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 Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Published 7th September 2017 by Walker Books.

32601841Goodreads Synopsis: Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.
Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love.
But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean?
Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone . . .

My Review: I’ve left it a while between finishing this book and writing a review, yet I still can’t put into words how mind-blowing it was. The Loneliest Girl was incredible.

James’s latest book tells the story of Romy, the first human born in space, travelling alone on a ship to a new planet. Any communication she has with Earth is on a two-year delay, so when she hears of a new ship travelling to join her, Romy is ecstatic – but is the news she’s receiving trustworthy?

I haven’t read a sci-fi book in a while, so I was so excited to read this! This concept is hugely different, but just as breathtaking as the world of James’s last books. The space setting was so eerie, and the idea of one girl travelling alone after some horrifying events, is so scary. I got chills reading parts of this. As unsettling as it could be, this book is so addictive. I ended up racing through it in a day because I had to know what would happen. It reminded me of Harstad’s gripping 172 Hours on the Moon – equal parts creepy and riveting.

I really liked Romy and could imagine her clearly, so alone and deep into a quest that has a dark past. I was completely engrossed in her story, empathising with her loneliness. Her backstory was both fascinating and terrifying – it’s a huge, crazy concept but strangely believeable. I found the dynamic between Romy and J so fascinating to read. They communicate through email with huge time delays; that gap slowly closing as his ship approaches hers. Also, kudos to James for writing a complex timey-wimey story and having all the emails dated. That must have been hard.

I became so engrossed in following their emails, and the delayed news Romy was receiving from Earth. I became completely swept up in their story, even though there are almost no physical dialogue.

The Loneliest Girl is being marketed as a romantic thriller, and I kind of like that! I was led into this story thinking it would be a spacey romance, and therefore not too sure if I’d enjoy it. Then… boom, so many plot twists and unexpected turns. It certainly is more of a thriller, and it’s awesome.

Overall, there’s no doubt: The Loneliest Girl should be at the top of everyone’s TBR piles when it’s released. The story has certainly stayed with me – it took me ages to write this review, and I still don’t think I’m able to do it justice! There’s something to appeal to everyone in here – a riveting sci-fi story, with classic-feeling elements of horror, and an romance with an unexpected twist. Mark your calendars for the release date!

My Rating:

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

Book Review

Book Review: With Malice by Eileen Cook

Published 9th June 2016 by Hot Key Books.

29604253Goodreads Synopsis: When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn’t just an accident.

With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn’t the one to blame?

My Review: With Malice arrived in the post by surprise, but I was was desperate to start reading it after looking into what it was about. Psychological thrillers are right up my street, so I was really sure I’d find this great!

The plot is centered around Jill, who wakes up in a hospital with no memory of the last six weeks. She discovers that she was involved in an accident that the press is not obsessed with – but was the accident her fault? Is she to blame for the tragic outcome?

I’ll get the slightly negative part of this review out of the way – I couldn’t like Jill. She had many likeable traits, but there were so many reasons why I just couldn’t feel for her. It meant I felt a little distanced from the story – though not entirely, it was incredibly addictive. Maybe it’s because of the way she was portrayed by the media excerpts in the book, maybe it was because she didn’t seem to mourn after the accident – she just seemed a little two dimensional to me, though that’s not to say everyone else will think that. I’m sure many readers will engage with her.

I really did enjoy the story, because it’s full of many unexpected twists, especially towards the end. It feels like a very classic mystery, with modern elements. Whenever I wasn’t reading, I was coming up with theories as to what could have caused the accident!

I really enjoyed the way in which the story is told. It isn’t told in modern day extracts and then flashbacks, like I’d expected. Instead, we follow Jill in the present day, and between chapters are extracts from various news channels, witness interviews, and blogs, which allow the reader to see into the mystery from multiple perspectives – characters close to Jill, hateful media perspectives, and anonymous blog trolls. It was really interesting to see the story told from lots of different perspectives – it also revealed lots of little hints and different theories, which kept me hooked.

Overall, With Malice was a really brilliant and addictive read. It’s the perfect book if you’re looking for a thrilling read for this summer. I really enjoyed the story, and although I had a couple of problems with the characters, I’m sure many people will love it.

My Rating:

three and a half

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

Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Published 21st April 2016 by Orion.

