Review: Runemarks by Joanne Harris

Published by Gollancz

5 stars

Synopsis:

As you probably know by now, I’m not usually a fan of YA but I made exception for this book on the basis of the author, mythology and sexy cover. To be honest, the only thing that even makes this book a YA is the young protagonist and absence of swearing and sex.

Obviously, Harris wouldn’t let me down – so here’s a tough as nails female protagonist with NO ROMANTIC INTERESTS! Nope, Maddy’s too busy saving the worlds from being destroyed for any of that nonsense.

There’s nothing condescending about this book, it complements Norse mythology perfectly and encourages you to go pick up a copy of the Poetic Edda to fill in the gaps. True to the original Norse myths, this isn’t just a story of valour and other typical Gryffindorian traits but also plenty of trickery (well it does have Loki in it!), doublecrossing and manipulation – Maddy is only 14 and new to these kinds of games so she’s on a steep learning curve once she throws her lot in with the gods.

My favourite character in this book, unsurprisingly, was Loki. He really does get the short end of the stick in all things. It’s in his nature to cause mischief and everyone knows it but they still keep him around to help, then they get pissed off when he starts causing mischief. He’s a very self aware character and doesn’t try to act against his nature, but is resentful that everyone else wants to change or kill him (which is fair enough).
This story is very much character driven and you have no idea who to trust, but best of all – there’s very little ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in this book as we know it. Instead, it’s ‘chaos’ and ‘order’, neither of which are inherently good or evil, which is a take that I really enjoy and identify with.

Mythology fans of all ages will love this exceptionally well written book, I can imagine it making a wonderful book to read together as a family if you have teens (or are a teen with parents who should read better books).

Also, go on Pinterest and look up Loki and his children – I’ve been lost in a spiral of amazing fan art for the past hour, the internet really is the best thing ever.

 

Review: Seduced by a Stranger (Dark Gothic book 5) by Eve Silver

 

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Published by Eve Silver

5 stars

Synopsis:

Destitute and desperate, Catherine Weston accepts the summons from her childhood friend Madeline St. Aubyn to attend her at Cairncroft Abbey, a place of secrets, lies and murder. Madeline’s health is in a poor state and she is terrified of her cousin, Gabriel. But Gabriel has quite a different effect on Catherine, stirring longings and desires she believed long buried.

Gabriel St. Aubyn is haunted by the horrors of both his past and his present, horrors he conceals behind a remote, unapproachable facade. He is drawn to Catherine, but is determined to protect her from the tragedies that yet have claws sunk deep in his soul.

Then a young woman is found dead, and Madeline’s ravings point to a link between this horrific crime and Gabriel—and Catherine must decide if he is a man worthy of her love or a sinister stranger determined to make her his next victim.

Note: All books in the Dark Gothic series can be read as stand-alone novels.


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This book was recommended to me by a great friend and I after reading this, I can say that I will be trusting her judgement in all things, for the rest of time.

This book blew my mind and has me fully committed to the gothic romance genre. It had all of my favourite things in a totally absorbing novel  – a gothic setting, Jane Eyre-esque banter between characters and a whole load of family secrets involving suspicious deaths.

Catherine Weston is a woman who like to keep her personal life private, she comes across as cold to most people but she is very compassionate and has a strong sense of integrity in all things. So when her old school-friend, Madeline, who once saved her life asks her to come to her, she heads over without so much as a second thought.

Gabriel St. Aubyn shares a home with his cousin, Madeline, and is instantly intrigued by their new house guest. Both Gabriel and Catherine are deliciously complex characters with even more complex histories and scars that they must overcome, which is where the fun is in any romance!

It’s a book of two halves, the first half focusing on the budding romance and relationships between characters and the second half explodes with a completely unpredictable murder mystery. Eve Silver is a genius when it comes to creating a mystery and giving nothing away, even to us seasoned ‘I can totally guess what’s going on’ spoiler geeks. I had no idea how the story was going to pan out, even three quarters of the way in and I wasn’t disappointed with the ending when it all became clear.

