‘The Frozen Sea’ – Piers Torday

Scheduled for release in early September 2019, this sequel to The Lost Magician picks up the Narnia vibe so prevalent in that story. Ever since I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child I loved the idea of another land waiting to be discovered. To have such a land ruled by Readers…combining the two best things…a recipe for a great story.

Even if you haven’t read book one this story makes sense and captures the imagination perfectly.

Jewel is often singled out for being different to her peers. When we first see her being chased out of school by those bullying her, we know just how desperate she is to find her place in the world. Stumbling into a mysterious bookshop, Jewel finds herself reading an unusual atlas – one that seems to bring the world around her to life. Before we know it, Jewel and her hamster Fizz have been transported to Folio and are assigned a mysterious quest.

The links to book one are explained clearly, which keeps new readers up to date. One of the original four has found their way back to the world of Folio and set in motion a chain of events with potentially dire consequences. Jewel is charged with helping rescue her aunt Evie.

So begins a series of adventures and Jewel’s knowledge of stories stands her in good stead to navigate this scenario. Naturally, we learn some not wholly unexpected news and Jewel learns plenty about herself.

Framing the story of Jewel’s adventure are the mysterious excerpts from official documents suggesting there’s more to come in this story.

Great fun, capturing perfectly the power of imagination.

‘Jinxed’ – Amy McCulloch

Lacey Chu is a fantastic engineer. She harbours dreams of working for MONCHA, a leading firm behind the concept of the baku – robotic companions that also act as phones. Unfortunately, it looks like her dream will fall at the first hurdle when she’s not accepted at the special school linked to the company.

With her dreams seemingly in tatters Lacey is not thinking straight when she tries to rescue her best friend’s baku and ends up finding something that many people are looking for. A heap of scrap metal, she thinks, but when she gets back to her workshop Lacey realises it’s a baku like no other.

Over the summer she does her utmost to get it working. In a kind of fantasy fulfilment, things work just fine and suddenly Lacey finds herself heading to the school and getting caught up in stuff she only dreamt of.

While this was set in North America, the whole concept and the battling felt like Pokemon had been brought to life and given personalities. That in itself was great fun, and the dynamics between Lacey and her new-found friends was entertaining. However, not everything is as it seems and there are definitely people suspicious of the skills Lacey and her baku exhibit.

I enjoyed this so much I’ve already pre-ordered Unleashed as I cannot leave this not knowing who on earth is behind what happened at the end. I also wonder whether we’ll learn a little more about the mysterious Mr Chu.
Huge thanks to NetGalley for putting me onto this one.

‘The Deathless Girls’ – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Gothic, intoxicating, feminist, darkly provoking and deeply romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

With a tag-line and cover like that, who could resist?

The myth of Dracula is fascinating, and to go beyond the main character is particularly interesting. In this story, Hargrave focuses on what happened to perpetuate the story of Dracula – the women behind the man, in a manner of speaking.

We begin our story with twins, Lil and Kizzy, seeing their home burned and their family slaughtered. The girls and children of the village are taken as part of a retinue to be sold to the various Counts who rule the land. As twins, Kizzy and Lil are in high demand.

We follow them as they’re taken to the castle,their new home, and put to training. The life is brutal, but even within these walls there are hints of potential happiness.

Sadly this is destroyed when Lil is betrayed. Kizzy is then taken and Lil begins a perilous journey to rescue her sister.

As she journeys across the country to the land ruled by the man known as the Dragon, Lil starts to understand some of the rumours circulating about him. She learns he is able to turn people into Strigoi, and that his skills go far beyond anything they are familiar with.

Much as she wants to rescue her sister, Lil doesn’t bank on how someone used to being manipulated might find the lure of power too promising to give up. And so we learn of the origins of the Brides of Dracula. Hargrave gives a very human face to characters that are always portrayed as inhuman.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my thoughts.

‘Infinity Son’ – Adam Silver

Silvera’s evident love of the fantasy genre is laid out for us in his intro, and is splashed all over the pages of this foray into the genre.
The story itself has some interesting elements. Definitely loving the phoenixes and the details linked to the idea of rebirth. There’s hints of some intriguing developments between the characters of Emil and Mirabelle, and Brighton’s story looks as if it’ll pick up and get a whole lot more interesting in the future. This was a quick read but it was not, unfortunately for me, the hit I was expecting and there’s a few reasons for this.
The main reason I found this not wholly successful was the lack of time taken to establish the world in which it was set. We were plunged straight in, and little was explained in a way that would have made sense to me. Some of the answers were given later, but there was a lot assumed about the world of the narrative and I really wanted more detail so I could understand how this situation had come about.
The next difficulty I had was with the characterisation. It took a while to feel any sense of difference between the characters of Emil and Brighton, and simply hammering the point home that one is obsessed by social media isn’t enough to do this. To suddenly find myself with another viewpoint – which wasn’t really set-up – also made it wobble slightly as I tried to keep track of who was doing what (though this may say more about me).
For some readers, the love interest that develops partway through will definitely get them excited. The feelings Emil has for Ness are hard to ignore, but they are really superficial (guess we have to start somewhere). The initial scene where their feelings were apparent felt like some kind of wish-fulfilment exercise, and Silvera’s comments about his reaction to Cassandra Clare’s series does explain this a little. It seemed they might be able to get into a more nuanced relationship but the events in the narrative make this difficult. No matter how he dresses it up (and perhaps his explanations will make people swoon over his resolve to hurt the one he loves to prevent someone else doing worse) I can’t quite get my head around the way Ness treats Emil. When you look at it in a more detached way it seems horribly abusive and not the basis for a good relationship. Granted, it’s early stages so perhaps this will develop in a slightly different way.
So, all in all, this was a story where someone got to revel in their love for a genre but I can’t help but feel things would be better if the style was a little less exaggerated, world-building was established and we weren’t in some whirlwind attempt to cram excitement onto every page to guarantee people reading on. Sometimes, less is more.
Due for release in early 2020, so it’ll be interesting to see how/if it changes by then. However, I’m really grateful to NetGalley for letting me read this so early in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Good Omens’ – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Always lovely to read a Terry Pratchett novel and to lose yourself in the madness.

