book reviews, spoiler free

The Starlight Watchmaker review

44097002The Starlight Watchmaker by Lauren James

Rating: XXXXX

Published July 15th by Barrington Stoke

“Doesn’t it get tiring being judged for who you are all the time?” Ada asked, “and treated like you’re less than other people?”

Wealthy students from across the galaxy come to learn at the prestigious academy where Hugo toils as a watchmaker. But he is one of the lucky ones. Many androids like him are jobless and homeless. Someone like Dorian could never understand their struggle – or so Hugo thinks when the pompous duke comes banging at his door. But when Dorian’s broken time-travel watch leads them to discover a sinister scheme, the pair must reconcile their differences if they are to find the culprit in time.

A wildly imaginative sci-fi adventure from YA star Lauren James, particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+

At the Quiet at the End of the World event a few months back Lauren announced that she would be releasing a novella with Barrington Stoke later this year and as time went on we got a title, a cover reveal and synopsis for The Starlight Watchmaker which I’ve been excited for ever since.

I don’t normally go into much detail about publishers but I really wanted to rave about Barrington Stoke for a moment. They are a fantastic publisher who have been helping dyslexic and reluctant readers for over twenty years by working with writers and illustrators to publish super readable books as well as adding little adjustments like using a unique, dyslexia-friendly font specially created to make reading easier, Accessible layouts and spacing stop the page from becoming overcrowded and even Heavier paper with a gentle tint helps reduce visual stresses, their motto is every child can be a reader and I think reading can be so daunting for young children today that we need to do everything we can to create a space and opportunity for all readers, including those who might be reluctant or have difficulty reading for pleasure. I had read a couple of Non Pratt’s books published by Barrington Stoke previously and loved the shorter book format and just how effortless they felt to read which can be really motivating and confidence building.

I reached out to Barrington Stoke about Lauren’s new title and the lovely Kirstin sent me a proof to review in exchange for an honest review. At just 128 pages it is an extremely short read but oh the wonders Lauren can work with 128 pages. The Starlight Watchmaker is set in a universe that feels like magic and science, the academy that Dorian attends and Hugo works at is incredibly diverse, full of all kinds of sentient creatures from across the galaxy. It was absolutely refreshing to read all of these fantastic descriptions of different races and species, I was fascinated in particular with one of my favourite characters, a student like Dorian called Ada (Lady Ada de Winters – short for Adedeneumdora) who is essentially a mountain that can walk around and will eventually become a planet all of her own just like her mother, the planet Zumia. She’s well spoken, smart and fantastically quirky as well as being a brilliant departure from the usual humanoid looking alien lifeforms we usually see.

Hugo is an android and an absolute sweetheart who I love, he’s a hard worker making the best of a bad situation who enjoys what he does and is mostly content but finds himself yearning for more, things like friendship and freedom, not to mention he really likes plants. Our other main character, Dorian is a fifth-year student but also a Duke who comes to Hugo for help but comes across a little brusque at first and perhaps a bit to forward which could be misconstrued negatively but I think he really grows and learns over the course of the story and you learn more about him as well as Hugo and see how they react to each other.

Somehow, even in under 200 pages Lauren managed to fit a nice little twist into the story, the plot is simple but honestly all the more enjoyable for it, the narrative is fast flowing and straight forward but conveys every detail and emotion needed. This entire book is akin to a nice chilled glass of juice on a hot day or that feeling when you step out of your morning shower, it’s refreshing and soothing and the moment I finished it after reading it the first time I managed to put it down for five minutes before I decided to pick it back up and read it all over again. The story is well rounded and unlike with some short-form works where I find myself  wanting more in an unsatisfied way, I found The Starlight Watchmaker to be the perfect bite-size piece of cake, it felt complete and whole and I felt like I’d been on a journey after reading it which is why I read, to be whisked away on adventures and feel a better person at the other end. This is a beautiful tale of friendship and I cannot recommend it enough.

The Starlight Watchmaker will be available on July 15th, don’t let it’s smaller size fool you, it’s a fantastic little read and one that can definitely be enjoyed by a variety of ages.

