The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston- Book review/Blog tour

I’m so pleased to be part of the blog tour for The Knave of secrets by Alex Livingston, fantasy with magic ,intrigue and card games.

Genre: Fantasy

Source: Received with thanks from Rebellion Publishing and The Write Reads tours

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.
Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war

Review

This was one of those books I couldn’t put down. The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston had it all- political intrigue, magic, twisty card games, action and a great cast of dodgy characters. If I could describe this book it would Hustle set in the world of Games of Thrones.

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The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge- book tour and review

I’m so pleased to be part of the Write Reads tours for The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge- a literary fantasy full of intrigue, drama, and evil poets.

Genre: Alternate History, Literary fantasy

Source: Rebellion Publishers for a free and unbiased review.

Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.
Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether

Review

I have to confess I was expecting a proper fantasy but once I got my head round the fact this was more literary alternative historical fiction I found myself immersed in this weird world.

 Anyone who loves reading, books or poetry will love the world created by Tom Beckerlegge. Cadenza is a city where its leaders are chosen for their skills as a poet and duels are fought with poetry with a unique societal structure based on your literary skill. But if you thought a society based on words would be kinder and fairer, then you are mistaken.

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The Binding by Bridget Collins- Book review

A touching romance is at the heart of The Binding by Bridget Collins set in an alternate historical England

Genre: Romantic fantasy

Source: My own

After having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer is sent to the workshop of one such binder to live and work as her apprentice. Leaving behind home and family, Emmett slowly regains his health while learning the binding trade. He is forbidden to enter the locked room where books are stored, so he spends many months marbling end pages, tooling leather book covers, and gilding edges. But his curiosity is piqued by the people who come and go from the inner sanctum, and the arrival of the lordly Lucian Darnay, with whom he senses a connection, changes everything.

Review

There may be spoilers in this review

This book managed to pass me by when it came out but the bright purple pages caught my eye in a charity shop and I had to buy it especially because of the blurb. I love a book about books.

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Mask of Mirrors by M. A Carrick- Book review

That’s another one off my #beatthebacklog. Here is my review of Mask of Mirrors by M. A Carrick- a fantasy full of intrigue,magic,con women and a masked vigilante

Genre: Fantasy

Source: My own

Series: Rook and Rose ( Book1)

Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadežra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister’s future.

But as she’s drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart.

Review

This hasn’t been on my backlog list very long and perhaps I should have read some of the books sitting on my kindle for longer but I couldn’t resist that cover.

The story is told from a number of points in the third person but the main characters are Ren, the woman trying to con her way into high society, Donaia, the matriarch of the Traementis family that Ren is trying to con, Grey, a captain in the Virgil trying to find out the truth about Ren and Vargo, a crime lord trying to buy his way into the nobility.

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Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May- Book review

A Sapphic love story with forbidden magic, witches, secrets, and drama set in an alternate England where magic is forbidden. Read my review of Wild and Wicked things by Francesca May.

Genre: Fantasy, magic realism

Publication Date: 31 March 2022

Source Net Galley

 In an alternate post World War One Britain, where everyone knows about but is prohibited from practising magic, Annie has been summoned to Crow Island to sort out her late father’s affairs. Annie discovers she knows less about her estranged father than she thought and discovers his secrets that shatter her world and she struggles to understand her own magic. She becomes embroiled in the drama that surrounds her best friend Bea and the magical attraction she feels towards her mysterious neighbour Emmeline. But will Annie survive the danger consuming her life on Crow Island when the punishment for magic is death?

Review

I received a copy of the book for a free and unbiased review.

This book is beautifully written- I fell in love with lyrical prose, the stories and the lush descriptions of magic and Crow Island. The world-building is detailed and dare I say realistic. If magic existed and was banned the descriptions of black-market magic, bootlegged parties, corruption and how normal people will skirt close to the law would be real.

The book is told from the point of view of Emmaline and Annie. Bea is not a point of view character but she is the person who drives the story forward through her actions and motivations.

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The Book of Perilous Dishes by Doina Rusti – Blog Tour and Book review

I’m so pleased to be part of the blog tour for The Book of Perilous Dishes by Doina Rusti historical fiction set in Bucharest featuring a book of magical recipes.

