‘The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein’ – Kiersten White

This won’t be to everyone’s tastes as it tells a story, but one we assume to be familiar with. Here we get the Frankenstein story told through the eyes of Elizabeth.

From her mistreated childhood to the moments the story focuses on we can see Elizabeth is a character forced into the roles dictated to her. She is at her fiercest/bravest when challenging these roles, and I liked the way this illuminates aspects of Shelley’s text while telling its own story.

We can see the role Elizabeth played in Victor Frankenstein and his experiments. We watch as she learns what he’s been doing and how she deals with the effects of these experiments.

A substantial part of the tale is like reading Frankenstein through another character’s eyes, but then we deviate from the expected. It doesn’t work fully, but it would certainly be a highly recommended read for anyone wanting to examine Shelley’s work with new eyes.

‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ – Mackenzi Lee

Felicity Montague…wish she’d been around when I was a teenager. Think I’m a little in love with this young woman!

Having survived some pretty risky situations she’s back, and throwing herself with gusto into things that nobody in their right mind would attempt.

When Felicity realises marriage to Callum the baker is not going to be for her she runs to London to stay with her brother, Monty. Determined to pursue her dreams she tries – again – to convince gentlemen in the medical establishment to permit her to study. Given the time she’s in, this doesn’t go well.

But a young woman, daughter of a pirate commander, offers to help her find her way to the home of old friend Johanna Hoffman who is about to marry Dr Alexander Platt.

Without giving away important plot details there’s more to the offer of help than we first think. Felicity gets herself embroiled in a risky chase to reclaim property belonging to Johanna’s late mother. She ends up closer to some of her dreams than she ever thought possible and things end in such a way that have me convinced there’s more to come.

Summer Highlights part 1

Justyce McAllister is a young boy with a bright future. Captain of his debate team, a great scholar and well-liked by his peers Justyce is the kind of character you’d probably want your child to be. Sensitive and thoughtful, considerate of others and trying to be the best he can be it’s hard not to like him. So when we see things start to go wrong for him it’s a pretty bleak message.

When the book opens Justyce has gone out late one night because his ex-girlfriend has been drinking and is trying to drive home. He is in the process of trying to get her home safely, when a policeman cuffs him and arrests him. Why? Simple answer…he’s black.

This incident alone had me outraged, and it certainly gets Justyce and those around him to talk frankly about some of the issues they’re facing surrounding race and how it impacts their lives. But it doesn’t change anything.

Justyce is surrounded by privileged white people, and he lives in a more stereotypical black neighbourhood. Inevitably, there are clashes in ideology and what people expect of him. Justyce turns to Martin Luther King whom he imagines writing to in order to ask questions he has.

The book could have continued in this vein for some time. Sadly I imagine there’s many stories that could have been used to illustrate the seemingly inherent racism in modern society.

Just as things seem to be settling into a bleak but known place, Stone places Justyce and his best friend, Manny, in an all-too-common situation. What follows is harrowing.

This should have been a 5 star read for its message and desire to encourage dialogue. However, unlike The Hate U Give the use of third-person narrative results in a rather detached reading experience. It meant I felt rather less engaged in Justyce’s life than I felt I needed to be. Still, definitely a read that should be shared.

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

This is definitely one of those books that I’d recommend with caution, but I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would initially.

Nita is not your normal teenager. Living with her mother, Nita has always had an affinity for cutting things. She turns a blind eye to some of the jobs her mother does, but she will dissect bodies and help with the sale of parts on the black market. However, when her mother brings a live boy back and asks Nita to cut him Nita cannot bring herself to do so.

Nita’s help in the boy’s escape sets in place an awful chain of events that results in Nita being kidnapped and put in a cage. People are intrigued by her ability to cut off pain and heal herself. They are prepared to pay serious money for her, and so we watch Nita in her desperate attempts to escape.

I don’t want to give the details away, but things are not what we’re led to believe. There seems to be clear hints of some kind of plot that Nita is unaware of. A lot of violence, and some sinister characters/events but there was an attempt to portray the humanity of characters who, in many eyes, would be seen as monsters.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this.

 

If you’d have told me I’d read a book about basketball I’d have laughed at you. Until I realised this book must have something going for it because so many of my reluctant readers picked it up, enjoyed it and went on to try other things. So, I decided to give it a whirl. Not at all what I expected.

While basketball forms the backdrop to this story, it’s also about growing up, accepting change, family relationships and dealing with disappointment. Told in varying verse styles it picks you up and carries you along at a pretty brisk pace.
The brothers were crazy to prolong their feud in the way they did, but through their shared love/bond things were getting back on track. I sensed where this might go, but it still comes as a shock.

Now to go and dig out my copy of House Arrest.

‘February’ by Lisa Moore

In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died. February is the story of Helen O’Mara, one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns on the rig. It begins in the present-day, more than twenty-five years later, but spirals back again and again to the “February” that persists in Helen’s mind and heart.

In ‘February’ we follow Helen at various points in her life, but the whole story seems to pivot on the moment of the rig collapsing.

We see her in the present, in her role as grandmother, as a young woman and as a wife whose husband is one of the many killed when the oil rig he is working on collapses.

At times, the story felt like rummaging through one of those memory boxes. Some recollections were more vivid than others – and it was only Helen and her son, John, who really felt clearly portrayed – but the events recollected combine to form a picture of one woman and her life.

What was evident throughout this story is that Helen is not, in many ways, a remarkable woman. She lives her life and deals with what life throws at her with stoicism, but throughout we are given a picture of resilience and strength.

This is not a fast-moving story, rather ideas are unravelled and we slowly come to understand this character.

