Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan

“Lydia heard the distant flap of paper wings as the first book fell from its shelf.”

Mystery set in a bookshop? Well, that’s me sold already! Small warning, though, that this is not a cosy mystery à la Elementary, She Read, but a fair bit darker. However, it’s firmly in the ‘mystery’ and not ‘thriller’ category, so nothing trying to make you jump – perfect!

We start off with the suicide of a regular patron – a ‘bookfrog’ (heh, it was meant to be reviewed here, wasn’t it!? 🙂 ) – of the titular bookstore. When Lydia finds the body, she also finds a 20-year-old photo of her tenth birthday party in his pocket. How? Why? And then another photo – a newspaper snap of her coming out of the bookstore alongside the stretcher – suddenly brings a rush of her long-avoided past to sweep her back up.

While most of the story follows the current interlacing mysteries, we get plenty of flashback chapters, taking us back to a time just after that first photo was taken, when Lydia lives through a huge trauma – no spoilers! – that is still impacting on her life today. Old friends, estranged parents – it seems like everyone is coming out of the woodwork, and Lydia will no longer be able to put her past behind her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, including the slightly darker tone. Lydia is a very well-written character, with just the right amount of fear and courage, and believable responses to things that (have) happen(ed). The other characters are kept more secondary, but not 2-dimensional, keeping the focus on the plot’s twists and turns. Okay, so the final denouement perhaps relies on a few too many coincidences, but for the main they are woven very organically into the story and kept me guessing the whole way.

I think, with this book, I’ve come to realise that I really like the mystery genre. I’ve dabbled in the past with more ‘thrillers’, but am rarely in the mood for that kind of ‘Danger! Danger!’ approach. MatBIB kept me mentally intrigued, without having to reach into the disturbing territory. More like this, please!

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 27 chapters plus epilogue
First published: August 2017
Series: none
Read from 5th-9th July 2017

My rating: 8/10

A Gathering of Ravens – Scott Oden

“The storm howled out of the west like the terrible voice of God, shouting down the heretics who doubted the coming Apocalypse.”

The last kin of (a version of) Grendel – the monster in Beowulf – is on a mission to wreak vengeance on his brother’s killer. Along the way, he toys with a Norse warrior turned monk and his young apprentice, little knowing the impact one of them will have on both his quest and his unnaturally long life.

As the trail leads from Denmark to Ireland, the reader is treated to ancient myths meeting the rise of Christianity, in a tale of gods, kings and monsters, unlikely alliances, revenge and recreating yourself and the world.

I do wish I’d enjoyed this book more than I did. There’s a lot to be liked about it, including the mix of history and myth and the effort to cast orcs as part of both. However, I must be honest: I found the whole thing just a bit of a slog. Not bad by any means – and I did finish it, after all! – but there was something that just fell flat for me about the whole thing.

The characters, for instance, are either monstrous (well, on purpose!) and therefore unlikeable (mostly), or in my view just a bit… damp. I could not fathom the motivations of at least one main character, and therefore had very little empathy for dangers then encountered. As the story progresses, we switch from unpronounceable Norse names to a long list of old Irish, but as none of these characters are really there for any reason other than to further the plot, it just became an effort to remember who was who.

As for that plot, I found it a little too linear: creature seeks revenge. Other character is dragged along for the ride. Perhaps with something more involved, I would have been too. I did like the historic period – c.1000 AD – and the attempts to show the new ‘Nailed God’ worshippers ousting the old, more pagan ways, but there was either not enough explanation, or just too much reliance on ‘because: faith’, and either way I felt… meh.

Thankfully, I seem to be in the minority on this one, if Goodreads reviews are anything to go by. I could sense the love and passion that had gone into the writing, even before I read the afterword about ‘the story that wouldn’t let go’, and the author’s aims – which were fab to read. But, alas, this one just wasn’t for me.

NetGalley eARC: 400 pages
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 4th June – 5th July 2017

My rating: 5/10 – just didn’t grab me, ymmv

Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft – Mindy Klasky

girls guide to witchcraft cover

“They don’t teach witchcraft in library school.”

