The Familiars – Stacey Halls

41569416.jpgBased around the real 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, this compelling novel explores the rights of 17th century women and the true fate of those accused of witchcraft. Fleetwood Shuttleworth, noblewoman of Gawthorpe Hall, is pregnant for the fourth time. She has never carried a baby to term. Desperate to deliver an heir for her husband, Richard, Fleetwood enlists the help of a local midwife named Alice Grey. But Alice is soon drawn into the accusations of witchcraft that are sweeping the area, and Fleetwood must risk everything to clear her name.

I love books about witches, especially ones based on real-life events, and The Familiars really hit the mark. I know next to nothing about the Pendle Witch Trials (although I do now want to learn more), but I do know that Fleetwood, Alice and all the other characters in this book are based on real people affected by these trials. The author has used the real names of the women accused and tried for witchcraft, and built a fictional story out of the mystery of what really happened, which is truly fascinating.

The story is wonderfully well-written. The author builds a mysterious, slightly haunting atmosphere without any inclusion of actual magic. The plot is quite simple and develops slowly, but this only adds to the atmosphere and realism.

Fleetwood was a slightly annoying character (though I adore her name), but she fitted well into the story and was bearable enough to read about. Her complete powerlessness against the men around her was frustrating but, considering that the story is based on truth, realistic and frightening. I kind of hated her husband but, for the time, his actions were to be expected.

Also, how beautiful is that cover?

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

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The Last – Hanna Jameson

41132572Jon Keller was on a trip to Switzerland when the world ended. Without phone service or an internet connection, he doesn’t know whether his wife and kids survived. He and the other people remaining in his hotel wait for help that never comes. Then, one day, the body of a little girl is found. It’s clear she’s been murdered, so Jon decides to investigate. Is one of his fellow survivors a killer?

I really loved the idea of this book: A murder mystery set during the end of the world. And it turned out to be even better than I expected. The murder mystery aspect gets quite a lot of attention towards the beginning of the book, but then it does sort of drop away and become about the character’s survival in the months after the world has ended. Which is totally fine by me, because it turns out I love apocalyptic fiction.

Jon isn’t always the most likeable character, but he feels very real. The story is told from his point of view, as a kind diary of events because he’s a historian and he feels someone should write down a record of the end of the world. The first-person narrative was really effective in this context. There’s also quite a good range of other characters to fill out the story – all of whom can be believed to be surviving an apocalypse.

The Last is a really solid, well-written piece of fiction. I enjoyed every page.

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

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Crescendo – Becca Fitzpatrick

8900616.jpgIn the sequel to Hush, Hush, things are not going well between Nora and Patch, who is now her guardian angel. A few too many fights and secrets lead to them breaking up, and Nora becomes determined to find out the truth behind her father’s disappearance. Relying on the knowledge that she has a guardian angel, Nora puts herself in increasingly dangerous situations, but can she really count on Patch?

Honestly, this book is basically nonsense. I admit it’s been a while since I read Hush, Hush, but I didn’t expect to have absolutely no clue what was going on from the very first page. We’re sort of launched into the story, with Nora and Patch fighting and breaking up without any build-up, and then the rest of the story unfolding without ever recovering from its abrupt beginning.

Nora is the absolute worst. She’s needy and annoying and makes decisions that don’t fit with her character. She is a confusing and frustrating character, and not a good role model for young girls (even worse than Bella from Twilight). Patch and the other characters that fill out the book aren’t much better.

Yet, somehow, paranormal teen books are so completely ADDICTIVE. As soon as I finished the book, I wanted to buy the next one. I keep having to remind myself that I actually didn’t enjoy this one at all, but I’ll probably still pick up book #3 at some point.

