Saturday 15 June 2024

REVIEW - LOST HEIR - BLOOD WEAVER TRILOGY BY KARINA ESPINOSA


Title: Lost Heir
Series:
Blood Weaver Trilogy
Author:
Karina Espinosa
Release Date:
14th June 2024

BLURB
In the stunning sequel to the fantasy romance Blood Weaver, Leila—revealed to be Princess Lyanna of Valoria—faces new trials and deceptions. After escaping the harsh realities of the Central Plains, she returns to her homeland with Prince Caelan of Eldwain and Ronan, a hostage from the fearsome Crimson Clan of the Grasslands. But peace is fragile; the king of Valoria, seeking to avoid a war, commands the release of Ronan.

Now free, Ronan confronts Lyanna, begging forgiveness for deceiving her and unraveling truths that shake the very foundations of her beliefs. As they navigate their complicated feelings, a grand banquet hosted by Lyanna’s father draws not only dignitaries from across Asteria but also uninvited dangers. Shadows from within their own ranks threaten to turn the festive occasion into a nightmare.

Amidst these swirling conspiracies, Ronan and Leila must discover whether they can trust each other enough to confront what lies ahead. As the prophecy looms over them, their choices could save their lands—or lead them to ruin. Will the truths they uncover allow them to stand together, or is their fate already sealed? 

Goodreads Link

REVIEW
I love the dramatic cover, with the swords and crimson sash across them. It has aspects in common with the cover of Blood Weaver meaning it gives a really cohesive look to the series.

The book begins with a scene from the past when a young Ronan visits Eldwain with his father Chief Aryan who tells him to go off & meet his peers. When a young Ronan spots Princess Lyanna with a group of friends including Caelan who turns his back on Ronan calling both him and his people 'barbarians' but later the young Princess Lyanna talks to Ronan and at one point during their interaction even asks to plait his hair. The hair of the men of the Crimson Clan is considered sacred and touched only by their own clan women. Despite this Ronan allows the young Princess Lyanna to touch and plait his hair. This previous meeting, though brief makes an impression on the young Ronan and is probably how he realises Leila is the Princess when he meets her and she reveals she is from Valoria.

Lyanna is really worried about Selene when she gets no reply from a note she sends before she sets off back to Valoria but theres no sign of Selene nor Orion the fae who is supposed to be purchasing her freedom on Princess Lyanna's behalf. Caelan chooses to reveal the reason Marcellus was missing from the battle was that he was buying Selene from Madame Rose at the Rose Petal Lounge. Lyanna questions Caelan whether Marcellus bought or freed Selene. Caelan almost gleefully clarifies that Marcellus bought Selene.

When Lyanna confronts Marcellus about his buying Selene and his intentions towards her, theres an argument Marcellus calls Lyanna a "Crimson Whore.' Caelan enters the argument reminding Marcellus not to talk to his older sister in that way and Marcellus makes a remark about not thinking Caelan would want 'Ronans sloppy seconds' in reference to Lyanna. Lyanna has to deal with the increasingly unwanted attentions & affections of Caelan who seems to think she belongs to him and doesn't keep his intentions very subtle or quiet. If all that isn't enough it seems that at least one of Lyanna's parents is plotting against her and supporting Caelans intentions. Maybe Lyanna can use this parental divide of opinion to her own advantage. Lyanna is determined not to follow the future one parent has mapped out for her, meaning this parent and is far from happy when Lyanna rebels.

It's clear Lyanna feel stifled and trapped now she is back at the Palace but she knows she has to pick her battles with her parents carefully. Lyanna preferred and misses her life as Leila the healer, she has seen and experienced the world outside the Palace and has ideas of her own how things should look in her future. She refuses to be used as a pawn in some power game created by others. With the arrival of Ronan's father the Chief Aryan, leader of the Crimson Clan, at her parents invitation, Lyanna has yet another person intent on using her for their own gains.

With all these problems it's no wonder Lyanna let's her looking out for Selene and protecting her from the Queen and her followers slide, but she isn't afraid to stand up for her friend, and Lyanna and Marcellus uniting and speaking up for Selene brings them closer together again, which is a good thing as I think Lyanna is going to need all the help she can get and as many allies as possible to fight alongside her for the future she desires.

Lost Heir is packed full of amazing characters from the main ones to the smaller ones. Characters I absolutely loved in Lost Heir, were of course Lyanna/Leila, Ronan the brave, loyal Henry. I also continue to like Selene at the moment too.
I will say I warmed a little more to Marcellus, and Silas again. I also immediately took an instant liking to Viktor who we meet when he is guarding Princess Lyanna on her return to the Palace. Its then revealed he is Sir Edric's son. He is very subtle and tactical how he protects Lyanna without making her feel stifled or taking over her life. It is his idea to put Tessa, a mage warrior in place as Lyanna's Lady in waiting.
I aren't sure whether the fae Orion is friend or foe to Lyanna, I'm hoping its friend and if things go wrong with the prophecy he could maybe help put things right. It also seems like Mikhal on one hand is Lyanna's friend but perhaps she should be worried what he will want in return.
I admit to enjoying hating Caelan and really hope that he gets a suitable comeuppance preferably at the hands of Lyanna or if not maybe Marcellus.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing Lost Heir were, Wow! How could you end it there!!! So to say I am eagerly awaiting the final installment is an understatement!

