Book Review: The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell


Release Date: 5th October 2017
Publisher: Raven Books
Pages: 384
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: I was sent an e-ARC of this to review via Netgalley

Synopsis

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself..

Review

This book has instantly become one of my favourite books ever. Dark, unsettling and beautifully descriptive, it will keep you up late on these cold winter nights. Elsie is grieving for the unexpected death of her new husband when she moves into his old country estate, but not everyone welcomes her arrival. The Bridge is full of secrets and servants who do not like her, not to mention something more sinister that hides behind locked doors.

This book genuinely gave me the fear. I love ghost stories and horror novels, but I find it pretty rare to be actually frightened by them. Throughout The Silent Companions I felt that pervading sense of unease, The story is wonderfully written and keeps you gripped right from the start – I couldn’t put it down even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what happened next.

I loved the characters too. They were so well written – complex characters who all held their own motivations – and often weren’t quite what they seemed on the surface. The story is told in several different narratives – Elsie in a hospital as she recovers from the traumatic events at The Bridge, Elsie as she relives her experiences with the silent companions as well as a diary from Anne Bainbridge, an old ancestor who lived at the estate 200 years before. I loved the different narratives as the were so multi-layered and each had their own exciting story line that I wanted to hear more from. When you have multiple points of view you tend to prefer one over the other, but I was completely engrossed in both Elsie and Anne’s story.

This book is atmospheric, chilling and will definitely send a shiver up your spine. What more could you want from a Gothic ghost story? If you love books by the likes of Shirley Jackson then The Silent Companions will make for perfect reading.


Book Review: My Side of the Diamond – Sally Gardner

Release Date: October 5th 2017
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 240
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads
Source: I was sent a copy of this book to review via ReadersFirst

Synopsis

Jazmin has been shunned ever since her best friend Becky disappeared. But Becky didn’t just disappear – she jumped off a tall building and seemingly never reached the ground. It was as if she simply vanished into thin air. Did Jazmin have something to do with her disappearance? Or was it more to do with Icarus, so beguiling and strangely ever youthful, with whom Becky became suddenly besotted . . .

Review

When I read the synopsis for this book I thought it sounded like a really fascinating read. When it arrived I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked, I love the way that it’s meant to look like the notebooks that Becky is so fond of. This is my first outing in a Sally Gardner novel – I have long wanted to read her books but never quite gotten around to it. The story is told from the point of view of Jazmin, who is dealing with the disappearance of her best friend Becky, but Becky’s disappearance isn’t all that it seems.

The characters were pretty interested and I was always eager to know what was going on, there are quite a few different narrative voices and I felt sometimes the plot did get a little lost in the different layers, but overall it was an enjoyable read. I think the concept for this book is quite an original one, and it makes for unusual reading. There’s also some really beautiful illustrations inside which help bring the story to life.

The book is really short, only 240 pages so I pretty much flew through it. I did feel like it could have done with being more in the action, rather than just being told about it afterwards. The story is told in quite a unique narrative style, which does take a bit of getting used to but this little book makes for a really interesting social commentary, mixed in with aliens and science fiction. If you’re looking for something a bit different to read, this could be right up your alley.


Feature: Top Ten Bookish Resolutions

This is a weekly meme by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s Top 10 Tuesday is bookish resolutions and goals. I did briefly mention some of my goals in my 2017 in review post, but I’ve had a think and expanded them!

1. Spend less money on books

My TBR is the size of a mountain, and I’m also lucky to receive a good few review copies from publishers. With that in mind I’m hoping to spend a bit less on books and focus more on reading the books I already have. I’m planning to put £1 in a jar for every book I read (I have £8 so far) and then if there’s a book I really want I can get it with the money in the jar. That’s the idea anyway!

2. Finish those series

I have a really terrible habit of starting series and not finishing them. I haven’t finished the Divergent Series, or the Shadowhunter books and I’m not up to date on Throne of Glass or Red Queen. I’m aiming to catch up on some of those big series, so I’m not completely in the dark.

3. Read 100 books

My goal for 2017 was to read 75 books and I managed to read 89, planning to push myself in 2018 to go for the big 100!

4. Read outside my comfort zone

If you look at my reviews you cans see I read a lot of fantasy and a lot of YA, this year I’d like to try and read outside my comfort zone, maybe with a bit more crime and a bit more literary fiction.

