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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

As White As Snow - Book Review


As White as Snow - Book Review
Salla Simukka
YA Mystery
(Lumikki Andersson Book #2)
UK Publisher: Hot Key Books

Synopsis:

Lumikki Andersson may be innocent, but she’s no Snow White…

Three and a half months have passed since Lumikki Andersson was left for dead in a snowdrift - a bullet wound in her thigh and frostbite creeping into her skin. But the scorchingly hot streets of Prague in summer provide a welcome contrast to that terrifying time, and now Lumikki just wants to move on - forget the events of the past year, forget about the Polar Bear’s crime ring - and escape her parents oppressive concern… she’s alone again, which is just how she likes it.

But Lumikki’s peaceful solitude is about to be shattered. She is approached on the street by a nervous young woman, who, unbelievably, thinks she might be Lumikki’s long lost sister. Lumikki is unconvinced - although Lenka’s story seems to ring horrifyingly true - but there is something weird about her. Something jumpy and suspicious. 

Turns out Lumikki is right to be wary, as Lenka is part of a dangerous religious cult who believe they are the descendants of christ - and that Lumikki is one of them, and must be martyred alongside them. On the run for her life again, Lumikki must once more draw all of her powers of resolve and strength if she is to survive…

Review:

Despite being quite short for a YA novel, I really enjoyed this story. The plot was intriguing  and the main character, Lummiki, once again managed to capture me with her bad-ass toughness and logical view of the world. However , compared to the first book in the series, As Red As Blood, I did feel there was less action in this story, with some parts of the plot not as fleshed out as they could have been. However,  it was still a nice book to while away a long train ride.

While the first book began in the cold of winter, this second book starts in the oppressive heat of summer. Venturing to Prague for a holiday, Lumikki wants a few weeks to herself, away from her concerned  parents and the new found fame that arose after she helped uncover a local crime-circle.

But mystery seems to follow Lumikki wherever she goes, and no sooner does she arrive in Prague when she is approached by a young woman claiming to be her half-sister. And as much as Lumikki wants to deny the claim, she suddenly finds herself plagued with nightmares that just maybe, are long suppressed memories from her childhood. 

But Lenka is no ordinary girl, and suddenly Lumikki finds herself forced to flee for her life when she inadvertently uncovers a cult of religious fanatics… fanatics who wish to go out with a bang! And they plan on taking Lumikki and her new half-sister with them…

What originally captured me with these books was Lumikki’s character. After being extensively bullied as a child, she has grown up tough and independent, yet so emotionally scarred that she detests physical contact with strangers and is quite the loner. However she is still compassionate enough to help people in trouble, and so openminded that she often sees things that others would pass over.

While parts of her past are still only hinted at, this book saw quite a few things revealed through a series of flashbacks. There is no romance in this story, yet we finally discover more about the person who broke Lumikki’s heart last summer, and I’m really hoping they will make an appearance in the next book. Also Lumikki’s childhood remains a mystery - and although we have been give more parts to that puzzle - the picture is still not clear enough to see. A great way to assure that I will be reading the next book!

I also really enjoy Salla Simukka’s writing. Its vivid, while also being direct and to the point. The description is great and the suspense is usually high. Mainly told in Lumikki’s POV, a couple of scenes are written from the POV of mystery people and that certainly keeps the reader intrigued and guessing. However I did feel like the book finished a bit suddenly, and as I said before, parts of the plot could have been expanded on and given us a bit more meat to chew on, so to speak.

Ultimately though I enjoyed this story - probably more than I did the first which is unusual for me. However I now know more about Lumikki, and because I read this book more for the main character than anything else, that’s probably why As White As Snow appealed to me more. 

Overall, the series has really captured my attention. 3.5 Stars!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Firewalker - Book Review


Firewalker - Book Review
Josephine Angelini
YA Fantasy
Book #2 in the Worldwalker Trilogy
UK Publisher: Macmillan children books

Synopsis:

“You think I’m a monster by choice, but my choices, as ruthless as they seem, are justified.”

