Monday, August 31, 2020

Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke's long awaited second novel is due out in September and I was lucky enough to receive an ARC through my local book shop.


Overview:

Piranesi is a book that you just have to read, and keep reading until you get to the end. There's no real way to explain the plot because anything I say is going to sound ridiculous or boring, but trust me when I say Susanna Clarke is a master of experimental fiction and surrealist fantasy fiction. 

It is a short novel, the ARC copy I had was 244 pages and it was an incredibly quick read. 

Plot:

Like I said, explaining the plot is going to take someone better than me, but what I can tell you is that the main character, who is referred to as Piranesi is a man who lives in a cave system alone. He believes that there have only ever been 15 people in the world, including himself and a man he refers to as The Other. 

The Other is intent on expanding his knowledge and uncovering secrets of the universe using rituals that he doesn't explain to Piranesi. Piranesi thinks of himself as a scientist who uses rational thought to explore the cave system and only believes in things he has seen and can prove to exist. 

When Piranesi discovers that The Other has been lying and there are others in the world who Piranesi hasn't met, Piranesi begins to doubt The Other's intentions and does his own investigating, leading to the discovery of Sixteen, Sixteen is named because Piranesi believes that they are the 16th person in the world. 

The plot thickens as Piranesi struggles to decipher what is the truth, and what The Other has been lying about. 

Characters: 

Piranesi is a man, whose age we really don't know at any point throughout the novel. We don't know how he came to be in the cave system that he believes to be the entire world. 

The Other is a scientist who uses Piranesi to assist him in his quest to expand his knowledge of the universe and reclaim powers once thought to have been lost in the past. 

Sixteen is a person. That's it, that's all you get with that one. 

The Good:

The writing, oh my god. It is lyrical and musical and so incredibly weird. Because it's all told from the inner monologue and journal entries of Piranesi. Having a sole narrator made for a great reading experience as we witness Piranesi lose grip on what he believes to be his own reality. 

The Bad:

The writing is a double edged sword. While I loved it, it's not for everyone and I think the reviews and ratings will reflect this when this amazing book is released. 

Final Thoughts: 

Read it, but only if you're prepared to be utterly confused for 75% of this short book. Then do what I did and wait 24 hours before you rate or review it, because I can guarantee your thoughts will keep spinning about this book for a while after you finish it. 

For Fans of: 

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke will be released on the 15th of September 2020. 


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Guest Review by Sleepy Wired Studios on youtube: The Wailing Woman by Maria Lewis


Hello there! Welcome back to Notes and a Novel! My names Maisie from the booktube channel SleepyWiredStudios filling in for your regular host and am here to review The Wailing Woman by Maria Lewis. 

Overview

The Wailing Woman is Lewis’s fourth book in the interconnected urban paranormal fantasy series, The Supernatural Sisters series, although each book can be read as a standalone. This series follows versions of classic movie monsters in a world where they exist alongside humans and have an organization to keep the peace between species. 

The Plot

The plot of the Wailing Woman follows Sadie Burke a banshee who lost her wail and Texas Contos the son of the man who took it from her, as they investigate a series of mysteries around their childhood home/area. . 

The Writing

Lewis’s writing style has always been straightforward and immersive. The worlds and system are explained and every scene I feel you can imagine vividly. You can also feel the different voices in the POVs which I love. 

The Characters

Maria Lewis is great at crafting badass female heroines and as I’ve followed the series since 2016/2017 each new protagonist becomes a favourite. 

Sadie Burke is a mute banshee at the start of the book and her personality shines through the pages and her inner monologue, I loved her sass and way of thinking, which made her an enjoyable voice. Her relationship and banter with her sisters and Texas were great and you got to see many sides of her. 

Texas Contos was a character I got attached to along the way, I loved the way he was sarcastic and witty but could also be charming and loveable, especially around Sadie. 


The side characters were well developed and I especially enjoyed seeing some familiar faces from her other books. 

There was no particular Big Bad in this book unlike the rest in the series, as it was more focused on the characters but the antagonist being Texas’s father and his uncles made for great familial drama. 

The Atmosphere/Setting

The Supernatural Sisters takes place all over the globe and in the Wailing Woman takes place the majority of the book in Sydney, Australia and then to London. Maria’s writing lends itself well to the gritty atmosphere and urban setting. 

Seeing how certain supernatural communities and species adjust to fit into the human world is intriguing, for example,  the Burke sisters make a living as a crime scene clean up crew as banshees can predict a person’s death. 

