• Book Review

    River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer | Book Review

    River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer
    Release Date: 31st January 2023
    Genre: Adult, Historical
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★.5

    The master of the Providence plantation in Barbados gathers his slaves and announces the king has decreed an end to slavery. As of the following day, the Emancipation Act of 1834 will come into effect. The cries of joy fall silent when he announces that they are no longer his slaves; they are now his apprentices. No one can leave. They must work for him for another six years. Freedom is just another name for the life they have always lived. So Rachel runs.

    Away from Providence, she begins a desperate search to find her children–the five who survived birth and were sold. Are any of them still alive? Rachel has to know. The grueling, dangerous journey takes her from Barbados then, by river, deep into the forest of British Guiana and finally across the sea to Trinidad. She is driven on by the certainty that a mother cannot be truly free without knowing what has become of her children, even if the answer is more than she can bear. These are the stories of Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy. But above all this is the story of Rachel and the extraordinary lengths to which a mother will go to find her children…and her freedom.

    I love supporting debut authors and I love exploring different countries through books, so when River Sing Me Home popped up on my feed I knew I had to try it.

    River Sing Me Home is set in the Caribbean in the 1800’s, just after Britain put the Emancipation Act into law. Unfortunately, there were loopholes that the plantation owners took advantage of, and so it wasn’t necessarily the breakthrough that we thought.

    This book doesn’t really focus on what happened due to this Act going into effect, though, as the main character immediately runs away when she realises what it could mean. Rachel is determined to find her missing children, and she will travel around the Caribbean in order to do so.

    I really liked the concept of this book and the history that was written into it. It is clear that Shearer has done a tonne of research, and I enjoyed reading her author’s note which talks a bit more about what went into this.

    Unfortunately, where I think this book fell short was the pacing. Every time Rachel arrived in a new place, she found out what happened to one of her children. Really easily, and quickly, before she was on to the next one. We didn’t really get a chance to get into Rachel’s head and see what she was feeling each time.

    I feel like River Sing Me Home was lacking a bit of emotional connection to the main character and her thoughts and feelings. It was still an emotional book, but I feel like the author was trying to do too much with this book with not enough practice or pages. I think it could have been bulked out with an extra 50 or 100 pages to really dig in to what the author was trying to do.

    Overall though River Sing Me Home is a solid and heartbreaking debut. I really enjoyed reading it, and it was a good look into this particular point in history. I’m really looking forward to reading this author’s next book, and I hope she tackles more historical fiction as you can tell this is a subject that she really cares about!

  • Book Review

    All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham | Book Review

    All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham
    Release Date: 2nd February 2023
    Genre: Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★

    One year ago, Isabelle Drake’s life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her—literally.

    Except for the occasional catnap or small blackout where she loses track of time, she hasn’t slept in a year.

    Isabelle’s entire existence now revolves around finding him, but she knows she can’t go on this way forever. In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster—but his interest in Isabelle’s past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guess who she can trust… including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth no matter where it leads.

    It took me forever to read Stacy Willingham’s debut novel, A Flicker in the Dark, but as soon as I got my hands on All the Dangerous Things I knew that I needed to eat it right up. Willingham has such a way of drawing you into a story and getting you to care about her characters – which I think is a rare gift for a lot of thriller books!

    The missing child storyline is what really drew me to this book, and then when I also saw this features a podcaster I wanted to know more. I’ve been really enjoying that trope lately, as someone who listens to a lot of podcasts!

    All the Dangerous Things drew me in immediately and the pacing kept up the entire way through. I really enjoyed the darker ending, which I only started to expect partway through. I love it when thrillers throw in a dark twist!

    This story proves that I get on really well with Willingham’s writing and I’m pleased that her sophomore book was just as good as her debut. I don’t think the characters are as memorable, but their actions certainly were. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes out with next!

  • Book Review

    The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai | Book Review

    The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai
    Release Date: 12th January 2023
    Genre: Adult, Fantasy
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★.5

    As a waterweaver, Nehal can move and shape any water to her will, but she’s limited by her lack of formal education. She desires nothing more than to attend the newly opened Weaving Academy, take complete control of her powers, and pursue a glorious future on the battlefield with the first all-female military regiment. But her family cannot afford to let her go–crushed under her father’s gambling debt, Nehal is forcibly married into a wealthy merchant family. Her new spouse, Nico, is indifferent and distant and in love with another woman, a bookseller named Giorgina.

