Thursday, 8 November 2018

Spellslinger - Book Review


Spellingslinger - Book Review
Sebastien De Castell
YA Fantasy
(Spellslinger #1)
UK Publisher: Hot Key Books

Synopsis:

There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to preform the high magic that defines our people. The third is simply to reach the age of sixteen. I was a few weeks shy of my sixteenth birthday when I learned I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.

Magic is a con game.

Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spell caster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path. Ferius Parfax is one of the mysterious Argoisi - a traveller who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She’s difficult and unpredictable, but she may be Kellen’s only hope…

Review:

I have fallen in love with this series, and my only regret is not reading it sooner. How was I to know that I needed a fantastical western with a talking squirrel-cat in my life? And trust me when I say you need it to! This was such a fun read and as I write this I’m already halfway through book three and am even more in love with the story.

Spellslinger follows Kellen, an aspiring mage fast approaching his sixteenth birthday and the trials that will determine his future path. But unlike his classmates, Kellen's magic just won’t spark. Now with time running out, Kellen must resort to cunning tricks to deceive his way through the trials… or risk falling into a life of servitude. But magic darker than he ever dreamed is at work, and kellen’s is about to discover, his noble people may not be so grand and noble after all…

I am in love with Kellen. He is such an unfortunate character and everything in his life goes from bad to worse. Each time I prayed and hoped for some magical miracle (it is a fantasy after all) none ever arrived. Even Kellen’s victories get shadowed by ominous news, and following Kellen from one disaster to the next was riveting. I simply could not put this book down! 

At heart Kellen is just a normal guy, and the idea to have this normal guy head a fantasy story is just brilliant. Kellen is literally the underdog, written as the hero and wow does it work well. His suffering, his triumphs, they all add together to make you love Kellen more and more. 

I also adored the main cast of characters - but I’m sure everyone’s favourite will be Reichi, the talking squirrel cat. He threw in a dose of much need humour - plus plenty of drama - from the moment he entered the story. Without doubt he gets the best dialog and I like how his tough thinking balances out Kellen’s timidness. 

Then there is Ferius, another tough character who’s backstory I can’t wait to discover. And her choice of weapon… steel edged cards! She is a woman not to be messed with!

Sadly though I found the secondary characters somewhat lacking in, well… character. Aside from fancy names that confused me (at times I really couldn't keep straight the bad guy or his cronies) there was very little else to distinguish them. And while I enjoyed the magic system (Kellen, I think, explains it really well) I wish the world building had a bit more depth. 

Otherwise the book has very little romance - although the pinch that’s in there is remarkably sweet. However this wasn't a deal breaker for me as Kellen did indeed have much bigger problems than worrying about his love life. 

All in all though I really liked this story. It just sucked me in and wouldn't let go until I had turned the last page and I instantly needed to jump into book 2, then 3 with 4 soon to follow :)

4.5 Stars!

Monday, 22 October 2018

Blackbird - Book Review


Blackbird - Book Review
N.D Gomes
YA Mystery 
UK Publisher: HQ Young Adult

Synopsis:

My name is Alex. I am fifteen years old, and I don’t know where my sister is. Or if she will ever come back. 

On New Year’s Eve 5,000 blackbirds dropped dead. The same day Olivia McCarthy went missing from a small coastal village in Orkney.

Now her younger sister Alex is on a mission to find out just what happened to Olivia. But does she really want to know all the answers?

Review:

This is a quick paced thriller, and one that I enjoyed despite both the synopsis and opening lines being misleading.

 “On New Year’s Eve 5,000 blackbirds dropped dead.” I know writing craft books urge writers to pull in readers from the get go, but while certainly intriguing, the blackbirds are never mentioned again and are in no way connected to the story. Therefore, if you were expecting a paranormal, witchy sort of read, think again. This book is a straight up thriller - and a good one - if you don’t let unmet expectations spoil it for you. 

Taking away the blackbirds, the story follows fifteen year old Alex and the search for her missing older sister, Olivia. As you can see, not such a snappy sounding read after all, but still one I enjoyed. 

The book brings with it a huge emotional impact. The reader is taken through the devastation of loss and sees how it rips through a once happy family, and the stages of grief, depression and solitude that every family member experiences. I thought each element was done very well, and I found myself following along with the family’s ever growing urgency for answers. 

The reader is also given snippets of Olivia’s view point, just a few scenes here and there which I adored. I liked getting to know Olivia’s character and seeing things from her point of view.

I found the detectives backstory a little heartbreaking but liked how it added another layer to the story. I also love how his first name is held back until the very end, and the friendship he and Alex cultivate is particularly moving. Their final scene together really choked me up, but made me smile.

