Tuesday, August 27, 2013

There's Something About Alex

First Paragraph:

"I can tell my parents are unhappy by the way they smile at waiters. In that small act of ingratiation I can see the custody battle to come. It won't be fought in the courtroom but in HMV and Game. Stocks in Nintendo will soar as my affections are auctioned off to the highest bidder. My teeth will rot."

   Amazon/ Amazon.co.uk

Ostrich by Matt Greene is a blunt book about the different ways one person can feel ostracised (hence the title) through the eyes of a twelve year old boy.


Alex is an "almost thirteen" year old boy, though his mind seems much older. In his own words, he is a "worldy and cynical" person. Alex is different. Not just in any of the usual ways (though he is some of those too). Alex has a brain tumour. If the school grapevine wasn't enough to get the info around, the shaved head is. 

But for all Alex's 'cynicism', he is quite an optimistic, young boy. His surgery is scheduled and soon he hopes to be on the road to recovery. Not just for himself, but for those around him too. If the first paragraph didn't tip you off, Alex's parents' marriage has hit a snag. The stress of daily life, added to the stress of Alex's condition, has taken its toll on them, leaving him on the outside as they 'politely' squabble the days away. But is that all there is to it? What exactly is going on with his parents' marriage?


It's a little hard to pinpoint what this book is about, because it's not really about anything. It's more Alex's observations and perceptions of the world around him. It's a little slice-of-life, coming-of-age, with Alex's illness and the way it affects not just him, but those around him adding a darker tone to the story. 

There are a lot of off-topics mentioned in this book, that most people tiptoe around. Here, they are laid bare. From religion, sexuality, terrorism, illness, bullying, racism, puberty, divorce, depression and many others, this book incorporates a lot of big issues, some more 'controversial' than others. Some are only briefly mentioned (with a passing comment) and some are the basis for the entire story. All are spoken of bluntly, viewed through the eyes of a boy who doesn't necessarily even understand them. Satire is woven through almost every page, with keen quips at the world around us. 

The writing is without a doubt the strongest element. The wordplay is incredibly clever, and the way the author manipulates the language is a treat. I wouldn't say this is a funny book, but I would say it was witty- which is much the same thing, but requires more intelligence. 

I adore Alex himself. A dead-pan, incredibly smart main character. He's bright, friendly, funny, but also damaged- as can be expected. A very inquisitive boy, he's filled with the 'wonder of the world' and feels the need to explain his newest discoveries of what is mostly useless trivia (though sometimes subtly relevant) to his readers. His tumour causes 'absences' (literal blackout periods for him, that look normal to others), causing him to become incredibly perceptive, so he's very good at noticing things other people would miss. And how much do I love him for having a 'To Google' list?

As for his explanations? They are basically tangents, though interesting and entertaining (for the most part). Their nature and use are a little reminiscent of the excerpts from the Guide in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. On the whole irrelevant, but enjoyably odd and sometimes quite apt.

At its core, this is a story about how the people in our lives affect us, especially when we're young and still becoming people ourselves. Alex embarks on a mission to find the truth about his parents not because he wants to know, but because he needs to. They say 'the truth will set you free'. Though in my experience, that is highly dependant on the particular truth in question. While some may 'set you free', others hit you in the gut, stealing your breath away and leaving you gasping in a heap on the floor and remembering another idiom- 'ignorance is bliss'.

I won't say anything about the ending- not one thing. There is nothing I could say that would describe it well enough, without giving anything away. It can be a little confusing, and a little ambiguous or perfectly clear depending on your interpretation of it. In my opinion, exactly what happened is unclear, but definite- in that I know what happened, but I don't know how or why. I can make educated guesses, but that's all they'd be.

I could tell you how the ending made me feel, but that in itself would be a spoiler. If I told you it made me happy, you could guess it was too. If I told you it broke my heart, you could guess the nature of that ending. If I told you it completed me, you'd probably think I was a little obsessed. If I told you it was all three, you'd be confused. So really, I can't tell you anything. How did it make me feel? The answer is obvious isn't it? It made me feel the way it made me feel. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Was it the perfect ending to the book? No. I'd like to say it was a very good ending, and one befitting the story, but this is one of those stories that will be undeniably personal. For the most part people react in similar ways to an ending. This story however, it's anybody's guess how an individual will take it.

