Saturday, 27 August 2016



The Shadow Hour - Book review
Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
The Girl at Midnight #2
UK PUBLISHER: ATOM

Other books in the series:
The Girl At Midnight #1 - Review HERE

Synopsis:

Everything in Echo’s life changed in a blinding flash when she learned the startling truth: that she is the firebird, the creature of light, the bringer of peace.

But the firebird has not come into the world alone. Echo can feel a great and terrible darkness rising in the distance: Cosmic forces that threaten to tear the world apart.

Echo has already lost her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Now her path is filled with even greater dangers than the ones she’s already overcome. Echo must decide: can she wield the power of her true nature—or will it prove too strong for her, and burn what’s left of her world to the ground?

Welcome to the Shadow Hour.

Review:

Once again, Melissa Grey swept me away with her beautiful prose and world building. With a fast paced plot and the return of a fabulous cast of colourful characters, this was a most enjoyable read. A fantastic second book to THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT trilogy.

Echo succeeded in waking the firebird, but her selfless act also unleashed a terrible evil on the world. Taking the form of a dark shadow, it spreads death and disease upon all it touches. Mindless and cruel, it has but one desire. To Kill the Firebird. To kill Echo.

Now with the death tolls rising, Echo undertakes a journey to discover the true extent of her powers. But with the shadow close on her heels and the ones she loves in great peril, can Echo save the world once again? Or will the end of the world be on her hands…

My favourite thing about this series is Echo’s love of words. The prose is full of new and interesting adjectives (thank goodness for the kindles built in dictionary!) that I needed to keep a notebook next to me  just so I could keep track of them all. However while such words can make the writing a little flowery at times, I found the descriptions of places and people so interesting that it didn't really bother me.

In terms of plot, this story is fast paced with each character thrust from one situation to the next. Just like the last book there are many fight scenes, break ins, run ins… along with lots of general mayhem and magic. 

I still really enjoyed Echo as a character. I loved how this book delved more into Echo’s past, however I felt she lost some of her self-assured sparkle along the way. In this story Echo was more solitary and full of doubt. I really hope the next book brings back more of her shaper wit and humour. 

Caius and Echo’s romance also was a little plain, and by that I just felt it didn't develop any more depth despite the pronounced I love you’s. I think that is partly due to the re-introduction of Rowan (Echo’s ex-boyfriend) as a love interest. I’m not a huge fan of love triangles and this three-way relationship was a large undercurrent of the story.

What I absolutely adored though was Jasper and Dorian’s relationship. Not only is Jasper a literal peacock and my favourite character, but watching him kindle a romance with the stoic draconian, Dorian - well let’s just say it was heartwarming to watch Dorian melt. Huge cheers for Jasper and Dorian!

My biggest nit-pick however was the ending. It’s a cliff-hanger! Those evil plot devices that I both love and hate. While it does ensure I will be  counting down the days to the next and final book, it’s also going to drive me crazy. 

A tantalisingly delicious binding of words! I give THE SHADOW HOUR 4 stars!

Monday, 1 August 2016

July Wrap Up 2016


(Walking the dog around Scotland)

July Wrap Up

So that’s it! Another month over. Can you believe it’s August already?

And I’m finally on holiday! I have a whole month in ENGLAND!  Well, actually only 3 weeks left from tomorrow but shh, not thinking about that just yet.

… but I can’t stop eating food. English food is glorious! Cadbury’s, cakes, cups of tea ten times a day, life here is so good.

Fresh air however, is killing me. It’s amazing, but lung searing! Yet I'm enjoying every minute of being home.

Anyway, here is last months catchups. 

Books Read June & July:


As you can see I actually got quite a bit of reading done last month. However The Otherlife by Julia Gray was by far my favourite. 

Otherwise I’m currently reading 3 other books right now. They are:

  • The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill
  • Forests of Ruin by Kelly Armstrong
  • Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

I’m enjoying all of them so far, but I think after I finish these I’m going to try picking up some more MG books. I definitely am in need of something more light hearted.

In the Kitchen

I was baking quite a lot at the beginning of last month - although I had to stop because the heat in China is ridiculous. 38 degrees! The oven is officially off until September!

