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[sticky post] Master List of Books 2015

1. A Conspiracy Of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz.

2. Replica by Jack Heath.

3. Blue Fire by Janice Hardy.

4. Ibarajo Road by Harry Allen.

5. You by Caroline Kepnes.

6. Skulduggery Pleasant – Last Stand Of Dead Men by Derek Landy.

7. Skulduggery Pleasant: The Dying Of The Light by Derek Landy.

8. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney.

9. A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre.

10. The Bat by Jo Nesbo.

11. Rush Of Blood by Mark Billingham.

12. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

13. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson.

14. Dreams Of Gods And Monsters by Laini Taylor.

15. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

16. NOS4R2 by Joe Hill.

17. The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett.

18. OxCrimes edited by Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence.

19. Dream-Songs: A Retrospective Book 1 by George R. R. Martin.

20. Vowed by Liz de Jager.

21. I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork.

22. The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.

23. Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold.

24. Season To Taste by Natalie Young.

25. Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens.

26. Arsenic For Tea by Robin Stevens.

27. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

28. The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury.

29. Under Ground by S. L. Grey.

30. Remix by Non Pratt.

31. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.

32. Foreign Gods, Inc by Okey Ndibe.

33. Mind Games by Teri Terry.

34. MI6 – Life And Death In The British Secret Service by Gordon Corera.

35. A Death In The Family by Caroline Dunford.

36. Nobody Saw No One by Steve Tasane.

37. Sea Djinn by Linda Davies.

38. Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman.

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

The Blurb On The Back:

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.

The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him – with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.

There is a witness, but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.

But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

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The Verdict:

Emma Newman’s fantasy novel (the first in a trilogy) mixes Georgette Heyer with evil flower faeries to intriguing effect. Aquae Sulis is an interesting society – a mix of Regency, Victorian and Edwardian attitudes but without any of the growing awareness of social justice – and I enjoyed the fun Newman has with its fashions and societal norms. I also enjoyed the mix of political plots and machinations as families jostle on behalf of their patrons who also have their own agendas both for themselves and for the families who serve them. Cathy is a strong-willed heroine who feels like an outsider in her own world and is acutely aware of how restrictive it is for women. I believed in her desire for an education and a life of her own in Mundanus more than the relationship with Josh, who I found under-characterised and dull. My favourite characters though were Max and the gargoyle, who I found fascinating – especially the emotionless and dogged Max who knows there’s something more going on but isn’t allowed to investigate it. All in all I found the set-up intriguing and more than enough plot (maybe too much given all the storylines that are running) to ensure that I’ll read the next novels.

Sea Djinn by Linda Davies

The Blurb On The Back:

A Boy will come. A Boy will fight for my Kingdom and for his own. Finn, you are that Boy.

Finn Kennedy thinks he is a normal boy. Until, surfing off the Dubai coast, he meets Triton, the Sea Djinn, a supernatural being with spectacular powers. Finn soon discovers that he has powers of his own. When his parents are kidnapped by Hydrus, the evil Sea Djinn, he is forced to use those powers. Together with his cousin Georgina and his friend Fred, he steals a boat and sets sail for the Dark Kingdom …

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The Verdict:

I took a copy of Linda Davies’s debut middle grade fantasy novel (the first in a series) because I was really excited to read a fantasy novel set in the middle east and using djinn mythology. Unfortunately, this book is rife with clichés, leaden dialogue and stereotypical characters. The opening chapter sets out the entire premise in a heavy-handed way and it doesn’t get any better from then on. Finn is a dull hero whose frustration quickly gives way to temper tantrums. His cousin Georgina is slightly more rounded given that she has to run the house for her mother, Camelia (who has fallen into depression since the disappearance of her husband) but it was depressing to see the first passages about her emphasising how she’s a good cook. Fred is a bit of a geek, bad at sport and bullied by his financier father who toadies to anyone with power and money. The villains are completely two-dimensional and for all the peril, the ending isn’t really in doubt. In fact the only interesting character was Mr Violet but he’s not on the page long enough to make a real impact. What really disappointed me though was the fact that the location is really incidental to this – the Dubai setting isn’t used effectively and really this adventure could have taken place in any coastal city. Davies does handle the action well but the plotting is predictable and the pacing erratic while the prophecy element adds nothing. Ultimately, there wasn’t enough here for me to continue with this series, although I may check out Davies’s other work.

