Mini Reviews

Hello!

Today I’m playing catch up with some of my smaller netgalley reviews from the last few months, so this is the first of four ‘mini reviews’ posts.

“Disclaimer – I received an e-arc via netgalley for these in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.”

The Lost Village – Camilla Sten

St Martin’s Press | Minotaur Books

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Mystery & Trillers

Book Summary:

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened.

But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice:

They are not alone.

They’re looking for the truth…
But what if it finds them first?

Review:

While I loved the idea for this one, and the setting, it ended up not being quite what I expected. This is a book that some people will love, especially those looking for an eerie story in a fantastic setting, but for me it just didn’t have enough to hook me in. I was unable to connect with the characters, and the eeriness fell short of it’s potential. However, I do think that this was a case of me personally not gelling with the book.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Waterstones

***** *****

Girl in the Walls – A.J. Gnuse

4th Estate | Fourth Estate

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

Book Summary:

She doesn’t exist. She can’t exist.

Elise knows every inch of the house. She knows which boards will creak. She knows where the gaps are in the walls. She knows which parts can take her in, hide her away. It’s home, after all. The home her parents made for her. And home is where you stay, no matter what.

Eddie is a teenager now, almost a grown-up. He must no longer believe in the girl he sometimes sees our of the corner of his eye. He needs her to disappear. But when his fierce older brother senses her, too, they are faced with the question of how to get rid of someone they aren’t sure even exists.

And, if they cast her out, what other threats might they invite into their home?

Review:

I absolutely loved the premise for this one, and I felt the author perfectly managed to transform that feeling of being watched or not alone when you know you’re the only one in the house into an atmosphere that permeated the entire book. The atmosphere truly carried this book, along with the emotions and the writing, but where it failed for me, was that the plot felt like it was too drawn out, and I found myself putting this one down and having to come back to it.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

Winter’s Orbit – Everina Maxwell

Little Brown Book Group UK | Orbit

Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

Review:

Winter’s Orbit was one of my most anticipated reads for 2021, there was something about the premise that hooked me in even though typically I am not drawn to romance heavy books. And I’m so thankful it did, because this book was spectacular and I by the end I was in love with the world and the characters.

It takes a little while for the plot to really kick in, but that is because Maxwell takes the time to introduce us to the main characters Kiem and Jainan and to explore them and their developing relationship, as too individuals brought together by an arranged marriage. And not just a simple arrangement, but one that is complicated at every level – from their personalities, to their past, to the wider implications to the world around them, and it does beautifully. We get to see them grow closer, working out just how they are supposed to work together, how they can work, and learning to love one another, and you can’t help but be drawn into their story, or to cheer them on from the very beginning and I loved that the book took it’s time with that. Not only because it deepened the characters and the relationship, but it made it all the more rewarding and believable watching as they reached each stage especially due to some of the issues they had to overcome (and did I enjoy the stages, and the tropes that were used – absolutely!!)

When the plot does really take off from around the middle point, Maxwell does an excellent job of creating a narrative with various threads, creating a fascinating world and situation with enough layers and intrigue to keep you hooked, without losing sight of the fact that at its core this is a story about those characters and their romance. It’s a delicate balancing act, that is done right and has created a memorable story, with characters that you can’t help but love.

A fantastic book that was fun to read, and I can’t wait to see what the author will do next.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

The Black Coast – Mike Brooks

Little Brown Book Group UK | Orbit

Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

The Black Coast is the start of a series filled with war-dragons, armoured knights, sea-faring raiders, dangerous magic and battle scenes.

When the citizens of Black Keep see ships on the horizon, terror takes them, for they know who is coming: for generations, Black Keep has been raided by the fearsome clanspeople of Iwernia. Saddling their war dragons, the Naridans rush to defend their home only to discover that the clanspeople have not come to pillage at all. Driven from their own homeland by the rise of a daemonic despot who prophesies the end of the world, they have come in search of a new home. Meanwhile the wider continent of Narida is lurching toward war. Black Keep is about to be caught in the cross-fire of the coming war for the world – if only its new mismatched society can survive.

Review:

The Black Coast was one of my most anticipated reads for 2021 and it didn’t disappoint. I loved this book, I loved that it took epic fantasy and challenged it to be something new, and there were so many details and nuances to the writing, to the world and the characters that you can’t help but believe in everything this book is trying to do. This isn’t a shy book, it knows exactly what it is and what it’s trying to do, and what it wants to confront, and it dives into so many issues and confronts them head on, and even better it does it in a way that is believable at all levels of society. It also features the unusual situation of two cultures trying to settle and find common ground, and I loved seeing that explored.

The worldbuilding was spot on – and there are dragons (need I say more?), I especially enjoyed how gender was used and represented in this world, the different capacities were fantastic, and it was great to see in this kind of fantasy setting and it worked beautifully. Against this backdrop the characters were vivid and real, although I will say I found myself enjoying some of the secondary characters more than the main POV characters, but that was just personal preference.

