Category: book reviews

Throwback Thursday Mini-Review: The Kingkiller Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss

I wanted to start my new mini-review series with a set of books that I love. Equally, I wanted to choose books that aren’t so cliché that they make for an obvious choice. To that end, I have chosen The Kingkiller Chronicles, or perhaps better known by the first book of the series, The Name of the Wind.

 

The Kingkiller Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss

 

Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.

The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.

A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

 

My Thoughts…

This is definitely a series I am going to re-read in my lifetime. I fell in love with the narrative straightaway and the characters shortly after that. I’ve just had a look at my shelf. I used to own a physical copy of The Name of the Wind, but I donated it to charity when I last had a sort out. I have an electronic copy instead, as I own the rest of the series on Kindle. I’ll console myself with the knowledge that someone else has the chance to enjoy a brilliant book.

The tale is narrated by Kvothe; he recounts his life to the well-known traveling scribe, otherwise known as the Chronicler. Kvothe’s triumphs and tribulations are recorded in equal measure. Kvothe is almost unapologetic for the mistakes he makes, which in any other character would border on arrogance. Rothfuss, however, is very good at making our characters likeable… flaws and all.

I also really enjoyed reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things, a novella that takes the perspective of Auri. Kvothe meets Auri at the University in the main series. It is through The Slow Regard of Silent Things that we come to learn more about this mysterious girl’s life. It is an unusual book, as it is less structured than The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, but again the narrative is beautiful. Auri has a unique and almost innocent perspective; she isn’t quite naive, but her curiosity surpasses that of any child. Becuase of this, she is an adorable character whom you cannot help but take under your wing.

 

Conclusion…

If you love epic fantasy and have the chance to try the series, I seriously implore you to do so. The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear average at 4.5 stars on Goodreads for a reason!

 

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Book Review: Individutopia – Joss Sheldon

Individutopia is enjoyable to read, whether you read it at face value or consider the political/dystopian elements of the plot. Now, I’m not much of a politician, so don’t expect too much rambling from me on that side of the fence. I do think some of the ideas, although extreme, are interesting though. I’ll discuss that in more detail later.

 

*** I was kindly provided with a copy of Individutopia by the author in exchange for a review. All the opinions stated are my own***

Individutopia

Goodreads – Individutopia

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SOCIETY

Beloved friend,

The year is 2084, and that famous Margaret Thatcher quote has become a reality: There really is no such thing as society. No one speaks to anyone else. No one looks at anyone else. People don’t collaborate, they only compete.

I hate to admit it, but this has had tragic consequences. Unable to satisfy their social urges, the population has fallen into a pit of depression and anxiety. Suicide has become the norm.

It all sounds rather morbid, does it not? But please don’t despair, there is hope, and it comes in the form of our hero: Renee Ann Blanca. Wishing to fill the society-shaped hole in her life, our Renee does the unthinkable: She goes in search of human company! It’s a radical act and an enormous challenge. But that, I suppose, is why her tale’s worth recounting. It’s as gripping as it is touching, and I think you’re going to love it…

Your trusty narrator,

PP

 

My Thoughts…

Our narrator is a consistent 3rd person, following the life of Renee Ann Blanca quite intimately. Born into a world with scarcely any human contact, she is raised by a robot until she is old enough to fend for herself. She lives in a pod she cannot even stand in and surrounds herself with virtual avatars to make up for the lack of human company. Renee is stuck in a monotonous, desperate lifestyle of competing against others… until she breaks free.

Individutopia is a nice length – not so short that you don’t have time to get into the narrative but equally it isn’t repetitive, or slow. The light, conversational tone makes the topic less formal and therefore more approachable to the potential reader. In an informal fashion, the novel portrays the differences in the two parallels – society and individualism. I find the tone of the book to help in achieving this without being rigid, forced, or dull.

The time period the narrative takes place in is some years into our future. The social (or lack of) environment is completely alien and to an extent, a degree of world building is required to set the scene. Joss achieves this well, by introducing the reader to various aspects of the “alternative world” (for want of a phrase) gradually and consistently. Clearly, a lot of time and effort has gone into developing this novel. It pays off.

There are a few elements of Invidutopia’s narrative that are a little closer to home than we may like to think. Everything is a competition. Renee is constantly ranked against others. The mindset Renee grows up with is to work, constantly. Those that do not are shamed for it… practically spat upon, if they could see each other to do it, that is.

 

Individutopia today?

