Book Review: “The Nowhere Emporium” by Ross McKenzie

Title: The Nowhere Emporium
Author: Ross McKenzie
Audio Book Narrator: Monty d’Inverno
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience:
MG
Date Read: 06/07/19 – 09/07/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book reminded me a lot of The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern and going by the reviews, I’m not the only one. Obviously, this is for much younger readers, and it has its differences. I still enjoyed the idea of a magical shop with infinite rooms containing Wonders drawn directly from imgination.

Daniel Holmes lives in present-day Glasgow, but when he comes across a mysterious  shop where the owner doesn’t expect him to remember his time inside, he is taken on as an apprentice to Mr Silver of the Nowhere Emporium. But Mr Silver has a long and sad past, and his sworn enemy is still looking for him. Daniel finds himself in the middle of this fued, and in a race to save the Emporium and the staff he’s come to love.

There are some really wonderful rooms described throughout the Emporium. Many of them were whimsical and delightful and made me feel nostalgic for childhood. And I’m all for a tragic backstory, so the fact that that was at the heart of the conflict was really enjoyable for me, too.

I did think that some of the running around to try to stop Vindictus Sharpe from destroying the Emporium did get a bit tedious, especially when it was a case of “Go to this room – no, that didn’t work at all” followed by the same again. It seemed only to serve to throw some more backstory in, because some of these rooms turned out to be no use at all.

Still, I did appreciate how the challenges that Sharpe and Daniel set each other at the end played into fears and biases that had been set up for each of the characters earlier on, and they had to face them in the only way they knew how. The ending may have been a little rush, but I still felt that it was satisfying. I got through this is only a few days and really appreciated a simply, whimsical story with a lot of heart.


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“For dreams, too, are ghosts, desires chased in sleep, gone by morning.” // Review of “Lair of Dreams” by Libba Bray

Title: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 09/06/19 – 06/07/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book had a lot to live up to after I enjoyed the first one so much. I’ve got to be honest, there were times when I was just plain bored, and as you can see from the dates above, it took me nigh on a full month to get through. But it did pick up in the final quarter, and that’s why it still gets the rating it does from me.

There are a number of different threads through this book. First, Henry and his new friend, Ling Chan, are both dreamwalkers, and they meet as a mysterious sleeping sickness is taking over New York. So much of this storyline was devoted to character back stories and world building. I sometimes felt these parts were very, very slow.

Evie, Sam and Jericho are still about. Evie has become a sensation with her own radio show, The Sweetheart Seer, but to be honest, I found her a bit irritating in this book. In the first book, she was superficial but you could see what she was using that superficiality to mask. But there was less of that hidden vulnerability here, and she got a bit tiresome. The fact that there is a love triangle developing between her, Sam and Jericho also made me a bit weary.

Having said that, part of this aspect of the story is the search for Sam’s mother, which is hinted at, at the end of book one. I did find this stuff intriguing, and the extra information we got about Project Buffalo. I’m still not sure where the oft-mentioned King of Crows comes into that, but I suppose that will be revealed later in the series.

I guess the main reason I struggled more with this book than the first is that the pacing is entirely different. In the first book, there is a race to find the killer before he attacks again. There is no such time pressure in this book. So many scenes are devoted to dream walking, but the dreamscape is the same each time. And the characters aren’t really doing much, just hanging out and chatting. No one actually knows how to fix the sleeping sickness, so they just sort of generally worry about it.

Libba Bray does do a very good job representing true realities of life in the 1920s, and the gap between the privileged and the marginalised. I loved that Ling is a disabled character, and that forms part of her identity but isn’t her whole story. She is also part-Chinese and the book doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the anti-Chinese sentiments that were alive and well at that time.

There are some characters I haven’t mentioned, such as Theta, Memphis and Isaiah, and that’s because while they’re there, I didn’t really feel their scenes/chapters added much to this particular story. As I said, there’s a lot of character and background stuff, and I’m sure some of things we learned about the characters in this book will play out in the next installments but… it made it long.


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“There is no greater power on this earth than story.” // Review of “The Diviners” by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/05/19 – 07/06/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book had everything I want in a book! 1920s New York, serial killings, the occult, ghosts. Not to mention January LaVoy is a fantastic narrator.

