Book Review: The Caged Queen

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I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Caged Queen today! If you read my review of the first book in the series, The Last Namsara on Wednesday, you’ll know how much I loved that and how much I was looking forward to The Caged Queen. Fortunately, my copy of The Caged Queen arrived on the same day that I finished the previous book, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed in it.

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Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished – until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax – the heir to Firgaard’s throne – was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax’s promises go unfulfilled. Roa’s people continue to suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises – an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.

In theory, you don’t need to have read The Last Namsara in order to read The Caged Queen. It’s not a direct sequel, in that it doesn’t continue to follow Asha (although she appears), but it does start not long after the events of the first book, and will spoil that book slightly. Personally, I’m glad I read The Last Namsara first, as it gave me a deeper understanding of the world and characters, but you probably don’t need that to enjoy The Caged Queen on its own merits.

And what merits they are! I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure of it at first. It took me longer to warm to Roa than it did to Asha, especially as she seemed determined to be mean to Dax, who I’d loved in the first book. However, as we learn more of Roa’s story, we come to see why life in Firgaard’s palace is so frustrating for her, and it becomes clear that she faces an uphill struggle to be accepted as queen. There’s also the tragedy of her sister’s death for her to come to terms with – something she hasn’t been able to do for eight years – and by the end of the book I loved her. Not as much as I loved Dax probably, who continued to be adorable and sneaky and secretive, but still a lot.

The Caged Queen is much more about political intrigue than The Last Namsara and I loved it for it. This is what happens after the revolution, and it makes it clear that you can’t just kill the prevous king and your job is done. You have to work for acceptance, make some dirty compromises to get things done, and wait for the right time to implement drastic changes. Dax gets this. Roa doesn’t, and it was fascinating to see how her very different upbringing affected her world view and brought her into conflict with her husband. In the scrublands, where Roa is from, things are decided based on what’s best for the community, not one particular person, and once a decision is made, it’s actioned. The idea of essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul makes no sense to her, and I really enjoyed seeing her start to work out how Firgaard functions and use it to her advantage.

I enjoyed the storyline with Roa’s sister less than the political intrigue, but it was still interesting, and I particularly liked how it eventually tied in. Ciccarelli is very good at laying the groundwork for eventual revelations throughout the book and I love it when you get that “aha!” moment. And the conclusion of this subplot was…well, I can’t say, because it would completely spoil the book, but it was good and right and it made me cry (that’s not a spoiler, because I cry at almost everything these days, happy or sad!). In fact the same could be said of the end of the whole book. I had a little moment of hugging it to myself when I finished, with that satisfied feeling of knowing you’ve read something excellent.

We get to see more of the wider world this time, particularly Roa’s homeland, for obvious reasons, and mostly through backstory inserts. This really added to the sense of place, and I loved seeing some of the events we missed while following Asha in the last book. Roa’s history was also interesting and I liked seeing what brought her to the point where she was willing to marry someone she hated. The fairytale/myths chapters were back too, and I loved them as much as I’d loved them last time.

I read The Caged Queen in a couple of hours on a Saturday morning when I had a long list of other things I was supposed to be doing. I just couldn’t put it down for long enough to do any of them! It is not a choice I regret making though. Like The Last Namsara before it, The Caged Queen is the sort of book you want to be able to immerse yourself in, without any distractions from the real world. Go and find yourself a copy, make sure you have a free morning or afternoon, and settle in for a fantastic story. You won’t regret it!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4.5/5

ARC provided by Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in return for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

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Book Review: The Last Namsara

Last year at YALC I was given a proof of Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara by another blogger. Everyone had been raving about it, so I was really excited to read it and I was thrilled to hae an early copy. Obviously it then sat on the TBR pile for 15 months because I’m a terrible, terrible person. However, I was offered the opportunity to review the second book in the series, The Caged Queen, and it seemed the perfect time to finally pick up The Last Namsara. I’m very, very glad I did, because I loved every minute of it, and raced through it over a couple of evenings.

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In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

I loved Asha. Properly and truly loved her. Right from the start of the book we see how fiercely protective she is of those she loves, even when society dictates that she shouldn’t be – to the extent that she steps in front of a fire-breathing dragon to protect her cousin, even though she’s not wearing her fireproof gloves. This continues throughout the book – Asha would kill for her brother and cousin, a protection that is slowly extended to a number of other characters, although not always successfully – and it’s a trait that the villains know to exploit.