Are we pitted against each other? Are we pressured to be the best or look the best now, never mind in this dystopian world? Absolutely! Magazines, television and social media have proven to be huge catalysts to this ideology. Social media has also proven a nasty culprit for isolation – isn’t that ironic.

And here is another thought, ladies, and gents. Be honest, how many of you opt to put your headphones and listen to music privately in your downtime?

I do. I’m guilty. Once upon a time, our forebears couldn’t get out of that awkward chat on public transport by putting headphones in, or spend their lunch hour avoiding as many people as possible. Are we already setting ourselves up for an individualistic world in the future? I hope that nothing as extreme as that in Individutopia comes to pass. It’s an interesting question though.

 

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Book Review: Children of Blood & Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood & Bone has been on my reading list for a little while. The problem with being a book blogger is that we never quite get around to reading specific books at the right time. I had heard all about Children of Blood & Bone, in particular, its references to racial discrimination, whilst encompassing this in a magical, fantastical realm.
I was concerned, as I had heard so much about the book, that it might not live up to expectation.

Never have I been so glad to be wrong.

 

Children of Blood & Bone
Goodreads – Children of Blood & Bone

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

 

My Thoughts…

I feel like I was late to the party in reading this fantastic book, but better late than never, right?

I love how the author was inspired to write COB&B based on current, modern-day societal issues. These things cannot be highlighted if they are not talked about; writing about it this way is prominent enough for the message to be made clear, but keep the story entertaining. Taking the problem out of context highlights the issue even more. When such things are so commonplace, they can be overlooked or ignored. Tomi Adeyemi has managed to balance her inspiration with a gripping storyline that stands alone in its own right.

I love the principle of magic system set up and the depth of history interspersed in this fantasy novel. I also found it really interesting how Zélie struggles with the morality of magic and the power it wields. Whilst it is fantastic for the natives to be in a position to push back against their years of oppression, that kind of power has consequences. This Zélie recognizes; she frequently asks herself whether that kind of magic should be wielded by those who can use it against the interests of humanity.

COB&B is a bit of a coming-of-age story with fantastic characterisation and development. I can see its appeal to the YA audience. Zélie is a complex yet relatable character, trying to find her way in a society that is built to use her and her family as slaves.

I enjoyed reading the story from multiple perspectives, as opposed to just one.

Each of the characters successfully blurs the lines that society has drawn for them. The nobility and the diviners should hate each other. Nobles are frightened of the magic diviners used to wield as it once challenged their opposition. The diviners hate the nobles for murdering their parents and controlling them. They are opposing sides of the same war when it comes down to it. One side isn’t better than the other.

I really enjoyed the book overall, but I will admit there are parts I am less keen on. The chapters are quite short, but rather than making the book easier to read, I found it easier to put down more frequently. I think it comes down to personal preference, but the narrative does jump around a little too much for my liking.

I have to work the quick mention to another, reasonably small pet hate of mine. The romance. I can see why it is necessary; the forbidden love across the two sides raises tension and adds a further layer of conflict to an already complex storyline. I get it. I just didn’t buy into it at all. I’m sure there are other readers out there that think it’s cute and secretly pray that it all works out in the end. Not me, if I’m honest. It’s not my cup of tea.

 

Conclusion…

My favourite part of the book (and this is what keeps my rating at five stars) is how the narrative keeps the reader guessing right until the end. We know Zélie is our protagonist and that she is the “Chosen One” to bring back magic. There were several parts in the book in which I began to question how this could play out. There are plenty of twists in the narrative to keep you guessing! I find some stories are reasonably predictable and how they will conclude, however, this is not the case in this novel. Full of action, subplots and underlying motives, all is fair in love and war.

 

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Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

 After a false start earlier this year, I finally got around to starting the much-talked-about series, A Darker Shade of Magic.

I had added the book to my TBR in February last year, so it’s taken a while to get to. Ever since joining Twitter in September, people I follow were retweeting Victoria Schwab so regularly that I didn’t even need to follow her. I do now, of course. My point is this – so many people are talking about her and her books. I just had to try A Darker Shade of Magic for myself!

 A Darker Shade of Magic

 Goodreads – A Darker Shade of Magic

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

 

My Thoughts…

Naturally, I went into reading this book with high expectations. Everyone seems to be raving about the series. I suppose the question you are here to find the answer to, is if I think it lived up to expectation.

Well yes, but also no. Allow me to elaborate.