There is a large cast of characters, whose paths intersect in various ways, but the main ones are Evie O’Neill and co., who are assisting the police in solving a series of occult murders. In between these, we get spooky chapters detailing each killing (don’t listen to these after dark!), along with chapters introducing us to others with powers that will become known as Devining, making them Deviners.

Evie is pretty selfish and self-centred, though she has moments of vulnerability. She puts on a front to hide the grief of losing her brother in the war eight years earlier. But she and the others make a good team when it comes to solving the murders.

The rest of the ensemble cast all have really fleshed out characters, too. Even though in the cases of a lot of these  characters, the book is setting up for the sequel where they become central characters, their scenes never felt like filler. I really iked Mabel, Evie’s BFF, though I wished she would sometimes stand up for herself a bit more (though she definitely has potential to come into her own later). I had mixed feelings about Sam Lloyd and Jericho Jones, whom I am pretty sure are going to both become love interests.

I loved all the history involved in the mystery. There are fifty-year-old cults, and weird ceremonies, and prophecies and all sorts of fun things. And it’s so detailed. There are creepy murder scenes that were probably made extra creepy by the fact that I always seemed to reach them when I was walking after dark from the bus stop, or driving alone late at night. January LaVoy has a certain talent with voices, I must say. The climax is especially scary, with Evie mostly on her own against an army of ghosts.

There did seem to be about an hour at the end of the book where things were being either tied up or set up for  the next book. There are so many different characters, it really did feel like Bray was actively having to tick each one off to make sure she’d dealt with them. But I was still keen to start the second book as soon as this one was finished.


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“This is the kind of dream you don’t wake up from, Henry.” // Review of “Famous Last Words” by Katie Alender

Title: Famous Last Words
Author: Katie Alender
Genre: Paranormal mystery/thriller
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 23/02/19 – 25/02/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Okay, so I have a confession to make. Several reviewers I follow on GoodReads gave another Katie Alender book, Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer, pretty average-to-negative reviews. I’ve seen that book at the library a number of times and always avoided  it because of that. If I had noticed the line of text underneath Katie Alender’s name that said “Author or Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer”, I may very well have not picked up this book. And that would be sad.

I’ve been reading a lot of SFF, and while this book still had ghosts in it, the contemporary setting and the thriller aspects made it a good break from the more epic stuff I’ve been reading. I really liked that this had a pretty traditional  take on ghosts – dripping taps, knocking on doors, strange dreams – rather than a ghostly figure who can actually communicate.

I did guess who the killer was (well, I had too suspects but it wasn’t hard to narrow it down), but that honeslty didn’t affect my enjoyment. I ploughed through this book in a couple of days, which isn’t something I’ve been inclined to do lately.

I did wish some of the characters were delved into a little more, particularly Willa’s mother and new stepfather. It is mentioned that  the famous Hollywood director came in an swept the small-town widow off her feet but it seemed quite strained a lot of the time. And it is never fully explained why she did turn into such a 1950s housewife once she married him when she had a successful career before (though it is clear at the end that she is finding her way back into that again).

I actually realised after reading this that  I have another of Katie Alender’s books on my TBR. I’m keen to bump it up the list now. 😀


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#WWW Wednesday & #WIPpet Wednesday –

Hello, and happy Wednesday! Today is my biggest blog hop day of the week! First up, we have WWW Wednesday, a blog hop hosted by Sam, in which we answer three W questions about what we’ve been reading.

  • wwwwednesdayWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve started Throne Of Glass and I’m enjoying it so far. The thing that annoys me most is that all the main characters are Really Attractive. Which is fine, except the narration keeps reminding me of it.

I’m also listening to the audio book of Matilda, read by Kate Winslet. She’s really good! The reason I haven’t listened to too many audio books in the past is that often the version I ended up with didn’t have a narrator whose voice I felt really fitted the story (also because I can’t afford to buy many and the ones you get from the library on CD are usually all scratched up). But Kate’s got a nice regular reading accent and fantastic accents/voices for each of the characters. I’ve only got about an hour left, but it came up with a weird message about not being able to process the file or something. Hopefully, the worst case scenario will be I have to re-download it.