Asha’s not completely sympathetic. She’s very naive in some ways, and it takes her a long time to work out who the bad guy is. She also thinks nothing of the fact that her people have enslaved another race, until she accidentally gets to know one of the slaves her fiance keeps and she starts to question her treatment of them, and why there are slaves at all.  Given that her cousin is technically classed as a skral (the child of a forbidden love affair between Asha’s uncle and his mother’s slave) and Asha manages to see past that, this attitude did jar a little bit, but she does learn, and tries to be better. In fact, in numerous ways, Asha grows throughout the story, and is a very different person by the time we leave her to the one we first met, as she should be.

The Last Namsara is full of interesting characters. I loved Torwin and Dax with their secrets, and Safire who returns Asha’s loyalty in kind. Even the baddies are interesting. Jarek and the king are horrible people, but I did enjoy the anticipation of wondering what they were going to do next!

My favourite parts of the book, though, were the dragons and the stories. I love getting background through fairytale-like stories, and it worked really well in The Last Namsara. I don’t know if there was an extra frisson because the stories were forbidden within the book’s world, but I really enjoyed them. I also very much enjoyed the dragons in this book. I won’t say more than that, because spoilers, but I really liked them.

All in all, I think Ciccarelli has done a fantastic job in building a world I loved to visit. I mean, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want to actually live there, but visiting it in the pages of a book is definitely something I’m interested in doing multiple times. Which is handy, since there are at least three books in the Iskari series, although only two are out so far. I definitely recommend that you pick up The Last Namsara if you enjoy well-written fantasy with dragons, because you won’t regret it!

Come back on Friday to read my review of The Caged Queen as part of the blog tour!

4.5/5

ARC received as a gift from @ladyjulianne

Blog Tour: Cold Iron

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Today in case you couldn’t tell from that big banner there (yes my blog name is wrong; no, I didn’t notice until it was too late to do anything), I’m on the blog tour for Cold Iron today. This is the first book I’ve read by Miles Cameron, and there was lots to enjoy about it.

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Aranthur is a student. He showed a little magical talent, is studying at the local academy, and is nothing particularly special. Others are smarter. Others are more talented. Others are quicker to pick up techniques. But none of them are with him when he breaks his journey home for the holidays in an inn. None of them step in to help when a young woman is thrown off a passing stage coach into the deep snow at the side of the road. And none of them are drawn into a fight to protect her. One of the others might have realised she was manipulating him all along . . . 

A powerful story about beginnings, coming of age, and the way choosing to take one step towards violence can lead to a slippery and dangerous slope, this is an accomplished fantasy series driven by strong characters and fast-paced action.

So, I did really enjoy Cold Iron. Aranthur is a likeable, if rather naive, lead character, and I enjoyed seeing him become a little bit wiser as he moved through the events of the book. It would have been nice if he’d learned a little bit faster, instead of repeatedly making the same mistakes, but as one of my pet bugbears in books is characters hiding vital information from the protagonist for “reasons”, I shared a lot of his frustration at his friends and colleagues. I realise that sometimes there’s no plot without this, but if one conversation can solve everything, then that seems a little bit like lazy writing to me. But I digress. This wasn’t actually an issue in Cold Iron, because there were legitimate reasons for not sharing the information, and while Aranthur’s life might have been easier if his friends had talked to him, I can understand why they didn’t.

The secondary characters were actually my favourite thing about Cold Iron, especially the ones we got to know  – there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and as a result we don’t necessarily get to find out much about a lot of them – but I really liked Dahlia, Tiy Drako, Sasan and Ansu, and even the military characters we only met briefly, like Equus and The General. Cameron is very good at getting a lot of personality across in a few words, and it’s surprisingly effective in getting you to care about people.

The world building is also impressive. The magic system makes sense, and there’s a lot of history built into the story. I’m not going to lie, some of it is dropped in an info-dump way, but most of it is woven into the story very effectively. The setting is also described in a very vivid way – I could easily imagine the Inn of Fosse, Aranthur’s rooms and even the streets of the city as events played out. There’s a hefty political system at work too, and a lot of political intrigue and conspiracies. I did find some of this confusing as I was reading, but it ties together beautifully by the end, and I did think the way Cameron built the story was very clever.

