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Reviews Written by
sjhigbee (Sussex, UK)

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Bronze Gods: An Apparatus Infernum Novel (Apparatus Infernum 1)
Bronze Gods: An Apparatus Infernum Novel (Apparatus Infernum 1)
by A. A. Aguirre
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Strong start to a promising series, 3 May 2016
The worldbuilding is dealt with in the prologue – I really like the mash-up of classic steampunk with strong fantasy elements, like a diminished Fae race. And it means that some of the more unpleasant prejudices embedded in the classic Victorian steampunk genre are deftly sidestepped – though a tendency to keep women firmly in the home is still a major feature.

But in order for this novel to succeed, the partnership between Janus and Celeste must work – and it certainly does. I very much enjoyed the dual level at which they function, with Celeste dealing with suspects or persons of interest on a human level, with Janus extending his Fae sensibilities to assist in working out who is lying. It is nicely done. Their relationship is also shifting, as their former romantic attachments now are no longer attached. Yep. I know it all sounds something of a cliché – but the strong characterisation and enjoyable twists and turns are engrossing and very readable.

I turned to this offering when smitten with a heavy cold, and it certainly took my mind off my physical miseries. The murder mystery is well handled – I generally don’t bother to expend too much energy trying to figure out whodunit, but I did have my own theories as to who did what to whom, which all turned out to be completely wrong. Always the mark of a well-plotted mystery.

The final denouement was suitably exciting, producing a handful of major gamechangers and one major dangling plot thread that will be dealt with in the next book, Silver Mirrors, which I am definitely tracking down.

Deceptions: Number 3 in series (Cainsville)
Deceptions: Number 3 in series (Cainsville)
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A solid addition to the series, 3 May 2016
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This series started with a real bang that had me immediately rooting for Olivia and I also enjoyed where the story spun off in the last book, so is this offering as gripping? Olivia is a well written, enjoyable character and the set-piece scenes, particularly those in the deserted mental hospital are well handled, with plenty of pace and sufficient creepiness to hold me. However, I am not a huge fan of love triangles and this book revolves around Olivia’s close relationship with Gabriel and Ricky, as we find her torn between the young, sexy biker and the conflicted, moody intellectual… It is a testament to Armstrong’s writing that she doesn’t come off as some flirty airhead enjoying her power over these two men – a dynamic I personally loathe. Neither was I thrilled that our feisty heroine had to play the submissive girlfriend around the biker gang. It comes to something when escapist fiction written predominantly for women still has the protagonist dancing to the chauvinistic values of some of the less enlightened among us. I would just add that if you have a youngster who enjoys browsing through your books, this one has some fairly steamy sex scenes, as well as mild violence.

That said, I found the murder mystery element far more enjoyable as the plot threw up a number of possible candidates and when the denouement came, I did not guess the culprit. I have a hunch that we haven’t seen the full impact of that one on Olivia or those close to her, as yet. What this book did do, was provide an enjoyable antidote to the rather grim near future apocalypse, I’d been previously reading – and that is, after all, what you require from a slice of romantic urban fantasy, isn’t it?

Beaver Towers
Beaver Towers
Price: £3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A great bedtime read..., 3 May 2016
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This review is from: Beaver Towers (Kindle Edition)
Philip notices a small dark cloud as he starts to fly the mysterious dragon kite he discovers in the corner of his room – but he could not imagine what happens as the wind picks up. And where he ends up…

And no – that isn’t the original blurb, which manages to give all the main plot points in this slim volume, except the finale. Hinton’s prose is economical with plenty of repetitive words for those newly independent readers, but the strength of this story is the layers of characterisation he manages to pack into his amusing dialogue. There is plenty of humour in this adventure story – we all laughed at Baby B and some of the misunderstandings that arise between the absent-minded Mr Edgar and dear old Mrs Badger. But set against the chuckles, there are also some genuinely creepy moments, when young Philip is in real danger.

I’ll forgive Hinton the rather rapid denouement, as the story is deftly continued in the sequel, which we are currently reading, as Oscar was every bit as entranced with the story as Frankie. He is far less inclined to sit still and listen as carefully, so it is a testament to the power of this pacey, enjoyable story with its cast of memorable characters. As for me – this was a second time I’d read it aloud. Did I enjoy it as much the second time around?

