“Every story has four parts – the beginning, the middle, the almost ending, and the true ending.” // Review of “Legendary” by Stephanie Garber

Title: Legendary (Caraval #2)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Genre: 
Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 22/10/18 – 2910/18
Rating: 
★★

Review: 

I honestly thought this would be a 4 star read at least, and for the most part it was. It was really only the last few chapters that disappointed me but they left me feeling unsatisfied enough that it brought me overall rating down.

This book picks up pretty much exactly where Caraval leaves off, and follows Tella, who is drawn into a second round of Caraval in order to uphold her end of a deal to find her missing mother. 

I really enjoyed the expansion of this world. We got to see the capital of the country the story takes place in, and I could really picture it. There was also an expansion of the mythology and history, and I really loved how this was woven into the plot, and some of the characters we got to meet as a result. 

Like in the first book, I actually found the game itself a bit dull. The suggestion is that Caraval is usually much more general and it is only the two games described in the book that are tailored to individuals (Scarlett and Tella respectively). Still, it feels a bit of a stretch that so many people would play when there can really only be one winner, since the clues won’t make sense to anyone else. 

I don’t want to give anything away so I’m going to be rather vague about what happened in the end that left me disappointed. It was mostly the revelation of Legend’s identity. It just… didn’t seem epic enough after all the build-up. Some readers will probably find the whole scenario quite romantic, but I just rolled my eyes. 

The very ending was still compelling enough that I want to see the series through, but I can’t say that it is an all-time favourite. 

Book Review: “Unwritten” by Tara Gilboy

Title: Unwritten
Author: Tara Gilboy
Genre: Fantasy
Target age group: Middle-grade
Dates read: 02/10/18 – 10/10/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I think a lot of my issues with this book can be blamed on the fact that I probably don’t enjoy MG fiction  quite as much as I thought I did. I kind of had this idea that I love MG and YA equally, but between this and the last MG book I read, I think I have to re-evaluate that.

None of that is this book’s fault.

Unwritten follows Gracie, a character in an unpublished fantasy story whose family have taken her out into our world to protect her from death at the end of the story. But when a meeting with the story’s author results in the author being pulled into the story world, Gracie and her family and friends have to go back into their world and try to change the story for the better.

I think my main issue was that I never really felt pulled into the story. I always felt a little bit detached. And I am fairly certain that is to do with the issue mentioned prevously. I think that I were ten years old, I would love this story.

It does have a lot to love. I especially liked the way concept of the story pulling on its characters and how Gracie could never be sure if she was doing something because she wanted to or whether the story was pushing her to do it.

There was a good twist that I didn’t see coming, but it seemed so obvious in hindsight (also, I just hardly ever see twists coming).

The theme of forging your own destiny and not letting yourself be misguided did sometimes seem a bit heavy-handed, but I wasn’t sure if that was just me being overly critical. Maybe it wouldn’t seem so obvious to a MG reader? See what I mean about me and books for this age-group having issues at the moment?

Tl;dr, I think this book was a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” and probably your MG reader wil love it. It is defintely an interesting story that I haven’t seen before.


(Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for a free copy of  this book in exchange for a review)

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Book Review: “Claw the System: Poems from the Cat Uprising” by Francesco Marciuliano

Title: Claw the System: Poems from the Cat Uprising
Author: Francesco Marciuliano
Genre: Humour
Target age group:
All
Dates read: 10/01/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

So I’m not really a poetry person, but I had hoped that the humour of this book would overpower this.

Sometimes it did. There were a few poems that made me really laugh out loud and I read a couple of them out loud to my mum.

But some of them felt less like poems and more just like sentences where the writer had pressed the enter key in the middle of sentences and called it a poem. But maybe that’s just me not being a poetry person? I don’t know.

There are some very adorable photos of cats throughout the book. I was also showing those to my mum while I was reading.

I enjoy cats, and I would have one if my partner were not allergic and if we could afford it. But maybe I’m not quite enough of a cat person to fully enjoy this one.


