Thursday, 31 March 2016

After Anna by Alex Lake

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last review and I’ve barely read anything in that time. Starting a new job and generally having a bit of a reading slump have contributed to my blogging inactivity but this psychological thriller was just what I needed to kick start my reading habits again. 

After Anna by Alex Lake is a No.1 ebook bestseller that starts with the disappearance of five year old Anna Crowne. Her mother Julia, a busy lawyer, is late to pick her up from school one day and by the time she gets to the school, Anna has disappeared. 

With her marriage on the rocks already and a formidable mother-in-law to contend with, Julia is put under major torment as she worries over the disappearance of her daughter, faces family fights over the consequences and is ripped apart by the national press and on social media. 

The first half of the story explores the events surrounding the sudden disappearance of Anna. Then a week later, just as unexpectedly, Anna turns up safe and sound with no memory of where she was has been. Julia is of course delighted to have her daughter back, but though that particular trial is over, she has no idea of the new battle she is about to face. 

We mostly see things from Julia’s angle and although admittedly, I didn’t feel that she was a particularly likable character; the ordeals that she goes through will strike a chord with many people and she is central to all of the action that occurs. What I really liked that was occasionally there is a passage from the abductor’s point of view which gave the story great sinister undertones adding to an already suspenseful story. 

I have to admit that whilst reading, I thought that I had it all figured out and then the last third of the book completely had me guessing and racing on to the end. The premise of the story is easy to follow, and child abduction is a harrowing enough topic along with marital issues and crime thrown in to keep you engaged. The attack on Julia as a mother and human being in the press and on social media was a clever inclusion as it is so relevant to recent times and added more uproar to the story. 

The way all the themes are incorporated was simple yet effective at being mysterious and thrilling. After Anna is a tense and exciting psychological thriller and it soon becomes clear why this is a bestseller.  

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

All the crime thrillers that I have read recently have been supernatural or historical crime fiction based so it made a nice change to read a modern story. 

The Passenger has a winning formula for a great thriller, with elements that have proved popular in recent bestsellers including an unreliable narrator, dysfunctional relationships and a secret past. 

The lead character in this novel – I’ll refer to her as Tanya although she goes by many names – goes on the run after the sudden death of her husband. A dark and mysterious past is often alluded to throughout the story, and so while she has secrets from her adolescence, her actions in the present add more secrets for her to cover up and more intrigue and suspense to her tale. 

Whilst on the run, she picks up new names and aliases as if she were trying on a new outfit. She really considers each new persona; what they should look like, how they should act, even what they would order in a bar, and with each new character, comes new stories to invent and more trouble to get mixed up in. 

The novel is separated into chapters under sub-headings of each new aliases name. That format worked great for me as with each new name, a new stage in the story is set. Throughout the story, there are also emails chains between Tanya and someone from her past that she was obviously close to, which keeps you reminded that there is more about Tanya waiting to be revealed. 

The novel really draws you in with so many layers of mystery, and ultimately the reader knows that at some point Tanya must confront her past so you will get to know the real reason why she is the way she is. Tanya for me was neither likeable nor dislikeable, but a complex lead with a fascinating story that you want to get to the bottom of. 

My favourite character in the story was actually an equally mysterious woman that Tanya meets and later swaps identities with named Blue. Blue is deviously clever and doesn’t give much away to Tanya or to the reader. She clearly has a murky past herself and even by the end, I wasn’t entirely sure if she was good or bad. Blue is such an intriguing character, she totally deserves her own novel! 

Exploring the nature of identity and the trials of keeping secrets, this is a compelling psychological thriller that is sharp, clever and easy to read.

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Immorality Engine by George Mann

Have I mentioned how much I rate this series? If you’re a regular reader of this blog (in which case you have my perpetual thanks) you are surely aware of the high esteem in which I regard the Newbury & Hobbes books. 

Gentleman investigator Sir Maurice Newbury is called into service once again by the crown when the body of a notorious criminal is found. Not so strange in itself, but not long after, a second body of the very same criminal is uncovered which presents an even bigger mystery to the police. 

