“Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. And if it was correct English to say he stinked, then he stinked as well…” // Review of “Mr Stink” by David Walliams

Title: Mr Stink
Author: David Walliams
Genre: Children’s fiction
Date Read: 11/01/2018 – 12/01/2018
Rating: ★★★

Review:

After seeing the TV adaptation of Mr Stink over Christmas, I thought I would like to check out the book it was based on. While it was a sweet story with an ultimately good message, a lot of the time, I couldn’t work out exactly what Walliams was trying to say.

Chloe is having a hard time at school and at home, but when she befriends the local homeless man, known as Mr Stink for obvious reasons, and hides him in the familyi garage, she begins to learn that she can control more aspects of her life than she realises.

The throughline of this book is that anyone can become homeless, and that you shouldn’t write someone off just because they smell or look mangy. All good messages. But at the same time, I felt that the book also made a lot of fun of Mr Stink, and turned him into a bit of a caricature, which clashed with that message.

The same could be said for a lot of the other characters in the book, too. While the issues facing Chloe were often presented realistically, someone else would barge into the scene in a completely over-the-top way. I think it was trying to be funny, and definitely going for a Roald Dahl vibe (complete with illustrations by Quentin Blake), but it just never gelled into a consistent style for me.

Still, all of this possibly comes down to me being a more critical reader than most. As I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking that my 11-year-old niece would probably love it. While it’s not something I’d recommend reading as an adult on your own, reading it to your kids would probably have a whole different effect.


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““This is what the Problem means. This is the effect it has. Lives lost, loved ones taken before their time.” // Review of “The Empty Grave” by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: YA/urban fantasy
Date Read: 11/01/2018 – 21/01/2018
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

There’s always a sense of bittersweet when you come to the end of a series you’ve enjoyed. While the fourth installment of Lockwood and Co left me underwhelmed, everything from the previous four books came together in this one to give a really satisfyinng conclusion.

I have to admit that this wasn’t as scary as the other books. I think this was because Lockwood & Co. didn’t actually deal with that many ghosts in this one, and when they did, they dealt with them fairly swiftly. Something I loved about the earlier books was that some of the scenes where Lockwood & Co visited various haunted sites had me staying up late because if I didn’t see the battle out, I knew I wouldn’t sleep that night. Book four didn’t do that, and neither did this one. The conflict in Book 5 was more to do with the origins of the Problem, and the early ghost-hunting agencies.

Still, I loved the team dynamics here. I had often felt a bit uncomfortable with the way George was made fun of, usually due to his weight, so it was nice to see how much it really did affect the rest of the team when something happened to him. The Lockwood/Lucy romance that so many readers were hoping for was hinted at (rather heavily at the end) but never actually detailed. I am torn between thanking the gods for a YA series with no romance and wanting to have seen them get together, or at least admit to some mutual feelings, on the page.

This is the second series by Jonathan Stroud that I have followed and he has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read the Bartimaeus series. I am looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next!


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“If the truth didn’t help anyone, and love didn’t last, what was there left to struggle toward?” // Review of “Untold” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Title: Untold (The Lynburn Legacy #2)
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genre:
YA/urban fantasy
Date Read: 28/02/2017 – 06/03/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review: 

This was a strong sequel to Unspoken, with beautiful writing again and some strong character arcs, but the plot itself was a bit dull. I realised 200 pages in that I couldn’t really tell you what had been happening.

Factions are forming in Sorry-in-the-Vale, with sorcerors and townspeople giving their support to either Rob Lynburn or Lillian. Jared is still mad at Kami and she is trying to work out whether she likes Jared, Ash or both of them. And they have until the Winter Solstice when Rob Lynburn will return the town to its old ways and demand a blood sacrifice.

Credit where credit is due, this is the first time I have read a YA love triangle that actually worked. I think it is because Jared nor Ash are both actually well-developed characters and we get to see scenes from their points-of-view, which avoids that issue in so much YA where the two romantic interests just come across as entitled jerks. Jared and Kami’s relationship returned to the deep messiness that I enjoyed so much in the first book, and I really appreciated how Ash tried to understand that but really just couldn’t appreciate the connection Jared and Kami shared.

The side characters are all really well written. Angela’s coming out story, which was touched on briefly in the first book, was addressed, and continued to be handled with nuance. The awkwardness between her and Holly felt really honest. The conflict between Kami’s parents when her father found about her mother’s involvement in magic also read really well, and both the situation itself and Kami’s feelings about it were very realistic.

