Tuesday, 30 September 2014

'Dark Witch' by Nora Roberts

A few years back, I read 'The Circle Trilogy' by Nora Roberts, mainly because the Celtic Goddess Morrigan was one of the characters. I read all three books in little over a week, desperately awaiting a huge battle that had been promised from the outset. I was disappointed when I got to the battle and discovered that this huge showdown I'd been waiting for lasted only fifteen pages. But I can't deny that otherwise, the trilogy did grip me.

And so, when I read the description of Nora Robert's newest offering, 'The Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy', I was intrigued. Set in Ireland, and following Iona Sheehan, an all American gal who's moved to the old country to reconnect with her cousins Brenna and Connor O'Dwyer, this first instalment promised a lot. Magic, romance, and the age old battle of good versus evil. I had to give it a go.

I'm glad I did. 'Dark Witch' is an interesting take on witchcraft with very few of the clichés usually found in books of its ilk. The characters were realistic and likeable although I did find some of the dialogue between them a bit clunky and slightly un-readable. It felt as though it had been written by someone who had never met an Irish person but had only heard the accent and dialect on an American TV show. I'm not implying here that that's the case, only that that's how it came across to me. Otherwise the writing was pretty flawless with description that helped me to see clearly the beautiful setting of the novel.

As you would imagine, with the novel being the first part of a trilogy, the final chapter ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, something to keep us waiting eagerly for the next instalment. And it works because I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for the next volume. I need to know how things will pan out for Iona and her new found family.

It's a great book to curl up with in front of the fire as Autumn draws closer and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a cosy paranormal romance. I give it a 3/5. I think if it weren't for the issue I had with the dialogue, I would have rated it more highly. But even still, it's definitely worth a read.

'Dark Witch' is released by Piatkus on the 2nd October and is available in both paperback and ebook.

*I was kindly provided with an advance review copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

'Age of Iron' by Angus Watson

Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar's army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people. 
First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar's most fearsome warriors, who's vowed revenge on the king for her sister's execution. 
Now Dug's on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join ­- and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that's going to get them all killed . . .
It's a glorious day to die.

I've always had a fascination for Ancient Britain, for a British landscape under Roman occupation, old gods being replaced by new ones, bloodthirsty warriors battling it out on fields red with blood. There's something so primal about it all, something so intriguing about it. I mean, there's not much that we know for certain about that dark period of Britain's history. Which is why I was so drawn to Angus Watson's début novel. That, and the pretty awesome cover.

The first volume in a trilogy, 'Age of Iron' introduces us to Dug Sealskinner, a Warrier cursed with a bad case of Murphey's Law. He's a perfect Warrier, his war hammer pretty much an extension of his arm but poor Dug just can't cut a break. On his way to join King Zadar's army, he finds himself caught up in a battle, fighting against the army he'd been hoping to join. And that's just the start of it. Lumbered with Spring, a strange child determined to stick with the man who saved her and Lowa, one of Zadar's female archers who is just as down on her luck as he is, Dug heads off on an adventure he wasn't exactly looking for and certainly didn't want.

This is a powerful novel, dark in all the right places with a decent scattering of humour. It kept me gripped, wanting more and the ending has left me itching to get my hands on the second volume. The characters are realistic, really jump off the page, which I think is an achievement when working with a time period where much of what is known about the people is pure conjecture. And there's enough blood and guts in there to keep a horror addict like me interested.

I'd recommend 'Age of Iron' to any fans of gritty fantasy epics like Game of Thrones or to those who like historical fiction with a twist. I give it a solid 4/5

If you're interested and want to get your hands on a copy, the book is available now in paperback and ebook published by Orbit.

*I received an Advance Review Copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Second Hand Book Haul

I'm a huge lover of charity shops and second hand book stalls and whenever I get a chance I like to do a little tour of all the local ones in an attempt to spot some bargains. This week was no exception. I got these four books for the grand total of £1.99

I got the Stephen King novel in a charity shop where all the books are 99p each. I'm always on the lookout for cheap copies of Stephen King novels because one of my main reading goals is to read all of his books. And so of course, I couldn't resist this find.

The other three books were an interesting find. On my way to a market stall that usually has some good books, I stumbled across a stall I hadn't seen before where all the books were 50p each or three for £1. Who can resist that? Definitely not me. 

