Book Review – Fungi ed. by Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A collection of fungal wonders…and terrors. In this new anthology, writers reach into the rich territory first explored by William Hope Hodgson a century ago: the land of the fungi. Stories range from noir to dark fantasy, from steampunk to body horror. Join authors such as Jeff VanderMeer, Laird Barron, Nick Mamatas, W.H. Pugmire, Lavie Tidhar, Ann K.Schwader, Jesse Bullington, Molly Tanzer and Simon Strantzas through a dizzying journey of fungal tales. Feast upon Fungi. 

Review:

I really enjoy Jeff Vandermeer’s weird fiction, especially that involving mushrooms, and so when I discovered an entire anthology based on Fungi I was incredibly intrigued. It’s a brilliant idea for a short story collection as there are so many interesting ways you can explore fungal fiction.

This collection started out very strong and there are some fantastic stories in it with ideas such as a fungi submarine and a house haunted by fungi although I was a bit let down at the very end which was a poem rather than a short story and I felt that it wasn’t the best way to end such a great collection. Perhaps if it had been midway it would have been a bit better, as it meant that my last memory of the anthology was somewhat meh despite the fact that for most of the collection I’d been loving it.

Despite the slightly weak ending, I was a big fan of most of these stories and am likely going to re-read some of them to write individual short-story reviews to highlight my favourites which I think I’m going to do in advance of future reviews of short story collections.

For those that are fans of weird fiction or want to read lots of bizarre fungal fiction then this is the anthology for you!

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Book Review – River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Review:

This book has been on my TBR for a while because well, who doesn’t want to read about mercenary hippo wranglers? However, I bumped it straight to the top when I saw somebody online complaining about it being “too diverse”. Now, that’s a ridiculous statement but it did let me know that the book was full of diverse characters which instantly made me way more interested in it.

The characters are brilliantly diverse which I absolutely adored as it was so refreshing. The main character, Winslow Houndstooth, is a queer non-white Englishman (his exact identity isn’t revealed but it is shown that he’s definitely not straight or white) and the rest of his crew are fantastic and equally diverse in many ways (including a black non-binary demolitions expert, a pregnant killer and a fantastic fat con-woman with a token white man to make them more respectable). It’s really hard picking a favourite character because they’re all so great although I definitely have a huge soft spot for Archie because it’s always nice seeing a fat woman represented positively.

The plot of the story revolves around a scheme to get rid of all the feral hippos from an area called The Harriet. Houndstooth has assembled a crew in order to do this and so the story follows them in their attempts to pull it off as Houndstooth method is likely not what the Government had in mind when they hired him.

I absolutely adored and devoured this book and went and got the second one straight away which I then stayed up all night reading as it’s just as brilliant as this one (I’d review it too but that would give away spoilers).

In short, this is a brilliant book with an extremely loveable cast of diverse characters and a fantastic adventure. I highly, highly recommend both it and the sequel as I can definitely see these being in my top books of 2018. They’re novellas too so both not too long and not too expensive either.

Book Review – The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

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Goodreads Synopsis:

No one at Meetpoint Station had ever seen a creature like the Outsider. Naked-hided, blunt toothed and blunt-fingered, Tully was the sole surviving member of his company — a communicative, spacefaring species hitherto unknown — and he was a prisoner of his discoverer/ captors the sadistic, treacherous kif, until his escape onto the hani ship The Pride of Chanur.

Little did he know when he threw himself upon the mercy of The Pride and her crew that he put the entire hani species in jeopardy and imperiled the peace of the Compact itself. For the information this fugitive held could be the ruin or glory of any of the species at Meetpoint Station.

Review:

C.J. Cherryh had been recommended a lot recently on /r/Fantasy and so I decided to give some of her books a shot this year. I ended up picking the Chanur series simply because somebody said it was essentially “space cats” which really isn’t that far off.

Firstly, this story is your classic “first contact with aliens” except for the fact that the alien encountered, Tully, is the human which is a nice twist because all of the existing species in the novel are all very different from humans and so we’re seeing it from their point of view.

The worldbuilding in this is absolutely brilliant and so I’m definitely going to read more of her books in future as I absolutely adore it. So much detail has gone into everything and I particularly love the attention paid to linguistics in this book (I love languages) as it even mentions how the “hani language” spoken is that of the family that had first contact with the rest of the species of aliens (who together are known as “The Compact”). At one point in a later book, to ensure they aren’t understood, some of the characters speak a different Hani language and I appreciated this so much as so often aliens in books just have one single language and unless they’re hive-minds then that just isn’t very realistic.

