REVIEW: One of Us Is Lying

Quick summary: Who knew teenagers could be so psychotic?!
Rating★★★★★

Try this if you like: Agatha Christie, Riverdale & true-crime documentaries.


In this YA crime thriller we follow the lives of 4 teens whose lives are completely changed when their classmate dies in detention. Through the book we follow Cooper, Addy, Bronwyn and Nate as they try to clear their names of Simon Kelleher’s murder. As the case evolves and relationships deepen, one thing is clear – they all have something to hide, and one of them is definitely lying. But who did it?

The reason this book is stellar is because of the way McManus constructs characters. We switch between the POV’s of the four teenagers throughout, and the secrets they keep run so deep that they don’t even let the reader know them. The fact that you can’t trust everything the narrator is saying really adds a fantastic dimension to the book – the reader is as much a participant in solving the crime as the characters are!

McManus’ fantastic writing doesn’t stop here. The way she slowly builds the lives and personalities of the characters is also highly impressive. At first, the characters cling to the stereotypes in which they belong in a painfully one-dimensional manner. Cooper is the jock, Addy is the princess, Nate is the criminal and Bronwyn is the nerd. Then, suddenly you’re halfway through the book and realising that Cooper is struggling with his identity, Addy is being emotionally abused, Nate is a young carer and Bronwyn is cracking under pressure and systemic racism. As we watch all of these characters struggle, and learn more about Simon’s dark activities, we are poignantly reminded of the flaws in the pastoral support of the education system.

As far as the murder mystery aspect of this book goes – if you are a murder-mystery aficionado, you may well figure out ‘whodunnit’ reasonably early on. The clues are there. However, having not read loads and loads of murder mysteries, I was kept on tenterhooks until the big AHA reveal moment. The way in which McManus constructs the plot, and dripfeeds small secrets and pieces of information is ingenious, and really keeps you guessing the whole way through.


Some lockdown reading

As some semblance of lockdown continues to reign over the planet, a lot of people are still looking to spice up their lockdown activities. While you have absolutely no obligation to be sprucing up your life and having a lockdown soul-makeover, it is a good time to maybe read that book you’ve been putting off for months.

Allow me to recommend something for you!

As inspired by Leena Norms, I have taken the liberty of sorting you all into potential reader categories, so you can happily skip to the genre you think will fit you best.

First we have…

The Non-Reader Readers.

You are the readers who only read for uni assignments. You don’t particularly like reading for enjoyment, but you are looking for something to do while the rest of the world is shut down. Perhaps you’re looking for some easy, lighthearted reads? 

Isla and the Happily Ever After

This is the third book in a companion series by Stephanie Perkins. You don’t have to read the other two first (and this is by far my favourite of the three), but if you have the time on your hands then I do recommend reading them all. 

This lighthearted romance is set in Paris and Barcelona, and follows Isla and Josh while they study at the American School in Paris. Josh’s father is a US Senator, and Isla is the daughter of a French-American family from New York. You follow this pair through the trials and tribulations of falling in love, politics, and the pros and pitfalls of private education. 

Although it covers some interesting topics, this book really is a fun, romantic travel book. You go to Paris, Barcelona and New York, and who wouldn’t love a little glimpse into something other than the walls of our house at this time? 

The Escapism Hunters 

All you want right now is to disappear into some other world and time, and not hear the daily death tolls and political blunders. 

Daisy Jones and the Six (audiobook)

This novel follows a rock band in the 70’s as they rise to fame in rock and roll LA. The story chronicles the hedonistic partying, the friendships and the fall-outs, and a sudden earth-rocking split that was never quite explained. The story-telling in this novel is so visceral that it feels very real, and it truly transports you. 

I would definitely recommend listening to the audiobook for this one, because it is read by a cast of narrators. This makes it feel like a podcast more than a novel, which makes it very easy to listen to and even more of an escapist novel. 

Also, this is getting made into an Amazon series – and so, this is your chance to get in and actually read the book first. Just imagine, when the series comes out you will have that haughty ‘I-read-the-book-first’ status! 

