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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Salt to the Sea - Book Review


Salt to the Sea - Book Review
Ruta Sepetys
YA Historical
UK Publisher: Puffin

Synopsis:

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en-route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, not culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: Survival.

Review:

This book was one emotional rollercoaster after the other, but as heart-wrenching as it was, I absolutely loved it! A beautifully written story that offers a haunting glimpse into the journey undertaken by thousands of refugees in 1945, it follows the lives of three people as they travel across wintery Prussia in the hopes of escaping to a better life.

Joana is a nurse running from the horrors of her past. Florian is man on a deadly mission. Emilia is a tragic girl without papers. When the three cross paths in the snowy hills of Prussia, they form a reluctant band of travellers that together, face many perils. It is a journey not everyone will survive…

One thing that really came clear through the prose was the research the author put into this story. Through the eyes of her characters, Ruta Sepetys brought the world of 1945 Prussia to life, sharing with us the horrors of the war and the injustices suffered by so many. Yet she also revealed the kindness of others, such as the bonds that formed between the refugees, how they shared food and cared for each other, forming friendships to the point that new families were created from the heartbroken survivors. 

Yet while many of the events in the book are both sad and horrifying, they were portrayed in a way that the reader could resonate with and understand, tastefully written without being all blood and gore. Also the small details and facts weaved through the story were interesting as much as they were shocking. However like all good historical fiction, this book accomplished the great feat of subtly teaching without the reader ever being aware they are learning—something I think is doubly impressive considering this book was written for teens.

What moved me most about this story however was the attention it drew to the largest maritime disaster in history, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gosloff. Before this book I knew nothing about either the ship or the thousands of people who tried to escape to fairer shores on her, and I feel it’s a tragedy that should not be forgotten. Almost 9000 people, half of which were children, died in one night.

Ultimately though this is a fictional story, and I thought the plot moved at just the right pace. Each chapter was told from the view point of one of the main characters, with each of their secrets and histories revealed bit by bit as the book progressed. Admittedly due to the change in POVs, it did take me several chapters to get into the story, especially as in the beginning things were a little confusing until you learn a little more about who each character is. However this didn't take away my enjoyment of the book and I soon found myself immersed. 

The characters I loved most though were the secondary ones. The old shoe maker and the little boy really moved my heart, along with the blind girl and bossy “I’m sorry” woman. Despite being made up, they each had very distinct personalities that really helped bring this story to life.

All in all, Salt to the Sea is a tragic, eyeopening yet beautifully written book that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Thought provoking, emotional, and a great tribute to those whose lives were touched by the war. 5 stars!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Half Wild - Book Review


Half Wild - Book Review
Sally Green
YA Paranormal
Book #2 in the Half Bad Trilogy
UK Publisher: Penguin UK

Synopsis:

After finally meeting his elusive father, Marcus, and receiving the three gifts that confirm him as a full adult witch, Nathan is still on the run. He needs to find his friend Gabriel and rescue Annalise, now a prisoner of the powerful Black witch Mercury. Most of all he needs to learn to control his gift — a strange, wild new power that threatens to overwhelm him.

Meanwhile, Soul O’Brien has seized control of the Council of White Witches and is expanding his war against the Black witches into Europe. In response, an unprecedented alliance has formed between Black and White witches determined to resist him. Drawn into the rebellion by the enigmatic Black witch Van Dal, Nathan finds himself fighting alongside both old friends and old enemies. But can all the rebels be trusted, or is Nathan walking into a trap?

Review:

This is the second book in Sally Green’s Half Bad Trilogy and much like the first book, it took me several chapters to get into. However once I fell back into the rhythm of Nathan’s unique voice, I quickly found myself swept up in the story and enjoyed each and every page of it.

Nathan now has his magical gift, but before he can use it, he must learn to control it. Yet with the White witches now organising, and targeting all who stand in the way of their new “Kill all Black Witches” regime, Nathan does not have the luxury of time. Joining the alliance of rebels - a group of White witches, Black witches and half codes - whose objection is to bring down the Council of White Witches, Nathan finds himself fighting alongside new friends and to his surprise — old enemies. But as more witches flee to the rebel cause, the chance of betrayal rises, and Nathan has more than his own life at stake…

Sally Green has a fresh writing style that, while I don't think everyone will enjoy, I myself really like. Because despite the story being about witches, she paints a very realistic, very plausible world where secret wars could really be happening, and the battle between good and evil is not at all black and white. 

