Books

Review: The Book Of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book Of M
by Peng Shepherd

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

My Review:

I thought The Book of M sounded intriguing – people losing shadows and gaining strange powers – and it didn’t disappoint! We follow the story from three viewpoints: Ory, Max, and Naz. I found Naz the most personable of the three, but enjoyed reading the story from all of the vantage points.

Peng Shepherd has a really good writing style, in my opinion. The descriptions felt like I was there, and the build up to tense, happy, or devastating moments was done really well – I can’t give specifics because of spoilers, but there are several scenes that made me clench my fists, or feel such hatred towards characters who until that moment I had thought of very differently. Everyone in the book has depth, and I found myself often asking “What would I have done in this situation?” or “Would I have done things differently?” whenever decisions came up.

The world building is immense – we follow the story across several states in America, being shown different land marks, and general travel sights that are normally familiar but subtly changed to immerse us with fantastical discoveries as the characters themselves are discovering them. It gave me a feeling of “We’re all in this together” no matter where the story led.

I really enjoyed learning about what was happening to the people who were inflicted with the loss of their shadow, and how it was affecting not only the people they knew but the world as a whole. It felt very realistic in how everyone reacted at different times through the news cycle/timeline.

SPOILERS BELOW! Don’t read the following two paragraphs if you want to avoid spoilers!

I did feel the book was lacking in one respect though – it relied too heavily on the “it’s magic” defense for why everything happened, and felt like it was trying to distract the reader from wanting to know reasons by making the characters ultimately not care about reasons either. Even the scientists and research that was mentioned throughout the book was brushed aside by the end for a heavy push of “We don’t really need to know why, it’s just magic!” and that was disappointing and felt a little like a cop out.

Also by the end I felt like everyone forgot that paper journals were a thing (I doubt stationary stores had been raided much and were likely fully stocked and ready to go).

(No more spoilers from this point on).

But that said, I still really enjoyed the book and have already been recommending it to friends.

Rating: 4/5

If you want to check it out, here are some links!

Amazon *
Book Depository *
Goodreads

I purchased this book with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
* I am an Amazon associate, and Book Depository associate, which means if you purchase the book through my link, Amazon/BD will give me a small commission (it does NOT affect the price of the book).

Books

Review: City Of Brass by S A Chakraborty

City of Brass
by S. A. Chakraborty

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trades she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, and a mysterious gift for healing—are all tricks, both the means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.

But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to reconsider her beliefs. For Dara tells Nahri an extraordinary tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire and rivers where the mythical marid sleep, past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises and mountains where the circling birds of prey are more than what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass—a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In Daevabad, within gilded brass walls laced with enchantments and behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments run deep. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, her arrival threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.

Spurning Dara’s warning of the treachery surrounding her, she embarks on a hesitant friendship with Alizayd, an idealistic prince who dreams of revolutionizing his father’s corrupt regime. All too soon, Nahri learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say to be careful what you wish for.

My Review:

There are only three words you need to know: read this book!

The first few pages drew me in so well that I quickly knew City Of Brass wouldn’t be long enough; that I’d want even more time in this world and with these characters. (Yay for 2 more books planned in the series!)

For a while I did wonder if the pacing was too slow, even though I felt pulled along and eager to find out more of what would happen. And then I realised – this isn’t a book to binge read and rush through. For this book you need to think of yourself sitting around a fire with friends, sharing food and tea, when someone starts telling the tale of Nahri – of magic, djinn, and a mystical city – weaved together with details that make you feel as though you’re there. It’s a story you need to take your time with, to let it guide, entertain and enthrall you as the tale unfolds.

I reached a point about half way through where I wanted to slow my pace even more, to make it last longer because it’s such a great book! But, even with taking my time and enjoying every moment in this world, I did reach the end and I can’t wait for the next book to come out! Chakraborty’s writing is just fantastic, and I’m really excited to see where she takes us next.

Rating: 5/5

If you want to check it out, here are some links!

Amazon *
Book Depository *
Goodreads

I purchased this book with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
* I am an Amazon associate, and Book Depository associate, which means if you purchase the book through my link, Amazon/BD will give me a small commission (it does NOT affect the price of the book).

Books

Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Blackwing
by Ed McDonald

Hope, reason, humanity: the Misery breaks them all.

Under its cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, the arcane remnant of a devastating war with the immortals known as the Deep Kings. The war ended nearly a century ago, and the enemy is kept at bay only by the existence of the Engine, a terrible weapon that protects the Misery’s border. Across the corrupted no-man’s-land teeming with twisted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies bide their time. Watching. Waiting.

