Book Reviews

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Dreamwalker (The Ballad Of Sir Benfo #1) – James Oswald

Published December 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The dragons of Glwad are dying. Persecuted for over two millennia, they’re a shrunken echo of the proud creatures they once were. And yet in new life springs hope: Benfro, son of Morgwm the Green, the first male kitling in a thousand years. Long ago dragons wrought a terrible wrong to the land, and now is the time for redemption.

Every young boy in the Twin Kingdoms dreams of being chosen for one of the great orders, and Errol Ramsbottom is no different. He longs to be a Warrior Priest of the High Ffrydd, riding to glorious victory in battle. But you should be careful what you wish for; it might just come to pass.

For almost a century there has been an uneasy truce between the Twin Kingdoms and the godless Llanwennogs to the north, but as King Diseverin descends ever further into drunken madness, his ruthless daughter Beulah takes up the reins of power. A time of war looks set to descend upon Gwlad, and it will surely draw everyone, man and dragon both, into its cruel game.

What did I think?:

Dreamwalker, the first book in The Ballad of Sir Benfro series is a high fantasy novel which appears to be marketed at the young adult population although can easily be read by adults. Written by James Oswald (yes, he of the Inspector McLean thriller/crime fiction series) this was a recommendation by one of my favourite bookshops, Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights when I went there for a reading spa with my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads. I have to say, when the bookseller sold it to me, I was initially unsure as I’m not a huge dragon fanatic but as with all the reads we ended up choosing, she made it sound so fantastic that any misgivings I did have were thoroughly quashed. Generally, I found it to be an interesting story although I wasn’t as enamoured by it as I might have hoped…more on this later.

Encompassing multiple story-lines and characters, Dreamwalker is the story of a world where intelligent dragons exist but are constantly threatened by a minority of the human population that are determined to hunt them to extinction. This means that the small community that has survived have secluded themselves in a forest, protected from human eyes and those that would wish them harm by a magical spell. It is also the tale of three characters – the first, a young dragon called Benfro, the first male dragon to be born for a thousand years and destined for great things. The second and third of our protagonists are human, the first, a merciless princess called Beulah who has recently ascended the throne and will stop at nothing to get exactly what she wants. Then there is Errol, a young boy who has had a humble upbringing but unknown to himself possesses a royal bloodline that could shake everything up irrevocably. Finally, we have Inquisitor Melyn, the villain of the piece who is thirsty for dragon blood, the elimination of the species and hell-bent on using the magic system in this world for his own diabolical purposes.

This novel combines all these complex and intertwining elements to form a story that is highly convoluted at times but also incredibly imaginative. For me, there were good things and bad things about it and I have quite mixed feelings which I have to admit, does make me hesitate in continuing with the series. First of all, the intricate nature of the multiple plots mean that the novel is at times a bit of a slog to get through so if you’re a fan of fast paced narratives, this might not be the book for you. On the other hand, I did fall in love with many of the characters, including the endearing Benfro the dragon, sweet Errol and our “bad guy” Melyn who was wonderfully wicked. The magic system is also intriguing but I have to say, took me a little while to get my head round. However, if you’re looking at this purely as a fantasy novel, it’s got everything you could want so I think fans of the genre will be satisfied. Personally, I’m really torn over whether I’m going to carry on to book two. I’m interested  and care enough about the characters to wonder how it’s all going to pan out but on the other hand, the pacing does put me off slightly. If anyone has read the second book and can tell me if this is still the case I would really appreciate it! Otherwise, I’m not sure if I’ll be rushing to read it – there’s too many other brilliant books out there.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Published December 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet all about?:

The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet follows a man who comes to Holmes and Watson for help when a precious beryl coronet he is tasked with looking after is damaged and some of the jewels are stolen.

What did I think?:

As I’ve made my way through the short stories in The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has regularly managed to stump me over what exactly is going on in his mysteries. So I was quite delighted (but at the same time strangely disappointed) when I could instantly identify our perpetrator in The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet. Mind you, he still managed to stun me with the more intricate details of the crime i.e. the reasons behind it and for that reason, it was again a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I don’t think anyone has managed to write a detective as intriguing and as famous as Mr Holmes and I’m sure his stories will continue to entertain for many years to come.

