Sunday, 25 November 2018

Blog Tour: Shadow of the Fox - Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa, published by HarperCollins on 1st November 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
A single wish will spark a new dawn. Every millennium, one age ends and another age dawns...and whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers holds the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish. The time is near and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto. The holder of the first piece is a humble, unknown peasant girl with a dangerous secret. Demons have burned the temple Yumeko was raised in to the ground, killing everyone within, including the master who trained her to both use and hide her kitsune powers. Yumeko escapes with the temple's greatest treasure - one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. Yumeko knows he seeks what she has and is under orders to kill anything and anyone who stands between him and the scroll.

Julie Kagawa is one of my favourite YA authors of paranormal/fantasy. She's someone whose books I always look forward to reading and she's a familiar name on my auto-buy list. Although I find her a phenomenal writer, just occasionally I've been a bit love/hate with her. I absolutely adored the Talon and Blood of Eden series but I wasn't such a fan of the Iron Fey books, which is a shame because I know a lot of people love them. I was unbelievably excited about reading 'Shadow of the Fox' but I could tell after the first few chapters that this wasn't going to be a hit with me. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why but I think I found the Japanese mythology too overwhelming and complicated. The world building was so hard to follow that it meant I lost my connection to the characters and their destinies. I had to keep going back to read parts again because I couldn't always work out what was happening or how everything linked together. For instance, the first chapter threw me completely because it didn't seem to have any relation to the story that followed. I found it bewildering and an odd opening to the story, although later on in the book, it did admittedly slot into place.

The characters are extremely unusual. Yumeko is a kitsue - part human and part fox. Kage Tatsumi is a samurai, deadly and dangerous. The two are brought together when their paths cross, involving the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers - an ancient artefact which is being hunted by many of the people in the book. The big problem I had was that I didn't particularly care for either Yumeko or Tatsumi. Yumeko was intriguing in the beginning but then she became a bit one-dimensional and was far too quick to fall under the spell of Tatsumi, rather than standing on her own two feet. I wanted to see her be more independent and develop over the course of the novel, which just didn't happen.

The pace of the novel was very slow and I found the plot oddly disjointed. I ended up putting the book down for several days, before starting it again, which isn't normally my style of reading. If I'm enjoying a book then I like to devour it in one sitting. I'm afraid 'Shadow of the Fox' just didn't excite me or keep me hooked in the way that some of Julie Kagawa's other series have. I desperately wanted to love it but found little to entice me into wanting to continue with the rest of the series.

Check out the rest of the blog tour stops for 'Shadow of the Fox'.


Saturday, 17 November 2018

Review: Genuine Fraud - E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, published by Hot Key Books on 31st May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.  

Deceptive and deliciously dark and twisty, this is a fiendishly good YA psychological thriller.

The story focuses on two friends - Julie and Imogen.  Imogen is an adopted child and an heiress. She's gifted with everything she could ever want. Used to having everyone fall at her feet and fawn over her, she has never had to struggle for anything. Julie is her opposite. She's had to become tough. She's survived on her own and is a fighter but after so long trying to become something more, she finally sees another way forward.

The timeline for this book is so clever. It skips around a lot between 2016 and 2017 and the story almost unfolds backwards. My advice to you is don't trust everything you read because appearances can be deceptive and E. Lockhart has thrown in so many brilliant twists that you are constantly kept on your toes. The locations change too, with the story moving from Mexico, to New York, to San Francisco. It's important to try to keep track of the place and time because this helps when all the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place.

This was a blisteringly good read. I definitely loved it more than 'We Were Liars' and I've been recommending it to everyone ever since. I'm almost jealous of anyone getting to read this for the first time because it's so clever and unique that reading it is such an immensely enjoyable experience.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Review: Glass Town Wars - Celia Rees

Glass Town Wars by Celia Rees, published by Pushkin Press on 1st November 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Tom and Augusta are from different places and different times, but they meet in the virtual world to combine forces in battle, to save a kingdom, escape a web of deceit and to find love. In a place where fictions can be truths and truths fictions, learning who to trust is more than friendship, it is about about survival.

'Glass Town Wars' is Celia Rees first YA novel for over 6 years. She returns with an imaginative and inventive tale which is inspired by the early writings of the Bronte siblings.

The plot focuses on a boy called Tom who is in hospital in a coma. Cut off from the real world, Tom's friend Milo makes him a test guinea pig for a new virtual reality gaming device that draws him into a dizzying world, far from the one he lives in. Tom meets Augusta who is fighting to save her kingdom and becomes part of the on-going battle. The story switches between this world and that of London in the present time, where his family and friends are desperately trying to bring him back, meshing together imagination and reality.

I enjoyed parts of this book but I found other bits confusing and I wasn't entirely sure I understood everything that happened or the meaning behind certain events in the story. It was incredibly unique and had such an interesting concept but some of it didn't make any sense to me. It's definitely an ingenious idea to take the fictitious world written about by Emily Bronte and co and bring it alive on the page. Rees embellishes it with her own flourishes and gives it a beating heart which draws the reader in. However, although I find the Bronte juvenilia fascinating, I'm not entirely sure the novel as a whole worked.

At times it was very slow and it also took me quite a while to get into the story. I kept having to go back to read sections again and even then I felt like I was missing something that would have helped everything click into place. I actually enjoyed more, the parts of the book that were set in the hospital, rather than in the virtual world, where Tom is being read 'Wuthering Heights' by another character called Lucy, who is trying to bring him out of his coma.

The book itself felt very experimental and although I wanted to love it because it combines Celia Rees and the Brontes, it ended up falling short of my expectations.         

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Review: Girls of Paper and Fire - Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 6th November 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after--the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king's consort. But Lei isn't content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable--she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.

I went into this book not knowing what to expect at all. I loved Natasha Ngan's previous book 'The Elites', so that was my main reason for picking this one up. I was absolutely blown away by it. It was a sensational read that I couldn't be prised away from. It was original, unique, enchanting and one of the best books that I've read this year.

It's described as having similarities to 'Memoirs of a Geisha' which is a book that I love. I can see why comparisons have been drawn, as both stories focus on the lives of concubines. However, 'Girls of Paper and Fire' veers away from historical fiction and instead goes down the path of being an exquisite fantasy. It's beautifully written and was such a joy to read that I now want to press a copy into the hands of everyone I know.

The main character Lei is a member of the Paper caste. At the beginning of the story, she is taken to the Demon King to become one of his concubines, along with eight other girls. Along with Paper, there is also Steel and Moon. These two castes are different because Steel is a mixture of human and demon with animal characteristics and Moon is demon animals. Each are afforded differing statuses in the Kingdom with Paper being considered the lowliest. It took a while to get used to people being half-animal but after a while, I adjusted to this and found the unusual mixture of characters fascinating.