Lily is back in her own universe, and she’s ready to start a new life with Rowan by her side. True, she almost died in the Pyre that fuelled their escape from New Salem, and must hide her magic for the safety of everyone she cares about, but compared to fighting the Woven, the monstrous creatures inhabiting the alternate Salem, life is looking pretty good.

Unfortunately, Lillian, ruthless ruler of the 13 Cities, is not willing to let Lily go that easily. If she can’t persuade Lily to return to her world, she will force her to come back by doing away with the ones she loves …

Review:

Firewalker is the second novel in Josephine Angelini’s Worldwalker trilogy. Packed with emotions, backstory and a few new surprises, it was a most enjoyable read. However as much as I liked this sequel, it didn't wow in quite the same way as the first book, Trial by Fire.

Picking up within minutes of where the last book left off, this book sees Lily returned back to her world. Yet her other self, Lillian, still resides in the alternate reality of New Salem, and she is desperate to have Lily return. Even if it means revealing a truth that will tear Lily and Rowan apart.

Yet as Lillian begins to share the her own memories with Lily, Lily finally begins to understand that Lillian may not be as evil as she first appears. In fact- she is just trying to prevent the demise of her own world, and for that she desperately needs Lily’s help.

But Lily cannot help Lillian on her own, but the question remains, just how much is Lily willing to sacrifice for a world that is not her own? And which of her friends will make it through the war with the Woven alive?

Despite a few nit-pickings, I ultimately enjoyed this book. Firewalker sees the return of some old characters, who add a great emotional depth to the story, and its also nice to see Lily expanding her circle of friends. However while their quick acceptance of Lily’s situation seemed a little unnatural, its didn't take away my enjoyment of the plot.

Yet while the plot is slower paced, we finally get to learn more about Lillian’s character through a series of flashbacks and shared memories. I really enjoyed this backstory as Lillian is somewhat of an enigma, and the more I learn about her the more interesting she becomes. 

Lillian also helps Lily grow as character, for while Lily doesn't necessarily agree with the choices Lillian has made, Lily at least now understands the reasons behind Lillian's seemingly ruthless decisions. Not only does this allow Lily enough information to make her own choices, but she is smart enough to learn from Lillian’s mistakes.

The romance in this book also becomes more complicated. Lily becomes forced to keep secrets that of course, lead to conflict between her and Rowan. And while Lily’s old flame Tristan is in the story, it was a little heartbreaking to see how the dynamics of their friendship have changed after Lily’s time in the other world. While Tristan may have been a jerk in the previous book, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him in this one. 

Overall a great read! With such a cliffhanger of an ending leaving me thirsting for more, I can’t wait to get my hands on the last book! 4 stars!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Hide and Seek - Book Review


Hide and Seek - Book Review
Jane Casey
YA Mystery 
Book #3 in the Jess Tennant series
UK Publisher: Corgi Children’s

Synopsis:

Jess Tennant’s classmate is kidnapped right before the Christmas holiday in this third novel in Jane Casey’s brilliant YA mystery series.

It’s Christmas in Port Sentinel, the tiny English town where Jess Tennant has been living for more than a year now. She wasn't sure how she felt about moving away from London when her mom dragged her to Port Sentinel right before the beginning of high school, but even Jess has to admit the town has completely outdone itself for the holidays. There’s a Christmas market complete with mini ice-rink, and fairy lights decorate the bare trees all over town.

For one of Jess’s classmates, though, the Christmas season is anything but magical. She’s been kidnapped and is being held in a dilapidated cottage near a deserted beach. And Jess might be the only one who can figure out where she is in time to rescue her.

Hide and Seek is another delightful clever young adult mystery from beloved author, Jane Casey.

Review:

When I picked up this book, I had no idea it was actually book 3 of a series. However Jane Casey is a great writer and although I was new to the character of Jess Tennant and her world, I had no trouble understanding the story. It seems each book is written with a standalone mystery and any important events that happened in previous books are always rehashed through the main characters thoughts. It’s very nicely done.

