The Toymakers

By Robert Dinsdale

It has been a very long time since I’ve finished a book that has left me feeling so emotionally gutted. The Toymakers broke my heart many times over, in the best possible way. It’s rather hard to put this review into words because my heart is actually still alternating between being clenched and then fluttering like a host of butterflies. Just like the magic the author describes, this book is bigger on the inside, evoking feelings inside that I rarely feel with a book. I’m going to have a hard time pulling myself out of this enchantment, and I’m not sure I want to.

Summary

34846987The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! 

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs, and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical… 

Musings

The story revolves around Cathy, a young girl who finds herself pregnant at 16 and runs away to find a place she can live with the child and not have to give it up. The Emporium welcomes her with open arms, and there she meets Papa Jack and his two sons, men from the East who make toys so magical they could almost be real. Or, perhaps, they are – that is the magic of toys after all.

From there, the book sweeps across a life: we start in 1907 and finish in 1953, the Emporium surviving two world wars… and a war of its own. The Long War has been fought between the two brothers ever since they became toymakers themselves, pitting toy soldiers against each other, while they also try to take control of the store itself. By following Cathy, we see the lives that are changed in this place, and the magic toys can bring.

There is so much in this book. Patchwork dogs that seem alive; paper trees that put down roots; Wendy houses that are the size of a real house inside. Even toy soldiers who can wind each other up. We follow Marth, Cathy’s daughter, as she grows. Kaspar, the eldest son of Papa Jack, as he returns from war a changed man. Every time I thought I was settling into a story, it turned into something else, so I could not anticipate where the story was going.

The magic of the Emporium is reminiscent of books such as the Night Circus and captures that feeling you remember of toystores at Christmas when you were a child. The magic in this book comes from how the author winds real magic into the pages: he says Papa Jack can make the toys so realistic because he uses the perspective of a child, and so the author has done the same, weaving perspective to make the pages come alive. I was fully immersed in Cathy’s story, in her relationship with Kaspar. During the last chapters, I felt so empty, imagining myself in her shoes.

While the pacing is slow, it’s still impossible to put down. Again, I’m going to blame it on magic. Towards the end when we begin to skip years at a time, I felt as if I myself was watching my life flash before my eyes, my own story coming to an end. I can’t believe I let myself get so engrossed by a book. Like one of Kaspar’s massive toy chests, I’ve fallen in, and I can’t get back out.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’ve reread the last chapter twice. It’s a real masterpiece.

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Our Dark Stars

By Audrey Grey

This book is everything I need in a sci-fi: brilliant conflict, strong characters, love, betrayal, and of course the immensity of outer space. And in a fangirly voice – this book was SO COOL.

Summary

37459966While she sleeps, the whole universe changes.

Princess Talia Starchaser has it all. Wealth. Status. Adoring citizens. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she’s forced to publicly betray her best friend, a companion mock she’s had since birth, setting events into motion that lead to the destruction of the humans, and the princess floating through space, a remnant of a time when humans ruled over droids.

One hundred years later, half-mock captain Will Perrault and his ragtag crew discover a device floating in space. When a very human Talia emerges from its depths, Will suspects she’s the key to buying his way back into the regiment he once commanded against the last remaining rebel humans—and the ruling mock queen’s good graces.

Both Talia and Will would rather get space-tossed than trust one another, but with the queen’s forces chasing them across the galaxy and the fate of both worlds hanging in the balance, they’ll forge the unlikeliest of alliances to survive.

Musings

Talia Starchaser is now of age to accept the responsibilities of her role as princess, and she does so with dignity despite knowing the limitations imposed on her. She’s being married off to a stranger in the name of politics, and forced to abandon the life she loves, piloting starfighters with her best friend. The latter is a Mock: an android so close to being human, the only thing stopping her are the imposed limitations in her program. The two are inseparable, until the moment when Talia is forced to chose between their friendship and her hold on the kingdom.

A hundred years later, the results of this choice are being found by Will, a Mock who lives in a world where the roles are now reversed, and humans are subjugated. The reign of the Starchasers, once the first to have colonized the realm, is all but forgotten. Together, Talia, Will, and his crew must find their way in this dangerous universe – and right wrongs that cannot be left in the past.

I loved the intricate play between the two perspectives – and time periods. The author meshed them together so perfectly that it felt natural when the two lives collided. And there’s something I just adore about ‘stasis’ tropes; when a character awakens to find the world they knew completely upside down. How the author builds a universe populated by Mocks that makes sense, with new rules and limitations.

