Posted in Audiobook Of The Month, fantasy, young adult

Audiobook Of The Month | Lady Midnight

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I’m sure every reader on the planet has heard about Cassandra Clare, let alone The Dark Artifices series, but here I am spending the month of October venturing into a reread in preparation for the finale in December.

Lady Midnight is the first installment in The Dark Artifices series and set a few years after the events that took place in the hugely popular The Mortal Instruments which has been made both into a TV show and a movie.

The book focuses on a young shadowhunter Emma Carstairs who is trying to uncover the secrets behind her parents mysterious deaths and seek vengeance upon those responsible, with the help of her Parabatai Julian Blackthorn.

Cassandra Clare made a big point with this new series that it intended to be an entryway to the world for new readers. While that is nice in theory, Clare consistently adds characters of plot elements that tie every one of her books together (for example, if you haven’t read The Mortal Instruments you’re instantly spoiled for the ending in the first twenty pages of Lady Midnight). While I loved this book when I first read it, the constant heads to the other series really took me out of the experience because, to frequent readers, this book is mostly just recap. But, if it was a new reader approaching it, then it’s absolutely necessary.

I’m enjoying seeing the relationship dynamics play out and the story is starting to get going now. I’m 35% through at the time of writing this post.

Have you read Lady Midnight?

What did you think?

Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Caraval – Stephanie Garber

“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in the world.”

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Blurb: “Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show. Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father. When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

I’ve heard a lot about Caraval since its release but, while the kind of genre I would eat up in a heartbeat, seeing the many mixed reviews put me off delving in. It was only after listening to Stephanie Garber’s interview on the 88 Cups Of Tea podcast that I decided to finally give the book a go.

I will be truthful, as that is a fundamental part of being a reviewer. I found it incredibly difficult to get into the first half of this book. I didn’t connect to any of the characters so it was hard for me to really root for them. Even when the main crux – Tella’s kidnapping for the game – becomes apparent, I didn’t really miss Tella at all. I contemplated putting down the book several times but kept pushing forward because I know so many people who deeply love this book and wanted to understand why. The second half is infinitely better as the pieces of the puzzle start to slot together.

I really loved the letters at the start of book which convey to the reader just how many years Scarlett has spent dreaming about going to Caraval. Her invitation comes at a pivotal moment; when she is just about to get married to her anonymous suitor. When she finally gets there, it reminds me a lot of Coraline in the sense that everything is not as it seems. What appears magical on the surface is rooted in darkness and it’s impossible to take anything at face value. I found myself cursing at points when Scarlett was tricked by certain characters.

Also, a very small thing but I am a sucker for people having nicknames and I loved every time Julian, the sailor boy who became Scarlett’s teammate, calls Scarlett “Crimson.”

Fundamentally, it’s a detective story, rooted in familial love. Scarlett is looking for her sister and it was interesting to see so many dead ends play out over the course of the story, forcing Scarlett to think harder and really prove how much Tella means to her.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets | Illustrated Edtion – J.k.Rowling & Jim Kay

“The chamber of secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.”

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Blurb: “The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.”

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets has always been a weird book in the series for me: it was the first one I read when I first discovered the series as a child, reading it and not realising it was actually a sequel, but as I’ve grown up, it has firmly become my least favourite in the series. However, like many I’ve found that the illustrated editions have added an extra bit of magic to a much loved series.

In terms of the story itself, I really do appreciate this one for the insights into Hogwarts history. Readers start to learn more about how the magical school came to be and the darkness linked to Slytherin house, along with the very start of how Voldermort started to look into dark magic. It’s also littered with many signs of what is to come in future books.

My favourite characters are Lockhart and Colin Creevey.  Lockhart is the ridiculous extravagant new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher and loves nothing more than talking about himself and all his brilliant accomplishments. One of my favourite scenes is when he sets a test in class which is all about him. Colin Creevey is an excitable first year Gryffindor student, obsessed with the famous Harry Potter. He always seems to pop up at the worst times but I imagine that if I was a character in this world, I’d probably be exactly like him.

In terms of the illustrations, I wasn’t as blown away with the contents like I was with Philosopher’s Stone. I thought it was a clever technique to have some pages black with white text to emphasise the darkness in places like Knockturn Alley but outside of that, I didn’t give the illustrations the attention they truly deserve. It also seemed like there were a lot more pages of just text compared to the last one and I except this will definitely continue and grow as the illustrated version turn on the longer books in the series.

