Reading Regularly

Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

When I received a copy of My Lovely Wife I had no idea what to expect. The blurb was deliciously vague, only letting readers know that the couple had secrets.

I initially set out to read just a chapter or two before bed but instead found myself tearing through the pages. Over a hundred pages passed before I could bear to put the book down. This morning I finished it.

With a hint of Netflix sensation You, the opening chapters drew me straight in. A man who purposefully meets women at bars? Maybe a little seedy but nothing awful, right. But what if one of those women turns up dead? He’s a little more suspicious now….

I’m going to avoid telling you any more about the plot, as I think that might spoil the adventure.

The characters weren’t likeable. This isn’t a book about good people doing bad things. It is a book about bad people doing bad things, at least in my opinion. There was something endearing about that though. There was no trying to hide from reality.

The husband, our narrator, is a tennis coach. His wife an estate agent. The story of their first meeting is adorable and their life seems pretty perfect at first glance. Two children, a gorgeous house in a gated community.

But what could possibly go wrong?

You’ll have to read this for yourself to find out!

My Lovely Wife will be published in May 2019.

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin UK (Michael Joseph) and Samantha Downing for the opportunity to read My Lovely Wife in exchange for my honest review.

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Reading Regularly

Review: Opposite of Always by justin a. reynolds

Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Opposite of Always made me nostalgic for my teen years. 

I’m the kind of person who re-reads books over and over again. Opposite of Always reminds me of a book that I read until the pages nearly fell out, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Both books deal with a character reliving a death… although in this case it is the death of Jack’s love Kate that is trying to be avoided.

Jack meets Kate on a college visit and falls head over heels in love. And then she dies.

When he wakes up before they ever met he has the chance to put things right. Save her. This novel shows his attempts to be the hero and find a way back to the young woman he met on the stairs at a party.

This novel had a lot of positives. Jack is a funny and likeable character, with a supporting cast of great friends. His friend Franny’s dad, The Coupon, is in prison. I really appreciated reading a novel where the characters surrounding the main character are more than just Back-Up 1 and Back-Up 2.

 

The way Jack interacts with the central premise is also really fun. He doesn’t just presume that the only path available to him is to stay in a relationship with Kate. It might be possible to save her in another way…

The diversity rep in Opposite of Always was also really impressive, both in terms of the representation of people of colour and the discussion of health conditions. I learnt about sickle cell anaemia in this novel, a condition which I didn’t really understand about before.

There were a few aspects that I found frustrating though. The relationship between Jake and Kate is explained much better in some of the later iterations. I have a better sense for why they care so much for each other, whereas in the first go around I do question a little what made Kate seem a better choice than Jillian – the girl Jake has known for years. I also felt that some parts of the book dragged a little and wonder if it would have been a little snappier if it had been shorter.

How did I feel about the ending? That’s a trickier question! I am curious to see how other readers find the conclusion to Jack and Kate’s story.

My overall rating, 4.5/5, reflects the fact that I know that teenage me would have jumped up and down in joy for this book. Figuratively, at least! It gives me the same feeling that the books I used to love back then did, allowing me to escape my worries and fears for a little bit.

Jack and Kate: a teen romance for the post-millennial generation.

Thank you to NetGalley, Pan Macmillan and Justin A. Reynolds for the opportunity to read in exchange for my honest review.

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Reading Regularly

Review: Voices by David Elliott

Review: Voices by David Elliott

This is one of the most unusual books I’ve had the pleasure to read in a very long time. The tale of Joan Arc, hero and martyr, is one I’ve heard only in children’s history books a very long time ago. I’ve studied History at university for four years, including a smattering of French history, but never encountered The Maid. I have a sense that this verse novel might set young people on a course of discovery, learning more about the past and the women who inhabited that faraway place. 

In Voices, we follow Joan in her final hours before her execution, as she narrates her journey from countryside maid to heroine (and back down towards her doom). There are interjections from the king and also poems from the perspective of her sword and other vital objects. Some of these additional poems felt a little gratuitous, but overall they added rather than detracted from her story.

The writing was beautiful and I found myself bookmarking many passages within the short book to re-read later. If this had been a paper copy I would have found myself highlighting and folding over pages too.

From an academic perspective, one of the most impressive aspects of this book was something I only encountered upon reading David Elliott’s author’s note at the close of the book. I had no idea that the poetic forms mirrored those that were actually in use in medieval France and can imagine that was quite tricky to execute.

This short, but perfectly formed, poetic exploration of the Joan of Arc will be published in March 2019. Check it out!

Thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group and David Elliott for the opportunity to read this book.