Oh yes. The prose is well written and I always enjoy providing various voices for strong characters. If you have some youngsters in your life of 6 or 7, who enjoy being read to and you want a slice of fantastic adventure to offer them, then you could do a lot worse than track down this engaging book.

Newbury & Hobbes - The Executioner's Heart (Newbury & Hobbes 4)
Newbury & Hobbes - The Executioner's Heart (Newbury & Hobbes 4)
by George Mann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Life for Newbury and Hobbes just got harder..., 3 May 2016
This book immediately plunges us into a tension-filled scene where we witness a terrible event overtaking one of the main protagonists – and then the narrative timeline jumps backwards to the events leading up to it… We regularly see this device in the CSI franchise, but it occurs less often in books. It certainly works here. The character in questions happens to be my favourite, so I was gripped by the need to discover exactly what went on and ensure that this major character emerges from her terrible experience unscathed.

I also liked the fact that we were taken into the world of this shadowy assailant, learning of her tragic past and how she turned into this merciless, brutal killer. It is always a bonus when the main antagonist has a convincing backstory which gives us an insight as to how she becomes a heartless murderer.

Alongside this ongoing investigation, is the ongoing tension from the overarching narrative arc and the continuing shockwaves from the shocking denouement from the previous book, The Immorality Engine. All series deserve to be read in the correct order, and while you could crash into the middle of this one (for once, something I didn’t do…) because of the characters’ journey and development, it really pays to read these in sequence.

I enjoy this world – steampunk at its best can be great fun, and Mann has Queen Victoria hooked up to a steam-powered life support machine, growing ever more paranoid and lethal. As those tasked with keeping law and order in her capital city, Newbury and Hobbes are unavoidably caught up in her machinations. But the newly emerging Secret Service is also causing concern – are they a nest of traitors, colluding with the German agents plotting for the Kaiser to overthrow Victoria? She certainly thinks so.

This could all collapse into a real mess if not handled with skill. It doesn’t. The climax is every bit as shocking as the explosive finish to The Immorality Engine and leaves the book on something of a cliffhanger. I’m not going to say more, but I’m certainly looking forward to the next instalment The Revenant Express, due out next year.

The Star-Touched Queen
The Star-Touched Queen
by Roshani Chokshi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars The Star-Touched Queen sparkles, 27 April 2016
This review is from: The Star-Touched Queen (Hardcover)
Please take my firm advice and avoid the rather chatty blurb until you have had a chance to read the book, first. Chokshi’s handling of the narrative in this book is non-linear and well executed – it would be such a shame if you read this lushly told novel with prior knowledge of the storyline.
The prose is rich and lyrical, spinning a beautiful world with a brutal undertow. It reminded me, in parts, of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Maya’s angry bitterness at being reviled for a horoscope she can do nothing about, informs her behaviour. She is outcast and resentful – I really liked the fact that she didn’t resort to victimhood or any form of self pity.
As I sank into Chokshi’s rich writing, I prepared for the story to slowly unfold – but instead, the narrative steadily gains pace as it whisks up a gear once Maya escapes from her father’s palace and enters a completely different world. The success of this book entirely hinges on the protagonist – not only is the story in Maya’s first person viewpoint throughout, but narrative pivots around her and her actions. It would have been so easy for Chokshi to turn her into a Mary Sue, or some martyred victim and it is to the author’s credit that she manages to avoid both pitfalls.
It helps that there is a solid cast of supporting characters in this fantastic tale of rulers and deities – chief being Amar, the mysterious king. Again, the romantic element of the story is well controlled, with plenty of passion and emotion evoked without tipping into sentimentality or becoming clichéd. However, my favourite character is the flesh-eating horse who initially befriends Maya with the hope that she will let him snack on her arm. And yes… if that comes across as amusing – it is. At a time in the book when everything else is very grim, this mordant humour is both welcome and appropriate.
I read late into the night, half dreading the ending. This roller-coaster read was so enjoyable, I both didn’t want it to end, and was also afraid it would be a dismal disappointment. But Chokshi triumphantly pulls off a climactic, wholly satisfying ending to an accomplished Fantasy read that takes the story of an outcast princess and manages to turn it into something memorable and different, due to her beautiful prose. She is One to Watch.
The ebook arc copy of The Star-Touched Queen was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book

