Sunday, December 1, 2019

Spin the dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia is the youngest member of her family, surrounded by her father and three older brothers.  Her father is an accomplished tailor, creating stunning outfits for the wealthy and noble from their shop in the city of Gangsun, one of many cities and towns on the Great Spice Road.  They are a well known and respected family, and the future seems bright, until their mother dies and Baba's grief overtakes him.  As the grief overtook him the quality of his work dropped and two of the brothers convinced him to move the family to a shophouse in Port Kamalan - a fresh start for all of them.  More grief and despair followed them, as one by one Maia's oldest brothers were pulled into the war that was ravaging their home land of A'landi.  Then her last brother ran away to join the war, leaving Maia to care for her father and the family business.  

When the war finally ends all that is left of their family is Baba, Maia, and the youngest brother - crippled from his final battle.  The future looks grim, but then an unexpected visitor appears demanding that Baba or one of his sons present themselves to the Emperor at the Summer Palace, because the Emperor is in need of a Master Tailor.  What the official doesn't know is that the garments that captured the attention of the Emperor were made by Maia and not her father, and that she is willing to risk everything to help her family.  Disguised as her brother, Maia travels to the Summer Palace to find that she is not the only tailor, and that she must compete for the prized position of Imperial Tailor.  

Unprepared for the cut throat politics of the Imperial Court, Maia struggles to keep her place in the competition.  As the tasks get harder and harder, Maia reluctantly picks up the gift her father gave her just before she left - a pair of tailors scissors that can do wondrous things.  As the number of competitors dwindles it becomes clear that not everyone is playing by the same rules, and that the future Empress is determined to stall her marriage as long as possible.  Winning the competition is not enough, the winner will have to face an epic challenge that is the stuff of myth and legend - and the other competitors don't hide the secrets that Maia does, secrets that could mean her life if she is uncovered.  With surprising allies on her side, Maia is in the fight of her life, and losing is not an option.

It is challenging to review Spin the dawn because there are some little twists and surprises that would be spoilt if I revealed them, but revealing them would make for a better book review than the one I have written which may seem a little stilted and lacking in wow factor.  Spin the dawn is extremely well written with characters that you connect with straight away and a storyline that brings together the mythical and a slightly nagging feeling that you might have heard or read this story before (which is a positive not a negative!).  From the start you are drawn into Maia's world and the tragedy of her family, her sense of honour, and the highly political world she is dragged into.  The fact Maia is so innocent of the 'real' world makes for some interesting moments and makes her more endearing, and as an adult sometimes very indignant on her behalf.  The other characters of her world are equally interesting, and she Elizabeth Lim has put an interesting spin on some of the mythology which makes it uniquely hers and opens the reader to all sorts of possibilities.  

I am eagerly looking forward to the release of Unravel the dusk to see what is next for Maia and her world.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The wife by Alafair Burke

On the outside Angela and Jason Powell have the perfect life - he is a professor of economics with a best selling book and his own consulting firm, and she is a stay at home mom.  Jason is not shy about being in the spotlight, he does media appearances and has a successful podcast, and his consultancy firm is doing well enough to have great clients and has attracted some interns too.  Having grown up poor, Angela appreciates the comfort they live in, and mostly stays in the background and out of the spotlight.  Their marriage isn't perfect, but they love each other and their son Spencer.  

That love and faith in her husband is tested when one of the interns from his office comes forward and accuses Jason of inappropriate behaviour.  Suddenly their whole life is under the spotlight - but for all the wrong reasons.  Suddenly every interaction Jason has had with women is up for discussion in the media, and then another woman comes forward with more allegations against Jason.  Trying to protect her family and her marriage, Angela does everything she can to support Jason, even taking advice that seems to be against everything she is trying to do.  It seems that everything is fair game for Jason and his defence team, including Angela's own story which was told to Jason in confidence between man and wife.  As more secrets are revealed, Angela has to wonder how much she really knows about her husband and their own relationship.