The one thing I really disliked about Cold Iron was the racist way Aranthur refers to himself and the people he comes from. It happened a few times, and while I understand that Cameron was probably trying to show how Aranthur had internalised external attitudes, it was a very bad choice of words, which just came across as racist.  The first time it happened was very near the beginning of the book, and it did have an effect on the way I read the rest.

Overall though, Cold Iron was a very enjoyable book. I think it could have been smoother in its writing, as it did seem to jump about quite a lot and the timescale wasn’t always clear, but it all tied together brilliantly. However, I also think that Cameron needs to think a bit more about the language he uses and the connotations it might have, whatever his intentions actually were. The blurb doesn’t lie though – it is a powerful story, well told, with a fascinating cast of characters. If you like your fantasy epic, this is for you!

Cold Iron is out now from Gollancz.

3.5/5

Advance copy sent to me by Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

 

Book review: I Was Born For This

I’m not going to lie, I thought twice about requesting this. I’d read Alice Oseman’s previous two books, Solitaire and Radio Silence and found something missing from them for me. I’d decided her writing wasn’t for me, so I wasn’t going to read I Was Born For This, because it didn’t seem fair to keep trying and keep saying she’s not for me. I’d like to say this book changed that for me; unfortunately it didn’t. I still didn’t connect with it in the way so many other readers did. However, I’m happy to say that I felt it was miles above the previous two, and I do think it’s Oseman’s best book yet.

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For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be. 

For me, Alice Oseman is one of those writers who I can see is technically very good. And she really is. I’m convinced my issue with her books is exactly that – my issue. I can see exactly why people love them, just like I can see why people might find a famous actor attractive, even if I don’t like them myself. I Was Born For This was no exception. Written from two perspectives – superfan Angel and band member Jimmy – it looks at how fandom can give its members a space to belong, while also piling the pressure onto everyone involved. Angel and Jimmy both struggle to deal with these pressures, and it was interesting to see their two viewpoints and the push and pull between a fandom and its subjects.

One of the things Oseman always does well is diversity, and it was something I loved about IWBFT. There’s clear, important LGBT and mental health rep on the page, and Angel is a young Muslim woman who wears a hijab. These aren’t plot points, they’re just facts that makes these characters who they are, which is exactly how diversity in books should work. There are also excellent side characters, like Bliss, the girlfriend of one of the band members, and Jimmy’s grandad. I’ll admit that I found the other members of the band a bit annoying, but I think that’s because we mostly see them from Jimmy’s point of view, and he has a lot of issues with them during the course of this book.

Overall, I’m glad I read I Was Born For This. It was certainly enjoyable and is a book that makes you think. It’s ultimately a book about finding your own path, and I think it’s an important addition to the YA canon – even if it wasn’t quite for me.

4/5

ARC received from Harper Collins via Nina Douglas, in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Nina!

Book Review – Ravencry

Last year I got the chance to read an early copy of Blackwing by Ed McDonald, and I absolutely loved it,so when the lovely Stevie Finegan from Gollancz offered me the chance of reading the sequel, Ravencry, I had to jump at it. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed!

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Four years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic.

A new power is rising: a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady manifests in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power even as the city burns around them.

When Crowfoot’s arcane vault is breached, an object of terrible power is stolen, and Galharrow and his Blackwings must once find out which of Valengrad’s enemies is responsible before they have a chance to use it.

To save Valengrad, Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota must venture to a darker, more twisted and more dangerous place than any they’ve walked before: the very heart of the Misery.

I have to say, it did take me a little while to get into Ravencry, mostly because I was craving light, fluffy, romantic summer novels, and absolutely none of that describes Ravencry. It did, therefore, take me longer than I expected to read. Once I did get into it though, I raced through it.

I loved that it started four years after the end of Blackwing. Plot-wise, it has to, because there has to have been a significant amount of time for the events to make sense. But so often when you have a series like this, major events just pile on one after another and you get to the point that you’re wondering how the lead characters are still standing. A break of four years between potentially world-ending events makes a bit more sense, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the world of the Misery and Galharrow et al has moved on from where we left it, and things seem to be improving. Obviously that means everything is about to go horribly wrong.

