ARC Review: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody


Daughter of the Burning CityDaughter of the Burning City
by Amanda Foody

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and twisty story with a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. The world the author has created is incredibly detailed and I loved the combination of fantasy and murder mystery. There are a few pacing issues and I thought there was a little too much crammed in but it’s definitely an enjoyable read.


Synopsis

A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

Review

I’m a little bit torn on this one. There were parts that I absolutely loved and it’s wonderfully original and dark but there was something about it that didn’t quite work.

I loved the idea of this traveling carnival that’s as big as a city. I loved the diversity of those that live and work there, the different types of magic, the performers, vendors, guards and the thieves and assassins who all consider themselves equal. Most of all I loved the mystery and just how dark and twisted it was.

It’s called Gomorrah for a reason. There are prettymen and prettywomen (prostitutes), con artists, thieves and assassins. All visitors to the carnival do so at their own risk and literally within the first few pages one person is robbed and a seemingly central character murdered.

Sorina made for an interesting main character. The only illusion worker in Gomorrah she’s considered a bit of a freak and outsider in a city of freaks and outsiders. She has no eyes but can see via her illusions (something I still don’t quite understand). She has however used her illusion work to create a family of “freaks” and together they have quite a happy life until one of them is suddenly murdered. So begins the mystery of who is behind the murder but also how do you kill an illusion.

In many ways I did like Sorina. She’s quite a lonely character and just wants to be accepted. She wants the fairytale romance but doesn’t believe anyone will be interested in her. She does get a little annoying with the woe is me all of the time and being so easily influenced by others but she is only 16 so it’s largely forgivable.

I have to confess I found her family/illusions confusing in the beginning. I have a goldfish like memory and was extremely tired at the time so I suspect it may just have been me who couldn’t remember who was who and what they did (I think the physical book has drawings so that will make it easier). I also didn’t feel the connection between them. One is the baby of the family, the other like a grandpa, one the best friend/sister but while I knew this it didn’t feel real to me. Maybe because they are illusions but I suspect it was because there was more telling than showing, something I think the book was guilty of in quite a few places.

The author has created this big and complicated world with a whole city/carnival that moves from place to place across the continent. I think it was perhaps overly complicated particularly for one book. We have the city of Gomorrah to try and understand with its very distinct areas and layout and all of its people/magics. There are the different places they visit, the world as a whole, politics and religion. It’s a lot to cram into around 380 pages and led to a bit of info dumping, something I struggle with.

There are some wonderful descriptions of the carnival and times when you are in the moment but these were a little too fleeting. I wish it had been kept simpler allowing more time for character development and relationships to develop. I didn’t feel any of the connection between the characters and consequently a lot of the events had less of an impact (the murders for example).

The storyline is good and I loved the idea of a YA fantasy with a murder mystery. There were however some issues on timing and it felt a little disjointed at times. There were certain events that felt unnecessary and others that were rushed over and didn’t make sense.

There are plenty of twists and turns as you try to work out who is behind the murders and I did for the most part enjoy it. I just wish it had been a little simpler with a little less tell and a little more show.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

Review: The Rome Affair by Karen Swan

The Rome AffairThe Rome Affair by Karen Swan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Rome Affair is an absolutely perfect Summer read. Set in two different time periods, it’s addictive and engaging with a lot of mystery and just the right amount of romance to make it impossible to put down.

Swan’s descriptions will transport you to the Eternal City and some of the most glamorous locations around the world. Definitely one I’d recommend.


Synopsis

The glamorous capital city of Italy is brought to startling life in The Rome Affair, a compelling summer novel by Karen Swan.

1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty and money in the world can’t change it.

2017 and Francesca Hackett is living la dolce vita in Rome, leading tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza – famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier.

Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena’s life.


Review

I was a little bit worried when I started reading the Rome Affair that it was simply going to be a rehash of the authors previous book The Paris Secret. From the synopsis it sounds very similar, young woman running away from trouble in her own life goes to stay in a European city and ends up investigating a mystery from the past, and I suppose it kind of is. Despite some similarities however, this is a very different book and for me it was even better.

It has Swan’s usual wonderful writing but there is something compelling and addictive about the story. I picked the book up late one Saturday night and found it impossible to put down, finishing it on Sunday afternoon. The descriptions and feel of the book drew me in so completely that it was actually a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the real world.

The narrative flips back and forth in time and is told from Cesca’s point of view in the present and Elena’s in the past and while I found both fascinating I have to confess it was Elena’s story that captivated me. Her life as a rich heiress, socializing with the rich and famous while struggling to fit in and ultimately being abandoned time after time is compelling reading. The contrast between experiencing it through her eyes and hearing her tell Cesca the story works incredibly well. She edits and spins her experiences to paint the picture she wants to show the world and it definitely makes you question whether her final perfect romance was all it seemed.

Cesca’s story in the present is slightly less intriguing, she’s hiding from something that happened in London and trying to enjoy the simple things in life in Rome, with mixed success. There’s a little bit of romance in the air and she has to admit to and face up to her past but her role seemed to be primarily to dig into Elena’s past. I didn’t think she was necessarily the most likeable of characters but she was perfect for the role of interrogator/investigator and her love of her new home really flows through the pages.

The setting of Rome was definitely one of the highlights for me as, while I’ve only visited once, I absolutely love it. The author’s descriptions are so wonderful they give a real sense of the city as well as the other settings in the novel (Greece, Florida, New York). It’s very easy to imagine yourself getting a pizza and eating outside on the piazza, visiting the tunnels running under the city, visiting a nightclub in New York or sunbathing on a yacht off a Greek Island.

The pacing of the story is spot on and there are plenty of twists and turns to grab your attention. I spent a lot of the book guessing what had happened and while you can see most of it coming there were still a few surprises that I doubt many will guess.

Overall, I would definitely rate this as one of my favorite reads of the Summer. With an addictive story, a wonderful setting and brilliant writing I would recommend this to anyone who likes a novel with a lot of secrets and a bit of romance.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

Review: The Devil’s Colony by Bill Schweigart

The Devil's ColonyThe Devil’s Colony by Bill Schweigart

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Bigger, better (maybe?) and even more gruesome (definitely), the third and final book in Bill Schweigart’s Fatal Folklore Trilogy is a brilliant conclusion to what has become one of my favorite horror series. I’m really going to miss Ben and Lindsay but I honestly don’t know how Schweigart could possibly top that.

Note: as this is the third book in the series this review contains spoilers for the previous stories. If you haven’t read them go get them now (honestly they are a bargain) or go read my review of the first book The Beast of Barcroft here.


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Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

(I know, I really thought my rating would be higher too)

This is a book with a lot of hype around it and unfortunately for me it didn’t quite live up to it. It’s an enjoyable read and it’s fantastic to see this type of cultural diversity but it lacks that special something to make it stand out from all of the other YA contemporary romances out there.


Synopsis

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.


Review

I’m a big fan of YA contemporaries, so when I saw all of the fantastic reviews for When Dimple Met Rishi I was so excited to get my hands on a copy. Unfortunately I think all of the hype around it may have been where it all went a bit wrong for me as it led to high expectations it couldn’t possibly live up to. There isn’t anything particularly bad about it but I think I just wanted more.

I do have to applaud the author for finally giving us a culturally diverse YA romance. I don’t know how accurate its portrayal of the Indian culture is (I suspect not completely given some of reviews I’ve seen) but I loved the way elements such as the language, importance of family, customs and even religion were woven into the story in a, for the most part, natural way.

I also loved that it was Dimple who was the driving force in the story. She’s the one who’s into computers and science and is determined to win the app design competition at all costs. It’s so good to see female characters in traditionally male dominated areas and also to have a female character who rates her career and future as more important than finding a boyfriend.

I do think though that the author could have taken this further with a bit more time spent on creating the app (I know nothing about techie stuff but I’m sure girls who do would have appreciated it). Unfortunately though, other than some discussion over the concept, Dimple and Rishi don’t seem to do any actual programming or anything remotely IT-ish. Instead the focus and the majority of the book is taken up with a scavenger hunt and preparing for a talent show, with everything else being brushed over. Why a talent show would be a vital part of the competition was a bit of a mystery to me and seemed more like an excuse to work some Bollywood dancing into the story.

It would also have been good to see at least one other female character who’s there to compete. Her roommate and friend is more interested in finding a rich and popular boyfriend and the only other girl seems to just be tagging along with the guys and doesn’t give the impression of being the brightest. I know it’s a male dominated area but I would have loved to have more than one female character who’s serious about it.

Dimple is also not the most likeable of characters. She is passionate and driven to succeed which I loved but had a bit of a tendency to throw a strop at the drop of a hat. She came across as unreasonable and immature a lot of the time and I hated the way she treated Rishi.

Rishi, is almost like the exact opposite of Dimple and I adored him. For him family and tradition are more important than what he wants. He’s proud of his background and his culture and speaks up for himself and others. He’s super sweet, generous, funny and a bit of a romantic. If someone wants to arrange for me to marry him I would not be against it 🙂

The romance was quite cute and I loved how it started as an arranged marriage but other than that there wasn’t anything particularly unique or stand out about it. There was the odd moment that made me laugh however, it’s one of those stories that you quite enjoy at the time but more or less forget the moment you finish.

Overall, an enjoyable read which definitely gets a thumbs up for a strong female main character and lots of diversity but isn’t quite the stand out read I was hoping for.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.

Review: Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

Don't Close Your EyesDon’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read in a while. It’s my first book from this author but I very much doubt it will be my last. It’s one of those books that you just can’t put down and I more or less finished the whole thing in one sitting.


Synopsis

A gripping novel of psychological suspense centered on two sisters whose lives have taken them apart, and the shocking family secrets that bind them together.

Twin sisters Robin and Sarah haven’t spoken in years.

Robin can’t leave her house. A complete shut-in, she spends her days spying on her neighbors, subtly meddling in their lives. But she can’t keep her demons out forever. Someone from her past has returned, and is desperate to get inside.

Sarah can’t go home. Her husband has kicked her out, forcibly denying her access to their toddler. Sarah will do anything to get her daughter back, but she’s unraveling under the mounting pressure of concealing the dark secrets of her past. And her lies are catching up to her.

The novel takes readers back in time to witness the complex family dynamics that formed Robin and Sarah into the emotionally damaged, estranged young women they’ve become. As the gripping and intricate layers of their shared past are slowly peeled away, the shocks and twists will keep readers breathless long after the final page.


Review

The story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of twin sisters Sarah and Robin in both the present day and their childhood. Now in their early thirties both are having serious issues. Sarah has a wonderful family but has been ejected from their lives after being accused of something terrible. Robin is severely agoraphobic and spends her time spying on her neighbours or hiding from whoever it is she thinks is out to get her.

I loved the dual points of view and the two time periods and thought it worked wonderfully well. It’s not a particularly action packed read but there’s something about it that just draws you into the story completely and I found myself more emotionally engaged than I ever thought I would be.

For me Robin was probably the more interesting of the characters. As a child/teen she’s wild, angry, impulsive, out of control and just speaks her mind but as a thirty year old adult she has completely transformed into someone who’s scared of their own shadow and tries to control everything around her. You can’t help but wonder what has caused such a dramatic shift. I also absolutely loved the Rear Window aspects of her life. Trapped within her home, watching the neighbours and occasionally interfering in their lives.

Sarah, while possibly not as likeable as Robin, is still a fascinating character to read. She’s the complete opposite of her twin, the good girl, the quiet one who is always on her best behaviour but there’s something a little disturbing about her. She claims to love her family and her child but as you gradually learn the accusations that have been made against her you begin to wonder just how truthful she is.

I thought that the way the author gradually revealed the events of the past was exceptionally well done and a lot of the time I found that more compelling than the present. Without spoilers lets just say their childhoods were troubled because of the complex relationship between their parents and their parents friends.

It ended up being a much more emotional read than I was expecting and yes it did make me cry on a couple of occasions. Often with psychological thrillers you find that it’s difficult to connect with the characters (I blame the whole unreliable/unlikeable narrator trend) but I could feel what they were feeling.

It’s not too difficult to guess what the twists and turns in this book will be, they are quite clearly signposted, but I found I wasn’t really trying to guess and was just going along with the story, waiting for the disaster you could tell was coming.

If I had one criticism of this book, I’m afraid it would have to be the ending. I’m obviously not going to tell you what it is but with the build up I expected more and it was just all over a little bit too quickly for my tastes.

Despite this, I would definitely recommend. Just don’t start it if you have somewhere you need to be as it’s almost impossible to stop reading.

I won a copy of this book in a giveaway on Readers First.

Review: Two Nights by Kathy Reichs


Two NightsTwo Nights
by Kathy Reichs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been far too long since I read a book like this. I’m really hoping that contrary to the description the author changes her mind and turns this into a series as I definitely want more of Sunday Night & co.


Synopsis

Meet Sunday Night, a woman with physical and psychological scars, and a killer instinct… 

Sunnie has spent years running from her past, burying secrets and building a life in which she needs no one and feels nothing. But a girl has gone missing, lost in the chaos of a bomb explosion, and the family needs Sunnie s help.

Is the girl dead? Did someone take her? If she is out there, why doesn’t she want to be found? It’s time for Sunnie to face her own demons because they just might lead her to the truth about what really happened all those years ago.


Review

Before I start I should probably say that I’ve never read a single book by Reichs and I should also probably say that I’ve never watched the TV show Bones either so if you’re wondering how this compares I’m afraid I can’t tell you. What I can tell you however is that this is a very enjoyable read. Fast paced and action packed but with a lot of detail and some great writing and dialogue, it’s difficult to put down.

It’s one of those very American, cliche ridden stories about an ex cop with a bad attitude who’s convinced to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl. Sunday Night (yes that is really her name but it totally makes sense if you read the book) is definitely my kind of character. She has the troubled past which she’s burying deep, problems with authority, a need to be constantly armed and a great way with one liners. She’s a risk taker with absolutely no patience and a very short fuse. Basically she’s your usual fictional PI and is absolutely brilliant to read.

The story itself is pretty fast paced with a lot of action and a fairly high body count. There’s terrorism, murder, religious fanatics, child abuse (trigger warning) and a lot of violence and bad language so it’s not for the faint of heart (I’m not sure what it says about me that I love this type of read). Essentially though it follows Sunday as she follows the clues to find out what happened to a missing girl and resolves some of the demons from her past.

The methodical and logical way the author lays it all out is very well done and completely believable. There’s very little in the way of luck or chance, which is often the case in these types of stories, but rather a proper investigation where one clue leads to the next and the next and when Sunday runs out of clues she starts rattling some cages until one comes to her. She’s very tech savvy, open to a bit of breaking and entering and even sets the odd ambush to get what she wants. I did wonder how she could possibly know as much as she did but decided just to go with it.

The other characters in the story are also a little bit cliched (the ruthless rich client, her mentor Beau who keeps trying to help her, the disgruntled detective who doesn’t want her working his case) but they are all executed well and I just took them as part of the fun. Their interactions with Sunnie were probably the highlight of the story for me as there’s a lot of banter and her bad attitude and knack for a good one liner make for some real laugh out loud moments.

There were a few elements of the story that were a little unbelievable and it’s probably not the most unique plot but it is enjoyable. Perfect if you’re looking for something action packed, pretty violent and with a main character who could probably give Jack Reacher a run for his money.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.

Review: Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny MoonGinny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Completely original, compelling and a little bit heartbreaking this is an incredible debut novel from Benjamin Ludwig. It’s not my usual type of read and I didn’t expect to love it but I totally did.

Definitely not tedious.


Synopsis

Meet Ginny. She’s fourteen, autistic, and has a heart-breaking secret…

‘Brilliant’ – Graeme Simison, author of The Rosie Project

Ginny Moon is trying to make sense of a world that just doesn’t seem to add up….

After years in foster care, Ginny is in her fourth forever family, finally with parents who will love her.

Everyone tells her that she should feel happy, but she has never stopped crafting her Big Secret Plan of Escape.

Because something happened, a long time ago – something that only Ginny knows – and nothing will stop her going back to put it right…

A fiercely poignant and inspirational story a lost girl searching for a place to call home. Ginny Moon will change everyone who spends time with her.


Thoughts

They like you, Ginny, and believe me, it’s hard to find people like that. It’s much easier to love someone than it is to like them.

Let me just start by saying that I’m completely in awe of anyone who cares for an autistic child and having read Ginny Moon I’m now even more in awe. I have to admit that it’s not something I know a lot about as I don’t really have anyone in my life who’s autistic but this definitely opened my eyes. The whole story is told from inside Ginny’s head giving a completely unique and fascinating view of what it’s like to have a brain that just doesn’t quite work the same way as everyone else’s. It’s compelling, frustrating, amusing, touching and emotional. Once I started reading I literally couldn’t stop.

Ginny is an absolutely fabulous character and I couldn’t help but love her, even though she drove me and everyone around her crazy at times. She is completely single minded and once she’s on a path there is absolutely no way you’ll change her mind. She takes everything literally and picks up the most bizarre words and phrases from those around her. I found myself laughing at some of the things that come out of her mouth one minute and being so incredibly frustrated the next that I wanted to shake her.

Ginny was brought up in an abusive home (trigger warning: there are some disturbing scenes) but despite being in her newest forever home she can’t let go of the past and is determined to escape and find her birth mother Gloria who she hopes has her baby doll. I felt so sorry for her adopted parents Brian and Maura and I could feel their frustrations that they want to give her a stable and loving home but she seems determined to leave. While Ginny is unable to interpret their emotions and reactions the author still managed to transfer them to the reader through her observations, something I thought was incredibly well done.

There were more than a few occasions where I felt like crying or shouting because Ginny just doesn’t see what she’s doing to those around her. Her aunt “Crystal with a C” in particular really got to me. Her guilt, frustration and just desperation to do the right thing was a little bit heartbreaking.

I have to confess that I was surprised the story held my attention the way that it did. It’s not my usual type of read and I would stop every so often and think “I don’t know where this can possibly go” and “I’m not sure how the author can keep this level of engagement and intensity for the remaining x number of pages” but somehow he did. I found myself unable to put it down and even when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it or talking about it.

It’s not a perfect book, there are elements that are a little unbelievable, but I definitely think it’s a worthwhile read for everyone. There aren’t anywhere near enough characters like Ginny in books and it gives a real insight and unique perspective to their everyday lives and thoughts as well as those around them.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review and apologies for taking so long to read it.