Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman – Theodora Goss

059 - European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

059 - European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

Rating – 4*

After reading the first book in this series and loving it, I had to immediately pick up the second in the series. Now, I’ll admit I was a little intimidated when I saw the size of this (700 and something pages!) but I somehow read this book in 2 or 3 sittings. I just couldn’t put this down.

Just to apologise in advance, this may contain spoilers for the first book, even though I am trying my best to make it spoiler free!

This book picks up where the previous left off, the characters are just as wonderful – if not more so – than they were in the first book. All of the female characters develop more, and we are introduced to a few more amazing women including Lucinda van Helsing, Carmilla, and an interesting woman in power – Aisha. We also get to meet Count Dracula and Mina Harker, which is always a bonus! My love of Dracula made me love this book all the more. The inclusion of Carmilla, and her female lover, made me very happy. Even though this is set in the 1890s every character that met them both just accepted it, maybe it’s just their nature as they themselves aren’t exactly your stereotypical citizen of the world, but it was just really refreshing! Dare I say that I loved Carmilla in this more than I loved Carmilla?

The initial premise of this is that Lucinda van Helsing needs rescued, and much like with all of the girls in the Athena Club did at one point in the first book. Something weird is happening to Lucinda, and they need to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. This journey takes them across Europe and out of the London that we became familiar with in the first book. And while there is a more in depth plot to this book than the first, it’s the characters that give the book momentum to move forward. The women in this are all incredible, and it’s why I loved the first book so much, and while I loved the plot it was them that made it all the better. We also get a more in depth look at their lives before they were all together, in freak shows and circuses, and all the colourful characters they knew (and new friends too!) Much like with the first book, their main motivation is understanding why their fathers created them all; it’s just taken to a new, more international, level in this.

Much like with the first book there is a strong female empowerment message, even in the characters from a different generation have the same view, mainly through the persuasion and influence from the younger girls! The women are so varied in their characteristics, and skills and it’s just so, so wonderful to see such a mish-mash of characters as friends. It makes me very happy.

Needless to say this has very easily become one of my favourite book series. I really can’t wait for the third and final book to tie all the loose ends in this up. I just can’t express how much I love this series, and a third book is going to be bittersweet when it’s finally released because I don’t want this series to end, but equally I can’t see where it goes. I think it’s safe to say I’d highly recommend this!

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter – Theodora Goss

058 - The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

058 - The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

Rating – 4*

I saw this book, and the sequel, on offer on Amazon and I have to admit, the premise fascinated me so I picked it up. Sometimes I love picking a book up on a whim because you go in with no expectations and can only be surprised!

This story follows Mary Jekyll, the daughter of Dr Jekyll, her mother has just died and she is penniless. While sorting through her mothers affects she comes upon some interesting facts about her fathers mysterious past. In dire straits, she stumbles upon some interesting information about a Mr Hyde – and takes it to the only man who will know what to do with it. Sherlock Holmes. Needless to say this premise is incredible, it sounds very bizarre but it works.

Every character in this book is the progeny of a famous “monster” in literature, and throughout the book we’re introduced to a band of girls alongside Mary –  Diana Hyde, Justine Frankenstein, Catherine Moreau and Beatrice Rappaccini. All of these girls/women have been created through experimentation (and even if you haven’t read Frankenstein, or the Island of Doctor Moreau, you get enough backstory to understand their characters). The title of this book is clever, because while we focus primarily on Mary, every one of these women is an Alchemist’s Daughter, and we get all of their back stories. Alongside Sherlock and Watson, this group of unlikely friends uncover something a lot deeper and darker than they were anticipating.

All of the characters in this are fantastic, feisty and feminist. These are the female protagonists I want in literature – especially young adult literature. None of the women in this book conform to gender stereotypes, they’re politically involved and vocal about women’s rights. Often throughout the book there are lines like “It’s the 1890s, and we’re thoroughly modern women” and I just loved that.

An interesting technique is engaged in the writing of this, and it’s that the characters interject in the middle of a chapter, giving their thoughts and essentially “arguing” with each other. In the physical book I’m sure this is something that can be glossed over/ignored, but actually I listened to this as an audiobook alongside the eBook, and it added a really fun insight in to the characters before you fully knew their stories! I can understand this technique isn’t for everyone, but for me it was just a little bit of fun and it did add to the narrative.

I absolutely loved this, I loved it so much I promptly purchased the second in the series (and read it immediately after) because I needed to know what happened next. It was just so much fun – I can’t actually explain how much I enjoyed this.