Many thanks to the author, publishers and NetGalley for a free copy of this  book in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: “My Whole Truth” by Mischa Thrace

Title: My Whole Truth
Author: Mischa Thrace
Genre: Contemporary
Target age group:
YA
Dates read: 24/09/18 – 25/09/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This was a fairly good story let down by some rather repetitious storytelling and fairly flat character development.

When Seelie kills a man after he attacks her, she is forced into a trial by media (as well as school population), as well as coming up against the powoerful family of the man she killed. On top of that, her friendship group is changing and she is not sure how she will make it through.

And I’m going to say this, even though some might consider it a spoiler. Others may appreciate the warning. The attack on Seelie does involve her being raped. While this isn’t spoken about for quite a while in the book and I think it is sort of supposed to be a reveal, there are those who might find it triggering to suddenly get to that part of the book.

The thing that  bothered me the most in this book is that when it came to the characters and their relationships,  nothing ever changed. I know that is true to life, sometimes you just don’t get on with someone and that’s that. But in a book, I expect some kind of arc. This bothered me particularly when it came to the relationship between Seelie and her mother. I wouldn’t have minded whether they reconciled their differences a bit, or if Seelie had moved out in a huff, but it was just the same the whole book. There was also something that was revealed about one of her friends, and it never really came to much. I thought he was lucky that the rest of their group still considered him a friend at all, but instead, he kept expecting things of them.

I did really enjoy the relationship between Seelie and her best friend, Lyssa. Seelie’s crush on Lyssa wasn’t over-dramatic, but her fears about making a move and ruining the dynamic of their group rang true. I  also liked the relationship that burgeoned between Seelie and her lawyer, Cara. At first, Seelie isn’t sure what to expect of a lawyer in her 20s who has a matching pair of heels for every outfit, but they develop a bond which turns into friendship after the trial.

Plot-wise, I thought this was a realistic depiction of the aftermath of such an assault. Things like a condition of bail being that Seelie return to school once her injuries have healed, even though everyone at school calls her a murderer, seemed especially likely.  I did feel like there was some filler in there that could have been left out. The narration inside Seelie’s head often felt quite repetitive. Again, I’ve no doubt someone in Seelie’s situation would honestly have thoughts going around and around in circles, but it is not engaging for the reader.

Still, I think its valuable that these types of stories are beginning to be told more often, and I am grateful to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with a copy of this one.


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“I love you, Tella.” “I know. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.” // Review of “Caraval” by Stephanie Garber

Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Young adult
Date Read: 17/09/18 – 21/09/18
Rating: 
★★

Review:

I decided to pick up this book because I was in a circus mood for quite a while and this seemed an obvious choice. It wasn’t terrible, and I liked a lot of the ideas, but I ultimately felt everything was just a bit underdeveloped.

I’m going to start with the romance because that was probably the thing that stood out the most to me and not in a great way. Mostly because it only took place over five days, and I’m sorry, it’s not true love after a week. I’m not saying you can’t be attracted to someone in that time, but from Julien’s perspective, particularly, it wasn’t enugh time for such strong feelings to develop. And from Scarlett’s perspective, I didn’t buy that he was as important to her as her beloved sister after only a few nights.

Speaking of the characters in more general terms, I didn’t feel like they had a whole lot of personality. I will say I did like Scarlett’s development from doormat to… well, I won’t say she became badass, but she definitely became less doormat-y and grew into her own.

The plot and world-building had similar issues. I just wished everything was a bit… more. A bit more magic, a bit more exploration of the island, a bit more explanation of who Legend was and how and why Caraval was the way it was… There was a line in the last third that said something along the lines of “Scarlett had been collecting buttons since she’d been here” and my first response was “… had she?” Because nothing was memorable.

I also had some issues with the reveals in the final chapter. I know we were supposed to think the character orchestrating everything was terribly clever, but… it seemed far-fetched, and honestly made this character seem like a bit of a psycopath to put Scarlett through it all?

