Ensnared by Rita Stradling

Ensnared Cover

Ensnared Blurb

A Near-Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

This novel contains adult situations and is only suitable for readers who are 18+.

My Review of Ensnared

EnsnaredEnsnared by Rita Stradling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ensnared is based on Beauty and the Beast, but it takes the basic idea and runs with it, throwing in sci-fi elements with automatons, AI, and self-aware robots.

I was expecting a young adult story from the blurb, but it’s aimed at adults.

If I’m being honest the story is daft, there’s not a lot of world building, and there are plot holes you can drive a truck through. But it’s also a lot of fun, with likeable characters.

I liked Alainn, she’s independent and not afraid to speak her mind, but she’s not perfect. She’s not overly intelligent and is prone to taking risks that endanger her life. It’s this daredevil impulse that leads her to agree to impersonate the robot Lorccan has ordered to save her father from going to jail. It (kind of) makes sense in context.

Lorccan is a recluse who is scared of germs and has little to no experience of other people. I can almost believe he doesn’t realise that he got a real person instead of a robot, even though Alainn is very, very bad at pretending to be a robot. She doesn’t even think about how she is going to eat, so almost starves herself at first. I think about food all the time, so if I was going to have to pretend to be a robot somewhere it’s probably the first thing I would worry about.

I liked that Lorcann’s problems aren’t magically fixed by the power of lurve. At the end of the book, he still can’t leave his home for fear of germs. It’s clear that it’s a bigger, ongoing issue that Alainn can’t fix for him.

My favourite character in this has to be Shelley. She has anxiety, and battles with herself when she pushes herself way out of her comfort zone to help Alainn when things go wrong. She reaches a point where she can’t force herself any further and leaves with the police instead of escaping with Alainn. I loved that she wasn’t treated as a coward for this, instead, Alainn thanks her and calls her a badass.

If you want something that’s not going to tax your brain and you can just enjoy reading it, then this is a good choice. I read it in a day, I didn’t want to put it down. I even had to have it propped up in front of me while I was brushing my teeth!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Ensnared
Rita Stradling
Sci-Fi
May 23rd 2017
Kindle
419

The War Of The Flowers by Tad Williams

The War of the Flowers Blurb

In the great city, in the dimly lit office of an impossibly tall building, two creatures meet. Gold changes hands and the master of the House of Hellebore gives an order: ‘War is coming, the child must die’.

My review of The War of the Flowers

The War Of The FlowersThe War Of The Flowers by Tad Williams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s slow, boring and more than a little bit depressing, but the worst thing about it is the main character, Theo. He whines his way through the entire book and gives not a single care about the people around him.

I really disliked him and I can’t understand Poppy falling for him. He thinks about her like she’s a spoiled rich kid, and he treats her that way too. Despite not giving a damn about other people himself he condemns Poppy because without getting to know her he decides that she is like that too. But to be fair Poppy seems to be there only to give Theo a bit of escape from the grinding depression of the rest of the story. She is an extraneous addition to the actual story, only popping up now and again to help Theo show his “kind side”.

If fact, all the women are present only to have things happen to them in order to motivate the male characters. Theo’s mother, his girlfriend cat, Applecore, Eamonn Dowds girlfriend, they all suffer terrible things so that the men in the story have reasons to act.

The story itself moves super slow and consists of 600 pages of Theo thinking “I’m stuck in a world that could kill you at any moment and I know nothing about it” and talking about how he’s a super awesome amazing musician / singer.

Fairyland is not a happy place to be. There are six ruling families with all the power and the money, and the rest of the population are treated as slaves to be used up until they die. The ruling families are fighting amongst themselves and Theo is stuck in the middle running from something trying to kill him with nowhere to go, no idea why he’s been chased, and no one he can trust to help him.

It feels hopeless from the start, Theo does not find anything out, no one will tell him anything. Almost all the characters Theo talks to – “I’m not the one to tell you about this”. But Theo doesn’t really try very hard, and he’s slow to pick up on things when the clues are laid out in front of him. The Clover Effect is mentioned like 50 times through the book, Theo never asks what it is! It’s frustrating to read.

