Review: ‘All the Little Bones’ by Ellie Marney

A teenage trapeze artist and an apprentice strongman on the run from a terrible crime…

Seventeen-year-old Sorsha Neary’s life is changed in one night when she defends herself behind the vans of her family circus troupe. Now Sorsha and apprentice strongman Colm Mackay are travelling south, to evade the fallout and escape the long arm of the law. All they have in their favour is talent, an old promise, and slim acquaintance with the crew members and performers of their new home, Klatsch’s Karnival. But the question for Sorsha and Colm isn’t if the police will catch up with them, but when…

Dark YA romance, with a criminal twist – Circus Hearts: Step. Right. Up.

I’ve read Ellie Marney’s Every trilogy (you can read the reviews of those books here) but I didn’t realise that she’d also self-published a trilogy of books set in a circus until recently. When I saw them, I had to snap the first book up. I read it recently, during a reading binge while I was on holidays, and then I had to download the second and third books the next time I had internet access because I was so captivated by the first one.

I thought about reviewing all three in one post, because I read them back-to-back and all of my thoughts about them are a bit jumbled up, but I’ll try to unpick them and be coherent about All the Little Bones specifically.

The story is told from the perspective of 17-year-old trapeze artist Sorsha, who from the first line is clearly running from a trauma that she doesn’t want to dwell on and that she’s been pushed to duck responsibility for. The trauma is fresh, and she’s still in the “nightmares and vomiting” stage of coping with it. Poor thing. I just wanted to give her hugs, cookies, and the name of a rock solid therapist and lawyer.

Beside her is Colm, who is sweet and supportive, throwing away everything he had and taking literal beatings to keep Sorsha safe. He is adorable and a great fit for her; her healing process throughout the story is in part due to him.

Still, despite the romance sub-plot, this isn’t a romance genre novel — although boy howdy, can Marney write a kissing scene! Sorsha and Colm start out clearly attracted to one another, and there’s no big, contrived fall-out between them to generate plot partway through (which is my least favourite romance genre trope). I’d describe Every as a young adult crime series rather than a romance one. All the Little Bones is a little less crime-focused in that the crimes take place before the book starts; it’s more focused on the aftermath.

And it’s focused on the circus! I loved that as a setting — it, as much as Marney’s gorgeous prose, is what made me gobble up this book and spend my mobile phone data downloading the next two. I love the glitz and glam, the behind-the-scenes action, the second-hand thrill of performing (which I’d hate in real life, let’s be real). It was so much fun to read about.

Definitely check this one out.

 


Review: ‘Greythorne’ by L.M. Merrington

How did Lucy Greythorne die?

From the moment Nell Featherstone arrives at Greythorne Manor as a governess to eight-year-old Sophie, she finds herself haunted by the fate of the mistress of the house, and entranced by the child’s father, the enigmatic Professor Nathaniel Greythorne.

When a violent storm reveals Lucy’s body is not in her grave, Nell becomes suspicious about the Professor’s research. But what she discovers in his laboratory will turn all her ideas about life and death, morality and creation on their head.

Enthralled by a man walking a fine line between passion and madness, Nell must make an impossible choice between life, death, and life after death, where any mistake could be her last.

Disclaimer: L.M. Merrington and I worked together, once upon a time. Still, I’ve done my best to give this an honest review. 

I’ve been meaning to read Greythorne for more than a year; I bought it on ebook a while back, but I’ve been in a massive reading slump that has been hard to break out of. Still, I recently went on a cruise that meant I had to pack light, which meant I turned to my Kindle for most of my reads. It’s fair to say that the gothic horror genre didn’t really suit the sunny, tropical places my trip took me to, but I still really enjoyed this story!

Greythorne is by Aussie writer L.M. Merrington, but it is set somewhere that reminds me of coastal Victorian England. (I can’t remember if the book actually gave an exact location and timeframe, but it definitely had that feel to me: cold, crashing beaches; horse-drawn carts; trains and gaslight.)

