Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s TTT topic is “Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2021”. I actually have a list of new releases I’m hanging out on the edge of my seat waiting for, so this one is perfect for me!

What new releases are you most excited about?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly list meme hosted over on That Artsy Reader Girl.

Jan

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry, C.M. Waggoner (14 Jan)

Hard-drinking petty thief Dellaria Wells is down on her luck in the city of Leiscourt — again. Then she sees a want ad for a female bodyguard, and she fast-talks her way into the high-paying job. Along with a team of other women, she’s meant to protect a rich young lady from mysterious assassins. At first Delly thinks the danger is exaggerated, but a series of attacks shows there’s much to fear. Then she begins to fall for Winn, one of the other bodyguards, and the women team up against a mysterious, magical foe who seems to have allies everywhere.

The Brass Queen, Elizabeth Chatsworth (12 Jan)

In a steam-powered world, Miss Constance Haltwhistle is the last in a line of blue-blooded rogues. Selling firearms under her alias, the “Brass Queen,” she has kept her baronial estate’s coffers full. But when US spy J. F. Trusdale saves her from assassins, she’s pulled into a search for a scientist with an invisibility serum. As royal foes create an invisible army to start a global war, Constance and Trusdale must learn to trust each other. If they don’t, the world as they know it will disappear before their eyes.

Feb

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates (16 Feb)

Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet’s slide toward certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.

Fireheart Tiger, Aliette de Bodard (9 Feb)

Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace. Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions. Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?

The Gilded Ones, Namina Forna (4 Feb)

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in Otera, a deeply patriarchal ancient kingdom, where a woman’s worth is tied to her purity, and she must bleed to prove it. But when Deka bleeds gold – the colour of impurity, of a demon – she faces a consequence worse than death. She is saved by a mysterious woman who tells Deka of her true nature: she is an Alaki, a near-immortal with exceptional gifts. The stranger offers her a choice: fight for the Emperor, with others just like her, or be destroyed…

March

The Absolute Book, Elizabeth Knox (18 March)

Taryn Cornick believes her sister Bea was deliberately run down and killed. She believes it so hard she allows a man called the Muleskinner to exact the justice Bea was denied. An eye for an eye. Which is when Taryn’s problems really begin. Because the police suspect Taryn’s involvement in the death. Worse, others have their eyes on Taryn – those in a faraway place who know what Taryn’s family have been carefully hiding in their vast library. The Absolute Book. They want it – and they want Taryn to help find it.

April

Witches Steeped in Gold, Ciannon Smart (20 April)

Iraya Adair has spent her life in a cell. Heir of an overthrown and magically-gifted dynasty, she was exiled from her home on the island nation of Aiyca when she was just a child. But every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.

Jazmyne Cariot grew up dressed in gold, with stolen magic at her fingertips. Daughter of the self-crowned doyenne, her existence is a threat to her mother’s rule. But unlike her sister, Jazmyne has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, the two witches enter a deadly alliance to take down the woman who threatens both their worlds. But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths Iraya and Jazmyne will go to win this game. Two witches. One motive. And a very untrustworthy alliance.

The Royal Secret, Andrew Taylor (1 April)

Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers. Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world. Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…

May

Threadneedle, Cari Thomas (27 May)

Anna’s Aunt has always warned her of the dangers of magic. Its twists. Its knots. Its deadly consequences. Now Anna counts down the days to the ceremony that will bind her magic forever. Until she meets Effie and Attis. They open her eyes to a London she never knew existed. A shop that sells memories. A secret library where the librarian feeds off words. A club where revellers lose themselves in a haze of spells. But as she is swept deeper into this world, Anna begins to wonder if her Aunt was right all along. Is her magic a gift … or a curse?

June

The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison (22 June)

A new novel in the award-winning world of the Goblin Emperor.

What new releases are you most looking forward to?

The Unspoken Name {book review}

The Unspoken Name was one of my most anticipated reads this month. Sadly, while I can appreciate why other people enjoyed it, and it definitely had good points, I found the focus shifts jarring. I DNF’d it halfway through.