This story follows a banker called Alexander Holder who is given an incredibly valuable and very well known beryl coronet to hold as security when he gives a client a loan of £50,000. Not trusting the safe at his office he keeps the item at home, believing his family and staff trustworthy despite the current disappointment he has in the character of his son, Arthur. Of course, you might have seen it coming, the coronet is damaged one night and some of the jewels are nowhere to be found. Even worse, when Alexander hears the disruption at night, he comes to the room where the coronet is stored to find it in the hands of his son, Arthur who he presumes to have been involved in the crime and calls for him to be arrested. He is now begging Holmes and Watson to discover what really happened that night so he can come to terms with his son being guilty or innocent.

This is a great little mystery to get your teeth into and although I had guessed what had happened and who was responsible, I loved all the minute details that went into how Holmes deduced exactly what had occurred. There’s not that much interaction between Holmes and Watson in this story sadly but I still enjoyed him as a background presence and the narrator of our tale. Holmes is his usual genius self divulging to the reader all the random, tiny little things that you might never pick up on but turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence in solving the mystery – ah, imagine if our police detectives today had his skills?! The next story in this collection is actually the last one I believe and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering Sherlock Holmes for the very first time.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Freaks: A Rizzoli & Isles Short Story by Tess Gerritsen (stand-alone).

The Heart Of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2) – Mary E. Pearson

Published December 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia’s life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: There’s Rafe, who lied to Lia but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages. Now that she lives among them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny.

What did I think?:

The first book in the Remnant Chronicles, The Kiss of Deception, was a huge surprise for me a couple of years ago in that I was shocked how much I enjoyed a novel quite heavy on the romance side of things. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you might remember I tend to roll my eyes/turn my nose up a little bit when things get a bit romantic. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy love in novels, I do of course but it has to be done in just the right way otherwise things can get a little bit cringey. The Kiss Of Deception really spoke to my cynical little heart and I kid you not, I was practically swooning at the sweetness of it all. My worry with The Heart Of Betrayal is that it wold suffer from the dreaded second book syndrome and my expectations for the series were already sky high. Whilst it was not a five star read like its predecessor, it was still a brilliant read and I’m excited to see how the story is going to conclude in the final novel, The Beauty Of Darkness.

So, trying to avoid major spoilers, Lia has become a prisoner in Venda, under the rule of the dangerous Komizar, taken there by a man she thought she trusted. Her magical gift has been discovered and the people of Venda begin to revere her and are delighted by her presence. Meanwhile, Rafe hot-foots it to Venda too in an attempt to rescue Lia, in disguise as the Royal Emissary of Dalbreck to disguise who he really is. Both struggle to maintain their relationship when the memories of their mutual deception threaten to overwhelm them. Lia is also wrestling with her opinion of Kaden who she feels has betrayed her but ultimately, the real test of her strength lies in pacifying and fooling the Komizar of Venda, who develops a rather particular and obsessive interest for her. Set against war, major political upheaval and dastardly plans, Lia must draw on all her resources and make some questionable allies if she is to have any hope of escape.

A lot of people have expressed their thoughts on the love triangle in this series and I’d like to throw my own opinions into the mix. I honestly don’t believe there actually is a love triangle to speak of in this novel – in that the main female protagonist has feelings for both of the male leads in love with her. It is pretty clear to me where Lia’s heart lies and I think she deals with the situation very well. Kaden as a character I have to admit I’m not warming towards and indeed at times I was a little bit frustrated with his thoughts and actions. However, I adore Lia for her determination, pig-headed stubbornness and kindness of heart and there were a number of other secondary characters introduced that I also enjoyed. The Komizar was a fantastic “love to hate him,” villain with such darkness and brutality behind his character that he made for a tantalising reading experience. The world-building as with the first novel was top notch although I would have liked a little more political intrigue and a little more action, rather than all the thrills being concentrated in the final moments of the story. This made for a jaw dropping ending, that’s undeniable but I felt it kind of threw the pace of the entire book off slightly. Saying that, this was a wonderful sequel to The Kiss Of Deception and I’m now one hundred percent invested in this world, the characters and their future, however tenuous that might seem.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Year One (Chronicles Of The One #1) – Nora Roberts

Published December 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It began on New Year’s Eve.

