The Sword Saint – CF Iggulden

sword saint cover

“The boy crouched on a ledge, resting his chin on his knees, eyes bright as he watched the old priest pass below.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series, Darien and Shiang, although felt that there was so much more to be explained about all the wondrous things: the powerful stones held by the ruling families of Darien, the few individuals with special abilities, and how the geography might or might not fit with our world as their history. Alas, the series closes out with few answers – and yet it’s still one hell of a ride!

The second book threw me a little, switching cities and focus (at least to begin with), so one of the things I loved here was seeing all those threads from the first and second books pulled together. Truly, this trilogy is meant to be read as a whole, not individual chapters.

We’re back in Darien for the finale, and a new neighbouring king looking to make a trade deal – or, is that really what’s going on? As names start to feel familiar from the prologue, we’re left to wonder just what was being guarded by a priest.

There are a few victories and a few heartbreaking defeats as we follow our band of misfits one last time. It might have been nice to learn more about all the ideas, but perhaps it’s all best shrouded in mystery as we enjoy the series’ final battles.

Start with Darien – but do start!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 26 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Empire of Salt book 3 (of 3)
Read from 31st July – 8th August 2019

My rating: 9/10

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Foul Play on Words – Becky Clark

foul play on words cover

“Waiting for someone to pick you up at the airport is like being forced to be eight years old again.”

Fiction Can Be Murder, the first book in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery series, introduced us to Charlemagne (Charlee) Russo, the mystery writer in question, after her unpleasant agent is found murdered.

Book two picks up a few months later, with Charlee due to speak at a writer’s conference organised by her friend, Viv. However, she instead finds herself in charge of organising the whole about-to-be fiasco, as Viv is a little more concerned with the kidnapping of her daughter! Can Charlee juggle hotel cock-ups, double booked doggies, and dark suspicions?

I hadn’t been completely enthralled with the first book, but this one feels like an improvement. Certainly, I was kept guessing as to which way the plot was going to turn. Charlee is reasonably relatable here, trying to help in awful circumstances, and behaving in a pretty plausible way – not often the case in such books!

I enjoyed the easy, mostly fun read and the not entirely obvious twists and turns. The ending is perhaps a little weak, but more in terms of how we get to the big reveal rather than the solution itself.

I was unsure about continuing with this series after book one, but after this instalment I’d be happy enough to continue.

NetGalley eARC: 257 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery book 2
Read from ?-24th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

Murder at the British Museum – Jim Eldridge

murder at the british museum cover

“Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton walked through the high-barred black iron gateway in Great Russell Street that gave entrance to the British Museum, then strode across the wide piazza towards the long row of towering Doric columns that fronted the magnificent building.”

Former Scotland Yard Inspector Daniel Wilson now works as a ‘private enquiry agent’ – private investigator to the rest of us. Along with new partner (which would be a spoiler for book 1, it turns out), historian Abigail Fenton, he’s called in to investigate a murder in – as the title suggests! – the British Museum. Who would have wanted to viciously stab the author of a book about King Arthur?

Set in London not long after the Jack the Ripper investigation, one of the appeals of this book was the period setting. I don’t think it worked quite as well for me as I’d hoped, nor the handling of the female lead. She’s quite kick-ass, and modern, and then does some daft girlie things that had me rolling my eyes a little.

I could imagine the author identifying quite strongly with his lead character, but the rest of the cast can be a little flat. In particular, the Scotland Yard Chief Inspector feels like quite a stereotype. I also found the author’s expansive historical knowledge a little too spelled out at times, with mini-info dumps at regular intervals. Likewise the geography of London is a little too in-depth at times.

And yet, despite these perceived flaws, I still fairly enjoyed the read. The chapters are short and the pace brisk, and the tone is relatively light but not remotely fluffy. I was in the mood for an easy read, and this fit the bill well – so much, that I’ve requested the first installment from the library.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Museum Mysteries book 2
Read from 15th-20th July 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Kingdom – Jess Rothenberg

kingdom cover

“One hour after the murder the room where they at last found him was so cold they wondered, at first, if he had frozen to death.”

What if Disneyland had a more Westworld kind of a thing going on? That’s the premise of this book. A magical Kingdom, where ‘hybrids’ are bred part machine part flesh, to reintroduce extinct species and provide a playground for anyone rich enough to visit. It’s more Disney visitor park than WW immersive, and there are only seven ‘Hosts’ – I mean, ‘Fantasists’ (I hated that word, btw) – all female, as apparently the male versions were ‘too unsettling’.

Our story follows one of these android Princesses, Anna. It’s told in a similar way to Big Little Lies, starting with courtroom transcripts before the main tale is told in flashbacks as we discover who has died, and why. Slowly, Anna’s perfect existence is shown to unravel at the edges: is their safe haven more of a cage? Is someone messing with their data files? Is there a bigger conspiracy going on than Anna can imagine?

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the read, but as the references above show, it all just felt like a mash up of several other ideas. Heck, the author even uses the phrase “Violent delights have violent ends” – yes, it ties in well with the Romeo and Juliet theme (being originally from that play, before being used in Westworld) that is rather clunkily thrown in (I get it, it’s from Anna’s point of view, but still meh), but it really only highlights what felt like a lack of originality.

I could forgive that more easily if the story did anything new or exciting or just wowed me in any form. Instead, it never felt like it rose above its derivativeness, for me, and the weakness of the ending only confirmed that feeling of ‘meh’. It’s not a dreadful read by any stretch, but nothing hit any high notes for me at all – if you’re less familiar with those inspirations, then your mileage may indeed vary.

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 68 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 7th-14th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

The Art of Jin Shin – Alexis Brink

art of jin shin cover

“The book you are holding in your hands is meant to provide a basic introduction to the foundation and principles of the Art of Jin Shin.”

