An Ember in the Ashes – An Ember in the Ashes #1 – Sabaa Tahir

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Release date: June 4th, 2015
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 465
Format: E-book
Source: Bought

 

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
 
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
 
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
 
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
 
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

 

Review:

If I look back at how I’ve been feeling about Young Adult books the last couple of years, I have to admit that have been mostly negative. Especially when books got quite the hype, somehow I didn’t get it. So I was a bit reluctant to believe the hype that surrounded this book. With a Goodreads rating of 4,32 stars and a synopsis that hinted at typical Young Adult storylines, I was scared that this was going to be another book that just wasn’t for me. But somehow, I loved it. It has all the elements that should make me not like it, but somehow Sabaa Tahir managed to weave it into a story that had me completely hooked.

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Update: January

The first month of the new year has already come to an end in what has been a whirlwind 4 short weeks. I think I don’t have to tell you how this month has felt. For a lot of us it feels like the world has started to crash and burn around us. The one main thing that has warmed my heart though is the thousands of people coming together and supporting each other. For all the heartwrenching, scary stuff that’s happening, at least that is a little light in the darkness.

 

I vowed to read one book a week this year, adding up to 52 books in 2017. So far I’m still on track, which makes me incredibly happy. Lately I felt like I couldn’t keep to any challenges I set myself, but I seem to be improving. I’m now fully settled in Australia, living the Aussie life. Work is slowly starting to pick up again and socially I’m also getting some consistency back into my life. This year I’m coaching the Adelaide Augureys quidditch team, a lovely bunch of people who have welcomed me into their family with open arms.

 

Let’s have a look at the book side of things though, because I’ve read some exciting books the last few weeks and I’ve got some great ones lined up for the next month.

 

Read this month

An Ember in the Ashes – Sabaa Tahir

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The many good ratings on Goodreads made me a bit wary about this book. Mostly it’s either hit or miss with me when they have such a high rating. To be fair, it has all the ingredients of a Young Adult book that would make me dislike it. Imagine my surprise when I absolutely freaking loved it. Somehow this book managed to avoid most pitfalls, which made me incredibly happy. It’s a real pageturner and had me hooked from the beginning. It’s not without some faults, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Review to come later this week!

 

A Gathering of Shadows – V.E. Schwab

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This is the second book in the Shades of Magic series. I read the first one late last year and fell in love with the characters and the simple, yet intriguing world(s). This sequel was even better than the first book, with the introduction of new characters and the forging of some interesting connections. I can’t wait for the third book, A Conjuring of Light, to come out!

 

 

 

The Adversaries – David Hair

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The second book in the Return of Ravana series and the sequel to a book that I enjoyed very much in 2015. The Adversaries is a great addition to the series following the same structure of the first book: alternating between past incarnations of the main characters and the present. The chapters in the past couldn’t quite entertain me that much this time around, but I really loved reading the adventures of everyone in the present.

 

 

 

The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig

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I was really excited about this book, it sounded like such a great story! The first half of the book is paced perfectly, with a fascinating introduction into this post-apocalyptic world. However, in the second half I struggled more and more with keeping my attention on the book. Was it the pacing that slowed down or just the story that took a turn that didn’t captivate me as much? Maybe a combination of both. The ending was really good though, so mixed feelings about this book.

 

 

Currently reading

Strange The Dreamer – Laini Taylor

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I am a big fan of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, so of course I was excited to hear a new book of hers was being published. I’ve only just started it, so not much to tell yet, but I’m already intrigued by her writing style again.

 

 

 

 

Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson

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A ‘classic’ that I haven’t read yet, and it’s about time I do. I’m really curious about my reaction to this one as I’ve seen people who love it an people who don’t like it at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Posts this month

Unfortunately January has been a bit quiet because I started as coach for my quidditch team, which took up a bit more of my time. I’ve got some more reviews lined up though!

Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

 

Next books on the TBR list

  • Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

 

Caraval – Caraval #1 – Stephanie Garber

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Release date: January 31st, 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: E-galley
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

 

Review:

With a great concept as this one, I was expecting to be drawn in and enraptured by this story straight away. However, I had some serious problems with the book that really diminished my reading pleasure. When first reading the synopsis, I imagined the fabled Caraval to be something like Cirque du Soleil. It is not though, far from it. It is a magical and mysterious game. People who are invited can choose to watch or to participate. If you participate you have to solve a mystery by following clues. The winner gets a special prize, in this case a wish. It’s a ruthless game though, that pushes the participants to their limits. Nothing is as it seems and nobody can be trusted.