The story is set in the 1800s and is told in an elegant and compelling writing style, Silver has nailed the line between authentic historical language and keeping it interesting for the modern reader. It feels like it’s been too long since I read a book that had the right balance in this regard so it was very welcome, I set up a blanket fort on my living room floor in the evening and sat with my nose in the book until  I was done.

As my friend can attest by the messages I was sending her every 20 minutes or so, I loved everything about this book.

My favourite messages would have to be:

‘34% in, dialogue is jawdropping, I have no idea what’s going on but I know I love it’

 

‘They have done the naughty sexy times! Wooooooooo’

Which brings me on to: The Sex Scene.

If you’ve read this book, you know which one I mean. It’s perfectly written (the word ‘nub’ is never uttered) and has made all of the tension leading up to this point worthwhile, and better yet – the book doesn’t just devolve into constant sex from that point on and give up on the plot, which is a pet hate of mine when a book is marketed as anything other than erotica. The mystery holds strong right up to the end and the tension doesn’t instantly dissolve just because they’ve seen each other naked.

I’m delighted to say that I’ve signed up to review Eve Silver’s Sins series and it appears that she’s an incredibly prolific writer so I’m going to be stocked up on excellent fiction for a long, long time!

Guest Post with Sarah Armstrong

Good day ladies and gentlespoons!

I have the pleasure of presenting to you a guest post from Sarah Armstrong, author of the newly released novel The Devil In The Snow.

The thing that stood out to me the most while reading this book was the strong focus on mother and daughter relationships across generations of the same family, so I asked the author if she could tell us a little bit more about this.

 Nia

Mothers and daughters

We think we know how the theme of mothers and daughters should play out. Everyone has an understanding of the way the relationship should be, with the adoring young daughter, resentful teenager and conciliatory adult. In The Devil in the Snow, my mothers and daughters have to navigate their relationships with each other, but under an unusual kind of pressure.

My main character, Shona, is repeating the same pattern of angry resentment with her daughter, Cerys, that was played out between Shona and her mother, Greta. Shona knows that unhealthy habits are being repeated, but can’t seem to break the pattern. Greta can see exactly what is going on, but Shona refuses to believe in the family curse. Who would want to believe that the devil was after their family?

The line, ‘But she hadn’t quite turned out to be that kind of mother, and Cerys wasn’t that kind of daughter,’ was one of those which floated into my head when I was thinking of other things. We have expectations, as reader, as parents, and as daughters, of what an ideal mother-daughter relationship should be like. There is a strong archetype of perfect mother-daughter pairs who go shopping and have lunch, a dynamic of strength in their similarities. Shona wants this with her daughter, but refuses to do the same for her mother. I use the theme of familial repetition in many different ways in the novel.

When we find fault in ourselves, we sometimes look back to see who can be blamed for our large feet or a tendency to stay in bed too long. Genetics link us back through time, way before we can start to follow the threads. However, for Greta, Shona and Cerys, inheritance isn’t just made of physical flaws, but an external and determined threat, chasing them through the centuries.

The idea of a family curse linked to inheritance can be traced, in my own life, to the metabolic illness within my own family and other families I know. Metabolic disorders are inherited and triggered by genes from both the mother and father, causing problems in the way energy is processed. These unknowable, unseen genes sit within our DNA for generations, silently being passed on, waiting for that pair to cause problems. The symbol of the devil becomes a way of looking at the real, physical world, and the threats we can pose to our children without even knowing. Neither Greta nor Shona want to believe the warnings, and so the cycle continues.

The relationship between the mothers and daughters in The Devil in the Snow is complicated by the same thing that complicated the relationship between the sisters in my first novel, The Insect Rosary. Their situations are made problematic by an unwillingness to learn from the past. Everyone is doing their best, but it isn’t until they start listening to each other that they become formidable and can finally face the true enemy.


Sarah Armstrong

Sarah lives in Essex with her husband and four children. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, and she teaches creative writing for the Open University.

