“There comes a certain point with a hope or a dream, when you either give it up or give up everything else.” // Review of “The Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

Title: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Audio book narrator: Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Upper YA
Date Read: 21/02/19– 22/02/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book gave me a lot of feelings. Laini Taylor is a stunning world-builder and wordsmith, but I did find myself getting frustrated throughout portions of the book. I may have banged my hands against the steering wheel on more than one occasion when I was listening while driving.

Muse of Nightmares picks up exactly where Strange the Dreamer left off, though we are very quickly introduced to two new characters, Kora and Nova, whom we learn more about as the story goes. Their stories eventually converge with the others in a tumultuous finale.

The world that Laini Taylor created in Strange the Dreamer is exapnded upon ten-fold here. To explain how would be a spoiler, but it did do my head in just how much scope there is.

The writing is once again beautiful, and I can’t really complain about it at all, except to once again observe that is very dense in its descriptions at times. My main issue with this one was the pacing. Two centuries could be covered in a chapter, followed by a twenty minute fight scene that spanned several chapters. And the characters were all very powerless throughout those, which made it more frustrating.

But despite those frustrations, when I reached the end, I felt fully satisfied and found that I was smiling to  myself.  The book ends with “The end… or is it?”, which made me both laugh and moan. The way the story wraps up completes the main story of Lazlo and Sarai and Minya and Eril Fane and the city of Weep, but it leaves us with other stories still left to tell. And despite those niggles and frustrations I had with this book, I’m pretty sure I would read anything set in this world that Laini Taylor decided to write.


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“Do you still think I’m a singularly un-terrible demon?” “No,” he said smiling. “I think you’re a fairytale.” // Review of “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Title: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Audio book narrator: Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Upper YA
Date Read: 16/12/18 – 21/01/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This is such a huge book and it took me so long to get through the audio version, all 18 hours of it! I was going to return the audio book and get the ebook instead, but then I ended up powering through the last third. I have a feeling that had I read it at my own pace, it may have even been a five star read. That is not to say that the audio book was bad, far from it, but it did stretch the story out more than perhaps it should have been (not that there would have been any way to pare it back other than abridge it and … yeahno).

This is a dense, slow-burn, character-driven fantasy, filled with beautiful language. Its about dreams in all senses: one’s hopes for the future and the visions we see when we’re asleep. Some might find the writing too flowery, but I found it fell just on the right side of that fine line. It is jam-packed with details, though, and sometimes I wondered whether it was a little too much. I think this is partially because I was reading the audio book and couldn’t make the decision to skim over a few things that  I might have were I reading the print version.

For a book with such  a large cast of characters, Taylor does a wonderful job of giving them all individual personalities. Even the mythology is delicately crafted, and I could imagine the past events described by many of the citizens of the city of Weep. And of course, as a librarian, I particularly loved that the hero in an epic fantasy was a dorky librarian whose nose was broken by a book of fairytales.

Needless to say, I was very keen to begin the second book as soon as I reached the end of the first. This was my first foray into Laini Taylor’s work but it certainly won’t be the last.


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“Everyone knows what rockets at sea mean.” // Review of “The Midnight Watch” by David Dyer

Title: The Midnight Watch
Author: David Dyer
Audio book narrator: Robert Fass
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 14/11/18 – 03/12/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book took a while to get into. For some time, I found I had to be in the right mood for it. But by the end, I found myself so fascinated by the events it described that I was waiting for opportunities to hear more.

The Midnight Watch tells the strange, true story of the officers of the SS Californian, a ship that may have been as close as five miles to the Titanic on the night she sank in April 1912, and witnessed her distress rockets, and yet did nothing to help. In the ensuing inquiries, it was determined that had the Californian responded, “many, if not all, lives may have been saved”.

Much of the content of this book is taken from the testimonies given during the inquiries into the sinking of the Titanic. While one of the central POV characters, John Steadman, is an invention, the other characters and events are real. I think this makes them even more compelling, knowing that so much of the dialogue really took place. It is interesting in that it is very much the Californian’s story – the Titanic and even the voices of its survivors are more on the periphery as Steadman tries desperately to get answers from Captain Stanley Lord and Second Officer Herbert Stone, the officer who was on the titular midnight watch and reported white rockets to the captain.