Summing up, definitely recommend reading this series, I'm seriously loving it! It's difficult to say more without giving much away, but I can't wait to see how the prophecy unfurls. I desperately want Lyanna or her more free, happier version Leila and Ronan to be together, but I feel there are more hurdles and battles for Lyanna to climb and conquer and more to be revealed before that can happen. I look forward to reading it. 

 


Monday 10 June 2024

REVIEW - THE BRANDED - THE BRANDED SEASON BY JO RICCIONI

  

Title: The Branded
Series:
The Branded Season
Author:
Jo Riccioni
Publisher:
Angry Robot
Release Date:
11th June 2024

BLURB from Goodreads
Isfalk is divided into two classes: the Branded, who are vulnerable to disease, and the Pure, who are bigger, stronger and immune. Orphaned twins Nara and Osha are sequestered in the citadel, where their unbranded skin entitles them to a life of privilege, as precious breeding stock.

Nara itches to escape her confines and return to the wilds of the Fornwood where she and her sister grew up, but when she is forced to run, she discovers there's much more at stake than her own life. The Branded are on the rise, and the girls are caught up in their prophecies.

Forced to accept the help of a mysterious southern Brand known only as the Wrangler, Nara discovers the latent power lying dormant in uncanny abilities she's had since childhood. But in a world where women are traded as commodities, who can she trust in the lands beyond the Fornwood? What does the Wrangler know about her forgotten childhood? Two sisters without a past hold the weight of the future in their hands.

The Branded is an epic, high-concept speculative novel with explosive ideas around gender and class, served up with romance, conflict and quick-fire narrative pace.

REVIEW
It was the book cover that first drew my attention to the book, I think it looks very mysterious and hints at a darkness.

The book centres on a place called Isfalk, a place of relative safety, which is made up of the branded & unbranded. In this case the unbranded are viewed as pure, they descend from four main families. These unbranded individuals are to be taken care of at all costs, especially the women referred to as the “Mor” as they represent the future, as they are the ones that will breed and make sure their civilisation continues. The branded however are seen as “less than”, they have the “brand” on their skin, in varying degrees. They are also more susceptible to illnesses, especially the brume. The branded are the servants that do all the work considered beneath the Unbranded. The branded live outside the inner Citadel in Isfalk in rundown homes and try to eke out an existence barely getting by, scavenging for food and resources.

The two main female characters are Nara & Osha, two sisters brought up by their grandmother, Amma until the day men came to their home living out in the wilds and burnt their home down and murdered their grandmother. She had always taught them that if anything happened to her, they should head to Isfalk, to a man named Larrs Oskarsson who would take care of them. When they arrived at Isfalk they were examined and proven to be unbranded, pure and so as they were considered Mor they were admitted to the Citadel and schooled in the way of the Isfalk and adopted their ways and culture. Though Nara & Osha are twins and it is said their faces mirror each other, they are really quite different.

Osha has a fuller figure, is taller, and is easy going and pliable, Nara is smaller, lean, has her own mind and opinion on everything and doesn’t really care to keep quiet about it. Their Amma (grandmother) nicknamed Nara Narkat, which in their solitary dialect means something small, wild & fierce, she taught Nara to hunt and survive.

Amma taught Osha how to help women deliver babies, stop inner bleeding, treat yellow blush & even how to bring back a “blue born”(branded babies). Amma taught Osha about Fornwood herb, lore and healing arts.

Both young women rebel in their own ways, Nara escapes the confines of the Citadel and practices fighting, goes hunting and collect herbs and plants for Osha to make her remedies from. Osha takes risks making her remedies and researches the old apotheka books by Fenderhilde. Osha reads about what Fenderhilde knew about the Brume. He talks about shielding the branded infants by having them drink the blood of the pure to give them immunity! Osha wants to find a cure for the brume one day to give to everyone. These pursuits are forbidden at Isfalk, the Mor are expected to be paired with an unbranded male and have a child every year for the rest of their child bearing years, the idea of which Nara abhors.

The sister’s best friend in Isfalk is Brim Oskarsson, the nephew of Lars. Brim has grown up with the girls, secretly teaching Nara how to fight and covering for her when she sneaks away from Isfalk on her hunting trips. However, as they are all older, with Brim now being a Warder Captain it is his job to guard the Mor and Isfalk he tries to get Nara to promise not to sneak off anymore, saying he cannot cover for her, despite him having romantic feelings for her. Brim is being groomed to take on the duty of his family as an Oskarsson, one of the four founding ones, things are changing for him whether he likes it or not.

When things take a really bad turn, the girls find themselves captured to be sold to the head of the Orlathon’s they are now on the outside, away from the protection of Isfalk and relying on a strange branded male known as the Wrangler for help and a Reis Chief. To further complicate matters the Reis Chief Haus is fascinated by Osha and Nara can’t help having feelings for the Wrangler. Both sisters have to use their individual gifts and strengths to survive what is ahead.

