Book Review

Book Review: Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond

Published August 1st 2017 by Switch Press.

34145337Goodreads Synopsis: On Roanoke Island, the legend of the Lost Colony—and the 114 colonists who vanished without a trace more than four hundred years ago—still haunts the town. But that’s just a story told for the tourists.

When 114 people suddenly disappear from the island in present day, it seems history is repeating itself—and an unlikely pair of seventeen-year-olds might be the only hope of bringing the missing back. Miranda Blackwood, a member of one of island’s most infamous families, and Grant Rawling, the sherrif’s son, who has demons and secrets of his own, find themselves at the center of the mystery.

As the unlikely pair works to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony, they must dodge everyone from the authorities to long-dead alchemists as they race against time to save their family and friends before they too are gone for good.

My Review: I didn’t have much knowledge of this book when it arrived in the post, or when I started reading! So it was only when I put this blog post together that I discovered this is actually a new version of Bond’s first book, Blackwood, which was published by Strange Chemistry (RIP, you brilliant company). If you hadn’t heard of Blackwood, I’d really recommend checking out new version now.

The set up for the story was really engaging, exploring Miranda’s unconventional life as a theatre worker and member of the most hated family on the island. The theatre Miranda works at tells the story of the ‘lost colony’ of the island from centuries ago – and when history begins to repeat itself, Miranda finds herself at the centre of the mystery.

Dual narratives can either make or break a book for me – I either love them or hate them! In this case, it was a really great way of telling the story. Chapter narration switches between Miranda and Grant, a misfit teenager who returns to the island to try and hear the spirits. For the most part, I enjoyed their dynamic; two outcast teenagers, newly reunited, on a mission to save the residents of the island. [spoiler, highlight to read – I didn’t really like the slow-burn romance between the two, it felt a little forced and obvious… but I still enjoyed the book overall]

Miranda was a really likeable protagonist! Though a typical outcast-teenager character, it felt refreshing to read about her. Bond takes a lot of time to delve into her family history, which intertwines with the mystery of the island, and I adored that. The character of Grant didn’t stand out to me as much, but I really enjoyed his narration too.

I have to admit that the plot lost me a little, about two thirds in. I didn’t quite understand how the 114 disappeared and later events unfolded. It became a little complex for me; I definitely enjoyed reading the initial mystery more. I couldn’t quite get my head around some parts, but nevertheless the book still gripped me and I carried on reading. Bond takes fascinating elements of real history, and blends it with fantastical imagination to create a really inventive story.

Overall, I would certainly recommend Strange Alchemy if you love a mystery! It’s inventive and gripping. Bond has re-imagined history to create an even more eerie story, and it’s fantastic.

My Rating:

three

I received a copy of Strange Alchemy from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: The Opposite of You by Lou Morgan

Published May 4th 2017 by Stripes Books.

34338745Goodreads Synopsis: Bex and her identical twin sister Naomi used to be close. They used to be able to finish each other’s sentences, used to know exactly what the other was thinking. They were a matching pair.
And then something changed.
But Bex didn’t even realise until it was too late. When Naomi walks out of the house the night before their last GCSE exam and doesn’t come back, Bex has to think hard about how to find her.
What happens next will force Bex to unpick their shared history and the memories, following Naomi’s trail through their family, their past and all the way to the blinding lights of the Hemisphere music festival. Everything she thought she knew is called into question.

My Review: It’s not every day that a book arrives at your doorstep with a blue wig… So needless to say, this had me very intrigued! I didn’t know very much about it before starting, but found that quite refreshing – and I enjoyed the story a lot.

The Opposite of You focuses on twins Naomi and Bex, who have grown apart at sixteen; Naomi becoming more rebellious and private about her social life. When Naomi goes missing, Bex has to piece together everything she (thinks she) knows about her sister to figure out what’s happened.

I was a little hesitant when I got into this, because the whole twin-minds thing is a bit of a trope in fiction! I really hoped this wouldn’t be too typical and predictable. However, the twin set-up is done really well. It’s a great take on the relationship between sisters and all of the ups and downs. Morgan really takes the time to delve into the different personalities of Naomi and Bex, which I really loved, especially Naomi’s alternate persona. I found myself being able to connect with the characters more than I thought for a relatively short read. Bex’s chemistry with a newfound friend pleased me because there was no forced romance. The focus remained on Naomi’s disappearance, which I was glad about.

What I think I loved most about this book was its structure! It seems a little strange, at first, flitting back and forth between Bex and Naomi in the present, then previous days, months and years. The narrative is structured really well and I loved the way the plot unfolded through different little hints and secret reveals. Some of the flashbacks to the twins’ past seem random, like the final one before the ending, but the symbolism is a really great touch once you pick up on it.