Exploring this world was a blast. Seeing how much had changed, seeing how much needed to change, it really dragged the reader in. I could not put the book down at this point. I loved Talia, with her cute naive side and her well trained, educated royal side; and Will, the mock with his humanity partially intact. The supporting characters were lovable and engaging as well, especially Jane whose character arc was powerful.

The ending happens incredibly fast. Once you find the twist, which was mildly predictable, from there the book races to an ending. I was surprised it wasn’t more drawn out, but it worked. I finished the book both wishing for more and glad it was self-contained, because I could imagine the characters having their happy ending.

All in all, this book is an engrossing work of YA science fiction, perfect for fans of the Starbound series. An irresistible read!

Expected publication: March 6th 2018 by Blaze Publishing, LLC
Preorder here


P.S. Back in December, I published a short story called DARK STAR, also about a princess in stasis found by a scavenger. It was published in the FROM THE STARS anthology by Torment Publishing. After I started reading this book and realized the similarities, I raced to the author’s Facebook page to discover we must have been writing our stories simultaneously. This is like an episode of the Twilight Zone! 

A Dangerous Game BLOG TOUR

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Have you read the outstanding UNTAMED series by Madeline Dyer? I discovered the first book back in summer 2016 and instantly fell in love. It was followed quickly by FRAGMENTED and DIVIDED, both even better than the last. The author’s most recent release is set in the same world, but takes place before the first book: and follows a different POV character, Keelie.

Today, as part of the blog tour, I’m sharing the prologue with you! Enjoy!

Summary

34035695LOVE WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE EASY…

All her life, Keelie Lin-Sykes has known what she wants: to protect her brother and sisters by killing as many of the soulless Enhanced Ones as she can. Oh, and to have fun while she’s doing it. After all, hiding in a secret Untamed community, while the group’s Seer warns them of danger, shouldn’t mean that life can only be serious, right?

But, when a face from her past suddenly–and secretly–shows up, Keelie’s catapulted back into the very world she’s been trying to escape from for the last ten years: a world full of guilt, lies, and…love. And the deeper Keelie gets into this world, the bigger the risks become.

Now, Keelie must deceive those she values most in order to protect them, even though her actions will destroy everything she knows and haunt her family forever. But she can’t ignore her feelings–not again. And Keelie will do anything to be with the man she loves.


TEN YEARS EARLIER

 

First, I hear them in my dreams.

Long, drawn-out screams. Screams that grab and burn, like fire; sounds that never let go. Sounds that—

“Keelie!”

I open my eyes, heart pounding, and see a figure looming over me. My father—short, red-faced, worried. He grabs my arm, pulls me up. The screams continue, still scorching me.

For a moment, I think it’s the Turning. That it’s the spirits screaming, that they’re reverting to their most dangerous of temperaments, and it’s a good job we’re inside, else they’ll kill us. But then I realize. The screams are human. They’re us.

“Keelie! Come on—we’ve got to go, got to leave. Now.” My father hands me several layers of clothes. “Pack everything quickly. Like we practiced.”

Behind him, my mother’s shoving everything she can get her hands on into the only suitcase we have. Her hands move so fast. “Owen, get the weapons!” she yells.

Nearby, there’s sharp movement—hands and arms reaching for things. Heavy, quick breathing. Bea, my older sister, scoops the baby out of the cot, holds Mila close to her chest just as the infant starts crying. I see the look on Bea’s face—how she’s trying to stay in control and not panic.

My body jolts; it’s happening. Actually happening.

They’re out there.

They’re coming for us.

Outside, someone shouts. I think it’s Red’s voice, but I’m not sure—it’s distorted by the heavy clog of the engines, the shouts, the screams.

A thousand emotions drive through my body, clash with each other, start to do battle. I know I should be afraid—the fear should be palpable—but I’m not. My body hums with energy. This is it.

I fight to stop a smile erupting across my face. There are times and places when smiling is appropriate. This is not one of them.

An engine rumbles outside, and then my father’s crossing the hut. Clanking sounds follow, and I know he’s getting the knives.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Bea whispers to Mila. But the baby can’t understand, and we all know Bea’s saying it to herself. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

I pull on clothes—a shirt, a hoody, an outer coat, and dark jeans—straight over my pajamas, then find my shoes, put them on. Then I grab my rucksack, start stuffing things inside. My blanket, spare shoes, a book. A second passes, then I grab my teddy bear—even though I know I’m too old for him now.

I fold Bea’s blanket hastily and stuff it into the top of my bag.