The Artsy Types 

Netflix new releases aren’t quite cutting the mustard. You go crazy for the artsy, aesthetic shots in Normal People. You are desperate for some real high-brow, artsy stuff. Poetry and the like. 

The Essential Neruda

If you’re an Artsy Type then you may have already heard of Pablo Neruda and his work. Whether you have or haven’t, now is the perfect time to read his poignant and steamy poetry. 

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is known for his political discourse and romantic poetry about love and death. The Essential Neruda takes you through some of Neruda’s most famous works. There are poems about the pains of love, the beauty of love, the tumult of death, accepting our fates, our relationships with family… Neruda digs deep into human relationship with itself. 

This poetry was originally written in Spanish, and so it is very interesting to think what has been lost in translation here, and what these political snippets mean against the backdrop of Chile’s tumultuous political history. 

Romance Novel and Chill 

Maybe you love a good old romance novel where you can sit and dream about your ideal gal/guy. Maybe you’re a sucker for a slow-burn. Maybe you’re missing your S.O and want to read about the good old times where you could go on dates and stuff. Maybe you don’t have a S.O and you want to read about the good old times where you could go on dates and stuff.

You get the gist.

The Kiss Quotient 

This is the first book in a series by Helen Hoang which explores neurodiversity in relationships. It is hilarious, unconventional, steamy, and so incredibly readable.

The main character, thirty-year-old Stella works in algorithms, has Asperger’s and has very little dating experience. The premise of this feels like a painfully dated representation of women with autism, but once I got reading I realised it was almost the opposite. In order to become more comfortable dating, Stella hires escort Michael Phan, and so the romantic drama begins.

This is a wonderful exploration of the sensuality of people with autism and of millennial relationships in general. With a no-nonsense female lead, and a probing look at intimacy and why it’s important, you absolutely have to read this book. 

The Book-stagrammers 

You’re into Young Adult fiction, and love a can’t-put-down YA Fantasy. Well… 

Throne of Glass 

At this point, it can’t come as a shock that I am recommending Sarah J Maas. 

This seven book series will keep you going for a while. Full of discovery, bad-assery and heart-wrenching romance, Maas’ epic really does have everything you need from YA Fantasy. The series revolves around the infamous assassin Celaena Sardothian, who has just spent time as a slave in a labour camp, having been arrested by the tyrant King of Adarlan. We join her as she enters into a high-stake competition for her freedom, and (as always) chaos and romance ensues. 

And if you’ve read it before? Re-read! I promise you’ll find little snippets and quotes that you didn’t notice before – the foreshadowing in this is something else!


So there we have some recommendations. If you love or hate these books, let me know! If you are in another category of reader and you feel left out… let me know!


REVIEW: Matilda the Musical (UK National Tour)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: ‘When I Grow Up,’ I want to be Matilda.

Meet Matilda. The talented young story-teller suffers while living with her TV-obsessed family, but discovers her hidden talents when she meets her new school teacher, Miss Honey. Tim Minchin’s musical, based on the well-loved book by Roald Dahl, perfectly captures the heartwarming story of this earnest, charming little girl.

Matilda the Musical is currently touring the UK as well as showing on the West End, and I went to see the show on its opening night in Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, with the touring cast. The show opens with an entourage of precocious children and their over-bearing parents in the comedic number ‘Miracle’, and from this moment onward you can expect to be bowled over by the young talent on the stage. With effortless soaring high notes from Bruce (played by Toby Mocrei when I saw it), adorable characterisation from Lavender (Chantelle Tonolete) and, of course, a powerful little leading lady in Matilda (Sophie Woolhouse, who makes her professional debut), the child cast brought outstanding vibrancy to the stage.

The thrillingly terrifying Miss Trunchbull is played by Elliot Harper in this production, and he is an absolute joy not to be missed. While Harper highlighted the menacing and intimidating elements of the Trunchbull, he also brought her to life through his comic timing which made her seem awkward and almost childish at times. This was a really interesting characterisation, and one that elevated the character beyond the two-dimensional villain she has always been known as.

If the cast does not do enough to facilitate your enjoyment, then the set and production most certainly will. With swings, scooters and moving steps in the gate of the school that spell out the alphabet, the set of Matilda is absolutely incredible. The ‘swing choreography’ in ‘When I Grow Up’ is a highlight of the show.

