Book Review: The Salt Messages

The Salt Messages by Rick Strater

I want to clarify that I am not religious. Like, at all. I kind of wish I was, but I’m not.

This book is, by definition, Christian fiction. But it didn’t feel too… I don’t know, pushy? It wasn’t some story preaching about religion and trying to convert everyone. The story was simply really positive – about not judging people, not assuming anything about strangers, treating everyone with kindness. It all starts with the main character, referred to as Tom, hearing a voice. And then he’s meeting people that he couldn’t possibly be meeting, and being taught all these valuable lessons about life. I guess it could come across as a bit cliche, but honestly, it’s just a really good life lesson, isn’t it? You don’t know what people are going through. When you say something rude or unkind to a stranger, you have no idea how that might affect them.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

I’d also like to say that where God is spoken about, it’s very ambiguous. It’s not a clear-cut definition or anything; it doesn’t push any specific belief on the reader. It’s all left very open-ended, which I personally really appreciated.
Overall, the book was just well written and easy to read. It’s quite short, but that’s not a bad thing. While it’s generally not the kind of thing I’d go for, I actually did rather like it. 4 stars!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Audiobook Review: The Snow Song

The Snow Song by Sally Gardner (Audiobook)

I listened to the audiobook of this, and luckily I quite liked the narrator. But I’ll try and focus my review on the actual writing/novel.

Edith is the daughter of a cabinet maker, in a small village near a mountain. She meets Demetrius, an outsider, and immediately falls in love. They plan to be married, but Edith’s father – and most of the village – is against it. The cabinet maker makes a deal with the butcher that if Demetrius, a shepherd, doesn’t return from moving his sheep before the first snow fall, Edith must marry the butcher. The cabinet maker happily agrees, without a care for what Edith wants. But Edith is certain her love will return for her.

The snow falls. Demetrius is nowhere to be seen. Edith is worried, but nobody is willing to go looking for her lover. She is sentenced to marry the butcher, a widower and grandfather. That’s when things start to go a bit… strange.

It starts with Edith losing her voice. She’s certain something awful has happened to Demetrius, and the pain she feels is unbearable. Her hair, once a luscious black, turns ghostly white. While silent, Edith becomes a good listener. She hears the terrible stories of various villagers, the abuse her friends have suffered, the superstitions that force everyone to follow tradition and make no move towards the future. Eventually, her wedding day comes around, but Edith doesn’t stick around for it. She runs away, makes herself a home in the woods. But she’s not alone.

The ending was especially poignant, in my opinion. Edith does discover the fate of her lover eventually, and she goes on to live a long, content life. Everyone in the village who did wrong gets what’s coming to them. And eventually, Edith and Demetrius are reunited.

There are moments of joy, but a lot more heartache and anger and evil. But the book has a very whimsical, lyrical feel to it, and the way many characters are referred to by title, not name, feels very much like a fairytale. There are hints of magic and paranormal elements, alongside mystery. It’s a very unique combination.

But I must emphasise that this is really quite dark in many ways. There is murder, there is incest, there is rape and abuse and misogyny. As I mentioned, though, most of the wrongdoers are eventually punished or righted in some way or another.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

While I definitely enjoyed this book, there was something missing for me. It just didn’t quite reach 5 star status for me. As an audiobook, I really enjoyed listening to it in the evenings; the narrator’s voice fit the whimsical, almost dreamy writing so well! A strong 4 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Witherward

Witherward by Hannah Mathewson

I saw this book described as something fans of the Shadowhunters books would like, and I definitely agree that it has a fair few similarities to The Infernal Devices in particular (which, incidentally, was my favourite series of the Shadowhunters). We have a strong female protagonist, Ilsa, who lives in Victorian London. But she’s never quite fit in – mainly because she has powers that barely anyone else seems to have. She keeps them secret but uses them to her advantage in sneaky ways.

