The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

I haven’t had much time to read or blog over the last few months as real life events (including caring for a family member and adjusting to a new role at work) have taken up most of my time and attention, but I’ve missed reading and I’ve always found something incredibly comforting about slipping into a story whenever real life feels overwhelming.

One of the best books I read last year was The Invisible Library (reviewed here), and the sequel picks up just a few months after the events in the first book as the resourceful and self-deprecating librarian, Irene, is caught up once again in the eternal battle between chaos and order when her assistant Kai is kidnapped. In The Masked City Irene races to rescue Kai and prevent a war between the fae and dragons that could destroy countless innocent worlds caught between them.

I really love the locations in these stories, and while the first book was set in a Victorian London with werewolves and other supernatural elements, the sequel mostly takes place in renaissance Venice. I also really appreciated the reversal of the damsel saving the prince for a change, but I missed the interplay between the characters who were separated for most of the story, and the villains just weren’t quite as dynamic or threatening as Alberich.

Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first book, these stories are so easy to read with a perfect blend of humour, action and suspense that I’m eager to see how the series develops. Have a lovely week! X

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The Jewel Garden by Monty & Sarah Don

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March is an unpredictable and changeable month in our part of the world, today we’ve had snow, sunshine and hail stones, and it’ll be a while yet until we can risk sowing any seeds in the garden, but a good friend and fellow urban gardener gave me a copy of this to read to tide me over.

Perhaps because I’ve only relatively recently fallen in love with gardening, I didn’t really know much about Monty (or Montagu as he prefers) Don, and found this to be a fascinating insight into his life. The Jewel Garden┬áinitially follows a fairly typical rags-to-riches trajectory as Monty and Sarah describe being newly married and desperately poor when they decide to start a jewellery making business together in 1981; coinciding with the glamour and extravagance of the 1980s, their jewellery became an international success. Yet by 1989, their good fortune seemed to have run out as the business was struggling, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, Sarah had a slipped disc and Monty was sinking into a depression.

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Monty writes openly and honestly about this period in their life, the apathy and lethargy, fatigue and restlessness, and the overwhelming sense of hopelessness he felt. Although Monty recognises the role that anti-depressants and a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy played in his recovery, he also extols the virtues of gardening which combines fresh air and natural light with gentle exercise, a sense of purpose and productivity.

The second half of the book focuses on the design and cultivation of the gardens at their current home, Longmeadow, including the stunning Jewel Garden, which was a reminder of their past but also symbolized rebirth and change. Their writing beautifully captures all the excitement of creating a border or garden from scratch, and all the creativity and experimentation that goes on behind the scenes. My only real criticism is that the gardens are vividly described but I’d have liked to see more photos, and at times it read like a list of every flower and plant in their garden.

I found The Jewel Garden to be an inspiring, moving and thoroughly entertaining read that left me itching to get back out into my own little garden. Have a lovely week! X

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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The first book in The Gentleman Bastards series follows Locke Lamora an orphan who grows into a criminal mastermind addicted to the thrill of pulling elaborate cons on the nobility. However, the delicate accord that exists between the nobles, law enforcement and criminal factions in the city of Camorr is torn apart when the mysterious Grey King arrives, and Locke and his crew find themselves caught in the middle of the murderous, political machinations of much powerful players.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is as much a story about found families as it is a fantasy heist, with each member of the Gentleman Bastards bringing unique skills to their operations, and the friendship between Locke and Jean (the brains and brawn of the crew respectively) is the emotional keystone of the story.

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I often talk about books being easy or quick to read because many of us lead busy lives and it can be hard to find the time to read, and I tend to have a 100 page rule that if I’m not invested in a story by that point then I give up and move on to something else, but it took me about 200 pages to really get into The Lies of Locke Lamora. There are definite pacing issues, with a lot of verbose descriptions of Camorr and setting up all the rival political and criminal factions before the action begins, yet the endearing characters, witty dialogue, clever foreshadowing and the combination of heart-pounding, nail-biting suspense and thrilling, unexpected twists more than made up for the slow start, and as soon as I finished this I bought the next two books in the series. Have a lovely week! X

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

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The Well of Ascension is set about a year after the events of The Final Empire (reviewed here); the young nobleman Elend is King, replacing the tyrannical Lord Ruler, and the city of Luthadel is besieged by three different armies, all intent on seizing power for themselves, one of which is lead by Elend’s own father.

