Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Blog Tour: The Revenant Express

The Revenant Express has FINALLY been released but it's also the ten year anniversary of the series, and in celebration of that, Titan Books is running a blog tour! As you can tell, today is my stop on the tour, and I'll be letting you guys know my thoughts on the book! But first...I've got a little guest post from the author, George Mann, himself letting us know a little bit about his inspiration! 
So over to George.... 

Inspiration and The Revenant Express

Ten years on from the publication of the first Newbury & Hobbes novel, The Affinity Bridge, I’ve talked a lot about the inspirations behind the series – the novels, TV shows and movies that nourished me as a child and young man, and which continue to exert influence on me now: Doctor Who, The Avengers, Sherlock Holmes, Hammer Horror and more. 

All of these things and more have played a part in helping me shape the tone and character of the latest novel in the series, The Revenant Express, but with publication looming, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a handful of specific stories, and one film, in particular, that I wanted to pay homage to with this new book. 

Trains have always provided a fantastic setting for writers, particularly of adventure stories and thrillers – the contained environment with a limited number of passengers, from which no one can leave until the next stop, is in many ways akin to the isolated country estate in which people have been snowed in, or the bank being held hostage by armed robbers. 

Yet old fashioned steam trains are also redolent of long, peaceful journeys through leafy countryside, of a different pace to life, a symbol of a bygone age. It’s this dichotomy that makes them so perfect as settings for nefarious goings-on. 

When I think of train journeys I think of the opening episode of the BBC’s adaptation of The Box of Delights, in which Kay Harker meets sinister clergymen in his carriage; of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple witnessing a woman being throttled through the window of an adjacent train; of the horror on the face of Denholm Elliott in the screen version of Charles Dickens’s The Signalman, or the stranded passengers in J. Jefferson Farjeon’s classic Christmas novel, Mystery in White. That’s not to mention numerous rooftop battles by James Bond (in his various guises), which never fail to thrill, even after watching them time and time again. 

There are dozens more, of course, not least Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express, which is surely one of the most well known crime stories in the world, and the template for all ‘murder on a sleeper train’ stories that would follow. 

The one that I find few people are aware of, though, is Horror Express, a Spanish-British horror movie from 1972, directed by Eugenio Martin and starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas. It’s akin to the Hammer or Amicus movies of the era, and details a campaign of murderous terror aboard the Trans-Siberian Express. It’s hammy, and over-the-top, and low budget... but it’s one of my favourite films, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact, I’m not alone, as John Connolly, the best-selling crime writer, has recently published a monograph in support of the film, and I have a copy waiting near the top of my reading pile. I can’t wait to see what insights he reveals. 

It’s in the spirit of these stories, then, that I offer up The Revenant Express, a story that is both very much a Newbury & Hobbes tale, continuing the adventures of the intrepid duo, and a tribute to and addition to a sub genre that has had a huge impact on my reading and viewing over the years.  

Having read the book, I find all of this absolutely fascinating, and I can see where certain inspirations came in! Which I'll explore more in my review.... 

The Revenant Express
Rating: 4/5
Buy or borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher! 

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury's assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica's sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.

I have waited YEARS for this book, as it got pushed back and pushed back and I kind of can't believe it's finally here?! I mean the way the previous book ended it's kind of cruel to make us wait this long! Although it has to be said...the anticipation was real going in to this. 

I will admit that the opening had me a little bit confused until I remembered and realised that we're seeing a glimpse of something that happened a year or less before the events of the previous books...and I was curious as to how it was going to relate to what goes on in the main plot of this one. 

As Newbury is going on this particular adventure with Amelia, we obviously get her point of view, and get to see a lot more of her! I was intrigued to get to know her properly, and she's the kind of person that doesn't like to see the bad in people and she finds it hard to be suspicious of people despite Newbury's warnings. She did annoy me a little when she was standing there having a debate with Newbury about getting rid of a body when they're clearly being set up....but I had to remind myself that she's not Veronica and she's lived a very sheltered life so far, and therefore isn't used to this kind of situation. She did grow on me over the course of the book, despite the odd moment when I wanted to shout at her, but she has a lot of potential for character growth! 