The wife is a delightfully convoluted novel that takes you from one point to another through a series of secrets, revelations, conspiracies and other twists and turns.  Angela and Jason start as two ordinary characters, but as each chapter peels back more layers of their story you come to realise that you don't really know that much about them at all, and that they don't know as much about each other as they think.  Angela seems like a typical na├»ve housewife caught out by a husband with a wandering eye, but she has faced and overcome great challenges already just to be alive.  Jason seems like a great husband at first, but it slowly becomes clear that he is quite self centred and focused on himself rather than the family.  Saying anymore will ruin the twists and discoveries that made this such great reading, but if you have read her other works you are going to love The wife.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Sea witch rising by Sarah Henning

Sea witch rising is the sequel to Sea witch, and while you can read them separately you will enjoy the series better if you read them in order.  This review also contains ***SPOILERS*** for what happens in Sea witch.

It has been decades since the girl who was once Evie became the Sea witch - feared and loathed by the people of the sea and the land alike.  She has been kept prisoner in her cove of black water, her only real company the people who died and became anchored in her polypus garden.  When a young mermaid named Alia comes to her and asks to strike a magical bargain Evie knows what the cost will be for both of them, but it is a bargain she makes none the less, sending the mermaid to try and claim the heart of her Prince.  Evie should have remembered that mermaids lie and that a heart can be blind, because close behind the first mermaid comes her twin sister Runa - who is desperate to create a bargain of her own to save her sisters life.

Life on the surface is even harder than Runa expected, and knowing the life of the Prince is the cost of her return to a mermaid Alia refuses to save her own life - even when she realises that he doesn't love her and her life is doomed.  Forced to act Runa makes a decision that will change both their lives, and sets in motion a chain of events that will either save or doom the land and the sea.  For decades the power of magic has been flowing from the land to the sea, the death of countless witches tipping the balance of power in favour of the ocean and the mermaid King who rules them all and Evie is starting to understand exactly what that means for her - and for everyone else.  The time is coming when Runa will have to make the ultimate choice, and the choice she makes has the power to save or destroy two worlds.

I absolutely adored Sea witch and was a bit worried that any sequel would fall flat because we all know a version of the little mermaid and the Sea witch is always painted as a sinister character rather than a sympathetic one - but I shouldn't have worried at all.  Sea witch rising was just as good, if not better than Sea witch, with the same attention to detail in terms of character building and cultural references.  For someone who has Scandinavian heritage it was a real treat to enter a world that felt right, that had a sense of history and culture.  As with the Sea witch there is more than one layer to the story, you have the main characters and the main storyline, but there are other characters and storylines that work together to create depth and connection to the story.  

This series has been a real treat, and I hope that we see more of these re-imagined traditional tales from Henning because she has a real knack for keeping true to the ideas of the stories, while breathing a fresh spark of life into them and making them her own.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fire and heist by Sarah Beth Durst

For centuries wyverns lived with humans in secret, easy to do when you have lost the ability to transform into your dragon shape.  With the coming out of wyverns some of them have become quite the celebrities, including Sky Hawkins and her family.  Being wyverns with a high social standing gave them wealth and power, and Sky was popular with wyverns and humans alike.  For wyverns your rank is decided by your skill and ability to commit heists, adding to the fabled dragon hoards that are so popular in fantasy novels and folk lore.  Leading your first heist is what introduces you to wyvern society and lets you join the ranks as an adult, but getting caught is very bad no matter how old you are.  When Sky's mother fails during and ambitious heist attempt and disappears Sky and her family are dropped to the bottom of the wyvern ranks and stripped of most of their wealth.

As Sky struggles to come to turns with the lose of her boyfriend, who dumped her as soon as her family's shame was announced, her whole family is struggling to come to terms with the lose of power, status, and family.  Determined to find out what happened to her mother, Sky starts researching her mother's last heist and making plans for a heist of her own.  Her first heist is going to be epic, even if it doesn't go as planned as her solo mission soon turns into leading a mixed crew of humans and wyverns.  On the night of the big heist Sky makes a startling discovery, and learns that not everything is as it seems. 