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literature In translation

Source: Random Things Tours

Translator: from Romanian by James Christian Brown

Bucharest, 1798. A slave-cook lives in Bucharest, sought after by everyone. His sublime cooking satisfies even the sophisticated tastes of the Prince, who lays claim to him, whisking him away to the Palace. However, no one knows that the cook has in his possession a witch’s recipe book, the Book of Perilous Dishes. His food can bring about damaging sincerity, forgetfulness, the gift of prediction, or hysterical laughter. And the rightful owner of this book is fourteen-year-old Pâtca, an adolescent initiated in the occult arts. Pâtca comes to Bucharest, to her uncle, Cuviosu Zaval, to recover this book, but she finds him dead, murdered, and the Book of Perilous Dishes has disappeared without a trace. All that Zaval has left her is a strange map…

The Book of Perilous Dishes follows the story of Pâtca, who uses her powers to avenge the death of her uncle and retrieve a magical recipe book left in his keeping which has been stolen by Silica the cook. Travelling from Romania to France and on to Germany to do so, Pâtca’s family’s true past and powers are revealed, as is her connection to Silica the cook…

Review

Recipe

Take a plucky fourteen-year-old orphan add a generous dose of world-building and atmosphere, mix in a coveted recipe book with a touch of peril and let the magical story unfold.

I don’t normally read literary fiction but after reading the Book of Perilous Dishes, I think I may be reading a lot more. The author ( and translator) builds a wonderful picture of Bucharest in 1798 with lush descriptions of the people, places and food.

The book manages to pack a lot in its 255 pages and describes life in 1798 Bucharest including witch hunts, slavery, murder mystery and the political turmoil of the time.

The fantasy elements are light but beautifully woven into the story. I was tickled by the idea of recipes that can cause interesting effects such as hysterical laughter, forgetfulness, prediction and my favourite damaging sincerity. The recipes in the book are beautifully described and well-researched by the author

Patca is the main point of view character, and we follow her story over two time periods, one in 1798 and then thirty years later. Patca relationships with the people she meets are touching and her story drives the book leading to an ending that is deeply satisfying and heart-warming and left an impression long after I finished the book.

Don’t forget to read the translator’s note at the start of the book which is fascinating in its own right!

I received a copy of this book for a free and unbiased opinion.

Doina Rusti is among the most important contemporary Romanian writers and is widely appreciated for the epic force, originality, and erudition of her novels. Award winning and translated into many languages, she has written ten novels, including The Phantom in the Mill (2008), The Phanariot Manuscript (2015), and The Book of Perilous Dishes (2017). Doina lives in Bucharest and is a university professor and screenwriter. 

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong- Book review

My review of this fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliette set in 1926 Shanghai. Here is my review of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of a duology

Source: My own

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Review

I was so excited to read this- I have seen this book everywhere on Instagram and I loved the cover. The idea of a fantasy set in Shanghai in 1926 with monsters also sounded very appealing too. But unfortunately, I didn’t love this as much as I thought would.

So, I will start with what I liked about the book.

The world-building in this book is fresh and new 1926 Shanghai is not a location or time that I have come across in Fantasy. I could feel the atmosphere and tension through the author’s writing. The author’s afterword about the complex political and societal tension at the time makes it interesting reading and worthy of its own book.

As usual, I found the secondary characters so much more interesting, and I wanted to read more about their stories and follow their subplots. Benedikt, Marshall, Kathleen and Lady Cai had so many layers I wanted to read about. The burgeoning relationship between Benedikt and Marshall was one of the highlights of the story.

The sudden madness that has taken over Shanghai and the reasons and the mystery surrounding this was satisfying in own right too.

The book ends on one of the best cliffhangers I have come across AND I have to read the next book to find out what happens next!

Now the parts that didn’t work for me.

There was just a bit too much going on. I just found all the plots and subplots a bit overwhelming – this story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet retelling, a monster story, a gangster story, a revenge tale, as well as a tale about the societal and political upheavals in 1926 Shanghai! So this is perfect if you love books with many subplots.