Bright Blaze of Magic (Black Blade)
Bright Blaze of Magic (Black Blade)
Price: £6.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Bright Blaze of Magic doesn't fizzle out..., 26 April 2016
It wasn’t until I’d started the book that I realised I’d done it again… After all my best intentions – I’d crashed mid-way into a series as Bright Blaze of Magic is the third book in the Black Blades series. However, this wasn’t a problem as Estap is far too experienced and deft a writer to leave this clueless reader adrift. Without going into long, involved explanations, I was provided with all the necessary backstory to be able to get up to speed for this slice of the narrative arc.
The process was helped by the fact that our feisty heroine bounces off the page with loads of personality and charisma. The supporting cast were easily distinguished and the antagonist was satisfyingly obnoxious – and as the story wore on, I learnt what had driven him to be the way he was. This was all delivered in a smooth, readable writing style that spoke of plenty of experience and ability.
I like the world very much. This swords and sorcery romp is set in the world with plenty of modern gismos, such as cars, mobile phones alongside capes, feathered hats and lots of sharp swords. Initially I raised my eyebrows, but it certainly seemed to work and once I became thoroughly engrossed, it didn’t matter. I also loved the monsters, including the Western-style pixie.
The climax was suitably enthralling, such that I stayed up reading far later than I should and really enjoyed the very satisfying ending. Though, if you like the sound of this – don’t repeat my mistake, go and track down the first book, Cold Burn of Magic, because this is a series that deserves to be read in the right order.
The ebook arc copy of A Bright Blaze of Magic was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book

Burned: An Alex Verus novel
Burned: An Alex Verus novel
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sizzling addition to the Alex Verus series, 9 April 2016
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No hanging about with this slice of the Alex Verus storyline – we are immediately confronted with the death sentence that has been passed by the Council of Mages. This single act turns Alex’s life upside down and we get a ringside seat in first person viewpoint as he battles to cope with the consequences of this latest problem. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Jacka’s take on Alex’s divination gift. He is not a particularly powerful mage, but with focus born of years of practice, during a fight he can sort through a variety of possible futures and find the few where he survives. Of course, it’s all well and good setting up this dynamic, but it only really works if it is effectively written, which is a lot harder to do than Jacka makes it look. He has to keep up the pace and tension during the action scenes, as well as giving us Alex’s desperate attempts to sift through the various options allowing him to stay alive. Fortunately, he is very successful at managing this trick.

There are times when I read a fantasy world and wish I were there, however I surface from an Alex Verus novel profoundly relieved I am me, living right here. While there are Dark and Light mages, the difference between them is not as wide as you might imagine. The Light mages are not all about sprinkles, unicorns and doing the Right Thing – they are about keeping more or less a status quo where magic-users have a measure of independence and trying to work together. However powerful magic-users have about as much team spirit as a clowder of cats, so they spend a great deal of time negotiating and squabbling with each other. While the Dark mages are all about acquiring power. So the majority of people within the magical community align themselves to one or other in order to survive. Verus, after escaping his abusive apprenticeship with one of the most lethal Dark mages, vows never to join any faction. And in doing so, immediately sets himself against a range of powerful, vested interests.

I love the intricacies of this world and as with any successful long-running fantasy series, there is also a strong supporting cast of characters. My current favourites are Luna, Alex’s chance-cursed apprentice and Anne, a life mage. There is also an impressive range of lethally inventive and powerful enemies ranged against Alex, and this is the book where they all seem to finally gain momentum to thoroughly upset his current existence.

As for the ending… well, I didn’t see THAT coming! Without encroaching into Spoiler territory, suffice to say it is a major gamechanger that will test Alex in ways he has never been tested before. So the Higbee household are now eagerly anticipating the release of the next book. In the meantime, don’t rush out and get hold of Burned if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the previous six books – instead tuck into the first book, Fated. This enjoyable series deserves to be read in order as it goes on delivering.

