Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

  • Passenger, Alexandra BrackenIMG_2331

Rating: * * / ***

Series: #1 Passenger series

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Publication Date: January 2016

Goodreads synopsis:

‘passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever’

Passenger, along with Truthwitch was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016. Unfortunately, where Truthwitch exceeded my expectations, Passenger did not meet them. From the synopsis, I was expecting an exciting and fast-paced treasure hunt across centuries, but this hunt did not start until well into the novel, and altogether it wasn’t as epic as I’d thought it would be.

There were some bits about the novel which I did really like. For one, I loved the inspiration behind Passenger – the idea of using all the different meanings of the word ‘passage’ was a unique concept and great idea. I really want to try this as a creative writing starter. It was clear that the writer had done lots of research into the details of the historical period, like dress.  There were also some fascinating ideas in the book about time travel, such as the idea that you can’t cross paths with yourself, and the astrolabe’s power.

I also appreciated the fact that there was a diverse set of characters and the novel tackled issues such as racism and feminism. The characters I found particularly interesting were Cyril Ironwood, because his cutting dialogue gave him a clear character voice, and Sophia, the ambitious and hateful distant member of the Ironwood family.

Unfortunately, I did not consistently connect to the main characters, Etta and Nicholas. There was one bit of Nicholas’ narration that I really liked, about his choice of name:

Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, repentant thieves, children – all the things he was and could be. The name made him feel more than protected. It made him feel like he could be a protector.’ 

However, on the whole I found Nicholas and Etta’s narration slow and frustrating, and there was too much internal reflection and not enough dialogue.

The Prologue about Nicholas and Julian in Bhutan was exciting and tense, but the first few chapters from Etta’s point of view felt flat. There was in theory lots of action, but it was not brought to life in a dramatic enough manner. Later on in the novel, the shift between places was confusing  – I didn’t feel like enough time was spent in each to be effective in absorbing the reader into the setting.

I definitely felt that things could have been snappier – both the dialogue and the pacing. I felt the book dragging in certain places, and this reduced my enthusiasm and interest in the novel. Reading it took a lot of effort, and I was rarely gripped. It was only in the last couple of chapters that I felt that there was sufficient drama and intrigue, and by then it felt a bit too late.

Overall, while there were some good points about Passenger, the writing style did not suit me, and I found it a difficult book to reach the end of. However, I have seen mixed reviews, with some people saying the same, that it did not fulfil expectations, and others commenting on how amazing it was, so I think that enjoyment of this book must be very personal, and though I was disappointed with the slow pace and lack of tension, others might not be, particularly if they know from The Darkest Minds that they enjoy Alex Bracken’s style.

Inferno by Catherine Doyle

  • Inferno, Catherine DoyleIMG_2288

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #2 Blood for Blood series

Publisher: Chicken House

Publication Date: January 2016

Goodreads synopsis: 

Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather in the second installment of Catherine Doyle’s Blood for Blood series.

Sophie’s life has been turned upside-down, and she’s determined to set things right. But Nic, the Falcone brother who represents everything she’s trying to forget, won’t give up on their love – and it’s Luca’s knife she clutches for comfort. Soon another mafia clan spoils the fragile peace – and with her heart drawn in one direction and her blood in another, Sophie’s in deeper than ever.

I have just finished Inferno, and I am buzzing. I loved Vendetta, the first book in the series, but this sequel is even better. It’s thrilling and addictive, and I read it in one sitting because I absolutely could not put it down. There’s more betrayal, more vengeance, more passion, and more heartache.

One of the characters I really loved in the first novel was Millie, and she has some great moments in Inferno. Some of my favourite bits include her dolphin-themed pep talk, her stealth driving when she and Sophie sense that they are being followed, and her insults to the Falcone brothers. Of the latter, I especially like the following one, of which Dom is the subject:

“‘Tell him not to come near us. I would hate to risk drowning in his surplus hair gel.'”

 She’s a faithful and hilarious best friend to Sophie, and provides humour between some of the darker sections of the novel.

