“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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“You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.” // Review of “The Prestige” by Christopher Priest

Title: The Prestige
Author: Christopher Priest
Audio book narrator: Simon Vance
Genre: Thriller/historical fiction
Date Read: 20/06/2016 – 29/06/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I hate to say it, but I think this is one of those rare cases where I thought the movie is better than the book. Having said that, it was intriguing to see where this story began, and it may be just that because I saw the movie first, it is the version I ultimately prefer.

The action centres on the feud between two stage magicians at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth, the way their rivalry consumed so much of them, and how it still affects their descendants nearly a century on.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of turn-of-the-century London, and how the book used the popularity of illusionists and magicians of the time to also examine how easily we are fooled because we don’t really want to know the secrets. This applies to both magic tricks and real life.

The structure of the book was its main downfall. It is in five parts from four different points-of-view. Two are the diaries of Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier, the stage magicians, and the other two are their descendants, who meet in the 1990s. Having one part follow on from another, rather than switch points-of-view when the plot most accommodated it, meant that there was a lot of dancing around the plot twists that I knew were coming. There was a lot of plot that could have been considerably condensed, I felt, if the point-of-view had alternated throughout the book (and I say that as someone not a fan of alternating points-of-view as a rule).

On top of that, apart from offering some intrigue, I honestly thought the modern-day aspect of the book was pretty unnecessary. There would have been ways to reveal the twist without it, and the continuation of the feud through the generations didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The ending was also unclear. I think Priest was probably going for mysterious and ambiguous, but it just confused me.

Simon Vance’s narration of the audio book was commendable – he had distinct voices for each of the narrators and the characters within their stories. I listened to the entire audio book, but I do think that having 12 hours of audio to listen to rather than reading a few hundred pages did highlight the structure issues mentioned above.


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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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“Without doubt, you will find your way home.” // Review of “The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places” by Peter Begler

Title: The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places
Author: Peter Begler
Genre:
Middle-grade/fantasy
Date Read: 16/02/2017 – 26/02/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review: 

This book had a very strong start, but unfortunately I found myself getting bored in the last third. I’m not entirely sure that it would hold the attention of a reader of the target age-group. Then again, maybe the hopping between so many different fantasy elements would appeal to that younger reader.

When their mother is kidnapped by a witch and turned into a bird, Nell Perkins and her brothers must travel to the Dreamlands in order to to not only rescue their mother, but also to prevent an everlasting war from breaking out between Dreams and Nightmares.

This book started off really strong. There were some interesting ideas going on, between Nell’s ability to see people’s “inner animals”, to the young women in the town going missing. At this point, the characters seemed quite vibrant and interesting.

It was once they arrived in the Dreamlands that things started to feel a bit more haphazard. There didn’t really seem to be much of an arc to the story; a lot of it seemed to be the characters getting themselves out of one situation, then making their way into another one completely separate. To Peter Begler’s credit, he did manage to fairly accurately create a dreamscape where nothing truly makes sense and anything can happen, but there were so many ideas crammed into this one book that it started to feel like a bit of a mess after a while.

The main characters were well-written, though they did all come across as a bit older than they were supposed to be. Their guides, Badger and Pinch, were interesting, though we never really got much of a sense of them. Pinch was a former princess who had given up her throne, but that was all we knew of her backstory. Badger had made mistakes in his past which leant him Nightmarish tendencies, but this was never gone into.

For the most part, there was nothing wrong with the writing style, apart from the fact that the dialogue tags often didn’t seem to match what the characters were saying. One example that comes to mind is “‘Glad you’re all right, kid,’  Badger snarled.” Why would he snarl that? It seemed very odd, and there were many similar cases. It’s a tiny thing, but it kept cropping up and pulled me out of the story.

This has the makings of a really good fantasy novel, and it’s possible the target audience will enjoy it more than I did. It didn’t quite do it for me, though.


(Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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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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“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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“Murderer, martyr, monarch, mad.” // Review of “Heartless” by Marissa Meyer

Title: Heartless
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre:
YA/fairytale retelling
Date Read: 30/11/2016 – 06/12/2016
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: 

With it now being about a year since I finished reading the final installment of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I had forgotten just  how much I loved her writing. Heartless certainly reminded me!