So much happens in this book, there so many twists and turns. Things the sisters think they know about that are spun on their head. The secrets around the necklaces the sisters have always treasured and then the pattern on the coin that Nara is given.

I enjoyed the different proverb like lines within the book, such as 'Good pairings rely on good reputations' and the school creed that the Unbranded have to recite three times a day of "Through pairing & progeny to purpose.” Theres some amazing characters in the book from the main ones of Osha, Nara, Wrangler, Brim and Haus.

I could go on and on about this book and its characters but really shouldn’t as I do not want to give away too many spoilers. I’m really bursting to say more but won’t. I will just list a few of the other really interesting characters such as the sinister Mother Iness, Father Ulaf, Frida, and Frenka.

I adored all the different romantic scenarios of Nara & Brim? Osha & Brim? Wrangler/Nixim & Nara? Osha & Haus? Then there’s the “big cryptic prophecy” that the Wranglers people, the Reis believe in. There’s the mystery of the real reason of who killed Amma and why. There’s also the question of how Lars Oskarrson is caught up in it all, and the secrecy surrounding Nara & Osha's gifts & the identity of their parents.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were Wow! Loved it! Can't wait to read more.

Summing up I really enjoyed discovering the different cultures and traditions Isfalki - Pure/Brand, Orlathon and Reis. I also loved all the Romance......the different pairings that were more like triangles! And all the switching round! I seriously cannot wait to read The Rising!!


 

Tuesday 4 June 2024

REVIEW - THE TESTAMENTS - THE HANDMAIDS TALE SERIES BY MARGARET ATWOOD

  

Title: The Testaments
Series:
The Handmaids Tale
Author:
Margaret Atwood
Publisher:
Vintage
Release Date:
10th September 2019

BLURB from Goodreads
When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her--freedom, prison or death.

With The Testaments, the wait is over.

Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story more than fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.

In this brilliant sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalized readers for decades.

"Dear Readers: Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we've been living in." --Margaret Atwood

Goodreads Link

REVIEW
This book picks up over fifteen years after Offred’s tale in the Handmaids Tale. The Testaments tells the story of three females from Gilead, Agnes, Aunt Lydia and Nicole.

We learn that though Agnes had a fairly good start at a life with Tabitha and Commander Kyle. Unfortunately, Tabitha is taken ill and when she dies and Commander Kyle takes a new wife called Paula, things rapidly go from bad to worse for Agnes. Then when she is touched inappropriately whilst at the dentist she has no where to turn. The dentist is her best friend Becka’s father so she can’t even really confide in her either. Agnes is being pushed out more and more at home with all Paula’s changes, bringing in a handmaid. Sadly, Ofkyle dies giving birth to baby Mark. Agnes’s popularity goes up and down in a way that shadows her life at home. Agnes overhears people saying that her mother was a slut from before. Agnes leaves behind the pink/plum uniform and is transferred along with some of her friends to wife preparatory school where they wear the light and dark green uniform of those awaiting marriage. Not all the girls wish to be married but their families try and push them into hoping that they are paired with a powerful Commander who will lift the whole family higher on the Gilead hierarchy.

The second female voice of the book is that of Aunt Lydia. We learn about her life “before” Gilead as a Judge who dealt with families and what is considered by Gilead as all that was wrong with society. We discover how Aunt Lydia was herself rounded up when women were stripped of their rights and assets. We see how she was mistreated and forced to do the bidding of the men, though she herself was also instrumental in coming up with some of the punishments for the women who would not comply. A woman who she kind of befriends when they are rounded up, refused to comply and was shot dead in front of Aunt Lydia. The women were made to turn on and turn in each other or not complying with the new rules and ideas. It becomes apparent that Aunt Lydia has worked her way up the ranks of the Aunt’s into a fairly safe position where she can orchestrate certain things to her liking and to further her own cause. She uses her knowledge and position with certain Commanders to get things done, all whilst making the Commander think it was his idea or allowing him to take credit when her idea is applauded by those further up the chain of command in Gilead.

The third female voice is that of a young girl called Daisy who has been living with Melanie and Neil in Canada. All has gone fairly normal and quite mundane in her life until her 16th Birthday when a car bomb explodes and kills both Melanie and Neil. She is grabbed from the street by family friend Ada and taken into hiding. There Daisy takes on a new identity, Jade, in order to hide whilst learning her actual true identity and why it is so important that no one know who she really is. Daisy/Jade is now involved with the resistance against Gilead and is given a very important role to play.

There are some other amazing characters in The Testaments apart from the three main voices of the book. Becka, whose father inappropriately touches Agnes, who defiantly slashes her wrists with gardening secateurs in an effort to avoid a marriage she does not want. Becka is taken away and speaks with Aunt Lydia, Becka then starts her training to become first a missionary and finally a full Aunt herself, taking a new name as all new Aunt recruits do, becoming Aunt Immortelle. Becka hasn’t had a very good life really and she truly believes she can make a difference and really gets on board with the idea of going on a mission. Then at the last moment she is given a different way to help and she unquestioningly does what she perceives to be needed at the time. I also loved the character of Ada, though have to admit that at one point I thought she was going to turn out to be June! I was wrong but Ada is heavily involved with the resistance.