Lei was a wonderful character who is devoted to her family and believes that she is protecting them by being in the King's possession. She bonds with the other girls and they almost become a second family of sorts. However, although they are all in the same situation, they react differently to their roles and some see it almost as a rivalry. I enjoyed getting to know all of the girls and seeing how Lei's relationship with them evolves throughout the course of the book. Ngan also does a brilliant job of creating a female romance which I truly believed in. It develops gradually and is wonderfully real in its depiction of a love which burns slowly but brightly.  

There are some truly shocking moments in the book and it does touch on powerful themes, such as female oppression, rape and assault. However, these are sensitively written about and aren't just there to be sensationalist. It's a brutal world but one in which true love can still flourish.

Definitely a five star read and one for which I will be eagerly awaiting the follow-up.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Review: Heart of Thorns - Bree Barton

Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton, published by HarperCollins Children's Books on 31st July 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
In the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.

Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia's father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.

'Heart of Thorns' is the first book in what I assume is a planned trilogy. The story centres around Mia Rose who wants to avenge the death of her mother at the hands of a Gwyrach. Within the kingdom, Gwyrach are hunted down and killed for being half god, half human and capable of manipulating the flesh, bone, breath and blood of their victims - sometimes leading to them inflicting death on others. While Mia only has revenge in mind, her father has a different fate for her in store. He wants her to marry Prince Quin and in the process protect her younger sister Angelyne. As Mia prepares for her wedding, she discovers that she is also a Gwyrach and this revelation turns her whole world upside down and makes her question everything she thought she knew.

I really liked the character of Mia. She's feisty and independent and carves her own path, even when she's being forced into certain situations by those around her. She also never backs away from danger and instead confronts it head on. She's a heroine who I could definitely get on-board with. I loved the inter-play between her and Quin, particularly when they are outside of the Palace walls and I enjoyed the slow burn of feelings between them.

I initially found some of the world building a bit confusing and I'll admit that I felt slightly lost at the beginning but things picked up when the action moved beyond the Palace. It was intriguing finding out more about the Gwyrach and their history.

The book is an intriguing blend of fantasy, romance and adventure. It doesn't fit neatly into one genre but that's a quality that I really liked about it. It kept me on my toes. It kept me guessing. It kept me wanting to know more. There's a huge jaw-dropping twist near the end of the story that I did not see coming and that's made me doubly excited for the next book in the series, 'Tears of Frost'.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Review: It All Falls Down - Sheena Kamal

It All Falls Down by Sheena Kamal, published by Bonnier Zaffre on 28th June 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
When Nora Watts is approached by a man claiming to know her late father, she is thrown into turmoil. Struggling with the imminent death, from cancer, of her friend and mentor Sebastian Crow, she is unprepared for the memories that this encounter brings back. What happened to her father that made him kill himself and abandon Nora and her sister?

Heading to Detroit to try and find some answers about his life there, Nora expects to discover a reason behind his suicide. Instead, she finds more questions than answers.

But trouble always follows Nora, and it's found her in Detroit, a city that is as broken as she is.

Firstly, my fault I know, but I had no idea that this was the second book in a series. Yes, it can be read as a standalone but I think it would have made a lot more sense if read in the right order. Previous events were often referred to which I found confusing.

I was also under the impression that this was going to be a tense, exhilarating and fast paced thriller. Possibly in the same vein as a Simon Kernick book - unputdownable. Unfortunately I found it incredibly slow, very un-thriller-like and extremely forgettable. It seemed so drawn out that by the end I wasn't sure I even cared about the eventual outcome.

The series is based around a female character called Nora Watts who is trying to find out the truth about her father's suicide which happened 30 years ago, as well as her mother's disappearance. The main plot is interspersed with a side story about an investigator called Brazuca who is tracking a trail of drugs. I didn't connect with Nora at all and I suppose that didn't help in terms of my interest in the story.

Overall, I thought it was extremely slow and the story didn't seem to really go anywhere at times. This is a series that I definitely won't be continuing with.

Friday, 19 October 2018

When We Caught Fire - Anna Godbersen

When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen, published by HarperCollins Children's Books on 2nd October 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
It’s 1871 and Emmeline Carter is poised to take Chicago’s high society by storm. Between her father’s sudden rise to wealth, and her recent engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor, Emmeline has it all. But she can’t stop thinking about the life she left behind, including her childhood sweetheart, Anders Magnuson. Fiona Byrne, Emmeline’s childhood best friend, is delighted by her friend’s sudden rise to prominence, especially since it means Fiona is free to pursue Anders herself. But when Emmeline risks everything for one final fling with Anders, Fiona feels completely betrayed.

As the summer turns to fall, the city is at a tipping point: friendships are tested, hearts are broken, and the tiniest spark might set everything ablaze.

I've only read a few of Anna Godbersen's previous books but this one caught my eye when I discovered that the story was an imagining of events leading up to the Great Fire of Chicago. Although I don't read a huge amount of historical fiction now, this used to be one of my favourite genres so I thought I would give it a try. I read it in one sitting but finished with mixed feelings about it.
Godbersen has crafted a love triangle which takes centre stage in the book. Emmeline, Fiona and Anders are childhood friends whose paths have taken them in different directions. Emmeline is now engaged and has risen through the ranks of Chicago high society, while Fiona is employed as her maid and Anders has been left behind in the old neighbourhood. It was always a given that Anders and Emmeline would one day be wed but that all seems behind them now. That is until Emmeline decided that she must see Anders one more time and a terrible sequence of events is set in motion.
I'm not a big fan of love triangles so that was a mark against the story from the start. It's well written but I felt like it wasn't hugely original and has been done so many times before. I really liked Fiona who at times seemed like the only sensible character in the book but I wasn't keen on Emmeline at all and the way that she only ever thought about herself and what she wanted. She didn't seem to care that in the process she was ruining other peoples' lives. She was also rather shallow and flighty and constantly changed her mind which grated on me.
The best part of the book was the last third. Although it was almost a given what was going to happen, there were still some surprises in store and instead of meandering along, as it had done for the start of the story, the pace of the plot picked up and there was a lot more action to enjoy.
A bit of a mixed bag for me unfortunately, although I liked the original concept.   



Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Review: No Angel - Samantha Summers

No Angel by Samantha Summers, published September 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
When a group of teenage assassins waged a war against the clandestine government branch that created them, their freedom came at a price. Not all of them made it. One never wanted to. This is the story of Gabriel, a boy whose angelic good looks hide a monster within. It’s the story of how he came to be there on the fateful night he sacrificed everything to save his unit. It’s the story of a moment in time, when he saw there was more to life than the death that had followed him his entire existence.

'No Angel' is a Project Five Fifteen novella. I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the author and I'm thrilled to say that I absolutely loved it! Project Five Fifteen is one of my favourite series and I'm so glad that Samantha Summers has taken another step into that world because I have been desperately wanting to see more of the characters.

