Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Book Review: A Pinch of Magic

A PINCH OF MAGIC by Michelle Harrison
5 Stars
Verdict: An original witchy tale. 

Betty Widershins and her two sisters are cursed never to leave the gloomy island that has always been their home. For an adventurous girl like Betty, that will never do! When each sister receives a magical heirloom, they set out to break the curse, starting with the possibly haunted Crowstone prison.  

The book cover might look gorgeous, but the author does a fantastic job of building up a gloomy marshland as the backdrop of this spooky witch tale. It's very atmospheric. 

The three ruff and tumble sisters make quite the team as they try to break the Widdershins curse. Each sister has a different personality: Betty the adventurous, Fliss the caring, and Charlie the cheeky. The sisters have a lovely bond which makes this book feel that little bit more special. 

It's a fun, magical story that's easy to breeze through, and unlike any story I've read before. It ends in a satisfying manner making it viable as a standalone story, which is my new favourite thing. 

The tale might get dark at times with revenge and murder, but it's ultimately a feel good adventure that's fun for all the family. As middle grade goes, this is one of my favourites. 

Source: With thanks to the publisher via Netgalley. Audiobook version.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Book Review: Britfield and the Lost Crown

4 Stars
Verdict: A thrilling adventure across England of all places!

Our story begins in Weatherly Orphanage, Yorkshire, a dingy place with strict rule and cruel staff. It quickly turns into an adventure to Oxford, London, Southampton - all across England in a hot air balloon as orphan Tom tries to discover the dangerous truth behind his real name. 

The story doesn't waste time getting started, with Tom and his friend Sarah getting into all sort of trouble, discovering secrets and initiating plans within the first couple of chapters. It has a old classic feel without that old classic pace, and I think I would have enjoyed this story a lot as a child.

It often reminded me of books read aloud by teachers on a Friday afternoon, so I wasn't surprised to find that's exactly what it is. It's has a good paced too, sneaking in snippets of history, literature, and architecture in a ways that's engaging. It's full of famous landmarks and classic descriptions from across the country, which makes it the perfect story to recommend to teachers.

I need to critique a couple of small things. The use of awkward phrases like 'whispered loudly' probably should have been edited out. I could also tell it was written by an American from the use of 'sophomore', 'soda', 'pants', and the descriptions of culture e.g. the whimsy of tea drinking! How quaint, indeed. It's a strange editorial choice for a book set in Britain with British characters who essentially talk and think like Americans, and it took me out of the story. Perhaps what gave it away the most was beautiful and striking descriptions of each location. It's tempting to say a Brit would never describe England with the same passion, given our humour. 

Joking aside, I think the book starts strong but has a predictable resolution, so by the end I was waiting for it to round off, which is why I've knocked a star off. 

All in all, this is a great novel that I would recommend for children. It offers a fun adventure and the opportunity to fall in love with Britain. Who wouldn't want that?

Source: With thanks to the publisher via Netgalley. I received the audio version of this one, and I can say the reading was excellent!

Monday, 17 August 2020

Book Review: Crooked Kingdom

5 Stars
Verdict: A fine sequel (Coming from me, that says a lot!)

I read this book like sipping a fine wine, savouring the good bits but perhaps falling asleep on the sofa once or twice. I didn't find it quite as gripping as book one, and I will admit the 'plotting scenes' received too much word time for my likings, given that the whole point is for their plans to go askew anyway...So I wasn't always enthralled, but the whole thing was enjoyable to read from beginning to end. 

I LOVE that this is duology. As you might know, I have beef with book two's of trilogies, mostly because the writer drags the poor story across three books, stretching every plot thread thin until my interest breaks entirely. This two book series keeps the pace, keeps the tension, and keeps twisting until the very end. I feel satisfied that it has a real ending. Please more duologies in future!

As a character led story, the whole ragtag bunch are fully fleshed and each interesting in their own right. I liked all the characters, flaws and all. Every character arc adds something to the book, and they all come together with a satisfying bang. 

While book one was absolutely fantastic, this is just a good sequel and round off in comparison. I fell out of love with Grishaverse after book three of Alina's adventures, but now I'm back in. I'd recommend this series widely, although I probably don't have to, given how popular it is. If you haven't read it already, then bump it up on your to read list. You won't be disappointed. 

Source: Bought it.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Book Review: The Wicked King

THE WICKED KING by Holly Black
#2 The Folk of the Air
3 Stars
Verdict: An okay middle book.

Me and 'middle books' of trilogies have beef. It's been a long time since I've really enjoyed one, and I'm starting to think it's me.

Why do they always spend the first two thirds of the book in story limbo? Why do they refuse to end in a satisfying manner and instead throw you over a cliff and expect you to hang on for the next hundred thousand words to be published?

Why does nothing good ever happen to the protagonist?

Wicked King is marginally better than the other middle books I've read recently. Still, it reads like A Guide to a Miserable Existence, by Jude Duarte, who wanders around for months on end before stuff finally starts to happen. Just when you're really interested, the book ends within the slice of a guillotine as it cuts off the last section, leaving you wondering what was that noise all about.

It's not a bad book. The main characters are complex but fleshed out. The world is the perfect balance of dangerous and magical. I liked the tricks and the quirky magical items, and the tension of war and romance makes for a good set up. If only the first half didn't feel so much like fluff, I would have enjoyed it more.

Much like a slap in the face, the ending is sharp and then its all over. Someone shouted, "TWIST!" and the book flipped upside down, dusted it's hand and said, "And that's that." What on earth does it all mean? What really happened? What were the characters who perpetrated the twists really after?

