Book Review: Six Of Crows

I picked up this book because Cherelle cannot write a post without talking about it, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. All in all, I really enjoyed it, as the plot was well constructed and the relationships between the characters excellent. I would have liked a little more depth thematically, but that is my personal preference, and the book function completely fine without it. I’ll definitely be reading the second part of this duology.

At its core, this novel is a heist story involving a team of six anti-heroes. At least I think that is the correct term. It is set in an industrial age city, which is supplemented by typical fantasy elements. However, the real appeal is not originality necessarily, but how tight Leigh Bardugo’s writing is, which makes it stand apart in a genre overflowing with talent.

While the characters might be very archetypal (the fleet-footed rogue, the deadly sharpshooter, the banished warrior etc), they are by no means cardboard cutouts. Every single main character has been given interesting motivations and backstory that allow them to shed their constraints and become real. Each also gets a series of flashbacks where necessary to deepen our understanding (and sympathy).

However, it doesn’t stop at having six complex, morally-grey characters. The various relationships between them are all individual and nuanced. No two friendship or rivalry feels the same. This means that there are 15 well-thought out, yet completely organic feeling relationships. Quite a feat. Not to mention any relationships with secondary characters, many of which are also strong.

The plot felt like a slick execution of a relatively typical heist thriller. There were plans made. They went awry. New plans were improvised. Information was withheld. Buffs were called. Betrayal and sacrifice. Essentially, all the ingredients were masterfully combined to create one sweet cake. It looks pretty, but there is substance too.

I could talk about the fantasy elements, which were certainly interesting, but I’m not going to. I don’t think they were significantly noteworthy when compared to the characterization.

Overall, I think I’m going to give the book 6 out of 7, although I could absolutely see the case for it to be higher. The way Bardugo cultivated the relationships was incredible, and so the book is worthwhile just for that. However, I would have liked another selling point from it. Everything else was certainly well done, but not extraordinary. I also feel that with such rich characters, there was a missed opportunity for some substantial comments on society/human nature/emotional openness. That being said, it is abundantly obvious that it holds up well without it, and I’d recommend to any fantasy lover. It also seems like quite a good starting place if you are looking to break into the genre.

Book Review: His & Hers

I don’t read many detective thrillers, despite it being such a popular genre, and unfortunately this book confirmed that they are still not for me. That being said, it was excellent. The twist were so sharp, the tension so oppressive, my heart could barely take it. Playing into the space of an unreliable narrator is very interesting, but I think it would have had more effect on me if I’d read more of the genre previously.

There’s been a murder in a sleepy town, which draws journalist Anna back home, where she reunites with detective Jack. Both have a history with the victim, with each other and with the town. Both are untrustworthy. Will the killer be caught in time to prevent more tragedy?

The first thing that struck me was just how incredible the writing was. There is a perfect balance of tension, exposition and internal monologue. I was particularly impressed with how Alice Feeney made the character’s inner thoughts fascinating at all times, conveying how different their own perception of themselves was from how others perceived them. As I’ve already mentioned, the tension was masterful, above and beyond what I’m used to. Thrillers need tension, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone use it as skillfully as Feeney. Furthermore, the exposition always felt relevant, never intrusive, continuously adding to the book.

The book has two different first person perspectives, from Anna and Jack. Both are complex characters, with complex needs, problems and secrets. The unreliability of their narration made them come alive most in my opinion. Because they would contract each other, it added another layer to their already deep characters. while I might not have been able to empathize with their specific circumstances, I definitely felt sympathetic towards them. The only problem I had was that I didn’t feel that there ‘voices’ were different enough in the first person perspective, which allows form an extreme intimacy with one character (or two in this case). I felt that that contrast could have been pulled out even more than it was.

However, there is a third, lesser, perspective from the killer. They only get a few pages sporadically throughout the book, but it allows for a truly chilling narration. They seem sociopathic at the very least, which constantly made me feel that one of the characters was hiding a deranged streak. I think it worked exceptionally well, while rarely ever providing any clues to the killer.

The supporting characters, who acted as other suspects, were also well thought-out. New information about them was drip-fed to the reader which constantly had you reevaluating them, yet they never seemed to break the mold of how I first imagined them. Again, the skill is unbelievable.

Yet where the skill shows most is the plot. After I’d already been baited into wrong conclusions twice in the first 50 or so pages, I knew I was being toyed with. Never have I felt so inadequate. I loved it and hated it at the same time. I got all my deductions (apart from one or two small ones) completely wrong. I definitely got the murder completely wrong. Yet it seemed so obvious once they were unmasked.

