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

Book Review: If Birds Fly Back (Carlie Sarosiak)

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

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 352

Release Date: June 29th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Linny has been living life in black and white since her sister Grace ran away, and she’s scared that Grace might never come back. When Linny witnesses the return to Miami of a cult movie star long presumed dead, she is certain it’s a sign. Surely Álvaro Herrera, of all people, can tell her why people come back – and how to bring her sister home?

Sebastian has come to Miami seeking his father, a man whose name he’s only just learned. An aspiring astrophysicist, he can tell Linny how many galaxies there are, how much plutonium weighs and how likely she is to be struck by a meteorite. But none of the theories he knows are enough to answer his own questions about why his father abandoned him, and why it left him in pieces.

As Sebastian and Linny converge around the mystery of Álvaro’s disappearance – and return – their planets start to collide. Linny’s life is about to become technicolor, but finding the answers to her questions might mean losing everything that matters.

Review:

This was a lovely coming of age romance story about Linny, a girl whose sister has disappeared and Sebastian, a boy whose father has just reappeared. They work together to resolve the mystery of celebrity Álvaro Herrera’s disappearance and help each other with their own issues.

The book is dual narrative and both voices were perfect. I never stopped half way through a chapter, came back to it and wondered whose story I was reading. They were both very distinctive voices and characters and I adored each of them.

As well as the main story, each of Linny’s chapters start with notes from her book of people who have disappeared, and Sebastian’s start with a quote from A Brief Compendium of Astrophysical Curiosities. There’s also excerpts from a screenplay Linny has written to cope with her sister’s disappearance and it’s really beautiful.

The pair work really well together, both a little nerdy in their own way, both a bit uncomfortable in their own skins and both trying to deal with huge issues. It’s one of those relationships that just makes me want to squeeze them together until they realise how perfect they are.

The emotions in this book are raw and intense and you’ll get swept away in the wonderful relationship. This isn’t just a love story though: it’s about friendship, fathers, sisters and coping with grief and the unthinkable. I just know this is going to be a big hit and I can’t wait to see people falling in love with Linny and Sebastian.

4

Book Review: Day 7 (Kerry Drewery)

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

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 448

Release Date: June 15th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Martha Honeydew has been released from the terrifying Cell 7. But despite her new freedom, the corrupt judicial system is still tracking Martha’s every move. And Isaac, her only trusted friend, is now imprisoned in the very same cells she was. Isaac saved Martha’s life, it is only right she now saves his.

But with Martha still a target, her chances of saving Isaac are remote. Martha begins to question whether it is ever possible to escape government scrutiny.

Will Martha and Isaac ever reunite?

Will they ever live in a better world?

Review:

I really enjoyed Cell 7 last year, so when I saw this on NetGalley I had to request it straight away. Even though Cell 7 ended on a big cliffhanger, I hadn’t really thought about it having a sequel, but I’m so glad it did.

Day 7 picks up where Cell 7 left off – Marth has been freed from death row after Isaac admitted to shooting his dad and revealed the corruption and blackmail in their justice session. But instead of a happy ending, Isaac is on death row and Martha is on the run while her friends face the consequences of helping her.

It was great to be back in the world Drewery has created. It seems exaggerated at first glance but the scary thing is how easy you could see us getting to that point. An X-Factor style voting justice system doesn’t seem that far away some days. In this book, we see the Buzz for Justice TV show where three members of the public can vote to send a petty criminal to prison (and pay for the privilege, of course). The bias is clear for the reader to see but I can imagine how the audience gets caught up in the drama of it all.

The book gets off to a bit of a slow start and I did struggle to get into it at first. Martha’s a bit lost on what to do and things felt a little aimless until she got a plan together.

In contrast, the ending is just insane. It’s so tense as day seven arrives for Isaac, Max tries to combat the public’s voting and Martha has to decide how far she’ll go to save Isaac. I didn’t know which way were things going to go and the climax surprised and frustrated me – frustrated because it looks like there’s going to be a third book and I’ll have to wait a year to read it!

This is a tense book about deception, manipulation and the power of the media and draws some scary parallels to our world today and where we could be heading. If you’ve read Cell 7 then this is a must read, if you’ve not then pick it up and hurry on to this one!

4

Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi (Sandhya Menon)

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

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 384

Release Date: May 30th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The arranged-marriage YA romcom you didn’t know you wanted or needed…

Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He’s rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she’s got other plans…

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han and Nicola Yoon, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI is a frothy, funny contemporary romance set at a coding convention in San Francisco over one exciting summer. Told from the dual perspectives of two Indian American protagonists, Dimple is fighting her family traditions while Rishi couldn’t be happier to follow in the footsteps of his parents. Could sparks fly between this odd couple, or is this matchmaking attempt doomed to fail?

Review:

This is one of the cutest romance books I’ve ever met. I just want to get Dimple and Rishi and smush their faces together. This book gave me so many gooey moments and genuine smiles and I fell in love with both characters.

Dimple feels she’s disappointing her parents by not wearing makeup and searching for a husband, but she has career aspirations that come first, and a summer coding camp might be the perfect way to kickstart her career. Rishi is an old head on young shoulders: he wants to marry, have children and please his parents. He’s happy to marry Dimple, the girl his parents have picked out for him, but she might have other ideas.

First off, it’s great to see diverse characters in YA, and these are now two of my favourites. I have a mega soft spot for Rishi: he made me laugh out loud a few times and I thought his gestures towards Dimple were so thoughtful and sweet. I loved the conflict Dimple had: would she be betraying herself if she fell for a boy, and one her parents hand picked no less? It was really thought provoking and the way it was resolved was perfect (I’ll say no more, no spoilers!)

This is the first Indian American romance I’ve read and I loved the way the culture was represented. Both characters had their religion and their origins but felt differently about it: Rishi loved talking to others about his culture while Dimple felt she didn’t really fit anywhere, in America or India. The mix of languages was cool to see too, and felt very natural: I grew up in a household that used a mix of English and Urdu and I saw similarities in some of the words used here, and learnt some new ones too!

To criticise, there were some pretty cheesy moments – mostly the way that Rishi talking about Dimple – and I felt the plot got a little predictable towards the end, though the ending was perfect. Still, who doesn’t like a huge dollop of cheese on their romance (that sounds gross now I’ve written it…) I thought the plot line with Celia was a little underdeveloped, but at the same time I wasn’t that bothered because I was too focussed on Dimple and Rishi.

People have been raving about this book for months so I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you it’s going to be the hit of the summer. It’s got the most adorable romance, and two strong, diverse and lovable characters that you won’t be able to help falling in love with. Do yourself a favour and buy this book.

Copy of an art exhibit