Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Other Alice - Book Review


The Other Alice - Book Review
MG Fantasy
Michelle Harrison
UK Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK

Synopsis:

What happens when a tale with real magic, that was supposed to be finished, never was? This a story about one of those stories…

Midge loves riddles, his cat, Twitch, and - most of all - stories. Especially because he’s grown up being read to by his sister Alice, a brilliant writer.

When Alice goes missing and a talking cat turns up in her bedroom, Midge searches Alice’s stories for a clue. Soon he discovers that her secret book, THE MUSEUM OF UNFINISHED STORIES, is much more than just a story. In fact, he finds two of its characters wandering around town.

But every tale has its villains - and with them leaping off the page, Midge, Gypsy and Piper must use all their wits and cunning to work out how the story ends and find Alice. If they fail, a more sinister finale threatens them all . . .

Review:

This book really captured my imagination. A story within story, where characters walk off the page and magic finds a place in the real world - this book was everything I hoped it would be and more. 

When Midge’s sister, Alice goes missing, he knows something really bad has happened to her. Then he finds a talking cat, a girl who looks eerily like his sister, and a strange boy/thief who can charm anyone with a song. The three only have one thing in common. They were characters in his sisters book. Yet now, something has brought them off the page and into the world. 

But they aren't the only ones who escaped Alice’s notebook. And not all the characters are happy with the end Alice has planned for them. Now Midge, and his odd trio of companions must find Alice so she can finish the story, before the villain’s can create a twisted ending of their own.

Such a delicious story! THE OTHER ALICE is a superbly written tale based around the premise of unfinished stories. Its something that will enjoyed by all ages alike, as its about family and friends, combined with a dash of magic and a pinch of the impossible.

The characters have so much depth and life to them - each stunningly unique in their own way. Everyone from the talking cat to the simple corner shop owner, everyone in the story is memorable, both main and minor characters alike.  Sometimes its their appearance, their manner of speech or personality, everyone just simply dazzled. 

Midge in particular is a great hero - although admittedly, I didn't read the blurb and missed the fact he was a boy. It took me several chapters before I cottoned on - however watching him move from one clue to the next in search of his sister was simply heartwarming.

Although I think my favourite character had to be Tea, the talking cat. She made me laugh on so many occasions. But I was also intrigued by the villain of the story, and I loved the idea she was created by what Alice (the writer) feared most. Although I felt all the “story” characters had a little of Alice in them, and this book really paints the picture of what authors mean when they say each character carries a part of themselves.

I also throughly enjoyed the riddles in this book. I often found myself setting the book aside just so I could try and figure them out myself - and while I didn't quite get the big riddle, I was close! In a way, this also made reading the story more satisfying as I felt I was solving the clues right there along with Midge … as well as testing my own intelligence :)

In terms of plot, the story was fast paced and pretty intense. Full of mystery, action, puzzle solving and magic, this book would surely capture all imaginations. I must confess though I was anticipating the final plot twist regarding the villain, however I find that with this story, it didn't quell my enjoyment. More like I just HAD to keep reading to check I was right, because there are certainly enough side plots to keep you uncertain.

My only nit pick was the ending. While I really liked the line, that all fictional characters continue their story long after the book is closed, and that a book is just a window into that particular time and story… I REALLY wanted to know what happened next for Alice’s characters! I sincerely hope Michelle Harrison considers writing a sequel, because this book was just beautiful.

Basically if you enjoyed Cornelia Funke’s Ink Heart Series then you will absolutely love this book as well.  There are also some hints of Alice in wonderland, as well as some other classic and lesser known stories hidden throughout the book. I feel like Michelle Harrison took a little inspiration from everywhere, and through it her love of books really shines through. Both as a reader and a writer. 

A dazzling story woven with spellbinding thread, you can tell this was a work of the heart. I give THE OTHER ALICE 5 stars!



Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Flame Never Dies - Book Review and Extract


The Flame Never Dies - Book Review
Rachel Vincent
YA Paranormal
UK Publisher: MIRA INK

Other books in the series:
The Stars Never Rise #1 - Review HERE

Synopsis:

One spark will rise.

Nina Kane was born to be an exorcist. And since uncovering the horrifying truth — that the war against the demons is far from over — seventeen-year-old Nina and her pregnant younger sister, Mellie, have been on the run, incinerating the remains of the demon horde as they go.

In the badlands, Nina, Mellie, and Finn, the fugitive and rogue exorcist who saved her life, find allies in a group of freedom fighters. They also face a new threat: Pandemonia, a city full of demons. But this fresh new hell is the least of Nina’s worries. The well of souls ran dry more than a century ago, drained by the demons secretly living among humans, and without a donor, Mellie’s child will die within hours of its birth.

Nina isn't about to let that happen… even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice…

Review:

Witty, action packed and riddled with drama - I throughly enjoyed this book. As always, Rachel Vincent still astounds me with her a unique heroines and artful world building. This book was so easy to slip into! 