    Giorgina has her own secret, however: she is an earthweaver with dangerously uncontrollable powers. She has no money and no prospects. Her only solace comes from her activities with the Daughters of Izdihar, a radical women’s rights group at the forefront of a movement with a simple goal: to attain recognition for women to have a say in their own lives. They live very different lives and come from very different means, yet Nehal and Giorgina have more in common than they think. The cause–and Nico–brings them into each other’s orbit, drawn in by the group’s enigmatic leader, Malak Mamdouh, and the urge to do what is right.

    But their problems may seem small in the broader context of their world, as tensions are rising with a neighboring nation that desires an end to weaving and weavers. As Nehal and Giorgina fight for their rights, the threat of war looms in the background, and the two women find themselves struggling to earn–and keep–a lasting freedom.

    The Daughters of Izdihar is a solid debut full of surprises. I really enjoyed my time with it, although I did have a few grievances to air later on in the review.

    Starting with the positives, I really enjoyed the elemental magic. True, it’s mostly ATLA magic, even down to the more niche weaving powers. I think it could have been more present in this book, as the politics were more up front and centre than the magic itself. I think this will change in the sequel due to the themes that the author was clearly working towards. I love elemental powers though, and I do try not to compare everything to ATLA but it really set the standard for me.

    I also really liked Giorgina’s storyline, starting off with her being in love with a rich man but coming from a poor family. I look forward to seeing more of Giorgina in the second book as she comes to terms with her powers and learns to weave them properly.

    I liked the focus on women’s suffrage as well, and I wasn’t expecting it to be such a huge part of the book. It overwhelmed the fantasy side of things a little, and I think it affecting the pacing a lot, but that wasn’t necessarily bad. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

    Now, for the negatives. Nehal, the second main character, got on my nerves more and more as the book went on. Nehal grew up very rich and was thrown into a bad situation, and she acted like a complete brat the entire time. She had no subtlty, and I’m sure some readers will love that, but after the tenth time of her barging in and shouting at another character and demanding she got her own way, without thinking of the consequences of her actions on the other women involved, I had honestly had enough.

    I hope to see a lot of character growth for Nehal in the future. I’m sure the author was going for a “badass, take no shit” kind of character but due to her background Nehal moreso came off as a snobby brat who didn’t understand anything that was going on.

    I’m really looking forward to the sequel because I think a lot of the elements (ha) that I thought were missing from this one will have to surface. I can’t wait to see what happens to all the characters next!

  • Book Review

    Red Dirt Road by S R White | Book Review

    Red Dirt Road by S R White
    Release Date: 16th February 2023
    Genre: Adult, Crime
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    One outback town. Two puzzling murders. Fifty suspects.

    In Unamurra, a drought-scarred, one-pub town deep in the outback, two men are savagely murdered a month apart – their bodies elaborately arranged like angels.

    With no witnesses, no obvious motives and no apparent connections between the killings, how can lone police officer Detective Dana Russo – flown in from hundreds of kilometres away – possibly solve such a baffling, brutal case?

    Met with silence and suspicion from locals who live by their own set of rules, Dana must take over a stalled investigation with only a week to make progress.

    But with a murderer hiding in plain sight, and the parched days rapidly passing, Dana is determined to uncover the shocking secrets of this forgotten town – a place where anyone could be a killer.

    I have to admit, I picked up Red Dirt Road because I looove The Dry and other novels by Jane Harper and I’ve been craving a similar setting. I really enjoy thrillers set in the outback because I feel like the climate adds an extra element to the isolation of the characters and the murder or mystery that has taken place.

    Red Dirt Road was just okay. The mystery itself was intriguing to begin with, but I felt like it all felt very surface level and it was easy to predict what was going on.

    I didn’t feel a connection with the main character Dana at all. She seemed to have little personality, and at the end she went all Poirot and her explanation to the killer about how she figured it out went on for what felt like forever. Seriously, it was pages and pages of “I know how you did this and this is how I reached this conclusion and these are all the ways in which you messed up”. It became tedious and wasn’t really a “gotcha” vibe.

    I might have cared more about Dana if I had read the first two books in this series, but I doubt it. All I knew about her in this one was she was good at maths and she had a plastic kneecap, which never really came up again after the first quarter of the book.