The manor in which the story is set has the sense of crushing isolation that you’d expect from a gothic horror novel. This isolation is amplified by the fact that Nell, a first-time governess, has no family of her own, and that those who know her aren’t expecting to hear from her any time soon — or perhaps at all. She is truly alone on the island.

From very early on the story’s main male character, Nathaniel Greythorne, gives off serious Dr Frankenstein vibes, with his interest in biology, death and the “natural sciences”. I love speculative fiction in all its forms, so I was so there for this part of the story, trying to figure out what mischief Greythorne was up to in his cellar laboratory. (There were some surprises for me, despite how avidly I was watching, so yay!)

If you’re after a fast-paced read, this book may not be for you; true to its gothic horror roots, the story is told in a way that seems almost gentle, conveying a creeping dread and a growing sense that something is very, very wrong. The slow build is really hard to achieve, but Merrington did a great job — once Nell got to the island and met the Greythornes, I was hooked.

On the other hand, if you’re after a relatively short, “spoopy” read with a creepy setting and a mad but charming antagonist who wouldn’t be out of place in Arkham, then definitely check Greythorne out

 


Review: ‘Invasive’ by Chuck Wendig

Hannah Stander is a consultant for the FBI—a futurist who helps the Agency with cases that feature demonstrations of bleeding-edge technology. It’s her job to help them identify unforeseen threats: hackers, AIs, genetic modification, anything that in the wrong hands could harm the homeland.

Hannah is in an airport, waiting to board a flight home to see her family, when she receives a call from Agent Hollis Copper. “I’ve got a cabin full of over a thousand dead bodies,” he tells her. Whether those bodies are all human, he doesn’t say.

What Hannah finds is a horrifying murder that points to the impossible—someone weaponizing the natural world in a most unnatural way. Discovering who—and why—will take her on a terrifying chase from the Arizona deserts to the secret island laboratory of a billionaire inventor/philanthropist. Hannah knows there are a million ways the world can end, but she just might be facing one she could never have predicted—a new threat both ancient and cutting-edge that could wipe humanity off the earth.

I read (ok, listened to the audiobook of) Invasive just after finishing Zer0es, because I wanted more. Not necessarily more of the hackers from the first story, but more of that weird parallel Earth with its almost sci-fi tech and its Hollywood-esque storytelling.

It’s fortunate that I didn’t go into Invasive expecting it to be about the hackers from the first book, because it wasn’t (although Wade does get a brief cameo, and Agent Hollis is a secondary character). It was closer to single POV — the main character is Hannah, and although we get chapters from other characters, they are interludes rather than whole chunks of the story.

I loved Hannah. She’s a futurist who gets anxiety attacks about the direction humanity is heading in, the child of doomsday preppers who absorbed what they taught her but didn’t subscribe to their beliefs about the futility of trying to improve the world (except maybe in her nightmares). She’s good with people, good with tech … but not so perfect as to be super-human and unbelievable.

Did I mention that I love her?

Like Zer0es, Invasive is fast-paced. Unlike Zer0es, it has a lot more gore. If this were a movie, it’d have an MA15+ rating (an R rating in the States) for the gore alone. The blurb mentions weaponising the natural world, and one look at the cover will tell you which part of the natural world. Let’s just say that I wasn’t scared of ants before I read this book, but … well, I won’t be walking past a trail of them any time soon. Urk.

Still, I actually think this is a better book than Zer0es (which I loved). Having less POV characters gives it more focus, makes you more invested in the action, because a lot more is riding on Hannah’s perspective and efforts. In an ensemble cast book like Zer0es, the characters feel more … disposable, almost?

I don’t know if there will be more stories in this world, but I really, really hope there will be.

 

 


Review: ‘Zer0es’ by Chuck Wendig

Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. At a secret complex known only as “the Lodge,” where they will spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, these misfits dub themselves “the Zeroes.”