Having said all of that! I actually am still intrigued enough by this world that I am interested in reading the sequel. So make of that what you will.


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Book Review: “Loch of the Dead” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: Loch of the Dead (Frey & McGray #4)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Target age group: Adult
Dates read: 11/07/18 – 04/08/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I thought I’d lost interest in this series by about a third of the way through this book. I actually DNFed it at first, before realising that I did actually want to know how it ended, I just didn’t have the patience to listen to the audio book anymore. I still think the first two books in the series are the best, but I did find this an addictive race to the finish line, and definitely an improvement on the third book.

This fourth installment in the series sees Frey & McGray travel to the very north of Scotland, where McGray has been promised access to a potential cure for his sister in exchange for helping when a young boy is threatened.

The format in this book changed once again: while most of it was still in first person from Frey’s perspective, there were some chapters from McGray’s. These were in third person, and I didn’t always realise that the change had happened, so I got pulled out of the story when I suddenly realised the tone was a bit different and Frey wasn’t actually there. As I said in the previous book, my favourite part of this series is the Frey and McGray banter, and when they spend so much of an investigation apart that McGray needs his own chapters, that means the banter is probably not happening.

There were some great moments throughout the book, some that made me laugh out loud (it’s always wonderful when McGray witnesses Frey making a fool of himself), and the climax definitely had me turning the pages rapidly and staying up late to finish. I did think that the eventual villains of the piece were a bit cartoonish and over the top, but it did make for an exciting finish.

This is all there is of the Frey & McGray series for now, but I will definitely pick up any further instalments de  Muriel chooses to write.


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“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life.” // Review of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Author: Mark Haddon
Genre: contemporary
Target age group:
YA
Dates read: 19/07/18 – 21/07/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I had intended to read this book  before I saw the stage show earlier this month, but as usual, time got away from me. It turns out the stage show is very faithful to the book, so I knew exactly what was coming the whole time I was reading, but it was still a very enjoyable read.

Curious Incident is something of a “spokesbook” for neuro-divergence, which is a shame, as it only represents one particular experience. As far as I an understand, though, it does a great job of representing this particular experience.

The pacing of the book is speedy due to the run-on nature of the narration and even though Christopher can somtimes feel hard to connect to, I was still rooting for him as he investigated the death of Wellington and the other mysteries in his life that he unconvered.

I also think it’s hats off to Mark Haddon that even through Christopher’s very objective and perhaps disconnected view of the world, we still got enough of a sense of the people around him to really care about them as characters, too. Christopher’s neuro-divergence presents its challenges to his parents and those who meet him on a more casual basis, but it was touching to see the way many people really wanted to help him navigate the world, just as it was frustrating to see those who didn’t know and didn’t try to understand.

It’s likely that the unusual style of Curious Incident will put some readers off, but I do encourage you to give it a try. It’s a different book, but I think it is also eye-opening and interesting and worthy of attention.


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Book Review: “A Mask of Shadows” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: A Mask of Shadows (Frey & McGray #3)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Target age group: Adult
Dates read: 28/06/18 – 11/07/18
Rating: ★★

Review:

After thoroughly enjoying the first two Frey & McGray books, I was excited to start the next one . Sadly, as you can see from my rating, this one was rather disappointing in comparison.

Oscar de Muriel experiments with his form a bit in this book, and I didn’t think it really worked. Or maybe I’m just resistant to change Rather than just being a straight narrative, this book was in the form of a police report compiled at the end of an investigation. Alongside the usual first person narrative from Frey’s perspective, we also have fragments of Bram Stoker’s (yes, that Bram Stoker, more on that below) journal and letter fragments recovered at one point in the investigation, placed throughout the narrative, ostensibly where Frey thought they best fit.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous reviews, one of the things that makes this series so enjoyable is the relationship between Frey and McGray. In this one, they spent far less time together, so there was so little delightful banter. When it did happen, it was great, but I wanted more. Much of the narrative in this book was just the two policemen interviewing suspects, and then re-interviewing them when someone else brings a new fact to life. By the time the culprit was revealed around the 85% mark, I was just plain bored.