I will say that I did struggle a little with some of the language choices, and I had to reread more parts than usual to try and adapt to the different ways people would refer to themselves and their gender. However, it was well worth the extra work, because Brooks has used language to add another level to his world and cultures, and it is a fantastic, believable way to establish cultural differences although it could put some people off. However, outside of this, I found the writing to flow well, and the action was well-written and gripping and this was a book that I couldn’t get enough off.

Absolutely fantastic, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | The Broken Binding | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

The Second Bell – Gabriela Houston

Angry Robot

Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her…

In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child’s mother must then decide to leave with her infant, or stay and try to forget.

Nineteen year-old striga, Salka, and her mother, Miriat, made the choice to leave and live a life of deprivation and squalor in an isolated village. The striga tribe share the human belief that to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous, inviting unspoken horrors and bringing ruin onto them all.

Salka, a headstrong and independent young woman, finds herself in a life threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child…

Review:

The Second Bell is a lovely book that left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I absolutely loved the premise and that this was Slavic inspired, and I loved the folklore that was used and explored, and I feel that was used well to create a refreshing story in a time where there are quite a few folklore-inspired stories. I also adored how this book explores motherhood and the bond with the child and doesn’t lean into the far too typical trope of killing off the mother. However, while I enjoyed those aspects as well as Houston’s writing, particularly the descriptions, I didn’t find myself as gripped as I wanted to be by this book, the pacing threw me off in a few places and while I enjoyed the exploration of the relationships, I was not particularly engaged with any of the characters. A fascinating premise and world, but the execution wasn’t quite for me, however I can see why this book will be loved by many people, and I will certainly keep it in mind because of it’s approach to motherhood.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | The Broken Binding | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

The Shield of Daqan – David Guymer

Aconyte Books

Genres: General Fiction (Adult) | LGBTQIA | Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

Mighty warriors fight to save the realm from blood magic and evil, in this battle-soaked epic fantasy novel, from the hugely popular Descent games

The once-glorious Barony of Kell is a ruin of its former self, assailed by banditry and famine; its noble Baron Frederic is caught between saving his people and defending his borders. Yet worse is to come… for a new Darkness is rising. Sadistic warrior-priestess, Ne’Krul, spying an opportunity to wreak bloody vengeance on behalf of her demonic masters, leads her Uthuk warband into a brutal invasion. Kell’s only hope lies in holy warrior, Andira Runehand, and legendary hero, Trenloe the Strong, both drawn to Kell to defeat an alliance of evil unprecedented in Terrinoth. They must not fail.

Review:

This was a fun read, and although I hadn’t played the game or been familiar with the world previously, the book does an absolutely fantastic job of drawing you into the world. There was a lot packed into The Shield of Daqan, and it pulls you into the story through some fantastically written characters that really brought the story to life along with plenty of action, and I devoured this book in a couple of sessions and I’ve been left wanting more (and needing to play the game).

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

Brother Red – Adrian Selby

Little Brown Book Group UK | Orbit

Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

When the trade caravan Driwna Marghoster was hired to protect is attacked, she discovers a dead body hidden inside a barrel. Born of the powerful but elusive Oskoro people, the body is a rare and priceless find, the centre of a tragic tale and the key to a larger mystery…

For when Driwna investigates who the body was meant for, she will find a trail of deceit and corruption which could bring down a kingdom, and an evil more powerful than she can imagine.

Review:

This is the second Adrian Selby book I’ve read, the other being Winter Road and while they are set within the same world and ‘trilogy’ this is very much a standalone and can be read without the other books in the series, there are threads that come with a shared world and I will be reading Snakewood in the near future – which as I have since discovered is actually the chronological order for the stories so I’ve accidentally done it the right way. First off, I have to say how much I love the cover – it is simple and stunning and immediately catches your attention.

As with The Winter Road, it took me a little while to get into Brother Red, but once I did, I was completely hooked. This is exactly the kind of fantasy that I like, dark and gritty, and with characters that you can’t help but come to care for. Selby takes that to another level, and even with the characters like Driwna that you like from the beginning, it is only at the end that you realise just how deeply you’ve come to care for the characters which is why this book has so much impact.

The worldbuilding is well developed and fascinating, with the use of herbs and plants adding an interesting twist to the story, but in Brother Red, it was really the characters that were my favourite part and that ending! A fantastic book on its own, and another great instalment in this world and one I would highly recommend.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | The Broken Binding | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

On Fragile Waves – E. Lily Yu

Erewhon Books

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Literary Fiction | Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

Firuzeh and her brother Nour are children of fire, born in an Afghanistan fractured by war. When their parents, their Atay and Abay, decide to leave, they spin fairy tales of their destination, the mythical land and opportunities of Australia.

As the family journeys from Pakistan to Indonesia to Nauru, heading toward a hope of home, they must rely on fragile and temporary shelters, strangers both mercenary and kind, and friends who vanish as quickly as they’re found.

