The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon

After reading such a fantastic YA fantasy novel (I’m referring to The Bird and the Nightingale – if you haven’t read it already, GO READ IT!), I decided to read something else in the genre. This novel has been on my TBR list for a while because its premise just sounded so interesting! Here is my review:

Swallow, Daughter, pull them in, those words that sit upon your lips. Lock them deep inside your soul, hide them ‘til they’ve time to grow. Close your mouth upon the power, curse not, cure not, ‘til the hour. You won’t speak and you won’t tell, you won’t call on heav’n or hell. You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, Daughter. Stay alive.

The day my mother was killed, she bound my fate to my father’s: if I died, he would, too. Then she foretold that the king would trade his soul and lose his son to the sky. My father wants the throne for himself and is waiting for the chance to make his claim. But all I want is to be free. But I am a prisoner of my mother’s curse and my father’s ambition. I cannot speak or make a sword, and I have no talent to charm or fight. In a land purged of enchantment, love might be the only magic left.

I left the blurb in first-person because the entire novel is from the perspective of Lark, the main character. I knew that any novel I read after The Bear and the Nightingale would have a tough time impressing me, but this novel completely missed the mark for me. I did not like Lark’s character. After reading about Vasya, I was eager to read about another strong female with magical abilities. Instead, I got someone very weak who developed powers but no spine. There was a lot of focus on the romance in this novel, but it was a romance that made me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t consider things like “it is your duty to please me” and “I will put a son inside of you” as being romantic or sweet. This is a relationship that is very much about power and control, and it makes Lark even more weak than she already is. However, I really liked the plot of the story and the writing style. The story was good enough for me to want to keep reading past the cringe-y points and get into the real action. The writing was beautiful and lyrical and engaging. Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this novel. I didn’t like the characters or the romance, but I enjoyed the story and the writing style. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Final Girls by Riley Sager

This thriller has been on my TBR list for a while. Thank you to First to Read program and Penguin Random House for this ARC in exchange for my honest review!

10 years ago, Quincy Carpenter survived a horror movie-scale massacre that left all her friends dead. Automatically, she became part of a club called the Final Girls, consisting of 2 other girls who had been the only survivors of separate massacres: Lisa, who lost her sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; and Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn. All 3 try to put their nightmares behind and move on. Now, Quincy is doing well. She has a caring boyfriend, Jeff, a popular baking blog, a nice apartment, and a friend in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. But her hard-won tranquility doesn’t last long, when Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead with her wrists slit, and Sam, the second Final Girl, shows up on Quincy’s doorstep. It seems Sam is determined to make Quincy relive the past. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy suddenly becomes suspicious of everyone. To find out the truth, she needs to remember what really happened to her 10 years ago.

This book took me on such an amazing ride! I absolutely adored every minute with this thriller. Deeply complex, with strong characters and a twisted plot, this novel had me on my toes the entire time. The story is mainly told from Quincy’s perspective, and she was a character that I really liked. The author did a great job of showcasing Quincy’s strengths and weaknesses, and making her likeable and believable. In fact, kudos to the author for all of the characters; each one was unique and intriguing to read about and I found it easy to imagine all of the different interactions playing out. The story itself had loads of different twists and turns, and there definitely wasn’t a single boring minute there! Nothing was too far-fetched as to throw me for a loop; everything worked and created this awesome thrill factor that fed my thrill addiction! I can go on and on about this novel but it is so much better if you experience it for yourself! If you like thrillers, then this is one you do NOT want to miss out on!

Happy reading ~

Grief Cottage by Gail Goodwin

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this novel was just too much to resist. I love a good ghost story and I was fully expecting to get loads of shivers and chills and supernatural goings-on. After reading this novel, I can honestly say that my predictions were way off. Here is my review:

When his mother dies unexpectedly, 11-year-old Marcus is sent to live with his great aunt, a reclusive painter who lives on a small South Carolina island. As he gets accustomed to his new surroundings, he is shown a ruined cottage that the islanders call Grief cottage, after a tragic incident where a boy and his parents disappeared during a hurricane 50 years ago. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has remained empty ever since. While Aunt Charlotte stays locked up in her studio painting, Marcus visits the cottage, building up the courage to face the ghost of the dead boy who used to live there. Full of curiosity and lonely, Marcus befriends the ghost boy, never knowing whether the ghost is friendly or has a more insidious nature.

