Book Reviews, Middle Grade, Young Adult

Clara Voyant – Rachelle Delaney Review

Clara Voyant by Rachelle Delaney

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Clara Voyant is a fun, light hearted middle grade brook which I really enjoyed. It had an interesting, tightly written plot and fun characters which all brought something to the story.

Clara is new to her school, and as an aspiring journalist, she is keen to impress Wesley Ferris, the editor of the school newspaper. She joins the team, but is gutted to find that Wesley won’t assign her to any investigative pieces, instead relegating her to the horoscopes section. Clara is gutted, not least because she doesn’t believe in horoscopes. However, when Clara’s horoscopes begin to come true, she wonders whether she was wrong to dismiss them. When a crime is committed at her school, Clara decides to use her newfound mystical powers to solve the mystery and prove herself as a brilliant journalist.

The plot of this book keeps you interested from the beginning, with multiple storylines and mysteries unfolding at the same time. There is the mystery of the stolen school mascot, Clara’s potential new powers, her best friend Maeve’s audition for the school play, and many more smaller storylines unfolding in the background. It really was a perfect cosy crime novel.

Despite the book having a wide range of characters, it never felt convoluted or busy. Each character stood out and played a role, however small, and added something to the book and plot. Clara is clever and ambitious, her best friend Maeve is bold and driven and the pair’s friendship was very entertaining. I also enjoyed the adult characters in the book, such as Mrs Major, the school’s custodian, and Clara’s mother with all of her quirks.

Overall, this book was a really enjoyable read that would be perfect for children and young teenagers. I think that this book is a standalone, but Clara definitely has the potential to lead her own series and I would happily read along.

Book Reviews, Classics

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen Review

Sense and Sensibility (Vintage Classics Austen Series) : Jane ...

Rating: Rating: ★★★★

Sense & Sensibility is my favourite of the Jane Austen adaptations – the Emma Thompson version, of course! I have wanted to read it for ages, and so decided that my first classic of 2020 would be this book. Unfortunately however, my favourite Jane Austen book it is not! At times, the plot felt a little too slow for my liking, especially as I have come to associate Austen with fun, light-hearted and quick storytelling. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed reading the book and was glad that I did so, as I love getting more insights into Jane Austen and her world.

Marianne’s story was by far my favourite part of the book. Unlike Elinor and Edward’s relationship, I could feel the chemistry between her and Willoughy and I felt her heartbreak when the relationship ended. Am I the only person who thinks Willoughby is maybe the original f*ckboi of English literature?  I’m not sure if there is one out there already, but I hope someone out there is writing a modern retelling of this story!

On the other hand, Elinor’s story in particular disappointed me, which was a shame as I have always loved watching it on screen. Generally, I felt like Edward completely fell flat on the page, and came across as a spoiled and lazy man with absolutely no personality. I simply could not feel any chemistry between the two or why Elinor would find him appealing at all.

Despite this, however, I still enjoyed the book overall. I think that I maybe did not judge the book as a book in and of itself but compared it to the way that the actors in the film portrayed them – and book Edward is no Hugh Grant. In hindsight, however, I was pleased to see that Austen’s characters were far more realistic than you might assume. All of the characters have their flaws, from the main female characters to their love interests. They are not fake flaws, they are serious, deep flaws, and it is these flaws that drive the plot.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite Review

My Sister, the Serial Killer: Amazon.co.uk: Oyinkan Braithwaite ...

Rating: ★★★★★

My Sister, The Serial Killer is an incredibly funny book about a horrifically dark subject.

Korede’s sister Ayoola is the more pretty and popular of the two. However, every man who catches her eye eventually dies at her hand. Korede, a loyal sister, helps her sister to cover her tracks, giving her sister the benefit of the doubt when she claims that she has acted in self-defence. However, surely three boyfriends dispatched in this way is simply too many to be a coincidence?

When Ayoola begins to date a doctor who Korede works with and has long been in love with, this is a step too far. Korede is not prepared to see the man she has loved from afar end up like the rest of Ayoola’s conquests, and she decides to act. However, Korede has always put family first, so will she be able to turn her back on Ayoola?

