The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Beautiful Ones cover

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a sweeping romance with a dash of magic.

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina—and himself—that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.

My Thoughts

The Beautiful Ones cover

3 / 5 stars

Immensely readable, and I was swept away with the beauty of it, but ultimately I felt like there was just a little something missing.

Nina’s talent – a form of magic – is only ever a very minor part of the book. The author went to all the trouble of adding it and building it out into something wonderful but it felt like it was only included to be used for one little part of the book. It feels like a waste when it’s something that really makes the story stand out from a standard romance.

It’s set in what seems to be an alternate version of France where Nina, a country girl with a rich family, is sent to stay with her cousin in the city to enter the marriage market. Her cousin is married to Valerie, a beautiful socialite who is poor herself but from an impressive family.

Nina and Valerie clash, with Nina’s talents and plain country style grating on Valerie and embarrassing her in society. It’s not helped when Hector, Valerie’s jilted fiancé, returns to the city and starts courting Nina to get closer to Valerie.

So the story really is quite basic, the wonderful writing and the rich and interesting characters make it readable, but there isn’t anything else to it.

As a historical romance I very much enjoyed it but I felt the promise of the magic was never realised and it left me a little disappointed.

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

The Beautiful Ones
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Fantasy
October 24th 2017
Kindle
320

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

My Thoughts

Project Hail Mary Cover

4 / 5 stars

I thought this was fab! Andy Weir has very much gone back to the style of The Martian and that’s not a bad thing because he’s very good at it.

The main character might feel an awful lot like a Mark Watney clone and he might be alone in space with only science to save him but give it a chance because Project Hail Mary really does have a personality of its own.

Now a whole book about someone doing science could easily become very dry, even with some big action, life-threatening moments, but there is a sense of humour that really lifts the story and keeps it interesting and fun. There are also some very human moments that keep it relatable and these things together make it into a proper page-turner, I just couldn’t put it down!

This is a fun and exciting book and it’s definitely worth picking it up!

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

Project Hail Mary
Andy Weir
Sci-Fi
May 4th 2021
Kindle
496

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

the space between worlds cover

An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

My Thoughts

the space between worlds cover

I had some stellar books to review last year but The Space Between Worlds was probably my favourite!

A sci-fi set in a world where parallel universes not only exist but it is possible to travel between them. The only thing is, if you exist in the world you are travelling to you won’t survive the trip. Cara is one of the “lucky” ones, in most of the other worlds, she is already dead.

This is proper sci-fi with a social conscience that drives the story. This is a world of haves and have-nots, of powerful and rich people that set rules that benefit only themselves.

It’s also an exciting and fast-paced read with plenty of plot-twists that should keep happy anyone that likes a good action / thriller story.

It has strong world-building and a cast of well-realised secondary characters. Esther, Cara’s stepsister at first seems kind and quiet and very religious but is probably one of the strongest characters in the book. Dell, Cara’s sort of handler at work, is another one that almost flies under the radar until you realise what a complex character she has become.

One of the rare few that absolutely lives up to the description on the back, I loved this and I recommend it to anyone that enjoys sci-fi with strong characterisation and an exciting story.

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

The Space Between Worlds
Micaiah Johnson
Sci-Fi
August 4th 2020
Kindle
336

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 cover

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.

While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes.

But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

My Thoughts

337 coverThis was a compulsive read, it took me less than a day to finish it and though I found it kind of depressing in parts I was completely invested in the story and I wanted to find out what had happened.

I have to admit that I didn’t get what the upside-down pages were about. I think I started at the wrong end because I read them after finishing the story and actually it looks like you’re supposed to start with them. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to the story though, I thought maybe there was going to be an alternate viewpoint or some sort of secret added in there but unless I’m missing something there isn’t.

* Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. *

For me, 337 was all about Sam’s relationship with his family. His mother disappeared without a trace when he was a young boy and 20 years later Sam seems to be estranged from all his family. Now his grandma is dying and he reluctantly sits with her for her last few days. At first, he doesn’t want to be there due to a serious fall out in their past but he reconnects with her and his heart opens back up to her.

I found this very moving and quite sad to read – Sam seems very lonely and lost at the start, he is separated from his wife, he has no family around him, and he has a job he sleepwalks his way through. But when he visits his grandma and starts to talk to her about his past and he gets back in touch with his brother he seems to realise that the way he sees events are not necessarily the way that everyone else saw them.

It’s like he has been frozen since his mother left but his visit to his grandma forces him to open back up to his family and start to deal with what happened.

This is very moving, compelling reading and despite being hard going at times (I had to put it down halfway through and have a bit of a break) it ends on an upbeat mood.

And for those that don’t like books that don’t give an answer to their big mystery, don’t worry, you do actually find out what happened. Sort of.