If you want some badass women in the late 19th century with a good story and also easy to read – give this some consideration because it’s fun, and who doesn’t like a bit of fun now and again?

Review: Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik

048 - Spinning Silver

048 - Spinning Silver

Rating – 5*

This book was a lovely, really enjoyable read for me. I do however think that the publishers need shooting because on reading this it’s very clear that it’s a Wintery book, and while there is something nice about reading a book about a harsh winter in Summer, when it’s around 30°C outside it’s more frustrating than anything. I am going to say straight up that I think this would have been a lot easier to give this 5* had I read it in Autumn or Winter, cuddled under a blanket with some hot, fruit tea! As it stands, I originally gave this book 4* but on writing this review I’ve come back to change my mind because I loved this book and I can’t blame the weather for my overall rating.

I loved Novik’s writing in Uprooted and I do think some of the issues I had with that book remain in this but ultimately this book is about strong women, and educated women, and how with education there is power and how can I find fault in that? I also had reservations about this book focusing a little on the “Jewish” trope of being shrewd and miserly – however I actually think the focus on Jewish culture, family and heritage was really well handled, and while there was emphasis on how outsiders look in, it was made very clear that this view was wrong. I really loved that the main family in this book were Jewish, and I love how seamlessly that was woven in to the story without it being a big thing, or a trope. Little things like lighting candles or celebrating Shabbat – it was just well represented and felt balanced and unforced.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and while reading you get several different points of view, at first I found it a little jarring but when you pick up the little quirks it’s easier to follow each narrative. I did find it a little bit frustrating when suddenly a new narrative would come out of nowhere and I had to pick the thread up, but I got there eventually and their perspective did add to the overall story arc. Miryem is our protagonist and I really, really loved her – without giving much away she’s smart and she stands her ground and I loved her. Then there are a full cast of other, incredible women throughout this book and where in Uprooted it felt like the protagonist resigned herself to her fate, in this book none of them took an unfair lot – they all found their strengths and stood up for themselves and yes, it was marvellous! I’ll also say that the “Rumpelstiltskin” character is redeemed and I grew to like him in the end, and I think while we’re on the subject of the end, it was tied up and brought together in a very appropriate way. On the surface it could be a little Stockholm Syndrome-y but actually, on reflection it’s something that’s built up to gradually and feels organic, but I’d like to hear other points of view on that if anyone else has read it!

I will also say that while this is a loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, there is a lot of Russian and Eastern European folklore and fairy tales mixed in. I think the nature of this story it is inevitably going to be compared to Katherine Arden’s Winternight series as there is a lot of the same foundations in place (Russian story of Morozko!) however, as much as I loved that series, this single book has captured me in much the same way and it was one book (anyone who knows me knows how I hate waiting for the next book in any series, it’s why so many of my favourite authors are dead!)

So I loved this book. I will be rereading this book, possibly this winter. I loved this book, and as I prefaced this review with, on writing this I grew to love it more than I did when I started it meaning I’ve now changed my rating because oh my word I can’t explain how much I enjoyed this book. I really need to get on to Novik’s other books because she hasn’t let me down with either of her fairy tale retellings!

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers

045 - Record of a Spaceborn Frew
From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope

045 - Record of a Spaceborn Few

Rating – 5*

Oh my word, where to start with this book. I just don’t even know. Trying to  form a coherent thought about something I love so passionately is difficult because while this book is very different to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the insight it gives in to this universe that Becky Chambers has created is magical.

This book was incredible, and I won’t lie, it made me cry. The characters in this book are from the Exodan fleet, these are humans that live on ships and the insight in to their lives is beautiful. This feels a lot quieter and more homey than the two previous books, focusing more on family and the circle of life than anything else.

Something I found really interesting in this book is the way that the fleet live – the structure of their space ships, the hierarchy of their society, and also their sustainable nature. I also think that the focus on how humans are not the superior race in this universe is something that we need to be reminded of and is put across so well in this, the humans of the fleet are not top dog, in fact their entire existence is dependent on technology from other races and “hand outs” and it’s something we’re constantly being reminded of throughout.

As with all of Becky Chambers’ books, the characters in this are beautiful. All of them. Tessa is Ashby’s (from TLWtaSAP) sister, and her portions of this story are very domestic as she’s a mother to two young children, one of which seems to be suffering from some form of PTSD and is struggling living in space. Isobel is an archivist – essentially a historian slash registrar – in the fleet who lives with her wife and is housing a harmagian who is researching humans and the Fleet. Eyas is a young woman who works as a groundskeeper, which is more than what it sounds, she’s responsible for caring for the dead and interring them back in to their ecosystem once they’re fully degraded. Finally we have Kip, a young boy who is struggling to find his place in the fleet and has questionable friends, ultimately he’s bored and we follow the growth of him as an individual in to what I can only describe as a fully fledged young adult.