My absolute favourite character from the first book was Luca, and I was desperate for more of him in Inferno. Catherine Doyle fulfilled this wish – there are a multitude of wonderful exchanges between him and Sophie in this novel, and I now love Luca even more (Which I did not think possible!).  The scene with the doughnut is adorable and perfect, and had me beaming at the book so widely that my face began to hurt! Also, THAT MOMENT on page 261 is the one I had been waiting for! Luca and Sophie are my OTP.

The plot of Inferno is unceasingly exciting, gripping and unpredictable, with countless twists and turns. The Falcones and Marinos mean business in their blood feud – each will stop at nothing to destroy the other Mafia clan. Sophie and her mother are caught in the crossfire. The stakes are higher and the situation is darker and more dangerous than before. The feud builds up to a highly dramatic and emotional crescendo at the end of the book.

As always, Catherine Doyle’s dialogue is punchy, the pace is exactly right, and the whole novel is like an action movie. I cannot wait for book three!

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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  • Truthwitch, Susan Dennard

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 The Witchlands

Publisher: Tor

Publication Date: January 2016

Goodreads synopsis: On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

There is, and has been for a while now, lots of hype about Truthwitch, which meant that I had high expectations of the novel.  I am elated to say that Truthwitch fulfilled them all and more.

Truthwitch has humour, friendship, romance, bucket loads of action, fantastic I-want-to-be-you heroines, an awesome fantasy world… I could go on and on!

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the friendship between the two main characters, Safi and Iseult.

‘ “‘Just me’ isn’t who we are,” Iseult hollered back. “I’ll always follow you, Safi, and you’ll always follow me. Threadsisters to the end.” ‘

As Threadsisters, they know each other back to front and are fiercely loyal to each other. They always have each other’s backs.

‘Initiate. Complete.’

Their relationship reminds me of a line from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows about Kaz and Inej being ‘twin soldiers’. This is exactly what Safi and Iseult are when they need to defend themselves. One is the right hand and the other the left. I love that in ‘Truthwitch’ friendship is more important than romance.
Although romance doesn’t centre stage in the novel, I do really like the relationship between Safi and Merik. Their chemistry is electric, and their exchanging of insults is great fun.

Sometimes when I read novels where the chapters alternate focus between different characters, I massively prefer one character’s point of view, and have the urge to skip through the other characters’. That is not the case here. All of the main characters are engaging, from Safi, the rash, loud and determined Domna of Cartorra, and Aeduan, the Bloodwitch relentlessly chasing her, to Iseult, the Threadwitch concerned with maintaining a state of stasis, and Merik, a prince ready to do whatever it takes to save his kingdom.

The world of the Witchlands is imaginative and original. There is so much to enjoy, including the stories of the Cahr Awen, the idea of Threadsiblings, the dances at court, and, of course, all the different types of Witchery – iron, wind, word, and thread to name but a few. I think that the latter, which is the magic Iseult has, might just be my favourite, as all the colours and types of Thread are fascinating.

‘Right before Iseult’s eyes, Safi’s threads were changing from those that build into those that bind.’

I did find all the types of Witchery slightly overwhelming in the first few chapters of the novel; it took me a few chapters to get fully integrated into the world-building. However, after the first few chapters, I was utterly immersed in the setting and the story, and was right on the edge of my seat, cheering Safi and Iseult on, and smiling all the way.

Truthwitch is a fantastic first instalment in the Witchlands series, and I have absolutely no idea how I am going to be able to wait until 2017 for the second! One of the best YA fantasy novels I have read, and a firm favourite!

15 Books I Loved in 2015 – Third Five

Here is the last set of my favourite books of 2015 – reviews for Shadow Study, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Fairest, Nimona, and An Ember in the Ashes. IMG_2257 (2)

  • Shadow Study, Maria V. Snyder

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 Soulfinders series, #7 in Chronicles of Ixia, #7 in Study series (I would recommend reading at least the first 3 Study Books first)

Publisher: Mira Ink

Publication Date: March 2015

Goodreads synopsis: Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.
As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.

I loved Poison Study, Snyder’s first book about Yelena, because it had a gripping storyline, fascinating world-building, and gritty heroine…also the fact that it was about food tasting! I wasn’t quite as captivated by the following two novels – Magic Study, Fire Study – however, I was still super excited to find out that Shadow Study was coming out, because it meant a return to Ixia, and a reunion with Yelena, Valek, and the hilarious Ari and Janco! I was not disappointed. Shadow Study was back on the same level as Poison Study – exciting and engrossing.

