Typing that title has made me realise that it has been six months since I started my TBR Jar! How wild. I’m glad that I’ve stuck with it (even though it’s been getting progressively harder to motivate myself to pick up the titles I pick…
Hey everyone! I am SO excited to be taking part in the blog tour for The Ship of Shadows, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to The Write Reads for having me on board. I first read the swashbuckling adventure back in May during Believathon, when I wrote a little review of it, but today I’m diving back in and sharing my deeper thoughts on this nautical novel.
As always with my blog tour posts, I’m going to share a little bit more about The Ship of Shadows with you before I jump into my thoughts, so grab your cutlasses and follow me!
Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.
But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.
Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.
Before I review this book, can we all please just take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous this cover is? I went in to Waterstones last week and saw a finished copy in the flesh for the first time and it is SUBLIME. Mad props to Karl James Mountford for designing such a stunning cover.
“You all have such adventurous stories.”
At it’s heart, The Ship of Shadows is a story about stories.
Aleja has always wanted to be an explorer, living for the tales that are told in the local taverns and the books she devours from the university library. She loves stories so much that she uses them to teach herself multiple languages, which is why Captain Elizabeth Quint notices her in the first place – the Ship of Shadows has just lost its linguist, and Aleja is the perfect replacement.
Not only are stories very important to Aleja, but they’re important to the Ship of Shadows itself. It’s powered by magic that is born from the legends and tales that are spread about the ship and its crew, causing new rooms to pop up as the rumours about the legendary ship travel and morph.
Of course, if you’re picking up The Ship of Shadows it’s likely that you’re a reader too, so I’m glad that Maria Kuzniar chose to make her protagonist such a bookworm. It gave me something that made me relate to Aleja, as I don’t relate to her thirst for adventure – I’m a total homebody!
However the gang on the Ship of Shadows made me reconsider that, because this crew of characters is so dynamic that you find yourself desperate to befriend them. My favourite character is unquestionably Frances – a bespectacled pickpocket who is absolutely addicted to cake and other sugary treats – but this is one of the most organically diverse casts I’ve encountered. We have characters from Norway, Sweden, Spain, Africa, London, as well as an LGBTQ+ character and characters with disabilities (because pirates don’t live the safest lives!). If you like reading books that have a very interesting range of characters represented then this is definitely the book for you. I’m not normally a fan of novels which introduce lots of characters very quickly, but Maria Kuzniar makes sure that all of her characters are such individuals that it’s extremely easy to keep track of them all in your mind, which is a huge skill.
I hope that we’re able to join Aleja and the crew on many more adventures in the future. As far as I’m aware nothing has been confirmed regarding a sequel yet, but as I said back in May, this story needs to be continued. I think this could end up being one of my favourite middle grade series of all time, as this is a remarkably strong debut.
I ended up giving in four stars, and the only reason it didn’t get to the five star mark was because I felt as though the ending was a little bit rushed compared to the pace of the first half of the novel. However, I was tempted to bump it up to five stars on my reread, and if I read it again I probably will cave and rate it that little bit higher.
Maria Kuzniar spent six years living in Spain, teaching English and travelling the world, which inspired her debut novel The Ship of Shadows. Now she lives in Nottingham with her husband, where she reads and writes as much as she can and bookstagrams at @cosyreads. She is always planning her next adventure.
Once again I’d like to that The Write Reads for allowing me to get involved in this blog tour. The Ship of Shadows has quickly become one of my favourite middle grades, and I can’t wait to see what Aleja and the gang get up to next.
See you next time!
Hello, and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like.
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Meghan from Wednesday Books for reaching out and inviting me to take part in this blog tour. Although this is a hard read which contains some difficult content it educated me on a topic I didn’t know much about, and I feel as though I learnt a lot during the course of this story.
Lex was taken – trafficked – and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again.
After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.
But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.
Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.
‘You can sell a pill once. You can sell a girl many times before she’s all used up.’
What Unbreakable Looks Like starts with a bang. We meet Poppy at the motel where she is being kept and sold by Mitch, the man who made her think he loved her and showered her with gifts so she felt as though she was in his debt. When the police raid the motel and find the girls they are taken to the hospital, where Poppy is reunited with her aunt Krys.