“Keelie, take these.” My mother thrusts several items into my arms: a compass, a pack of energy bars, water purification tablets, a tub of Vaseline, a bottle of insect repellent, and some antiseptic cream. “Put them in your bag; we’ve got no room in ours. And be quick. Bea, Mila’s food is in Gwen’s hut. Grab what you can, and then go—we’ll meet you in the woods, by Eighth Branch. Get Mila away before she starts crying. And where’s Elf?” She turns away, her face red with the heat, and flaps her hands around her head for a moment.

“Here.” The curtain to my right moves, and then my brother’s in front of me, reaching for the bottles of water, just as our father hands them to him.

Bea heads out of the hut, her arms wrapped tightly around our baby sister. An empty tote bag hangs from her shoulder.

“Be careful!” I call after her, but I don’t know if my words are loud enough, and I wonder if that’s the last time I’ll see my sisters. My heart clenches.

No, stop it.

I need to stay calm. Gwen’s hut isn’t far. It’s the nearest one to ours, and a lot of Mila’s things are in there because Gwen looks after the baby when my mother’s hunting and Bea’s gathering.

Heart thudding, I squash the new items into the rucksack, realize they won’t all fit, and pull the teddy bear back out, place him on my bed.

“Hurry up,” Caia-Lu whispers. I look up, see her old, gaunt face. “We have to go now. They’re getting closer to this hut.”

“Keelie—keep packing!” my mother shouts at me, her words fraught. And then she’s yelling more and more stuff, but her words are too loud, and I can’t make them out. I stare at her hands, the way they move next to her head. She spins around a couple of times, like she doesn’t know where to go next.

“We haven’t got time!” Caia-Lu grabs the Watcher Doll from the table and squeezes it hard between her palms as if the red paint on it will imprint onto her skin if she holds it tightly enough.

She’s calling upon the spirits to help us, even though she’s not an active Seer right now—she doesn’t get called to the Dream Land or given Seeing dreams put together by good spirits and the Gods and Goddesses. I pray that the spirits will still help, because we’re Untamed, but I know that’s no guarantee. They’re mostly on our side, but they still ripped my uncle to shreds and then altered time so that the scene played over and over for hours and hours. Some of them just want to torment everyone—whether they’re Enhanced or not.

The cries outside get louder. The screams.

“We have to go now!” Caia-Lu yells, and then she’s gone, and the Watcher Doll’s gone too.

I start to go, to follow her. Wisps of early morning light peak through the window, and I freeze as I see the shapes and—

“Keelie! Pack that stuff, grab the other bag—the one under there, yes. Elf, give me a hand with this.”

I shake as I reach for the next bag—as I realize this is real. Very real. Outside, I hear voices, close to our hut. Caia-Lu’s and Gregory’s.

“Where’s the torch?” Elf barges past me, then grabs it from the side counter, spilling a bowl of dried leaves.

“No—don’t turn it on,” my mother hisses. “They could be right out there. Keelie, look from the doorway. See if Ramna and Sara are ready to go. Be careful. Don’t go outside, not without me.”

I follow my mother’s words, and, a second later, I stand in the doorway, holding back the heavy curtain with my arm. It’s lighter outside than in our hut—there’s a full moon along with the dawn light, but it mainly illuminates the mist—and it takes my eyes several seconds to adjust.

Caia-Lu stands by Gwen’s hut, ten yards from me, her head in her hands. She turns slowly, lifting her face, and, despite the haze, I see the haunted look in her eyes.

“Run, child. Running is the only way out,” she shouts.

My chest tightens. I scan the rest of the area, but I can’t see far because of the early morning fog billowing out of the semi-darkness. There’s another hut behind Gwen’s—Nina’s—but I can’t even see its shape. Nor can I see my aunts, Ramna and Sara. But I wouldn’t from here. Their hut is on the other side of the village and—

A scream sends chills through my body.

Bea.

“Keelie! No!”

My mother tries to grab hold of me, but I’m too quick. I move into the half-darkness—toward the Enhanced, are they here now?—and I run, run toward the scream, toward Bea.

Footsteps pound behind me, and energy resounds through my whole body.

“That way!” Red yells, emerging from the dark, the mist, and he grabs my hand tightly, pulls me to the left.

I skid and slam into him, my best friend. We nearly lose our balance, but somehow we slip on the mud, and our weight propels us to the side. I grip his hand tighter, run faster, my eyes blinking furiously, trying to see ahead.

The trees are there; I can make out their outline. And—

And I see them.

Bea and—and the woman.

