Steel Crow Saga – Paul Krueger

Prince Jimuro is trying to get home safely, to claim the throne to his kingdom following the death of his mother, the previous Steel Lord. Sergeant Tala is trying to escort him there, but they face opposition on all sides, including Princess Xiulan who would rather present Jimuro to her father as a prisoner, and her partner, a criminal named Lee. But Xiulan and Lee aren’t the only ones trying to get to the prince before he can secure his throne, also on their tail is an abomination – a splintersoul with hundreds of shades at his command, and no problem with murdering anyone who gets in the way.

My main takeaway from the book is that, despite the length (500+ pages), the plot is not very detailed at all. Essentially, Jimuro is trying to get home, and various different people are trying to stop him. The reason for the length of the book is that we’re following so many different characters at once, so the plot progresses very slowly. Having said that, it is by no means boring. There is a ton of action and drama, and plenty of comedy to go with it, provided mainly by the witty, sarcastic leading women.

It was brilliant to see so many strong female characters crammed into one book, but I did feel that they were all quite similar. I would have loved to see some more range between the women, but they did all have detailed and original origin stories, at least.

Overall, Steel Crow Saga is certainly not the best fantasy adventure novel I’ve read, but not the worst either.

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

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Triflers Need Not Apply – Camilla Bruce

Based on the true story of Belle Gunness, a serial killer in Chicago in the 1900s, this is the fascinating story of how an abused young girl became a deeply troubled woman. Starting with her disappointing husband, Bella begins an addictive killing spree for the history books.

Triflers Need Not Apply is a true crime novel that gives notorious murderess Belle Gunness a cause and a personality. Most areas of her story have been fictionalised and enhanced, but the heart of the story remains based on fact. The case of Belle Gunness is truly fascinating, not least because she was never caught. It’s widely accepted that she killed as many as 40 men, and got away with it. The story is gruesome and could be triggering – containing violence, abuse and child-murder – but is well worth the read. It is marvelously written and absolutely riveting.

One of the best aspects of this story was the inclusion of Nellie, Bella’s sister. Nellie’s involvement is entirely fictional, but it was an eye-opening exploration into the possible responses of a family member of a serial killer. How would you react if someone you’ve loved and cared for since childhood turned out to be a dangerous criminal?

I would highly recommend this book to true-crime fans, and anyone interested in murder/revenge stories as long as you have a strong stomach!

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

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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

One State is a perfect society. No freedom means perfect happiness, and Chief Engineer D-503 is a perfect citizen. That is, until he meets I-330, a beautiful and dangerous woman who opens his eyes to new possibilities.

The most amazing thing about We is that it is a Russian novel written in the 1920s, and yet it could have been written today. It explores the same ideas of utopian futures and challenges totalitarianism in exactly the same way that sci-fi novels still do now. We was clearly a strong influence for later works like Brave New World and 1984, but doesn’t seem to get as much attention – and it should.

The utopian society is very well developed, and you can actually imagine how a society like the Once State could come into existence, while D-503’s descent into rebellion is also entirely believable. I loved the way this story is told – via log entries rather than a traditional narrative – and D-503 has a fantastic narrative voice. Sadly, the unfinished sentences and chaotic storytelling did limit my understanding of what was actually going on.

Luckily I was able to understand my favourite part: The ending. Not because I was desperate for the book to be finished, but because the ending was genuinely shocking.

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

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Cytonic – Brandon Sanderson

Having infiltrated the Superiority and saved her home planet of Detritus from imminent destruction, Spensa now finds herself stranded in the Nowhere – a place from which few ever return, and the home of the Delvers.

This book is definitely my favourite of the series so far. Spensa has undergone a lot of character development since Skyward, though she still faces challenges caused by the flaws in her personality. We’re also introduced to the adventurer Chet and yet another new flight for Spensa to bond with (who I liked, but come on, give me some Skyward flight again!).

The best thing about Cytonic is the return to a proper fantasy-adventure plot. The Nowhere is an excellent setting, and we finally get some definitive answers about the delvers and cytonics. This really is turning out to be a rather epic sci-fi series, and I honestly couldn’t even guess at what’s going to happen next.

Also, there are space pirates.

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

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Never Saw Me Coming – Vera Kurain

Chloe Sevre is a freshman student, enrolled in a clinical study program for psychopaths. Conveniently for her, the study means she is able to attend the same college as Will Bachman, a boy from her childhood whom she has been planning to kill. However, when one of the other students in the study is found dead, Chloe herself might be in danger. Teaming up with a couple of other fellow psychopaths, Chloe must identify the killer… and maybe pin Will’s murder on them instead.

Never Saw Me Coming has such a good concept, and was fairly well executed. The story is totally character driven, and despite not being entirely likeable, the characters are very good. Chloe and Charles are both manipulative, disloyal and impulsive, but still manage to come across as relatable. Even Chloe’s plan for murder is kind of understandable once you learn the background. Andre, on the other hand, seems actually pretty nice, but has gone too far in his act as a psychopath to be able to stop.