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My 2016 in Books

Unfortunately I didn’t reach my goal of reading 60 books this year. Again! With about 10 days left and another 2 books that are almost finished, I’ll have read 38 books. Which is a bit disappointing. I definitely wish I had had more time to read this year. New Year’s resolution: finally stick to my Reading Challenge in 2017!

Nonetheless, I’ve read some amazing books this year that will end up on my favourites shelf.

 

Favourite books of 2016

City of Blades – Robert Jackson Bennett

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I figured it would be hard to beat the success of the first book, City of Stairs, but boy was I wrong. City of Blades blew me away with its complexity, its multifaceted characters and the amazing world Bennett has created. In April 2017 the next book, City of Miracles, will be published and I’m dying to read it! From the synopsis it seems a lot has changed and some shocking twists will probably make this book as interesting as the previous two.

Read my review here

 

13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough

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If you’ve been following my blog or twitter you may know that I have a fierce love for Sarah Pinborough’s books. Not one of her books that I’ve read have disappointed me so far. 13 Minutes was no exception. This was probably one of the first thrillers I’ve read that kept me guessing, whereas I normally see through the twists and turns quite quickly. It was such a raw and real story of high school drama, a perfect mix between the common coming-of-age tale and a mind-bending mystery. Moooore, please!

Read my review here

 

Saint’s Blood – Sebastien de Castell

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One of the greatest things about this blogging thing is seeing authors rise to popularity and seeing people fall in love with their books. Sebastien de Castell was one of those authors. I still remember receiving an advanced copy of his debut Traitor’s Blade back in 2014 and immediately realising that this was going to be big. Three books later and everyone is still buzzing about the Greatcoats. All three books have consistently high ratings on Goodreads and it’s no surprise, because they are amazing. Saint’s Blood again exceeded all expectations, delivering an emotional roller coaster with sides of the by now familiar banter and exhilarating sword fights. Tyrant’s Throne, the 4th book in the series, will be published in April 2017. Something to look forward to!

Read my review here

 

Gods of Nabban – K.V. Johansen

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Another 3rd book in an incredible series that absolutely blew me away. Johansen’s Marakand series is not easily defined as a particular type of books. They are very special and the reasons why I liked them so much is very different from the reasons why I liked the books listed above. Similar to the previous two books, Gods of Nabban is a complex story full of detail and intriguing characters. Johansen’s writing style is elaborate and an absolute joy to read. Marakand is really incomparable to any other series and that is probably part of the reason I’ve fallen in love with it. A review of this book is still in the making, I find it hard to put my thoughts in to words with books like these.

 

 

Special mentions

The Tiger and The Wolf – Adrian Tchaikovsky

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The start of a new series by Adrian Tchaikovsky, who is best known for his Shadows of the Apt books. The Tiger and the Wolf has a completely different atmosphere than the Shadows of the Apt books, more wild and raw. I really loved this book and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Bear and The Serpent.

Read my review here

 

 

Planetfall – Emma Newman

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A thought-provoking science-fiction story that will leave you shaking in your boots. Emma Newman has a powerful way of describing emotions and Planetfall is an interesting book exploring anxiety and dealing with loss and guilt.

Read my review here

 

 

 

Vigil – Angela Slatter

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Vigil was such a refreshing book! I’m not usually a big fan of urban fantasy, but Angela Slatter wrote such a compelling main character in Verity that I couldn’t help but fall in love with her and her story.

Review to come!

 

 

 

 

What to look forward to in 2017

City of Miracles – Robert Jackson Bennett

Tyrant’s Throne – Sebastien de Castell

Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough

A Conjuring of Light – V.E. Schwab

Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Strange The Dreamer – Laini Taylor

Star’s End – Cassandra Rose Clarke

Brother’s Ruin – Emma Newman

The House of Binding Thorns – Aliette de Bodard

Brimstone – Cherie Priest

Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell

Eagle and Empire – Alan Smale

The Bear and The Serpent – Adrian Tchaikovsky

 

 

The Apothecary’s Curse – Barbara Barnett

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Release date: October 11th, 2016
Publisher: Pyr
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 340
Format: ARC
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

This genre-bending urban fantasy mixes alchemy and genetics as a doctor and an apothecary try to prevent a pharmaceutical company from exploiting the book that made them immortal centuries ago.
In Victorian London, the fates of physician Simon Bell and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune entwine when Simon gives his wife an elixir created by Gaelan from an ancient manuscript. Meant to cure her cancer, it kills her. Suicidal, Simon swallows the remainder—only to find he cannot die. 