The Good

- A Vibrate cast of characters

- The mystery element was engaging and was fun

- the dialogue was entertaining

- discussions about disability and how that can affect you were great and appreciated. 

- The cameos from characters of previous books were great as a long time fan of the series

- This book set up and tied up a lot of threads from other books which were great. 

- it focuses quite a lot on the ins and outs of the Askari and the supernatural community, I loved learning more about the history and then Askari in this book. 


The Bad/not so good 

As mentioned in the characters section there was no Big Bad Villian like the previous books but instead, the antagonist was Texa’s own father and his uncles, and while they were fun antagonist’s, still felt a bit underdeveloped. 

If you’re not a fan of straightforward, procedural dialogue then this might be a struggle as it focuses quite a lot on the ins and outs of the Askari and the supernatural community. 


Final thoughts

All in all, I highly recommend the Wailing Woman by Maria Lewis to anyone who is a fan of urban paranormal fantasy series, badass characters and mysteries. It has an enjoyable story a great cast of characters and an immersive world that I love and adore. I look forward to the next book that Maria puts out and can’t wait to see where the series goes from there. 


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You can find Maisie over on twitter at @maisie_dickson or on her booktube channel At https://www.youtube.com/user/MariWired92


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City

 

Overview

Last Smile in Sunder City is the debut novel of Australian actor Luke Arnold. It's an urban fantasy about a detective who helps people for the right price. Except for one thing: he doesn't work for humans.

The Plot:

Fetch Philips is a detective who refuses to work for humans, despite being a human himself. He feels that humans took far too much from the magical citizens of the world and he owes them his help. 
Living in a post-war, post-magic society when so many of its citizens were magic before leads to humans being despised at best. 

When Fetch is asked to find a missing vampire who teaches at a local school for those who suffered the most after the war to end magic he finds himself feeling obligated to help. He doesn't particularly want to take the job but considering there's not much else for him to do he endeavours to find the missing teacher, and along the way realises there are connections to other missing people. 

The Writing:

I've seen some complaints in other reviews that the plot is slow and the writing is over done but honestly I don't see that at all. This is the first book in a series and has a lot of world building to do in order to set up for the rest of the series. I found the flashback scenes particularly engrossing. Fetch's character development is done in such a way that he has already become the character we see on the page but the flashbacks show us how he got there and why he made the choices he did. 

I am genuinely surprised this is a debut book, Luke Arnold's writing feels experienced and full of depth. His characters are well rounded and full of life and his ability to paint settings with words is phenomenal. I felt like I was in some of the settings as I was reading about them and I found myself desperate to know more about Fetch's life before the war that ended magic. 

The Characters:

As I said, Fetch Philips is a well rounded character with depth and history. The other characters who played more minor roles felt a little rushed and a bit flat in places, however I think this was an intentional move on the author's part as it compelled the reader to empathise with Fetch even when you find out he's not exactly what he seems. It's been a while since I read The Last Smile in Sunder City and if I'm being entirely honest I cannot name a single other character, I have vague recollections of the love interest but the names have not stayed with me. Her character arc has stayed with me though and that to me is much more telling of Luke Arnold's ability to paint a vivid story even if the characters are a little dull in places. 

The Atmosphere:

This is where Arnold's writing really comes alive. The setting of Sunder City felt very real even if it is post-war, almost post-apocalyptic and obviously I have no experience living in a setting like that. To me, the way the city is described, and the way the school and other municipal buildings are written add so much to the story and create a real sense of living in a city after a major event. 

Final thoughts:

I read The Last Smile in Sunder City in May, the sequel comes out this September and I've been waiting impatiently ever since I closed the last page of Sunder City. As soon as I finished this book I pre-ordered the sequel and I think that tells you a lot about how much I enjoyed this book. Luke Arnold is an author to watch, he has so much potential to create a large scale urban fantasy series in the same vein as Jim Butcher or Richard Kadrey. I highly recommend The Last Smile in Sunder City. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Review: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)

 

Overview:

House of Earth and Blood centres around a fantasy world in which werewolves, angels and all manner of creatures are very real. There are four houses: 
"House of Earth and Blood: shifters, humans, witches and ordinary animals belong to this house
House of Sky and Breath: malakim (angels), Fae, elementals and sprites
House of Many Waters: River-spirits, mer, water beasts, nymphs and kelpies
House of Flame and Shadow: Daemonaki, reapers, wraiths, vampyrs, draki, dragons and necromancers." -The Four Houses of Midgard, from Crescent City book one. 