But once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist’s head spin. And soon they’re not just trying to serve their time, they’re also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they’ll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of “progress.”

This is a very different read (or listen) than the last audiobook I devoured. Zer0es is a techno-thriller, and not a genre I normally read, but I love Wendig’s urban fantasy and, to a lesser extent, his Star Wars books, so I figured, why not? It’s the sort of book that you can’t help picture as a Hollywood movie even as the story progresses — car chases, action scenes, witty dialogue — but with lashings of dystopian future tech that about halfway through take us into the truly bizarre.

The bizarre, and the supernatural, in our own world are my jam. It’s why I love urban fantasy so much. So I loved Zer0es. (Note: this isn’t a supernatural story. But some of the tech could be described as “science magic”.)

The characters are archetypes in many ways, but Wendig does his damndest to undermine the tropes as their stories progress. In particular, Reagan, the self-described troll, goes from utterly detestable to, well, unpleasant but sympathetic (even as I didn’t want to sympathise with her!). Wade, the scruffy vet conspiracy theorist, is probably my favourite character. Either that or FBI agent Hollis Copper.

The story is multi-POV, which I know some people find divisive, but I don’t mind that. Likewise, Wendig isn’t afraid of “the swears” and has a love affair with the grotesque … so if you’re squeamish, maybe give him a miss. But if you love high-speed apocalypses, conspiracy theories and tech gone wrong, then definitely check out Zer0es.


Review: ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ by Catherynne M. Valente

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t … then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

This book came out a few years ago, and many of you will have already read it. I had a few Audible credits to spend, and I added this one to my haul, mainly because the rather hefty title caught my eye. I didn’t regret it.

The Girl is a middle grade story about a girl, September, who runs off to fairyland at the drop of a hat because her life is a bit boring and lonely — her father has gone to war and her mother works long hours in a factory, making planes and similar. She doesn’t think twice about running off on her poor mother (whom I feel sorry for, not gonna lie), because, according to the author, “all children are heartless”. The main character growth of the story is September’s growing of a heart — learning to think more about others rather than acting on selfish impulse.

I liked September. She wants to be irascible, like storybook child heroes, but is instead incredibly polite and sweet (despite her alleged semi-heartlessness). She sometimes despairs, but she gets back up again. And she’s not afraid to act in the face of injustice.

The side characters are great — especially A-Through-L, the wyvern mentioned in the blurb (though he identifies as a wyverary — half wyvern and half library). But the real star of this book is the writing. I’ve never encountered Valente’s work before, but she is a master of the language. She doesn’t dumb down her style for the younger reader — in fact, there’s a quote from the book that is particularly apt in describing the style:

“September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.”

I could include dozens of other quotes that would make my point here, but it might be quicker if you went and read a few for yourself. You’ll know soon enough whether the writing is for you.

On the subject of the audiobook itself, it was read by the author. She wasn’t bad, but she also wasn’t to the usual standard of the actors I’m used to hearing. It took me a while to get used to her style, her vocal quirks, but eventually she became the voice of the story and I stopped noticing. (Which is, honestly, what you want from an audiobook.)

The Girl is the first book in a series, and I’ll definitely be going back for more — less because I’m invested in what happens next, honestly, and more because I want to continue my love affair with Valente’s prose! ❤


Review: ‘Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow’ by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow may have defeated her deadly curse, passed the dangerous trials and joined the mystical Wundrous Society, but her journey into Nevermoor and all its secrets has only just begun. And she is fast learning that not all magic is used for good.

Morrigan Crow has been invited to join the prestigious Wundrous Society, a place that promised her friendship, protection and belonging for life. She’s hoping for an education full of wunder, imagination and discovery — but all the Society want to teach her is how evil Wundersmiths are. And someone is blackmailing Morrigan’s unit, turning her last few loyal friends against her. Has Morrigan escaped from being the cursed child of Wintersea only to become the most hated figure in Nevermoor?