Krys and her husband Jamal are hoping to take Poppy home with them, so that she can beginning living her life as Lex once more. But the journey will not be an easy one, and Lex will need to want to stay clean and truly believe that she deserves better than the life Mitch dragged her into.
“This is how you survive. You sit the fuck down and give them the respect they deserve, and you make a promise to yourself that they didn’t die for nothing. You get mad, and you keep going. That’s how girls like us get even, how we say fuck you to the people who did this to us. We live.”
Kate McLaughlin does a wonderful job of exploring all of the different treatment options available to someone who has been in a situation like Lex. Not only is she taken to a rehab facility, where she undergoes group therapy and one-on-one appointments with a psychiatrist, but Lex also takes medication to help with her anxiety. I’m always a huge fan of books which don’t attempt to prescribe a one-size-fits-all treatment: mental health issues often need a combination of different treatments, especially for someone who has been through something as awful as Lex.
At the treatment centre we are introduced to a range of different characters, and one of the only reasons that I didn’t give this book five stars was because I really wanted some of these characters to be fleshed out a little more. Because Kate McLaughlin focuses so intensely on Lex’s recovery and she moves on from the rehabilitation centre quite quickly it felt like some of the side characters that we were introduced to were unnecessary, but there are a lot of people introduced very quickly and it’s hard to keep track of them all.
However, we also get introduced to a few of the other girls who lived and worked in the motel with Lex while she was still Poppy, and I thought those girls – Daisy and Ivy in particular – were extremely well fleshed out. The different ways that they react to being in such a heinous situation are very realistic and believable: it’s likely that some of the girls would rebel against Mitch more than others, and the dynamics between the girls are authentic. The flashbacks to the motel are quite sparse, but they’re very emotional – it’s impossible not to feel like weeping whenever you see Lex go through another ordeal at the hands of one of Mitch’s ‘customers’.
The sexual assault referenced in the blurb doesn’t happen until almost halfway through the novel, so I did have a constant sick feeling of dread churning in the bottom of my stomach knowing that Lex’s fresh start wasn’t going to be as happy as she had hoped. Her reaction to the assault was devastating, but the fact that she had friends and family around her to teach her that it was not okay that she had been put through that gave the story a feeling of optimism and hope. There are good people out there, it’s just sometimes hard to remember that – especially when you’ve been shown the bad side of people over and over again.
A big focus of the novel is on Lex developing a romantic relationship and learning to love on her own terms. Although I thought aspects of this were rushed, the overall handling of the matter is done very well.
There’s also a focus on justice, and the way that victims of sexual assault often worry about coming forward for fear of victim blaming. I have seen this tackled in a few YA novels in the past but don’t think any have managed to do it quite as well: Kate McLaughlin balances a mixture of supportive and outraged reactions, which is very true to life.
It sounds wrong to say that I thoroughly enjoyed What Unbreakable Looks Like, because it’s hard to enjoy a book focusing on a subject such as this, but I thought it was written well, had great character development and a very satisfying conclusion.
Kate McLaughlin likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.
You can find Kate on Twitter.
Thanks again to Wednesday Books for having me on this blog tour, and thank you for checking out my stop.
Have a wonderful day!
When The Beautiful was announced, everyone I heard talking about it said it was a duology. Alas, after finishing The Damned I have realised that that is not the case – in fact, it’s rumoured that there are another two books to come in The…
Hey everyone, and welcome to my stop on the Midnight’s Twins blog tour! A huge thank you to Faye Rogers for organising this tour and letting me take part.
If you’ve been to one of my blog tour posts in the past you’ll know I always tell you a little bit more about the book before I share my thoughts and feelings, so buckle up and let’s get into it.
Fern King is about to uncover a place that she could not have imagined in all her wildest dreams. Annwn is the dream mirror of our world, a place where Dreamers walk in their slumber, their dreams playing out all around them. An enchanted, mysterious place that feeds our own world – as without dreams, without a place where our imaginations and minds can be nourished, what kind of humans would we be?
But Annwn is a place as full of dangers as it is wonders: it is a place where dreams can kill you. Annwn and its Dreamers are protected by an ancient order known as the Knights – and when Fern’s hated twin Ollie is chosen to join their ranks, Fern will have to do whatever she can to prove she is one of them too.