Then one day, her best friend is killed in front of her and a mysterious man claims to be here to rescue her. He tells her she’s a Changeling, and not from this world at all. He takes her to the parallel London of Witherward, where various factions of magical beings live not-so-harmoniously. She’s returned to a family she never knew of – though she’s still an orphan, as she’d always believed.

The book takes us through various areas of the Witherward’s London, with an array of odd and wonderful and dangerous characters. There’s a bit of action, a fair bit of emotion and heartache, betrayal, and mystery. The mystery element was particularly appealing to me, especially combined with the magical elements.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

The characters were really lovable, too. I loved Fyfe possibly the most, and although Eliot was perhaps a little cliché as the dark and broody type, I still found myself very emotionally invested in him. And Ilsa was wonderful, of course – strong, proactive, and a bit of an odd-one-out no matter where she goes.

The ending was also pretty great – a decent conclusion, but definitely leading on to something more I should think. I can honestly say I’d be keen on reading any sequels! 4.5 stars.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: All the Murmuring Bones

All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

A dark fairytale featuring twisted, evil mermaids? Yes, please!

I may have set my expectations a little too high, though. Don’t get me wrong – this is a good book – but it’s just not quite what I was anticipating. The book follows Miren O’Malley, an orphan who’s grown up with her grandparents. When her grandfather dies, Miren is promised to a cousin for marriage by her very own grandmother. The O’Malley’s are a family who takes pride in their name and their ‘pure blood’. But then the grandmother dies, too, and Miren doesn’t want to marry her jerk cousin. So when she discovers letters from her parents – who are very much alive – she goes looking for them.

It’s an interesting adventure, with assassins and kelpies. And Miren does find the house her parents ran away to – but all is not what it seems.

While there are a few mentions of mermaids, as well as a mermaid queen, there wasn’t as much about them as I hoped. The twisted O’Malley tales are great (and creepy), but it’s definitely not about mermaids. As in, they’re not really the main plot. Again, it’s pretty well written and definitely an interesting take on the genre, but not quite what I was hoping for.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

That said, it is still a good book. The stories about the mer spread throughout the book were possibly my favourite parts. There were a fair share of magical creatures, too. I wasn’t overly sure about Miren herself – she seemed to lack emotion a bit, in my opinion. But overall, I’m glad I read it and I would recommend it to anyone who likes dark, gothic tales. 4 stars!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Come Take Me

Come Take Me by E.M. Skyler

I had rather mixed feelings when I began this book. I am not always a fan of comedic writing, and often find things too cheesy or cliche. But I am a huge fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which I have seen this novel compared to. Of course, it’s not quite the same, but I could definitely see where people draw that association from. At first, it was a little too cheesy for me, but I actually grew to love it.

The book begins with Melody at her new job screening videos for a website called ComeTakeMe.com. This leads her to meet Marshall Shmishkiss, who turns out to be our protagonist. I cannot even begin to explain the events that follow, but I can say this: there is a Douglas Adams-esque galactic adventure, a giant centipede, and a desperate quest to save the planet.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

This was a fun, pretty lighthearted read, that I enjoyed far more than I initially anticipated. If you like Hitchhiker’s Guide, you may well appreciate this book, too. 4.5 stars!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Paris by Starlight

Paris by Starlight by Robert Dinsdale

Wow. I had hoped I would love this book and probably had my expectations set quite high, but I was still pleasantly surprised.

As the title suggests, this book mainly takes place in Paris – but not Paris as we know it. Isabelle, at twenty-three, is travelling around the city in search of her father. She last saw him there seventeen years ago, and with no particular leads or hints as to his whereabouts, Isabelle is left roaming from bar to bar in hopes that someone remembers him. Like her, he’s a talented harpist. Hence her list of bars and clubs; places he may have played.

In one of these establishments, Isabelle comes across a young girl, clearly starving and not speaking a word of French. Isabelle takes her for a meal and escorts her back home: an apartment full of women and girls, all equally un-fluent in French. This is where she meets Levon, the only French-speaking member of the household and brother to Arina, the young girl.