Galharrow is, if anything, in worse shape than he was in Blackwing. He doesn’t sleep. He barely eats. He drinks a lot. He blames himself for what happened four years earlier, but can’t do anything to fix it. Pretty much all that’s keeping him going is the mystery of the Bright Lady, and who she might be, although he’s not quite sure whether she’s worth his hope yet. That, and a moral obligation to do the right thing – whatever that might be, even if it’s going deep into the Misery in search of answers. I love Galharrow. I loved him in Blackwing and I think I love him even more in Ravencry. He’s just so broken, in so many ways, yet he keeps on keeping on. The people he cares about are everything to him, so obviously that’s where his enemy hits him. Numerous times. I don’t know anyone who would be able to cope with everything that’s thrown at Galharrow. It changes him, in deep and, I suspect, as yet unseen ways, and he knows it’s going to, but he does what he has to do anyway.

The other characters (mostly) aren’t shortchanged. The events of Blackwing have had their effects on everyone, and they’re generally not good.  We’re also introduced to a couple of new characters – a potential love interest, Valiya, and Galharrow’s ward/servant Amaira, who I loved with the passon of a thousand suns. She was fantastic, and I’m guessing we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in book three. There’s also a scene where we’re re-introduced to an old friend (no spoilers here!) and I actually cried at the description of them. We hadn’t seen this character for a long time, but they had been witten so well that that was how much I cared about them (gosh, it’s difficult to write this without spoilers!). And the ending nearly broke me, never mind Galharrow!

(I have issues with the ending too, but I really can’t discuss them without spoiling both Ravencry and Blackwing, so you’ve escaped the rant.)

Apart from my issues with the ending, Ravencry is an astounding book. Once it gets into its stride, it never lets up, and it’s one disaster after another. I could barely catch my breath, and I was properly living the story alongside the main characters, which is maybe the highest praise I can give a book. I highly recommend you read it, although you should really start with Blackwing. You might be able to get away with reading Ravencry as a standalone, but you’ll miss a lot of the emotional beats and completely spoil the first book, so do try to read them in order. But do read them.

4.5/5

Advance copy received from Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

YALC 2018

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Last weekend was THE event in the UKYA calendar, the Young Adult Literature Convention. Many of you were there, and are probably also writing up your posts about it! It was, as always, a weekend of bookish fun, in which I got to see lots and lots of friends, chat to some of my favourite authors and buy a ridiculous number of books. However, this year, I also found it to be full of frustration, to the extent that I’m seriously considering not going next year – and I’ve been to all five of them so far, so this is a big thing for me.

But let’s start with the fun. Friday was a mostly excellent day. I love wandering around the publisher stands and picking up freebies (although what was with the lack of totes this year guys?!) and just chatting to the teams. I may also have bought books – I wanted the early copies of Giant Days by Non Pratt and Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes by Holly Bourne, and my pre-order of Record of a Spaceborn Few hadn’t arrived before I left, so I needed to buy that too – but it was generally a relaxed, sauntering sort of day. Yes, Non Pratt’s queue was HUGE, and I foolishly stayed in it, thus missing Katherine Woodfine, even though I knew I was also going to have to queue on Saturday for Non, but that was my own bad decision, and those two and Ed McDonald were the only people I planned to see, so all was fine.

Friday was also the day of the Floored quiz. Last year’s quiz was a highlight of the weekend for me, so I had great expectations this year, and they were all met. My Kinda Book had kindly provided a free bar and food, and six of the seven Floored authors were team captains (Mel Salisbury had a prior appointment with Aidan Turner, so who can blame her for skipping out on us?). I was on Non’s team, with Sarah, Alice, Bella and Lucinda AND WE ONLY WENT AND WON! It’s over a week later, and I’m still in shock!

 

So that was Friday. Friday was great. Saturday was less so, and I have since come to the conclusion that Saturday at YALC is just too busy for me. It was also, in my opinion, terribly organised. Like, who decided to have seven separate queues for the Floored authors? So many people were disappointed not to get everyone’s signature because one queue closed while they were in another, myself included. Fortunately, I only needed Lisa Williamson’s signature to complete my copy at that point, and the ever lovely Non sorted that out for me, but I was really disappointed not to have a chance to chat to Lisa. I’d already queued for literal hours for Frances Hardinge and Laura Wood, so I was exhausted by now – only there were no seats except in the panel area, because despite promises to do better on the accessibility front, the only seats in the chill out zone were beanbags. I don’t have accessibility issues, but I can’t get down to a beanbag, or the floor, very easily and I felt bad going into a panel just so I could sit down for a bit. It didn’t stop me doing it, but if I’d needed it during some of the panels, I’d have been stuck, because they were full. All the queueing really put a damper on my day, and it was a real shame. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they didn’t already have a system in place to deal with it, but they do, they just weren’t using it properly. Anybody attending on Saturday could have told you which queues were going to be huge, so why didn’t they start virtual ticketing straightaway for those authors like they did for the Fletchers?

