Sunday, 16 June 2019

Review: Stepsister - Jennifer Donnelly

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly, published by Hot Key Books on 2nd May 2019

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe ... which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

This book made me so happy! I absolutely adore fairy-tale retellings and while this wasn't strictly speaking a retelling, it was a spin-off of Cinderella with a twist which was so brilliantly executed, that it was a sheer delight to read. It was a lot darker than the traditional tale and instead of focusing on the character of Cinderella and her wooing of the Prince, it centred around Isabella, one of the so-called ugly stepsisters. It picks up from the moment when the sisters try to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper.

I loved everything about 'Stepsister' but particularly the message that people shouldn't have to try to fit in and conform to the norm or peoples' expectations of what they should do or be like. Isabelle has done that her whole life. She has given up everything that she once loved and everything that she once enjoyed doing. She has tried to please her mother over and over again and in the process she has lost who she really is. She has become someone that she hates, allowing her petty jealousy and envy of others to eat away at her.

The premise of the story is that Fate in the form of an old crone, has Isabelle's life mapped out, with an inevitable tragic ending. The character of Chance however, wants to change this and steals the carefully inked out map to give Isabelle the opportunity for a different future. The struggle between Fate and Chance was a really interesting angle, as they wrestle between them to try and get the upper hand. I liked the way that it came across as quite a friendly rivalry at times, even though they both ultimately want to get their own way.

Isabelle, her sister Tavi and their mother are ostracised by the village community, after their treatment of Ella comes to light. Isabelle believes the horrible words that are thrown at her but desperately tries to keep what is left of her family afloat. She longs only to be pretty, like Ella, so that she can have all the things she thinks she wants. Step forward a powerful fairy called Tanaquill, who has the power to grant her exactly that...if it's her true desire and only after she has found the three missing pieces of her heart. The rest of the story unfolds with Isabelle trying to find her true self, while the battle over her future plays out in the background.

I really did love everything about this wonderful book but especially the characters that were brilliantly depicted and grew to feel like friends. If you are looking for a fairy-tale story with a dark and unusual twist then this is definitely one for you. An absolute knock-out YA that is not to be missed!

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Review: The Switch Up - Katy Cannon

The Switch Up by Katy Cannon, published by Stripes on 13th June 2019

LAX Departure Lounge. Two girls board the same flight to London as complete strangers. When the plane touches down, it’s the beginning of the craziest plan ever. Can Willa and Alice really swap lives for the summer?
Things are going to get complicated...
Katy Cannon is my go-to author for contemporary YA with a solid heart of gold. I loved her previous books 'Love, Lies and Lemon Pies' (read my review here), as well as 'Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines' (read my review here).
Katy's latest book 'The Switch Up', was high on my list of titles I was looking forward to being published this year. It is the perfect summer read for either sitting with on the beach or reading during some downtime on a city break. I devoured it in one sitting and am now desperately hoping that there will be a sequel.
'The Switch Up' follows in the same vein as Freaky Friday and The Parent Trap. It features two girls, Alice and Willa, who on the spur of the moment, decide that they will swap lives for the summer. Willa ends up in London and Alice in Italy, pretending to everyone around them that they are someone else. The book alternates between the two girls as they face new adventures, make new friends and ultimately learn some big lessons about themselves.
Alice was my favourite of the two because I seemed to identify with her more. She likes to please people, she likes to feel in control of things around her and she likes to have everything planned out. Spontaneity is not something that is normally associated with her but when she has a chance meeting with Willa at the airport, she is convinced to swap places and ends up spending the summer in Italy with Willa's Aunt Sofia and her foster children. There are lots of layers to Alice's story and I thought that Katy Cannon handled this with a deft touch. She highlights some of the stresses and insecurities that Alice has been dealing with, while also allowing her to blossom and grow in confidence.
Willa ends up in London with Alice's potential stepmother Margo. She meets a friend of Alice's called Hal, who helps her to hide her real identity. Willa is extremely confident and outgoing but she too has secret worries and fears, as well as family problems to face up to. I enjoyed seeing her become more aware of others around her and their feelings, as she discovers some painful truths about herself.
'The Switch Up' was a sparkling read which I thoroughly enjoyed. Katy's storytelling is exceptional and her books are the perfect reads for young teens. The story explores common issues such as family, identity and friendship, while also weaving in light touches of romance. While I was reading, I could almost feel the sun on my face and the sand in my toes. A superb contemporary YA that was enormous fun to read.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Blog tour: The Switch Up - Katy Cannon guest post

I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Katy Cannon's new book 'The Switch Up'. I finished reading this a few days ago and absolutely loved it. Don't forget to stop by the blog next week to read my full review. It's the perfect summer read to pack in your suitcase!