I really, really loved this book and read it fairly quickly, I seriously hated having to put it down! I approached reading The Testaments thinking that all my questions from the Handmaids Tale would be answered, some were, but after finishing The Testamants I had even more! And has made me want even more from Margaret Atwood and this series! I’m also looking forward to watching more of the Handmaids Tale, I’m thinking I will be seeing a few different angles of the story when I do. In fact, The Testaments has made me want to watch the Handmaids Tale from the beginning again. So, whether you have read Handmaids Tale or just watched it on TV I highly recommend you read this unputdownable read!


 

Tuesday 28 May 2024

REVIEW - CHILDLESS MOTHER BY TRACY MAYO

  

Title: Childless Mother
Author:
Tracy Mayo
Publisher:
Vanguard Press
Release Date:
28th March 2024

BLURB from Goodreads
1970, pre-Choice America. After their eighth move in her thirteen short years, the lonely only child of a high-ranking naval officer and a socially ambitious mother, Tracy Mayo longed for a normal adolescence — to have friends, to feel rooted. What she got was a pregnancy at fourteen and exile to a maternity home. There, she bore not only a child but also the weight of the culture's shame. She was required to surrender her baby boy at birth and pretend it never happened. Twenty-two years later, her longing undiminished, Tracy set out to find him — and perhaps, through her search, to reclaim her self. Are we moving back to a world where women have no agency, stripped of control of their bodies and their futures? More than fifty years after one frightened, grief-stricken young mother was ordered to forget, Tracy's story is even more important to remember. 

Goodreads Link

REVIEW
A brutally honest memoir about family, relationships and secrets. It's not just about the event of Tracy becoming pregnant at 14 years old and being shipped off to an unwed mother’s home, then her search, first for herself, then her son and then finally for understanding about her relationship with her own mother. Tracy finds her son and it's not only a joyous reunion but the beginning of a lasting, loving relationship. Sadly, not every adopted child has such a happy reuniting as Tracy reveals some of her son’s older sister (also adopted) story.
Tracy has gone through a lot in her life, she mostly gets along with her parents. Though Tracy's mum June lies about her age and cares a lot about 'keeping up appearances' she's always nagging Tracy to use 'lite & bright' in her hair to make her darker hair the more desired blonde shade. Tracy's father James has an impeccable military career and has worked hard, making his way up the ranks.
Some would say her life was quite privileged her father in the Navy, do reasonably stable financially. However, the military life means moving around a lot, having to keep starting new schools, having to make new friends and face the fact the old ones may keep in touch for a while but will also move on without her.
With her parents busy with the social aspects of the military, attending dinners as well as sometimes hosting them, Tracy is older and has more freedom when they move to Shipyard. She makes a few friends and they give themselves the nickname 'the shipyard gang.' It’s the first time Tracy goes to the base pool that she meets Kenny, one if the pool lifeguards and also an Officers kid. Kenny is a little older than her and soon they're inseparable. Tracy ends up pregnant and her parents solution, on the recommendation of a military Doctor is to send her to Florence Crittenton, home for unwed mothers.

I found the history of the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers fascinating. Florence Crittenton was a 4yr old who died of scarlet fever in 1877. Her grief-stricken parents wanted to leave a legacy in her name & established the Florence Crittenton Mission in 1883 in New York to assist young women in need, prostituted, unwed pregnant women by providing food, lodging & religious support. In 1885 Charles Crittenton joined with Kate Waller Barrett, they founded the National Florence Crittenton Mission establishing homes in many American cities. Except in extreme circumstances Crittenton’s policy opposed the separation of mother & baby for adoption. Motherhood was viewed as a path to reform, the Crittenton homes were training ground for responsible parenting & self-support. Sadly that influence ended and things changed to what Tracy experienced.

There are strict rules at Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers, you are given a new name to use whilst you are the home, it’s to retain privacy, or as I imagine the girls felt to be a constant reminder of the “shame” attached to unwed mothers. The pregnant girls are informed they can
gain no more than half a pound a week. If they do put on diet table with lower calorie, less to eat, less tasty food. Also, the quicker you return to pre pregnancy weight after birth the quicker you go home. The pregnant girls live downstairs and do not associate with the upstairs girls. The girls that have delivered their babies live upstairs, with no food restrictions, just waiting to return home.
If the girls leave the grounds to go to the convenience store you have to wear a wedding ring. The girls borrow one from the wicker basket on the receptionist desk! Each girl is held responsible for keeping room clean. Tracy will have school Monday, Wednesday & Friday 9-12 & have lots of homework to compensate for less actual in person school time. Because of her school time commitment’s & the fact her parents are supporting her stay financially she won’t have to do extra laundry/kitchen chores. Those who are not doing any schooling or parents cannot afford to support them are expected to “work for their keep”