I really enjoyed the book. The premise of four versions of London, each with its own degree of magic was what drew me in. I love magic and fantasy is my favourite genre, so this is a perfect read for me. My only wish was that each “London” had more resemblance to London as we know it. I appreciate that each “London” in A Darker Shade of Magic is in a different world. Yet, other than the presence of the Thames in Red London and the English language, there were no other significantly obvious landmarks – or any similarities were too subtle to notice. I have only been to London once (as a child), so my knowledge isn’t that great. I may have missed something, but I just didn’t get as much of a magic/realism vibe as I was hoping for.

The characters were great. Each has their own back-story and it is easy to invest in them all. Kell is adorable in that his compassion for others is admirable. As a reader, you cannot help but feel for Holland and his situation. The standout character though, in my opinion, was Lila. Whilst I would say that both Lila and Kell are fairly equally developed characters, I just adored Lila’s fierceness. She has always had to make her own way in Grey London and the combination of her naivety and sheer will is cute.

A Darker Shade of Magic lives up to the name. The plot was interesting and well thought out – and there were parts of it that were darker than I expected! Magic can be idealised to be a wonderful power… but really it all depends on who wields it. This really comes into play throughout and gave the book an exciting edge.

 

Conclusion…

I did enjoy the book enough to rate it four stars on Goodreads – but not five. I expected to leave this book and be diving into the next one straight away… but I’m not. I think book publicity is a double-edged sword. Obviously, people need to hear about books in order to become interested and buy them. Equally, if you see/hear so much about a book, series or author, you can build up an expectation that realistically cannot be fulfilled. I think this is what happened with A Darker Shade of Magic. I am going to read the remainder of the series because I did enjoy it… just not as much as I had expected I would.

 

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The London Murder Mystery series – Alice Castle

I am very pleased to be taking part in this Blog Tour today. The tour features the first two books in The London Murder Mystery series, Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery.

I was very kindly provided with free copies of each book in exchange for a review by Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources. I cannot wait to share my thoughts with you guys!

 

Death in Dulwich

Death in Dulwich (London Murder Mystery 1)

Goodreads – Death in Dulwich

Thirty-something single mum Beth Haldane is forced to become Dulwich’s answer to Miss Marple when she stumbles over a murder victim on her first day at work. To clear her name, Beth is plunged into a cozy mystery that’s a contemporary twist on Golden Age crime classics. But can she pull it off? She already has a bouncy young son, haughty cat, a fringe with a mind of its own and lots of bills to pay, as she struggles to keep up with the yummy mummies of SE21. Join Beth in #1 of the London Murder Mystery series, as she discovers the nastiest secrets can lurk in the nicest places.

My Thoughts…

Beth is a bubbly young woman, who discovers a murder on her first day back at work. Having convinced herself that she is implicated, she delves in to try and uncover the murderer and motive.

I quite enjoyed her bouncy, ditzy character. She loves to think she is organised; she cleans and tidies the house to “get her thoughts together”. The facade slips whenever she has to tip the contents of her handbag out to find her phone though. It is her way of determining that she is in control. But, as a single mum, things can get pretty hectic. I like the “modern” family structure in the book – increasingly there are more families, for one reason or another, that are reliant on a single parent. I thought it was great that this was recognised.

Alice Castle’s description of Beth is on-point, even down to the rogue, uncooperative hair (anyone with long hair will really relate to this, I’m sure). Her personality makes her the perfect candidate to want to uncover the mystery, despite being warned of the potential dangers by Inspector York. Exasperated at her meddling and finding her around the corner of every development, York has to concede to her knowledge of the small, exclusive community in order to solve the case. Whilst most of the narrative is written from Beth’s perspective, there are small sections from Inspector York. I would have liked to see a little more from his perspective, as the expert on the case.

The narrative is full of plot twists, leaving you guessing the next move and the identity of the perpetrator. What makes it even better is that the final twist was one I didn’t expect at all.

 

The Girl in the Gallery

The London Murder Mystery series #2

Goodreads – The Girl in the Gallery

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Dulwich…

It’s a perfect summer’s morning in the plush south London suburb, and thirty-something Beth Haldane sneaks off to visit one of her favourite places – the world-famous Picture Gallery.

She’s enjoying a few moments’ respite from juggling her job at prestigious private school Wyatt’s and her role as single mum to little boy, Ben, when she stumbles across a shocking new exhibit on display. Before she knows it, she’s in the thick of a fresh, and deeply chilling, investigation.