All of these characters has a story which overlaps and brings them together seamlessly. It’s not exactly the happiest of stories but it’s quite a powerful one with a really important message about being inclusive and welcoming. I think it’s also really important to realise just how insignificant humans are in this universe, and to realise the fragility but also the incredible improbability that we exist. I could nerd out about this series for days. I really could.

A small point, and something I absolutely loved, is the insight in to the life-cycle of humans in the Fleet. I found both their naming rituals and also their funerary rituals fascinating. Maybe I’m a bit morbid, but I really love how death is approached in this book – in that bodies decompose and then they turn in to compost, to bring life to plants which in turn bring life to us meaning that our loved ones are always with us in the air we breathe. I mean, does it get any more beautiful than that?!

Along with all of this, there’s the seamless inclusion of all types of ‘people’ – sexuality, gender identity, touches on mental health, physical disabilities – all of them are beautifully interwoven in a way that doesn’t make them tropey. They just are and it’s exactly how it should be.

I also had the amazing opportunity to meet Becky at an event at my local Waterstones and oh my word, she’s one of the most intelligent, eloquent, wonderful humans I’ve ever had the chance to be in the same room as, never mind hold a conversation with. Her mind is incredible, and I really want to see where she takes this universe because it’s ever expanding and has endless possibilities and I just want to see all of them. She said herself she doesn’t know where she’ll go next, but I really hope we get a look in to a species who aren’t human, because the alien races she’s created are truly fascinating.

If you haven’t read A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, then please do. Then promptly read the next two books in this universe.

 

Review: Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

058 - Warbreaker

Rating – 4*

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you’ll know that at the start of 2016 I read the entire Mistborn series in 2 weeks. Since then I have bought several Brandon Sanderson audiobooks (they’re so bulky I get them in audio format as to not swamp my bookshelves) but haven’t got around to them. However, Warbreaker was the shortest of the books of his I own, and I felt in December it was about time I got around to it.

As with the Mistborn series, the thing that drew me in to this was the magic system Sanderson has cooked up – this time it is based around colour and oh my word, it is glorious. For once I didn’t mind the vast descriptions of colours because in the context of this book it made sense, and made for very good reading. I can’t even describe in depth the magic system in this book, but jeez I don’t know how the man does it – coming up with different magic systems in all of his books, all of which are different and have their own lore. It’s incredible to say the least.

Now, the story is about two sisters, Vivenna and Siri, who are from Idris. Vivenna has been groomed her whole life to become the God King’s wife in order to form a treaty between her home nation and Hallandren, the nation where the God King rules. Her father, the king of Idris, instead sends the youngest daughter Siri to Hallandren. Vivenna naturally goes on a mission to save her sister, war is starting to stir between the two nations and she doesn’t want her sister to be involved in it. It’s fantastic, and an adventure, and ultimately while there is romance it’s a story about two sisters and their love for each other.

I loved both the sisters for very different reasons – Siri is a wild child; kind, caring, opinionated, naive, but sharp as a tack. Vivenna at the start is very pompous, poised character. I didn’t like her all that much but, come the end, she was damn badass and I liked her character a lot more than that of her sisters.

As for the background politics and building war, I didn’t see the bad guy being who it was in the end. Of everyone in the entire story, the dozens of characters that the kingpin could have been, I didn’t see it being that one. So go Mr Sanderson for making me actually gasp at the plot twist, and good on readers of goodreads for using their spoiler tags effectively and not ruining it for people!

There is apparently going to be a 2 more books in this series, but it does work really well as a standalone, which I love. No idea when the next one will be out but I will, most definitely, be reading it.

Review: In the Labyrinth of Drakes – Marie Brennan

010-in-the-labyrinth-of-drakes

Rating – 4*

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is the fourth book in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I love this series, I really do, so far none of them have let me down – this one is no exception. I’ve been putting off picking this book up as the fifth and final book has not yet been released, and I didn’t want the wait to be too long between this book and the next one. As it stands, the next book is due out in April – but when the audiobook will be released is anyone’s guess. I absolutely love the audiobooks for this series, they’re read superbly and I would really highly recommend them to anyone who is after something engaging and easy to listen to!