  • What did you recently finish reading?

I finished For Darkness Shows The Stars and I really loved it! I tend to flail a lot when characters I want to get together are about to get together, and there was lots of flailing at the end of this book (it’s based on Persuasion, so I feel like that isn’t really a spoiler). I learned there is a not-quite-sequel-more-of-a-companion-novel based on the Scarlet Pimpernel, which is a favourite of mine, so I might have to track that down (the library doesn’t have it, and the ebook is expensive, but I am told the library buys pretty much anything that is suggested within reason, so…)

  • What do you think you will read next?

I have this all worked out. I’ll finish Throne of Glass, then read Crewel and Dust Girl, both of which I have from the library. Then I am going to read The Viper and the Urchin by fellow WIPpeteer Celine Jeanjean. And after that, I’m not sure, but this should keep me going at least a couple of weeks. And I also bought the cheapest audio version of Persuasion that I could find on iTunes. I’m not sure if the narrator is English or American and I’m really not sure I can listen to Jane Austen being read in anything other than an English accent, but it was only $2, so if I end up also buying the $9 one where it is read by Miss Marple (aka Geraldine McEwan), it will be no great loss.

Now I have to tell you something. I started a new writing project today. I have been trying to write every day, but I just haven’t been feeling Grace and Frederick’s story for the past week. I did some brainstorming on their back story and I think those ideas need to really percolate and solidify before I can keep going. I was trawling through the NaNoWriMo Adopt a Plot forums and one of the ideas there reminded me of a story that I considered writing at uni, but never got around to. It had a bit of urban fantasy in it then, but I decided that wouldn’t really work, so I’ve stripped that way and basically have a contemporary romance left in its place. I only have a main character and some plot points so far, but I really quite like her, even if she is a rather cliched university student.

So that’s my exciting news. And after having led with that, I bother to mention that you’re still getting a WIPpet from Grace and Frederick’s story, since that’s what I have actually words of right now. I have five paragraphs for the fifth of August. Last week, Grace persuaded Tristan to let her stay in the Merrow House overnight to see if she could get in touch with Frederick’s ghost again. He shows up, finally, and they have a bit of an awkward chat. The reason for the age comments is that Grace is 129-years-old and Frederick has been dead 90 years.
ghost
Now that Frederick was here, she found herself wishing she had just gone back to the hotel after the seance. She had thought that surely enough time had passed since she and Frederick had last crossed paths, but now her stomach was in knots just looking at him.

“You’re looking good for your age.”

Grace cocked an eyebrow. “You’re not looking too bad yourself.”

“Grace…” Frederick reached out a hand to touch her cheek. Somehow, his form was solid once again and she could feel his knuckles against her skin. She closed her eyes for a moment, but then quickly pulled away.

“Frederick, you can’t just show up again after all these years and expect me to be the naïve, stupid girl who hero-worshipped you as you taught her magic.”

It’s worth noting Grace was nineteen when all that was going on. It’s been a long time.

You can and totally should join in on WIPpet Wednesday! Just post an excerpt from your current WIP that somehow relates to the date. Our linky is over here. Since beginning this post, I’ve gone out and played some netball with friends, so it’s now fairly late. I’ll finish up and hope to see you all either on my blog or yours pretty soon!

~ Emily

Book Review: The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts by K. C Tansley

Title: The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts (The Unbelievables #1)
Author: K. C. Tansley
Genre: YA/paranormal
Date Read: 10/05/2015 – 25/05/2015
Rating: ★★★

Review:

ignoredghostsI have three disclaimers for this review. First up, my ARC was received for free as the prize in a giveaway. Secondly, this book had the disadvantage of being read when my life was super busy and I was going a bit crazy with everything, so I probably wasn’t in the right mindset unfortunately. At another time, this may have totally got an extra star or two. Thirdly, because I finished the book at the end of May and am writing my review at the end of June, the review is probably also somewhat lacking, and for that I apologise.