Overall it’s just boring and slow. 

Why did I keep reading? Well, I’m not sure, but at one point dragons showed up and it got interesting for about a minute. Also, Poppy is kinda cool, I was hoping she might get to do something. If the story had been told from her point of view, it could have been good.

Recommended If

You’re too happy and want some relentless grinding depression to bring you down a bit.

The War Of The Flowers
Tad Williams
Fantasy
April 22nd 2003
Paperback
758

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4) by Freda Warrington

A Blackbird in Twilight Blurb

The great Serpent M’gulfn is dead, all save one of its demon-servants destroyed. Now is the time when the power of sorcery might be harnessed for good or for evil.

Journeying disguised to Gorethria comes Melkavesh, daughter of Silvren and Ashurek, eager to use that latent power for good. It seems she is too late, for a ruthless usurper, Duke Xaedrek, has already seized control. Aided by a demon with malign intentions of its own, he intends to restore the evil Gorethrian Empire.

To save the Earth of Three Planes, Melkavesh must defeat Xaedrek – even though their conflict may claim innocent victims and bring other lands to ruin. And can she withstand the temptation to reclaim her birthright – the dark throne renounced by Ashurek – or resist the all-too-seductive charm of Xaedrek himself?

My Reviews of Other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3)

My Review of A Blackbird in Twilight

A Blackbird in TwilightA Blackbird in Twilight by Freda Warrington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a ride! This has taken my emotions up and down so much it’s taken me three days to be able to start writing a review.

A Blackbird in Twilight is the fourth book in Blackbird series, and the concluding part of the story started in A Blackbird in Amber.

Mellorn / Melkavesh has raised an army to repel the Gorethrian army. But her sorcery has been no help to her, and the Gorethrian Emperor Xaedrek is using the power of the last remaining demon to strengthen his soldiers and power his war machines.

But they all fail to see that the biggest threat to Earth is the demon, who has dark plans of their own.

There is some serious character growth in this book! The characters are all imperfect shades of grey.

Mellorn wants to stop the Empire enslaving the whole continent, but she also has her own ego. She sees herself as a saviour, as a leader and an Empress, and she can’t see her own faults.

Kharaan thinks of herself as a coward, but over the two books, she has evolved into a strong and resilient woman. She acts as Mellorn’s conscience, putting the brakes on the sorceress’ ego.

Xaedrek is doing some very bad things and has allowed himself to be controlled by the demon. But his motivation is his love of Gorethria, and he is sensible and logical and capable of caring. We see all sides of him and he comes across as a real person, not a cardboard cutout villainous Emperor.

The first Blackbird book I enjoyed, but you could see Freda Warrington’s inexperience as a writer, and I found it a little bit naive. Her writing was good from the first book but also improved massively over the series. This fourth book is multilayered and deeply thought out. It’s well written and atmospheric and full of difficult decisions for her characters. There are no right answers here, no obvious rights and wrongs

I can never guess where the story is going to go next, what the characters will do, how they will deal with their problems. And yet, when it happens, when things are resolved, it’s hard to see how it could have happened any other way.

Don’t read Freda Warrington if you don’t want a bittersweet ending. I feel heartbroken and yet happy at the same time. And she is so very good at making her villains so human you understand their actions, and even sympathise with them.

This is the most enjoyable fantasy series I’ve read in a long time, and this book has easily earned its five stars.

A Blackbird in Twilight
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1988
Paperback
387

Full Moon Rising (Riley Jenson Guardian #1) by Keri Arthur

Full Moon Rising

Full Moon Rising Blurb

A rare hybrid of vampire and werewolf, Riley Jenson and her twin brother, Rhoan, work for Melbourne’s Directorate of Other Races, an organization created to police the supernatural races–and protect humans from their depredations.

While Rhoan is an exalted guardian, a.k.a. assassin, Riley is merely an office worker–until her brother goes missing on one of his missions. The timing couldn’t be worse. More werewolf than vampire, Riley is vulnerable to the moon heat, the weeklong period before the full moon, when her need to mate becomes all-consuming.

