book reviews, spoiler free

Harley in the Sky

Book Review

38326343._SY475_Harley In The Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Rating: XXXX

Published March 10th by Ink Road Books

“I love the circus. I love the mystery, and the wonder, and the way every act transports my soul into another dimension. I love the way it makes me feel as if the world is in reverse and upsidedown all at once – like there’s starlight beneath my feet and the ocean above my head, and every impossible dream can come true with a single whisper.”

Harley Milano has dreamed of being a trapeze artist for as long as she can remember. With parents who run a famous circus in Las Vegas, she spends almost every night in the big top watching their lead aerialist perform, wishing with all her soul that she could be up there herself one day.

After a huge fight with her parents, who continue to insist she go to school instead, Harley leaves home, betrays her family and joins the rival travelling circus Maison du Mystère. There, she is thrust into a world that is both brutal and beautiful, where she learns the value of hard work, passion and collaboration. But at the same time, Harley must come to terms with the truth of her family and her past—and reckon with the sacrifices she made and the people she hurt in order to follow her dreams. 

As you may have seen from when I posted the cover reveal for Harley and a Book Tag (have a go yourself and you could be in with a chance to win a set of art cards from the book!) a few weeks back I was lucky enough to be a part of the Street Team for Akemi’s newest book and had the chance to read it early. I adored Starfish and Summer Bird Blue and I was so pleased to be given this chance, although I’m not primarily a contemporary reader Akemi’s books just seem to have this spark and this energy to them and she’s become an insta-buy author for me.

First of all, I haven’t been to a circus for years but the moment we see both of the circuses in this book through Harley’s eyes I find myself filled with the wonder and magic of it all that Akemi has captured so incredibly well. She really manages to anchor you into Harley’s point of view which I think is vitally important for a character who makes rash and sometimes hard to understand choices but put in her mindset it’s much easier to rationalise the seemingly irrational thoughts. Harley is, at times a difficult character but as a teen who often tried to run away (thankfully with much less success)  and who to this day still makes decisions based too heavily on strong, fleeting emotions I feel like I got her and that a lot of us possibly used to be her to some extent.

The cast of characters, Harley included, is a wonderfully diverse mix of cultural backgrounds and full of colourful personalities who are hard not to get immediately attached to, I particularly loved Dexi and Vixen! I found Vas an interesting character and thought he played mysterious stranger well, with all of the information about his past and motives coming out in a way that wasn’t exactly hidden but forthcoming due to Vas purely being a private person which was a nice touch.

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Although for me the characters really make this book the plot is still an enjoyable one and although a little predictable at times, especially the romance I still enjoyed it immensely and although there are certainly some wonderful and painful moments I found it a much lighter read than Starfish and Summer Bird Blue making this a bit of a comfort read for me, especially the around the middle of the story. Don’t let my words fool you though, there are still definitely some tough moments (trigger warnings include depression, mood swings, heart attack and references to suicidal ideation).

One of my random, favourite things about this book that didn’t fail to make me smile every time was the sheer amount of “nerdy” references. ‘Nerd’ culture is, I think, more popular than ever at the moment which is brilliant but other than the occasional mention of Harry Potter I haven’t seen it reflected in many books (this may be because of my habit of not reading a lot of contemporary) and it was very enjoyable, it also seems me and Akemi have a lot of the same taste in fandoms!

Harley in the Sky is out March 10th (in just three weeks) so make sure to get your pre-orders in and get ready to visit the Circus with Harley!

 

book reviews, spoiler free

The Stars We Steal

Book Review

50867498._SX318_SY475_The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne

Rating: XXXX

Published February 4th 2020 by Titan Books

“My lips tingled from phantom kisses, burned with memories and regrets. I needed to stop thinking about it. Thinking about him.”

Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?

But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.