Fire and heist was am interesting read, bringing together elements of the classic fantasy novel with a coming of age story and a little twist of crime and mystery as well.  Sky and her family were easy to relate to and had little sparks that made them stand out as individuals, and the wyvern mythology that goes with them is pretty cool.  The pace of the novel was pretty good, though there was a short period where it seemed to drag a little - but that was most likely as a result of comparing it to the previous pace.  Urban fantasy is quite a unique niche, and a lot of authors struggle with balancing real world with mythology but Sarah Beth Durst does it seamlessly in Fire and heist.

If you are looking for a fun read with some well thought out mythology and great characters you can't really go wrong with Fire and heist.  The bonus is that if you like her writing style there are plenty of other books by Sarah Beth Durst to enjoy when you are done!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, October 4, 2019

Sea witch by Sarah Henning

Evie is different from the other children in her village, not just because she is friends with the Prince, but also because she is a witch.  As a child Evie and her best friend Anna were inseparable, and where the two girls were the Prince was never far behind, a dear friend to both of them.  Everyone in the village expected the friendship to fade, for Evie to have the decency to fall back into her rightful place and let Nik find his place as the heir to the throne.  When Anna drowns instead of breaking Evie and Nik apart it seems to draw them closer together.  Neither of them thinks anything of it, but the villagers take every chance they can to remind Evie of her rightful place.

When a stranger rescues Nik after he nearly drowns Evie is startled not just by the quick flick of a tail as the stranger dives back into the water, but also by her resemblance to her lost friend Anna.  When the stranger reappears walking on two legs, the resemblance is so uncanny that Evie has trouble separating her memories of the friend she lost from the young woman in front of her.  Even though Annemette can do magic, something Anna would have shied away from, Evie feels an instant connection to her.  When Evie learns that Annemette has made a terrible bargain for her chance at love with Nik, Evie is determined to help her friend no matter what she has to do to help her.  As the deadline draws closer Evie becomes increasingly desperate, and pushes away her own chance at happiness to help her friend.  But Annemette is keeping secrets, and she is not the only one.

The little mermaid is a classic story that generations have loved - whether it is the more brutal version brought to us by Hans Christian Andersen, or the sappier more child friendly version brought to us by Disney.  Sea witch tells the story of a young witch hiding her powers from her village and the Prince she loves, mourning the lose of her best friend, and trying to learn the secrets of magic - an origin story to explain and develop the history that lead to the cruel sea witch that struck a terrible bargain with a young mermaid who fell in love with a Prince.  This is a story that can stand on it's own two feet, exploring characters and relationships that are real and engaging, a satisfying and consuming read with characters you can't help but like and loath as they each deserve.

As someone who has Scandinavian ancestry it was a real pleasure to find so many references to the culture, not only with names and place names, but with festival and other cultural names too.   Henning kept up the pace of the story, using the technique of having chapters that look backward to bring Annemette's story up to date rather than flitting back and forth between the two storylines - very effective for keeping some mystery and for keeping things moving forward.  There is a sequel called Sea witch rising which I am now very much looking forward to reading.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rebel by S.M. Wilson

Rebel is the sequel to The extinction trials and Exile, and while you can read it as a stand alone book you will enjoy it more reading the series in order.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read The extinction trials and Exile.

Life in Earthasia is becoming increasingly unbearable, food and other resources are becoming increasingly scarce and the population is growing more and more restless.  All the benefits gained from competing in the extinction trials mean nothing for Lincoln and the other survivors, they are all struggling to survive.  Lincoln's sister Arta has become increasingly well thanks to the medicine he brought back from Piloria, as have many others, but all those extra mouths to feed are placing increasing strain on an already stressed and depleted continent.  With unrest growing, Lincoln receives the rather cryptic message to prepare himself and those he loves to leave - and when the people turn on the government Lincoln discovers that a plan is in place to escape to Piloria.