Catherine is the daughter of the Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove, and destined to be married to the King of Hearts. All she wants to do is open a bakery with her best friend, Mary Ann. When she falls for the mysterious new court joker, she knows she will put him above everything else, and if the worst happens, she will seek vengeance.

Meyer once again creates a vibrant ensemble cast of characters. Catherine’s journey from idealistic, privileged young girl to cold and hardened Queen of Hearts is a well-written progression, even if towards the end I did want to shake her and tell her that she’s only seventeen and new love will come her way.

really loved Jest as a love interest, mostly because he’s not that entitled douchebag of a love interest that seems so popular in today’s YA fiction. While his origins are mysterious (we learn more about him as the book goes on and he starts being more honest with Cath), he comes to genuinely care for Cath. While their romance was over-the-top in that way that teenagers are always over-the-top about that sort of thing, insofar as this is a teenage romance we’re reading, it read and developed really well (even if it is in a similar vein to Romeo and Juliet in terms of heaps of passion in a short amount of time all ending in tears).

The side characters are all well-drawn, even if I do want to shake them. The King is bumbling and shy, Cath’s parents are well-intentioned but frustrating. Hatta, a colleague of Jest’s who you may have guessed is the precursor the Mad Hatter, was a particular favourite, along with Jest’s Raven, who speaks in rhyme in the same meter as Edgar Allan Poe’s (in fact, in her author’s note, Marissa Meyer says she likes to think that this Raven is the one from the poem, and I’m very happy to roll with that).

The world-building is simple, but effective, and Meyer works in many references to Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The plot ducks and weaves, and there was a period in the middle where I thought it started meandering a bit, but as with the Lunar Chronicles, everything ties up very cleverly in the end. And when I say “cleverly” I mean, everything falls apart and the ending will leave you feeling like you were punched in the gut, but…

I had high hopes for this book because I find it so hard to find any Alice in Wonderland-inspired books that I actually like. I really hope more writers take a leaf out of Marissa Meyer’s book, rather than trying to do the whole “quirky teenager finds out she is the descendant of Alice Liddell”-type story. This one really worked!


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#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 06 April, 2016

First of all, thank you to those who stopped by on Saturday and helped me celebrate the release of A More Complicated Fairytale! I’ve put a link to the GoodReads and Amazon pages in the sidebar there so you won’t have to hear me banging on about it all the time in the future.

wednesdaybannerNow it’s Wednesday, and that means a WIPpet. Where we left off last week, Ginny was being threatened by a scary man who spoke a different language. She’s now been carted off by him and discovered that he and his cronies have a whole bunch of Nardowyn folk that they’ve taken prisoner for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Now I have ten sentences (6th of the month plus 4th month) following on from there:

They walked for a long time, before emerging out of the forest. Ginny looked around. It was like they had left the city all together. There were buildings around, but they were all single-storey, and not crammed side-by-side the way the ones Ginny and her family lived in.

A wagon with two horses hitched up was waiting between the edge of the forest and the closest path. Three other horses were tethered nearby. The captives were rounded up the stairs and inside the wagon, and then the door was slammed and locked from the outside. Heavy footsteps could be heard crunching away from the wagon. Ginny wasn’t sure but she had wondered if the building they were behind was some sort of inn. Were they to be left here in the cramped space while their captors went drinking?

If you’re unfamiliar with WIPpet Wednesday and are curious, it’s a blog hop we writer types do each week, in which we share snippets from our WIP that somehow relate to the date. I shared six sentences by adding the two and the four of 24 together. You can find our linky by clicking the blue link to the right. This might be my last WIPpet Wednesday for a while. I have three WIPs all in various states of completion, and I have decided for the next little while I’m going to focus on ironing out the kinks, figuring out how they end, and just generally planning in more detail.

Next up is WWW Wednesday, a blog hop in which we answer questions about what we’ve been reading this past week. This is hosted by Sam over at A World of Words. You can join in by commenting on today’s post over on her blog.