So I would have been sold on the premise of the dating competition vibes anyway, especially with ball gowns and tension and the whispers of a Jane Austen Persuasion retelling but you know how to really pull me in? PUT IT ON A SPACESHIP. This was a brilliant blend of genres and gave it what felt like a pretty unique angle that I would absolutely be interested in reading more of. As far as I’m alone this is a standalone novel but I would definitely read more stories in the world created by Alexa.

Usually, I’m put off by books that have heavy romance orientated plots and I did wonder just how much of The Stars We Steal would be perhaps a little sappy for my tastes but I was very happy to be surprised that I adored the entire storyline, romance and all. There is a beautiful amount of pinning, will they/won’t they and that glorious Austen streak of “I hate you but I would also tear everything apart to kiss you. If you like.” The way the whole thing unfolded and the inclusion of some brilliant LGBT characters from across the spectrum.

The plot is a little twisty in places with some betrayals and reveals although not in the direction I had been expecting. I think I predicted that the political side of things would play more of a role than they did but I still enjoyed the pace, which was slower at times but suited the story. Everything else felt pretty much done in the perfect amount, the “sappiness,” the pinning, the intrigue, the bachelor show like setting of the Valg Ball and more. I enjoyed this book immensely and although it did feel a little light I actually really enjoyed that about it. Also, have you SEEN this gorgeous cover?

The Stars We Steal is out TODAY so if Jane Austen meets the Bachelor with a dash of conspiracy and space sounds like your kind of thing, you need to get on this immediately.

Thank you so much to my favourite evil temptress Sarah Mather and Titan Books for sending me an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

book reviews, spoiler free

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review
42769202
Starsight 
by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: XXXXX

Published November 26th by Gollancz

“A hero does not choose her trials. She steps into the darkness, then she faces what comes next.”

All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing.

Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie.

But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to. 

I was lucky enough to have been picked to take part in the blog tour for the first book in this series, Skyward, last year (spoiler-free review here) and it was one of my favourite reads of the year and I’ve been dying to get back to see what Spensa and M-Bot have been up to now so I jumped at the chance last month to receive a copy from Gollancz in celebration of its release (thank you Stevie and co!)

This definitely took a very different turn from what I spent the whole year expecting and I’m so here for it, I enjoyed the first book but this absolutely ramped it up another notch. I immensely enjoyed the character progression from both Spensa and M-Bot that we get to see in this book. I love that Spensa who has always been hot-headed and relatively aggressive by some standards, in this book is forced to reign it in or be discovered/fail her mission so we really see another side to her where she tends to think things through a little more and although I think that it’s all part of what makes her personality she definitely improves from it as it opens more options to her and allows her to learn more and take more in. M-Bot is going through some self-discovery and although at first, I wish he had maybe featured more I think the way his story progresses actually works very well and is beneficial for both him and Spensa.

We get a lot of little reveals and information throughout this book, about the Krell and the society they come from in particular which was spun in a way I really enjoyed. It was nice to understand more about the other alien races and to see some of their unique perspectives as well as learning how humanity’s presence in the galaxy has affected them, for better for worse as well as discovering more about the history of humans themselves. There is a nice dose of political intrigue involved which I found added another interesting spin (see what I did there – I’m not sorry) to the whole story as well and I loved never really knowing what anyone’s true motives where. Starsight definitely evolved from the action/adventure story into something so much richer and more complex.

Starsight also features some important themes and messages throughout which I think are really valuable and also played important parts in the story simultaneously such as the idea of individuality, a collective society as well as prejudice and bias, messages that I think will always be relevant and we see Spensa (and others) realising that in order to really understand others it’s important to listen.

Although I do think I enjoyed Starsight more than Skyward I do find it very difficult to compare the two as they are, in my opinion, fairly different books and although I loved what Sanderson did with Skyward and the whole Flight school kind of thing (most people know I love the whole “boarding school” kind of setting) this is another level and featured even more of the things I love. Like the Kitsen. The Kitsen are amazing.

The ending was immense and I am in desperate need of book three already although I have a bad feeling that we might have to wait an extra year for the third book as Sanderson is releasing a large book from a different series next year but this is all speculation so we shall see. Fingers crossed it’s not too long of a wait! I hope you all have a happy new year and I’ll see you in 2020!