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book reviews

The Girl in Red

43550676.jpgThe Girl in Red by Christina Henry

Rating: XXXXX

Published June 18th by Titan Books

“She was just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that didn’t look anything like the one she’d grown up in, the one that had been perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.”

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined. 

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods…

You know that author you keep putting off reading? Not in an unkind way, but in an “I WILL get around to reading one of their books” muttered every time you see them because you just know they’re going to be great and you then something comes up and you for whatever reason the thought slips your mind again and again and again. This is Christina Henry for me so when the lovely Julia from Titan Books asked if I wanted to review The Girl in Red by Henry and take part in the Instagram book tour in I jumped at the chance! I love retellings at the best of times but this sounded like a really interesting inspiring take on the Red Riding Hood Story.

I found The Girl in Red to be slightly terrifying, absolutely creepy as heck and wholly addictive. It reminds me a lot of the human element to the earlier episodes of the Walking Dead when you begin to realise it’s not the zombies, or in this case, the cough that are the things you have to watch your back for it’s the survivors, most of who have become desperate or cruel (if they weren’t already) since the crisis. It’s not a unique tale by any means and is a little repetitive and predictable in some places but forgivably so because the real star of this book for me (other than main character Red herself) was the amazing way Henry builds tension. I found I was holding my breath, clenching my teeth and I had trouble reading it in my house alone, at one point my phone rang (a rare occurrence) while I was reading and it was during such a tense moment in the book that I screamed so loudly I woke up my four year old. On the slightly negative side, I did personally find the ending very rushed and a little unsatisfying but the book, even on reflection was no less enjoyable for it.

Red has possibly become one of my favourite fictional characters. She is a fantastic mix of badassery and compassion, she will kill and make tough choices to survive but she doesn’t let herself become dehumanised for it which I found a really refreshing balance, when she has to fatally defend herself she doesn’t relish it, when she has to take supplies she takes what she needs and likes to make sure that there is enough left if someone else needs them etc. Red often overthinks things, often to a fault and often thinks herself round in circles to inaction which is a habit I am also extraordinarily guilty of, so seeing it portrayed in this fantastic character who acknowledged that her obsessive and sometimes paranoid thinking could be debilitating like that felt incredibly eye-opening and has really helped to keep my own obsessive thinking in check by being able to identify it.

Main character Red is also an amputee and obviously, I can’t speak to the accuracy of her experience or identify with it but I found it really enlightening and I hope it helped people who find themselves with prosthetics feel seen and represented as well as hopefully helping to educate others. There is a line that is said in relation to someone question how much Red is capable of due to her amputation and Red replies with “Stop treating me like half a person…I am missing my leg below the knee. My brain is still functioning. I know what I can do and what I can’t.” and this feels SO important and relatable for anyone who is judged, babied and looked down on because they’re differently abled.

The Girl in Red is out in stores and online today!

 

spoiler free, WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday – June 3rd

Its time for my fortnightly WWW Wednesday post! I’m slowly slogging through this months TBR (full post to come tomorrow!) but feeling positive I’ll get there, especially after rearranging and tidying my bookcases yesterday! If you want to join in with WWW don’t forget to send over a big thank you to Sam at Taking on a World of Words for keeping WWW alive and kicking.

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

The Dark Phoenix Saga by Stuart Moore. As mentioned in my last post, this is a retelling/novelisation of the Dark Phoenix arc from the X-Men comics. I remember falling in the love with the animated X-Men series when I was younger and other than Rogue, who I adored, I really fell in love with Jean and her story as the Phoenix. I got a little older and looked into the comics more and devoured the whole story arc multiple times. I’m so glad to now get to relive it all over again in this new Marvel novel, not to mention the film coming out very very soon.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Despite meaning to read this for a while now, as soon as I saw that they would be making a show in-fact and I’m now finally getting around to it. I read the first 50 pages so that I could watch the first episode of the show and now I’m hoping to carry on and finish it so I can watch the rest of the episodes because that first one was absolutely brilliant.

What did you recently finish reading?