For today's blog tour stop, I have a fantastic guest post from Katy herself. It's the ultimate 'Surviving Summer: An Introvert's Guide and it's a great read that I could really identify with.

Summer is a great time for getting together with friends, going out and doing things, and making the most of the great weather. Of course, for introverts (like me) it’s also a time to start panicking about being expected to do All The Peopling All The Time.

Don’t get me wrong; I like people, I like spending time with friends, and I like getting out and doing things. I even like sunshine, as long as I have enough sunscreen on. I just find all of the above – what I call Peopling - mentally and physically exhausting, after a while.
So, over the years, I’ve come up with my own methods for keeping my summers fun and enjoyable, not overwhelming. Here they are:

1. Build In Downtime. If you know that spending a lot of time with loads of people is going to leave you exhausted, try to schedule your summer so you have breaks between big social gatherings. This might take a bit of planning, but having a day – or even a morning, afternoon or evening – to yourself between commitments with friends or family will help you re-energise and enjoy your time with others more.

2. Make Your Own Fun. You don’t have to spend your time alone moping in your room or doing homework though (well, not all of it, anyway). Try jotting down some activities that do give you more energy and make you happy. Mine include reading, getting outside in the sunshine for a walk (or more reading), listening to podcasts, going to the cinema - or a museum or exhibition - by myself, following an online yoga video, and daydreaming (which sometimes turns into napping). Whatever your list is, having it there in front of you when you get your downtime will remind you of all the fun things you can use it for.

3. Pick Your People. Even for us introverts, some people are more draining than others – and a select few can even make us feel better than or as good as being alone! So pick who you spend your summer with carefully. Okay, so you can’t choose your family, and friendship groups often include at least one person who doesn’t thrill you, but just thinking about how different people make you feel can be a starting point. Even a subtle shift towards spending more time with those people who energize you, and building in more downtime between time spent with those who don’t, can help improve your summer.

4. Set Goals and Say No. These two sort of go together. If you’re anything like me, saying ‘no’ to people who want to spend time with you can be difficult. I’ve found that what helps me is having a really good reason I can’t hang out. So, I always keep a summer goals list – maybe a handful of books I want to read, an exhibition I want to visit, a project at home, that sort of thing. Then, when I need to not be Peopling, I can say with confidence that I have something else I really need to do that day. Because I do. It’s on my list, and it matters to me – and friends will respect that. (Really good friends will also totally understand if you tell them ‘I can’t People today. Can we People tomorrow?’ incidentally.)

5. Be You – and Love It. Above all, embrace being an introvert! All it means is that you find more energy in time alone than in large groups – like a third or more of the population. Introverts tend to be more thoughtful and reflective – which can lead to being more creative, more empathetic and able to build long lasting friendships. So, love who you are, and love summer again!

Huge thanks to Katy for writing such a lovely guest post and don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the blog tour. My review will be going live on the blog on publication day (13th June).

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Review: Maresi Red Mantle - Maria Turtschaninoff

Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff, published by Pushkin Children's Books on 6th June 2019

Goodreads synopsis:
For Maresi, like so many other girls, the Red Abbey was a haven of safety in a world ruled by brutal men. But now she is a young woman and it is time for her to leave. She must take all that she has learned from her sisters and return to her childhood home to share the knowledge she has gained.

But when Maresi returns to her village, she realises all is not well - the people are struggling under the rule of the oppressive Earl, and people are too busy trying to survive to see the value of her teachings. Maresi finds she must use all the terrible force of the Crone's magic to protect her people, but can she find the strength to do so when her heart is weakening with love for the first time?

'Maresi Red Mantle' is the third and final book in the Red Abbey Chronicles. It follows Maresi as she leaves the sanctuary and safety of the Red Abbey and returns to her childhood home of Rovas. She is reunited with her mother, father and siblings but after so many years apart, she has to learn how to be a part of the village and its community. Maresi returns with a mission to carry out and the story follows her as she tries to bring knowledge to Rovas, while facing new challenges and adversity along the way.

