Book reviews, Uncategorized

Bursts of Fire – Susan Forest (Book thoughts in 300 words and 3 gifs)

Three and half ‘Magiel’ stars 🐼🐼🐼🐼

‘Bursts of Fire’ is the first novel of Susan Forest’s series ‘Addicted to Heaven’ where she sets out to explore the complex world of addictions. Using a vast fantasy world as the backdrop, it makes for an interesting read with a unique premise.

The world is built beautifully, with descriptions scattered about the chapters, allowing the reader to put the jigsaw of that massive land of many kingdoms. The world was well-formed in the author’s head before she put it down on the page but I felt like some of the information is a bit too much for a first book – at times it was hard to keep up.

The plot is built well and fits with the overarching theme of addiction marvellously (retrospectively, as I didn’t realise it did until the very last page – in the author blurb). The unique take on the Heavens as a normal destination was refreshing and the whole idea with death tokens and magic being time, and the payment being jumping in your own timeline was simply delicious. So creative! Kudos, Ms Forest.

The pacing was strange – the jumps in time connected to the narrative, were executed poorly, leaving me thinking ‘Wait, what? When did this happen? Oh, it’s been three months.’ It was at times a very confusing read.

The characters are not this novel’s strongest point. There is good selection of different narrators, presenting plenty of different points of view but I couldn’t connect emotionally to any of them but Eamon – and the poor lad wasn’t even a POV character! I struggled with hearing their unique voices and had to frequently figure out who was speaking.

Despite that, it is a good tale of sisterhood. It was beautiful to see the three sisters survive together, grow apart and then find each other in a world that had robbed them of adulthood at their own pace.

Rennika is slightly unrealistic to me because she was such a mature, reasonable character – do 11-13-year-olds behave so well? Maybe. I am not convinced.

The writing style is good. But good means things could be better. There were spelling and punctuation mistakes and dubious grammar. Not too many but enough to make me want to mention them. I liked the extensive vocabulary of the author and her ability to tie it to complement a character’s inner world. Overall, well done.

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An ARC of this book was kindly given to me by the publisher via NetGalley for a fair review. All views are my own. The book comes out on 19 September 2019.

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Book reviews, Uncategorized

Tower of Dawn – Sarah J Maas (Book thoughts in 300 words and 3 gifs)

Four ‘Healing’ stars 🐼🐼🐼🐼

‘Tower of Dawn’ is the sixth book in the seven-piece fantasy series ‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J Maas. It follows the journey of Chaol and Nesryn as they set off to heal Chaol’s injury and obtain an army to follow them home.

The Southern Continent is a good addition to the world of Erilea and provides an interesting focus on diversity which was strongly lacking in the previous books.

The plot is weaved with care, placing the characters’ journey to each other in the centre. I could see the twist coming from pages away but it did not ruin my experience because as with all other books of Ms Maas’, you’re in it for the banter and the ships blossoming left, right and centre.

I liked the pacing, which is one of Ms Maas’s strong points as a writer – there is good mix of action, romance and reflection time, all of which flow nicely from one to the next, making the story coherent and incredibly easy to read.

‘Tower of Dawn’ does not follow any other of the main characters from books 1-5 which I thought would be a minus but was actually a surprisingly nice change of scenery. Having fallen out of love with Chaol, and never liking Nesryn, I actually adored them both towards the end of this book. It happens rarely with me, so well done, Ms Maas.

The whole plot line about Chaol’s healing process is magnificently written – it is a great description of dealing with trauma and the ending to that storyline is painfully realistic. I will not spoil more but as someone battling with mental health on the daily, I appreciated the care in the depiction of something which could have been easily glossed over for a hearty HEA.

The only issue I have with this book, and the others in the series, is the writing. It is repetitive and too overdramatic sometimes. There is lots of purple prose in the descriptions and while I enjoyed some of them, I found myself scanning paragraphs and skipping ahead, which is never good. The language is conversational and easy to read. YA readers would have no problem with this book. Their parents, however, might not approve of some of the graphic sex scenes inside.

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Book reviews, Uncategorized

The Assassin’s Blade – Sarah J Maas (Book thoughts in 300 words and 3 gifs)

Three and a half ‘Assassin’ stars 🐼🐼🐼🐼

‘The Assassin’s Blade’ is the collection of five prequel novellas to the seven-piece fantasy series ‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J Maas. It follows the journey of Celeana before the events of any of the other books unfold and gives insight into some of her personality and reasoning, together with expanding on and introducing some other relevant side characters.