One of my favourite things about Shadow Study is the glimpses we get into Valek’s past – his ceaseless determination and drive to kill the king after the death of his brothers, his training with Hedda at the School of Night and Shadows, and his first meeting with the Commander. It’s fascinating to learn more about Valek, and about Ixia as a kingdom rather than a military territory.

I also really like the fact that Snyder has taken the care to make sure that, as this novel is set a few years after the previous ones, Yelena’s voice has developed and she seems much more mature. There’s great attention to detail.

The third POV in the novel – Yelena’s and Valek’s are the other two – is Janco’s. He might just be my favourite character from this series, and I love that he gets an opportunity to have his own sections. He’s witty and energetic, and his conversations with a new character, Onora, or ‘Little Miss Assassin’ as he calls her, are really enjoyable. There are also hints of a possible romance between them in the future, which I hope happens, as she brings out a different side to Janco.

This is one of those books that you have that ‘just one more chapter’ urge with. There are regular cliffhangers and interesting developments at the end of chapters which keep you turning the pages; it’s really difficult to put down. There’s also a big cliffhanger at the end of the novel, which will have you really excited for Night Study. Luckily it comes out this month in the US and next month in the UK!

  • The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Melinda Salisbury

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 The Sin Eater’s Daughter Series

Publisher: Scholastic

Publication Date: February 2015

Goodreads synopsis:

I am the perfect weapon.
I kill with a single touch.

Twylla is blessed. The Gods have chosen her to marry a prince, and rule the kingdom. But the favour of the Gods has it’s price. A deadly poison infuses her skin. Those who anger the queen must die under Twylla’s fatal touch.

Only Lief, an outspoken new guard, can see past Twylla’s chilling role to the girls she truly is.

Yet in a court as dangerous and the queen’s, some truths should not be told…

The Sin Eater’s Daughter is utterly engrossing. It has so many amazing elements – an enveloping medieval setting, a fascinating mythology, a corrupt queen, and a heroine with a terrifying power.

This book grabs you right from the start and fills you with questions.

‘Compared to a slow death by my poisonous skin, a slit throat would be lucky. Tyrex was not lucky.’

Twylla’s role as Daunen Embodied, a child of gods, and her mother’s as a Sin Eater are really intriguing. The narrative is addictive, and I did not see the twists coming – especially the main one with Twylla. I love that feeling of being surprised by a book.

One of my favourite parts about the novel is the characterisation of the queen of Lormere. She’s ruthless and unpredictable: she seats her guests at dinner according to how much she likes them or how wealthy they are and she sends vicious hunting dogs after a subject who dares to speak while Twylla is singing. She even takes an integral piece of history, a five hundred year old necklace, and files it down to a design of her own choosing, because the only history she cares about is that of her own kingdom. She treats Twylla like a puppet.

I also really like the way that Melinda Salisbury includes references to the Victorian Language of Flowers all the way through – this is unique and really interesting to investigate when rereading – and finding out the meanings of the different food and drinks at the Eatings through Twylla’s memories of her life before she came to live at the court.

Overall, The Sin Eater’s Daughter is an addictive and exciting opening to the series. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next novel, The Sleeping Prince! 

  • Fairest, Marissa Meyer

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #3.5 in The Lunar Chronicles

Publisher: Scholastic

Publication Date: January 2015

Goodreads synopsis: In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Fairest is a compelling and haunting prequel to Winter. The novel takes place across ten years of Levana’s life, from her teenage years to her reign as queen, and we witness her descent from being the one hurt to the one doing the hurting, from innocent naivety to more calculated malice, as well as seeing her devastating desperation just to be loved and cared for.

It’s fascinating to not only learn more about Levana’s background, but also get to see younger versions of Princesses Winter and Selene. One thing I really wasn’t expecting was for Selene’s mother – and Levana’s sister – Channary, to be such a cold, cruel, and manipulative figure, to the extent that she torments Levana and repeatedly humiliates her in front of the people she cares about most, and that the only reaction she has to her parents’ deaths is disappointment that she can no longer share her mother’s clothes.