As I said above, it was the plot that moved so slowly that lost this one points. I got to page 228, where Kami was once again doing research into the Lynburn records to try to find information that might help them against Rob Lynburn, and realised that with the exception of the opening chapter, there had been little action up until that point. It had all been about who it was that Kami made out with in a dark corridor at the pub, and Ash feeling inadequate about all facets of his life, and Angela and Kami making sure nothing was awkward between them. So while it was all beautifully written and the characterisation was great, it still got a little dull after a while.


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#BeatTheBacklist “You’re not one of them. You never were. You’re not theirs. You’re mine.” // Review of “Unspoken” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Title: Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1)
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genre:
YA/urban fantasy
Date Read: 24/01/2017 – 30/01/2017
Rating: ★★★☆

Review: 

For about the first 100 pages of this book, I thought it was going to be my first 5* read of the year. While that didn’t work out, this was still quite an enjoyable read.

Kami Glass has had a voice inside her head all her life. When the mysterious Lynburn family returns to her village of Sorry-in-the-Vale, she discovers that the voice is not someone who doesn’t exist, but in fact belongs to Jared Lynburn, the black sheep of the Lynburn family. Not only that, but animals and people are being killed in the woods, and the Lynburns are the most likely suspects.

When this book started, I really loved the direction it was taking. I loved that Kami and Jared had to cope with the realisation that the voices in their heads actually belonged to a separate individual, that it wasn’t just something in their head making them crazy, and that there was actually another person who knew all their secrets and could possibly spill them all. Their relationship was deep and complicated and messy and it made me squee a lot. But then it started to get a bit weird later on. Jared started acting controlling, and didn’t like the fact that Kami had friends other than him. I can’t remember whether he literally said at one point that he wanted Kami to himself, or whether he just thought it, but either way, he was drifting into toxic territory.

Apart from that, the rest of the characters are all fantastically written. They were kind of like TV teenagers – you know, you look at them and you know that the people playing them are all at least 25, and they speak like they’re at least that age, but you handwave it anyway becauses snappy dialogue between teenagers is good fun. Yeah, they’re those sorts of teenagers. But the dialogue really was quite brilliant most of the time. There’s also some LGBT representation and it was handled really well, I thought. I hope there’ll be further exploration of that in the next book.

(^^ I really hope that made sense, and wasn’t just an unintelligible ramble).

I had hoped that the mysteries surrounding the Lynburns had taken a bit more time to be sorted out. It was the sort of thing that could have been explored throughout the entire series, so I’m not 100% where the subsequent books are going to go now that a significant portion of that is all out in the open.

One thing that did bother me about the writing was the occasional Americanisms that popped up. Some of the characters had been raised in America, so if it had been them referring to asses rather than arses and cell phones rather than mobile phones, I wouldn’t have been bothered, but it was in fact the English characters. This could have been very easily fixed and I’m not sure how it slipped into the final text.

I did have plans of racing straight onto the second book, which I already have from the library, but I have read a few reviews that say it focuses quite heavily on the romance, so I’m going to wait a little while. Still, this was a great series opener that I do recommend!


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“Everything is splendid, everything is just so!” // Review of “The Dark Unwinding” by Sharon Cameron

Title: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Audio Book Narrator: Fiona Hardinham
Genre:
Historical fiction/steampunk(?)/YA
Date Read: 17/01/2017 – 26/01/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

A wonderful piece of historical fiction, with plenty of fabulous characters to get attached to. I will say at the outset though, that while it sells itself as steampunk, I wouldn’t put it in that category. Yes, clocks and clockwork automata play a role, but the aesthetic that comes with steampunk is absent. If anything, I’d call it a gothic mystery.

When her cruel aunt feels that her son’s inheritance is in peril, she sends Katherine Tulman to her uncle’s (the aunt’s brother-in-law) estate to see if he can’t be committed to an asylum, ensuring the safety of the family fortune. As Katharine depends on her aunt and cousin to survive, she is willing to all she can. That is, until she arrives at Stranwyne Keep and discovers that her uncle is a brilliant eccentric who employs 900 people on the estate who would otherwise be trapped in workhouses their whole working lives. And the more time she spends there, the more torn she becomes between protecting the people she comes to care for and protecting her only means of a future.

Let’s talk about Uncle Tully first. While the word is never mentioned – and would be anachronistic if it were, given the time period – it’s fairly clear that Uncle Tully is autistic. As far as I can tell (my experience is limited, admittedly), it is a very tender representation, too; from the moment you meet him, you curse Aunt Alice for wanting him anywhere near an asylum.  His excitement about his clockwork figures is so endearing, and you just know that there is the brain of a genius hidden in there, even if it isn’t always on show.

