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United Kingdom
I'm a librarian based in the UK who loves books. I'm happiest when I'm either talking about them, reading them or buying them. This blog is dedicated mainly to my addiction to YA fiction but you will also find some adult and non-fiction book reviews as well.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Review: Caraval - Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 31st January 2017

Goodreads synopsis:

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.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.




Review:
‘Caraval’ is a book that I wanted to read as soon as I first heard about it. It sounded exactly like my kind of story. I’m pleased to say that I loved it as much as I was expecting to and couldn’t put it down. It was a glorious read that quite literally swept me away.  

The story centres around Scarlett and her sister Tella, who are desperate to escape their home on the Isle of Trisda. Scarlett is the main narrator and paints a bleak picture of life with their controlling father. They are punished if they step out of line and they are not allowed to do anything or go anywhere without their father’s approval. Escape is the only thing on their minds, although they each have different plans for their method of escape.  

Julian is the sailor who comes into their lives and presents them with a way off the island. Caraval is the once a year, week long performance that they are invited to take part in and which gives them an opportunity to win something priceless which might change their lives forever. 

I thought that Scarlett was a fantastic main character and someone that I enjoyed reading about immensely. I identified with the protective nature of her relationship with her sister and her feelings of responsibility towards her. The two siblings are very different in nature but Scarlett knows that she would do anything for her sister. I also really loved the love-hate relationship between Scarlett and Julian and seeing how the link between them changes and grows as the story progresses. 

All of kinds of unusual things happen as part of Caraval and the trick for the reader is to figure out what they should believe and who they should trust. Magical, mysterious and enchanting are words that instantly spring to mind about this story. I really never wanted this book to end. ‘Caraval’ was a glorious technicolour adventure with surprises around every corner. I never had any idea what was going to happen next which was such a treat to experience. I’m a reader that nearly always guesses the plot twists!

The ending left me in no doubt that we haven’t seen the last of Caraval and I for one can’t wait to continue the adventure. 

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review: Show Stopper - Hayley Barker

Show Stopper by Hayley Barker, published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017


Goodreads synopsis:
Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land must watch their children be taken by a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.



Review:
‘Show Stopper’ by Hayley Barker was a really unique and original read. I whizzed through it pretty quickly because it was gripping and fast-flowing and hard to put down. 

There were two things that I particularly enjoyed about the book. The first was that the author has chosen to base the concept for the story on the divide which is apparent in today’s society between natural born citizens and immigrants. The twist on this, is that she has depicted a near-future society where immigrants have become so reviled that they are called ‘dregs’. Their lives are not valued, they have been ostracised and pushed aside and in some cases, their children have been taken from them. In comparison, the ‘pures’ consider themselves to be the best of society and as the ruling class, they treat the ‘dregs’ as nothing more than servants or a tool for their own entertainment. I thought this was such a brilliant story idea as it’s so topical and explored at its most extreme.

The second thing that I loved about ‘Show Stopper’ is the fact that most of the action is set in the circus. There just aren’t enough stories which use the big tent as a back-drop and yet it’s something that always really attracts me towards a book. Barker’s circus is a place where dreg children are taken and made to perform for the entertainment of the pures. They are given little food, kept in squalid conditions and seen as expendable commodities. If their deaths provide an evening’s entertainment then so be it.

The way that the story wove between the two perspectives of Ben, a pure and Hoshiko, a tight-rope walker was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Hoshiko who is at the mercy of the circus ring-leader and although physically beaten down, never lets her will to live and her desire for freedom, die. Ben is fascinated by Hoshiko and through her, his ideas about right and wrong, freedom and liberation, begin to change. It’s Hoshiko’s relationship with some of the other circus performers though that I especially enjoyed reading about. They have become a family in response to being taken away from their own flesh and blood.

If the thought of a YA novel set in the circus isn’t enough to whet your appetite, then I can tell you that this is also an imaginative and unique read which is wonderfully written and a treat to dive into. Get your hands on this book as soon as you can!
         

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review: The Possible - Tara Altebrando

The Possible by Tara Altebrando, published by Bloomsbury Childrens on 1st June 2017



Goodreads synopsis:
It's been thirteen years since Kaylee's infamous birth mother, Crystal, received a life sentence for killing Kaylee's little brother in a fit of rage. Once the centre of a cult-following for her apparent telekinetic powers, nowadays nobody's heard of Crystal.

Until now, when a reporter shows up at Kaylee's house and turns her life upside down, offering Kaylee the chance to be part of a high-profile podcast investigating claims that Crystal truly did have supernatural mind powers. But these questions lead to disturbing answers as Kaylee is forced to examine her own increasingly strange life, and make sense of certain dark and troubling coincidences .




Review:
‘The Possible’ is the first book that I’ve read by Tara Altebrando but it definitely won’t be the last because boy, was it good!  I read it in one evening because I couldn’t put it down.
 