I was surprised by the nature of the themes. I thought they’d all be very shallow, but there was some significant thoughts about the human condition. It was quite cynical really, but still interesting. I feel like there was also things in there about family and loss, although they didn’t strike a chord with me due to my own life (or lack thereof) experience.

Overall, I’d give it 6.5 out of 7. It might not have been for me, but I can appreciate good writing. I would classify it as a detective thriller more than a murder mystery due to how the story unfolds and how possible it is to solve the murder, so if that’s your thing, I’d highly recommend. It has some very novel elements to make it stand out, as well as more traditional elements. Honestly, I think the writing was good enough that anyone will appreciate the book. Although prepare to be completely baffled and bewildered.

Book Review: Apparent Horizon

This book defied my expectations, being a strange existential character study with thriller mixed in, all grounded by a touch of sci-fi. It was very cynical, but I still enjoyed it. It took a simple concept and ran with it in a way that I wasn’t expecting at all.

The premise of the book is that Micheal finds out that the world is going to end, the night before his best friends wedding. The book develops from there, as he struggles with the morals of telling other people about this, as well as what to do with his limited remaining time.

Michael is a likable enough character as the book starts, but I struggle to continue to root for him as the book continues due to some of the choices he makes. Patrick Morgan uses him to paint a very pessimistic view of humanity in my opinion, which fundamentally clashes with my own world view. However, he does a good job of instilling a sense of agency in Michael, and of making us feel sorry for him. His emotions are clearly in conflict, and the deep exploration of this makes up the character study part of the novel.

Morgan’s cynical approach to characters doesn’t end with Michael however. His best friend, Drew, is a nasty piece of work whom I despised right from the onset. It felt strange that Michael was such good friends with someone who didn’t have a selfless bone in his body however. Drew’s actions never seem out of place, as horrible as he may be, and that was a real strength of the book. All the characters the author created followed this pattern.

The plot was very depressing overall. There was very few feel good moments, and those that occurred were often the outcome of Pyrrhic victories. However, it was well thought out, and the final twist of the book was unexpected for the most part, and allows the whole book to be viewed in a new light.

The pacing of the novel was unorthodox to say the least. It swung from fast and furious action to pages of slow pondering about the meaning of life. Yet, to my surprise, I found I really liked the effect this created. It certainly fit with how Michael progressed as a character. However, I thought the first chapter was kind of irrelevant to the rest of the book, and can also see how this pacing might put some people off.

For a debut novel, Morgan’s writing style is polished. I found it flowed extremely well, and never distracted from the action at hand. I wouldn’t say it was exceptionally unique, but was good thriller writing. It was also well edited.

I give it a 5 out of 7. As mentioned above, I found it hard to connect with Michael after a while, but I think this was more personal preference than anything else. I feel like this book definitely has an audience who will fully appreciate it, and I wasn’t it. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it, but there were some element that didn’t sit well by the end. If it does appeal to you though, I’d encourage you to pick it up, since I feel it has the potential to be profound to the right person.

Thanks to both Rosie and Patrick Morgan for providing me with a free copy

Book Review: Mockingbird

Anyone who has been following my content for a while now probably knows how much I like Chuck Wendig’s books. Wanderers is definitely a strong contender for the best book I’ve read this year, and I gave Blackbirds 7 out of 7 in an earlier review. While I didn’t enjoy Mockingbird quite as much as these, it was still excellent. It seems very easy to read as a stand-alone story, despite being the sequel to Blackbirds, while doubling down on the creepiness.

Miriam Black can see how you’re going to die with one touch. Now she can change fate by taking another life. She might have settled down, but it seems unlikely it’ll last for long. The road is her real home, and it’s calling to her again.

Miriam is still the profane hurricane we all know and love, leaving destruction in her wake, but her hidden tenderness and protective nature are further explored in this book. The question of whether she is truly a good person is considered to a greater degree. She’s more unhinged, more desperate, more deadly.

Wendig’s writing is masterful. Sharp and snappy. Violent and visceral. Creative verging on crazy. I’ve never read anything like it; once you get a taste of the drug, you want to pump it into your veins like there is no tomorrow. The dialogue is especially good, bringing even the smallest characters to life without having to give any exposition. It also captures Miriam’s voice exceptionally well, which is part of what makes her such a strong character.

The plot was elegantly simplistic. Everything made complete sense, and all the twists made me think, ‘how did I miss that!’. And the twists were good. The only small issue I have is that I wasn’t sold on the opening to the book. It certainly wasn’t bad, just not as explosive as the rest of it. Once again, the novel can easily stand alone, since the only thing that seems to connect the series so far is Miriam herself. There is no villain chasing her through the series other than the demons in her mind. This makes the plot have a nice sense of completeness, and makes it an easy start to the series if you are so inclined.