As is usual with the storytelling for these books we get a couple of other POV's including the POV's of the "bad guys", if that's what you want to call them. Clarence's POV had me going from "yaaaaay we're journeying from Paris to St.Petersburg and we're going to get to see more of the steampunk world" to "ew gross, what the hell!?". It also gave me huge doses of foreboding. I particularly enjoyed his POV because the first chapter of it twisted from being normal, to an impending sense of something not quite a horrifying reveal. The poor guy brings a huge dose of foreboding and dread every time he pops up, and I actually really felt for him. Although he certainly gives us an interesting look at the Revenant plague and what happens with it. He had the air of a ticking time bomb, as we waited for it to explode and add to the chaos. We also had the shadowy POV of the Keeper which made for....disturbing reading, when he graced us with his presence. 

If you're worried about the lack of Veronica, never fear, we do get her POV so she's not completely absent from the narrative. Although her POV is from the previous year and we have the mystery of that case running alongside the quest to get to St.Petersburg. I did like how the plot thread with Veronica ties in and linked with what was going on aboard the train with the Revenants. Her POV is like the usual mystery crossed with a particular episode of Primeval that it had me in mind know, the one with the plant men. Then the narrative on the train is kind of like Murder on the Orient Express meets zombie apocalypse. 

Alongside our favourites, we have a couple of new faces to spice things up, could have done without Petunia though. She got on my last nerve from the beginning with her overbearing attitude and how nosy she was. 

As for the plot, it starts off at a leisurely pace as we get in to things and start off on the journey but it's not long before things get started and by that I mean...murder. Now, while I did enjoy this, the train obviously had a claustrophobic feel to it, with no escape and impending danger, while Veronica's plot line gave us the mystery elements that we're used to with this did have the feel of a novella to it. 

This one isn't the longest, if you take out the flashbacks that allow Veronica to have a presence and shows us her feelings more, it'd be very short indeed. Novella length, in fact. While I did enjoy Veronica's parts, I feel like it was just there to pad out this book a little to take it from novella to actual instalment, and I'm not entirely convinced it was necessary either. But like I said, I did enjoy this anyway, the pace picks up as we switch from pov to pov and action to action. It was nice to see Maurice battling evil and taking names, he might not be back to his usual self but from what I remember of him in the previous book...he was certainly having fun. While it did seem like a bit of a simple solution I am glad the whole thing with that book and the ritual has been resolved, because hopefully he'll get back to normal! 

Although I am a bit wary of Amelia perhaps taking Veronica's place. She did come across that way in this book, and there was a moment with she and Newbury and a comment Amelia made in her narrative that had me like "Hell no", but I am looking forward to seeing how this experience will change Amelia and I'm hoping she'll become stronger. 

I loved getting to see Faberge and what he was like in this version of the world....I'm also curious as to what Newbury handed over to him?! I am a bit sad we didn't get to spend more time in St.Petersburg and see it properly...and see more of it because I loved what we did see! It was very different to London, obviously, and I was enchanted with it! 

Everything comes to a splendid ending, although Newbury was about to confess and I damn near screamed when they got interrupted! I have been left very intrigued, however, as we have an outright war happening. I think we all knew this was coming, and our characters would reach their breaking point eventually! While I'm not sure if there is another book in this series, this has the feeling of setting up for the grand finale of the series so I'm hoping we'll get one more book! 

Thanks for checking out my blog tour stop! Head over to Always Trust In Books to check out their stop today too! And don't forget to check out the other stops this week! 

Manga: Hitorijime My Hero

Hitorijime My Hero Volume 1
Rating: 4/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher! 

Masahiro Setagawa doesn't believe in heroes, but wishes he could: he's found himself in a gang of small-time street bullies who use him to run errands. But when high school teacher (and scourge of the streets) Kousuke Ohshiba comes to his rescue, he finds he may need to start believing after all... and as their relationship deepens, he realises a hero might be just what he was looking for this whole time. 

This first volume moves quickly, meet  all the characters, get some background on them and even have a rejection...all in the first chapter. I wasn't expecting the rejection so that was a surprise right from the start, but then's all part of a genius strategy so does it even count!? 

Masahiro is an interesting character, he hates heroes because one never came to save him as a kid. He falls in with a gang who makes him do all their grunt work, and it's while working for them that he bumps into Kensuke and they rescue a kitten, take it back to his house and it turns out Kensuke's brother is the "bear killer" aka the guy taking out all the gangs. Masahiro then becomes Kousuke's underling and Kensuke's friend...all in this first volume! We get such a nice amount of depth to his character, and I really felt for him. He has a bad home life, and he does everything he can for everyone because he's good at doing everything for everyone. Like he cooks for all his friends! He's kind of adorable though, I'm rooting for him! 