Every once in a while I feel the need for some light reading – often while I’m slogging through something heavier – and recently I’ve been more inclined to dabble with genres I would previously had recoiled from in horror: namely, chicklit and paranormal romance. Yeah o_O

GGtW was an Amazon freebie I must have downloaded ages ago, attracted by the mix of magic and libraries. If I have to put up with some soppy girlie stuff along the way, so be it, right?

Jane is a librarian, and a bit of a mouse. I’m sad to say she actually does the whole removes-glasses-gets-haircut-becomes-hot (and fyi you do NOT start wearing contact lenses without weeks of pain!) over the course of the book (hardly a spoiler), but at least it’s through her own volition, more or less.

Viewed in the right frame of mind, it is actually quite nice to see her starting to like herself more and develop some confidence, as she is a bit sad at the start of the book, pining after her ‘Imaginary Boyfriend’ (her words) a year after being dumped by her fiance. She has the cheek to be a bit catty about her best friend’s military-like plan for churning through first dates, especially as bf is in the story mainly to be there every single time for our ‘heroine’.

Talking of, it’s not long before Jane discovers the collection of magic books in her new basement, summons a familiar by mistake, and goes on to have a few magical disasters over the course of the book. First mistake? Casting a love spell…! o_O

It’s hard to be wholly positive about this book, as it is utter fluff, but I confess I did rather enjoy it. It’s very daft, very VERY light reading, and exactly what I was looking for to balance the slog of the other tome I’m currently struggling with. Are there flaws? Of course – and a whole heap of cliches too!

Recommended? Urm, probably not to the tastes of anyone I know – although, I suspect y’all would be keeping this as a guilty secret anyway 😉

Kindle: 432 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2006
Series: Jane Maddison book 1
Read from 25th June – 3rd July 2017

My rating: 6/10

Colony – Rob Grant

“Eddie O’Hare considers himself to be the unluckiest man in the entire cosmos. And, bluntly, he’s got a damned fine point.”

After a computer error gets Eddie onto the radar of some unpleasant hit men, he’s more than keen to take the opportunity to swap places with a bloke who quite looks like him but is about to spend the rest of his life jetting off into space. Mankind is off to colonise the stars, you see, but it will take generations of onboard pioneers to make it.

Which is fine: Eddie’s lifespan is about to be measured in floors, vertically, if you get my drift, so just about anything is preferable.

Of course, he’s got absolutely no idea who he’s trying to pretend to be, and as it turns out the package is not exactly as sold. Finding out he’s a bit of a nasty, unliked sod is only the first of Eddie’s misidentification problems…

There’s a lot of fun and things to like here, at least in the beginning. Eddie’s bad luck is indeed atrocious, and he manages to get into worse and worse scrapes through misheard conversations, not understanding who he’s pretending to be, or knowing a thing about the mission he’s signed up for. The first hundred or so pages are a fun little farce.

However, part three opens some nine generations on – in a 5-generation journey, so quite the feat – when Eddie is awoken from a kind of stasis (did I mention this was penned by one of the Red Dwarf writers?) to discover all sorts of things didn’t go to plan. Luckily – well…! – the population of the ship has forgotten how to read, giving Eddie a priest-like power to decipher the strange hieroglyphs, like “Exit”, “Airlock”, and the like. He’s also able to see the effects of the first-generation policies, such as family-inherited careers – leading to a religious fanatic of a science officer, the least holy priest ever, and a teenage captain who gets to name the planet they might just be about to fly into, “Thrrrrp”. And that’s the polite one 😉

Things do start getting more than a little ridiculous from this point, but what’s been a fun read is hugely let down by a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I’m not sure if the author didn’t know where the story was going, or if he’d just hit either his wordcount or his deadline, and scurried to wrap things up. Either way, disappointing.

Hardback: 290 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2000
Series: none
Read from 8th-10th June 2017

My rating: 5.5/10 – disappointing ending, but before that it’s very easy to read if very daft

Wild Things – Christopher Golden

“Alone in the dark.”

I’m in the process of trying to slim down my book collection, and as part of that there’s a goal to finish off series I want to get rid of. This is one of those series. It’s not awful – I’ve made through all four books (albeit over several years!) – but it’s also nothing particularly special, tbh. Damn my habit of buying a whole series before reading the first book, eh?!