The surviving leaders of the rebellion are all floundering without Kelsier to guide and unite them. Vin is still testing her newfound abilities and trying to figure out her relationship with Elend. Meanwhile, Elend is struggling with the responsibilities of being King and trying to maintain his integrity and ideals.

While The Final Empire had a tight narrative perspective focusing on Kelsier and Vin (and Elend at the very end), The Well of Ascension follows several different characters’ perspectives and sometimes seemed too diffuse. I also found this slower paced and lacking the momentum of the first book, though it was redeemed by the last 150 pages, which had me riveted and ended on a cliffhanger that made sense of the Lord Ruler’s dying words and left me desperate to know what happens next.

It’s always hard to review the middle book in a trilogy as it has to bridge the first and final parts, and it’s often difficult to judge how well it foreshadows or sets up things for the conclusion until you’ve finished the series – so I may change my mind in the future – but unfortunately The Well of Ascension didn’t manage to live up to my expectations.

Have a lovely week! X

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

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I’ve been binge-reading fantasy lately, and decided to re-read an old favourite from a series that I started but never finished for some reason. Retribution Falls is the first in a series of four books following the misadventures of the Ketty Jay and her crew.

At the helm is Captain Darian Frey, a charming rogue, trying to make his way in the world with a bit of petty thieving and smuggling but struggling to keep his ship afloat and his crew together; then there’s Jez the navigator, Crake the Daemonist (and his golem Bess), Silo the engineer, Malvery the Doctor, Pinn and Harkins the pilots and Slag the feral cat. With the exception of the cat, all of the crew seem to have their own mysterious or tragic background and they’re all trying to out-run their personal demons, yet along the way they learn to work together and develop a sense of camaraderie.

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The gist of the story is that the crew attempt a heist that turns out to be a set-up, and fed up with being pawns in a game of more powerful players, they end up uncovering a conspiracy.

Daemonism is a refreshing alternative to magic as daemons are enthralled to various objects like keys, teeth, cutlasses and golems to give them unique and special powers.

Retribution Falls is an action packed swashbuckler with plenty of twists, suspense, humour, and a lovable bunch of underdogs triumphing against some truly unfavourable odds. Have a lovely week! X

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I’ve always been an impulse book buyer, easily persuaded by a pretty cover and an intriguing first chapter, so I picked up The Invisible Library on a whim recently, and I’m very glad I did.

The story follows Irene, a Librarian from a secret society known as the Invisible Library, which collects rare and unique books from alternate realities. Instructed to collect a specific version of a text, Irene and her apprentice, Kai, arrive to find the book’s owner has been murdered and the book has already been stolen.

Irene is such a likeable heroine, she’s curious, resourceful and self-deprecating, and I really enjoyed the interplay between Irene and the other characters from her charming and enigmatic apprentice Kai to her femme-fatale rival Bradamant, and the mysterious villain, Alberich.

The Invisible Library subverts a few fantasy norms, instead of the usual battle between good and evil, the librarians try to restore order to chaos-infested worlds; and instead of magic, the Librarians use the Language, which allows them to influence reality with specific commands and instructions.

This is a quirky fantasy-mystery with lots of humour and a few twists; The Invisible Library is a bit different from the epic fantasies I usually read but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Have a lovely week! X

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, a teenage art student living in Prague who also happens to run “errands” for her adopted father, Brimstone, a Chimaera that grants wishes in exchange for teeth.

This story had such an intriguing premise and I would’ve enjoyed it much more if it had continued to follow Karou as she tries to figure out why Brimstone collects teeth and her own identity along the way, but unfortunately it abruptly turns into a star-crossed lovers romance between Karou and Akiva, a seraphim soldier, caught up in an endless war between angels and chimaera.

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I’m not at all opposed to romances and I don’t even mind an enemies-to-lovers arc, but I prefer love stories where the couple fall in love over the course of the novel rather than just being pushed together by a combination of physical magnetism and the hand of fate. Daughter of Smoke and Bone had such a promising start, but I was disappointed by the way it developed, and I’m unsure about whether or not I want to read the rest of the trilogy.

Have a lovely week! X