David Dyer is a self-confessed Titanic obsessive and he has been thorough in his research into what became known as “the Californian incident”. He attempts to answer the question of why the Californian never responded to the Titanic’s rockets. There is something of a conclusion on that front in the final pages of the book, but it is nothing definitive, and I don’t think the author would claim to have any real answers.

Definitely a good one for Titanic enthusiasts and historical fiction fans alike.


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“Time travel isn’t a wonder; it’s an abomination.” // Review of “All Our Yesterdays” by Cristin Terrill

Title: All Our Yesterdays
Author: Cristin Terrill
Audio book narrator: Jessica Almasy
Genre: Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 30/10/18 – 11/11/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Time travel books can be really tricky, but I think this book pulled it off quite well. It stuck to its own rules and never made things too complicated. But it told a good story, which is the main thing. I did predict a few things before they happened, but that doesn’t necessarily make a book bad.

It was really interesting reading a book where you saw both the past and future selves of various characters. Terrill was very  successful in showing the progression from one version to the other, particularly in light  of a “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” scenario.

The book does throw you in at the deep end a bit, and it doesn’t always explain things up-front. In particular, the identity of “documents” that the main characters are imprisoned over doesn’t get explained until right towards the end. Even the characters’ connections  to one another are obscured for a while, though I was abe to figure some of them out before they were explained.

I thought Jessica Almasay did quite a good job of subtly  differentiating between the narrations from Em’s perspective and those from Marina’s. I wonder if the two voices would feel as different if one was reading the print book.

This is another one of those books where I only  realised how attached I’d become to the characters when I found myself getting teary at the end. While I had predicted some of the broader parts of the climax and resolution, the little things got me. This is a tightly written debut novel, and I’m going to check out what the author has published since this one.


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“It’s easier to be just one more soldier in a giant army than being the whole army by yourself.” // Review of “Sleeping Giants” by Sylvain Neuvel

Title: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1)
Author:
Sylvain Neuvel
Audio book narrator:
Full cast
Genre:
Sci-fi
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/08/18 – 14/08/18
Rating:
★★★

Review:

This book makes a great audio book, for many of the same reasons that World War Z did. Mostly because it is written in the form of transcripts of interviews and other recordings, all of which translates very well to audio. The full cast is amazing and they give a great sense of this cast of varied characters. It wasn’t perfect, there are some things that could have been done better, and there were a few little inconsistencies in the story itself, but this was definitely a book that made me not mind having.

I really loved the exploration of the political side of discovering alien artefacts on Earth. Who gets to claim them? How will other nations react to learning that the US  has been invading their turf on the down-low and taking back pieces  of alien tech? What will the President say? This was an overarching theme, but the impact of this discovery on the individual characters directly involved was also engaging. I loved Kara’s prickliness and Rose’s passion. I liked seeing how Vincent was an outsider but the others still cared for him. I even grew fond of the unnamed interviewer. Kara is correct when she tells him at the end that he is full of mush inside. He totally is.

I compared this book to World War Z above, and there are ways i think it improves on that audio book. In that one, Max Brooks played the interviewer, but he also read out the parts that weren’t the other characters speaking. Where I imagine the book had “[laughs]”, he would read that out. In Sleeping Giants, the actor actually laughs instead, which made it feel that bit more authentic. But there were still scenes where something was clearly going down in the background and all we could hear was the person narrating the events. I know this is an audio book and not a radio play, but that did lessen the effect a bit for me.

Still, I had the second one out from the library before I had even finished this one because  I knew I would want to continue. This is a series unlike anything I’ve come across before and I’m eager to continue.