There is never any question of the girls keeping their babies, it is expected that they will give them up for a better life, then return to their own lives and forget about their indiscretion and continue and move on in life. The girls are strongly discouraged from forming any connection with their babies. In fact, Tracy only holds her son briefly and has just one photograph of him that she is allowed to keep.
Tracy never 'forgets & moves on' after her time at Florence Crittenton, though it's never mentioned in her home. Tracy’s relationships with her parents are obviously never the same as “before”, her son is never spoken of. Tracy does 'live her life' but the son she had no choice but to give up is never far from her thoughts. She sticks to 'the plan' she made when she was a pregnant teen & decides to search for her son. Has other relationships with men but Kenny seems to be always hovering in her mind’s eye as if 'unfinished business' Tracy does drugs and learns meditation, she is quite spiritual and has 'feelings' 'dreams' and 'premonitions' about her son over the years. Years later when she learns about her sons life she discovers they eerily line up with actual events in her sons life.

Tracy joins groups of others that have had to give up their babies, meeting with people who try to help her navigate a system designed to keep the mothers and babies apart. Tracy even employs and pays the mysterious “Searcher” who manages to find her son quite quickly. The book goes on with Tracy and what she does with the information she receives from the searcher. The book also covers Tracys relationship with her parents and with Kenny who seems to drift in and out of her life too.

Childless Mother really is a compelling, deeply moving and at times eery story, about a time when abortions were not legal and unwed mothers were frowned upon and considered disgraced. I loved that despite those at Floren Crittenton and her family being determined Tracy should give up her son, she managed to hold a connection to him all through her life.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were that it was a brutally honest memoir about family, relationships and secrets.

Summing up I would say that Childless Mother is a thought provoking read. I’d like to think times and attitudes have changed regarding unwed pregnancies and how they are viewed but sadly there seems to have been many steps backwards in this area.





 

Saturday 25 May 2024

REVIEW - THE THEATRE OF GLASS AND SHADOWS BY ANNE CORLETT

  

Title: The Theatre of Glass and Shadow
Author:
Anne Corlett
Publisher:
Black & White Publishing
Genre:
General Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Release Date:
23rd May 2024

BLURB
Sometimes the greatest spectacle hides the darkest secrets . . .

In an alternate London, the city's Theatre District is a walled area south of the river where an immersive production - the Show - has been running for centuries, growing ever bigger, more sprawling and lavish. The Show is open to anyone who can afford a ticket but the District itself is a closed world; even the police have no jurisdiction within its walls.

Juliet's mother died when she was a baby. Brought up by her emotionally distant father and even more distant stepmother, she has never felt wanted. It's only when her father passes away that Juliet - now nineteen - learns her birth was registered in the District. Desperate to belong somewhere at last, she travels to London where she hopes to unearth the truth about her identity, her mother's death and her father's years of silence - and claim her birthright.

But in the District, there is only one central truth: the Show must go on. And in a world where illusions abound, and powerful men control the narrative, Juliet has no idea of just how far some will go to ensure certain stories are never told . . .

Goodreads Link

REVIEW
It was the book title that first drew my attention to the book, and then when I read the blurb it made me think of Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor and Daughter Of The Burning City by Amanda J Foody. So, I had high expectations for the book. When the cover was revealed, I wasn’t initially sure whether I loved the book cover or not. I felt that I wanted it to have more colour and then after reading the book I actually wondered if it should have been black and white to represent the darkness and light within the theatre district. Having fully read the book I grew to love the cover as it is. The cover actually fits the book very well, in my mind the blue is perfect for the magical whimsy of the theatre district and the white marionette/paper cut out ballerinas represent the performers the director controls. Then there are the other items that are within the book. The cover would definitely make me want to pick the book up from a book store shelf, so it fits its purpose well.

Juliet has always felt like an outsider even within her own family. Her father didn’t spend a great deal of time with her and it’s clear her step mother Clare does not consider her to be part of her family. In fact, it was her stepmother Clare that ended Juliet’s time at Miss Abbeline’s school where she was able to indulge in her passion for dance. Clare had informed Stephen, Juliet’s father that Juliet needs to learn practical skills that would enable her to get a job rather than concentrating on dance. Despite this coldness from her stepmother, Juliet has always loved and spent time with her step siblings. So, when Stephen Grace dies it soon becomes apparent that Juliet’s stepmother wants her as far away from herself and her two step sisters as possible, coming up with a legal document for Juliet to sign away any future rights to any money in the family estate in exchange for a one-off lump sum of money. Clare is also quick to suggest a temporary job vacancy she has heard about that she considers suitable for Juliet saying it would be ideal until Juliet decides what she wants to do with her life now.

When the chance arises Juliet goes searching in her father’s study for clues to who her mother was & a birth certificate. She finds a black ribboned mask, a necklace a photo, and a key. Later Clare, her stepmother reveals she couldn't get a copy of Juliet’s birth certificate when she needed one for her college application and says all she received was a letter, which says Juliet was born in the theatre district. The theatre district is basically like its own contained town so it keeps its own records and has also its own rules etc. When Clare gives Juliet money to go purchase a suitable black dress for her father’s funeral, Juliet puts her plan to learn about her mother and her past into action and heads to the theatre district.

