Book Review: S.T.A.G.S (M. A. Bennett)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 402

Release Date: August 10th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Continue reading “Book Review: S.T.A.G.S (M. A. Bennett)”

July Wrap Up

Once again, it’s been a slow month, but I’ve really enjoyed the books I’ve read, especially the two from The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White. This month also marks my first audio book, which is pretty cool.

What I Read

Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson

S.T.A.G.S by M. A. Bennett

And I Darken by Kiersten White

Now I Rise by Kiersten White

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

A Change is Gonna Come by various authors

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

 

Book Post

Absolutely no book post this month, which hasn’t happened in a while but has given me some much needed catch up time! And I’ve still had some awesome books from NetGalley:

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

(Thanks Bloomsbury Children’s Books!)

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

The Princess and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

(Thanks First Second Books!)

Sky by Sarah Driver

(Thanks Egmont!)

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence

(Thanks Hodder Children’s Books!)

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

(Thanks Macmillan Children’s Books!)

What I Wrote:

Still chipping away at the editing. I’m trying to focus on the story structure and have made a timeline that zigzags across my study, and I think that’s really helping to visualise the story.

What I watched:

TV

Pretty Little Liars finally ended, and after watching the finale I’ve gone right back to the start to see it all again. There’s so much stuff from the earlier seasons that I don’t even remember!

Films

I can’t think of anything significant we’ve watched this month, other than a god awful horror on Amazon called Slaser.com It’s badly shot and badly acted, with a terrible, nonsensical story. Good for a laugh if you like those ‘so bad it’s good’ horror films though!

What I Did

My best friend and I did a breakout room at ClueHQ in Coventry and were their fastest two person breakout. Yes, I’m bragging, but we thought it was pretty cool! Still going with the driving lessons and starting to get nervous for my test. Hoping that by this time next month I’ll be able to drive!

What Little Moore Did

Little Moore is finally getting more confident with his walking. He’s taking more steps between us now, and will happily potter about a little on his own between toys and furniture. He’s also got a Cozy Coupe – you know, those big red and yellow cars everyone had as kids – and is obsessed with getting in and out of it.

Book Review: Now I Rise (Kiersten White)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Corgi Children’s

Pages: 480

Release Date: July 6th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.

After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

Review:

I loved And I Darken but something stopped me giving it 5 stars. I have no such qualms about this sequel though. Whatever unknown thing was missing from the first, the second had it by the bucket load and I loved it.

Your favourite opposite siblings are back, struggling through life, love and war. Lada will do whatever she needs to secure the Wallachian throne, and she doesn’t care who or what she has to destroy to achieve her goals. Meanwhile, Radu will do whatever he can to secure Mehmed’s heart, even if it means leaving his side.

While in the first book I was more interested in Lada’s story, this time I couldn’t wait to get back to Radu’s chapters. His internal battle with his feelings for Mehmed was fascinating and I felt for him so much. Even as he began to realise how toxic the relationship was, he couldn’t help his feelings. I wanted to tear him away from Mehmed and knock some sense into him but we’ve all been there.

Radu’s conflicting feelings over Constantinople were heartbreaking too. It’s one thing to be part of a war and think of a group of people as the enemy, but how do you maintain these feelings when you’re living among them and realise they’re just people too. I love stories that show how war tears you apart and this one showed the atrocities committed on both sides perfectly. After all he’s seen and the choices he’s made, I can’t wait to see where his story goes next.

I still loved Lada’s journey, even if Radu’s was the one that I looked forward to. She’s as headstrong and cruel as ever and is tearing up the land and anyone who gets in her way, along with her loyal band of men. I love her insistence on being prince and doing things her own way, to make things better for her people. Also, kudos for the mention of periods, always great to see something like that in YA!

This book builds on the solid foundations of the first book and takes the characters you love on an incredible journey. The character growth is amazing and I challenge you not to love these siblings!

Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: And I Darken (Kiersten White)

Publisher: Corgi Children’s

Pages: 484

Release Date: July 7th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.

Review:

This is a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while and I’m so glad I got round to it.

This book is a retelling of Vlad the Impaler, but here it’s not Vlad it’s Lada. She fights assassins, Janissaries and sexism as she befriends the son of the Sultan imprisoning her and tries to get back to her beloved home of Wallachia.

Lada is by far one of the best characters I’ve ever read. She’s fighting against a society that wants to see her married off in a political marriage when she knows she’s a more capable soldier than all the men around her, and she’s ready to prove it. Lada is fierce about survival and will do anything to protect herself and her brother. She’s not your average ‘badass’ woman: if there’s a soft side to her it’s hidden beneath layers of anger and cruelty.

