‘Tarnished City’ – Vic James

Thank you to NetGalley for authorising me to read this. Number two in the series is another cracker, though there are signs that things are changing (and not always for the better).

I admit to being a little scared I would have forgotten details, as it felt a long time since I’d read book one. However, I felt I was quickly taken back to the world and didn’t feel too many details were missing from my mind.

There is a lot of alternating between Luke and Abi following the events of Gilded Cage. Neither is in a good place, but they at least have something to fight for. The Equals we observe are also in pretty dire situations, but some have more of a chance of escape than others.

I felt Tarnished Cage was bold in its attempts to explore the more morally dubious characters. I can’t say I liked many of the characters/ideas we come across, but James portrays them with skill. It was interesting to see their motivation, but there’s still an awful lot we’re not being told.

In many ways this was bleaker than Gilded Cage, but I got a sense of how events were moving on. I’m very excited to see where we go in the final part of the trilogy.

‘Nevermore:The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ – Jessica Townsend

A recent visit from my sister-in-law had us talking books – and she was raving about a book she’d heard about from several friends. She said it was flying off the shelves in Australia, and the buzz about this book was amazing. It was only later on that she remembered the title…Nevermoor.

Having been granted an ARC by NetGalley, I was so disappointed that the digital copy I received was nearly impossible to read. I persevered through chapter 1, and loved it, but didn’t feel up to the task of reading the whole book in that way…so I made myself wait until publication to be able to read it properly.

Film rights for this have already been snapped up, and it has – perhaps inevitably – drawn comparisons with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. However, it struck me as a much more assured story, darker in some ways and more universal.

Nevermore tells the story of Morrigan Crow, a young girl who is cursed. She was born on Eventide (the unluckiest day of the year), and is destined to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. Throughout her short life, her father has apologised for her existence, and she is used to being blamed by those around her for everything that goes wrong.

At this early stage in the book you can’t help but wonder where this is going, but then Morrigan is given a way out…the rather strangely titled Jupiter North offers to act as her patron. He wants her to become part of the Wundrous Society, a prestigious organisation that admits few members. In order to become part of this elite, Morrigan has to successfully pass four trials, competing against some of her country’s most talented peers. With no discernible talent, Morrigan is up against it.

The world-building in this story is magical. Morrigan’s new home of the Hotel Deucalion and the magnificent Magnificat, Fen, were enchanting. There’s an evident cinematic quality to this, and a rather whimsical tone to the writing. The settings are easy to picture, and I really can’t wait to see how this goes down with my youngest son who’s just about the right age to – I hope – be entranced by this.

My only gripe is that now there’s another series that I’m desperate to read…

‘Everless’ – Sara Holland

It’s at times like this that I really cannot sing the praises of NetGalley enough…this isn’t due for release until early 2018…but I’ve read it…and it’s a book that I can see marking a very exciting series.

The story is intriguing. In the land of Sempera, blood is currency. Time is extracted from blood and mixed with iron to enable people to use it as payment. The wealthy, such as the Gerling family, use this process to tax the poor. It’s certainly a dangerous world, but particularly so for our main character Jules.

When we first meet Jules she is worried about her father. Determined to do what she can to support him, Jules plans to return to Everless – the palatial estate owned by the Gerlings where Jules used to live as a child – as they are offering time as payment. Her father is unhappy about this prospect, and it’s not until much later on that we get to understand why.

Watching Jules return to the place she seems to feel is home was interesting. She clearly still harbours feelings for Roan, the Gerling boy she remembers playing with as a child, and there are little clues dropped that Jules might have a part to play in events beyond the walls of Everless.

As with many books in this genre, it’s not until we have been given all the details that we start to see just how well it has been plotted. Jules’s resolve to meet the Queen and solve what she thinks is the key problem carries us happily through most of the book. We watch Jules get taken under the wing of Ina Gold, the Queen’s heir, and it was definitely interesting to watch her piece together details of her past and start to work out just who she is. At the point that we were told one or two hitherto unknown details everything clicked. It was a shock, but it made sense…it’s just a shame it happened so late on and is clearly setting us up for where Jules goes next.

I can’t wait!