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Review: Bloodleaf

Review: Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

Aurelia is a princess who is forced to flee into exile because of her magic, which leads her to pretend to be a commoner in the kingdom where her betrothed is the prince. The magic that protects the wall which divides the kingdoms is being threatened, with the removal of each ward requiring deaths. The final layer of protection will fall when three royals of that country’s bloodline are killed.

What I loved:

  • Magic is hated and feared in Aurelia’s home country, yet she continued to practice it. I think I’d add into the love category everything to do with the magic system, especially regarding the mysterious plant bloodleaf itself!
  • The connection between Aurelia and Zan. Seeing Aurelia find happiness despite everything going on around her showed her determination to live the best life possible.
  • The emotional journeys of some of the side characters, such as Zan’s friend’s wife.
  • Despite being the first book in a YA fantasy trilogy, the story felt complete. There was no sense that Aurelia’s story had been chopped into three just for the sake of it.

I was a little more uncertain about other aspects of the story, such as the reveal relating to Toris, the novel’s villain. I think for me Bloodleaf was a novel much less about the plot itself and more about the relationships between the characters. If you liked the characters, as I did, then the story was very satisfying. I also found what happened to Aurelia’s best friend a little unbelievable, but understand why it had to happen.

Overall this was a really fun read. The magic system and the ghostly element brought by the spirits Aurelia is haunted by added some depth to the story. I’m excitedly awaiting the next book in this series and urge anyone who loved Queen of the Tearling or Red Queen to pick this novel up!

Thank you to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group, HMH Books for Young Readers and Crystal Smith for the opportunity to read Bloodleaf in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: The Twisted Tree

Review: The Twisted Tree

Martha spends summers in Norway with her grandmother. One day, following a catastrophic accident, she sneaks away to visit her grandmother. Her secret journey covers hundreds of kilometres and involves just a little subterfuge. When she arrives, she finds her grandmother’s home empty. The beautiful landscape she loves during summer looks a lot more sinister in winter. Worse still, there’s someone in her grandmother’s house. Stig. He heard that the place was empty and decided to stay. Over the course of the following days, in a spectacularly supernatural way, things start to unravel for Martha and Stig…

I really liked the way that Burge explored Martha’s injury and her missing eye, with it becoming central to the story. The way that Stig helped Martha to see herself as beautiful and regain her self-confidence once again made me smile.

He was very sweet. I only wish that the hints of his past that came through towards the end of the novel had been there earlier.

The way that Martha was able to read emotions in clothing was something else I really enjoyed as I don’t think I’ve seen something like that in a YA novel before. If there is a sequel it’s something I’d love to see explored. In the outside world that might have some interesting consequences, especially if someone is wearing cashmere.

The use of Nordic mythology was also very impressive, especially the way it geared up so the reader uncovered details right alongside Martha. Likewise, the Nordic landscape was utilised incredibly. The atmosphere in the cabin and its surroundings really added to the creepiness in the middle of the book.

I wish The Twisted Tree had started earlier than when Martha was heading to Norway to visit her grandmother. I wanted to know more about her, about the friend back home who she was texting on arrival, what her hobbies were other than jewellery making. Likewise, I feel like the most exciting bit of the novel was crammed up into a short space. The final showdown was very quick, compared to the long scenes in the cabin, and it disappointed me a bit. Although exciting, I felt at times that the pace towards the end took away from the emotional impact of some scenes. Once everything was tied up, the novel ended pretty quickly. I think a little more time spent on those final scenes would have been great.

I finished reading The Twisted Tree quite quickly. As another reviewer mentioned, it’s a wonderful book for a cold evening (as we’re sadly already experiencing in my area!). It wasn’t quite for me, for the reasons I’ve mentioned and perhaps as I was expecting something a little heavier on the ghosts, but I’m going to round up my review to four stars. For The Twisted Tree’s target audience, which I wonder if might be the slightly younger end of YA, this could be a beautiful read. At that age, I think I would have loved the mystery, the unresolved threads, the hopeful ending.

Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre, Hot Key Books, NetGalley and Rachel Burge for the opportunity to read this spooky tale.

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Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Jon is away from his family and friends at a convention in Switzerland. When nuclear bombs start going off around the world, he seems to be in a tiny safe haven. A hotel out of the blast zones, with enough resources for the remaining residents to survive for months at least. There’s just one small snag. Soon after the explosions, he finds a body in a water tank. The body of a young girl. Investigations suggest that she died right around the time of the explosions… but in the panic, who would kill a girl? And why?