Sadly, this is still my least favourite Potter book, but it doesn’t make it any less magical.

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Posted in fantasy, Rereads, review, young adult

Reread | City Of Bones

“All the stories are true.”

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Blurb: “When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died.”

I’ve rather loudly proclaimed that The Mortal Instruments series is one of my favourites and the release of the 10 year anniversary edition gave me the perfect excuse to pick it up again.

Fifteen-year-old Clary Fray is expectantly thrown into a world of vampires, werewolves and warlocks when she discovers that she can see Shadowhunters – a group of half-human/half-angels who kill demons for a living. Cassandra Clare’s world-building blows my mind as every single detail feels like it has been carefully chosen to make the world seem more substantial. City Of Bones works perfectly as an introduction to this extensive world without leading to the reader being thrown from location to location before having a chance to find their feet.

The writing is not the best; in fact there’s quite a lot of work that needs to be made but it just goes to show how far Cassandra Clare has come in terms of writing style when exploring her latest books. She really is a writer who continues to get better and better with every single book she produces.

I have never been a fan of the protagonist, Clary, and this time was no different. She comes across so whiny and seems to adjust to easily to her life being turned upside down, plus she’s quite horrible to Simon who is supposedly her best friend. This is one of those books where the ensemble of characters are considerably better than the main one such as Jace who is the snarky shadowhunter destined to win reader’s hearts.

What makes me really love this story the concept of a whole other world existing right in front of you, but not knowing it’s there until forced to look at things from a different angle. Clary isn’t whisked off to a magical world like in many other fantasy novels; this underbelly of angels and demons exists right on her doorstep.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

“There it was. The truth she kept squashed down, something she could ignore but never forget. The truth that she and every cursed child knew deep in their bones; had tattooed on their hearts: I am going to die on Eventide night.”

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Blurb: “Enter the Wundrous world of Morrigan Crow and Nevermoor – the most fantastical children’s release of the year.Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears.”

The Trials of Morrigan Crow was, by all accounts, a book I should have loved. It has everything I adore: magical places, clever twists, adventure and competitions. But something didn’t quite gel with me.

Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, blamed for all manner of ridiculous things that happen in her town from the weather to someone making a bad batch of marmalade. As a result of this, her family hates her because they’re constantly forced to pay compensation for Morrigan’s supposed involvement in minor town mishaps. There’s a hilarious scene where Morrigan is forced to write apology letters to everyone she’s wronged in the town.

The first part of this story was so well done as the reader is given enough time to get to know Morrigan, her life and her negative family dynamic before she is whisked off to the magical world of Nevermoor by the mysterious Jupiter North. This whole section was brilliantly action packed and I grew to really love Morrigan as a character. But once the story shifted to Nevemoor, everything came to a screeching halt. Jupiter North simply abandoned Morrigan and took the excitement with him.

I found it very difficult to ground myself in the world and a lot of characters are just thrown at the reader to the point where I found it hard to keep track of who was who. Normally the prospect of trials fills me with glee – it’s a trope I can really get behind – but I didn’t feel it was the best way to explore this brand new world. Towards the end of the book I even started skimming several pages at a time, and often giving side-tracked by something outside of the book, just hoping it would all pick up at the end.

I don’t know if my issues with this stemmed from having read a really good book prior to this and I was in a bit of a slump without realising, but I just didn’t get on with this book like I thought I would.

It seemed to have all the potential and a good start but not enough to power through to the end.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Out Of The Blue – Sophie Cameron

“It was our 9/11, our Princess Diana, our JFK. You’d always remember where you were when you heard about Being No. 1.”

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Blurb: “When the angels start falling from the sky, it seems like the world is ending. Smashing down to Earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted. Not a single one has survived.”

I first became aware of Out Of The Blue when Sophie Cameron was a guest on the weekly Twitter book chat #UKYAChat and was fascinated by the concept. This is a book that captures the reader from the first line, luring them in with little bread crumbs of information building up to the bigger picture.

The protagonist, Jaya, is introduced just as her life is uprooted to Edinburgh for the summer because her father believes that is where the next Being will fall. It was interesting seeing how the world had adapted to these sudden Beings falling from the sky and the various ways individuals reacted made it feel so real; like it could actually happen in our world and this plot is how things would unfold.(My particular favourite was the  angel theme restaurant) I like that there’s no real explanation as to why this suddenly started happening and the readers are really felt to create their own interpretation of what the falls could mean. For example, Jaya links their meaning to the recent death of her Mother.