Red and I falter, stop. I feel his body jolt, and then he squeezes my hand, hard. He’s shaking.

They’re here. The Enhanced are here.

We’re too late.

Caia-Lu told you to run!

Bea’s crying, trying to cover her ears and hold the baby at the same time, while she rocks on the balls of her feet. She shakes her head over and over again. Mila starts wailing, and Bea trembles, then tries to make herself smaller, crouches down. I see her eyes shut as she nestles the baby into her lap, then she moves one hand up, covers her left ear.

“It’s all right, dear,” the woman says, reaching down to Bea with a long-fingered hand.

“No! Don’t touch her,” I yell. She doesn’t like being touched by strangers.

The woman turns to me—mirror eyes taunting—and I gulp. She takes a step toward me. And I’m sure she’s going to kill one of us. Me? Bea? Red?

But no, everything I know about them tells me that’s wrong. The Enhanced Ones don’t kill us. They’re not violent people, not murderers—that’s what they say. Any deaths in conversion attacks are accidents because the Enhanced Ones are programmed to want to save us all.

Yet, whether intentionally violent or not, they are still armed. And I don’t believe Dad when he says their guns are only for sport. They’re going to use them on us, sooner or later.

“It’s all right, children,” the woman says. “Don’t be scared. I’ve come to save you, my dears. We Chosen Ones will save you all.” She smiles brightly and looks toward Bea. “There, there. Don’t cry, my darlings. You too can live your lives free from negativities.”

Red lets go of my hand and steps toward Bea and the woman. “Bea! Come over here, now.”

But Bea isn’t looking at Red, and I don’t think she hears his words. She’s overstimulated; everything will be an overwhelming blur to her.

I dart forward. Mud splatters over my legs, cold and thick and clammy on my jeans, like it’s trying to draw me back, stop me going.

“Good girl,” the Enhanced woman whispers as I run at them. I don’t know how I hear her words—I just do—and she reaches for me.

I duck under her arm as I enter her thick cloud of perfume, nearly gagging. My eyes water.

“Bea!” I hesitate, know that I need to grab her. But she doesn’t like being touched a lot of the time, even if she knows the person. “Bea! Come on!”

I look around, and then the woman’s reaching toward me, and I ignore the voice in my head and pull Bea up. My sister’s arms are locked around Mila, and Bea stares at me for a moment. I push her to my left as hard as I can, and we’re moving, my two sisters in front of me.

“Red—” I turn, but I can’t see him. “Bea, run!” I shout, but my voice is strained, and it’s suddenly got darker—clouds over the moon and—

Warm fingers close around my wrist.

I twist, see myself reflected in the Enhanced One’s eyes, see myself captured.

For a second, I freeze. Then I spring into action. I slam my fist into the woman’s face, kick out at the same time, turning so I can throw off her center of gravity. But she’s strong—too strong—and her grip doesn’t weaken. If anything it gets stronger. She pulls me closer, and I turn again, kicking out, adrenaline pumping through me.

Her arm snaps around my body, like a lock. And—

“Let us save you!”

Suddenly, there are more. More people, more mirror eyes. I scream at them, try to frighten them, even though I know it’s impossible—they only feel what they want to.

I twist against her body, manage to unlatch her arm from me, and duck as a flash of something gold flies toward me in the half-light. An augmenter? My mouth dries.

No.

No.

No.

I can’t take the poison that will steal my soul, fill me with artificiality, and never let me be the same again.

I turn, got to keep moving—but there are so many of them. They work in packs.

“Keelie!”

The scream comes from behind me, and I try to turn—think I see a figure and—

A gun goes off.

I gasp as something big and heavy hits me, and I fall forward, pulled down with one of them. I hit the ground hard and roll over, freeing myself from the Enhanced One’s weight. Pain flashes through me.

“Keelie?”

My head jerks up, and I taste blood on the roof of my mouth. My tongue feels too big.

Red has the gun—one of the elders’ guns. He stands there, with Bea screaming behind him. She’s cradling Mila, still trying to cover her ears. She shouts at me, tells me to get up. Red holds the weapon. At thirteen years old, he knows how to use it. We’re taught as soon as we’re responsible enough. He learned at the age of eight, and, two years later, on my own eighth birthday, I was old enough too.

I duck just in time to avoid his second shot.

My heart pounds. The ground pounds. Everything pounds, and I feel something building up within me—momentum, as if the world is suddenly going to stop, but I’ll go crashing forward. I cover my head with my arms, try to hunker down so I’m invisible. Coldness seeps into my body.

