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The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

The Blurb On The Back:

Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords – no matter how sinister they may seem – Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.

Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”

With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

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The Verdict:

T Kingfisher (a pseudonym for Ursula Vernon) has written a clever fantasy coming-of-age tale with strong female characters and a whimsical sense of humour that offsets the dark imagery. Rhea is an intriguing main character – resourceful and self aware, she’s resilient without being unbelievable and I liked the different relationships she has with Maria (who lost her magic to Crevan), Sylvie (who lost her sight) and the cruel Ingeth (who lost her voice). The fantasy elements work well – I particularly enjoyed the sadness and cruelty underlying Rhea’s scenes with the golem wife while the scenes with the Clock Wife are weird, wonderful and frightening and involve some great concepts with time and space. The book is marketed as being for grown ups but to be honest, the coming of age and self-discovery themes here are perfectly suitable for a YA audience and while the imagery is dark, there’s a great Diana Wynne Jones vibe to the whole thing. All in all this is an enjoyable book with potential for a sequel (I would definitely read anything involving Rhea and her hedgehog) and I will definitely be checking out Vernon’s other work.

Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

The Blurb On The Back:

Riot duty. Heartbreak. Life goes on for Sean Duffy. Every case he solves never gets to court. And then the phone rings in the early hours of a cold morning.

A young journalist, Lily Bigelow, lies dead in the snowy courtyard of Carrickfergus castle. The castle was locked overnight. The caretaker isn’t much of a suspect. It looks a lot like suicide, but a few details aren’t quite right.

So Duffy has several impossible puzzles: if Lily was murdered, who did it and how? And, most of all, why? As he pulls on a few little threads, the whole establishment could come undone.

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The Verdict:

The fifth in Adrian McKinty’s SEAN DUFFY SERIES is a clever, well-constructed crime thriller told in a wry, sharp voice. Although I hadn’t read the other books in the series, I didn’t need to in order to follow events – McKinty does a great job of incorporating previous events and I particularly enjoyed how the fact that Duffy’s previously had a locked-room mystery makes him second guess himself on this case. Duffy is a fascinating character – cynical and wry, his career in the RUC has hit a glass ceiling thanks in part to his Catholicism but also because of his refusal to play the political game and because none of his investigations have, to date, landed a conviction. All of these factors come into play in this investigation, which also takes in child abuse and features a guest turn by Jimmy Savile (who for me, was actually the only bum note as his character didn’t convince me). The investigation rolls along at a brisk pace and I found it fascinating how McKinty’s able to weave fact with fiction so effortlessly and the opening scene with Jackson and Ali is so well done that I didn’t realise it had never happened. I loved the economic writing style and the way McKinty resolves the case and sets up Duffy’s home life so much that I now want to check out the earlier books.

RAIN DOGS was released in the United Kingdom on 24th December 2015. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Blurb On The Back:

London, April 1812. Lady Helen Wrexhall is set to make her curtsey to Queen Charlotte and step into polite Regency Society. Unbeknownst to Helen, that step will also take her from the glittering ballroom of Almack’s and the bright lights of Vauxhall Gardens into a shadowy world of demonic creatures, missing housemaids and deadly power. Standing between those two worlds is Lord Carlston, a man of dubious reputation and infuriating manners. He believes Helen is destined to protect humanity, but all he can offer is danger, savagery and the possibility of madness. Not the kind of destiny suitable for a young lady in her first London Season.

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The Verdict:

Alison Goodman’s YA historical fantasy (the first in a trilogy) is an elegant tale of manners, evil and the limitations that Regency society placed on smart women with drive and ambition. Billed as Cassandra Clare meets Jane Austen, I found it more a case of Buffy meets Georgette Heyer as this is very much a story about a woman coming into her powers (emotionally, intellectually, physically and supernaturally) while also experiencing her first feelings of love (in this case a potential love triangle involving Carlston and the Duke of Selburn). Goodman’s done a lot of research and I really enjoyed the details of Regency society (including foods, etiquette and dances) and the appearance of real people, notably Queen Charlotte, the Prince Regent and Beau Brummel (who I’d love to see more of given what happened to him). I thought that the types of Deceivers got a bit convoluted at times and I wasn’t quite sure of the differences between them (not helped by the terminology) but the Reclaimer abilities was more interesting and clearly thought through and I enjoyed the difficulties faced by Reclaimers in trying to defeat Deceivers, both in battle and in terms of the difference in numbers. The ending promises a change in setting to Brighton and based on this book, I definitely want to read more of Lady Helen’s adventures.