The beginning of The Unspoken Name is captivating. It opens on a young girl, Csorwe, who has been raised in a religious house as a human sacrifice. We explore her feelings as the day of her death draws near, a death she’s been raised to expect and even believe in, and the intricacies of the rituals surrounding the culture. It’s beautifully written and utterly fascinating. Poignant without being sentimental. And slightly disturbing.

Then enters Sethennai, who adds a layer of mystery and intrigue. I was completely hooked as the story moved on and into an even more complex and beautifully imagined world. The worldbuilding in the beginning, the development of the characters, the mystery, is truly captivating. I was blown away. At the beginning of The Unspoken Name, it is difficult to believe this is a first novel, because it is just so accomplished.

And then, halfway through, the story changed completely. It still follows Csorwe, but the original focus on her relationship with her mentor, Sethennai, is gone. Now, she’s hunting for a relic – a relic which started off as an interesting point of sub-plot. So, it was fantasy, now it’s now a sort of fantasy Indiana Jones adventure. Then, suddenly, the relic has been found and its now a romance. This might have been acceptable if the three story phases were tied in together, or if it didn’t seem to just happen suddenly. I found all the chopping and changing too jarring. It was like the author couldn’t make up her mind which book to write.

Moreover, the character of Csorwe has changed so much by the time she’s doing her Indiana Jones thing as to be almost unrecognisable. It’s not just that she’s suddenly older. She’s like a different person: more confident, self-assured, and awkward rather than charmingly naive. Her touching loyalty to her mentor and the complex feelings about her past seem to have vanished completely.

The fine details of the worldbuilding, which is what made the beginning so special, also disappeared and plot holes started to appear. Why does the relic suddenly appear? How did they find it? We just jump to it and are expected to believe it was impossible to find, but has now been easily located. No real explanation. The Qarsazh are presented as prudish, prejudiced, overly religious, and highly structured. Yet, when one of the main characters starts openly and inappropriately flirting with one of them, this is completely accepted. They’re unfriendly one minute and relying on others like they’ve known them all their lives the next. We’re suddenly in a story which makes no sense and where nothing properly explained.

And then there’s Tal. Who is annoying as fuck. In the middle of a tense moment, he starts shouting, or mocking everything everyone says, or flirting with someone, and no one seems to notice he’s being inappropriate. He behaves appallingly in the beginning, is clearly an untrustworthy character, and yet suddenly becomes an ally. There’s no justice enacted or character growth to justify his inclusion as a protagonist. He’s just a distraction – and so annoying he actually set my teeth on edge.

Honestly, the book is well written. The world building is phenomenal. The characters and story are fascinating. The pacing itself is a work of art. But, for me, The Unspoken Name was confused. It was three books, sandwiched together into one. The plot holes and the characters made no sense by the middle. While there were things I liked about this book, ultimately I just couldn’t get passed the issues.

I really wanted to like this one, but it was a DNF for me.

☆☆

My Desert Island Books

In case you’ve been living on… well, a desert island! A desert island list is a game where you choose things you couldn’t do without if stranded on a desert island. Presuming you have food, water, shelter, and Netflix, of course… In this case, which books would you want to be stranded with? You get 5 picks.

My criteria was pretty simple: preferably a whole series in one book or set, because that would be more entertaining than one book, and definitely things I could happily read over and over again. I mean, you don’t know how long you’re going to be stuck there, do you?!

My 5 Desert Island Books

What would your desert island books be?

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes {Book Review}

Trisha Ashley | Bantam Press (2020)

Cozy romance is my guilty pleasure, and I adore all of Trisha Ashley’s books. The Garden of Forgotten Wishes was no exception; sweet, comfortable and satisfying, I’m already sure it will become a favourite re-read!