  • But I did manage to whip up an Oreo Birthday cake for my caveman.
  • I made a few dozen butterfly cakes with jam and buttercream icing.
  • I also nearly burned my house down trying to make popcorn (The oil caught fire!) However after buying a new pan, the second, third and fourth attempts were all successful :)

Memorable Conversations:

In China…

My Student: Teacher, my dog just had puppies!
Me: Really?
Student: Yes, we ate them for dinner.
Me: *Deadpans* …. Oh. That’s nice.

Me: My knees look so scabby.
5 Year old student: NO! Teacher has beautiful princess knees.
Me: *Sob* I love you.


Place’s I’ve been…

Dubai Airport - we had an eight hour stop over and it’s a pretty airport, but hard to find a good place to sleep.

Beamish - This is an open air museum close to where we live. My parents took me and the boyfriend here. Although my poor Canadian Caveman just can’t master the Geordie language.

Wedding Dress shopping  (yes, that counts as a place). So my best friend is getting married next year so we did the ritual dress shopping day which was awesome. 

And that’s it. How was your month?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Otherlife - Book Review


The Otherlife
Julia Gray
YA Contemporary  
UK Publisher: Anderson Press

Synopsis:

Three years ago, Ben’s beloved tutor, Jason, died in myserteous circumstances. And he begins to wonder if his old friend Hobie had something to do with it…

I always get away with it when I try stuff like this. Partly it comes down to sort of assuming that I’m going to. I’ve got loads of confidence. And Loki got away with everything. Well, almost everything.

When troubled, quiet Ben begins at the ruthlessly competitive Cottesmore House, school to the richest, most privileged boys, he is befriended by Hobie: the wealthy class bully, product of monstrous indulgence and intense parental ambition.

Hobie is drawn to Ben because he can see the Otherlife: a violent, mythic place where Gods and Monsters roam. Ben has unnerving visions of Thor and Odin, and of the giant beasts that will destroy them, as well as Loki, God of mischief. Hobie is desperate to be part of it.

Years later, Ben discovers his beloved tutor, Jason, is dead. And he can’t help wondering if Hobie — wild, restless, dangerous Hobie, had something to do with it…

Review:

Such an incredible read! This book was really something else. Normally I detest contemporary stories but I found this one — with it’s undercurrent of norse mythology and otherworldly undertones — to be absolutely fantastic!

The author, Julia Gray, packs so much into this story. So much so, that I’m claiming this as my favourite book of 2016 so far.… Although it wasn't until I finished the book that I realised the picture on the front cover is actually a wolf. I thought it was just a pretty decoration.

Ben can see the Gods and monsters of old. Odin and Loki, Freya and Skoll, they hover at the end of his vision in ever moving shapes and colours. But now they have a message for Ben. His old tutor, Jason, is dead. And deep down, Ben knows it was his best friend, Hobie, who is to blame. 

Hobie is rich, spoiled and stressed out from the overbearing ambitions of his parents. When he befriends quiet, scholarship student Ben, his mind is opened to a world he never knew existed. The world of the otherlife. But Ben’s tales of Gods and Monsters are not enough to satisfy Hobie. He wants to witness the stories unfolding himself… and he will do anything to make it happen.

What started as something a little confusing, soon turned into a delicious, page-turning read. Told from two viewpoints, across two time periods, the story takes a few chapters to get into, but it is definitely worth the effort. 

In the beginning I found both Ben and Hobie sounded quite similar. It wasn't until I was about 20% in that I really began to distinguish them in my mind.

Ben is the more mystical (but strangely down to earth) character. Pressurised to do well at school, he also suffers the arguments of his recently divorced parents. He is the one who “invents” the Otherlife. Created from his fascination with Norse mythology and brought to life after an head injury, he makes the world of the Otherlife into a plausible thing. 

Amazingly, not once did I perceive Ben as crazy. I just accepted that he saw what he said he did. I believe this is one of the biggest things that made this book so brilliant. The seamless merge of fantasy and reality. 

In that way it reminded me a lot of Clare Furniss’ book - the year of the Rat. However fans of Sally Green’s Half Bad Trilogy, or anyone who just likes unique voices will enjoy this story. Although the divide between dreams and reality really blurred at the end of the book, and I couldn't help think THE OTHERLIFE turned a little Alice in Wonderland on us. In a good way of course.