5. Read more non-fiction

I could probably count on one hand the amount of non-fiction books I’ve read in the last few years. My friend Barb (thecoffeewoods) is a big fan of non-fiction, and I’m hoping she’ll give me some good recs to read more non-fiction in 2018. If you have any non-fiction books you love, definitely me know what they are.

6. Donate books to charity

I hoard books like they’re going out of fashion. I currently have 5 (5!) bookshelves, and I’m already running out of space. I’d like to periodically clear some books out, and donate them to my local charity shop.

7. Try more book boxes

I’ve had a subscription to FairyLoot in the past (I really loved it but quite a few of the books that were in it I had already read) and I would love to try some different ones. If there’s any you subscribe to and love let me know!

8. Read outdoors

I tend to read in doors under a blanket with the cat, I’d like to try going to parks and things, getting a bit more fresh air and reading outdoors.

9. Find a new way to organise shelves

My bookshelves are bit of a mish-mash of titles. I’d love to find a nice way to organise them that makes them look really lovely, I’ve been thinking about colour, but not sure how it would look overall.

10. Try new authors

Like many people I’m a creature of habit, I tend to read books from authors I already know and love, or recommendations I’ve got from other bloggers. I’d love to try some new authors that I maybe haven’t heard much about and find some new favourites.


Book Review: Fear – Dirk Kurbjuweit


Release Date: 25th January 2018
Publisher: Orion Group
Pages: 303
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: Orion kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.

Synopsis

Family is everything.

So what if yours was being terrorised by a neighbour – a man who doesn’t listen to reason, whose actions become more erratic and sinister with each passing day? And those you thought would help – the police, your lawyer – can’t help you.

You become afraid to leave your family at home alone. But there’s nothing more you can do to protect them.

Is there?

Review

This was such a gripping thriller and a really unique read. The book made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable – partly because the story is somewhat based on the authors own experiences, and also because it was so believable, it could so easily happen to you or someone you know.

The book is a really interesting look at the family dynamic and the effect that a difficult situation can have on that. Randolph starts to wonder whether his wife could possibly commit the acts that their neighbour accuses them off, and she thinks the same of him. Fear really hits the nail on the head with the psychology behind such an event.

One of the things I found really interesting was the ambiguous nature of the murder. Normally with crime thrillers you feel sorry for the victim and condemn the murderer for their horrific act, but it was much more ambiguous. Was the murder justified? Was the victim at fault? These were questions I kept thinking about long after I’d finished reading.

The book was well written in a tense, exciting style. The short chapters kept the reader hanging on and itching to know more. The book is tense and enthralling, all the more so because this is every new homeowner’s worst nightmare. I really enjoyed the way that the Fear was written in quite a personal style, making the story seem much more like a realistic account.

Fear is divided up into chapters which explores the nightmare the family experience at the hands of the downstairs neighbour, as well as a look at Randolph’s childhood, growing up around his father – a devout gun enthusiast. The book puts forth some really interesting ideas about the effects such things can have on a child.

Fear is almost certainly set to be one of 2018’s hottest thrillers, so what are you waiting for?


Feature: 2017 in Review & 2018 Goals


This post is slightly later than planned but I wanted to post about my 2017 stats and the goals I have for 2018. So here goes!

I read a total of 22,464 pages across 89 books.

My goal for 2017 was to read 75 books, so I’m really pleased that I made it to that goal and surpassed it by quite a few titles. My average pages was 251 – this was a bit on the low side and am hoping to read slightly larger books in 2018.

My biggest book was Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, which I also gave 5 stars. My smallest title was a small Harry Potter prequel that J. K. Rowling wrote for charity. (4 pages)

My average rating for titles was 4.0.

I’m honestly quite surprised at this. I thought that it would be lower but there were plenty of books I read in 2017 that I thought were amazing.

My most popular book was Divergent by Veronica Roth, and least popular Twist by Pippa Little.

I rated 29 titles as 5 stars, which I think goes to show just how many amazing books I read in 2017. This is a trend I’m definitely hoping to continue in 2018.

2018 Reading Goals

There are a few goals I have planned for 2018.

1. As of January 1st I have put myself on a book buying ban. My TBR is out of control and I am hoping 2018 will be the year I finally conquer it. For every book I read from my mountain I’m going to put £1 in a jar and only buy books with that money.

2. I’m increasing my Goodreads challenge to 100 books, I’m hoping to hit this target fairly easily as I’m reading much more on my commute.