They fall around me—the Enhanced Ones. I see them, even though my left eye is pressed against the ground, blurring my vision.

Something wet splashes over me.

I stay still. Listening. Scared.

The screams are louder now. More of them. More of us?

It’s all right, I tell myself. It’ll be all right. It’ll be over soon.

And it will end in blood and tears. That’s what Caia-Lu has always said; suddenly, I see her face in front of me. Her eyes are haunted, and they’re sinking into their sockets, being drawn back, until they’re gone. Until there’s nothing there.

“Run!” a voice screams. Another voice—my father’s. “Run!”

I lift my head, move my arms slightly, try to see. But there’s—the air isn’t…it’s smoke. Smoke billows toward me. And there’s no one else, Bea and Red have gone. Disappeared. Something hisses loudly, crackles, up in the sky and—

“Run!”

I catapult forward, but I don’t know which way I’m going now, only that I’ve got to get out. Something’s on fire, and the vehicles are too close. The engines are running, but why haven’t people moved them, driven off? I turn to the left, look toward the hut where we store fuel, see the flames.

“Keep running!”

My legs plow into action before I consciously make the decision. I pull myself forward; gritty air scratches my throat. My eyes smart as I try to see—try to see where people are…my family… I’ve lost them. Where are Bea and Mila? And Elf—is he in the hut still?

And what about Red?

A woman ahead of me stumbles, but I can’t see whether she’s one of them or one of us. The air’s too thick. It’s hiding stuff, making it harder—trying to protect us?

Another gunshot goes off, and I duck, freeze. Every part of my body throbs.

Keep going. Don’t stop.

I run again, and then I’m at the woman’s side. I see her green shawl, recognize it—my aunt Ramna’s shawl. I reach for her hand, and she turns. Blood pours down her face. My stomach squeezes.

“Go!” she wheezes, pointing to the right. “Go!”

I stare at her. Can’t. Can’t go, can’t—

I see the Enhanced Ones looming. Two men with eyes that are too reflective.

Aunt Ramna pushes me, and my legs jump into action as if they’re not mine, as if she’s governing me with ancient magic. I dart to the nearest hut, pull myself behind it, lean against it, breathing hard. Its hide covering feels rough against the side of my face.

I hunker down, feel the fear in my body, feel it trying to take over.

No. You’ve got to stay in control.

You’ve got to run! You’ve got to go!

I nod, then I peer back out.

More smoke—black smoke. Figures are moving, but I can’t tell who they are. My people? Or not? My eyes aren’t working properly. They’re stinging, stinging too much—there’s something in them.

I rub them, but I get more dirt in them, feel my panic rising. A weapon. I need a weapon. I grope about in the dirt, mud hiking under my nails. My fingers grapple at something—a stick. I pull it toward me, but it’s flimsy. Still, it’s all I’ve got and—

I hear his scream. I turn, and I see him fall, see it like he falls in slow motion. My friend. My best friend.

His eyes roll back for a second, but, then they return, and they’re on me.

Help me, his eyes say.

I see the blood around his body, notice the way it fans out so perfectly. A beautiful circle.

My body jolts.

Red.

No.

No.

No.

Nails of ice pierce my soul.

A shadow falls over me.

Your death is already written in the silk of time. You cannot escape it.

I look up and scream.

Make sure to pick up your copy now!

Amazon |  iBooks  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo

Ruined Aesthetic + Awesome Giveaway by M. C. Frank!

Last week I brought you my review of Ruined, another fantastic book by author M.C. Frank. And today I get to announce more awesome news: the author is having a giveaway, and you can be part of the fun!

February is here, and we have only 4 more nights until Valentine’s Day. Gasp! Do you have a special someone to celebrate the day with you? I’m a really lucky duck: my city of Marseille is the European Capital of Romance this Valentine’s (apparently it’s a thing) so my Valentine’s evening will be full of literal fireworks.

M.C. Frank’s books have beautiful couples. Romance is in the air! Such fantastic couples that I actually decided to give Aesthetic creation a whirl:

B E A T R I C E + D O M I N I C  from  R U I N E D

 

I loved this couple – and this is coming from a girl who doesn’t usually go for romance. Beatrice and Dominic bring out the best in each other, and grow to be better people because of their relationship. Absolutely fantastic romance – especially for lovers of Historical Retellings.

A R I   +   W E S   from   LOSE   ME .

33859529a New Adult novel about an actor and a stunt girl, who film a modern P&P adaptation on a Greek island.