Subtitled, ‘The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips’, this book gives a brief history of this ‘energy medicine’, followed by several long lists of different holds for different conditions.

The basic premise is something along the lines of: by holding two points on the body, we can ‘release’ the energy flow within ourselves (or others), thus aiding all manner of afflictions, from insomnia to headaches, stress to digestive issues.

I was very impressed with the attitude here: it’s not given as an alternative to seeing your doctor, merely an additional process that may prove helpful. And to be honest, while I’m relatively open to such ideas, my hunch is that the usefulness of Jin Shin is less about which finger you’re holding and more that the breathing and focus is actually meditation. Still, any meditation practice can benefit from a focus, and this is a pretty interesting one.

The other message that I agree with wholeheartedly is that nothing here can hurt you – well, unless you twist something trying to hold on to your ankle, of course 😉 So yes, I was more than up for giving this a go. I’m not sure any of my attempts particularly solved the issue in question, except perhaps holding the back of my neck for an ache – but, the warmth of my hand probably didn’t hurt. As I say, I think the meditation effect was beneficial. Still, I see more likelihood of finding this useful than its more famous cousin, Reiki.

My main complaint here would be that the book in e-format wasn’t the easiest to navigate. If I have a specific problem I’d like to try to address, figuring out where to go is awkward. So, if you fancy giving it a go, the physical book is probably better.

Overall: an interesting concept, and as there’s no harm in trying it out than why not? If nothing else, you’ll benefit from a quiet moment of breathing and relaxation, and a little time spent with your own body is never a bad idea.

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 16th-26th June 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Binding – Bridget Collins

binding cover

“When the letter came I was out in the fields, binding up my last sheaf of wheat with hands that were shaking so much I could hardly tie the knot.”

Imagine a world where you can have memories taken out of your head, bound into a book and no longer troubling you. Novels are merely cheap fakes, the real stories are people’s lives and will catch you up in their once-reality.

Emmett Farmer is recovering from a long, mysterious illness when he approached to be an apprentice to the local Binder. She teaches him how to make and cover books, each a work of art, but he still doesn’t understand what she does with the visitors who come asking for her help.

I really loved the idea of this world, the books that are so beautiful often housing very dark secrets. The sense of mystery in the opening chapters is just enough to hook you in, waiting to find out what’s going on.

Alas, once we’ve got the world building out of the way, the story takes a turn and I really wasn’t impressed. You have Binding and memory removal – and you turn it into a love story? Urgh. I am not a fan of romances, to be honest. And I’m increasingly not a fan of fantasy that picks up real-world prejudices. I’d rather read about worlds where it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, gay or straight, black or white. To have the whole story hinge on at least one of those being a Huge Bad Thing just soured it all for me.

That said, the writing is good, and the story is very well presented – although I did get confused, repeatedly, by the switch of first person point of view for the third part. Somehow that never quite clicked in my brain. Still, that it wasn’t the fantasy wonder I was hoping for didn’t stop me reading and enjoying what was there.

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 28 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 12th-30th June 2019

My rating: 6/10 – well enough written, but not my cuppa

Urban Enemies- various

urban enemies cover

“Villains have all the fun – everyone knows that – and this anthology takes you on a wild ride through the dark side!”

The idea of this collection really appealed to me: a series of short stories set in ‘famous’ worlds, but giving the author a chance to explore the baddie’s point of view. I thought it’d be a good chance to explore some series that I haven’t yet tried, as well as a few that were familiar but from a very different angle.

Alas, it didn’t quite work out for me – as the very long gap in my reading probably shows! There’s nothing at all wrong with these stories, the writing is all very well done. However, not being familiar with most of the worlds being (re)visited here, I struggled to get in to many of the stories. They probably work very well if you’ve a familiarity with the series already, but the new-to-me and unusual viewpoints weren’t a great place to start.

The one series I am very au fait with would be the Dresden Files, but alas (again) this story didn’t do much for me. I know the characters, but the tale just didn’t grab me. I’d expected more, I think, as quite often the villains are if not the most then certainly often highly intriguing characters, but I just didn’t find myself hooked.

On the other hand, there were a few that worked despite my lack of prior knowledge. Seanan McGuire is an author I’ve been hearing great things about for a while, and her contribution here – paranormal creatures that look human but can make people do anything they want – did exactly what I expected this collection to do: made me want to reach for the main series.

Overall, there’s nothing bad about this anthology, and I’m a bit disappointed it didn’t click more with me. On the other hand, there are definitely some intriguing ideas here, including a pocket dimension that looks like a film back-lot, and a (I assume) fallen angel turned monster with a pretty good explanation even in such a short tale. If you’re familiar with any of the ‘worlds’ already then the alternate viewpoint could well be even more interesting.

The authors/series here are: Jim Butcher/Dresden Files, Kelley Armstrong/Cainsville, Seanan McGuire/October Daye, Kevin Hearn/The Iron Druid Chronicles, Jonathan Maberry/Joe Ledger, Lilith Saintcrow/Jill Kismet, Carrie Vaughn/Kitty Norville, Joseph Nassise/Templar Chronicles, Domino Finn/Black Magic Outlaw, Steven Savile/Glasstown, Caitlin Kittredge/Hellhound Chronicles, Jeffrey Somers/Ustari Cycle, Sam Witt/Pitchfork County, Craig Schaefer/Daniel Faust, Jon F Merz/Lawson Vampire, Faith Hunter/Jane Yellowrock, Diana Pharoah Francis/Horngate Witches.

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 17 stories
First published: 2017
Series: short stories from various SFF series
Read from 5th July 2017 – 12th June 2019 (put it down in the middle, for a loooong stretch!)

My rating: 6/10