The hani are the main species that we see as they’re the main characters and as mentioned, they’re pretty much space cats. They are essentially humanoid lions and their culture is very similar to that of lions where it’s the women who go off and are traders and explorers while the men stay at home.

The plot of the story revolves around protecting this stray human that has wandered onto their ship and ends up dealing with a lot of political intrigue. The plot isn’t the fastest or most exciting so if you’re looking for a fun space adventure, this isn’t it but it is a richly rewarding book so I still strongly recommend it.

As I’ve not read any of her other books, I can’t say whether this is the best series to begin with but if you enjoy strong worldbuilding and lots of politics then I strongly recommend it. I’m now onto the fourth book and should complete the entire series soon!

Also as a final note, the covers for these books are absolutely fantastic.  The cover for the second book is probably going to end up as one of my favourite covers of the year because it’s just that brilliant.

Novella Review – The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A tale of first love, bad theology and robot reincarnation in the Chinese afterlife. 

In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation. 

It’s a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn’t choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she’s reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride. 

Yonghua is an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. What she is may change hell for good. Who she is will transform Siew Tsin. And as they grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are eternal life – or a very final death. 

Review:

So this is a book I’ve had on my wishlist for a long time, since well who wouldn’t want to read it after reading the part in bold above? Anyway, I finally got around to reading it as I was looking for a nice short break as I work my way through a 5-book series. I adored The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo and so was very excited to find another book set in the Chinese afterlife.

As mentioned, this story is set in the Chinese afterlife which is a fascinating place. The book doesn’t explain much but rather expects you to be familiar with a lot of things (or to just pick it up as you read) so if you don’t know much about it, I’d recommend reading up on it a bit first so that you can appreciate the setting more.

The story starts with Siew being married off to a rich man in order to make his first wife jealous and then her husband comes home with Yonghua who is his new, Terracotta, bride. From there follows a lovely story which I shan’t spoil other than to mention that there is f/f romance (because well, I certainly would have grabbed it a lot sooner if I’d known that).

It’s an absolutely enchanting story and despite its short length, manages to seem so much longer. I fell completely in love with it and the rest of Zen Cho’s work has just shot up to the top of my to-read list. I would highly, highly recommend this novella as it just blew me away and is such a lovely and interesting read.

Book Review – New Voices of Fantasy ed. by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

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Goodreads Synopsis:

What would you do if a tornado wanted you to be its Valentine? Or if a haunted spacesuit banged on your door? When is the ideal time to turn into a tiger? Would you post a supernatural portal on Craigslist?

In these nineteen stories, the enfants terribles of fantasy have arrived. The New Voices of Fantasy captures some of the fastest-rising talents of the last five years, including Sofia Samatar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Usman T. Malik, Brooke Bolander, E. Lily Yu, Ben Loory, Ursula Vernon, and more. Their tales were hand-picked by the legendary Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and genre expert Jacob Weisman (The Treasury of the Fantastic).

So go ahead and join the Communist revolution of the honeybees. The new kids got your back.

Review:

So my bf bought this book a while ago and was raving about how incredible it was after reading just a few stories and kept recommending it to me (partially because he knows how much I love Selkies and any story containing them but also just because I love Fantasy in general) and I was super lucky to get an ARC from the publisher a few days ago and I just devoured this collection.

It’s always hard to review short story collections, and it’s even harder to review this one because I absolutely adored every single story in it and just wouldn’t know where to start. They are all so creative and fantastic and well written and I’m definitely going to hunt down more work by all these authors! I’d heard of quite a few of the authors already, and indeed had actually already read the short story by Ursula Vernon (which is probably one of my favourites of the collection).

Really, my review for this is simply just “read them” because each story is so different and so magical that you can only experience it by reading. For those that don’t read much Fantasy, it’s also an excellent introduction to some of the authors to keep an eye on that might not be as well known as they deserve. For those that are keen Fantasy readers, you’ve likely also heard of a lot of these authors and these pieces are all fantastic introductions to their work and will definitely leave you wanting more from all of them. The editors did a fantastic job selecting all these stories with the result being an incredible book that is just overflowing with such fascinating and varied stories.

In short, I highly, highly recommend this book and indeed I enjoyed it so much I can see myself re-reading and reviewing some of the individual stories later just so I can keep telling people about how fantastic this collection is.