    The setting was also a bit of a letdown because I felt like the author could have described it more and really made the reader feel as though they’re stuck in a drought in the desert. Nothing was really described other than the characters saying they were in a drought. It’s something that I felt was really lacking.

    All that said, Red Dirt Road isn’t a bad book, it was just very mediocre. It entertained me for a few hours but I won’t be reaching for this author’s other books because nothing really drew me in.

  • Book Review

    The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi | Book Review

    The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi
    Release Date: 21st March 2023
    Genre: Adult, Fantasy
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★

    They say there is no water in the City of Lies. They say there are no heroes in the City of Lies. They say there are no friends beyond the City of Lies. But would you believe what they say in the City of Lies?

    In the City of Lies, they cut out your tongue when you turn thirteen, to appease the terrifying Ajungo Empire and make sure it continues sending water. Tutu will be thirteen in three days, but his parched mother won’t last that long. So Tutu goes to his oba and makes a she provides water for his mother, and in exchange he will travel out into the desert and bring back water for the city. Thus begins Tutu’s quest for the salvation of his mother, his city, and himself.

    The Lies of the Ajungo opens the curtains on a tremendous world, and begins the epic fable of the Forever Desert. With every word, Moses Ose Utomi weaves magic.

    I have to admit, I normally have a hard time with novellas and short stories because I never feel they give me enough time to get into the world or story they’re trying to convey. The Lies of the Ajungo, however, was one of the outliers that truly worked for me.

    While it’s true I think that this story could have been a whole novel and I would have eaten it up, I think it worked really well as a short story within a larger world. Judging by the description of the sequel, it looks as though this story will act as a background myth for the next story’s plot, which is one of my favourite tropes!

    I loved following Tutu on his journey to find water in order to save his mother. He was so courageous, and seeing him tackle various obstacles and learn more about the world he was living in was a joy to read.

    I do wish this could be a full novel because so much happened in just 87 pages, and I wanted to spend more time with the characters that we met.

    I think the author had such a good idea with this story, though, and I could tell he had a great time writing it. I can’t wait to read the sequel to see where the world goes next!

  • Book Review

    Pod by Laline Paull | Book Review

    by Laline Paull
    Release Date: 9th February 2022
    Genre: Adult, Literary
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley

    Once upon a time like now, two estranged dolphin tribes live at opposite ends of a remote tropical archipelago. At one end, where the water is cleaner, lives a tiny pod of spinner dolphins, spiritually refined and matriarchal. At the other is the raucous megapod of bottlenose dolphins, who once drove the gentle spinners from their home but now live in increasingly painful acoustic conditions — which they believe are caused by warring ocean demons. Circling the archipelago is a lone humpback whale, who sings warning to his people about the new perils of the old routes. And caught between the sanctuary of family and the vast unknown is a young spinner dolphin about to make the ultimate sacrifice. The ocean is changing beyond recognition, and every forced migration for survival spells new conflict.

    I did not enjoy Pod at all, and I’m very sad about it! I was expecting to really enjoy this book because I’ve heard excellent things about Paull’s other books, in particular The Bees. I’m really intrigued by marine biology, and I’m big into environmentalism, so I thought Pod was going to be a hit with me.

    Unfortunately I couldn’t stomach it. I really enjoyed the first part where we were getting to know Ea, and I liked the POV switches too as we saw more pods or solo animals and learnt of their struggles. But then the sexual assaults started happening again and again, and I really didn’t sign up to read about dolphins being gang r*ped over and over. 

    It was honestly tragic and it left me feeling absolutely miserable. I understand a little of what the author was going for with the themes, but it was just too much. I would have liked more subtlety, to be honest!

  • Book Review

    The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty | Book Review

    The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty
    Release Date: 2nd March 2023
    Genre: Adult, Fantasy
    Rating: ★★★★★

    Amina al-Sirafi should be content. After a storied and scandalous career as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, she’s survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.

    But when she’s tracked down by the obscenely wealthy mother of a former crewman, she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse: retrieve her comrade’s kidnapped daughter for a kingly sum. The chance to have one last adventure with her crew, do right by an old friend, and win a fortune that will secure her family’s future forever? It seems like such an obvious choice that it must be God’s will.

