July 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

Paper and Fire, Rachel Caine

  • Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 21.52.33.pngRating: * * * * *

Series: #2 The Great Library trilogy

Publisher: Allison and Busby

Publication Date: July 2016

Goodreads synopsis: 

In Ink and BoneNew York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history…

With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.

Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.

Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.

But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…

‘Paper and Fire’ was my most anticipated book of 2016 and I am delighted to say that it lived up to exceeded all my expectations. Here’s what I loved so much about it and why I would recommend it:

THE CHARACTERS

‘Paper and Fire’ has an awesome cast of characters. A highlight for me has to be Glain. She’s determined, strong, and fiercely loyal. She’s also very astute and rather blunt:

‘If that bit of false-modesty theatre was meant to distract me from the fact you’re wearing some kind of smuggling equipment under that shirt, it failed.’ 

I really like the fact that it is Glain who is the Squad Leader and that she is assertive and very much in control in this role, and also that she’s addressed as ‘Sir’ and Jess describes her as ‘handsome’ rather than ‘pretty’. She defies stereotypes of young women and her strength really captures my admiration. I’m so glad that she has a large role in this book and I love that her and Jess’ friendship is built on mutual respect.

Although she’s quite a minor character and only appears in a few scenes, something about Anit’s quiet strength and practical nature really makes her, too, stand out for me. I’m very much hoping that she will appear in the next book.

Additionally, I love that another layer is added to Dario’s character. In ‘Paper and Fire’, we see his vulnerability, his guilt, and his disappointment in himself when he tries to do the things Jess can but fails because he isn’t as experienced. His character is developed as we see his flaws along with his successes. I also really like seeing more of him and Khalila together – they were my favourite couple in the first book in this series, ‘Ink and Bone’. We also get to see more of Jess and Morgan and of Wolfe and Santi. Santi’s loyalty to Wolfe during Wolfe’s struggles in this book is very touching.

I have to say that this series is the best fantasy series I have read in terms of the diversity of the cast of characters. There are characters with different sexual orientations, religious faiths and from different cultures and countries. I know this is something very important and that many readers look for books which are representative.

WORLD-BUILDING

I loved the world that Rachel Caine created in ‘Ink and Bone’ and couldn’t wait to return to it. ‘Paper and Fire’ makes me love it even more, as we get to see so much more of it. We learn more about Translation, the black market for books and the Black Archives, and more about those who run the library and the Library’s past. We also learn more about Wolfe’s past through Mesmer-induced trances.

A particular highlight for me is learning more about the automata and how they can be switched on and off – it’s fascinating, and the different automata are vividly described. It’s also really interesting to learn more about the various career paths and options available in this world through seeing what Jess’ fellow library initiates are up to. Through Morgan, we get to glimpse the duties of being an Obscurist. These duties, we discover, are particularly sinister for females – the Library controls and constrains them in an awful way.

When reading this novel, you are swept away into this fascinating, tense, imaginative and vivid world of the Library. More aspects of the world are filled in and developed in this sequel, and this world is wonderfully unique and original. It’s a world I love to live in and I can’t wait to return to it in the final novel. It’s just like Morganville, the setting for Rachel Caine’s other YA series – you never want to leave!

PLOT AND PACE 

One of the main things that makes ‘Paper and Fire’ so enjoyable and un-put-down-able is the great amount of tension in the novel. The protagonist Jess is always getting himself/being put into scrapes that he must find his way out of, whether it’s being chased by menacing and dangerous automata, illegally smuggling books in his harness, having to avoid blazes of Greek Fire, or desperately searching for the off-switch or place of vulnerability of a Spartan warrior statue. I especially love this line of his narration:

‘Running for his life was a feeling that settled on him like old, familiar clothes.’

There’s also constant tension because of the fact that those running the Library, like the automata, are always watching and lurking ready to strike. This is especially brought out when Jess receives a letter from the Artifex Magnus that merely reads ‘Our eyes are on you.’ Additionally, the often ominous and threatening ephemera between chapters create a tense and hostile atmosphere right from the very beginning.

One of my very favourite scenes in the novel is where Jess and Glain’s squad are forced to undergo a training test, which turns out not to be a test at all but a very real and very dangerous situation. The half-strength weapons are actually at full strength. This scene is action-packed and hugely tense. Jess can’t slow down or relax for a second – there is always another danger present, whether it’s a biting cobra or an enemy posed as a friend.

The ending of the novel is just fantastic. Everything builds to a crescendo and it’s totally unpredictable with a few twists. One particularly horrifying, destructive and heart-breaking thing happens at the end and this bit made me feel very emotional, especially because I knew how much it meant to Jess – I can’t give specific details because there’d be massive spoilers. The final cliffhanger has left me desperate for the final book in this amazing trilogy. I don’t know how I will wait a year for it!