However in terms of plot, the story was fairly predicable. Despite a few red-herrings, one scene about midway through the book cemented the culprit behind it all, and the ending, when it came, was swift and efficient. This really was a fast read and I devoured it in one sitting.

All in all, a nice book for a rainy afternoon. 3 stars!

What are your thoughts? Have any of you read this book? And isn't that cover gorgeous! 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

All the Bookish Things I'm Loving - 2018 Edition


While looking for crabs, my friends stumbled onto this beautiful creature on a beach in Bali ... meanwhile I was house sitting their cat. Just wanted to share as I think its one of the most beautiful pictures I've seen in ages!

All the Book Things I’m Loving 

(2018 edition)

Hey lovely people! It’s been a very long time and what feels like an even longer “no see” since I checked in with the blogging world. 

I would like to say that I’ve been off doing amazing, writer-like things, or travelling the world, but honesty, not so much. 

Instead I’ve been pretty focused on my job and fighting for all the overtime I can get. I gave myself some pretty big financial goals this year and while they are going successfully, everything else I love sort of went on hold (So she says, as if her Goodreads doesn't show 73 books read so far this year!) :P

However book blogging is something I’ve really missed. Its such an awesome community to be a part of and more than anything - I NEED more people in my life with which to gush over pretty covers and awesome stories with :) 

Which is a very long winded way of saying - “Hey guys, I’m back!”

But despite my four measly posts this year, I have found/read a few things I want to share with you all. So in no particular order, here they are :)




Writing Craft books

I’m still plodding away at the second draft of my MG Fantasy (plod, plod, plod) and here are some of the books that have been a big help to me recently:

  • Anything by JAMES SCOTT BELL - "Just Write" is my favourite so far but every book I’ve read by him has been helpful.

  • THE MILE HIGH WORDCOUNT by Rick Smith - really useful exercises to help up your word counts. Works well if you read it alongside Chris Fox’s 5000 WORDS PER HOUR. I sort of mish-mashed the two methods and it really boosted my productivity.

  • THE PROCRASTINATION EQUATION by Piers Steel - while not directly writing related, I found this book insightful. It made me question how I approach writing and helped me build good habits.

Another one I want to shout out isn't a book, but any aspiring writer should definitely check out Susan Dennard's website. It has the best writing advice and she is so transparent about the industry. This woman is the best! And if you do find her advice useful, please consider buying her a coffee or two :)



Young Adult Books

I’ve read quite a lot of books this year, but these are the ones that stood out the most for me. Hopefully some reviews will follow soon :)

  • A GENTLEMANS GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzie Lee

  • HERO AT THE FALL by Alwyn Hamilton. This was book 3 and trust me, you need this trilogy in your life!

  • AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao - I think I loved this so much because I have lived in China almost six years. I just love how the main characters parents were portrayed as its so spot to what I've experienced with traditional Chinese beliefs and culture!

  • THE SPELLSLINGER SERIES by Sebastian De Castell. The characters in this book are just amazing. I fell in love with this series so hard that be warned, I will be mentioning it again with many fan-girl squeals!

  • STARFISH by AKEMI DAWN BOWMAN - not sure what it was, but something about this book had me utterly gripped! Also the best representation of social anxiety I’ve ever seen!



Middle Grade Books

I think because I’m trying to write a MG, I’ve been reading more of these books than I usually would. However MG can be so brilliant and I really wish more people would give them a try!

  • PERIL IN PARIS by Katherine Woodfine. This is a spin off to her SINCLAIR’S MYSTERIES and I love these books so so much. If you haven't read them already, please go start with THE CLOCKWORK SPARROW!

  • MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE SERIES by Robin Stevens. More murder mystery, but I love the cast of diverse characters and the mysteries themselves are pretty hard to work out. There is always some kind of twist!

  • THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HEART by Stephanie Burgis. This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 and I loved it. Please go read A DRAGON WITH A CHOCOLATE HEART first though - only then can you truly appreciate the characters. 

  • THE POLAR BEAR EXPLORERS CLUB by Alex Bell. Such an awesome adventure.

And finally...

THE BEST PODCAST EVER!

I've followed 88 CUPS OF TEA for a long time, but in my opinion its still the best! Interviews with authors such Sarah J. Maas, V.E Schwab, Victoria Aveyard, Leigh Bardugo and many many more. 

The show's host, Yin Chang, asks great questions and really goes into the details of what goes on behind the scenes with writing life. 