Worst of all, people have started to go missing. The fantastical city of Nevermoor, once a place of magic and safety, is now riddled with fear and suspicion…

If you threw Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland in a pot, added in some Wizard of Oz, and stirred vigorously, you might get something like the Nevermoor books. And, frankly, I think that’s all the recommendation you should need. 😉

If you need more than that, you can read my (gushing) review of the first book, Nevermoor, here. If you haven’t read it yet, then be aware that this review will be a little bit spoiler-y of the first book. It’s sort of unavoidable.

In Wundersmith, twelve-year-old Morrigan finally gets to study at the Wundrous Society, a secretive organisation that promises her the sense of belonging that she never had with her family. Of course, things are never that simple, and she finds that she is regarded with everything from disdain to outright hostility by her peers and even the teachers. Still, she has a steadfast friend in Hawthorne and a devoted (if rather overworked) mentor in Jupiter. She also has a sanctuary in Jupiter’s hotel and with the staff there, which means that she is never completely overwhelmed by the occasional awfulness at the society.

I loved both Morrigan and Jupiter. Morrigan is determined and insightful, often serious as a result of her strange upbringing and circumstances, but never boring. Jupiter is exuberant and fierce, and — as an adult reader — I have a crush on him and his wild ginger hair. ❤ Just a little bit. (As an aside, Dumbledore could stand to learn a few things from Jupiter in terms of how the mentor thing should really work!)

The story is enthralling and strange, well paced and delightful. The content is solidly middle grade, but with the same broader appeal to older readers that Harry Potter has. There are no romance and no swearing or real violence (unless you count bullying). There are some scary scenes at different points, but nothing too overwhelming.

I read that Townsend is planning nine books in this series, and I am so here for this!


Review: ‘Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds’ by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are mad.

A genius of unrivaled aptitude, Stephen can learn any new skill, vocation, or art in a matter of hours. However, to contain all of this, his mind creates hallucinatory people—Stephen calls them aspects—to hold and manifest the information. Wherever he goes, he is joined by a team of imaginary experts to give advice, interpretation, and explanation. He uses them to solve problems … for a price.

His brain is getting a little crowded and the aspects have a tendency of taking on lives of their own. When a company hires him to recover stolen property—a camera that can allegedly take pictures of the past—Stephen finds himself in an adventure crossing oceans and fighting terrorists. What he discovers may upend the foundation of three major world religions—and, perhaps, give him a vital clue into the true nature of his aspects.

Whenever I’m looking for an audiobook with some cool world-building to escape into, Brandon Sanderson is the first name I search up. He’s a prolific writer whose fantasy novels tend towards the weightier end of the spectrum (The Stormlight Archive paperbacks are released in two parts each).

This isn’t one of those tomes, and it isn’t fantasy. But it was exactly what I was in the mood for — a set of three novellas about the same character that are, together, novel length. The stories are set on Earth, more or less, though the technology Sanderson uses (such as the camera in the blurb) is outlandish and Leeds’s … ability? condition? … isn’t something that exists in our world, at least as far as I am aware.

The stories have elements of the thriller genre about them. They have clever banter (between various aspects, primarily) and are fast-paced enough to keep anyone happy — I was utterly engrossed from start to finish. And, as well as the fantastical technology elements, Sanderson also highlights — with beautiful prose — strange and unusual things that exist in our own world (for example, did you know molten iron fireworks are a thing?). It was like being inside one of his fantasy worlds, but so much more familiar.

I loved Stephen and those of his aspects we got to know. I wanted to take them all home with me, especially when things start to unravel for them (the first two novellas are lighthearted enough, but the third, Lies of the Beholder, takes a darker turn). I’d make them lemonade and wrap them in snuggly blankets by a fire.

You might think that a genius would be a hard character to get close to, but Stephen outsources all of his genius to the aspects — he’s closer to a project planner than anything else, coordinating the aspects and keeping them on task. It’s fascinating. I loved it.

Read this book.