Desolation (The Demon Road Trilogy, Book 2)
Desolation (The Demon Road Trilogy, Book 2)
by Derek Landy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hell of a good read..., 7 April 2016
When a book starts with such a bang, the action and pace need to be sustained or the subsequent chapters can feel like an anti-climax, which isn’t ideal in an action adventure novel. However, Landy is far too deft to allow Desolation to suffer such a slump – the narrative in this YA horror adventure continues to hurtle forward, providing plenty of twists and turns throughout. Despite not having read the first book, at no stage did I flounder – slices of necessary information were provided without any loss of momentum as the story rolled forward.

I quickly bonded with Amber and the team including Two, the dog, who also end up at Desolation to fight the forces of evil. Their resemblance to the Scooby Doo adventurers is a nice touch in a story where in amongst the murder and mayhem, there are plenty of humorous moments. I found myself chuckling aloud in several instances. That didn’t stop the action scenes being full of drama, with both Milo and Amber continually in all sorts of danger and regularly involved in lots of violent action.

Given this is a YA read, Landy is treading a tricky line, but he is clearly experienced at doing so, as I didn’t feel at any stage he stepped over it. The main antagonists are all suitably vile and pose a significant threat. We are also aware of their motivations and why they made the choices they did. One of the strengths of this book is that in amongst all the action, there is a thorough examination of good and evil – and how fine that distinction can be – without any moralising. While I wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable with my eleven-year-old granddaughter reading this, I’ll have no problem with her picking it up in a couple of years, should she wish to.

As for me, will I be backtracking and reading the first book, The Demon Road, in this series? Oh yes – and I’m also looking forward to getting hold of American Monsters as soon as it becomes available in due course. I very much want to know how Amber and Milo cope after the big game-changing climax at the end of Desolation.

The ebook arc copy of Desolation was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book

The Last Gasp
The Last Gasp
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Strong warning in this near-future thriller, 7 April 2016
This review is from: The Last Gasp (Kindle Edition)
I wasn’t aware of this book’s longevity when I was reading it, but it didn’t surprise me on discovering it. The sections of scientific information occur at regular intervals in blocks, that to be honest, is a hard science fiction habit I could do without as it tends to crash through the narrative in omniscient viewpoint. However, I’m aware there are fans of the genre who love this convention so I’m not going to mark down the book on those grounds, though it did mean I struggled with the storyline more than I would have liked.

Hoyle is clearly on a mission to alert his readers to the danger we pose to ourselves as there is a relentless quality to this novel, while the antagonists embark on a mad scheme to use the environment as a weapon of mass destruction. Initially I thought it was too far-fetched, until I considered the insane stupidity of the nuclear missile programme.

However, I did find it difficult to bond with the main characters, as they are all fairly superficial and mostly wheeled on to serve the driving force of this book, the narrative arc. This rolled forward inexorably, spanning several decades into the near future when climate change and diseases overtake the population. It made for depressing reading. The penultimate scene in the hotel takes on the feel of an out and out horror movie – and I thought I knew how this book was going to end – until I reached it. And this is where it completely lets itself down in an unrealistic conclusion that simply doesn’t work for me. A shame, as it undercuts the cumulative effect of the strong warning through the rest of the book. That said, it is a thought-provoking, disturbing read with a strong warning our politicians and law-makers would do well to heed.

The ebook arc copy of The Last Gasp was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2016 6:49 PM BST

Every Heart a Doorway
Every Heart a Doorway
Price: £7.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A little gem..., 5 April 2016
It’s an intriguing premise. I was convinced I was reading one type of genre – and then found I was reading something quite different. Huge kudos to whoever wrote the blurb to this story – it’s smart and snappy and sets up the narrative without revealing anything vital.

The McGuire magic soon had me engrossed in this little treasure. This delicately told tale pulled me into heartbreak and strangeness of the situation, before ambushing me with the gothic element that ripples through this story. We get sprinkles, unicorns and blood-dripping horror all wrapped up in this story, which is beautifully paced and perfectly concluded.

In short, this is a gem. And I read the last page with a lump in my throat – something that rarely happens in full-length books when I have 300+ pages to grow to care for a character.

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