There are a lot of things that caused me to not like this novel. The main thing is that it led me astray. Everything about the blurb screamed thriller ghost story. However, it would be more apt to describe this book as a literary fiction. Now, I have no problem with the literary fiction genre; I have read quite a few books that fit into this category and have quite enjoyed them. However, I do not like to be misled so blatantly. I felt like I was cheated out of the ghost story experience that was promised. Yes, the novel fixated on death and loss and grief, but there really was no need to brand the story as anything supernatural/involving ghosts. As you can tell, I’m quite upset by this. To make it worse, I didn’t really feel like this novel was a very good literary fiction. Even though literary fiction focuses on a certain theme and character growth/development, there is still a plot line; this novel missed the mark on that. I really liked Marcus’s character – he is a genuine sweetheart who tries so hard to please others. However, I didn’t really think he developed or grew in any real way; nothing that happened to him on his beach adventures really seemed to have the kind of impact I associate with literary fiction novels. In fact, the last portion of the novel completely threw me off because suddenly, the author takes us into the future and compresses together a decade of activity in Marcus’s life that just … made the story even more choppy than it already was. It was just weird and unnecessary. Another thing that I found a bit weird about this story was the writing style used for Marcus’s voice. The whole novel is like a monologue of the internal thoughts and feelings of Marcus but his voice sounds like that of a well-educated adult rather than an 11-year-old child. I’m not saying that children cannot have great vocabulary and think beyond their years, but the author never really showed Marcus as being so extraordinarily gifted and it just seemed so at odds with the personality and character of Marcus. It made it hard for me to believe in the story and feel connected to Marcus (even though, as mentioned previously, I liked him). The last little thing that bothered me was the way the author kept harping on the pronunciation of a specific character in the book, Lash. Every time Lash talked, the author just had to take a specific word and in brackets, write it out phonetically. It was cool at first because it helped me hear the voice in my head as I was reading but it got tedious really quick.

So overall, I really didn’t have a good experience with this book. I didn’t like how misleading the premise was, I didn’t like that the writing style was choppy, I didn’t think there was really any plot, and Marcus’s voice just really didn’t fit with his character. For those reasons, this novel gets a 1.5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I received the ARC for this novel, the title was The Original Ginny Moon. I think it has since changed (slightly) but the story has, of course, stayed the same. I wanted to read this novel because of its unique protagonist. After reading this novel, I’m just so glad to have had the chance to read such an amazing story!

Ginny is an autistic 14-year-old who has spent the last 5 years in foster care, after being taken out of her unsafe home. Now, Ginny is in her 4th home that will hopefully be her Forever home. Maybe this time, her forever parents will love her. Everyone wants Ginny to feel safe and forget her past … but Ginny can’t do that. She will never stop making her Big Secret Plan of Escape. Because Ginny has a secret about something that happened a long time ago… and the only person who can make it right is her.

What an absolutely wonderful book! From the very first page, this novel had my heart. I adored Ginny. The author did such an amazing job portraying her and making her come to life. While I’m no expert in working with people with autism, from my experience interacting with them, I can say that the author’s depiction was pretty spot on! And on top of being so accurate, the author also created a very unique and interesting voice for Ginny. Her story is heartbreaking and I was tense throughout the entire book, as I saw Ginny struggle to find her place. This novel isn’t just about Ginny. This novel is about the concept of family and the different ways it can present itself: as an abusive mother, as an absent father who believes in forgiveness, as a foster family that is trying to maintain normalcy in a situation that defies normal. And it’s beautiful and tragic and amazing to see how it all works out. I can’t stop talking about how much I loved this novel and I don’t want to keep repeating myself so all I will say is that this novel will touch your heart and give you an interesting perspective on the term “family”. I hope everyone will give this novel a shot because it is absolutely worth the time and effort!