Or is the real question why did I ever expect to find true satisfaction from a middle book? Maybe I should burn all sequels from my bookshelf and let my imagination halfheartedly fill in the blanks. Then again, I bet book three will be excellent so it's not all for nothing. It's just a lot for the promise of something later.

Source: Bought it.
Also, it looks like I forgot to review book 1 back in August 2018. Whoops!

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Book Review: Noughts and Crosses

NOUGHTS AND CROSSES by Malorie Blackman
3 stars
Verdict: An important story but no-frills writing.

I’ve wanted to read this book since I was a child. Now fully grown and still enjoy YA fiction of all kinds, I couldn’t ignore how this has been recommended to me throughout the years. That’s why I don’t like that I didn’t enjoy it. Despite seeing its value as a teaching device, the truth is I found it taxing to reach the end.

Plot and themes aside, the author’s writing style isn’t one I particularly enjoy. The writing sticks mostly to dialogue so there’s almost no description, no visuals, no imagery or flare. There’s a slow grind to the fifty percent mark where the actual plot hits, and beforehand, the only real world-building is swapping around the words ‘white’ and ‘black’: a powerful idea in it's simplicity, but there's not really enough going on for half the book. Then years fly by in paragraphs, a writing choice that leaks the tension for me. Truth be told, I almost stopped reading after the first third because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to offer a raving review like I’d hoped.

I know the writing is designed to make the issue of race accessible to the young, but the style is flat as possible. I don’t think it needs to be quite so simple, and other books aimed at this age range aren’t. I found it hard to engage with it, no matter how much I wanted to like it. I couldn’t help but think this book is dated.

The pace did pick up around the halfway mark. The court room scenes were great and it ends on a striking note. I have to admit, the ending elevates the book in my opinion. It made me respect the author and felt very powerful in a thought-provoking way – finally engaging!

I also like where the story for the series is going. Book two sounds like it could be interesting, but I don’t think I’ll continue. I’m glad this book found popularity when it did, but I didn’t enjoy reading it.

Source: Bought it.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Book Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

Girls of Paper and Fire #2
3 Stars
Verdict: Middle book syndrome.

Travelling? Check. Cliche twins? Check. Shaky love triangle? Check.

I'm afraid this book is suffering from middle book syndrome.

Book two picks up where we left off, tense and fast with plenty to question: is Lei being followed, is the king alive, can Ketai Hanno be trusted? With luscious writing and a fiery romance, it promises a grand adventure full of political intrigue, battles, and romance.

But then it sort of withers away.

We see Lei become reckless and riled up at silly times, and quite frankly putting her spur of the moment needs in front of her friends' safety. But when she's not riled up, she's travelling or eating or having one too many drinks. This all equates to not a lot of progress for your pages.

A band of new characters are introduced, including twins. Hopefully this isn't considered a spoiler as not all of these things happen can happen at once, but are there any books out there with twins which don't either a) only speak in 'banter', b) become mortal enemies, or c) one of them dies. I'd quite like to read a book where the twins are on the same side but don't quite understand each other at times and both survive the whole series.

The word 'sluice' is used a weird amount. Yes, I'm aware that's a strange thing to notice, but I think this speaks to my level of interest at times. The sense that all the exciting plot points are being saved for book three is sewn throughout the whole thing, and if you pull at that thread as you idly read on, the story falls apart.

I've bumped it up to three stars as I still have a hope for the series. I love the whole birth blessing pendant concept and there are a couple of brilliant moments. I'll admit the banter adds character to the dialogue. The scrap of plot progression within the palace blossoms in a way that makes me want to know more.

So I was disappointed but it was an okay read. I think it comes down to the story being stretched out into a trilogy when two books might have worked better. Maybe we should change YA trends?

Source: With thanks to the publisher via NetGalley.com.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Book Review: Ace of Shades

ACE OF SHADES by Amanda Foody
4 Stars
Verdict: A mixed hand.

Prim and proper dancer, Enne Salta, braves the so-called City of Sin in search of her mother. She seeks out Levi Glaisyer, a young gang leader struggling to pull off the last leg in a financial scam. Gangster magic ensues!

I had mixed feeling about this story from start to finish, but did I enjoy it? Yes. Mostly. I felt critical while reading it, but I still enjoyed the ride.

It starts off fast, almost too fast, so that it has to slow down immediately after in order to build up the world and characters. The pace might plummet, but the world and characters are very well done.

I enjoyed Enne's growth from a stuffy prim and proper lady into a survivor, and I liked how she he clashed with Levi's laid back persona - textbook chemistry! Levi, on the other hand, is in over his head, and things only gets worse for him. I've heard lots of comparisons to Six of Crow's Kaz Brekker, and I'd say Levi isn't as strong, confident, or broken. If anything, he's more naive and...too soft to be a gang leader, really. I expected to learn more about his past throughout the book, but it stopped short of a real backstory. There are still unanswered questions about who Levi is.

The main problem for me with this one is the over-explanatory nature of the storytelling. Quick moments of dialogue were often dragged out for several pages by side explanations and general exposition. The same ideas were repeated over and over: Lourdes is probably dead, Levi needs more volts, New Reynes is bad. At times, it felt like we were reminded of these things every chapter, as if we might forget what we're reading.

That said, the world building is imaginative.  Those little ideas that make you smile, think, imagine, and escape - this book is full of them.

So the world is creative, the characters are diverse and bounce off each other well, and the writing flows. The downside? Repetition, exposition, and pace. Those are pretty big things, unfortunately. It makes it hard to recommend, but as I said at the start, I enjoyed it.

Source: Bought it.