The focus this time around is on Gabriel and Zach, who originally featured in the series containing 'First Light', 'As You Were' and 'Becoming'. The story shows them trying to survive on their own (prior to their later reunion). Zach wants to find a small beach town and finally settle down to a real life but Gabriel is struggling to adjust to normal life and finds oblivion in bar fights and one night stands. Anything where he can forget, if even for a short time, the things they were forced to do. Their lives are made up of this pattern, until Gabriel meets Lo. The first girl to see beyond the mask he always wears.

Gabriel was a really interesting character. He thinks he's incapable of feeling love but he protects Zach and would give his life for him. Although he has his faults, he cares about the people that matter to him and he's more selfless than he realises. I enjoyed getting to find out more about him and Zach and how they operate as a team. Survival is their number one concern but Gabriel's feelings for Lo certainly shake things up. The growing romantic relationship between Gabriel and Lo was one that I enjoyed seeing unfold over the course of the book. On the surface, they may have initially seemed like an unlikely couple but they provide some much needed balance for each other and a level of mutual trust and support that I don't think either of them has ever really had before.

The character perspective alternates between Gabriel and Zach, as we see the latter secretly meeting with a therapist. Zach is such a sweetie and is always trying to keep Gabriel on the right track. I definitely thought that he deserved the normal life he craved in the book, although he has his own demons to confront.

After reading 'No Angel', I got all nostalgic and dug my copies of the original trilogy off my shelves, ready for a re-read sometime soon. I'm a massive Samantha Summers fan and would beg you to read her books if you haven't discovered them yet. This was a fabulous addition to the series and I'm hoping (with all my body parts crossed!) that there might be more to come in the future.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Blog tour: The Caged Queen - Kristen Ciccarelli

Today, I'm thrilled to be part of 'The Caged Queen' blog tour. Published today in the UK by Gollancz, I'm sharing my review of Kristen Ciccarelli's phenomenal book.

'The Caged Queen' is a companion novel to 'The Last Namsara' which was a standout read for me. This is a book that I was desperate to get my hands on. Once I started it, I was completely drawn into the story and swept away by the adventure, romance and daring of the plot. I would almost say that I enjoyed 'The Caged Queen' even more than Ciccarelli's first book, as the theme of unbreakable love was one that really captured my heart.

The protagonist of the story is Roa, daughter of the House of Song and wife of Dax, the dragon King. Dax is the brother of Asha who fans of the author will already be familiar with. Roa was a wonderful central character. Strong in body and mind, she helped Dax to take the Fiergaard throne, in return for becoming Queen. An overarching theme in the novel is love. The tentative but quelled feelings she refuses to acknowledge for Dax were beautifully portrayed, as well as her undying love for her sister Essie. After a terrible accident, for which Dax was responsible, Essie lost her life and her soul became trapped. Roa would do anything for her sister and is desperate to reclaim her.  

I loved the bond between the sisters but for me, the relationship between Roa and Dax was my favourite part of the whole book. They are both hiding from each other and they are both capable of hurting each other because those we love the most, are the ones with the most power to wound us.

Although the book started quite slowly, it just kept getting better and better as it went on. I enjoyed the short sections interspersed throughout which delved into the past and showed events from Roa's childhood and her memories of growing up with her sister and Dax by her side. They provided a lot of additional insight into the characters and their actions.

'The Caged Queen' is an example of tremendous storytelling and beautiful writing. There were some passages near the end that actually brought tears to my eyes. I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone and I really don't think it matters if you haven't read 'The Last Namsara' because this is enough of a companion book that it works well as a standalone novel too. Absolutely magnificent!

Don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the blog tour and look out for #The CagedQueen on Twitter.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Review: A Spoonful of Murder - Robin Stevens

A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens, published by Puffin on 4th January 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
When Hazel Wong's beloved grandfather passes away, Daisy Wells is all too happy to accompany her friend (and Detective Society Vice President) to Hazel's family estate in beautiful, bustling Hong Kong.

But when they arrive they discover something they didn't expect: there's a new member of the Wong family. Daisy and Hazel think baby Teddy is enough to deal with, but as always the girls are never far from a mystery. Tragedy strikes very close to home, and this time Hazel isn't just the detective. She's been framed for murder!

The girls must work together like never before, confronting dangerous gangs, mysterious suspects and sinister private detectives to solve the murder and clear Hazel's name - before it's too late . . .

'A Spoonful of Murder' is the sixth instalment in the Murder Most Unladylike series. Oh how I adore these books! They are sooo good and such a treat to read. Everything else just fades into the background when I'm reading about Daisy and Hazel.

The story is set in Hong Kong in 1936. It was interesting to see the whole book set on non-English soil and how this affects the behaviour of the characters. With Hazel back with her family (Daisy in tow), Hazel is suddenly the one who is more in charge as she knows the language and the culture. It was strange to see Daisy having to take a backseat for once as normally she is always barrelling ahead but she is now on slightly uncertain footing. I absolutely love Hazel, so I enjoyed seeing her leading the investigation and growing in confidence throughout the book. The exchange of roles between the two is well written and really well done. I honestly sometimes forget that the two girls are only fourteen because they seem much more mature than that with everything they have had to face together.

I also loved learning more about Hazel's family and the ways and rituals of Hong Kong society. Her little sisters, May and Rose are very sweet too and I wonder if there is potential for a future spin-off starring them.   

The mystery was deliciously intriguing and yielded a lot of surprises. Robin Stevens always ensures that the books are well plotted so I'm never able to guess the outcome which makes for even better reading. I'm tempted to say that this was my favourite book in the series so far. Impossible to put-down, full of puzzles and intrigue and wonderfully written. Stevens does it again! I hope we have many more Wells and Wong adventures still to come.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Review: Show Stealer - Hayley Barker

Show Stealer by Hayley Barker, published by Scholastic on 2nd August 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Hoshiko and Ben have been on the run since they burned Silvio Sabatini's circus down to the ground. But Ben's mother will stop at nothing to track him down and get her revenge: backing him into a corner where he is forced to sacrifice himself to save Hoshiko. The deadliest show on earth has been resurrected and if Ben thought he'd seen into its dark corners as an outsider, the true extent of the horrors that lurk beneath the Big Top are about to be revealed as he becomes the circus' new star attraction...

Review:This is a stunning follow-up to last year's debut hit Showstopper. It is an incredibly enjoyable read and had me engrossed from start to finish.

Each chapter alternates between the viewpoints of Ben and Hoshiko, with the story picking up from nearly a year on, after their escape from the Cirque and evil ringmaster Silvio Sabatini. Still on the run and being hunted by Ben's mother and the police, there is a huge reward for their capture.  This means that they are not even safe from the other dregs who, given half a chance, will turn them in.

I really loved this book and I didn't want it to finish. Hayley Barker has let her imagination run riot which means that there are a lot of unexpected surprises in store for the reader. I don't want to say too much about the plot for fear of spoiling anything but needless to say, you are in for a real treat. This is YA fiction at its best.