The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.

Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.

As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.

In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.

The end has come. The beginning comes next.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Clara Diaz and Little Brown publishers who approached me to read a copy of Year One, the first book in The Chronicles of The One series in exchange for an honest review. I’ve now read a couple of things by this author – the first I came to very late and that’s the forty-fourth (!!) book in the In Death series called Echoes In Death which she writes under the pseudonym J.D. Robb. The second was under her own name called Come Sundown and was a romantic yet very surprising read for me. When I read the synopsis of Year One, I accepted a digital copy very willingly, I’ve recently had a bit of a hankering for apocalyptic type fiction and with the added fantastical elements I was intrigued to see what Nora Roberts would do with the narrative. By and large, this is definitely a series I want to continue with. The vast myriad of characters, a fast paced plot and of course, the magical components held my attention throughout and I can’t wait to see how the story develops in future books.

So, as with many other stories in this vein, the substance that wipes out almost an entire population of humans is a virus, at first thought to come from birds after the first victim is traced back to a farm in Scotland. However, doubts are rising about where exactly this virus has come from and why it seems to enhance magical abilities in a chosen few. Trying to survive in the world becomes a dangerous prospect with raiders hell-bent on looting and violence, mindless of the hurt they cause to others in their efforts. There is also one strain of the magical folk (elves, fairies, shapeshifters, telekenetics etc) that have embraced the dark side and cause murder and mayhem when they attack both regular humans and the “good” magical people. Especially when one of the individuals that they are hunting becomes very special to them for something she carries with her.

As I mentioned there are a multitude of characters to get to grips with in this novel and on one hand, I loved this and embraced all the different personalities but there were occasions when I had to think to myself: “Okay, who’s this again?.” My favourites were probably the ones we hear most from – Lana, Max, Eddie and his dog Joe, Arlys, Fred, Rachel and Jonah and I enjoyed how they all had definitive roles in the story, from a paramedic and a doctor to a journalist, witches and a fairy – there was a real mishmash and variety of individuals that kept me intrigued throughout the novel. The world-building is pretty fantastic, I especially loved the scenes when our characters were on the run and when they had to face difficult situations (physical or emotional) as I felt I could really see their personalities come across more vividly during their struggles.

I may have had to suspend my disbelief occasionally as at points, some wonderful things like land, animals, gas, food etc just almost fell into their laps and in a real apocalyptic situation I doubt it would be that easy to be honest. There’s also a situation near the end of the book that I can’t really talk about for fear of spoilers but it took me a little while to come round to the idea, I felt it all happened a little too quickly considering what the character involved had been through. Apart from these very slight things, I hugely enjoyed this novel. I’m still so curious to discover more about the virus, about the magical qualities of the chosen few and what’s going to happen to the characters I’ve become quite attached to in the next book in the series. Looking forward to it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published December 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Seeing Double all about?:

Seeing Double is the story of a young boy who lives with his father and is looked after by a nanny. He seldom sees anyone else and there is a terrible reason why he is being kept away from other people.

What did I think?:

Although I’ve never read any of Sara Maitland’s work before, I’m very familiar with her name and have her non-fiction book, Gossip From The Forest as a priority read on my Kindle that now I’ve finally read some of her fiction, I simply must make time for in the New Year. For this short story, all I can say is wow. This little tale really floored me, it was so powerful in its nature and the clever reveals throughout which led up to an explosive ending were simply stunning. I’ve heard that Sara Maitland has a bit of a talent for short story writing (that’s putting it lightly!) but I wasn’t prepared at all for how marvellous her writing actually was and I’m delighted to finally have discovered her.