Five years later, hearing rumors of a Bedlam inmate with regenerative powers like his own, Simon is shocked to discover it’s Gaelan. The two men conceal their immortality, but the only hope of reversing their condition rests with Gaelan’s missing manuscript.

When modern-day pharmaceutical company Transdiff Genomics unearths diaries describing the torture of Bedlam inmates, the company’s scientists suspect a link between Gaelan and an unnamed inmate. Gaelan and Genomics geneticist Anne Shawe are powerfully drawn to each other, and her family connection to his manuscript leads to a stunning revelation. Will it bring ruin or redemption?

 

Review:

The Apothecary’s Curse definitely has an interesting premise and I was captivated throughout the majority of the book. However, the last part of the book, especially the part that is set in the present didn’t quite feel as good as the rest of the book.

A book presumably written by one of the fair folk has been gifted centuries ago to a mortal man in Scotland to pass on from generation to generation, hoping it would do some good in the world. It is a book that needs to be understood completely to work. It is full of recipes for different sorts of medicine, curing all kinds of diseases like the plague and cancer. However, one little mistake can turn it into the most deadly poison, or an elixir for eternal life.

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Spotlight: Wrath – The Faithful and the Fallen #4 – John Gwynne

The last book in the Faithful and the Fallen series! Anyone who loved the first book as much as I did will have been eagerly waiting for this book. I still remember reading an ARC of Malice and loving it to pieces. After that I decided to wait with reading the others until the series was complete. So after a reread of Malice, I’ll be reading through the rest of the series for the first time and I absolutely can’t wait!

About the book

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Events are coming to a climax in the Banished Lands, as the war reaches new heights. King Nathair has taken control of the fortress at Drassil and three of the Seven Treasures are in his possession. And together with Calidus and his ally Queen Rhin, Nathair will do anything to obtain the remaining Treasures. With all seven under his command, he can open a portal to the Otherworld. Then Asroth and his demon-horde will finally break into the Banished Lands and become flesh.
Meanwhile Corban has been taken prisoner by the Jotun, warrior giants who ride their enormous bears into battle. His warband scattered, Corban must make new allies if he hopes to survive. But can he bond with competing factions of warlike giants? Somehow he must, if he’s to counter the threat Nathair represents.

His life hangs in the balance – and with it, the fate of the Banished Lands.

Publication date: November 17th, 2016 (Tor)

 

About the author

John GwynneFrom John Gwynne’s website:

Well this is a strange thing, writing about myself.

I was born in Singapore while my dad was stationed there in the RAF. Up until he retired that meant a lot of traveling around, generally a move every three years or so.

I live with my wife and four wonderful (and demanding) children in East Sussex. Also three dogs, two of which will chew anything that stands still. I have had many strange and wonderful jobs, including packing soap in a soap factory, waitering in a french restaurant in Canada, playing double bass in a rock n roll band, and lecturing at Brighton University.

I stepped out of university work due to my daughter’s disability, so now I split my time caring for her and working from home – I work with my wife rejuvenating vintage furniture, which means fixing, lifting, carrying, painting and generally doing what my wife tells me to do…

And somehow during this time I started writing. I’ve always told my children stories at bed-time, and they pestered long and hard for me to write some of it down. At the same time I felt that my brain was switching off a little – vintage furniture is my wife’s passion, whereas my passions are much geekier!

That’s how The Banished Lands and Malice began, though along the way it became more than just a hobby. I’m still in shock that it is actually a real book, rather than just pages on my desk.

I hope that you enjoy the book, the website and the blog. I intend to have some fun on here, as after all, having a book published is a bit like true love – it doesn’t happen everyday. Please bear with me as this is all very new to me and I’m not the most technically proficient. I’ll try not to blow the internet up.

All the best,

John

 

Mini Review: The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower #1 – Stephen King

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Release date: February 16th, 2012 (Originally June 10th, 1982)
Publisher: Hodder
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought

In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger.

He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

 

Review:

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is one of the must-read series that I hadn’t gotten to yet. Sentiments seem to be mixed about these books, some finding it brilliant, others disappointed by it. I seem to hang somewhere in between. The Gunslinger is not a long book. With just over 300 pages it’s an easy and fast read. It’s also fascinating, brutal and confusing.

