Black Dog – Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Daniel Egneus

31199023In a quiet English village, legend tells of a black dog that appears in the darkness. If you see him, you die. Shadow Moon has been on the road for a long time so, when he meets a nice couple at the pub in this village, he gratefully accepts their offer of a room to stay in. However, when the man collapses on the way home, Shadow realises that this village is harbouring a dark secret.

Black Dog follows Shadow Moon, the main character from American Gods, so although it does work as a standalone novella and doesn’t follow on directly, it would be helpful to read American Gods first for context.

The book is very short but you can really tell what a remarkable writer Neil Gaiman is because it’s incredibly atmospheric and tells a complete and engaging story with barely any scene-setting, character development, or build-up.

I read the version illustrated by Daniel Egneus and the illustrations really made the reading experience special. The pictures are dark and abstract and complement the story beautifully.

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Battlestar Suburbia – Chris McCrudden

41951951Battlestar Suburbia is a really difficult book to summarise in any way that makes sense, but I’ll give it a go… Humanity has been downgraded to a secondary life-form, living to serve the electrical appliances that are now in charge. When Darren’s charge-cart gets knocked off the Mars-to-Earth highway, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. That is, until he accidentally short-circuits a sentient lamppost and finds himself right at the head of a human uprising against the machines.

As you may be able to gather from the synopsis, this book is very weird. Almost too weird. It took a really long time for me to get into it, so much so that I came very close to giving up and DNF-ing it. However, I’m glad I didn’t. When I finally found myself settling in to the madness, I LOVED IT. The general plot was insane but well thought-out and the characters, well, they were the best part.

Freda (an old lady cyborg) and Pam (a bread maker refitted into the body of a flashy motorbike) were my favourites. They were sassy and quirky and I loved reading about them. But all the other characters were good as well, and there were plenty of butt-kicking females.

The comedy aspect of this book is very good. It reminded me a lot of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but with a very different plot. It’s a fun, crazy space adventure with lovable characters and laugh-out-loud moments.

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

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The Girl King – Mimi Yu

41832496Lu is destined to become Emperor when her father dies – to become the dynasty’s first female ruler – while Min, her sister, is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then, in a shocking betrayal, their father names their cousin, Set, as his heir instead. Lu is forced to go on the run to keep her life and fight for her birthright. During her escape, she meets Nokhai: a wolf shapeshifter and the last of his kind. Together, they set off to find an army to retake Lu’s throne. Meanwhile, Min is left behind with Set and his mysterious adviser, a monk named Brother, who is determined to awaken an ancient power hidden within her.

I enjoyed this book. It didn’t particularly stand out in any way, but it was a standard, enjoyable YA fantasy. It follows the same formula as many other YA novels, with your expected characters and tropes, but it was still good.

Lu and Nok’s story line was definitely the best part. Lu was a strong character, because she really developed. She started out feisty and stubborn (and kind of annoying), but as the story progressed she grew into someone more caring and determined. She wanted to get back what she felt she deserved, but she also wanted to make things better for other people as well. I also found Nok very likeable. His relationship with Lu was predictable and unremarkable but very sweet and I liked reading it.

Min, on the other hand, I didn’t like so much. She had so much potential to be a unique character and really make the book stand out from the rest, but instead she remained childish and pathetic even when she’d discovered her powers. She didn’t grow at all, all that happened to her was that she got some magic and had a tantrum. I didn’t particularly enjoy her story line, but it did provide a necessary break from Lu’s thread, which would have gotten kind of boring without the cuts to the palace to see how Min was getting on.

Another point of note is that this is supposed to be an Asian-inspired fantasy, which I’m sure will attract many readers. Unfortunately, other than the characters having Asian names and a few mentions of Asian-style clothing, there isn’t anything about the culture integrated into the plot. If you changed the names of the characters, the story would read exactly the same as any Western-based YA fantasy, which was kinda disappointing.

My overall view is that The Girl King isn’t a special or unique book, but it is enjoyable and I will certainly be reading the next book when it comes out.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

Aphra’s Child – Lesley Glaister

41197734.jpgTula is a chimera: half human, half animal. She has lived her whole life hidden away in the forest with her mother, Aphra – the only other person she has ever met. That is, until marauders come and take Aphra away, leaving Tula scared and alone. In an attempt to find help, Tula sets off for the city; a place where she must hide her animal side and adapt to city life to avoid anyone finding out that she is an illegal chimera. Sucked into a world of harsh politics and lies, she must do all she can to not be discovered.

