Alice Burnett: Ideal Love

Ideal Love Cover

I received a free physical copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Venus Rees is left devastated by the sudden death of her husband, Gilles. But when she discovers that he died of a treatable genetic condition she knew nothing about, she is haunted by the thought that he didn’t love her enough to save himself.

As time passes, the emptiness of Venus’s life becomes apparent, no more so than when she meets the handsome and sensitive Alex. Her attraction to him eclipses even her preoccupation with her dead husband as she embarks on an unusual love triangle. But what she doesn’t reckon on is Alex’s past link with Gilles.

Ideal Love is a work of women’s fiction that focuses on the concept of love throughout its many stages. When Venus’s husband dies, she begins to question her own beliefs on love due to the very nature in which he died, warring with the idea that he knew all along and put herself and their daughter at risk. However, when she meets Alex, the meaning of love begins to change as they hold deep and meaningful conversations not just about love in itself, but Venus’s relationship with her late husband.

This novel was definitely a slow read, and sometimes I did find it hard to concentrate due to the chapters that were coming from Gilles’ point of view. His voice seemed a bit all over the place and flighty, like he couldn’t hold onto one train of thought for a very long time and so, whenever I was reading his narrative, I felt a little bit disjointed. However, the rest of the novel I found thought-provoking and insightful as you see how Venus’s thoughts on love change and alter based on the experiences in her life before and after Gilles’s death.

I liked that Burnett provided scenes from their life prior to her husband’s death, as it helped to understand how deeply in love they were and give more clarity to the feelings of betrayal and mistrust that Venus now holds following his death. Through this, you got to see how their love started off almost as an obsession on Gilles’ part, to contentment, to arguing about mundane things like working all the time and not having enough time for others. It shows the arc of love from budding romance to companionship. With Venus’s later connection with Alex, she is finally able to accept and move on from these feelings that have developed since finding out about Gilles’ genetic condition. Venus talks through all of her feelings and emotions with Alex in a bid for them both to understand what they are getting into and it is clear that Venus has come full circle with Alex. Now it is her turn to have a love obsession as she cannot get Alex out of her head. Though, in the beginning, these new feelings confuse her and make her feel like she is betraying the one person she has truly love, she eventually begins to understand that Gilles would be far happier if she moved on and made herself happy and, through her developing feelings towards Alex, she begins to understand that she will never know the truth about what Gilles knew but that she must move on.

As Venus comes out of one love and into another, you can’t help but find yourself falling for Alex as well. He’s handsome, understanding, sensitive, and possesses a small amount of innocence in his inexperience with women. You can see how Venus has fallen for him and end up slipping into the love triangle of the book with ease. I loved the concept of this novel and what it represents. Though it was a bit slow at times, it picked up far more towards the last half of the novel as Venus and Alex come to terms with their relationship and all that it entails.


Deborah Dunn: The Coffins

The Coffins Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Andrea Warren, a young archaeologist with Native American roots, sets out on a journey to the Outer Banks of North Carolina hoping to unearth the truth about why her father committed suicide when she was a child. All she knows about him is that he was looking for old coffins made from dugout canoes believed by many locals to belong to remnants of the 118 men, women, and children who mysteriously vanished from Roanoke Island in 1590 and have never been found again. When she inherits an old trunk containing his field notes, strange things begin to happen. Dreams, visions, and apparitions seem to be warning her that her life is in danger.  Events turn deadly the closer she gets to the truth: What happened to the Lost Colony? Where did Virginia Dare go?

The Coffins is a suspense, mystery/thriller that sees Andrea Warren attempt to find out the truth behind her father’s supposed suicide. Made aware by his old field notes and journals that he was investigating the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, Andrea follows in his footsteps in order to find out if his findings ever paid off, and why his interest in these coffins would result in his untimely death. As she falls deeper into the mystery, Andrea begins to uncover the truth and finds herself in deep.