As for Kousuke, he's a badass fighter and a teacher now. His little strategy of rejecting Masahiro to get him to realise his feelings works like a charm. I am waiting for more background on him though, but what I'm seeing so far he's a nice contrast to Masahiro and I'm hoping he's going to help Masahiro grow a spine a little. 

The supporting characters are equally intriguing...and in Kensuke's case he's adorable too! I actually find him so hilarious, especially when he's drawn with the big, puppy dog eyes. He and Asaya are hilarious opposites, but also kind of cute. I'm intrigued by their story and what went down with them! Asaya himself is kind of aloof, but I'm oddly rooting for he and Masahiro to become friends because Asaya worked out what was going on before anyone else. I was like yaaassss sort them out Asaya! But he is kind of a little s*** though. 

Oh, and I know the gang members are bad okay, but they're oddly kind of sweet too, worrying about Masahiro all this time and giving him a place to go. Bless them. They're not all bad. 

We get action and tension as the gang catch up with them, and bring Masahiro back in to the fold. We get drama as Masahiro wants to distance himself from Kousuke and Kensuke after the rejection. It's quite the wild ride and a nice mix of different elements to keep you on your toes and keep you reading. 

The first volume establishes the relationship, we have a lot of realisation and feeling examining but there's also some action and drama, we're introduced to the characters and there's also some cute and funny moments too! In short...there's a lot going on for a first volume, alongside all the set up! The art and character designs are nice, there's an interesting and entertaining cast of characters both supporting and main, with different personalities that sometimes clash. Obviously this isn't going to be smooth sailing for them, so I wonder how long it'll last before they're found out and before even bigger drama finds them! 

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Manga: The Seven Deadly Sins 30

The Seven Deadly Sins Vol 30 
Rating: 4/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher! 

In order to break the curse on Elizabeth, and to protect The Seven Deadly Sins from Chandler, Meliodas does the unthinkable--he offers to become the Demon Lord, and disbands The Seven Deadly Sins! But The Sins refuse to say goodbye without a fight, and Ban goes to Purgatory alone to reclaim Meliodas's emotions and save their beloved captain. Meanwhile, Meliodas reunites with Zeldris and Estarossa in Camelot, where things soon get heated between the three brothers... 

As is swiftly becoming usual with this series, the volume opens on a battle. We still haven't dealt with Chandler and Gloxinia and Drole are getting a chance to shine and show us how much they've changed. Meliodas wakes up finally, but he's in his bad guy form, giving off an evil vibe. Honestly I feel like Meliodas is too focused on saving Elizabeth to do anything else, or be of any use to anyone else. He's making some poor decisions along the way, and his brain is definitely not functioning all that well. 

We get to see a lot of Estarossa and Zeldris this volume. I find Estarossa particularly interesting because he seems pretty chill...until he's not, and he appears to have some kind of connection with Elizabeth back when she was a goddess that I'm looking forward to seeing more of. I love how this series lets you think you have everything figured out about the past, and know everything that happened...and then it throws something else at you that you then have to wait to be fully revealed. It certainly keeps the intrigue going. 

Zeldris meanwhile, is a lot more straight forward. At least in the beginning. He wants the throne and he'll fight Meliodas to get it, which gives us a glimpse of how powerful Meliodas is now. However...things take an interesting turn because Meliodas clearly has something on him or something he wants because weirdly enough....Zeldris teams up with him and Estarossa to help Meliodas become the Demon King. It's honestly the weirdest team up ever, but I am super intrigued by this turn of events. 

We have some other nice plot twists too, like with Hawk. I always figured something was off about him but could never put my finger on what. The fact we're on Volume 30 and the author is still managing to surprise us should be applauded though. 

As you all know, I love Ban, and I've always loved the bromance between Meliodas and Ban which is back with a vengeance this volume! Ban is getting his own little heroic moment as he heads off on his own mission which is going to be interesting to watch unfold in the coming volumes. 