My Sister, The Serial Killer however perfectly toes the line of dark humour. This book is not only funny, this is one of the most hilarious books that I have ever read. It was entertaining from the very beginning to the very end. The two sisters are both well fleshed out as characters and they, and their relationship, seems plausible and works on the page. The back and forth dialogue between the two provided many laughs and I could read Oyinkan Braithwaite’s dialogue forever.

In terms of plot and pacing, the book moves quickly and the plot is constantly developing, which makes it a really exciting story. Braithwaite never lingers on something for too long, but always gives it just the amount of attention it deserves. In hindsight, I was surprised when I realised how short the book was, because I was able to fully give myself over to the story.

Finally, I listened to the audiobook version of this book and, whether you are an audiobook fan or not, I recommend that you try this one! This felt more like a radio show than an audiobook and if you are apprehensive about the format then give this a try. The narration and acting by the different actors was so much fun to engage with, and really brought the text to life. In addition, I am not sure whether the actors put these on, but I loved that an authentic Nigerian accent was used by all of the voice actors. It really brought the characters as well as the setting to life.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Sadie – Courtney Summers Review

Sadie: Amazon.co.uk: Summers, Courtney: Books

Rating: ★★★★★

When Sadie’s younger sister Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s world falls apart, and after the police fail to find her killer, Sadie takes matters into her own hands. She hits the road to try to find the killer, determined to bring him to justice. Meanwhile, West McCray, a radio presenter working on a piece about small, forgotten towns in America, overhears Sadie’s story and becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl, starting a podcast to record his investigation.

As a true crime obsessive, this book was right up my street. I loved how it was presented as such, with the format of a podcast replicating so many of the podcasts I have listened to. Courtney Summers wrote both the normal prose of Sadie’s chapters and the podcast chapters in a way that felt so authentic you almost forget it isn’t a true story. In addition, I listened to this in the audiobook format, which the book lends itself to extremely well. The actors are excellent and you really feel yourself getting swept away by the story.

I loved Sadie’s character and was in her corner cheering for her throughout the book. Sadie has a compelling background: she is born to a drug addicted mother, becomes an almost mother to her younger sister and is a school drop Her sister is the centre of her universe, and Summers’ writing really makes you feel how Sadie’s love for her sister and how it can be so strong to drive her to do everything that she does over the course of the book. You can feel every ounce of Sadie’s pain and grief.

The plot was fast-paced, and the podcast format was a great way of intertwining the plot with background events in a way that felt real and not like a boring info-dump. It was a really clever way of structuring the story, and means that you slowly piece the story together with the rest of the podcast’s audience.

Overall, I have to give this piece 5 stars. I could find absolutely no faults with it, and demand someone make this into a miniseries.

Book Reviews, Historical, Young Adult

Devil’s Ballast – Meg Caddy Review

Devil's Ballast by Meg Caddy

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had a serious pirate phase as a child. I remember searching and searching for a book featuring a female pirate, and failing. That’s why I was so excited to read Devil’s Caddy, and it delivered. This is exactly the book that my younger self wanted, as well as being a book that grown-up me could sit back and enjoy.

Anne Bonny is eighteen when she feels her abusive husband and runs away with Calico Jack, the famed pirate. She disguises herself as a boy and joins his crew aboard the Ranger, which wreaks havoc on the ships of the Caribbean. However, this is not a happy ending for Anne, and she is on the run from both her husband, James Bonny, who is determined to get her back, and the pirate-hunter Captain Barnet, whose personal goal is to bring as many pirates to justice as possible. When she is captured and separated from Calico Jack, she must fight to get him back, whilst struggling with the consequences of her relationship with the pirate.

Devil’s Caddy is a really enjoyable book to read and I got through it in a weekend thanks to the fast-paced and constantly moving plot. Meg Caddy has done a really great job at writing an exciting story, with a series of exciting individual adventures for the characters whilst also maintaining an overarching story that keeps you entertained for the duration of the book. Caddy manages to ramp up the tension and surprise you with plot twists the whole way through, whilst still keeping the book feeling fun.

I also really enjoyed the cast of characters in this book. Anne Bonny is a great historical character, and Meg Caddy manages to bring her to life in the form of a kick-ass heroine, without crossing over into cliche female protagonist territory. Anne Bonny is rebellious, feisty, and clever, but she’s can also be reckless, stubborn, and selfish. She’s also kind, loyal, and a great friend.  Overall, she is a brilliant character to follow, and I would definitely want to read more of her story.