Overall, I give it a 6.5 out of 7. It’s slightly worse than the first novel, but only just. I’d recommend it to any lover of urban fantasy, dark thriller, and potentially even horror. As it reads so well, I found myself finishing the whole thing in a few hours, so I think it’s easy to sample it without a huge time investment. However, it has some very adult content, so don’t pick it up if that isn’t your thing.

Book Review: The Silent Bluebird

The Silent Bluebird was a decent novel. Was it a masterpiece? No. Was it fun-filled, fast-paced and free-flowing? Absolutely. It balances tension and humour well, and has lots of vivid descriptions that help facilitate the creation of mental images. I didn’t think it was perfect, but that it showed the potential of Elle M. Holmes, given it’s her debut novel.

The premise of the novel is that two secret agencies, the Zeta Defence Agency and Domino, are locked in a secret, perpetual conflict. One wants to use their influence to mold the world to their satisfaction, the other to guard against such maleficence. The advent of a device that can read a person’s thoughts, however, dramatically changes how they go about their missions.

I really like the main protagonist, Sadie. She has a tragic upbringing, and Holmes uses this to bring depth to her character, without it overshadowing her inquisitive personality. She is very thoughtful and considerate, as well as knowledgeable, and i found it very easy to empathise with her (although that might just be that I see part of myself in her). I felt that the author did a good job of making each supporting character unique and noteworthy, with my personal favourites being Piper and Allyn. However, the villains did feel quite flat, and it would have been nice if their motivations had been explained further, so that they might have been more compelling.

On the whole, I thought the pacing of the story was good, and the plot twists were well-utilized, and some were definitely unexpected. This all created the feeling of a more traditional thriller, with a speculative fiction slant, than a more typical speculative fiction novel. My key reasoning for saying this is that I feel some of its more thought-provoking themes were not explored fully, like the moral ramifications of technology that could invade thoughts. However, I thought that the quandaries plaguing some of the characters lent depth to the novel overall, specifically when they related to family.

The ending was satisfying, both nicely setting up the sequel, while still neatly tying off the book in a way that makes it enjoyable as a stand alone read. I really appreciated how Holmes peppered in small references throughout the book that make callbacks to earlier events, most of which are easy to miss if close attention wasn’t paid. I felt this added to the general spy feel of the novel. Nevertheless, some of the plot points felt a little too convenient, which didn’t particularly bother me, but I am aware this is something that many readers don’t like.

My largest issue with the book was that the dialogue was a little lackluster. I felt it often felt forced or unnatural, which could have been (counterintuitive as it sounds) because it tried to reflect real speech too much. This led to some dull moments, because reading how we actually speak is not hugely exciting. However, I did feel this was less of a problem as I got further into the book.

Overall, I found the novel to be a very digestible read. I thought the raw potential was there, even if it felt a little unpolished, and am excited to see what Holmes’ next novel brings. Therefore, I give it 4.5 out of 7.

Thank you to both Elle M. Holmes and Rosie for arranging a free copy of this book for me.

#RRABC Book Review: Jonah

I don’t typically enjoy war stories, specifically those set during World War 2. However, Jonah being set at sea made it stand apart from other books I’ve read from the same time period. Being on a ship inherently creates tension, since there is no escape, and Carl Rackman leans heavily into this. Moreover, this novel has very little combat (other than a battle scene at the very beginning), and is more a look at naval life, with a supernatural undertone.

The book focuses on the life of Mitch Kirkham aboard the US Navy destroyer Brownlee. After surviving a horrific battle, the novel explores Mitch’s naval experiences, and through his interactions, other experiences of different characters. It deals with PTSD and bullying, before switching direction with the introduction of ‘The Brownlee Beast’.

I thought that the character of Mitch was excellent, as Rackman made him feel relatable by having him grapple with moral quandaries. He means well, but doesn’t always make the best choices – similar to most real people. Furthermore, it is very easy to feel sympathy for him, as he often gets into bad situations through no fault of his own.

Many of the supporting characters were also good, with my favourite being Doc. While not actually a doctor, he had rudimental medical training as the pharmacologist onboard. I felt drawn to his strong moral compass and his relentless work ethic. While many of the other characters were strong, I would have liked more development of the captain since he appears in quite a few scenes without us really understanding his motivations.

The author’s deep naval knowledge was obvious, but technical vocabulary never impeded my reading. He created a glossary at the end of the book, but I never felt the need to use this, since he did such a good job of making the meaning of new words obvious by the surrounding paragraph. It felt very well blended.