The story was a little slow to get started, which made it difficult to get into. It got more interesting towards the middle and did stick in my head after I’d finished, but I didn’t manage to get fully engaged in the story throughout the whole thing.

I liked the general idea behind the story. Depending on how you choose to read it, it is either a solid fantasy adventure about a chimera trying to find her place in a world that doesn’t seem to want her, or a social commentary on race reflecting our own society. I tend towards the former, because I read to escape, but it is worth noting that this is a book with potentially meaningful layers.

Lesley Glaister is an extremely talented author. She has a knack for writing about real-life issues within a diverting and engaging story. However, this is the first fantasy of hers that I’ve read and I didn’t rate it as highly as some of her other books. I’m a massive fan of fantasy, but I actually prefer Glaister’s less fantastical novels.

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

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The Twisted Tree – Rachel Burge

41581245Martha can read things about a person and their emotions just by touching their clothes. It’s an ability she’s had since she fell from the tree outside her grandmother’s cabin and became blind in one eye. Determined to find answers about her strange ability, Martha travels alone to visit her grandmother, Mormor, in Norway. However, when she arrives, she discovers that Mormor is dead, there is a strange boy squatting in her cabin and a deadly creature on the loose.

The Twisted Tree is a relatively short book – about 250 pages – and surprisingly slow for such a short story. The plot is very simple and takes a long time to get going. When it did, it was pretty eventful, but kind of dull for the first 100 pages at least.

I struggled with Martha. Her damaged eye is a big chip on her should (fair enough) but her bitterness and the way she kept bringing it up stopped her from being particularly likeable. Also, considering that she was facing death-by-demon-creature and being visited by ghosts, she managed to spend a shocking amount of time stressing over whether Stig fancied her or not. Get your priorities straight, girl.

I’m a big lover of mythology in general, so the Norse mythological aspects were very enjoyable. It was cool to read a story based on a part of the mythology that didn’t revolve around the gods.

Overall, I didn’t think The Twisted Tree was fantastic, but it’s short and entertaining enough to be worth the read.

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

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The Quanderhorn Xperimentations – Rob Grant & Andrew Marshall

39801235The Quanderhorn Xperimentations is completely bonkers and difficult to describe without sounding crazy, so I think the best course of action is to take the synopsis from Goodreads:

England, 1952.
Churchill is Prime Minister for the last time. Rationing is still in force. All music sounds like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. People like living in 1952: it’s familiar and reassuring, and Britain knows its place in the world.
Few have noticed it’s been 1952 for the past 65 years.
Meet Professor Quanderhorn; a brilliant, maverick scientific genius who has absolutely no moral compass. With his Dangerous Giant Space Laser, High Rise Farm, Invisible Robot and Fleet of Monkey-driven Lorries, he’s not afraid to push the boundaries of science to their very limit.
Even when it’s clearly insane to keep pushing.
Despite the fact he’s saved the world from several Martian invasions, the attacks of the Mole People, the Troglodyte Shape-shifters and the Beatniks from Under the Sea, plus countless other sinister phenomena which threatened to rend the very fabric of reality, the Government would like to close him down. Why? Because they’re terrified of him. Of his reality-warping experiments, of the mysterious button on his desk which he’s constantly threatening to press. Of the unearthly secret locked in his cellar. And yet they’re even more terrified it might stop being 1952 and they’ll be out of power.

My favourite thing about this book is how completely bizarre and totally fantastic it is. Within the first few pages, Professor Quanderhorn’s team are attempting to stop a giant broccoli creature from destroying Big Ben, and it only gets madder from there. It is creative, unique science-fiction at it’s very best.

The plot is a little confusing and messy – the team jump from mission to mission without any kind of break in between, but it’s never boring or predictable. However, what really makes this book excellent are the characters: Brian Nylon, an unlikely hero with severe memory loss; the logical, semi-clockwork Dr Gemma Janussen; insect-brained Troy; and the Martian, Guuuurk. They’re the most incompetent, hilarious and lovable characters you’ve ever met.

I would recommend this book 100% to fans of Red Dwarf and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… and anyone who loves a Martian death ray.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

Top Ten Books of 2018

So that’s the end of 2018! It’s been a great year for books: I read 75 this year which I have whittled down into my top ten, plus a few special mentions. Links to my full reviews can be found by clicking the book titles.


