Friday, 27 February 2015

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

As soon as I heard the premise for this book, I knew this was the book for me. The title of this novel relates to the super secret organisation known as The Library. Operatives who live and work there are known as Librarians and their job is harvest books from alternate worlds which often involves a lot of espionage and undercover work. 

Irene is given her most dangerous mission yet. With her new assistant, the beautiful young man Kai, she must travel to an alternate London to retrieve a lost book of Grimm fairytales. However when she gets there, she soon realises that they are not the only ones seeking the prize, and a trail of murder and crime litters the path to the dangerous book’s recovery. 

This book has so much packed into it, that I’m surprised it’s not bigger! There is so much reference to popular books and authors, that literature buffs will have an absolute field day with this story. 

Its part hist-fic, part sci-fi, part fantasy and part steampunk. Probably part other things as well that I can’t even begin to name! As for mythical creatures of fiction and folklore, there are plenty including dragons, vampires, werewolves and Fae folk. 

Irene is a solid lead. As far as female heroines go, I think I would have liked her to be a little more feisty maybe, but she is intelligent, quick and mostly self-assured and a fitting character to be a fated Librarian. As well as Kai (who is in his own way appealing), I loved that there was a Holmes-esque detective, Vale, thrown into the mix who added the dashing nobility and quizzical crime solving element into the tale. 

The way the prose was written; especially when the characters interact with each other was wonderfully eloquent. When Irene is discussing the Library or her theories regarding books, magic and alternate worlds, she really gets quite technical and you can almost believe that it could be real. 

I thought this had aspects of George Mann and Tanya Huff in it, so if (like me) you enjoy those authors; you’re on to a winner! I really can’t wait to see what comes after this tale, and with the notion of alternate works of fiction in alternate worlds with different forms of magic; there is endless possibilities for Librarian adventures. 

The Invisible Library is a treasure of a book bursting with imagination and creativity that will enlighten and entertain you from start to finish. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

It looks like 2015 is set to be the year of psychological crime. Strong female leads, dark trips down memory lane and emotionally fraught tales where danger is lurking round every corner.

The lead in this brave debut is Evie Jones, whose best friend was murdered when she was eleven years old. The named suspect was never apprehended and the case was left unsolved.

Years later, Evie is now a budding crime reporter and what starts as routine research leads her into the unsolved murder case of her childhood friend.

The deeper she delves, the more obsessed she becomes. Not only does her investigation dredge up long lost fragments of her past, but also that of her family and close friend David, who worries that the depraved details of the investigation is affecting her.

Evie has noticed a man watching her from her balcony at night which freaks her out to say the least, but with all the horrific crime cases she is researching and the anxiety of living alone; is the watcher just a figment of her overactive imagination or a very real threat to be wary of?

This is a dark story from start to finish. Set in wintery Canada, the whole setting seemed to be portrayed in shades of grey, from Evie’s childhood memories, right through to her current investigative existence. Her character was hard for me to identify with as a lead. On the one hand she was strong willed, determined and clever which I liked. But on the other hand she was reckless, emotional and fickle which were all traits that I did not enjoy so much, although necessary to throw her into certain situations in the story.

The way the prose was written was different, with no speech marks to clearly indicate who was saying what, but I kind of liked it. It made me concentrate more on what was being said. I also liked that it was set in the 80s and 90s. If it had been set now, the influence of mobile technology and the availability of internet would have made this a hugely different story and definitely would have decreased the atmosphere.

The prose is heavily descriptive outside of the speech, and wonderfully atmospheric. The author has a great way of building up the tension and it was this that kept me reading. A great debut from a crime author that I’m sure will be one to watch out for in the future.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Joyland by Stephen King

I bought this book ages ago and seeing it sat neglected on my shelf, I knew I had to put it to good use! I’m no stranger to Stephen King novels and I was excited to see what this one had in store. Just the stunning cover alone drew me in before I’d even got to the first page! 

College student Devin Jones takes a summer job at old-school amusement park Joyland to earn some money and distract him from his broken heart. From the very beginning he becomes fully immersed in Joyland; learning the secret carny language, how the rides and stalls work, the famous introduction to “wearing the fur” and ultimately becoming part of the inner Joyland community. 

