Review | Upgrade by Blake Crouch

A solid sci-fi thriller with a side order of existential philosophy. 4/5.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch book cover
The blurb: “You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep. But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy. Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human. And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

My take:

I cannot believe it has been SIX YEARS since I read and reviewed Dark Matter by Blake Crouch! I really enjoyed that book but haven’t had the chance to read his subsequent novels, so I jumped at the chance to read Upgrade.

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Review | The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper (Wolf Den Trilogy 2)

A solid middle installment in this historical fiction trilogy. 4/5 stars.

The House with the Golden Door_ Wolf Den 2_ by Elodie Harper book cover

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher (Head of Zeus) via NetGalley in return of an honest review.

The blurb:

The life of a courtesan in Pompeii is glittering, yet precarious…

Amara has escaped her life as a slave in the town’s most notorious brothel, but now her existence depends on the affections of her patron: a man she might not know as well as she once thought.

At night she dreams of the wolf den, still haunted by her past. Amara longs for the women she was forced to leave behind and worse, finds herself pursued by the man who once owned her. In order to be free, she will need to be as ruthless as he is.

Amara knows her existence in Pompeii is subject to Venus, the goddess of love. Yet finding love may prove to be the most dangerous act of all.

We return to Pompeii for the second instalment in Elodie Harper’s Wolf Den Trilogy, set in the town’s lupanar and reimagining the lives of women long overlooked.

My take:

I read The Wolf Den last year (thank you to my local library). At that point I didn’t know it was the first in a trilogy, but I should have guessed. I mean, when a book opens with ‘Pompeii AD 74’ you have to assume we’ll be hanging around until the city’s final days in AD 79 and fitting five years into one book would have been tricky.

I didn’t find this second installment quite as absorbing as The Wolf Den, mostly because some of Amara’s choices caused me to roll my eyes! Also it’s difficult to say I ‘enjoyed’ this book because the characters (especially the women) spend most of their time dodging one life-threatening hazard after another. Consequently reading this story can be stressful, like watching people you care about walk a tightrope between the tops of two skyscrapers.

However, if you’re looking for historical details to enjoy, you won’t be disappointed. The evocation of Pompeii, daily Roman life and the special festivals in the calendar is as impressively done as in the first book.

Again as with Book 1, I felt a lot was crammed into the last few chapters of this story. That said, it has certainly set things up to be interesting in book 3.

And it was a brilliant surprise to find that Britannia was given much more to do in this book and has become my new favourite character! I would read the third book in the series just to find out what happens to her and I really hope she goes on to get the blood and glory she’s looking for.

Overall: I continue to recommend this series to fans of historical fiction. However, at this point you might want to wait until Book 3 is published so you can read the books back to back and not have to wait to find out what happens next.


Claire Huston / Art and Soul

Review | The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman (The Invisible Library 8)

A great final (for now) book in this highly enjoyable series. 4/5 stars.

The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman book cover

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher (Pan Macmillan) via NetGalley in return of an honest review.

The blurb:

Return to the world of the Invisible Library for Irene’s most perilous mission yet . . .

Librarian Spy Irene is heading into danger. Not for the first time, but could this be her last? She’s tasked with a terrifyingly dangerous solo mission to eliminate an old enemy, which must be kept secret at all costs. But even more troubling news emerges. Multiple worlds are disappearing – and the Library may have something to do with it.

Determined to uncover the truth behind the vanished worlds, Irene and her friends must descend into the unplumbed depths of the Library. And what they find will change everything they know. This may be Irene’s most dangerous assignment of her hazardous career.

The Untold Story is the unputdownable eighth book in the Invisible Library fantasy series by Genevieve Cogman.

My take:

I’ve been a fan of this series since I read the first book, The Invisible Library, back in 2015. Over the past six years I’ve become so attached to the characters I would happily read a story about them going on a non-eventful holiday. A break they have more than earnt but which would no doubt leave them all incredibly bored!