The characters are very special and for me, they help to make the book come alive. Ben and Hoshiko are captivating, likeable and engaging and there are some truly wonderful secondary characters, such as Greta, Jack, Ezekial and Sean. Plus, a terrible villain who you will love to hate.

The overall message of the book is about society itself and how it should be working together to unite people from all walks of life. Although the Pures and the Dregs have been made to hate one another, there's definitely a glimpse of what could be a brighter future if they could only accept each other and learn to change their attitudes to those who may be different from themselves.

I can't recommend this book enough and if you haven't read Showstopper yet then I would encourage you to go out and buy both books, clear your weekend schedule and find somewhere comfy to cozy up in while you dive into these amazing stories. You won't regret it.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Review: The Alaskan Chronicles: The Provider - John Hunt

The Alaskan Chronicles: The Provider by John Hunt, published by Lodestone Books on 14th June 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
The year is 2020 and President Trump has just announced that the world is bracing itself for the effects of a huge solar storm.

17 year old Jim Richards is a gawky, unimpressive teenager in Anchorage, Alaska. As chaos descends and society breaks down into anarchy and violence, his family team up with others to leave the city and take their chances in the Alaskan wilderness. They can no longer flick a switch to get what they want, no mobile or internet, in fact no communication at all with the wider world, how will it play out?

Jim must step up, and in doing so, find his true self, his first love, and his destiny. How will the human race survive in this new world?

This book had an interesting premise but didn't quite pull me in as I was expecting it too. The second half was better than the first as it had a lot more pace but overall, I found it very slow.

The story is set in the year 2020 when President Trump announces that a huge solar storm is about to hit. When solar flares take out the entire electricity grid, the world plunges into an age without phones or the internet; cars no longer run, TVs don't work and all modern commodities are gone in the blink of an eye. The plot centres around teenager Jim and his family who head into the Alaskan wilderness to seek refuge from looters and mass mobs when the whole of society starts to crumble.

I normally always enjoy survival stories which are set in remote locations. It's interesting to see how the characters have to use every survival tactic in the book to rebuild their lives, including learning how to catch food and build shelter. However, there was something about this title that just didn't hit the mark for me. I struggled with some of the characterisation and dialogue which didn't seem to be very realistic. The characters were slightly one-dimensional and although there were some things about Jim that I liked, I never really rooted for him as the hero of the story.

The ending was strange and didn't entirely feel like it fit with the rest of the book. I also don't think that I will be continuing with the series as I wasn't left with a burning desire to find out what happens to them all next.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Review: All These Beautiful Strangers - Elizabeth Klehfoth

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth, published by Penguin on 19th July 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Charlie Calloway has a life most people would kill for - a tight-knit family, a loyal set of friends, and top grades a privileged boarding school. But Charlie's never been interested in what most people want. Like all Calloways, she's been taught that she's different, special - better. So when her school's super-exclusive secret society extends a mysterious invitation, Charlie's determination to get in is matched only by her conviction that she belongs there.

But their secrets go deeper than she knows.

Charlie finds herself thrust into the centre of a decades-old mystery - one that implicates her family in not one terrible crime, but two. Uncovering their past may destroy everything she knows - or give her the answer she's always craved: Who or what was behind her mother's disappearance ten years ago?

'All These Beautiful Strangers' is described as Cruel Intentions meets Gossip Girl with a hint of The Secret History.  It sounded exactly like the kind of book that I love.  I'm a big fan of YA thrillers and I was even more intrigued after reading the blurb which hinted at a hidden mystery waiting to be unravelled.

The story is set at Knollwood Prep, an exclusive boarding school. I can never resist the lure of a boarding school setting which I think dates back to my days of enjoying the Chalet School books. It adds a sense of suffocation and claustrophobia, as well as functioning almost as an exclusive society with it's own set of specific rules.  The main character, Charlie Calloway, is one of the privileged pupils and appears to have it all.  At the beginning of the story she is invited to try joining the school's secret society which involves having to complete a series of almost impossible challenges. As she attempts to gain her place within the society, she also becomes embroiled in the secret of her mother's disappearance ten years ago.  As she begins to connect the dots, long-buried secrets finally threaten to become exposed.

The plot switches backwards and forwards between Charlie in 2017 and her mother Grace in 2007.  It was interesting to see her mother's life unravelling as Charlie begins to realise that the events of the past and the present are linked together.  I actually think I enjoyed the Grace chapters more than the ones from Charlie's perspective.  Probably because Charlie wasn't immensely likable and there seemed to be a lot of flaws in her character.  She definitely matures a lot throughout the book though and there's hope that she will be a better person by the end of the story.  I also wasn't madly keen on any of the male figures which was a shame because there were one or two who had real potential.

I enjoyed the mystery element to the plot and finding out what really happened to Grace so many years ago.  I definitely didn't have any inkling about who was going to be involved, so it was nice to feel completely surprised when the big reveal finally came.  This is a pretty long book at nearly 500 pages and while I thought that the mystery was well written and plotted, it was possibly a bit too drawn out and a tad long in places.  It felt like some of the suspense was slightly lost owing to the length of the story and the pace might have benefited from a few cuts here and there.  Saying that, the ending fell a little flat because it all seemed a bit rushed in the final chapters.  Suddenly everything was wrapped up quite quickly and I was still left with a few unanswered questions.

If you enjoy YA thrillers and you're looking for mystery and suspense then this could be your kind of book.  I would have liked it to have been more fast-paced but overall it was very good and I didn't find it easy to put down once I'd started it.  Overall, a terrific debut and I look forward to reading more by Elizabeth Klehfoth in the future.   

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Review: Nobody Real - Steven Camden

Nobody Real by Steven Camden, published by HarperCollins Children's Books on 31st May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Marcie is at a crossroads.  Finished with school, but unsure what she wants to do next. Abandoned by her mother when she was tiny – but drifting further and further from her dad.

Marcie is real. With real problems.

Thor is at a crossroads too.  Soon, if he doesn't make a decision, he's gong to face the fade. Years ago, he was Marcie's imaginary friend – then she cast him out, back to his own world.

Thor is not real. And that's a real problem…

But Marcie and Thor need each other. And to fix their lives, they're going to have to destroy everything… and then build a new world.

The author Steve Camden is a spoken word artist and it definitely shows in the poetic narrative style of 'Nobody Real.  There are a lot of short, detached words and sentences which have a lyrical sway but which didn't make the book particularly easy to read.

The story is told by teenager Marcie and her imaginary friend Thor, who she cast away several years ago and whose time is now running out for good.  We see Marcie struggling with family issues and decisions about her future, as she tries to make up her own mind about the path she wants to follow, rather than just trailing in her friend's footsteps.  Marcie is facing choices that many young people have to make which makes the story more relatable to it's contemporary YA audience.

I think this is actually the first book I've read which features an imaginary friend.  I've been racking my brains to think of another but nothing has come to mind.  The chapters from Thor's perspective were intriguing but I struggled to wrap my head around a part-boy part-bear whose day to day life consists of demolishing buildings. 