3. I have a terrible habit of starting series and never finishing them, so I’m hoping 2018 will be the year of catching up on some of those big series, including the Throne of Glass series (of which I’ve read two), the Red Queen series (of which I’ve read one) a load more in between.

So those are my 2017 reading stats and my goals for 2018. Do you have any reading goals this year? Did you set yourself a Goodreads Challenge? Let me know!


Book Review: Love, Hate & Other Filters – Samira Ahmed


Release Date:16th January 2018
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 288
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: I was sent a copy of this book through ReadersFirst

Synopsis

Maya Aziz is torn between futures: the one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter (i.e.; staying nearby in Chicago and being matched with a “suitable” Muslim boy), and the one where she goes to film school in New York City–and maybe, just maybe, kisses a guy she’s only known from afar. There’s the also the fun stuff, like laughing with her best friend Violet, making on-the-spot documentaries, sneaking away for private swimming lessons at a secret pond in the woods. But her world is shattered when a suicide bomber strikes in the American heartland; by chance, he shares Maya’s last name. What happens to the one Muslim family in town when their community is suddenly consumed with hatred and fear?

Review

This book is a really important own voices read, that tackles a number of really difficult issues in an interesting way. Maya stands on the precipice of her future and there are two options – going to NYU and following her dreams of studying film, or going to a more local University and finding a new suitable boy to marry – the option that her parents want her to take. I thought she was a really fascinating character and I loved her perspectives on life, and her dedication to film. She was strong and determined, she made difficult choices and stuck to her guns even when things were hard.

The book focuses on two key areas – the romance aspect as Maya meets Kareem but also has feelings for classmate Phil, and an in depth look at hate crimes and the rippling effects that one horrific event can have on so many people’s lives. The romance I found a little cheesy and fluffy which is why I didn’t rate it higher, but it’s sweet and adds another layer to this interesting story.

The effects of the terrorist attack by a white supremacist is the part of the story that was most powerful. Although Maya wasn’t involved in the attack, her and her family still feel the effects and are still the victims of hate crimes. I would have loved for the book to dig a bit deeper into this important issue, rather than the focus on the romance between Maya and Phil.

The book is a pretty quick read, I read it almost in one sitting. That being said I think it highlights a lot of problems and issues in society, and is therefore a really important read. It has a really interesting cast of characters, and the story is well paced and interesting. If you like contemporary books with plenty of sweet and light romance, this is definitely a book to pick up.


Book Review: The Cruel Prince – Holly Black


Series: The Folk of the Air #1
Release Date: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 370
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: I was sent a copy of this book via ReadersFirst

Synopsis

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Review

This is such a perfect book. I couldn’t put it down and I definitely didn’t want it to end. The Cruel Prince is the first in a new series from ‘Faerie Queen’ Holly Black, and I can totally see why she deserves that name because this book is so stunning. Books about the Fae are not something I read particularly often, though I recently read An Enchantment of Ravens and really enjoyed it. With that in mind I decided to give this a go, and boy was I not disappointed.

Jude Duarte has become my most favourite character ever. She’s a strong woman, she wants to be a knight and fend for herself and she doesn’t expect others to do the work for her. She’s brash and determined, she makes mistakes and works hard. Black portrays her so realistically and so humanly, that I could not help but love her. She’s a fantastic protagonist and it’s so exciting to watch her grow and evolve. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other amazing characters. I loved Cardan and Vivi and The Roach too.

For me what made this book really stand out was the lush, vivid settings and the plot that kept me guessing. Each character in this book has their own motives, and everyone is playing a game. I was never sure who to trust, who was being honest and who wasn’t. So many times I’ve read a book and I’ve guessed what’s going to happen, but that definitely wasn’t the case with The Cruel Prince.

The book is pretty fast-paced and there’s plenty of action and excitement to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you love faerie stories, or you’re a fan of the immensely talented Holly Black, you need to pick up this book now, you won’t regret it.


Book Review: Before I Let Go – Marieke Nijkamp


Release Date: 2nd January 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 358
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: I was kindly sent a copy of this book to review

Synopsis

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

Review

Where do I start with this strange, beautiful book? I have yet to read Nijkamp’s This is Where It Ends (I have now ordered it and that will soon change), but this book had a really interesting premise and sounded like a good read. After reading just a few pages I was completely sucked in, and I can safely say Before I Let Go is already a contender for my top reads of the year. (I know it’s only January, but it was so so good).