The book layout is a series of letters that Maresi writes to the loved ones she has left behind at the Abbey - Jai, Ennike Rose, Sister O and the Venerable Mother. I liked the epistolary format because it felt like being privy to Maresi's inner thoughts and feelings in a very confiding way. It's not always a style that I enjoy but I thought that in this case, it worked really well.

The text is translated from the original Finnish by A.A Prime and the language flowed off the page, with no awkwardness at all.

I found the story really moving and emotional, particularly in the second half. Maresi learns a lot about herself during the course of her life and her revelations are sometimes hard to face and painful but they help her grow into the woman that she wants to become. There is a strong feminist theme throughout the series, focusing on the idea that women can be as strong as men. Turtschaninoff shows through Maresi's choices and decisions that you don't have to concede to a man but can learn to live together in a mutually supportive way; as equals rather than being subservient.

Maresi is a wonderful character and I thoroughly enjoyed following her story as she grows into a unique and caring individual. She embodies the importance of reading and knowledge and that this should be shared with others to help people to grow and feel empowered. The book is a fitting end to the series and to Maresi's journey and it's one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Blog tour: Maresi Red Mantle - Maria Turtschaninoff

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff, which is the final instalment in the Red Abbey Chronicles. I have a wonderful guest post from Maria about writing a trilogy.

I have written a trilogy that is very un-trilogyesque in style and execution. MARESI is written from the perspective of a young girl chronicling one spring in her life at an all-female Abbey. NAONDEL, the second novel, is actually a prequel set hundreds of years before the events in MARESI and written from the perspective of several first-person narrators. They all tell their own stories of how they came to be in an evil man’s harem, and about their eventual escape. The tone and intent in each story is different. MARESI RED MANTLE is written in epistolary form, as Maresi writes letters back to the Abbey after returning home to the province of Rovas and her tiny native village. There are no answers from the Abbey in the book. The text Maresi wrote in the first novel was intended for the Abbey archives and was written by her with that in mind, so the tone is somewhat different to the one she uses in the last novel, when she writes letters to her friends and teachers. In the letters, too, the tone varies: she writes of different things and in different ways when she’s writing to Sister O, her teacher and guardian of the Crone’s secrets, and when she’s writing to her friend Jai or her friend Ennike, now the servant of the Maiden and keeper of knowledge about the female body and love. We get to see new sides of Maresi, as she shows her fears and insecurities to some recipients and not to others. How does she wish to present herself? What worries her, what occupies her mind? During the course of the correspondence Maresi grows and changes quite a lot, while in the first novel she’s the same throughout, as it’s written looking back at a major event that took place.

            So, in short, to me there has been very little of the trilogy in the writing of the Red Abbey Chronicles. I have not had one continuous story, written in the same manner and style. I think I am fairly incapable of doing so: my mind would get bored. I need to challenge myself with something new every time. Of course, this has led to a lot of cursing and hair-pulling during the writing process! I have complained often and loudly to my husband about why I must make it so difficult for myself. Why can’t I just find one way to tell a story and stick with it?

            But there we have it: I can’t. And the result is this: a trilogy that has very little of the trilogy to it, with a prequel in the middle and a different style every time.

            Are the Red Abbey Chronicles now ended? It’s hard for me to say. I have written two books previously, set in the same universe as the Red Abbey Chronicles, ARRA and ANACHÉ. They have not been published in English yet, unfortunately. But to me all five books are part of the same weave, a tapestry that I knit of this imaginary world of mine, book by book. And I am by no means done with the world. For each book I’ve written there are threads left untied, characters whose stories I would love to dive into and learn more about. Will they all be tied to the Red Abbey? Probably not. But the longer I write in this world the more the stories become intertwined. In MARESI RED MANTLE there are references to both the novels ARRA and ANACHÉ, and I foresee more of this kind of intermingling in the future.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Book to film/TV adaptations for 2019

There are a whole host of books being adapted for film or television this year, so I thought I would pick a few that I'm really excited about. To be completely honest, I can't name many book adaptations that I've enjoyed. I absolutely hate it when they change the endings for film or TV and I always tend to think that the book is better. One of my favourite books is The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger but I was very disappointed by how the film turned out. That aside, I can't help but watch to see what producers do with books that I've read and at the moment there are quite a few upcoming adaptations that have got me genuinely intrigued and excited.
I first read this back in 2014 and it was one of my favourite books of the year. It reminds me of 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens, in the scope of the story and the way that it follows the main character Theo's life from boyhood to adulthood. It shows the consequences of one terrible day during his childhood and how that reverberates throughout his whole life. A worthy winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this is being made into a film starring Nicole Kidman and Luke Wilson.