‘The Empty Grave’ – Jonathan Stroud

I was so impatient for this, and found myself desperate to finish it while being reluctant to get to the end. No more? There’s options, and I’m certain we could dip further into Lockwood & co and what happens to them following this book…yet there’s something bittersweet about knowing that there could still be a story to tell and not getting it.

We open fully aware that this is going to be a humdinger of a case. Lucy admits that this case is their biggest yet, and it has far-reaching consequences.
The dynamics between Lockwood, Holly, George and Lucy remain fresh and funny. They are quickly caught up in an investigation into possibly the biggest upset of the series…the exact situation regarding Penelope Fittes. I didn’t see this coming, and it was ripe for exciting scenes on the other side, battles and ghostly goings-on.

For me, there were two strands that were focused on in this book that just caught me by the heart-strings and tugged over and over again. It may be a story about ghosts, but I wanted Lucy and Lockwood together. Their attraction was even more obvious here, and I was excited to see how he opened up to her. His backstory and the details surrounding his family were just what was required, and though it’s been all too obvious how they feel about each other I like that Stroud has kept this under the surface.

Oddly the love story that has most impact for me in this series is that surrounding Lucy and the skull. From the moment she could hear its vile mutterings we’ve known Lucy and the skull share a special bond. He is a character crucial to events but the kind of character who entertains and infuriates in equal measure. His comments towards Lockwood certainly show his feelings for Lucy, and this book was all about whether she’d trust him. How can a spirit character who spends his time chained to a jar be the character I’m most engaged by? Simple…his actions later in the book were just beautiful. That glimpse on the windowsill at the end is just enough for me to hope that his actions weren’t in vain.

‘The Goblins of Bellwether’ – Molly Ringle

A contemporary romance inspired by Christina Rossetti’s eerie, sensual poem, “Goblin Market.” Four neighbors encounter sinister enchantments and a magical path to love in a small, modern-day Puget Sound town, where a fae realm hides in the woods and waters…

Goblins…having only a passing acquaintance with the subject I am all too aware that my view of goblins might be somewhat stereotyped. I love the Rossetti poem that inspired this, so I was excited to see this on NetGalley.
I have to say that the set-up of the world, and the details of the fae we meet is not quite as developed as I’d have liked. We see a little of the goblin world, but it is a passing focus for much of the novel.

Our story focuses on Kit Sylvain, the latest of his family to have to deal with the consequences of the deal made by one of his ancestors. Kit is given immunity form the goblins’ mischief making, as long as he provides them with a specified amount of gold each month. If he falls short, the innocent around him will suffer. it’s a hard burden to shoulder, and we see just how difficult when two sisters get caught up in the events.

The new adult element of this seemed to be because the characters are in their twenties and they have sex…maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t this a rather typical portrayal of how people at this stage of their lives might act? Focusing on four characters also made me feel I wasn’t really getting enough detail about them/what they were experiencing.

This was an interesting read, but it felt like we were glossing over part of the story that I wanted to know more about. The story was pacy, but there was a part of me that was enjoying the world so much that I wanted more to savour. I feel there could have been little more complexity through making use of the various strands mentioned, or playing with the timeframe of the story further.

Definitely one I’ll recommend to see how others respond to it. Just in case you’re interested: Rossetti’s poem can be found here: 

‘Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle’ – Gabrielle Kent

Alfie Bloom’s life is dull. Dull and lonely, and this summer is set to be the most boring yet. All of that changes when he is summoned to the bizarre offices of mysterious solicitor, Caspian Bone, where he discovers he has inherited a castle full of wonders that has been sealed for centuries. Alfie is astounded to learn he was born in that very castle six hundred years ago during a magical timeslip. There, Orin Hopcraft, the last of the druids hid an ancient magic inside him, which others seek but should never be used. With the help of his cousins Madeleine and Robin, and Artan the flying bearskin rug, Alfie must keep the magic from terrifying adversaries and ensure that the secrets of Hexbridge castle stay secret, forever!

From the moment he arrives at Hexbridge Castle Alfie gets the feeling that this is a good place. However, it’s clear that there are secrets being hidden…and that they involve his new head teachers.

This is an exciting read for younger readers, with just a hint of terror. There are elements of the novel that can be found in a number of other popular stories for this age-group, but it doesn’t seem overly-similar . Great fun, and the events were left in a good place for book two.

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and for Alfie that is certainly the case!