I do feel like the story ended quite abruptly – I wish there had just been a chapter or two, to explore Bex and Naomi’s relationship some more after the events of the music festival. Aside from that, though, I really can’t identify anything I’d change.

Overall, The Opposite of You is a fantastic read that will hook you in and not let you go until you’ve close the book. I ended up devouring the story over a couple of hours; it’s an addictive read! The characters are really well fleshed out. Although the concept of twins and an otherwordly connection may feel a bit overdone in books, Lou Morgan tells their story in a great, refreshing way. I certainly enjoyed this.

My Review:

I received a copy of The Opposite of You from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny Mclachlan

Published 6th April 2017 by Bloomsbury.

32021893Goodreads Synopsis: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions…

My Review: I’ll admit I’m one to judge a book by its cover. Though I hadn’t read any of McLachlan’s books previously, I was really drawn to this. How beautiful is it?! Anyway, I’m glad I did decide to give it a go because this is now definitely up there in my favourite reads of 2017 so far.

Stargazing for Beginners tells the story of Meg, an teenage aspiring Astronaut, who is hesitantly entering a competition to go to Houston. Just two weeks away from her competition, Meg’s mother suddenly leaves for a humanitarian cause, rendering Meg in a difficult situation, juggling school, her aspirations and her baby sister. It’s a crazy concept, but I absolutely adored it. I became really emotionally invested in the story; I didn’t expect to become so attached.

I cannot fault McLachlan’s characterisation at all: it’s fantastic. Every person in the book felt so real to me, from Meg and her quirky family members to the pupils at her school. I particularly loved reading about Meg developing a relationship with her baby sister, in light of her mum leaving. So much of this book was unexpectedly poignant and beautifully written.

One of the things I loved most about Stargazing for Beginners is it’s portrayal of feeling like an outcast at school. Meg sticks out, being overly passionate about science and labelled a geek. She’s such a relatable character, appealing to read about for anyone who’s ever been through the horrible experience of Secondary school 🙂 It was really moving to see Meg develop a network of friends over the course of the story. And, of course, it was fantastic that one of those friends was portrayed with Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability affecting movement. Disabled characters seem to be pretty underrepresented, particularly in terms of genuine portrayals – so this was really awesome to see.

Stargazing for Beginners has such a wide appeal. Its themes of family and space are written about so wonderfully, it’s hard not to fall in love with the story. I tend to read books with darker or slightly older themes, so I wasn’t sure how much this would appeal to me, but I fell in love with it. The story is so uplifting and touching, I can’t imagine that any kind of reader would dislike it.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Stargazing for Beginners. It’s perfect for anyone, of any age, looking for a feel-good read. Witty, moving and memorable, this is bound to sweep you up as it did with me. Having really enjoyed this, I’m very excited to see what McLachlan writes next!

My Rating:

I received a copy of Stargazing for Beginners via the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Waking in Time by Angie Stanton

Published March 1st 2017 by Curious Fox Books.

27919161Goodreads Synopsis: Still mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother and shaken by her mysterious, dying request to “find the baby,” Abbi has just arrived at UW Madison for her freshman year. But on her second day, she wakes up to a different world: 1983. That is just the first stop on Abbi’s journey backward through time. Will is a charming college freshman from 1927 who travels forward through time. When Abbi and Will meet in the middle, love adds another complication to their lives. Communicating across time through a buried time capsule, they try to decode the mystery of their travel, find the lost baby, and plead with their champion, a kindly physics professor, to help them find each other again … even though the professor gets younger each time Abbi meets him. This page-turning story full of romance, twists, and delightful details about campus life then and now will stay with readers long after the book’s satisfying end.


My Review: Being a massive Doctor Who fan, I love anything time-travel based, but I read sadly little of this kind of thing. So when this arrived, I was super excited about it! Waking in Time has such an intriguing premise, and a beautiful cover to match.

I really did adore the concept for the book – Abbi, the protagonist, moves into college whilst still grieving for her grandmother. After falling asleep in her dorm bed, she wakes in the wrong year. And it keeps happening – but are the dates she’s travelling to connected, and why is she the one travelling?

It’s a brilliant idea, and executed pretty well. I really enjoyed how Stanton sets up each new decade Abbi appears in, with all of the cultural references and the changes in settings. I loved envisioning it. The story unfolds really cleverly, as Abbi’s time travel is linked to a huge event that ties lots of aspects of her life together. I felt her frustration as travelling backwards, where the people she knows know less about the story, whilst she’s starting the piece together the mystery – and was really eager to see how the mystery unfolded. It was such a strange ending, one I definitely didn’t see coming!