I reviewed this novel some time back, and here were my thoughts about this love story:

There’s just so much to love about the characters. Wes is the perfect book boyfriend (allow me to swoon a little?) once the asshole playboy facade fades away. The perfect gentleman, smart, a book lover (that’s where he gets me!) and handsome to a fault. It makes you feel for him, knowing Ari has no choice but to break his heart. And Ari herself is such a complex girl, her struggles so vivid and honestly quite traumatic.

And then there’s their relationship. I was put off a little at first, with how toxic it seemed at first glance. There’s quite a lot of saving, knights in shining armor, and then squabbling about life-saving (at first). I just couldn’t see a healthy way for Ari and Wes to be together, with all their baggage, secrets, and basically life-debts. But then I realized that was the entire point! And the character growth from that point on? Stunning.

I’m not a romance reader, but this New Adult contemporary really struck a cord. Basically – ALL THE FEELS.  I haven’t even gotten to talking about the amazing supporting characters and the subplots. And while the story isn’t a direct retelling of Pride and prejudice, it’s definitely something fans of Austen will adore.

Sublime. Read at your own risk, your heart will probably break.

A S T R A + F E L I X  from NO  ORDINARY  STAR

a scifi series of 3 books, set in an icy-cold world where books, Christmas, clocks and kisses are forbidden.

This is by far my favorite couple from M.C. Frank’s body of work. No Ordinary Star is Scifi, so readers of this blog will probably throw their hands up in the air and go ‘well, that explains it.’ I’m nothing if not predictable when it comes to Scifi.

From my review of NO VAIN LOSS, the last book of the series: The No Ordinary Star series has to be one of the most perfect series I have ever read, because it gave me everything I wanted out of my reading time. Character to adore, to root for, to ship, to watch grow. A plot that never felt contrived, always unpredictable and that makes you want more. And a lyrical style full of love for the human race.

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Alright, enough about me rambling. I promised a giveaway, now, didn’t I? CLICK HERE to visit M.C. Frank’s blog and see all the ways you can win! There’s $15 from book depository for the winner, and there may be more than just one.

Happy Valentine’s day to all the lovers out there – you book lovers especially! Go on a date night with your favorite book. Curl up in bed together. Now that’s a Valentine’s day that will make your heart flutter.


P.S. Did you know M.C. Frank has created a resource for authors and reviewers to find each other? It’s called the Book Robin Hoods and I love it! I’ve been involved as an author and have met fantastic bloggers through the site. Check it out if you want to be a part of the fun!

Ruined

A Regency Retelling of Jane Eyre
M.C. Frank

Once again, I have dove into a genre I rarely read because of a book written by an author I admire, and once again I’m thoroughly impressed and glad I gave it a chance.  Ruined is a perfect book for all the lovers of Regency era, or historical romance, or romance in general – not usually my cup of tea but thanks to M.C. Frank, I think they’re growing on me.

32181020Summary

The Duke of Ashton sits at the Opera at Vauxhall Gardens, bored out of his mind, and plans murder.

He curses the day that brought the little governess, destitute and sad, at his door eight months ago, to upset his careless if a bit meaningless existence. 
How could he have guessed the terrible, evil secrets she was hiding? And now that he knows all, the truth appears wilder, even more despicable than even he could have imagined. He hadn’t counted on losing his heart to her, of course, but he did.

What he doesn’t know is that a tendril of the shadows of madness and sin that followed Beatrice to his door is still out there, looking for something to devour.
The only one who can save him from the darkness is the girl herself, but he knows he’ll never see her again. He who once prided himself on his indifference to other human beings, feels his chest constrict with pain every time he even thinks of her.

Musings

After his cousin’s death, Dominic Halifax suddenly inherits the title of the Duke of Ashton, and by a shocking move in the former’s will, is now in charge of the man’s daughter, Adelina. Headstrong and stubborn, she is impossible to control, and is ruining Dominic’s bachelor lifestyle – he needs help. She has rejected every candidate he has found suitable to be her governess, until, that is, he finds Beatrice Devon. Only three years older than Adelina herself, Beatrice somehow manages to bring her under control.

But Beatrice caries a heavy secret: a history of mental and physical abuse. But as Dominic begins falling in love with her, more is revealed about her past – can she ever move forward?

I haven’t read Jane Eyre in quite a long time so I might not be a good judge of how good of a retelling Ruined is, but the plot itself is very different from what I remember – this book is definitely not a linear retelling! The relationship between Dom and Beatrice seems to be the main similar element, and it’s adorable how he uses the same imagery to describe her as what I remember from studying the book in high school – frequently calling her bewitching or accusing him of casting a spell on her, for example. Highly creative!

