The Last Guard by K.J. Taylor - Guest Post

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Last Guard by K.J. Taylor
Series: The Southern Star #1
Released: 8th December 2018
Published by: Black Phoenix Publishing Collective
Genre: YA Fantasy
Southerner Sergeant Kearney "Red" Redguard is the last of a disgraced family, and a loyal guardsman.

And with a murderer stalking the streets, the city guard is his city's best defense.

But in the North, King Caedmon Taranisäii is gathering his army, and the cruel Night God prepares for the downfall of the South.

A new dark griffin roams the land, warning of the war to come. Betrayed and sent on the run, Red must fight to save his homeland. But it may already be too late...
I read K.J. Taylor's first release The Price of Magic last year which was an uplifting fantasy read. Any YA fantasy fan should definitely keep an eye out for this next book in a new series!

K.J. Taylor on Writing the Last Guard

Though its predecessor came out in 2014, I actually wrote The Last Guard in or about the year 2009 (I’ve often joked that if I could publish as fast as I write, I’d have overtaken Stephen King by now! Alas, publishing is a slow business). Still I remember writing it quite clearly. I did most of my work while sitting in a certain cafĂ© with my laptop, which was an arrangement I liked because it was comfortable, there was no distracting WiFi, and I didn’t have to bring a packed lunch.

I enjoyed writing the book, which – well, I admit that’s not unusual; I’ve enjoyed writing every book I’ve ever done. Some authors grumble about how hard and stressful writing is, but I’ve always found it easy and fun. But I enjoyed TLG’s story and protagonist in particular among the other books I’ve written over the years. I enjoyed the story because it’s more or less nonstop action, with relatively few slow spots, which made it easier to write than, say, The Shadowed Throne, which had a lot of talky scenes and political stuff. Don’t get me wrong; I actually prefer writing dialogue scenes over action scenes, but it was still a refreshing change of pace.

Red as the protagonist was also a nice change of pace. Having written one trilogy starring a murderous bastard (I still love you, Arenadd) and a second one starring a woman who starts out bad-tempered and rude and eventually becomes a heartless tyrant, it was a change to be writing about someone who was a genuinely decent person for once.

Red isn’t perfect, of course. He’s uneducated and rather slow on the uptake at times, he’s unimaginative, he can be very scary when he loses his temper, he’s violent, and in some ways he’s a bit of a thug – at bottom he doesn’t really know how to solve his problems without using aggression and brute force. He’s what you’d call a “man’s man”, embarrassed by the idea of showing too much emotion, and equally embarrassed by the fact that he knows how to read (as a boy he was actually rather proud of his literacy, but a good dose of merciless teasing from his peers quickly put paid to that). Even so he’s an honest man (he claims that never in his life has he ever told a lie), and fiercely loyal to his friends, his Eyrie, and the law he serves. Unlike Arenadd he is disgusted by the idea of hurting those weaker than himself, and under normal circumstances would never raise a hand to a woman, a child, or someone trying to surrender.

Unlike Arenadd or Laela, Red isn’t out to find his place in the world: he already knows who he is and what he wants out of life. Unlike Arenadd he has no great ambitions; he just wants to be the best guardsman he can be, and restore the honour of the Redguard family name since his uncle Bran “the Betrayer” besmirched it. Other than that he hopes to find a wife and become a father, so the family line won’t die out. If circumstances hadn’t intervened he would most likely have lived a pretty quiet, uneventful life – and he’d have been perfectly happy that way. But when disaster strikes, he’s ready to step up and do whatever he can to protect his home.

The other aspect I enjoyed about writing the book was the divide between the two sides in the war. On the one hand you can sympathise with Red, since the Northerner invasion destroys his home and robs him of everything he holds dear when he’s done nothing wrong. But on the other, you can understand why King Caedmon led the assault on the South in the first place, and especially so if you’ve read the previous books and are aware that Caedmon too lost everything thanks to the treachery of Southerners, and has chosen to make war on their country purely to protect his people and his homeland from an enemy who conquered and enslaved them once before and might well choose to do so again. This is not a story of an evil overlord who wants to take over the world and the plucky hero who must nobly resist him. It is rather the story of two peoples who are blinded by ignorance and hate, which dooms them to repeat the mistakes of the past rather than learning from them. In the end, neither side is in the right. Rather, they both do what they think is right. Just as we all do. The question this trilogy asks is “can the cycle be broken?” and if so, what will it take to break it?