It’s also really interesting to see the origins and reasons behind the letumosis disease, the hybrid creatures in the Lunar army, Levana’s hatred of mirrors, and of the idea of the marriage alliance between Earth and Lunar, as all of these factors are crucial parts of the main novels in the series. I love that having read Fairest I will have a richer and more developed rereading of the other novels in the series, and additionally  – and especially – a much greater understanding of the reasons why Levana became the antagonist.

“Come here, baby sister,” she whispered, and despite the terror twisting inside Levana’s stomach, her feet obeyed. “I want to show you something.”

  • Nimona, Noelle Stevenson

Rating: * * * * *

Format: Graphic novel

Publisher: Harper Teen

Publication Date: May 2015

Goodreads synopsis: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Before reading Nimona, I had never read a graphic novel, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d like them. Nimona completely changed my mind; I loved it! It was brilliant – heartfelt and humourous, vivid and vibrant.

My favourite aspect of this graphic novel is the titular character and supervillain sidekick. Nimona is playful and sarcastic, and had me smiling and chuckling to myself the whole way through.

‘I’m not a monster. I’M A SHARK!’

She is a bundle of fun and of energy, always ready for action (and pizza.) And she definitely manages to melt Blackheart’s heart.

Noelle Stevenson must have hugely enjoyed writing and drawing this graphic novel, and that sense of enjoyment seeps into the reader. Nimona is a unique and delightful read.

 

  • An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir 

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 An Ember in the Ashes series

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Date: June 2015 (UK)

Goodreads synopsis:

Laia is a slave. 

Elias is a soldier. 

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I expected An Ember in the Ashes to be really good, but I was wrong…I underestimated just how amazing it would be! The plot, characters and setting had me absolutely gripped from start to finish. I was completely invested in the story and could not put the book down.

What I love about this novel is that the stakes are continually rising, and tension builds throughout. The book opens with an emotional and action-packed scene from Laia’s point of view in which her family is torn apart by Masks. This is followed by an example from Elias’s point of view of what happens to those who defy the Empire and plan to desert the military. Then, Laia begins her highly dangerous role as a spy, and we learn that Trials are about to begin for the next Emperor. Suspense and action are abundant. At the same time, there are not so many events as to make the novel too fast-paced or confusing – Sabaa Tahir gets the level of action exactly right, and the result is a brilliant book.

The setting for An Ember in the Ashes, which is based on ancient Rome, for An Ember in the Ashes is vividly imagined. It is a dark and dangerous Empire, with a ruthless military of legionnaires and centurions, and mysterious Augurs who make ominous predictions about the future of individuals. There are the Masks, trained fighters under the lead of the ferocious Commandant. Additionally, there are supernatural elements, with wraiths and efrits appearing during the tasks.

There’s also a great cast of characters, and you become highly emotionally involved with them when reading the novel, from hatred for Elias’ brutal and leering fellow soldier Marcus, and fear of the cruel Commandant, to sadness and alarm for Izzi and the other slaves, who are forbidden to have an identity beyond their job.

An Ember in the Ashes is rich with action, romance, suspense and betrayal. The plot is unpredictable, and the novel’s ending is explosive. In short, it’s a complete thrill-ride from start to finish!

‘”Duty first, unto death. If you betray the Empire, you will be caught, and you will pay. Dismissed.'”

15 Books I Loved in 2015 – Second Five

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Here are some more of my favourite books of 2015! Reviewed here are Crow Moon, The Winner’s Crime, Queen of Shadows, Winter and Six of Crows. 

  • Crow Moon, Anna McKerrow 

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Crow Moon Series

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date: March 2015

‘Danny is a fun-loving 16-year-old looking for a father figure and falling in love with a different girl every day. He certainly doesn’t want to follow in his mum’s witchy footsteps.

Just as his community is being threatened by gangs intent on finding a lucrative power source to sell to the world, Danny discovers he is stunningly powerful. And when he falls for Saba, a gorgeous but capricious girl sorceress, he thinks maybe the witch thing might not be such a bad idea…

But what cost will Danny pay as, with his community on the brink of war, he finds that love and sorcery are more dangerous than he ever imagined?

Wickedness and passion combine in this coming-of-age adventure.’

