that, without it, I feel I cannot connect to it at all.

2 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Realignment Case by R J Dearden

RAC RJDDaniel Athley is having a pretty rubbish day. He’s ridiculously hung over, he’s millimetres away from losing his job after having punched the boss’s son in the face, he’s probably broken his knuckles from aforementioned punch and now he’s stuck in a car with a crazy driver on his way to a job interview where he knows precisely zilch about the employer or the job role. Although he arrives at the interview without suffering a vehicular mishap, his day does not get better. He is freezing (because who would think to wear a proper coat in Geneva in the winter), he almost loses his wedding ring which would cause his incredibly neurotic wife to lose her proverbial and he spends the majority of his interview with the enigmatic Winter off his face drunk on Armagnac. How he manages to make it back home in one piece and win the job offer is frankly a mystery, and the first clue that this book will not be straightforward.
It turns out that Winter is a Counsellor (as in lawyer) who works for Le Département de la Dernière Justice and Athley is to be his clerk. The department has control of a machine named KASSI which can alter or ‘realign’ time. Governed by 25 Principles, the machine can only be used for a ‘Great Personage’, someone who could have contributed greatly to the good of the human race but who had their work cut short by death (accident or murder). So think biologist, peace maker, physicists etc. KASSI can realign time and change something which would mean the circumstances of the death do not occur and the ‘Great Personage’ can finish their work and change the course of human history for the better.
The machine however must be tightly controlled… can’t just be changing things willy-nilly. As one character says “Once you start pulling at a thread, you could risk unravelling the whole fabric” and this is where Winter and Athley come in. In order for a person to have their death realigned, the worth and the risks of this must first be examined, weighed up and judged. Is this person worth the risk of the dangerous and unpredictable KASSI procedure? What will they contribute to the good of mankind? This weighing up process is done in a court room, with lawyers, and jury and judge. Winter is responsible for defending the status quo- basically it’s his job to prevent KASSI from ever being used.
Athley is thrown in at the deep end and what follows is a clever and fast paced courtroom drama. There are twists and turns a plenty and the richly drawn characters will seemingly stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
The Realignment Case can be found in the sci-fi sections of bookshops and on websites, the cover clearly marks it out to be a sci-fi book, the description on Dearden’s Facebook page references the time altering sci-fi premise and yet it’s not really a sci-fi book. It’s a courtroom drama, it’s a thriller, and it’s a crime book. Yes, it is indisputable science fiction but I wouldn’t class it as a sci-fi book. But maybe that’s just me.
This is a clever book, occasionally too clever and the science aspects teeter on the edge of being too dense for a book written for entertainment. The diverse characters are generally well written, although frankly, some of them are despicable creatures. The female characters are less well done but this doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the book.
It’s an intriguing premise and Dearden manages to successfully sustain the intrigue throughout the book whilst negotiating a fast pace and complex plot.
Awarding this 4 bites today… very tasty!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.