Personally, I loved this book. The down-to-earth reality, the feeling that everything has a consequence, kept light and funny through Alex's unintentional (mostly) humour. However, this is a love it/hate it book. Which side you're on will vary according to you.

I wanted to briefly mention one thing. This book has been compared to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", but I'm not going to do that because I want you to go into this book with no preconceptions about it. Don't think about what you think it will be, just read it. Don't think about it in terms of other stories, just think about it. In my opinion, there's no faster way of ruining something than to go into it believing it to be something else. A perfect example? Going to a movie based on a book you love. You spend the entire time complaining about what they did differently. I learnt long ago that the secret to enjoying things with similarities, is to completely forget they have any relevance to each other. Oh and fyi, while I would say the above books mentioned have similarities (what doesn't), I wouldn't necessarily say they were anything alike. I don't like this book because it reminds me of something else, I like this book for itself.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Murder, Spies, Romance, Missing Paintings and Disappearing Beards

First Paragraph:

"The small town of Brompton-in-the-Vale was basking in the warmth of an exceptionally clement spring morning. Though it was only May, the air was redolent with the scent of apple blossom and lavender, all nature having been tricked into thinking summer had finally arrived. Temperatures had been balmy all through the past fortnight; and in the little cottage on the edge of the village the wood stove had been unemployed since easily as long. Penelope Dunston was now sitting staring out the window in her living room, contemplating stepping out. Would she or wouldn't she? A tawny Pekinese dog by her side leapt up from the basket in which he's been dozing for the past hour and yelped once."

  Amazon /Amazon.co.uk

The Mysterious Moxie is the second book in the Zack and Milton series by Jos Van Brussel.


Penelope Dunston is an eccentric, old hermit. The only contact she has on a regular basis is with her dog, Jack. It is Jack who hears the strange sound upstairs, and it is Jack who finds the corpse upon exploring, followed shortly after by Penelope's. The little dog is thanking his lucky stars that his overbearing misery of an owner has kicked the metaphorical bucket, when the first corpse gets up.

It is of course Zack Zapp, one half of the main duo. Groggy and confused, he is startled to find a small dog yapping at him- even more so when he discovers Penelope's dead eyes boring into him from the closet. He decides he best be getting back to his best friend and colleague, Milton.

Milton is the brain to Jack's brawn. The two are arguably the worst spies ever. Think along the lines of Get Smart or Pink Panther, except everyone is aware of how terrible they are. The two Belgians try their best, but are unfortunately a few muffins short of a picnic hamper. You may wonder how they managed to get the job then. Well it all started with two beautiful women, as always. The next thing they knew, they were up to their necks in the spy game, landing them the eternal thanks of His Holiness the Pope and a job with MI5. 

Of course when MI5 realised their mistake (which was very quickly), they were deposited in the small village of Brompton-in-the-Vale, and put to the back of MI5's mind. The job- assume the guises of the clergy and uncover an alleged spy network in the little hamlet. So far, the progress has been less than satisfactory, and both men have succeeded in making enemies of the locals. What can you expect when you accuse the local doctor of being a serial killer?

It seems the spy network isn't the only thing foul around Brompton, as a string of murders has recently begun. Five to be exact. All old women, all unmarried or widowed. The boys have their work cut out for them.

But even more foul play is afoot. It seems there's a thief roaming around, with their eye on the Brookridge Paintings. So far two have been stolen from the local museum, and the local fuzz are on the job. All two of them. 

Yes it's all go in the small hamlet, what with murders, thieves, spies, romance, fierce beard vs moustache competition, and disappearing facial hair. There's certainly never a dull moment.


This is first and foremost a comedy. With very tongue-in-cheek humour, that borders on slapstick. If you're expecting a mystery, there is one, but it's mostly ignored, in favour of missing pig paintings and beards. 

It can be a little random, as we segue from character to character and back again, making it hard to determine who the main character is. The blurb suggests Jimmy, the story suggests the resident MI5 wannabe's (whose series it is). I would say the series is about the 'wonderful adventures of Milton and Zack', while this book is focused more on 'the story of a lovestruck Jimmy'. Milton and Zack are still important characters, but plot wise- the residents are the main focus. 