This leads him to learn about a gruesome murder that happened in the park in The Horror House, which is now supposedly haunted. It is the legend of this terrible crime, as well of the psychic sights of a dying child and a 50/50 fortune teller that set him on a rollercoaster of fate that will change his life forever.

I guess from the cover and the reputation of this best-selling author, I was expecting frights, scares and plenty of thrills. Although there was horror there; murder most foul and a few ghosts, there was actually so much more to the story than that. 

Told from Devin’s point of view as an older man looking back, we as the reader are taken on quite a personal journey where Devin learns about love, friendship and more. Aged only twenty-one, it seems like so much happens to young Devin in such a small space in time and I felt as though I were right there with him, reliving the highs and lows of his life. 

I don’t often go in for the whole “book-boyfriend” thing but I adored the character of Devin. I thought him to be such a clever, loving, kind-hearted young man, which made his story all the more appealing to read. Stephen King really is a master storyteller, I’m sure you don’t need me to say it. In this book I found myself fully enveloped in the sights and sounds of Joyland as if I really had been there. 

On top of Devin’s story; every unique character, each snippet of murder and mystery and each ghostly apparition was cleverly layered together to make this a truly unforgettable novel. Part crime and part coming-of-age tale, Joyland is a moving and thrilling story that you won’t want to put down. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I was drawn to this book not only by prospects of magic and fantasy, but by the invention of four different versions of London, of which I was very intrigued. 

There is Grey London; tired, dirty and devoid of magic, ruled by a mad king. Red London is thriving and full of magic with a revered royal family presiding. 

White London is a drained, colourless empire where the throne is ruled by whoever is strong enough to take it and magic is a rare possession. There is also Black London, of which nobody speaks of. 

The main player in this story is Kell, a traveller with magical abilities and able to traverse the doorways between the worlds, which few are able or permitted to do. 

Used primarily as a messenger, it is his side hobby of smuggling other worldly trinkets that lands him in hot water when he comes into contact with a dark and forbidden magic. As he strives to get rid of the dangerous artefact, he must also prevent it from falling into the wrong hands; all the while the magic has a mind of its own. His path crosses with a human thief, Lila Bard, and it is their unlikely alliance that is needed to try and accomplish the risky task that faces them. 

For me, in this kind of fantasy tale, world building is so important and this story is fantastically crafted. The idea of the four Londons interlinked and yet each so individual was pure genius, and with each journey, the narrative immerses you in the sights, sounds and smells of the new London. I especially liked the idea of magic having their own unique scents, for example Red London smells of flowers. 

On top of the vibrant world created here, the characters are brilliantly portrayed and I found Kell to be a particularly likeable lead. There was almost non-stop action once all the main elements of the story had been introduced and the exciting plot really keeps you engaged. 

There were a few things that were set up and never explained, or continued in the story, so I really hope that there is a sequel to this novel, as there is incredible potential for further stories. 

A Darker Shade of Magic is magnificent tale about the power of magic, full of fun, action and sparkling creativity. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Translated from the Polish original, The Last Wish introduces a witcher called Geralt. So what is a witcher? A witcher is a sorcerer/assassin trained as child and boosted with magic potions to fight things that go bump in the night (and occasionally in the day in this book!). 

The story follows his roaming travels taking on assignments hunting hideous creatures, but his journey is not just one of self-discovery but a deeper understanding of the different beings he encounters. Geralt makes for an interesting hero and I instantly liked his character. 

One thing I absolutely love in books is fairytales and this one has a really original twist on many of them which I really enjoyed. The fairytales featured however are far from childish versions, having been sexed up and injected with a hearty dose of violence which appeals even more! 

There are some very strong and well crafted characters littered throughout – a beast man named Nivellen and a cheeky troubadour named Dandilion were a couple of my favourites. The chronological order of events of the story was a little hard for me to discern at some points although that didn’t detract from the overall story. Other than that, I find it difficult to raise any negatives within this story. Once I got into it, I really didn’t want to put it down. 