Bounty hunter Ryhalt Galharrow has breathed Misery dust for twenty bitter years. When he’s ordered to locate a masked noblewoman at a frontier outpost, he finds himself caught in the middle of an attack by the Deep Kings, one that signifies they may no longer fear the Engine. Only a formidable show of power from the very woman he is seeking, Lady Ezabeth Tanza, repels the assault.

Ezabeth is a shadow from Galharrow’s grim past, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled or the gods he’s supposed to serve.

My Review:

This was my first dive into the “grimdark” genre, so I don’t have others to compare it to but I did really enjoy it!

That said, the first part of the book felt slow and I wasn’t really interested or invested in any of the characters. But around page 60-70 things started to pick up, and from there the momentum built really well. I’m not sure if I ever really cared about any of the characters, but I was definitely interested in them – to know their story and see how they develop – which made me invested and helped pull me into the story more.

This is not a happy world. It’s grim, and dark (as you would expect), and has an air of hopelessness, but also strong, driven characters who are that way because of the world they’re in. I liked that everything was matter of fact, pragmatic, with no sugar coating. And also that you were shown the world and characters gradually – to make your own observations along the way – and not just told what you needed to know as an info dump.

Some of the station locations, and distances/time in general, were a bit confusing to keep track of but it didn’t detract from the story. A map might be helpful for the front of the book though, to get a better idea of where everything is in relation to everything else.

I really liked that there were 2 things at the end which I didn’t see coming (2 others that I did, not because they were cliche, but because the story built up to them well), and I like having surprises.

I’ll definitely be reading book two!

Rating: 4/5

If you want to check it out, here are some links!

Amazon *
Book Depository *
Goodreads

I purchased this book with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
* I am an Amazon associate, and Book Depository associate, which means if you purchase the book through my link, Amazon/BD will give me a small commission (it does NOT affect the price of the book).

Books

Review: Not So Much, Said The Cat by Michael Swanwick

Not So Much, Said The Cat by Michael Swanwick
Amazon

Michael Swanwick takes us on a whirlwind journey across the globe and across time and space, where magic and science exist in possibilities that are not of this world. These tales are intimate in their telling, galactic in their scope, and delightfully sesquipedalian in their verbiage.

Join the caravan through Swanwick’s worlds and into the playground of his mind. Discover a calculus problem that rocks the ages and robots who both nurture and kill. Meet a magical horse who protects the innocent, a confused but semi-repentant troll, a savvy teenager who takes on the Devil, and time travelers from the Mesozoic who party till the end of time…

I requested this book via NetGalley to review because the title and description sounded intriguing. When I started the book, however, the intrigue fell away a little.

Not So Much, Said The Cat starts with an introduction from the author, talking about his writing journey and how this collection of short fiction came to be. Unfortunately, the introduction read very self-aggrandizing and I’m still not sure if it was intended that way or just came across that way by accident.

But I put that aside and jumped into the world of the first story, and enjoyed it very much! I’ve seen other reviewers all say the same – the first story is a great start to this collection and definitely makes you want to read more.

However, the book is only 288 pages, which should be a very quick read, but it actually took me over 2 months to get through it. Which is a downside for me, but for anthology lovers maybe that would be a positive? Each story was a different genre to the last, jumping around between fantasy, sci-fi, fable-type fiction and more, to the point that I could only read one story at a time and needed several days (sometimes a week or more) between them to get my brain ready for the next genre switch.

I’m not sure why the author (or publisher) planned the stories in this way. There were several of each genre in the book and I think it would have been a more enjoyable read to have more fluid genre transitions, from fantasy through to sci-fi crossovers, then pure sci-fi through to the fable-style stories, etc. The way they were all intermixed felt very “bitty”, and frustrated me a few times that I couldn’t just relax and read several at once.

For example, “The Dala Horse” was such a swift change in genre and setting that it pulled me out of the story too much at first – I found myself thinking “wait, where am I? What setting/world is this?” instead of just enjoying the story. And “3am In The Mesozoic Bar” was a flop for me because it took too long for the story to show you what was going on. I think it (and many others) would have read differently if I’d known upfront which genre I should be expecting.

You could definitely tell the same author wrote each story, even with the different settings and protagonists the language and writing style was much the same. But that alone wasn’t enough to tie the collection together for me to read more than one at a time.