This is the kind of crime story with misconceptions abound. The word that comes to mind- hijinks. Yes, it's that kind of mystery book. The whole story is riddled with false assumptions and overzealous characters, all determined to succeed in whatever seemingly life-changing tasks they appoint themselves. With quite a large cast, there's plenty of possibility for crossed lines. What I call a little case of the 'Chinese Whispers'. Everyone seems to have a different view of what's going on.

As I mentioned, this is the second book in the series. I have not read the first one, but I don't think it hindered the understanding of this story in any way. I'd say it's more likely that Zack and Milton are the recurring characters pulled through the various stand-alone stories. There are a lot of flashbacks to what I assume is the first story, and they are vague enough to be noodle incidents. Basically, someone casually retelling a story with only the most basic, unimportant events- and are usually bizarre, and leave those out of the loop wondering what on earth happened. An example, it's like  that time we woke up on a lilo in the middle of the desert, with nothing but a goldfish and a pair of fluffy dice. Yes ladies and gentlemen, that is an example of a noodle incident, and no, it is not part of this story. Noodle incidents are pretty good tools for rousing a person's curiosity though, so work well for promoting the previous book. Especially as there are so many noodles in this story, it could rival Wagamama's. 

This is very much light entertainment. It's more comedy than murder mystery. It's a little drawn out for what it is- which is essentially nonsense- but it's not so long as to lose the interest. The conclusion (when we get to it) is as absurd as the rest of the book, but in a somehow-it's-all-prefectly-logical way. It's not so much that it doesn't make sense, more that you can't believe it does.

Oh, and boy does this story have a mountain-load of revelations. They just keep coming, piling on top of each other, contending for which is the biggest and most shocking. Though not to us, as we're made aware of pretty much every truth from the start- with the exception of a couple. 

As to the mysterious moxie? It has as much to do with a secret spy network as anything else. I'll leave you to interpret that as you may.

Overall, a comedic story- with not quite as much wit as Pink Panther or Get Smart, but still enough to make you laugh. If you're not a fan of over-the-top humour this may be a miss for you, but fans of it will rejoice in the overflowing amount of it in this story. For me personally, it wasn't so much that it was distracting, more that it slipped into padding mode. Not that much actually happens in the book, it's more of a 'what will they do next?' kind of story. However, I think if you go in expecting more of a comedy than a mystery it would be more enjoyable. I went in expecting a mystery- albeit a funny one- and was a little disappointed in the lack of it. 

As for the unlikely 'spies'? The show must go on. Onto the next adventure. I wish good luck to the unfortunate next recipients of the boys' zeal. To all the Jacksons of the world fated with meeting them, you have my sympathies.

Disclaimer: I received this book through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Gore, Lore, "The Roar" and More Than Enough Ice

First Paragraph: 

"My name is Norman Leonard and at one time I lived in Liverpool, North West England, with my wife Chrissy. We were among the stubborn few that stayed. The speed of the advancing ice had taken everyone by surprise and the edge of the glacier had already reached the ruins of the Forth Road Bridge, the old one, not the narrow one-lane nightmare they threw up some years back when a heavy ice storm finally snapped the suspension cables. Before long, the glacier would rumble its ponderous path down into England and pretty soon Cumbria would become as uninhabitable as Scotland had been for the last five years."

  Amazon /Amazon.co.uk

Hard Winter: The Novel by Neil Davies is a dystopian horror/thriller.


The year is 2118. The world is rapidly falling prey to mother nature, as she brutally crushes it with inescapable, unstoppable ice. It is unclear how the world got into this state, but we'll put it down to global warming mixed with the nuclear winter of 2062.

Norman and his wife Chrissy live in Liverpool. When "the freeze" happened two years ago, all the 'VIP's' were evacuated from the city. Many others left, and Liverpool is as lifeless and bleak as the grey skies that bare down on it. Norman and Chrissy are forever on the move. Little by little the glacier advances, pushing them out of whatever abandoned building they called home. And everyday they have the same conversation, stay or leave? Chrissy believes the government will eventually step-up and come back for those who remain. Norman retains his life-long cynicism of mankind. Travelling is undeniably dangerous, but the approaching glacier is inevitable- eventually they will have to move. What's holding them back is fear. They have no destination, no shelter, no food. With no law and order, other people are a threat, as hungry eyes hunt for easy prey. Large groups could provide safety, but trust is hard to come by in these harsh times, especially with rumours of cannibalism spreading through the figurative grapevine.