As I’ve said before, the Southampton Mayflower is a great place to go and see shows. The way the seats are raked means you can’t really have a bad view, and the acoustics of the room are fantastic. It is definitely worth a visit.

Matilda the Musical is pure joy and excellence. With themes of family tension, vulnerability, overcoming bullies, being yourself and supporting your friends, this show is both a fun time and an educational one.

 

Matilda the Musical is showing at the Southampton Mayflower Theatre until the 6th July, and will then be showing at Norwich Theatre Royal from 16 July – 17 August. Buy tickets here

REVIEW: The Audience (NST, Southampton)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: For those who love good old Queenie, and for those who don’t.

 

A revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience is currently showing at the NST City in Southampton. The play premiered in the West End in 2013, and stages the Queen’s private weekly meetings with her prime ministers. It poses questions of the Queen’s character and the necessity of the monarchy in our modern society, all the while showing us the comic and witty side of our serious figurehead. “Often funny, sometimes confessional, occasionally explosive” (NST Southampton), The Audience is a masterpiece not to be missed.

65 Years. 13 Prime Ministers. One Queen.

Queen Elizabeth is a public figure that we perhaps do not take much time to sympathize with. The Royal Family is steeped in tradition and protocol, and so it is very easy to forget that the head of that institution is also a person. Faye Castelow perfectly captures this tension between the figurehead and the people in her portrayal of Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is passionate about her country and the Commonwealth, but also about fairness and justice. She is not permitted to state opinion on political affairs, and yet her facial expressions and body language go a long way to show how she feels. Droll, intelligent, likeable and very upper class, we see Elizabeth as both a “postage stamp with a pulse” and as a woman trying to maintain her integrity in a position that demands she compromises it.

The staging for this production includes a large conveyer belt which wheels the Prime Ministers out onto the stage, adding a layer of comedy but also a more profound statement on the longevity of the Queen’s service as well as the seemingly never-ending trail of middle-aged white men that seem to occupy the PM position. Paul Kemp is a triumph as the male PM’s, where he embodies the essence of all of them with remarkable skill and finesse. His Harold Wilson was the stand-out, with witty comedy and poignancy in his diminishing health, showcasing a close bond with the Queen.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole show is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, played by Lizzie Hopley. Thatcher storms into Buckingham Palace in a rage about a newspaper article that has been published stating Elizabeth’s poor opinion of her. A wonderful scene then ensues in which Elizabeth and Thatcher engage in a hostile confrontation, stalking up and down the conveyer belt towards each other in what feels like a hunt, yet we cannot quite tell which is the predator and which is the prey.

The combination of Morgan’s writing, Hodges‘ directing, Vize’s set design and the performances from Castelow and Kemp make The Audience unmissable. The private meetings liken to therapy sessions for the Prime Minister, and throughout we get a sense that all of the Prime Ministers are very similar men, just in a “different tie.”  By the end, we feel we have grown to understand the Queen, her PM’s, and the delicate balance that keeps it all together just a little bit more than we did before we started, all the while being entertained with Elizabeth’s wit and perfectly posh accent.

 

See The Audience at NST City, Southampton from 24 May – 22 June. Get your tickets here

 

 

 

REVIEW: Catwoman Soulstealer

Quick summary: Giving ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ a whole new meaning.
Rating: ★★★★☆

Try this series if you like: DC Comics (obvs), Cassandra Clare, Daniel José Older, Richelle Mead


In this rewrite of DC’s Catwoman, we are re-introduced to the badass anti-hero Selina Kyle, and her ‘band of merry men’, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. We also meet Luke Fox as the ex-military do-gooder, Batwing. Full to the brim with high-stake heists, romance, allies and enemies, this stand-alone book is good for hard-core fans and comic book rookies alike.