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Book Review: “Loch of the Dead” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: Loch of the Dead (Frey & McGray #4)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Target age group: Adult
Dates read: 11/07/18 – 04/08/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I thought I’d lost interest in this series by about a third of the way through this book. I actually DNFed it at first, before realising that I did actually want to know how it ended, I just didn’t have the patience to listen to the audio book anymore. I still think the first two books in the series are the best, but I did find this an addictive race to the finish line, and definitely an improvement on the third book.

This fourth installment in the series sees Frey & McGray travel to the very north of Scotland, where McGray has been promised access to a potential cure for his sister in exchange for helping when a young boy is threatened.

The format in this book changed once again: while most of it was still in first person from Frey’s perspective, there were some chapters from McGray’s. These were in third person, and I didn’t always realise that the change had happened, so I got pulled out of the story when I suddenly realised the tone was a bit different and Frey wasn’t actually there. As I said in the previous book, my favourite part of this series is the Frey and McGray banter, and when they spend so much of an investigation apart that McGray needs his own chapters, that means the banter is probably not happening.

There were some great moments throughout the book, some that made me laugh out loud (it’s always wonderful when McGray witnesses Frey making a fool of himself), and the climax definitely had me turning the pages rapidly and staying up late to finish. I did think that the eventual villains of the piece were a bit cartoonish and over the top, but it did make for an exciting finish.

This is all there is of the Frey & McGray series for now, but I will definitely pick up any further instalments de  Muriel chooses to write.


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Book Review: “A Mask of Shadows” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: A Mask of Shadows (Frey & McGray #3)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Target age group: Adult
Dates read: 28/06/18 – 11/07/18
Rating: ★★

Review:

After thoroughly enjoying the first two Frey & McGray books, I was excited to start the next one . Sadly, as you can see from my rating, this one was rather disappointing in comparison.

Oscar de Muriel experiments with his form a bit in this book, and I didn’t think it really worked. Or maybe I’m just resistant to change Rather than just being a straight narrative, this book was in the form of a police report compiled at the end of an investigation. Alongside the usual first person narrative from Frey’s perspective, we also have fragments of Bram Stoker’s (yes, that Bram Stoker, more on that below) journal and letter fragments recovered at one point in the investigation, placed throughout the narrative, ostensibly where Frey thought they best fit.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous reviews, one of the things that makes this series so enjoyable is the relationship between Frey and McGray. In this one, they spent far less time together, so there was so little delightful banter. When it did happen, it was great, but I wanted more. Much of the narrative in this book was just the two policemen interviewing suspects, and then re-interviewing them when someone else brings a new fact to life. By the time the culprit was revealed around the 85% mark, I was just plain bored.

One thing I have noticed in both the previous books, and again in this one, is that there aren’t many likeable female characters, which is a bit disappointing. I think the issue probably stood out more to me this time because I wasn’t enjoying the things that usually make up for it.

To be fair, de Muriel’s historical detail was meticulous. The book centres around the real life production of Macbeth mounted by the celebrated Henry Irving, and Irving, his leading lady, Ellen Terry, and their theatre manager and later author, Bram Stoker,  all feature prominently as characters. While the mystery is fabricated, of course, de Muriel had to invent very little about the historical figures themselves in order to weave the narrative around them. I found myself pausing the audio book to look up Wikipedia articles or YouTube videos about them to learn more.

Fortunately, I’ve seen some reviews from others who thought this book a bit lacklustre who assure me that the fourth installment is back to the standard of the first two. I have already listened to the first twenty minutes and it’s definitely a promising start, so I think this one was just an anomoly.

You can read my review of the first book in the Frey and McGray series, The Strings of Murder, here, and the second, A Fever of the Blood, here.


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Book Review: “A Fever of the Blood” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: A Fever of the Blood (Frey & McGray #2)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Dates read: 14/06/18 – 22/06/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book was just as fun as the last one, and de Muriel continues to build on the characters that he introduced us to in The Strings of Murder. Andy Secombe’s narration also continues to be incredibly entertaining.

The plot is well-paced, with some great action scenes that were particularly exciting in the audio book. I thought at one point I must have reached the climax, only to realise I was only at 65%. The actual climax actually did build from there, and the situation for many of the characters was difficult to guess, which kept me hooked.