The stories themselves are mostly good – a couple are very good, then they become “ok” the further into the collection you go, with one or two not grabbing me at all. But you have to expect a mixed bag with a short fiction collection that crosses so many different worlds, genres and characters.

The ones I enjoyed (such as “The Man In Grey”, and “The Woman Who Shook The World Tree”) had strong plots, characters, and I mostly enjoyed the author’s writing style – very accurately described in the book blurb as sesquipedalian.

“An Empty House With Many Doors” was a surprising treat later in the collection. The worldbuilding was interesting and it was great to have an emotional rollercoaster through such a short story.

Overall I think the collection is an OK read, very middle of the road. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone personally, but if you enjoy mixed-genre anthologies you might feel differently about it than I did.

Rating: 3/5

I received this ebook via NetGalley. The opinions are my own and I received no compensation for my honest review.
I am an Amazon Associate: they pay me a small commission if you use my link.

Books

Review: Henchgirl by Rita Stradling

HenchgirlHenchgirl by Rita Stradling
Amazon

The children of dragons and humans, the dracons, control eighty percent of the world’s governments. Humans worldwide are either subservient or prey. On the small vacation island of Mabi, humans call for war.

Sixteen year old Dakota Kekoa lives a double life. By day, she pretends to be a human to infiltrate Mabi Academy, a ‘human’s only’ high-school. At night, she works as a henchman for her draconic mafia family, utilizing her ability to steal and manipulate emotions.

Dakota’s life is not ideal but it is manageable, until the rich and famous half-dragon, Wyvern Manderson, shows up and starts sabotaging Dakota’s missions. And for some bewildering reason, he is always angry at her.

Within days of Wyvern’s arrival, Dakota is suspended from future missions and in desperate need of money. When Wyvern offers to hire Dakota to find his kidnapped human half-sister, she accepts despite knowing she’ll have to spend all day, every day, with Wyvern and his gigantic ego. This is not just any mission though; she is diving head first into the escalating conflict between humans and dracons. As more girls disappear and some are discovered dead, Dakota realizes her first honorable mission may also be her last.

I received an e-copy of this book via NetGalley – my first book from there! My views and opinions of the book are my own, and I received no compensation for my honest review.

Henchgirl is a fantasy/YA novel, and the first book in the Dakota Kekoa series. I hadn’t read anything by Rita Stradling before, but the description about dragons (who doesn’t love dragons?!) and the gorgeous island-themed cover made me want to dive right in.

The story follows a 16 year old dracon girl, Dakota Kekoa, who works for her Grandfather as something of a collections agent. She is part dragon (as are most of her family) but her ability is particularly useful as she can manipulate souls. I hadn’t ever seen that in a book before so it was an interesting plot point!

She uses her ability to be able to remove emotions from people, or add them, for example adding fear into someone she’s trying to intimidate for her Grandfather, or removing doubt from someone to make a deal. Her gift has it’s limitations and I enjoyed seeing how Dakota dealt with those and how her family had worked to make the most of even the negative aspects of her ability.

The novel is set in the fictional islands of Mabi (which were very clearly based on Hawaii) and I really enjoyed reading about somewhere different from the usual states/cities you see in fantasy/YA novels. The cover (shown above) is also a gorgeous representation of this, however that’s the paperback cover. The ebook cover seems to have been a little whitewashed – Dakota often talks about her darker skin tone, dark eyes and hair, yet the ebook cover has a very pale white girl with light brown hair – I’m not sure why the beautiful island cover isn’t used for both versions.

That aside, I really enjoyed reading this book! The dragon “history” was unusual and interesting. For example: dragons can’t stay on the earth’s surface for long because it’s too cold for them, they live far underground near the earth’s core. There are a lot of strengths with full dragons, and part-dragons, but also a number of weaknesses and I enjoyed that balance.

Dakota is a character who I think will develop more as the series progresses. I kept having to remind myself that she was only 16 because she got a little annoying at times with her thoughts or reactions. Especially when you team it with the fact she’d been working as a henchgirl for her Grandfather for several years, yet she didn’t seem prepared at all for taking/following orders or making logical conclusions over some situations (no spoilers). But as I said, she is only 16 so reminding myself of that helped a little to ease the frustrations.

Wyvern is a character I also want to see more of. He’s interesting but has a lot of negatives – he’s the pushy/dominating/controlling kind of man I don’t find attractive at all nor want to read about. But his character does seem to be changing and “learning” as he goes, so I’m actually really interested to see where his character ends up.  Hopefully it will be a case of him changing the way he does things because he realises women aren’t objects, and not just him changing only to please one girl.