One thing I have noticed in both the previous books, and again in this one, is that there aren’t many likeable female characters, which is a bit disappointing. I think the issue probably stood out more to me this time because I wasn’t enjoying the things that usually make up for it.

To be fair, de Muriel’s historical detail was meticulous. The book centres around the real life production of Macbeth mounted by the celebrated Henry Irving, and Irving, his leading lady, Ellen Terry, and their theatre manager and later author, Bram Stoker,  all feature prominently as characters. While the mystery is fabricated, of course, de Muriel had to invent very little about the historical figures themselves in order to weave the narrative around them. I found myself pausing the audio book to look up Wikipedia articles or YouTube videos about them to learn more.

Fortunately, I’ve seen some reviews from others who thought this book a bit lacklustre who assure me that the fourth installment is back to the standard of the first two. I have already listened to the first twenty minutes and it’s definitely a promising start, so I think this one was just an anomoly.

You can read my review of the first book in the Frey and McGray series, The Strings of Murder, here, and the second, A Fever of the Blood, here.


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Book Review: “Orphan Monster Spy” by Matt Killeen

Title: Orphan Monster Spy
Author: Matt Killeen
Genre: historical fiction
Target age-group: YA
Dates read: 12/06/18 – 20/06/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book had quite an interesting premise, but unfortunately the writing style prevented me from getting really invested.

Sarah is a Jew, despite inheriting her German father’s blond hair and blue eyes. After her mother dies, she is recruited by Captain Flynn, a British spy, to infiltrate an elite boarding school for the daughters of high-profile Nazis and steal the plans of a Nazi scientist.

The main reason I couldn’t get more into this story was the writing style felt very detached. Things were happening, but I felt a bit on the outside. I don’t know if this was a deliberate choice on the part of the author or just my own reading experience, but it made it hard to really get invested in Sarah.

There were also German words peppered throughout, particularly in the dialogue. I think this was probably supposed to immerse me in the setting more, but since I had to look up most of them on Google Translate, it pulled me out of the story. Technically, everything  the characters were saying was “in German”, even though I was reading it in English, so it didn’t really make sense to then actually have German words in there.

Still, the plot has a good basis in historical fact, and I think Matt Killeen did a good job of taking the history and crafting it into an interesting story. While I wasn’t that into it, I could still tell that the plot was building, and it does have a solid climax. I think the right reader will really enjoy it.

One last thing, and that’s  a content warning: there is a character who is a sexual predator, and having tired of his daughter, preys on other young girls. While this is kind of a spoiler, I guess, I know that there will be some readers who would prefer to know this before starting, and perhaps avoid.


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Book Review: “A Fever of the Blood” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: A Fever of the Blood (Frey & McGray #2)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Dates read: 14/06/18 – 22/06/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book was just as fun as the last one, and de Muriel continues to build on the characters that he introduced us to in The Strings of Murder. Andy Secombe’s narration also continues to be incredibly entertaining.

The plot is well-paced, with some great action scenes that were particularly exciting in the audio book. I thought at one point I must have reached the climax, only to realise I was only at 65%. The actual climax actually did build from there, and the situation for many of the characters was difficult to guess, which kept me hooked.

The relationship between Frey and McGrey was once again the highlight. There is plenty of the banter that came out in book one, but there is also genuine conflict which I expect will play a part in the subsequent books.

Having said that, I did have a few criticisms. I felt this installment was a bit more reactive than the previous one. There were fewer clues for the detectives to follow; instead, a lot of the plot relied on them simply ending up in certain places at the right time. I also found that the antagonists who show up at about the 70% mark bordered on the comical and cartoonish at times.

Still, that can all be forgiven in the name of fun and entertainment. I am waiting to get my hands on the third audio book, which I hope is up to the same standard.

You can read my review of the first book in the Frey and McGray series, The Strings of Murder, here.


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