 

Blog Tours, book reviews, spoiler free

CTRL+S by Andy Briggs

Book Review

45437425CTRL+S by Andy Briggs

Rating: XXXX

Publishes November 28th by Orion Books.

“Escape is easy. Staying Free – That’s harder.”

Life in the near future’s NOT ALL BAD. We’ve reversed global warming, and fixed the collapsing bee population. We even created SPACE, a virtual-sensory universe where average guys like Theo Wilson can do almost anything they desire.

But ALMOST ANYTHING isn’t enough for some. Every day, normal people are being taken, their emotions harvested – and lives traded – to create death-defying thrills for the rich and twisted.

NOW THEO’S MOTHER HAS DISAPPEARED. And as he follows her breadcrumb trail of clues, he’ll come up against the most dangerous SPACE has to offer: vPolice, AI Bots and anarchists – as well as a criminal empire that will KILL TO STOP HIM finding her . . .

When I received an email asking if I would like to receive a copy of this book I took one look at the synopsis and practically made grabby hands. I’ve been working on a piece of writing for about three years now which share some similarities and I decided that this book would be the perfect read for during NaNoWriMo as I often find it hard to read books of a different genre to what I’m writing or it has a habit of taking me too far out of the story and I have to ease back in every time. A huge thank you to Orion for an advanced finished copy in exchange for an honest review.

I will admit that to start with I wasn’t sure about this book. We had the hard done by main character who was a bit of a dick, the angry, only female friend the main character has a crush on with the high up and/or well respected dad who just wants her freedom, the confident guy friend who may or may have had a thing with said only girl and the shy guy who doesn’t want to take risks but ends up doing so anyway. Sounds familiar right? We even get the crappy relationship between the main character and his struggling single-parent mother who he tends to refer to just as ‘Ella’ instead of Mum. It’s not that it was a bad start, it just felt very predictable. Flash forward to me a few days later frantically reading as I walk the three minutes to my son’s school because I just could not put it down. 

The characters are definitely their stereotypes but it was easy to forget at times as we did get further insight into them, the main character especially and although I still don’t particularly ‘like’ any of them but they’re still interesting characters who DO develop throughout the story which only spans less than a week anyway so I wasn’t expecting any huge and major changes, I don’t feel like they’re meant to be idea ‘loveable’ characters and I kind of like that about them because it’s very easy to see our own flaws in them and it gives them a whole other level.

The plot itself is the real MVP here, again there are moments that seem predictable but to honest having read a fair amount of sci-fi and seen a hell of a lot of sci-fi films and TV shows that is absolutely bound to happen, almost every story has been told before but this if the first time it’s been told by Andy and I really loved the twists and turns we got along the way and how each clue had to be found and then unravelled. As well as the plot, the writing is at times incredibly fast-paced and has you right at the edge of your seat which is probably my favourite thing about this book, I’m shocked I don’t have any ripped pages and apparently I was impossible to talk to while reading because I was just SO engrossed with the events. We have some downtime, obviously but it fits well with the pacing and isn’t too slow as we get information in that downtime, as well as some character development and some new (awesome) allies.

Another aspect I really enjoyed was the world-building, it’s a not too distant future and incredibly believable in pretty much all aspects for me, the good and the bad. Not only do we get to see the good things that have changed like the way we as a human race impact and care for our planet and it’s animals, finally accepting how important the earth and it’s ecosystems are but we also see how such technological advances could develop going forward and how, like everything that exists it has the potential to do great good but also evil too. There is a fair bit of ‘technobabble’ but most of it seemed easy enough to understand and where needed we get extra information anyway so if you’re used to reading sci-fi this shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad I gave it the chance it deserved. It was addictive and possibly one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a while. I highly recommend it, especially if the synopsis catches your attention.

CTRL+S releases in just two days time on Thursday, November 28th. Make sure you check out the other wonderful book bloggers also taking part in the blog tour over the next week!