What I particularly liked about this title was that the story wasn’t formulaic and it made me question everything that I was reading.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I could trust Kaylee, the narrator of the book and so this threw a lot of doubt onto some of the events that took place throughout the story.  Did it really happen?  Is Kaylee telling the truth?  Half of the fun of the book was trying to unravel everything and find out what was really going on.  This kept me on the edge of my seat as the mystery deepened and the suspense intensified.
 
I have to admit that the plot of the book is not normally one that would attract me.  The main character Kaylee is approached by a woman who is making a podcast series about her birth mother Crystal.  Twelve years ago, Crystal was found guilty of killing Kaylee’s younger brother Jack but always maintained her innocence.  At the time of the murder, there was quite a bit of furore surrounding Crystal and whether or not she had telekinetic powers.  This definitely isn’t the type of story that would appeal to me normally but I was in the mood for something different and this fit the bill.  What was so great, is that I ended up loving it.  It really hooked me in and I was desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery. 
 
As Kaylee finds out more about her birth mother and remembers her own role in events at the time, she becomes more and more curious about her own abilities.  I like the way that Tara Altebrando explores the topic of perception and shows that a lot of things that happen can be interpreted or seen in different ways, according to the individual’s perception of them.  Kaylee is quite a unusual narrator and I wasn’t entirely sure that I liked her in the beginning, but she had grown on me a lot by the end of the book.
 
I would encourage you to pick up ‘The Possible’ if you are a fan of mysteries, love a good suspense novel or are just looking for something different and original to read.  I want to read Altebrando’s entire back catalogue now which I hope are all as good as this brilliant title.       

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review: Runemarks - Joanne M. Harris

Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris, published by Gollancz on 20th April 2017


Goodreads synopsis:
It's been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion - the Order - has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand - a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don't know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy's only real friend, her ruinmark - or runemark, as he calls it - is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else..

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.



Review:
I thought that ‘Runemarks’ was magnificent and one of Joanne M. Harris’s best books. I loved ‘The Gospel of Loki’ which I’d read previously and this was just as good, if not better.  

It’s aimed at a YA audience, although the story is so sophisticated and the adventure so thrilling that I think adults would also enjoy it.  

I really love Norse mythology and tales about the Gods – Loki, Thor and Odin. I’ll admit that I don’t always remember every one of the varied cast of characters but I enjoy reading about them immensely, especially Loki the Trickster. I only wish that my knowledge and understanding was better so that I could appreciate all of the nuances even more.

Harris has done an incredible job weaving a story around them. The catalyst for the tale is a young girl called Maddy who lives in the small village of Malbry and has a special mark on her hand – a runemark no less, which gives her magical abilities. She also has an unusual friendship with a one-eyed stranger who visits her every year.     

Maddy and her journey through the World Below with Loki (am I the only one that pictures Tom Hiddleston in my mind every time he is mentioned?!) was thrilling to read and kept me gripped for all 513 pages of this bumper book. There are twists and turns aplenty, as well as tons of excitement and adventure and some life and death situations thrown into the mix too. I loved it all!  

I really need to read ‘Runelight’ now. I didn’t even know that there was a follow-on when I started reading this book but now I want it desperately. ‘Runemarks’ had me enthralled and I can’t wait to continue the adventure.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Review: Fire in You - Jennifer L. Armentrout

Fire in You by Jennifer L. Armentrout, published by Hodder on 27th April 2017
Goodreads synopsis:
Six years ago, Jillian Lima's whole world was destroyed. The same night her childhood love Brock Mitchell broke her heart, her life was irrevocably altered by a stranger with a gun. After years spent slowly rebuilding the shattered pieces of her life, Jillian is finally ready to stop existing in a past full of pain and regret and is determined to start living. The one thing she never expected was the impossibly handsome Brock walking back into her life...

Brock can't believe that the breathtaking woman standing before him now is the little girl who used to be his shadow growing up. Unable to stay away from each other, their tentative friendship soon sparks into something more and the red-hot chemistry sizzling between them can no longer be denied. But falling for Brock again risks more than just Jillian's heart. When the past resurfaces, and a web of lies threatens to rip them apart, the fallout could lay waste to everything they've ever cared about...




Review:
‘Fire in You’ was a sizzling and sensational romance. I absolutely loved it. Jennifer L. Armentrout is one of my favourite authors and she hands down writes the BEST romances.

It’s funny because when I started reading this book, I wasn’t completely sold on the character of Brock. He seemed to have just waltzed back into Jillian’s life on a whim and he appeared overly cocky and arrogant. But then I began to fall for him as he showed his softer more caring side. He won’t give up on Jillian and is determined to prove to her that he is there to stay. By the second half of the book I wanted them to get together so badly.

I loved Jillian. She’s been in love with Brock ever since she was a little girl. She has never loved anyone else like she loves him. She’s also incredibly brave and has had to overcome the events of one terrible night which is continually hinted at throughout the first half of the story. 

I really liked the setting of the book and the backgrounds of the characters. Jillian comes from a long line of Lima’s, who run a very successful family business. They own a string of mixed martial arts facilities where they train fighters. Brock is one of their MMA champions. These are definitely not your traditional occupations but I enjoyed reading about them.   