The book is set in this eerie, dark little town called Lost Creek in Alaska. Our main protagonist Corey grew up there but has since moved away, returned after the death of her best friend Kyra. But Lost has change in the months she’s been away, and Corey is no longer part of the community, she’s an outsider which the townspeople don’t take too kindly too. I loved this setting, it was so vividly described and such a claustrophobic and unsettling place. There were more than a few times when I felt a shiver from this cold dark landscape.

I don’t want to say too much about what happens in the story because I would hate to spoil it for anyone, but it touches on so many fascinating subjects – friendship, loyalty, belonging and mental health. It’s a fascinating book, with so many twists and turns that I absolutely didn’t see coming.

I loved Before I Let Go from start to finish – I loved the short chapters that kept my mind racing (and itching to know what was going to happen next). Nijkamp did a fantastic job building up the tension and the suspense, and some of those climax scenes I couldn’t have put the book down if the world around me was ending. The story is set over six days, but so much happens in that time. Corey was such an interesting protagonist, dealing with the grief of losing her friend, of being shunned from the community. I loved her determination, to stand up for what she thought her friend would have wanted, and to find out what really happened.

This spooky eerie thriller will have you on the edge of your seat, The beautiful vivid writing will linger in your mind longer after you’ve finished reading, and if you love a book that will keep you guessing Before I Let Go is just what you need.


Feature: December Book Haul!


December was a pretty busy month, and with all the shopping for Christmas presents, I couldn’t resist buying myself a few books. I am planning to go on a book buying ban in January, my TBR is pretty much uncontrollable, so I am planning to put £1 in a jar for every book that I read. Once I have accumulated enough, then I can purchase a new title. (That’s the idea anyway, we’ll see how long this actually works). So here are the books I either bought, got from a gift card or received as Christmas presents this month:

 

1. All the Crooked Saints – Maggie Stiefvater

This is one of my secret shames – I have never read a Maggie Stiefvater book. I’ve heard such fantastic things about pretty much every book she’s written, and so when I saw this one was buy one get one half price in Waterstones (and I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket) I couldn’t resist picking it up.

2. This Mortal Coil – Emily Suvada

I have an e-galley of this that I still haven’t read. (See why I need this book buying ban?)  but it’s a really beautiful book and it was the other one of my get one half price, so it was definitely okay to get a physical copy.

3. Night of Cake and Puppets – Laini Taylor

This book just looks so beautiful and so stunning. I read and adored Strange the Dreamer in 2017, so I’m dying to read more of Laini Taylor’s books. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is one I am going to conquer this year.

4. The Glass Spare – Lauren DeStefano

I love love love Lauren DeStefano. Wither is one of my favourite books, and so when I heard this was coming out I knew I had to get my paws on it. I patiently waited until after Christmas and now I am just desperate to get my TBR down a bit so I can read it.

5. An Enchantment of Ravens – Margaret Rogerson

I bought this at the same time as The Glass Spare and picked it totally on a whim. I ended up reading it in one sitting, and really enjoyed this Faerie romance story.

6. Onyx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

This was another surprise on Christmas day. I read The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace as required reading in University, but I’ve never read any other books by Margaret Atwood. Given that I adored them both, I really wanted to pick up some more of her titles. My Dad kindly got me the MaddAddam series, which I am so looking forward to reading.

7. The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

Book two in the series. I’m so excited to have all three books because it means I can just binge read them without having to stop and wait to pick up the next book.

8. MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

And book three! They’re also these beautiful shiny Virago Press Editions, and I kind of want to buy all of Margaret Atwood’s books in this edition because they look so good.

9. False Hearts – Laura Lam

My partner always struggles to buy me books because I have so many and he never knows if I’ve read them or already have an ARC etc. So for Christmas I asked for some books by Laura Lam, because I’ve heard amazing things and always wanted to read them. I was so surprised when I unwrapped this, because not only was I dying to read it but it was also a signed copy!

10. Shadowplay – Laura Lam

This likewise was a total surprise, book two in the Micah Grey series, which was also a signed copy!

11. Masquerade – Laura Lam

Finally, book three in the series, which was (as you guessed it) signed as well. They were really fantastic presents to open on Christmas morning, and they are among the first series that I’m going to tackle in 2018.

So that’s my December book haul. Have you read any of these? What did you think? And what bookish goodies did you get this Christmas? Let me know in the comments below!