But when the River Mersey floods, destroying everything Norman holds dear, the choice is taken. There is no more time. It's leave or die. South or bust. So begins his harrowing journey through pain, exhaustion, grief, frostbite, infection and fear. 

Along the way, various people will flash through his life, but his deep mistrust for others keeps them at a distance. And the terrifying Norseman and inexplicable giants that follow close behind keep him moving, while all the time one question haunts him- is there anywhere left to go?


As with most post-apocalyptic stories, the focus is more about the people. How they adapt and change when their existence depends on it. When law and order is wiped and responsibility is meaningless. The cruelty and ruthlessness of those who will do anything to survive. However, this story also places a lot of emphasis on community. On the kindness of strangers. For the setting, Norman meets a surprising amount of people on his journey. Yes, I suppose it's not like there's dangerous, human-seeking zombies out and about, forcing people to hide. Other than the ice and humanity itself, there isn't much threat, so unlike zombiepocalypses- where most of humanity is instantly zombiefied or dead, we still have a lot of people about. However there are still dangerous people about. Cannibalistic raiders for one. Who have trained wolves. If there's anything I've learnt from this genre, it's that the end of the world tends to bring out the worst in people, and I would be inclined to have a little more self-preservation that most of the people Norman meets seem to have. There were looters, addicts and murderers long before the apocalypse hit, and it's only going to get worse. There are plenty of people willing to sell out their humanity in order to keep it a little longer. 

I know the author was focusing on the good in people (as well as the bad- since there is no such thing as purely good or bad people), but I'm not sure how realistic that is. Yes, there are kind people who would help, but would you trust a random stranger knowing that it was quite literally a life or death decision? The only reason the untrusting Norman is even involved with them is because he would be dead anyway without them, so there was no harm giving it a shot. But that's what the story focuses on. The people who will trust without anything to gain.

The plot itself is pretty non-existent to be honest. Not necessarily a bad thing. The whole concept is running. Trying to outrun something that can never be escaped, for the sake of it. Because why wouldn't you? Even if you know you're just delaying the inevitable, why wouldn't you run to the very last step?

The future setting is more of warning factor, I think. As far as I can make out, absolutely nothing is different a hundred years in the future- other than the fact that ice rules the world. And impossible, gigantic creatures run ahead of it, killing everything in their path. But judging by the characters' responses, I doubt that's the norm. 

Speaking of, the Icelandic Trolls (or whatever they are) were certainly chilling in their immenseness, but ultimately irrelevant and unnecessary, what with the encroaching glaciers from all sides that will eventually encase the entire world in ice- killing everything in the process. Though they do provide a more immediate threat, and create some tension that running from a slow block of ice (albeit a very fast slow-moving block of ice) wouldn't quite convey.

Not the most hopeful of endings, but what can you expect? There's an inevitability that can't simply be deus ex machina-d away- well I suppose it could, but not very convincingly, and would've left me with a little bit of not-a-happy-bunny-syndrome, so I'm glad there was no easy answer- not that fantasy horror/thrillers are known for easy endings. 

My main criticism is the main character himself- Norman. He's a hard character to hate, but also to like. To be honest, I had no strong feelings either way- which is a shame since we see everything through his eyes, and therefore spend a lot of time in his mind. He has a tendency towards extreme self-pity- which is arguably very human, but also very annoying when a lot of the book is him thinking about how little he thinks of himself, how selfish he is, how much he hates himself. It can become a little grating as page after page after page, Norman feels sorry for himself. Wishing he was braver, cursing his cowardice. It's relatable, but I got tired of it very quickly, and wanted to smack some sense into him. For goodness sake man, I know the situation is bad, I know you've lost a lot, and you've made some mistakes, but get on with your life, instead of curling up in a ball of self-hatred. If you feel so bad about being untrusting or being a burden, if you feel guilty above past sins, then man-up and take action. Make the change, because it's not going to happen with you moping in the corner, drowning your sorrows with bitterness. He is aware of this, but it only makes him hate himself that much more. Every time he takes a step in the right direction, he falls and retreats even further back, with more and more guilt and fear holding him there. To his credit, he does try, but always despises himself for not doing more.