There are currently sequels in the series out now, but this is also a great chance to share the news that Gollancz have acquired three more books in The Witcher series. 

The first of these, The Sword of Destiny, is out in May 2015 and another two books are due for release in 2016 and 2017 and will conclude Geralt’s story which means there are many more exciting exploits in this critically acclaimed series to look forward to. The Witcher books’ popularity is even further boosted by the spin off computer game that I haven’t tried myself but I’ve heard is pretty damn good. 

Jam-packed with magic, action and adventure; although its sounds like an ending, The Last Wish is an awesome start to an addictive fantasy franchise. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

I’ve been aching to read Sarah Pinborough for ages and I feel like this novel was a great introduction for me to a widely popular author. I’ve already seen a lot of reviews for this book but after reading the premise, I really wanted to read it myself and put my own opinion forward. 

A routine blood test turns teenage Toby’s life upside down when the results cause him to be ripped away from his family and sent to live at the Death House. 

Shut away from the other world, Toby lives with other so called “Defective” children who are monitored day and night by aloof nurses watching out for signs of sickness. When a child begins to show symptoms of illness, they are spirited away in the night to the daunting Sanatorium, where no child has ever returned from. 

Toby often separates himself from the normal routine of the house, but when a new arrival, the vibrant Clara, joins the residents, he begins to look at both his old and new life in ways he has never encountered before. 

It’s like the book starts off in monochrome as Toby reflects on his situation, and when Clara arrives things start to bloom into colour. I kind of imagined the Death House to be like the building used for the asylum in the second season of American Horror Story. The Death House as a symbol in itself is dark and ominous and a powerful setting for such a story. 

I found that each character is written as though it could be someone you know which makes their lives all the more easy to get caught up in. Given the title, it is easy to mistake this story for an exploration of death that will probably be depressing and even a little scary but it really isn’t. It’s more about living and about hope. With the children from different backgrounds thrown together in this dire situation, despite their fears, there is friendship, hope and love which was moving to read. 

Although I did enjoy this book, there were some things I really wanted explained. The references to the condition they were all afflicted with really intrigued me. Also the Sanatorium and the detachment of the house staff were also not explained which on one hand supplies all the fascinating mystery, but on the other doesn’t do anything for my curiosity! I’d love a follow-up to this which maybe gives a little more revelations about the mysterious Death House and its inhabitants. 

This book is a stunning exploration of life and human emotions, with a creativity and intelligence that ensure this story stays with you long after the last page. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This book is absolutely everywhere at the moment. If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I can’t stand not getting in on a book hype, so with this newest thriller causing a storm in the book charts, I had to see what all the fuss was about. 

We meet the main character of Rachel, who catches the same commuter train every morning and in her routine she passes the same set of houses on a road that holds particularly poignant memories for her. 

One house on the street that she passes is inhabited by a couple that she does not know but sees regularly on her train journey, so she names them Jess and Jason, and imagines the life they lead together which is so different from her own.

 One day, she sees something shocking at the house and she suddenly finds herself involved in the lives of the couple she had invented and the people they actually are. Books like this are hard to describe without giving away the whole plotline, and not regurgitating the blurb, so I’ll try not to give away too much. 

I really liked the idea of the commute where Rachel has basically invented characters for the people she watches. I think we are all guilty of that at times (I know I am!) so it was interesting to read how she clashes with the real life versions of the people she portrayed in her head.

Rachel is a meaty main character with plenty of demons in her past including alcoholism, which bleeds into her present day life. I thought she was really well written and a great basis for the dark narrative that unravels around her. In my opinion, small character casts are great for the more turbulent stories like this, as you really get a sense of each person and the simplicity seems to make for more intense drama.

People are calling this book “the new Gone Girl” which is a phrase that is quite overused these days given the international success of the thriller by Gillian Flynn. I think as it is in the same vein of storytelling, I can see the comparison makes sense and probably will appeal to fans of Gone Girl (as it did to me) although I do hope that for more books like this, we can stop making such generic comparisons and promote it on its own merits. 

Cleverly crafted and addictive in its tale, I definitely recommend The Girl on the Train for thriller fans, and if you are a commuter yourself, I suggest it even more!