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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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Review: I Never Lie by Jody Sabral

Review: I Never Lie

This review contains some spoilers for the ending of I Never Lie, so please read with caution!

The world of a journalist trying to make her way despite personal struggle was really exciting to read about. Having in the past toyed with the idea myself of trying to become a journalist, the world of the TV studio was my favourite part of this novel. Audrey, Alex’s long suffering producer, was one of my favourite characters. I also loved hearing about Greg, her ex who she left following a miscarriage. I would have enjoyed hearing more about the lives of both Audrey and Alex, as I felt they were some of the most interesting people in I Never Lie’s London.

Sadly, while I loved the first third of this book, I found the pace started to become tiresome. The murders didn’t seem to have the urgency that I was expecting. Although Nigel, Alex’s internet date, at first seemed a suspect I veered away from that pretty quickly. I didn’t really have the sense that Alex was at risk, even though that eventually was revealed to have been a major part of the killer’s plans. The repeated reference to both Sarah and Alex’s drinking became very tiresome in the final half of the novel. While the exploration of alcoholism was an interesting tool for developing the characters, it did seem to take up a little too much room. By the end of the novel, I was a little tired of hearing so much about alcoholism rather than the crime! I did find the twist with Sarah as the killer interesting, but wish that it could have been revealed through a flashback rather than exposition — hearing about what happened in a short retelling from a character who did not actually remember those events was a shame.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy reading I Never Lie and was excited to find out who the killer was, so have given it a strong *** rating. Thank you to NetGalley, Canelo and Jody Sabral for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Review: Forget My Name by J.S. Monroe

Review: Forget My Name by J.S. Monroe

Imagine you lose your memory and the one of the few things you have left is the knowledge of where you live. You head home and arrive to find strangers living in your house. Sleeping in your bedroom, all traces of you gone. It’d be a bit strange, wouldn’t it?

That’s exactly the problem facing our mystery protagonist in Forget my Name. She’s unnamed, possessing neither past nor future, only the present. We soon take a detour from the route that I presumed the story was going down, which would have been very predictable, through a rabbit warren of twists and turns, to find the truth of “Jemma”‘s origins.

Monroe’s characters were the best part of this novel. Tony was very interesting. He starts off seeming like an innocent homeowner, willing simply to help a lost woman. It will probably be of no surprise to frequent readers of thriller novels that things weren’t exactly as they seem — both on Jemma’s side and from the perspective of those that she encounters. I loved the depth given to the stories for secondary characters, for example through the suggestion that ‘Jemma’ might be the long lost daughter of one of them. This didn’t feel forced at all.

I really enjoyed Forget my Name, especially towards the end. In the final third the action ramps up and every bit of mystery and misdirection pays off. Kudos to J.S. Monroe for a gripping read, I look forward to reading their next book.

Thank you to NetGalley, Head of Zeus and J.S. Monroe for the opportunity to read this book.

 

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Review: Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Review: Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Kagawa’s ability to create such likeable characters and believable worlds are her greatest assets. Throughout each of her book series, you will root for her characters to succeed against all odds.
 I loved Yumeko. Her kitsune nature was fascinating and the warring influence of her human and supernatural sides was amazing. Tatsumi’s coldness made him quite unlikeable for me at first. He did grow on me over the course of the book, but seeing him through Yumeko’s eyes was much more enjoyable than his own perspective.
Shadow of The Fox also boasted some great side characters. The monks who featured at the beginning of the novel were very well developed, especially considering how short their page-time was. Funny and charismatic Okame added some humour to the later part of the book, reminding me of the effect of Jackal in Blood of Eden. The villains were also great.
One thing I found a little frustrating, though, was the shift from the first chapter to the main section of the book. In the space of only a few pages I managed to get oddly attached to a young maid character. She was soon killed off, with the story shifting to Yumeko. While a resolution to that strange opening character does come later in the novel, I did find that it made for a slightly disjointed beginning.

Once I’d got past that initial uncertainty, I fell in love with this novel. The world-building was incredible and I loved the use of Japanese culture. I felt completely absorbed in the group’s journey. Towards the end all of the tension ramps up and I flew through the final pages, waiting to see what will happen next.  I’m already looking forward to the sequel!

Thank you to Netgalley, Harlequin TEEN and Julie Kagawa for the opportunity to read SHADOW OF THE FOX.
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