Blog Tour – Beautiful Star & Other Stories – Andrew Swanston


Release Date: 11th January 2018
Publisher: The Dome Press
Pages: 256
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: The Dome Press kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.

Synopsis

History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it. In Beautiful Star, we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles I, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; the trial of Jane Wenham, witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her granddaughter. This is a moving and affecting journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875

Review

Some days there’s nothing I love better than curling with a good historical fiction and enveloping myself in a different time period. When I was offered the chance to review Beautiful Star & Other Stories I jumped at the chance, not only because I love Andrew Swanston’s Incendium, but because something I’ve read very little of is historical fiction short stories. This collection has seven different tales, all from differing time periods and locations. I thoroughly enjoyed each one, giving a fascinating snapshot of that time period.

The stories are all in some way based on a true event or a true person, and that made the stories all the more enjoyable, knowing that I was learning about stories that are not often talked about. Each story was richly described with a very personal narrative voice. They were vivid and unique, dealing with a variety of themes from friendship and family, to loyalty and courage.

Of the seven stories there were a few that particularly stood out for me. I loved the story of Lady Mary Bankes, who defended Corfe Castle when it was sieges by Parliamentarian forces. This was something I had never heard of, and after doing my own research I am now eager to go and visit the ruins. I also loved the story of the young monk who dreams of learning to fly, as well as the story of a young boy who meets Charles I in a rather unexpected place. It’s the mark of incredible writing that each time period and setting comes alive, and that is definitely the case with Beautiful Star and Other Stories.

Richly detailed and thoroughly researched, Beautiful Star and Other Stories is a wonderful mix of stories. Full to the brim with realism and human voices, it is everything a historical fiction fan could ask for.

Now read on for a Q&A with Andrew!

1. For those that haven’t read Beautiful Star and Other Stories yet, would you be able to tell us a little about it?

Beautiful Star and Other Stories is a collection of seven fictionalised accounts of historical events from the Benedictine monk, Eilmer, who in the year 1010 tried to fly, to a devastating fishing disaster of 1875 involving a Scottish ‘fifie’ on her maiden voyage, from which the book takes its name. In between there is the story of Jane Wenham, who in 1712 was the last woman to be sentenced to death for witchcraft in an English court, the story of the fate of Admiral Sir Cloudesley’s fleet on its return from the seige of Toulon, a whimsical tale of King Charles II hiding in the Boscobel oak after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester, an account of Lady Mary Bankes’s gallant defence of her home at Corfe Castle during the War of the Three Kingdoms, and, finally, two stories that came out my research for Waterloo. The Bravest Man, published in 2015, which I have called The Button Seller and the Drummer Boy. I chose them simply because I found them interesting episodes in history which involved ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

2. I absolutely loved Incendium. How did it compare writing the short stories and writing longer books?

In Beautiful Star, the narrator, Julia Paterson, tells her friend Willy Miller that ‘flowers on not wild or tame. They are just flowers’. So it is, for me, with stories. Some longer and more complex, others shorter and simpler, but all with beginnings, middles and ends. I enjoy reading and writing stories of all lengths and find the challenges much the same.

3. If you could go and visit any historical period, where would you go and why?

Please may I be a dashing royalist during the War of the Three Kingdoms who survives to enjoy the magnificent excess and debauchery of the Restoration. After the grim austerity of the interregnum, think how splendid that would be!

4. What was the writing process like for Beautiful Star? Was it a long or short writing process?

Beautiful Star was actually the very first story I wrote, about ten years ago, so you could say the gestation period has been longish! It was followed by A Witch and a Bitch and The Flying Monk – both in the collection – before I turned to the Thomas Hill stories. While writing Incendium and Waterloo, I came across the other stories and, encouraged by my agent, David Headley, researched and wrote them. The result is this collection. Actually writing each story is quite a quick process. It is the research and planning that takes time.

5. Now that the book is about to be released, what are you working on next?

I am writing the sequel to Incendium and hope also to write another collection of shorter historical stories.

6. What’s the best book you read in 2017?

Wow, what a tough question. To relax, I read a good deal of non-fiction and have favourite authors. In 2017 I especially enjoyed Giles Milton’s ‘Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’.

7. Thank you so much for taking part in the Q&A, is there anything you’d like to tell readers to round off?

I would like to thank my readers for giving me the opportunity to write. I want my stories to be read and enjoyed and I do hope they are.