He does develop a few exceptions as the story progresses- through necessity more than anything (fair enough)- but they make him more vulnerable because of it. It is very human, but in this adapt-or-die world, I struggle to understand how he survived so long through anything but sheer dumb luck, since he seems so incapable of doing anything. I can understand that most people would not instantly be survivalist experts, but it's been two years. How can you survive two years without learning anything?

I think a lot of people may disagree with me on this front- citing him as realistic and well-rounded, but when you have someone as self-depracating as Norman as your main character, and have to listen to his self-hatred for two hundred and fifty pages, it can wear a little thin. He does eventually snap out of it, but it's so late in the game that it's pretty inconsequential. I think if the book had been based around ending Norman it would've been so much better. A Norman who still thinks little of himself, but manages not to let that get in the way of actually doing something. Who can put that to one side when push comes to shove and people are in danger. Yes it is realistic, and yes it may be human, but how much do you want to listen to someone whine about how useless they are? 

Overall, a dark, brutal read, with cannibalism, mass-murder, rape, buckets of gore and a lot of violence. It is certainly not for the faint of heart. An interesting premise and a story that focuses a lot on the connections between people. The bonds, the cruelty and the kindness. As to the genre, I suppose it could be considered a horror/thriller/adventure with a little fantasy thrown in, but it comes across as more of an exploration of the human psyche, set against a backdrop that tears down all the social walls people normally hide behind . 

Even with my gripe with Norman, I still enjoyed this book. It had tension, it had fear. If you don't like gore, this may be a little too intense for you, but if you're a fan of more adult-themed dystopian stories, this may be right up your street. If you're put off by my views of Norman, think as I did. Norman is like that one person you find yourself stuck with during the apocalypse. He's whiny and annoying (though you can see where he's coming from), but he's still a person, and that alone is enough of a reason to stick by him.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Great Machine That Controls Us All

First Paragraph:

"The Ironclads lifted Finn and heaved him into the moving engine. He kicked and bucked, skinning the knuckles of his left hand on the hatch as he tried to stop himself, but it was no good."

  Amazon /Amazon.co.uk

Engn by Simon Kewin is a little fantasy, steampunk and adventure all rolled into one.


Finn lives in a small village in the mountains. Like other children, he grew up hearing stories of the brutal Ironclads and their home base- Engn. Few have seen it and returned. Engn is said to be one great machine. Every day it grows more and more, so more hands are needed to man it. The masters of Engn take the labour they require. They send their Ironclads out into every village, every home, picking up children to be brought to their city. It is not a request you can refuse.

Finn's sister was taken when he was little. Though painful, his parents assured him this meant he was safe. They can't take more than one per family, and he lives his life in relief. Until they show up at his door, and the long journey to the contained city begins. No one gets in unless they're taken. No one gets out, apart from those tasked with bringing in more hands.

But Finn has a plan. A promise he made with two friends years ago. One was taken, the other vanished. Their promise- to destroy Engn. But that is easier said than done. It's only when he arrives in Engn that he realises what a task that is. An iron dictatorship runs the city. The people are slaves. Broken and beaten, their bodies used to fuel the furnaces when they're deemed useless. Eyes are everywhere. What can one boy do against the might of Engn?


The first quarter of the book is told alternating between past and present. Most of the time spent in the former- we see Finn's life so far, and how he came to be where he is now. By the first third, he has reached Engn and the story really begins.

This is a slow-paced novel. There are action sequences, but they're so short and few that most of the story drags. What should be a tension-filled book, lacks it because most of it is spent seemingly doing nothing. Reading this book was like walking from A to B. You can enjoy the walk, the scenery can be varied and pleasant, but in the end you're still just trying to get to point B. There's nothing engaging enough about the scenery to make you stop and enjoy it. This isn't a hugely long book, but it felt very drawn out, and I found myself just wanting to reach point B.

The story isn't bad, the characters aren't bad, the plot isn't bad. In fact there's nothing bad about this book, but there's something lacking that means the story doesn't work as it should. I can like or dislike a slow-paced book depending, but for a slow story to still be gripping and enthralling, it has to be done extremely well, and unfortunately this isn't. 