In this book Jess investigates into the disappearance of one of her classmates, Gilly. But with only a few cryptic clues from Gilly’s diary - Jess doesn't have much to go on. With her boyfriends father, Police detective Dan Henderson hassling her to stop interfering, Jess knows she should just leave the investigation to the police. But after being one of the last people to see Gilly, Jess can’t help but want to help. Yet her curiosity may just cost Jess and her friends their lives, because Jess never considers that just maybe, Gilly doesn't want to be found…

I really enjoyed this book. It has an emotional depth to it, with so many characters connected together through secrets, history, lies and deeds best forgotten. So while the mystery of Gilly’s disappearance is  still the main plot, their are so many sub-plots branching out in and around Jess character that you feel she is constantly being plagued with other peoples problems.

Not only does Jess devote herself to looking for Gilly, but she must deal with untangling the web of chaos all the secondary characters cause her through their interwoven lives and interactions. Its been a long time since I read a book where each of the characters comes with their own story and I think this alone really show cases Jane Casey’s talent as a writer.

I also liked the subtle ways that Jess manages to gather evidence about Gilly’s disappearance - all while being scolded by the police each time she is caught interfering. I felt this gave the story credibility with its realism, as she never did anything out of the realms of possibility for a teenage girl detective. 

To be honest, my only criticism of this book is the mystery itself. I actually worked out who the culprit was a couple of chapters in, however I was intrigued by Jess’ life and kept reading to see if I was right. I was. However the ending had a nice little twist that I didn't predict, yet had the mystery been more of a mystery, then I probably would have rated this book higher. 

Having said that I am definitely intrigued to read more by this author and plan to check out the earlier books in the Jess Tenannt series. Nice read! 3.5 stars!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Blackthorn Key - Book Review


The Blackthorn Key - Book Review
Kevin Stands
MG Historical
Book #1 in The Blackthorn Series
UK Publisher: Puffin

Synopsis:
London 1655. Fourteen-year-old Christopher Rowe is apprenticed to master apothecary Benedict Blackthorn. In Blackthorn’s shop, Christopher learns the delicate secrets of transforming simple ingredients into powerful medicines, potions and weapons. His beloved master guides him with a firm, steady hand - instilling him with confidence and independence that prove increasingly vital as Christopher learns of a mysterious cult preying on the most learned men in London.

The murders are growing closer and closer to home and soon Christopher is torn from the shop with only a page of cryptic clues from his master and the unambiguous warning: Tell no one!

Helped by his best friend, Tom, Christopher must decipher his master’s clues, following a trail of deceit towards an unearthly secret with the power to tear the world apart. 

Review:

A fantastic and brilliant MG read! Christopher’s character charmed me from the start with his curious nature, a nature that always seems to get both him and his best friend into trouble. This book is a really great start to what promises to be a very enjoyable new series.

Apprenticed to a master apothecary, Christopher spends his days learning the delicate art of brewing medicines, mixing potions and experimenting with his masters more powerful and dangerous formulas. But when a cult begins killing off other apothecaries throughout London, it is only a matter of time before they find their way to Christopher’s door.

Now accused of a crime he didn't commit, Christopher’s learning is really put to the test. Using his skills to hide himself within the streets of London, he has only the help of his best friend and a page of cryptic clues to help him prove his innocence. 

But can he crack the clues and follow the trail  his master left for him before its too late? Yet as each piece of the puzzle falls into place, Christopher finds himself in the centre of more trouble, as clue by clue, he uncovers a secret that could change the course of the future. For the power to wield death is now in Christopher's hands…

I really enjoyed this story. Christopher is a fun and resourceful character who faced trial after trial with every chapter. I’m curious to learn more about his past, something that I hope will be explored more in the next book, however the beauty with this first book was that with every new catastrophe, Christopher’s future looked more and more uncertain. It is a story that will be enjoyed by both boys and girls alike.
The plot is fast paced and full of historical fact and things of interest - I love learning when it doesn't feel like learning - and I think the author did well in keeping true to the time period. Also the book held plenty of mystery. With indecipherable clues, secret societies, hidden passages and bodies turning up left right and centre, this books certainly keeps you on your toes.