The only thing that does seem to soften Lada is her feelings towards Mehmed, the Sultan’s son. Although she uses him to her advantage, as she does everyone, he manages to leave a mark on her where no one else has managed, and these feelings complicate her plans for her future. But I love how single-minded she is in wanting to get back to Wallachia.

Like a lot of YA books, there’s a love triangle, but unlike most, I actually enjoyed this one. While Lada fights her feelings for Mehmed, her brother Radu is going through the same thing. It takes him a while to recognise what the feelings are, and it hurts when he sees Lada’s feelings being reciprocated and his going unnoticed. I felt so bad for him and was really rooting for them to end up together.

Radu and Lada both grow beautifully throughout the book, and so does their relationship. They don’t get on as children: Radu is upset she never wants to play with him, though she protects him in her own way when he needs it. He feels useless next to her fierceness and craves the love their father gives her. As they grow up around the Sultan’s court, their positions shift and Radu finds a place for himself amongst them, making the most of his charisma and charm to work for Mehmed, while Lada struggles to fit in and prove her worth.

This is a historical period I know little about and it was fascinating to read about. I loved the positive portrayal of Islam, which is one of the things that helps Radu find happiness. The portrayal of women was also really interesting: while Lada thinks she must be fierce and better than the men to have power, she sees the women of the court wield power in their own way. Some are happy to be married off and have babies, and that’s fine, and others use the position they’ve been put in to carve a better life for themselves. It was great to see the way they overcame the disadvantage that had been given to them as women in that society.

This is a dark story of politics, forbidden love and fierce, fierce characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have gone straight onto the sequel. If you’re a historical or even fantasy fan and enjoy something a bit dark then I’d definitely recommend this.

4

Book Review: Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame (Mara Wilson)

Format: Audible Audio

Length: 7hrs 22 mins

Release Date: September 13th 2016

Summary:

Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and a little out of place: as the only child on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, the sole clinically depressed member of the cheerleading squad, a valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and one of the few former child actors who has never been in jail or rehab. Tackling everything from how she first learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to losing her mother at a young age, to getting her first kiss (or was it kisses?) on a celebrity canoe trip, to not being “cute” enough to make it in Hollywood, these essays tell the story of one young woman’s journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. But they also illuminate a universal struggle: learning to accept yourself, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Exquisitely crafted, revelatory, and full of the crack comic timing that has made Mara Wilson a sought-after live storyteller and Twitter star, Where Am I Now?introduces a witty, perceptive, and refreshingly candid new literary voice.

Review:

I’ve never listened to an audiobook before or read an autobiography/memoir so this was doubly new to me. It was different to my usual reading experience and I really enjoyed it. I also won this book in a giveaway from The Candid Cover so big thanks to her 🙂

Like most people, I know Mara Wilson from Matilda and a handful of other films from my childhood. I didn’t really keep up with what she did after, though I heard from various people that she did cool/funny stuff on and off the internet. I’m not sure why I decided I wanted this to be my first audiobook, but when I saw it I just knew I wanted to read/hear it.

In the book, Mara Wilson narrates events from various points in her life, from growing up on film sets, her young views on sex and relationships, and her struggles with mental illness. There’s also a section on Robin Williams that was extremely poignant and almost brought me to tears.

The parts that resonated with me most were when she talks about her experiences with OCD and depression. These are things that are still commonly misunderstood, turned into the butt of jokes on the internet, and just generally not talked about openly enough. Wilson approaches these topics with a refreshing honesty and it was helpful to hear someone talk about something I’ve had some experience with too.

The other bit that stuck with me was how people react to what she looks like today. When ‘What do they look like now?’ articles pop up on the internet, people often seem angry that Mara Wilson isn’t still a cute toothy 8 year old. It’s another of those things that show how much women are judged on their appearance rather than their achievements and personality. It also shows how people feel entitled to pass judgement on celebrities: Wilson’s paragraph on what she’d say to someone who told her how to ‘fix’ her looks was inspiring and it just made me admire her more.

This book is full of witty and touching stories, wonderfully narrated by Mara Wilson. It’ll make you laugh and make you stop and think, and I’d fully recommend it.

4

Book Review: Flame in the Mist (Renée Ahdieh)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 402

Release Date: May 18th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

Review:

The description of this book reminded me a bit of Across the Nightingale Floor, which I loved as a teen, so I knew I had to read it.

When Mariko is ambushed on the way to her political arranged marriage and her guards and servants kills, she decides to disguise herself as a man and find out who tried to kill her, and why.