    Yet the deeper Amina dives, the more it becomes alarmingly clear there’s more to this job, and the girl’s disappearance, than she was led to believe. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savor just a bit more power…and the price might be your very soul.

    Okay, where do I even start? It should be apparent to all of my regular readers and viewers that Shannon Chakraborty is one of my favourite authors. The Daevabad trilogy is probably my all time favourite series.

    So while I trusted Shannon (yes, I am first-naming her here) to deliver something great, Amina had huge boots to fill in order to compete with my favourites from the Daevabad series.

    I’m happy to report that she managed it, though!

    The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi takes everything you love from a classic heist story, throws it into the ocean, and spits back a load of magic and mythical sea creatures. And heart. Lots and lots of heart.

    The story starts by introducing us to Amina, a retired pirate captain who is hiding from the world after experiencing some trauma in her past life. she is sent on a mission and has to gather a crew, while trying to figure out the disappearance of a missing girl and a mysterious man from another continent.

    It’s all systems go as soon as Amina accepts the job, and we follow her gathering her old crewmates and slowly learn more about her past along the way.

    I adore Amina and the love she has for her daughter. I also love the relationships she has with her crewmates. Everyone is close knit and accepting of one another, even of each other’s less positive traits. Watching the crew come together again was a joy.

    I can’t talk too much about a certain crew member but would I really be stanning properly if I didn’t have a questionable ship? That’s all I’m going to say on that.

    My favourite member of the crew was definitely Delila, the mistress of poisons. I thought she was brilliant and I kind of want to be her. I hope we can learn more about her past in the sequel.

    While this wasn’t the case for me, readers may find the beginning of the story a little slow. I didn’t at all, but the story follows some of the same beats as The City of Brass in terms of pacing, and some people struggle with the first one hundred pages of set up in that one, and so that may be the case here.

    Keep going though because you’re in for a treat as you discover and explore the different countries, islands, and the high seas.

    I loved the tie ins with the Daevabad trilogy too, particularly in the first chapter that already had me shrieking. I’m really excited to see where this series goes because while although you could read Amina as a standalone, I think there is so much more here to explore.

  • Blog Tour,  Book Review

    Midnight Strikes by Zeba Shahnaz | Book Review

    Midnight Strikes by Zeba Shahnaz
    Release Date: 14th March 2023
    Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★.5
    Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound

    Seventeen-year-old Anaïs just wants tonight to end. As an outsider at the kingdom’s glittering anniversary ball, she has no desire to rub shoulders with the nation’s most eligible (and pompous) bachelors—especially not the notoriously roguish Prince Leo. But at the stroke of midnight, an explosion rips through the palace, killing everyone in its path. Including her.

    The last thing Anaïs sees is fire, smoke, chaos . . . and then she wakes up in her bedroom, hours before the ball. No one else remembers the deadly attack or believes her warnings of disaster.

    Not even when it happens again. And again. And again.

    If she’s going to escape this nightmarish time loop, Anaïs must take control of her own fate and stop the attack before it happens. But the court’s gilded surface belies a rotten core, full of restless nobles grabbing at power, discontented commoners itching for revolution, and even royals who secretly dream of taking the throne. It’s up to Anaïs to untangle these knots of deadly deceptions . . . if she can survive past midnight.

    I’m a huge fan of time loop and time travel stories so when I saw that Midnight Strikes was that AND a fantasy story, I was immediately intrigued. The idea of the main character looping again and again in order to save herself and others was *chef’s kiss*.

    I think the time loop part of this book was handled well, although you could definitely argue that it went on for a little too long. This didn’t bother me as I’m a huge fan of the trope, but I think others might get a bit bored as the main character took ages to really learn anything. I had also recently read another time loop book and so I was already in the correct headspace for this.

    As I find often with YA books, the romance was just fine. I find it difficult to get attached to ships nowadays and I think it’s mostly a me problem. I didn’t feel loads of chemistry between the main character, Anais, and her love interest Leo. Maybe younger readers would enjoy it more, though, because you definitely get a lot of tension and drama with Leo not remembering the previous loop each time!

    Overall this was a fun fantasy timey wimey story, and I’m really happy that I picked it up. I think it’s a strong debut and I can’t wait to see what Shahnaz brings out next!