 

‘Splintered’ – A.G. Howard

Wonderland and Alice’s adventures are very appealing, but what would you do if these things were real? For Alyssa Gardner, that is not something she has to worry about.

Ever since she was younger she’s been aware of the fact that she has a bond with Wonderland. She’s been teased throughout school for the rumours that she’s a descendant of Alice Liddell…but what would her peers do if they ever learned the truth about why her mother doesn’t live with them?

There’s all sorts going on here, and initially it felt a bit of a struggle to get into. Alyssa hears voices from bugs etc talking to her, and seems totally paranoid that she may be going mad (like her mother). What is clear early on is that strange things are afoot for her.

Alyssa ends up going down the rabbit hole and finds herself part of a twisted plan to end the curse on her family/sort out who should be Queen. She recognises Morpheus, the friend from her childhood who certainly appeals to her passionate inner self. But Alyssa also has to consider the love of her life, Jeb, who ends up journeying with her.

A rather surreal experience. We recognise characters from the story but there’s a ghoulish element to them…I imagine this could be turned into a great movie.

‘Freshers’ – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Any book that can have you snorting with laughter and welling up (sometimes, simultaneously) gets a big thumbs up!
Freshers week is a particularly odd experience, and some of the memories are better than others. What this summed up so well was that mix of heady excitement at being independent, and utter terror at having to find your own way through things without relying on your safety-net.
Told through alternating views this was great fun. Phoebe and Luke have had very different school experiences…and their first term at university is similarly different. We veer from the first night Freshers ball, to the awkward moments as you try to remember any of the people you spent the first week glued to, through seminars and awkward relationship moments to the end of the first term..and so on.
A wonderful ensemble of characters. Some great comic moments, while also raising awareness of some more important issues.
It’s been a long time since I was in this situation, but it brought it all back. Bittersweet.

‘Odd and True’ – Cat Winters

Cat Winters is fast becoming one of my favourite go-to authors for a read that is just that little bit different. Due for publication in September 2017, Odd and True is no exception.

Trudchen and Odette are two sisters who have spent their lives hunting monsters and telling fantastic stories of their family’s involvement with mysterious creatures. A fairytale quality pervades this novel, but it is a world of darkness that will send little shivers down your spine.

The novel begins quite slowly, but we piece together the reality of the girls’ lives. The narrative is split between the present – voiced by Tru – and the past – voiced by Od. Just as one sister claims to no longer believe in the monsters of her childhood, the other sister arrives to take her on a journey that will see them face some of their ‘monsters’. Their family background is intriguing, but I really liked the way we learn the details of their past gradually.

When Tru follows Od on an adventure, following predictions read in teacups, we are plunged into a world of strange creatures. Their relationship was well-depicted, and I became quite absorbed in their story.

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication. And a huge thank you to Cat Winters for coming up with yet another deliciously dark delight.

Relentless trilogy – Karen Lynch

Sometimes, when looking for books to fulfil an online group reading challenge, you come across something that you wouldn’t normally think of picking up. This trilogy is one of those reads.

‘Relentless’ was a book that I wasn’t convinced by initially. It introduces us to Sara Grey who found her father, murdered, and has always been determined to find out what happened to him. She hasn’t got far in her quest, but since his murder she has established she can do things nobody else can and there’s a few odd things going on around her. Everything is thrown at us in this book and, initially, it all seemed a bit formulaic. There’s vampires, Mohiri, trolls, dangerous humans, werewolves, fae…a snarky main character who finds it hard to trust people and a brooding male who you just know is going to be more than we expect. However, as things unwind it became a whole lot better than I was expecting. Elements of the story were interesting, but I felt there were some plot-holes and something of a lack of control over the environment which just stopped this from being a really good read.

In ‘Refuge’ we kick off with Sara in her Mohiri stronghold, undergoing training to try ad keep her safe from the Master vampire who’s determined to find her. She gets to learn a little more of her skills-and find new allies. We didn’t, thankfully, have to wait too long for Nikolas to return and the heat between these two was ramped up – while all being very chaste. Our key focus here is the developing power Sara has, and the realisation that a certain someone will stop at nothing to get what he wants. I got a new favourite character of Desmund, and I really liked how we start to learn a little more of Sara’s potential. I’m certainly pleased to say this left me keen to read the final book in the trilogy.