I've always been interested in feminism and I've been meaning to read some Germaine Greer for years so I couldn't pass up this ageing copy. I've also been wanting to read some more Joe Hill since I read 'Horns' a while back and I'm thinking this could be a good Halloween read. And finally, 'The Freedom Writers Diary' is something I've been trying to get my hands on since I first saw the film. It's an inspiring story that makes me glad I had such good educational opportunities. I'll definitely be reading it soon.

Do you buy your books second hand or do you prefer to buy them new? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 29 August 2014

'Mill River Redemption' by Darcie Chan

Having unexpectedly lost her husband and lacking the means to support herself, Josie DiSanti and her two daughters take refuge in the small town of Mill River, to live with Josie's aunt, Ivy. The sisters, Rose and Emily, are inseparable growing up - until a shocking tragedy tears them apart.

Years later, Rose and Emily return to Mill River for the reading of their mother's will, where they learn that Josie would do anything to force their reconciliation: the sisters must move into neighbouring houses for the summer and work together to locate the key to Josie's safe deposit box, which contains their inheritance. And so, left with no choice, Rose and Emily reluctantly begin their search. But in a place known for its magic and miracles, little do they know that an even greater treasure awaits them . . .
After reading the blurb for Darcie Chan's second novel, I knew I had to read it. I love small town America as a backdrop for fiction and despite the fact that I haven't read her début novel I got cracking with it as soon as I received my advance copy from Little, Brown Book Group. And as it turns out, it doesn't really matter whether you've read the first book in the series or not as the books can be read as stand alone novels. They're simply set in the same town and feature some of the same characters. Which I think is a pretty cool idea.

Darcie Chan has a real talent for capturing the essence of Mill River. A quick Google search revealed that while the river the town is named for is real, the town itself is fictional. This surprised me as while reading the novel I could imagine Mill River clearly in my mind thanks to the vibrant and detailed description of the town. I could see perfectly Ivy's quaint little store The Bookstop with its overflowing bookcases and brightly coloured beanbags. And it was just as easy to picture the towns inhabitants. Rose and Emily were particularly clear in my mind, along with Ivy who sort of reminded me of my own Great Aunt who was a prominent figure in my childhood.

The novel opens in December 1983 with Josie DiSanti's arrival in Mill River, her two young daughters in tow to begin a new life. It's obvious she's running from something more than her husband's tragic death but she's determined to keep it locked away, to keep her girls safe from the truth. It's a great opening, sucking the reader into the story straight away while still giving us enough information to begin to care for Josie and her daughters.

Interestingly, we are then thrust forward in time to 2013. Rose and Emily are now adults and it's the day of Josie's wake. The sisters are no longer on speaking terms, their hostility towards each other so strong that they can barely be in the same room without chaos erupting. But their mother intervenes from beyond the grave. The reading of her will reveals her plan to bring the estranged sisters back together. They're going to have to learn to tolerate each other and work together if they have any hopes of inheriting their mothers estate.

It's not an easy ride for either sister and over the course of the summer they're forced to face and examine some uncomfortable emotions, deal with the past and the tragic incident that tore them apart and grow as individuals.

This novel gripped me from start to finish. The writing was exquisite and the characters were realistic, 3D people that jumped off the page and walked around in my mind. The structure of the novel brought a lot to the story. Having chapters alternate between the past and the present meant that the reasons for the behaviour of Rose and Emily was slowly revealed. I seriously didn't like the adult Rose in the beginning but as her past was unveiled I began to develop some sympathy towards her, an understanding of her character flaws. And that's something I really love in fiction - when a writer is talented enough to make their characters flawed. It's the secret to real characters, to making a character believable enough that their experiences represent and mirror real life. 

I loved this book, I really did. And what's great is that it's not the kind of thing that I would usually choose for myself in a bookstore. I've been trying to make more of an effort to broaden my literary tastes and on this occasion it definitely paid off. Darcie Chan is definitely a writer to keep an eye on. With her self-published début novel becoming a New York Times bestseller in a matter of months, she was quickly picked up by Random House in the US and signed to write a further two novels. That's the kind of dream so many writers hold onto. I'll definitely be getting my hands on a copy of her first novel at some point in the near future and will be watching out for any future publications. 

I'd whole-heartedly recommend 'The Mill River Redemption' and I give it 5/5 

If you like the sound of it, the kindle version is available now.