The relationship between Frey and McGrey was once again the highlight. There is plenty of the banter that came out in book one, but there is also genuine conflict which I expect will play a part in the subsequent books.

Having said that, I did have a few criticisms. I felt this installment was a bit more reactive than the previous one. There were fewer clues for the detectives to follow; instead, a lot of the plot relied on them simply ending up in certain places at the right time. I also found that the antagonists who show up at about the 70% mark bordered on the comical and cartoonish at times.

Still, that can all be forgiven in the name of fun and entertainment. I am waiting to get my hands on the third audio book, which I hope is up to the same standard.

You can read my review of the first book in the Frey and McGray series, The Strings of Murder, here.


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Book Review: “The Strings of Murder” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: The Strings of Murder (Frey & McGrey #1)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Dates read: 06/05/18 – 19/05/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Well, this book was a whole lot of fun. It’s a cracking historical mystery, and the audio book is narrated with so much interesting variance that I often forgot I was listening to one person.

Jack The Ripper has London in a panic, and when a disemboweled body shows up in Edinburgh, Scotland Yard fears a copycat. Disgraced police officer Ian Frey is sent north to investigate, along with Scottish officer Adolphus McGrey. McGrey has his reasons for believing the case has a supernatural bent, and the two lock horns in a race against time to find the murderer.

The interactions between Frey and McGrey were definitely the highlight of this book for me. McGrey takes to calling Frey a “London lassie” and Frey is constantly sputtering in shock over the things that come out of McGrey’s mouth. McGrey’s unconventionial methods also clash with Frey’s by-the-book nature. The side characters are also well-drawn; I was able to form distinct opinions about all of them, even the characters we don’t see all that oftne.

The mystery itself was complex without being overly complicated. I felt some information did come out of the blue towards the end with very little to hint at it, but that was a small issue, really.

Andy Secombe is a masterful audio book narrator and I’m pleased to see he has also recorded the subsequent books in the series. His character voices are so varied that I did often have to remind myself there was only one person reading the story. I think this made the book even more entertaining. Reading “Och, shut up, ye London lassie” is one thing, but hearing it in a thick Scottish brogue is quite another.

I’m definitely intending to continue with this series, and recommend it to any fan of historical fiction.


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“You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.” // Review of “The Prestige” by Christopher Priest

Title: The Prestige
Author: Christopher Priest
Audio book narrator: Simon Vance
Genre: Thriller/historical fiction
Date Read: 20/06/2016 – 29/06/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I hate to say it, but I think this is one of those rare cases where I thought the movie is better than the book. Having said that, it was intriguing to see where this story began, and it may be just that because I saw the movie first, it is the version I ultimately prefer.

The action centres on the feud between two stage magicians at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth, the way their rivalry consumed so much of them, and how it still affects their descendants nearly a century on.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of turn-of-the-century London, and how the book used the popularity of illusionists and magicians of the time to also examine how easily we are fooled because we don’t really want to know the secrets. This applies to both magic tricks and real life.

The structure of the book was its main downfall. It is in five parts from four different points-of-view. Two are the diaries of Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier, the stage magicians, and the other two are their descendants, who meet in the 1990s. Having one part follow on from another, rather than switch points-of-view when the plot most accommodated it, meant that there was a lot of dancing around the plot twists that I knew were coming. There was a lot of plot that could have been considerably condensed, I felt, if the point-of-view had alternated throughout the book (and I say that as someone not a fan of alternating points-of-view as a rule).

On top of that, apart from offering some intrigue, I honestly thought the modern-day aspect of the book was pretty unnecessary. There would have been ways to reveal the twist without it, and the continuation of the feud through the generations didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The ending was also unclear. I think Priest was probably going for mysterious and ambiguous, but it just confused me.

Simon Vance’s narration of the audio book was commendable – he had distinct voices for each of the narrators and the characters within their stories. I listened to the entire audio book, but I do think that having 12 hours of audio to listen to rather than reading a few hundred pages did highlight the structure issues mentioned above.


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