Prowlers is pretty much a werewolf series. Two young, Bostonian, Irish pub-owning siblings and their friends discover that shapeshifters are living among us. When a group of said ‘prowlers’ decide they want to reclaim the glory days of being at the top of the food chain, the friends end up battling the nasties. That’s pretty much the synopsis for all four volumes, btw!

There is an ongoing story arc completed through the four, which is kind of nice, along with the battle-per-book. However, I just didn’t connect much with the characters or the writing; I suspect that it’s aimed at more of a teenage audience, as there’s limits on the gore and no sex that I can recall, despite the young-adult romance subplot.

Overall: acceptable beach-reading fluff, if you like your sunshine to contain a little darkness. And now I can dispose of another four books from my shelf. Woo!

Paperback: 311 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2002
Series: Prowlers book 4 (of 4)
Read from 18th May – 5th June 2017

My rating: 5/10

One of Us is Lying – Karen M McManus

“A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update.”

Imagine if The Breakfast Club didn’t get the chance to spend detention coming to deep and meaningful revelations about themselves, because one of them dropped dead. The brain, the jock, the princess, the criminal – all four of them were about to have some shocking secret revealed by the dead boy, Simon, the outcast and creator of a nasty little gossip app. Which means all four had really good motives for murder…

The book is told from all four points of view, with the switch between characters clearly marked with the name and a timestamp. So, as we see inside all four heads, it means one of the narrators must be lying, as they relate the events after Simon’s death, including the police interviews, sensationalist journalists hounding them, and deepening relationships as the four become the ‘murder club’, shunned by classmates who can’t believe any of them are innocent.

I really liked the idea of this story, but felt that the different voices could have been a little more disparate, and the stories told with a little more tension. There’s something just a little too cosy about the tellings of watching movies and getting haircuts, in the midst of all the drama – yes, it’s normal life going on despite everything, but it did lessen some of the potential impact for me.

The mystery unfolds well enough, but the real ‘message’ of the story is more about the secrets and lies, and the impact these have on all five lives, not to mention those around them. Go in knowing that and not just looking for a straight murder mystery, and there’s a lot to enjoy in this book.

NetGalley eARC: 358 pages / 30 subdivided chapters plus epilogue
First published: June 2017
Series: none
Read from 29th May – 4th June 2017

My rating: 7/10

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecott

“One for sorrow: Mary Tudor, a magpie queen – dress black, face chill white, pearls hanging in her hair like teardrops – stands in the pose of a woman with child, her right palm flat across her swollen belly.”

Imagine a little corner of England, a village snuggled away from the hustle and bustle, where modern life has been kept at bay for centuries. It’s not that technology doesn’t exist here – in fact, thanks to the highly intelligent population and the university, much of the modern world’s tech is actually developed here – but the pace of life is still ‘ye olde worlde’, somehow. Not that the people necessarily know this, as outsiders are discouraged, and learning any history prior to 1800 is outright banned.

Why would such a place need to be hidden away? What’s so wrong with teaching history? When two newcomers – a history teacher and a new lord of the manor – arrive, both seem destined to wrap themselves in yet more mystery, as they struggle to figure out this strange, other-worldly place.

My first praise for Rotherweird is that it’s a wonderfully original book, quite unlike most of the fantasy stuff out there. There are layers upon layers of mystery, and no way to guess where most of it is going – lovely!

If I’m being picky, I did find there were perhaps a few too many point-of-view characters, which I felt got a little confusing at times. Everyone has such weird names, too. The author is also clearly a very intelligent chap (he’s a lawyer by day-trade), and there were points where I felt I was playing catch-up on the clues and reveals, which took away a little from the impact.

However, overall this is just a fantastically weird and immersive world, which was amazing amounts of fun to visit. There’s a strong dose of humour throughout the writing, and some excellent mystery-building to keep you reading ’til the end. I particularly liked the historical interludes between each section, slowly revealing a little more of the enigma.

Delighted to read interviews that suggest this is the first part of a trilogy – thoroughly looking forward to seeing what’s next for the odd population of Rotherweird!

NetGalley eARC: 480 pages / ~60 chapters
First published: May 2017
Series: Rotherweird trilogy, book 1
Read from 15th-29th May 2017

My rating: 7.5/10