I also really enjoyed Martin Read’s character, who, without spoiling any of the story, is also inspired by a historical pirate, and whose friendship with Anne was one of my favourite parts of the story. I was also surprised to have enjoyed the chapters which were narrated by Captain Barnet, as Meg Caddy managed to craft the villain of the story as a fully three-dimensional figure.

Devil’s Ballast, by virtue of being a pirate novel, features lots of different characters and locations: multiple ships, their crews, a well as a number of Caribbean cities. Nevertheless, it never felt too dense or convoluted and the characters all stood out as individuals and had a purpose in the story. I thought that this was especially impressive as the book wasn’t very long.

Overall, this was an easy 5 stars. This book is a page-turner kept me entertained the whole way through. I’m not sure if Meg Caddy has planned this to be a series, but I would definitely read more stories of Anne Bonny and her pirate friends.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Iron Gold – Pierce Brown Review

Iron Gold - Wikipedia

Rating: ★★★★★

Although I never reviewed the original Red Rising trilogy on this blog, believe me when I say that no series has ever made me feel such a range of emotions so strongly. Pierce Brown has a way of making me laugh, cry, and yell as I restrain myself from throwing a book across the room in stress. Iron Gold is no different – it is gripping from page 1, chock-full with lively characters and entertaining dialogue.

Warning: if you haven’t read Red Rising, this does contain spoilers for the series.

In case you are not aware, the original Red Rising series is set in a future world where humans have colonised space. The books follow Darrow, a Red, meaning that he is from the lowest class of people on Mars. When he learns the true extent of the injustice and oppression of the world, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold, the highest of society, and begins a mission to overturn the system from the inside out.

Iron Gold is Pierce Brown’s follow up series which follows Darrow’s new Republic ten years later, as he tried to stamp out the remaining challenges to his new society and bring peace to his people. It also follows a number of other new characters: Lyria is a Red who has lost everything, including her faith in the Republic, and who finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy far larger than anything she could have imagined; Ephraim, a former Son of Ares and thief, whose latest job pushes him to the edge; and Lysander au Lune, the grandson and heir of Octavia au Lune who has been living, in hiding, under the protection of Cassius au Bellona since the events of Morning Star. These characters begin in opposite corners of space, but sloly they come together in a riveting story of family, duty and honour.

All of the characters are well crafted, multi-faceted masterpiece, whether we knew them in Red Rising or not. I liked that those that we knew have been developed even further, and that those that we have met for the first time were given interesting backstories that made us feel like we had known them all along. Pierce Brown is excellent at building his characters and making us really understand them, and I was glad that the new characters stood up to the existing ones and I cared just as much about them as I did the ones that were familiar to me. My own personal favourites were Lyria and Rhonna, whose stories I am interested to keep following.

In this book you could see just how skilled Brown is in that he was able to explain, in a way that doesn’t feel boring or like an info-dump at all, everything that has happened in the 10 years between the last book and this one. The Red Rising books are not light reading, and you have to pay attention to grasp the details in the world-building, political systems and family dynamics that Brown has created, but the effort is always worth it. I was initially concerned that I would struggle to keep up, but Brown is really great at weaving in details to the story so that it is all relevant and interesting.

Finally, the story was, as always in the Red Rising series, exciting and fast-paced. Even with the multiple narrators, you are always guessing and the plot twists had me genuinely surprised and sitting on the edge of my seat.

Overall, as you can probably tell if you’ve read the whole review, I absolutely loved Iron Gold. I don’t know why I waited so long to read Iron Gold, but I’m glad I did because now I don’t have to wait before reading the next book – Dark Age! Straight onto the next one!

Book Reviews, Contemporary

Such A Fun Age – Kiley Reid Review

Such a Fun Age: Reid, Kiley: 9780525541905: Amazon.com: Books

Rating: ★★★★

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020, and so I jumped at the chance to read this for my book club. I nominated this book the moment it was released, and was so glad that I did! This book is a great read, with interesting characters and a really interesting plot.