My main problem with the book was that in theory I liked the idea of the novel but in reality, I found it quite a disjointed and difficult read which I never really connected with.  It wasn't my kind of book at all, but I have already passed this onto a friend who I think will love it.  Not every book can be everyone's cup of tea and this just wasn't for me.   

Monday, 4 June 2018

Review: Little Guides to Great Lives - Isabel Thomas

Little Guides to Great Lives by Isabel Thomas, published by Laurence King Publishing on 4th June 2018

From artists to aviators and scientists to revolutionaries, Little Guides to Great Lives is a brand new series of handy, accessible guides, each beautifully depicted by a different illustrator.  The guides introduce children to the most inspirational figures from history.

This beautiful series of little books showcases the lives of some of the most significant figures in history.  It's a gorgeous set of hardbacks, aimed at children of ages 7-11 and would make the perfect present for an inquisitive child.  The set includes books about Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Leonardo Da Vinci and Nelson Mandela.  I think it's great that three, such influential women are featured, as it shows how significant their achievements were.   

The guides contain a perfect blend of information and facts, alongside a timeline, glossary and index.  They are each illustrated by a different artist and the drawings and illustrations are absolutely charming.  They're fun and colourful and really bring alive the person who the book is written about.  I particularly liked the illustrations about Frida Kahlo.  I hadn't known a lot about her previously but I found her life story fascinating.  Although these are fairly short guides, you could spend ages poring over them and they would definitely keep children occupied as they find out about such wonderfully colourful and interesting figures.

I hope that there will be further additions to the series as there are so many other historical figures who I would like to see included.  I also think that this would make a great set for any library collection as it's both educational and entertaining and would be lovely for parents to read with their children.     

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Review: All Of This Is True - Lygia Day Penaflor

All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor, published by Bloomsbury on 31st May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Miri Tan loved the book Undertow like it was a living being. So when she and her friends went to a book signing to meet the author, Fatima Ro, they concocted a plan to get close to her, even if her friends won’t admit it now. As for Jonah, well—Miri knows none of that was Fatima’s fault.

Soleil Johnston wanted to be a writer herself one day. When she and her friends started hanging out with her favorite author, Fatima Ro, she couldn’t believe their luck—especially when Jonah Nicholls started hanging out with them, too. Now, looking back, Soleil can’t believe she let Fatima manipulate her and Jonah like that. She can’t believe that she got used for a book.

Penny Panzarella was more than the materialistic party girl everyone at the Graham School thought she was. She desperately wanted Fatima Ro to see that, and she saw her chance when Fatima asked the girls to be transparent with her. If only she’d known what would happen when Fatima learned Jonah’s secret. If only she’d known that the line between fiction and truth was more complicated than any of them imagined.

This is a hard review to write because I found 'All of This is True' to be quite a strange book.  I'd heard lots of good things about it prior to starting it and I was expecting suspense, intrigue, excitement and a twist to end all twists but...I didn't get any of that.  I read about a third of it and then briefly stopped to review what had actually happened so far and it wasn't much at all!  I wasn't sure where the shocks and spills were going to come so I carried on and yet I still didn't understand what was so puzzling about it.  Now to me, there was a very small, teeny tiny twist in the plot but I thought it was so obvious that I can't understand how anyone could be fooled by it. 

The story centres around four teenagers, Miri, Soleil, Jonah and Penny, plus author Fatima Ro. They all came across privileged teens with too much time on their hands and with more money than sense. I didn't like any of them and they came across as just a bunch of rich kids, wasting their time on foolish and trivial pursuits.

I also didn't enjoy the format of the book which was pretty unusual and felt jarring and disjointed. It takes the form of interviews, diary entries, magazine articles and excerpts from a novel.  The unique narrative meant that I never felt that I could get fully absorbed into the story and that, combined with shallow characters, really put me off.

I found the ending a complete disappointment and the whole novel slow and uninspiring.  Not for me I'm afraid.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Review: Not If I Save You First - Ally Carter

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter, published by Orchard Books on 27th March 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
After Maddie's Secret Service dad takes a bullet for the president, he takes Maddie somewhere he thinks they'll be safe - far away from the White House and the president's son, Logan.

But when Logan comes to Alaska, so does the danger.

If there's one thing Alaska has taught Maddie, it's how to survive. And now her best friend's life depends on it ...

Ally Carter is one of my go-to authors when I want to read something that is pure escapism and a whole lot of fun.  I have adored all of her books and 'Not If I Save You First' may just be my new favourite.  I devoured it in one sitting and loved absolutely everything about it.  If I didn't have a humongous toppling to-be-read pile, then I would probably immediately begin reading it all over again.  Trust me, it's that good.

This book literally had everything I love and more.  Features a member of the Presidential First Family, tick.  Set in the Alaskan wilderness, tick.  A kick-ass teenage heroine, tick. A life and death situation, tick.  It's like Ally Carter reached inside my brain, scooped out all of my favourite things and put them into her story.  I could not have enjoyed this book any more if I'd tried.

The opening couple of chapters are set in the White House and set up the scenario which unfolds throughout the rest of the book.  The action then jumps forward six years and we see our protagonist Maddie, living with her father, formerly the President's bodyguard, in the middle of Alaska.  Maddie used to be best-friends with the President's son Logan, but that's before he never answered any of her letters and she lost all contact with him.  She's never forgotten him though and when he reappears in her life after so many years, she doesn't know whether to be happy or angry. And when he ends up getting kidnapped, it's up to Maddie to rescue him and keep them both alive.

I absolutely adored Maddie.  She came across like a female Bear Grylls.  Her father (and Alaska) have taught her how to survive and so she's not afraid to go after the kidnapper when he disappears with Logan.  She's constantly two steps ahead and is not to be messed with.  I thought her relationship with Logan was adorable, although she spends most of the book pretending to hate him!

Featuring tons of action and adventure, I never wanted the story to end.  I was constantly kept on my toes and the excitement just kept on coming.  One of the best books I've read so far this year.  Ally Carter has most definitely done it again!     

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Review: Night of the Party - Tracey Mathias

Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias, published by Scholastic on 3rd May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
After withdrawing from the EU, Britain is governed by The Party, and everyone born outside the country is subject to immediate arrest and deportation. Failing to report illegals is a crime.

Zara is the only one who knows her friend Sophie died. But Zara's an illegal.

She can't tell anyone her secrets. Not even Ash, the boy she loves. The boy who needs to know the truth.

As the country prepares for an election, Zara must make an impossible choice.

'Night of the Party' is written by UK debut author Tracey Matthias.  It imagines a post-Brexit Britain where the governing party have introduced a new policy dictating that only those British Born or BB as they are known, have the right to live in Britain.  Everyone else is treated as an illegal and subject to immediate deportation.  It's a frightening look at a post-Brexit world where peoples' human rights are threatened and where suspicion is rife.  People are expected to automatically report anyone they know or suspect to be an illegal, leading to an atmosphere of fear and suspicion among communities.