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

337
M. Jonathan Lee
Fiction
Hideaway Fall
November 30th 2020
Hardback
337

The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward

The Quickening Cover

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

My Thoughts

The Quickening Cover

3 / 5 stars

The Quickening seems very similar to a book I read last year and that, unfortunately, gave me a feeling like there was nothing really new to this story. It is a tale that has been told often before though, a haunted house, a ghostly child, it’s been done many times.

That’s not to say that a haunted manor house book can’t still be enjoyable, and I did find this to be a spooky and interesting read. I just felt like I have already read it many times over.

Louisa, the main character in this story, has a very dry and almost cold personality. She lost her husband in the first world war and then her two children to the flu epidemic not long after so I can understand why she is written this way. It suits her story but I found her very hard to connect with. She just didn’t have much of a personality and it makes her very hard to connect with or care about. She has issues with her second husband, the man she is about to have a baby with, as she describes him as being cold and distant but I feel like that can’t be entirely his fault as she is so closed off herself.

As for the actual story, there’s plenty of ghostly happenings and larger than life characters and a nice, satisfying ending – something that I find is rare in a ghost story.

It has a nice, creepy feel to it, I enjoyed it and I think it is just right for curling up with under a blanket in the darker winter months. There’s just nothing special enough about it to make it stand out from the genre.

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

The Quickening
Rhiannon Ward
Horror
February 6th 2020
Kindle
320

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

the lost ones cover

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side.

My Thoughts

the lost ones cover

4 / 5 stars

An atmospheric and spooky ghost story, let down by an ending that fizzled out.

Stella is grieving the loss of her almost fiancee during the first world war. She returns home after serving as a nurse in France and has to find a way to live with her loss. Her sister Madeline helps her through the worst of her grief so when Madeline asks for her help Stella doesn’t hesitate and goes to stay with her in Greyswick, an imposing and unwelcoming country manor. But Madeline claims she is being haunted, she is hearing noises of children crying in the night time and strange objects are been left in her bed. Is Madeline right or is someone in the household tormenting her?

I found this so easy to get into. It has a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere right from the start and Stella and is an interesting character to read. The backdrop of the first world war and the loss of Stella’s fiancee gives the book a big emotional impact and adds weight to Stella’s belief in the ghost and her desperation to uncover the truth.

I felt though that once Stella started investigation the ghostly happenings it started to feel a bit flat. I liked the Agatha Christie influence but the spookiness was lost and the big revelations at the end didn’t have much impact. It ended with a load of people standing in a room talking about things and I wanted more from it.

But that’s a minor point in what I found to be a very enjoyable read. This is a rich and rewarding read and I’m very surprised that it seems to be the author’s first book. I will be looking out for more.

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

The Lost Ones
Anita Frank
Horror
October 31st 2019
Kindle
464

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

once and future witches cover

n 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

My Thoughts

once and future witches cover

4 / 5 stars

I loved the way this was written. It’s quite a harsh story with a lot of difficult realities to face in it but it also manages to be magical and heartwarming at the same time.

There was a lot going on in the story but I don’t think that any of the characters got lost in it, they were all well written with personalities that came across strongly. James Juniper was definitely my favourite character but I also liked Beatrice Belladonna – the shy and bookish middle sister that works in a library and has to dig deep to find the courage to stand up with her sisters in their fight to bring magic back to the world.

I loved the magic system and the way there was men’s magic and women’s magic and spells passed from parent to child so each family has their own knowledge and skills. Each chapter starts with a spell which is a nice touch that helps to bring the magic to life and ups the fairy tale feel.

It was mostly well paced but it did take me a while to read. Mostly because I was enjoying the way it went in-depth into each character and their lives and I wanted to stretch it out but I also felt it dragged a bit in the middle and my interest started to wander. It picked back up towards the end though and it ended strong.

I recommend this to anyone that likes stories about women and magic and standing up for what you believe in.

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

The Once and Future Witches
Alix E. Harrow
Fantasy
October 13th 2020
Kindle
528

The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

the sisters grimm cover

This is the story of four sisters Grimm – daughters born to different mothers on the same day, each born out of bright-white wishing and black-edged desire. They found each other at eight years-old, were separated at thirteen and now, at nearly eighteen, it is imperative that they find each other once again.

In thirty-three days they will meet their father in Everwhere. Only then will they discover who they truly are, and what they can truly do. Then they must fight to save their lives and the lives of the ones they love.

My Thoughts

the sisters grimm cover

3 / 5

I was so confused by the start of this that I very nearly gave it up as a bad job.

The narration jumps not just between 5 different characters but also two different times, giving a short burst from each one before cycling back round to the start. It took at least a third of the book before I got a grasp on it, I felt like every time I started to get into the story it threw me back out again.