As Brock begins to break through Jillian’s defences, she starts to open up to him and shows him a side of her that she had long hidden. I loved the scenes where they begin to get to know each other again. They were perfectly written and one of my favourite parts of the book.

‘Fire in You’ was absolutely fantastic and such a treat to read. I’m eager now to get my hands on all of the other books in the series. There were lots of different characters and couples referenced throughout the story and I’m looking forward to reading more about how they all ended up together.:

Friday, 19 May 2017

Review: Crimson and Bone - Marina Fiorato

Crimson and Bone by Marina Fiorato, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 18th May 2017


Goodreads synopsis:
London, 1853.
Annie Stride is a beautiful, flame-haired young woman from the East End of London. She is also a whore. On a bleak January night Annie stands on Waterloo Bridge, watching the icy waters of the Thames writhe beneath her as she contemplates throwing herself in. At the last minute she's rescued by a handsome young man.
Her saviour, Francis Maybrick Gill, is a talented artist. He takes Annie as his muse, painting her again and again and transforming her from a fallen woman into society's darling, taking her far away from her old life.
But there is darkness underpinning Annie's lavish new lifestyle. In London and in Florence, prostitutes are being murdered. There's someone out there who knows who Annie really is - and they won't let her forget where she came from...




Review:
I am always eager to read anything by Marina Fiorato because her stories are captivating and her writing is beautifully lyrical and descriptive. Her newest offering, ‘Crimson and Bone’, was a real treat and I devoured it in a couple of evenings.  

The story focuses on a common prostitute, Annie Stride, who at the beginning of the book is ready to end it all. Life has not been kind to her and down on her luck, she decides that she doesn’t want to live anymore. Events however, take a different turn, when she is saved by a handsome painter, Francis Maybrick Gill, who offers her comfort and safety in return for her becoming his model.

At the beginning of each chapter, Annie’s story is accompanied by that of Mary Jane who was Annie’s best friend. At the start of the book, I wasn’t entirely sure why this was included, but as Annie’s story progresses, it made a lot more sense and all the threads of their stories wove together brilliantly at the end.

My favourite part of the book was actually the beginning which was set in London. It was interesting to see Annie adjust to her new surroundings and gradually become more refined under Francis’s tutelage. She revels in no longer having to share her body with a man and in being protected by someone with seemingly pure and good motives. The other two parts of the book are set in Florence and Venice. I could sense Marina Fiorato’s love of these places in the way the language of the book flowed so easily in these sections and in the way she described Annie’s surroundings.
  
The tension built throughout as the story headed towards a revealing and shocking finale.  I was utterly gripped until the final page as revelations about the main characters come to light.  Overall, 'Crimson and Bone' was a hugely entertaining read and one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Review: One Italian Summer - Keris Stainton

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton, published by Hot Key Books on 4th May 2017


Goodreads synopsis:
Milly loves her sisters more than anything - they are her best friends. But this holiday is different. The loss of their dad has left a gaping hole in their lives that none of them know how to fill. Heartbreak is a hard thing to fix ...

Still, there is plenty to keep the girls busy in Rome. A family wedding. Food, wine, parties and sun. And of course Luke .... Luke is hot, there is no way around that. And Milly will always have a crush on him. But this summer is about family, being together, and learning to live without Dad. It isn't about Luke at all ... is it?






Review:
I was so excited to get my hands on a copy of One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton. I bumped it straight to the top of my TBR pile. I’ve loved all of the books I’ve read previously by this author so I couldn’t wait to dive right in. Initially, I thought that the book was going to be quite a light and breezy read. The story is set in Rome and follows three sisters and their mother, as they embark on holiday. This, however, is the first time they have been to Rome without their father. His death has hit them hard and they are all dealing with it in different ways. Grief and bereavement are prominent themes in the book which made some parts quite difficult to read. I felt very emotional while reading certain scenes which really packed a punch. This definitely wasn’t what I was expecting and made this title far more than just a summery, beach read. 

I really loved the relationship between the three sisters, Milly, Leonie and Elyse. It was refreshing to see their sibling bond portrayed in such a positive light, as there seem to be so many books where all the sisters ever do is bicker and squabble. It was interesting to see how each of them coped with their feelings about their father’s death and how his passing had changed their lives. 

The middle sister, Milly, narrates the story, so events are seen through her eyes. She is afraid that everything will be different now that her Dad isn’t with them. She has a constant fear of letting the people around her go. She worries that something might happen to them, which in light of events, is completely understandable. She is also afraid to see Luke, the boy that she has had a crush on for as long as she can remember. As readers, we know that something significant happened between them but we’re not quite sure what until later in the book. Although I thought that the issue of grief was handled well in the story, I wasn’t as convinced by the romance between Milly and Luke. I’m not really sure why but I just didn’t particularly see them being together. This made the whole thing fall a bit flat for me. 

Personally, I enjoyed the fact that the theme of family was at the centre of the book. It was interesting to see how the dynamics of their family had changed and adapted and how the summer trip to Rome brought them all closer together.

If you are looking for a YA contemporary read with real heart then look no further than ‘One Italian Summer’.                

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