Roland Deschain of Gilead or The Gunslinger is on a quest to find and kill the ‘Man in Black’ who seems like a deranged evil priest with immense powers. All of this plays out in a place that can best be described as the Wild West. At first I got the impression that this was a dystopian version of our world, but slowly we learn that this is not the case. It remains quite vague however what kind of world The Gunslinger lives in and what happened there.

The part of the story that plays out in the ‘present day’ in the desert is strange and reminds me most of King’s other horror books, the more typical King-style. Strange, bloody and unforgiving. When King takes us back in time to Roland’s youth though, the story gets a different feeling. I can best compare it to the feeling you get when reading an Epic Fantasy tale. It feels familiar and warmer. The contrast fascinated me immensely. Being thrown back and forth between these two completely different worlds was unnerving, but in a good way.

In the end though, I can’t decide if I really liked this book or not. It was a fun read and I already knew I had a bit of trouble with King’s style before I started this book. So I can’t really say that I didn’t expect to feel a bit negative about it. I’ll probably read the rest of the books before passing final judgment.

Update: I Moved To The Other Side Of The World

That’s right! I have now been living in Australia for a week. It still feels a bit surreal and I can’t figure out yet how I feel about it.

Adelaide

You may have noticed that the last few months no new reviews or other book-related posts have gone up on the blog. Though I’ve still been reading a lot, I felt I needed to focus on my studies and my friends and family a bit more. In October of 2015 I moved to the UK to start my PhD there and since then my life has been a whirlwind of new experiences. I met an amazing group of friends in Nottingham and knowing I would have to leave after a year, I spent almost all my time and energy on enjoying their company. Of course, doing a PhD is not an easy thing either. I am still really excited about my project and I wanted it to go well. Lastly, there was also my family and friends in Belgium that I left behind last year. It was important to me to spend some time with them too, because of the big move I knew was coming.

All that is in the past now. I had to say goodbye to friends and family in both countries and I moved yet again to another one. This time on the other side of the world. I don’t think it has really hit me that I’m living in Australia now. The only thing that makes it real is the sad feeling I get when I Skype with my parents and see the home I grew up in or when I see my friends doing things together and me not being a part of it anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it has been amazing being here. When the weather is good (and it hasn’t been for most of the week unfortunately), I went out to explore and Adelaide is truly beautiful. I also have some friends here who have been amazing, showing me around, helping me make sense of everything.

Panorama pictures I took of my friends while we visited Fountain's Abbey in the UK. I love it. It looks like a promotional picture for a band.

Panorama picture I took of my friends while we visited Fountain’s Abbey in the UK. I love it. It looks like a promotional picture for a band.

I will be living here for the next two years and I have a feeling this is the right time to revive the blog. I miss being part of the book community sometimes and I certainly miss talking about the books I’ve read.

So bear with me, I’m currently trying to find a flat and hopefully that will happen in the next few days, so that in a week I’ll be all settled in and can start writing reviews again.

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child – Jack Thorne & John Tiffany (J.K. Rowling)

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Release date: July 31st, 2016
Publisher: Little Brown UK
Age Group: (Young) Adult
Pages: 330
Format: Hardcover
Source: Bought

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

 

Review:

Let’s talk about the most hyped book of the moment: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Sometimes called the eight Harry Potter book, actually the script of a play based on J.K. Rowling’s idea of an adult Harry, Ron and Hermoine. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t planning on buying the book, because it’s not really a novel and I’m not a big fan of reading scripts. I also said goodbye to the Harry Potter universe quite decisively after the 7th book and 8th film. It was the end, I was happy. But there I was at 1am in front of a book store in Ghent, buying 50 copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the Harry Potter fans who attended our quidditch tournament. It wouldn’t be right for me to walk out of there without a book for myself. So I did buy one. I finished it in 2 days and I am as disappointed as I thought I would be.

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Black City Saint – Richard A. Knaak

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Release date: March 1st, 2016
Publisher: Pyr
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 390
Format: ARC
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.
Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.

 

Review:

I’m having real trouble rating and reviewing this book. It was a bit of an odd one. It is an interesting story with a new take on Feirie that quite surprised me, but it also had a number of flaws. Right before the end I was going for 3 solid stars, but the ending makes me want to add another half one. I was happy about the turn the book took in the last few pages and it shifted my whole perspective of the book a bit.

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