As with every time travel story, there are inevitably some strange things that don’t quite add up, and some things that seemed a little too convenient. But the main thing I couldn’t really get on with in this book was the love story, between Abbi and Will – without giving anything away, he’s the other time traveller she encounters. They’re travelling in opposite directions, but are in love, and I just… nope. No thanks. I didn’t really understand it, and the romance seemed a little forced and it didn’t have a clear connection to the rest of the plot. The two characters become infatuated with one another within a few meetings, and I just didn’t understand why!

However, I didn’t have a problem with the protagonist, and I adored how the story is strongly centred around her grandma – the plot plays out really cleverly. It’s so hard to talk about without spoiling it, so I’ll just say that it’s really intricate and in-depth, which I loved.

Overall, Waking in Time is certainly a must if you’re into complex mysteries. It certainly wasn’t what I’d expected. To me, some events seemed a little too convenient or forced, but then again – the book plays with the idea of fate and history, so I guess it’s quite cleverly done! It’s certainly a fun read you can become completely absorbed in.


My Rating:

three

I received a copy of Waking in Time from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Fish boy by Chloe Daykin

Published February 28th 2017 by Faber & Faber.

32490590Goodreads Synopsis: Billy is a lonely boy. He’s obsessed with swimming in the sea, which is where he goes to wash his problems far, far away. Thanks to his mum’s mystery illness, his dad has been forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, so Billy locks himself away with David Attenborough films, and ponders the magic of nature. Meanwhile at school, bullies mercilessly seize on Billy’s ‘otherness’ and make his life as miserable as possible – but then new boy Patrick Green, with “fingers like steel, strength of a bear”, joins Billy’s class. And when a mackerel swims up to Billy’s face, blows bubbles into his Vista Clear Mask goggles and says: Fish Boy – Billy’s whole world changes.


My Review: A lot of people know I’m totally one to judge a book by its cover – this is a prime example! I loved the gorgeous cover artwork for this book, and it intrigued me about the story – so I eagerly requested to review it. I’m really glad I did – it’s nice to dip back into Middle Grade fiction again, and this was great.

Fish Boy follows Billy, a boy estranged from other children his age, who bully him. Between that and his mother’s illness, his only solace is swimming in the sea – and that’s where he meets the fish that starts talking to him, which opens him up to a strange new world with his new friend.

What I found really unique, and perhaps the best bit about Fish Boy, is the ambiguity of the whole story. Is it literal – does Billy really find talking fish, who talk to him and seemingly become his new friends? Or is Billy’s surreal swimming experience his brain’s coping mechanism; a distraction from the world around him? I really loved trying to read between the lines of this book. It’s a very layered story, and that’s why I think readers of all ages can enjoy it – they can take away whatever message they want.

Fish Boy combines some heartbreaking, relatable issues with a touch of magical realism that makes for a very unique story. It touches on bullying, how it feels to be different, and also the experience of having a parent who is ill, and what that entails for your family. I found it really touching and moving in places, particularly with the family themes. I loved the close family Daykin has constructed at the centre of this book – they’re wonderful to read about.

Billy’s voice is strong and authentic, and I really enjoyed his perspective while reading. I think it was especially a great narrative to explore family issues through. The friendship between the protagonist and a later character, Patrick, is very bizarre and entertaining – their dynamic was really fun and something that I’m sure readers will adore.

Fish Boy is a bizarre book. There is no avoiding that. It did take me a few pages to get into it, and I can’t say I was a hundred percent engaged in it the whole way through. It’s incredibly weird at points! A couple of things didn’t make much sense to me – it took me a lot of thought after reading to understand what the magical fish thing was about – but I do think it’s still a book with a lot of appeal to those who like similar things – who says that strange is a bad thing?

Overall, I definitely recommend this, especially to middle grade readers who are looking to read something new, with echoes of David Almond and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (except this one is a bit less sad!). Fish Boy, albeit a bizarre story, is imaginative and incredibly original. It touches on themes of family, friendship and what it means to be human, with just the right amount of surrealism.

My Rating:

three

I received a copy of Fish Boy from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

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The Map of Bones Paperback Release | Extract

Related Posts: Book Review: The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Tomorrow, The Map of Bones is being released in Paperback! It’s the thrilling sequel to The Fire Sermon, a fantastic fantasy debut I enjoyed a while back. To celebrate the second book’s paperback release, here’s a sneak peek inside the book if you haven’t delved into it yet – an extract I posted last year for the blog tour.