Crow Moon is a fantastic and refreshing novel. The premise is that fighting over coal and oil has resulted in two separate communities – the Greenworld, a pagan society in the South West of England and the Redworld, rife with crime and consumerism. Tensions between the two are rising. What I enjoy about this concept is that it’s not to far away to be accessible – with our non-renewable resources rapidly dwindling, it’s a fantasy firmly rooted in reality, and this makes it more convincing. 

I also really like the fact that Danny, the protagonist, has a vivid and clear voice, right from the opening. He’s rash, and bored, ready to risk everything for girls and flirtations. His narration is distinctive. It’s also very humorous at times.

Additionally, I love that there is clear character growth for Danny over the course of the novel. He moves from being headstrong and ignorant about magic and his mother’s powers, to being more reflective, with more important priorities, and aware of the consequences of his actions. It’s always really interesting to be able to look back when finishing a novel at how far a character has come. 

Melz, Saba’s sister, is a very intriguing character, with her hostile personality, her representation by the goddess of destruction, Morrigan, and her drawings of Tom.  I’m glad to see that she is the protagonist of book two, as she was a standout for me.  

The elements of Celtic mythology included in the novel are fascinating – the triskele, Morrigan, the crow goddess, and the rituals described. I also particularly like the fact that the setting includes areas such as Tintagel, as I spend a lot of time in Cornwall. 

Overall, I think that Crow Moon is a unique take on magic, and has a vivid setting and characters. I’m very excited to read the second novel, Red Witch.

  • The Winner’s Crime, Marie Rutkoski

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #2 The Winner’s Curse Series

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication date: March 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘Book two of the dazzling Winner’s Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement… if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.’

I loved The Winner’s Curse but this sequel is even better! The stakes are higher, and there are more heartaches, more twists and turns, more political intrigues, and more games where no one truly wins.

My favourite scene is one where Kestrel is walking by the canal in disguise, and Arin is in that area, too. He walks past Kestral, but suddenly turns back, part of him recognising her, and first he is moving slowly, then he’s more sure, and he’s running, and there is a tremendous buildup of tension, and a vivid image of his desperate movements towards her. Hurry, said his feet. Hurry, said his heart.’ It’s absolutely captivating, and because you’re so attached to these characters, you are willing Arin on with all the force you can.

Later on in this scene, there is a heartbreaking misunderstanding between the two of them, one of many in the novel, and it’s so frustrating, as, because the narration moves between Arin and Kestrel, the reader knows the things each of them isn’t revealing, and can see the honesty where they are telling lies. The entire way through this novel and the first, the reader is emotionally invested in the characters, and it’s a testament to the great writing that we are so emotionally involved in the story.

Arin and Kestrel are just two of the many fascinating characters in the novel.The emperor is a sinister figure, one of those where it’s difficult to know which is worse – them being kind or them being cruel. He deliberately misinforms Verex of timings for dinners, and says to Kestrel, ‘I have chosen you, Kestrel, and I will make you everything my son cannot be. Someone fit to take my place.’ 

Not only are the characters and relationships captivating and convincing, the plot is too, with all the politics of empire. It’s tension-filled, unpredictable, and builds to revelations in the final scenes that will have you counting down the days until The Winner’s Kiss. 

  • Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Six of Crows Series

Publisher: Indigo

Publication date: September 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first’

Having loved The Grisha Trilogy, I had high expectations for Six of Crows…and it exceeded all of them.

The plot is gripping from beginning to end. There are countless twists and turns, and the tension builds perfectly as the heist comes nearer and Kaz and his crew prepare to break into a heavily armed, apparently impenetrable prison. The stakes are rising all the time.

The characters are diverse and each fully fleshed out, with their own quirks. We have an opportunity to engage with each of them through the changing focus of the third person narration, and to learn more about their backgrounds. There’s Nina, the formidable and fashionable Heartrender; Matthias, a convict out to repay his betrayal; Jesper, who’s hilarious, and gels the group together; Wylan, naive but ready to prove himself; Kaz, the leader, a boy who is tormented by his past, has a deadly reputation, and is extremely focused, and unwilling to let anyone get too close; and, Inej, my absolute favourite, resilient, active, discerning, deceptively strong and just all round awesome!

