Posted in Literature

Read: The Archived

The Archived (The Archived, #1)The Archived by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the #SchwabReadalong organised over Twitter/Booktube (twitter.com/schwabreadalong) and this was the first book of the schedule. I haven’t read Schwab before but have seen her pop up with both her YA and adult fantasy books as a recommended author for me quite a few times so I decided now’s as good a time as any!

The Archived was a good story exploring ideas of death, grieving, family, friendships and desire from the perspective of a 16 year old. The overall concept of a supernatural style library that catalogues the dead who in turn have a tendency to get up and wander off is one I’ve seen done elsewhere, nevertheless this book does a good job at exploring the idea.

It is well written for the target audience (YA) however I found some of it frustratingly simple at times; I also found myself getting annoyed at some of the decisions the characters were making and some of the martial expertise of the 16 year old protagonist seemed a little far-fetched. It was a good story but I am happy with leaving it at just The Archived personally, as opposed to reading the 2nd book.

This was my 43rd book of 2020.

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Posted in Literature

Read: Final Cut

Final CutFinal Cut by S.J. Watson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Note: this was an e-ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

To me, one of the key features of a thriller or mystery book is that I can’t guess the ending. Unfortunately for Final Cut, I guessed the ‘big twist’ within the first 20% of the book and spent the rest of the time waiting to be proved right as the author threw things at me to try and convince me otherwise. By the final 10%, where said twist is revealed and everything I had guessed was confirmed I felt more like I had been reading as a chore and that the majority of the story had been inconsequential.

The MC at times behaves contrary to all the information she has available to her; pursuing a man she’s accusing of murdering girls that in a previous or next chapter she’s adamant are both alive despite everyone she ‘trusts’ in the village telling her said man wouldn’t have done such a thing, that he’s harmless and he’s only ever tried to help. Her complete belligerence at blaming him for events seems completely at odds with her relatively logical approach to everything else. It felt too much like the author was trying to force a distraction on the reader to disguise the truth. The MC trusts some complete strangers that no-one has vouched for but then doesn’t trust this other stranger who everyone has vouched for.

The story itself had potential and is almost certainly, and depressingly, based on the terrible abuses real people have suffered and it is a shame it has been executed so poorly here in Final Cut. While the MC is struggling with her memory, I still don’t think that forgives the confused signals we get from her and her motivations.

Finally, I am unsure whether the e-ARC I received had chapters out of order as there were two occasions were the MC references other characters by name who we have not been introduced to yet and in a subsequent chapter we’re then introduced to them. As I say, I’m not sure if this was a mistake and edits will be done before publication or whether it was intentional as an attempt to make the reader doubt their own memory, much as our MC does throughout the book. In either event, I found it frustrating and it felt like a mistake so made me wonder about the editing process. There was one other instance that I spotted which seemed to have been missed in editing – whether that’s picked up on between now and retail, maybe, so I let it slide.

Overall, there was a bit too much that didn’t make sense in the book on top of the poor characterisation, weird editing decisions and the endless buffeting of distractions away from an otherwise predictable ending.

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Posted in Literature

Read: The Arkhel Conundrum

The Arkhel Conundrum (Tears of Artamon, #4)The Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah Ash
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the original trilogy shortly after publication and discovering there was to be a new instalment in the saga was a wonderful surprise. After 14 years, I certainly hadn’t expected a new book in the series! That’s also a reason I delayed reading it. ‘What if it spoils the memory of the originals? What if my tastes have changed and I don’t like it?’ I was both excited and anxious to read The Arkhel Conundrum and in the end I needn’t have been worried: it is every bit as excellent as the first three books.

The rear cover has a quote comparing Ash to Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time) and George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) and rightly so; she is an expert in weaving a tale of epic proportions with a wide cast, all of whom are well-written and fleshed out, without falling foul of overly complex plot threads.

Yes, you will almost certainly need to read the Tears of Artamon in full in order to appreciate The Arkhel Conundrum as there are references back to events in the previous books that you might not understand without reading them. You could go in straight at book 4 and get by with what’s in this book alone and still enjoy the new story-lines but I heartily recommend the trilogy as it is excellent.