The world-building in this story happens quickly. Within the first few pages we are introduced to the teeming, corrupt underworld where Selina Kyle spends most of her life. We learn about the social hierarchies and some of the basic politics of Gotham City but are expected to fill in the gaps ourselves as far as societal culture goes. When it comes to feeding the reader information about the world, it is more ‘tell’ than ‘show’; for example, we find out that Selina’s sister Maggie is very ill, but instead of finding this out through clues such as her coughing, or taking medicine, Maas writes “with her mother gone and her sister sick, no legit job could pay as much or as quickly.” This does the job, but I would have liked a teeny bit more subtlety.

As far as the characters go, they are interesting and reasonably well-developed. Selina Kyle has an interesting storyline; a female anti-heroine who is interested in protecting the people she loves, but ultimately has no qualms over committing high-level crimes. She is cunning, wily, an excellent fighter and adept at having secret plans that aren’t revealed until late in the novel – Maas’ forte, it seems! Her secretive personality complements the brash insanity of Harley Quinn and the stoic, green-fiend Poison Ivy well, and overall I found her character to be an enjoyable and pleasing read.

Some reviews make the comment that Luke Fox is only present in the book to give Selina a love interest, and, as a black character, to add diversity to the cast. I did not find this at all. I read him as a man struggling to keep control over his PTSD, Gotham City while Batman is away, and his growing feelings for someone he really should not be feeling things for. He frequently commented on police brutality against the black community, and this did add a good dimension to the book as there was the antithesis of him being targeted by law enforcement for his skin colour and yet he is the one protecting the city from criminals. I found it ever so slightly basic in its delivery; it was similarly more ‘tell’ than ‘show.’ This is not, however, a criticism of Luke Fox as a character – I liked him, I saw his good intentions, and although he was a bit vanilla, he complemented Selina’s character well.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I got through it quickly. The plot, world-building, eand characterisation were arguably not anything jaw-droppingly special, but they held my interest, and I was invested in what happened. For both A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass (Maas’ series,) I found that while I enjoyed the first book, the later books in the series were where I became truly captivated. Perhaps Maas’ writing is like cheese or wine – it is good at first, but it gets really good over time. If we were to have a series made out of this, then I might fall head over heels in love with it, but as it stands, I love it as you might love a close-ish friend. You’re not my family, you’re not my soulmate, but I get on with you and I’d hang out with you again.

SUMMER READING PREVIEW

This summer we are once again taking on the challenge of trying to read one book every week! There is nothing better for expanding your imagination and challenging your mind than reading, and to celebrate this, here is a preview of some of the exciting books we are reading over the summer.

Catwoman Soulstealer – Sarah J Maas

When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play.

Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. Batman is off on a vital mission and Gotham is at the mercy of the new thief on the prowl. Joined by the cunning Poison Ivy and the notorious Harley Quinn, she wreaks havoc across the city.

Selina is playing a desperate game of cat and mouse. But with a dangerous threat from the past on her tail, will she be able to pull of the ultimate heist.

What’s the deal?

DC superheroes are being brought to life by well-loved authors in the DC Icons Series. Sarah J MaasCatwoman is the third release in this series, and is preceded by Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman and Marie Lu’s Batman. Most recently, Matt de la Peña’s Superman was released in March 2019.

What’s the hype?

Many of the reviews for this book are positive. People are loving the DC/Maas crossover, and most are liking the level of human emotion Maas brings to the character of Selina Kyle. Some want more strength and sassiness in the character, but by the same token some “think there is room for the exciting villainous Selinas of the past and for this more sensitive, emotionally-complex version.” (Emily May on Goodreads)

What are we expecting?                                                                                                                 

We know Maas can write action. We know Maas can write romance. We know Maas can write fantasy. We can probably confidently say that her action writing, character development and world-building skills will translate into her contribution to the DC Icons series, and therefore this book is probably very good.

However, what is particularly exciting about the prospect of this novel is that it is very different from Maas’ previous output; whereas A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Throne of Glass is set in a very clear fantasy world, with high magic and royalty, Catwoman is closer to urban fantasy, and is already established as part of a very famous, loved world created by a large franchise. It will be interesting to see how Maas’ fares in this style of writing, especially ahead of her urban fantasy series Crescent City in late 2019.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

They killed my mother.

They took our magic.

They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

What’s the deal?

Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi debuts with Children of Blood and Bone, which has already got a movie deal with Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions. Adeyemi describes it as an “allegory for the modern black experience,” and in this West African YA-Fantasy magic, epic adventure and racial tensions all collide.

What’s the hype?

There is a HELL OF A LOT of hype surrounding this book, which is both a good and bad thing for the book. The more hype, the more exposure, but conversely, the more hype the higher the expectations of the reader. YA Fantasy readers have been wanting more diversity in what they read for a really long time, and Adeyemi more than delivers with this novel exploring race and issues in a world based on Nigeria and its mythology. Some readers have found issues with the book, saying the pace was very slow and they did not feel invested in the characters. Others, however, love the construction of both the world and characters, and feel it perfectly hits exactly what the YA market needs.

What are we expecting?                                                                                                                 

From reading some reviews, we are expecting the world building to be a particular highlight, with characters that you gradually warm up to the more the book progresses. We’re hoping there will be some good action and plot writing. Some of the more negative reviews have mentioned that they think the plot and characters are too trope-y, so it will be interesting to see what we think regarding that. Ultimately, this is Adeyemi’s debut novel, and we can’t wait to be introduced to her writing and finally catch up with reading this massively hyped book.

Once and Future – Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

What’s the deal?

Entangled author Amy Rose Capetta joins forces with The Color of Rain’s Cori McCarthy in this gender-bending, space-crossing retelling of the King Arthur legend. On the surface, this novel seems to have everything that’s hot in YA right now; a badass female lead, adventure, and a “sizzling, bold exploration of gender, power and revolution” (Jessica Khoury.)  We received this book in a subscription box from Illumicrate.

What’s the hype?

In reviews, this book has been described as “that strange blend of sci-fi and quirky comedy that some people seem to love” (Emily May on Goodreads) The hype around this book, however, is not huge. In fact, it seems almost non-existent. The majority of the reviews rate the book a happy average, with little to no outstanding or awful ratings. Many reviews positively comment on the inclusivity and humour in the book, but are a bit more critical of the pacing and intention.

What are we expecting?

This seems to be a good, creative idea for a novel, and the premise is something we are likely to enjoy, and so the success of this book will all be in the execution. How are we introduced to the world which is seemingly quite different from our own? How are we introduced to the characters and how are their relationships built and developed? What is the pacing of the novel like? Are we getting bored? These questions are all challenges we expect to have to put to this book.

City of Thieves – David Benioff

Four months into the siege of Leningrad, the city is starving. Seventeen-year-old Lev fears for his life when he is arrested for looting the body of a dead German paratrooper, while his charismatic cellmate, Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested for desertion, seems bizarrely unafraid.

Dawn brings, instead of an execution squad, an impossible challenge. Lev and Kolya can find a dozen eggs for an NKVD colonel to use for his daughter’s wedding cake, and live. Or fail, and die.

In the depths of the coldest winter in history, through a city cut off from all supplies and suffering appalling deprivation, man and boy embark on an absurd hunt. Their search will take them through desolate, lawless Leningrad and the devastated countryside surrounding it, in the captivating journey of two men trying to survive against desperate odds.

What’s the deal?

In City of Thieves, Benioff retells the story told to him by his grandfather of two boys in WWII Leningrad on an insane mission. The horrendous and the comical are interwoven in every aspect of this book. We have two young boys about to face the firing squad in desolate, bleak wartime Leningrad, and all of the horrors that war has wreaked on their city. At the same time, we have a Soviet sending them across the destitute city to find some eggs, and if they return empty-handed then they will face their deaths. Described as an “intimate coming-of-age story”, this book seems to transcend all normal expectations of a war novel, finding the humanity in the inhumane.

What’s the hype?

Described as cinematic in its style, with writing that transports you, reviews are loving this deft combination of fiction and biography that provides an insight into a city that was devastatingly affected by the war. Many say that Benioff successfully manages to write a historical novel that both puts characters at its heart and also provides a harrowingly accurate picture of war-stricken Russia. In fact, it is very difficult to find negative reviews of this book. The vast majority of reviews rate it 4 or 5 stars, and even those that are lower are very complimentary, and the reason for the low rating is that they weren’t particularly interested in the subject matter. The consensus among reviewers is that Benioff’s writing is exquisite; indeed, J. Kent Messum says “it’s a modern textbook example of how to write a great story.”  