There are so many iconic lines in this book, the kind that have such an impact you just want to quote them right away. I love the fierce mantra of the crew – ‘No mourners. No funerals.’ – as well as Inej’s comment: ‘The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.’ The dialogue is so strong that it bursts from the page.

I also really like that the romance is understated, and does not takeover the plot. But – it’s still there, or at least there are hints of it and hopefully more to come – Kaz and Inez, I’m looking at you.

“‘What do you want, then?” The old answers came easily to mind. Money. Vengeance. Jordie’s voice in my head silenced for ever. But a different reply roared to life inside him, loud, insistent, and unwelcome. You, Inej. You.‘ 

Additionally, there are wonderful friendships, such as the one between Inej and Nina, and between Inej and Jasper, and a great sense of loyalty.

All in all, this is the kind of book that you want to reread as soon as you’ve finished the first read, because you want to live it all again. Highly, highly recommended.

  • Queen of Shadows, Sarah J Maas

My rating:  * * * *

Series: #4 in The Throne of Glass Series

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication date: September 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘The queen has returned.

Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past…

She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.

She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die for her. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return.

The fourth volume in the New York Times bestselling series continues Celaena’s epic journey and builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.’

This series is one of my firm favourites, and getting the next book is always a highlight of the reading year for me. In this fourth novel, Celaena’s back in Rifthold and out for vengeance. She is ready to face Arobynn and the King of Adarlan one last time. This one’s darker and more intense, and is absolutely action-packed, and there are many of the scenes we have been waiting for.

There are so many emotional sections in this novel – the scene at the graveyard, then with the music, as well as the description of Dorian in the beginning, and Asterin’s story of her past. I really like seeing Asterin’s development, as well as that of other characters, such as we have seen previously, like Lysandra. With each book, more and more layers are added to this series, and its epic-nature grows. This, and the action-packed nature of the novel, is why I rated it highly.

However, while I loved the action and emotion in the novel (and that’s what numbered it among my favourites of 2015), I did have some issues with the book, one of which is the addition of Nesryn – I feel like she comes a bit out of nowhere, and I’d have liked to have seen her mentioned in a previous book for her to have the role which she takes in this book. However, Nesryn is a small part of the novel.

My bigger problem was with the fact that a few of the central characters seemed to undergo personality changes. I’d rate the characterisation lower, as it left me a bit disappointed. However, my overall rating is still high because I thought the pacing and the action scenes were first class, and I find the world-building in this series completely enveloping.

  • Winter, Marissa Meyer 

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #4 in The Lunar Chronicles

Publisher: Puffin

Publication date: November 2015

Goodreads synopsis: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?’

The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favourite series, and I was devastated to see it come to an end, but Marissa Meyer did it in style, with the perfect mix of humour, romance, and action.

The book introduces some new characters: Winter, the beautiful princess tormented by her aunt’s actions, and Jacin, her fiercely loyal guard. All of our favourites are there, too – Cinder, Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Throne and Cress, as well as Iko, who is an awesomely unique character and who always makes me smile.

I love the fact that Meyer, as usual with this series, divides the book into sections, each with a quotation from the original fairy tale. Using that structure allows really effective drawing of parallels.

Cinder’s action in final scene, too, is just so apt for the series, and highlights just how much more comfortable she is in herself. Reading it is a really fulfilling moment, but also a really sad one, as it means coming to the end of the series and saying goodbye to these characters…

…except…Stars Above! We’ll get to return to Cinder’s world shortly, and they’ll be a wedding and I can’t wait! Also, Meyer’s new venture Hearless, the love story of Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts is out this year, and the synopsis sounds epic! There’s so much still to look forward to!

What books are you looking forward to in 2016? Comment! 

15 Books I Loved in 2015 – First Five

IMG_22272015 was a fantastic year of books! Here are reviews for five of my fifteen favourite books from last year: Saint Anything, Ink and Bone, Vendetta, The Potion Diaries, and Am I Normal Yet? 

Feel free to post your favourites and any recommendations from last year or for the new year in the comments!

  • Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen

My rating:  * * * * * 

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: May 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.’