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book reviews

Chasing the Shadow by Maria V. Snyder

Book Review
48345515Chasing the Shadows 
by Maria V. Snyder

Rating: XXXXX

Published November 18th 2019 by Maria V. Snyder

QUOTE

SPOILER ALERT: Although this review will be spoiler-free for this book, this review and even the following synopsis are full of HUGE spoilers for the first book so if you’ve yet to read the first book and intend to do so without being spoiled for big plot points turn back here, I’ll see you back here when you’re ready to start the second. 

Year 2522. Lyra Daniels is dead.

Okay, so I only died for sixty-six seconds. But when I came back to life, I got a brand new name and a snazzy new uniform. Go me! Seriously, though, it’s very important that Lyra Daniels stays dead, at least as far as the murdering looters, know.

While dying is the scariest thing that’s happened to me, it morphed my worming skills. I can manipulate the Q-net like never before. But the looters have blocked us from communicating with the rest of the galaxy and now they believe we’ve gone silent, like Planet Xinji (where silent really means dead).

A Protector Class spaceship is coming to our rescue, but we still have to survive almost two years until they arrive – if they arrive at all. Until then, we have to figure out how to stop an unstoppable alien threat. And it’s only a matter of time before the looters learn I’m not dead and returns to finish what they started.

There’s no way I’m going to let the looters win. Instead, I’ll do whatever it takes to save the people I love. But even I’m running out of ideas…

After rereading/listening to the first book of the Sentinels of the Galaxy books by Maria V. Snyder in preparation for the release of its sequel, Chasing the Shadows Maria reached out to some bloggers to receive early copies of said sequel in exchange for an honest review in the two weeks surrounding its release. Not only was I lucky enough to receive an ecopy early but my paperback copy arrived early too and I absolutely devoured the whole thing in about a week which is a quick read for me nowadays.

I enjoyed Navigating the Stars (you can check out my spoiler-free review here) but Chasing the Shadows is a whole other ball game, I adored this book. It took all the best parts of the first and just improved on them and gave us more. I think a mix of Lyra having to mature after the events of the last book and perhaps getting used to her inner voice meant that the side of her that could be a little annoying at times was much less present this time around. She made a lot of rash choices don’t get me wrong but I could always see where she was coming from and why she made those decisions. I actually found I was really proud of her in this book, she’s come a long way and she’s learned so much physically and emotionally. Watching her actively take other peoples advice and at least consider her own safety at the behest of those who care for her was really refreshing and a great way of showing how much she’s grown.

book reviews, Older books, spoiler free

Navigating the Stars by Maria V. Snyder

Book Review

42756706._SY475_Navigating the Stars by Maria V. Snyder

Audiobook narrated by Gabra Zackman

Rating: XXXX

Published December 1st 2018 by Maria V. Snyder

“There’s this girl, she’s like a comet – makes the rest of the galaxy seem dull in comparison.”

Terra Cotta Warriors have been discovered on other planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. And Lyra Daniels’ parents are the archaeological Experts (yes with a capital E) on the Warriors and have dragged her to the various planets to study them despite the time dilation causing havoc with her social life.

When one of the many Warrior planets goes silent, and looters attack her research base, Lyra becomes involved in discovering why the Warriors were placed on these planets. And, more importantly, by who. 

I first read the first book in Maria’s new Sentinels of the Galaxy series, Navigating the Stars last year. Maria has been one of my favourite authors for a very long time and this month, to celebrate the release of of the second book in the Sentinels of the Galaxy, Chasing the Shadows coming out in under two weeks I decided I would reread the first book, Navigating the Stars via audiobook.

Maria has written in this particular genre before but this time feels very different, we get a lot more tech, world-building and space travel in Navigating the Stars then we did with the Outside/Inside series, I believe Lyra is a little older than Trella and their priorities and dynamics are very different. The blending of futuristic technology on faraway planets with archaeology feels right and I could honestly have read even more about the whole process and I couldn’t get enough of the mystery and wonder surrounding these Terra Cotta Warriors and their unexplained presence throughout the galaxy.