The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

34068470An instant classic. This should be the new go-to book for Greek mythology.

In this fresh, authoritative version—the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman—this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.


The Fifth to Die by J. D. Barker

35683027One of the best detective/crime novels I’ve ever read.

In the midst of one of the worst winters Chicago has seen in years, the body of missing teenager Ella Reynolds is discovered under the surface of a frozen lake. She’s been missing for three weeks…the lake froze over three months ago. 

Detective Sam Porter and his team are brought in to investigate but it’s not long before another girl goes missing. The press believes the serial killer, Anson Bishop, has struck again but Porter knows differently. The deaths are too different, there’s a new killer on the loose. 

Porter, however, is distracted. He’s still haunted by Bishop and his victims, even after the FBI have removed him from the case. His only leads: a picture of a female prisoner and a note from Bishop: “Help me find my mother. I think it’s time she and I talked.”

As more girls go missing and Porter’s team race to stop the body count rising, Porter disappears to track down Bishop’s mother and discover that the only place scarier than the mind of a serial killer is the mind of the mother from which he came.


Blackwing & Ravencry by Ed McDonald

36402955Books #1 and #2 in the best epic fantasy series I’ve read for a long time. Action-packed and emotional.

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

36666672.jpgFour years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic.

A new power is rising: a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady manifests in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power even as the city burns around them.

When Crowfoot’s arcane vault is breached, an object of terrible power is stolen, and Galharrow and his Blackwings must once find out which of Valengrad’s enemies is responsible before they have a chance to use it.

To save Valengrad, Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota must venture to a darker, more twisted and more dangerous place than any they’ve walked before: the very heart of the Misery.


Home by Amanda Berriman

38457392I have never been more emotionally invested in a story.

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.


The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

39866035A fantastic re-telling of The Illiad, based on the experience of women in the Greek camp outside Troy.

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. 

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.


The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius

30153285A truly delightful book with beautiful illustrations.

Sally Jones is an extraordinary gorilla and a brilliant ship’s engineer who sails the high seas on The Hudson Queen with her loyal friend the Chief. One day the shipmates are offered a mysterious job that promises to pay big bucks, but then disaster strikes, the job goes wrong and the Chief is falsely convicted of murder.

For Sally Jones this is the start of a grand adventure and a desperate quest to clear her friend’s name. By freighter, steam train and bi-plane the intrepid ape journeys from Lisbon to Bombay and beyond in search of the truth. But powerful forces are working against her, and they will do anything to protect their own secrets…


The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

34731459Met my very high expectations after The Bird and the Nightingale.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.


The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

40803091A fantastic science-fiction novel, combining time travel with mystery, mental illness and characters filled with personality.

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.

Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?


A Keeper by Graham Norton

39287253A deeply absorbing story.

The mystery of Elizabeth Keane’s father is one that has never been solved by the people of Buncarragh – not for lack of speculation.

Her mother Patricia had been assumed a spinster, until she began dating a mysterious man from out of town, and within months had left Buncarragh and had married. Less than two years later, Patricia was back, with a new baby in her arms, but no new husband by her side and unbendingly silent about her recent past. A secret she would take with her to her grave.

Now, as Elizabeth returns to the village after her mother’s funeral, bringing with her her own regrets and wounds, she finds a thin pile of ribbon-bound letters at the back of a wardrobe that may at last hold the key to her past.


The Narrows by Travis M. Riddle

42348486A very original horror story with themes of friendship and loss.

Oliver and his friends have returned to their hometown of Shumard, Texas for the funeral of their close friend Noah. They each grapple with the loss in their own ways, trying to understand the strange circumstances of their friend’s unexpected death.

While visiting the site where the body was found, Oliver stumbles across a chilling discovery that he knows must be related to what happened to Noah. Wanting to protect his friends from these newfound horrors, Oliver takes it upon himself to venture into the grotesque otherworld known as the Narrows to learn what happened to his friend and find a way to bring him back.

Entering the Narrows is one thing, but will whatever he finds there allow him to leave?


Finally, the books that very nearly made my top ten deserve a special mention:

No Good Brother by Tyler Keevil; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders; Hunted by G. X. Todd; Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi; Everless by Sara Holland.