‘Stranger’ by Karen David

Astor, Ontario. 1904.
A boy staggers out of the forest covered in blood and collapses at the feet of 16-year-old Emmy. While others are suspicious and afraid, Emmy is drawn to him. Is he really the monster the townsfolk say he is?
Astor, Ontario. 1994.
Megan arrives from London for her great grandmother Emmy’s 105th birthday. It should be a happy family occasion, but Megan is nursing a broken heart and carrying a secret she fears might consume her.

These two stories don’t, at first, seem to make sense or link. One story concerns Tom, a young boy who is found in the woods in 1904, and the other focuses on Megan, a young English girl who goes to visit her grandmother at a particularly turbulent time in her life.

The stories of Tom and Megan are, of course, linked but we don’t establish how until quite late on.

Initially the story felt a little slow, but as we start to piece together events and identify links between the two timeframes I found it an absorbing story. Both stories explore themes of loss, motherhood and identity but in quite different ways.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication.

‘Olivia Twist’ – Lorie Langdon

This re-imagining of the classic is a clever twist on a familiar tale.

In the opening pages we are introduced to the orphan born in the workhouse. Only in this book, our orphan is female and gets given the name ‘Oliver’ as a means to try and prevent awful things happening to her as she grows up in the workhouse. Thankfully, Langdon doesn’t follow the story of the Dickens’ tale, but she moves the action to eighteen years later when Olivia Brownlow is part of Victorian polite society.

At the point our story really starts, Olivia is trying hard to fit into polite society but she has a soft heart and cannot quite give up her past. When she crosses paths with a familiar face from her childhood on the streets, Olivia is plunged into a terrible situation: should she do what is expected of her, or follow her heart?

From the beginning this is a book that had me admiring the structure and plotting. I loved the knowing nods to the source material while providing us with a story that was entertaining in its own right.

‘The Dollmaker of Krakow’ – R.M. Romero

Karolina is a very special doll. Once a seamstress in the Land of Dolls she had to leave her country behind when rats invaded and started to destroy the once peaceful land simply because they could. She and her friend, Fritz, journey across their land to a place where they have been told a spirit resides who can send them to a place where their heart will be safe. A dangerous journey, but one they feel compelled to make.

We first meet Karolina when she awakens in the toy shop owned by Cyril Brzezick, the Dollmaker of Krakow. A private man, Cyril is shocked to discover that he has brought this doll to life. Slowly, they learn to trust each other.

Set against the backdrop of events in Poland in 1940 it is inevitable that we have to read about intense hatred and prejudice. We watch as Cyril befriends Josef and his daughter, Rena, only to have their friendship taken away because they are Jews. Throughout these events Karolina is by Cyril’s side…right until the end.

For readers of 9 upwards I think this will be a great book to introduce some of the issues linked to WWII. Inevitably, it’s upsetting to see the hatred experienced by Josef and Cyril because of their religion or refusal to follow Nazi orders. I think the blending of historical and magical is a perfect mix. What happens to these characters is awful, but there’s glimpses of humanity that reduced me to tears.

A beautifully presented book, with wonderfully depicted characters (even the nasty ones) and I can’t wait to see how others feel about it.

‘The Girl in the Tower’ – Katherine Arden

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

After a very slow start (the first part I’m afraid was a slog), we catch up with Vasya and follow her on her reckless journey.

Having run from home Vasya is disguised as a boy and travelling the country. She gets caught up in all manner of political intrigue, but from the moment she reappeared in the story I couldn’t put the book down.

There’s a wonderful blend of political and fairy-tale, and Arden’s focus on the supernatural lends a real charm to the story even when she is focusing on deeply unpleasant elements. There was something magical about the characters Vasya encounters with her willingness to see beyond the confines placed on people by society.

From part two onwards this story zipped along and built to a dramatic climax. I didn’t want it to end.

‘A Spoonful of Murder’ – Robin Stevens

What a delight this latest instalment of Hazel and Daisy’s adventures was. Thank you, Robin Stevens, for the story and I only wish it could have lasted longer.
This time round the girls are in Hong Kong when Hazel is called back after the death of her grandfather. As we come to expect, the girls are soon caught up in another mystery when Hazel’s new brother is kidnapped.
There’s a number of suspects – father’s business partners, old friends and even ex-servants – and the girls get to carry out some daring deeds as they investigate the crime.
As always with this series there is a wonderful sense of the relationship between the two girls and the ease with which they investigate these strange events. What I particularly loved in this book was getting more of a sense of the character of Hazel, and gaining an insight into her sense of alienation while learning a little more of her cultural background.
The depiction of Hong Kong was exciting and I think marks a real shift in the series. It was lovely to see Hazel coming into her own a little, and Daisy placed in the role so often assigned to her partner.
Another fantastic adventure.

‘The Toymakers’ – Robert Dinsdale

A captivating read from start to finish. A truly magical tale that will appeal to the child we all hold within us.

Enter the world of Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium and nothing is what we expect. From toys that seem to be alive to toys that defy our expectations everything to be found within this store is a wonder.

We learn about the story of Papa Jack’s when young Cathy Wray runs away from home upon learning she is pregnant. Like so many other lost souls, the doors of the Emporium open to her. And so begins a relationship with the extraordinary that sees her through to old age.

We pass through some awful years, watching how the effects of war tarnish the innocence that Jakebs Goldman and his two sons, Kaspar and Emil, try to keep alive. Throughout, the presence of the magical Emporium is a constant.

While I was captivated by the delights and wonders presented to us in the opening part of the book, it came into its own when we began to explore the concerns of adulthood and the impact family rivalry can have (even years on).

I must thank NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and now need to order my own copy to pass onto others who need that little bit of magic in their lives.