The world of Erilea is well-developed if you look at the series as a whole but if you read the prequels first, it appears scattered and disjointed. These are definitely not standalone novellas. A good addition to the series nonetheless.

The plot and pacing of each novella are well-developed. Those are some tight stories; and compared to the novels are much better in how they were built as a piece of writing. Each having a specific purpose to explain a certain thing, they work really well without wasting too many words on unnecessary descriptions or world-building.

The characters are well-written and well-placed to provide Celaena with a bouquet of life experiences that made her the fearless warrior queen that she is. When reading the series, I did think there were times Calaena behaved oddly, without any good reason backing her actions. This book provides that additional insight into who this character really is.

The side characters are really strong. My favourites were Yrene and Sam – well done, Ms Maas. In contrast to the more explicit love scenes in the other books, the innocent love between Sam and Caleana was refreshing – both beautiful and sad, as the readers know the outcome. I felt genuinely heartbroken every time they would talk about the future.

The writing is good. It made me turn the pages without thinking too much about sentences and word choice despite some repetitions. The language is conversational and easy to read. YA readers would have no problem with this book.

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Short fiction, Uncategorized

Orange Trees

The phone slips from my fingers and lands on my face. 2% battery left. I gaze into the darkness. 

While it lasted, it was an all-consuming love. None of that romantic stuff you see in the films, just raw passion. The type that leaves you drained but still longing for more.

It began when I was jogging one day. I used to go every Tuesday for about an hour and then come back and rejoin city life. It was a beautiful spring morning; the air was light with the smell of flowering trees; the sun was still low in the sky but warm.

My headphones were blasting Billie Eilish when I saw him next to what looked like an orange tree. Odd to see among the elms and birches .

He had a broad back and a well defined body. His biceps were bulging under a black t-shirt. Kneeling down, he didn’t immediately see me. I stopped dead in my tracks when our eyes locked. His haunting gaze drew me into his world.

Yet, that didn’t stop me from bolting when he let go of the girl he was strangling and dashed after me.

Of course he was faster. He was taller – one stride of his was two of mine. I did well; I didn’t trip, I didn’t panic. I just knew I had seen something I wasn’t supposed to see.

He finally got hold of my hair and yanked me down. I landed on my back, gasping. He dragged me back to the place I had met him and hauled me next to the girl. She seemed to be out of it but her chest was moving.

I was still trying to catch my breath when he hit my solar plexus with a precise punch. I crawled up in a ball, black spots dancing in front of my eyes, as I watched him kneel and put his hands around the girl’s throat. I closed my eyelids shut, unwilling to see what came next. If I didn’t see I wouldn’t be part of it. I don’t know how it changed from that to him prying my arms from my knees and making himself comfortable on top of me. I felt his weight crushing me – or it could have been just the tight grip he had on my neck.

The world had darkened as I tried to get words out but produced only raspy sounds. My nails dug into the skin of his hands. Through labored breaths, I finally spoke.

“Don’t kill me. I won’t tell.” These two sentences took me a long time but I made sure to look him straight into the eyes. I wanted him to know I was sincere.

And he knew.

After that fateful day, he was like my shadow. I don’t know why he decided it so but I was thankful for the chance to live. He promised that if I even thought about betraying his identity, he would end me. I believed him.

He continued with his killing business. I would hear about it on the news – another missing girl discovered dead in the middle of a field. Strangled and buried. A small orange tree planted on top of her resting place.

I didn’t really understand why he was compelled to do these things but the ritual seemed to fulfil an unknown purpose. As time passed I grew used to him being around me. It was a weird connection we had. I felt no hatred coming off him, just caution. And as strange as it sounds, not long after, I relaxed around him.

One day it was pouring down and I looked outside. He was there, as always, beneath the single street lamp, in full black. I took pity on him – it was cold, and it was dark and wet. To be fair, maybe that’s how he liked it.

Nevertheless, I rushed down the stairs, swung the door open and invited him in. He stared at me and finally stepped in. Water was dripping from his hair, down his neck and into his shirt. My eyes followed the little drop.

I had invited a serial killer into my home.