This is a book that I've read over and over again and seen many film and TV adaptations of. It's one of my favourite classics and never fails to make me laugh, smile and cry. I always identified closely with Beth when I was growing up, although I loved Jo's wild and courageous spirit and Meg's motherly nature. I adored the recent BBC adaptation and I can't wait to see the latest big screen adaptation when it's released in December. The cast is phenomenal: Emma Watson, James Norton and Meryl Streep, plus a whole host of other famous faces.
A BBC and HBO co-production, this is the one that I think everyone is waiting for. The full-length trailer is currently available to watch and it looks amazing! Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda all star and the script has been written by Jack Thorne, who collaborated with J.K. Rowling on 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'. I definitely need to re-read this trilogy, prior to the official release.  
Since the start of the year, I've been on an Agatha Christie reading binge. I've now read most of the Poirot and Miss Marple stories but I'm still catching up with all of her stand-alone novels, this one included. 'Death Comes as the End' is being adapted for the small screen by Gwyneth Hughes and is set to air over Christmas.
 Do you enjoy book to film/TV adaptations? What are your favourites?
Which ones are you looking forward to seeing in 2019?

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write a Book? - Ally Carter

Dear Ally, How Do I Write a Book? by Ally Carter, published by Orchard Books on 4th April 2019

Goodreads synopsis:
Ally and her author friends want to help YOU write the book you've always dreamed of. Part agony aunt, part writing guru, this writing guide is thoughtful, witty and best of all, useful.

You don't have to be a teen to find 'Dear Ally, How Do I Write a Book?' hugely informative and useful. If you have any interest at all in writing for a YA audience then this is the best guide to get you started. I'm a huge admirer of Ally Carter and I've read all of her books, so I was instantly intrigued when I heard about this title. I've read a number of other guides to fiction writing but they have all been designed for adult writers. This is the first really useful book I've come across that is written by a YA author and packed full of tips and advice for those who want to write YA fiction. It is one of those titles that you know you'll continually be picking off your bookshelf and referring back to. 

The book is broken down into chapters such as 'Planning your book', 'Developing your plot' and 'Editing your book'. The structure is linear and takes you through every stage of the writing process, from creating your characters, to building your world. There is a wealth of thoughtful and useful advice but Carter also makes it explicitly clear that there is no single right way to write. Everyone has their own style and their own process which is crafted and developed over a period of time. You just have to find what works best for you and sometimes that only comes through trial and error. 

Interspersed throughout the book are questions and answers from a number of other well-known authors, such as David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins, Marie Lu and Holly Black. I found these really interesting and insightful, as it helped to show the unique nature of the writing process, as well as providing author stories about the road to publication. Ally Carter often refers to her own journey in becoming a YA author and some of the insights she shares about choosing characters, settings or plot lines were fascinating. 

Ultimately you do have to find your own way and write about things that matter to you but if you have always dreamt of becoming a published author, or even just want to nail that next NaNoWriMo challenge then this is THE book you must read.    

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely - Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, published by Bloomsbury Children's Books on 29th January 2019

Goodreads synopsis:
Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she's pulled into a magical world.

Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? As she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

I'm going to stick my neck out now and say that this is the best fairy tale retelling I've ever read. I often have high hopes for this type of book, only to end up disappointed but there was nothing disappointing about 'A Curse So Dark and Lonely'. Brigid Kemmerer has got the perfect balance between old and new elements of the story with this wonderful fantasy twist on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast.  I've read other books by the same author but this is my absolute favourite. Kemmerer's storytelling skills and way with words are both sublime and her characters come alive in such a way that you never stop rooting for them. We may only be in April but I have a feeling that I've already found one of the best books of 2019.