In this instalment we meet back up with Gavril and Kiukiu and start the story in earnest almost a year after the end of Children of the Serpent Gate and after the birth of their daughter who, it turns out, was conceived before Gavril was freed of his dragon-demon Khezef. Little Larisa is a very special baby and once Elder Ones and Heavenly Guardians alike discover her existence, she becomes very popular indeed.

Emperor Eugene, in the absence of his mentor and magus Kaspar Linnaius, launches a competition to construct a flying craft, which accidentally opens him up to new threats. We’re also introduced to a handful of new characters, including Toran Arkhel and Gerard Bernay, who feel like we’ve known them long before this book, such is the strength of their characterisation.

In the high/epic fantasy style there are different plots weaving together towards two climax points that are expertly done and I foresee those two story-lines coming together in a 5th book. PoV shifts between chapters so that we can feel and experience the world from different character perspectives where even seemingly minor characters are still key to the overall story.

I feel I cannot proselytise about this series enough. I loved it when I first read it and still love it now. I look forward to the next book and won’t be quite so anxious to keep going next time! 

This was my 42nd book of 2020.

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Posted in Literature

Read: All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries, #1)

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short novella introducing the character of Murderbot, a free agent security android on its final contract with a surveying team on an uninhabited world, as it tries to avoid interacting with the clients (the humans) as much as possible and chill out watching serials and reading books. An introvert’s dream!

Unfortunately for Murderbot, the world is not as uninhabited as the team were told and Mb takes some serious damage rescuing two of its client scientists from the maw of a very large, very chompy hostile entity. Investigating how The Company could’ve neglected to warn the team about the local fauna highlights some discrepancies they have to work together to figure out and escape the planet alive. Much to Murderbot’s annoyance as those serials won’t watch themselves!

The story is told first person by Murderbot and this adds to the appeal of this story as Wells successfully gets us to empathise with and root for a rogue AI who has dubbed itself MURDERBOT (not the most sympathetic of names, is it?) but who really just wants to be left alone. The action is fast-paced but not rushed; the world building is just right for such a short book and the ‘touchy-feely’ parts that Mb hates so much make you think. A good all-round balance and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Kevin R. Free, which was 3h 40m long, and while Free’s narration style sounds an awful lot like Wil Wheaton it definitely fits well with Murderbot’s sarcastic and misanthropic demeanour.

This was book 40 of my Goodreads Challenge 2020.

Posted in Literature

Read: Mexican Gothic

Mexican GothicMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes exquisite prose and weaves amazing stories and worlds, seemingly, effortlessly. When Noemí arrives at High Place to find her cousin Catalina taken ill, after receiving such an alarming letter from her some weeks before, she is immediately suspicious – as are we, the readers. What follows is an expert lesson in the Gothic full of intrigue and suspense in a remote 1950’s mould-ridden mansion in Mexico, inhabited by some very peculiar characters in the Doyle family. A family obsessed with England and holding on to some very racist and misogynist ideals in an overly strict household that ‘no one leaves’.

Without giving too much away, Mexican Gothic will have you guessing from the start as to what is really going on at High Place. Where Noemí’s nightmares may take you one way, her conversations with the various Doyles will take you another, and all the while we wonder what is really behind Catalina’s sickness? This is a great book from a brilliant writer and a must-read for any Gothic Horror fans.

For me, the Gothic genre is not quite my thing and I found the first half of the story a little slow, which is why I’ve given it 4 stars instead of 5. The final third of the book flew by and will certainly ensure you remember to watch what you eat in creepy strangers’ houses.

This was book #38 of my 2020 reading challenge.

Posted in Literature

Read: The Silent Patient

The Silent PatientThe Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Silent Patient is a mystery/thriller with a twist I did not guess. That’s a claim a lot of PR tends to make only for it to not be true. There are a lot of books out there that I have guessed the endings to and while I was expecting something a little different to the standard cookie-cutter thriller (my theory in the first half of the book was it would be some sort of Shutter Island switch-up) the ending was well disguised.

Alicia murdered her husband and never spoke again; Theo thinks he will be the one to “save her” and get her to talk again. They both had a tumultuous upbringing with asshole fathers, which Theo believes gives him an edge to figuring out why Alicia stopped speaking. All the while, telling us about his unfaithful actress wife, Kathy. Some of Theo’s white-knighting and general attitude towards women is frustrating and disappointing, although stick with the story as it feeds into the ending.