My Review of Full Moon Rising

Full Moon Rising (Riley Jenson Guardian, #1)Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this because I was having a lazy Sunday and I wanted a book I could read with half my brain turned off.

This has been sat on my shelf for months because I was expecting it to be a bit rubbish, the blurb makes it sound like a cheap Anita Blake knock off, focused 100% on sex. But actually, it was ok.

Main character Riley Jenson is interesting if verging a little too far towards a perfect wish fulfilment character for my liking. She’s described as a “drop dead gorgeous red head with long legs”. She works as a guardian assistant but is better at the guardian job than the actual guardians. Everyone she meets seems to think she’s amazing.

It’s saved by Riley’s internal dialogue, it avoids the super annoying thing where the super special character has no confidence and thinks they’re ugly and rubbish at everything. she’s confident and funny and quite happy to be good at things.

The Second half gets very repetitive though. Riley gets kidnapped, the full moon fever takes over, she finds out more info from the ‘bad guys’ and then she escapes. About 5 or 6 times. And the stuff about the full moon fever was daft and got very dull.

So it was fun for an afternoon, but I’m not bothered about reading the next one.

Full Moon Rising
Riley Jenson Guardian
Keri Arthur
Urban Fantasy
2007
Paperback

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) by Liu Cixin

The Three-Body Problem cover

The Three-Body Problem Blurb

1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China’s Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.

Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang’s investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable and unpredictable interaction of its three suns.

This is the Three-Body Problem and it is the key to everything: the key to the scientists’ deaths, the key to a conspiracy that spans light-years and the key to the extinction-level threat humanity now faces.

My Review of The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely loved everything about this, but I don’t want to give too much away about the story. It’s unusual and half the fun of the book for me was watching the events unfold and start to make sense as Wang Miao investigates the mystery of why the scientists are committing suicide.

I loved that it’s a proper hard sci-fi book, very science heavy. A lot of it I could follow, some of it I couldn’t but I just enjoyed going along for the ride. There are some very interesting, original ideas with a massive scope and although I was a bit lost at first it all come together into a very entertaining story.

One of my favourite things about the book is how there are female scientists, even back in the 70s, and it’s not an issue, it’s just normal. I don’t know if that’s how things are in China, or if it’s down to how the author wrote it, but it was lovely to read women being able to get on with the science without having to explain it.

The translator has done a brilliant job. There are a few footnotes, especially in the chapters set in the past during the Cultural Revolution. They were helpful and not excessive, and there weren’t as many of them once the story got going.

I’m giving it five stars simply because I enjoyed it so much. It has everything I like in a sci-fi book, and I recommend to anyone who likes writers like Isaac Asimov, who enjoyed The Martian, or who likes thought-provoking sci-fi with massive ideas.

The Three-Body Problem
Remembrance of Earth's Past
Liu Cixin
Sci-Fi
December 3rd 2015
Paperback
442

Zombies at Tiffany’s by Sam Stone

zombies at tiffanys cover

Zombies at Tiffany’s Blurb

Kat Lightfoot thought that getting a job at the famed Tiffany’s store in New York would be the end to her problems. She has money, new friends, and there’s even an inventor working there who develops new weapons from clockwork, and who cuts diamonds with a strange powered light. This is 1862, after all, and such things are the wonder of the age.

But then events take a turn for the worse: men and women wander the streets talking of ‘the darkness’; bodies vanish from morgues across town; and random, bloody attacks on innocent people take place in broad daylight.

Soon Kat and her friends are fighting for their lives against a horde of infected people, with only their wits and ingenuity to help them.

A steampunked story of diamonds, chutzpah, death and horror from the blood-drenched pen of Sam Stone.

My Review of Zombies at Tiffany’s

Zombies at Tiffany'sZombies at Tiffany’s by Sam Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zombies, steampunk and diamonds? I knew when I saw this book at the Sci-Fi weekender that I had to read it!

It’s set at the time of the American civil war where a zombie outbreak starts spreading in New York. Kat Lightfoot, a young woman who has just started working at Tiffany’s, takes refuge from the zombie hordes at work with a mismatched group of her colleagues and customers.