This book, much like the previous books, follows Isabella on her quest to understand more about dragons. The focus of her academic study in this book is breeding dragons in captivity, but as can be expected that’s not the only element of this story; the whole arc of this series is becoming something I cannot wait to see resolved in the final instalment.

In this book we also have the return of some characters from previous books, and the introduction of some new ones. I really love this series because Isabella’s best friend is a man, Tom. It is so refreshing to read a book where there are two people of opposite genders who are just friends. Especially when there is some romance in this book, it’s a breath of fresh air that that part of the book doesn’t go down the trope of a love triangle. I will forever love the fact that Isabella and Tom are able to remain friends, they completely ignore the rumours that go around, the inevitable scandals their friendship causes. Honestly, it’s one of the most genuine friendships between characters of opposite genders I’ve found in a book!

But, on the subject of romance, if you liked the undertones in Voyage of the Basilisk then the developments in In the Labyrinth of Drakes will make you very happy. I won’t say too much, to avoid spoiling it, but needless to say I am very happy with how it all came together.

My only disappointment with this book is how it ended. Abruptly. I was ready to keep going, they had this massive discovery and then it just ends. I know it was building up to the fifth book, and I really hope that the finale to this series doesn’t disappoint because, how this one ended, just aggravated me.

Needless to say, I will be picking up the final book in this series – and I may even forgo the audiobook to read it sooner!

Review: Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb

46 - Royal Assassin

Rating – 3*

Unpopular opinion – I didn’t much care for this book. There is no denying that Robin Hobb can build an incredible world, and I really enjoyed book 1 but this was just a really hard slog for me. I was hoping that the pace would really pick up in this book, but if anything I felt it slow down from the first book. Reading other reviews of this, many people do say that “you have to get through this trilogy and then it becomes amazing in the next series” – and I find that really hard to swallow. I wanted this book to be amazing, not a precursor for something amazing – nearly 2000 pages building up to another series, which is itself between 3000 and 4000 pages seems like I’m being cheated a bit!

 

I listened to this as an audiobook. While from the clip I listened to of the first book had me quite dubious about the narrator, I have come to find him quite easy to listen to, and would seriously recommend this on audiobook.

Now, I gave this book 3* – but it was more a 2.5 if I’m honest – and in the goodreads term “I liked it”. It was a good story in parts, it does have merit and I can see why people love it but for me it really, really exhausted me. And, worst of all, everything still felt unresolved come the end. Honestly, I found myself a little disappointed. I don’t want to go too much in to the plot (though I struggle to recall anything of note as I’m writing this), as it is a second book in a series and in doing so some points of the first book would be ruined. But I found the romance (if you can call it that) quite irritating, the trials that Fitz went through could have been resolved in 200 pages less, and all was made worse for me by the characters. If they were better, maybe I’d have enjoyed the plot a bit more.

The primary issue is the characters, as I said above, and I can’t say I feel attached to any of them. Least of all Fitz. When a book is written in first person, I need a connection with the character, I need to have some sort of identification with them and with Fitz I just don’t have that. I found his character really monotonous, and didn’t feel like he grew at all through the course of this book. It wasn’t just Fitz though, I felt all of the characters were more like caricatures or puppets who I just didn’t gel with as a reader.

The fact it was an audiobook actually elevated the rating a bit as I rated the whole experience of the book, and audio definitely made the book a little more enjoyable for me. Without it, I would probably have rated it a 2*.

I just found it very difficult to read, and throughout I just became really despondent with it. I did finish it, I was in two minds as to whether to give up, but I’m a completist by nature. Because of that, I will read the final book in this series but I’m not in any hurry unfortunately. What I find most infuriating is so many people say that this trilogy is not reflective of the rest of the books set in the same world – that you just have to ‘get through’ this one and then it becomes amazing… but I’m really put off reading The Liveship Traders series after my rather rocky relationship with this first trilogy so far!

Review: Voyage of the Basilisk – Marie Brennan

44 - Voyage of the Basilisk

Rating – 4*

Voyage of the Basilisk is the third in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series, and while it was fantastic, for me a lot of it fell a little short of the mark. Don’t get me wrong, this series is great – I love the cast of characters we have, I love the world that has been created, and maybe I am being a little unfair as the book I read previously was absolutely amazing and this (however fabulous) could probably never measure up.

This third novel picks up quite some time after the previous book. We have a brief overview of what happened in the bridging time leading up to the action of this, but not all that much. Although, I would love a book which follows what happens in her library! Anyway, Voyage of the Basilisk follows Isabella Camhurst as she and her son (now 9!) and friends – both old and new – go on a 2 year voyage around the world to study all manner of dragons, on a ship named Basilisk. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that, and a little bit before half way we find our cast of characters stranded on an island and trying to adapt to their situation.