Thanks to Jerboa Books for the review copy of this book.

Nobody Saw No One by Steve Tasane

The Blurb On The Back:

North London – a gang of identity thieves up the Seven Sisters Road … a “family” of boys long ago lost in the system.

Angel-faced Alfi Spar has fled Tenderness House Secure Unit and come to London to disappear, eating from bins and sleeping in skips, until his old mate, Citizen Digit, offers him a roof.

But their past at Tenderness House is not ready to release them; the boys saw something nobody should see, and the badness is coming after them.


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The Verdict:

Steve Tasane’s YA retelling of OLIVER TWIST re-imagines the classic story for a post-Jimmy Savile age to mixed effect. The conspiracy elements of the story rang very true for me with Tasane showing the ramifications of sexual abuse for its victims (particularly Grace, who swaps one type of exploitation for another), the refusal of those in authority to believe victims because of their “criminality” and how this allows pedophile groups to exist and operate at the highest levels of society (all of which, unfortunately, remains very topical). Unfortunately, Alfi was too much of an ingénue for me given his background – the sweet innocence that worked for Oliver Twist simply didn’t seem believable here and Alfi’s continued naivety given everything that happens to him made me wonder if he had special educational needs. Citizen Digit’s cynicism and world wariness was more credible, but he’s let down by a highly stylized dialogue style, which I think is a Marmite thing as it clearly works for some readers, but for me the references were quite obscure and not something I’d expect a teenager to say. I also wished that Mr Virus and Jackson got more page time so they could develop into more three-dimensional characters. That said there are some good twists and I enjoyed the cyber crime elements and although this book didn’t quite work for me, it’s still worth a read and I would check out Tasane’s other work.

NOBODY SAW NO ONE was released in the United Kingdom on 4th June 2015. Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.

A Death In The Family by Caroline Dunford

The Blurb On The Back:

”I briefly considered the option of swooning in a ladylike manner, but I was denied this by virtue of position: I was a maid; and by natural inclination: I have never known how to swoon. Instead, I did what I believe most females of sensibility would have done finding themselves alone with a murdered corpse. I screamed exceedingly loudly, quite in the common manner, and pelted out of the room …

In December 1909 the Reverend Josiah Martins expires in a dish of mutton and onions leaving his family on the brink of destitution. Joshia’s daughter, Euphemia, takes it upon herself to provide for her mother and little brother by entering service. She’s young, fit, intelligent, a little naïve and assumes the life of a maid won’t be too demanding. However, on her first day at the unhappy home of Sir Stapleford she discovers a murdered body.

Euphemia’s innate sense of justice has her prying where no servant should look and uncovering some of the darker social, political and business secrets of the Stapleford family. All she has to defend herself with is her quick wits, sense of humour and the ultimate weapon of all virtuous young women – her scream.

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The Verdict:

Caroline Dunford’s historical crime novel, the first in a series, is a well-crafted mystery with a spirited heroine who has plenty of initiative and courage but who is conscious of the need to protect her own secrets even as she seeks to uncover those belonging to other people. The Stapleford family are drawn with a fairly broad brush – Lord Stapleford is all bluff bluster and casual cruelty, Richenda is a well-meaning suffragette who doesn’t quite have the courage of her convictions, Richard is a cad and a bounder, prone to trying to have his way with the staff and Lady Stapleford a shallow woman who lets Mrs Wilson run the house for her. Only Bertram is allowed room to grow and I found him interesting in how he comes to appreciate Euphemia’s intelligence and spirit and yet is blinded by their class relationship - I’m not normally a romance fan, but theirs is one I’d be interested to see develop over the future books. I’m also interested in seeing how Euphemia handles Mrs Wilson in the later books, given some of the revelations about her here. Ultimately this is a perfectly cosy murder mystery, perfect for reading on a wet Sunday afternoon and I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series.
The Blurb On The Back:

