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Month: November 2018

Review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

‘Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. He runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie both find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead.

With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavouring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.’

I absolutely loved Four Dead Queens. The pacing is excellent, as is the structure of the novel as a whole, which both seems to play with time and not so in the same instant, leaving the reader delightfully unsure of what exactly is happening in real-time. I raced through the first third or so of the story and then deliberately started rationing it out because I didn’t want the book to end, despite a desperate need to find out exactly what was happening and why. The story is a sharp and clever construction that I enjoyed from start to finish.

I adored the queens themselves and the different roles that they play in the story, along with the presentation of the different quadrants that make up the land of Quadara. Each quadrant has its own unique characteristics, such as a focus on technology or agriculture, and is ruled by a particular queen, the four of which rule Quadara together. The reader gets to know the queens through their own point of view chapters that alternate with others, learning about not only each queen, but their quadrants and the rules that govern their lives and those of their subjects. I loved (I have said loved too many times in this review, but that’s just how I feel about this book) Corra in particular, though I honestly felt attached to each of the queens and invested in their own stories, as well as the narrative as a whole.

The romantic elements of the story are handled in a manner that feels like a natural evolution and doesn’t fall into the ‘love at first sight’ trap that many YA novels suffer from. In truth, the relationships in the novel are, on the whole, more about characters seeing themselves in different and positive lights through the gaze of others in a fashion that helps them to understand their own uniqueness and wholeness without having them suddenly seek missing pieces of themselves in others and need to depend on them. There’s also some lovely LGBT representation in several instances that are written beautifully. I love a good fantasy world where all manner of relationships are given equal status and treatment by the characters that inhabit it.

Four Dead Queens is a brilliant stand-alone fantasy that will be published in February 2019. If you’re a fan of political intrigue, mystery and smart storytelling, Four Dead Queens is the novel for you.

Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

‘The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…’

Empire Of Sand is a simply beautiful book that I enjoyed so much that it numbers in my top five reads of the year. I read through about half of it in one sitting and had to ration out the rest of it because I just didn’t want it to end. Suri has created a magical and enthralling world rich in detail and real, vivid characters who habit it.

I loved Mehr and her devotion to her sister and the traditions from her mother’s side of her heritage. Her story explores what it means to be trapped between worlds and loyalties, judged for being one or the other – or both – and the importance of forging an identity through making choices and having values that you can find peace in, whether or not they align with what others would have of you. The examination of what it is to be bound to others through the use of the magic system surrounding vows is a both painful and beautiful metaphor for what power love and duty have, and is one of the core components of a story that explores all manner of bonds, be they familial, romantic or the impact of servitude.

The women in Empire of Sand are brilliant and I loved each of them, albeit for different reasons. Even Maryam, Mehr’s stepmother, is not entirely unsympathetic in the actions she takes, for it is obvious that she is trying to do what she believes is for the best to keep those she cares about safe, even though she is simultaneously utterly detestable in her treatment of others. Lalita is a much needed guide for Mehr, her ability to spend time in the worlds of both cultures something that allows her to act as someone able to help her navigate each, the fact that she has even surrendered her own name for her safety something that serves to highlight just what conquering nations will do to the identities of those they consider different from them. Even the women the reader sees less of, such as those Mehr meets later in her journey, are real, sympathetic and strong – they all have heart, regardless of whether they can ultimately be considered ‘good’ in terms of moral compass.

The writing is lyrical and emotive, and though the pace of the narrative is not particularly quick, I feel that this is not what would have served the novel well. That the pacing is measured and there are rises and falls makes it feel like the dancing that is such a huge part of it. I loved Empire of Sand and truly look forward to seeing further books set in this world. Thank you, Orbit Books, for my copy!

Blog Tour: Miss Marley

Blog Tour: Miss Marley

 

Today is my stop on the Miss Marley blog tour and I’m here to share a review of this fantastic prequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

‘Orphans Clara and Jacob Marley live by their wits, scavenging for scraps in the poorest alleyways of London, in the shadow of the workhouse. Every night, Jake promises his little sister ‘tomorrow will be better’ and when the chance to escape poverty comes their way, he seizes it despite the terrible price.

And so Jacob Marley is set on a path that leads to his infamous partnership with Ebenezer Scrooge. As Jacob builds a fortress of wealth to keep the world out, only Clara can warn him of the hideous fate that awaits him if he refuses to let love and kindness into his heart…’

I teach A Christmas Carol as part of the English Literature GCSE syllabus and so Dickens’ work is one that I’ve read on many occasions and continued to enjoy each and every time. Miss Marley is a simply delightful addition to the story of Jacob Marley, whose unfortunate fate is addressed in A Christmas Carol as a warning and teaching tool for his business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge. In this captivating prequel, the reader is introduced to Miss Clara Belle Marley, Jacob’s younger sister, the story one that follows their rise from destitute street children on the brink of perishing to Jacob’s partnership in a money lending firm.