In between Theo’s narratives we have entries from Alicia’s journal that she began to keep in the weeks running up to the murder of her husband Gabriel. These offer us a glimpse into the character of Alicia who – present day – is silent. It’s a clever mechanism to build up a rapport and empathy with a character that would otherwise be inaccessible.

There are plenty of little twists and turns in the story along the way that will keep you guessing at what’s going to happen next. It’s a great read, well written, paced and with good character development on both Theo and Alicia’s part. As Michaelides begins to peel back the Big Reveal, and it starts to click into place, it’ll have you thinking “Hang on a second…!” before hitting you with the full secret. Expertly done.

Posted in Literature

Read: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a little different than my usual fantasy choices – I don’t tend to read fantasy based in our real world Earth – and I was not disappointed. The journey of Casiopea Tun is one I found myself readily investing in and just as at-first rude & lofty god Hun-Kamé softens and grows on Casiopea so does he too with the reader.

The quest they embark upon doesn’t have great odds and along the way they meet demons, ghosts, spirits, witches, warlocks and Lords of Death. Hun-Kamé seeks to restore his power and himself to the throne of Xibalba (a form of Underworld in Mayan history) but he needs Casiopea’s help to do so. She is stuck living with her awful racist family who treat her with cruelty and disdain – she wants to escape and the time she spends with Hun-Kamé becomes some of the most vibrant and exciting days of her life; even with all the threat, dread and sacrfice.

It is set in the 1920s so some of the prose and dialogue is suitably antiquated; if you’re not used to reading historical fiction it might take a little bit to get used to (like me) but it is worth it. This is a wonderful story that will teach you a few little snippets of Mexican and Mayan history along the way. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know anything special in advance as Moreno-Garcia not only guides us beautifully through the narrative but includes a handy Glossary at the end of the book too.

Gods of Jade and ShadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Posted in Literature

Read: salt slow+

salt slow

This little book by Julia Armfield has a lot to offer. Nine short stories all with a shade of the Gothic or the macabre about them as they explore different comings, goings and phases in women’s lives. All are well-written, clever and engaging. These are stories that can make you ache with feeling.

There are romantic relationships – queer and straight – that are fraught with difficulties, pain and loss. There are sisterly relationships; both affirming and fractious. There is a hint of the monstrous in each story, which seems to make each one evermore human.

The missing star between 4 and 5 is simply because some of the stories didn’t hit 5/5 for me, personally, and you should definitely read salt slow for yourself as they may resonate with you perfectly.

4/5

 

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars (sneak peek)

This was the first ~300 pages of upcoming novel by Christopher Paolini (of Eragon fame) – not a long enough review to warrant its own post but definitely a title to keep an eye out for later this year!

This ‘sneak peek’ was excellent and I’m excited for the full book’s release this September. It is a brilliant start to a story I really want to keep reading and I’m now a little dismayed I have to wait another 3 and a half months to see where Kira is taken next. This feels like the beginning to an epic tale and I cannot wait to jump back in.

5/5

Posted in Literature

Read: The Nothing Man

The Nothing Man offers something a bit different to the serial killer, cat-and-mouse thriller staple and two nights running I read up until midnight because I wanted to know what would happen. Initially, the book-in-a-book idea made me a little sceptical but I needn’t have been. We have two narrators; the first, of our book, is Jim Doyle, who we already know is the serial killer in question; the second, of the book he’s reading, is Eve Black, a woman who survived Jim’s most brutal attack as a child. Neither are 100% trustworthy, which adds some nice extra layers of mystery. Catherine Ryan Howard has done well to make Jim a really odious figure and – despite him being our primary narrator – we really want him to get caught.

Added bonus is this is not a thriller set in America, like so many are; it’s set in Ireland, in otherwise sleepy Co. Cork, and this gives the impact of the murders a little more punch because they truly stand out in the collective memories and because we know then that law enforcement was never prepared for such crimes.

Overall, this is a captivating read and well worth looking into for a bit of a different approach to storytelling in the thriller genre.

4/5

This was an Advanced Reader Copy, courtesy of NetGalley and the publishers, in exchange for honest review.