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The Flower Girls – Alice Clark-Platts

42954215Laurel and Primrose were children when Laurel (10) was convicted of the murder of 2-year-old Kirstie Swann, Primrose (6) was given a new identity, and the Flower Girls were born. Nineteen years later, another child has gone missing from the same hotel that Hazel (aka, Primrose) is staying at. Her true identity discovered, Hazel in drawn into an investigation that will turn her life upside down and bring her back into contact with her murderous sister…

I enjoyed the majority of this book immensely. It was intriguing, well-written and very engaging. The story is unsettling and believable… Until the ‘twist’. It was predictable and didn’t really fit with how the characters are presented throughout the rest of the book. It was obvious from the very beginning what the big twist was going to be but, when it finally happened, I found that I didn’t really believe it. It’s as though the author decided what she wanted the plot to be and never properly worked out the kinks to make the climax really fit with the body of the story.

The characters were pretty good. The sisters in particular were quite complex and realistic characters, with both good and obviously bad (they murdered a baby, after all) aspects to their personalities. It was interesting to see in the characterisation how their different treatment after the event effected their lives in such profound ways.

Negative points aside, around 90% of this book was excellent and I was completely hooked. It’s just a shame that the ending was so disappointing.

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

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Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

36678391.jpgOn the night of the winter solstice in a pub on the Thames, the regulars are telling stories as they do most nights, when a stranger bursts through the door carrying the dead body of a little girl. A few hours later, the girl wakes up. Nobody knows who she is and, when multiple families come forward to claim the child as their own, nobody knows who to believe.

Once Upon a River is a magical fairy tale, but it has a very long-winded plot. There’s a lot of build up to “something’s about to happen”, ending in comparatively little actual climax. The book isn’t actually especially long, but it took me ages to read and I would have found it impossible to read in one sitting. It just didn’t flow particularly well and was quite hard work to get through.

There are loads of different characters, to the extent that we don’t really get to know most of them properly. The only ones I got to know well enough to particularly like were Rita and Daunt, because they appear in multiple threads of the story. Most of the other characters were very forgettable (in fact, as I sit here writing this, I can’t remember the names of any others).

I liked the way the story was told, from the point-of-view of a narrator who was not part of the plot but felt like an integral participant in the book. It is written in a way that feels as though the narrator is telling you the story, but without ever explicitly inserting themselves in the narrative. This has the effect of drawing the reader in and, had the story been more engaging, would have been a wonderful style.

Once Upon a River had a lot of potential to be a great book but, unfortunately, didn’t quite live up to it.

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

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Empress of all Seasons – Emiko Jean

41435393.jpgIn this Japanese inspired fantasy, a competition is held every generation to find the next empress of Honoku. The winner will be the woman who survives all four seasonal rooms: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Al are eligible to compete, except Yokai – supernatural beings whom the emperor is determined to destroy. Mari is a Yokai with the ability to transform into a monster, and she has spent a lifetime training to become empress. As the competition progresses, Mari finds herself torn between duty and love.

Empress of All Seasons is a very strong YA fantasy. I absolutely loved that this is a standalone novel, not part of a series. Every YA fantasy I read seems to be part of a series these days and it was wonderful to be able to read a full, complete story in just one book for a change. It has potential to grow more stories in the same world with some of the same characters, but this particular story, at least, is finished.

I liked the concept of the seasonal rooms and the competition. It’s quite Hunger Games-esk, but the contestants only have to survive, rather than kill each other. I actually would have liked more of the book to have been focused on the competition instead of the wider rebellion.

My other favourite aspect of this book was that the Japanese features were so fully integrated into the story. I recently read another Asian-inspired fantasy – The Girl King – and was sorely disappointed by how western it actually was. In this book, the world is filled with words, creatures and scenery that are clearly inspired by Japanese culture. It was fantastic.

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

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My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

38819868.jpgKorede’s sister, Ayoola, is beautiful, charming, and has murdered her last three boyfriends. Korede is the only person who knows and has helped to clean up the blood and get rid of the bodies, but she’s had enough. When Ayoola starts dating a handsome doctor from the hospital where Korede works, she is finally forced to look at what her sister has become and do whatever she can to stop the list of dead boyfriends from growing.