Happy reading ~

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was attracted to this novel first by its cover and then by the premise. I usually try not to be a book snob but sometimes I go by face value. And let me just say that whoever designed this book cover did a REALLY good job. Anyways, here is my review:

Lady Daniels lives in Hollywood Hills with her two sons. She is going through a trial separation with her husband, who is the true owner of the home she is living in. Trying to pursue a writing career, she decides to hire a nanny to take care of her younger son. I comes S, a young artist, who is thrilled to have the chance to live in a secluded guest house while taking care of Lady’s toddler son. While S performs her duty beautifully, it is her off-hour behaviour that is startling, especially once she becomes involved with Lady’s older teenage son. As the summer wears on, Lady and S will move closer to one another, all while threatening to harm the things they hold most dear.

I had a very weird experience with this novel, and I still don’t know what to make of it. The story is told in alternating perspectives between Lady and S. Both characters were unique and yet they were inherently the same, which was just such an interesting concept to see. I can’t say I ever liked Lady or S but they had this essence that pulled at me, that kept me interested in the story, that made me want to see exactly how far they would go to get what they wanted. The other characters were equally complex and the author did a fantastic job in creating stellar complex interactions between everyone. In fact, the author’s writing style was something I really enjoyed; it pulled me in at the very beginning and it kept me interested until the last page.

My problem was with the plot. Or lack of it. As I kept reading, I found myself confused by the sudden flashbacks that didn’t really have any purpose, the references to things that I didn’t really care about. I felt like everything was leading me up to something … but that something never showed up. Yes, Lady and S both made bad decisions that made me want to slap them. Yes, the author definitely made them complex. But there didn’t seem to be any point to anything. I mean … I guess they grew through this situation? But it wasn’t like anything really happened to make them grow or change or develop. If what I’m saying makes no sense, then you understand my experience with the plot: it made no sense. Maybe it’s because I have no background (or interest) in art; perhaps someone with a knowledge of the art world would enjoy this novel more. However, it just didn’t do anything to bolster the plot for this novel.

So while the author definitely has a talent for writing and developing strong complex characters, the plot was ultimately a disappointment. Because of the positives, I am willing to give this novel 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Limbo Lodge by Joan Aiken – Wolves Chronicle #5

It may have seemed as if I had forgotten about this book series… but I did not! As I mentioned previously, I have just had zero time for myself and that has led to a decline in my reading time, but I am working fast to make up for it. So without further ado, here I go:

In her latest adventure, Dido Twite is searching for Lord Herodsfoot, who is scouring the globe for new and interesting games. It’s up to Dido to bring him back to London, where an ill King James is in need of a distraction. Dido’s search takes her to a spice island called Aratu, where foreigners seldom venture due to the presence of the deadly pearl snakes and sting monkeys. When Dido lands on this island, she learns of something far more sinister than the poisonous snakes: there is a plot to overthrow the island’s king at his place on the Cliffs of Death. With the help of the Forest People, Dido rushes to the Cliff … but will she make it in time?

I have to admit, this has got to be one of my least favorite books in the series so far. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some positives and I still enjoyed the ride. Let me begin with what I liked:

  • the magic elements were super weird and cool. I liked the mysticism and the way in which those who could use magic were able to even convince the skeptics in the story.
  • Talisman and the Forest People were by far my favorite characters in the story. They were so different and I think Aiken did a fantastic job in creating them and giving them the ropes.
  • the plot against the King was typical Aiken and I loved it because it’s everything I expected and love about this series!

So clearly, there were some positives. However, there were some flaws that made this book drop below my expectations.

  • Dido lacked that charm I’ve become so accustomed to seeing. In this novel, she was quite flat and had no real purpose; this novel would have still moved fine without her presence.
  • Lord Herodsfoot and King were really blah characters. I just didn’t like their complete helplessness in every situation. I understand that Aiken created them specifically to be this way, but I just don’t like useless characters.
  • there were a lot of holes in the plot that didn’t make sense (and that’s saying something since most of the books in this series are wacky!) and the introduction into this adventure was very awkward and stilted. The transitions could definitely have been better!

