Reading Roundup – May

As a new feature on the blog, I’ve decided to add reviews of all the books I’ve read in the month. I need to give myself a kick up the bum to remember to leave reviews, and hopefully this’ll also help me to get better at writing them. The amount of books I read each month will not doubt be varied. I listen to audiobooks while working the day job (artworking greeting cards and designing book covers), but don’t tend to read at all while I’m writing. There may be months where I’ve nothing to review, and there may be months like this one, where there’s a whole bunch of them!

The Rage of Dragons

Evan Winter

Rating: 5 out of 5.
The Rage of Dragons (The Burning, #1)

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him. 

I wanted to start reading this one after watching an interview with author Evan Winter. The story sounded right up my street, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Tau is a character driven by his own selfish reasons, who would likely let the world burn as long as he got his vengeance in the process. I found myself often comparing it to The Poppy War, with the main character joining the military, being overtaken by war, and being hell bent on their quest. Even when Tau made decisions so terrible I shouted at my phone (listening via Audiobook), I understood exactly where he was coming from. I couldn’t get enough of this book, which is why I immediately started the sequel.

It’s also worth noting that while this book is now published by Orbit, it was originally self-published. This book is a shining example of just how good self-published books can be.


The Fires of Vengeance

Evan Winter

Rating: 5 out of 5.
The Fires of Vengeance (The Burning, #2)

Desperate to delay an impending attack by the indigenous people of Xidda, Tau and his queen craft a dangerous plan. If Tau succeeds, the queen will have the time she needs to assemble her forces and launch an all-out assault on her own capital city, where her sister is being propped up as the ‘true’ Queen of the Omehi.

If the city can be taken, if Tsiora can reclaim her throne and reunite her people, then the Omehi might have a chance to survive the coming onslaught.

A fab sequel, just as strong as its predecessor. I loved the direction the story took, especially getting to know the rest of Tau’s troop. I’m also a bit of a sucker for a romantic subplot, and just as with the last book, this one was very well done. I’m now impatiently awaiting the third in the series! 


The Winter Road

Adrian Selby

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Winter Road

The greatest empire of them all began with a road.

The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.

With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .

All roads lead back to war.

Not an easy one to read, with certain scenes requiring me to make an effort towards emotional distance to get through them. I shall avoid spoilers, but if you can’t read books where children are killed, this one may not be for you. Still, despite that, this book did something I really appreciated. I’ve read a few books recently where it seemed that part of what made the strong female lead so strong was a refusal to have children. Sometimes it’s because of society, sometimes it’s because they’ll get in the way of the quest, but it grates on me. I don’t think it should be the case that when I try to name strong females in fantasy that are also mothers, only the likes of Cersei Lannister come to mind… So this book, with a lead who could be both badass and care for her adopted children, was much needed. All in all the book is brutal and heart wrenching, but worth it.


The Bone Shard Daughter

Andrea Stewart

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire, #1)

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

In this book, I found the magic more interesting than the characters (at least until about half way in). The book follows four story lines, and I must admit I was only particularly interested in one of them (Jovis), until another character’s story joined his. Main character Lin has lost her memories, and once I pieced together the mystery surrounding this one I found myself far more interested in the book, which I found to end on a stronger note than it started. I’m still intrigued by the story enough to be interested in a sequel, but in a month of strong reads, this one became forgettable.


Conjure Women

Afia Atakora

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Conjure Women

A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing—and for the conjuring of curses—are at the heart of this dazzling first novel

Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.

Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.

I found this book while going through the Fantasy section on BorrowBox, which definitely led me to believe this book was something it wasn’t. That isn’t a bad thing, the story was great, but where I had expected a story of essentially mother and daughter witches with the American Civil War as a backdrop, this was an in-depth story of a mother and daughter struggling through slavery and ‘freedom time’. Another difficult read which including many dying children. After one such death around the middle of the book, I considered whether or not to stop reading, but I persevered and it was well worth it. It’s harrowing and cuts deep in a way history book can’t. I picked this one up mistakenly, and I’m glad I did.


Kings of the Wyld

Nicholas Eames

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Kings of the Wyld (The Band, #1)

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. 

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk – or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It’s time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld.

Given that my previous read had been a tough one, this book was well needed. So many laugh out loud moments (especially the scene involving an erectile disfunction potion thrown mid battle). The humour is just as juvenile as I am, and I’m giggling in nearly every scene. My other half is a musician, so I’ve been recommending this one to all his fantasy loving bandmates. This book skirts the edges of grimdark with its characters, but unlike many others that are great but harrowing, this is just so much fun, and sometimes that’s all you need in a book.