Memento by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. As a pre-order incentive in the US, the US publishers of Aurora Rising offered a copy of a new and exclusive Illuminae novella when you submitted your preorder receipt. This novella is an 82-page prequel about AIDAN. I was gutted to realise this was US only but the lovely Good Choice Reading who is based in the US and does virtual signings were offering the incentives with your signed book! The postage was a little painful but it was totally worth it. I read Memento the day I received it and I made a reading reaction video which you can check out here.

Nexus by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. The sequel to their first book Zenith, I was pleased to find Nexus was a HUGE improvement over its predecessor and was really enjoyable, I’m actually pretty gutted that it’s only a two book series. You can check out my review for Nexus here. 

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry.  I’ve been fascinated with the idea of Christina’s fairy tale retellings for years and The Lost Boy is on my TBR and now I’m lucky enough to be taking part in the Instagram tour for her newest book The Girl in Red, the tale of Red Riding Hood (in this case more of a red jacket than an actual hood) and the decimated world riddled with quarantine camps, death, destruction and disease.

Have you read any of these? If so what are your thoughts? What have you read lately and what do you think you might read next?

book reviews, spoiler free

A Good Girls Guide To Murder…

cover145858-medium.pngA Good Girls Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson

Rating; XXXXX

Published: May 2nd 2019 by Electric Monkey

“This project is no longer the hopeful conjecture is started life as…An innocent life was taken and everyone in this town turned it ugly in their mouths…”

The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it. Almost everyone. Having grown up in the small town that was consumed by the crime, Pippa Fitz-Amobi chooses the case as the topic for her final project. But when Pip starts uncovering secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden, what starts out as a project begins to become Pip’s dangerous reality . . .

I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you to Electronic Monkey who gave me the opportunity to win an advanced copy of this book at YALC (which I won on the last day), even if you monsters did tear out the last few chapters from the ARCs (I actually thought this was a fun and clever way to get more people talking about this debut book as well as being able to tell just how many people read the arcs). Thank you to Charlotte and Hannah for telling me all about this book and introducing me to Holly! Thank you to Holly Jackson for many things! For taking the time to talk to me and my friends at YALC, for meticulously signing my book etc and for writing said absolute rollercoaster ride of a book.

A Good Girls Guide to Murder is set up fantastically as part narrative, part school report where main character Pippa talks to us directly about her findings and theories giving the reader a real sense of closeness and inclusion into what’s happening and where Pips train of thought is going. Not only is the format well chosen but the writing style chosen to accompany it feels spot on, it drips with mystery and unanswered questions. Holly is very good at feeding us just the right amount of information so that it feels like we a good level of understanding without being bogged down with too many uninteresting info dumps. Of course, then she artfully pulls the floor out from under you leaving you to wonder which way is up and question everything you think you know while you piece together every single scrap of evidence you can get your hands on.

As Pip investigates the narrative is pleasingly organic, nothing feels especially twee or too much of a coincidence, I love that Pippa is resourceful, determined, loves to study and sticks up for what she believes in. I also realised while waiting for the last few chapters to arrive (as mentioned previously, they had been ripped out and a ransom note of sorts left with a contact email for the publisher to receive access to the last few chapters), that none of the things Pip does are particularly out of the realms of possibility for an ordinary teenager which I really liked.

One of my favourite things about this twisty book is that everyone feels untrustworthy at one point or another as things change and different pieces of information and evidence come to light, I think throughout this book I’ve suspected almost everyone at least once. A Good Girls Guide to Murder as a brilliantly realised, deliciously tense tale of whodunnit wrapped in danger and betrayal.

 

 

spoiler free, tbr thursday

TBR Thursday – February

After what feels like the longest January possible we have finally reached the first Thursday of February and that means it’s time for my monthly TBR (to be read) post! I was hoping to have a Sci-Fi filled February but alas I had forgotten that King of Scars was coming out and that I still hadn’t read some of the other books that are advised to be read beforehand, also my most anticipated contemporary for the year has just arrived ready for me to read in time for the blog tour let alone all of the other stuff happening. I will absolutely be reading a sci-fi book by the end of the month though, you’ll have to read on to find out which one!

A Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare
I’ve been trying to get this finished since it came out and I’M STILL reading it. Well listening to it, I have just under seven hours to go. So close yet so far. It’s not that it’s bad it’s just SO long.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
As mentioned above King of Scars is out now and I’ve read the Grisha Trilogy but I still hadn’t managed to get around to Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom! I’m rectifying that this month by finally reading these. I’ve even got the auido book for Six of Crows and enjoying listening to that to avoid listening to AQOAAD, not gonna lie.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
I was lucky enough to recieve an early finished copy of this book from Ink Road books and I can’t wait to get stuck into it, I’m not a big contemporary reader but after reading Akemi’s first book, Starfish, she’s became an insta buy author for me.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
I enjoyed most of the Grisha books I’ve read so far (we don’t talk about soggy bread Mal) and I’m excited to read more in the same universe, I figured it would make the most sense to read this after finishing Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. Also the sooner I read it the less likely I am to end up seeing spoilers I hope.

Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy
A female pansexual King Arthur. YES PLEASE. Those who know me will no doubt be aware of the fact I love kick ass girls with swords (I mean most weapons are fine but swords or daggers BIG yes) and to top it off she’s queer and Merlin is a gay teenager. This honestly sounds like the best thing and I genuinely can’t wait to get into it. It looks like I’m probably not going to get an ARC of Aurora Rising so I’m instead going to use Once and Future to kick start my incoming sci-fi binge.

 

book reviews, spoiler free

The Wicked King by Holly Black

26032887The Wicked King by Holly Black

Rating: XXXX

Published January 8th by Hot Key Books

Kiss me until I am sick of it”

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her, even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

(Also this review will contain no spoilers for The Wicked King, I cannot guarantee any non spoiler content for the first book in the series, The Cruel Prince.)

I read the first book in this series, The Cruel Prince on release last year after being super excited for when Holly Black herself told us all about it at the event with her and Cassandra Clare the year before and for those who have seen the review I did for it on YouTube last year you’ll know how much I loved it and it really heightened my love for the Hate/Love troupe and for potentially morally ambiguous murder girls like Jude. So suffice to say I’ve been pretty excited for this sequel since the moment I read the last page of The Cruel Prince and although I wasn’t able to get this one dead on release day this time, I did get it a week later and absolutely devour it the moment I got it and at every available opportunity afterwards until I finished it.

The Wicked King has a similar tone to The Cruel Prince but with much higher stakes, the way Jude is treated as Seneschal to the High King is obviously different to how she was treated as a mortal child, weather “daughter” of the high general or not but she still faces the same kind of degradation and mocking, it’s just a lot more underhanded but no less impactful. What does change the way a lot of these moments play out is Jude’s reaction to these occurrences and how her actions in retaliation can have a larger ripple affect in all of her plans and potentially the future of Elfhame. I enjoyed the new dynamic as I always used to read a lot of Historical Fiction with a large amount of under handed court scheming and the like so this felt like very familiar territory and done especially well i that style that Holly Black has where she can make everything seem beautiful and mesmerising yet deadly and terrifying all at once.

We got to see a lot more of the inner workings of the High Kings court in The Wicked King then we did via the Court of Shadows previously which I found interesting but occasionally they were sandwiched in between some other really tantalising part of the story and I found myself racing through those parts to get back to it, a little like most of the Sansa Stark chapters in the Game of Thrones books (unrelated note – Sansa is so much more awesome in the show). This wasn’t a huge problem by any means but I think it might have affected my rating a little because it sticks out in my mind as making the middle feel a little slow or frustrating which is crazy because they were still written well and fairly interesting they just had the misfortune to be placed between parts I was desperate to get back to. That being this may have a just been a great tension building technique that may have gone over my head.

Locke, Cardan and Jude were all brilliantly terrible as they were originally, by terrible I mean I like that everyone is morally grey and for want of a better term to describe them “chaotic neutral” in that they are just as much likely to stab you in the face as help you depending on their mood and thanks to Holly this is easily becoming one of my favourite types of characters. I love that Cardan is so hard to read, for Jude and for me as the reader, there’s just something about feeling like you can never truly trust any of these characters that I adore and Cardan is one hundred percent the best example of that. Taryn was another character I think excelled in The Wicked King, especially in the latter half of the book, I found her quite irritating in The Cruel Prince and although we see less of her in the sequel, what we do see of her is brilliant.