Now, the only annoying thing about Seeing Double is that I’m going to have to be incredibly careful what I tell you about it! I really don’t want to ruin anything and if I reveal the “big secret,” that our young male protagonist has, I’ll be doing exactly that. Let’s just say that we have a young boy born whose mother sadly dies when she gives birth to him. The midwife who assisted at the birth ends up being employed by the boy’s father as a permanent nanny to look after him and they are ensconced in a large house in the country with his father who becomes increasingly distant as he indulges his passion for nature, although they do have some tender moments playing together with a train set. Our protagonist doesn’t see anyone else apart from Nanny and his father, this includes the various servants that help out in the house until one day a maid enters his room. Both her and the boy find out the reason why he has been secluded and because of this, his life is changed forever:

“Grown-ups, he learned far too suddenly, spoke with double voices, cunningly, so that true and not true weren’t like white and black, like either-or, like plus and minus, they were like the bogs on the hill side, shifty, invisible and dangerous.”

As you can tell from the above quote, the writing is absolutely glorious and I felt just the utmost happiness when I was reading this dark little tale, purely for the gorgeous lyrical style and the way that the author uses her words to beautiful effect. Yes, this story has murky depths and goes to some strange and fascinating places so if you’re not into twisted tales, this might not be the story for you BUT I urge you to give it a chance because I’m now desperate to talk to anyone who has read this before and hear all their thoughts on it. I immediately felt so sorry for our protagonist when we learn what he has to deal with but I certainly wasn’t expecting the direction in which Sara Maitland took it in one of the most dramatic conclusions I think I’ve ever read in a short story. Have I convinced you yet? I’ve undeniably convinced myself that I need to read something else by this author ASAP.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

The Hangman’s Song (Inspector McLean #3) – James Oswald

Published December 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Book three in the Detective Inspector McLean series.

A young man is found hanging by a rope in his Edinburgh home. A simple, sad suicide, yet Detective Inspector Tony McLean is puzzled by the curious suicide note. A second hanged man and another strange note hint at a sinister pattern.

Investigating a brutal prostitution and human trafficking ring, McLean struggles to find time to link the two suicides. But the discovery of a third convinces him of malicious intent.

Digging deeper, McLean finds answers much closer to home than he expects. Something terrifying stalks the city streets, and bringing it to justice may destroy all he holds dear.

What did I think?:

I approached the third book in the Inspector McLean series with slight trepidation, I have to admit. I had finished The Book Of Souls and enjoyed it, that much was clear but I had a tiny issue with the supernatural element that was a bit of an additional surprise at the end of the second novel and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work. If you’ve never read any books in this series before, I guess you could read this as a stand alone but I think you’d be missing out on the characters back stories and other important events that have occurred bringing them to the situation that they find themselves in during The Hangman’s Song. Therefore, I would highly recommend starting the series with the first novel, Natural Causes and going from there if you enjoy it.

Our male detective protagonist for the series, Inspector Tony McLean is back and has been seconded to the Sexual Crimes Unit after the events of the last novel. He becomes embroiled in a harrowing case involving prostitution and human trafficking but whilst he is attempting to work on this, another case comes to his attention. There is a hanging in Edinburgh, the victim is male and is, at first, assumed to be a suicide. However, when another young man is found dead in the same circumstances and then a third, Tony begins to smell a rat. Especially as he finds (amongst other evidence) that the same length of rope was used in all three deaths. Along with this, Tony is coping with some very intense circumstances in his personal life. Someone very close to him has been released from hospital but has regressed to a child-like state psychologically with little memories of past events so he is compelled to look after them and help them on the road to recovery. Will Tony manage to juggle three very complicated events in his own life and manage to find the connections? Or will he be at risk of losing everything that is important in the world to him?

