Friday, 16 March 2018

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

Book Title: The Shadow of What Was Lost
Author: James Islington
Genre: Fantasy, (On the YA side, but not marketed or sold as YA)
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs - once thought of almost as gods - were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs' fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion's Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.
As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought – and lost – before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.
But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…
What did I think?

I loved this book. I had a ball reading it. I devoured it in a few days. I did not want to put it down.

It starts out as a straight-forward fantasy adventure. Youth finds out he has the ability to wield a forbidden power and ancient evil stirs at the edge of the map. However, it quickly evolves into a complex tale with countless twists and turns and a bunch of lovable characters.

My main issues with the book were minor ones. You can tell this is James Islington's debut. If you're a seasoned fantasy reader, you will spot repetitions and moments where the pacing is off. Nothing bad, just something that shows, yes this is a debut.

Caeden is my favourite character. They're not all as well developed as they could be, but it's only the first book in a trilogy...there's time.

The world building is intriguing, and I loved the extensive back story Islington built. The magic system is fascinating. I've seen the book compared to Wheel of Time and I can imagine this is how it must have felt to read those first few books back in the early 90s.

It's not a difficult plot to follow for fantasy fans, but it does require some attention. I do think it's a great introduction to the genre for non-fantasy fans and would (obviously) recommend it to all fantasy fans. I've also read the second book in the series (the third is not yet out, as of spring 2018) and it gets even better. Definitely one to pick up!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

TTT (26) - Top Ten Books That Surprised Me

Books that surprised me, is this week's great topic chosen by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl. Read up on the rules here and join in on the Top Ten Tuesday fun.

I'm going to choose books that made me gasp at some point. Perhaps because of a twist, or because of a loss or simply because they took a turn I did not expect.

Usually in those moments my gf is sitting on the sofa, suddenly confronted with a NOOOO! and for a moment she wonders whether or not I'm okay before spotting the book in my hands. She then proceeds to ask what's up, but it's usually far too complicated to explain and hello? I'm obviously reading a good book, let me continue!
I've chosen three Fantasy/Sci-Fi books. Three Thriller/Suspense books. And three literary books. The links lead to my reviews.

Fantasy first.We got Golden Son by Pierce Brown, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and Wool by Hugh Howey.
Golden Son is the second book in the Red Rising trilogy and the one that elevated the series from Hunger Games in space to a simply mind-blowing three books.
The Fifth Season is the first book in a trilogy. It's an amazing series. Post-apocalyptic in a way. In this world some people are Orogenes, who can control seismic activity and hence move mountains, create earthquakes or even still earthquakes. Because humans fear the unknown the Orogenes are feared and often killed or trained and treated as slaves. It's extremely well written and told from the point of view of three amazing female characters. To say more would be to spoil the story.
Wool...well, Wool is an amazing post-apocalyptic tale, the first book in the Silo trilogy. Originally told in smaller instalments, but then brought together in this Omnibus. People live underground in silos, because above ground has been made uninhabitable.

Let's move on to Thrillers. We got I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.
I Let You Go, a mother lets go of her son for just a moment and seconds later he's dead, run over in a hit and run. To say more would spoil everything and all three books are best experienced blind.
He Said / She Said is about a couple hiding from the past and the plot truly surprised me. Both books have a slow start but turn into an amazing read once everything unfolds.
Big Little Lies, do I even have to introduce this one? Amazing story, so fast paced and addictive that you won't be able to put it down.

And finally, the literary stuff. I chose Atonement by Ian McEwan, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.
Atonement is a book filled with amazing prose. A misunderstanding, a teenager with an over-active imagination, repercussions and atonement. Very touching, and a punch to the gut. It's set around World War II.
Fingersmith had a twist so mind-blowing I think I threw the book across the room. And you know what's funny? I read it when I was quite young and a few years ago I realised I loved this novel, but for the life of me could not remember the twist??? I got to read the book for the first time a second time! And, yes, threw it across the room again! This one is set in Victorian London.
We Need To Talk About Kevin. Did the lack of motherly love create a monster or was the child born without empathy, and hence the mother was incapable to build a relationship with her son? After killing several of his classmates, Kevin is now in prison, and his mother is working through her trauma in a series of letters to her estranged husband. I devoured this book and the film and years later it still makes me want to cry.