The romance elements got heavier and heavier through the book. At first the story was a fun fantasy read, but ended up feeling more like a romance novel. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the romance doesn’t become the main story – I want to read more about the girl with the interesting talent, and her siblings (who also have talents of their own), and learn more about the dragons, with the romance as a subplot not the main plot.

There were quite a few open ended plot points that I hope get answered in the next book. Specifically about Dakota’s father, something that was given to her at the end of the book (no spoilers), and why Wyvern is how he is (and why her Grandfather knows). Hopefully these get more weight to them than the romance.

The pace of the novel is a bit slow at times – I felt a couple of scenes were padding that weren’t really needed and the main plot became a back story. For trying to save someone’s life, and rescue someone in possible mortal danger, they sure do have a lot of fancy dinners and not seeming to care about saving lives until after the dinner has ended. But the plot does move at a nice pace for the most part and kept me guessing at a couple of things, which is always fun!

I definitely enjoyed the book 🙂 It was a fairly quick read and a world I definitely want to read more of. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the series stays on the fantasy track and doesn’t become mainly romance.

Rating: 4/5

I received this ebook via NetGalley. The opinions are my own and I received no compensation for my honest review.
I am an Amazon Associate: they pay me a small commission if you use my link.

Technology

Review: Misfit Flash – the good, the bad, and why I’m looking at the “Moov Now”

Flash01

I was really excited when Misfit launched the Flash last year. And I waited patiently (ish) and got one at Christmas from Brian <3 I chose “Reef”, the aqua colour.

Before deciding on the Misfit Flash I’d done quite a bit of research on other devices available at the time. I knew I wanted to wear it for swimming (my main form of exercise), I didn’t need a heart rate monitor, and I didn’t want it to cost more than $100.

I narrowed it down to the Misfit brand, which (at the time) had two devices: the Shine, and the Flash.  The Shine was $99, the Flash was $50 (at that time). I spent way too long comparing and contrasting them both, as they only seemed to have two main differences: (1) the Shine was waterproof to 50M, vs the Flash which was waterproof to 30M, and (2) the Shine was made of aluminium, whereas the Flash was made of some kind of silicone/plastic.

During my comparison I came across many reviews talking about how terrible the Shine’s strap design was – the device would fall out constantly for a lot of people, some losing the $99 device and having to buy a new one more than once! That alone ruled out the Shine for me. I liked the look of the Flash and that it had a better design for the strap to hold the device in place. I liked the aqua colour they had recently launched, and they had a holiday sale reducing the Flash to just $25. Perfect!

I’ve seen a lot of reviews saying the Flash feels cheap. I didn’t think so – at least, I was expecting it to look and feel the way it did. For the price you can’t really be surprised that it isn’t on par with it’s $99 alternative.

The Flash is made from a silicone/plastic kind of material, with a smooth touch finish. It’s light weight and feels very comfortable on the wrist. The strap has lots of different notches to adjust to wrist size, and the device stays in securely. It also comes with a clip, so you can wear it on different parts of your body depending on the exercise you’re doing – on your wrist for swimming, clipped to a shoe for cycling, etc. I liked this idea, but ultimately only ever used it on my wrist (for daily walking activity, and swimming).

The device itself has a ring of LEDs to show you how close you are to your goal – which you can set yourself, I set mine at the standard 10k steps. And also a clock which some find difficult to read, but you get used to it. Misfit use a points system for activity tracking, so your steps/activity is converted into points and the LEDs illuminate to show your percentage of progress towards a full circle of lights. I didn’t mind this design, but it didn’t motivate me to do more steps/activity to complete the circle. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I didn’t want a step counter, I was primarily looking for something to keep track of my swimming sessions.

You can press and hold the Flash to “tag” an activity (such as swimming) so it will record that activity as different points than just normal “steps”. The swimming tagging kept track of the duration of swimming, distance traveled, and calories burned. I used this feature constantly for 9 months – my main reason for buying the Flash – as I was swimming every day it was sunny enough! However, the ability to track swimming no longer works – and appears to have been completely removed for Flash owners – making the device useless for me now. More on that in a moment.

Motivation to get me to swim more often/faster/longer would have been nice, but the Flash’s LED circle only updated to count the swimming “steps” after you sync with your phone – which I only ever did at the end of the day before bed.