Monday, 25 August 2014

'Rival' by Penelope Douglas

Considering how big New Adult novels have become in the past few years, it's surprising that I've never actually read any. I'm a huge fan of Young Adult as you can probably tell by the books I tend to review but I've just never made that step up to New Adult. But recently, the lovely people at Piatkus offered me the chance to read an advance copy of 'Rival' by Penelope Douglas, and always up for a new reading experience, I accepted.

'Rival' is the second novel in the 'Fall Away' series but can be read as a stand-alone novel. I haven't read the first title in the series but I didn't struggle to follow the plot of this sequel. Penelope Douglas did a great job of recapping earlier events in a way that wasn't too obvious but also didn't leave the reader feeling lost. Which is something a lot of authors fall short on when writing a series of books.

So what's the book about?

Madoc and Fallon are step brother and sister. Forced together by their parents marriage when they were both teenagers, they pretty much hated each other. Madoc resented his new gold-digging step mother and her daughter and Fallon couldn't stand Madoc's jerky, bullying behaviour. But something happened between them when they were sixteen, something that ripped them apart, saw Fallon move out of the family home to a boarding school and caused her to stay away for three years.

But now she's back. And everything is going to change.

With Fallon back in town for the summer before college, Madoc's father tells him he has to stay away, crash at a friend's house and leave his step-sister to her own devices. But Madoc has never been one to follow the rules. The last thing he wants to do is give Fallon more space, not after she walked out of his life in the middle of the night without even a note to say why.

But Fallon has an agenda. She's back in town to get revenge, to get even with her mother and step-father, and most importantly, her step-brother, her rival, her ex-lover.

That's right. When they were sixteen, Fallon and Madoc fell hard and fast for each other. Madoc was Fallon's first, her only. But everything went wrong when their parents found out and she was banished to boarding school, away from the one person she felt safe around.

When secrets and lies are exposed and the truth is revealed to all involved, will Madoc's resentment and Fallon's mistrust remain or will they find their way back to each other? I'm not into spoilers so I'm not going to tell you. But I will say that it's a rollercoaster ride of emotions as the two love-damaged teens try to navigate their confused and conflicting emotions.

In all honesty, I wasn't expecting to like this book. I guess I went into it with misconceptions of what New Adult is. I was expecting all sex and no plot. I thought the characters would be flat and boring. I couldn't have been more wrong. Yes, there was a LOT of sex (was it too much? I'm not sure. I mean the book is about randy teenagers!) but there was also a great plot, with some interesting twists and turns that had me worrying that things wouldn't turn out the way I hoped they would.

And the characters? They were pretty awesome. Fallon was so different to a lot of the female characters in YA fiction. She was smart and spunky, oozed attitude and yet had a vulnerable side that she kept hidden. And Madoc? I'll admit that he had me feeling all kinds of emotions. To begin with I hated him, really couldn't stand the guy. But as I read on, especially in the chapters written in his voice, I began to understand him, to see why he acted the way he did. And by the end of the novel, well, I actually liked the guy.

The supporting cast were pretty cool too. I guess that has a lot to do with the fact that this novel is part of a series. From what I can gather, Tate and Jared were the focus of the first book, 'Bully' and maybe that's why they're so fully formed, so striking and present within the novel. Whatever the reason, it was interesting to care so much about characters that weren't the primary focus of a novel's plot.

'Rival' gripped me the whole way through, kept me up reading late at night, fighting sleep to know what happened next. I've been left with an urge to read the first book in the series, just so that I can spend some more time with the characters. I'll definitely be looking out for the next title in the series when it's released.

I think this would be a great book for older teenagers (16+) and even twenty-something girls who want a quick read with plenty of steam. Part of me feels as though I'd be reluctant to let my (hypothetical) teenage daughter read it but at the same time, I don't think there's much in there that teens can't read in any magazine or watch on TV. Maybe that's one of the good points of New Adult fiction. It gives teens a glimpse into the gritty reality of life, the kind of thing that polished Hollywood TV shows just don't portray.

At first, I planned to give this novel 3/5 but after writing this review I've realised that it actually deserves more than that. I think I was holding back on the rating because it wasn't "literary fiction", wasn't an important book if that makes sense. But why should that matter? And so, I'm giving 'Rival' a well earned 4/5.

The Kindle edition of 'Rival' goes on sale tomorrow. Buy it on amazon here