There’s lots to love about The Last. The narrative style is great, with the fast paced diary entries giving you a real insight into Jon’s personality. It allows secrets to be kept from the reader, so that the puzzle pieces of Jon’s life are revealed slowly rather than all at once. The relationships between Jon and the other residents of the hotel were also amazing. Scenes where he and some of his new friends relaxed, both in one of their rooms and on the roof, were beautiful and really added some happiness to a book that so easily could have been overly grim. Characters like Tomi and Dylan were fascinating too, as there was always the sense that there was something lurking beneath the surface.

The ethical questions that characters raised were also fascinating. How would you react at the end of the world if someone did something terrible? What is the appropriate punishment when the people are judge and jury? I also really enjoyed the descriptions of the reality of life post-apocalypse. There were adventures relating to food (and horrible suggestions about what some people nearby might be eating…), realistic depictions of medical care, and depictions of panic that felt real.
There are so many different ways that people could react to the end of life as we know it.

Jameson’s characters show us that there is no one right way to react to disaster and that ultimately, in the face of horrors beyond our imagination, the only way to survive is by sticking together.

While I loved the characters and hearing about Jon’s journey, some aspects of the book were a little disappointing. It felt like questions that felt so important at the beginning of the book were either left unanswered or hurriedly tied up towards the end. The mystery of the little girl, which had seemed so central at the beginning, is solved relatively quickly. Being honest, I’m not sure how much it added to the book at all in the end. Jon’s personal journey was intriguing enough on its own, without murder. References to paranormal activity are very interesting, but could have perhaps been taken a little further. At one stage a character hypothesises that they are all already dead and this could potentially be the afterlife, a place like purgatory perhaps. I found that idea fascinating and would have perhaps liked further exploration of that idea. Questions are raised about the lifestyle of those in a town Jon finds, but these are never really answered. I’m also not really sure how I feel about the slight heavy-handedness regarding who was responsible for the nuclear disaster, as the discussion on what seemed to be our own political world took me out of the story a little bit.

The Last has a great premise and characters, but for me aspects of the plot sadly detracted from its true potential.

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin Books, Viking and Hanna Jameson for the opportunity to read The Last!

3.5/5

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Review: The Present by D S Devlin

Happy Holidays!

Review: The Present by D S Devlin

The central premise of this one is great. A serial killer who utilises a popular Christmas song to unleash hell on his victims, ruining lives year after year. Anna, a plucky journalist, is enlisted to help stop him after

Rating this one 3.5 out of 5 for Goodreads, as the ending was a bit of a disappointment. The ramping up of the twelve days of Christmas was impressive, with Santa’s house of horrors leaving me flying through the pages, but it felt like there was something missing towards the end.

The ending felt a little too focused on the identity of Santa rather than on stopping him, on the killer rather than his innocent victim. There was even a mention of the killer as a “victim” – despite the fact that he murdered multiple people over many years in extremely violent ways.

Anna’s happy ending at the end of the novel was a great touch, making this novel’s Christmas notes more than simply the violence of a creepy Santa.

Thank you to NetGalley, HarperCollins and D S Devlin for the opportunity to read The Present.

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Review: The Living by Isaac Marion

Review: The Living by Isaac Marion

This review will contain some spoilers so please consider avoiding reading it until after you’ve finished The Living!

Some of the scenes are pure magic.

The moment when Nora finds out M’s secret, the whole episode in the church with R on stage, the big showdown regarding BABL and the very last scene of all were stunning. It’s very difficult to talk about them all in detail, without giving some massive spoilers, but they made for a great read. In a way I wish there had been more scenes like the final one, as it’s circularity was really something special.

For me, the amount of chapters devoted to ‘We’ was a little frustrating at first. The characters I cared for most were all with Julie and R, so seeing the journey of other individuals mattered a little less to me. However, by the end of the novel, I found that the ‘We’ chapters were complementing the journeys of our main protagonists. The level of care and thought that was put into shaping the structure of this novel was impressive. I will be re-reading The Living in the future because of Isaac Marion’s lyrical writing style. The prose sang and there were some really thoughtful comments on the nature of our lives and how tragedy shapes us. Learning more about ‘The Library’ was fascinating, especially in the latter half of the book.

In The Living some of the hard and fast rules established earlier in the series seemed to have been bent a little bit. Avoiding spoilers on this is tricky, so I’ll just say that I’m referring to something that happens in the second half of the book which has a major impact on one of our characters. By the end of the novel I had a better sense of how this change in ‘rules’ came about, but perhaps the unpredictability of what happened is also a reminder of how things in life rarely follow a set path.

The world of Warm Bodies has expanded a lot since the first book and The Living shows this perfectly. I know this is the final book in the series but I do wonder whether there is room for more novellas like New Hunger expanding on the lives of some of the secondary characters. The author of the almanac is the person I’m thinking about most. The snippets we heard of Huntress’ life were enough to make me want to read a lot more about her.