What are we expecting?

We’re expecting it to be really good! Benioff is co-creater of the TV phenomenon Game of Thrones, and so the cinematic writing that everyone is raving about is something we really hope comes across. We are interested to see if it has the same sort of pace and tone as The Book Thief, as this is what a fair few of the reviews seem to imply. The characters seem to be of central importance in this book, and so it will be interesting to see how attached we get to them, and how they are developed throughout. As is it historical fiction, we expect that the world-building will be good, and we want to get a real feel for what life was like in wartime Leningrad.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

What’s the deal?

In Uprooted, Novik presents a high-fantasy world saturated with folklore and magic. The anti-hero of the novel seems to be the evil Wood, and clumsy, average Agnieszka finds herself at the centre of the battle against this “malevolent power.” “One part Polish folk tale, one part coming-of-age magical fantasy, and one part horror,” (Tadiana on Goodreads) and with a purposefully vague blurb, before even picking the book up, we are expecting big things.

What’s the hype?

This book has a lot of hype from some really big hitters in YA Fantasy; for example, Cassandra Clare, Lev Grossman, Maggie Stiefvater and Robin Hobb. If that doesn’t hype the novel up, I don’t know what does. With words such as “enchanting”, “thrilling” and “a delight” being regularly thrown around, Uprooted is being reviewed as both “otherworldly and planted in the real”; the seemingly perfect combination for a fantasy novel! On the other hand, some reviews are not so positive, with readers wanting much more character development, particularly for the anti-heroes, and describing the story as “nothing new.”

What are we expecting?

Described as “a charming and inviting story that looks unflinchingly at the strangling roots of hurt and revenge” (Robin Hobb), we expect this novel to be an easy read, but one with some dark tension interweaved in with the enchanting magical world. This is exactly the sort of book a YA Fantasy fan should hope to love; satisfying plot lines, adventure, perhaps a hint of romance and some epic magic. After the build-up from all of those authors, we’re really, really hoping it’s amazing – – please don’t let us down, Uprooted!

REVIEW: Truthwitch

Quick summary: Sisters before misters, *KAPOW*!
Rating: ★★★★★
Try this series if you like: Sara Raasch, Renée Ahdieh, Kendare Blake and Laini Taylor.


This book is 479 pages of brilliant, completely enjoyable writing. You have to take this opening novel of The Witchlands series as it is – a light fantasy with sparks of romance, high-octane adventure and a sister-bond between two female witches. It is fun, easy to read, and puts friendship above all else, which is a nice angle that you don’t always see in YA Fantasy.

Character-wise, we have some interesting ones in this mixed bag. Safi and Iseult are the two main female characters and they are Threadsisters, a bond stronger than those between families. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and the fact that the twenty-year treaty keeping the peace between the countries in Susan Dennard‘s world is swiftly coming to an end leads us to the conclusion that these girls will somehow be heavily involved in what’s to come. Both Safi and Iseult bring something completely different to the table. They are individuals, but both work together, and this is what catapults them from arguably run-of-the-mill YA characters to something vastly more interesting.

They are joined in the ensemble cast by Merik, Safi’s steamy love interest and Prince of Nubrevna, who is desperate to ensure his country doesn’t collapse into poverty and starvation after the costly wars. Merik is earnest and has good intentions at heart, but there were many times where I did want to reach into the book and throttle him.
We also have Aeduan, who threatens to fall into the brooding-bad-boy trope, but deftly swerves away into a well thought out character with emotional complexity and multi-layered villainy. He is definitely a key one to watch for character development, and also for potential romances… (I’m looking at you, Iseult!)

I got on with the writing of relationships in a similar way to how I got on with Laini Taylor – there were similarities in the dynamics between relationships, both romantic and platonic. This was an aspect of Taylor’s writing I really enjoyed, and this enjoyment translated into Dennard’s writing as well.