The story is told form Nathan’s POV and I love his simple way of viewing things. While his thoughts can sometime be a little disjointed, they are realistic for someone who has suffered through many years of both physical and mental abuse. However in this book, Nathan is a stronger and more confident character. Not only is he beginning to trust more and expand his circle of friends, but for the first time he has faith in his own abilities and is making the transition from boy to man. 

However what I love most about his character is his blatant refusal to be moulded into something he isn’t. For years, only a few people have insisted he is a good person, while many others say his blood makes him evil. Yet Nathan follows his own path and has started to realise that people have the ability to be both good and bad, and that in reality, everyone is just a shade of grey. Himself included.

Yet all the characters in this book are pretty special. There is not a single dull character among them and they all bring something extra to the story. I especially liked how characters from the previous book who we labeled as evil, were now fighting alongside Nathan, even though many of their beliefs and personalities conflicted, showing that opposing sides can indeed work together.

The romance was all a big thing in this book. Nathan I think is beginning to come to terms with his sexuality, and realise that maybe he isn't just straight, but potentially bi-sexual instead. Since I’m actually hoping he will end up with Gabriel, I think this is awesome - however for readers who are uncomfortable with gay romances - this book may not be your thing. However the romance only plays a small part of a much bigger story, so it would be a shame to not read this book for that reason alone as Half Wild has so much to offer.

In terms of plot, this book was much more action based than the last one. I admit the beginning was quite slow going, but that was mostly Nathan trying to understand his gift and I myself found that really interesting. However the plot really picks up about halfway through and you will find yourself flying through the pages.

Overall, Half Wild is an original and darkly intriguing read. However it is one of those special sort of books that you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I cannot get enough and am looking forward to the final instalment of the trilogy, Half Lost, which will release in March 2016. 

I give Half Wild 4 stars!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Wendy Darling: Stars - Book Review


Wendy Darling: Stars - Book Review
Colleen Oakes
YA Fantasy
Publisher: SparkPress

Synopsis:

Wendy Darling has a perfectly agreeable life with her parents and brothers in wealthy London, as well as a budding romance with Booth, the neighbourhood bookseller’s son. But while her parents are at a ball, the charmingly beautiful Peter Pan comes to the Darling  children’s nursery and—dazzled by this flying boy with God-like powers—they follow him out the window and straight on to morning, to Neverland, an intoxicating Island of feral freedom.

As time passes in Neverland, Wendy realises that this Lost Boy’s paradise of turquoise seas, mermaids and pirates, holds terrible secrets rooted in blood and greed. As Peter’s grasp on her heart tightens, she struggles to remember where she came from—and begins to suspect that this land of dreams, and the boy who desires her—have the potential to transform into an everlasting nightmare.

Review:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. As a child I loved Peter Pan, and I was concerned this darker retelling would not appeal to me, but I really liked it. It is a story that begins very innocently, with the more shadowy elements not coming into play until nearer the end of the book. This made for a nice twist and created an intriguing storyline that ensured I will most definitely be reading the sequel.

When Wendy’s parents discover her affections for the booksellers son, Booth, they declare that Wendy may never see him again. That night, while her parents are at a party, a strange boy flies through the nursery window, and offers to take Wendy and her brothers away from their boring, London lives of rules and propriety. And so the Darling children arrive in Neverland, a place where there are no rules, no bedtimes, no parents, and no one to stop them doing what they want, except Peter.

But beneath Peter’s cheery exterior, lies a power hungry greed. He has plans to kill the Pirates, take over Neverland, and name Wendy his queen. But Wendy has already pledged her love to Booth, and even with her fading memories and Peter’s cajoling charm, she can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. But Peter has never had a mother to teach him patience, and when Wendy continues to refuse him, she learns that Peter would rather break his toys, then see them taken from him…

The characters in this book were amazingly well written. Told from the view point of sixteen-year-old Wendy Darling, this story paints Peter as a fun, charming, yet unhinged teen who has gone too long without rules or proper company. It read very realistically, and I loved how the hints at Peter’s darker nature were revealed slowly as the the book progressed.