This house system is not at all like Hogwarts, and the rest of the book sure as hell isn't either. This is Sarah J Maas's first foray into the adult fantasy genre. 

The Plot:

The plot centres around Bryce Quinlan and her efforts to solve a series of murders. Quinlan is asked (actually, told is more accurate) to investigate by the city's commanders and is assigned a partner/babysitter to make sure she does so to the best of her ability. Her minder is Hunt Athalar, a fallen angel who is enslaved by Micah Domitus, a governor. Hunt is frustrated at being made to look after Bryce who is half Fae, however as time progresses they find themselves drawn to each other. Chaos, romance and some smut ensues. 

The Writing:

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of SJM. I've read the three primary books from the A Court of Thorns and Roses series (I haven't read the novellas and you can't make me, nor can you make me read anything else she publishes that's set in that world) and while they are easy to read, quick and dirty, they are not what I would call... great books, at all. 

THIS BOOK caught me by surprise. I originally coerced my good friend into doing a buddy read, with the intention of probably hating it and laughing at it. However Crescent City book 1 made me feel about ten different emotions and about 99% of them were positive. 

SJM's writing in this book is far superior to the way she wrote ACOTAR and its sequels. The settings, descriptions and world building are almost flawless. I do think it is perhaps a little too long and could have been edited down, however I still read every single page with intense interest. I even considered doing a reread as soon as I'd finished it because the ending made me feel so many emotions. 

The Characters:

The characters were by far the best part of this book, especially Lehabah the fire sprite and Syrinx the chimera. From page one I was hooked by the characters, by their interpersonal relationships and the ways they all went about their lives, SJM managed to break my heart within the first 30 pages, which is frankly impressive, if not a little callous. When Bryce first meets Hunt you immediately know where it's all going to go in terms of their relationship but I found I didn't mind that it was a bit predictable in that regard, because the rest of the book sure as hell wasn't. Hunt is a bit of a curmudgeon (not that I blame him, he's had it tough) and he plays off Bryce's personality perfectly. By the time they meet Bryce and Hunt have both been through some heavy trauma and their mutual understanding of that is crucial to the trust and friendship they slowly build. I was thoroughly in love with Hunt by the end. 

One of the other main characters Ruhn Danaan, is related to Bryce (spoilers if I go into much more detail) and my friend who I buddy read this with was firmly in camp Ruhn, so much so that she bought a Ruhn themed candle from our favourite bookish candle shop. You can pry my Bryce/Hunt ship from my cold dead hands though. It was at points melodramatic, over the top, cheesy and at points poignant, sweet and romantic, and sometimes downright filthy. Five stars to SJM for managing to pull off the best romance I've read in a long while. 

The Atmosphere:

This book is so atmospheric, dark, creepy and downright depressing at times. I loved every minute of being inside Bryce's mind as she struggled to come to terms with loss, grief, depression, and anxiety. It felt intensely realistic to me and I related to Bryce on a level that made her journey throughout the book so much more moving. Her struggles and triumphs were perfectly offset by the grim circumstances she found herself in and SJM wrote those perfectly. Her descriptions of surroundings, smells and sounds were so evocative that it felt almost real. I could picture parts of Crescent City with great clarity and loved exploring parts of it for the first time with Bryce. I was stunned at how well SJM could write a grim-dark setting without falling back on overly flowery descriptions of colour and sound and instead let the inner monologue of Bryce and her emotions carry the weight of the setting. It was incredibly well done.

The Good:

Oh so many good things in this book. I cried no less than 5 times in this book, all of them in the last 250 pages, the pay off to the long read was so worth it for that ending. Like I said, the characters are flawless in their execution, even if they are incredibly flawed in their personalities. Those flaws make them all the more charismatic, charming and downright likeable. 

The Bad:

The book is about 200 pages too long in my opinion. There's a lot going on and parts of it feel a bit unnecessary especially when they aren't fully explored by the end of the book, however this is book one in a series and I have hope that SJM will explore those issues more fully in the coming books. I personally feel that Ruhn could have played a bigger role and would have been a great asset to the main storyline if he had been used more fully. His angst was a little overplayed and repetitive and the reminders that his father is a bad guy got very repetitive and frustrating. I wish I'd done a tally of how many times the Autumn king was shit talked in that book. 