Dennard’s world-building has had mixed reviews from what I can see, as others think while there is some vague background information, we don’t get to deeply dive into the Witchlands with elongated descriptive writing. We are asked to grasp the geography, culture and politics pretty quickly, and sometimes you do have to reread sections to fully grasp the implication it has on your understanding of the world. From this angle, I did find it a slow start and if you want world building to have a stronger presence than action or plot, then this isn’t the book for you. While detailed world-building is usually something I really enjoy, I didn’t find I needed any more than Dennard gave. Her writing is full to the brim with fast-paced action and “dynamic storytelling” (Publishers Weekly), so to slow the pace down with too much descriptive writing would take away from what Dennard’s writing is all about.

We want kick-assery, magic, deep-rooted friendships and some “tense (tense!) romance(s)” (Susan Dennard), and that is what we get! What’s not to love?! I say give this book a read.

Susan Dennard also has a really good blog/newsletter, and for any potential writers/enjoyers of literature, I recommend giving it a follow here!

Rosie x

REVIEW: Three Dark Crowns

Quick summary: Dark, savage and mesmerising. 
Rating: ★★★★★
Try this series if you like: V.E Schwab, Neal Shusterman and Susan Dennard.


Read the full synopsis here

I bought and finished this book in two evenings worth of reading. The transitions between the points of view of the three sisters keeps you flipping the pages because you want to see what happens to the character after you’ve left them, and the more Blake unfurls tiny nuggets of information about each character, the more you are desperate to get to the next big reveal. I loved this book, and can’t wait to get into the next books in the series! I would also like to note at this point that I think Kendare Blake is exceedingly awesome, not least because her pets are called Tyrion Cattister, Obi-Dog Kenobi, Agent Scully and Armpit McGee. 

There is brutality and the promise of violence dripping off every page of this book – the very premise of it is that these three sisters have to attempt to kill each other to win the crown. Kendare Blake presents romantic, platonic and familial relationships, all while asking how much a person has to do before you can’t forgive them anymore, and questioning what truly makes a family. This exploration of human relationships is a real highlight of the book. 

The character development in Three Dark Crowns was also interesting and well thought out. At first, admittedly, it is confusing because there are lots of characters, and as it hops between the three queens, you don’t really get time to sit and figure it out as the plot unfolds. I also worried that there wouldn’t be enough development of the queens because it hopped between them so much. In the end, I didn’t see this as much of a problem, because the key characters came up often enough that you recognised them and the queens did get enough air time to give us an insight into their characters. As the book progresses, Blake cleverly weaves the personalities of the three sisters into your heart, and you soon realise you would be devastated for any of the three to die.

One thing I would have liked to have seen more of in the book would be a bit more world development. I am a sucker for knowing all of the little cultural details about the world I’m reading about, and I feel that this was the only element lacking ever so slightly from this book. Of course, this is only the first book and as I progress through the series I may get more insight into the world. There were some details, such as the Naturalist hunt, which were lovely, and ultimately it just comes down to personal preference. In my opinion, it does not take away from the overall success of the book at all. 

To summarise, I thought this book was great! Blake’s plot and character writing are fantastic, and she really keeps you on your toes the whole time. For anyone tempted to put the book down and not finish it (I see you, DNF’s…) I definitely say even if you struggle at the start of book, definitely push on because the final third is particularly good – the plot twists are spectacular and the character writing starts to really come to fruition. Three Dark Crowns is dark, savage and mesmerising. Give it a read. 

 

Rosie x 

MR B’S EMPORIUM OF READING DELIGHTS: READING SPA EXPERIENCE

In the beautiful city of Bath, there is this gemstone of a bookstore that celebrates everything about books and literature. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights encapsulates everything good about the world of books, and their Reading Spa Experience is the absolute best present imaginable for a bibliophile. I was gifted this experience for my birthday, and I wish I could go back and have a Reading Spa every week!
WHAT IS MR B’S?

Once you enter Mr B’s Emporium, you are immediately in a bookish person’s dreamland. There are books stuffed everywhere, and the staff are smiley and friendly. In this cute little shop tucked away on the cobbled roads of Bath, you can really feel the literary heritage of the city. 