What about you? What books surprised you? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Book Title: The Final Empire (Mistborn #1)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy, (On the YA side, but not strictly YA)
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Own a Kindle copy

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: A thousand years ago evil came to the land and has ruled with an iron hand ever since. The sun shines fitfully under clouds of ash that float down endlessly from the constant eruption of volcanoes. A dark lord rules through the aristocratic families and ordinary folk are condemned to lives in servitude, sold as goods, labouring in the ash fields.
But now a troublemaker has arrived and there is rumour of revolt. A revolt that depends on criminal that no-one can trust and a young girl who must master Allomancy - the magic that lies in all metals.
What did I think?

Brandon Sanderson. For some the best fantasy author currently writing. For others a great introduction to fantasy but ultimately a gateway to more complex books. I stand neither here nor there. We simply haven't connected yet. I attempted The Way of Kings, back in 2016 and gave up halfway through (in the UK it was published in two volumes and I only read the first).

I finally decided to read the first Mistborn novel...and I liked it. I guess?

Brandon Sanderson is an author I highly admire for his interactions with fans and his writing lessons. Any aspiring fantasy authors should check out his YouTube channel and watch some of his classes. He's inspiring, a machine, plots like no one else and his magic systems are intricate and extremely well developed.

With Sanderson you know the next book is just around the corner and you also know his plot will have a huge payoff, because he's an extensive planner.

To me it feels...sterile? Formulaic? At least to a certain extent. I enjoyed the book, but I didn't fall in love with any of the characters and so far I haven't felt the need to pick up the sequel. His writing is very functional. His characters feel just developed enough, and the plot comes across as meticulously planned. Maybe that's the problem? I'm a chaotic being at heart and maybe I can just feel the planning ooze from the pages and it makes me feel uncomfortable.

I'm in the absolute minority, so don't listen to me. Every fantasy fan will tell you to give this a try and it's a great introduction to the genre. So, go ahead and do the only right thing: try it for yourself.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

Book Title: Stillhouse Lake
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Own a Kindle copy

Goodreads, Amazon UK 

Goodreads Summary:
Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.
With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.
But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.
What did I think?

This was a book I swallowed in more or less one sleepless night. The premise is very interesting: the wife of a serial killer, who can't believe she didn't realise her husband had a secret life hidden away in the garage, must protect herself and her children in the aftermath of her husband's conviction.

The plot is fast-paced, heart-stopping and Gwen/Gina is a wonderfully developed protagonist. The atmosphere is spooky, gripping and tense. The opening alone makes the book worth a read. It opens with a literal bang, and I just had to know what happens next.

One aspect that makes the book quite scary is how careful Gwen is when it comes to the Internet. Even though she's changed her name, is hidden away in a remote place (uh-hoh, right?) and cut all ties, Internet trolls still find her. The time and effort these trolls invest, hunting someone down just because it's fun and they're bullies...and such people are real.

I recommend this to everyone who likes their thrillers dark and twisted and thankfully the sequel is out.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Daughter of the Empire by Feist and Wurts

Book Title: Daughter of the Empire
Author: Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Own a Kindle copy

Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads Summary: Mara, the youngest child of the ancient and noble Acoma family, is about to take her pledge of servitude to the goddess Lashima when the ceremony is disrupted by news of her father and brother’s death in battle.
Despite her grief, as the only surviving member of her house, Mara must now take up the mantles of Ruling Lady. But she soon discovers betrayal at the heart of her family’s loss, and the Acoma’s enemies have brought her house to the brink of utter destruction.
Mara, an inexperienced political player, must draw on all her wit, intelligence and cunning to navigate the ruthless Game of the Council, regain the honour of House Acoma and secure the future of her family. But with assassins waiting around every corner, it might take everything Mara has simply to survive.
In which order to read Raymond E. Feist and where does the Empire trilogy slot in? Raymond E. Feist has a reading order for his Riftwar Cycle on his website. He does say to read the initial Riftwar Saga trilogy FIRST, before diving into the Empire Trilogy.
But...I'm a rebel. Okay no, I'm kidding. A Goodreads group of mine did a buddy read of this, and I joined despite not having read the Riftwar Saga first. It took me a few chapters to get into the book and I've had a few confusing moments regarding world building and magic system that probably would have been answered in the Riftwar Saga, but I understood everything and think it's possible to read this trilogy its own.