This time around I had half an idea what to expect, having watched endless adverts for the adaptation currently showing on Amazon Prime. I also confess to being highly tickled at the number of people who’ve signed a petition to have the series cancelled for its blasphemous content.

From the opening pages it’s clear that we are in rather unusual territory. There are plans afoot to swap a human child with the Antichrist but they get it wrong, and the child is adopted. They are taken to live in a rural village where nothing ever happens…until the onset of the Apocalypse.

However, there are certain entities determined to prevent the Apocalypse. It’s in their interests to prevent the end of the world. Unfortunately, when they realise they’ve misplaced the Antichrist it is a rather difficult job to work out what to do next.

I always find it hard to review novels by Terry Pratchett because the joy for me is not in the story, it’s in the random links and associations made and the rapid jumps from one idea to the next.

‘To Best the Boys’ – Mary Weber

Following the story of Rhen and her desire to make a difference, this is a tale to fire up your spirit. For Rhen lives in a world where some believe women should stick to their role…and that they don’t possess the attributes needed to do anything more. It was great fun watching Rhen prove them wrong.

The initial set-up felt a little more dragged out than strictly necessary. However, once Rhen took it upon herself to try her hand in Holm’s labyrinth then we were in a very different story.

Inspiring ideas, and a cracking story.

‘The Devouring Gray’ – Christine Lynn Herman

On the edge of town a beast haunts the woods, trapped in the Gray, its bonds loosening…

An unusual read that started off slowly, and built its way up to an explosive finish.

Uprooted from the city, Violet Saunders doesn’t have much hope of fitting in at her new school in Four Paths, a town almost buried in the woodlands of rural New York. The fact that she’s descended from one of the town’s founders doesn’t help much, either—her new neighbours treat her with distant respect, and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children of founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid.

When bodies start to appear in the woods, the locals become downright hostile. Can the teenagers solve the mystery of Four Paths, and their own part in it, before another calamity strikes?

A town centred around the four founding families. They each have a power, but their secrets are kept close as they try to protect their town from the beast imprisoned in the space know as the Gray. Our story focuses on the younger generation of the founding families as they battle to try to right the wrongs of the past and protect their future.

For a long time only three families have remained. When Violet and her mother return after the death of her sister, we start to learn a little more of the secrets each family holds, and how the elements combine to be of significance.

Without doubt, my favourite character was Isaac. His significance isn’t really picked up until later, but he was a fascinating character and the ending heavily hints that he’ll be pretty important to book two. I defy anyone to not get goosebumps at the closing scene!

The story itself didn’t offer much new, but it did it well. I’m particularly keen to know more about the background to the events described here, so we’ll see what happens next time.

‘Finale’ – Stephanie Garbar

 

Well, as I close Finale for the last time it is true…the games are over. What a ride!

In this third of the series the decision was made to focus on the point of view of both Scarlett and Tella. This made the story a little disjointed on occasion, but it really was necessary to help us understand the actions of each of the characters.
There’s some events/scenarios in here that felt odd as I was reading, and yet once I’d completed the story they made sense.

Without giving actual events away, in Finale we focus on the feelings Tella has for Legend and Jacks; the relationship between Scarlett and Julian, and his role in managing certain other characters; the growing power of the Fates and the relationships certain characters have/had which set in place earlier events.

While the ending has a bittersweet sensation (I really didn’t want it to end), I can’t help but feel it was inevitable and am now wondering whether a reread of the series would hint at some of these resolutions.

Caraval itself may be over, but I have a feeling the games will continue.

‘Batman: Nightwalker’ – Marie Lu

I was rather underwhelmed by Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman and was wondering if this series was simply not going to be my thing. Thankfully, I found this to be a more engaging story – perhaps because it focused on the character of Bruce Wayne (and you can’t help but like a good back story for your superhero). There may be an element of familiarity for me as Batman was definitely more on my radar when younger than other characters in this series.

So, in this second in the series we follow young Bruce Wayne as he comes into his inheritance, plays with some fancy gadgets and gets caught up with the criminal gang known as the Nightwalkers.

In this instance, getting what you expect is totally what’s needed. The gadgets and the focus on the character felt spot on. I loved the dynamic between Bruce and Madeleine, and the fine line between good and bad felt perfectly placed. While you know that their relationship cannot ever come to anything, there’s a little part that wonders…what if?

I wasn’t quite sure where this would go, but this panned out well. I wasn’t wholly surprised by the revelation later (although I was too suspicious of a few characters) but that’s no bad thing.

‘The Land of Neverendings’ – Kate Saunders

The stories I remember loving when I was younger were those where the real work exists in a shadowy form, and a more vibrant place becomes the reality for the characters.

In this charming story, Emily is coming to terms with the death of her sister. She misses her terribly, so when old toys start to come to life around her Emily is more than happy to investigate this world more carefully.

With the help of her older next door neighbour, Ruth (whose teenage son died unexpectedly), Emily tries to work out how to get to the world of Smockeroon and save the toys from the spread of unhappiness.

Definitely one I want to read with my youngest son, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he makes of it.