I personally think the book would have worked without the Romeo and Juliet elements- sometimes this felt shoehorned in. Roma and Juliette didn’t feel like a passionate relationship that is doomed to fail unlike the relationship between Marshall and Benedikt. To me, Marshall and Benedikt are the real star-crossed lovers. I couldn’t warm to Juliette and Roma as characters which don’t help when they are the lead romantic couple. The focus on the romantic tension took away from the more fascinating descriptions of the creeping colonisation of China.

I was a thrown by the sudden insertion of sentences in French and other languages without translation especially since my high school French is a tiny bit rusty.

Content warning

Violence, some racism

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart – Book review

Heavy is the head that wears the bone shard crown especially when you have to fight errant Bone constructs, a growing rebellion and an ancient magical enemy. Read my review of the Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. as part of the March of the Sequels hosted by Sue’s Musings.

Series The Drowning Empire Book 2

Genre: Fantasy

Source of the book: My own

REVIEW

This book picks up from the end of the Bone Shard Emperor Daughter ( review here) where Lin has killed her father to become the new Emperor. Jovis has now become Captain of her Guard, a reluctant spy for the Shardless Few and someone who now has superpowers.

This book definitely didn’t suffer from the second book of the trilogy syndrome and the plot continues to race along. The point of view characters remains the same with Lin, Jovis and Phalue being the main ones.

Lin’s struggles to become an effective emperor and different from her father is well described and introduce some political intrigue and manoeuvring into the story. The Alanga, the ancient magical enemy play a significant role in adding another layer to the story.

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Midnight in Everwood by M.A Kurniar- Book Review

A dark retelling of The Nutcracker that left me wanting to raid the sweet cupboard. Here is my review of Midnight in Everwood in M. A Kurniar.

Source: my own

Genre: Fantasy

I must admit I have never managed to sit through an entire performance of The Nutcracker!

This retelling of the Nutcracker reads like a fairytale with its palace of sugar and ice, endless balls and beautiful dresses but there are dark themes underlying all the fluffiness.

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Scorpica, Book 1 of The Five Queendoms by G. R Macallister- Book review

I’ve always had a soft spot for books that are based on Matrilineal Societies, so it no surprise this fantasy caught my eye. Scorpica by G. R Macallister is full of strong female characters, action, magic and intrigue.

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Five Queendoms

Source NetGalley

Publication Date:22 Feb 2022

REVIEW

I love fantasy but I do get a little tired of male-dominated societies but thankfully this is changing. Scorpica by G R Macallister is one of those books that is gloriously about women.

Across the five Queendoms, a matrilineal system prevails- daughters inherit their mothers’ crown, power and magic. The focus of the book is on two queendoms- Scorpica and Arca. Scorpica is an Amazonian like society with women born to fight with disputes over who rules decided by the sword. In Arca, the women have magical gifts and anyone who possesses all magic can lay claim to the throne but  Queen Mirriam holds on to her power using every trick she can. In the midst of this, Sessadon, an old sorcerer plots in the background to rule over all five Queendoms.

So,in a land where girls are essential, the five Queendoms are plunged into chaos when girls stop being born.

The book has several point of view characters which could be frustrating as I found myself more invested in a particular character. The pace is slow to start with but as the author’s prose was so descriptive and rich, I didn’t really mind. The action picks up towards the middle and doesn’t stop.

The book does raise interesting questions- would a female-dominated society be fairer and treat men better or would it be the same as any patriarchal society? In Scorpica, males hold no value except to be bartered for food and in Arca high society men are subservient (and seek to overthrow the Matriarchy) and their Queen certainly chooses her men for their looks. I would have liked to find out more about the other Queendoms where men and women seem a little more equal. I must admit to being more than a little curious as to how the women in Scorpica managed to get pregnant.

How would society react if one sex stopped being born? Would they be targets to kidnap or hoard? Would they be locked away to protect? Would there be a revolution? This book explores these themes effectively among the battles, magic, intrigue, and passion.

The book resolves all the major plot threads but effectively lays the ground for book 2 which is definitely on my list to read.

Content warning

descriptions of young teens sacrifice, reference to children dying.

I received a copy of this book for a free,unbiased and honest opinion