Inspirational and fun, I discovered so many new books from this podcast. It also helps remind me that everyones road to publication is different.

However I'm always on the look out for podcasts similar to 88 Cups of Tea. If you have any recommendations please let me know :)


TALK WITH ME

So how is the bookish world for the rest of you? Any amazing story gems you want to share? What about gold nugget releases you can’t wait for? 

I’ve sincerely missed talking with you all so please let me know what’s been happening in the months I've been silent.

Otherwise speak to you all soon!

Friday, 17 August 2018

The Midnight Peacock - Book Review


The Mystery of the Midnight Peacock - Book Review

Katherine Woodfine
MG Mystery
The Sinclair Mysteries #4
UK Publisher: Egmont

Other Books in the Series:

The Clockwork Sparrow
The Jewelled Moth

Synopsis:

You are cordially invited to Sinclair’s Midnight Peacock Ball! The festive season has come to Sinclair’s and Sophie and Lil are spending the holidays at Snowy Winter Hall. But it turns out that this is no ordinary house party… 

As sinister secrets come to light, our intrepid heroines find themselves faced with a more baffling mystery than ever before! With the help of their friends, can they uncover the truth in time to foil a truly diabolical plot? Or will Mr Sinclair’s New Year’s Eve, Midnight Peacock Ball spell disaster for the dauntless young detectives? 

Prepare for shocks and surprises in the thrilling conclusion to the Sinclair Mysteries!

Review:

From the very first book, I fell in love with the Sinclair’s mysteries. Now The Midnight Peacock brings the series to an epic conclusion, leaving just enough intrigue to insure I’ll be picking up Katherine Woodfine’s spinoff, “The Taylor and Rose Secret Agents.”

As the year 1910 comes to a close, this fourth book sees Sophie and Lil set up their own detective agency within Sinclair’s. Yet suspicions of a ghostly haunting take them out of the department store, to their friends fancy country manor. But is it a ghost stealing the valuables, or something even more sinister?

Meanwhile back in London, Billy and Joe stumble across signs that the brotherhood of the dragon - led by the ever slippery Baron - are active once more. But just how are the two cases connected? And what do they have to do with Sinclair’s Midnight Peacock Ball? Crack open the pages and venture into a world of ghosts, assassinations, secret Societies, and two very brave detectives….

What I loved about this series was how independent & individual each book was. Despite not reading the books in the right order (I accidentally started with book 3!) I had no trouble following the stories. While they do all interconnect, each volume tells its own mystery, and it’s not until this last book that everything clicks together. However now up to date with all four books, I can say with confidence that The Midnight Peacock is the best one yet.

It brings together characters from across every book and through a clever and tricksy plot-line, unites their story threads in a delicious tangle of intrigue. They will leave you open-mouthed at the cunning complexity of it all. I can’t help but applaud Katherine Woodfine for all the hard-thinking and preplanning that must have gone into this series! It’s simply  a gorgeous read!

I also like that this story took us outside London and Sinclair’s department store - as wondrous as that setting is - it was nice to see Sophie and Lil’s world grow. Especially as they found themselves in a country mansion, once belonging to Lord Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I spymaster. Full of secret passages, it was the perfect place for strange things to be happening.  

Each character has also gone through some serious growth and development, although it is a little sad to see them all diverging onto separate paths. Lil as an actress, Billy as a clerk and Joe, still the same loveable stable boy. However I’m curious to see what will be next for Sophie, especially as this book finally see’s her solve the biggest mystery of all - her fathers death (and yes, the unveiling is as emotional and epic as you all imagined).

However all the plot lines in this book were a real puzzle and while I worked out some elements (yay me!) so much remained a surprise. Otherwise I adored how Katherine Woodfine worked the suffragettes into the story, even going so far as having Mr Lim teach them KungFu (a handy skill for Sophie and Lil in their line of work, don’t you think?). 

All in all though, I loved this book, and can’t help but gush about this series as a whole. I can’t wait for the spin off series releasing in August 2018, and if you haven't already, I urge you to go pick up the first book - A Clockwork Sparrow. 

A five star book, with a five star ending to a five star series! :)

What were your thoughts on this book?
Please share your opinions in the comments :) 
Until next time!


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Far Away Magic: Blog Tour - Amy Wilson Q&As + UK Giveaway!


Hey everyone!


Today I have some wisdom from the amazing AMY WILSON to share with you all :)

Celebrating the release of her latest (and most fantastic) new book, A Far Away Magic, she was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

Here we go...

***

Hey Amy! 