I’d find it hard to believe that anyone wasn’t, in some way, aware of Roanoke and the Lost Colony. Even American Horror Story dedicated an entire series to the mystery – and this is why I was intrigued. I love to read different theories as to what happened in these circumstances and, though I haven’t particularly delved deep, I hadn’t heard anything about coffins before. I was looking forward to a novel that was full of twists and turns, unexpected happenings, and a mystery that was shocking. I didn’t get any of this. . . The twists and turns I did encounter, though I clearly wasn’t expecting them as Dunn does not leave any sort of paper trail to suggest such occurrences, did not in any way shock me. I read through these scenes as if they happened everyday and they didn’t add anything to the novel for me. Any unexpected happenings just seemed a bit out there too me with Andrea experiencing strange dreams and premonitions. I felt like they were just there to try and add something different to her character and enhance the character in regards to her ancestry.

An issue that I found throughout the novel and quickly got very repetitive and boring, was Dunn frequently reintroducing the character of Andrea to every person she seemed to meet. A good couple of times you read about Andrea’s history as an archaeology student and why she was in town, divulging her life story to anyone that she suddenly became friends with and I couldn’t understand why she would do that when, as is clearly evident by the narrative, dialogue, and Andrea’s actions, she is wary around men trying to hit on her or believing them not to have good intentions. Why then, would she tell multiple men all this information about herself within a few seconds/minutes of meeting them?! With that being said, though Andrea is a character that questions a lot, she never follows through. She questions whether she should trust someone as she doesn’t feel comfortable – let’s divulge my life story. She questions whether she should go through with something as it might be dangerous – let’s do it anyway. It felt like Andrea didn’t really possess any common sense as I could sense from side-characters actions and dialogue whether they were legitimately trying to help her or not, but she questioned it but still continued to trust. In this respect I couldn’t really relate to Andrea or get along with her very well as she did not feel complex and human.

With all of these issues, it really made the novel mediocre. If Andrea had been more three-dimensional and a bit more aware, I think she would have been someone I could interact with more. I also felt like, though the narrative plot was also a good concept, with everything else going on around it it just failed to be anything brilliant. Towards the end of the novel I started to question whether I was actually going to find out about these coffins properly, only to be given journal entries and a media outlet where Andrea had found them and was running tests. I didn’t feel like it really gave me all the information I could’ve had but was finding a quick get out of having to write anything more coherent.


Laini Taylor: Strange The Dreamer

Strange The Dreamer Cover

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of God? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Strange the Dreamer is a new fantasy series by author Laini Taylor, more popularly known for her Daughters of Smoke and Bone series. Strange the Dreamer is about Lazlo Strange, a young boy who was orphaned into the protection of monks where his imagination and mischievousness ran wild. As he grew older and took on the role of Librarian, Lazlo was able to fulfill his need to learn as much as possible about the mysterious city Weep and why it’s name became lost to him fifteen years ago. When a convoy of Tizerkane from Weep come to his city, Lazlo cannot help but beg to go with them on their adventure to defeat whatever threatens Weep and bars it from the rest of the world.

I’ve never read anything by Laini Taylor before but, with Strange the Dreamer receiving a lot of hype over the past few months, I became intrigued. And, with a title like that, I didn’t think it literally portrayed what the novel was about: a young man called Lazlo Strange who dreamed…

Strange the Dreamer was a fascinating novel with a unique plot-line, unique characters, and a brilliant writing style that was full of vivid imagery. I found the plot-line to be fast-paced, intelligent, and original without any boring, slow scenes that leave your mind wandering. I was pulled in from the first page and spat back out right at the end with a cliffhanger that was unexpected and left my reeling. Only once before have I finished a book without thinking it was about to end, believing there to be far more to the story to tell and hoping I would get it all in one big, juicy novel. Boy, was I wrong!

The characters were entirely unique to the story-line and so full of emotion and humanity. Lazlo reminded me of every young child with a vivid imagination and a fascination with history. His obsession with Weep really connected with me and my fondness for reading about the past and finding out new and interesting facts. I enjoyed that this fascination continued into his adult life and that he didn’t let anyone deter him from his dreams. Lazlo is a big developer throughout this novel, finding the answers to two of the biggest questions of his life: who is Lazlo Strange, and what happened to Weep? Both questions progress him to where he is at the end of the novel and his part within the adventure, though seemingly minuscule, helps him to find his place in the world. Similarly, Sarai – who helps to provide the missing puzzle pieces of Weep through her narrative strand – also develops as a person as she begins to understand the plight that her people have put the citizens of Weep through. It is thanks to Lazlo that she gains more humanity and compassion for those she does not know in a bid to gain the life that she wants as opposed to the one forced upon her by those long passed.