Overall, the novel still maintained its wackiness and had an awesome fantasy element to it. However, it didn’t tie things as well as it could have and Dido really didn’t shine. I’m hoping that the next book in the series will be better; for now, this novel gets a 3.5/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – Hogarth Shakespeare

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I first requested this novel, it was because I really enjoyed reading Tracy Chevalier’s earlier work. Imagine my delight when I discovered that this novel is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series! So far, I’ve loved every book that has been part of the Hogarth concept, so I was very excited to give this novel a shot!

Osei Kokote has not had it easy. The son of a diplomat, it is his first day at his fifth new school in as many years. He knows that in order to survive his first day, he needs to find an ally, and he is lucky enough to find a friend in Dee, the most popular girl in school. For her part, Dee genuinely seems to like Osei and soon their budding relationship takes flight. But there is one person who is not happy to see this and is determined to wreak havoc on this friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. BBy the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

The Shakespeare play that served as inspiration for this novel is Othello, which is one of the few works by Shakespeare that I actually don’t like too much. I’ve never been a fan of tragedies, especially ones that deal with the whole concept of misunderstandings. I was quite impressed by the originality of this novel, in taking a serious adult tragedy like Othello and transplanting it into a Washington school playground. It reminded me of my cringe-worthy days in elementary school, struggling to fit in with my peers, facing the social hierarchy that was constantly shifting, and dealing with betrayals and crushes. The author did a great job of giving each character a unique voice and exploring the playground politics in a serious tone that went beyond the surface. This novel speaks at length on the issue of race in an unusual setting that is really just a microcosm of our own society; it both surprised and delighted me to see this concept work out as well as it did! Was this novel a complete success? No. It had its flaws and the ending, while tragic, was a bit too dramatic for the setting the author was trying to maintain. However, this is still a powerful rendition of Othello, and I appreciate its uniqueness. Overall, an interesting novel!

Happy reading ~

Goblin by Ever Dundas

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I read a premise that is just straight-up weird, I can’t resist the urge to read the book. The premise itself becomes the mystery and my curiosity won’t let me rest until I discover what it is all about. That was how I felt when I came across this novel and so, I was very glad to have received this book through NetGalley and the publishers!

Goblin is an outcast girl growing up in London during World War 2. She is rejected by her mother, ignored by her father, and only finds solace in the company of her older brother and her animals. After witnessing a shocking event, Goblin retreats into a self-constructed imaginary world where she can be safe. And so begins her feral life amidst the wreckage of London, with only her family of abandoned animals to keep her company.
It is now 2011, and an elderly Goblin receives an unwanted phone call to return to London amidst the riots. But returning means facing the ghosts of her past, something which she may not have the strength for. Will she finally discover the truth she has been hiding from?

I think calling this novel a blend between fantasy and reality might be a bit of a stretch. And the reason that I say this is because it misled me a great deal. From the premise, I thought that I would be reading about a girl who flits back and forth between different realms and it is up to the reader to discover which is the truth. The novel is better depicted as flitting between past and present, and there is always this feeling that something is being hidden from the reader and from the protagonist herself. Yes, she makes up things and creates her own reality, but I wouldn’t go so far as to portray it as a fantasy because technically, not much of what she says is fake. Most of it is real. Aside from this contradiction, I really did enjoy this story. It is deep and complex, and you get lost in Goblin’s world. She is a unique character, one that I have never really encountered and seeing things from her perspective is just such a bizarre and amazing experience. Her life is absolutely ridiculous in its trajectory but that’s what keeps the story moving, and keeps the interest of the reader. As the story continued to build, and the digging for the truth begins, the author ramps up the tension – and this is done beautifully, by the way. I was holding my breath, turning the pages as fast as I could until I finally reached the end. And the ending was abrupt, I won’t lie, but it worked because this is just one of those books that doesn’t really follow the rules. In short, I think this was a very interesting novel that takes place during World War 2 and features a very unique female protagonist; however, if you are expecting some major fantasy elements, then you may find yourself disappointed.