I like that Sam Stone has not followed the usual zombie rules, and has created something different and unexpected here.

The heroine is intelligent and interesting, and I cared about what happened to her.

The mix of steampunk and horror works well and results in a short, exhilarating read that I enjoyed every moment of.

Zombies at Tiffany's
Sam Stone
Steampunk
Telos
2012
Paperback
185

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3) by Freda Warrington

A Blackbird in Amber Cover

A Blackbird in Amber Blurb

The terrible Serpent M’gulfn has been destroyed, but Earth’s future is in peril. Its death has unleashed a chaotic power that may prove more dangerous than the Serpent itself.

Journeying to Gorethria comes Melkavesh, daughter of Ashurek and Silvren, determined to harness the new power of sorcery for good. But can she resist the temptation to claim her birthright – the dark throne renounced by Ashurek?

A ruthless usurper, Xaedrek, has already seized Gorethria’s throne and is working his own warped form of sorcery to restore the evil empire. To save the Earth, Melkavesh must defeat him but she has reckoned without Xaedrek’s seductive charm.

My Reviews of other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4)

My Review of A Blackbird in Amber

A Blackbird in AmberA Blackbird in Amber by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third in the Blackbird series jumps 25 years into the future after the events of the first two books. It follows Ashurek and Silvren’s daughter Mellorn as she returns to Earth to aid the birth of sorcery. But the Gorethrian Empire has used warped demon sorcery to recover its strength and has returned to invading and enslaving other nations.

My favourite thing about the Blackbird series is the wonderful and well-written cast of characters who have complex relationships and motivations. Main character Mellorn / Melkavesh is a sorceress who sets out with the aim of creating a sorcery school on Earth. Strong willed and charismatic she is a natural leader and draws people to herself.

But she is swayed by her own ego and under the guise of stopping the Gorethrians conquest of other nations, she starts to get swept away with the idea of leading an army and overthrowing the Gorethrian ruler.

I really enjoyed the story. It’s well paced and interesting, and makes sense in the context of the original books – it doesn’t feel tacked on for the sake of continuing the series. I also love the lush descriptions of the world. They brought it to life for me and I couldn’t stop reading. I’m excited to read the next one!

A Blackbird in Amber
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1988
Paperback
437

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon Cover

Lagoon Blurb

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

My Review of Lagoon

LagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aliens land in the water off the coast of Nigeria in this sci-fi first contact novel. What follows is chaos as the city starts to destroy itself through fear.

There are a lot of different voices in Lagoon, some only for one or two chapters. Normally I would find that confusing but here it worked well as it dropped into different people around Lagos to show events rather than having the main characters be everywhere and see everything. It did make it a bit hard to really connect with or care about any of the characters though as it’s a short book anyway and meant that even less time was spent on telling the main characters stories.

I loved the sci-fi side, there were a lot of fresh ideas that made this really interesting. There are African mythology and magic elements mixed in too, but I don’t know anything about African myths and these weren’t explained enough for them to make sense for me. They seemed to be added at random and not add anything to the main story. I’m also not sure why the main characters had powers, or why they were chosen by the aliens.

It’s very original and ambitious, and overall I enjoyed it. I liked the environmental / feminist / religious themes, but I think maybe there was just a bit too much in one book and I found it hard going at times to keep track of the main story. It’s difficult to get into, but I think it’s worth the effort for the fresh and modern perspective on sci-fi.

Lagoon
Nnedi Okorafor
Sci-Fi
April 10th 2014
Paperback
306

My Favourite Books with Tattooed Characters

books with tattooed characters

Tenuous link for my book list this month: I recently got a tattoo. So here is a list of my favourite books with tattooed characters in 🙂

It’s a lot shorter than I thought it would be, so if you have any suggestions please share them in the comments or on twitter.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

An obvious choice to kick off with, Lisbeth Salander is tattooed, independent, and doesn’t care what others think of her.

Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

A romance where the main character Iris works in a tattoo palour and the love interest is a tattooist. I’ve mentioned Mariana Zapta before on this blog, she’s one of my favourite slow burning romance writers out there.