I won’t speak too much on the ‘relationship’ between Jude and Cardan but although I know the “I hate you because I love/want you” is not a healthy basis for a real life relationship in any way shape or form, especially with the lengths of cruelty and manipulation these two can take it too but that is the beauty of Fiction because for these characters especially it suits so well and I’m so very here for it, especially with it being a very two way thing between them both. Also the quote “Kiss me until I’m sick of it” is probably one of my top ten favourite quotes of all time.

As expected I was completely blown away by the last one hundred pages and made the mistake of staying up late to finish it as I couldn’t put it down and then being unable to sleep for thinking “well, what comes next” for the next two hours. If you loved or enjoyed The Cruel Prince I definitely recommend picking up its sequel for more of the same great content but with higher stakes, more Jude murdering, more Jude and Cardan, more fae scheming and back stabbing – lots of my favourite things.

book reviews, spoiler free

Bookshop Girl Review

36642932Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

Rating: XXXXX

Published: June 14th by Hot Key Books

“What do we want? Books! When do we want them? Forever!”

Bennett’s Bookshop has always been a haven for sixteen-year-old Paige Turner. It’s a place where she can escape from her sleepy hometown, hang out with her best friend, Holly, and also earn some money.

But, like so many bookshops, Bennett’s has become a ‘casualty of the high street’ – it’s strapped for cash and going to be torn down. Paige is determined to save it but mobilising a small town like Greysworth is no mean feat.

Time is ticking – but that’s not the only problem Paige has. How is she going to fend off the attractions of beautiful fellow artist, Blaine? And, more importantly, will his anarchist ways make or break her bookshop campaign?

I received a digital advance copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. When I saw the title of this book and the cute cover artwork I knew I needed to check this book out and I must be on a winning streak at the moment because I’m so glad I requested a copy.

Bookshop Girl is two things for me, one is a inspirational, little fluffy, fun, easy and enjoyable read and the second is a scarily arcuate representation of my town. I worked in a local pet shop that got shut down because rent’s became extortionate, foot fall in town fell and many more people go online or further afield and most of the time sadly independent retailers cannot compete so when the same thing looked to happen to Bennetts bookstore I immediately felt a connection there. It wasn’t just the retail climate that felt familiar either, although I’m a good 14/15 years older than the main character I remembered essentially being her. Sure the slang has changed and technology is vastly more superior but her essence and personality just felt so relatable to my “youth” (now I REALLY feel old). The surroundings and townsfolk seemed eerily accurate too, down the guy who used to try to hide things in his trousers to shop lift and the shops etc, I had to check the authors info page to find out how close she really lived to me because it felt like she could have easily written this about my town and I think that really helped connect me to this book in a way I might not have done otherwise.

Bookshop girl is a super laid back read and is, I think certainly for the younger side of the YA market with a sixteen year old protagonist and fairly light events which were no less meaningful for it. This book is heartwarming and just the right kind of funny, silly and cringe inducing and the couple of days it took to me read it just felt relaxing. The writing feels very arcuate to the age group (insert hello fellow young people meme here) and shows a lovely side of the “younger generation of today” instead of the bad image a lot of young people are unfairly branded with today. Paige Turner is normal, average and I love her for it because it helps hammer home the idea that anyone can help to make a difference if it’s something they care about.

I can see why some people, especially of my age, might find this a little too “young” for them but I throughly enjoyed it and can happily recommend it. I’m so happy books like this are being written, although we need the deep hard-hitting stories I feel like we also need books like Bookshop Girl too which address issues and current situations that I don’t think we see a lot of but that can still effect young people. Thank you so much to Hot Key Books and Net Galley for allowing me to read Paige’s story in time for its release date today!! Happy Book Birthday to Bookshop Girl and don’t forget if you’re attending YALC Chloe Coles will be attending the event and signing books on the Friday!

Until next time,

Jemma.