However keeping true to the original story, Wendy remained a good girl with her innocence and naivety. Yet she also found her courage and I loved the fierce protection she has toward her brothers, even when they don't always get along. I especially enjoyed the conflict between her and John, which showed the resentment and jealousy that can boil between siblings if left unchecked, especially when they are forced into such gender-specific roles. 

In terms of descriptions, this book created some amazing imagery and visuals, the tree house, the mermaids, and the island itself were all really well done. I was disappointed we didn't get to meet captain hook, but the details about his ship and the underground cavern were fabulous. But Tink, I thought the fairy was written in such a new and amazing way, a truly complicated character and one I hope will feature more in the next book.

Plot wise, the story was a little slow to start and it wasn't until well after the halfway mark, when the book started taking a darker turn that I thought things really got interesting. However the world building and set up for the story was intriguing enough that I wasn't bored, although it may put some readers off.

All in all though this book was really enjoyable and one fans of Peter Pan retellings should definitely pick up. I promise the cliff hanger of an ending will leave you thirsting for more. 4 stars!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Night Study - Book Review


Night Study - Book Review
Maria. V. Snyder
YA Fantasy
Soul Finders Book #2
UK Publisher: MIRA INK

Synopsis:

Ever Since being kidnapped from the Illinois Jungle as a child, Yelena Zaltana’s life has been fraught with peril. But the recent loss of her soul finding abilities has endangered her more than ever before. As she desperately searches for a way to reclaim her magic, her enemies are closing in, and neither Ixia nor Sitia are safe for her anymore…

Review:

I totally adored this book! Although I think being a big fan of Maria V. Snyder’s original Ixia series makes me a little biased. Especially as returning to the same world, with the same amazing characters felt just like catching up with old friends … albeit the kind who live rather thrilling/dangerous lives. And since the first Soul Finder book left us with such a cliffhanger, is it any wonder I was thirsting for more? And I am happy to report, this second book did not in anyway disappoint. 

Night Study picks straight up from where Shadow Study left off. As always, Yelena and Valek are in danger, but now, Yelena suspects she is pregnant. But with the commander acting strange in the North, and magicians mysteriously disappearing in the South, neither Ixia or Sitia are safe. Especially as the two countries prepare for war with each other. 

Also with Yelena’s powers gone, taking with it her ability to detect lies, she must learn once again to trust in herself to make the right choices. But with her loyalties between the two nations divided, and with the life of her and Valek’s unborn child at stake, this time, she cannot afford to make the wrong choice…

Words can’t do justice to how much I loved this book. Much like the first book of this new trilogy, Night Study follows the same pattern and reveals a more in-depth look at Valeks past. Only now, the past is catching up with his present - and it’s amazing! To be honest, I can’t say if some of the plot lines regarding Valek were predictable, because it might have just been my wishful thinking, but either way, they all led in the direction I wanted to see Valek go, so no complaints from me. It’s wonderful how much his character has developed and now he’s facing new challenges, and I can’t wait to see how much more he can grow.

Yelena is still the bad-ass heroine she’s always been. Although without her magic, she is closer to the girl she was in poison study, as in she is feeling her way and learning how to rely on just her normal five senses again. However despite being ‘ordinary’ again she is still the quick-thinking, resourceful character we know and love. 

Most of the original characters are also in the book too in some capacity or another - but what is nice about them all is that they are older, wiser and stronger for their experiences - yet at the core, they are still themselves. With this soul finder series set five years after the Ixia series finished, I truly think the author Maria. V Snyder has done a fantastic job of ageing her characters while keeping true to their personalities.

In terms of storytelling, the book is told from three POVs. Yelena, Valek and Leif’s, yet Yelena still holds the starring role. The plot itself moves at a fast pace, with serval storylines in play at all times,  and always plenty of action. It was a hard book to put down and the final instalment of this trilogy cannot come soon enough.