This couple go from hating each other to being friends before finally falling in love and their journey is believable (for a romance novel) and sweet. I could have done without the motorbike gang stuff, but other than that this is a lovely story.

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

Loveday Cardew is a quiet, antisocial bookworm working in a small bookshop in York. She closes herself off from relationships and finds herself lost for words when she tries to talk to people.

But she wasn’t always this way, and through flashbacks and memories we find out what happened in Loveday’s past that has left her so guarded and reluctant to trust anyone.

I only picked this up because it’s about a bookworm with a nose ring and tattoos, and it’s set in York, a city that I love to visit. But this is a very thoughtful and beautifully written story, with flawed and interesting characters with a lot of depth to them.

One of my favourites of the year so far.

The Derby Girl (Getting Physical) by Tamara Morgan

Another romance, this time the main character Gretchen is a tattooed roller derby girl. I’m not blown away by the love interest, he’s a bit too corporate for my liking, but Gretchen is funny, feisty and flawed and I kinda want to be her.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Sci-fi where the main character has a full face tattoo. I’m not sure I’d say I enjoyed this book, there’s some pretty grim stuff in it, but it’s thought provoking and interesting. It’s also the only sci-fi I could think of to add to this list!

Downside Ghosts by Stacia Kane

A series I think I’ve mentioned before, Downside Ghosts’ main character Chessie has full body tattoos that also help her work magic. It’s my favourite urban fantasy, and it has a bit of romance thrown in. The love interest Terrible is by far my favourite book boyfriend.

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1) by Renee Ahdieh

flame in the mist

Flame in the Mist Blurb

Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

My Review of Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

My big problem with this book is that I did not like Mariko. She doesn’t have much of a personality. We’re told over and over how intelligent she is, how brilliant a planner she is, but never once does she do anything to show us.

In fact, her actions are often kinda dumb and driven by reacting rather than thinking. Joining a group of male outlaws to prove her honour and virtue? And why does she give her smoke bombs to the people trying to track and kill her brother?

Markio’s loyalty to her family does not last very long. I understand her not wanting to go back there, but she tells us that she does, that her family comes before everything. Her change in attitude is not given enough attention to make it believable.

Neither is her attitude towards the Black Clan. She goes from wanting revenge on them, to wanting to join them, but this about-face isn’t fully fleshed out so it just felt like she changed on a whim.

Literally Mariko’s feelings towards to the Black Clan: “They killed my servants I hate them I want revenge”, “Oh hang on, he’s kinda cute.”, “I want to join them and fight with them, I would die for them.

She has so much potential to be smart and interesting, she’s even an inventor! But for me she falls flat.

The pacing is slow too, Mariko does a lot of thinking about things but the few bits where something happens seem rushed and fuzzily described. I didn’t get a good sense of what was going on.

The magic system is also fuzzy and vague. It looks like it might be expanded on in future books but it didn’t make much sense here and was just confusing.

Another big issue for me is the writing and the awkward, convoluted conversations the characters have. They seem to talk in quotes that could have come straight from one of those quote of the day calendars and don’t make seem to actually be responding to each other. It’s like a dance battle but with quotes instead.

Things I did like though include:

The setting – the forest, the Black Clans camp, the tea house – when an effort is made to describe the setting it’s done well.

Mariko can’t fight – she is smart enough to realise this so she doesn’t even try. It’s nice that her strength is supposed to be in her intelligence rather than her fighting skills. I love female characters than can think their way out of situations.

Interesting characters – Mariko’s brother, the Emperors wives, the men of Black Clan, even Markio herself, they are all interesting and imperfect characters with hidden secrets.

Okami – I really liked his character. He keeps more secrets than Mariko, he has some sort of weird magic power, and he treats Mariko like an equal and doesn’t try to protect her because she is female. He also has the best line in the book: “the only power any man has over you is the power you give him.”.

There is enough I liked in this book that I enjoyed reading it, I certainly finished it fast. It has potential but I just want Mariko to show us that she is as smart as everyone tells us she is.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Flame in the Mist
Flame in the Mist
Renee Ahdieh
Young Adult Fantasy
May 16th 2017
Kindle
393