28016325Goodreads Synopsis: Everyone thought we were dead. What else could they think?

One summer, nearly twenty years ago, two twelve year olds
were abducted and kept captive in the forest.

There they formed a bond that could never be broken.

What really happened in the woods that summer?

My Review: When this book came in the post, it looked like a really good read, and the ARC cover was fantastic. I picked it up on a whim, as just something to read between work. The premise sounded quite similar to lots of books I’ve seen before – I didn’t expect to be as blown away as I was! Pretty Is is a stunning, inventive novel, and I’m certain it’s going to be the big début of the year.

The plot is intricate and very well written. I became completely absorbed in the events of the book – it was so haunting and engaging. So many events spiral from the mysterious summer Carly May and Lois are kept in the woods – and all of these different stories come together two decades later incredibly cleverly. I had no idea where the plot could possibly be going from the opening pages right to the ending!

I adored how much time the story takes to delve into the lives of the main characters, and the psychological imprints their abduction left on them. It was incredibly chilling to read about, but also morbidly fascinating.  The book is split into two narratives, Carly May’s and Lois’s. They both had incredibly strong and engaging voices, and seeing how differently they develop was really interesting.

Maggie Mitchell weaves mystery into her novel expertly. Pretty Is is so haunting and unpredictable. I loved how intricate the plot was – it’s such a classic-feeling crime story yet it’s written in such a complex, outstanding way. I finished it feeling like I still wanted to know a bit more about some aspects of the story, but overall, I was truly mesmerised by how powerful of a début Pretty Is was.

Overall, I really highly recommend Pretty Is to those who love chilling and psychological stories. Compelling, dark and addictive, it’s an incredible début novel from a very talented writer. I’m really looking forward to reading more by Mitchell in the future!

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of Pretty Is from the publisher. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Blog Tour · Guest Post

Phoenix Burning Blog Tour: Guest Post by Bryony Pearce

Related posts: Cover Reveal: Phoenix Rising by Bryony Pearce | Book Review: Phoenix Rising by Bryony Pearce

I really enjoyed Phoenix Rising, the first instalment in a series set in the near future, where fossil fuels have run out. I was over the moon when asked to join the blog tour for its sequel! Continue reading to hear from Bryony Pearce, the author, about her experience with writing Phoenix Burning, which is out now.

Writing a sequel for the first time by Bryony Pearce

The first novel I sold, Angel’s Fury, was a standalone. I had ideas about what I would write in a sequel, should I be asked for one, but the book was finished as it stood and I had many readers saying that they liked it for that – at the time I think there was a glut of YA series fiction and a standalone novel was something different for readers, who were perhaps getting bored waiting for a couple of years to find out how their favourite story ended.

The Weight of Souls was a bit different – it was bought as a stand-alone, but my editor wanted me to leave it open for a possible sequel. Book two was planned out and ready to go, when the publisher closed down. Readers were annoyed that The Weight of Souls ended on a cliff-hanger (the ancient Egyptian evil released from its tomb), but there was nothing I could do about it.

Phoenix Rising was always intended to be the first of a series. Stripes bought two books, so I knew that I would certainly be writing at least one more story in Toby’s world. So from the beginning of book one I was planning the sequel. Events in Phoenix Burning were seeded in Phoenix Rising (the sun worshippers, Ayla’s fear of fire, Toby’s missing mother, Hiko’s tattoo, the map, the near miss with the boiler) and I was careful to take notes that I could refer back to while writing a second book – key character descriptions, key events and so on.

Once Phoenix Rising was written, I was excited to get back into Toby’s world and write more of his story. As a reader I enjoy series fiction, mainly because I like to remain longer with the characters I love, and as a writer, it turns out that I like the aspect of this too. I enjoyed spending more time with Toby, allowing his character, and that of secondary protagonist, Ayla, to grow and develop even more.

By the end of Phoenix Rising, Toby has done some real growing up, but it is only at the end of Phoenix Burning, that the lessons he has been learning about trust and adulthood, really come home to him. At the start of Phoenix Rising Toby is a coddled child, by the end he is a teenager, but at the end of Phoenix Burning, he is an adult, making real decisions and taking responsibility for his actions.28811837

Ayla on the other hand thought she was an adult at the start of Phoenix Rising and by the end of the arc, has had her confidence shaken and learns that she still has a lot of learning and growing still to do.