As much as we move forward plot-wise with this volume, there are some things that seem like a blatant set up for the coming volumes, like with Ban for example. Then there's Margaret who does something super dumb. I always suspected she was a bit of an idiot and I was not wrong. It is an interesting move though and sets things up to be even more epic though. 

I have to say, Vivian is getting on my last nerve. I thought we were done with her ages ago, and now she's back...can we not? But at least Gil is finally back, which contributes to the setting up as all of the main players are back on the board by the end of this volume. 

This volume moves along steadily, pushing the plot forward with action and humour. We have some set up for a couple of new mini arcs for Ban and Meliodas, in particular. There's a few plot twists, and each of them is pretty big and intriguing at the same time, and should prove to make things very interesting! 

Monday, 11 February 2019

Manga: The Quintessential Quintuplets

The Quintessential Quintuplets Vol 1
Rating: 4/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher! 

Futaro Uesugi is a second-year in high school, scraping to get by and pay off his family's debt. The only thing he can do is study, so when Futaro receives a part-time job offer to tutor the five daughters of a wealthy businessman, he can't pass it up. Little does he know, these five beautiful sisters are quintuplets, but the only thing they have in common is that they're all terrible at studying! At this rate, the sisters can't graduate, and Futaro must think of a plan that suits each of them- which feels hopeless when five out of five of these girls think he's a loser!

I wanted to pick this series up because I was in the mood for a romantic comedy and this one sounded  a bit different, and so far, I'm loving it! I liked the sense of intrigue we had straight away as you see the little commentary from future Uesugi before going back in time to when the series actually takes place. 

Character-wise, Uesugi is frugal and a total loner. He's super smart but he needs money which is why he takes on the job of tutoring all 5 of the girls...although he doesn't realise he's supposed to teach 5 of them at first. He makes a pretty bad impression on all of them though, so they don't want him to teach them...that and they're all the same age. 

Each of the Quintuplets is different from the other, which I appreciated. It made them more interesting, and you wanted to get to know each of them to see why they acted the way they did. Itsuki is the first one he meets and my money is on her being the girl we see in the future. She and Uesugi don't get on from the start and she's determined to study and do it by herself. Ichika is straight forward....and a total slob. Or maybe she's just lazy. Yotsuba is tenacious, she's the friendliest of all of them to him. Unfortunately she is the dumbest. She also seems to be the sportiest, and she can't ignore people in trouble. Miku is the quiet history nerd who loves warlords. I'd say she's the smartest so far, and we get to know her the most throughout this first, initial volume. She doesn't seem to have much self confidence, as she hides her love of history and warlords from her sisters. Last up is Nino, the social one. She's kinda evil and she definitely hates Uesugi...she's not going to make his job easy for him. 

I actually cringed for the poor guy more than once throughout this, and there are a fair few funny moments. The art is nice and cute, and I liked the character designs. It's all very visually pleasing. There are allusions made to what went down at the Quintuplets old school, that made them leave until it's revealed they flunked out, adding a nice sense of foreboding for poor old Uesugi. 

This first volume successfully introduces us to all of the main characters, and lets us get a feel for them. It also gives us some background information on some of our main characters, and overall sets the scenes and sets things up for the battle that'll be getting them to study. Presumably we'll focus on one or maybe two Quintuplets each volume! This is a fun and definitely entertaining first volume, and not quite what I was expecting either which I appreciate! 

Friday, 8 February 2019

Review: Shadowscent

Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom 
Rating: 4/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy 
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher! 

In the empire of Aramtesh, scent has power.

When disaster strikes and the crown prince lies poisoned, long suppressed rivalries threaten to blow the empire apart. It’s up to a poor village girl with a talent for fragrances and the prince’s loyal bodyguard to find an antidote.

To succeed, the pair must uncover secrets – cryptic, ancient tales as well as buried truths from their own pasts – in an adventure that will ignite your senses. 

I was so intrigued by this when I heard about it, a poisoned prince, fragrances, a loyal bodyguard and a quest to find the antidote and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this adventure! 

I really liked the focus on scents, not just in the story but in the writing. Scent subtly seeped in to the pages, and the writing style itself was rich. Each sentence was laced with detail that draws you in to the world and gets you acclimated to it in one chapter, although I did have a few confused moments as I was adjusting before everything was figured out. 

I do feel like the history of the world, and the politics could have been delved in to a bit more, and the magic system expanded upon a bit more than it already was. Then again this is a first book and I'm anticipating that perhaps happening in the next book. 