Then there was Hobie. He was incredibly interesting in his thoughts and I loved his view of the world. A very layered character. He’s the sort of person you hate in real life but love to read about. He brought such emotional depth to the story. 

The only element of the book I didn't like was both Hobie’s and Ben’s parents. They were so selfish, and a little stupid. Of course the story was told from the perspective of two twelve-year-old boys, but I often agreed with them that their parents were crazy. Yet at the same time, I understand that some parents can generally be that overbearing. Everyone has/knows someone who had strict/protective/ambitious parents.

Otherwise, I adored how much Julia Gray squeezed into this book. It explores the issues of addictions, eating disorders, over indulgence, divorce and so much more. Everything slotted naturally into the plot and felt like it belonged. The writing wasn't preachy, it simply made the reader aware that such problems exist. 

The plot also held a lot of mystery. As a reader there was so many questions that I wanted answers to, and I’m pleased to say the end wrapped everything up in a nice big bow. The story came full circle, although it was quite sad - but satisfyingly so. I can’t imagine the book ending any other way.

Overall - I really loved this book. I do however think it will be something you will either really like, or really hate depending on how you perceive the characters. For me, the underlining story of the Norse Gods made this book really special. A truly beautiful piece of fiction.

 I generally can’t believe this is a debut book. I’m eager to read whatever Julia Gray writes next. 

I give THE OTHERLIFE 5 stars!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Magic Bitter Magic Sweet - Book Review


Magic Bitter Magic Sweet - Book Review
Charlie N. Holmberg
YA Fantasy

Synopsis:

Marie is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn't know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Marie is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size altering cakes.

During her captivity, Marie is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is — as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences. 

Review:

This was a strange yet interesting book. Intrigued by the title, I picked it up on a whim without really knowing much about it. 

Marie doesn’t know who she is. Other than her name, her past is a blank slate. Her only comfort comes from baking. Cakes, breads and biscuits, all infused with a pinch of magic that can replenish  strength, add cheer or bring luck to all who purchase her confectionaries. 

But when marauders invade, Marie is captured and sold as a slave to a strange master—and somehow, he knows all about her magic. Now as Marie fights to complete each impossible task, she takes solace in the company of a winged spirit. One who insist’s her freedom likes in unlocking her memories. But the more Marie remembers, the more she wishes she could forget. Because some crimes are better left buried…

This book was truly charming. The writing flows very well and I was instantly captivated by Marie’s character. Her magical baking aside, she isn't anything special, and I think that was why I liked her as much as I did. She acts in very realistic ways, and always manages to find proper solutions to her problems. No instant fixes, no-overly complicated magic, the author stays true to the rules of the world. 

However, while I was intrigued by the beginning, I think around the midway point I got a little bored. Not enough to stop reading the book, but I caught myself on more than one occasion wishing for something else to happen. 

There were a few reasons for this. First I felt the action drifted off and Marie became stuck in the same setting. We had to read about her doing the same mundane things. Then in the last third of the book, “the villain” lost all his villainy. While the writing was still pretty, I felt this took away much of the story’s punch. Also the direction of the plot turned predictable, BUT I  still liked the happily-ever-after ending.

This story had many fairy-tale like elements - the gingerbread house was particularly amusing - although I was disappointed we didn't get to meet the actual witch. But it was after this point that the story took a strange turn, and the book I thought I was reading turned into something different. Not bad, but definitely different. 

Then there was the sprinkle of Romance. I use the word sprinkle because there wasn't much of it - and truly it was based more around friendship and eternal love… and also family. It’s hard to explain. But when the romance came, it left me quite confused for many pages. Partly because I pictured “the guy” as an old man. However the book doesn't give much description, so I’m sure many readers would have created a different image in their heads. Hopefully a much younger one!

What I loved about this book though, was how much it made me want to bake. Since finishing this story I’ve spent many hours in my kitchen cooking all sorts of things. It was one of things that made this book so lovely.

All in all though this is a difficult story to review. I really loved the writing (for that alone, I will definitely be checking out more books by this author) but I didn't like how the plot sizzled out. Yet I really enjoyed the characters… at least until the villain stopped being the villain. 

With all those things in mind, I give this book 3 stars. A little bitter, a little sweet, a little magic :) 

One nice afternoon read. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

E.K Johnston's Top 5 YA Novels + UK Giveaway




Today on the blog I am lucky enough to welcome E.K Johnston - author of the fabulous, A THOUSAND NIGHTS. 