Katharine is also a well-constructed character. Her evolution from simply wanting to get the unpleasant business over and done with to caring deeply for those at Stranwyne and the torture of knowing that the truth will come out eventually, even if she lies for them, is well done.

My other favourite character was Lane Moreau, Mr Tully’s closest servant (more friend/family than servant, really) and also Katharine’s eventual love interest. Unlike a lot of male love interests in YA, he actually had a reason to be dark and brooding when Katharine first arrived, namely, he thought she was going to betray them all. I’m a sucker for the hate-to-love trope and it’s done wonderfully here. Lane comes to care for Katharine, too, especially after seeing how quickly Mr Tully takes to her. And the banter! There was so much banter, they were so playful when they were pretending they weren’t supposed to be on opposite sides of the situation. It was wonderful!

There are other great side characters as well. The ensemble cast is very colourful, but we would be here all night if I mentioned everyone. I also don’t want to mention certain other characters and give things away. .

The plot moves slowly, particularly in the first half of the book. The characters really are the focus, and the setting of Stranwyne Keep is also really well developed and described after Katherine’s original arrival. The lay of the land is quite important in the climax of the novel, so pay attention to all of that! Sometimes  I did find the descriptions of all the tunnels and secret doors and rooms a little confusing, probably not helped by the fact that I was listening to the audio book, so couldn’t just duck back a couple of pages or chapters to check things.

The climax itself is very exciting, though I did think the resolution of the situation with Aunt Alice and Cousin Robert was a little bit deus-ex-machina-y. Still, I was glad how things panned out. The book is definitely not a standalone, while many loose ends are tied up, some are not, and we are definitely left with questions. i plan to get to the sequel sometime in the very near future and revisit all these characters that I also came to really love.


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“We’re caught between life and death, Lucy, you and I.” // Review of “The Creeping Shadow” by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre:
YA/urban fantasy
Date Read: 16/01/2017 – 23/01/2017
Rating: ★★☆

Review: 

creepingshadowcover

I normally love Jonathan Stroud’s books, but I have to admit, this is definitely the weakest of the Lockwood & Co. books. Having said that, it’s the seventh book I’ve read by this author and the first one that’s disappointed me, so I guess that’s not too bad a run.

This book had its moments, but overall it wasn’t as spooky as previous installments, nor did the tension seem as high. While Lockwood and Co. have their usual high-profile run-ins with ghosts and uncover some huge ghost-related conspiracies with huge implications for the United Kingdom, I found myself just not really caring.

There were of course some good aspects. The banter between Lockwood & Co. was as good as always, and I appreciated that Lucy had got over her petty jealousies of Holly. The team really gelled in this book and after the arguments and stupid tensions in the previous book, that was really welcome. There were also some Lockwood/Lucy moments that were sweet without being saccharine. But while these types of moments redeemed the parts I disliked in the last book, they didn’t really lift my overall care factor for this one.

My final issue with this book, and one which I think probably compounded all the others, was that it was too long. It was 528 pages, and I think could have been cut down quite a bit. I did figure out one of the major plot points quite early on, so the characters’ detective work to discover it was no shock to me. As there is only one more book in this series, I will certainly see it through, but it was always disappointing when a favourite author doesn’t quite live up to expectations.


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Beat the Backlist Challenge 2017 #BeatTheBacklist

2017beatbacklistbanner

Recently I learned of this challenge over at It’s All About Books, and even though I had said no challenges in 2017, this one actually fits in quite well with my general reading goals for 2017, so I thought why not.

The 2017 Beat The Backlist challenge is hosted over at Novelknight. The aim of this challenge is to attack the books that have been languishing on your TBR for a while, while you’ve been favouring all those shiny, new releases as they come out. As such, no 2017 releases count towards the challenge, but everything published 2016 or earlier does. If you’re up for it, there’s also a Harry Potter themed mini-challenge running as well as other mini-challenges. I am just doing the bare bones, though, as I don’t really want to have another thing I have to remember to log each month or whenever.

My goals for the challenge will be as follows:

  • Read at least 20 books that I own
  • Read at least 20 books that I added to my GoodReads TBR prior to 2016.

I thought about doing a tentative challenge TBR but I decided against it. I’ll pick and choose from what I feel in the mood for at any one time.

At the moment my plan is to write an update on the first of each month, and I’ll also create a page under the “What’s all this?” link above to keep track of the books I read. My review posts will have the #BeatTheBacklist tag so that they end up in the right places on Twitter.

I read 93 books in 2016, so if I continue at that pace, I should be able to topple both these goals, as well as have plenty of time for new releases.