Rakel's a spitfire of a character, she's sarcastic and determined and I loved that about her. I also loved that she wasn't at all what I was expecting. She has a fantastic sense of smell which she uses to her advantage a lot throughout the book. As for our other POV, Ash, he's Prince Nisai's bodyguard and his narrative had me chuckling. He's so snarky but he also struggles with...something. I can't elaborate because spoilers but it was an interesting route to take for his character, and I'm eager to know more! 

Rakel and Ash are quite the pair, and I enjoyed reading about them together and individually. They made a pretty good team, and obviously I started to ship them. I liked watching them grow closer and learn to trust each other, it was nicely paced and didn't take over the plot. My one gripe is Rakel has an epiphany about Ash being in love with Nisai but I feel like it was glossed over and never actually made apparent from Ash's point of view, and I'm still unsure if it was a true thing or if I missed something. Speaking of Nisai though, I liked what we saw of him so far, and I'm intrigued to get to delve in to his character more in the next book! 

Barden was another interesting character he comes across as such a snake at multiple points in the book, more so than Zakkurus. His reasoning didn't seem that solid and he didn't seem like that great of a friend but then he turned it around by the end of the book and I'm curious as to what's going on with him and what his point of view of all of this is. I can't quite figure him out. He, along with Zakkurus has left me with a tonne of questions. 

While we take some time to build up to the main part of the story, meaning the actual poisoning, that's not to say the book is slow to start. It's well paced, as we spend the first 100 or so pages meeting our two main characters, getting a feel for them and the world and how things work as everything is set up and everyone's manoeuvred to where they need to be. We have a tense journey, a fight with a lion and a trial/test to get through before everything really kicks off. When it does...we've got a mystery that seems impossible and a legendary library! There was such a great sense of adventure throughout and never a dull moment. 

There's plenty of twists and intrigue with Ash's secret and the truth Rakel is trying to find out, and I loved the quest. I'm a sucker for a quest, and this was not only a fun one, but it let us see a lot of the world. Which is imaginative and full of interesting creatures, by the way, I also loved how they where casually slotted in. The picture of the world that's painted was vivid enough that it pulled me in, but it definitely leaves you curious and wanting to see and find out more about it. The mythology to this world also fascinated me, and the history we did get to learn about, I just wanted to learn more and more about it. 

Shadowscent is a fun start to a new series, it's got an interesting and imaginative world, I enjoyed the characters, it was vivid and the plot hooked me in and kept me reading. I loved the quest, and the clues to figuring out their next destination and seeing what cool creature, or tense situation we'd find the characters in next. Yes a few things could have been delved in to more on some fronts, but it successfully piqued my interest, and has left me with suspicions as to the culprit, and with plenty of questions that I need answered. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Manga: Ne Ne Ne

Ne Ne Ne 
Rating: 3/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher! 

Married off to a man more than twenty years her senior, Koyuki has no idea what her new life has in store for her. She's so in the dark, in fact, that she hasn't even seen her husband's face! But Koyuki isn't alone in fumbling through the intricacies of wedded bliss. Mask-donning Shin might have many years on his young wife, but as it turns out, he's just as naive as she is! Will this pair of innocents ever get past their awkwardness (and the age gap)?! 

I'll admit straight away that I didn't realise this was a one-off volume, nor was I entirely sure what to expect from it! It's a slice of life, but it's historical which explains the age gap in the main characters, because I was curious about how that came about if this was modern day! 

Our main characters are Koyuki and Shin. Shin wears a mask and he can see fairies and other creatures, which was a nice little twist. I kind of wish we'd gotten to explore that more but we did get to see some sprites and dragons...and they even adopt a little baby dragon. 

I liked the fact that we got the POV of both characters, it was fun and provided some hilarity as you could see how they're quite similar in how they react, and think, and how they're dealing with each other. They're just so awkward with each other, I had to laugh. 

Koyuki wasn't at all what I was expecting to be honest, I expected her to not be all that happy about this little situation, but she's way more in to the whole thing than I thought she was going to be! 

Ne Ne Ne is a cute little volume, they're so awkward with each other initially, but you do see them relax a little bit and get more comfortable. It's funny, it's cute, and it's easy to read. Plus the art is nice, and the colour pages are beautiful! 
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