All posts by Jo

Mount TBR Challenge Update – May 2018

A little later than usual, but here is my progress in this year’s Mount TBR Challenge!

Challenge Update

You guys aren’t going to believe this, but I read 11 books from my backlist in April!  Admittedly this was helped significantly by a holiday and Dewey’s Readathon, but I’m really pleased with this!

I read:

  • The Child by Fiona Barton – unfortunately, I didn’t get around to reviewing this one, which is a shame as I think I liked it more than The Widow!
  • The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – very enjoyable prequel to The Girl with all the Gifts.  I didn’t like it quite as much, but it was very good
  • Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King – an interesting and original story looking at what might happen if women were to disappear from the worl
  • The Girls by Emma Cline – very interesting look at cult mentality and what inspires such devotion in the followers of cult leaders
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee – unfortunately, this one just wasn’t for me – I’ve never been all that keen on urban fantasy, so this was very much a case of the book not being right for me!
  • Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff – I wondered how he was going to follow up Nevernight, and the answer is: brilliantly!  I absolutely LOVED Godsgrave!
  • Origin by Dan Brown – a little predictable, but still enjoyable if you’ve enjoyed the other Robert Langdon novels
  • The History of Bees by Maja Lunde – an absolutely brilliant novel with three very different narratives
  • Into the Water by Paula Hawkins – I liked this, but I didn’t like it as much as The Girl on the Train
  • The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – I liked this, but I had questions at the end of the novel – that said, I was hooked throughout
  • Bonfire by Krysten Ritter – I really enjoyed this small town thriller

Mount TBR May 18

So, Mount Blanc proved to be less challenging than I thought, and I’m now well on my way to the summit of Mt. Vancouver!

TBR Watch

  • Total: 46
  • Backlist: 20
  • ARCs: 10
  • New: 16

Whilst I’m pleased to have got down to 46 unread books, it won’t last, as I’ll be visiting the Hay Festival later this month, and I always come back with a ton of new books!

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Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part II

As promised, here is part two of my mini reviews of books I read during my blogging break.


Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

godsgrave

Conquer your fear, conquer the world

Mia Corvere, destroyer of empires, has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry do not believe she has earned it.

Her position is precarious, and she’s still no closer to exacting revenge for the brutal death of her family. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it is announced that Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself into slavery for a chance to fulfill the promise she made on the day she lost everything.

Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold, secrets are revealed and the body count rises within the collegium walls, Mia will be forced to choose between her loyalties and her revenge.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how Kristoff could possibly manage to follow up the story of Mia Corvere that began in Nevernight (and which you do need to read first), but he’s managed it.

Godsgrave is as brilliant and bloody (possibly bloodier?!) than the first instalment, and takes some unexpected turns.  Some questions are answered, and others are posed.  I cannot wait for the third instalment, Darkdawn, which is released in September.  Honestly, you just need to read this series.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


One Way by S. J. Morden

one way

There’s a murderer amongst them, and everyone’s a suspect… 

Frank Kittridge is serving life for murdering his son’s drug dealer, so when he’s offered a deal by Xenosystems Operations – the corporation that owns the prison – he takes it.

He’s been selected to help build the first permanent base on Mars. Unfortunately, his crewmates are just as guilty of their crimes as he is.

As the convicts set to work on the frozen wastes of Mars, the accidents multiply.

Until Frank begins to suspect they might not be accidents at all…

One Way is the love child of Andy Weir’s The Martian and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  Sound odd?  Trust me, it works.

In order to cut costs, a small group of convicts is selected and trained to build the first, small base on Mars.  Each has a skill that will contribute to the scheme, but they are all convicted felons, and this makes the group dynamics extremely interesting as they need to work together, but with little trust between them.  And when things start to go wrong, it doesn’t take long for them to start blaming each other…

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Origin by Dan Brown

origin

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever”. The evening’s host is his friend and former student, Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old tech magnate whose dazzling inventions and audacious predictions have made him a controversial figure around the world. This evening is to be no exception: he claims he will reveal an astonishing scientific breakthrough to challenge the fundamentals of human existence.