Speaking of bed, the Flash is also a sleep tracker. The original sleep chart has (thankfully) been replaced with a much easier to read chart that shows light sleep, deep sleep, and awake time during the night. You don’t need to tell the Flash you’re going to sleep, it automatically detects it, which is a great feature! It doesn’t like if you’re awake for too long and then go back to sleep (going to get a drink in the night, for example) and either wipes out the first sleep session, or doesn’t record the second. Not a huge deal for me, but if someone is looking for a reliable sleep tracker for showing sleep-awake-sleep times then this isn’t going to cut it.

So I was pleased with my Flash for 9 months. It worked great and tracked my swimming perfectly. Until Misfit launched their new, much more expensive, Speedo Shine.

One week before the launch of the Speedo Shine, the swimming tagging function stopped working for my Flash. I contacted customer service and they very kindly talked me through steps to resolve the issue – update the app, replace the battery, re-sync my device. Nothing worked. After 3 weeks of nothing fixing the issue they offered to send me a replacement device, and even to upgrade me to a Shine of my choice. I had a look on their site and realised the Speedo Shine was aimed at swimmers – me – and asked for that as my replacement.

“I’m sorry,” said the customer service representative, “That’s not an option. Only the original Shine could be the upgrade.”

As they still (after over a year) hadn’t fixed the issue of the Shine falling out of it’s band, I declined the upgrade and asked for a simple replacement of a new Flash in aqua.

They deactivated my original Flash before they shipped the replacement, which left me several weeks without any kind of activity/sleep tracking. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it would have been nice if they’d warned me about that, or at least waited until the replacement was due to arrive.

Replacement device (they didn't send a new wristband)
Replacement device (they didn’t send a new wristband)

Happy to receive my replacement Flash, I linked it to my app, checked the swimming tagging settings – all set up normally – and went for a swim to test the swimming tagging/tracking.

I was really disappointed to find out that the swimming tagging/tracking still didn’t work. I went through the same steps the original customer service representative said – I replaced the battery, re-synced the device, and then saw there was an app update and did that.

And from that point I have no way of knowing what’s going on with my device, because the latest app update refuses to allow me to sync my device. I checked the comments on Google Play and to my dismay I realised I wasn’t the only one experiencing this issue. And a lot of people had been experiencing it for much longer than I had, with no reply from Misfit about a fix.

Nice, bright replacement Flash...which showed how discoloured my wristband was. Oh well!
Nice, bright replacement Flash…which showed how discoloured my wristband was. Oh well!

I contacted customer service to tell them about the app issue, but also to tell them the replacement device hadn’t fixed the issue of not being able to track swimming any more. And this is when I realised it wasn’t an “issue”, it was more than likely something Misfit did intentionally.

The customer service representative got back to me very quickly saying that Misfit Flash is not a swimming device, and if I’d been swimming with it then I had probably caused water damage.

Hold on a second there! This is a device that they had actively marketed as a swimming tracker right up until the launch of the Speedo Shine.  Then, as I suddenly realised, the word “swimming” had been (strategically) removed from the Flash’s webpage. And due to the timing, I can only assume the swimming tracking function was permanently removed for Flash users.

“Speedo Shine is aimed at swimmers and tracks distance, time…” is the go-to line, it seems. And that would be great, if my Flash hadn’t already tracked those things for 9 months until they launched a more expensive Speedo collaboration and took away functionality from their existing Flash customers.

Looking on their Facebook page I’m not the only one upset by this. Many people who purchased Flash as a swimming tracker (right up until the Speedo Shine launched, as they were still marketing the Flash as a swimming tracker until then) are upset that the purchase they made is now useless.

Customer service made it very clear to me that the swimming functionality is gone from Flash, and no amount of complaining is going to bring it back. Which, as a previously loyal customer, sucks. And that’s why I’m now looking for a new device, from a company I can trust.

So far I’ve discovered the Moov (only $44.95 on Amazon right now), which sounded good but soon they are launching the new model: Moov Now. Which looks awesome! It can track a variety of different workouts: swimming, cycling, boxing, etc. And has a sleep tracker too. So I think that’s what I’ll be getting – it does what I need, for a price range I’m happy with. And from the description and reviews, it sounds as though it does help motivate you to work out more because it’s an actual activity tracker, not just a step counter with extras.

What do you think – do you have a great swimming tracker to recommend? Are you thinking of buying a Moov Now when they launch? I’d love to hear what you think.

I purchased this device with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
I am an Amazon affiliate, and I receive a small commission if you use my link.