Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Tunnel Of Bones – Victoria Schwab

“You are my best friend. In life, in death, and everything else in between.”

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Blurb: “Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual. She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.”

The sequel to City Of Ghosts sees protagonist Cassidy Blake doing more ghost hunting, but this time things are getting even more dangerous. The series as a whole gives me immense Coraline vibes and does a fantastic job of balancing the mystery and downright creepiness of the situations. Unlike its predecessor, Tunnel Of Bones takes place in Paris which feels like a breath of fresh air, and also opens up ghostly happenings to the rest of the world which I only hope continues with future books.

Victoria Schwab has a fantastic talent for descriptions and visuals. She weaves aspects together in such a way where they are detailed, unique and incredibly distinctive. Everything just clicks together and fits perfectly.

Of course, every book needs a menace to overthrow and in this one, it’s a pretty nasty poltergeist. The mystery and tension around him is unbearable at many points and he defies everything that both Cassidy and the reader has learned about how the veil world works so far.

The absolute gem of this story is Cassidy and Jacob’s relationship and how it continues to grow and flourish. Their lives are so woven and interconnected and I have so many fears for the future. But for now, I will enjoy the wonders of their friendship.

Tunnel Of Bones shows that Victoria Schwab continues to grow as an author and is one that we are very, very lucky to have.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Infinity Son – Adam Silvera

“I’m dead set on living my one life right now, but I can’t say the same for my brother.”

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Blurb: “Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures. Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day. Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.”

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Adam Silvera has always been a hit and miss author for me. I tend to find that I really love his ideas but the execution falls a little short. However, when I heard that his new book was not going to be a contemporary but in fact was a YA fantasy, I was really intrigued to see with what he’d come up with. Adam talks in the introduction of this book about his experiences with fantasy and gay fiction growing up and how it was something that he never really saw representation until he came across City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare. It made him realise those kinds of stories can be published and began working on his own. Initially, the heroes in this book were heterosexuals and changed to gay leads later on.

Emil and Brighton are brothers but totally different. Brighton is famous online and wants to be a celestial whereas Emil wants to live the most boring and mundane life possible. This world is made up of specters, celestials and spell walkers but there’s not much distinctive explanation given to fully understand what makes them different. With the main characters already existing in this world, daily things are told through dialogue more as a “you already know this” than a “we need to explain this to you and therefore the reader.” Emil is a gay teen but the nice thing to see is that it’s more a footnote in the wider story. While coming out stories are incredibly important, the ones where those characters just exist alongside their sexuality are equally important; especially in fantasy where diversity is sometimes lacking.

It’s multiple perspective which at times I felt was detrimental to the story. I wanted to learn more about Emil and Brighton in their little duo and the breaks away from them were sometimes jarring and done so to flesh out another part of the world.

The story is set as if this is in modern day so technology is used to capture footage of the magical beings and often swung a certain way to feed the agenda of respective sides. Interesting world building in a political sense but just wish the finer details of magic were explained a bit better. There’s a lot of “it’s not like that” at story clichés that end up being true such as the chosen one. It reminded me of how in movies they’d go “this isn’t a movie.” A small niggle but it felt like an attempt to distance itself from stories that existed within the world to try and make it more real and its own entity. 

The ending of this book was truly incredible and has me gasping that I have to wait even longer to find out what happens next. Adam Silvera’s first fantasy book is a triumph and I look forward to seeing him grow over the series in this new genre.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Unbound – Victoria Schwab

“I am Mackenzie Bishop. I am a keeper for the archive and I am the one who goes bump in the night, not the one who slips. I am the girl of steel, and this is all a bad dream.”

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Blurb: “Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she’s struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn’t easy — not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she’s really safe.”

The sequel to The Archived sees Mackenzie Bishop is experiencing PTSD from the events in the previous book. She starts blacking out for significant periods of time and has to balance the job of being a keeper alongside going to school.

The same time flashes continue in this book, giving the reader further insight into Mackenzie’s relationship with her grandfather which keeps him present and reinforces the ideals he taught the protagonist. Wesley continues to be prominent and provides that outlet for Mackenzie to open herself up to and support her with the growing demands of being a keeper.

As always with Schwab’s books, there’s a big mystery and dangerous things to deal with which keeps the reader on their toes. No matter how many times I feel like I’ve worked out the big reveal, I’m surprised by the end result and that’s the magic that keeps my love for this author’s work alive.

The Unbound doesn’t shy away from the mental strain Mackenzie is going through. Alongside the trauma, she is trying to live a normal life. The pressure and tension build as she is nowhere near a door to the narrows while at school, and given the amount of time she spends there, the names on her list keep growing faster than she can take them out. It feels as if everything is building to the point of explosion and Schwab carries this through expertly.