It’s been five months since Nina, Mellie and Finn escaped into the badlands. Labelled by the demons as public enemy number one, Nina and the other exorcists continue to fight the degenerates (Possessed, Zombie like creatures). But as they struggle to survive the barren landscape, Nina knows she has bigger problems. Her sister Mellie is about to give birth, and the well of souls is empty. Nina will do anything to ensure her future niece or nephew survives... Even if the cost is her own soul.

But as a new evil is unleashed, Nina finds herself hunted by the ruler of the demon City, Pandemonia. Captured and taken far from her friends and family, Nina will fight tooth and nail to return to her sister’s side. But can she make it in time? Or will it be too late?

Upon finishing this book, I was gutted to learn it was a duology. Although the ending was really satisfying, it was also ambiguous enough that I’m going to keep my fingers crossed Rachel Vincent decides to continue Nina’s story. The idea of this dystopian world is simply addictive!

Nina is a really relatable character. While she doesn't always make the best decisions, she follows her heart and tries her best to do right by others. However she is more badass in this book, toughened by her previous ordeals and new training. 

Finn continues to be a swoon worthy love interest, and I loved how his story played out. Not only do we uncover his past and learn how he became a disembodied spirit. The whole “not having a body” plotline intrigued me for a long time, but I’m pleased to say I felt I felt his ending wrapped up really nicely.

In terms of the other characters, they all had more minor roles. I was a little disappointed some of the previous cast didn't get more page time, but I also really enjoyed the new characters who were introduced. I mean demon killing cowboys? Ye-haw!

Otherwise the plot was fast paced, each attack and catastrophic scene rolling seamlessly into the next. There were lots of fight scenes, some sad moments but… I thought there were also a couple of unrealistic plotlines. Biological Warfare? A virus?

Essentially while some of these ideas did prickle a little, they didn't impact upon my enjoyment of the story. For me this was a fun sort of read, not something to be delved deeply into or picked apart. However if you are the kind of reader who likes to know the why and how behind everything… then this story probably isn't for you. 

For everyone else though - this is one fantastic paranormal read! Within the pages, Rachel Vincent has created an immense world built upon deception and blind faith. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

I give The Flame Never Dies 4 stars! And if you haven't already, please do check out the first book - The Stars Never Rise.

In the meantime you can find an extract from The Flame Never Dies below :)

Extract

When Eli bowed his head to pray silently over his plate, everyone but Grayson stopped eating to watch.
Grayson bowed her head and closed her eyes. 
It wasn’t that the rest of us objected to Eli’s faith. It was that most of us had little of our own, after discovering that generations of our ancestors’ souls had been consumed by those claiming to be our spiritual leaders. Everything we’d ever been taught to believe in had been proven not just false, but foul
The only things we knew could save us were vigilance and violence. The only people we knew we could count on were those gathered around our campfire.
“What did you pray for?” Maddock asked when Eli looked up, and his thoughtful tone caught my attention. Reese would have asked the same question with sarcasm. Devi would have asked it out of skepticism. But Maddock… 
As usual, Maddy was merely curious.
“I was giving thanks and asking the Lord to put more demons in my path, so I can strike them down in His name.” Eli took the fork Grayson handed him and dug a flake of fish from his filet. 
Anabelle gaped at him. “You were asking for more demons?”
Eli laughed at her horrified expression. “I wasn’t asking for a second demonic invasion. I just asked the Lord to keep pushing the ones that are already here into my path, so I can fulfill my life’s purpose by killing them.”
“You just mean the degenerates, right?” Reese said. “Because you guys seem to need help with Kastor’s people.”
“My fellow sentinels and I are perfectly capable of taking on any of the lions from the pit, but the oldest among us have already served their purpose and youngest—like Tobias—are not yet ready. I ask only that the worst of the horde be put in my path, rather than theirs.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I said. I felt the same way about protecting Mellie.
“But do you really think that’s your purpose?” Devi asked around a bite of bread.
“It’s ours, just like it is yours. There is no more noble pursuit, considering the state of the world. Every demon we strike down is felled through the strength the Lord has bestowed upon us, and—”
“Well, then he bestowed it all wrong.” Reese’s voice was so sharp I actually choked on a bite of greens and had to cough it up.
Eli’s spork clattered onto his plate, his meal suddenly forgotten. “Excuse me?” 
“You guys are out there impaling degenerates’ through the eyeball and calling yourselves warriors, but all you’re really doing is setting the demons loose to search for new hosts. That’s what you did to your brother’s killer. You released him. We fry the bastards right out of this world.”
“I cannot deny that the Lord has blessed you in ways he has not seen fit to bless me, Reese.” Eli’s glance at Grayson made it clear that he wasn’t just talking about exorcist abilities. “Nor can I presume to understand his reasons. I did what I could for Micah, with the gifts the Lord has given me. I freed his soul so he could find peace, and so that somewhere, a new child can live.”

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Shadow Hour - Book Review



The Shadow Hour - Book review
Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
The Girl at Midnight #2
UK PUBLISHER: ATOM

Other books in the series:
The Girl At Midnight #1 - Review HERE

Synopsis:

Everything in Echo’s life changed in a blinding flash when she learned the startling truth: that she is the firebird, the creature of light, the bringer of peace.