But Langdon and several hundred other guests are left reeling when the meticulously orchestrated evening is blown apart before Kirsch’s precious discovery can be revealed. With his life under threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape, along with the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

In order to evade a tormented enemy who is one step ahead of them at every turn, Langdon and Vidal must navigate labyrinthine passageways of hidden history and ancient religion. On a trail marked only by enigmatic symbols and elusive modern art, Langdon and Vidal uncover the clues that will bring them face-to-face with a world-shaking truth that has remained buried – until now.

Harvard professor Robert Langdon on the run with a beautiful woman?  Surely not 😉

I enjoy this series.  Five books in, and Brown still keeps them interesting and different, and I love the opportunity to explore a different city in each novel.  I did feel that Origin didn’t have quite the same focus on symbology and puzzles as the previous novels, which is an element that I’ve particularly enjoyed in the series, but this was still an entertaining ride, even if I did have my suspicions as to the culprit relatively early on.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

the history of bees

In the spirit of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, this dazzling and ambitious literary debut follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future, weaving a spellbinding story of their relationship to the bees – and to their children and one another – against the backdrop of an urgent, global crisis.

England, 1851. William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive—one that will give both him and his children honour and fame.

United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper and fights an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident—and is kept in the dark about his whereabouts and condition—she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.

Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought provoking story that is just as much about the powerful relationships between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.

I absolutely loved The History of Bees, a novel I purchased when it was released late last year.  Alternating between the three narratives, Lunde gave each character a unique voice, and I loved seeing each story progress, and discovering the links (other than the obvious) between them.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

the good son

I loved the sound of The Good Son as soon as I heard about it and I was thrilled to be invited to read and review this title via Netgalley by the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group.

Who can you trust if you can’t trust yourself?

Early one morning, twenty-six-year-old Yu-jin wakes up to a strange metallic smell, and a phone call from his brother asking if everything’s all right at home – he missed a call from their mother in the middle of the night.  Yu-jin soon discovers her murdered body, lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs of their stylish Seoul duplex.  He can’t remember much about the night before; having suffered from seizures for most of his life, Yu-jin often has trouble with his memory.  All he has is a faint impression of his mother calling his name.  But was she calling for help?  Or begging for her life?

Thus begins Yu-jin’s frantic three-day search to uncover what happened that night, and to finally learn the truth about himself and his family.  A shocking and addictive psychological thriller, The Good Son explores the mysteries of mind and memory, and the twisted relationship between a mother and son, with incredible urgency.

The Good Son is an in-depth character study of Yu-jin, who wakes up at the start of the novel covered in blood and with no memory of how he came to be in such a state.  Over the next three days, Yu-jin seeks to piece together the events of that evening, with flashbacks to his past – his time as a competitive swimmer at school, the death of his father and older brother, Yu-min, and his interactions with those around him.  I have to admit that I found this novel a little confusing at first, and if you find yourself in the same situation, it is worth sticking with it to see where it goes.  Whilst it takes some time to answer the questions it initially poses (and adds a few more in along the way) it does all become clearer, and I found myself drawn into this complex story after my initial confusion had passed.

Yu-jin is an unusual and complicated character, and I found myself questioning the boundary between his memories and his imagination – it wasn’t entirely clear how much of the narrative I should believe.  Added to this is the fact that he has recently stopped taking his medication, an act that he does from time to time to revel in the almost manic state it results in, which he, understandably, prefers to the lethargy induced by his medication.  Is he an unreliable narrator, or is he a young man adversely (and unfairly) affected by his medication?  This was the question I kept coming back to throughout the novel as I learnt more about him and his background, and I liked the ambiguity as to whether I could trust Yu-jin’s narration.

This is an incredibly dark and clever novel, although it’s one that I suspect won’t appeal to everyone.  I came to love the slower pace and the level of detail feeding into the question of did he / didn’t he do it.  I didn’t realise when I read it, but The Good Son is inspired by a true story, which makes it even more shocking once you understand the outcome.