What did I think?

What a wonderful book. Daughter of the Empire is set in a world inspired by Asia. There's not a lot of magic, instead it's all about intrigue and politics.  In addition, expect a kick-ass female character.

Mara is simply one of the best female fantasy characters I've ever encountered. She is cunning and intelligent. This entire book is one big chess game filled with politics and betrayal, and Mara does not use strength and violence to win this game but her wit. It's a joy to watch her decimate her opponents using only her brain. More of this, please.

The entire cast of characters is well developed. The villains are intriguing and relatable. On one page you want to punch them, on the next they break your heart! There was one scene especially which was a punch in the gut, and only a few pages prior I thought I'd be throwing a party.

I recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy with a lot of politics and intrigue. If several houses attempting to outwit each other in a bid to rule appeals to you, then this is for you. If you're at all interested in Feist's work and the rest of the Riftwar Cycle, start with the Riftwar Saga Trilogy before you dive into the Empire Trilogy.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Book Title: My Cousin Rachel
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Classics, Suspense
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?
What did I think?

Books (and films) with open and ambiguous endings are my favourite kind of entertainment. I love when I, as a reader, get to make up my own mind based on all the clues and evidence the author has handed me.

My Cousin Rachel is written by the wonderful Daphne du Maurier who also wrote Rebecca. While I preferred Rebecca over all, I was simply smitten by du Maurier's descriptive and beautiful writing. The tale is dark and twisted with a Gothic atmosphere, and filled with moments of uncertainty. From the very start I thought Rachel was guilty, only to doubt myself a few pages later.

It's basically a psychological thriller.

What an amazing character Rachel is. Complex and vulnerable, but also scheming and manipulative. Then there's Philip, our narrator. Oh Philip. Naive and adoring, I kept wanting to hug him, then yell at him to wake up on the very next page. Wonderful character development made this book a treat.

I really don't want to give anything else away. I recommend My Cousin Rachel to all fans of Du Maurier and everyone who likes a suspenseful Classic. Now, just have to watch the film! I hope it's as good as the book.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

TTT (25) - Top Ten Books I Could Re-Read Forever

Books that I could re-read forever, is a great topic chosen by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl. Read up on the rules here and join in on the Top Ten Tuesday fun.

I'm quite stingy when it comes to giving five stars. In fact I attempted a discussion post a few months back about how stingy I am.

A five star book needs to have gripped me, moved me, given me those warm and fuzzy feelings, and I usually want to re-read the book right away.

And that is quite rare these days.

Am I getting old and grumpy? Am I too critical Is something wrong with me?
While I wait to hear your feedback on my grumpiness, let me share the list of books with you, that I forever could (and often do) re-read.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It's a beast. It's somewhere around a thousand pages but it is absolutely worth it. The plot is intricate and complex and comes together in ways that will blow your mind.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Because...favourite book ever. I've read it at least twenty-five times. About once a year ever since I discovered it.
  • 1984 by George Orwell. It was a scary read back then, it is a scary read now.
  • It by Stephen King. It's on this list because it's the only book that ever scared me and has a special place in my heart. I should re-read it more often.
  • Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. This will make you feel like you need several masters, at least four bachelors and maybe two PhDs to understand when Eco goes off on a tangent...but even without those, the plot can be followed, as long as you don't mind not understanding everything. It does not actually matter. The plot is simple. Yes, some people will get more out of this and understand all the references etc. But even without...this plot is mind-blowing. Eco presents the ultimate conspiracy theory and re-writes European history in this book.
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan. This book makes me sad but the writing is so very beautiful.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Amazing read.
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. This book has one of the best plots I've ever read. Also lesbians. This book has lesbians.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I read this out loud to my girlfriend over Skype, back when we were long distance. I couldn't read during the last chapter because of all the tears!
What are the books you could forever re-read? Let me know in the comments.