The story of MI6 is the story of the human factor that lies at the heart of spying. From shadowy work in the bars of post-war Vienna to recent high-tech missions in Iraq and Libya, secret agents are forced to play a bewildering variety of roles: as psychiatrists, confidants and interrogators. From the spymasters in London and the agents they run to their elusive enemies, relationships are what drive espionage. These thrilling and often moving stories illustrate the dangers and moral ambiguities that come with working for British intelligence and reveal how the fictional worlds of Bond and le Carre have been drawn from reality and have in turn shaped the real world of spies.

Grand dramas such as the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and the September 11th attacks provide the backdrop for these stories of the men and women who have spied, lied and in some cases died in the service of the state.

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The Verdict:

BBC security correspondent, Gordon Corera’s book is a broad-brush summary of MI-6’s operations and internal struggles from 1949 and the intensification of the Cold War through to the modern War on Terror. Weighing in at over 400 pages, it’s a surprisingly quick read with Corera packing in a lot of information without ever bogging down or making it seem turgid.

Mind Games by Teri Terry

The Blurb On The Back:

Luna has a secret.

She is different, but no one must find out.

Because in this world you must play their game, or it could cost you your life.

Will Luna discover her true destiny in time to save the ones she loves?

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The Verdict:

Teri Terry’s YA SF dystopia novel is a standalone story that’s chockfull of ideas and imagery but the plot never quite came together for me and the antagonists are very two-dimensional while some of the technology left me with more questions than answers. What’s great is the way Terry weaves technology and potential future uses (both beneficial and malign) into the story. The Implants, PIP booths (which use interface devices to reach the internet) and moving walkways are smartly conveyed and I enjoyed the way Terry depicts a future where most people live and interact on-line (and a world where Doctor Who continues to be filmed can’t be all bad). However, I never really understood a critical ability that Luna discovers – specifically how it operated or how it bridged the real and virtual worlds, which did leave me a little confused in the final chapters. I also found the antagonists to all be very two-dimensional with some (but not all) character and plot twists being telegraphed too early and to be honest, I never really found myself rooting for Luna, at times because her dialogue is quite wooden and she’s very much driven by events rather than driving them while Gecko is a bit of a stock boyfriend. All this is a shame because there are some great touches in the book and I particularly loved a reference back to Terry’s SLATED TRILOGY. Although this book didn’t really work for me, I will definitely check out Terry’s next novel.

Foreign Gods, Inc by Okey Ndibe

The Blurb On The Back:

Foreign Gods, Inc tells the story of Ike, a highly educated Nigerian barely making a living driving a cab in New York City. A bad marriage and his addiction to gambling and alcohol – not to mention financial demands from family in Nigeria – have pushed him into crisis. After learning about a high-end Manhattan art dealer specialising in the sale of “foreign gods”, Ike hatches a desperate plan involving the theft of his old village’s chief god. But on Ike’s return to Nigeria, complications arise: political corruption, family conflicts, and rising tension between Christians and followers of Ngene, the war god he has returned to steal. A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations in our globally interconnected world, Foreign Gods, Inc announces the arrival of a major literary voice.