Through a series of events, Jaya ends up witnessing the fall of a Being that survives and she is forced to hide it from sight, determined to help the creature find a way back home. It was compelling to witness Sophie Cameron weave together a story like this which featured a language barrier and how Jaya was able to build up the Being’s trust despite that block in place. I found it simply hilarious when the Being – soon named Teacake – started to randomly parrot adverts it had heard on the radio.

It’s important to note that Jaya is gay and this isn’t made a big deal of in the story; it’s simply part of her identity. It was interesting to see the parallels between her and her ex (Leah) as it just highlighted the many ways individuals have been affected by the strange phenomenon.

The narrative does lull in the middle as Jaya works out what to do but really picks up in the final third which left me screaming at many pages. Out of The Blue will make readers think about their place in the universe and really how small our lives can be in the grand scheme of things.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Brain Freeze – Tom Fletcher

“I had eaten WAY too much ice cream WAY too fast, and we all know what happens when you do that… BRAIN FREEZE.”

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Blurb: “Izzy’s grandpa was an ice-cream man, and he used to tell the BEST stories. There was the one about giving a 99 Flake to a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt – and another about feeding fab lollies to a hungry T.Rex. But what if they weren’t just stories? What if his blue ice-cream van had a secret magic of its own?”

When I saw that Tom Fletcher was in the line-up for this year’s World Book Day it was an absolute no-brainer that I was going to pick it up. Despite being painfully biased towards this individual, each story he’s churned out has been jam-packed full of such creativity and imagination that I knew Brain Freeze would be no different.

Unlike his previous books, this short story sees the protagonist going off on an adventure solely on their own which I thought was an interesting route to take in this ice cream themed, time travel adventure. But as the story progresses, the reader sees the Brain and Tummy become personified into characters of their own; providing their own form of narrative to push the plot onwards. I found this aspect quite funny as the Brain steers Izzy to where she needed to go (sometimes pointing out the obvious) while all Tummy talked about was… well… food.

Fletcher always adds a bit of depth to his stories, which can sometimes be surprising to see in a story aimed at Children. There’s a very sad element to this story and the route of Izzy’s love for ice cream comes from a place of wanting to keep the memory of a loved one alive; something I think anyone who’s lost someone can relate to. Even in a fun little adventure story, there was that grounding that rounded off Izzy’s character and made her feel real.

As usual, an honourable mention needs to go to Shane Devries who, once again, provided that extra bit of magic and humour with his illustrations.

My only issue with Brain Freeze was more of a personal one. I don’t often read first person books and this was the first of Fletcher’s stories to take that form and I just feel that the story would have worked better in a more aerial view.

Brain Freeze is clever, magical and will leave you hungry for a big bowl of ice cream.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Ash Princess – Laura Sebastian

“You’re a lamb in the lion’s den, child. You’re surviving. Isn’t that enough?”

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Blurb: “Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

It’s a common theme in fantasy to see some sort of an invasion take place, and this book is no different. Ash Princess doesn’t hold back, and it’s brutal to witness. Theo’s home has been taken over, her mother killed, her language stamped out and replaced with that which her invaders brought over. The use of magic stones has been altered, her culture destroyed, the last of her people forced to work until they are driven mad, and she is kept as the prize; paraded in front of court and beaten to prove a point to anyone who dare step out of line. Oh, and she has been forced to answer to a new name: Thora. There were many parts of the book where my heart with in my mouth and it goes all in with the violence, forcing Theo into horrific situations. But I actually quite liked it because it felt like she really had lost anything, unlike other books of the genre that feature this kind of trope.

The world building is incredible. Learning all of the history of Theo’s original culture and seeing how it has changed was so fascinating to read. It just all felt so real.

However, outside of that, I really struggled to finish this book. It was a very predictable read, falling for the love triangle and “try to woo the prince” tropes. I also found the characters to be really bland and the only one who really stood out was the protagonist, Theo, but even then I couldn’t quite work out her character. Minus a particular event that spurs her to seek revenge, she was quite a repressed character and it was like she suddenly flicked the switch and became this individual trying to change her life. I just found myself skim reading quite a lot, desperate to get to the end but not in a good way.