Who is The Girl in the Gallery?

Join Beth in adventure #2 of The London Murder Mystery series as she tries to uncover the truth about a secret eating away at the very heart of Dulwich.

 

My Thoughts…

I moved on to reading The Girl in the Gallery almost immediately after Death in Dulwich. A number of the main characters are already established; therefore the plot flows effortlessly, without filling in too much back-story. The tale continues shortly after Death in Dulwich leaves off, making the book easy to pick up. There are plenty of references to the previous book to remind you what has happened before anyway.

The biggest plus point is how well the book tackles the sensitive issues within. Body image and the impact of social media are explored in detail. I particularly like how different characters in the book have various views on the struggle teenage girls’ experience. On the whole, the narrative has a balanced approach. This topic is completely different from the first book, so neither narrative nor setting is stale and repetitive.

The dynamic between characters is familiar, yet boundaries are tested in this second installment of the series. Inspector York has come to appreciate that in Dulwich, Beth has access to the inside scoop and enough curiosity to investigate to make his job easier. Where there was a reluctance to involve her in the previous case, now he calls upon her insight willingly.

One of my observations from Death in Dulwich is that there was little input from Inspector York into the narrative. Small sections are devoted to his viewpoint on the case, but they are few and far between. Whilst the sections in The Girl in the Gallery are still quite brief, York certainly has more of a voice and presence than before.

I really enjoyed reading both of these books and cannot wait to see what Calamity in Camberwell has in store! Once again, a huge thank you to both the author and Rachel for organising the tour! If you would like to read either book featured today, a copy can be purchased using the following links:-

Alternatively, the author is running a GIVEAWAY of a signed copy of each book via Rafflecopter. Please note that this is only available to UK residents at this time. See the Terms and Conditions below:-

*Terms and Conditions – UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter link above. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

 


 

About the Author

Before turning to a life of crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, was a European best-seller which sold out in two weeks.

Alice is currently working on Calamity in Catford, the sequel to Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery. It’s the third instalment in the London Murder Mystery series and will be published by Crooked Cat next year. Once again, it features Beth Haldane and DI Harry York. 

Alice is also a top mummy blogger, writing at DD’s Diary.

She lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

Join Alice Castle on her Facebook page.

Alice is also on Twitter and sometimes even on Instagram 

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Book Review: The Toymakers – Robert Dinsdale

*** I received a free copy of The Toymakers from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions stated below are my own***

The Toymakers

Goodreads – The Toymakers

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open!

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical…

 

My Thoughts…

I finished reading this book at the end of May, but due to other blogging commitments, I have been unable to find the time to write my review. Usually, leaving a review for so long can make it difficult to remember the impression the book made on you at the time. However, there are a few stand out points that make this book quite unforgettable.

I cannot put into words how well Robert Dinsdale captures the spirit, imagination and the magic of being a child. I may be twenty-three years old, but there were times I wished I was transported to the age of childhood innocence. It may sound daft – hey, you’re an adult! Magic isn’t real! That is where you are wrong.

In stark contrast to the joy and wonder of youth and fun of the Toy Emporium, sixteen-year-old Cathy is due to become a mother. Shunned by her parents for the impropriety of being with child out of wedlock, she flees to the Emporium to start afresh. There, she raises her child and the two of them become part of the Emporium family.

As Emil and Kaspar wage their boyhood wars, the true horrors of real war come to haunt many families. Boys are sent to the trenches. Those that come back are not the same as the boys who left to fight for Queen and country.

I was fascinated at how Papa Jack came to be a toymaker. His back-story is rich and inspiring in equal measure. The life of the Toymaker has not been easy, and it is from the darkest shadows that the brightest light shines. Beauty, love, awe, and inspiration go hand in hand with the horror and brutality, trials and hardship of the world – this inseparable combination captures the essence of life.

 

In Summary…

I don’t think I can successfully put into words just how much I loved this book! Each character is unique and has their part to play. It is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and fantasy – lovers of either genre would enjoy reading The Toymakers for themselves. As an avid reader of BOTH genres… perhaps then you can see why I enjoyed the book so much! I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in these genres. I don’t think you will regret it.

Blog Tour: Ravencry – Ed McDonald Review

Today I am incredibly lucky, as I get to share my review of Ravencry for the ongoing Blog Tour. Firstly, a huge thank you to Stevie, Gollancz and of course Ed McDonald himself for all the hard work!