The Good Son is published today – 3 May – in hardback and digital formats by Little, Brown Book Group.  Many thanks to Grace Vincent for the opportunity to read and review this title ahead of its publication.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Blog Tour: Keeper by Johana Gustawsson

keeper

I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Keeper today.  Keeper is the second novel in Johana Gustawsson’s Roy and Castells series, following on from Block 46 and I think that this second instalment is even better than the first.

Whitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror.

London, 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman’s body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims. With the man arrested for the Tower Hamlets crimes already locked up, do the new killings mean he has a dangerous accomplice, or is a copy-cat serial killer on the loose?

Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down.

Following the highly acclaimed Block 46 and guaranteed to disturb and enthral, Keeper is a breathless thriller from the new queen of French Noir.

Like Block 46, Keeper has two timelines running through it.  There’s the modern-day narrative in which Roy et al are investigating the disappearance of Julianne Bell whilst also looking into the gruesome discovery of a woman’s mutilated body in Sweden, as well as the historical story that kicks off in Whitechapel in 1888 featuring Jack the Ripper.  The historical elements in Gustawsson’s novels are, I think, my favourite thing about them.  I think that these historical cases add something extra to her novels, setting them apart from the usual crime procedurals.  Additionally, the historical tales always tie in with the main narrative brilliantly, and give a background to the culprits before the reader even knows who they are.

I felt that this story focused more on Emily Roy than Alexis Castells at first, and it was brilliant to be back in her company.  A behavioural profiler, she is extremely clever but doesn’t always play well with others, often not bothering to worry about social niceties and often comes across as being a little blunt.  I think that she’s a fantastic character – she has the troubled past that one often finds in the genre, but hasn’t let that turn her into a maverick, and I like that her profession as a profiler again gives the novel something a little different to the usual harried police detectives that feature heavily in the genre.

As I mentioned, Alexis’s role isn’t as immediately apparent in Keeper, although the case has a very personal element for Alexis, and she soon proves her worth through her own investigations as she comes at the case from a different angle.  Alexis is another character that I really like, and I have to say that her mother is an absolute star!  I’ll let you find out more about her when you read it, however. 😉

I’ve deliberately not gone into the plot in any detail, as I really think that the above synopsis tells you as much as you need to know going into the novel but like Block 46, this is a wonderfully dark and complex novel that will keep you guessing right to the end.  Highly recommended.

Keeper was published in paperback on 28 April by Orenda Books, and is also available as an eBook.  Many thanks to Anne Cater for the review copy, and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

FINAL Keeper blog poster 2018

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

You may (or may not!) have noticed that things went a little quiet on Jo’s Book Blog recently.  This is partly because I had a week on Boa Vista, one of the islands in the Cape Verde.  However, I also took a bit more time away from blogging than expected, as I found that I needed a break – I found myself in a bit of a reading slump, and I wasn’t enjoying blogging as much, which in turn affected my reviews which I felt weren’t up to scratch.

But now I’m back, thoroughly refreshed, slightly less pale than usual, and maybe a little heavier than I was before 😀

I managed to fit in quite a bit of reading during my break, and being able to read my own books without the (entirely self-imposed) guilt of not reading review copies was thoroughly refreshing.  I’ve split my mini reviews into two posts, and the second will follow later this week.


Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

sleeping beauties

All around the world, something is happening to women when they fall asleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed, the women become feral and spectacularly violent…

In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, the virus is spreading through a women’s prison, affecting all the inmates except one. Soon, word spreads about the mysterious Evie, who seems able to sleep – and wake. Is she a medical anomaly or a demon to be slain?

The abandoned men, left to their increasingly primal devices, are fighting each other, while Dooling’s Sheriff, Lila Norcross, is just fighting to stay awake.

And the sleeping women are about to open their eyes to a new world altogether…

I enjoyed this novel which looks at what might happen if women were to disappear from the world, leaving the men to their own devices.  Whilst it’s co-written by Stephen and Owen King, Sleeping Beauties had many of the hallmarks of a Stephen King novel, and if you like his work then I think you’ll enjoy this.

Stephen King likes a small town setting, and it allows him to go into detail about the place and its inhabitants, which really do bring the books to life.  However, I did find it a little difficult to keep track of all of the characters in this novel, although there is a character guide at the beginning to help with this.