I am a huge fan of Sarah Dessen novels, and I was very excited to read her latest one. I loved Saint Anything  and would definitely rate it as one of my favourites of Dessen’s novels, along with ‘The Truth About Forever’, ‘Just Listen’ and ‘Along For the Ride.’

Sydney, the protagonist of Saint Anything, feels invisible, and the novel is her journey from feeling that she lacks any kind of identity and is overshadowed by her brother, to finding a loyal group of friends, coming to terms with the actions committed by her brother, Peyton, and finding herself.

I love Layla, Sydney’s vivid and energetic friend. She brings  wonderful humour to the novel, with her gift of 50 root beer lollipops to Sydney, her verdicts on French Fries from different sources and systematic process for applying condiments to them, and her gobsmacked amazement at the studio in Sydney’s house.

I also really enjoy the fact that a recurring theme throughout the novel is Sydney’s ability to make predictions about people from their pizza orders. She helps out Layla’s brother, Mac, with the orders, and always manages to successfully guess the purchasers.

Dessen’s novels are always thought-provoking, with a reflective quality to the prose. One of my favourite quotes from the novel is from a scene where Sydney is with Mac, and she comments on the way he never throws anything away, and Mac replies:

‘”There’s no shame in trying to make stuff work, is how I see it. It’s better than just accepting the broken.”I wanted to say he was lucky he even had a choice. That for most of us, once something was busted, it was game over. I would have loved to know how it felt, just once, to have something fall apart and see options instead of endings.’

Sydney is a figure who you attach to straight away, because the difficulties she faces in feeling invisible are ones felt by all teenagers at some point. Like all Dessen protagonists, at the close of the novel, she feels like an old friend. Her story is moving and also dark at times, but it is ultimately hugely uplifting and one with great heart.

 

  • Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 The Great Library series

Publisher: Allison and Busby

Publication date: July 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…’

I was so excited to find this book. During a reading slump I was looking up my favourite authors, checking if they had any books coming out. I went on Rachel Caine’s website and saw that she was writing a new novel….and that it was due out on July 7th. And this was on July 6th! And I had no idea it was coming out so I didn’t have a long wait! I rushed to get it on July 7th, and was hooked from then on.

The prologue is an absolutely gripping introduction to the novel. In it, the young Jess, the protagonist, who is illegally smuggling a book to give to a private owner, discovers just how corrupt his society is, and the selfish greed that people have for knowledge. The sight that he witnesses is one which he will never forget, and it ignites his appreciation for novels and his commitment to protecting them.

The world building in this novel is first class. The setting has a 1984- feel to it of constantly being observed, with the automaton lions and their ever-watchful eyes, the London Garda, and the formidable force of the Library.

Additionally, I really like the fact that between chapters there are notes, decrees or letters from and to Archivists, Obscurists, and Linguas, from across the centuries, which build up the sense of the Library as a sinister being, and those at the forefront of it as manipulative, controlling and dangerous. Tension builds throughout the novel, through the main plot, and also through these letters.

The novel is packed with fantastic characters, from Jess, a protagonist who you automatically root for, his inventive best friend, Thomas, and his initially aggressive roommate, Dario, to Morgan, a mysterious latecomer to the Library, and Wolfe, the fierce mentor to the Scholars.

The final chapters of novel are really tense and climactic, with Jess’ decision about Morgan, the Postulants’ positions for the next year being revealed, and the appearance of the Artifex.

I am hugely excited for more of Jess’ story in Book 2!

  • Vendetta, Catherine Doyle

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Blood for Blood series

Publisher: Chicken House

Publication date: February 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.With a fierce rivalry raging between two warring families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. An epic debut set outside modern-day Chicago.

When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families. As the boys’ dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.’

This book is awesome!

A great strength of Vendetta is that you can visualise everything. Doyle gives the perfect amount of description of the settings, the characters, and the situations in the novel so that it captures your imagination. The publisher’s note at the beginning of the book compares it to a movie and he is absolutely right. This is especially true of the scene where Luca pulls up and interrupts Sophie and Nic in his car, of the basketball game scenes, and of the final scenes, but the whole book is like watching a TV thriller.