The story focuses on two characters who meet at the beginning.  They are 'illegal' Zara and British born Ash.  They find themselves on opposite sides of the citizenship debate, although they are also linked in a way that Ash doesn't realise about until part way through the story.  Nevertheless they form a powerful bond which goes beyond nationality and bridges issues of love and family.

What I thought was particularly interesting about this book was that the scenario created by Tracey Matthias isn't completely impossible or as far removed from reality as you would think.  The author herself states that it started out as a 'what if' political dystopia but shifted worryingly close to real life.  The novel actually presents a political situation that could very well end up becoming true at some point in the future and that's an incredibly scary thought.

I have to admit that this isn't normally the type of book that I would choose to pick up and at times I found the story quite slow.  However, it was a thought-provoking read which definitely made me think about aspects of politics that I hadn't considered before. 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Review: Inferno - Julie Kagawa

Inferno by Julie Kagawa, published by HarperCollins on 3rd May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Ember Hill has learned a shocking truth about herself: she is the blood of the Elder Wyrm, the ancient dragon who leads Talon and who is on the verge of world domination. With the Order of St. George destroyed, Ember, Riley and Garret journey to the Amazon jungle in search of one who might hold the key to take down the Elder Wyrm and Talon—if they can survive the encounter.

Meanwhile, Ember’s brother, Dante, will travel to China with a message for the last Eastern dragons: join Talon or die. With the stakes rising and the Elder Wyrm declaring war, time is running out for the rogues and any dragon not allied with Talon.

The final battle approaches. And if Talon is victorious, the world will burn.

'Inferno' is the final book in Julie Kagawa's Talon series which is based around the idea that dragons exist today and are living among us.  I have been a huge fan of this series from the very beginning and have been excitedly awaiting the finale for months.  It didn't take me long to get stuck into the book and engrossed in the ultimate showdown between the rogues and the Talon organisation.

The story was everything I was hoping it was going to be.  Fast-paced and high-octane, it was a thrilling roller-coaster conclusion.  Ember, Garret and Riley are determined to finally put a stop to Talon once and for all, especially now that Ember has learnt that she is the blood of the Elder Wyrm, The latter is after world domination and immortality and must be stopped at all costs. With most of the Order of St. George destroyed, new friends and allies have to be sought if they are to stand any chance of taking Talon down and freeing the world of them.  There are many who still don't trust the dragons but Ember, as always, is hugely persuasive and determined to do everything in her power to convince people to fight alongside her.

The narrative voice alternates between Ember, Garret and Riley, as they pull out all the stops in the run up to the final battle.  Riley has always been a huge favourite of mine and that didn't change the whole way through.  I must admit that I've always wanted to see him and Ember together but I will say that I really enjoyed the direction that Julie Kagawa took his character and I was ultimately very happy with how he ended up. I was also glad to see the end of the love triangle between him, Ember and Garret as I think it was getting a little tired and it was time that it was concluded at last.

Ember's brother Dante also gets his turn in the book as he begins to learn the truths that have so far been concealed from him.  On Talon's orders, he ends up travelling to China to the council of Eastern dragons to convince them to join their cause.  He gradually discovers that things are not as he had thought and that there may be a different fate in store for him. 

I thoroughly enjoyed 'Inferno' which was an exciting, action packed and high octane read.  Julie Kagawa doesn't take her foot off the pedal for one second as she plunges her characters into one life and death situation after another.  I was gripped from start to finish and was so happy that this epic series went out with a bang.     

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Review: The Smoke Thieves - Sally Green

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, published by Penguin on 3rd May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
A princess, a traitor, a hunter and a thief. Four teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands. Four nations destined for conflict.

In Brigant, Princess Catherine prepares for a loveless political marriage arranged by her brutal and ambitious father. In Calidor, downtrodden servant March seeks revenge on the prince who betrayed his people. In Pitoria, feckless Edyon steals cheap baubles for cheaper thrills as he drifts from town to town. And in the barren northern territories, thirteen-year-old Tash is running for her life as she plays bait for the gruff demon hunter Gravell.

As alliances shift and shatter, and old certainties are overturned, our four heroes find their past lives transformed and their futures inextricably linked by the unpredictable tides of magic and war. Who will rise and who will fall? And who will claim the ultimate prize?

'The Smoke Thieves' is the first book in Sally Green's new fantasy series, falling on from the success of her Half Blood trilogy. When I read the synopsis, I thought it sounded quite similar to Morgan Rhodes Falling Kingdoms series which I love, so I was really looking forward to reading it.  I'm always on the lookout for new YA fantasy novels, as I enjoy this genre a lot which meant that my hopes were quite high for this title.

The story is told from the perspective of five very different characters.  I have to say that my biggest issue with this book was the fact that the multiple character narration made it quite difficult to follow at times and some people were definitely more interesting than others.  My favourites were Princess Catherine and Tash who were both strong, female characters and although their situations in life made them polar opposites, they were intriguing and enjoyable to read about.  Unfortunately I wasn't as keen on some of the others, such as servant March, student Edyon and traitor Ambrose. I found myself getting impatient with their chapters and sneaking a peak ahead so I could see when the story was going to switch back to the females. I also found their stories slightly disjointed. Although I'm sure they will converge more as the series progresses, it was initially hard to see how they were all related to each other.  

The plot was slow to unfold and there were times when nothing really seemed to happen, which meant that it failed to hold my attention throughout. There are some exciting moments where the suspense just starts to build up and then it falls flat again.  This may be partly because Sally Green has to do a lot of world and character building in this opening instalment but I would have liked to have seen more action to keep me engaged. 

The ending definitely picked up and the story did finish on a high but I hope that there's more for the reader to get their teeth into in the follow-up.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Review: The Royal Wedding Colouring Book - Adam Rushton

The Royal Wedding Colouring Book by Adam Rushton, published by Trapeze on 19th April 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Celebrate the most talked about wedding of the year as you colour in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in this royal romp through the most iconic film scenes in Hollywood history!

The Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is just around the corner and to celebrate you can colour your way through their romance and engagement. This is such a fun idea for a colouring book and is sure to appeal to all fans of the Royal family.  Meghan and Harry take centre stage in some of the most iconic films of all time, featuring hits such as Titanic and When Harry Met Sally. I laughed a lot at some of the poses and quotes, particularly the one which takes pride of place on the front cover (pictured above).

You can colour in the very moment when Harry proposed to Meghan, or take your pick from shots of the other Royals turning up for the big day. The Queen, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William and Kate all feature in the book, as well as iconic London images.  You're spoilt for choice really.

Thanks to my Mum for colouring in the Queen so beautifully!