 

Ravencry

Goodreads – Ravencry

Amazon     Book Depository

 

Synopsis

Four years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic.

A new power is rising: a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady manifests in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power even as the city burns around them.

When Crowfoot’s arcane vault is breached, an object of terrible power is stolen, and Galharrow and his Blackwings must once find out which of Valengrad’s enemies is responsible before they have a chance to use it.

To save Valengrad, Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota must venture to a darker, more twisted and more dangerous place than any they’ve walked before: the very heart of the Misery.

RAVENCRY is the second book in the Raven’s Mark series, continuing the story that began with the award winning epic fantasy BLACKWING.

 

About the Series

Blackwing, the first book of the series, is one of the best debut novels I have read to date.

The Raven’s Mark is an Epic Fantasy series set in a magical, semi-postapocalyptic world. Magic has destroyed the landscape now known as the Misery.  Vicious monsters roam that poisoned land, scoured by the Nameless identified only as Crowfoot. Anyone roaming the Misery can fall victim to any of the creatures that lurk there.

Ryhalt is Blackwing and bound to serve Crowfoot. In between he takes mercenary jobs, chasing deserters and preventing them from crossing the Misery to convert to the Deep Kings. It is a long war, but Ryhalt soon finds his involvement is about to get a lot deeper.

Events in Ravencry take place four years after Blackwing. Whereas Ryhalt isn’t a particularly changed man, Valengrad has moved on from the events of the first book. The devastation is still evident though. The Bright Lady, who first appeared at the pinnacle of disaster is making appearances again. A new religion is founded under her visage and the preachers proclaim her return to save them in their darkest hours…

 

My Thoughts…

One of the things I really enjoyed about Ravencry is that the narrative isn’t identical to Blackwing. Having read Blackwing only a couple of weeks prior, it was clear that events were progressing. The setting and characters are familiar, but what has transpired before has changed them. Ryhalt’s cynical perspective on life is as humorous as ever, although in this book we get to see a slightly less hard-faced side to his personality. Shaped by the experiences of his past, we get to see the man he could have been… if the Nameless and Deep Kings hadn’t intervened with their war, that is.

I have always been a fan of magic with roots in scientific realism. Brandon Sanderson is particularly good for this, basing his magic on alchemy (Mistborn series) or around light (Stormlight Archives). In this series, magic centres around the filtering of light. The ability to wield magic isn’t granted to everybody, thankfully. Light spinners manipulate the light from the moon into stored energy. There are larger and darker powers too, more vast than we can imagine – known only to the Nameless and Deep Kings. Personally, I enjoy magic systems this way as it brings that world just one step closer to reality.

There is plenty of world-building throughout these books; Ed McDonald reveals the backstory gradually as the narrative continues to grow and evolve. With such a rich history, it would be easy to reveal too much too quickly. A lot of Ryhalt’s character is conveyed here, but details are divulged at the right time to compel you to read on.

Ryhalt, (or Captain Galharrow) is the perfect character to lead the narrative; he is inseparably entwined with the magic manipulating the world. Servitude to Crowfoot leads him down dark paths and lends him a depth of experience to draw upon later. Even when Ryhalt reflects on his own life, the narrative is not even for one second dull. He recognizes his flaws, doubts himself, laments his mistakes and lets us into his thoughts uncensored, proving he is as human as we are. None of the characters fall flat on the page.

I would even go so far as to call them friends.

 


 

About the Author

Ed McDonald has spent many years dancing between different professions, cities and countries, but the only thing any of them share in common is that they have allowed him enough free time to write. He currently lives with his wife in London, a city that provides him with constant inspiration, where he works as a university lecturer. When he’s not grading essays or wrangling with misbehaving plot lines he can usually be found fencing with longswords, rapiers and pollaxes. You can find out more about Ed by visiting his website or following him on Twitter (@EdMcDonaldTFK) and Facebook.

***Profile originally published on Gollancz’s website

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Book Review: A Conversation with a Cat – Stephen Spotte

 ***I was kindly provided with a free copy of this book by OpenBooks in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions stated below are my own ***

A Conversation with a Cat is a great introduction to the lives of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Mark Antony, especially for those without the opportunity to learn about these remarkably powerful historical figures.