Juliet desperately wants to 'fit in' to be 'part of a family again' as she believes she once was part of the theatre district and belongs there. From donning a black mask at the theatre district entrance on her first visit Juliet feels drawn to the district and show. Then Juliet meets Eugene, an avid “follower” (A follower is someone who has become enthralled, enchanted and almost addicted to going to visit the district and keep going back to the show).

It’s via Eugene telling Juliet that we the readers learn about the “ballot” where followers take part to win tickets to the show. If you don’t win tickets via the ballot the other option is to purchase them. Eugene wins tickets for the show in the ballot, and exclaims that Juliet has brought him luck and insists she accompanies him, saying it will be his honour to take her to her first show. Not everything as it seems in the theatre district, especially within the show, like the silver ornaments on the tree branches that Juliet touches on her first visit, it has an elderly man smiling man on one side and then on the other side the elderly man transforms into a gnome like thing that has a puckered face. Once Juliet visits the district and sees her first show it’s like she is on a rollercoaster ride that she just can’t get off. Within the show there are numerous subtle lies and tricks woven with elements of truth, all creating an amazing ever-changing illusion. No matter what happens, whatever is going on, even if someone is hurt or injured the show must go on, no one & nothing is more important than the show.

There are so many different characters caught up within the magic, promise of The Theatre District. I immediately adored Juliet and was instantly intrigued by both her story and that of the Moonshine Girl. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history, intricacies and hierarchy at the Theatre District, it was complicated yet totally captivating which made the book difficult to put down.

I really enjoyed learning about the show, and all the different people that were part of it. The residents of the theatre district are split into four main categories: Principals – who have scripted loops to perform in House of Doors, Itinerants – who have scripted loops that are performed on the streets, Nomads – who have no formal scripted activity, Ancillaries – who carry out tasks not related to the show and are all those that are not nomads, itinerants or principals, so bartenders, street performance, fortune tellers & stagehands. I loved the history of the stagehands and kind of wish there had been chance to learn even more.

I was fascinated with the concept of the Wanderers randomly appeared and chose someone to bestow attention on and who gift little charms/tokens (there's 7 to collect but it's rare for someone to be able to get all of them) & show you individual attention & show secret things, and rarity they show you 'a private scene' (hard to describe) They are all over the district. Tend to appear when someone is doing something they shouldn't.

The character of The Shadow Man an is mysterious, seemingly caring yet with a scary dangerous edge to him. The Shadow Man eloquently draws Juliet further and further into the tangled web of the show within the theatre district. He plays on Juliet’s emotional state after the recent death of her father and her blind fascination with her own history and how it entwines with the history of the show itself. It’s only when she has almost cut off her new friends Eugene and Sally, that she realises that she is in perhaps over her head and she has discovered dark secrets that could end her own life, she needs help and fast! I loved the quote about Juliet’s state of mind that it was like a kaleidoscope.

I really loved how the book was played out, there’s the main part which is where Juliet is dealing with the death of her father, her step mother’s simmering hostility and then the letters about the theatre district, and Juliets discovery of her history with the theatre district and the show within it. Then there are the other parts I totally adored were about the theatre district and the actual show. I enjoyed Eugene educating Juliet about the district, and him being a “follower”, explaining how they have their own rooms within the district with their notes on the show. He introduces her to other followers, Macy, Jan, and Esme who immediately dislikes Juliet and later becomes her rival. It’s via Eugene that Juliet meets Sally and Anna who end up renting her a room to live in within the precincts. The precincts are quite run down, on the outskirts of the district so still sought after. The precincts are also dangerous as apparently there is a killer on the loose, murdering young females and dumping them in the nearby river.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing reading The Theatre of Glass and Shadows had an amazing, intricate plot & characters I quickly adored, and it immediately grabbed me and kept me firmly hooked until the very end. I loved it all, the history, hierarchy and mystical aspects as well as the darkness and betrayal. There really is so much going on in this book. I feel like I could talk forever about this book. It’s difficult not to reveal too much about the book but I really don’t want to spoil the reading experience for anyone else.

Summing up, the book is really well written, the descriptions so detailed that you can visualise them. The plot is intricate and really takes you on a mysterious, magical, whimsical trail. Theres a few red herrings thrown in, the amazing back story and history of the show, the district and its inhabitants, from its almost invisible stagehands to its most sought after performers like the Moonshine Girl and the Girl in the Silve Shoes. Then there are all the politics and rules about which family the Director comes from and the different ways the families rule and run the district and the show.


 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

REVIEW - BLOOD TORN - THE IMMORTALS BY SHELLEY WILSON

  

Title: Blood Torn
Series:
The Immortals
Author:
Shelley Wilson
Publisher:
BHC Press
Genre:
Horror, Teens & YA
Release Date:
21st May 2024

BLURB
Dying opened up a whole new world for Emma. A world of vampire gifts, cravings, and betrayal. Now a vital member of the team, Emma and her friends are hunting down the vampire responsible for the downfall of the Haven: her sister.