I looked up. My eyes met an intense gaze staring back at me. My heart started racing. The feeling was intoxicating – danger mixed with a sick attraction. I asked him if he wanted to take a shower to warm up.

I turn my screen on again. Now 1% left. The memories keep me busy but I’m uncomfortable. I can’t really find a good position so I bend my knees slightly and twist them to the left. It is a bit better than just lying on my back.

That rainy night was the first time we slept together. The way he held me was very different from previous lovers. Every time he touched me I felt a dangerous longing in my core. We were inseparable from then. Me and my shadow. A shadow I was rapidly falling in love with.

I wasn’t sure what I loved about him until one night when I was coming back home around midnight, I crossed paths with a gang of thugs. They circled me like hungry wolves surrounding a deer who’d lost its way.

They asked me if I wanted to go party with them. I looked around, hopeful. I was looking for him and he was there, patiently waiting, leaning on a tree. I took a step forward, hoping the gang would just let me pass. Two men blocked my way.

Someone grabbed my arm and yanked me back. Everyone smelled like booze. I hated the smell. I looked at my shadow. When would he drop the laid back attitude? I wanted him to save me.

I shift my legs again, this time to the right. I bend sideways as much as I can to massage away the inevitable cramp. If only he was here. He gives the best massages.

That night he did save me. Eventually. I had kicked and punched around as much as I could and although I had landed some good shots, the thugs were too many. I saw a knife flash so I settled down. Just as they started tearing my clothes, he intervened. I remember the kiss he gave me after he was done with them – it tasted sweet like him and metallic like the blood from my busted lip.

There was a lot of shoveling after. He told me he waited because he wanted to see what I was capable of. Not much, I replied. He said he was impressed with my fighting spirit as he wiped the blood from my face.

I asked him why he wasn’t planting any orange trees. He replied that the thugs weren’t part of the plan, whatever that was. He said it felt different, killing for someone else. I took it as his twisted way of saying ‘I love you’.

Shortly after I suggested he move in with me. It was great to have another person in the house, especially on days I didn’t have much time to cook. He would whip up a lasagna and clean the kitchen, too. Often he would bring flowering orange trees home and their fragrance would fill the air, uplifting our mood. Orange blossoms are a strong aphrodisiac, I found after looking it up online.  

My phone screen lights up and the familiar sound of my alarm cuts through the dark silence. Five hours have passed. I can feel a drop of sweat trickle down my temple and in my ear. Well, anytime soon now, I tell myself as I take a deep breath. Anytime soon…

My boyfriend was my little secret from everyone. It was partly because I wanted it so but also because I knew that telling anyone might provoke him. I really liked him and I really didn’t want him to misunderstand my intentions.

This flame in me kept burning for years, and I knew, in my head, it would burn me alive. I just didn’t know when. It wasn’t when he came back home all covered in blood and we showered together. It wasn’t when I asked him about all the girls and he grabbed me by the neck. It wasn’t even when he dragged me out of town and made me watch him plant an orange tree.

If I had to pinpoint the exact thing that made him flip and put me in this coffin, it would have to be because of that conversation. The conversation about us and our future. Our all-consuming love had led to the creation of a tiny human. It was only a small collection of cells but it changed everything.

It was then that I realised I had become a special existence to him. Following me around day and night, he had grown attached to me. Living together had made me carry the scent of blossoming orange trees. I was his – and he didn’t like the thought of sharing me with anyone else.

I know it was a perverse reaction but his jealousy pulled me closer to him. We made love so passionately that night, it was like that first rainy night years ago.

He told me to get an abortion and I told him it was out of the question. I gave my serial killer an ultimatum – keep me and the baby; or lose us both.

I saw his jaw clench but he didn’t argue any more. We never spoke of it again. Days passed, then weeks. I was starting to relax. Things were back to normal. Two orange trees appeared in our hallway and I marveled at their small leaves. His rituals had become a mundane part of my life. 

That night was just like any other night; we got ready for bed and I nestled into him, my eyelids getting heavy. He kissed me softly and I responded in my dream-like state. He caressed my cheek, my lips, my jaw.

It took me a good few seconds to realise the death grip he had on my neck was no longer gentle.

I lie in the darkness and I listen to the quiet ground. I know a person can survive about five, five and a half hours buried alive in a coffin. I can now hear digging. A rhythmic sound which makes my slowed-down heart skip a beat.