Over some time, Isabelle becomes trusted by the family, particularly Arina and her grandmother or Bebia, Maia. She begins teaching them French, and helps care for Maia when she falls ill. In turn, Isabelle learns to read Maia’s Nocturne, a book full of stories from their ‘old country’. Levon also speaks of his home, eventually explaining how they came to be forced from it.

Maia clings to her Nocturne and the tales it contains. She believes that the People of her homeland should still be living by night as their ancestors did, back when there was magic in the world. She also frequents the night garden growing on the roof, despite her ill health. Nobody is quite sure how she has grown this garden of plants from their old country; Maia is adamant that it sprouted itself, though nobody believes her. Night flowers that glow in the starlight begin to flourish – a piece of magic restored.

Thus, Paris-by-Starlight is established. The second home of the People, populated by enchanting nightjars and flowers of all different colours. On Christmas – or the Night of Seven Stars, as in the Nocturne – a breathtaking spectacle enthrals the entire city. Everyone rejoices in the beauty of Paris-by-Starlight and all the magic it holds.
But, of course, not everyone is happy. People begin to complain about the People; foreigners taking over their city, their home. A resistance is formed – and things go downhill very fast.

Through all this, Isabelle continues her search for her father, and is shocked when she actually finds him. Levon and Arina’s father, believed to be dead, suddenly appears. He is angered by the resistance and demands the People fight back.

I’ve probably not done the story justice at all. The plot is really quite intricate and difficult to summarise. But believe me when I say it’s emotional, magical, and heartbreaking in equal measure. There’s romance, there’s loss, and there’s prejudice. Despite the fantastical nature of Paris-by-Starlight itself, I found this story to be extremely reflective of the world we know. The attitudes of the resistance, so prejudiced and angry, are sadly very real in our society. Dinsdale’s narrative of this issue is just fantastic, in my opinion.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

I realise this review is getting a bit rambly. Basically, I really loved this book. I absolutely adored the magic of Paris-by-Starlight, and was truly heartbroken by the negativity and prejudice of some of the characters. As for Isabelle and Levon – they had flaws, but I really liked them. Their relationship is far from perfect, and that’s exactly why I liked it. Beneath all the magic, I think there’s something in this book for everyone to take away.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review: Kelpie Blue (Out of Underhill #1)

Kelpie Blue (Out of Underhill #1) by Mell Eight

I do love faerie stories – and modernised retellings and adaptations are always interesting to read. This book has a variety of fae but mostly focuses on Blue, a kelpie, and his relationship with the human boy, Rin. Blue’s form varies between human, semi-human, semi-horse, and horse – but is mostly nearer to human. The scene is set by Rin in a journal entry, where he describes his childhood, the accident that injured him so badly he could no longer ride horses, and the downfall of his mother’s business. He also talks of how he met Blue – but the book itself is written quite some time after their meeting, and their relationship is already very much established. Blue actually lives with Rin and his mother, who are fully aware of his fae nature and extremely accepting.

Much of the book is set in the ordinary human realm, with the three main characters struggling to keep the business afloat. As Blue is the only ‘horse’ that Rin is able to ride, they decide to enter a race to earn some money (and publicity). And while they’re preparing for this, Jim comes along. He’s another kind of faerie, and he’s looking for Blue.
And to top it all off, Rin’s mother is kidnapped soon after the big race. This demands a rescue mission, wherein Rin and Blue venture Underhill, to the faerie realm.