YA romantic thrillers can sometimes be cliché, but Vendetta is not because it’s so well written. There is romance but there is also constant tension and many twists and turns throughout the novel.  I really like the idea of the jar of honey mentioned in the beginning and its later significance.

The dialogue, too, is punchy and I love the way that Doyle intersperses bits of Italian for the scenes with the brothers. I enjoy the way that each of the five brothers has a distinctive personality and the way that they act around each other is also really interesting. Valentino’s speech about masks is a stand out:

‘This life is so complex that we rarely get to be the people we are truly meant to be. Instead, we wear masks and put up walls to keep from dealing with the fear of rejection, the feeling of regret, the very fear that someone may not love us for who were are deep in our core, that they might not understand the things that drive us. I want to study the realness of life, not the gloss. There is beauty everywhere; even in the dark, there is light, and that is the rarest kind of all.’ 

However, most of all, I love Luca and his complicated relationship with the heroine, Sophie. Their notes to each other later on in the book are adorable. I really hope there’s lots of Luca in the second book!

I would definitely recommend Vendetta and the great news is….it’s less than a month until the sequel, Inferno, is out! I cannot wait!

  • The Potion Diaries, Amy Alward

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Potion 

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Publication date: July 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?

And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

No big deal, then.’

This novel is the perfect summer read: witty, charming, and creative!

The parts from Evelyn’s – the Princess of Nova, who has fallen in love with herself- POV are hilarious, especially her awe at first glimpsing her own reflection:

‘She’s over there, by the mirror. I can just about spy her out of the corner of my eye. My god, she is so beautiful. I should go over to her. I should say hello.’

The novel is also action-packed. The main protagonist, Sam, faces confrontations with a crone mermaid, the evil magician and royal family member Emilia Thoth, and even an abominable, after joining the Wilde Hunt, and there are no dull moments in the novel.

I also really like the inclusion of social media, as although it’s a huge part of the modern world, it isn’t a part of as many YA books as I would think it would be. The use of social media site ‘Connect’ in The Potion Diaries builds tension as different participants check in ready to fly to find ingredients, and adds to the competitive nature of the Hunt.

The Hunt is a battle between corporations, like ZoroAster, which manufacture synthetic ingredients on a large scale, and family-run businesses, like the Kemis’, who use the ancient art of potion making. This parallels a very real problem in our society – that of big businesses thriving at the expense of smaller ones.

I love following Sam’s discoveries of the different ingredients, the highs and lows of her time in the Hunt, and her journey to different countries to find elusive parts of the potion – the novel is full of adventure.  The last ingredient is particularly inventive.

Overall, The Potion Diaries is a refreshing novel which is huge amounts of fun to read, and I would definitely recommend it for holiday reading.

  • Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne 

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Normal Series

Publisher: Usborne 

Publication date: August 2015

Goodreads synopsis: All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

This novel is a must-read. It’s witty, honest, sensitive and heartfelt, and deals with important topics such as mental health and how it’s viewed, feminism, and relationships.

I absolutely love the friendship between Evie, Amber and Lottie, and the humourous conversations that they have together. They each have distinctive personalities but fit together perfectly and are constantly entertained in each other’s company. It’s the ultimate friendship. Even when Evie is suffering at home, with them she is always laughing. 

I also really want to join their Spinster Club! What a great idea. ‘We can reinvent the word ‘spinster’, make it the complete opposite of what it means? Like ‘young’ and ‘independent’ and ‘strong’? Their enthusiasm in making the group is tangible, and passes over to the reader, inspiring them, too. Additionally, being in that group with Amber and Lottie makes means, for Evie, that, ‘For the first time ever in my life, I felt strong.’ Her friendship with Amber and Lottie empowers her

The structuring of the novel is also really effective, with the excerpts from Evie’s recovery diary, inputs of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ thoughts, text messages, and the subheadings, such as, ‘How to Wash Your Hands – The Evie Way’.  

Over the course of the book, through following her journey, you grow close to Evie and feel a connection with her. She is such a vivid protagonist, with a character you instantly warm to and feel for. The question she poses, ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ is one which all teenagers ask themselves at some point. 

This book underlines the seriousness of mental health issues, and  challenges the stigmas and assumptions that people make about them. I think, therefore, that this novel is not only an enjoyable read, but a highly relevant one.