Review: The Devil In The Snow by Sarah Armstrong

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Published by Sandstone Press

3 stars

Synopsis:

All Shona wants is a simple life with her young son, and to get free of Maynard, the ex who’s still living in the house. When her teenage daughter goes missing, she’s certain Maynard is the culprit. Her mother, Greta, is no help as she’s too obsessed with the devil. Her Uncle Jimmy is fresh out of prison and has never been entirely straight with her. Then there’s the shaman living in her shed. Shona soon discovers that the secrets she buried are as dangerous as the family curse haunting her mother.

 

 


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**Thank you to the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

I don’t think the synopsis does this book justice – I initially though that this was going to be a humourous book, and that’s the one thing that it was not! This book is very surreal at times and impossible to classify as a genre, but it’s definitely not a comedy.
This book is told from the perspective of Shona and her mother, Greta. It covers the history of the women in their family and the traditions and poor choices which seem to have been passed down through the generations.

I’m sure that a lot of the subtext in this book flew right over my head, I’m a very literal kind of reader and I could tell while I was reading this book that there were hidden meanings to things that I just wasn’t getting. It didn’t really affect my enjoyment, I don’t think, but I would be aware of this when you give this book a read.

My fascination with this book was held by the exploration of relationships between mothers and daughters, Shona has shitty relationships with both her mother and her daughter – she certainly hopes for a better one with her daughter but isn’t prepared to make the effort with her mother. It’s an interesting look at a lack of self-awareness within a family, they resent their mothers’ failed relationships with their fathers and then ignore all warnings to avoid making exactly the same mistakes – this is something that I can certainly relate to in my family, we have a long history of poor decision making and I’m trying to at the very least make different bad choices and crack out of the cycle.

The relationships between characters in this book were very authentic, a narrative of messy lives and how people try to make their best in a bad situation – even if they’re responsible for getting in the situation in the first place.

The beginning of the book was a little surreal and there were moments and characters that made little sense to me (why is there a teenage boy living in the shed?!), but the ending became somehow more grounded and tied up neatly. Well… everything apart from the last chapter.

Armstrong’s writing style is very much in the genre of literary fiction in my mind, adding more than a dash of poetry and subtext for you to dwell on as you go through the book. Her characters are believable and well developed, even though I can’t say I really liked a single one of them – which is a sign of a job well done on the author’s part!

My conclusion is that I would recommend this book to fans of literary fiction, looking for a profound look at the relationships between mothers and daughters rather than the suspenseful thriller I was expecting.

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Side note for my fellow book sniffers – this book smelt amazing and went well with marshmallows

 

Review: The Beast of Bath by Chasity Bowlin

256230994 stars

Synopsis:

Lord Victor Mayhew, Viscount Norcross, lives in the shadows, hiding his scarred face from those who would fear him… or worse, pity him. He’s become accustomed to the dark, and to the aching loneliness that is his only and constant companion. But while traversing the city in the dark of night, he encounters a beautiful woman who is running for her life.

Lady Thessaly Shade has discovered that the prettiest of faces can hide the ugliest of hearts. While Lord Norcross keeps his face carefully concealed from her, he cannot hide the fact that he is a man of honor, a man for whom the word gentleman is a way of life and not merely an honorary title.

With no way to repay him for his kindness, for his courage in aiding her at great risk to himself, Thessaly bargains with the only thing she possesses of value… herself. Can she convince him to trust her, to believe that she can see beyond the scars he bears to the man he is? Or will he push her away out of fear and retreat into the loneliness that he knows so well?

The Beast of Bath is a 30,000 word novella previously published in the Wicked Fairytales Anthology.


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**Thank you to the narrator for a complimentary copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review**

This is a pretty typical Beauty and the Beast trope novel – man with facial scars rescues a beautiful young woman who can see his inner beauty.

My god, this trope is like crack and it doesn’t matter how many variations of the story that I read or listen to, I don’t think I’ll ever get enough.