The Living is not only the conclusion of R’s story but also a novel with lots of inbuilt commentary on our own changing world. A fascinating read and one I would recommend to all fans of Warm Bodies.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to read this final instalment in the Warm Bodies series through NetGalley — thank you to NetGalley, Isaac Marion and Zola Books for the chance to read. The Living is published November 13th and is available online, as both a hardcover book and an e-book.

 

 

 

 

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Review: Empress of All Seasons

Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

I’m loving the move to more diverse worlds in YA fiction recently. This is the second Japanese inspired novel I’ve read this summer and I’ve loved both of them.

The Concept

The premise is very high-concept. What would happen if a magical woman whose very freedom is banned tries to win the hand of the emperor’s son in a high-stakes contest? Mari is a yokai. She is an Animal Wife whose people seek wealthy husbands in order to take their wealth for themselves. Mari sets out to do her duty and try and win the hand of the emperor.

YA novels involving competitions are usually very predictable and what I loved about this story was that the contest didn’t occupy every moment of the novel.

The Characters

Mari wasn’t preoccupied with the idea of finding love through a game, like so many of the heroines of past stories. Instead, she was going to find herself and do her duty by her people. And that is exactly what she did. She is fierce!

The other characters are also fascinating. The emperor’s son Taro loves to make mechanical creatures. Seeing the journey of his clockwork bird high into the sky as it crashed, trapped just as much as he was, was one of my favourite scenes in the first part of the novel.

Mari and Taro are the first two point of view characters. The third is Akira, Mari’s friend and another yokai. He is known as the Son of Nightmares. The details about his origins felt real, adding depth to the world Emiko Jean has created. Even though I liked Akira, I didn’t enjoy the chapters from his perspective quite as much. I wasn’t entirely sure why. The other side characters, including Mari’s maid Sei, were much more interesting to me.

The World

The world building in this novel was incredible. Japanese influences were blended with the existence of fantasy monsters to create a world that felt so real. The idea of priests who could hold back monsters through curses written on their skin felt so real, as did the mountaintop village Mari came from.

My favourite aspect of the world in this novel, however, was the rooms of the four seasons. Our first insight into the power of the rooms is early on, through Taro’s eyes, when we see how one poor captured yakoi will be tortured on the orders of the emperor in one of the rooms. During the competition the competing girls have to make their way through the four themed rooms. In the Summer Room they will face punishing heat, with fires burning in the trees. In the Winter Room there will be snow and punishing cold. In short, the weather will be turned against them. It is described how nature will reward the competitors for their positive actions and turn against them for their mistakes. Some will kill for the chance to become empress, as Mari will find out…

The Message

I wasn’t so keen on the lack of happy interludes that might have added a bit of lightness to the story. I know this novel was focused on the feminist message that Mari could gain happiness without seeking to please a man, which I really enjoyed, but I liked Taro’s character too. I would have liked more scenes where they were together and perhaps a slightly less bittersweet ending for him.

Overall thoughts

The Empress of All Seasons was an exciting journey through an original world with characters that grew on me with each page.

I’m going to give it an overall 4.5 stars, rounded up to five for Goodreads, as on the whole I loved the adventure Mari had. I hope Emiko Jean considers writing more novels set in this world as the worldbuilding was phenomenal and the experiences of the yokai were so engaging. I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next!

 

Thank you to Orion Publishing Group, Gollancz, Emiko Jean and NetGalley for the opportunity to read in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

A Spark of Light starts at the end: the end of a hostage negotiation at the Center. It is the place where so many fetus’ existences end and now potentially the site of the end of a young girl called Wren’s life. The novel follows the experience of the people who are at The Center, the only place licensed in the state to offer abortions, when a pro-life gunman enters the building. The the highly sensitive issue of abortion is dealt with extremely well. The perspectives of the different characters were fully fleshed out and explored.

What makes this novel unlike any other is that instead of moving forward, time moves back. Victims of the gunman who once were lying dead on the ground come back to life, bad news is ungiven, the hostage negotiator’s birthday cake uneaten. This led to some heart wrenching revelations, with more and more depth about the characters coming to life with every page. The lives of characters such as Olive and Bex, who at the start of the novel are for various reasons more distant, take on a new significance. As with all of Picoult’s wonderful novels, at the end (or the beginning?) there are her signature twists and turns.

This is such a poignant read, with the author’s note at the end providing information on the reality of the situations depicted. Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton, Jodi Picoult and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this thought-provoking gem of a novel!

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