Saturday, 12 September 2015

Poppy - Book Review


Poppy - Book Review
Mary Hooper
YA Historical
Poppy Book #1
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Synopsis:

England, 1914, Poppy is fifteen, beautiful and clever, but society has already carved out her destiny. There’s no question of her attending grammar school - it’s too expensive and unsuitable for a girl. Instead, Poppy will become a servant at the big house. And she’ll keep out of trouble.

But Poppy’s life is about to be thrown dramatically off course. The first reason is love - with someone forbidden, who could never, ever marry a girl like her. The second reason is war. Nothing could have prepared her for that. As she experiences what people are capable of - the best of humanity and the very worst - Poppy will find an unexpected freedom and discover how to be truly her own person.

Review:

I always enjoy Mary Hooper’s books. They are generally short, read-in-a-day sort of stories that have strong, independent heroines and lots of historical facts concealed within their pages. Poppy was no exception and yet another really enjoyable read.

Set during the first world war, the story is told from the view point of fifteen-year-old Poppy Pearson. A simple parlour maid, her life is changed forever when the rich family she works for have their house requisitioned for use as a hospital. Deciding to seek her future elsewhere, Poppy, with the support of an old teacher, joins the up to the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) and soon finds herself nursing wounded men at one of the biggest medical facilities in England.

Here she learns to deal with and care for the many thousands of men wounded in action. Lost limbs, broken faces and most of all, crushed spirits, one by one, Poppy learns to assist them all. But fear continues to dwell in her heart for her brother, fighting on the frontline. For as if facing bullets and bombs was not enough, she know’s he is a coward at heart and may do something stupid if it would get him out of the war… 

But Poppy is also distracted by the charming Officer DeVere. After a couple of romantic meetings, Poppy knows she is in love, but the gentry are still off limits to girls like her, but with social barriers crumbling left right and centre, she can only hope DeVere will choose to defy his family's wishes and pick her. But Devere has secrets of his own, and with the war raging no one knows who will live and who will die…

One thing I always love with Mary Hooper’s novels is how much I learn, and this book was bursting with historical detail. Things from the giving of white feathers to cowardly men who avoided fighting for their country, to the tin-nose shops where plastic surgery began, taking form in the shapes of new faces for wounded soldiers. 

The characters are also well written. Friendships develop throughout the book and I was amused when - since all the VADs are referred to by last name - Poppy failed to remember the first name of girl with whom she considered herself a close friend and confidant. 

Also the descriptions in this book really immerses you into a World War setting. Through Poppy’s eyes the readers sees everything, from the unity of the people to support the soldiers, the tears shed by those who mourn, the morbid details of the newspapers… the joint effort to keep smiling in a hopeless situation. However the descriptions are tastefully done and perfect to engage the imagination of younger YA readers without giving them nightmares. Instead, this book will offer them a heart-moving insight into life during the war.

I only have two smalls criticisms of this story. The first being that I kept holding my breath, waiting for something irreversibly bad to happen - although I was very much relieved when it didn’t. However I felt Poppy was lucky that most of the bad events happened to people she only knew vaguely. While this was good for Poppy, I didn't come to love her in quite the same way as some of Mary Hooper’s other heroines who suffered more heartache. 

Also I thought the ending was a bit abrupt, however I didn't realise there was a second book, Poppy in the Field. I now plan to get my hands on that as soon as possible to continue the story and find out what is next in store for Poppy. 

All in all, a very nice story. 3.5 stars!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Bitter Kingdom - Book Review


The Bitter Kingdom - Book Review
Rae Carson
YA Fantasy
Book #3 of the Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy
UK Publisher: Gollanzc

Synopsis:
Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa ne Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy’s kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal  magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for. 

Even of those who hate her most.

Review:

From beginning to end, this series has been amazing and I’ve loved every page of Elisa’s journey. The Bitter Kingdom brought about a spectacular conclusion to the trilogy and I can’t wait to see what else Rae Carson will throw at us with her next book. She is definitely an author to watch out for.

With her country on the brink of civil war, and her councillors conspiring against, Elisa is forced to flee her own city and head into the realms of the enemy. For they have stolen the man she loves, and Elisa will sacrifice everything she is to get her beloved Hector back, for only with him at her side can she have any hope of saving both her country and her crown. 

But Elisa is more than she seems, she is Gods chosen champion. Blessed with a Godstone imbedded in her navel, she is tasked to carry out a sacred duty that comes before all else, she only hopes that by ending the war, her task will be complete. But God, it seems, has other plans…

I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a trilogy quite so much. Elisa’s journey has been truly enrapturing. Through the series we have seen her evolve from an uncertain bride to a rebellious Queen. Facing the hardships of war, death and destruction, she has conquered her fears and at last emerged triumphant. A truly remarkable heroine.