Final Thoughts:

If you love SJM's other books read it and rejoice, if you hated her other books (like me) read it and be stunned at how well she can pull off a whole adult fantasy that left you desperate for book 2 immediately. Basically just read it, because even though it's not perfect, it's a damn good read that will suck you in for the entire time you're reading it and will leave you with so many emotions that you won't know what to do with. It's the kind of book you'll gladly stay up until 3am reading even though your eyes keep closing and you're so tired you can barely think. 

Don't be mad at me when you get to the end and realise book two isn't due to be released until 2021.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Review: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

 Overview:

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World centres around Ivy Aberdeen, a 12 year old whose house was just destroyed in a hurricane and she lost everything except her notebook and her pillow.

The Plot:

Ivy and her family go to the local school gymnasium while they figure out what to do now they don't have a house. Ivy spends time with the local doctor's daughter and teaches her draw, and Ivy begins to wonder if she has a crush on this girl, the same way her best friend has a crush on a boy in their grade. When Ivy realises she has lost the notebook containing all of her most personal drawings, some that hint at her feelings towards other girls, Ivy becomes desperate to find the notebook. When she returns to school, she finds notes stuffed into her locker each morning, along with one of the drawings from her lost notebook, the author of the notes refuses to return the notebook but encourages Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings. This mysterious author becomes a support system in a strange way, as the end of the book approaches, Ivy becomes brave enough to address her feelings about other girls. 

The Writing:

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World is a middle grade, and is written very much with that target audience in mind, however I found that I loved the writing and the message more than I expected to. This is the kind of book I wish I'd read when I was twelve years old. Ashley Herring Blake takes what can be an awfully lonely experience, that of a young person questioning their sexuality, and makes it into a beautifully written book full of vivid imagery and lyrical prose. I will definitely be reading more of Ashley Herring Blake's work in the future as her writing is truly beautiful and evocative. The writing in this novel showed me that just because a book is aimed at Middle Grade it doesn't have to shy away from using beautiful imagery and prose. 

The Characters:

The main character is a loveable and highly relatable character for me, I felt every ounce of her angst as a young person struggling to accept their sexuality. Ivy's family is a bit less loveable and are sources of tension and sadness for her. This conflict highlights the importance of supportive friends and other trusted adults in a young person's life, however by the end of the book the family realises how they have forgotten Ivy in all the mess of losing their home and a variety of other challenges they've faced since. Ivy's friends are a mixed bunch but they become very loveable and have such unique voices and character development that it's hard not to relate to them. I found myself thinking back to when I was 12 years old and the kind of friends I had then. 

The Atmosphere/Setting:

The setting of this book reads as a small town and there aren't many environments/settings that are vividly described, this book is very much character driven but the lack of description adds to the feeling that you are in Ivy's head and living life through her eyes. Twelve year olds rarely have an inner monologue describing their school classroom or their best friend's house. This 'lack' of description added to the feeling you knew Ivy personally. 

The Good:

I loved this book for attempting (and succeeding) at showing what it's like to be questioning your sexuality at an age when most of your friends are becoming interested in people of the opposite gender. I loved how Ashley Herring Blake wrote about Ivy's conflict between her feelings for her friend and what she thought she should be feeling. I could definitely relate to Ivy and other reviews I've read have said that the author absolutely nailed the feeling of loneliness that seems to be so present when one is struggling with feeling like an outsider.

The "Bad":

There's not much to criticise in this book in all honesty. If I had to say one thing, I would say that the ending was rather abrupt and didn't give me the kind of resolution I expected. I don't mean that in terms of the outcome for the characters, I mean that I felt that Blake's writing led to me believe that the ending would be written in a much more lyrical, meaningful way but it just sort of... happened. However considering this book is more of a slice of life novel and not about a grand adventure I suppose that's quite fitting. Rarely do we have moments of self discovery that are book ended with grand conclusions, we just go on with our lives with this new knowledge of a piece of ourselves. 

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I really loved this book and would highly recommend it for anyone aged 10+, there's no swearing, drinking or inappropriate behaviour and the characters are all very relatable. Anyone who grew up as the middle child will definitely relate to Ivy, and anyone who ever questioned their sexuality with relate to her on a level that might bring tears to your eyes at points. I know I cried once or twice. I will definitely be reading more from Ashley Herring Blake in the future. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review: Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

Overview: 
This is the sequel to A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, a review for which you can find here. The sequel begins with Pip, who has published a podcast based on the events of the last book. I won't go into detail here as that would definitely be spoilers for the first book, but suffice to say Pippa is now a media sensation and is caught between juggling school and her newfound notoriety. 

The Plot
When Pippa's friend Connor arrives at her house out of breath and desperate for Pippa's help she is reluctant. Connor's brother Jamie is missing. Pip had promised herself, her family and Ravi that she wouldn't get so involved in a case like that again, as it almost had disastrous consequences the last time. However Connor asks her to at least go and see his mother and give them some advice on how to get the police to take Jamie's disappearance seriously, Pippa reluctantly agrees but when the police still show no interest in starting a search party for Jamie, Pip feels obligated to help. 

She gets Connor and Joanna's consent to record interviews for her podcast, in the hope that this will a) bring publicity to Jamie's case and perhaps result in some sightings or clues as to his whereabouts and b) encourage the police to take the disappearance seriously and render assistance. When media interest increases but police assistance is not forthcoming, Pip finds that she is the only one willing to help Connor and Joanna locate their missing brother and son. 

She begins interviewing key witnesses, people who saw Jamie on the night of his disappearance, acting erratically, including his belief that a teenage girl was a woman named Layla that the 25 year old Jamie had met on Tinder. When Jamie realises that this girl is not Layla he leaves the party and is last seen walking away while talking on the phone with a mysterious person. 

Pip slowly builds a timeline of Jamie's movements on that night and using this she is able to trace his last known sighting to an abandoned farmhouse, where they find a knife that was missing from his house but no sign of Jamie. 

Events race toward a conclusion that I did not anticipate and was blown away by, but I can't go into anymore detail because SPOILERS!

The Writing: 
I said in my review of AGGGTM that I found the first 50% of the book to be slow and difficult to get through. I had no such difficulties with Good Girl, Bad Blood. The plot was off and racing from page 1 and did not stop until the last page. The mysteries kept coming, the clues kept getting weirder and the suspect list was a mile long. While there was less of a mixed media format and more of a regular narrative told in third person I found that I didn't mind that. There were still aspects of the mixed media but they seemed more fast paced and well written, aimed at telling the story without unnecessary prose. I read this in a few hours, and at 432 pages that's impressive. I really couldn't put this book down and forgot to eat dinner until after I'd finished it at 10pm. Holly Jackson's writing has improved so dramatically between book 1 and 2 that I can hardly believe they're by the same author. However Jackson's tell-tale turns of phrase are so very much her own that there's no doubt she has just improved in leaps and bounds since book one. 

The Characters: 
Once again, Jackson's ability to write characters full of depth and life shines through strongly. I had so much sympathy for Pippa who was just trying to help, Connor who just wanted his brother back and other characters who were just trying to protect themselves or do what they felt was right (so many potential spoilers there). The way Jackson made me empathise with characters who should have been reprehensible was truly masterful and the way she made me hate characters who deserved it with such vehemence was a skill I have yet to see matched by another YA author. 

The Atmosphere: 
Jackson's ability to turn what should be a sweet small town in England into a menacing village full of secrets, deception and bubbling hatred barely contained was another master stroke. I felt that I could relate to the minor characters of the town who weren't at the centre of the story but watched on in the periphery as I did as a reader. The atmosphere built up until it was as tangible as a character itself, the town became its own being and the climax of the story was so tense that I was deeply lost in it. 

The Good: 
Honestly, is it a cop out to say everything? Probably, yeah. So I'll say: The characters and the atmosphere were amazing and I can't wait to read more from Holly Jackson.

The Bad:
If I had to find something to criticise, I would say that the ending is pretty far fetched but in my mind that made it all the more intriguing because although the strands of clues were tethered together loosely, Jackson made them seem tightly knitted and unbreakable. I believed that it was possible, maybe that makes me gullible? All I know is loved it anyway. 

Final thoughts: 
If the conclusion of book one stunned me(and it did), the sequel absolutely floored me. I had to close the book and stare into space for a few minutes while I absorbed it and my brain caught up to what I had read! I absolutely cannot wait for more from Holly Jackson.

For fans of: 
The Truly Devious Series by Maureen Johnson and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. 

Stay tuned for my review of House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City book one) by Sarah J Maas coming 15th of August.

Review: Little Bones by NV Peacock

  Overview This is the first adult thriller by N.V Peacock, who has previously written young adult horror/supernatural books. This debut int...