My only criticism was the ending. While I enjoyed it, and certainly didn't see it coming, I was a little confused over how some parts came to be. But maybe its just me not connecting all the dots… However everything came to a satisfying conclusion and I will most definitely be reading the next book. 

Overall a gripping adventure that will leave you thirsting for more, I give The Blackthorn Key 4 stars!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Stars Never Rise - Book Review


The Stars Never Rise - Book Review
Rachel Vincent
YA Urban Fantasy
Book #1 in The Stars Never Rise Series
UK Publisher: Delacorte Press

Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Nina Kane should be worrying about her immortal soul, but she’s too busy trying to actually survive. Her town’s population has been decimated by soul-consuming demons, and souls are in short supply. Watching over her younger sister, Mellie, and scraping together food and money are all that matters. The two of them are a family. The gave up on their deadbeat mom long ago.

When Nina discovers that Mellie is keeping a secret that threatens their very existence, she’ll do anything to protect her. Because in New Temperance, Sins are prosecuted as crimes by the brutal Church and its army of black-robed exorcists. But what king of exorcist wears a hoodie?

Wanted by the church and hunted by dark forces, Nina knows she can’t survive on her own. She needs Finn and his group of rouge friend just as much as they need her…

Review:

Wowza! This was a very action packed, very fast paced read that I devoured within a day. It felt like some new horror or catastrophe was happening with every new chapter and all I can say is, Rachel Vincent really knows how to put her characters through the wringer! It’s a great read!

Nina has already given up on living her own life, instead devoting herself to raising and protecting her younger sister, Mellie. However with a drug addict for a mum, Nina is forced to lie and steal to help make ends meet, which would be bad enough without the church constantly doling out new rules and harsh punishments for the most minor of sins. For the Church is the new government and their word is law. But as Nina soon discovers, the war with demons isn't as over as the church has led them to believe.

For demons are on the streets once more. Masked behind the friendly faces of friends and neighbours, they are on the hunt for souls and no one - not even the church - can stop them. But maybe Nina can.  But as Nina is soon to discover, the demons are everywhere. In her town, in her school, even in her own home…

What captured me most about this book was its premise. Set in a futuristic America, where the church governs all and souls are in limited supply, I couldn't help but get caught up in all the drama. 

Also the characters are all spunky and united in their desires to defeat the demons. Nina in particular was a great heroine, with strong determination and a grim acceptance of the hand fate has dealt her. She strives to protect those she loves and cares about, and I loved her reaction when she finds out her love interest is, seemingly, a disembodied spirit. I can’t wait for the next book to see how that plot line is going to play out!

Another I thing I enjoyed was the books realism towards certain situations. Bad things happen and there is no magical cure. We get to see scenes like this several times throughout the book. First in the beginning, when Nina proves just how much she will sacrifice to look after her sister, then again towards the end of the story when all hell breaks loose. I think what moved me about all this was how much it revealed of Nina as a character, she is truly a good person.

So overall a fab read! I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book! 4 stars!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A Thousand Nights - Book Review


A Thousand Nights
E.K. Johnston
YA Fantasy Retelling
UK Publisher: Macmillan Childrens Books

Synopsis:

Lo- Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sisters place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous place filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring subtle unseen magick, and something besides death stirs in the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of a bigger, more terrible magic, power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Review:

A wonderful re-telling of the classic tale, A Thousand and one nights. This book comes with unique (and cleverly nameless) characters, and has some interesting twists and turns of its own. A really nice read.

When the king, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her village searching for his next wife, she will do anything to protect her beloved sister. Even go willingly into the arms of death, for surely that is the fate that awaits her. For hundreds of brides have died by the King’s hand, but as the night ends and the sun rises each morning, She begins to hope that just maybe, she can survive the demon calling himself her husband.