The ending is predictable. In fact, there aren't really any surprise plot-twists at all. I could guess the main plot points, which isn't a bad thing in itself, as long as they keep you interested. It's been a long time since I've read a book I had to force myself through, and regrettably this is one of those. 

The basic premise sounds interesting enough, but the writing and pace let it down. Steampunk world in a dystopian setting sounds like something that could be great. The Pavlovian argument that people can be conditioned- that if you 'train' them enough, they'll respond subconsciously to your orders is one we've seen before. Done right, it can create a chilling atmosphere, but done wrong and it serves no real purpose. I'm afraid to say it's the latter in this story. 

I've been pretty negative about the story, so I want to reiterate- this is not a bad book. The main hurdle to overcome with this book is its pace. If you can get past the fact that nothing ever seems to be happening, even during crucial 'saving-the-world' scenes, you might enjoy this book. The characters aren't bad, but I didn't really feel attached to any of them as I usually would. The story just comes off a little flat, lacking depth and character. 

It's amazing that the book could tell us so much, without really telling us anything. Nothing is ever explained. I don't even think that any of the characters knew anything. They were just doing it because it's the way of things. This may sound ironic considering my above comments, but a little more description would've been nice. For instance, I have no idea where or when this book is set. It's clearly not our world, and I'm pretty sure it's on another planet, but like I said, it's not explained. Not that is needs to be. It wouldn't really add anything to the story, but it would solidify the setting a little more.

I don't regret reading it, but I don't think I'd do so again. In this end, this was just getting from point A to B.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, August 2, 2013

And the Winner Is....(July 2013)

And so begins a new month, and we all know what that means. Yes, that's right. It's time for my favourite books of July. Which book/s had the most impact on me, and is/are the clear winner/s this month? Read on to find out.

Last month I had three books in my winners, labelling them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively. This month I've got two, so I've decided on a winner and a runner up. Let's start with the latter, shall we?

My runner-up for this month is.......

A beautifully written story about the love and bonds of one Irish family. The main plot behind it is the unusual behaviour their youngest member has begun displaying, but what got me in this book was the relationships between the people. For fans of Little Women or Little House on the Prairie, it's the same basic premise as those. Not in plot, but in that the characters carry the story, not the plot. Of course, you still want to know where the plot goes, but it's the characters that you keep going for.

And the winner of this month's And The Winner Is......

What starts off as quite a slow story, gradually builds like the hurricane that is forever hounding the characters. The plot is a little complicated to explain, but I'll be very basic with it. It's the story of one man giving everything for the woman he loves. Without question. There's also a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. What makes this book so hard to describe is it's numerous genres. It's like a melting pot. There's romance, there's slice-of-life, there's murder mystery, there's thriller, there's a little horror, there's real-life, there's survival, etc. Some may think it too chaotic to work, therefore. However, while the changes in genre are not seamless, they aren't off-putting. The first couple of times it can be a little disorientating, but you get used to it, and just roll with it. If I had to pinpoint what works so well in this book, I'm not sure I could, because it's the conglomeration of all the individual aspects that make it such a great read. If even one of those things was removed, I don't think this book would work anywhere near as well as it does. A wonderfully haunting tale, that you won't soon forget.

So that's been this month's edition of And The Winner Is... I hope you all enjoyed it. Let me know what your favourite books of July were. After all, the joy isn't just in reading the stories, it's in sharing them too.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Man Who Refuses to Love and a Woman Who Remembers Nothing Else

First Paragraph:

"Niall covered his ears to drown out the relentless gunfire, but it was no use. He could not hear his parents above; he could no longer hear the whimpering of his seven-year-old twin brothers. His other brother, Jamie, was with them in the small space, but he made no sound. The chamber smelled stale, common in places rarely used."

   Amazon /Amazon.co.uk

Tougher Than The Rest by Shirleen Davies is the first book in the 'MacLarens of Fire Mountain' series.


Ohio, 1866. Niall's family is attacked by raiders. His parents just manage to hide him and his brothers in a secret space beneath their barn before the attack takes place. When fifteen-year-old Niall emerges, fire and death are all that greet him. His parents dead, his home up in flames and all their belongings with it. As the oldest of the four brothers, Niall takes charge and remembers what his father said to him. If anything ever happened, find your uncle in the West.