The Fifth to Die – J. D. Barker

35683027Murder.

It’s a family affair.

In the second book of the 4MK series, teenage girls are going missing and turning up frozen. Detective Sam Porter and his team are brought in to investigate, and it’s not long before the murder’s are linked to none other than the notorious 4 Monkey Killer. Porter isn’t convinced, but he’s distracted. After getting so close to Anson Bishop (4MK himself) only to have him escape, Porter has never been more determined to find this cold-hearted killer. As more girls go missing and his team do their best to stop the body count rising, Porter tracks down Bishop’s mother and discovers that there is nothing scarier than the mind of a serial killer’s mother.

This book is, frankly, one of the best detective/crime novels I’ve ever read. I enjoyed it even more than book #1, The Fourth Monkey, and absolutely cannot wait for the next one to come out.

The team are fantastic and they really make this book great. Porter is a strong, complex lead, and a very convincing detective, while Clair, Nash and Kloz round out group brilliantly with their own personalities and light humour. I also really enjoyed Agent Poole with the FBI and the chapters written from the point-of-view of the girls who had been kidnapped. The story follows multiple simultaneous threads, told from the aspects of various different characters, which has the potential to be very difficult to follow. Surprisingly, the story flows exceptionally well and is an easy read (in terms of flow, not content).

The plot itself is fast-paced, well-developed and full of suspense. Every chapter is filled with drama and enough realism that it is completely believable (at least, believable for someone with no knowledge of what really happens when the police try to catch a serial killer).

There isn’t a single negative thing I can say about this book. Some of the kidnapping and torture scenes could be difficult for some readers, but for me they were an integral part of the plot and added an extra necessary darkness.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

A Keeper – Graham Norton

39287253Elizabeth Keane has never known her father, or even known who he is. Following the death of her mother, Patricia, Elizabeth heads back to her childhood home to sort through Patricia’s things and finds a pile of letters hidden away that just might hold the key to her past.

I went into this book expecting something similar to Graham Norton’s last novel, Holding. The blurb doesn’t give much away, so I didn’t really know what this book was going to be about. It started out a bit dully – I couldn’t see what direction it was going to take – and then, BAM. It unexpectedly turned into some kind of kidnapping mystery story.

The shock factor truly made this book for me, so I’ll keep things vague. Really, the plot is that of a thriller, but the writing style is quite is closer to what you’d find in a family drama or even a romance novel. This had the effect of taking away a lot of the usual tropes of the thriller genre and added an extra layer of sinisterness through how casually the kidnapping is presented.

The characters were fantastic. They were believable and well-developed, with completely realistic lives outside of the general story-line as well as within it. I really enjoyed the Irish colloquialisms in the speech to help set the scene and give the characters more personality.

A Keeper is a deeply emotive and absorbing story. A truly excellent piece of fiction.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

39866035When the Greeks sack her home, Briseis is taken as a captive to the Greek camp outside of Troy and chosen to become Achilles’ concubine – a prize of battle. She must quickly adjust from her life as a queen to that of a slave, serving the enemy. As the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans wages on, Briseis finds herself caught between two of the most powerful Greeks, and in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation.

The Silence of the Girls is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad,  told from the point of view of a woman, held captive in the Greek camp. It essentially tells the stories of the women and girls who were unwilling participants and collateral damage in the Trojan War. It’s a really interesting point of view to read from and Briseis was a fantastic narrator, but the main character of the book was really Achilles rather than Briseis, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

The story itself was not actually the most exciting. Despite there being a war (with a good amount of gory, bloody detail), the plot was not particularly action-packed or eventful. However, it was excellently written and I was completely addicted. The characters were very strong, likeable and well-developed – even Agamemnon, who plays the ‘villain’ role. The author does an outstanding job of balancing the ‘good vs. bad’ aspect of the plot, with Briseis being surrounded by her enemies and still managing to forge friendships with them, whilst remaining loyal to her people. Although the Greeks are clearly presented as the enemy, they are not made out to be negative characters and they have likeable and individual personalities.

Some of the content is pretty horrific: the women are captured, raped and brutalised. It is not pleasant to read, but these aspects are not overly visual and are, unfortunately, an unavoidable feature of Ancient Greek fiction. To take this content out of the story would be a misrepresentation of the time.

I love Greek mythology in general, and The Silence of the Girls exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

Goodreads | Amazon