However as with the last book, I think if you haven't read the spin off glass series, featuring Opal’s story, there are a few references to the past that you might not get, and perhaps you might not make immediate connections to the bad guys and their agenda. However these instances are few and far between and ultimately would not spoil the story.

All in all, A truly delicious, soul searing read that fans of the series will devour whole. 4 stars!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Happy New Year


(This picture was taken on a rooftop terrace in Vietnam)



Happy New Year!

Hey guys, can’t believe we are almost two weeks into the new year already! I hope every one is having a fantastic 2016 so far! Anyway it’s been a good long while since I’ve had a catch-up on the blog, so I thought I would share with you some of things I’ve been up to over the last six months.

First things first, in June 2015 I moved back to China. 

This time though I chose a bigger city, a smaller school, and best of all my Canadian Caveman found us cosy apartment that we’ve made home :) However the scary thing is (apart from the fact that I’m now living with a boy!) with the exception of a few months travel here and there, I’ve pretty much been in China 3 years now! Can you believe it?

At the end of the summer I also went on a self-imposed reading ban!

Say what! But you’re a book blogger I hear you cry. Well, let me begin by telling you it wasn't easy. And I cheated. Twice…. and it was with the newly released J.D Robb and Sara J Maas books if you’re wondering. But the reason is, as much as I love book blogging, I want to be a writer even more, and my reading to writing ratio was not good. However that leads to my next point.

In October 2015 I finished writing my first novel - A YA Urban Fantasy.

This was a huge achievement for me, and a massive learning curve. Whether or not this book will ever see the light of day still remains to be seen, but it’s now polished, edited and waiting in the wings for when I am ready to start querying agents later this month…

My baby-brother became a professional footballer for Manchester United!

My seventeen-year-old brother, Zak Dearnley, officially signed his contract with Manchester United. While many people think kicking a ball about is easy, its not! Since he was five years old my brother has trained hard and sacrificed a lot to get where he is and I couldn't be more proud of him. However I will let him tell you his own story, which if you are interested in, you can check out HERE.

October also saw the opening of FLAVOURS AND FABLES.

And what is Flavours and Fables you ask? It’s a cafe in SUNDERLAND, opened by my best friend who not only serves the best milkshakes and cakes ever, but she runs many events including book groups, pokemon gatherings, Spanish sessions, confidence-building workshops and so much more. However I wanted to give her a shout out because not only did she find the courage to quit her soul-sucking job and start her own business, but because she is the greatest and most giving person I know!

November the reading ban lifted!

This was a happy, happy day - And also why I have about a million book reviews to write. Why is there always so many books but so little time?

December - I cooked Christmas dinner for the first time.

Ok, so maybe a huge curry and buffet isn't exactly your traditional christmas meal, but in my defence a chicken in China comes with its head, feet and all the gooey bits inside - and that’s something I just can’t deal with. However it was my first time hosting a party and cooking for anyone other than me and the Caveman so I’m proud it was a success. And did I mention there were ten people!

January 2016

So here we are in 2016. Already it is shaping up to be a good one. There a so many new book releases I am looking forward to, one of my oldest friends is getting married in August, and next month I am off to Cambodia.

:)

How are thing’s going with everyone else?

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Girl at Midnight - Book Review


The Girl at Midnight - Book Review

(The Girl at Midnight #1)

Melissa Grey

YA Fantasy

Synopsis:

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives be selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s every known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the boarders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants … and how to take it.

But some jobs aren't as straight forward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Review:

I really enjoyed this book. The world building was creatively done with many fantastical elements, with each character unique and colourful - I especially loved one of the secondary characters, Jasper, and laughed so hard when I discovered him to be every inch a peacock!

However this story follows the life of Echo, a sixteen-year-old runaway thief who loves words and shiny things. When she was young, Echo befriended a magical race of beings known as the Avicen. With feathers for hair, and magick that can transport them to any doorway in the world, they live generally peaceful lives, hidden away from humans.
But the Avicen have a deadly enemy, the Drakharin - the people descended from dragons. And when war erupts once more between the two races, Echo will do anything to see her Avicen friends safe, even hunt down the legendary firebird - the one being with the power to bring about a lasting peace. 