We alternate between the points of view of Dominic and Beatrice, telling the story with secrets kept hidden. The plot was neither slow nor fast, a nice gentle evolution of the relationship with a handful of mystery thrown in. The author also carefully mimics the writing style of the era, while not losing the style her readers love. It’s easy to see M.C. Frank in the pages, even while she’s using a regency era turn of phrase. This might put off some readers, but I found it easy to get into and very fitting for the novel.

Beatrice shows amazing growth through the novel: I love a strong female character who has her flaws. She’s smart, persistent, and somehow hasn’t lost a love for humanity through all she’s been through. Now I must war some readers that the flashback scenes are troubling at times, and very unsettling, but how Beatrice deals with them is masterfully done. I did get a little tired of her crying/fainting, but it was a really minor qualm I had with the book.

Dominic’s evolution is a fantastic one. I loved his broodiness at the beginning, his real stubbornness he can’t see in himself. But Beatrice brings the best out of him, and he out of her. I enjoyed watching their relationship grow and wishing that they end up together. Underneath that bachelor-life-loving exterior beats the heart of a true and caring gentleman.

I found the ending a little confusing, somehow – a few jumps in time that weren’t clear, moving forward and back but without any guidance. I’m not sure if this is just me, and it threw me off a little, but the action picked up and I was drawn right back in.

All in all, this isn’t your everyday retelling of Jane Eyre: it’s a beautiful homage to the book, with a story about abuse and growth, love and strength. The author creates a beautiful story with so much to love. If you like historical romance, then you’ll strike gold with Ruined!

Ruined 1

I have kindly received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

“It takes true courage, integrity and selflessness to turn yourself into a person that the world would be the wealthier for possessing.” 

Unearthed

What an incredible book. So fast paced I couldn’t put it down: in about three hours I was breathless, shaking, and desperate for a sequel. I knew a twist was coming when there was so few pages left and so much that had to be resolved… but I didn’t expect it to end like THAT.

25446297Summary

When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

Musings

I loved everything about this book. The characters were fabulous: I was instantly connected both with Jules and Amelia, despite them being so different. While both started with somewhat selfish goals, they were shown to be more selfless than was shown on. They made me feel for them, and the plight of our planet Earth, which had declined so far.

The authors truly managed to create a compelling world. Using a catastrophe of such a massive scale to turn mankind’s eyes away from the stars, to scorn curiosity and search only for short-term relief; that was insanely clever. We can see that Kaufman and Spooner have such a smart view of anthropology and archaeology, looking back on our own species as scientists. Weaving math into a new language was brilliant.

If there was one thing I can groan about, it’s the stretched out internal monologues. Sometimes I just wanted to say “we get it!” to Jules, reminding us about all his father lost, and how much the earth could lose; or to Amelia, going on about her harsh life and her sister’s terrifying contract. It did help us understand the plight of the characters, but might have been overdrawn.

But the description was incredible. All of the action takes place away from earth, and the worldbuilding is stunning. Fantastic imagery that makes the book a fully immersive read.

The logic tests were fun to follow, and I can see why many people have called this book Indiana Jones in space. I need a movie of this, and a sequel!

January Read Books

Hello readers! This month I read quite a variety of books that I never got around to reviewing. Most of them were sitting on my TBR, dying to be read for ages. I feel rather proud of myself for sticking to my new year’s resolution and finally reading them!

Strange the Dreamer

28449207by Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Brilliant and beautiful book.

The author is clearly a lover of stories. When you have a storyteller writing about storytellers, magical things happen. Everything about Weep and the world around it, all the magic and depth and complexity, it’s a true work of art.

I do agree with other reviewers that Lazlo takes the crimes in stride perhaps too quickly. Awful, atrocious things were done, by both sides. Maybe it’s because he’s the Dreamer, and can see the good in people, but it was a little quick in my opinion.

Even so, this is exactly the kind of book I want more of. And I need a sequel right now!

My review: ★★★★☆


Colliding Stars

By Debbie Zaken36428272

Since Skye Reilly can remember, she has been looking up to the stars. With high school graduation upon her, her telescope in one hand and her college acceptance letter in the other, she has life as meticulously mapped out as her star chart. That is, until the Celeians arrive and she meets Ethan, an alluring alien. Ethan collides into her like an asteroid, causing a gravitational shift in Skye’s trajectory and hurling her life into a cataclysmic collision course of interplanetary proportions.

