Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

I review Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon.

Twin sisters Robin and Sarah haven’t spoken in years.

Robin can’t leave her house. A complete shut-in, she spends her days spying on her neighbors, subtly meddling in their lives. But she can’t keep her demons out forever. Someone from her past has returned, and is desperate to get inside.

Sarah can’t go home. Her husband has kicked her out, forcibly denying her access to their toddler. Sarah will do anything to get her daughter back, but she’s unraveling under the mounting pressure of concealing the dark secrets of her past. And her lies are catching up to her.

The novel takes readers back in time to witness the complex family dynamics that formed Robin and Sarah into the emotionally damaged, estranged young women they’ve become. As the gripping and intricate layers of their shared past are slowly peeled away, the shocks and twists will keep readers breathless long after the final page.

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I read Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon when it came out, so I knew I’d want to grab a copy of Don’t Close Your Eyes. Seddon writes classic thrillers as if it’s as easy as breathing – and perhaps it is, for her. She’s that rare talent who deserves all the credit she gets, and more.

Delving into dark subjects such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicide, Seddon doesn’t pull any punches. Every character is fully formed, fleshed out into life, and every incident is thrilling, engaging. Robin in particular is so real, it’s hard not to relate to her.

I love books about dysfunctional families – coming from one myself, I know just how twisted it can get. When Robin and Sarah’s mum has an affair with Callum’s dad, everything disintegrates, and their families merge into one big mess. Robin and Callum stay with her dad and his mum, and Sarah moves out to Atlanta with her mum and Callum’s dad. The distance between the sisters grows, in emotional as well as literal terms. The tangles web of their mingled families gets tighter and tighter, until something has to give.

I loved the way Seddon wrote this, engaging the reader by giving snippets of the past, interspersed with chapters from today. This style of writing, although not unique, is always enticing, and Seddon does it well. Overall, I’d say Don’t Close Your Eyes is another winning thriller.

Many thanks to the author, publisher, & NetGalley for providing me with a free review copy.

Goodreads

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

I review The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick.

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

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The Growing Season is a book that looks at motherhood from every feminist perspective. With the advent of the pouch, a way of growing babies outside of a female body, heterosexual couples can share the load of pregnancy, reaching for true equality. Gay couples and infertile women can also experience pregnancy in a way they never could have before. With your male partner sharing the pregnancy, women are no longer seen as a burden, a risk.

But there’s a darker side to this equality. With the pregnancy occurring outside of the woman’s body, what do they need women for? Eva – and before her, her mother, Avigail – campaigned against the pouch for this very reason. Arguing for choice, for the respect of motherhood not to be taken away from women, Eva and Avigail fight for what they believe to be a woman’s right. They fail to acknowledge, at least for the most part, how the pouch helps those who cannot have children naturally, until later on, when Eva manages to adopt a wider view.

The Growing Season takes multiple viewpoints into account. Women are also encouraged to transfer their unwanted foetuses to the pouch, rather than opt for abortion. This would satisfy the pro-life groups (or anti-woman, as I prefer to call them), but the issue of funding these unwanted children rears its ugly head. Many pro-life groups dedicate so much time to telling women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies, they fail to address just how the children will be looked after throughout their lives – and who will be responsible.

This is a complicated story, not least because of the subject material. We are getting closer to developing a way for a baby to be grown outside of the female body. While this is a positive step for some groups, it might not be seen as such by others. There will always be clashing perspectives when it comes to something like this, and no one of them is more right – more righteous – than the other.

Sedgwick has taken a common, relevant theme, and turned it into an engaging, dystopian fiction. It’s real enough to be relatable, understandable, but still with that reassuring distance, almost like we’re holding the future at arms length. Read it.

Goodreads

An Empire in Runes by Jeffrey L.Kohanek

James McStravick reviews An Empire in Runes by Jeffrey L.Kohanek.

A Long Forgotten Magic That Might Save the World…Or Destroy It

Led by a boy named Brock, a small team of teens urgently assembles a force to confront an army of monsters, one that ravages and destroys anyone or anything in its path.

In a race against time, Brock attempts to train a group of recruits to wield the powerful magic known as Chaos, a magic that he himself is still learning to master. All the while, they must remain vigilant against a secret organization within the Ministry that will do anything to prevent the return of Chaos.

As foretold by an ancient prophecy, the human army must face and defeat their ancient enemy on the Tantarri Plains. For if they fail, all will be lost.

An Empire In Runes

“An Empire in Runes” is the final book in Jeffrey L. Kohanek’s The Runes of Issalia trilogy and what a great trilogy it has been.

When I previously read and reviewed the first and second books in the trilogy, The Buried Symbol (here) and The Emblem Throne (here) I spoke highly of them, this book is no exception to that and possibly the best of the lot.

An Empire in Runes takes place shortly after the climactic finish to The Emblem Throne and we quickly get to see not only how the primary characters but the secondary characters are dealing what has happened up to this current point. For the characters in this trilogy what they have been wanting to accomplish has been a long road and I thoroughly enjoyed reading how each character is dealing with the current situation and the lead up to what has happened.