You can see the lovely new paperback edition featured above - and if you haven't already - you can check out my review of the book HERE

Otherwise here are EKJ's

Top Five YA Novels Of All
…Recently.

CODE NAME VERITY, by Elizabeth Wein


I got to read an ARC of this because they were looking for Canadian bloggers on NetGalley, and even though my bookblog was mostly defunct at the time, I resurrected it for this. I’d had a few UK friends tell me it was amazing, and I wanted IN.

The thing I love about CNV (besides, you know, everything) is that both Julie and Maddie are heroic in different ways, and neither of them really considers herself a hero. They’re both messes – and for good reason – and they both keep trying anyway, and I love them to pieces for it.

The other thing I really love, from a craft standpoint, is how EW built the novel’s structure. The best example is the scene with the American radio interview. You read Julie’s version first, and then Maddie’s, and then when you go back and re-read Julie’s, your brain explodes a little bit because it was all there the whole time.

Also the ending. MY HEART.

ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA, by Diana Peterfreund


The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my favourite stories of all time, so when I learned that DP had written a futuristic version where the Pimpernel was a teenage girl, I was SUPER EXCITED (well, first I emailed all my friends in the biz to yell at them for not telling me, but THEN I got super excited).

SEA is a high stakes thrill-ride of a book, combining politics, adventure, fascinating technology, star-crossed romances, excellent (if misplaced) police work, and a multitude of relationships (friendship, love, duty, siblings, inter-generational legacy, etc). Oh, and poetry. And a couple of really off the hook parties.

Persistence Blake is the best hero, best friend, best person a reader could ask for, and every time I re-read her story, I love it even more.

As a bonus: there’s another book set in the same world called FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS (it actually takes place prior to this one, though I think you can read them separately), that is the post-apocalyptic version of PERSUASION you never knew you needed.

THE STRANGE MAID, by Tessa Gratton


I think this one might actually be a perfect book. I can’t even really tell you why, except that Signy Valborn is my Patronus AND my nightmare (in the good way), and the world that Gratton built for her to stand on is some of the most amazing and complete world-building I have ever encountered.

Bonus: Not only is THE GODS OF NEW ASGARD a whole series, but there’s a short story about Glory/The Fenris Wolf (GLORY’S TEETH) that is so perfectly teen girl, my heart hurts just thinking about it.

THE SCORPION RULES, by Erin Bow


Where to begin with Greta Gustafson-Stuart? A princess, a hostage, a genius, a stoic, a global threat, a death as inevitable as the winter in Saskatchewan, Greta is like no one I had ever read before, and I loved her immediately. She is grace under pressure with a spine of steel, who leads so naturally she scarcely even notices she’s doing it, and who faces her fate with more strength than some entire nations.

Until she decides maybe she would like a different fate altogether. And then she changes the world.

Bow’s writing is superlative. Terrifying and funny, high minded and earthy (there are a lot of goats), and always, always beautiful. When Greta opens her eyes, she is unstoppable, and this is the story of how she does it.

You will never look at cider the same way again.

FIRE, by Kristin Cashore


A monster-girl for a world full of monsters, so beautiful that everyone who sees her loves her and hates her and blames her for it, and powerful enough to take over the country if she wants to, like her father did before her. A girl who is kind instead of cruel, clever instead of ruthless, and thoughtful instead of reckless, even when it is the harder path, every time she chooses to take it.

Technically the second book in a trilogy, FIRE can be read (and loved) as a standalone. Cashore’s world-building is impeccable, the scope of her politics is massive, and the depth of each character’s motivations is astounding.

Also: casual sex without shame, Boys Being Made To Face The Consequences Of Their Actions, excellent friendships between the female characters, and an on-the-page bisexual heroine.

BONUS ROUND: AND I DARKEN, by Kirsten White


White had me at “what if Vlad Dracul had been a girl?”, and I never looked back. Lada is a vicious heroine, whose harsh nature is equal parts teeth and sheer determination. Intensely patriotic, she does not take well to being a hostage, and learns to play politics very, very quickly. I think I love her most especially because she actually has a heart. She just wilfully ignores it most of the time.