The Celeians promise many things. An end to disease, global warming, and famine. The knowledge to help humankind. Despite the suspicions surrounding the intriguing aliens and rising anti-alien protests, Skye gives Ethan her trust, and eventually her heart. The very heart he could stop with a lethal electrifying touch of his hand. 
When the Magistrate, a council of alien leaders, threatens to put an end to their interspecies relationship, following her heart could cost Skye her life and the lives of everyone she loves. 
Not even light can escape the pull of a black hole.

I was really excited to get a copy of this book: I love YA sci-fi, adore the alien/human relationship trope, and was so eager to connect with an MC who loves space as much as me. But I was really let down: this is just my personal opinion and I can see why people loved the book, but for me, there were quite a few problems I just couldn’t get past.

The first chapter was riveting. I loved the straight to action pacing: was pulled straight in, instantly connected with Skye and was so excited to see what happened after aliens arrived. But from then on, the pacing slowly declined, until the story became really dull.
Ethan, the alien love interest, comes off as one of those characters who is too perfect. Are they called Gary Stu’s, you know the type: flawless in every way, more beautiful than any human, with abilities humans could never have. In any case, he falls instantly in love with Skye, and she falls for him, hard. But of course, being from an alien delegation trying to establish diplomatic relations with earth doesn’t make dating easy. Are his people even trustworthy? And would her parents approve?

Sit back, relax, and dig in, because three quarters of the book is just that question. Over, and over again. There are chapters devoted to convincing people around her that they should let her give this relationship a go. Despite being an adult, entering a relationship with Ethan makes her parents ground Skye for life. But it’s ok, nothing can hold him back from visiting her! Sneaking into her room at midnight uninvited, or making her go to sleep with his hypnotic voice…

I think that’s where the book lost me. Ethan’s obsession with Skye wasn’t cute, it was creepy. He stalks her, takes her alone into the woods without cell reception (I am totally with her mom on this one), enters her room in the middle of the night, uses hypnosis on her to alter her mood. Every time he said something about nothing keeping her away from him, I wanted to tell Skye to get out of there. Red flags were everywhere. We even learn later he manipulated certain events around her with his abilities so he could see her more, which was moving beyond stalker territory.

From here until the last two chapters of the book, it all reads like Twilight. Replace the brooding vampire with a brooding alien, and it’s the same: there’s even an awkward prom. (And an excuse for chastity, which felt contrived, and familiar). When we finally got some action at the very end, it raised some interesting plot points but should have come much earlier in the book to keep my attention. I honestly was hanging on until the end in a hope that Skye would realize the relationship was toxic and possibly dangerous for the human race.

The dialogue between Skye and Ethan also really bugged me. Like many Gary Stu’s, Ethan speaks incredibly eloquently, and is, of course, super genius. But take this from someone who is surrounded by astrophysicists, cosmologists and astronomers day in and day out: that’s just not how anyone talks. Quoting Carl Sagan and calling it “Quantum Physics” or thinking someone is a genius because they know Venus has phases like the moon made me feel like Ethan was insulting her intelligence.

I was honestly hoping for more, but it was just a little too flat for me. I can see why others would like it, but I couldn’t get pact Ethan’s creepy stalker habits.

My review: ★★☆☆☆


The Power

by Naomi Alderman29751398

In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

It’s amazing reading the reviews of this book, and seeing how it has affected us all in such a similar way.

For the first half, I found myself feeling elated, energized. I felt pumped up in a way I never did before. I loved the concept, the world in which women finally had the power to stand up to abuse and oppression, and could walk outside without fear. I found myself imagining how much I wanted that ability, realizing I wanted to go outside but couldn’t because it was dark and my own neighborhood is unsafe. Reading was an experience that actually gave me energy.

Then things started to get out of hand, and I was disturbed. Really, really disturbed. There are some scenes that I can never get out of my head again, and I wish I hadn’t read. Disgusting, terrifying. I was actually sickened by what I read.

And then, framing the narrative with the ‘historical novel’ approach, the dialogue between a man and a woman in a world 5,000 years in our future? At first, I thought, no, this cannot be possible, because if women were in charge… and it hit me that those with power have the power to abuse, and will do so. It doesn’t matter which gender they belong to, but power and hate go hang in hand. And reading the last sentence had me laughing uneasily, out loud, for way longer than I’d like to admit to.

The author accomplished exactly what she set out to in this book. I feel like I connected with it, was able to suspend my disbelief even when things were pushing coincidences a little too far. It didn’t bother me, I was engrossed. A masterful piece of work.

My review: ★★★★☆