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Anyway, it wasn’t all bad. I got to see one of my very favourite authors for the first time in a couple of years and was incredibly chuffed that he not only remembered me, but he got up to give me a huge hug. I also noticed a group of people sat on the floor near the signing area, and something told me that they knew that that was where Becky Chambers was signing, so I went over, made some new friends and got to be almost at the front of the queue for Becky. I also got to see plenty of old friends who helped me decompress after the stressful morning, and my copy of Second Best Friend is signed to Donna the Quiz Queen, which is always going to remind me of the fantastic time I had at the quiz.

Sunday was a much better day, because it was quieter, and I only had two books with me to get signed. I didn’t get into any of the workshops I wanted, because I arrived late and they were full already, but I didn’t mind too much. I just wandered, actually attended some panels and entered some competitions, before buying lots of books. Oh, and I finally saw Jason Momoa, who was this year’s Benedict Cumberbatch!

I did enjoy myself. I know it doesn’t sound like it from the above, and Saturday has inevitably coloured my whole experience, but I did. YALC as a member of the UKYA community is a whole different beast to YALC without knowing everyone, and I love that aspect of it. I love being able to start up a conversation about books with anyone in sight, I love meeting people who I’ve only known online up to now and I love making new friends. This year I also got to introduce myself to publicists as someone they might know, which was amazing. But Showmasters/YALC desperately need to sort out their organisation and accessibility for the event. I know some people were in tears at the way they were treated by staff, and that’s not what YALC should be like.

So how would I fix it? More seating for starters, and more scattered around if possible. Virtual ticketing from the start for the authors that everyone knows will be busy. Staff/volunteers who understand what an extra help wristband means and what they should do. And speak to the publishers about how they run their giveaways. It’s true that they didn’t do any ‘first here gets this’, but a lot of them still involved standing in line for a long period of time if you wanted a proof. I know just running raffles over and over again isn’t as fun or exciting, but it’s honestly the fairest way. Or do what Hot Key did, which was a mix of twitter competitions and making silly poses. They need to be as inclusive as possible, and it just wasn’t this year. Again. Kudos to Atom, Chicken House, Hodderscape and Penguin, who did make their giveaways into raffles or competitions that didn’t involve standing around for ages, and half a kudos to Harper Collins who did some, but not all, of their proof giveaways like that.

Anyway, I’m sure you all want to see my haul, so voila!

Getting all that back to Liverpool was FUN, as some of you might have seen on twitter!

That feels like it was the longest blog post ever, and it certainly took me a long time to write. I hope I haven’t been overly critical, but I did find parts of YALC incredibly frustrating this year. I still love it though!

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Did you go to YALC this year? Did you find it frustrating? Let me know in the comments!

Library Haul!

There’s been some talk recently about people not using or needing libraries anymore, which is a topic which floats around every so often. I vehemently disagree with this! There will always be a need for libraries in my opinion, because there will always be a need for a place where people can access books with no charge. We weren’t poor when I was a child, but books were still a luxury that I only got on birthdays and Christmas, and the library was the only place I had a regular supply of books. People – kids and adults – all over the country still need that.

So to show that people do still use the library, here’s my current haul of books!

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(Yes, that is a Captain America tsum tsum on top of the pile. Isn’t he cute?!)

We have:

The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams – this is the sequel to The Ninth Rain and I can’t wait to read it!

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien – nominated for lots of awards, not my usual type of book, but it sounds fascinating.

Markswoman by Rati Mehrotr – Asian inspired fantasy, it sounded really interesting!

Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong – I love Kelley Armstrong books and this is a standalone YA that I picked up on a whim.