I really enjoyed this book at first but I found my attention waned about halfway through. It was still good, but it just wasn’t quite doing it for me: there was no ‘oh, the feels, stuff just happened and I read it and that was that.

Mariko was an interesting character. I do love reading about women trying to overcome the stereotypes and oppressions that are put on them because of their gender, especially in societies very different to the one I live in. I admired Mariko’s determination to prove her worth beyond a political marriage, but I did question the way she went about things a lot of the time.

She didn’t want to go home after being ambushed as there’d be questions about her maidenhood etc, so instead, she dresses as a man and hangs out with a group of men… how is that any better?! She constantly saying how smart she is and how she outwits everyone, but she rarely proves that with her actions – amongst the men of the Black Clan, she seems to be a bit out of her depth.

The twist at the end wasn’t particularly surprising and it didn’t really punch me in the stomach like I wanted it to. The romance was predictable and didn’t really do much for me either. Still, this was an enjoyable read and an interesting take on a Mulan style story.

3

June Wrap Up

I’ve had a bit of a slower reading month than usual this month, but I’ve read some amazing books and am getting back into the swing of things again now.

What I Read

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Day 7 by Kerry Drewery

The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanajana Roy

Lumberjanes Volume 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson

Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Book Post

I’ve realised I’ve not been including my NetGalley books on this list so I’m adding all my NetGalley TBR onto this month’s new books.

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

(Thanks Gollancz!)

And on NetGalley…

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

(Thanks Hodder and Stoughton!)

A Change is Gonna Come by Various

(Thanks Stripes!)

We See Everything by William Sutcliffe

(Thanks Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

What I Wrote:

Ugh I’m stuck in editing hell at the moment. It feels like there’s a billion things to do and I don’t even know where to start. Any tips appreciated!

What I watched:

TV

I finished watching AMS: Roanoke and I think it’s actually been my favourite season so far. Super creepy and gory and I loved it. They still don’t know how to end things though: I feel let down by each final episode, though this season wasn’t as bad as previous ones.

Films

We watched Beyond the Gates, a film that’s been on our radar for a while and I finally bought it for Nathan for Father’s Day. It’s got a great retro board game horror thing going on, a bit like an adult Jumanji (though not as scary in my opinion!) It was good but I think we were expecting more from it.

What I Did

I finally did my theory test – and passed it! I’ve been revising like mad each evening for the last month or so and it paid off in the end. There were a few questions I had to guess but it all worked out in the end. Plus I aced the hazard perception (69 out of 75!) so I’m clearly very perceptive 🙂 Now I just need to practice and get the practical test done. Watch this space!

What Little Moore Did

Little Moore still isn’t walking, though we think he’s getting close. He’s more stable on his feet now and will walk holding just one of our hands. Think he just needs the confidence to do it now. He’s been enjoying the hot weather in the daytime, playing in the garden and paddling pool with his cousin, but not so much at night. 30 degrees is way too hot to sleep in!

Book Review: Lumberjanes, Vol 3, A Terrible Plan (Noelle Stevenson)

Publisher: Boom! Box

Pages: 112

Release Date: April 5th 2016

Summary:

IF YOU GOT IT, HAUNT IT!

Trying to take advantage of the first quiet day at camp in a while, Mal and Molly’s date takes a bizarre turn with the appearance of the Bear Woman! Back at camp, Jo, April, and Ripley must stay on their toes as they try and earn every badge possible, which ends up being a lot harder than any of them ever planned.

Review:

As usual, this is a mini review as it’s another volume in a series.

The Lumberjanes are back and they’re just as fun and weird as ever. I enjoyed the first story a lot: it’s a bit like a Halloween special, with the girls sat around the campfire telling ghost stories. This was a cool opportunity to tell some wacky stories and have some different art styles too.

The remaining stories returned to the main plot. The girls may have defeated a couple of deities but they’re still at camp and now they’re behind on getting their badges. Jo, April and Ripley try their hardest to earn badges in a range of fun activities, including cake decorating and extreme scrapbooking.

Meanwhile, Mal and Molly’s date takes a strange turn as they end up trying to best a bunch of dinosaurs alongside the Bear Woman. Those two are definitely the cutest couple and I hope they can get a peaceful, normal date at some point in the future!

If you’ve enjoyed the previous books then you’re sure to love this one. I’m interested in seeing where this new story arc goes and will be reading Volume 4 when I get my hands on it.

4

Book Review: Flight of a Starling (Lisa Heathfield)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 320

Release Date: June 29th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Rita and Lo, sisters and best friends, have spent their lives on the wing – flying through the air in their trapeze act, never staying in one place for long. Behind the greasepaint and the glitter, they know that the true magic is the family they travel with.