The thing which surprised me most in this instalment was the introduction of some gender-fluidity. Isabella has never conformed to societal gender norms, and the island they find themselves stranded on has a belief in the third gender and this is interwoven so seamlessly I was mighty impressed. One line which stood out to me regarding this was:

“So long as my society refuses to admit of a concept of femininity that allows for such things then one could indeed say that I stand between”

One thing I found in this one, which shone out more than in the others before it, was that the dry sense of humour of Isabella really came through. The previous books have been amusing, but parts of this actually had me laughing out loud.

I was torn as to how to rate this, mainly because while reading/listening to it I had the previous book I read still on my mind. However, it’s unfair to mark it down based on that – something it cannot help – so looking at it objectively I decided it was definitely in line with the previous books and was deserving of another 4* review. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the next book but I’m going to have to pace myself before picking it up as the 5th book isn’t expected until 2017!

Review: The Tropic of Serpents – Marie Brennan

35 - A Tropic of Serpents

Rating – 4*

I read the first in this series, A Natural History of Dragons, a couple of months ago and fell a little bit in love. My full review of that can be found here. Much like with the first book, I listened to this as an audiobook, I love the narration of these but I do intend to pick up physical copies as I know they’re books I want to have on my shelf.

If you haven’t read the first book, I really suggest you do. While I’ve tried to keep this spoiler free I can’t be certain! So I’ve suitably warned you now, and it’s on to the review.

This picks up a couple of years after the events of the first book. I really cannot convey enough how much I absolutely adore Isabella as a protagonist. She is the literary equivalent of Evie from The Mummy (my not so guilty pleasure) and therefore Isabella, as her literary counterpart, is my hero. There are so many reasons for this, as a character Isabella grows a huge amount in this book, without giving anything away she acknowledges her role at home and her standing in society. I also loved Natalie, and Isabella’s relationship with her; I’m really very happy with the hints that she will appear in future books!

The story itself was less focused on dragons and more focused on politics, anthropology and adventure. For me, that was awesome as while I love the dragons I absolutely adored Brennan’s world building. I was fascinated by the different people and cultures, the politics that Isabella and her group get thrown in to. It also focuses heavily on the roles of women in society, especially in academia, more so than the first book I feel. And it wasn’t until I was really in to this book that I realised that while the selling point is dragons, this are actually fictional memoirs about Isabella’s life – and while she loves dragons it isn’t the sole point to her life, just the driving force.

Needless to say I absolutely loved this book, I gave it 4* because for me it just lacked the ‘unputdownable-ness’ of a 5* read. It’s just something so different to read as fiction that it challenges the way I read and, in parts, I was hard pushed to even think of it as fiction as it was just so believable. So I encourage anyone to pick this series up, if only for the fabulousness that is Isabella Camherst, or Lady Trent.

If you want to read it, consider supporting my blog and purchasing the book through The Book Depository here

Review: Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb

30 - Assassin's Apprentice

Rating – 3*

I have to say this is one of those books that I have wanted to read in what feels like forever. It came to my attention very soon after I discovered the world of booktube; I was introduced to the world by Sam (Sam’s Nonsense) and finally I have gotten around to it because she is hosting a read-a-long of all Hobb’s work (Hobb-A-Long on GoodReads).

So, I went in to this with very high expectations, maybe too high as I was a little disappointed in it.

Fitz is a fantastic protagonist, what he goes through in this book is brutal but in a relatively short space of time he is forged in to an assassin. The character development and world building in this book is pretty intense, and impressive. For what is relatively a short book, there was a huge amount of information packed in to it. I did have to sometimes pause for a little while and just read through the discussion group to put together the information that I had just read/heard.

However, for me this sincerely lacked in a lot of areas. It felt very much like a prequel to the real series, in a way it is – it’s the forging of Fitz and because it spans such a breadth of time it is bound to not cover everything. I can tell this is going to be an incredible series, and one I’m really going to enjoy. The ideas in this book are things that I really like the sound of and I am really, really looking forward to seeing how Fits – and the series – develops.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and read along with it on my kindle, and I really recommend the audiobook of this as the narrator is great. For me it was an audiobook I had to sometimes follow with the actual text as not everything settled in by just listening. But I did really enjoy it and I have picked the other two books in the Farseer trilogy up as audiobooks too.

So, on the whole this was a good book but didn’t quite live up to the image I’d built for it in my head. I can’t wait to finish this first series now!