In addition to Lada’s fabulousness, White’s attention to detail, not a small part of historical fiction, is wonderful. The Ottoman Empire is not a time period that gets a lot of attention most of the time, but White’s treatment of it is impeccable. Also, it’s a trilogy, so there’s going to be a boatload more of it.

UK GIVEAWAY



Thanks to EKJ's awesome publicly team, I have one paperback copy of A THOUSAND NIGHTS to giveaway to one lucky reader.

Just leave a comment below telling me your favourite YA read of all time.


Entry closes 17th July 2016
UK ONLY

I'll announce the winner here on the blog so please check back to see if you've won - or leave your email in the comments!

Sharing and Following is always appreciated!

Thanks very much
:)



Tuesday, 5 July 2016

As Black As Ebony - Book Review


As Black As Ebony - Book Review
Salla Simukka
YA Thriller
Lumikki Andersson #3
UK Publisher: Hot Key Books

Other books in the series:

As Red As Blood #1 - Review HERE
As White As Snow #2 - Review HERE

Synopsis:

Lumikki has a new boyfriend — easygoing, gorgeous Sampsa — but she is unfaithful in her dreams, longing for the electrifying touch of her ex, Blaze.

Then  the threats start arriving, from someone who seems to know Lumikki intimately. Sharing her fears risks deadly consequences; now she is more alone than ever.

When Blaze suddenly reappears, Lumikki is torn. She can’t deny the chemistry between them, but can she trust him? To stop the killer, Lumikki must uncover a dark secret that has haunted her family for years. 

Review:

This is the last book of the Lumikki Andersson trilogy, and for such a short novel, Salla Simukka really packs a lot of punch into each page. With beautiful prose, lots fairytale references and a very unpredictable plot line, I felt this trilogy was brought to a stunning conclusion.

A few months after her trip to Prague, Lumikki is now back in Poland and is at last settling into a normal high school life. She has a new boyfriend, new friends, and has somehow landed the starring role in the school play. Yet her past continues to haunt her. Surfacing in her dreams each night through broken memories.

Then she receives a letter. She is being watched. And her new stalker knows the truth about Lumikki’s childhood. The childhood Lumikki herself has forgotten. Now with tasks hidden behind thinly veiled threats, Lumikki is forced to meet her stalkers demands. She must unlock her memories. But all she can recall is one little girl, and lots of blood…

This was such a good book. The writing is uniquely beautiful, full of flowery sentences but brushed with darker undertones. Like thorns hiding beneath pretty petals, each word morphs together to paint vivid yet often melancholy scenes. A truly fantastic and spellbinding story.

As with the first two books, I was drawn to Lumikki’s character. Her strong survival instincts, her quick thinking and generally passive attitude toward others. She is not your typical teenager. However I did think she came across as a little different in this book.

In the previous stories Lumikki seemed more sure-footed and rational. Then again she was mostly dealing with other peoples problems. Yet in this third and final book Lumikki undergoes a mental journey, which made her appear more fragile. She couldn't stay dispassionate about her own life, and this newfound rashness was clear in each of her choices. However Lumikki was still a kick-ass-heroine. 

In terms of other characters, I was pleased we finally got to meet Blaze outside of a flashback. I love that Lumikki’s first love was with a transgender girl, and really thought this unconventional (but awesome) romance epitomised Lumikki’s personality.

I also liked the contrast Sampsa (Lumikki’s current boyfriend) provided. He is the opposite of everything Lumikki has known and I was happy to see Lumikki with someone so loving. 

However even with a small cast of only seven or eight characters, I was never able to work out who the stalker was. Huge kudos to Salla Simukka for all those red herrings! When the culprit was revealed I was totally surprised and this really made the book doubly enjoyable. Generally I’m really good at figuring out the “who done it?” stories - it was nice to be stumped for once.

Otherwise the biggest thing that drove this book forward was the plot. For the past two books, there has always been a hint of Lumkki’s dark past. Now in this final instalment we finally get to see that past revealed. 

Simply put, it was a great read. Everything was tidied up nicely and no box was left un-ticked. A truly satisfying conclusion.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this series. Although each book is pretty short, each is packed with so much story that it’s just the perfect length. These are great books for anyone looking for a quick, action packed read. Fans of Holly Black or Melissa Meyer, this is definitely a trilogy you should check out.

4 stars!