I don’t want to talk about the themes for too long, as I can’t mention some of the most interesting ones in case I spoil anything. However, I found the examination of chain of command very interesting, as well as the somewhat toxic culture that was found aboard the ship. That being said, the main aim of this book seems to me to be to entertain, which it does very well.

The mysterious element of the book is handled very well, and it kept me guessing until the final reveal. The action is also paced very well, with the tension staying with me long after I’d put the book down for the night.

However, I found the ending to be unsatisfying. The pacing was again good, and it felt like a proper climax, but the resolution just felt too perfect. There were also flashbacks interspersed throughout the book that, while I didn’t dislike them, and thought they were very well written, didn’t seem to add anything to the plot as a whole.

Overall, this book was a 5.5 out of 7 for me. It was easy to get into and this ease of reading continued throughout. The few small things I wasn’t a personal fan of are easily outweighed by the well-crafted plot and relatable characters. I would recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers, especially historical ones, as well as fans of psychological horror (since it shares some similar elements, while not strictly falling into that genre).

#RRABC Book Review: Wasteland

Today’s book review is special, as it’s part of Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge. I’d like to thank Rosie for the free copy of Wasteland I got for the challenge, and I think there is still time to participate if you’re interested. Without further ado, onto the review!


Wasteland just got better and better as I was reading. It might start off slowly, since it’s worldbuilding is monumentally ambitious, but once it gets going it never slows down. The book has plenty to say about family, poverty, activism and democracy, social media, liberty… the list just goes on. I could spend all day dissecting its multifaceted themes. For me, it felt very reminiscent of the Children of Men film.

The novel is set in a dystopian version of the UK far in the future. Most of the population has moved or been moved into megacities – vast urban centres that can meet all needs, so that their residents never have to leave. The government controls almost every aspect of its citizens’ lives, and they are taught not to question. Outside the megacities is the wasteland, home to those who have escaped the government’s iron fist. 

The story centres on Rae, a young woman who has grown up in the orphanage system within a megacity. Upon learning that her family might still be alive, she starts to question what it is that she wants. Along her journey, there is a constant flow of diverse characters – it’s a real strength of the book. We can see the effects of the harsh world upon a whole host of characters, which gives small insights into a whole host of differing viewpoints and allows for interesting discussions of the various themes.

While Rae’s story was great, and she evolved seamlessly throughout the book, it was Dylan’s journey that was a highlight. His part was relatively small, since he was a secondary character, but I believe it to be crucial to understand the human aspect of the government’s policies. He encapsulates the idea that luck has a lot to do with your position in the world, and I found it impossible not to feel for him.

I found that the themes of the book mesh together to act as a study of humanity. It painted a poor picture of us, often being very cynical. Yet, despite all the flaws it exposed, it manages to maintain a spark of hope throughout – the idea that no matter what, humanity will find a way. I also don’t feel that Terry Tyler’s exploration of themes in any way impeded the overall flow of the story, something I’m always wary of when books have a strong message. However, the ambitious nature of the novel did mean that some themes are only touched on at a shallow level. I didn’t find this an issue personally though, since there is more than enough food for thought.

In my opinion, the book really comes into its own in the last 3rd. There was a twist that I didn’t see coming at all, which was great, and then the pace is relentless from there on out. It’s one of those that I just couldn’t put down, since the tension and stakes are so high and I was hugely invested in the characters.

Overall, this book has made me really excited to read more of Terry Tyler’s work. It was really easy to read as a standalone book, despite kind of being a sequel (it’s set in the same world as another book, but many years later). My only small criticism is that the writing occasionally was a bit awkward, so I had to reread bits which I misunderstood because I’d missed a word that was in an unexpected place. However, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment, and would suggest that you don’t let it put you off in any way. Therefore, I give the book 6 out of 7, and would easily recommend it to lovers of sci-fi and dystopia. I’d also recommend it more widely, but warn that it can be quite bleak in places, so don’t go for it if that’s not your thing.

~Rickettts

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was properly strange in places, as well as maintaining a sense of mystery throughout, but it never felt forced or had gaping plot holes. It doesn’t exactly have something profound to say, but that’s completely fine. It’s just a really fun and engaging read.

The book kicks of with the death of Jacob’s grandpa, which leads to events spiraling and finally Jacob ending up on a mysterious island. Because of how all the events are shrouded in mystery, I don’t want to much into the plot for fear of accidentally spoiling something. Instead, I’ll leave the blurb at the end of the review.