OVERALL

‘Paper and Fire’ is a brilliant novel, full of wonderful characters and scenes, and The Great Library series is rapidly climbing up to the top of my all-time favourites list. I highly, highly recommend reading this series if you aren’t already!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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July 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

  • This Savage Song, V. E. Schwab

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 Monsters of Verity

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: June 2016 (July in the US)

Goodreads Synopsis: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.
Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 17.06.00.png
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
 

 

 

I’m tempted to just write a review for this book simply saying ‘READ IT!’ Seriously. This book blew me away. The characters, the world-building, the plot…everything is spectacularly done. I absolutely loved it and it has officially secured V. E. Schwab’s place as my favourite author.

The World-Building

I love the world of the Shades of Magic series and V. E. Schwab has created an equally fascinating and immersive world in this new novel. Essentially, there are multiple different territories called things like ‘Prosperity’, one of which is Verity. The North of Verity is ruled by Callum Harker. He controls the majority of the Malchai and the Corsai and makes the citizens there pay for protection from these monsters. North is separated from the South by a linear area called the Seam. In the South, the Flynn family is in control. Among them are three of the final and most rare type of monster – the Sunai. The peace treaty between North and South is very fragile and any more animosity between the two areas will lead to warfare. The monsters in the city are born when violent acts are committed – violence breeds violence. The three species of monster have different qualities:

“Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.”
“Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.”

I think that the strength of this world is that it is complex enough that it is enveloping, developed and captures the reader’s imagination, but at the same time it’s simple enough, with having just three types of monster and two ruling families, that it can be easily grasped by the reader and is very memorable. It also seems very logical that violence breeds violence.

The Characters

‘This Savage Song’ is full of striking and memorable characters, something I have come to expect from V. E. Schwab.

The two main characters are Kate and August. Kate is strong and fierce, qualities which would be expected given that she is the daughter of Callum Harker, the leader of the North of V-City and the man in control of many monsters and thereby many humans. She’s the girl who wants to be a monster, where August is the boy who wants to be human. When I first read this summary of the two characters, I wasn’t sure how likeable or easy to empathise with Kate would be. However, when I started reading, I realised that any worries I had were misplaced. Kate has a softer side and I love how this is brought out by the game she plays with herself – she asks herself ‘Where is Kate?’ and pictures alternative and happier versions of herself. She is, in some ways, very vulnerable, and still hurting from her mother’s death. She’s also very likeable, I think, in the way that she treats August.

August himself is very easy to like. He’s trapped as someone he doesn’t want to be and terrified of what will happen when he goes dark again. I love his friendship with his sister, Ilsa, a girl with amazing ability but whose strength divides her – their relationship and characterisation is one of my favourite things about this novel. I think that it’s very clever and neat that August and Kate essentially contrast with each other – the humane monster and the monstrous human – but that they share and are united by both an inner sensitivity and a need to be strong and monstrous when it counts, and they fit together very well.

Sloan is another highlight for me in this novel. He is Kate’s father’s lead Malchai and right-hand man (well, right-hand monster!) and he has a great presence about him. He’s creepy and sly, and I always felt tense when Kate was alone with him. I could imagine him very vividly.

The Plot and Pacing

‘This Savage Song’ is gripping, gritty and utterly un-put-down-able. The pacing of the novel is on point.  It speeds up perfectly towards the end of the novel. The ending is also unpredictable, rich in twists, turns and revelations, and it left me desperate for the next book, but at the same time feeling satisfied and blown away by just how amazing and imaginative this first installment was.

May 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

Magus of Stonewylde, Kit Berry

  • Magus of Stonewylde, Kit Berry

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 08.24.31.pngRating: * * * * *

Series: #1 Stonewylde (There are five books)

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date: 2012 (Originally 2005)

Goodreads Synopsis: Sylvie is dying. A victim of crippling allergies, poisoned by the pollution and chemicals of modern life, Sylvie is trapped in a hospital bed. There’s an alternative community hidden away in a corner of Dorset. If their leader would let Sylvie visit, then perhaps the clean air and green lifestyle may restore her vitality.

 

I first read ‘Magus of Stonewylde’ last September. I saw Lucy Powrie’s glowing review of it on Queen of Contemporary, which made me really want to read it, and the next day, while on a road trip to look around universities, I found it by chance in a charity shop. Recognising the novel, I purchased it and took it with me to read on a biology field trip.

 

As soon as I started reading the novel, I was hooked and enchanted by it. A couple of chapters in I had the most amazing feeling, my favourite feeling in the whole world, that this book was going to be amazing and among the very best I had ever read. I wasn’t wrong there! I knew that I was in the hands of a phenomenal storyteller and that I could sit back, relax, and enjoy and savour all the wonderful scenes and chapters that lay stretched out before me. I kept the novel in my rucksack for the whole of the trip, seizing it and reading more whenever we had free time or a bus ride. I could not get enough.