I’ve tried to be deliberately vague in this review for fear of spoilers of course but I think that sums up everything you need to know about this novel. Generally speaking, I did enjoy it and I was compelled to read until the end, curious to find out exactly what was going on and how/if it would all be resolved. Luckily, I felt much more on board with the supernatural elements of the narrative. I think because it came as such a shock at the end of The Book Of Souls, I was much more prepared for it this time round and embraced it as an important part of the story. As to why it bothered me before, I’m not sure. Perhaps I thought I was reading a regular piece of crime fiction then the author threw in a magical curve ball right at the end and caught me off guard? Who’s to say? Anyway, it felt much more believable in The Hangman’s Song and I look forward to seeing how it develops in future books in the series. The one thing I’m definitely invested in the series for is the character of Detective McLean. I love his snarky humour, loyalty to his friends, traumatic events in his past and how he manages to deal with the difficult situations in his present. Hopefully I’ll be reading the fourth book in the series, Dead Men’s Bones sometime in the New Year so I’m excited to see where the story will go next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Mini Pin-It Reviews #16 – Four Books From Netgalley

Published December 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four books from Netgalley for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) Dead Set (January David #3) – Will Carver

What’s it all about?:

Following on from Girl 4 and The Two, DI January David is back in a fantastic new thriller

“Detective Inspector January David doesn’t love me. He loves his missing sister. He loves his job. But he doesn’t love me. Not in the way he should. I am his wife. I am still his wife. And I will do anything for him. No matter what I have to sacrifice.”

Detective Inspector January David finds himself on forced leave when he receives an urgent telephone call from a secretive FBI agent. A body has been found in a vacant New York theater, and the murder is reminiscent of a London serial killer with whom David is well acquainted. Determined to help the investigation—and find his estranged wife who is also now living in the United States—DI January David risks his neck to travel to New York. At the same time, back in London, there is a missing girl who has shown up dead after being hugged to death in an equally perplexing case. This fast-paced, psychological thriller told in the first person will keep you guessing until the very end.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

2.) Gift Of Time: A Family’s Diary Of Cancer – Rory MacLean

What’s it all about?:

When his mother Joan was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Rory MacLean and his wife Katrin took her into their home. For five months, as their life fragmented and turned inward, they fought both to resist and to accept the inevitable. Each gave vent to their emotions in different ways, but all three kept a diary.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

3.) Why Are You So Sad? – Jason Porter

What’s it all about?:

Have we all sunken into a species-wide bout of clinical depression?

Porter’s uproarious, intelligent debut centers on Raymond Champs, an illustrator of assembly manuals for a home furnishings corporation, who is charged with a huge task: To determine whether or not the world needs saving. It comes to him in the midst of a losing battle with insomnia — everybody he knows, and maybe everybody on the planet, is suffering from severe clinical depression. He’s nearly certain something has gone wrong. A virus perhaps. It’s in the water, or it’s in the mosquitoes, or maybe in the ranch flavored snack foods. And what if we are all too sad and dispirited to do anything about it? Obsessed as he becomes, Raymond composes an anonymous survey to submit to his unsuspecting coworkers — “Are you who you want to be?”, “Do you believe in life after death?”, “Is today better than yesterday?” — because what Raymond needs is data. He needs to know if it can be proven. It’s a big responsibility. People might not believe him. People, like his wife and his boss, might think he is losing his mind. But only because they are also losing their minds. Or are they?

Reminiscent of Gary Shteyngart, George Saunders, Douglas Coupland and Jennifer Egan, Porter’s debut is an acutely perceptive and sharply funny meditation on what makes people tick.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

1194984978279254934two_star_rating_saurabh__01.svg

4.) The Strangler Vine (Avery & Blake #1) – M.J. Carter

What’s it all about?:

Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing.

William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure.

What was it that so captivated Mountstuart about the Thugs, the murderous sect of Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travellers by the roadside? Who is Jeremiah Blake and can he be trusted? And why is the whole enterprise shrouded in such secrecy?

In the dark heart of Company India, Avery will have to fight for his very life, and in defence of a truth he will wish he had never learned.

M. J. Carter is a former journalist and the author of two acclaimed works of non-fiction: Anthony Blunt: His Lives and The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI-PIN IT REVIEWS: Four books from Book Bridgr.