 

A Conversation With A Cat

Goodreads – A Conversation with a Cat

 

Synopsis

Stephen Spotte’s imaginative novel recounts the tales of a scroungy former alley cat named Jinx, whose memories aren’t just his own but those of other cats who existed before him, one of which was Annipe, Cleopatra’s pampered pet. Through Annipe’s eyes the ancient Mediterranean world of Cleopatra and her legendary lovers, Caesar and Antony, spread before us in all its glory, pathos, and absurdity. Jinx reveals these stories telepathically one night to his stoned and inebriated owner just home after gall bladder surgery. Annipe’s memories are bookended by Jinx’s own that detail his early scavenging days in bleak urban alleys.

“Could not stop reading this unique and curious account of a major period in history. Viewing events that shook the ancient world through the eye of a feline makes one want to view today’s news stories through the same lens. Never read a book with such a unique perspective. And it was fun.”—Edward R. Ricciuti, author of Bears in the Backyard

 

My Thoughts

Prior to reading the book, my knowledge of Cleopatra came from Shakespeare. To be honest, my understanding of Shakespeare is sketchy. It always has been. Studying Antony & Cleopatra without a consistent teacher – I had no chance really. Sigh.

I was as good as a complete newbie to this topic. Did I find it interesting? Absolutely! The details don’t bog the story down at all, but a lot of research has gone into the novel. The historical superpowers use their brains and brawn (amongst other things) to vie for power. The kind of things that cause salacious gossip and disgruntled wives. The lavishness and decadence of the ruling class are both enticing and beautifully described; Stephen ensures each scene is deliberately picturesque.

The book is cleverly written to pull off its conversational tone.

A commentary is given by Jinx, (in addition to narrating Cleopatra’s life from Annipe’s memory) which is interesting and charismatically witty. Jinx is a feline with “cattitude” and it definitely shows in the narrative! Naturally, the concept of a cat striking up a conversation with you telepathically is far-fetched. However, the story and circumstances are set up humorously so that it pushes boundaries, but isn’t unbelievable.

 

The perspective offered in this book is truly a unique one. Jinx reminisces about Ancient Egypt, as cats historically were held in higher esteem there. They were worshipped like Gods – unlike him, who finds his freedom and virility catnapped in one fell swoop, as we learn later. You can imagine his tail twitching in agitation even now. The balance between the present day and recounting Cleopatra’s reign is perfect. I would even go so far as to say that even somebody who doesn’t love historical fiction as much as I do could get on with it.

A Conversation with a Cat is funny and approachable to read. I personally really enjoyed the book – the fact that I read it in only two days speaks volumes.

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Book Review: The Irrationalist – Andrew Pessin

***I was kindly provided with a free copy of this book by the author and OpenBooks in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions stated below are my own ***

The Irrationalist

Goodreads – The Irrationalist

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher?

Turns out: nearly everyone.

In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.

Shortly thereafter he was dead.

Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger colicky French boy-King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year.

But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.

But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end.

 

Introduction

The Irrationalist is perfect for fans of historical fiction, particularly if you like the dish detailed and with a side of pretty gruesome violence.

Adrien Baillet, an impartial Frenchman, investigates the death of Rene Descartes on the orders of Zolindus, second in command to the Queen of Sweden. So long as his findings report death by natural causes, he will be spared a prickly fate himself. With nowhere to turn, he begins his investigation… but the evidence points to anything but a natural demise. With nearly everyone a suspect, Baillet can trust no one. Piece by piece, he unravels the mystery.

 

My Thoughts

I feel sorry for Adrien Baillet. Finding himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, he has to “investigate” Descartes death. He cannot afford to refuse if he wants to keep his head, but without the funds to return home, he can’t escape Sweden either. Young and lacking experience in the ways of court, he is the perfect puppet for Zolindus to manipulate.

I like how flawed Baillet is as a character. Despite having noble intentions, he is weak – cowardly even. What he lacks in strength he makes up for in intelligence. In that, Zolindus underestimates him. A lot of books paint protagonists to be the best of the best, but this is unrealistic. These characters are human and by nature, are not perfect. Baillet’s fear and inability to stand up for himself helps raise the tension of the narrative. With murder and subterfuge lurking around every corner, it is easy to understand his paranoia.

The plot is well developed, which is necessary given the complexity of the murder investigation. Baillet considers the potential motive of every character, but the conclusions drawn aren’t forced in order to make everyone a suspect. Every motive is well explained and backed-up, which I imagine is a very difficult thing to achieve. It would take a lot of knowledge and research to make this novel work so well, which Andrew Pessin has accomplished effortlessly.