Surviving the journey is just the start, Lincoln and his friends know about the dangers of the continent, but the rest of the new settlers are unfamiliar with the challenges they are about to face and make dangerous mistakes from the start.  Lincoln knows that he has to keep a cool head to keep himself and his family alive, but his heart is also desperate to discover if Storm and her father have been able to survive on their own.  When he discovered they are still alive it is only the start of their problems because Silas has come to Piloria with the rest of the settlers, and he wants to bring everything about Earthasia with them - including the dangerous and misguided idea of wiping out the dinosaurs.  Storm and her friends need to survive, but they also need to try and protect their new home and their fellow settlers.  With secrets and hatred in his wake Silas could end up destroying them all.

The extinction trials has been an interesting and thoroughly absorbing series that left me with itchy fingers waiting for each new book in the series to see what happens next in a world of danger and intrigue.  The characters have been built up over the series and become like old friends, and you can't help but get involved with the story when you see it through the eyes of the different characters and get sucked in by their emotions.  The fast pace and action make this an enjoyable series, and the complex and complicated relationships make it feel very real - as do the dinosaurs and other creatures that inhabit the world.  There is a lot to love here, and very little to dislike (beyond the odd character or two).

From reading the acknowledgments it looks as though this is the last book in the series which in some ways is disappointing as I have become rather attached to the characters and their world - but maybe there will be more books set in the same 'world' in the future.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, July 19, 2019

The starter wife by Nina Laurin

On the outside Claire Westcott and her husband Byron Westcott have the perfect life.  He is a professor of Literature at a local college, and she is working on her novel.  They have the perfect life, the only shadow is the death of Byron's first wife Colleen, an artist who drowned herself.  Byron was a suspect in her disappearance, and with no trace of her body ever found a cloud of suspicion will always hang over his head.  Claire does everything she can to support him, keeping their home neat and orderly, and trying to ignore the fact that Byron still has Colleen's all over the house that was once Colleen's but is now theirs.  

Claire desperately wants a child to complete their lives, but recently something has shifted in their relationship.  Their mornings were once a shared breakfast before going their separate ways, but now she wakes to an empty bed and an empty house.  Desperate to please Byron, Claire goes out of her way to find out what is happening, but she should be more concerned about her own life.  The pressure is building and Claire is making stupid mistakes and taking risks, and Byron is noticing.  She can't seem to win with anything, and even the simplest things are getting harder and harder, and her little sneaky drinks seem to be hitting her harder and harder.  Claire is starting to feel really afraid, and when you are pushed to your limits you are capable of just about anything.

The starter wife was a one of those rare books that I didn't want to put down, it had to be read in a single day and lead to a rather late night to finish it!  Claire is an intriguing character and offers a window into the life that she shares with Byron, and the story is very well written with plenty of little snippets that help you build a better picture of the story.  It's easy to connect with Claire, especially as her world starts to crumble and you get the sense that someone is seriously messing with her life.  Byron seems to be the perfect husband, and they appear to be the perfect couple, but not everything is as it seems.  Talking about the story too much will ruin the little snippets and twists and turns that make this story so good - so the review will end here so you can read it for yourself.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Eye spy by Mercedes Lackey

Eye spy is the second book in the Family spies series by Mercedes Lackey so there will be some ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not already read The hills have spies.  While you can read this series out of order, I recommend that you read the series in order for most enjoyment.

Growing up with two Heralds as parents puts more than a little pressure on you to be Chosen yourself, and when your parents are The King's Own Herald and the Herald Spy of Valdemar the pressure settles a little more heavily.  Abidela, affectionately known as Abi, desperately wants to find her place in the world - especially now her older brother Perry has firmly found his place working with their father as a spy.  While Abi and her siblings already provide services to the Crown by being unofficial bodyguards for the Royal children, it's not quite enough.