Emira is a black babysitter working for Alix and Peter Chamberlain, a white family. She is looking after their toddler daughter one night when she is accused of having kidnapped the young child. She is furious and humiliated, but when a bystander films the incident and offers to post it online, she refuses. Instead, she returns to her job with the Chamberlain family, who are determined to make it right. Kelley – the bystander who filmed the incident – and Emira bump into each other and strike up a relationship. Although everything seems to have turned out for the better, it all begins to crumble.

The discussions about race were incredibly interesting. Alix prides herself on being “woke”. She is proud for having a group of racially diverse friends around her dinner table, and is determined to make Emira like her. Kelley wants Emira to go public with her ordeal, encouraging her to share the video, but can’t see why she simply wants to forget all about the incident. For much of the book, it seems like Emira is surrounded by people telling her how to be black or how to feel about the things that have happened to her and I loved seeing how she finds her own voice among all of these different voices.

Another element of the book that I really enjoyed was seeing Emira’s friendships. Emira’s group of friends are all embarking on successful, high paying careers. Meanwhlie, Emira is working multiple jobs, is about to lose her health insurance and shares a small apartment with others. She struggles with the conflict of feeling happy for her friends’ successes, whilst also feeling confused about her own life and lost as to where she wants to go. She loves babysitting the Chamberlain’s daughter, but is it really where she wants to spend the rest of her life. It was nice to see such a universal coming-of-age story line embedded so delicately into the story, and refreshing to see this in relation to a character in their 20s where it is usually the reserve of teen books. After all, there is no rule that says an adult must have their whole life sorted out!

There were so many elements of this book that I loved in addition to these. The writing was clear and flowed well and the characters were well crafted and felt like real people. The writing felt genuinely as if it was coming from the characters’ own mouths, and not as if Kiley Reid was putting words into their mouths to put across a particular opinion. I loved Alix’s complex character and trying to figure out whether or not she was untrustworthy or not. On the other hand, I felt like the plot sometimes got a little bit lost and I couldn’t always figure out where the book was going. Luckily, all of these other elements were strong enough to keep me entertained even where the plot felt lacking, so I have no complaints!

Book Reviews, Contemporary, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Dear Edward – Ann Napolitano Review

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Rating: ★★★★

Dear Edward is a touching story about a young boy finding his world in a world that has fallen apart.

Edward is 12 years old when his family decide to move from New York to California. The family are ready for a new start, but their plane crashes and Edward is the sole survivor. Suddenly, his life has changed completely. He is living with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey and he is broken in more ways than he can count. However, when he finds bags full of letters from the loved ones of the other 191 passengers who didn’t make it, these slowly stir him back into action and help him to find purpose.

Much of the book deals with very difficult and emotional topics such as Edward’s grief and his aunt and uncle’s relationship struggles. However, Ann Napolitano’s writing was really beautiful and meant that the passages were touching and not too heavy to bear. Similarly, much of the book deals with Edward getting used to his new daily routine – a new school, new friends. Napolitano manages to really explore what is going on in Edward’s brain in these moments without detracting from the story. This meant that the inward journey that Edward goes on is always balanced perfectly with the plot of the book, the two work alongside each other perfectly.

I really liked the cast of characters in this book. Edward’s friend Shay was fun and I felt like you saw her grow up from a precocious 12 year old into a bold and brash teenager. I felt personally invested in the relationship between Edward’s aunt and uncle, and I absolutely loved Edward’s school principal with his wisdom and love of plants. the characters all served a clear purpose, and were never overdone but simply felt like real people that you would want to know.

My only issue with Dear Edward was the pacing. The blurb of the book really emphasises the role that the letters play in the story, but Edward doesn’t discover these letters until more than halfway through the book. It’s not that the book was boring until this point was reached, in fact I still loved reading the lead up to this moment, but I felt a bit misled and like I spent most of the book waiting for something that happened quite near to the end. Perhaps if the blurb were more honest or the book had better pacing, I would have been able to really give myself over to the book without expectations.

Book Reviews, Historical

The Other Bennet Sister – Janice Hadlow Review

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Rating: ★

The Other Bennet Sister is a retelling/sequel to Pride and Prejudice focusing on Mary Bennet, the plainest of the five Bennet sisters. It starts from just before the events of Pride and Prejudice, with the first part of the book telling the story of Pride and Prejudice, and then continuing on past the events of the book. Unfortunately, this book simply failed to keep me interested and as much as I wanted to love it, The Other Bennet Sister became my first DNF of 2020.