But readers looking forward to more high-stakes Invisible Library adventure from this book needn’t worry. As with all the previous books in the series, The Untold Story is packed with intrigue, action and peril. And, as the author has decided this is the last of these books for the foreseeable, it does wrap up most of the over-arching story threads very nicely.

You really do have to have read the earlier books before you pick up The Untold Story. The characters have such detailed back stories and so much has happened over the course of the previous seven books, I’d recommend you go back to the beginning and stick with it. The series gets better with each book as you become more attached to the recurring characters and familiar with the intricacies and quirks of the world that Cogman has created.

Overall: If you’re looking for a fantasy adventure series to try, I highly recommend The Invisible Library. And you can embark on the adventure safe in the knowledge that it will all come to a satisfying conclusion in The Untold Story.


Claire Huston / Art and Soul

Review | The Last Graduate (Scholomance 2) by Naomi Novik

The trilogy continues with a terrific second installment. 4/5 stars.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik The Scholomance 2 book cover

Thank you to Random House UK for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

Th dark school of magic has always done its best to devour its students, but now that El has reached her final year — and somehow won herself a handful of allies along the way — it’s suddenly developed a very particular craving . . .

For her.

As the savagery of the school ramps up, El is determined that she will not give in; not to the mals, not to fate, and especially not to the Scholomance. But as the spectre of graduation looms — the deadly final ritual that leaves few students alive — if she and her allies are to make it out, El will need to realise that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules.

My take:

[Short summary for anyone short on time: if you read and enjoyed Book 1- particularly El’s first person narration – you’ll enjoy this. Get it now!]

I’ve been a fan of Naomi Novik’s books for a while. But with the first book in the Scholmance series, A Deadly Education, I was delighted to finally be able to give one of her books a 5-star rating when others have come very close.

And with the fantastic cliffhanger at the end of Book 1, I was really looking forward to Book 2, and I’m happy to say that The Last Graduate didn’t disappoint.

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Review | The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club 2) by Richard Osman

Another satisfying mystery which improves on the first installment in the series. 4/5 stars.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman book cover

Thank you to Penguin UK for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

My take:

[This will be a very short review to avoid any and all spoilers and because so many other people have reviewed this already. I don’t want to bore you.]

And … they’re back! Last year, I (along with most of the country!) read and enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club: Richard Osman’s first story about a group of sleuthing OAPs and the members of the local police unwittingly roped into their investigations. I liked the older protagonists, particularly Elizabeth, and am delighted they’re all back in this second installment in which Elizabeth gets even more to do and we find out about her past.

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Review: Wild Blue Yonder (Broken Wings 2) by M. W. Arnold @mick859 @rararesources

More WWII mystery and drama from our friends at the ATA.

Wild Blue Yonder Broken Wings 2 by M W Arnold book cover

I’m delighted to be taking part in this tour. Thank you to the author for providing me with an e-copy of this book via Rachel’s Random Resources.

The blurb:

Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Doris Winter is accused of stealing a valuable item from a famous Hollywood movie star, now a captain in the US Army Air Corps, after a dance at the air base in England where he’s stationed. Gathering her close friends together, she’s determined to clear her name.

Ruth’s POW son suffers a life-changing injury just as her own cottage takes damage in an air raid and Penny’s estranged little sister unexpectedly turns up, having run away from school. Together with the ongoing thefts of items of clothing and surprise personal revelations, these all threaten to hamper their investigation.

In spite of the worsening war situation, they must band together to rise above their troubles and prove love and friendship is worth fighting for.

My take:

Last year I read and reviewed the first installment in the Broken Wings series, A Wing and a Prayer. It had been ages since I’d read anything set in World War II and I really enjoyed all the period details.