This would make a terrific present for any Royal family fanatic and is packed full of brilliant illustrations to colour in.  My Mum had to have a go at colouring the Queen first but I've got my eye on the corgis!  Great fun and wonderfully entertaining!

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Review: Far From The Tree - Robin Benway

Far From The Tree by Robin Benway, published by Simon and Schuster on 8th February 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Being the middle child has its ups and downs. But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

'Far From The Tree' is a contemporary YA novel which made me cry. Have your tissues handy for this one!

I have to admit that although I really love Robin Benway, I wasn't overly excited about the premise of this book when I first picked it up. It just didn't particularly strike a chord with me.  I picked it up and put it down a number of times before finally settling down to read it and then I quickly became completely immersed in the story and the characters. 

The third person perspective, alternates between the three main characters.  There's 16 year old Grace, 15 year old Maya and soon to be 18 year old Joaquin.  Their lives are complicated. They're all adopted and at the start of the book, they are just finding out about the existence of each other.  They all have secrets and issues to deal with.  Grace and Maya were both adopted but Joaquin has lived in foster homes his whole life and has never known what it's like to have a real family.  I really loved the character of Joaquin.  He's scared that he will be rejected by people and is always worried about letting people down.  His defence mechanism is to push people away first before they leave him.  His story is sad but also happy.  Life has been rough for him but he discovers throughout the course of the book that he's not alone and he does have people on his side. I enjoyed seeing the three siblings meeting for the first time and following them as they bonded and opened up to each other. 

The book deals with a lot of different issues, such as teen pregnancy, alcoholism, racism and adoption.  It also highlights the complexity of family dynamics.  Families are extremely complicated but ultimately the book shows that families are always there for each other and always willing to help and support each other through thick and thin. The ending of the story was very uplifting and finished on such a positive and upbeat note.

Overall, I thought that 'Far From the Tree' was real and truthful and a good reflection of real life. It has its ups and downs but Robin Benway doesn't sugarcoat anything and shows it as it is. I wish that I hadn't waited such a long time to read it as it turned out to be fantastic and extremely enjoyable.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Review: The Prophecy - Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Prophecy by Jennifer L. Armentrout, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 8th March 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Seth never thought he’d have a future. But now he’s on the brink of having it all with Josie: A tomorrow. A family. A forever. And all that's standing between him and that forever is the Titans. If he helps Josie entomb them -- without killing them, a nearly impossible task for him -- everything he could ever want will be in reach. But he soon realizes that as a god, every little choice he makes can reshape the world for the better… or worse. And in meddling with the Titans, Seth may have just set into motion catastrophic consequences that will force the Olympians to enter the mortal realm and reshape the delicate balance of power that keeps the world from total collapse.

Entombing the Titans is Josie’s top priority. After all, it was what she was born to do. But the plans her father put into play to help her are no longer an option, and the odds she and Seth face in forging their own path are grim. The escalating violence between halfs and pures only increases the danger closing in on them and their friends. Josie knows their chances of succeeding in their task are slim at best -- and if they fail, they might lose everything. But she also knows she's not fighting just for herself -- she's fighting for the man she loves, for their future, for the world.

I loved, loved, loved this book!  It was the perfect way to end what has been an incredible series. Although I'm upset that this is the last time I'll get to read about Seth and Josie, I think that Jennifer L. Armentrout wrote them an amazing end which made me very happy. 

Seth and Josie are desperate to have a future and a family together but before they can start their life together, they first have to entomb the Titans.  The story follows them as they try to overcome the obstacles standing in their way and save the human world in the process.  They need to track down all of the demi-gods and unlock their powers to stand any chance of defeating the Titans but it's starting to look like an impossible task. 

At the heart of the book is the relationship between Seth and Josie who have both been on incredible journeys throughout the series.  Seth has changed enormously since he was first introduced in the Covenant novels.  He's still cocky and sure of himself but he's matured so much and lost a little bit of the arrogance that he had in the beginning.  He thinks more about others, as well as the consequences of his actions and he is hell-bent at keeping Josie safe at all costs.  I love seeing him and Josie together and there are so many wonderful scenes in the book to please fans of the couple.  When he's with Josie, Seth shows another side to his character.  He is infinitely sweet and caring and will sacrifice anything to protect her.  Josie has also changed a lot and has become much more sure of herself and her abilities.  She's finally found self-confidence and at long last, she's sure of her relationship with Seth.  I honestly couldn't get enough of seeing them together.  Their romance was beautifully written and they are definitely one of my favourite ever book couples. 

I wouldn't have changed one single thing about the way in which the story unfolded.  There were several surprises and shocks in store and I had my heart in my mouth for some of the last few chapters but it was all plotted brilliantly and the final ending was beyond perfection.  My emotions were all over the place and I couldn't help but cry (believe me, it's quite a tearjerker!).

'The Prophecy' delivered everything that I wanted and more.  It was sheer heaven to read and the series really bowed out on a high.  I would love to see Jennifer L. Armentrout revisit the characters in the future but if this is truly the last time that we get to see them, then I'm more than happy with such a perfect finale.  

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Review: The Wicked Deep - Shea Ernshaw

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw, published by Simon and Schuster on 8th March 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Two centuries ago, in the small, isolated town, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town. Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return from the depths, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them down to their watery deaths.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into or the fact that his arrival will change everything...

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters. But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

'The Wicked Deep' is a beautifully written tale of love and sisterhood.  The writing is gloriously vivid and so evocative that I sensed I could almost smell the salty tang of the Sparrow sea air.  Every word sounds like it's been carefully selected and used to create a lyrical and enchanting feel to the novel. Just like the tourists are drawn to the seaside town of Sparrow each summer, I was equally drawn into the life of local girl Penny and the story of three sisters and their quest for revenge.

I found this title impossible to put down.  I was immersed completely in the characters and in discovering all of the secrets they were hiding.  I couldn't wait for the release of this title and then I ended up devouring the whole book in one evening!  I would have liked to have stretched my enjoyment out for longer but it was too good to go to bed before I'd finished. 

Stories about witches have been done before and I've read a lot of them but author Shea Ernshaw really nailed her presentation of the Swan sisters and their summer of revenge; dragging boys to their deaths in the watery depths of the small town.  I was intrigued by the secrets and revelations of their pasts and as I was reading, I couldn't wait to discover more about them and their thirst for death. 

The narrator, Penny Talbot, lives with her mother on a small island across the waters from Sparrow and was a character that I liked straight away. She seems so capable and independent, although she is still struggling to cope with the disappearance of her father and her mother's withdrawal from the world.  She develops a connection with new boy in town, Bo Carter, although they are both less than honest with each other in the beginning.  There's a big twist which I'm not even going to hint at regarding the characters but it worked brilliantly and was fiendishly clever.

'The Wicked Deep' is a gorgeously written, glorious tale of life and death, secrets and lies, set amidst a backdrop of suspicion and revenge which percolates away in the small town.  A five star read, I fell head over heels for this book which is a stunning debut by Shea Ernshaw.  She is definitely an author that I will be watching in the future.     