Taylor’s writing is exquisite to read, with vivid metaphors and setting imagery. I was drawn into the world of Weep as well as the world of dreams that both Sarai and Lazlo inhabit, painting a picture that was right before my eyes and left know room for error. It was clear what kind of scene she was trying to depict and what these scenes meant in the grand scheme of things. Taylor is able to string together a novel that seems confusing and hard to define what path it is taking and, only when you have reached that path, do you begin to understand exactly where she is coming from. The narratives flow smoothly with brilliant continuity and context and draws you in from the get go.

I am upset that the novel ended so abruptly and at such a crucial point within the novel where change is and was imminent. I was immersed so deeply within the novel that I felt like I had been snapped back into existence from a world of dreams where magic, myths and legend come true. I seriously cannot wait for the next novel and to see where and how Lazlo’s life changes in the future.

Emily R. King: The Hundredth Queen

The Hundredth Queen Cover


As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood in the ancient Tarachand Empire, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.

King’s debut novel, The Hundredth Queen is a fantasy tale based off of Sumerian mythology that focuses upon the ideology of sisterhood and women working together as Kalinda must fight for her place amongst the King’s one-hundred wives, and to prove to those around her that, despite her sickly past, she is stronger than she appears. The Hundredth Queen is a novel full of action, romance, and magic as Kalinda attempts to save herself, those around her, and live the life she has always wanted.

I absolutely adored the way that King implemented Sumerian culture and mythology into the novel, and how it became the groundwork for pushing the narrative forward. I felt like I learnt a lot about their culture through the stories told to help flesh out the importance of Kalinda being the one-hundredth wife whilst also still understanding that this was a work of fantasy where some elements could be twisted. It was a brilliant blend of culture, society, class, gender, and magic as Kalinda is brought into this world entirely new for her, and for us.

The magic within this novel is almost akin to that of Ruby in Fireblood through the Burners. I only lightly put this similarity forward as I still felt like the Bhutas and their ability to wield the elements was a concept that I found original and unique to this story and really helped to bring the narrative to life by presenting Kalinda with her own personal conflict, as well as that of the rani’s and courtesans around her. Though I feel that there is a lot we could still learn about the group called Bhutas, I believe that this is something King will, and should, develop further in the next novel within the series given the events that have taken place.

Kalinda is a strong feminine lead for this fantasy novel, paving the way – alongside other woman in fantasy – for heroines and strong female leads. I would put her up there with Kelsea from the Tearling series, as well as Ruby from Fireblood (being the two more prominent characters that currently come to mind). In the beginning she appears weak, fragile, and the underdog within the Sisterhood and the many wives of the king. She has suffered from an illness that leaves her with burning fevers that can only be staved off by a special tonic brewed by the temples healer. However, as the novel progresses and Kalinda begins to realise the path that her God has put her on, and the changes within herself, Kalinda starts to show her true strength and her determination to right the wrongs that have festered over her country.

Though the love interest was definitely one of insta-love, I still found myself shipping Kalinda and Deven from the get go. It was clear that there as an attraction to the two and it really came alive upon the page. King really knows how to write characters that are fleshed out to a degree that they appear real and truly bring the narrative to life by how vividly they have been depicted.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and was one that I couldn’t put down. I enjoyed the thematic concerns surrounding sisterhood and women being second-rate to men and felt that this was definitely one of those stories that needed to be told in order to understand the culture and society within this world. I felt that these issues helped to bolster Kalinda as a character and to make her stronger, portraying her as a modern-day woman in a fantasy world set in the past.

Ed McDonald: Blackwing

Blackwing Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Nothing in the Misery lasts…

Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.

Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.

Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…

Blackwing is a new post-apocalyptic fantasy series by debut author Ed McDonald that sees our main character, Ryhalt Galharrow, become a part of something far bigger than he imagined. With his experience in the Misery, a wasteland filled with strange and dangerous creatures, Galharrow is the man for any job but, when one of the Nameless sets him on a task to save a woman, little does Galharrow know that his life will change bringing to the surface old wounds that have never fully healed. Galharrow and this woman must now work together to save everything that they know, or suffer the consequences of knowing that they were the ones who destroyed everything.

I’m always on the lookout for new fantasy series, and ones that aren’t always filled with the stereotypical magical systems, dragons, and long treks through the countryside (as good as they can be!). Blackwing was the perfect new fantasy read . . . There were creatures that, though holding similarities to the likes of zombies and changelings (probably more loosely for this one), are completely different and fit the narrative perfectly. They are in no way described in this way to make you believe that they are some made up substitute for these trope-filled types of characters, but you can easily see the similarities without it being advertised to your face. There was a “magic” system in the sense that characters called Spinners (and sometimes Wizards) are able to use power obtained from the light of the three moons creating Phos which these people absorb and then use in many ways. There were villains in the form of God-like creatures with their own powers. You just couldn’t go wrong.

Throughout reading the novel I didn’t ever feel like this novel was an imitation of another. I could feel the originality of the story and the writing, of the characters and the direction and plot. There was also the vibe of the people living in a way that isn’t advanced but possessing some technologies that are, in the sense of the Engine and the way in which Phos is spun, stored, and used. I wouldn’t really call it steampunk, or cyberpunk, but I feel like this really added to the originality of the novel.

The characters themselves are stereotypical but, given the context of the novel, don’t generally give off that vibe. Ryhalt Galharrow is a man with many wounds, both old and new, that he believes he has closed over but ultimately end up reopening as events progress. Born to the nobility, he has since been disowned and lives his life as a Blackwing captain taking jobs in the Misery that many would shy away from living paycheck to paycheck and making enemies and friends alike. Ezabeth Turner is our Spinner. Her and Ryhalt have a past and, when thrust back together again, wounds open for both of them and you start to feel the tension between the two. Ezabeth is flighty and ethereal (though some of this is down to the use of Phos and the moon) but is a tough cookie in her own way. We also have some side-characters such as the debt-collector Saravor who charges extortionate rates for services no-one else would do. However, due to the nature of the novel, these characters also feel unique.

I definitely enjoyed Blackwing and thoroughly enjoyed the way in which the novel progressed throughout. I didn’t feel like there were any issues with context and continuity and loved that there were surprises towards the end when shit starts to get real. Ed McDonald really knows how to write and bring to life the landscape/setting and the characters he has provided. You can really feel yourself beside these characters as they trade sharp witticisms or angry retorts.

Melinda Snodgrass: In Evil Times

Relevant posts: The High Ground

In Evil Times Cover

I received a free physical copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Scholarship student Thracius “Tracy” Belmanor and Princess Mercedes de Arango have graduated from the High Ground and becomes officers in the Orden de la Estrella. Stung by Mercedes’ choice of Beauregard “Boho” Cullen as her consort, Tracy is glad that they are posted on battleships light years apart, but soon finds that without her protection he is nothing but a target. Meanwhile, Mercedes’ posting has its own challenges, not least her unfaithful husband.

Both young officers find themselves part of forces “assimilations” of settlers on Hidden Worlds, which lead them to doubt the intentions of the Solar League. And when Tracy witnesses an horrific event that threatens the fragile human and alien peace, Mercedes must decide where her loyalties truly lie. . .

The second novel in The Imperial Saga, In Evil Times focuses on Tracy Belmanor and Princess Mercedes de Arango a few years after the events of The High Ground, with both now having graduated from the military school. No longer working alongside Mercedes, Tracy begins to understand how much her position helped him to progress as his station and class are frequently used against him by those far better off than him, not taking into consideration his sacrifices and skills from the High Ground. As both of them work their way through their time aboard their respective battleships, they both become embroiled in situations that could greatly affect the relationships between humans and aliens.