Book Review – Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Review:

Now, Binti has been a book on my TBR for quite a while but I’ve held off on reading it for months despite adoring other books by Nnedi Okorafor. The main reason being that as I loved her other books so much, I didn’t want to read this and then have to wait ages for the third book. I finally gave in and selected it as my first book of 2018 as then the wait for the third wouldn’t be as long – indeed at the time I wrote this it was just 10 days away and already pre-ordered so I’ll wake up to it on my Kindle.

So, for the actual review I don’t know where to begin. I joked about turning my thoughts of “AHH I LOVE THIS” into something coherant but it’s difficult because I literally loved everything about this book. I love Binti, I love the worldbuilding, I love the plot, I love the writing style. I adored this so much I read it in one sitting and dove straight into Binti:Home (which I would have read in one sitting too except it was very late so I took a break for sleep)

I went into this book knowing almost nothing about it since I’d not read any of the many reviews I’ve seen floating around and actually I felt that highly increased my enjoyment of it because it was all so new and refreshing. Nnedi Okorafor does a fantastic job of focusing on cultures that are often overlooked in SFF and Binti and her people are based on the Himba people of Namibia.

The book is actually a novella so it’s all quite fast paced but is incredibly well written to give us an excellent overview of the world that Binti lives in and of the various different alien races that exist. I finished this book hungry for more of this world and just couldn’t get enough of the glimpses we saw of the worldbuilding. Strong worldbuilding is always important to me and is an area that Nnedi Okorafor consistently excels at and I’d recommend reading her work for that alone.

In short, this is an absolutely brilliant novella that I heartily adore and I’m super pleased that it was the book I chose to start my reading challenge with. It’s certainly got the year off on a great footing and I would highly recommend this novella to everybody (especially since as a novella, it’s not that expensive either). Even if you’re not a SF fan, I can still see a lot of people enjoying this because the story is just so good. Indeed, it’s so good I struggle to express just how much I adore it and how much we need more books like this in SF!


 

For those that are interested in her other works, I’ve reviewed Lagoon and Kabu-Kabu and would also strongly recommend them both.

2017 Wrap-Up

Muslim Shelf Space 2017

I can’t believe it’s 2018 already! I’ve now had this blog for almost a year and I’m so proud of myself for not giving up on it, indeed this blog has definitely helped me so much in both the amount I read and in increasing the diversity in what I’ve read.

People may have noticed I stopped doing Monthly Wrap-Up posts for the past few months and I completely apologise for that, life got in the way a bit and I felt I’d focus on the reviews and just wrap everything up now.

So, the first thing is naturally to talk about all the amazing books I read this year!


The Books

So, I’m not going to list all the books because I read a grand total of 210 books this year. However, for those that want to know then you can easily look at my Goodreads because I always keep that up to date (after getting home this morning, one of the first things I did before going to sleep was setting my 2018 challenge on there)

A lot of the books I read were fantastic so I’m also really struggling with trying to narrow it down to just a top 10 or top 20 or even top 50. I always struggle with picking favourites though so I just won’t. I did want to post some book covers here so you had some nice pictures to look at but honestly I’d feel bad at leaving out so many great books so instead I’ll provide you with some nice stats.

Of the books I read this year, 98 of them were by women, 3 were by a non-binary author and several (forgot the number) were collections of short stories by multiple authors which is something I’m quite pleased with.

I’ve not made an exact count, however a lot of these books were also by POC (indeed in February I exclusively reviewed books by black authors for Black History Month) as I made a significant effort to try and increase the diversity in my reading and I also actively sought out translated literature too for even more diversity. I read 6 books by Muslim authors, as mentioned in my last post, and I’m hoping to read even more this year.

I’m pretty pleased with everything I read and most of the books were all fantastic, which contributes towards it being difficult to choose favourites.


The Blog

So, I started this blog back in January 2017 and honestly had no idea that so many of you wonderful people would enjoy reading it so much! I really enjoy looking at my stats and seeing all the different ways you find my blog and where you all come from.

I’ve learnt that my most popular posts are the recommendation ones and those are definitely the best way to promote my blog on other sites, but my reviews are still read more than I’d expect which means a lot (I know I end most of my reviews going “I recommend this!” but honestly I really do recommend almost all of the books I read)

One thing I really enjoyed last year was the two “themed” months I did where in February I focused on books by Black authors for Black History Month and in November I took part in SciFi month on twitter. I think I might do the same thing again this year because they were a lot of fun and definitely helped motivate my reading.

I’ve ended the year just short of 200 followers and so my goal is to hit 250 which hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve!


