Netgalley Reviews Catch-Up Part 2

My last Netgalley reviews catch up was books I’d read mostly around the time of release, but never got round to reviewing. This post is the books I’ve read more recently – and yes, most of them came out months and months ago. Sometimes life happens.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

midnight bookstore cover

I have to admit, this book was not what I expected at all, but I enjoyed it a lot once I got into it properly. That did take a significant portion of the book, but there was a moment when it all just suddenly clicked and I didn’t want to put the book down. Set primarily in the bookstore of the title, our lead character is Lydia, one of the booksellers. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is something of a haven for people who don’t quite fit in, or are acing hard times, and one night, as she’s closing up, Lydia comes across the body of one of these people after he’s hanged himself. This prompts Lydia to find out what would lead Joey, her favourite ‘bookfrog’ to do such a thing, but it leads into her own past in ways she could never have imagined. Matthew Sullivan is brilliant at drip-feeding bits of information throughout the story, and although I did guess some of the conclusion slightly before the end, I was utterly gripped by the mysteries unfolding in front of me. I highly recommend it, just be aware that it’s slow to get into, and parts of it are quite explicitly gory.

4/5

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

eleanor oliphant cover

To be fair to myself, I will point out that I didn’t get this one until a few months after its original release, so I’m not quite as late as I look. I wish I’d read it sooner, because it really is as good as everyone says it is. It’s a really hard book to try and review, because I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but it’s a proper life-affirming story. Eleanor is prickly and yes, a little bit strange, and she has no idea how to navigate social situations (for reasons that become very clear during the course of the book), but she’s a brilliant character with so much to love and she’s so relatable in many ways. To see her start venturing out of her comfort zone, even though it’s for slightly dubious reasons, feels like I imagine watching your child take their first steps does. There is a plot, but really this book is absolutely character driven, and it’s utterly wonderful. Read it.

5/5

Paris For One and Other Stories

paris for one

I’ve never read a Jojo Moyes book before, so I thought short stories might be a good way to start, but unfortunately I didn’t really connect with any of the stories. I suspect this is more me than Moyes, since I know short stories often aren’t enough for me, but I also think that romance stories aren’t a good fit for me in general. Although I will say that romance in these stories is very much a subjective thing. The ones I liked most were the two longer stories – the title one, and Honeymoon in Paris (which is apparently a prequel of sorts to one of Moyes’ novels). I don’t think there’s really a lot else I can say about about this book though. It was an enjoyable enough read for 90 minutes, but I’m probably not going to search out the author’s other books.

3/5

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Book Review: Spinning Silver

I actually can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to get round to reviewing Spinning Silver. I loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, so I was very much looking forward to Spinning Silver and it did not disappoint. I think I might even have liked it more than Uprooted. I certainly fell for the characters in a much deeper way.

spinning silver cover

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

First of all, can we talk about that amazing cover?! I love it so much, and it is, in my opinion, so much better than the US cover. Everything you need to know about Spinning Silver is right there on the cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but you totally could here.

Anyway, to the actual book. The story is very loosely based on Rumpelstiltskin, but Novik twists it to become the story of Miryem, Irina and Wanda, three very different young women whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways. It’s clearly Eastern European inspired, and it’s clearly a fairytale, but it’s very much also based in reality. I was horrified at the way the other villagers treated Miryem and her family, just because they were Jewish, but it’s a matter of historical record that this was happening all over Europe during the period the book is set. Irina and Wanda, too, have stories that ring historically true – the daughter of a duke, forced to marry a monster in order to raise her father’s stature, and the daughter of a drunk abuser, forced to scrabble in the earth for anything she can find so she and her brothers can survive. I loved the way these stories intersected, especially how Miryem claiming what she was owed gave Wanda hope and love.

I loved all three women with all of my heart. They were fantastically well-written, and I honestly felt bereft after I finished the book because I had no more time to spend with them. When I was reading Spinning Silver, I was so totally engrossed that it was a surprise to raise my head and find myself still in the office at lunchtime. I was utterly transported. I also loved the way Novik changed my opinions of the Staryk king and Mirnatius, the tsar Irina is forced to marry. They’re not good people, but they have their reasons and they can change. It was really interesting to get point of view chapters from both of them, considering they were the villains of the piece.

