The Last by Hanna Jameson

71WD9ECN1QL.jpgThe Last by Hanna Jameson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb:

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead

Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

I recieved an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

It took me a while to get into this book, partly because I was expecting a typical post-apocalyptic/dystopian story and this book has so much more to it. In order to set the plot up properly there is a lot of time devoted to introducing the characters and letting the reader know the dynamics between the inhabitants of the hotel.

I initially stuggled with the idea that this book was only told from one person’s point of view- Jon Keller an American Historian. I’m used to books like this having break-out short chapters which provide news about the outside world but in The Last, the reader is as cut-off as the guests trapped within the hotel. Once I got used to this lack of knowledge, I found myself falling headfirst into the book barely coming up for air.

The murder mystery plot worked incredibly well against the post-apocalytpic backdrop and left me feeling increasingly on-edge as Jon circled nearer and nearer to uncovering the truth.

Despite the sci-fi nature of the this book, I can’t say that reading it was particularly an escape from stresses of life. In fact, it was fairly uncomfortable at time how closely the book mirrored the political climate of the world currently. Every so often I had the stark realisation that this fictional catastrophy wasn’t actually that far-fetched of an idea, which was incredibly unnerving.

As far as the characters, I’m not sure that I actually liked any of them, but then again I’m not sure any of us would be the best version of ourselves at the end of the world. Still, I invested in their stories and even shed a few tears for them. I wanted them to find a way to start rebuilding their lives and living happily.

The conclusion of the book tied up the murder mystery plot well, which I was pleased about. As I neared the end of the story I was concerned we were running out of pages to resolve that plot and it would have been easy to leave it unresolved.

If post-apocalytic dystopian reads are your thing I would definitely recommend The Last. It has a feel of the Walking Dead about it, but the writing is much more accomplished and subtle. It is a scarily believable imagining of what might happen to civilisation if a nuclear war broke out on this scale.

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The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

indexThe Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb:

GRACE ATHERTON HAS FALLEN OUT OF LOVE … AND INTO LIFE

Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Within the opening pages of this book I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. There was a lot of focus on violas, violins, cellos, classical perfomances, classy Parisian apartments and it all felt incredibley far removed from something I would enjoy.

However, after the incident in the Metro happens and the relevation that Grace and David were having a long term affair, my interest was piqued.

The story is full of passion, music, love and friendship and though some parts of the story are predictable (if a man has been stringing you along for the best part of a decade whilst he stays with his wife, your story probably won’t end happily…), Anstey Harris’ writing is beautiful and the story is weaved in a way that made me want to gulp it all down in one go. I loved Grace and so desperately wanted her to find a happy ending.

A lot of the themes of the book are sad, but the tone of the writing is so empowering that I felt a wonderful sense of wellbeing and peace once I’d finished reading.

Without a doubt the unlikely friendship between elderly customer Mr Williams, teenage shop assistant Nadia and Grace was the highlight of the book. It was a joy to read about their enthusiasm for music and their support of Grace.

I also really liked that once David’s true colours were revealed, Grace was fully focused on moving on. I would have found it too frustrating to read about that weasel of a man winning back her affections!

This book is a fantastic, warm read, perfect for a rainy afternoon to lighten your soul and your mood. Oh, and if you give it a chance all of the information about how violins and cellos are built is actually really fascinating.

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Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

61kYThMpzVL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb:

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exhange for an honest review.

Skyward was the first Brandon Sanderson book I have ever picked and I was not disappointed. Prior to this I’ve always been put off of Sanderson’s work because they tend to be fairly lengthy books and I found that intimidating. However, as soon as I heard about Skyward I just had to read it immediately.

The description that drew me in was “it’s like ‘How to train your Dragon’ but in space” which is quite frankly the most appealing sentence I’ve ever read and I have to agree, aside from, ya’ know, the lack of any actual dragons in Skyward.

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it’s true what people say about Sanderson’s writing: he’s a master of world building. The creation of this planet with its layers of detritus protecting/blocking the inhabitants from space/their enemy the Krell was just incredible. The cave systems was described in-depth and the political running of the world seemed to be explained very quickly and yet within a couple of chapters I felt I knew exactly how the planet was run. There were no long boring descriptions, but somehow Sanderson got the important points across masterfully.

The Krell themselves are a formidable enemy and I loved how we began knowing hardly anything about them and then slowly gathered more information as the plot built.

As a lead character, Spensa is one of the strongest heroines I’ve read for a long while. She’s fierce, talented and ambitious with a huge need to prove her worthiness and step out of her father’s shadow. Most of all, she’s believable and the insights we get as readers into the insecurities and worries she indulges in privately really endeared her to me.

The camaraderie of Skyward flight really sparked and flew off the page. So many different personalities in one team made every class a joy to read and I didn’t want to put the book down.

All of this added together made an amazing book, however, my absolute favourite character was Spensa’s ship M-bot. I love him. His hilarious attempts at understanding humans, his inexplicable dislike for Rig and, I’m not ashamed to say, it was a part of the book involving M-bot which made me so emotional I even shed a few tears because I was so proud of him.

Skyward ended in a very interesting place, with Spensa finding out some really interesting stuff regarding her father and the Krell. I will be pre-ordering the next book in the series as soon as the details are announced because I am DESPERATE to read more!

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: 

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales. 