This sounds like a very epic fantasy adventure – and it is. But the actual adventure Underhill is a rather small proportion of the book. A much more prominent theme is Blue and Rin’s relationship, which becomes increasingly sexually explicit.
There’s also some mystery around Rin’s father, who he never met. His mother admits to him having some kind of magical heritage, which brings a lot of questions to Rin’s mind.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

I enjoyed the Underhill journey, but it was disappointingly short. The general relationship between Rin and Blue was rather interesting, but I wasn’t keen on all the sexual scenes, honestly. I didn’t really feel that they were all that necessary. I actually really liked the kind of day-to-day narrative with Blue; if you’ve ever wondered what life would be like if you were living with a blue faerie, this book should give you some insight. Overall, I definitely did enjoy this. But it wasn’t quite what I expected, and it didn’t particularly resonate with me personally or emotionally. 3.5 stars.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Book Review: The Innkeeper’s Daughter (The Gentleman Spy Mysteries #1)

The Innkeeper’s Daughter by Bianca M. Schwarz (The Gentleman Spy Mysteries #1)

This was certainly an interesting read. I want to state, first of all, that there are highly explicit sexual scenes, as well as references to violence, including extreme sexual violence and abuse. It is, therefore, not a suitable read for everyone.

Set in the early 19th century, the book begins with Eliza being beaten by her step-father and locked away in the cellar when she finds out she’s been sold for marriage. Though badly injured, Eliza manages to escape through the coal chute and make a run for it. She is soon spotted and rescued by a gentleman by the name of Henry.

Eliza is kept at Henry’s home, cared for well by his staff. Her injuries begin to heal, and she spends a lot of time in the library. Henry also begins to take her out – though they are aware that Eliza may be spotted, so are mindful of being seen.

Life is good for a while, and Eliza fits in to the household nicely. But she isn’t entirely safe – as they find out the hard way. Eliza and Henry begin to grow close. Henry speaks of his daughter and the relationship with her mother that went so wrong. And Eliza talks about her childhood at the inn, and how her life changed so dramatically upon the death of her mother.

Throughout all this, Henry and his friends discuss the French spy known as ‘De Sade Anglais’ – dubbed so due to his habit for abusing women horrifically, leaving victims both alive and dead. When victims of this nature begin to appear in England, Henry knows it’s the same man. And when Daisie, a maid who he rescued from prostitution, describes her experiences, it becomes clear that she also encountered De Sade.

So the ‘spy’ aspect of this novel revolves around the hunt for De Sade. He is believed to be a man of power, making his discovery and persecution that much harder. And on top of it all, they learn of a target, meaning they are now working against the clock.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

Eliza plays her part in it all, too, and proves to be rather valuable. It’s an intriguing thriller of a story, with many twists and discoveries. There are several interesting slide plots in more personal areas, including around Henry’s past relationship. It’s well written and definitely interesting, though I was not particularly comfortable with a lot of the sexual scenes, purely because they were so detailed and, honestly, unnecessary. The level of description was just too much, and I didn’t think it added to the story in any way. It just isn’t my thing and I would have been happy to read the book without such intimate scenes. Overall, I did enjoy it, but it’s not entirely my cup of tea – so I’m giving it 3.5 stars!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Lava Red, Feather Blue

Lava Red Feather Blue by Molly Ringle

I love a faery tale. But this is so much more than just that – yes, it’s an adventurous story that takes us into the heart of the mystical fae realm, but it’s also a modern story, a love story, a story of finding one’s place in the world. It also regularly mentions homosexuality, bisexuality and non-binary very casually; as in, it’s part of the story, but it’s not the main story. It’s just a piece of people’s identity and lives, but it doesn’t define them. I really like this way of including LGBTQ+ themes.

The book begins with a scene from 1799, where Prince Larkin is unwillingly put to sleep by a powerful witch. It’s done in an attempt to bring peace to an island under attack from a vicious fire faery, Ula Kana. Skip to 2020, and we meet Merrick. He’s a witch, but use of magic is strongly controlled in modern society. But, of course, Merrick still manages to get himself into a heck of a lot of trouble. And so he ends up hiding the Prince – awake, after over two centuries – and wreaking more than a little havoc. Thus the story begins, taking them to the palace and then through the realm of the fae, where they meet an array of characters, and come face to face with loss, death, and love.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

This was a really enjoyable read. It’s a little steamy at times, and while the romance in this book isn’t forced, I wasn’t 100% sold on it, to be honest. Still, it was a good book, and I’m glad I read it. 4 stars!

Rating: 4 out of 5.