Newbury sets about trying to piece together the clues and as always is aided by his trusty assistant Veronica Hobbes. Things get even more risky when an attack on the palace has Queen Victoria preparing for war against an unknown enemy, and with devious physicians and a cultish club at work, the crime fighting pair have their work cut out for them to protect not only themselves and their loved ones, but also the interests and safety of the Empire. 

Newbury and Hobbes have had quite a solid working relationship up until now, but the secret that has been slowly pushing them apart could be the very thing that ensures they stay together in the course of the novel. Their relationship is also pushed to the limits as Newbury’s opiate addiction really takes hold and begins to seriously affect his daily life. 

The crime drama and occult action in this novel is just as thrilling as others in this series, but in this story, it was the deeper exploration of Newbury and Hobbes’ relationship that really shook things up for me. Newbury has a brilliant mind, but his need for opium abuse puts him on a dangerous path of self-destruction that could be his downfall adds some extra drama. 

There is always some kind of creative steampunk inclusions in these stories, and the lock-picking yet deadly spider automatons in this tale were particularly memorable. Someone really needs to turn these books into a TV series so I can see all of these weird and wonderful creations come to life! 

If you’ve yet to read a Newbury & Hobbes novel  (if so, you’re missing out) and don’t want to commit to a whole series, then each novel could stand alone, as each new investigation is unique and the story always sets up the characters as if you were meeting them for the first time, so you won’t feel like you’ve missed too much. 

I can’t really think of any kind of criticism, other than I hope there are plenty more Newbury and Hobbes cases left to come. With this book and all the others, there is so much for the reader to get hooked on in the storyline including crime, occult, adventure and mystery so the pages will literally fly by as you read.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Freya by Anthony Quinn

In London, May 1945, outspoken and wilful twenty year old Freya Wyley meets shy eighteen year old Nancy Holdaway during the celebrations of VE Day. Automatically slipping into the roles of mentor and student, it is the start of a tumultuous friendship that will endure on and off for the next couple of decades.  

Their friendship blossoms whilst they attend university and it is their individual entanglements with the charismatic Robert Cosway that will have resounding effects on their lives as well as their seemingly unbreakable friendship. 

Studious, though lacking in confidence, Nancy has hopes of becoming a published author. Freya ends up dropping out of university to pursue a career in journalism which sees her pitted against the Fleet Street male chauvinism of the time as well as her own character flaws which end up rubbing some people up the wrong way. 

As we follow Freya’s life the reader takes a journey from London to Oxford and back again, and the changing times as the 40s, 50s and 60s pass by with Freya’s connections branching out into the gaudy arts, seedy Soho scene and journalistic offices of the capital. 

Freya is a captivating and complex character, and although in real life, I feel like she would not be someone I would necessarily warm to, in seeing the story from her angle made her for me, something of a feminist hero. She is outspoken, intelligent and quick-witted from the start, but she is also selfish and impulsive and so there is no shortage of drama in her life. 

She has a lot to contend with given societal attitudes at the time regarding women in the workplace, sexism and homophobia, and so I liked the fact that she often stood up for herself and stuck to her guns on her own views. 

Her journey, which is mostly set in London, illustrates not only societal changes but physical ones too, as London transforms gradually but in ways she doesn’t want to accept. I think that’s part of life in general as a rule, most things change in time, and stubborn Freya is forced to accommodate new things in her life. 

Her friendship with Nancy is almost a love story in a way and highlights the kind of relationship that two people can have when they have experienced so much together. There are also a fabulous cast of equally interesting characters that come in and out of Freya’s circle including theatrical peacocks, sleazy artists, backstabbing friends and blackmailers. 

Lots of big issues including race, homosexuality and gender are explored throughout the story so there is plenty for the reader to get stuck into. Intelligent, eloquent and engaging, Freya is a grand piece of storytelling that you can't help but get caught up in.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

Calamity is the final instalment of the Reckoners trilogy, so if you have yet to try out this awesome sci-fi fantasy series then do check out my review of the first two books Steelheart and Firefight which will give you a little taste of what you are in for.