Another thing to note: I read an ARC. The book itself comes out today and you can buy it here! Talk about timing! (I’ll make sure I schedule this post in such a way that it is Friday in most parts of the world, rather than just Australia, when it goes up).

All right, now for an actual review.

Kat Preston refuses to believe in ghosts after an experience that left her with her soul nearly torn out of her body. She’s been doing pretty well, but when a school assignment involves visiting the site of a century-old unsolved murder, suddenly she’s not only surrounded by ghosts, but due to a portal in a mirror, sucked back in time and into the body of one of the guests in the days leading up the murder. Her research partner, Evan, follows her through, and they find themselves trying both to stop a murder from happening and also find their way home before they fade away completely.

There is a lot packed into this book’s 256 pages. The book has supernatural creatures, time travel, a murder mystery and a dash of romance. I found it most interesting when Kat and Evan were sent back in time, both in terms of the plot but also the way in which the story was written. The book is in first person from Kat’s POV, but often she has no control over the body of the woman she is possessing in the past, and the narrative is almost in third person, describing that characters’ actions. This may annoy some readers, but I actually found it kept me interested.

It’s hard to say too much else without giving away important plot information, but suffice to say, even once Kat and Evan make it home, the adventure is not over. Kat is able to start learning more about her gift of seeing the dead, but the ghosts of the murder victims are not their only issue… There is enough set-up for future books in the series but enough resolution that you don’t feel like the author wrote one book and then chopped it in half at an exciting bit.

I think my main issue with the book was that apart from Kat, I never really felt that invested in any of the characters, despite everything that was happening around them. The historical characters were a bit more interesting than the modern ones, but I did have a bit of trouble keeping track of them as well.

All in all, though, this is an entertaining beginning to a series with an original concept. I look forward to more!

#WIPpet Wednesday, and a #WWW Wednesday Reading Meme (all on a Thursday)

This is just a quick post. It’s nearly 12pm on Thursday in Australia, but that means it’s still Wednesday in some parts of the world, and therefore this post still counts. 😛

I’m writing this regardless of all that because I was determined this was the week I’d get back to things like blogging, and get back to them properly. And also things like eating properly and… well, I need to get the tyre in my bike fixed before I can get back to that, so that will have to wait until pay day next week. But writing, too. Though that is happening slowly. Uni work is also on the agenda; I’m going to start my winter course this Saturday.

I have very little that I can share for WIPpet Wednesday, but I did write some stuff yesterday. Yesterday was the 24th and 2+4 = 6. Except I’m a day late, so minus 1, and we have five paragraphs (this has nothing to do with the fact that I only wrote five paragraphs).

This is a scene that had bounced around in my head for a while and will probably come at the end of Lessons Learned if it comes at all. Just imagine that they’ve finally worked out their differences with Frederick Merrow and he’s finally going off to wherever ghosts go when they’ve finished their business here.

“You know that immortality is never really set in stone, don’t you, Grace?”

‘What do you mean?”

“If you choose to end it, it will end. But it has to be your choice.”

Grace stared at him, wondering if he was telling the truth. She’d never heard anything about this in the years she’d spent searching for a way to reverse the effects of the Elixir she had drunk.

“Choose wisely, Grace.”

WIPpet Wednesday is hosted by K. L. Schwengel, and you can join us here. Simply post an excerpt of your current WIP that somehow relates to the date, then check out what others have posted.

I was also just over at Books Over People, and decided to hop on the WWW Wednesday meme as well. This asks three simple questions, as you’ll see below.

What are you currently reading?

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd. It’s a YA adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau, with his daughter as the main character. I haven’t read the source material, but this book is interesting. Slow-paced, but atmospheric. It doesn’t actually feel like I’ve read 150 pages.

What did you recently finish reading?

I just finished Splintered by A. G. Howard on Monday. It’s an Alice in Wonderland spin-off, and the world-building was good, but I really hated one of the characters and that kind of ruined everything. Apparently he gets worse in the next book, so I’m leaving the series here.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m actually thinking I will read The Island of Doctor Moreau, since I have copy on my shelf. It’s only short, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get through.