Within the narrative of the investigation are chapters that look back into the past life of Rene Descartes, before he makes it to Sweden. Not only do these provide a lot of insight into his relations with other characters, (usually outlining why there was bad blood), but they change the pace of the book to make a refreshing break from the heat of the moment in Sweden.

 

Conclusion

Honestly, I didn’t anticipate the ending at all – which is a measure of a good mystery to my mind. We come to our own conclusions about the murder; but there is nothing like a good 11th-hour plot twist to keep us on our toes.

Chilling Tales of the Unexpected

Blog Tour: Chilling Tales of the Unexpected – Ann Girdharry

Guess who almost mixed up their dates for their slot on the blog tour for Chilling Tales of the Unexpected?

Yep, that would be me.

Normally I am so on-the-ball with checking these things – I have never been wrong before!  The one time I don’t check before hitting publish on my Sunday Summary post, however, it’s a different story. At least I checked at all, so I am posting on the correct day!

Source: Giphy

My next blog tour is scheduled for the 14th July, so that is where I got muddled. Anyway, less about my epic failures and more about books, yes?

Chilling Tales of the Unexpected

Chillig Tales of the Unexpected

Goodreads – Chilling Tales of the Unexpected

Purchase via Amazon

Four twisty, short reads.
Addictive works of suspense,
That will leave you breathless and give you goose bumps…

Trading with Death
What sacrifice might we make for those we love? In the face of death, will we be selfish or selfless?

Tell Me a Secret
Deceit, lies and secrets – how well do we know those close to us?

Sweet Justice 
We follow Tess as she confronts the dark side…

Written on the Apple Tree 
A moment from a past life, a possession, or a simple meeting between strangers?

 

*** I kindly received a copy of Chilling Tales of the Unexpected via Rachel’s Random Resources in exchange for an honest review. All opinions stated are my own***

These tales are a fabulous read when you have a few minutes to spare.

I usually find myself engrossed in epic tomes; books jam-packed full of detail and as solid as a brick. Seriously, I am not a small handbag girl…. anything less than War & Peace and the kitchen sink and I consider myself under-equipped. In complete contrast, I had forgotten how refreshing it is to have such a light, quick read whenever you have a cheeky five minutes! Hefty books are great if they are your thing – but you have to have the time to dedicate to them in order to make it work.

Each of the four stories within Chilling Tales of the Unexpected is broken down nicely, so each part takes no longer than ten minutes to read – if that! It makes it ideal for sneaking a few pages in before work, in your lunch hour… or even a quick read before bed (so long as you don’t have an overactive imagination at least!) Each part is paced in such a way as to keep each story moving forward without a clutter of unnecessary detail. This is essential for short stories because their structure requires a minimalist approach. I also think this was used in such a way as to hide plot twists until their due time.

If I had to choose, I think my favourite story was Tell Me A Secret. It’s a complex tale of trust, deception, and manipulation and in my opinion, struck up the best balance of plot/character development whilst keeping a concise narrative.

If Ann’s work as a psychotherapist inspired some of the character’s that feature in her stories, let me say that I am glad I lock my door at night! Each story is different from the next, but most have either unsavoury characters, involve death in one way or another, or both. What makes these stories unnerving is how close a “perpetrator” (for want of a word) is to the “victim”. Think about it too hard and you’ll start overthinking about the people in your life…

No seriously, don’t.

 

In Summary…

I really enjoyed this short collection of stories. If you enjoy genres like psychological thriller or crime then these tales should appeal to you.

Well-written and concise, yet not lacking for detail either, these are perfect for filling a few minutes of free time and then occupying your mind for the rest of the day! Perhaps not ideal for those with a vivid imagination, or trust issues.

 

Want to know more? I would love if you could also check out some other stops on the tour organised by Rachel’s Random Resources… or you can find out more about the author herself below:-

Chilling Tales of the Unexpected Tour Dates

 

Author Bio

 

Born and educated in the UK, Ann Girdharry is a trained psychotherapist and has worked as a manager in the not-for-profit sector for many years.
Today she lives in Montpellier, France with her husband and two children.

She writes suspense and thrillers, is a book reviewer and occasionally blogs for the Huffington Post UK. Her crime thriller novel, GOOD GIRL BAD GIRL, was an Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist 2017. Two of her thrillers are READERS’ FAVOURITE Five Star Books.

 

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