It’s such a shame because the world building and initial start were so strong but everything seemed to fizzle out afterwards.

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Posted in fantasy, review

The Book of Dust – Phillip Pullman

“He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.”

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Blurb: “Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them, a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .”

I have a confession to make: prior to reading La Belle Sauvage, I had never read any of Philip Pullman’s work before. Actually, that’s a small lie. When having a discussion about this book with my mother she told me that we did attempt to listen to the audiobook on a car journey to France once but we ended up swiftly abandoning it because none of us were enjoying it. However, I have no memory of this so let’s pretend I was entirely new to his books.

The story follows a boy called Malcom who is the son of an innkeeper and lives in an alternate Oxford with his daemon Astra and canoe named La Belle Sauvage.  His everyday life is disrupted when a group of strange, important-looking people show up looking for a baby called Lyra.

The great thing about this new series is that you don’t need to have read His Dark Materials in order to fully understand this timeline. Philip Pullman himself has described The Book of Dust as an “equal” as the series will take place before, during and after the events of his previous one. Of course, there are things the reader is more likely to pick up on if they are familiar with His Dark Materials but it’s not a requirement to be entirely in the know. Having said that, I did get confused at some points and found myself looking to the wiki for answers: in one case when the aletiometer was introduced (which I discovered is a “compass-like device” that communicates with dust and can find the truthful answers to questions. Only six exist in this universe).

I loved the idea of everyone having their own daemon and how they were so quick to defend their person and found some of the conversations into dust and identity interesting but these were much more limited than what I had been led to believe by others who had read this book.

The really big problem I had with La Belle Sauvage fell down more to my own expectations. I went into it expecting a big high-fantasy adventure and instead had to sit through a more character-driven, low fantasy, slow burn. There are many action-packed scenes but it really has that feel of being the book to set up the rest of the events to come. I found myself rather impatiently plodding along, and persevered to the end to try and understand why everyone else seemed to be enjoying this book a lot more than me.

Overall, I just found it bland and that none of the characters really stood out despite the situations they were put in. But at least I tried a new author, even if it didn’t quite work out how I hoped it would.

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Posted in adult fiction, fantasy, Rereads, review

A Darker Shade Of Magic (Collector’s Edition) – V.E.Schwab

“Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”

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Blurb: “Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There’s Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There’s Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…”

A Darker Shade of Magic was a book I didn’t expect to fall utterly in love with. While I adore Fantasy – and frequently scrabble for any read with a trace of magic in it- I am very picky when it comes to enjoyment; if it’s too heavy, I simply don’t get on with it. This book has the perfect balance of detail without completely overwhelming the reader and with the release of a new collector’s edition, I was able to revisit the story in a new and exciting way.

Kell continues to be a truly fascinating character; while he can seem reserved and almost disconnected at times, this is counteracted by the lengths he will go to for the people he cares for. When he accidently smuggles a piece of dark magic to another London, it’s impossible not to feel the rising threat following him throughout the tale. Prince Rhy is just as wild and hilarious as I remember and continues to prove why he is my personal favourite. Delilah Bard, the cut-throat thief, really does end up in quite a messy situation after bumping into the Antari known as Kell.

Without a doubt, the best thing about this book is the world building. The alternate Londons and how they operate are purely genius and leads the reader to ponder if I lived within this universe, which London would be my home?  (Personally I think Grey London would be safer though rather boring) V.E.Schwab gives you just enough crumbs to build up your own view of the world without feeling restrictive; giving room for the reader to piece together some aspects for themselves. While rather obvious to say, with A Darker Shade Of Magic, V.E.Schwab cements herself as one of the greatest fantasy writers on the scene right now.

It is not entirely clear why a collector’s edition of this book has come into existence; as the release of it is still fairly recent, but if it is successful enough, there is the chance that the rest of the books in the series will follow the same redesign. In terms of the visuals, it’s beautiful. Additions include new short stories focusing on side characters, a glossary of terms and an interview between V.E.Schwab and her editor. Admittedly, I didn’t care much for the stories themselves as they felt more like adding a little bit of backstory but the glossary is a stand out and covers things such as the languages used and translations for spells. The most intriguing is the interview which uncovers how A Darker Shade Of Magic was essentially co-written between Schwab and her editor which I found truly fascinating.

If you’re already a fan of the series and unsure as to whether the collector’s edition is worth adding to your collection, trust me, it is worth every bit of ink and paper.

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