While this book has many threads that I love about Schwab’s stories but compared to its predecessor, it falls a little flat. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that the world opens up but only follows Mackenzie. With no other perspectives to veer off to, it feels like the space is too big for the story its trying to tell.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Archived – Victoria Schwab

“This summer when I tell you I can’t see anything, you just shrug and light another cigarette, and go back to telling stories. Stories about winding halls, and invisible doors, and places where the dead are kept like books on shelves. Each time you finish a story, you make me tell it back to you, as if you’re afraid I will never forget. I never do.”

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Blurb: “Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.”

Note: I read the two-in-one The Dark Vault edition of this book, but for the sake of keeping these posts relatively short, I will be reviewing the books separately rather than the collection as a whole.

I have come to love Victoria Schwab and her books in a great many ways. Every single book she releases feels like something that has never been seen before and it’s always executed in such a way that only she could do by putting pen to paper. The Archived – republished in a collection- is one of her earlier books that sadly led to a painful situation for Schwab. However, given her ever growing success it appears all her seemingly “lost” books are getting a second chance. Which is great for people like me who will happily bite off the hand of anyone who offers new stories from this author.

Victoria Schwab’s stories always have a darkness to them. Naturally the kind that is in your face, but also the more decrete kind where something… just something… feels a little bit off, and it’s equal parts awe inspiring and terrifying. Her world building is exquisite and readers are introduced to three “worlds” within this universe: the “outer” which is the regular world, the “archive” where the Histories are stored, and the “narrows”, the place where the Histories – bodies returning to the dead- manage to escape to; it’s basically a bridge between the outer and the narrows.

Mackenzie is a character that very much has a lot of weight on her shoulders. She’s reeling from the death of her brother and is struggling to deal with the influx of Histories she has to return to the archived as it’s the secret job she took on after the passing of her grandfather. She’s self-assured, bad ass, snarky, everything you really want in a female protagonist but also she has that emotional depth that really rounds her out. When she meets Wesley, another with access to her secret world, the reader sees her enter a new dynamic where she has to consider letting her guard down for the firs time in a long while. I loved seeing their bond build and how Wesley was very much there to support Mackenzie rather than take the spotlight away from her, or imply she wasn’t up to the work they were doing.

There’s an element of mystery and investigation woven through this story which keeps it exciting at every single turn. The narrative flicks between the present and the past which showcases the relationship between Mackenzie and her grandfather. Also, the balance between time spent in each world is perfect and prevents any lulls from happening. I was hooked the whole way through.

The Archived is part of a long list of books from Victoria Schwab that are utterly incredible and I will never ever tire of her work.

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Posted in fantasy, lgbt, review, young adult

The Red Scrolls Of Magic – Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu

“It’s a classic love story. I hit on him at a party, he asked me out, then we fought an epic magical battle between good and evil side by side, and now we need a vacation.”

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Blurb: “All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke. Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage.”

There have been many times where I have expressed my distaste for authors who put out endless books, adding aspects to a universe that don’t really need it. But when it comes to Cassandra Clare, quite frankly I’m a hypocrite. When I heard the news that a brand new series following Magnus Bane, Alec Lightwood and their disappearance during City Of Fallen Angels I knew I was going to devour it.

As always, there’s enough room to enter the Shadowhunter world without prior knowledge as little kernels are scattered throughout to explain who characters are, but I feel that if you haven’t at least read The Mortal Instruments series that not only are you going to be spoiled for events from it, but you also miss out on that emotional weight of what has happened and how it affects the current timeline.

In the acknowledgements, Cassandra Clare talks about how her books (in particular The Bane Chronicles) have been banned from LGBT themes and how her friends found few books growing up where their sexuality was represented. This led her to make the character of Magnus Bane so unapolegetically open of his relationships with both men and women. Magnus Bane was the first bisexual character I came across in literally, at a time when I wasn’t really open myself, and seeing him embrace himself and the fact he openly talked about his male/female relationships meant so much to me.

The Red Scrolls Of Magic sees Magnus and Alec attempt to take their first romantic vacation together. It feels so relatable in the sense of an early relationship as the duo are new and only just starting to work each other out without scaring the other off. Alec comes from a repressed society where being gay is enough to get a Shadowhunter stripped of their runes, while Magnus is incredibly flamboyant and would quite literally give Alec the entire world if he could figure out exactly how to do that. Of course, this is a Shadowhunter story so things do not go to plan.

One thing I love about Cassandra Clare’s books is that you can never predict where the plot is going to lead. Every time a building exploded or a demon appeared I was freaking out because I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. On top of all of this, there’s the rise of a demon worshipping cult known as The Crimson Hand and all roads seem to leave to Magnus. It’s basically romance, action, and an investigation all wrapped up in one book and it works so well.