The essential elements of Beauty and the Beast are there to see (Prince must make a girl fall in love with him to break a curse) but they're interwoven in such a unique and original way that it felt like capturing all the best elements of a truly classic tale with fresh, modern touches that transformed it into something new and wondrous.

The narrative switches back and forth between Prince Rhen of Emberfall and a young girl called Harper of modern day Washington, D.C. She is inadvertently transported to Emberfall by the Prince's Commander Grey. Both were strong voices in the story that I equally enjoyed reading. The Prince has been cursed to live his 18th year over and over again, until he can find a girl who will fall in love with him. The problem is that the Prince is hiding a terrible secret which threatens the lives of everyone in the kingdom and makes him a little less marriageable material.

I absolutely loved Rhen and Harper. The latter has cerebral palsy but doesn't let this stop her from being a real bad-ass! She is clever, resourceful, independent and brave. She won't be won over easily and isn't swayed by fancy dresses or the comfort of the castle. She is used to being underestimated and thought weak, so the development of her character was excellent because Kemmerer shows her growing in confidence, refusing to be pushed aside and becoming more and more integral to the future of Emberfall. I was also won over by Prince Rhen but my favourite was probably Commander Grey. He's not the love interest (although could have been) and has a steely personality which begins to soften in the presence of Harper.

The story is so much more than just a romance though and it would do it an injustice to label it as such. It is also about saving a kingdom, preventing a war and finding your true place in the world, wherever that may be.

'A Curse So Dark and Lonely' is the perfect combination of fantasy, adventure, romance and heroism. The sequel, 'A Heart So Fierce and Broken', is set for 2020, although that is such an unbearably long time to wait! I'm excited to find out what happens to the people of Emberfall next. Kemmerer leaves you with the taste of anticipation and a wish to return as quickly as possible to this incredible world.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Blog tour: The Everlasting Rose - Dhonielle Clayton

Welcome to today's stop on the blog tour for 'The Everlasting Rose' by Dhonielle Clayton. This is the second book in The Belles duology.

Goodreads synopsis:
Camellia, her sister Edel, and her guard and new love Remy must race against time to find Princess Charlotte. Sophia's Imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep the rebels from returning Charlotte to the castle and her rightful place as queen. With the help of an underground resistance movement called The Iron Ladies-a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely-and the backing of alternative newspaper The Spider's Web, Camellia uses her powers, her connections and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and restore peace to Orleans.

'The Everlasting Rose' is the second book about The Belles and picks up where the previous story finished. The main character Camellia and her sister Edel are on the run, along with Remy, one of the palace guards. They are desperate to find the ailing Princess Charlotte and restore her to her place on the throne. Along the way they're helped by the mysterious Iron Ladies who have rejected the beauty treatments that the rest of society are so dependent and reliant on.

I felt like Camellia became a much more rounded character in this book. She is far more confident in herself and determined and she goes into the action with her eyes wide open. She has a mission to wrest control of Orleans away from Sophia and she will literally stop at nothing to prevent her evil reign. I wish that we'd found out more about the Iron Ladies because they were an interesting addition to the story but maybe Dhonielle Clayton is planning to do a spin-off on them in the future.

My feelings about this book are very similar to those I had for 'The Belles'. It was a good read and I did enjoy it but I didn't love it. I thought that the first half of the story was meandering and rather slow and then the ending was exciting but felt quite rushed. Everything seemed to happen all at once although it was a fitting end to the story and nicely tied up all the plot threads.

If you're a fan of the first book then I'm sure you will enjoy 'The Everlasting Rose'. I tend to feel that it bordered too much on the fantasy genre for my tastes but I will definitely be checking out future titles by Dhonielle Clayton.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Blog tour: The Beauty of the Wolf - Wray Delaney

Today I'm hosting a stop on the blog tour for 'The Beauty of the Wolf' by Wray Delaney. Read on to find out what I thought about this fairy tale retelling.

Goodreads synopsis:
In the age of the Faerie Queene, Elizabeth I, Lord Francis Rodermere starts to lay waste to a forest. Furious, the sorceress who dwells there scrawls a curse into the bark of the first oak he fells: A faerie boy will be born to you whose beauty will be your death.

Ten years later, Lord Rodermere’s son, Beau is born – and all who encounter him are struck by his great beauty.