I liked most of the characters but didn’t feel a huge attachment to loads of them. Lyra is seventeen but sometimes feels a little younger but I understand that because although I’m thirty honestly I sound a bit like Lyra at times. She’s a bit snarky, very sarcastic and has a knack for getting into trouble, there are a few moments where she effectively breaks the fourth wall and sort of addresses the reader which it took a little while to get used to but honestly I kind of liked it after a while and made it feel like me and Lyra were friends. She certainly made some questionable choices but they always make sense for her character. Gabra Zackman was a perfect choice for the audiobook narration, she really captures Lyra’s snark and in my reread thanks to her I ended up spitting half of a glass of orange juice across my lounge.

I love the world-building for this book, the idea of effectively crinkling space to travel across large distances was explained really well with two different ways of measuring someone’s age as a result which was an interesting concept. I love the Q-net and the way users, especially wormers (like hackers) are able to navigate it, one of my favourite parts being the star roads within the Q-net. Then we get a whole other set of lore surrounding the warrior pits themselves and the things that lurk within but I won’t give anything away!

Navigating the Stars is already out now and it’s sequel Chasing the Shadows officially launches November 18th (my review is coming next Tuesday on the 19th!). You can pre-order the Kindle edition on Amazon now buuuuuut if you want the paperback Maria sneakily made them available to order RIGHT NOW!

 

Blog Tours, book reviews, spoiler free

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Book Review

41951611
Angel Mage
 by Garth Nix

Rating: XXX

Published October 17th by Gollancz

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.

Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . . 

First of all, I want to say a huge thank you to Stevie and the wonderful people at Gollancz for sending me an advanced copy of this book and for having me on this book tour. I vaguely remembered reading Sabriel (also my Garth Nix) when I was younger and enjoyed it even if I started going to music concerts and sitting in the park with my friends instead of reading not long after and didn’t end up reading any more of the series. Still, as a result, when I heard Mr Nix was releasing a young adult book with an interesting magic system I was instantly interested.

The magic system is indeed really fascinating and described fairly well and in an easy to understand way while still being interesting and leaving room for loopholes here and there. The idea that icons with depictions of different levels of angels allowed mages to summon them for aid with varying costs in the currency of said mages own lifeforce feels quite unique but familiar and I enjoyed each piece of information we were given about them and the tolls and aspects of different angels.

The world-building too was done brilliantly and was my favourite aspect of the book. The world felt very easy to visualise as did the different governing bodies, military forces and general existence as a whole. I liked that with the cardinal essentially in power by way of having the ear of the Queen alongside her force of musketeers (led by a female Dartaghtan) it had a real Three Muskateers feel to parts of it even if the resulting story was very different.

Unfortunately, the plot and pacing felt terribly clunky for the most part. A plot doesn’t always have to be fast-paced obviously but usually, when that’s the case it’s because the book is very character-driven and I don’t know if it was because we had four main characters AND the “big bad” as POV parts but it didn’t feel like especially character-driven either. There are some interesting moments for sure and I did like the characters, Doretea especially but I would have liked more character building with them and maybe less insta-friendship although I do understand the circumstances behind it.

One last thing that I noticed and absolutely wanted to praise and shout about was the fact that a lot of prominent characters who when named or mentioned I would often assume were male were female which was very refreshing. The Cardinal and the Queen who hold the highest power were both female, there was a good amount of gender-neutral language throughout and no-one batting an eyelid at anyone’s differing sexual preferences. Not to mention that all of this just felt organic which was honestly just *chefs kiss* and a standard I would love to see in more books instead of having female, queer and/or POC characters slotted in for the sake of it.

Overall it was still an enjoyable read despite its faults, I don’t think it helps that I’m having trouble getting through longer books at the moment either and this is not a particularly short book. Angel Mage by Garth Nix is out now and definitely worth a read if it sounds like it might be your kind of thing.