For as she soon discovers, she has powers of her own, and now the fate of the kingdom, and its King, is in her hands…

It took a few chapters for me to get into this book, but once I found the main characters rhythm I soon sunk into the story. Everything is beautifully written and unfolds at a slow pace, allowing you time to enjoy the backstory and the main characters own woven tales that she uses to keep the king enraptured. It’s is definitely a story to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace!

The writing itself is vivid with its imagery. Appealing to all your senses, the descriptions are full of smells, sounds, tastes and  the soft feel of silk beneath your hands. Huge points for the world building. 

This book however will definitely appeal to women, since the story itself is full of subtle female power, the wit to survive, the power obtained from the love and devotion of family. The respect gained from lessons learned from young and old alike. 

Also I mentioned earlier, many of the characters, including our protagonist, have no name. This is cleverly done and took me awhile to notice, since most characters have labels such as Sister, Sister’s mother, Beloved Daughter ect. This I think definitely adds a good twist to the writing and in my mind, adds an old worldly feel to the story.

In terms of plot, the book is very slow going, not picking up in action until the end. There is no romance and the main character is often limited in her thoughts and reactions due to the suppressing nature of her culture and having grown up a woman. However, I believe the enjoyment of this story comes from the lessons learned by the main character. 

It is mostly a story showing her bravery and courage, not through physical feats but through kindness and words, as each night she survives the palace, is a day she has become a little wiser. 

Overall a thought provoking, magically woven tale. I’m intrigued to see what else the author will produce. I give A Thousand Nights  4 stars!

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Wolf Wilder - Book Review


The Wolf Wilder - Book Review
Kathrine Rundell
MG Historical
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books

Synopsis:

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

Review:

I really enjoyed this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and overall the author moved me with her beautiful writing and storytelling. This is one of the most emotional and profound MG books I have read in a long time. It is a spell-binding read!

Twelve-year-old Feo has grown up in the wild’s of Russia. With just her mother and the wolves they seek to ‘un-tame’ for company, Feo is fierce and strong with a great sense of loyalty and an even greater sense of the world of snow and ice that surrounds her. But when the Tsar’s military come calling, her world changes forever. 

When her mother is taken captive and the wolves she loves become the targets of the army, Feo sets out on a journey that will change all of Russia. Determined to rescue her mother, she gathers her pack of wolves and heads for St.Petersburg. But the commander of the army has a debt to settle with Feo, and now like a dark shadow, he stalks her footsteps, promising retribution for the injury she gave him. 

In this heart wrenching tale, Feo will experience love, loss and friendship, and learn the true meaning of being brave and standing up for your own beliefs. The Wolf Wilder is a book that will remain with you long after you turn the last page!

The characters are all very well written. Feo is brave and knows how to survive the in the wild, yet when it comes to interacting with other humans she is socially naive and often unsure of herself. Friendship with creatures other than wolves is a new experience for her and her awkwardness is truly adorable.

Illya is another great character. A young, run away solider who aspires to be a ballet dancer, he is just as naive of the wolves as Feo is of people. Yet watching him slowly build their trust and gain courage from Feo was a lovely thing to see. Also I hope boys would be inspired by his character, and learn that its ok to pursue the dreams you want to regardless of what others say and think.

The villain of course also played a huge role. Scary with just a hint of madness, I liked how his end was brought about by the hands (and paws) of those he had hurt the most. A truly despicable character!

In terms of plot, I though the book read well. Although I got the impression that the book was aimed at older readers in the beginning, younger readers at the end, while the middle could easily have been a mix of the two. Although saying that, I thought the middle of the story flagged a little, but never enough to have me stop reading it.

As for the wolves, they were probably the most interesting of all. Each with distinct personalities, the book shows the dynamics of the pack and how they were treated by the world around them. From its historical angle, the book is really interesting and I enjoyed the backstories of the wolves immensely.

The ending was probably one of my favourite parts. So wonderfully worded that I couldn't help but tear up.

Overall, a heart stopping but beautifully woven tale that you will always remember. Just keep a box of tissues handy! 4 stars!