One aspect I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the most is the planning that occurs in the run up to the final battle and how each character has an important role to play in the run up to it so they can ensure they win it. With this aspect in particular we see numerous groups 2 or more characters being sent off in multiple directions and this allows the book to further build the relationship between them in more detail since they have been travelling as a group for quite a while. Two characters in particular I thoroughly enjoyed reading about were Benny and Ashland, as the role they played in the lead up to the epic conclusion gives you a brief glimpse back into where it all started.

But once all the planning has come to a head and the final battle begins we get a battle of epic portions as we see it divided into different areas of the army that has amassed to fight off what has been tearing the country apart. When I read the battle scenes in the previous books I thoroughly enjoyed them and I thought they were done extremely well but this final battle was something like I had never read before in this trilogy as not only was it so well crafted but it showed the consequences of war and what effects it has on places and people.

I think Jeffrey L. Kohanek definitely wraps this series up very nicely as we get to visit some people and places we haven’t seen since the first book and we see a lot of the story threads being either answered or closed off. So as far as I am concerned there no questions left unanswered when I came to finishing the final book in the trilogy.

With all of the above in mind I really enjoyed reading An Empire in Runes as it caused me to lose quite a lot of time on a number of occasion’s due to how deeply I found myself getting absorbed into the world. If you enjoyed The Buried Symbol and The Emblem Throne then I would highly recommend reading this book because not only is it the best book in the trilogy but it is great conclusion to the trilogy as a whole.

Goodreads | Facebook | @JlKohanek

BLACKWING BY ED MCDONALD (Ravens’ Mark #1)

James McStravick reviews Blackwing by Ed McDonald.

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

Blackwing

Firstly, a big thank you to Gollancz for sending me an arc copy of this book for review.

When I read the first page of Blackwing I found myself immediately drawn into the world as Ed McDonald not only manages to grip you very quickly but is also able to give you a quick breakdown of whats happening while setting the tone of the world which I find authors sometimes find struggle to do within that first page.

I usually find myself enjoying one or more aspects of a book more over others but with Blackwing I never once found this as I believe Ed McDonald has managed to accomplish the perfect blend of world building, action, mystery and depth. I find it is very rare to encounter a book like Blackwing as the last time I encountered a book like this was when I first read The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, I also sometimes found myself thinking that the way he crafted certain scenes reminded of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

One thing I found that made the book a lot easier to read was that Ed McDonald never seemed to over extend the length of a scene as I always found the scenes ended very naturally and because of this the chapters were slightly smaller than a lot of books I have read. This of course then lead to my inner voice saying “oh go on one more chapter won’t hurt”, then next thing you know its 2am or 3am and you have to get up for work in a few hours.

With my reviews I always find myself delving into a breakdown about what I loved and disliked about a book as well discussing the world and characters. Over the past few days or so I have thought over how I wanted to write this review and every time I do I just can’t seem to find the words that would do this book justice and show much I enjoyed it.

Is Blackwing the best fantasy book I have ever read? This is quite possibly true but then again I don’t how I would feel about books I read a number of years ago such as The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. One thing I can tell you though is that Blackwing is the best book I have read so far this year and I feel sorry for the books that have to follow it as they are going to have a tough time against it. Blackwing takes all the elements of a great fantasy book and molds them together to create something that is truly awe inspiring and quite possibly perfect.

Ed McDonald | Goodreads | Facebook | @EdMcDonaldTFK

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

I review The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis.

A debut literary thriller from an incredible new voice. What do you do when the man who gave you everything turns out to be a killer? 

Everything Elka knows of the world she learned from the man she calls Trapper, the solitary hunter who took her under his wing when she was just seven years old.

But when Elka sees the Wanted poster in town, her simple existence is shattered. Her Trapper – Kreagar Hallet – is wanted for murder. Even worse, Magistrate Lyon is hot on his trail, and she wants to talk to Elka.

Elka flees into the vast wilderness, determined to find her true parents. But Lyon is never far behind – and she’s not the only one following Elka’s every move. There will be a reckoning, one that will push friendships to the limit and force Elka to confront the dark memories of her past.

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What a ride. The Wolf Road is everything I love in a book. It’s dystopian, which confused me for a while, as it also reads as an historical fiction. The Damn Stupid, described in the book, seems to be some kind of nuclear war, which threw the world back into the 1800s. Beth Lewis blends the two genres together seamlessly; I got lost in a world that was at once the future and the past, with all the emotions of the present.

Elka is the perfect heroine. Flawed, raw, open. Her voice is beautiful, innocent, yet haunted. Her story is sad, yet she is incredibly strong. Left with her abusive Nana while her parents went north to “make their fortune”, Elka gets caught up in a thunderhead, some kind of storm, and is deposited miles away from home. She comes upon a hut, which belongs to a man she calls Trapper. Covered in tattoos, hulking, Trapper is terrifying, but Elka sticks with him for over 10 years, learning his ways, the ways of the wild, and coming to think of him as her father. Her eyes are closed to his real ways, his wolf road, until she sees his face plastered on wanted posters around the nearest town.