Happy reading ~

The Children by Ann Leary

Charlotte Maynard is a recluse, rarely leaving her family home in Connecticut, a lake house that has been in the family for generations. Technically, Charlotte and her sister, Sally, are not part of the “family”; their stepbrothers are true Whitmans, and they are the owners of the house. Charlotte and her mother, Joan, however, continue to live there by the grace of the boys – and a provision in the family trust. When Spin, the youngest and favorite brother, brings his fiancée home for the summer, the entire family is intrigued by her. Laurel Atwood is beautiful and accomplished and perfect in every way. But as the wedding date looms closer, the family’s polite veneer begins to chip and an array of resentments and unsettling truths are exposed.

When I first heard the premise of this book, it reminded me of The Nest, which I really did not like at all. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I quite enjoyed this novel. The writing style was really great, and kept me engaged throughout the story. It wasn’t filled with useless details, and everything was connected. I loved the characters. They were all so eccentric and funny and just lovable. The story was told from Charlotte’s perspective, and she doesn’t shy away from any of the craziness that surrounds her. But through her account, we see the different facets of each child’s personality that come together to make them the way they are. The story began to really pick up pace at the midpoint of the novel and it moved quickly until the end. It isn’t a happy ending, but it is one that I feel is realistic and genuine. I wasn’t expecting this novel to win me over but it did. It really really did. And in order to appreciate this novel for its worth, you just have to read it!

Happy reading ~

Bad Little Girl by Frances Vick

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

After a stressful week at university, all I really wanted to do was curl up with a nice thriller. I had already read something that was light-hearted so I felt ready for some of the darker stuff. This novel, which was already on my TBR list, seemed like the perfect place to start!

Lorna Bell is just a little girl but she is already considered a nasty piece of work at school. It doesn’t help that she comes from a low-income family and is always looking dirty. She has no friends at school, and is given little attention at home. All of this makes school teacher Claire Penny want to reach out and help Lorna, offer her a little more support and love. As the bond between Lorna and Miss Penny grows, it becomes obvious to Claire that Lorna is not living in safe conditions. As the bruises grow, Claire digs and uncovers a disturbing story behind them. When everyone refuses to believe her, Claire takes it upon herself to ensure that Lorna is safe. But just when Claire thinks everything will be alright, a chance encounter brings a stranger named Marianne Cairns into their lives. Marianne is energetic, sweet, and kind, but there is something about her that just doesn’t add up. Claire has risked everything to save Lorna. But what will save Claire from the truth?

I’ll be honest, there is no real twist or mystery. The plot is quite clear from the get-go and only becomes more obvious as the story progresses. Still, this was an interesting story. The first half of the novel focuses on Claire and Lorna, and how victimized Lorna is at her house. In this section, the author really focused on a key issue of society: how to protect children. The author took the time to show how hard it is to get authorities to verify concerns about child abuse, and how reluctant people are when it comes to whistle-blowing. It struck a chord with me because I’ve heard numerous cases where people noticed something amiss but did nothing until too late; it made me sympathize and understand the desperation that Claire felt during this point in the novel. I won’t lie, it dragged on a bit and the author was quite heavy-handed with some of the hints, but the plot was still interesting enough for me to want to continue. In the second half of the novel, we delve deeper into the relationship between Claire and Lorna, and see how the entrance of Marianne disrupts it. This is when things really start to heat up, and I found myself eagerly flipping through the pages. I mean, I knew the general flow that the story was going to take but it was still compelling to read! The final chapters showed that the main characters got what they deserved … but compared to the rush that preceded it, the finale was a bit lackluster. The author also leaves the ending open, and I really didn’t like the implications of it. It made me stop liking Claire’s character, who I had sympathized and pitied for the most part. My final thoughts on this novel is that the author wrote an interesting thriller that deals with protecting a child but there wasn’t really a twist involved in this novel. It was not the best in the genre but it was certainly not the worst.

Happy reading ~