The only real issue I had with this book is that it’s cowritten in a way where it’s entirely obvious which author wrote these parts. There’s a lot of sections where the grammar is really sloppy and I’m not sure how that was missed in editing, and the way some things are phrased was really jarring and took me out of the story for a moment.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book and I came out the other end having an even bigger love for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood than I ever did before.

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Posted in fantasy, review, Uncategorized

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them – Newt Scamander (J.K.Rowling)

“I would like to take this opportunity to reassure Muggle purchasers that the amusing creatures described hereafter are fictional and cannot hurt you.”

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Blurb: “An approved textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander’s masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensable introduction to the magical beasts of the Wizarding World. Scamander’s years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail … Others will surprise even the most ardent amateur Magizoologist.”

I originally read Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them when it initially came out several years ago, back when I would happily devour anything else Potter related that I could get my hands on. I still remember the wonder and excitement this tiny book brought me. Now, in the midst of a movie franchise of the same name, it felt like the right time to revisit it.

I chose to experience this book through the audiobook because Eddie Redmayne (who famously plays Newt Scamander) is the narrator. It was honestly the best decision I could have made. He is familiar with the character and therefore able to add the magic and brilliance that Potter fans will be familiar with seeing on screen. When he talked about the beasts in detail I felt almost like I was in a classroom listening to Newt as the teacher. In addition to this, the audiobook features lots of animal calls and atmospheric sounds that do a fantastic job of immersing the reader in the history of various beasts. I felt closer to the Potter series than I have in a long time.

The book features an updated introduction from Newt Scamander and filters in aspects from the movie and its timeline, making it feel more current than the previous edition. The rest is basically an A-Z of beasts featuring facts about them along with an “egg rating” of danger which I really loved because a 1 egg rating simply meant the creature was “boring.”

It was fascinating to be reminded of just how much exists in the Potter universe that we are familiar with, but also are still yet to see.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson & The Sea Of Monsters – Rick Riordan

“Family are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse… and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

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Blurb: “Starring Percy Jackson, a “half blood” whose mother is human and whose father is the God of the Sea, Riordan’s series combines cliffhanger adventure and Greek mythology lessons that results in true page-turners that get better with each installment. In this episode, The Sea of Monsters, Percy sets out to retrieve the Golden Fleece before his summer camp is destroyed, surpassing the first book’s drama and setting the stage for more thrills to come.”

The Percy Jackson series is one that I’ve gone back and forth on for the longest time because my knowledge of Greek mythology is limited very much to musical numbers from Disney’s Hercules. Just over a year ago I listened to the first installment on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. So it feels only right to finally make my way back to this world under the same format.

It’s not often in these kind of stories that the protagonist becomes my favourite characters, but I absolutely adore Percy. He has the right kind of fight and stepping up to the legacy of his father who is a literal Greek god, along with having these perfect moments of sarcasm when he finds himself in ridiculous situations. I think a lot of this has to do with Jesse Bernstein’s narrations which really do wonders for bringing him to life.

I continue to marvel at the way this world has started to branch out and flesh out the surrounding characters while also giving Percy that room to feel a little lost: he may know who his father is now, but that doesn’t mean his father wants to be around him. When Percy has the opportunity to solve the problems in Camp Half Blood by going on a quest to the sea of monsters, of course he puts himself forward for it. Naturally, any place called the “sea of monsters” is not a fun walk in the park and I loved seeing all the different threads that Rick Riordan filtered into this story.

I loved seeing the alliances start to build and the rivalries that I can see causing a lot of problem in the future books as everyone was trying to track down this fleece that could restore Camp Half Blood to its former glory.

The only part where I really struggle with these books is my lack of knowledge when it comes to Greek mythology. While brief explanations are given, I still find it hard to keep track of everything. I also feel that if I knew a lot about the subject I would get a lot more out of this series. However, that doesn’t stop me finding this world compelling enough to venture on, no matter how scared I am about what might be waiting around the corner.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Every Heart A Doorway – Seanan McGuire

“Hope means you keep on holding to things that won’t ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there’s nothing left.”

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Blurb:”Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.”

Nancy is one of many children who have opened up doors and found themselves in another world. After being spat out out of a universe in which death surrounds her, she is now expected to return to life as normal and forget everything she uncovered. Sadly, it’s not that easy and her parents ship her off to the Wayward Home for Children; which is basically a sanatorium for girls in similar situations.

Every Heart A Doorway has incredible set up and the information being delivered through dialogue not only prevents heavy exposition dumps, but gives room for readers to feel out this new place along with the protagonist. As children start to turn up dead I was just hooked on all the possible ways this story could go. It does have very gory moments that feel played up very much for shock value until the threads start to tie together and the relevance of the horror emerges.