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The Verdict:

Okey Ndibe’s debut literary novel is an interesting tale of crushed dreams, corruption and the way in which capitalism destroys those it comes in contact with, all underpinned by a magical realist vibe. It took a while for me to warm to Ike, partly because his alcoholism and gambling come across as plot necessities rather than intrinsic parts of his character and also because he’s naïve for a supposedly highly educated man and makes some stupid decisions, most notably in his scenes attempting to negotiate with the gallery owner. However the chapters set in Nigeria really held my attention. I loved the dialogue between his various Nigerian characters and whilst the depiction of Nigeria’s endemic corruption follows a well trodden literary path, I believed in the relationships Ndibe creates and particularly those between him and his mother and uncle and the tensions that exist between them. Ndibe weaves in the magical realist elements with an assured hand and I enjoyed Ike’s uneasy reaction to the idol he has come to steal and the way Ndibe keeps it open as to whether this is truly a god at work or the product of Ike’s own guilt at his actions. Ultimately there was enough here to hold my attention from beginning to end and I would definitely check out Ndibe’s other work.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

The Blurb On The Back:

Kell is one of the last travellers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, without magic and ruled by the mad King George III. Red London – where magic is revered, and where Kell was raised alongside the heir to the empire. White London – where people fight to control the remaining magic and magic fights back. And once there was Black London …

Officially Kell is the Red traveller, carrying letters between the monarchs of each London. Unofficially he is a smuggler, a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences. His escape to Grey London leads to a run-in with Delilah, a cutpurse with lofty aspirations, who forces Kell to take her on a proper adventure. But perilous magic is afoot, and an adventure becomes a mission to save all of the worlds.

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The Verdict:

V. E. Schwab’s standalone novel is an ingenious mix of other world and historical fantasy that kept me turning the pages. Schwab’s carefully constructed world has interesting rules and details and I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the various Londons and their attitudes to and use of magic. Kell’s a fascinating protagonist, different from and separate to the inhabitants of each world. The only person who understands what it is to be Antari is Holland who, unfortunately, was a little underdeveloped for me. In fact, the antagonists are the weakest part of the novel as all are two-dimensional while Rhys didn’t convince me as the playboy friend who Kell cares for. Fortunately Delilah makes up for this – amoral, tough and very determined, she’s quick to spot and exploit an opportunity and smart enough to adapt to a world that’s very different to the one she was brought up in and I particularly liked the way that you’re never quite sure of her motives, i.e. whether she’s using Kell or genuinely sympathetic to his plight and the ending is open-ended enough for a sequel (which I’d definitely read). While not perfect, this book is still worth a look and I look forward to seeing what Schwab does next.

Remix by Non Pratt

The Blurb On The Back:

Friends. Music. Lies.

Kaz is still reeling from being dumped by the love of her life.

Ruby is bored of hearing about it. Time to change the record.

3 days.

2 best mates.

1 music festival.

Zero chance of everything working out.

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The Verdict:

Non Pratt’s second YA novel is an emotionally true story about friendship and love set against the vibrant backdrop of a music festival. At the core is Kaz and Ruby’s friendship and all the love and frustration that comes with caring for each other. Each girl is shown as being vibrant and talented in their own way (although I was a little disappointed that Ruby’s gift for art apparently means she’s not great at exams) but for all their closeness, they still don’t confide their deepest emotions to each other, particularly where boys are concerned. I also liked the rivalry that develops with the introduction of Lauren, a girl who Kaz hits it off with even though she’s dating Tom but who Ruby takes an instant dislike to. The best reason to read this book though is because of the attitude towards sex – there is no moralising here and Pratt does well at showing that it’s possible to have good sex for bad reasons and terrible sex for terrible reasons and neither deserves condemnation. At the same time, a storyline involving Ruby’s gay brother Lee shows that love and sex don’t always go hand in hand and I particularly liked the fact that Pratt doesn’t sugar coat the fact that love doesn’t always equal sexual attraction and people can behave in a selfish and self-destructive way. The depiction of the music festival feels plausible, particularly the prices charged for junk food and the lack of sleep and the way people react to the music and the bands. I felt that the ending was a little too open-ended and lacked resolution for some of the characters but that wasn’t enough to detract from a strong second book. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Pratt does next.

REMIX was released in the United Kingdom on 4th June 2015. Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.

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