 

‘Magus of Stonewylde’ tells the story of Sylvie, who is very ill and wasting away in the busy  city she lives in. She is offered the opportunity to escape into a private community named Stonewylde, where technology is unknown. At first, Stonewylde seems to be a kind of paradise with healing properties, but soon Sylvie discovers that it is not as bright and wonderful as it at first seems. Neither is its leader, Magus.

 

Stonewylde is full of fascinating and vivid characters, my favourite of which is Yul, the determined and angry yet compassionate boy who is ordered to work in Sylvie’s garden. He is the kind of character that you root for from the very beginning. The other characters are also very strong and distinctive. Magus is fantastically described and he has a great presence. He is charismatic, darkly alluring and at times very unsettling, able to wrap Sylvie’s mother Miranda around his little finger. He is one of the most well-crafted and impactful characters I have seen in YA literature, and through him the novel becomes an exploration into the nature of power.

 

As always with books that become my favourites, not only are the main characters striking and three dimensional, but the minor characters are, too. In this way ‘Magus of Stonewylde’ reminded me of Harry Potter, for my favourite aspect of HP is the fact that there are so many memorable characters aside from the main ones. Like J. K. Rowling does, Kit Berry builds up a whole community and it is a joy to become immersed in it.

 

Overall, ‘Magus of Stonewylde’ is a unique, magical and unforgettable novel. The other books in the series are equally captivating. I have already read and reread them countless times and I am confident that I will read them many more times! The Stonewylde series is one of my top three all time favourites, along with the ‘Throne of Glass’ series and ‘The Infernal Devices’, and I am so grateful to Lucy Powrie for introducing me to ‘Magus of Stonewylde’ through her reviews.

 

May 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

A Darker Shade of Magic, V. E. Schwab

  • A Darker Shade of Magic, V. E. Schwab

Rating: * * * * *

Series: Shades of Magic #1

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: February 2015

Goodreads Synopsis:Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 22.18.32.png

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. 

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

 

I read ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ a few weeks ago and I did so, appropriately, on the train to London. In the time since I have not been able to stop thinking about it. What struck me most about ADSOM was its originality: its world, characters and take on magic were hugely imaginative and refreshing. From the start of the first chapter to the end of the last chapter I was utterly engaged and involved in the story, and as soon as I finished reading it I began rereading it. In short, I loved it!

The characters in ADSOM are striking and distinctive. The lead character is Kell, a Traveller and smuggler who has one blue eye and one eye that is completely black, as well as a coat that can be turned inside out multiple ways. He is both admired and isolated by his magical ability. Kell can be grumpy and cold, but he is fiercely loyal to those he loves, especially his brother Rhy. Rhy himself is in many ways the opposite of Kell – charming, charismatic and vibrant, but the two of them complement each other very well. Both Kell and Rhy are vivid and multidimensional and I particularly love the scenes where they are together, as well as this section where Kell mentions Rhy:

‘Just because he adopted a more modest palette when he was abroad (wishing neither to offend the local royalty nor to draw attention) didn’t mean he had to sacrifice style.

Oh, kings, thought Kell as he fastened the buttons on the coat. He was starting to think like Rhy.’

 

Kell and Rhy are both awesome, but I think that my favourite character from the novel is Lila Bard, the pickpocket who has dreams of becoming a pirate and having her own ship. She is a wonderful combination of opposites: she’s practical, pragmatic, strong and crafty in her method of stealing things, but she is also an optimist, a dreamer who possesses a kind of reckless vulnerability and makes comments like this:

“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”

“Seen what?”

Her smile widened. “Everything.”

Lila’s enthusiasm and vitality makes her a loveable character and as soon as she entered the novel a few chapters in, she joined the ranks of my all time favourite female characters.

The novel’s plot is fantastic – thrilling and well thought out – and the world-building is, too. Each London is brilliantly described and is very atmospheric. I could picture everything, from the Kros Mejkt, the Stone Forest in White London which is made up not of trees but of people, to the curved spires of the Royal Palace of Red London. I also found the idea of there being a tavern in the same spot in every different London, a fixed point, fascinating and inventive.

Overall, ADSOM is an exhilarating and inspired novel, the perfect read if you’re looking for a refreshing fantasy novel, particularly because, unusually, there is very little (next to no) romance and the main female character would rather wear a suit than a dress. I purchased it for 99p on Kindle and I honestly think it is the best 99p I have ever spent, and based on this novel, I would read anything that V. E. Schwab writes. I cannot wait to see her at YALC in July!

 

Favourite Novels of 2015, Uncategorized

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.'”

Favourite Novels of 2015, Uncategorized

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!