A huge, huge welcome to my blog. First off I just want to say I LOVED your books. You totally caught my attention with A GIRL CALLED OWL and now you dazzled me with A FAR AWAY MAGIC! I’m so excited to see what you will write next :)

Oh gosh, thank you so much, it means so much to hear, especially while I’m in the sticky bit of the next thing!!

So to jump right in, your second book, A FAR AWAY MAGIC has just released. Was this one harder or easier to write than you’re first book? 

It was different! I was lucky in that I’d had the first chapters for a little while, so I already had the main gist of the story and the characters in mind, and very lucky that when we sent through ideas for book two it was the one that Macmillan went for – I was desperate to write it, and sort Bavar out! I do remember getting to about 17,000 words and feeling very lost, because I hadn’t really planned the middle section. I prefer not to plan, but in the end I always, always have to, even if it’s quite a brief timeline. Once I had the plan, and I knew what obstacles needed to be overcome, it was a lot of fun to write. I loved all of the characters and they were so strong in my mind, so I just got them going in the right direction and let them take the lead.

I loved the monsters, the Raksasa. Are they based on any real myth or folklore? What was the inspiration behind them?

I got the original inspiration for the Raksasa from the night gaunts in HP Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, but when I researched them I realised they were figures from his dreams and so I felt that I needed to move on from that a little. I did some research in Breverton’s Phantasmagoria, and found the legend of the Orang-Bati of Indonesia, ‘strange human/bat monsters’ who prey on children in the island of Seram. I put those two ideas together and called them the Raksasa, which is a Malaysian word for monster, as well as being a mythological creature in Hindu mythology.

Bavar’s house is pure magic! Is the setting based on a real place? And where do you get your ideas to create such a magical world?

I think mostly through a lot of reading! I was partly inspired by the Dower House in Bristol, that overlooks the M32, but only in that it is a grand old yellow house; the actual structure and all of the inside comes from my imagination, with a lot of inspiration from old gothic houses in books like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, or Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The book is split into dual POVs of Angel and Bavar, but did you prefer writing in one voice more than the other? And if you could have added a third perspective, whose would you have chosen?

Ooh! Well, the two voices happened quite naturally - I’d write in Bavar until he ran out of steam, and then Angel would step in, and vice versa. I didn’t think too hard as I wrote, because I was scared that if I did I would start worrying about keeping them distinct, and it would all come to a shuddering halt! If I had to choose another character to write from I think it would have been Bavar’s grandfather  - the bronze statue – just because he’d have such a different take on things, and I like his blustering.

Do you have a favourite scene from the story? Or is there anything that didn't make it into the final version that you would like to share?

I loved spending time in Bavar’s house; the kitchen, with Aoife’s amazing/gruesome baking, and the corridors and huge halls upstairs where the ancestors all come to life. And I particularly enjoyed writing the cemetery and woodland scenes, Bavar was so comfortable there, it didn’t feel creepy to him because he knew it so well, and I loved that Angel saw the beauty of it, despite all of the darkness.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? And how long drafting A Far Away Magic took?

It’s a little bit scatty! It usually starts out with a few chapters that explore a character who has come to me, and then I try to work out what that character needs and where we’re going. Plotting is the area where I tend to need a little outside help, I get a bit lost in the middle, as I said earlier! The first draft of A Far Away Magic took about three months, I think. I juggle it with looking after children and animals, so I write when I can, where I can, and try not to put too much pressure on myself.

Are there any writing resources or tips you would recommend to aspiring writers?

Do try to get to the end. It’s hard, and I think sometimes it’s even harder if we don’t quite believe we can do it. When I’m in the sticky bit I doubt it, every time, but it is possible, and once you have the whole thing drafted you can go back and work on any of those bits that didn’t feel quite right along the way. 

And finally - what are you working on next? Any juicy tip-bits you can share?

I’m working on my third novel with my editor Lucy at Macmillan. It’s currently in the editing/re-drafting stage and it’s been quite a different experience for me, because this time I had the idea and the setting before I had my main character. It took me quite a while then to find her! I’ll hopefully be able to reveal more about it very soon. 

Amy thank you so much for your time! I throughly enjoyed A FAR AWAY MAGIC and will be recommending it all my young students :) 

Thank you for having me, it’s been such a pleasure!



GIVEAWAY - UK ONLY

As part of the blog-tour, I have 5 copies of Amy's books to giveaway!

Both are spectacular MG Fantasies! If you would like to get your hands on a pair, just leave a comment below with either an email or twitter name with which I can contact you.

Winners will be drawn on March 17th :)

Meanwhile you can out my reviews of Amy's Books below:

A Far Away Magic

:)