This book gave me serious Coraline and Miss Peregrine vibes because every girl in the home is adapting to the “real world” again after coming back from a door, and it had this creepy air of mystery and dark magic to it.

The only grievance I really had was that the story is too short. It feels almost like a short story than a full length book and it reached its peak just as it ended. I would have liked more time to flesh out the surrounding characters and learn more about them as the ones that were given backstories were super interesting.

Every Heart A Doorway is equal parts creepy and intriguing but will keep you in its clutches until the final page.

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Posted in adult fiction, fantasy, review

Vicious – V.E.Schwab

“There are no good men in this game.”

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Blurb:”Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick,an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will.”

Trigger warnings: Death, suicide attempts, talks of suicide, and self-harm.

If you’ve been following me at all, you’re probably aware of how much I adore V.E.Schwab and, therefore, it’s not at all surprising to see yet another review of one of her books popping up on my blog. However, this comes with its own confusing story: somehow among all the excitement of hearing about the various projects Schwab is working on, I got it into my head that Vengeful was the start of a new series. Turns out it’s a sequel and I discovered this on release day. So, I’ve had to do some backtracking.

Vicious has one of the best openings to a book that I’ve ever read. The reader is introduced to Victor Vale, one of the protagonists, as he traipses through a graveyard and begins to dig up a plot. The story then flits around present and the past (ten years ago) building up the picture of Victor and his friendship with Eli Ever in college. Victor was fascinated by the “fight or flight” nature humans have, while Eli had expressed the interest in ExtraOrdinaries; people with powers. The balance in this aspect is perfect. You’re given just enough background scenes to satisfy the burning questions but not enough that you ever have the full picture, and yet you can still feel grounded and understand character motivations. Victor Vale wants revenge on Eli, Eli is killing ExtraOrdinaries and making himself look like a hero.

I ended up loving the side characters more than I planned to. One of Victor’s “strays” (as he calls them) is a girl called Sydney who survived being shot. She has a sub storyline going on with her sister which, in a lot of ways, mirrors the events of Victor and Eli. I found her o fascinating and only wish maybe she’d been fleshed out even more but I appreciate the focus naturally being more on the protagonists of the story.

I was not prepared for how dark Vicious was going to be. It’s violent, dark and gritty, and is basically a tale of two friends-turned-enemies that are trying to one-up each other with dangerous consequences.  It’s the first story where I was actually rooting for no one to win but it had me hooked from start to finish.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Witch’s Tears – Katharine & Liz Corr

“There was a photo of Merry and her brother on her bedside table. In the photo, Leo was smiling. She tried-failed to recall the last time she’d seen him look that happy. Today was the first morning of the summer holidays. But the brighter the sunshine, the more they both seemed to be lost in the shadow.”

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Blurb: “It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Just ask Merry. She’s drowning in textbooks and rules set by the coven; drowning in heartbreak after the loss of Jack. But Merry’s not the only one whose fairy tale is over. Big brother Leo is falling apart and everything Merry does seems to push him further to the brink. And everything that happens to Leo makes her ache for revenge. So when strangers offering friendship show them a different path they’d be mad not to take it…”

After reading The Witch’s Kiss, I knew that I had to jump into the next book immediately, and thankfully I was smart enough to buy the whole series because I was that sure I’d love it.

The Witch’s Kiss takes place shortly after the events of the previous book and the emotions are still raw. Merry and her brother, Leo, become divided as they try to process what happened: Merry is embracing her powers and getting trained by the coven and her Grandma, while Leo – who has become resentful of witches – is mourning the loss of someone close to him and starting to explore his sexuality more. This book is a slow burn as it focuses more on shaping the characters and feeling into their development than overwhelming the reader with plot and not giving the characters that much needed time to recover. In fact, this book isn’t what I expected at all and that is a good thing. I feel like I left the reading experience knowing much more about the characters and how their minds work and feel closer to them for it.

As the story muddles through the recovery process, Leo meets a wizard called Ronan who he feels connected to and begins to explore the possibility of a romantic relationship. Merry is naturally suspicious which only furthers the gap between them. He was a really interesting addition to the series and gave me certain vibes and had me almost giving the side-eye as I continued through the plot. However, it was nice to see someone appearing to care about Leo and take the time to get to know him.

When witches begin to disappear without a trace and it appears to mimic something that’s happened before, the plot takes a direction I never could have prepared myself for. Katharine and Liz Corr do a fantastic job of planting the little seeds along the way in those quieter moments to the point where the story hits its climax and I was left cursing myself for not working things out sooner.

The Witch’s Kiss is a fantastic sequel and I cannot wait to dive into the next one.

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