But the firebird has not come into the world alone. Echo can feel a great and terrible darkness rising in the distance: Cosmic forces that threaten to tear the world apart.

Echo has already lost her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Now her path is filled with even greater dangers than the ones she’s already overcome. Echo must decide: can she wield the power of her true nature—or will it prove too strong for her, and burn what’s left of her world to the ground?

Welcome to the Shadow Hour.

Review:

Once again, Melissa Grey swept me away with her beautiful prose and world building. With a fast paced plot and the return of a fabulous cast of colourful characters, this was a most enjoyable read. A fantastic second book to THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT trilogy.

Echo succeeded in waking the firebird, but her selfless act also unleashed a terrible evil on the world. Taking the form of a dark shadow, it spreads death and disease upon all it touches. Mindless and cruel, it has but one desire. To Kill the Firebird. To kill Echo.

Now with the death tolls rising, Echo undertakes a journey to discover the true extent of her powers. But with the shadow close on her heels and the ones she loves in great peril, can Echo save the world once again? Or will the end of the world be on her hands…

My favourite thing about this series is Echo’s love of words. The prose is full of new and interesting adjectives (thank goodness for the kindles built in dictionary!) that I needed to keep a notebook next to me  just so I could keep track of them all. However while such words can make the writing a little flowery at times, I found the descriptions of places and people so interesting that it didn't really bother me.

In terms of plot, this story is fast paced with each character thrust from one situation to the next. Just like the last book there are many fight scenes, break ins, run ins… along with lots of general mayhem and magic. 

I still really enjoyed Echo as a character. I loved how this book delved more into Echo’s past, however I felt she lost some of her self-assured sparkle along the way. In this story Echo was more solitary and full of doubt. I really hope the next book brings back more of her shaper wit and humour. 

Caius and Echo’s romance also was a little plain, and by that I just felt it didn't develop any more depth despite the pronounced I love you’s. I think that is partly due to the re-introduction of Rowan (Echo’s ex-boyfriend) as a love interest. I’m not a huge fan of love triangles and this three-way relationship was a large undercurrent of the story.

What I absolutely adored though was Jasper and Dorian’s relationship. Not only is Jasper a literal peacock and my favourite character, but watching him kindle a romance with the stoic draconian, Dorian - well let’s just say it was heartwarming to watch Dorian melt. Huge cheers for Jasper and Dorian!

My biggest nit-pick however was the ending. It’s a cliff-hanger! Those evil plot devices that I both love and hate. While it does ensure I will be  counting down the days to the next and final book, it’s also going to drive me crazy. 

A tantalisingly delicious binding of words! I give THE SHADOW HOUR 4 stars!

Monday, 1 August 2016

July Wrap Up 2016


(Walking the dog around Scotland)

July Wrap Up

So that’s it! Another month over. Can you believe it’s August already?

And I’m finally on holiday! I have a whole month in ENGLAND!  Well, actually only 3 weeks left from tomorrow but shh, not thinking about that just yet.

… but I can’t stop eating food. English food is glorious! Cadbury’s, cakes, cups of tea ten times a day, life here is so good.

Fresh air however, is killing me. It’s amazing, but lung searing! Yet I'm enjoying every minute of being home.

Anyway, here is last months catchups. 

Books Read June & July:


As you can see I actually got quite a bit of reading done last month. However The Otherlife by Julia Gray was by far my favourite. 

Otherwise I’m currently reading 3 other books right now. They are:

  • The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill
  • Forests of Ruin by Kelly Armstrong
  • Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

I’m enjoying all of them so far, but I think after I finish these I’m going to try picking up some more MG books. I definitely am in need of something more light hearted.

In the Kitchen

I was baking quite a lot at the beginning of last month - although I had to stop because the heat in China is ridiculous. 38 degrees! The oven is officially off until September!

  • But I did manage to whip up an Oreo Birthday cake for my caveman.
  • I made a few dozen butterfly cakes with jam and buttercream icing.
  • I also nearly burned my house down trying to make popcorn (The oil caught fire!) However after buying a new pan, the second, third and fourth attempts were all successful :)

Memorable Conversations:

In China…

My Student: Teacher, my dog just had puppies!
Me: Really?
Student: Yes, we ate them for dinner.
Me: *Deadpans* …. Oh. That’s nice.

Me: My knees look so scabby.
5 Year old student: NO! Teacher has beautiful princess knees.
Me: *Sob* I love you.


Place’s I’ve been…

Dubai Airport - we had an eight hour stop over and it’s a pretty airport, but hard to find a good place to sleep.

Beamish - This is an open air museum close to where we live. My parents took me and the boyfriend here. Although my poor Canadian Caveman just can’t master the Geordie language.

Wedding Dress shopping  (yes, that counts as a place). So my best friend is getting married next year so we did the ritual dress shopping day which was awesome. 

And that’s it. How was your month?