THE DARK DAYS CLUB was released in the United Kingdom on 21st January 2016. Thanks to Walker Books for the ARC copy of this book.

Front Lines by Michael Grant

The Blurb On The Back:

Am I a coward?

Her face is wet but her mouth is dry. Her heart is beating heavy and slow. Her breaths are shallow. Soon no. Soon they will be there, wherever there is. It is a mission, it is a commando raid. It will almost certainly be combat.

It all leads to this.

Rio Richlin and her friends are going to war. But will they be strong enough to prove themselves on the front lines?

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The Verdict:

Michael Grant’s YA alternate history of World War II pitches women into the front line, integrating real battles (notably Kasserine Pass) with fictional events in a standard war tale that follows the characters from basic training to first campaign with the usual trauma and development inbetween. Grant’s great at incorporating research (there’s a good bibliography at the back) while keeping the action moving and he’s created four interesting characters, each with their own fascinating backstory (my favourite being Frangie who joins the army for pragmatic reasons but who has dreams of having the army fund a college education and her desire to be a doctor). However, while I enjoyed this book I don’t currently see what the AU premise adds to the period other than to point out the sexism and racism (which could equally be brought across in a straightforward period story). I also found the unknown narrator device to be a little too reminiscent of CODE NAME VERITY (which Grant name checks as an influence). That said there’s enough here to keep me reading on and I look forward to the next in this series.

BATTLE LINES will be released in the United Kingdom on 28th January 2016. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the free copy of this book.

Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

The Blurb On The Back:

London, September 1666.

The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a traitor, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath, the body of a man is discovered in the ashes of St. Pauls. But he had not died in the blaze – there is a stab wound to his neck and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Acting on orders, Marwood hunts the killer through London’s devastated streets … where before too long a second murder is uncovered.

At a time of dangerous internal dissent, Marwood’s investigation will lead him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined and vengeful young woman.

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The Verdict:

Andrew Taylor’s historical crime novel (the first of a new series) is rich in period detail and skilfully portrays the political and religious conflicts of the Restoration. However, I found the split narration between Marwood and Cat (the niece of an important alderman who’s trying to escape an arranged marriage) to be distracting and the split first and third person narration left me confused as to whose story this was meant to be. I was also disappointed that Cat’s plotline is driven predominantly by her reactions to sexual assault and while I don’t doubt that 17th century England was full of sexist attitudes and casual groping, it made for a one-note storyline that Cat’s intelligence and aspirations to be an architect did little to lift. I was more interested in the ramifications of Marwood’s background – particularly his relationship with the Fifth Monarchists and their ties to the Regicides – and wished that there had been more of this because it’s a part of English history that doesn’t get a lot of attention. I also wanted more interaction between Marwood, Williamson and Chiffinch (the king’s spymaster) because of the power structures in play and the way it revolves around Marwood’s background. Taylor is good at description – particularly of the fire and its effects – and also good at conveying the political unrest and paranoia, but the mystery element was predictable and Marwood’s attraction to a suspect’s wife didn’t convince me. That said, the period detail was enough here for me to want to check out the next in the series and I’ll definitely check out Taylor’s other work.

ASHES OF LONDON will be released in the United Kingdom on 7th April 2016. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC copy of this book.

Swords And Scoundrels by Julia Knight

The Blurb On The Back:

Two siblings.

Vocho and Kacha are champion duellists: a brother and sister known for the finest swordplay in the city of Reyes. Or at least they used to be – until they were thrown out of the Duellist’s Guild.

Outcasts for life … together.

As a last resort, they turn reluctant highwaymen. But when they pick the wrong carriage to rob and make off with an immense locked chest, the contents will bring them more than they’ve bargained for. Because they soon find themselves embroiled in a dangerous plot to return an angry king to power …

This can only mean trouble.

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The Verdict:

Julia Knight’s fantasy novel (the first in a trilogy) is an entertaining romp set in a post-revolution world that’s failed to achieve the social equality it promised and where there’s a tension between emerging clockwork technology (including clockwork weaponry) and the traditional sword skills used by people like Vocho and Kacha. The emotional heart of the story though lies in the sibling rivalry between Vocho and Kacha and how the envy that Vocho (who has spent his life being compared unfavourably to his sister) feels sometimes overwhelms his loyalty to her. Knight does particularly well at showing how this affects both of them while also using it as a way to drive the plot on and I particularly believed in how this makes them reluctant to confide in each other. Also well handled is Petri (Kacha’s love interest), a revolutionary who has lost faith in his revolution and is desperate for revenge against the Guild’s master but who also loves Kacha for who she is and I loved Knight’s take on blood magic and her sinister and manipulative magicians. Although the plot is largely driven by contrivance (characters being in the right place at the right time) the pacing is so exuberant that you don’t really notice it until you’ve finished it and certainly there’s more than enough here to make me read the second book.