One of my favourite aspects of this novel is Ransom Riggs’ use of pictures. Jacob’s grandpa has some strange photographs, which are included in the book. They are properly creepy. The images are all authentic, vintage photographs, often found in collections. I found this to be a particularly unique idea, and it certainly gave the book an extra flair that made it stand out in my mind.

The writing allowed the book to flow with ease, and made it very readable. The language conjured vivid images, and I never struggled to place myself there in my mind’s eye. The plot moved at a decent pace throughout the entire novel, never too fast or too slow. I wouldn’t say it’s exceptionally good, but it’s fun and enjoyable – which is all that mattered to me.

All the characters have a uniqueness about them, but the story is dominated by Jacob. This isn’t inherently a problem, as he has lots of internal struggles that make him interesting, but I would have liked some of the supporting characters motivations and feelings to be more fleshed out. However, I did really Emma, who also feels well developed.

I give it 6 out of 7. I almost gave it 5.5, but going back and reading over a few small sections has made me appreciate the dialogue. It’s something that often just makes a book gel without being flashy, and this is certainly the case here. I think that is a large factor in why the book is so readable. I’d recommend to any fans of young adult novels that have a fantasy element.

~Rickettts

Blurb:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive. 

Book Review: Blackbirds

Chuck Wendig has quickly become one of my favourite authors. The mind-bending, politically-fueled, pandemic-ridden epic that was Wanderers was definitely one of the highlights of my reading this year, and Blackbirds hasn’t disappointed either.

The premise is that Miriam Black can see how you’re going to die. What does she do with this power? Take just enough to survive from people who are going to die shortly, floating from one place to the next. It naturally tackles issues of fate and free will, but goes further, examining the affect of these powers on Miriam’s psyche.

Be warned – Miriam is no sweetheart. She’s profane, bursting at the seams with power, yet still retains a strong set of morals that is guaranteed to steal your heart. Likewise, as I’ve come to expect from Wendig, the rest of the characters are just as colourful, right down to the descriptions of a waitress or a group of bikers who only appear for a scene each.

The writing is superb. It’s visceral. It’s vulgar. It redefines the meaning of the word creative. I’m perpetually in awe of how the most mundane things are made interesting, and the interesting becomes images that stick with me for days (or if Wanderers is anything to go by, months). The dialogue is punchy, witty and gets to the heart of the characters.

I will say, as if it’s not already clear, the book is dark. I think anyone can pick this up and enjoy it, but just bear that in mind. The punches have not been pulled, and that is part of its brilliance. I give a 7 out of 7 easily, and just cannot sing its praises enough.

~Rickettts

Book Review: Imperium

Imperium follows the early years of the great Roman orator, Cicero, told from the perspective of his (slave) scribe. It deals with the intricate politics of the Roman republic in the years leading up to its collapse, where it was replaced with the emperors.

The characterization of Cicero is excellent, with his quick wit and powerful speeches. At the core of his character is his desire to further his career and the desire to safeguard the republic from tyranny – forces that are often fundamentally at odds with each other. Seeing how he deals with situations when being pulled in opposite directions is one of the best parts of the book.

The narrator, Cicero’s scribe Tiro, is also an interesting character in his own right. The author, Robert Harris, has made a concerted effort to give him agency, and avoid him just being an extension of Cicero. One way he achieves this is by giving Tiro moments where he speaks directly to the audience. I found this slightly disconcerting at first, but I now realize they served a dual purpose: taking you out of the individual moment of the story so that you can think about the bigger picture, and allowing Harris to signpost other characters or events that have relevance later. This second point is particularly important, as the book (the first of a trilogy) has many names, many who are just not very significant to the overall plot.

I also think the plot was well-constructed. Historical fiction can sometimes fall into the trap of already knowing what the events are and so having bland sections in between the key moments – this was never the case here. Furthermore, Harris seems to know a great deal about this time period, and is sure to incorporate it in the smallest details. This is what makes the book come alive in my opinion.

There is a lot of technical, often latin, vocabulary. This wasn’t an issue for me, as I study latin at A level, and have studied ancient history in the past, but it could require some googling for readers unfamiliar with the time period. I’m not certain of that though, since I can recall places where Harris explains it well, and other places where it is less good.

As a historical, political thriller, this book likely has wide appeal. It is quick, witty and dangerous. It immerses you in a different culture and time period. It has complex characters, who I found to be surprisingly relatable. I’d easily recommend it to any thriller fan.

6.5 out of 7 is my rating. The only small issue I had was that the ending was slightly unsatisfactory. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad ending, and it ended where it did because it is part of a trilogy, but it still just didn’t sit quite right with me. Other than that, this book is stunning.

~Rickettts