Until Lo meets a boy. Suddenly, she wants nothing more than to stay still. And as secrets start to tear apart the close-knit circus community, how far will Lo go to keep her feet on the ground?

Review:

I’ve really enjoyed Lisa Heathfield’s last two books – Seed and Paper Butterflies – so I had some pretty high expectations going to this one (no pressure!) Thankfully I enjoyed this one as much as the others. Her lyrical prose is gorgeous and I could eat up her words for breakfast, lunch and dinner and still want more.

Rita and Lo are sisters who perform in a travelling circus. They’re a close-knit family, at home with each other as they travel from place to place. Until Lo learns a secret that shatters her world, and meets at boy who makes her want to stay put. As her life unravels Lo does everything she can to keep things together.

I wasn’t sure about the description at first, as a teen meeting a boy and wanting to change her whole life for him irked me a great deal. It happens a lot in YA and I know when you’re a teen a new romance can feel like everything but I don’t like that whole ‘I must die or be with the one I love’ type plotline.

I felt there was more to this than that though. I didn’t really feel the romance connection with Lo and Dean – he felt a bit muted to me – but I did feel everything that Lo associated with him that made her want to stay with him. After learning an awful secret that could break her whole family apart, Lo feels like Dean can keep things together for her, keep her grounded even if that means staying put with him.

I was a bit annoyed that the secret Lo discovers wasn’t resolved at the end. I wanted her to tell someone, I wanted some kind of explanation or revelation, but there was nothing. I guess that’s truer to how real life goes though: there’s not always an explanation and everything tied up neatly. You just have to get on with things.

As with Heathfield’s other books, the ending packs a real punch. It wasn’t what I was expecting so when things took a turn for the worse it was a real blow. Even though I knew things couldn’t work out happily, I kept wishing some kind of miracle would come along and change things. It was a devastating lesson in what an action at your lowest point can mean for the rest of your life. It hurt most to see Lo’s family dealing with the fallout of what she did and my heart broke for them.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance aspect of the book, I loved the sister relationship and Heathfield’s evocative prose keeps you reading late into the night. Don’t expect a happy ending, but do expect to enjoy the ride.

On a final note, and I said it at the end of my last review too, I really hope there’s a Seed sequel in the works somewhere! 🙂

4

Book Review: The Hundred Names of Darkness (Nilanjana Roy)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books

Pages: 316

Release Date: July 7th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the sequel to her critically acclaimed, bestselling novel, The Wildings, Nilanjana Roy takes us back to the Delhi neighbourhood of Nizamuddin and its unforgettable cats – Mara, Southpaw, Katar, Hulo and Beraal. As they recover slowly from their terrible battle with the feral cats, they find their beloved locality changing around them. Winter brings an army of predators – humans, vicious dogs, snakes, bandicoots along with the cold and a scarcity of food Unless Mara can help them find a safe haven, their small band will be wiped out forever. With the assistance of a motley group of friends Doginder, a friendly stray Hatch, a cheel who is afraid of the sky; Thomas Mor, an affable peacock Jethro Tail, the mouse who roared and the legendary Senders of Delhi – Mara and her band set out on an epic journey to find a place where they can live free from danger.

Review:

This book picks up where The Wildings left off – after the battle with the ferals, the Bigfeet are making life hard for the wildings, and that coupled with a hot dry summer mean they’ll face starvation unless Mara can find somewhere else to live.

Again, this took me longer to read than a book of this length normally would. I think it’s because it does read more like a classic than the usual YA I read, and I always read classics slower/struggle with them a little. But I really enjoyed entering this world again, spending time with the familiar characters, meeting some new ones and seeing them all grow and change.

Mara meets some fellow Senders and learns what it means to be a Sender. When a chance accident forces her outside her home she has to learn to be brave in the outside world. It was great to see her facing her fears and stepping up to her role as Sender. We also get to learn a bit more about her history, with some surprising revelations.

While we do see a lot of the old characters we loved in the first book, I missed Ozzy and the zoo animals in this sequel – I really wanted to see more of them. Still, the new characters made up for the lack of tigers. Thomas, a peacock who lives on a golf course, was a great new addition and made me laugh a fair few times.

The villains of this story weren’t as scary as the ferals, but what they lacked in creepiness they made up for in volume. I loved the way the different plotlines of the book wove into each other and how everything was resolved in the end. It was a neatly tied-off ending but I’m still holding out hope that there’s more to come from Mara and her friends!

4