928 Miles From Home by Kim Slater – I basically picked this up because of the cover!

The Last Romeo by Justin Myers – otherwise known as The Guyliner, I really like Myers’ writing online and I was just reading about this book yesterday. It seemed like fate when I saw it in the library in the afternoon!

The New World by Scott Andrews – I liked the first book in this series and already have the second to read, so I thought I’d better pick it up when I saw it!

So there we have it! I have a fantastic library – I’m lucky in that I have access to Liverpool’s main library, which is also in a magnificent building – and it stocks a lot of books I’m interested in. Some of these books I’ve had out longer than others, but I’m looking forward to reading them all. I’m making no promises as to when that might be though!

Do you use the library? Let me know what books you currently have out!

Blog Tour: Mirror Magic

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I’m delighted to be part of the Mirror Magic blog tour today. Written by Claire Fayers, Mirror Magic is a wonderful middle grade historical fantasy, and as soon as I heard the synopsis, I knew I had to read this book!

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Welcome to Wyse, the only town left in Britain with a connection to the magical Unworld. 

When twelve-year-old Ava meets Howell on the other side of a mirror, the two are quickly drawn into a mystery to discover why the enchantments that link their towns are disappearing. 

But it’s hard to distinguish between friends and enemies when magic is involved and Ava and Howell soon learn that it can be very unwise to mess with mirrors…

So, this book couldn’t be any further up my street if it lived in my house, so obviously I loved it. Set in a slightly alternate Victorian England, the action takes place in Wyse, a small town on the border of England and Wales, which is the last place in Britain that still has a connection to magic. The first thing I’ll say is that this setting was perfectly evoked! Wyse is one of those small tourist towns that you still see today, and I could picture it exactly in my mind. Wyse’s tourism trade, however, isn’t to do with the countryside, or history – people visit Wyse because of its connection to the Unworld and the Fair Folk who live there. It’s governed by Lord Skinner, who is a fine gentleman, and has invited young orphans Matthew and his sister Ava to return to the town where they were born. At the same time, Howell, the only one of the Fair Folk without magic, has attracted the attention of Unywse’s ruler, Mr Bones, which is not a good thing. (Incidentally, Mr Bones, who is a skeleton, is genuinely scary, and I say that as a 38 year old! But he’s exactly the sort of villain you need in a book like this and children will love the scariness I think.)

There are a lot of mysteries in Mirror Magic, some of which are more guessable than others, but they all combine to form an excellent story. I really enjoyed seeing how they all came together. Ava and Howell are a great pairing, and I even think about them every so often to wonder how they’re getting on! I mean, that’s how you know you’ve connected to the characters! Even the secondary characters are wonderful, from Charles and his family, who believe the Fair Folk are being exploited to Lunette, the mysterious lady who triggers a lot of events (and her ridiculous hats are amazing and I want them!). One of my favourite things about Mirror Magic is the chapter headings from The Book, which are funny and accurate. The Book eventually turns up almost as a character in its own right, and it’s such a good idea. I loved how Mirror Magic was so cleverly structured.

In short, Claire Fayers has done a magnificent job with Mirror Magic. It really took me back to my own childhood and the books I was reading then, like Joan Aiken and Lucy M Boston. I would say it’s probably best for the younger end of middle grade, which is younger than I usually read, but that just goes to show that you shouldn’t limit your reading material, because otherwise you might miss out on gems like this!

Mirror Magic is out now, and I highly recommend it for everyone, whatever your age!

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!

5/5

ARC received from MacMillan Children’s Books via Karen Bultiauw, in exchange for an honest review

Unboxing Taken Moons’ “Dare to Be” Box

So. I’ve been a little bit…absent again. I can only apologise and hope that I can be better. I could write an entire post about why I’ve not been around, but that would only be boring for you lot, so let’s get on with the unboxing!

Taken Moons is a relatively new bookish candle shop on Etsy, run by Rebecca from This Booky Place. Full disclaimer here: I know Rebecca and think she’s fabulous, so I am slightly biased. But I really love Taken Moons, and I really really loved this box.

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The “Dare to Be” box is Pride themed, so the four candles are based on books that have LGBT+ stories, and Rebecca managed to pick two of my favourite books from last year. I squealed when I saw them!

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Look how beautiful they are! The books they represent are: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue; They Both Die At The End; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; and When The Moon Was Ours. I’ve only read two of them, but I really want to read the others, and I think the candles are perfectly scented to match the books.