Twelve years later and the boys have grown. Niall now has a daughter, whose mother died in childbirth. He is determined to make sure his family is well taken care of. Even if it means marrying a poisonous widow for her money and connections.

Meanwhile, Kate is travelling to Los Angeles for her new teaching job. Her father worries, especially as she's the only family he has left, but Kate's mind is made up. However, when her California-bound stage carriage loses control and crashes, Kate's plans go out the window. 

Niall witnesses the crash and manages to get Kate, and the other survivors out. When it's apparent that Kate has amnesia following a bad concussion, Niall's aunt offers to take care of her until her memory returns- much to Niall's chagrin. A chance encounter with the young woman earlier in the day, was enough to send him running. He has carefully laid out plans that this attractive, young woman (who awakens within him emotions he believed long dead) threatens.

On the other hand, Kate struggles to remember anything about herself, while all the while her mind turns to the handsome stranger living under the same roof. But he already has an intended, and the wedding ring on her finger surely means she does too. Then why can she not control her heart when he's around?


As with most romance novels, the plot and characters are quite formulaic. The basic character personalities of the main leads could be out of a Jane Austen or Bronte novel. Kate is more learned than most other women are expected to be for the era, in all manner of things- including talents more common to men. Though the main difference is Kate's lack of flaws. I struggle to think if she has even one. She is too perfect, and excels at everything. It can make her a little boring and unrealistic. I don't have a problem with strong female leads, but everyone has flaws and weaknesses. There are no exceptions to that rule. It would make her a stronger lead if she had to overcome her own shortfalls. 

Cast alongside our leading lady, Niall is by far the more interesting of the two. It's almost as if the author tried to balance out Kate's lack of flaws with Niall's abundance of them. As with many male romance leads, he comes of at first as abrasive and rude, but is a good man at heart. He is almost her opposite in a way. Surprisingly immature in matters of the heart, and his motivations can be hard to understand. He refuses to admit his attraction to Kate, which at first makes sense, considering everyone believes her to be someone else's wife, but is very obnoxious about it, treating her as a schoolboy might treat his first crush. 

Later in the story, there is no sense in it. Why he refuses to accept his emotions is beyond me. It's not out of respect for his dead wife, as he's fine with a lover and marrying a woman just for her connections. A woman who his daughter hates and whose connections he doesn't really need. 

On a small side note, I do think the title and book cover should be changed. Or maybe just the cover. I may be the only one who thought this, but when I was first approached to review this, I fully believed it was the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' kind of romance novel. I want to make it clear, in case any one else is thinking the same thing, that that is not the case. This is just your typical chick-lit. To be fair, I should've paid more attention. The man on the cover is wearing a shirt, which should've been indication enough.

The plot itself is a little slow. Almost the entire story is just one person misunderstanding and the other denying their emotions. The same excuses they tell themselves are repeated over and over again like a mantra, as though saying them enough could make them true and bring some kind of closure. 

The ending, once you get to it, is predictable (as it is with most romance) and felt a little rushed. For all the build-up, there isn't a huge payoff. I think telling us a little more would've negated that, especially considering a late plot point and an event from Niall's past. It had me questioning why he wasn't more worried. 

The whole thing ends with a final, quick remark setting up the plot of the sequel. Whether I'll be checking out the next book remains to be seen. The plot seems interesting enough, and the story will star my favourite brother from this book, so those factors may lead me to pick it up (once it exists).

There are also a couple characters and side plots that have little to no point in the story. A couple are never seen again, and their main purpose it to add length to the story. It can drag it a little, but not enough to make you stop reading. 

Having said all that, my only real criticism is with the main leads. Other than that, the story is enjoyable enough, and even the main leads can be entertaining. You've seen this story a million times, and doubtless will see it a million more. This is the kind of romance book that isn't read for its originality. It's read for the same reason people watch romantic comedies. You don't have to think too hard, you know what's going to happen, and it makes you feel good.

I am often frustrated with the main leads of chick-lit/ flick type romances. Not for the reasons I stated above, but because they always deny the obvious, whether out of ignorance, misunderstandings or just sheer pig-headedness. 

Overall, an easy read (despite it's dark beginning), that may not leave you warm and fuzzy, but will leave you joining in with the supportive cast for one last word, 'Finally!'

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the author. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.