Everything changes rather abruptly when Abi and Princess Kat are running an errand for the heavily pregnant Queen.  Abi, who has never shown any sign of a Gift, suddenly springs into action when she Feels that something is very wrong with the bridge they are crossing.  Springing into action she works with Kat to clear the bridge, just before it collapses in spectacular fashion.  It seems like a miraculous save, but Abi knows that something was wrong with the bridge before it collapsed and she soon discovers that she has a gift for Feeling when something is wrong with a building - a very valuable Gift for the Kingdom if it can be harnessed and shaped.

With the discovery of her Gift Abi is offered a place with the Artificers, a move that creates some resentment with the mostly male students who feel she has stolen her place and robbed another potential student of their opportunity.  After some unpleasantness, Abi finds that she loves being a student and realises that her developing skills could come in very handy for the family spy trade.  Her Gift is only part of her future, she must also develop real world skills, and with the help of a firm circle of friends she has a bright future - even though someone seems determined to stop her suceeding.  When it comes time for her to test her skills in the real world, Abi will have to call on all of her resources and everything she has ever learned to stop a looming disaster.

Some fans have been less than impressed with the Family spies series, mainly becuse of how the stories are developing and how some of the characters are writen.  Personally, I have enjoyed reading both The hills have spies and Eye spy.  The stories are something of a departure from the traditional Valdemar stories, mainly becuase they are focused more on the mundane than the use of Gifts and developing the story of one individual - it feels more like Mercedes Lackey is developing the storyline for characters that will play a part in a later series, creating a bridge between the world we know and the world that will be (just a hunch, nothing solid to go on).

This is an enjoyable series, with plenty of action and drama, as well as a tricky mystery or two for Abi to solve.  The ending does seem to be a little abrupt, but the journey was enjoyable and leaves room for Trey to tell his story and possibly what comes next for Abi in the same way that we saw some of Perry's future in Eye spy.  A good solid addition to the series, and now we just have to wait for Tory's story.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The deepest blue by Sarah Beth Durst

Mayara lives in a world where spirits are more than an idea or a myth, the spirits of her world can cause disruption and death when they turn their attention to people and their settlements.  On the islands of Belene there are constant reminders of the spirits, as many of their islands have formed from the massive remains of the spirits.  Some of the spirits have been tamed and bent to the will of the Queen, but there are still wild spirits that cause problems.  Anyone who shows the ability to control the spirits is given a choice - they can leave their friends and family behind forever and join the Silent Ones, or they can travel to Akena Island and take on the challenge of becoming one of the Heirs.  

But there are other people who can control the spirits, people like Mayara who constantly live in fear that they will be discovered and forced to make the choice between becoming a Silent One or facing Akena Island.  It has been drilled into Mayara for years to keep her skills secret, to not show anyone what she can do, otherwise she will be taken just like her older sister Elorna - something that would break her parents hearts and push her mother further into madness.  When a terrible spirit storm descends on the island on her wedding day Mayara has no choice but to defend her people, which starts a domino effect as she is forced to make the choice of becoming a Silent One or facing Akena Island - an island that is steeped in danger and holds the key to unlocking the chance to change her world forever - if only she can survive the island.

The deepest blue is a stand alone novel set in the world of Renthia, and I was a little dubious about reading it as I haven't read the other books but I had no problems getting into the story and was very quickly absorbed into the story.  Mayara offers an amazing view of this world, her story takes you quickly into the heart of the challenge and her emotions and experiences make it impossible to resist being dragged along for the ride.  The deepest blue is not high fantasy in the classic sense, but the feeling of being on a quest and having the weight of the world on your shoulders has echoes of the high fantasy of old without all the stodgy stuff and flowery language that came along with high fantasy.  

This is an enjoyable fantasy with complex human characters that make it well rounded and thoroughly believable (not to mention makes me want to read other books set in the world of Renthia).  The best part is that it is also a great read for teenagers wanting to move from reading teenage targeted fantasy to adult fantasy as there are no real moments or situations that would be challenging to read or understand.  Looking forward to reading more books set in Renthia when I have the time.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla