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Ailsa "Ailsa @ The Book Bundle"

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The Boy with the Porcelain Blade
The Boy with the Porcelain Blade
by Den Patrick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The first book in a creepy fantasy trilogy, 2 April 2014
This book was not what I was expecting from the blurb and opening chapter. It starts at a critical point in the main character Lucien's life, as he faces the final test that will complete his training as a soldier. It goes horribly wrong, and Lucien is soon exiled from the city. Demesne is a city split into elite houses, each with a speciality, ruled by a king no one has seen for decades. Lucien is one of the 'Orfani', treated to an exceptional education & living in luxury, but separated by some kind of abnormality - in Lucien's case, he has black fingernails & no ears.

The book alternates from chapter to chapter between the present where he deals with the consequences of exile, and the past where we learn more about him, from when he was a small child gradually getting closer to the present. While some of these flashbacks were interesting, I did find myself skimming through several of them, wanting to get back to the excitement of the present and the maturity of 18 year old Lucien rather than the more childish version in the other chapters.

I felt like it took until the second half of the book for the story to start living up to the promise of the first couple of chapters, with the intrigue and the challenge of a system finally coming out. That's where it really started to pick up for me and I felt far more engaged. Lucien's journey across the city, through the creepy sanatoria, the oubliette, and onwards, trying to rescue & save his friend before she is co-opted in to another gruesome experiment, kept me on the edge of my seat.

The other thing worth commenting on is that this is quite a creepy story. I'd almost class it as horror rather than fantasy. There are a lot of spiders, so I found myself picking my feet up from the floor while I read some parts! If I'd been watching this on tv, there are a lot of places where I think I would have been peeking around a cushion at the screen.

While it takes a little while to get to reach the potential set up by the first chapter and the blurb, 'The Boy With The Porcelain Blade' is a gripping fantasy story which will keep you up past your bedtime and probably sleeping with the light on. I look forward to the second book in the trilogy.

Overall, I give The Boy With The Porcelain Blade 7/10.

[A copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Originally posted on my book blog, link in my profile.]

Beyond Jealousy
Beyond Jealousy
Price: 2.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New favourite book of the series, 20 Mar 2014
This review is from: Beyond Jealousy (Kindle Edition)
If you've been reading my review blog for any length of time, you know I'm a fan of this series. I love the dystopian world the ladies who make up Kit Rocha have created, with a civilisation forced to change after solar flares knocked out a lot of the electricity sources and communication devices. Eden is an isolated city, meant to be a perfect place, and around it are built the Sectors, each run in a different style by a different leader.

One of my favourite things about this book is that we're really starting to learn more about the world outside Eden, and how Eden is managing to run itself, and protect itself from any other cities. There are hints that the city is managing its resources very badly, despite apparently being set up to cope just fine, which is something I think would be very interesting to see as the series continues.

Tension between Ace & Rachel has been there since the beginning. They've always "sparked" as Ace puts it, but the wrong words coming out mean that as the book starts, they're not exactly getting along with each other. Instead, Ace and Cruz have turned their work partnership into something a whole lot more personal. There are some very hot scenes as the group set aside their arguments and start trying to make a go of things as a threesome. Of course, love is never simple, and although they work as a three when it would probably never last with any of them in a pair, it's hard to feel balanced in a three. Ace's past makes it very difficult to let other people in, and the events of Beyond Jealousy really push him to accept some things.

There are so many things developing around this romance, too. The fake O'Kane liquor from book 3 comes back to keep causing trouble, and Rachel's father the beer brewer from Eden becomes involved. The crisis leads to something which has been brewing in these books since the beginning and I can't wait for the next book to see how the next stage of things starts to play out.

With 'Beyond Jealousy', Kit Rocha shows a steamy hot menage-a-trois come together, while further exploring their dystopian world, and the effects of events in the previous books. As ever, I'm waiting desperately for the next in this brilliant series.

Overall, I give this one 8 out of 10.
[A review copy was provided to me in exchange for my honest opinion. Review originally posted on my blog, link in my profile.]

Banished: The Blackhart Legacy: Book One (Blackheart Legacy 1)
Banished: The Blackhart Legacy: Book One (Blackheart Legacy 1)
by Liz de Jager
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great start to new YA fantasy series, 27 Feb 2014
I've been looking forward to this since I heard Liz de Jager had a publishing deal. Her old review blog was the first one that got me in to book blogging, and I have always admired the way she wrote in her reviews. I was not disappointed: Banished is the start of a great new urban fantasy series that I can't wait to share with my friends. And look at that cover! Don't you just want to see that on your bookshelf?

The story opens with an episode of Kit's 'everyday' life as she works under cover at a school to banish a banshee. It introduces the things she and her family do for their job, and that our world runs alongside the fae world. After her fight with the banshee, Kit goes home to recover for a few days, and that's when the trouble starts. When she meets Prince Thorn, his attackers turn their attention on her house, forcing the two to flee. As they move from place to place, bits of the jigsaw of what is happening start to come together and they try to stay one step ahead of their enemies as they head north.

The first person point of view threw me off a little bit at first, as I don't usually read books written that way, but once I had time to sit and read larger sections in one sitting, I adjusted. Seeing everything from inside Kit's head really let's you see how she is trying to fit in to this role of 'a Blackhart', keeping the human world safe, while fighting her own insecurities and coming to terms with the death of her gran, who raised her. Ms de Jager nails the 16/17 year old voice, and although I was never running around Britain with a fae prince in tow as a teenager, I felt like I could relate to Kit's experiences.

Banished brings in a fantastic cast of characters and I felt like several of them could probably carry a book of their own. My favourite is Aidan, a werewolf around Kit's age who accompanies her & Thorn for a lot of the trip. I think it's safe to guess he'll be in the next book and I'm looking forward to learning more about him. Kit's cousins are also really interesting even though there's really only a snapshot of what they get up to.

For me, the first half of the book was a series of peaks and troughs with bits I raced through reading and bits which were slower. It built up the momentum, so that when the little group leave London half way through the tension amps up and I was holding my breath as I kept turning pages to see whether Kit would save the day. Once the story grabbed me in that second half, it didn't let go. I was a little worried about a cliffhanger ending, and although readers are absolutely left wanting more, it's satisfying enough that I'll be able to cope ;-)

A fantastic debut, Liz de Jager's 'Banished' introduces a relatable young heroine whose quest to save her friends had me on the edge of my seat. I can't wait for book two.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10.

(Review originally published on my book blog, see link in profile.)

Price: 3.08

3.0 out of 5 stars Loved Kit Rocha's story, not sure about the others, 11 Feb 2014
This review is from: Marked (Kindle Edition)
My thoughts:
Beyond Temptation, by Kit Rocha
I've been a Kit Rocha/Moira Rodgers (different pen names) fan for a few years now, particularly their latest series which follows the O'Kane gang in a post-apocalyptic city somewhere in America. This novella focuses on Emma, apprentice tattoo artist, and Noah, a computer hacker. We haven't seen much of either of these characters before, but you quickly get to know them. Noah can't believe how different Emma is now to the girl he knew, but he doesn't trust that she is genuinely happy where she is, and he has some secrets of his own that would be better off with fewer people knowing them. Noah needs to decide how much he's going to align himself to the O'Kanes, and what the consequences will be.
I did enjoy this story, and of course, with a Kit Rocha book, there are some smoking hot sex scene, but I was still a little disappointed that the conflicts were resolved with relative ease. Part of that, I know, is the curse of the novella - there just aren't the words for things to go on too long, but I felt like there was a lot more to Noah and his secrets that could have been explored. Hopefully this means that he'll continue to be an important character in the next book and we can learn more about him and the significance of his past. I felt like some of Noah's secrets are going to have a big impact on the future of Eden & the sectors.
While I think you can pick this up and enjoy reading it without being confused, you'd definitely be best to start with 'Beyond Shame', the first novel in the series, and read them in order.


Rocky Ride, by Vivian Arend
This is novella 1 in a new series set in the same area as Ms Arend's 'Six Pack Ranch' books, and the timeline picks up after 'Rocky Mountain Freedom'. However, I struggled to connect with some of the characters and setting at first, and suspect it would be easier to read the other series first. Anna and Mitch open the show with a very hot scene on a quiet road, which sucked me in. The first few chapters were interesting, and the little glimpses of the world she has created made me want to read the other Rocky Mountain books. Then we get to the conflict of the book. Mitch wants to pull Anna out of her shell, as she almost acts like a different (and happier) person around him. This seems fair enough. My problem was that Anna is so hung up with her job as a police woman. She has a particularly irritating partner who I wanted to smack, he was just so idiotic. He's the sort of person who (I write this as a UK citizen) gives American cops a bad reputation, refusing to look past people outward appearance, seeing Mitch's tattoos as a clear mark that the man is no good, amongst other things. He holds massive prejudices against several groups of people. I also found it hard to see that there was really an issue with Anna being a police woman - just do you, girlfriend! Thankfully, all is redeemed in the end. Unlike with the Kit Rocha story above, I think this story is exactly the length it needs to be.


All That Remains, by Lauren Dane
Another new series, this one is set in a future America after a new kind of plague has wiped out large parts of the population and changed the way people live. With far more men born than women, people living in groups of 3 or more is common. I really enjoyed what was going on in this one, although the writing in some of the early chapters did keep tripping me up - the story was good, but I felt like in some places, it was like a statue that hadn't been fully cut out of the marble block yet - I could see that it was good, but there were still bits that needed trimming away to show it at its best. Luckily that feeling disappeared as I got to the middle of the story. However, I felt very uncomfortable with that last couple of chapters. Summer, rightly given the situation, gets cross with Hatch about something. She is cross, then the two men come to her house, and they all have sex. I never felt like he appologised. And the sex they have is with Hatch bossing everyone around. Given the argument, and the lack of apology, I really did not enjoy reading that sex scene at all. I've had another look as I write this, and it still makes me squirm (in entirely a bad way).

Given my very mixed feeling with this one, I don't feel like I can give this a rating. It was on track for a 7 or 8, then dropped to something like a 5.

While I did enjoy these stories, they did prove again for me why I tend to lean away from anthologies. Partly they can be too hit-and-miss for me, and partly I just like my stories to be longer and more developed. I'd love to hear what you thought of Marked if you've read it.

(Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review. Review originally posted on my blog, link in my profile.)

The Path of Anger: The Book and the Sword: 1
The Path of Anger: The Book and the Sword: 1
by Antoine Rouaud
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Great fantasy debut, 10 Jan 2014
'The Path Of Anger' is a typical fantasy novel. It begins in an in, and as with many good stories, it's a dark and stormy night... Viola walks in with her mysterious protector and finds an old man she's been told is called Dune. When she discovers he's actually Dun-Cadal, the war hero she's heard a lot about, she persuades him to begin talking.

The story jumps from the present, with Viola trying to get Dun-Cadal's help to find the sword of the Emperor, and the past, where he narrates some of his battles, and the events that lead to the fall of the empire. Then, just as Dun-Cadal seems to be wrapping up his story, and I thought the present day narrative would take centre stage, everything changes.

"Like a coin with two sides ... Two things as different in their forms as in their meanings, and yet, it's still one and the same coin."

From here, the story really starts to race along. I don't want to give too much away, but all that's been said so far gets cast in a different light as the second half begins. Dun-Cadal, Viola and her companions begin their task in earnest of launching an attack on the republic and its leaders. Their plan could go wrong in a variety of ways, and in the days leading up to the attack, there are several revelations that cause characters to wobble in their desire to do as they've planned. Will they do it? Will they make the 'right' choices, whatever those may be? Those are the questions readers are thinking as you read the rest of the book.

A great fantasy novel, I agree with the suggestions on the back - fans of Pat Rothfuss and Brent Weeks will also enjoy Antoine Rouaud's 'The Path of Anger'.

Overall, I give it 9/10.

~Ailsa [Review originally published by me on my blog, link in profile.]

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School)
Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School)
by Gail Carriger
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Steampunk comes to boarding school stories., 24 Oct 2013
I love Gail Carriger's 'Parasol Protectorate' series, so I was looking forward to this new 'Finishing School' series, which is set in the same world, 25 years earlier. Thankfully Ms Carriger did not disappoint: 'Etiquette & Espionage' is as much fun to read as her previous novels.

We first meet Sophronia as she is trying to hide in the dumbwaiter in her house to spy on the conversation her mother is having with a neighbour. Unfortunately it doesn't go as planned, and an incident with a trifle leads to having to meet a mother who seems more exasperated than angry - a state she seems to be in a lot around Sophronia. That same afternoon, Sophronia is whisked off to the finishing school, but right from the start, things don't go to plan. Before they even make it to the school, the carriage is attacked by 'flywaymen', who use contraptions like hot air balloons to attack passing carriages. As they get to the school and start to learn more, Sophronia and her new friend and roommate Dimity realise that it was no random attack, and start trying to piece together what the flywaymen were looking for, and why.

As readers have come to expect from Gail Carriger, the book is a lot of fun. She continues to paint this steampunk, alternate-history Britain in beautiful little details, while keeping up a plot that had me racing through the story. Fans of the series will be glad to see some familiar faces, albeit a little younger. One of my favourite things was seeing a young Madame Lefoux, who has always been one of my favourite characters. I also thought it was fun to meet a new vampire, one of the Professors, and another werewolf, both of whom seem like very interesting characters with much more to them than we get to see in this book. There is just enough to hint at the fascinating personal stories the two must have, and given Sophronia's constant curiosity, I'm sure there will be more revealed about them in the future books.

I've always enjoyed books set in boarding schools - Enid Blyton, Hogwarts, and many others, and reading something like that again was a flashback of being curled up on a cushion in the school library, reading about the adventures people could have living away from home. Sophronia and her friend get to try things like figuring out how to get past mechanical hall guards, how to sneak in and out of the ship's boiler room, and how to pass notes undetected while dancing.

With 'Etiquette and Espionage', Gail Carriger has produced just the sort of fun-filled story readers have come to expect from her, and the Finishing School series promises to put a new twist on the 'adventures at boarding school' theme.
Overall, I give Etiquette & Espionage 8 out of 10. [Book review originally posted by me on my book review blog, link in my profile.]

The Falconer
The Falconer
by Elizabeth May
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Fae-hunting in an alternate historical Edinburgh, 17 Oct 2013
This review is from: The Falconer (Hardcover)
I first noticed this book when I heard the author was British, as I like to support 'local' authors when I can, and when I heard it was a historical fantasy set in Edinburgh (where I go to university) it really piqued my interest.

Aileana is attending her first ball after spending a year in mourning for her mother. The other ladies gossip when they think she isn't listening, speculating over the fact Aileana was found covered in blood beside her mother's body: a fact she has never explained. Aileana has changed a lot since then, learning how to hunt down and kill the faeries who most people can't see, alongside her mentor Kiaran. But now she's back in the limelight of society, with her every move scrutinised as she theoretically looks for a husband, it becomes much harder to keep hunting the fae. The action of the story kicks off straight away, with Aileana realising a faery is there at the party and going in search of it.

I love the world Elizabeth May creates in this book: part historic Scotland, filled with half-believed folklore, elaborate balls, and a city well on the way to becoming the Edinburgh we know today, and part alternate-world, with mechanical punch dispensers, flying ornithopters, and modified guns.

Something that surprised me about it was the length of time the story takes place over. I believe there's something like a week, or just over that, from the start to the finish. Sometimes this annoys me in books, but I think Ms May pulls it off in The Falconer - any relationships (family/friendship/other) that change or develop aren't sudden things - we're very much thrown in to the middle of Aileana's life, and the changes were more like instances of Aileana realising something that has been true for a while. There is enough of her past, pre-faery-fighting life worked in to the story that you can see how she has changed, and how that has affected her view of the people around her. There were a couple of times where I thought the action felt a little rushed with one thing happening after another, but it kept the tension high and made me keep turning the pages until the end.

I don't want to say too much more about the plot, because it really does go very quickly and it's more fun to read if you're trying to figure out what's coming next. I will give you a cliffhanger warning for the ending though - I went in to this book not knowing if it was a stand alone book or part of a series, and the ending is very abrupt. The first in a trilogy, I'm going to be very impatient waiting for the rest of this series!

'The Falconer' is a fantastic debut novel from Elizabeth May, leading the reader through a dark alternate-history Edinburgh full of things that will grab you in the night. I give this book 8 out of 10, and I'm very much looking forward to book 2.

[Review originally posted by me at my book blog, link in my profile.]

Midnight Blue-Light Special (Incryptid Novels)
Midnight Blue-Light Special (Incryptid Novels)
by Seanan McGuire
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Another great page-turner from Seanan McGuire, 3 Oct 2013
6 Things I Love About 'Midnight Blue-Light Special'

1) The Aeslin Mice. I adored these little talking mice in the first book, and as there, they have a tendency to steal the show a little in a scene they're involved in. They're just so funny, but I understand why Verity finds them a bit annoying to live with sometimes. I liked that in this book we got to see them as more than just comic entertainment, as they play an important role towards the end, and show a more fierce side to their personalities.

2) The relationship between Verity & Dominic. Things left off pretty well between these two at the end of the first book, but of course there were still going to be issues to work out, and those really get explored here. You'll have to read it to see if they can really put aside their differences ;)

3) "Turn the darks on". You know how we turn the lights on when it's dark outside? Seanan McGuire has written Bogeymen who have darks to turn on when it's light. This is just one of the many little details she includes which make me smile - it's such interesting world building, I love it.

4) When talking about running naked: "For one thing, without a bra, I was going to wind up in a world of pain." Thank you, Verity Price, for acknowledging something that bothers me a lot in action films. Verity might not be super-curvy, but properly running without any support is going to hurt, and I don't understand how Bond Girls who are bouncing all over the place can escape from the bad guys without even wincing over that. And things like this fill these books, acknowledgements of the reality that is missing from many stories and films.

5) Verity's friends. As readers saw in Discount Armageddon (book 1), the creatures, or cryptids, whom Verity comes into contact with are a diverse group to say the least. I enjoyed getting to see more about them in this book, and the various reactions to the news about the Covenant coming, and to later events in the book. These people know what Verity does for them, and they'll stick by her.

6) Her family. We see a few more hints about the family back home in this book - Verity's dad, in particular, and a little more about her sister. Sarah, the telepathic adopted sister, also has a big role in this book, and even narrates a couple of chapters, which I loved. 'Uncle Mike', another adopted relative, also turns up in this book, and I enjoyed seeing him and the bigger picture of the Healy/Price family that his presence brought.

So there you go, some of the reasons why I'd mark this as a 10/10 book. Ms McGuire continues to write books with multi-faceted characters in fascinating worlds that keep me up well past my bedtime so I can find out what happens next.

~Ailsa [Originally posted at my book blog, link in my profile.]

God Save the Queen: Book 1 of the Immortal Empire
God Save the Queen: Book 1 of the Immortal Empire
by Kate Locke
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A romp through steampunk London., 26 Sep 2013
As a general rule, I love steampunk books, and Kate Locke's 'God Save The Queen' continued that trend for me. The story begins with Xandra asking some dangerous people (the goblins) for information about her missing sister. Right from the start, the world-building was really well done, little details being explained quickly enough that I could build a good picture in my head of how things worked, without it ever feeling like "info-dumping".

I enjoyed Kate Locke's interpretation of vampires and werewolves. Through the many waves of plague that came to Britain, human DNA mutated to fight that, and the people who have this stronger DNA become either vampires or werewolves. Interestingly, it's mostly the aristocracy who carry this, so humans really are the bottom of the pecking order in this country.

Although there is a small romance thread with Vex, the romance itself is not a big part: instead, it gives Xandra one more person she has to figure out whether she can trust. He assures her that he's been interested in her for a while and not just because of what she is, and so far we as readers have been lead to believe that. However, I'm still a bit sceptical about what he sees in Xandra and why he had noticed her before the events of the book begin. I hope this is something that will come up again in the second book of the series, so that we might get more reassurance of whose side Vex is on, and what he likes about Xandra.

There are lots of twists, and many problems for Xandra to overcome. There is one thing about 3/4 of the way through the book when she finally understands something about herself and puts together all the things she's seen that I think was a bit overdone. It was something I'd realised much earlier on, and I find it hard to believe that Xandra took so long to make the connections when she'd lived with these world rules all her life, whereas I'd been reading about them for just a few hours.

Overall, I enjoyed this quick romp through 21st century/Victorian London, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel. I give 'God Save The Queen' 7 stars.
[Originally posted by me at my review blog, The Book Bundle - link in my profile.]

On Dublin Street
On Dublin Street
by Samantha Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping story with vivid characters & setting., 8 Aug 2013
This review is from: On Dublin Street (Paperback)
I heard a lot about this book last year on some other book blogs, but at the time it just sounded too much like yet-another-innocent-girl-meets-billionaire-and-kinkyness-ensues story. I was wrong. Very wrong. [Just as a note, both characters are financially well off, and there is 0 kinkyness, just hot sex. ;-)] I finally picked it up earlier this summer when I saw that it's actually quite a long book, and is written by a Scottish author - I felt like I should give it a chance, and see how Ms Young wrote about Edinburgh (where I go to university).

This was one of those books where, right from the first chapter, I knew it was going to be good. It evokes Edinburgh so beautifully, and that continues throughout the book. The setting doesn't feel forced in any way - it's not as though Samantha Young is inserting typical Edinburgh/Scotland features in, so that a reader knows where they are - it's more subtle than that. Characters walk down this street, past a row of buildings that look like that, they get swamped by tourists in August when the festivals come. Maybe it helps that I live there, but I felt like she really brought it to life.

As the story begins, Jocelyn has finished uni and is looking for somewhere new to stay. On her way to what turns out to be a successful meeting with a new flatmate, she ends up sharing a taxi with 'the Suit'. They flirt a little in the cab, but he has a girlfriend, and Jocelyn won't tell him her name. Of course, it turns out he's the older brother of the girl Jocelyn has started living with, which they discover when he comes into the flat while she's rushing naked from the bath to grab a towel. Scenes like that had me laughing as I read it, which is lucky, as there are also plenty of parts which had me reaching for the tissues. Jocelyn didn't have an easy life before she came to Scotland for uni, and her relationship with Braden drags out a lot of memories and things which she hadn't dealt with, as well as throwing up a whole new set of problems as she figures out how she feels about him and what she wants.

Braden also comes with an interesting history and has had some problems with previous relationships. Something else I liked though was how close he is with his family now, and that they have these big family Sunday dinners each week - I love seeing large happy family groups in stories. It was very touching how they bring Jocelyn in to their group, and gradually get her to overcome some of her solitary tendencies which she's built up to protect herself.

This is a very very emotional book, with Jocelyn and Braden both having a long personal journey until they can be happy together. I love that it's not just about their relationship. Although at first Jocelyn seems to have everything working perfectly for her, she has to learn to let old friends and new into her life a little more. The way living with Ellie and letting her into her life affects Joss is just as important to the story as the intimate relationship she gradually forms with Braden. I can think of moments when something each of those three characters did made me slam the book shut and have to go walk around for a while before I could go back to reading. The 'secondary' characters are that well built that I felt just as attached to people like Ellie as I did for Braden and Joss.

I think 'On Dublin Street' is a really well built novel, bringing all the characters and the setting to life so vividly that it was easy to get lost in the story, or to imagine that next time I walk along Prince's Street I might bump in to one of them. It might be a romance story at the heart, but it's much more of a personal journey for Jocelyn, for her to really grow up and accept what has happened in the past and to move on with her future.

I know I'll read it again and again, and I'm kicking myself it took me this long to get to it - I absolutely recommend it. 10 out of 10. [Originally posted by me on The Book Bundle - link in my profile.]

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