I really enjoyed being able to take elements seeded in Phoenix Rising and seeing where I could take them, and wind them through the next story, tying the two together. I hope that I have given the reader some real ‘a ha’ moments.

I particularly loved using the event at the very beginning of Phoenix Rising, the broken delivery line that almost causes the boiler to explode, as the thing that gives Toby the idea of how to escape the Greyman ship in Phoenix Burning.

Despite all my planning it was hard at times to write a sequel. It felt as if I’d been with Toby for so long, that it was easy to forget that only a few weeks had passed in his world. I ran the risk of making him too adult.

Sometimes I found myself forgetting important things and having to break my own cardinal rules bout re-reading my published novels, just to make sure that I got my facts right.

But really I love spending more time with Toby and I hope that you do too.

A huge thank you to Bryony for talking about Phoenix Burning on this blog! I’m really looking forward to reading it. Phoenix Burning is available now, but if you haven’t read book one yet, you may want to check out my review 🙂

Book Review

Book Review: Boy X by Dan Smith

Published February 2016 by Chicken House.

28425665Goodreads Synopsis: Kidnapped and drugged, Ash wakes up on a remote tropical island. His mum – a genetic scientist – has been imprisoned and infected with a deadly virus. Where is he, and what’s he doing there? He sets out to cross the jungle to find out and rescue his mother. Soon he realises he’s quicker and sharper than before. But there’s something else …why are the animals watching him, and how can he use the jungle to his advantage?

My Review: Dan Smith is a fantastic author, and I was so excited to hear about Boy X, his latest book! I made time to read it as soon as my copy arrived, as I was really interested by the synopsis.

Boy X begins when Ash McCarthy wakes up, a week after his father’s funeral, in a mysterious island lab where chaos has broken out. Confused and afraid, he meets Isabel, daughter of another scientist trapped and infected. Together, they have to face the depths of this peculiar jungle, racing against the clock to find the cure for the virus.

As always, Dan Smith’s writing is brilliantly paced and addictive – I read most of the book in one night, totally disregarding school work, because I was really eager to see the mystery unravel. I really enjoyed the plot – it’s gripping, but not overly complex so I think the story will appeal to a lot of different age groups.

The characters were really awesome – Ash and Isabel made a great team fighting their way across the jungle to work out the truth about the virus. I really loved their chemistry. It’s a little hard to talk about why I loved Ash without spoiling elements of the story – but I did really enjoy his back story and how well he tied into everything.

Overall, Boy X was a really fantastic read – it will definitely appeal to lots of readers, from MG fans to adults! Every book I read from Dan Smith just gets better and better. I can’t wait to see what he writes next. Recommended!

My Rating:

four

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

Book Review

Book Review: The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke

Published July 2nd 201 by Quercus.

20685157Goodreads Synopsis: LOST.
When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister.
FOUND.
Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again.

My Review: I have no idea why I put off reading this for so long. Undone and A Kiss in the Dark, Cat Clarke’s other recent books, are the two books I’ll recommend to anyone and everyone. I love them. I bought The Lost and the Found at YALC, back in July… and didn’t pick it up until December. Why? I don’t know. But I’m glad I finally did. It was fantastic!

Cat Clarke has a fantastic ability to craft realistic, relatable and loveable characters. I fell in love with Faith straight away, and found it so fascinating to read from her point of view as she adjusts to life with Laurel back, after thirteen years. I found the dynamic between the two characters so thought-provoking.

The plot is absolutely genius. What happened to Laurel is dark and incredibly unsettling, and I really liked how the book focuses on how the media portrays her story – it was quite unnerving to realise how stories are documented in the news like this all the time.

I might sometimes say this as an exaggeration, but I actually did tear up at the ending. I was not expecting an ending like that – I’ve never come across such a clever plot twist. It broke my heart! As unexpected as it was, I think Cat Clarke wrote *those* end scenes absolutely perfectly. The writing is poignant and memorable.

Overall, I really, really highly recommend The Lost and the Found – although it may not be for everyone due to some really sensitive themes. The plot is unpredictable and moving – and the characters will stay with you long after you read the last page.

My Rating:

five

I purchased a copy of The Lost and the Found at YALC 2015.