Spoilers for Book One

Piper and I sat near the entrance to the cave, watching the sun shrug off the night. More than a month earlier, on the way to the silo, we’d slept in the same hidden cave, and perched on the same flat rock. Next to my knee, the stone still bore the scuff-marks from where Piper had sharpened his knife all those weeks ago.

I looked at Piper. The slash on his single arm had healed to a pink streak, the scar tissue raised and waxy, puckered where stitches had held the wound closed. At my neck, the wound from The  Confessor’s knife had finally healed, too.

26174866In the deadlands, it had been an open wound, edged with ash. Was the ash still there, inside me, specks of black sealed beneath the scar’s carapace?

Piper held out a piece of rabbit meat skewered on the blade of his knife. It was left over from the night before, coated with cold fat, congealed into grey strings. I shook my head and turned away.

‘You need to eat,’ he said. ‘It’ll take us three more weeks to get to the Sunken Shore. Even longer to get to the west coast, if we’re going to search for the ships.’

All of our conversations began and ended at the ships. Their names had become like charms: The Rosalind. The Evelyn. And if the hazards of the unknown seas didn’t sink the ships, then sometimes I felt that the weight of our expectations would. They were everything, now. We’d managed to rid the Council of The Confessor, and of the machine that she was using to keep track of all Omegas – but it wasn’t enough, especially after the massacre on the island. We might have slowed down the Council, and cost them two of their most powerful weapons, but the tanks were patient. I’d seen them myself, in visions and in the awful solidity of reality. Row after row of glass tanks, each one a pristine hell.

That was the Council’s plan for all of us. And if we didn’t have a plan of our own, a goal to work for, then we were justImage result for the fire sermon scrapping in the dust, and there’d be no end to it. We might forestall the tanks for a while, but no better than that. Once, the island had been our destination. That had ended in blood and smoke. So now we were seeking the ships that Piper had sent out from the island, months  before, in search of Elsewhere.

There were times when it felt more like a wish than a plan.

It would be four months at the next full moon since the ships sailed. ‘It’s a hell of a long time to be at sea,’ Piper said as we sat on the rock.

I had no reassurance to offer him, so I stayed silent. It wasn’t just a question of whether or not Elsewhere was out there. The real question was what it could offer us, if it existed. What its inhabitants might know, or do, that we couldn’t. Elsewhere couldn’t just be another island, just place to hide from the Council. That might offer us a respite, but it would be no solution, any more than the island was.

There had to be more than that: a real alternative.


The Map of Bones paperback edition is released tomorrow (January 26th) from Harper Voyager.

Book Review

Book Review: Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Published 5th January 2017 by Walker Books.

25909375Goodreads Synopsis: With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.


My Review: This book has been gaining so much attention pre-publication – I first picked up some postcards at YALC last year, and was immediately excited even if it wasn’t being published for half a year. When a review copy arrived, I was so eager to start it! This was my last read of 2016 and I couldn’t have picked a better one.

Webber’s debut centres around Wing, a high schooler in 1995 America, who deals with a recent family disaster by taking up running – which she’s surprisingly talented at. Running becomes Wing’s coping method, but it also turns into an opportunity for her to support her family.

Even though books about sports aren’t exactly my thing, I became so swept up in this – because it’s about so much more than Wing’s running. The story is a profound blend of tragedy, hope, family and determination. I adored it. At many points, the plot was completely unexpected. It deals with some heartbreaking issues – a member of Wing’s family is hospitalised, and the reason for it causes people to resent the Joneses, and plunges them into a difficult situation. It felt frighteningly real, as though I was in the situation myself.

What I enjoyed the most about Wing Jones was how diverse its characters were – I don’t think any of the main characters were white, and there’s a really sweet same sex relationship between two minor characters. A large issue Wing’s dealing with is bullying, from a resentful student who insults her because she is mixed race, with Chinese and African-American descent. Wing’s identity plays a huge part in her life, as she lives with both her grandmothers, and I loved how the story talked about this in great detail, exploring the grandmother’s characters as well as Wing’s. The family felt so real three-dimensional and I became so attached!

I can tell that Wing Jones is going to be a hugely talked about, well-loved book, because it just has all of the right things. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve read something so heartfelt, poignant and emotional – and witty in all the right places. I’m not 100% sure on how I feel about the ending – it’s satisfying, but I did wish there had been even more of a build up to it, if that makes sense.

Overall, I definitely recommend you read Wing Jones asap, because it’s truly a wonderful story no matter what your reading tastes are. You’ll fall in love with the characters, with the unforgettable family, and you’ll be rooting for Wing the whole way through as she discovers her talent. It’s incredibly sad in places, but so uplifting too.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of Wing Jones from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.