But when Echo’s best friend is kidnapped, and she herself thrown into a Drakharin prison, she knows her chances are bleak. Yet when two rouge Drakharin offer to help, Echo attempts to set her prejudices aside. But the two Drakharin have their own agendas, and Echo must learn to tell the difference between friend and foe before it’s too late….

What really caught me about this book was how beautifully it was written. The writing is eloquent and the author’s love of words really shone through the prose. I can understand how this book has been compared to others such as The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (another favourite of mine) as I think both authors have a talent for weaving words to create vivid and magical imagery.

However The Girl at Midnight is very much its own story. The main plot is fast paced and filled with action, while several subplots offer intrigue and backstory that compliment the main plot nicely. And yes, while there are some cliches, they didn't bother me at all and I thought as whole the story flowed nicely.

I also adored the characters. Echo is witty, bull-headed and brave. I loved her sense of humour, and liked how her sarcasm took away the sting of some of the less-original scenes. Cauis, the Drakharin Prince, was a little broody for my taste but I thought he and Echo developed a most interesting relationship that didn't evolve into your typical kind of romance. 

Yet for me, it was the secondary characters who really made this story shine. While Echo and Casis were always in the spotlight, Jasper, Ivy and Dorian had their own dramas and word-play going on in the background. This helped make the story more three-dimensional  and gave it a depth that I enjoyed. Because of them I really felt immersed in this fantasy world Melissa Grey has created. 

Overall, a really great book that fans of fantasy would enjoy. I give The Girl at Midnight 4 stars! :) 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Witch Hunter - Book Review


The Witch Hunter - Book review
Virginia Boecker
(The Witch Hunter Book #1)
YA FANTASY
UK Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn't look dangerous. A tiny, blond, wisp of a girl shouldn't know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the King’s elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practice it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.

When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she’s arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she’s to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor - Nicolas Prevail, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.

As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nichola’s curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate… and life and death.

Review:

Witch Hunter was an interesting read and I really enjoyed the voice of the main character. She has a spunky personality which often leads her into trouble, and what I felt the book lacked in romance was more than made up for by the uniqueness of each character. Plus some good old fashioned butt-kicking. I am definitely interested in continuing this series.

Elizabeth is a witch hunter. One of the few elite soldiers charged with hunting all those who practice magick. Yet when she is found carrying a bundle of harmless herbs, Elizabeth finds her world turned upside down when her superiors accuse her of being a witch. Now she is on the run and must seek help from the very people who she’d sworn to hunt. 

Hiding her true identity, she teams up with a group of rouge magicians and offers them aid in return for safe passage out of the country. But Elizabeth knows she can only hide her past for so long, and as her secrets spill out one by one, she finds her loyalty divided. One side holds her mind, the other has captured her heart. But the question remains, which side of the fight will she choose? And which side will choose not to kill her…

One of the reasons I liked this story is because I found the main character, Elizabeth, to be both strong and quick witted. From the beginning of the book she is a very capable heroine, and although a little naive in many ways, she follows her heart and ultimately makes the right choices.

Yet this book is very character based, and part of the reason I kept reading was to find out more about the histories and personalities of the other characters. I believe the author could make several books just from their pasts alone! I say this as most of the secondary characters, mainly the rebel magicians, come into the story fully formed after already going through many personal trials and ordeals. These life-shaping events are referenced but I’m hoping each characters past will be more fully explored in the next book.

In terms of plot, I thought much of the story was quite predictable. I worked out the bad guy's secret pretty early on - not really a big issue for me as I always read to the end of a book to discover if I was right or not - however I fear some less patient readers may grow bored with such predictability. 

That said there was some nice action scenes and, despite lack of surprising twists and turns, the story moves at a nice pace. However my main nit pick is that I felt the romance lacked sparks. Essentially I found Elizabeth’s love interest, John a little boring and a bit plain for my tastes, but hopefully he will become more exciting in the next book.

All in all, 3.5 stars! Witch Hunter is a nice debut novel with a feisty heroine and ultimately a fun read.