Elka’s journey to understanding, not just the truth about Trapper, but also about herself, is hard and heartbreaking. How many of us have been fooled by someone? Been so caught up in a certain life that you do things without thinking of the consequences, of the importance of your choices? Are we even able to make choices in such situations? Beth Lewis writes about this in an incredible and engaging way, describing Elka’s path beautifully.

Listening to The Wolf Road as an audiobook was an extra treat. Amy McFadden is wonderful, and truly brings the story to life. This is a contender for my book of the year.

Goodreads | Amazon | Audible

Godblind by Anna Stephens

James McStravick reviews Godblind by Anna Stephens.

The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.

Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbors deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.

Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?

Godblind

Firstly, a big thank you to HarperCollins for sending me an ARC copy of this book for review. Up until a couple of months ago I didn’t know anything about the release of Godblind, but as soon as I read the synopsis for it I knew I would thoroughly enjoy it.

Upon reading the first chapter, I was immensely  blown away by the world and characters I was reading about, as Anna Stephens’ writing style and the world she has crafted naturally just draws you in and makes you want to keep reading more and more.

One aspect I found a double-edged sword is the amount of characters you are introduced to throughout the book (13 was my final count), and the final character doesn’t get introduced until approximately the page 130 mark. Due to this I initially found it quite difficult to remember all the characters, but once I started to learn more about them and their own personality quirks/ traits, I quickly came to recognise who I was reading about.

The reason why I said it was a double-edged sword is because even though I found it initially difficult to remember who a character was, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading about them and I don’t think there was a single character that I didn’t like. Anna Stephens’ concept of characterization is truly inspiring and she constantly keeps you invested in what is happening to them and world around them. Out of all of the characters, my favourite would be either Rillirin or Dom. There are an increasingly number of authors whose books involve strong female characters and Godblind is definitely a pure joy to read from a female perspective, as they don’t stick to the traditional trope, and it is for this reason that why Rillirin is one of my favourite characters.

From the first moment you dive into the world of Rilpor you are quickly dropped into a very important scene in the book, and for me I don’t believe there was a single scene that was unnecessary or slow paced. I have read many authors that have a hard time finding that perfect balance between having necessary scenes and keeping a consistent pace throughout the course of the book. This I believe is one this book’s greatest strengths, because you never want to put the book down as you are always wanting to know more. When it comes to a fight scene you are truly gripped, as they written in a very natural and progressive aspect as a real life battle would be. As I mentioned above coming to grips with the amount of characters can be difficult at first but the story and the short chapters make it very easy read the book and get yourself lost in the world.

The interest in grimdark books is consistently climbing and Godblind fits perfectly within that genre and all the great authors. It is a true joy to read and Anna Stephens is truly a fantastic writer and one to watch. If you are looking for a new grimdark or even a new fantasy book to read then I would highly recommend that you read Godblind as it is a fantastic book that will not let you go from the moment you read that first chapter.

Anna Stephens | Goodreads | Facebook | @AnnaSmithWrites

Cornish Reading Challenge: The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall

This year, I’ve chosen The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall as one of my Cornish Reading Challenge reads!

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Hide from the thief-taker, for if he finds you, he will take you away …

Eighteenth-century Cornwall is crippled by debt and poverty, while the gibbet casts a shadow of fear over the land. Yet, when night falls, free traders swarm onto the beaches and smuggling prospers.

Terrified by a thief-taker’s warning as a child, Jenna has resolved to be good. When her brother, Silas, asks for her help to pay his creditors, Jenna feels unable to refuse and finds herself entering the dangerous world of the smuggling trade.

Jack Penhale hunts down the smuggling gangs in revenge for his father’s death. Drawn to Jenna at a hiring fayre, they discover their lives are entangled. But as Jenna struggles to decide where her allegiances lie, the worlds of justice and crime collide, leading to danger and heartache for all concerned …

I’m not usually one for romance novels – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever browsed in the “romance” section of a bookshop! But The Thief’s Daughter is more than a romance novel. It’s a sweeping historical fiction, set in the depths of Cornwall in the 1700s, and it is truly enchanting.

I particularly liked Jenna, who, despite her status, her family, and, of course, her sex, manages to remain strong and independent, and speak her mind. It can be hard for authors to create Strong Female Characters in historical fiction, for women were severely oppressed simply for being women, but Cornwall manages to bring Jenna to life, making her strong and realistic. Cornwall has an excellent writing style, drawing you in and keeping you lost in her world. And I learned about the custom of wife selling – which is every bit as vile and sexist as you think!

It would be remiss of me to fail to point out the similarities to Poldark, and how much Jenna reminded me of Demelza. Her unfortunate start in life, the abuse she suffered at the hands of a man, the dressing up as a boy. Jenna, also like Demelza, goes to work for Jack as a housekeeper, but their relationship soon becomes more than a professional one. It’s the typical rags to riches (or rather, to moderate means) story, but Cornwall manages to weave the story perfectly, and make it original. For this is no rip-off of a popular story; The Thief’s Daughter stands strong on its own merits, and it is a tale to lose yourself in.

You can read all about Victoria Cornwall’s family history in Cornwall, and her recommendations for the Cornish Reading Challenge. What are you reading?

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