Emma knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the challenges soon become too much. Determined to destroy her sister and end the war between the Immortals and the half-blood rogues, Emma seeks out the imposing Astley brothers, Henry and Charles, hoping to form an alliance with the Immortal family.

As Emma is drawn deeper into the dark world of the Astley’s estate, she begins to question if the brothers are truly her allies or if they have a secret agenda—one that will put everything she loves at risk. 

Goodreads Link

REVIEW
I really like the covers of this book series, the first one, Blood Born is all dark with a light rose, and this one, Blood Torn is the opposite and is light with a dark rose. I love that it fits the book so well, in that Amelia and Emma are opposites.

Blood Torn picks up more or less a year later than where Blood Born left us, New Haven is now inhabited by half bloods with Cara at the helm and Pierce her second and Dustin, literally the only human in the group the keeper and updater of the codex. Emma is still coming to terms with the death of her father Thomas at the hands of her sister Amelia along with the betrayal of James whom she had fallen head over heels in love with. Emma is spending a lot of time in the woods surrounding Hartfield Manor away from her friends. Its whilst she is in the woods that James appears and warns her to be careful who she trusts and hints he may be having second thoughts about Amelia and her cause. Emma discovers she has both light & dark within her and she has to both accept this and quickly learn to use both to overcome the increasing obstacles in her way.

Murders are taking place and though its highly likely that it is Amelia, the evidence is leaving a trail pointing to Astley Manor, so the decision is made for Emma to go meet with the Immortal family. Emma meets head of the Astley family Charles Astley and his younger brother Henry in the hope of forming an alliance to take down Amelia and end the war between the Immortals and half-bloods. Amelia is also attacking New Haven half-bloods at every opportunity, openly taunting Emma when she takes two of Emma’s closest friend’s hostage. Amelia then cryptically demands that Emma choose which one lives and which one dies. There are sad losses in the book making the battles even more realistic and hard hitting. Amelia already knows how to push Emma’s buttons and doesn’t care who dies in the process. Emma has to come to terms with losing a battle or two in order to win the war.

Emma is really up against it in this book. When she separates herself from her friends at New Haven and goes off on a lone mission she is captured and at first thinks she has been totally betrayed but it soon becomes apparent Emma has more allies than she thought. Sadly, Amelia has not finished taking people that Emma holds dear away and once again kills to weaken Emma. Emma has to toughen up and quick if she wants to save her friends old and new. Can she tap into her darkness enough to convince her captor that she has switched sides and is fully on board with his crazy plans for the future. Emma has to be patient, and observant to discover Amelia’s weaknesses or rather her own particular areas of strength that she can use against both her captor and her sister Amelia. Emma has some difficult decisions to make and whilst she wants to keep her friends out of harm’s way, she will need them for the final confrontation and battle. Emma has to face and carry out some nasty tasks, doing things she vowed she never would, but when it comes down to it, she has to look to the greater good and hope she can put things right when the battle is over, presuming she is still alive to do so.

Characters I loved were of course Emma, Kai and Dustin. I enjoyed the “first love” between Emma and James. Then the friendship, turned budding romance between Emma and Kai which even though initially Emma stubbornly resists, Kai continues to be a supportive friend and is patient with her despite feeling hurt. I adored the quick friendship, almost kinship between Emma and Ruby. I really liked the new addition of Marcus to the group and his role he slips into within the New Haven group. I also adored the idea of Henry having a secret true love. Though there is plenty of destruction in this book there is also hope and hints at a future in it too. I guess the way it ends there could be more book set a little further in the future. There is potential with another Immortal family member still out there with a possible mistaken grudge against Emma. I would read them if there were more books, though the way the book finished it could just end there.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were that Blood Torn had great characters old & new, and a plot full of suspense with plenty of clues to follow to work out who is on which side and that’s packed with action too!

Summing up, really loved reading this series! I will definitely be looking for more books by Shelley Wilson.


 

 

Thursday 9 May 2024

REVIEW - THE FAMILY EXPERIMENT BY JOHN MARRS

  

Title: The Family Experiment
Author:
John Marrs
Publisher:
Pan Macmillan
Genre:
Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Futuristic,
               Speculative Fiction, Dystopian

Release Date:
9th May 2024 

BLURB
The world's population is soaring, creating overcrowded cities and an economic crisis. And in the UK, breaking point has arrived. A growing number of people can no longer afford to start families let alone raise them.

But for those desperate to experience parenthood, there is an alternative. For a monthly subscription fee, clients can create a virtual child from scratch who they can access via the metaverse and a VR headset. To launch this new initiative, the company behind Virtual Children has created a reality tv show. It will follow ten couples as they raise a Virtual Child from birth to the age of eighteen but in a condensed nine-month time period. The prize: the right to keep their virtual child or risk it all for the chance of a real baby . . . 