When they arrive in Australia, what seemed like a stable shore gives way to treacherous currents. Neighbors, classmates, and the government seek their own ends, indifferent to the family’s fate. For Firuzeh, her fantasy worlds provide some relief, but as her family and home splinter, she must surface from these imaginings and find a new way.

Review:

This was a stunningly beautiful book that told an important story, and didn’t shy away from the emotions behind it. In many ways the lyrical way that this book was written only heightened that, and this is a book that will wrap itself around you until you can’t help but feel everything, and it’s important that it is felt. However, on the other hand it is not the easiest prose style to get into, and as vital as it was to conveying this story, it was also the reason why I struggled to get into and continue with this book. Overall, I am glad that I continued though, because it is a fantastic story of family and home, and all the feelings that come with that.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

The Route of Ice and Salt -José Luis Zárate (translated by David Bowles)

Innsmouth Free Press

Genre: Horror | LGBTQIA | Literary Fiction

Book Summary:

A reimagining of Dracula’s voyage to England, filled with Gothic imagery and queer desire.

It’s an ordinary assignment, nothing more. The cargo? Fifty boxes filled with Transylvanian soil. The route? From Varna to Whitby. The Demeter has made many trips like this. The captain has handled dozens of crews.

He dreams familiar dreams: to taste the salt on the skin of his men, to run his hands across their chests. He longs for the warmth of a lover he cannot have, fantasizes about flesh and frenzied embraces. All this he’s done before, it’s routine, a constant, like the tides.

Yet there’s something different, something wrong. There are odd nightmares, unsettling omens and fear. For there is something in the air, something in the night, someone stalking the ship.

The cult vampire novella by Mexican author José Luis Zárate is available for the first time in English. Translated by David Bowles and with an accompanying essay by noted horror author Poppy Z. Brite, it reveals an unknown corner of Latin American literature.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand the writing was hauntingly beautiful and painful in turn, and I loved the gothic imagery, and the exploration of desires and how they can corrupt. On the other, it wasn’t a story that swept me away, and I found myself having to go away and come back after a short break several times, and this is not a long book. Still, it is a fantastic addition to vampire literature that I had been unaware of, and a I said I absolutely loved the writing.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

***** *****

The Mask of Mirrors – M.A. Carrick

Little Brown Book Group UK | Orbit

Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

Fortune favors the bold. Magic favors the liars.

Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadežra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister’s future.

But as she’s drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart.

The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook & Rose trilogy, a dazzling and darkly magical fantasy adventure by Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, writing together as M. A. Carrick.

Review:

I wanted so much to love The Mask of Mirrors and there were aspects of it that I did love. For one it is beautifully written, and there are so many little details that enrich the world and threads of the stories, and the characters are well-realized and interesting. However, the main issue I had with it was readability. The pacing was unusual in this one, and it stopped me ever truly being swept away, and as much as I loved the details in this book, there were just too many at points. It was impossible to keep track of everything, and I kept losing the thread of what was happening because I was having to try and work out who was on the page and what was going on.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Toppings & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

Daughter of the Salt King – A .S. Thornton

CamCat Publishing | CamCat Books

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Romance | Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

As a daughter of the Salt King, Emel ought to be among the most powerful women in the desert. Instead, she and her sisters have less freedom than even her father’s slaves … for the Salt King uses his own daughters to seduce visiting noblemen into becoming powerful allies by marriage.

Escape from her father’s court seems impossible, and Emel dreams of a life where she can choose her fate. When members of a secret rebellion attack, Emel stumbles upon an alluring escape route: her father’s best-kept secret—a wish-granting jinni, Saalim.

But in the land of the Salt King, wishes are never what they seem. Saalim’s magic is volatile. Emel could lose everything with a wish for her freedom as the rebellion intensifies around her. She soon finds herself playing a dangerous game that pits dreams against responsibility and love against the promise of freedom. As she finds herself drawn to the jinni for more than his magic, captivated by both him and the world he shows her outside her desert village, she has to decide if freedom is worth the loss of her family, her home and Saalim, the only man she’s ever loved.

Review:

Unfortunately, this was very much not the book for me. It had an interesting premise and there was potential in the worldbuilding, and there were some parts of the book that I did really enjoy. However, I felt as though the world ended up being somewhat superficial, and while I know that I am more into worldbuilding than perhaps is necessary, it felt as though we were given glimpses but never anything deeper or more solid. I also found that the pacing jumped around without necessarily adding anything to do the story, and I found the ending to leave just a few too many loose ends, although the very ending was good.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Waterstones

***** *****

3 thoughts on “Mini Reviews

      1. I still use star ratings when post on Amazon (because it’s required) or Goodreads, but when I post on the blog (See Sadie Read) I don’t. I really do find that people obsess over the number and pay too little attention to what the reviewer actually SAYS.

        Like

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