So I was very pleased that the friends from the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) are back (with lots more terrifically-researched period detail, particularly when it comes to the planes) for more adventures in Wild Blue Yonder. Those of you who grew to love the characters in Book 1 will be pleased to hear that they all return and we get to find out a lot more about their personal and love lives. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, there’s some added Hollywood glamour this time with a few special guest appearances from none other than Mr Clark Gable, whose presence gives the ladies another mystery to solve (no spoilers!).
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Review | Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Beautiful writing but lacking some pace and drama. 3.5/5.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint cover image

Thank you to Headline/Wildfire for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

My take:

I’ve enjoyed many books in the current trend of telling mythological tales from often side-lined female characters’ perspectives. The high-water mark in this genre (or sub genre?) for me continues to be Circe by Madeline Miller.

In the case of Ariadne, I was particularly intrigued by the author’s choice of narrators because Theseus, like many of the male Greek heroes, didn’t treat the women he encountered all that well (intention understatement) and I thought it would be interesting to get the women’s point of view. And overall, I think the author’s creative depiction of Ariadne and Phaedra’s experiences is perceptive and the dual narration adds to the story and provides some interesting contrasts. The writing is beautiful and the descriptions are particularly evocative.

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Review | The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

Another twisty gothic tale that Purcell’s fans are sure to love. 4/5.

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell book cover image

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing/Raven Books for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

My take:

I’ve read and enjoyed Laura Purcell’s previous three books: The Silent Companions, The Corset and Bone China. I’m pleased to report that with The Shape of Darkness she has produced another entertaining tale steeped in wall-to-wall gothic spookiness. Creating atmosphere is her forte and all her books are pervaded by a creeping menace, darkness and paranoia.

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Review | Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott

A suitably witty homage to one of the best writers of all time. 4/5.

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott book cover

Thank you to Random House UK/Cornerstone for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

My take:

I love P. G. Wodehouse and the Jeeves and Wooster stories in particular. So I was immediately drawn to this new story but also went in with a sizeable concern: could it possibly live up to the beloved Wodehouse originals?

The answer is: nearly. I enjoyed Jeeves and the Leap of Faith very much. To be honest, I think the comic combination of Bertie and Jeeves is indestructible and, as with the originals, the story itself is pretty incidental. All the truly important elements are here: the small sly jokes, the witty turns of phrase, Jeeves’ jaw-dropping ability to always see 10 steps ahead, hideous aunts, preposterous friends…

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Review: A Wing and a Prayer (Broken Wings 1) by M. W. Arnold

An enjoyable cosy mystery in a great period setting.

A Wing and a Prayer by M W Arnold book cover

I’m delighted to be taking part in this tour. Thank you to the author for providing me with an e-copy of this book via Rachel’s Random Resources.

The blurb:

When Betty Palmer’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances whilst landing her Tiger Moth, Betty and three other women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII England unite to discover who killed her and why.

Estranged from her family, Penny Blake wants simply to belong. American Doris Winter, running from a personal tragedy, yearns for a new start. Naturally shy Mary Whitworth-Baines struggles to fit in. Together though, they are a force to be reckoned with as they face the mystery that confronts them.

Against the backdrop of war, when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong, they strive to unravel the puzzle’s complex threads, risking their lives as they seek justice for Betty’s sister.

My take:

I’m not a great reader of sagas, but I do love a cosy mystery. Besides, it’s been a good while since I’ve read a story set in World War II and I really enjoyed the period details in A Wing and a Prayer. The specific setting for the mystery is also intriguing: I had never heard of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) before and it was great to get an insider’s view of this civilian organisation which was a crucial part of the war effort. And it was even better to find out that the teams who repaired and transported planes around Britain included female pilots.

These brave women are the inspiration for Penny, Doris and Mary, three fictional pilots who are A Wing and a Prayer‘s core characters. They’re an interesting, trans-Atlantic bunch, each with their own strong motivations for joining the ATA and with strengths and weaknesses that complement each other. It was great to see the women bond and form a formidable team in their efforts to solve the mystery surrounding the death of Betty’s sister.

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