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So, We Are Not Broken Things is the PERFECT title for the Gentleman’s Guide candle. It’s scent is botanical gin, which is also perfect! I love everything about this candle. Did I mention it’s perfect?

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Next we have Life Isn’t Meant To Be Lived Alone representing They Both Die At The End. I almost cried just at the memory of the book this title provoked! It’s scented as French toast, and let me tell you, it is GORGEOUS. I love it, and it’s my favourite candle in the box.

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The third candle is called Maybe I Still Haven’t Become Me, which is summer breeze scented and based on The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I own this book and haven’t read it yet, but from what I know of it, this candle ties in perfectly.

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The final candle is You Do Not Own What I Grow, which is from When The Moon Was Ours and is pumpkin spice scented. I know nothing about this book, although I own Wild Beauty by the same author, but I love the candle anyway.

We also get a couple of other items, as well as a charity donation made on our behalf to the Rainbow Cards Project. I love this idea, and I think other boxes should try it too, if the charity in question is linked to the box theme.

The first of our additional items is this beautiful bookmark by Literary Galaxy, based on the Malec pairing from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books. Literary Galaxy is another new Etsy store, selling gorgeous bookmarks and bookish jewellery. I already own two bookmarks and I’d buy everything in the store if I could, so check it out! It’s run by Jenn from A Page of Jenniely, so you know you’re in good hands!

We also have an ally badge from Simon’s Nest and a lovely postcard of my favourite Oscar Wilde quote from Literary Emporium. (I had a poster of Oscar Wilde quote on my bedroom wall as a teenager, which I think explains a lot about the person I became!)

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Isn’t that a fantastic box? I’m so proud of Rebecca and her shop. She has a real knack for choosing appropriate scents, so I urge you to check out her other candles too! The “Dare To Be” box is still available, so head over to Taken Moons if you want one!

 

View from a Book: Guest Post by Sophie Cameron

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Today is my turn on the blog tour for Out of the Blue, the stunning debut novel from Sophie Cameron which came out on the 22nd March. On the surface, Out of the Blue is a story about angels falling from the sky, but on a deeper level, it explores the different ways we deal with grief and how we can affect the other people around us. I was sent an arc as part of this blog tour, and I absolutely loved the book. Jaya, the main character, is incredibly relatable and I loved seeing her relationships with Allie and Teacake (the only angel to survive the fall) develop.

Sophie kindly agreed to be the second participant in my View from a Book feature, so without further ado, onto Sophie’s post!

View from a Book

View From a Book

  • Where are you and what are you reading?

I’m in Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona, and reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.  

  • Would you recommend the book?

Definitely! I’m only a few chapters in but so far it’s excellent.

  • Is there anything special about this particular spot?

It’s one of my favourite parks in Barcelona and is just a short walk away from my flat, so I come here a lot when I want a wander or some fresh air. In summer it’s too busy to read in peace, but at this time of year you can still find some quiet(ish) spots.

  • Do you have a favourite place to read?

I love reading on the beach – any beach, as long as it’s not too busy.

  • Can you tell us a little bit about Out of the Blue?

Out of the Blue is about a 16-year-old girl named Jaya, who has recently lost her mother and whose father has dragged her and her sister to Edinburgh in the hopes he can catch one of the angels or ‘Beings’ that have been falling to earth for the past eight months. It’s Jaya who finds one instead – but rather than telling her dad she decides to keep it hidden from him and nurse it back to health.

  • If you could send someone to anywhere in the world as the perfect place to read Out of the Blue, where would you pick?

It’d have to be Edinburgh! Maybe in the Meadows or the Royal Botanic Garden, if it’s a nice day.

  • And finally, if you could pick any book for Jaya and Teacake to read, what would it be?

I love this question! For Jaya, I’d pick Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee, I think she’d love that. I think Teacake could probably learn to read in English really fast if she put her mind to it, but to start with I’d give her a recipe book with lots of photos of tasty cakes and puddings – maybe Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Thank you to Sophie for this fabulous post – are you all as jealous as I am of that lovely spot?!

Out of the Blue is out now from Pan Macmillan and really is a fantastic book that I recommend you all get your hands on immediately, especially if you like LGBT and disability rep in your books.

Have you read Out of the Blue? Do you want to? Let me know in the comments!