 

So, despite the lack of pretty book covers I hoped you enjoyed my wrap-up and continue to keep reading this year! If there are any types of posts you’d like to see then please let me know, as I’m always happy to get more feedback. I’ve got a lot of reviews of books from last year to write so should hopefully be pretty active this month trying to catch up on everything.

Muslim Shelf Space #2017

Muslim Shelf Space 2017

So, for those of you that don’t know, #MuslimShelfSpace is a movement that’s been quite popular on Twitter this year, challenging people to read more books by Muslim authors. It’s a movement I’ve tweeted about quite a few times as it’s definitely a worthwhile thing to do and for those that have only just heard of it, I hope you’ll add at least one of these books to your TBR list for next year!

I’ve read a grand total of 6 books by Muslim authors this year, which although that might sound like quite a lot to some people, it’s actually only 3% of the total books I read this year! Now, the actual total might be slightly more as it’s not always easy to find out what religion authors are but that’s still way lower than I’d like.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are the books!


 

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HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas

So not only is this book by a Muslim author, but it’s actually a Saudi Arabian book translated from Arabic into English. I’m a big fan of stories involving Djinn and HWJN is perfect for that. I really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more by this author in 2018!

You can find my review of it here.

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Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

This is a fantastic collection of short SFF stories by an author I already loved. I really enjoyed Throne of the Crescent Moon and when I found this collection on Amazon, I just had to read it. The eBook is completely free too so you can try it out and if you don’t enjoy it, you’ve not lost anything.

You can read my review of it here

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Iraq + 100 ed. by Hassan Blasim

This is a collection of short stories by multiple different Iraqi authors who were all asked to imagine what Iraq would look like in 2103, 100 years after the invasion. It was incredibly interesting to see all the different worlds they imagined and the stories contained cover a range of genres.

You can read my review here

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Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

This is one of the books I’ve seen mentioned quite a bit of Twitter which is what made me choose to read it (that and my library had a copy so that always helps) and it definitely lived up to the hype I’d seen. It’s full of fascinating creatures such as Djinn and effrit and the storytelling was delightful.

I thought I’d reviewed this but turns out I haven’t, so I might need to do that at some point next year! I’d definitely recommend it though.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet & Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous

I discovered Amara Lakhous as part of my attempt to find an Algerian author for my “Read Around the World” challenge and absolutely adored Divorce Islamic Style so just had to read more by him. His tone is brilliant and the stories are both delightful and hilarious. I actually ended up getting my mum’s bookclub to choose Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet as their next book by raving about it so much to her.

I’ve reviewed Divorce Islamic Style which you can read here but not got around to reviewing Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet yet which again is on my to-write list.


 

Anyway, hopefully this will give you all some more books to add to your TBR for 2018 and for those that have taken part, please let me know what books you’d recommend I read next year because I can never have too many recommendations!

Book Review – A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been.

She commands the might of the constellations… though her magic is as unpredictable as the die rolls that decide its fate. But star-reckoners are humanity’s first defense against divs, so if Ashtadukht is to fulfill her duty, she must use every trick at her disposal—risks be damned.

An excuse. A lie she tells herself. All that remains of a life she should have had. She travels the empire to hunt down the div that brought her world to ruin. The longer her pursuit, the more her memories threaten to consume her. The darker her obsession becomes.

Every spell is a catastrophe waiting to happen, every div a tale of its own, every tale a thread in her tapestry of vengeance. This is the story of her path… a warning to those who would follow in her footsteps.

Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Hers is no hero’s journey.

Review:

So I received a copy of this from the author months ago and it’s taken me a while to get around to finally reading as I was saving it for the self-published square of Fantasy Bingo and was trying to not read too much on my Kindle.

Anyway, I finally decided to give it a read when I got Kindle Unlimited and realised I was about to start reading a lot more self-published novels. This book is inspired by 6th century Iran which I don’t know much about and so I am unable to tell how accurate it is, but the setting was absolutely fantastic and was definitely one of the highlights of the book and it definitely makes me want to learn more about 6th century Iran myself which I feel will only just make me appreciate this book even more!

The main plot of the story starts out with Ashtadukht wanting to hunt down the Div that killed her husband, although of course that’s not going to go that smoothly as she keeps being called off to perform her duties as a star-reckoner despite being awful at it. Ashtadukht being awful at her powers is something I really enjoyed as often the main character is incredibly skilled and so seeing her constantly fail or end up with unexpected results was very fun.