The writing is beautiful too. The settings are vividly evoked, to the extent that even now, months after I read it, I can still picture some scenes in my head. It reads like a true fairytale, and I didn’t want it to end. Obviously it did though, and although I know some people who did’t like the ending, I thought it was perfect for the story that had been told.

In short, what I’m trying to tell you is that you need to read this book. It’s definitely up there as one of my favourites of the year (and it’s had some stiff competition) and if you like books that sweep you away to somewhere new, Spinning Silver is definitely for you.

5/5

A copy of the book was sent to me by Jamie at Pan Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Jamie!

Book Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So picture books aren’t normally my thing. I can appreciate the artwork, but they’re not something I usually review, because they’re not something I read. But when I was offered the chance to read this picture book, well I couldn’t resist! Buffy the Vampire Slayer is incredibly important to me as a show – I was roughly the same age as Buffy when it was airing, and for all that I wasn’t fighting monsters every night (or living in California), she was a very relatable character. I watched every episode, bought most of the merchandise and just generally basked in the awesome that was Buffy and her friends. So of course I had to read Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the picture book!

buffy cover

The cult classic ’90s TV show is now a charming book for the youngest fans in the Buffyverse!

In this new picture book story brought to life with enchanting, colorful illustrations, kid readers can learn about what the world’s strongest vampire slayer was like when she was a kid! What’s that strange sound coming from inside the closet? Join little Buffy, Xander, and Willow as they investigate bumps in the night, seek advice from their school librarian Giles, and encounter all your favorite Buffyverse monsters. Complete with gorgeous illustrations by Pop Classics artist Kim Smith, this sweet, silly, and not-so-scary book makes a perfect bedtime story.

Just look how cute it is! The illustrations are great throughout, and it’s a charming little story about what might be hiding in 8 year old Buffy’s closet. Personally, as a fan of the show, I had issues with the chronology and continuity of the show being messed about with, but no child is going to care about that. Just be aware if you’re an adult reading it to your children that you might feel a little frustrated.

I don’t have kids myself, but I know someone who does, so I took Buffy the Vampire Slayer round to read to little A, who is almost four. She wouldn’t admit it, but I think she did find it a bit scary, despite what the blurb says above. Even though she was scared though, she still loved the book and wanted to read it again, which I think is the ultimate seal of approval! I’ve read books to A before and she’s always got a little bored, but she was completely engaged with Buffy for the whole story and started trying to read it herself. She was also completely ready to fight any monsters she might find!

I gave Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3/5, mostly because of the continuity issues I mentioned above, which is probably slightly unfair, but I couldn’t get past them. However, from a child’s point of view, I’d say it’s probably at least a 4/5 – it’s fun and a little bit scary, with a good message about being kind to others and asking for help if you need it. Kids will love it!

3/5

A copy of the book was sent to me by Jamie at Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review – thanks Jamie!

Netgalley Review Catch-Up Part 1

It will surprise none of you to learn that I’m very behind on my Netgalley reviews. Well, all reviews actually (also not a surprise I suspect). I was determined to make an effort to read more of my netgalley shelf this month, and I don’t think I’m doing too badly. That does mean I need to get some reviews actually written though, so time for a mini review catch up I think!

Clean

clean cover

I have a confession to make: Clean is the book that sent me into a massive blogging slump months ago. I just couldn’t figure out how to review it, and I felt guilty for not writing a review of a book I very much enjoyed, by an author I like a lotSo I just ended up not writing anything at all, apart from blog tour commitments. I’m not sure anything has changed really. I still have no idea how to review it! Clean is the story of Lexi, the daughter of a London-based Russian oligarch, who’s been left to her own devices for most of her life. Aged 17, she accidentally overdoses on heroin and her brother decides enough is enough and packs her off to a very exclusive rehab. There, she tries to put her life back together and meets a group of people who all have their own demons to fght. It’s an excellent book, which doesn’t pull any of its punches when it comes to the effects of addiction – any addiction, although the focus is obviously on Lexi. I definitely recommend it, but it’s a hard book in many ways, and if you’re going to pick it up, I’d absolutely recommend a bit of research into its contents to make sure you’re ok with it.