Meanwhile, many miles away in a London alchemist’s cellar lives Randa – a beast deemed too monstrous to see the light of day.

And so begins a timeless tale of love, tragedy and revenge…

'The Beauty of the Wolf' is written by Wren Delaney, the pen name of author Sally Gardner. I've read a lot of Gardner's children's books but this is the first of her adult novels that I've picked up. I love her style of writing and wonderful use of language, so I've really been looking forward to this title. There were two things that particularly attracted me to it. The first was the description of it as a feminist retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I can't stress how much I love a new spin on a traditional fairytale. This one sounded especially intriguing because of the swapping of gender roles between the two main characters. The second thing was the absolutely beautiful hardback edition. I am always sucked in by a pretty cover and this one is absolutely gorgeous.   

This is an adult retelling, so it's quite dark and far removed from any visions that you might have of the Disney version. Don't go into it expecting there to be love and flowers and talking tea cups. This is more like a dark, gothic story with some serious adult themes and some strong sexual content.

I really liked the historical setting of Elizabethan England and the world building was excellent. Delaney made it come alive before my eyes and I felt immersed in all of the details of the period. I did find the pace very slow at the beginning of the story which I know is something that other reviewers have commented on. I like to be drawn into a book right from the start, or I can sometimes have a tendency to give up on titles that I'm not enjoying. Therefore, for me, I felt like more needed to happen in the first few chapters.  

The story is told from the point of view of three different characters: The Sorceress, The Beast and Beauty. The problem with this is that it felt like the narrative flitted around a lot between the characters and they came across as pretty flat. Randa was probably my favourite but I didn't feel hugely engaged by any one individual.

There does seem to be a trend at the moment for historical fiction with a side of bawdy (I'm thinking of books like 'The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock' which this reminded me of). This isn't really my kind of thing which probably explains why I struggled with this novel. I'm disappointed that I didn't end up enjoying it more but it's one that I might come back to and read again at some point in the future because I'd like to give it another chance.  

Check out all of the other stops on 'The Beauty of the Wolf' blog tour.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

My top 2019 releases

There are so many books that I'm looking forward to reading in 2019. It looks like it's going to be an incredible book year. I've narrowed my list down to jus a few of my top titles that I will definitely be pre-ordering.

The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie (published 4th April 2019 by Penguin)
Poe Blythe, the seventeen-year-old captain of the Outpost's last mining ship has revenge on her mind as she and her crew voyage up the Serpentine River in search of gold. But there is something Poe wants even more than gold, however - to annihilate the river raiders who, two years ago, killed the boy she loved.

As Poe navigates the treacherous waters of the Serpentine and realizes there might be a traitor among her crew, she must also reckon with who she has become, who she wants to be, and the ways love can change, even and especially when you think all is lost.

Song of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury (published 7th March 2019 by Scholastic)
Sorrow Ventaxis has won the election, and in the process lost everything... Governing under the sinister control of Vespus Corrigan, and isolated from her friends, Sorrow must to find a way to free herself from his web and save her people.

But Vespus has no plans to let her go, and he isn't the only enemy Sorrow faces as the curse of her name threatens to destroy her and everything she's fought for.

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly (published 15th May 2019 by Hot Key Books)
Stepsister takes up where Cinderella's tale ends. We meet Isabelle, the younger of Cinderella's two stepsisters. Ella is considered beautiful; stepsister Isabelle is not. Isabelle is fearless, brave, and strong-willed. She fences better than any boy, and takes her stallion over jumps that grown men fear to attempt. It doesn't matter, though; these qualities are not valued in a girl. Others have determined what is beautiful, and Isabelle does not fit their definition. Isabelle must face down the demons that drove her cruel treatment of Ella, challenge her own fate and maybe even redefine the very notion of beauty . . .

No Judgements by Meg Cabot (published 17th November by William Morrow)
When a massive hurricane severs all power and cell service to Little Bridge Island—as well as its connection to the mainland—twenty-five-year-old Bree Beckham isn’t worried . . . at first. She’s already escaped one storm—her emotionally abusive ex—so a hurricane seems like it will be a piece of cake.