Lord Victor Norcross rescues a young woman he finds fleeing for her life in the dark of night, it all follows a slightly absurd path from that point on while he’s checking out her ass during their daring escape, marries her the next day and practices martial arts in his spare time. Absurd, but hey – crack.

Bowlin’s writing style is easy to read and gives you that comfy regency feel, that allows makes Lord Wandering-Eyes Norcross seem classy rather than unnecessarily lecherous. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be scoping out some more of her novellas in future as a more complete introduction to the regency romance genre!

If you do chose to read this book, let me heartily recommend the audiobook version as the best way to enjoy the story! Lillian Yves is one of my favourite narrators and has a particular knack for romance and bringing characters to life, which complements this story perfectly.

As this story was set in Bath, UK, the characters were all British and Yves does a great job flipping between character voices and accents, as well as her own voice for the narration. It does get a little ‘fun’ near the end of the book when the accents briefly start sliding a little between different regions but they do stay close enough that it isn’t distracting. It’s also infinitely better than the cardinal sin I discovered last year…. a character driven story set in Leeds, done entirely in an American accent.
Her voice draws you into the story and keeps the suspense and intensity building throughout.

If you too are a sucker for fairytale retellings, I insist you drop what you’re doing for the next two hours and give the audiobook a listen! It’s the perfect length to listen to during a commute or while doing chores, but I heartily recommend having headphones about for the sexy bits if you don’t want other people to know what smut you listen to in your spare time…

Review: How the Wolf Lost Her Heart by Sarah Brownlee

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4 stars

Synopsis:

Set against the backdrop of a dystopian London where thugs and criminals run rife, Skye Archer possesses a rare gift, the ability to transform into her spirit animal at will. Widely regarding her morphing ability as a curse, Skye’s aim is to keep it a secret at all costs. But one day she meets the intriguing and affluent, Raphael Renzo, who soon proves to have a secret of his own, one that could heal the downtrodden city and affect Skye in ways she never thought possible…

This debut Young Adult Paranormal Romance novel from Sarah Brownlee is a compelling and gripping read, taking the reader into a world where both the heart of a city and the heart of a girl are simultaneously pierced by one man.


 

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**Thank you to the author for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

I’m not generally a YA reader, but look at that cover! It would take someone with stronger principles than I to refuse that cover!

Skye, the main character, lives in a version of London 200 years in our future. Society has changed and though some things have changed for the better (the technology and emergency services are really cool), there is a sense of lawlessness in the city. The only thing standing between London and full scale riots is the uneasy truce between the Renzo and Pearson families.

Skye herself is a moody, emotionally constipated whingebag of a wolf morpher, but I can hardly hold it against her – we’ve all had our off days and we don’t have the ability to turn into animals.
One day, she’s attacked by a group of thugs on the street – led by the son of the Pearson family. Thankfully, Raphael Renzo steps in to save the day. From this point on, Skye has a close up view of how tenuous the peace is in the city.

Obviously the two are desperately attracted to each other, this is a YA novel after all! I did find myself getting a bit irate with how much time and energy they wasted denying their feelings for each other when they have no apparent obstacle keeping them apart.

I love the original concept of the novel, I wouldn’t even call it entirely dystopian at this stage because shit hasn’t gone down yet. The world is well developed and the society is amazing, Morphers are people with the genetic ability to change into their inner beast as a result of an experiment performed 200 years ago. It’s a recessive trait and very rare in the world, however most Morphers suffer persecution and will be immediately executed for attacking a regular human. It’s just another form of racism and seems particularly relevant this year, I can’t wait to see what the rest of this series is going to be like!

While reading this book, I did get a strong sense of ‘debut novel’ as some parts were repeated and a lot of the text could be whittled down so that what was left made more of an impact but the ideas and characters more than make up for this.

If you like YA paranormal romance (like regular paranormal romance but without the boobies) or even standard paranormal fiction but you’re looking for something a little bit different from the usual, I can’t recommend this book enough!