However all of the characters are unique and contribute to the story in some big way. Hector, Storm, Mara, they all deserve an honourable mention. These characters made me laugh, made my heart ache and now the book is finished, I almost feel like I’ve said goodbye to very dear friends.  The characters played a huge huge part in making this book awesome for me and I’m glad most of them got happy endings.

In regards to the romance, I thought the scenes between Hector and Elisa were very well done. Throughout the three books their relationship bloomed slowly, based on a foundation of trust, loyalty and the kind of connection that can only be formed from the trials and suffering these two faced together. They make an excellent pair and after everything they’ve been through, I feel like they truly deserve each other.

In terms of plot, this story never has a dull moment. Moving from one catastrophe to the next, the characters are thrown into deadly situations which not everyone emerges from. A lot of the story is told while the characters are travelling, and the sense of underlying urgency in the beginning kept me turning pages long after I should have been asleep. A really gripping read.

So overall, I give this book - and the trilogy as a whole, 5 stars! This is definitely a series that will forever have a place on my bookshelves. A brilliant piece of YA fantasy. In you haven't already, I wholly recommend you pick up the first book, A Girl of Fire and Thorns.

Friday, 4 September 2015

The Secret Fire - Book Review


The Secret Fire - Book Review
C.J. Daugherty & Carina Rozenfeld
YA Urban Fantasy
The Secret Fire book #1
UK Publisher: Atom

Synopsis:

French teen Sacha Winters can’t die. He can throw himself off a roof, be stabbed, even shot, and he will always survive. Until the day when history and ancient enmities dictate that he must die. Worse still, his death will trigger something awful. Something deadly. And that day is closing in.

Taylor Montclair is a normal English girl, hanging out with her friends and studying for exams, until she starts shorting out the lights with her brain. She’s also the only person on Earth who can save Sacha.

There’s only one problem: the two of them have never met. They live hundreds of miles apart and powerful forces will stop at nothing to keep them apart.

They have eight weeks to find each other.

Will they survive long enough to save the world?

Review:

This book has some incredible writing and I enjoyed each and every page of it. Rather than jumping us straight into the action, the authors took their time setting up the story, allowing the reader to get to know the characters and their histories bit by bit. While this may put off some readers, I found it really interesting and liked the pace in which everything flowed. I can’t wait for the next book, for I think that’s where the story will truly come alive.

Sacha Winters cannot die. No matter what gruesome assaults he puts his body through, he continues to walk away each and every time, yet his days to live are numbered. For generations, every first born son within his family dies upon their eighteenth birthday, and Sacha’s is only 7 weeks away. Determined to find away to prolong his life, Sacha begins to research into his family’s history, and what he discovers, is witches!

Taylor Montclair is an average English girl with an above average intellect. Yet when she starts exploding sound systems, wiping memories and tossing her boyfriend around like he’s confetti, she begins to understand there is more to her family than meets the eye. But as she begins to learn about her newfound powers, she also finds herself the target of dark magic.

For both Sacha and Taylor are part of a greater prophecy - one set to bring about death and destruction to the world around them. Only together can they hope to defeat the evil that plagues them, but evil is determined to keep the two from meeting. And what hope do Sacha and Taylor have when they are strangers who live hundreds of miles apart…

There were so many things I enjoyed about this book. First, as main characters, Sacha and Taylor both have very distinct voices and completely different lives. Watching them cope with their own troubles was interesting, and normally I’m skeptical of books when they try to bring two people together via email… however in this case I really think it worked. Everything read very naturally and plausibly.

The other characters were also interesting, particularly Louisa and Taylor’s grandfather. Louisa added just the perfect touch of humour and sarcasm while Taylor’s grandfather brought about the more serious elements. However the bad guys I totally loved. They strongly reminded me of “The gentleman” from Buffy, and they read especially eery and were described very well. 

I also liked that the book has no romance in it, however it sets up for a potential romance in the next book. Why I like this is because, one, I don't think there was time for romance to spark given everything that was happening. And two, I really love that the authors are giving the characters time to get to know each other first, instead of having them fall instantly in love. Both huge respect and major points to the authors for doing that!

In terms of plot the story is quite intricate. Everything is connected in one way or another and while the pacing of the book is rather slow, I didn't have a problem with it. All the information is given out in trickles that I think, spike just enough interest to keep you turning the pages. But the action picks up a bit more towards the end of the book, and I was sad when I turned the last page. I felt like the story was only just starting to unfold so I’m looking forward to seeing how things will play out in book two, since a lot of loose ends were left hanging. Great ending!

I think readers who enjoy world building and getting to know the characters before being plunged into the story will really enjoy this book. I personally really liked it and can’t wait for more. 4 stars!

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!