Giveaway

Black Phoenix Publishing are running a giveaway to win a free copy of this book! To enter, just visit their facebook page and like or comment on any of their posts before 15th December.

Review: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend - Marvelously magical.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
Series: Nevermoor #1
Released: 10th October 2017
Published by: Hachette
Genre: MG Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Pages: 449
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world--but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she's blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks--and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It's then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart--an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have.

To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests--or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.
Nevermoor is a delightfully enchanting read which captures a sense of adventure on every page. Australian author Jessica Townsend's debut certainly has met the hype which came with her release, with comparisons made to Harry Potter that set the bar high. This new series does have the potential to become the stuff of legend for today's young readers, standing on its own as a uniquely imagined world of wonder and excitement with a protagonist who pushes past her vulnerabilities and is willing to 'step boldly'. 

She thought of the night before - of the wonderful moment when Jupiter had shown up at Crow Manor, the joy she'd felt at the break of dawn when she'd landed safely in the forecourt of the Hotel Deucalion. She'd believed a whole new world had opened up to her. 

This is a story which you can't help but be drawn to from the very first page. Even the most reluctant readers are sure to be hooked as they learn of Morrigan Crow's doomed fate and the dramatic circumstances which could change her life forever. What gives Nevermoor its charm is the world which Townsend has so intricately created. The idea of the Wundrous Society and telling of each trial which stands between Morrigan and her curse are all crafted in vivid detail which brings the plot to life. Although I would say this novel isn't as dark as Harry Potter, it still maintains a balance between the real danger following our protagonist and the fun of new experiences such as staying at the Hotel Decaulion and meeting a 'Magnificat'. At its heart, even when you take away the fantastical elements of this book, there is a message which readers both young and old will appreciate, about finally seeing what makes you special, and having the confidence to embrace it. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Nevermoor has enough charm to appeal to people of any age, capturing the enchantment of a world where what hides behind the shadows is no match for the magic which lies within. I can't wait to see what happens next in this series!

Review: The Grip of It by Jac Jemc - Unsettling truths and unexplained absences

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
Released: 1st August 2017
Published by: Macmillan (US)
Genre: Horror
Source: Bought
Pages: 276
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Touring their prospective suburban home, Julie and James are stopped by a noise. Deep and vibrating, like throat singing. Ancient, husky, and rasping, but underwater. “That’s just the house settling,” the real estate agent assures them with a smile. He is wrong.

The move—prompted by James’s penchant for gambling and his general inability to keep his impulses in check—is quick and seamless; both Julie and James are happy to start afresh. But this house, which sits between a lake and a forest, has its own plans for the unsuspecting couple. As Julie and James try to establish a sense of normalcy, the home and its surrounding terrain become the locus of increasingly strange happenings. The framework— claustrophobic, riddled with hidden rooms within rooms—becomes unrecognizable, decaying before their eyes. Stains are animated on the wall—contracting, expanding—and map themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of painful, grisly bruises.

 Like the house that torments the troubled married couple living within its walls, The Grip of It oozes with palpable terror and skin-prickling dread. Its architect, Jac Jemc, meticulously traces Julie and James’s unsettling journey through the depths of their new home as they fight to free themselves from its crushing grip.
What is worse? To be confronted with an obvious horror, or to be haunted by a never-ending premonition of what's ahead?

This new release from Jac Jemc being coined as 'literary horror' is the type of book which disorients the reader as much as it does the characters. Psychologically unsettling, the story unfolds as a young couple contend with an omnipresent entity in their newly purchased home. Set in a quiet neighborhood with some questionable residents who may know more than they let on, Julie and James become increasingly affected by an unspoken terror which threatens their grip on reality. While the 'big reveal' didn't leave me awestruck, Jemc's command of language was undeniably impressive. 

I remember that I have no answer for where the bruises come from or for where I disappeared when the house swallowed me up, and we have no explanation for the noises - the intonation or the deep breathing in the night or the voices looting our dreams - and no reasons for the drawings or the children in the woods, things we see together, even if we're apart. 