Sleeping Beauties is an interesting and original story and I liked the ending, but it did feel a little too long at times.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


The Hunger by Alma Katsu

the hunger

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

I absolutely loved The Hunger in which Katsu put a supernatural spin on the tale of the ill-fated Donner party.  Whilst I vaguely remember learning about them in school, I couldn’t tell you much beyond the outcome of their journey, but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy this novel.

The Hunger is rich in historical detail and interesting, if not entirely likeable, characters, and Katsu builds up the tension and imparts a sense of dread from the very beginning of the novel, even when things don’t look too bad for the party.  Recommended if you’re looking for a creepy, literary horror.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls

Evie Boyd is fourteen and desperate to be noticed.

It’s the summer of 1969 and restless, empty days stretch ahead of her. Until she sees them. The girls. Hair long and uncombed, jewelry catching the sun. And at their centre, Suzanne, black-haired and beautiful.

If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where they live.

Was there a warning? A sign of what was coming? Or did Evie know already that there was no way back?

The Girls is a novel that I wanted to read when it was first published in 2016, but didn’t actually purchase until late last year after being given a nudge by a friend of mine.  I’m so glad I listened to her!

It is fiction, but The Girls explores the pull of charismatic cult-leaders, and what inspires such devotion in the followers of individuals such as Charles Manson as Evie become ever more involved in a small commune made up of several young girls and their leader, Russell Hadrick.

The characters aren’t particularly likeable, but I did still want to shield Evie from what she was getting into, and I enjoyed the way in which Cline portrayed her conflict between her upbringing and doing what’s right versus the desire to “prove” herself to these girls and their leader.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

thirteen

THE SERIAL KILLER ISN’T ON TRIAL.

HE’S ON THE JURY…

‘To your knowledge, is there anything that would preclude you from serving on this jury?’

Murder wasn’t the hard part. It was just the start of the game.

Joshua Kane has been preparing for this moment his whole life. He’s done it before. But this is the big one.

This is the murder trial of the century. And Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house.

But there’s someone on his tail. Someone who suspects that the killer isn’t the man on trial.

Kane knows time is running out – he just needs to get to the conviction without being discovered.

Thirteen is absolutely brilliant!  I haven’t read Cavanagh’s other novels featuring Eddie Flynn, but I didn’t feel that I was missing out on any essential background to the plot or characters by diving straight into this one.

I don’t want to say too much about this – the premise of a serial killer sitting on the jury is a fantastic one, and whilst I wasn’t sure how he’d make it work, he did.  Wonderful, twisty, and clever, I highly recommend Thirteen.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Readathon Closing Survey

It’s done! 😀

In the end, I managed four books (well, three and a novella) totalling 1,037 pages.


1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 12 (midnight here in the UK) when I just had to get some sleep!

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!

I actually managed to stick to my planned reading list this year!  Here are the books I read:

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?

All of them!  All Systems Red was a nice, short sci fi novella to finish up with, but I liked all of these books, and would recommend all of them.

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile?

Just keep doing what you do!  I love readathon and the community element, which you can be as involved in as much or as little as you want to – I think it’s great that a group of like-minded people from all over the world can get involved in the event at the same time.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?

Very likely!  I can’t do it twice a year, but I do try to do either the April or the October Readathon, depending what’s going on that weekend.  And I wouldn’t mind helping to organise and / or prep next time round 🙂

Readathon – Hour 18

Progress:

  • Books read = 2
  • Pages read = 625

That doesn’t actually sound like great progress for 18 hours, does it?  I have to confess, I took a break last night to watch the GB Ice Hockey game against Hungary (woo hoo!) and I had to get some sleep!

So far I’ve read:


Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

into the water

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind.

But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…


The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

the death house

Toby is a boy who has forgotten how to live.
Clara is a girl who was born to die.

Toby’s life was perfectly normal…

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House. Isolated from the outside world the inhabitants of are watched for any signs of a mysterious illness…

Clara was a girl who had everything. Adored by her friends and her family, her life was destined for greatness. Now, Clara is the newest resident of the Death House and she’s determined not to allow her life to end there.

This is Toby and Clara’s story.