Perfect for it’s genre, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes was the ideal escapism. Book hygge. Trisha Ashley’s books are all set around the same fictional Lancashire village, so every time I pick one up it’s like returning to see an old friend when you catch glimpses of characters and places from previous books. The villages themselves, the worlds she’s created, are also chocolate box perfect. It’s an idealised, safe, version of reality; the one you wish you could live in. Pure escapism!

Like most cozy romance, everything about The Garden of Forgotten Wishes, from the return to the world of Winter’s End to the familiar unfolding of the plot, is also predictable and safe. There are no big twists or surprises. This is not reading on the edge of your seat. It’s a warm hug of a book.

However, unlike some of Trisha Ashley’s other titles, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes is a slow burner. It’s almost overburdened with world building detail; we savour the process of making homemade ice cream, the colours of the art on the walls, and the developments in the garden. Since the plot is so predictable, and you’re returning to a familiar world, this works. It shouldn’t, it probably wouldn’t in any other kind of book, but here it does. It’s this immersive exploration of a much-loved world which fans crave. I thoroughly enjoyed all the gardening details, the details of village life. That being said, if you hadn’t already fallen in love with this world, I think the pacing might be too slow.

The other thing I love about Trisha Ashley’s books is the characters. Her protagonists are all strong, independent, capable women. They’re rarely young women, which is also a refreshing change of pace. All her characters are imperfectly authentic. They have flaws and back story, and the drama develops from this conflict between character and history. They’re easy to love because they’re ordinary. There’s nothing complex about them, and yet they feel very three dimensional.

All in all, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes was the perfect cozy read, the antidote to the craziness of the world right now and the grey English weather outside. Chocolate box English villages, sweet and slow burning romance. This is the book equivalent of a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Christmas Books – Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday, hosted over on That Artsy Reader Girl, is a weekly bookish list challenge. And this week’s prompt is a Christmas freebie. So, this is my Top 10 Favourite Books To Read Around Christmas.

A Christmas Carol is a classic. It’s basically the ultimate Christmas read, right?!

I love reading ghost stories this time of year, and Ghost Stories by Mark Gatiss is a great little spooky collection!

Probably my favourite ghost story collection is by Roald Dahl. The Book of Ghost Stories is kind of a classic Christmas read for me at this point! That being said, I’m hesitant to recommend it given what’s come out about Roald Dahl’s antisemitism… He seems like a twat basket. And I’m not linking it for that reason. But this book is on my list.

Cozy Christmas romances don’t get much better than A Winter’s Tale! I live for the cozy this time of year.

Sarah Morgan might be the queen of cozy Christmas romance. I love her Christmas books!

Another classic Christmas read! Twas the Night Before Christmas was read to me as a child, and I still read it every year!

The Box of Delightshttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolves-Willoughby-Chase-Chronicles-Book/dp/0099572877 opens with what I think is the most satisfyingly Christmassy setting ever. For that alone, it made the list.

Slightly spooky, wintery goodness. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, while not specifically Christmassy, has a pretty incredible wintery setting. And its a little scary, so its definitely on my list!

I just adored White Boots as a child and its still the perfect Christmas read for me!

I love Agatha Christie, and Christmas really isn’t complete for me without a cozy Christmas detective mystery. I always get a few vintage mysteries for Christmas. But, of course, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is my favourite!

What’s your favourite Christmas read? Do you read any of the ones on my list?

The Court of Miracles {book review}

Author: Kester Grant | Publisher: Harper Voyager (2020)

I was really unsure when I picked this up whether or not it was going to be “my thing”. Honestly, the synopsis just doesn’t do it justice! I was totally gripped from start to finish. The Court of Miracles is definitely one of my top reads this year.

The book is set is an alternate reality where the French Revolution failed, which led to the revolutionaries and the poor being mercilessly hunted and forced underground. They formed a secret criminal society to survive. The world the characters inhabit is grotesque, brutal, and gritty. It’s a sort of magical realism, but not quite your typical fantasy.