Let me start off by saying that this is not an example of the typical 'haunted house' trope. Yes, strange things happen in the building itself, but there is something altogether more uncomfortable when the cause could just as easily be rationalised as coming from the couple themselves. What makes The Grip of It so chilling goes beyond the already disturbing events of bruises which appear on Julie, or the sounds that keep James awake at night. You wouldn't need jump-scares in a horror movie if it instilled the kind of unease which is present here - something that is difficult to shake, but impossible to turn away from. The short, alternating perspectives let us get to know both members of the couple, as their vices and growing suspicion of each other begins to infiltrate the miasma of fear. There are lots of missing pieces though, and much of the background to the town and its past left me wondering where the story could possibly be headed. Things are dealt with at a slower pace in this novel which is almost entirely character driven, and often confusingly so. However, I can see where the author was coming from, and how it serves the purpose of always keeping you one step behind the truth. 

I feel this threat to our credibility sharply behind my eyes. The inability to trust ourselves is the most menacing danger. I fear what we could find here. I fear what we wont. 

I love how Jemc has contrasted such elegant prose with her darker subject matter. It's definitely made me want to read more of her work, as she is able to articulate human instinct and emotion in even the most surreal circumstances. She challenges the reader to question where the figments of our imagination begin and reality ends. Is there a true boundary between the two? This book excels at asking that exact question. As for the answer...well, I challenge you to take on The Grip of It and see what conclusion you reach.

We can mark the place that indicates This is how much we can take; we can monitor it, but that line, nevertheless, constantly moves. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

It can be hard to judge a book when I'm not even completely sure what had been going on at times, but perhaps that's the catch with a story like this - realising that the thought of the impossible is the most threatening of all. 

Waiting on Wednesday: The Woman in the Window

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are waiting to read. This week I've picked The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn.


What did she see?

It's been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside. Anna's lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours.

When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers. But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see.

Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

This is giving off some Girl on the Train vibes with a voyeuristic main character and her seemingly perfect subjects. I'm a big thriller fan so I'm curious to see how this one stacks up to the others I've read - it has Gillian Flynn's tick of approval so that's a good start!

Releasing 15th January 2018 from HarperCollins Australia

Review: The Burden of Lies by Richard Beasley

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Burden of Lies by Richard Beasley
Released: 1st December 2017
Published by: Simon and Schuster Australia
Genre: Legal thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 277
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Cocaine. Construction. Corruption. The unholy trinity of Sydney.

Self-made property mogul Tina Leonard has already lost her business, her home and custody of her children because South East Banking Corporation left her bankrupt. Now it appears she is being framed for the murder of her banker Oliver Randall, a senior executive of the corporation. Her motive? Revenge for ruining her life and her business. When maverick lawyer Peter Tanner is brought in to represent Tina, he bends the law to learn the truth. Was the real killer employed by the bank to silence Randall, who knew too much about their corrupt clientele and business dealings?

Tanner digs deeper the truth is harder and harder to find. Drug dealers and dodgy cops are a breed apart from corrupt corporate bankers, who’ll do anything to keep their names in the clear. Who really silenced Randall? Tanner gets more than he bargained for as he tangles with craven bent banks and a client who can't talk, and danger lurks far too close to home. Bestseller Richard Beasley's latest sharp-edged, gritty Peter Tanner thriller.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

I do love a good thriller, though I haven't read many like this which focus specifically on the legal drama behind the crime. In The Burden of Lies, Beasley has brought corporate and financial crime to the fore, with a side of high-rollers and corrupt millionaires in the drug trade. Add into the mix a maverick lawyer in the form of our protagonist Peter Tanner and you get a story which explores all the seedy characters and their connections to a murder itching to be solved. 

This book is full of legal jargon, but that's to be expected from this genre. It makes the set-up of the plot all the more realistic, and relevant also with the mention of all the corporate scandals and banking cover-ups which we hear about in the news on a regular basis. Beasley hit home with references to Sydney, making this a true Australian legal crime novel that people who live in the city can find some familiarity with. 

Tanner as a character cut through the technical side of solving the crime with his unconventional methods and real passion for justice. While he didn't always go about things 'by the book', sticking by his own ethics and always having a witty quip on hand made him a somewhat endearing character who at the end of the day just wanted to spend more time with his family. It was good to see both sides of his personality in and outside of his work. My one issue with the story was that there was a lot of unnecessary 'telling' instead of 'showing', making getting to the point of a chapter or particular plot point more tedious than it perhaps needed to be. But, once we got there it was clear to see that there will be room for the next book in the series where Tanner's unique legal problem-solving skills will make another appearance. 

In all, if you're a fan of John Grisham or Michael Connelly, it's definitely worth giving Richard Beasley's books a try.