This book caught my eye straight away. I have always loved Pride and Prejudice and typically quite enjoy engaging with retellings and the like. I have always been intrigued by Mary, who is generally made fun of in the book and subsequent adaptations. However, I never saw her as a joke, and I wanted to know more about this girl who is serious, clever and wants to impress but is constantly made to feel like an embarrassment. That’s why I felt like I absolutely had to read The Other Bennet Sister.

Unfortunately, this book was such a disappointed to me. Initially, the concept of a book about Mary Bennet kept me going, but eventually the complete lack of plot and purpose made me give up. The book is split into several parts, each of which tells the story of Mary in a different setting. The first part aligns somewhat with the events of Pride & Prejudice, the second takes place some years after when Mary visits the Collins family, the third with her visiting her aunt, and so on. Unfortunately, in each setting we meet largely new characters and each section therefore feels completely detached and unrelated to the previous. Even though these parts when looked at individually felt well-written and interesting, I got bored of reading what felt like a succession of independent stories with no overarching plot. The closest thing to an overarching plot was Mary’s development a a character, but unfortunately this wasn’t clear or exciting enough to keep me excited and interested as a reader.

I really, really wanted to like this book and in fact I made it over halfway through the book, hoping and waiting for it to change my mind. Unfortunately, this character-driven book was just not strong enough to justify the lack of a clear plot, which is a shame because I think Mary Bennet has the potential to be a great character.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell Review

Fangirl: Amazon.co.uk: Rowell, Rainbow: Books

Rating: ★★

Cath is a Simon Snow fangirl, and not just any fan, the biggest. She’s basically an internet celebrity, with her fanfiction story Carry On garnering thousands of views everyday. When she and her sister Wren head off to university, Cath struggles to adapt to the world around her and buries herself in what she knows, Carry On. However, soon the outside world starts to creep in. Her creative writing class excites her, her roommate Reagan becomes a firm friend, and Levi, Reagan’s best friend, more than catches her eye. Will she have to choose between the real world and Simon Snow’s world, or will she be able to balance the two?

While I did enjoy Fangirl, at times it just felt way too long. I think that this was exacerbated by the fact that Fangirl is a very character-driven novel, and so at times the plot not only takes a back seat, but disappears altogether. There were plenty of smaller storylines, such as Cath and Levi’s relationship, Cath’s writing assignments, and her father’ mental health crisis, but there were periods in between these events that meant that we’re simply reading Cath, sitting in her dorm room in front of her laptop, worrying about various other events. Personally, even though I love character-driven novels, I did get bored of Cath thinking about doing stuff and not actually doing anything. Luckily, Fangirl has a cast of fun and lively characters, and they were entertaining enough to keep me reading. If it had been more concise, I would have loved the book completely.

One of my favourite aspects of Fangirl was the exploration of fanfiction in a way that presented it as real literature, and not an embarrassing online subculture. The fact that Cath has so many online fans that she is even approached by one in the real world, and that her fans insist she finish publishing her story before the actual final book in the series is published. However, there were parts about it that I found annoying. I couldn’t really relate to Cath’s trouble when she submits fanfiction for her creative writing assignment, because I didn’t believe that someone as intelligent and creative as her wouldn’t know the rules regarding what she is allowed to submit. Personally, whenever I submitted work in my studies, I would pore over the rules and ensure that I hadn’t broken a single rule, and so it seemed unrealistic and just a little dumb of her to submit a Simon Snow story.

In addition, I hated the excerpts from the fictional Simon Snow novels and her own fanfiction stories and actually ended up skipping them altogether very early into the novel. I just did not care at all about Simon Snow’s story, and it did not contribute at all to the main story. It was enough to know that Simon Snow was a Harry-Potter-esque series of novels, without having it forced down my throat. Put simply, I had chosen to read Fangirl, and not Simon Snow, so the fact that it was interrupting the main story started to piss me off.

Overall, I liked Fangirl, but I didn’t love it. There were major issues in pacing for me that ruined what would otherwise have been a great reading experience, and these were so significant that they overpowered what was otherwise a really interesting concept and fun characters.