    I received this book from NetGalley as part of the TBR and Beyond blog tour! Check out the rest of the bloggers and Instagrammers on the schedule to read their thoughts.

    About Zeba Shahnaz

    Zeba Shahnaz writes fantasy full of political intrigue, twisted romance, and a healthy dose of existential angst. A proud Pakistani-American, she translated her love of storytelling into a graduate degree analyzing national identity, culture, and cinema in South Asia. She grew up in New Jersey, which she has yet to fully escape (though not because of a time loop). MIDNIGHT STRIKES is her debut novel.
    Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

  • Book Review

    Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah | Book Review

    Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah
    Release Date: 23rd January 2020
    Genre: Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    All Beth has to do is drive her son to his Under-14s away match, watch him play, and bring him home.

    Just because she knows her ex-best friend lives near the football ground, that doesn’t mean she has to drive past her house and try to catch a glimpse of her. Why would Beth do that, and risk dredging up painful memories? She hasn’t seen Flora for twelve years. She doesn’t want to see her today, or ever again.

    But she can’t resist. She parks outside the open gates of Newnham House, watches from across the road as Flora and her children Thomas and Emily step out of the car. Except… There’s something terribly wrong. Flora looks the same, only older. As Beth would have expected. It’s the children. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then.

    They are still five and three. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt – Hilary hears Flora call them by their names – but they haven’t changed at all.

    They are no taller, no older… Why haven’t they grown?

    Haven’t They Grown was a very weird book with an intriguing premise. I finished it last night and I’m not really sure what to make of it. What initially drew me in was the mystery of how Flora’s children could still be the same age, when they should have aged at least ten years since the main character, Beth, had last seen them.

    I had all sorts of theories running through my head, and I did manage to sus out what was happening (kind of) by the time the big reveal came, but honestly this book was all over the place. 

    Beth was acting like a full on stalker at points and I really didn’t understand where her obsession with finding Flora in the first place came from. Sure, they used to be best friends and very close, but I feel like after a decade of not speaking you should just move on and let people live their lives.

    It was nice seeing Beth and her family team up to solve the mystery, though. I feel like too often in thriller and mystery books the woman or wife or mother is made out to be mentally unsound and her partner or husband doesn’t want to help out. That wasn’t the case here, and Beth’s husband and daughter got involved in various aspects of the case with her.

    The ending was really quite out there. Like I said, I figured out what was happening but the amount of things that would have to come together to make the ending happen was immense, and I’m not sure it was entirely realistic. Actually, it wasn’t realistic at all. It would have needed much more fleshing out to actually work in my eyes. 

    Overall Haven’t They Grown is a very middle of the road book. I neither loved it nor hated it, although I did roll my eyes at several points. On the plus side, it’s very fast paced and I read it in just a few hours before I went to bed.

  • Book Review

    A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham | Book Review

    A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
    Release Date: 3rd February 2022
    Genre: Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★

    When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.

    Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding. She finally has a fragile grasp on the happiness she’s worked so hard to get. Sometimes, though, she feels as out of control of her own life as the troubled teens who are her patients. And then a local teenage girl goes missing, and then another, and that terrifying summer comes crashing back. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren’t really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer?

    In a debut novel that has already been optioned for a limited series by actress Emma Stone and sold to a dozen countries around the world, Stacy Willingham has created an unforgettable character in a spellbinding thriller that will appeal equally to fans of Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter.

    A Flicker in the Dark was such a nice surprise! I meant to pick it up a while back but put it down after a chapter or so. I just wasn’t in the mood. I finally tried it again recently because I felt like reading a fast paced thriller, and the thought of reading about a woman with a serial killer for a father was intriguing. And I loved it! 

    The second time I gave A Flicker in the Dark a go, I was immediately taken in by Chloe and her struggles. She was in a bit of a weird relationship, her brother was hanging around and didn’t get on with her partner, and her father was in prison… so it’s no surprise that Chloe was struggling to handle everything. 

    I found the mystery to be very intriguing. It’s always fun (for want of a better word!) reading about historical cases that might not be what they seem. I was having a lot of fun putting things together and trying to work out what had happened back in the day. Chloe also didn’t know the full story so as the reader I was discovering things alongside her.

    I had so much fun with A Flicker in the Dark and I can’t wait to read the author’s second book that released this year. I might just go and pick it up now!