Saturday Cake Day – Happy Birthday Me!

On my actual birthday, my other half decided I shouldn’t have to make my own birthday cake, and so he and my boys chose one from the local supermarket. In my humble opinion, it was a tad dry, but I shan’t hold that against them. My youngest helped blow out the candles (he’s a little obsessed with that) and managed not to spit across the whole thing. Bonus.

Compared to last year’s birthday in a full lockdown, this year my birthday fell the week restrictions were lifted and I ate inside a restaurant for the first time in over a year! Quite the surreal experience. I should also have been able to have 30 in the garden, with a BBQ planned, but I didn’t get so lucky with the weather. Blooming rain. but these cupcakes were made with such things in mind, as I figured cupcakes could more easily be given away at the door or saved for another day. My oldest is rainbow and unicorn mad, and seeing as he has a winter birthday, I made this tower with him in mind–something for him while the rest in the family all do our birthday’s within one star sign.

I also can’t resist showing off all the books I have piling up to read, along with a few other pressies. These days most of my reading is done via audiobook, whether through Audible or BorrowBox, but come Birthdays and Christmases I put a little list together to get a few physical books. I’m also enjoying my nerdy T-shirts. I’m sure most can recognise Grogu (or at least Baby Yoda), but for reference, the other is the Wanderer from Shadow of the Colossus (so I got two Shadow of the something presents!), which I may or may not have played through 4 times in a month….

So in conclusion, Happy Birthday me. I’ve got lots of reading to do now!

Saturday Cake Day – An Unexpected Wedding

Here’s to another working week over and another Saturday Cake Day. This week I want to be a little sentimental with the cake I show off. Pandemic aside, it’s been a tough few years for my family. First, we lost my mother-in-law, then just as she passed her husband was also diagnosed with leukemia. Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer a year later (almost to the day), just as the UK went into lockdown. We’ve still not been able to have a funeral. Then, as if on cue, my father was diagnosed with bowel cancer. At first it was all very treatable, he had surgery and chemotherapy, but this January we found out it was terminal. Luckily, he has passed the year marker and has broken the cycle my family seemed to be stuck in. Though there are a lot of ups and downs, lots of hospital visits, he’s still going strong. 

Now I’ve started this somewhat miserable Saturday Cake Day with a few negatives, so you can see why I choose to focus on the positives! After about fifteen years of being engaged, my dad and his fiancee decided to finally tie the knot. So I went into full wedding mode!

With pandemic restrictions we weren’t allowed to attend the wedding, but we got dressed up to join the ceremony and speeches online (I even taught my Grandma how to use Facebook video calls so she could see her son getting married). The (very loose) theme of the day was navy and rose gold, so I made a foil lined prosecco cake. I would normally stuff that sort of cake with berries, but as it had to travel and be kept fresh for a week before the wedding, I decided to avoid this as I wasn’t certain how well the fruit would freeze. 

A pandemic wedding

Even though the wedding had four in-person guests with the reception being held in my dad and step-mum’s living room, I still made them place names, a cake topper, and with the boys we made cans to attached to car (personalising each can from different family members). 

The wedding went well, though was a little hard to hear and my grandma couldn’t work out how to mute or stop commenting throughout the ceremony! We had guests from Spain, Greece, and Australia, the sort of worldwide wedding only the pandemic can create. 

Congratulations to my dad and Tracy, married 11th March 2021!

And no, this isn’t the Leaning Tower of Wedding Cake, you’ll need to be patient for that one!

Saturday Cake Day – Dinosaur Cake

I know it’s been a while since my last cake day. In my defence there has been a pandemic, a flour shortage, and–closer to home–building work taking my kitchen out of action for a while. But it’s back and ready to get your appetites going. As well as my recent exploits, I’ll add those I’ve created previously (do look out for ‘The Leaning Tower of Wedding Cake!).

Kicking off Saturday Cake Day will be a fault line dinosaur cake! Fault line cakes are often sparkly creations, but I took the love idea and turned it into digging for bones! The bones were created using white modelling chocolate, and given that it was a very hot day, it was sticky business. But it had the desired effect, as my boys enjoyed finding and eating the dino skeleton.

I was fairly convinced I’d get the fault line wrong and it would all go to pot, but in the end it turned out the hardest bit was trying to get handfuls of sprinkles to stick to the buttercream icing (curse you gravity!). I made have cheated and used toy dinosaurs as the cake toppers, but there were well appreciated, regardless. ‘Lophus’ (Parasaurolophus to the rest of us) was a particular favourite of the birthday boy.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the Saturday Cake Day update! Keep and eye out for more 🙂