  • What are you currently reading?

wwwwednesday

I’ve started Air Awakens, which I think Kay mentioned on a couple of WWW posts. The main character is a library apprentice, which I figure is close enough to librarian for me to use it for the “a book where the main character has the same profession as you” prompt on my 2016 reading challenge. So far it’s not too bad, though the MC does read a bit more like a 15/16-year-old than an 18-year-old. That’s okay though.

  • What have you recently finished reading?

Captive Prince: Volume 1 by C. S. Pacat. Yeaaaaahnope. I was not a fan. This is my (ranty and spoilery and triggery) review.

After that, I read The Black Orchid by Celine Jeanjean, with which I had a much better experience. This is the second in the Viper and the Urchin series. I maybe didn’t love it quiiiiiiiiiiite as much as the first one, but I think it would be an impossible task for an author to write two books in a row that I loved as much as I loved the first one. My review of The Black Orchid goes up this Friday; in the meantime you can read my review of Book 1 here.

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I keep saying The Bloodshade Encounters/The Songspinner by K. C. Finn but I think at the moment I’m more in the mood for something like A Stolen Kiss by Kelsey Keating, which I got from NetGalley and which sounds nice and lighthearted. But we’ll see what the week brings.

That’s it from me for this week.

~ Emily

#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 30 March, 2016

Hey, guys! Hope you’re having a good week so far! This is just another reminder that A More Complicated Fairytale will be released this Saturday. If you have a Kindle/use a Kindle app, you can pre-order it here. You can also shelve it on GoodReads.

First up on today’s post WWW Wednesday, a blog hop in which we answer questions about what we’ve been reading this past week. This is hosted by Sam over at A World of Words. You can join in by commenting on today’s post over on her blog.

  • What are you currently reading?

wwwwednesday

Captive Prince: Volume 1 by C. S. Pacat. This was originally a web serial that was then picked up by publishers. I’m only a couple of chapters in and so far, it’s quite good, though I haven’t got to the rampant sex scenes yet. Of the two heroes, I like one but the other one is the douchebag to rule all douchebags. The reviews keep saying its a testament to the skill of the author that by the end of the book, you sympathise with this character, so I’m curious to see if that happens to me. At the moment, I can’t see any reason for these two guys to fall in love (I’m assuming I haven’t misunderstood and that it’s not all about the sex and violence), so I’m wary.

I’m also listening to the audio of The Knife of Never Letting Go again. It’s fun picking up on things that become important later in the series. “I am the circle and the circle is me” is referenced in Chapter 2, but did any of us pay attention to that then?! I actually don’t know whether I’ll listen to the whole series again, but for now, it’s good being back on New World.

  • What did you recently finish reading?

I finished Chameleon in a Mirror by Ruth Nestvold. I really enjoyed the rich details of the time period that were woven into the book, especially those about how the theatre operated at the time. You can read my review here.

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Either on The Bloodshade Encounters/The Songspinner by K. C. Finn or The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater.

wednesdaybannerNext up is WIPpet Wednesday, a blog hop we writer types do each week, in which we share snippets from our WIP that somehow relate to the date. You can find our linkup by clicking the little blue guy to the right. Today is the 30/3/16, so I’ve subtracted six from 16 and have 10 sentences for you. Ginny has been separated from the people she was with, and is now confronted by a strange man in a forest.

For a long time, they just looked at each other, until another voice from the undergrowth called out in a language Ginny didn’t recognise.

The man in front of her took a step towards her, calling back. The way he kept his eyes fixed on her as he replied made Ginny feel that he was saying something about her to his friend. He continued making his way towards her, and Ginny stood, frozen, letting him get closer. When he was within reaching distance, he reached out and grabbed her by the arm. This jolted her into action, and she tried to wrench her arm free so that she could run, but he was strong, too strong. He pulled her around to face him, and a horrible smile was on his face. He raised his finger to his lips. They may have not spoken the same language, but it was a universal gesture.

Ginny decided to do the opposite of what he said, and opened her mouth and screamed.

That’s it from me for now. Have a great week, everyone!~ Emily