But the world Fern discovers in Annwn, in this dream mirror of her London, is a fragile one, threatened by vicious nightmares. Nightmares that are harder and harder for the Knights to defeat. Something dark is jeopardising the peace and stability of Annwn, something that must be rooted out at all costs. And gradually, Fern realises that the danger lurking inside our sleep is more insidious and terrifying than any nightmare. Because if you can influence someone’s dreams, you can control their thoughts…
Before I review the story itself, can we just take a moment to appreciate that cover?! If possible it’s even more gorgeous in real life. The illustrator, Gavin Reece, deserves mad amounts of praise.
When the book begins we find ourselves back in 2005 following Una King, Fern and Ollie’s mother, as she races across Annwn in the attempt to avoid a dangerous monster called a treitre and get home to her babies. Unfortunately the treitre catches Una, and the next morning back in Ithr she is found dead in bed, believed to have passed away in her sleep.
The prologue made my heart pound and was a very startling introduction to the world of Midnight’s Twins. In fact, it made it impossible to put Midnight’s Twins down, because it gave me so many questions which I just couldn’t wait to get answered, and it certainly gets the award for the most memorable start to a book that I’ve read this year so far.
Fifteen years later, Fern starts receiving mysterious texts from someone who claims that they murdered her mother. Having always accepted the fact that their mother died in her sleep, Fern is determined to find out more about Una and the world of Dreamers which ended up being the death of her.
One of the first things that struck me about Midnight’s Twins was how simple yet effective the contrast between Fern and Una’s viewpoint is. Una’s viewpoint is told in third person, whereas Fern’s is told in first, and it so easy to read. The two viewpoints are impossible to mix up because of how differently they are written, and it makes it a pleasure to dip back into the past and learn more about Una’s time with the Knights. I can’t think of another book which switches from third to first person without it feeling awkward or distracting you from the story, so it really makes this book stand out from the crowd.
It’s pretty impossible to briefly sum up the events of Midnight’s Twins, because so much happens throughout this book. Not only do Fern and Ollie have to undergo training to prove their worthiness as Knights of Annwn, they also have to undergo some serious soul-searching to attempt to repair their relationship. Meanwhile, there’s the big bad Sebastian Medraut: a rising politician in Ithr, and one of the most dangerous figures Annwn has ever seen.
I did find the character of Medraut and his One Voice party to be scarily relevant. With so many politicians across the globe acting as though a vote for them means unquestioning agreement with all of their policies it feels as though people are being silenced, so the concept of a politician whose whole shtick is to get people to be silent is both realistic and terrifying. He’s so charismatic that people can’t see the negative side of him, and it makes him so much easier to hate: I just wanted him to experience his comeuppance, but with this being the first book in a trilogy it wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be for Fern and Ollie to triumph.
There’s so much that I highly recommend about this book, but I’m trying my hardest not to give any spoilers because I want you to discover the story for yourself! I will say that you might want to keep some tissues close by, because there are some seriously heartbreaking named character deaths. This might be marketed as YA and feature teenage characters, but there’s more death in this than you find in most fantasy novels! My jaw dropped a couple of times, because I couldn’t believe that some of these characters were being defeated so early in the series.
The only reason I didn’t give this book five stars is because there were a few scenes which were written a little clunkily. I found myself being thrown out of the story because I had to pause and reread a couple of times to get my head around what was going on, but it didn’t take too long to get back on the horse so it wasn’t a massive issue. That might be because this is a debut or because it’s a series starter, as there is a lot of exposition and world building to craft the world of Annwn properly, but I’m hoping this will become less of an issue as the series continues.
Holly Race works as a development executive in the film and TV industry, most recently with Aardman Animations. Holly is a Faber Academy graduate, and Midnight’s Twins is her debut novel and the first in a trilogy. After spending several happy years in East London, a few streets away from where Fern lives, she now resides in Cambridge with her husband, their daughter and a large black poodle called Nymeria.
If you need me at any point in the next year you’ll be able to find me here, eagerly anticipating the release of the next book in this series.
Once again, a huge thank you to Faye for letting me get involved in this blog tour. I loved Midnight’s Twins much more than I thought I was going to, and if the rest of the trilogy is as strong as this book Holly Race will easily become a new favourite author of mine.
Thank you for visiting!