Tracy and Mercedes have come far since the incident within the High Ground, both graduating exceptionally well and being stationed aboard battleships that become part of the action. However, it becomes clear that the relationship between the two has drastically changed since the ending of The High Ground – something that we began to see towards the end of that novel but becomes the backbone of their relationship within In Evil Times. What used to be a relationship that flourished off of each individual, has now become one of animosity and, in some respects, hatred due to their differences and the way events have panned out. In Evil Times found my stance towards Tracy drastically changing. I thoroughly enjoyed him as a character in The High Ground and really grew to like him however, as In Evil Times progressed and Tracy’s lower class background comes back to bite him around every corner, you begin to see his characteristics change – and not for the better. This change in personality really altered my perceptions of him, but highlighted how far Tracy had fallen and been affected by everything around him since his graduation. As well as that, the way in which Mercedes responds to Tracy and his actions – though clearly understandable due to her formidable position as the heir to the Solar League – really makes you question whether their friendship can be repaired, or if it has gone too far.

Snodgrass branches out within In Evil Times by bringing in issues that we had not previously seen such as the Hidden Worlds, and finally bringing in scenes and issues regarding the much mentioned Cara’ot genetic manipulation. With these situations being brought into the story, we begin to gain a better understanding of the Solar League and how they run, as well as why people have gone/will go against them from time to time. It also brings up the question of right and wrong, what should be covered up, and what should be revealed as things begin to unravel and spiral out of control. As well as this, we also get to gain an understanding of life aboard the battleships and how rules and guidelines are frequently gone against, as well as the camaraderie between the officers.

I definitely feel like In Evil Times developed exceptionally on events within The High Ground, though I do find myself slightly annoyed at the way in which Tracy declines and how that makes me feel towards him – though I can understand the reasoning behind it. The writing style has definitely improved since the first novel and certainly brings in issues and world-building elements that helped to greatly enhance the narrative and progress it forward. It is definitely one to read if you are into military sci-fi and looking for something a bit different.


Nina Allan: The Rift

Relevant posts: The Race

The Rift Cover

I received a free physical copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Selena and Julie are sisters. As children they were closest companions, but as they grow towards maturity, a rift develops between them.

There are greater rifts, however, Julie goes missing at the age of seventeen. It will be twenty years before Selena sees her again. When Julie reappears, she tells Selena an incredible story about how she has spent time on another planet. Selena has an impossible choice to make: does she dismiss her sister as a damaged person, the victim of delusions, or believe her, and risk her own sanity in the process? Is Julie really who she says she is, and if she isn’t, what does she have to gain by claiming her sister’s identity?

A work of literary science fiction, The Rift is Nina Allan’s new standalone novel that raises the question of identity and mental health when Selena’s sister, Julie, walks back into her life making claims that she has been living on another planet. After twenty years, Selena begins to feel a wave of emotions and finds herself questioning everything she has been told.

Having read Nina Allan’s The Race, I was just a tad skeptical about this novel. I didn’t particular enjoy The Race and had fears that the same issues I had had before, would transfer over. However, it is clear that Allan’s writing and ability to progress a coherent and continual narrative has vastly improved since The Race. The Rift was a novel that had continuity and everything connected to something else, whereas The Race was a novel that I couldn’t find links with and found that the novel jumped all over the place. One issue I did have with The Rift, was the character of Julie following her return. There wasn’t a lot of time spent trying to fully clarify who she was which I found to frustrate me, even at the end of the novel when things begin to become resolved. Selena only properly questions her once with a “question” that only Julie would know – a question that didn’t really hold much weight for me. Because of this, I found that there was something truly missing until towards the end of the novel with the resolution, though it wasn’t fully filled.

As characters, I found Selena to be more understandable and someone I could relate to. I felt that Allan focused more on her emotions and actions as opposed to Julie, which could explain why I felt like something was missing in that I didn’t feel like we truly got to know Julie in the present – more in the past.

Overall, The Rift was an okay novel that I was interested in. However, having tried to write this review, there isn’t anything that really stands out about it. The plot didn’t wow me, the characters weren’t full of realistic emotion, and the resolution at the end didn’t particularly interest me. It’s been really hard to write this review which is why it is quite small, and there isn’t a lot to go on. The Rift is definitely mediocre, and I don’t think that I will be reading Allan’s work again.