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Review: The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, published by Gollancz on 8th February 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

There has been a lot of pre-publicity buzz surrounding 'The Belles' which I seem to have seen featured everywhere.  In addition, the book made my 'most anticipated reads' list of the year, so I was beyond excited to get my hands on a copy and get stuck in.  The cover is absolutely gorgeous and really eye catching. It looks so pretty sitting on my bookcase. I'm definitely a sucker for beautifully designed cover art. The book doesn't really fall into one particular genre, although I guess it might fit the fantasy niche most of all. 

I absolutely loved the concept of the story.  It's set in Orleans where people are born grey and damned and only a Belle's powers can make them beautiful.  Belles have something unique called arcana which they can use to shape peoples' looks and change things like their hair colour or the size of their waists.  Orleans itself is magnificent and opulent and all the Belles want to stay there and be chosen as the Queen's favourite.

The story is told through the eyes of Camellia Beauregard who wants nothing more than to serve the Queen and make people beautiful.  Although out of all the characters Camellia was my favourite, she wasn't somebody who I had a deep connection with and at times I found her a bit self-centred.  She often finds it hard to follow the rules set out for her and her wilful personality definitely gets her into trouble at times.  There are elements of romance with someone she meets at the Palace but I actually enjoyed the relationship between her and the other Belles the most.  They are like sisters and are stronger when they are all together supporting one another.  My love to hate character was Princess Sophia who really gave me the creeps.  She represents someone who may look beautiful on the outside but has darkness and an evil streak inside of her. 

The author certainly has a strong message to send about what beauty is and how people covert it.  Beauty is often depicted as only skin deep and yet seen as something which is valued above all else. There are different notions of what makes someone beautiful in the story and how everyone wants to be unique and prettier or more handsome than anyone else.

I enjoyed finding out more about the origins of the Belles and as this book is the first in a trilogy, I expect there to be a lot more revelations to come.  I wasn't quite as blown away by it as I was originally expecting which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it but it didn't grip me as much as I thought it would.  The second half was a much slower read than the first half and the story veered down a different path which opened up new possibilities for the rest of the series. 

An original and unique story which  was a lot of fun to read and which I will be continuing with when the series resumes.  

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Review: The Truth and Lies of Ella Black - Emily Barr

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr, published by Penguin on 11th January 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Ella Black seems to live the life most other seventeen-year-olds would kill for . . .

Until one day, telling her nothing, her parents whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro. Determined to find out why, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things.  And realises her life has been a lie.

Unable to comprehend the truth, Ella runs away, to the one place her mother and father will never think to look - the favelas.

But there she learns a terrible secret - the truth about her real parents and their past. And the truth about a mother, desperate for a daughter taken from her seventeen years ago . . .

I love books that constantly take me by surprise and 'The Truth and Lies of Ella Black' certainly did that.  The story is quite dark and twisted, keeping me on my toes throughout.  There were quite a few aspects of the plot that turned out very differently to what I had been originally expecting.

The main character is a seventeen year old called Ella Black, who it is soon evident is far from a normal teenager.  She has another personality inside of her who she calls Bella and who is extremely dangerous when let out.  Ella tries her best to keep Bella under control but there is a real power struggle between the two of them.  There's a pretty nasty scene of animal abuse quite early on in the book when Bella temporarily takes over and I found that extremely hard to read.  I originally thought that Ella might have schizophrenia which could have been causing a split personality disorder but then later events made me change my mind.

This was a story that felt like stepping on sand.  The ground beneath my feet was continually slipping as new elements to the story unravelled. One minute Ella is hanging out with her two best friends and the next minute her parents are whisking her off to Brazil.  She's made to leave everything she knows behind - her friends, her cat Humphrey and all traces of her old life.  The reader is left guessing the reason for the quick exit for quite a while, although there are hints given about the real reason behind the trip.

Ella's love interest in the book is a slightly older guy called Christian, who she meets in Brazil.  It's definitely a case of insta-love which I found slightly creepy.  He seems to fall very quickly into the shoes of white knight to Ella but I didn't find his character believable at all.  He doesn't question anything that Ella reveals to him, even though he's only just met her and I found it hard to believe that he'd go so far out of his way to help her.

The final chapter of the story was unexpected and again made me rethink my thoughts about some of the characters in the book.  I did prefer the first half more than the second, as I thought the pace was much slower at the end and some of the events seemed a little far-fetched.  This was the first book I've read by Emily Barr and overall I enjoyed it.  If you like YA thrillers with complicated heroines then this is definitely worth a read.  

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Review: The Amateurs - Sara Shepard

The Amateurs: Follow Me by Sara Shepard, published by Hot Key Books on 5th October 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Everyone knows Chelsea Dawson. Day and night, her tens of thousands of followers on Instagram watch her every move. So when she goes missing from the sunny beachside town of Lafayette, it makes headlines.  The police are searching everywhere for her kidnapper, but when eighteen-year-old Seneca Frazier sees Chelsea's picture, she knows instantly who took her. Chelsea looks exactly like her friend Aerin Kelly's murdered sister - and Seneca's own mother, who was killed five years ago.

Seneca's suspicions are confirmed when the killer contacts her, threatening to hurt Chelsea if Seneca goes to the police with what she knows. Seneca makes the only move she can, reaching out to Aerin and Maddox and Madison Wright, her friends from Case Not Closed, an amateur crime-solving community. Together they go to Lafayette to work the case, to save Chelsea, and to bring the killer to justice.

But the killer has a plan of his own. He wants Seneca and her friends in Lafayette, but he wants them to play by his rules. One wrong step could mean the end for Chelsea - or the Amateurs.

This is the follow-up to the sensational 'The Amateurs' by Sara Shepard which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The second book in the series was an absolutely brilliant read - a cunning whodunit with a cat and mouse game played out between the mysterious Brett and Seneca and her friends. I love detective stories and this one kept me well and truly on my toes. 

When a local girl goes missing in a small beachside town, the Amateurs believe that the game is on again. Their suspicions are confirmed when Maddox receives a taunting letter in the post and so they head to Lafayette to begin the chase.

I love Seneca's determination not to be beaten by Brett and her desperation to make him face justice for her mother's murder.  She and Brett are well matched opponents, although he always seems to be two steps ahead of them.  Some chapters were told from his point of view and it was creepy being in his head.  I suspect there is still a lot to be revealed about him, his past and his motives. 

I was hooked on this book and read it in practically one sitting.  Sara Shepard has such an ingenious mind and plots incredibly well crafted stories that always leave you puzzling over the series of events.  There are so many twists and turns and well planted red herrings that it makes for fantastic reading.  I was totally engrossed from start to finish.

The ending of the book was a real jaw-dropper.  I can't believe that Sara Shepard left things hanging where she did. I'm so impatient to get my hands on the next in the trilogy - this is a series not to be missed. 
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