I’m a huge fan of Russian literature but I’ve read any Russian folklore before so I was interested to see what I’d think of this book. I’d heard some really persuasive reviews and I finally decided I couldn’t put it off anymore.

From the first few pages I was hooked on Arden’s writing which so perfectly evoked the small Russian village community she was writing about. I felt myself completely there, feeling the biting cold of the wind and snow of their bitter winters and the creeping fear of the shadowy demons as they appeared.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a perfect mix of historical fiction, fantasy and fairytale. The story flows beautifully, even though it’s a fairly slow burning story as the first in a trilogy of books. The introduction of the characters is masterful, the Russian folklore mixing with the slow creeping danger of the village men and Konstantin the priest who are so distrustful of Vasya’s strength and vivacity as a woman ahead of her time who has no intention of doing as she is told.

I just couldn’t get enough of the rich Russian folklore or the wonderfully fierce character of Vasya, from young child to young woman.

I can’t wait to continue with Vasya’s story and immerse myself back into the wonderful atmospheric tale Arden is weaving.

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Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich


Dear Evan Hansen
by Val Emmich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

I’ve listened to the Dear Evan Hansen broadway soundtrack several times a week for the last year so when I heard it was being released as a YA novel I was desperate to get my hands on it. It was the only ARC at YALC I was desperate to go home with and sadly I didn’t manage to win the raffle. I was lucky enough however to be granted access via Netgalley AND my husband bought me a copy of the final published book (can you tell I went on about it a bit?!)

I find this story really sad. My heart hurts for Evan and the struggles he faces and the situations he gets himself into. Reading the book was more emotional than the musical because the novel format allows you to delve further into Evan’s brain and really expand on the emotions and issues he experiences. This also makes the book far heavier than the musical as there are no lighthearted catchy tunes to raise the mood. With no light relief the book is a really intense reading experience which is incredibly immersive.

The author’s writing is captivating and very believable. I imagine it was extremely hard to write this story without making it sound preachy- how can Evan learn his lesson without making it sound like a cheesy cautionary tale?
The authors managed to tell the story with compassion and through it all Evan remains a sympathetic, lovable character.

I recommend curling up with this book with the soundtrack on in the background. You can never have too much Dear Evan Hansen!

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Damsel by Elana K Arnold


Damsel
by Elana K. Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb:

The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: when the prince-who-will-be-king comes of age, he must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, however, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon, or what horrors she has faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome prince, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny to sit on the throne beside him. Ama comes with Emory back to the kingdom of Harding, hailed as the new princess, welcomed to the court.

However, as soon as her first night falls, she begins to realize that not all is as it seems, that there is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows–and that the greatest threats to her life may not be behind her, but here, in front of her. 

For the past couple of years I have really been enjoying fairytale retellings, so when the opportunity to review Damsel came up I jumped at the chance not really knowing what it would be about beyond Princes, Damsels and dragons.

Unusually I’m going to start my review by talking about the ending because I think it will be the part of this book that is most controversial and potentially disliked. For my part, I got to the end and said aloud to the empty room “WHAT.THE.HELL”. I’m not going to give any spoilers beyond saying that the secret behind Prince Emory’s slaying of the dragon is… graphic, disgusting and fairly shocking. It definitely hit me from left field, although thinking about the book as a whole I think you could argue that there’s a strong theme throughout that builds up to this ending.

As much as the ending wasn’t my favourite part of the book, it does add to the grim, gritty, dark tone of the story. I still dropped my rating of Damsel by a star because for me, it took the book in a direction I felt was unnecessary. I feel like the feminist tone of the book and the gradual rebellion of Ama was strong enough to make a fantastic story without needing the truly bizarre shock factor part of the ending.

Ending aside, I was hooked on this book from the first page. Arnold’s writing style lends itself fantastically to the fairytale genre and I thought the world building in this book was particularly strong- possibly because Ama is discovering the world at the same time the reader is.

This book will make you angry, sad, probably a little big disgusted in places but it will also give you some real feminist satisfaction. This is a truly grim fairytale, so if you’re looking for a romance, this is not it. It’s gritty, but also beautifully written. Just don’t blame me if you read it and hate the ending…

Thanks to Harper 360 for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Distortion by Victor Dixen

Distortion by Victor Dixen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recieved an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in return for an honest review

I really loved Ascension so I couldn’t wait to start reading Distortion. I was desperate to know what the Martian pioneers would decide to do!

Distortion opens straight back in the thick of the action that Ascension finished on, which I loved. All too often sequels finish on a really juicy story line and pick up miles in the future when everything has been resolved. In Distortion, we get to experience the pioneers making the decision whether to land on Mars or turn the Cupido around. The suspense was really well built and up until the decision was made I was unsure which they would choose to go with.

I found the story line with Andrew and Harmony a bit of a disruption to the flow of the book. I don’t massively care about their characters because they went from being secondary to a main story line in this book and really when I’m reading about them I just want to be back on Mars! However, I feel like they do play an important part in the ongoing plot and I’m interested to see what happens in the next book.

I really loved all of the action on Mars, in particular the storm and the revelation that the robots can talk really peaked my interest and made the book impossible to put down. I’m really enjoying this series and can’t wait to continue it and see whether they continue to live on Mars, return to Earth or suffer from the depressurisation of the habitats.

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