As far as writing goes, this was brilliant. It took a while to get used to the writing as the author has a tendency to use his clearly extensive vocabulary but thankfully as I was reading on my Kindle, it was easy enough to look up the unfamiliar words. This meant it was a bit slower to read for me than usual and I got distracted part of the way through which meant there was a slight gap between my reading so the beginning was less fresh in my mind when I went back to it.

One very important thing I should mention about this book is that it starts off slow but just keeps getting better. I wasn’t a big fan of it at the start but wasn’t going to give up so early and I’m glad I stuck with it and the ending, in particular, was brilliant and means I’m definitely going to want to read more by this author!

I’ve not mentioned the characters too much because we don’t know that much about them at the start and slowly learn more about them as the novel progresses and this slow introduction to them all was something I really enjoyed and so I want to save that enjoyment for other readers. One thing I will mention though is that I absolutely adore Waray and her fascination with eggs which constantly amused me throughout the book.

To conclude, despite being a slow start this is definitely worth sticking with and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you’re doing the Fantasy Bingo it’s an excellent choice as it fulfills several squares and of course is just an enjoyable read in general. It’s also nice to read a Fantasy book with a very different setting than usual. For those that are hesitant about reading self-published books, I’d recommend this as a great example of how fantastic they can be.

Book Review – A River is a Lot to Lose by Mason Frey

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Goodreads Synopsis:

An extended narrative riddle, A River is a Lot to Lose recounts the story of a small survey expedition sent to assess the roads in a mysterious backwater of the kingdom. Though commissioned to map and measure the region, the team quickly finds itself lost amongst a bizarre community of backwoods locals. Revolving from house to house through an endless carousel of trees, the crew begins to suspect they might be caught in the snares of something more sinister than the landscape alone. 

Review:

So, I got this book for free on Amazon not that long ago as a special promotion by the author and at the same time as I downloaded it, I also got all the Kindle Unlimited books I’d checked out. I actually thought this was one of them (it is on KU) and as it was short, I decided to read it so I could return it and get another book. I didn’t realise until I’d already started that it was one I owned. Anyway, that explains why the cover…isn’t the greatest to put it mildly. That being said, I’ve seen much worse covers and my main issue with it is that I’m just not a fan of that font.

So, I’ve put this down on my Fantasy shelf because the author shared the post about it in /r/Fantasy but really I’m not sure what to class it as. It describes itself as a narrative riddle, which isn’t that accurate and there are slightly otherworldly aspects which leads me to place it in Fantasy.

The basic premise is fantastic, they’re travelling down a river and then manage to lose it and get lost in the woods. I really enjoyed that and the fact they seem to keep going in circles while meeting all sorts of odd inhabitants. The ending let me down quite a bit though and it felt a bit rushed at the end.

The characters though, the characters are all very flat. It alternates between referring to them as their titles (such as the Surveyor) and using their names and to be honest it refers to them so little that I could hardly every remember their names which in a book this short and with just three main characters is…not a good sign. I can understand not wanting to refer to them too often but seriously, this was sparing at best. Another big issue I had was with the dialogue – it hardly ever mentioned who was talking other than perhaps at the start and then left it up to you to figure out who was speaking. Their personalities weren’t that distinctive enough for me to be able to recognise them based on dialogue alone and I feel this is something that really should be fixed as it was a major hindrance to my reading. I do not enjoy having to actively stop and go “Wait, who’s speaking again?” or go “Wait, who is Malory? Which one is he again?”.

The writing itself wasn’t too bad, but could definitely still use some improvement as a lot of the time, I felt the chapters could be fleshed out a lot more with more descriptions, more interaction between the characters and more insights into their thoughts. It all felt a bit shallow and constantly hinted at the potential for something much deeper – rather like how the characters themselves felt at the fact that they knew the river was there, they just couldn’t find it. One major thing too is that while reading, I noticed one very glaring mistake that should have been picked up during proofreading which was using “your” instead of “you’re” (if you’re the author and you happen to read this, it’s 17% of the way through).

All in all, this book let me down and I think I’m being harsher on it than I usually would due to the fact that I loved the concept and felt it had so much potential and could be so much more if it was just a little more polished and expanded on. That being said, if the author releases further books then I’m likely to give them a try to see how his writing has improved because there’s definitely talent there and I think this just needs a good editor to make it into a much better book.

Currently, I would not recommend this book due to the issues mentioned however I am adding this author to my to-watch list as I have a feeling once their writing improves, I’ll be a big fan.