Goodreads Link

REVIEW
The Family Experiment is set in the same universe as John Marrs' other novels The One, The Passenger, The Minders and The Marriage Act, so has all the futuristic elements within them in this book too. Such as the driverless cars, the marriage act, the DNA soul mate match as well as “15 Minute Cities” where everyone lives within just a 15 minute walk away from everything residents would need such as shops, workplaces, and healthcare. In this world there are still “pandemic lockdowns” occurring on a fairly regular basis so most people work from home. The virtual reality world and AI have made even more advancements, there is a company called Re:born and they actually have an advert advertising their upcoming service. They are a company where you can order a metaverse baby. It can be a 'new' baby, or a duplicate of your current child at an age of your choosing or more eerily a replacement for a loss.
You can pick & choose age, sex, eye & hair colour, skin tone, body shape, their accent, interests & speed of growth. Re:born advertise that "Designers can create the perfect blend of you & your partner just like mother nature intended"
These children have a digital memory, they have photo realistic faces & bodies that can react to you, the parent by using facial tracking & voice recognition. There is a deposit payable and then a monthly subscription fee of £19.99
Re:born is part of a larger company called Awakening Entertainment who also own the new TV Reality show called The Family Experiment. 11 contestants who have been through a lengthy application and vetting process. These prospective parents will wear a slimline headset which are about the size of normal sunglasses and a special “Haptic suit” which have thousands of tactile sensors which allow its wearer to feel every sensation of whatever they are doing in the MetaVerse. Over the next 9 months the contestants compete with each other, bringing up their child that will grow much rapidly than a normal child. The MetaBabies start out as newborns for the first month and jump quite a few years at a time until the final month when they are 18 years old and grown adults. Viewers can watch these parents with their MetaBabies 24 hours a day! The viewers get to vote which parents have to face the monthly challenge such as croup or chicken pox, despite the fact it has been eradicated in the real world.

Theres In App purchases for the viewers which mean you can spend time in the same room as the contestants and MetaBabies without the contestants knowing and literally watch the action as it unfolds. A monthly lottery is also held that allows the winner to interact & enjoy spending one on one time with the MetaChildren themselves.

As for the contestants they are given £250,000 the amount needed to raise a RealWorld child from birth to eighteen. However, it is up to the parents if/how they use it. It can be spent on education, health care, entertainment, travel & immersive experiences and other in App purchases to be used within the MetaVerse.

The Family Experiment is a very interactive for both contestants and viewers. The viewers’ interaction is encouraged and they become very judgmental using a system of red hearts if they approve of what the parents are doing and black hearts if they don’t. The viewers also get to vote for an ultimate winner after the 9 months is done. It is a very black and white ending as the losers see their MetaChild permanently switched off and also lose any of the £250,000 they still have at that time. The Winners are given a choice, they can keep any of the £250,000 they have left and their MetaChild, Or pull the plug on their MetaChild and receive a quarter of a million pounds to start a family in the real world. The money will be paid on the live birth of their child whether that child is conceived by traditional means, IVF, surrogacy or adoption.

It soon becomes apparent that each contestant has a past, a secret they are desperately trying to hide from the viewers. All the contestants have issues/problems to hide or overcome. They all have their unique reasons as to why they want to take part, to have the MetaChild, or to have a final goal of being able to afford a real world child, and some are taking part to further careers and simply make money. Newspapers report on The Family Experiment, saying that it is the return of the original great social experiments.

The book is very cleverly presented in different types of chapters and sections. There’s the “show” parts that Autumn Taylor presents. There’s adverts for Re;Born, then statistics 'information' on the individual parents such as ages, jobs, and backgrounds. There are also the online chat parts where viewers speak to each other about what is currently happening and what they think. At times the viewers in this chat are more aware in some cases than us the reader. As online chat know who Adam is, when Zoe accidentally calls Lenny, Adam. It is through the chats that more facts are revealed to the reader.

There are also the chapters telling you what is happening with the contestants both in the MetaVerse with their MetaChild and in the real world with their relationships and how they are coping with the virtual and real-world balance.

I really enjoyed the references to the other books such as the driverless car hijacking in The Passengers, the finding your one true soul mate partner in The One, and the family dynamics in The Marriage Contract. There were also some character crossovers too within the book but you don’t have to have read all the other books to be able to read and thoroughly enjoy this one. There is so much packed into this one book with all the different contestants, their reasons for wanting to take part in the reality show, the secrets they are hiding and why they are wishing to hide them. The contestants may all be in the same experiment but they all handle the situation differently. For example, Cadman, uses sponsorship to generate more interest and earn money at every single stage of their MetaChild growing up, from the baby clothes and other outfits as the child grows to the furniture in both their virtual and real world apartments. Slowly but surely the secrets of the contestants are revealed and they are eliminated from the show until there are just two contestants left, and there is one heck of a twist as one contestant divulges some shock revelations about the company behind the show and his treatment at their hands. The ugly truth of how the technology behind The Family Experiment show was made and finessed.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were, Wow.....just wow! A fantastic, well thought out, highly detailed plot with likeable, relatable characters all in a futuristic, yet believable world.....loved it!

Summing up, if you love speculative, futuristic fiction that makes you stop and think wow that’s crazy, but at the same time wow that could actually happen then this is a must read book for you!