But animal-loving Bree does become alarmed when she realizes how many islanders have been cut off from their beloved pets. Now it’s up to her to save as many of Little Bridge’s cats and dogs as she can . . . but to do so, she’s going to need help—help she has no choice but to accept from her boss’s sexy nephew, Drew Hartwell, the Mermaid Café’s most notorious heartbreaker.

But when Bree starts falling for Drew, just as Little Bridge’s power is restored and her penitent ex shows up, she has to ask herself if her island fling was only a result of the stormy weather, or if it could last during clear skies too.

Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout (published in US on 11th June 2019 by Inkyard Press)
Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow may be going blind, but she can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits. Her unique gift is part of a secret so dangerous that she's been in hiding for years in an isolated compound fiercely guarded by Wardens--gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humankind from demons. If the demons discover the truth about Trinity, they'll devour her, flesh and bone, to enhance their own powers. When Wardens from another clan arrive with disturbing reports that something out there is killing both demons and Wardens, Trinity's safe world implodes. Not the least because one of the outsiders is the most annoying and fascinating person she's ever met. Zayne has secrets of his own that will upend her world yet again--but working together becomes imperative once demons breach the compound and Trinity's secret comes to light. To save her family and maybe the world, she'll have to put her trust in Zayne. But all bets are off as a supernatural war is unleashed...

Murder Most Unladylike #8 by Robin Stevens (published 8th August 2019 by Puffin)
Daisy and Hazel are finally back at Deepdean, and the school is preparing for a most exciting event: the fiftieth Anniversary.

Plans for a weekend of celebrations are in full swing. But all is not well, for in the detectives' long absence, Deepdean has changed. Daisy has lost her crown to a fascinating new girl - and many of the Detective Society's old allies are now their sworn enemies.

Then the girls witness a shocking incident in the woods close by - a crime that they're sure is linked to the Anniversary. As parents descend upon Deepdean, decades-old grudges, rivalries and secrets begin to surface, and soon Deepdean's future is at stake. Can the girls solve the case - and save their home?

Do you want to read any of these? Which books are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Review: Two Can Keep A Secret - Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, published by Penguin on 10th January 2019

Goodreads synopsis:
Ellery's never been to Echo Ridge, but she's heard all about it. It's where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen's murder five years ago made national news. And where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. No one knows what happened to either girl, and Ellery's family is still haunted by their loss.

Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen's death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother's remarriage vaulted her and Malcolm into Echo Ridge's upper crust, but their new status grows shaky when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. No one has forgotten Malcolm's brother-and nobody trusts him when he suddenly returns to town.

Then another girl disappears, and Ellery and Malcolm were the last people to see her alive. As they race to unravel what happened, they realize every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe. And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

I'm on a big murder mystery kick at the moment so Karen M. McManus's new book, 'Two Can Keep a Secret', was exactly what I was looking for. Unsolved murders, a killer on the loose and homecoming Queens turning up dead - it ticked every single one of my boxes. Plus I absolutely loved her debut 'One of us is Lying', so I was more than a little bit excited to read her new thriller.

The story is set in the small town of Echo Ridge, where twins Ellery and Ezra are headed to live with their Grandmother while their mother is in rehab. The town itself is small enough that everyone knows everyone and trying to keep secrets buried is an impossibility. The narrative alternates between Ellery and local teenager Malcolm, whose brother was a previous suspect in the disappearance and murder of a local girl at the Murderland Halloween Park.

There are some great characters in the book, my favourite being Ellery. She has a fascination with true crime and has always wondered what really happened to her Aunt Sarah who vanished when she was a senior in high school. Ellery is extremely perceptive and as an outsider to Echo Ridge, is able to view things with an unbiased and fresh perspective. I wish that we could have seen more of Ezra in the book as I felt like I never really got to know him properly, which for me, kind of wasted the twin angle somewhat.

I enjoyed puzzling over the deaths and disappearances in the story and while it wasn't as twisty and complex as McManus's debut, it still kept my brain busy trying to put all the clues together. I went through a myriad list of suspects as I kept changing my mind about who was responsible and why and I only guessed the culprit just before it was revealed.

Besides wanting to see more of Ezra, my only minor grumble was with the mystery surrounding Ellery's Aunt. There was a superb bombshell right at the end in regards to this but I would have liked to have seen more exposition of this plotline. That aside, this was a hugely enjoyable read that was absorbing, thrilling and packed full of plot twists, red herrings and suspicious characters.  
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