This book is genius. It is filled with dark humour and is surprisingly plausible. The characters are distinctly flawed but also believable and I found myself sympathising with both sisters. Although the story focusses on the present and Ayoola’s relationship with Tade, enough information is given about their childhood to really allow the reader to understand their personalities.

There is some really excellent integration of African culture. I love it when accent and colloquialisms are used in a book, and they work very well in this one. To be honest, I didn’t actually understand a lot of them (my African language knowledge is limited at best) but this didn’t hinder my enjoyment at all.

I was a bit disappointed by the ending (which I won’t give away), but it did work with the story so I can’t complain too much. Overall, a brilliant debut and I would definitely read more from this author.

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

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The Sentence is Death – Anthony Horowitz

39913740.jpgSuccessful celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Price is found dead in his home, smashed around the head with an expensive bottle of wine. The Sentence is Death sees the return of Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his writer assistant, Anthony Horowitz. As the investigation unfolds and Anthony’s other projects are put in jeopardy, he finds himself questioning his decision to write another book about Hawthorne. However, the desire to be the one to solve the murder is simply too strong to resist.

This book is another great crime novel from Anthony Horowitz and an excellent follow-up to The Word is Murder. The main characters are already firmly established (I wouldn’t recommend reading this without having read book #1 first), and the partnership of this crime-solving duo really works. Hawthorne is as rude and grumpy as ever, while Anthony is timid but determined to make a contribution in solving the murder.

Considering that these characters and their relationship have already been introduced, there is surprisingly little character development: we learn very little more about Hawthorne. He’s still a strong character, as is Anthony himself, but we are given only a very small amount of new information about either of them. I still find it fascinating that Horowitz has turned himself into the main character of his book, as well as being the narrator. With all the little real-life details in the book, the story feels 100% real and genuine. I think it’s fiction, but it’s honestly difficult to say. The way the book is written, it could easily be based on truth.

The plot is detailed and unexpected. It’s a fun read and very well executed.

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

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Skyward – Brandon Sanderson

37635562Spensa’s world has been under attack by an alien race called the Krell for hundreds of years. Humanity are forced to take to the skies in defence of their lives, sacrificing pilots and cadets in the name of survival. Spensa has always dreamed of being a pilot, but since her father turned coward and deserted his team years ago, she hasn’t been able to escape from under his shadow. Finally, the opportunity arises for her to go to flight school, where she learns much more than just how to fly…

I haven’t read very many fantasies set in space – I usually prefer dragons and elves and other land-based fantasies – but I did really enjoy this one. Most of the plot unfolds in the air, while Spensa is flying or learning to fly, so in a way it was very similar to Star Wars, but with more of a YA feel.

The character growth in this book is very good. I really didn’t take to Spensa to begin with. She was annoying, whiny and aggressive, while her quirky violent outbursts felt very fake when put together with how insecure she was. However, as the plot developed, she changed. She became more confident and more thoughtful and considerate of others, and considerably more likeable.

Characters that I did absolutely love were Doomslug and M-bot. I also really liked Spensa’s flight mates. They were a witty and diverse group and *slight spoiler alert* the many deaths in this book are very sad.

This was my first Sanderson, and I would definitely read more.

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

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Slender Man – Anonymous

30653976Lauren Bailey has gone missing. Desperate to find her, Matt Barker logs into her iCloud and finds a hidden file containing photos of a mysterious figure in the shadows. And then the nightmares start…

The style of this book made it a very quick and engaging read, because the story is told through a variety of narrative devices, including journal entries, text messages, audio transcripts and newspaper reports – not your usual, straightforward narration. The unorthodox style was refreshing and made the book very easy to read.

My other favourite aspect of this book is the anonymous nature. Thanks to the style and the lack of author (and what actually happens in the plot) the story becomes very real and very possible in real life. Especially because it does take into account the fact that Slender Man was an online phenomenon, known to be invented and developed through fan sites and photoshop. The fakeness of Slender Man is commented on and pushed aside by the events that unfold in this story.

I haven’t read a horror this good in a very long time.

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