The worldbuilding is phenomenal. There is actually very little description of places or things, and yet it has a really strong sense of place. It’s dark. Unpleasant. Frightening. And there is a sense of history and reality, which grounds the book and stops it becoming too fantastical. The little touches, like using real places, give the book an air of authenticity. Despite being quite an unpleasant world, one you definitely wouldn’t want to visit, there is a swashbuckling quality to it which lends the whole book a sense of whimsy and playfulness.

The light touch on descriptive language means the plot moves at a fast lick. And it has more twists than a mountain road. I was hooked right to the very end.

The plot itself is dark. Really, really dark. It can be a little heartrending. It doesn’t shy away from the kind of themes you’d be more likely to find explored at this level in straight modern fiction: loss, rape, drugs, sex trafficking, and child abuse. And, although there is ultimately hope and redemption, the characters never get an easy ride.

All of which makes it sound like a depressing or heavy read – which it really wasn’t. The Court of Miracles is ultimately an adventure and a fantasy. The fine line between completely bumming out the reader with serious subject matter, getting across a point, exploring important themes and questions vs entertaining is walked masterfully. Despite some of the more serious and grotesque aspects of the worldbuilding, of the plot, the book is fun – even humorous. The first person narrative is clever, immersive, and skillful.

The characters… oh my gosh, can we talk about Eponine? I love a strong female protagonist and she is all of that and more. She’s sassy af. Strong. Brave. Talented. Flawed. Real. Ruthless and yet human. I want to be her. I want to be her friend.

Tiger is the most repugnant and terrifying character. Like Jabba the Hutt, but more unpleasant. A book really isn’t satisfying for me without a good counter to the heroine. And what makes Tiger so horrifying is that we understand him, we see him on the news and we really fear what he represents. We almost relate to him. There’s no magic here, just straight up human evil. And, in a way, that’s more frightening.

If you liked Christina Henry’s Alice, I think you’ll definitely like The Court of Miracles. I’d say it’s also one for fans of Saba Tahir and Leigh Bardugo.

The Court of Miracles is ultimately an exploration of evil and humanity. It’s the story of what a person can achieve with grit and inner strength. It’s about hope and love and loyalty.

This was one of those books that I never wanted to end and found impossible to put down. Highly recommend it!

☆☆☆☆☆

A Little About Me…

Since this is a new space for me, I thought I should tell you a little something about myself!

I’m not really new…

This is actually my second book blog. I began book blogging in… I want to say 2018… as Mim Inkling. And then I quit. I was busy – new muggle job, moving across country, wedding planning, a new side hustle… And I thought I should be focusing on more practical outlets. Honestly, I just really missed it! The bookish community, the great book recommendations, and the creativity of blogging. I had a blast doing it! Eventually, life quietened down and so, here I am again for round two. I’m really going to try not to quit this time!

Where I’m from… I’m English and I currently live in a tiny village in Cheshire, on the border of Wales.

What I’m going to blog about… books. And I’ll share some of my writing. That’s about it! If you want to follow me, I’m on Instagram as @onceuponanelderberry – I’d love to connect with you over there!

Three random facts… I’m a qualified information law specialist, I have a dog called Rubeus, and my favourite ice cream is salted caramel.

Dream job… Writer.

If I could live anywhere… I’d like a house in Wales. I’d probably also spend part of the year in Cornwall, Norway, Sweden, and the US, given a choice.

My favourite book… Such a difficult question! I’m going to cheat and go top three: Pride and Prejudice, Chocolat, and The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

The fictional character I would most like to be… Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. She’s badass!

Favourite book heroine… Elizabeth Bennett. Always and forever.

Fictional character I’d most like to date… Heathcliff. Honestly, he was just too sexy!

Favourite series… Again, far too many! Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, Harry Potter, all of the Hercule Poirot books (if that counts as a series), Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy, The Invisible Library series…

Book setting I’d most like to visit… The invisible library is pretty high up the list! The Shire would be quite cool. The entire Harry Potter world, obviously.

The last book I read was… something trashy and satisfying by Katie Fforde. I love a good cozy romance!

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