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.

39. First Class Murder by Robin Stevens.

40. Say Her Name by James Dawson.

41. The Bonehill Curse by John Mayhew.

42. Any Other Name by Emma Newman.

43. All Is Fair by Emma Newman.

44. As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka.

45. Blue Chip Kids by David W. Bianchi.

46. The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham.

47. Veiled by Benedict Jacka.

48. The House Of Shattered Wings by Aliette De Bodard.

49. The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher.

50. The Survivor by Sean Slater.

51. Halting State by Charles Stross.

52. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.

53. 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough.

54. Haterz by James Goss.

55. Career Of Evil by Robert Galbraith.

56. Monster by C. J. Skuse.

57. The End by Charlie Higson.

58. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill.

59. Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence Of Ghosts by A. K. Benedict.
The Blurb On The Back:

A mystery as dark and twisty as the Thames …

Maria King knows a secret London. Born blind, she knows the city by sound and touch and smell. But surgery restored her sight – only for her to find she doesn’t want it.

Jonathan Dark sees the shadowy side of the city. A DI with the Metropolitan Police, he is haunted by his failure to save a woman from the hands of a stalker.

Now it seems the killer has set his sights on Maria, and is leaving her messages in the most gruesome of ways.

Tracing the source of these messages leads Maria and Jonathan to a London they never knew. To find the truth they’ll have to listen to the whispers on the streets.

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The Verdict:

A. K. Benedict’s novel is a curious mix of crime and fantasy that mostly hangs together well, in spite of a very busy plot. Dark himself is an interesting (if at times mopey) protagonist – I believed him as a man unable to let go of his shallow wife, and whose obsession with her mirrors that of the stalker’s obsession with Maria – and I also believed in the more supernatural revelations about him. Where it fell down was with one particularly personal revelation, which came out of nowhere for me and didn’t really add much to my understanding of him. In contrast I found Maria more annoying – while Benedict does her best to explain why she is unable to embrace sight, I still found it a difficult concept to buy into, not least because of the lack of any public reaction to her blindfold (but that probably says more about me than the character). The best scenes are those recounted by the stalker and I would have liked more from their point of view, if only to flesh out the motivation and how they commit their crimes. A sub-plot involving a criminal fraternity has a lot of potential despite straining credibility at times, but for me the best part was the way Benedict handles the supernatural elements, constructing a ghost-locked London that feels very believable. I really wanted more of it, not least because of the detection implications. There is definite series potential for this book (which I would continue with), and despite the flaws, Benedict’s fluid writing style kept me turning the pages and I will check out her other books.

JONATHAN DARK OR THE EVIDENCE OF GHOSTS will be released in the United Kingdom on 25th February 2016. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC copy of this book.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

The Blurb On The Back:

”They’re good boys really. This all just got out of hand.”

It’s the beginning of the summer, and Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy and confident.

One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.

The next day, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She doesn’t know how she got there.

She doesn’t know why she’s in pain.

But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show – in great detail – exactly what happened to Emma that night.

But sometimes people don’t want to believe what’s right in front of them, especially If the truth concerns the town’s heroes …

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The Verdict:

Louise O’Neill’s emotionally devastating and highly topical YA novel is a horrifying update of THE ACCUSED for the social media age. Bitchy, vicious and jealous, Emma has a complicated relationship with her friends – Jamie, Ali and Maggie – and key to the novel is her relationship with Jamie who has been through similar trauma, which Emma knows about but has no sympathy for. Emma is therefore not a character to easily sympathise with and her reputation for promiscuity and flirting make the residents of the small Irish town where she lives all too willing to believe the worst of her. Further complicating the case is the fact that the boys involved are local sporting heroes, set for the big time – this compounds Emma’s crime because in making what many believe to be a false accusation, she is seen to be unjustly ruining their futures. The double standards are breath-taking and all too relevant, as is the hate campaign and media furore that blows up around it. O’Neill does well at showing Emma’s turmoil and inner conflict as she tries to come to terms with an act she can’t even bring herself to name. This was easily the best YA book I’ve read in 2015 and one that should be required reading on every school’s curriculum – I will definitely check out O’Neill’s other work.

ASKING FOR IT was released in the United Kingdom on 3rd September 2015. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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