4/5

Unveiling Venus

unveiling venus cover

Unveiling Venus is the sequel to Following Ophelia, which I’d really enjoyed last year. Both books follow Mary Adams and her transformation into the mysterious Persephone Lavelle, the toast of London’s artistic circles. Unveiling Venus sees Persephone travel to Venice with her friend Kitty, where things don’t go as expected. I must admit it’s been a long time since I read the book now, and I don’t remember that much about it. I know I didn’t enjoy it as much as Following Ophelia, I think because I missed a lot of the supporting characters back in London, but also because Mary/Persephone doesn’t always act very sensibly. And of course she doesn’t – she wouldn’t have ended up as Persephone if she always took the sensible route! But it did seem like she was almost a different person to the one we’d previously met. However, the author did bring the setting alive, and I still very much enjoyed Unveiling Venus.

3.5/5

The Wren Hunt

wren hunt cover

I loved The Wren Hunt when I read it earlier this year. It’s full of magic and mystery, a sweet romance and family dynamics, and it’s beautifully written too, so it feels magical. Wren is an Augur, a group of people who used to have powerful magic. Their magic is fading because their enemies, the Judges, now control the sources of it in a bid to destroy the Augurs themselves, and it’s up to Wren to find the information her family needs to stop the Judges. The only way she can do this is to take on an internship with the important Judge Cassa Harkness. When she does so though, Wren finds that things are not always as they seem. The Wren Hunt is a great book which gripped me from the beginning and then didn’t really let go. There’s a real sense of the danger Wren is in duing her internship, and I really felt for her as she tried to reconcile the information she’d found with what she already knew. Highly recommended!

4/5

The Smoke Thieves

smoke thieves cover

I have another confession: I’m not a huge fan of Sally Green’s work. I only made it halfway through Half Bad, which I know so many people love, and I felt bad about it because she’s kind of local. But The Smoke Thieves seemed much more my kind of thing, so I was excited to give it a go. And it was pretty good. There is some problematic stuff in there, but generally it’s solid epic fantasy, with a bunch of ragtag misfits slowly coming together to fight evil rulers. It was nothing special or different though, and parts of it were quite slow. As with any book featuring multiple points of view too, there were characters I wanted to get back to and characters I couldn’t wait to get away from. I’d have liked a book with more focus on Catherine in particular, as she had the most interesting story in my opinion, but I’m sure there are people who hated her and prefered another character instead. In short, I’m glad I got to read it, but I’m not sure I’ll be desperate to read the sequel.

3.5/5

Almost Love

almost love

Some of you will know that I’m a huge Louise O’Neill fan. Asking For It and  Only Ever Yours are stunning books, so I was really looking forward to reading her first adult novel, Almost Love. Sadly, I didn’t like it as much as her YA novels, but it’s still an excellent portrayal of a kind of love we don’t really get to see much in fiction (or I don’t anyway). Almost Love is the story of Sarah, and it switches between Sarah as a 24 year old, in an obsessive relatonship with an older man, and Sarah in the present, about 5 years later, in a different relationship. Sarah is very much not likeable. She makes appalling decisions, and her obsessiveness over Matthew, the older man she met at 24, is incredibly annoying, especially as it’s still affecting her life five years after they split up. But that’s because we see it from the outside. It’s perfectly clear to us that Matthew doesn’t love Sarah, or even want to be in a relationship with her, he just wants to use her. To Sarah, that means he wants her, and she’ll do anything to be wanted. I thought it was a compelling book, and it’s definitely worth a read.

4/5

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these! What did you think of them?

All books featured in this post were provided by the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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.

the caged queen cover

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!

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.

last namsara cover

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

Cold Iron blog tour graphic

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.

cold iron

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!