Despite all the murder, the story is pretty entertaining. Because the characters are psychopaths, the element of fear is removed and this was very interesting. The focus was much more on uncovering who the killer was, rather than being afraid that they were going to come after one of the protagonists.

The only place where this book fell down was in the style. It felt very Young-Adult where I’m not sure it was supposed to, but overall was quite a unique and entertaining read.

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

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The Man Who Died Twice – Richard Osman

Following straight on from The Thursday Murder Club, Elizabeth receives an intriguing letter from a man who should be dead. So begins a new investigation for Elizabeth and the gang, involving stolen diamonds, the mafia, MI5 and a rising body count.

I looooooooved this book. A lot. And way more than I liked Book #1. The characters are, once again, fabulous (especially Joyce), and the plot is genuinely very good for a humorous murder-mystery.

The thing that I wasn’t so keen on in The Thursday Murder Club was that Richard Osman’s writing style felt a bit too formulaic – like he’d studied how to write a book and then written one. The Man Who Died Twice didn’t feel like that. The writing is funny and smooth, with the perfect informal tone for the story.

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

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Matrix – Lauren Groff

Too wild and ugly for marriage, 17-year-old Marie is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey. Marie is determined to improve the lives of her sister at the abbey and create an impenetrable safe-haven for the women under her care. Bolstered by her devotion to her sisters and by her divine visions, she sets forth on a path previously un-trodden by women, but her actions will receive opposition from many sides.

Matrix is quite an outstanding novel. It doesn’t particularly have much of a plot – the story simply follows Marie’s life at the abbey – but it is gripping and compelling nonetheless.

It is beautifully written, with an outstanding level of detail of 12th-centuary life in an abbey and formidable characters. Marie herself is wonderfully well-developed. She isn’t an entirely likeable character, consumed as she is by her own power, but you still find yourself rooting for her and sympathising with the position she is in, even if you don’t agree with the direction her ‘visions’ take her in.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and the attention paid to different characters, but it needed a bit more plot-action to be a five-star read for me.

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

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First Impressions: Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Cytonic is the third book in Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward series. I’m only a few chapters in and loving it so far – the book starts up right where Starsight finishes, and Spensa is thrust straight back into the action.

This is an excellent series. It really has everything you could want from a sci-fi adventure, including space travel, starship battles, alien life-forms and a spunky heroine. I’m really excited to carry on reading Cytonic.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Reckoners series, the Mistborn trilogy, and the Stormlight Archive comes the third book in an epic series about a girl who will travel beyond the stars to save the world she loves from destruction.

Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home.

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return.

To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.

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The Woman in the Woods – Lisa Hall

When Allie and her husband Rav move into their new home in the village of Pluckley, life seems perfect. But not long after the birth of their second child, Allie begins to notice strange things about their house. A scratching sound in the chimney, someone watching her from the woods behind the house, poisonous plants in the garden… As Allie gets pulled deeper into the history of the house, she learns disturbing things about what happened there in the past, as well as about who she can trust in the present.

I really loved the supernatural and witchcraft angle of this story, and then the excellent (if slightly predictable) twist. However, I found the portrayal of Allie’s husband, Rav, rather unrealistic and incongruous to the actual outcome of the story. On the one hand, Rav is a caring and loving husband who is worried about his wife, but on the other hand he is absent 90% of the time and gets angry with her any time she does something out of character, where a genuinely loving husband might probably be more concerned about his wife’s wellbeing. This made sense for the plot, but it was difficult to match the two up when the book ended, which I do feel is a reflection of the writing more than anything else.

I also found the pacing a bit slow. Allie seemed to spend the majority of the book stressing and feeding her baby. The actual plot developments could probably have fitted into just a couple of chapters, while the rest is fairly repetitive background noise. Overall, I thought it was good, but it could have been a lot better.

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

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Ghosts – G X Todd

Ghosts is the phenomenal conclusion to The Voices series. Lacey is determined to find Addison; Pilgrim is determined not to lose Lacey again. Their journey finally brings them to Albus’ inn, but are they too late to stop the Flitting Man?

This series is one of the best dystopian series I’ve ever read. I was so sad to finish this book because I just didn’t want it to end. It’s based on a really dark and well-thought through concept, which I really loved and made a refreshing change from an apocalypse based around zombies or robots.

I was glad to see more of Lacey again in this book. I thought she was a great character from the start, but she has undergone so much growth by this point that she’s almost unrecognisable. I also, as ever, adored Pilgrim and Addison.

To be honest, I wasn’t totally ecstatic about the ending (no spoilers). That being said, coming up with a conclusion to a series like this one is impossible to do perfectly, so I’m not really complaining. If you like apocalyptic fantasy, this series is a must-read.

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

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