The whole vibe of Mr B’s is that bookselling is a personalised experience. When you walk in, you can ask for recommendations, you can have a chat. All around the store, there are little cards recommending certain books, or you could peruse the shelf with all the staff’s top reads. The process of choosing and buying the books is an experience in itself, and I love this!

WHAT IS THE READING SPA?

In the Reading Spa, you sit down for a lovely conversation in a little nook upstairs in the store. You chat with one of the specialist staff about all the books you like, don’t like, want to try, and don’t want to try, all while being treated to a slice of cake (I had the brownie and it was beyond ridiculously decadent… and so good!) and a cup of tea or coffee. Then, your staff member pops off for a few minutes, before returning with a staggering tower of books. They then talk through each of the books with you, discussing the plot, the best parts of the book and explaining why they chose it. Then… you have the insurmountable task of narrowing that book pile down (this is by far the hardest bit!) Don’t worry though, because whatever you don’t choose, they will email you in a list so you can pick them up some other time. 

As part of the experience, you get £55 worth of books, a mug, a cloth bag, and a £5 gift card for when you are next buying books from Mr B’s (maybe from the list of books you had to leave behind!) 

Amy Coles did my Reading Spa, and this was the perfect selection for me because we had very similar tastes in books, and she was absolutely lovely! Mr B’s cleverly chooses your staff member to match you up to whoever will best stimulate conversation and choose books to match your interest. Also, as a side note, you can have this experience no matter your age or book taste. 

DO I RECOMMEND? 

Yes! I 100% recommend anyone that likes reading or has a family member or friend that does, to treat yourself or them to this experience! It is a fantastic opportunity to explore what books you like, it challenges you to expand your reading, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to sit with some cake and tea and talk about books for a couple of hours? Sounds like a perfect day out to me! 

 

Rosie x

 

REVIEW: The Remnant Chronicles (Series)

Quick summary: Marmite series. I loved it, some people hate it, everyone should try it. 
Rating: ★★★★☆
Try this series if you like: Laini Taylor, Veronica Roth & Holly Black


Check out the full synopsis here

We have three main points of view in this series; Lia, Rafe and Kaden, and the transitions between the POV’s are pretty seamless. The thing that really drew me to the series in the first place is that for a substantial part of the first novel, we know that Lia is being hunted by an Assassin and a Prince, but we don’t know which of the two men is which. There is a big sense of intrigue throughout the series, and I personally think this makes up for the fact that there is less magic present throughout than you might expect for a fantasy series. 

As far as the character of Lia goes, it is a nice touch that her true skills come in language and social interaction. In an almost feministic statement, Lia wants to change her fate, and show the men around her that she should be allowed to make her own choices. She is a headstrong dreamer, with a capability to lead and change the world for the better.  All of these qualities are a fantastic combination for the protagonist of a YA Fantasy series. 

There is a love triangle in these books. Now, I know many people who hate love triangles with a fervent passion, and all I can say to these people is that you will probably not enjoy this love triangle any more than other love triangles. It is pretty subtle and non-intrusive as triangles go, but if we’re honest it doesn’t have anything on the Mark-Kieran-Cristina steamy triangle of The Dark Artifices. I was reasonably satisfied with the ending, because I felt it did reflect the state of the characters in the books, and wasn’t too abrupt. 

The plot of the first book of this series, The Kiss of Deception, gets very mixed reviews, especially in the Goodreads comments. Some readers loved the slow-paced, gentle dreams of Lia, our main protagonist. Others, however, felt that for a series described as high fantasy, there was not enough action, adventure or plot interest. For me, I stand with the lovers of Lia’s quiet dreams. She is a princess who spent her whole life surrounded by the promise of magic, war and kingdom, and when old enough faced the threat of being married off to a man she didn’t know or love as a political pawn. I think it is very plausible that she would want a quiet, understated life after that. Although I understand the argument that the sleepy seaside town scene goes on for potentially too long, I didn’t find myself bored, and by the second and third books the scene wildly changes. 

To summarise my views of this series; I liked it. It had some interesting plot points, I loved the inclusion of language, I didn’t hate the love triangle, and I really enjoyed Pearson’s treatment of magic. I feel some people will love it, some people will hate it, and that’s ok, but I do recommend reading it! 

Rosie x