All right, I suppose I should actually consider doing some work? I’m in that tricky transitional phase in a new position at work, where I’m doing things, but slowly, and the office is basically empty today, so things are going even slower since I’ve got no one to answer my questions. But one colleague did give me something to work on before she went downstairs for a reference shift, so I should have look at that. See you all on your own blogs soon!

~ Emily

December 2: A ghostly gambling ring

Author’s note: No, I am just as unsure as you about what three ghosts would actually do with the money they seem to be hoarding in this story. I didn’t think that far. I also apologise for the fact that the ending is a bit weak, but it’s getting late, and I wanted to get this one finished.

Prompt: Main character is a generous, forty-five-year-old man. The setting is a newspaper office. Someone loses a fortune at cards. The theme is the supernatural.

ghost“Hey, Jim, can I borrow ten bucks?”

Jim looked up from his typewriter, and tilted his head at Robbie, who was leaning on his desk. “Again? This is the third time this week, Robbie.”

“I know, mate, I know. I will pay it back, I guarantee you.”

“What are you using it for? I’m happy to help you out, but I hate to think my money is being wasted, Robbie…”

“Nothing untoward, I swear,” Robbie said quickly, his eyes darting around the room but not meeting Jim’s until they lit up with an idea. “Hey, why don’t you come and see for yourself? Tonight?”

“I have a deadline I have to meet,” said Jim, motioning back to his typewriter.

“It doesn’t start until nine. Will that give you enough time?”

“I guess so…”

“Great. I can meet you there.” Robbie waited until Jim had pulled out the ten dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to him, then he put on his hat and coat and left the office, whistling an out-of-tune melody.

Jim spent another hour working on his piece, and then bought a bite to eat from a street vendor near the office. He didn’t really know whether to meet Robbie at whatever place he was going to tonight or not. He eventually decided to check it out; he’d been lending Robbie far too much this week and he was starting to about where it was going.

He got in a taxi and gave the address Robbie had given him earlier. When he got out a little while later, he was at the dingy end of a long street. He watched a men filed into the building, one after the other, staring blindly at whatever was beyond. Robbie appeared soon after, and though Jim waved, Robbie didn’t see him.

“Robbie?”

Robbie also wandered into the building, his expression becoming vacant as he caught sight of the light coming from inside.

Confused, Jim decided to follow. Inside was a large round table, around which the men were sitting. They all held cards in their hands and there was a pile of cash at one end of the table.

So Robbie was gambling away the money Jim had loaned him. He knew it!

The light Jim had seen from outside came from a candle in the middle of the table. It was giving off a heady scent which made Jim’s eyes water and numbed his senses. He wondered if that was what was blinding all the other men as well.

And then he watched longer, and saw what at first seemed to be mist pass under a doorway on the other side of the room. The mist began to rise, though, and slowly take shape. As Jim watched, three humanoid figures, but transparent, and fuzzy around the edges, took their place at the top of the table, where the pile of money was sitting.

One man at the table laid down a card, and the rest followed suit. Whatever they were playing, it didn’t seem to be any card game Jim was familiar with. They moved as though they were in a trance, each taking his turn. Sometimes cards were picked up, sometimes put down, but there didn’t seem to be any method in their movements.

After an hour or so of this, the ghosts disappeared and the spell seemed to break. The men all threw down their cards.

“Well, that’s me cleared!” said one man.

“Gah, bad night again!” said another.

They all bemoaned their bad luck as they stood up to leave. None of them seemed to notice that no one was leaving with any winnings.

Jim snuck out the door in front of them. He waited until Robbie came out and then grabbed his colleague by the arm.

“Robbie, what’s going on?”

“What? Oh, Jim… just a spot of fun between friends, that’s all…”

“Robbie, you were drugged… or something… didn’t you see them?”

“Who?”

“The ghosts. None of you were playing cards. It was… it was spooky, dammit.”

Robbie laughed and clapped Jim on the shoulder. “My friend, I think you’ve been worrying too much about that next deadline. Come on. Let’s get something to eat, yeah?”

Already, Jim was beginning to doubt what he saw. He nodded, and let Robbie guide him towards the main road. Tomorrow. He’d come back to tomorrow, and tomorrow he’d bring a camera.