A Christmas Carol is a story that many will have encountered in one form or another, the tale one that it is all but impossible to consider the Christmas season without. And yet, despite knowledge of the events of Dickens’ novella, such is the attachment that Lafaye and Mascull draw the reader into having to both Clara and Jacob that it becomes a matter of hoping that his fate can be altered and that he will not make the mistakes that we all know he will fall prey to. Jacob Marley may be the epitome of all that a good and honest man is warned against in A Christmas Carol, yet the character created in Miss Marley to share this fate is not, at first, the cold and soulless creature that he eventually becomes. That the reader feels sympathy for Jacob and wishes for the circumstances of his later life to be averted is one of the novel’s great triumphs and may make one pause to consider whether it is the right man who is ultimately saved, such a believable addition to the story as it is.

Clara Marley is a different sort of soul than her brother, though has the advantage of being the younger sibling, often saving her conscience from dealing directly with much of what he eventually chooses to (though she is the one who initially orchestrates and carries out their money lending). She is more kind and generous than Jacob, yet shares the same kind of steel in her beliefs, her moral compass much less apt to be misdirected than his. Through her, much as with the three spirits of A Christmas Carol, the reader sees the true extent of poverty’s impact in the Victorian era, her sympathy for her fellow man directly contrasted with her brother’s growing lack of interest in the people behind the numbers.

Miss Marley is a wonderful tale that perfectly manages to capture the same magic that has made A Christmas Carol part of the Christmas tradition. Clara is a brave, endearing and much needed female voice who demonstrates warmth and intelligence in equal measure, her presence one that that brings heart to a previously male dominated story. While Dickens’ lack of female voices and presentation of Mrs Cratchit may be perceived to be a thinly veiled slight towards women, Clara’s spirit and determination bring a breath of fresh air to the canon. This isn’t to say that it is a ‘modern’ twist, but a reminder that women have always been clever and capable, no matter the perception of the Victorian male gaze.

Available in hardback, eBook, and audio download, Miss Marley is on sale now and the perfect Christmas read. Thank you, HQ stories, for inviting me to be part of this tour!

Check out the other stops on the tour below!

Review: I’ll Be There For You by Kelsey Miller

Review: I’ll Be There For You by Kelsey Miller

I’ll Be There for You is a comprehensive and engaging retrospective of Friends, the TV show that arguably still sets the bar for sitcoms today and has become a huge draw for streaming services such as Netflix. Indeed, Friends is the UK’s most popular subscription streaming show and shows little sign of being knocked from that position in the near future.

Miller opens her exploration of the Friends phenomenon by considering why the sitcom holds such a dear place in the hearts of its audience and I have to say that I found every single one of my own reasons for watching the show on repeat somewhere in this analysis of its appeal. I admit it: I even have Friends on in the background as I’m writing this review. With so much entertainment at our fingertips, why is it that we keep turning back to Friends? For me, it’s harmless entertainment. There’s no frequent swearing or content there for shock value; no gratuitous violence or post-watershed content. Friends was first airing when I was in school and through college – I’m one of those people who watched the finale with their friends. I can probably recite more of the entire Friends catalogue than I’d like to admit. It’s comfort TV. I don’t care that I know the words or that I know what’s going to happen. It’s familiar and escapist.

Over the course of eleven chapters, different facets of the Friends story are explored in detail, starting with its creation and the different lives and forms it took on before they found the formula that would make it such a hit. That it almost didn’t make it to screens at all – or could have made it on air in a fashion that would have found it failing – is hard to believe and would have undoubtedly changed the landscape of television to the extent that shows such as The Big Bang Theory and How I Met You Mother, two that surely owe their success and huge elements of their format to the popularity of Friends, might not have been created at all.

I’ll Be There For You is not about romanticising Friends and suggesting that there have never been any problems with it. What it is about is exploring its cultural impact and the response it elicited from audiences when it was airing in the ’90s and how both new viewers and those familiar with it respond today. For example, it includes a chapter on the significance of the wedding of Carol and Susan while also acknowledging that early seasons of Friends seem rife with homophobic humour. Miller’s analysis of the myriad of issues surrounding Friends, both positive and negative, is sensitively written and contains a wide range of research and supporting evidence, forming a considered and balanced exploration.

I love looking at the inner workings of TV shows and I’ll Be There For You is a fascinating and thorough look at everything from casting and scripts, to sets and media coverage. Miller strikes just the right tone between analysis and use of anecdotes and humour to make I’ll Be There For You a brilliant page turner for any Friends fan – and anyone interested in the world of television. Thank you, HQ Stories, for sending me a copy!

Publisher: HQ Stories