I don’t like the idea that abusive men can be changed by love and that felt like a very strong theme here. Leo comes across as almost a psychotic killer, murdering the Grimm Sisters every chance he gets in revenge for one of them killing his friend – even though it was self-defence. But he meets Goldie and even though at first, his aim is to get to find out her weaknesses to make it easier to kill her too, his love for her changes him to the point where he would die to protect her.

What kind of message does that send to young people that might be reading this book? Don’t give up on abusive partners because your love might be the thing that saves them? Personally I think that Goldie should have run very far and very fast to get away from Leo.

Unhealthy relationship issues aside, the writing style I found captivating and when I got the hang of the jumping around and got into the flow of it I found it a beautiful story to read. The character development – the glimpses into their lives and their personalities is in-depth and insightful. I did start to enjoy it but then I found the ending super rushed and I found it overwhelming for all that build-up to end so abruptly.

I just can’t get past my issues with the way it portrays relationships though and that, added to the difficult start and rushed ending, are a massive let down for what could otherwise have been a jewel of a book.

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

 

The Sisters Grimm
Menna van Praag
Young Adult Fantasy
February 6th 2020
Kindle
496

Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) by Julie Kagawa

soul of the sword cover

The Blurb

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.

Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

I really struggled to get into this. It felt like there was nothing happening, the story feels like filler – like a setup for the final book. And I’m sick of Yumenko’s running commentary on what her insides are doing, we get details of how her blood is chilling and her stomach is churning, the girl needs to sort out her diet.

I still love the setting and the world – there’s more on the empire and the places and people in it, and more of the monster world too which I found interesting. I could read about the different demons all day and I love how they’re based on Japanese folklore.

I was hoping for more development of the members of Yumeko’s gang too but it felt like that had been skipped over and they just ended up as space-filling caricatures. It spends longer with them but they’re not filled out any more than they were by the end fo the first book. Reika could be such an interesting person, her personality and her skills remind me of Rei from Sailor Moon, but all she does is scowl at everyone and disapprove of everything anyone does. Okame and Daisuke have a relationship building but it felt forced into the story.

The fun side quests and the adventure feel of the first book were also sadly missed. The stakes were definitely upped at the end of the first book and there is more danger and a bigger fight to face but it didn’t get dark enough to make up for the fun feel being ejected.

I also missed the interaction between Yumeko and Tatsumi. The other characters didn’t have the same spark to make up for it and when Yumeko and Tatsumi meet up again at the end it highlights what a big gap their interactions left in the story.

The ending though I loved! No spoilers but it was exciting and unexpected and lived up to the build-up and set the scene perfectly for the next book.

The story is still interesting and even if this book didn’t meet my expectations I still need to see where it goes and how it ends. I’m hopeful for the next book and I will be excited to get my hands on it.

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

Soul of the Sword
Shadow of the Fox
Julie Kagawa
Young Adult Fantasy
June 25th 2019
Kindle
304

Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4) by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone Cover

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Atlas Alone is a dark and kinda twisted story with a sting in the tail and an endlessly debatable ending.

Dee is an independent person with a lot of trauma from her past life. She is used to surviving on her own and struggles to connect or open up to people. She is one of the few witnesses of the life-changing event at the end of After Atlas and she feels helpless and lost. She is stuck on a ship with people she doesn’t know and power structures that she doesn’t understand and is finding it very difficult to cope with.

When a mysterious person invades her VR space and offers her the opportunity to take revenge she finds herself forced to face up to the trauma of her past at the same time as her morals and her personality are being tested.

I’m loving Emma Newman’s Planetfall series. I like how each book is its own story, with connections to the others but its own characters and its own story to tell. Atlas Alone follows straight on from the ending of After Atlas but because it’s about a different character it feels like its own, separate story. The setting is still rich in AI and lovely tech details but this one goes much more into the online immersive gaming and social world. It gives this book much more of a cyberpunk feel than the other books in the series.

I had fun trying to guess the identity of Dee’s helper. I did guess it in the end but honestly not that much sooner than Dee did herself and it was an enjoyable bit of mystery mixed in with the sci-fi. I always love a good mystery!

The story is full of suspense and excitement and has a lot of depth to it. There are a lot of parallels in the book with modern slavery, the issues around workers rights and the fears about AI and the way technology is going. Dee finds herself questioning her morals and how far she will go for revenge and to stop the new world society from mistreating their workers. I feel like this would be a good one for a book club discussion! It gets very dark along the way and there are a lot of moral questions.

I loved and hated the ending at the same time. Loved because it worked so well and like I mentioned it raised a lot of moral issues. Hated because I generally like a good happy ending with issues resolved and this was the exact opposite. I got very frustrated with Dee and some of the choices she made, but it all fit the story so I can’t complain too much. You don’t always need a main character that you admire to enjoy or appreciate the story.

Another good entry in the Planetfall series, I’m hoping that the story continues!

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

Atlas Alone
Planetfall
Emma Newman
Sci-Fi
April 16th 2019
Kindle
320