Without giving too much away, this last book sees David and his team planning to take down their former leader Prof who has gone rogue. Being so dangerous, the most logical thing to do would be to just assassinate him, but David cannot stand the thought of killing his former mentor and friend and desperately tries to think of a way to stop Prof destroying the city that doesn’t end in death.

The world-building in this series is first rate and one of my favourite aspects of these novels is the imaginative settings where the action takes place. In Steelheart there was the city turned to steel with a complex network of underground tunnels below. Then in Firefight there was the flooded city with rooftop dwellings, bridges and neon paint.

Calamity sees the group go to a city made entirely of salt which disintegrates and re-grows as it travels. I enjoyed the idea of the salt crystals blooming into new formations before your eyes and it gave great mental imagery, especially for the fight scenes.

Of course, another super inventive part is the different powers the Epics have and the technology derived from them. We meet new Epics in this story, with weird and wonderful abilities that are fun to read about and add that little something extra to fight scenes.

With a big battle eminent, we also see Megan of the Reckoners push her powers to the limit and as the group try to uncover the secrets to banishing the darkness gifted with the powers, what they really find out has unimaginable consequences for everyone.

David is once again lead in the story, but I found that I’d fallen out of favour with his character. Where I once enjoyed his limitless knowledge, eager geekery and enthusiasm, I just found him to be stupidly reckless and annoying in this book, and it was the other characters around him that I came to appreciate more as they placed all their faith and trust into his slapdash plans and ideas. Not to say that he detracted anything from the story for me, but that was just my overall thought about him.

There are so many twists and turns as well as unrelenting action and I think this last book is probably the most gripping. Detailed, entertaining and stunningly imaginative, Calamity and the Reckoners series as a whole are unmissable superhero stories from one of the most talented writers in this genre. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

5 Things We Need More of in Books - AGOS Blog Tour

Today is my spot on the A Gathering of Shadows blog tour and we're in Red London, where author V.E. Schwab has listed the 5 things she thinks we should see more of in books. I've had a read through and it’s a pretty persuasive list. Do you agree? Feel free to comment below.

1. More badass lady leads. Not just sidekicks, or members of the entourage, or love interests, but heroines taking charge, and taking names. I want female heroes and villains, and everything between. I want girls and women who like to wear dresses with their knives, and ones who prefer slacks, ones who are feminine and love it, and ones for whom gender isn’t stable, or important. The only constant I want to see is a desire to rule the world, or at least their own lives.

2. More magic. I grew up with Harry Potter, and it will always hold top spot in my heart, but the presence in magic in that series shouldn’t inhibit the presence in magic in other series! I want more! We get to have multiple books about demons, and vampires, and werewolves. Give me more damn magic.

3. More protagonists of color. I want to see more, and better representation, not in the periphery but front and center. I want everyone who reads to have the opportunity of seeing themselves represented in a book, and to do that, we need more than a few works dotting the publishing landscape. It’s unfair to those few works, because it makes them emblematic, forces them to stand in for an entire population, instead of allowing them to be what we allow white protagonists to be, which is individual.

4. More settings inspired by places other than Western Europe. This seems ironic, I know, coming from an author of a book about multiple Londons (even though three of those Londons are not based on a western model), but I still want to see more diverse inspiration for both second world fantasies, and those set on familiar soil.

5. More LGBT characters, and relationships. We’ve gotten better, but inclusion is still too often on the periphery, and after finishing C.S. Pacat’s extraordinary CAPTIVE PRINCE trilogy, all I want is more, especially in fantasy, where the possibility for other worlds and society’s eliminates the need for “other”ing. 

As part of the blog tour, I also have two copies of the book to giveaway (UK and Ireland only). On Facebook, like the Bookshelf Butterfly page and drop me a comment on an AGOS post saying why you should win. On Twitter (@booksbutterfly) retweet the relevant tweet and follow for a chance to win!  There are also more giveaways on other slots on this blog tour (see banner for all the spots)!