After finishing Dear Martin back in July, I wondered why it was getting a sequel. Justyce’s story resolves neatly in the first book in this series, and I couldn’t for the life of me see where the story could go from there. Little did I …
Tag: five star review
Hey everyone! This is my first series review, so please bear with me as I figure out the best way to do this. I’m going to share my thoughts on each of the books in the Summoner series – including the prequel, The Outcast – while being as spoiler-free as I possibly can (but still hopefully giving you enough details to figure out what is going on in the story) and that sounds… Pretty impossible?! But I’ll do the best I can.
I was lucky enough to be accepted to read and review the entire Summoner series via NetGalley, so I’m ashamed that it took me until this year to knuckle down and finally read them. I’d already bought copies of all of the books though, because I just knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy them (and I was right, and I’m already looking forward to rereading these in the future).
The Novice – 4 stars
When The Novice begins, Fletcher is a blacksmith’s apprentice in Pelt who wants nothing more than to earn enough money on market day to buy a gorgeous cloak he’s been coveting. That’s until an elderly soldier sets out his wares on the floor opposite Fletcher, claiming to be selling the journal of a summoner.
The local bully, Didric Cavell, mocks the soldier, and after Fletcher defends him in a fight the soldier gifts him the summoner’s journal. In the back of that journal he finds a summoning scroll, and after sneaking down to the local graveyard he decides to give summoning a go. Screwing up his courage, Fletcher recites the words etched into the leather… And pop, Ignatius appears!
Unfortunately, Didric and his cronies follow Fletcher to the graveyard. He gets into a scuffle with them, and Ignatius instinctively protects Fletcher by shooting a fireball at Didric. Not knowing whether his nemesis is alive or dead, Fletcher has to flee his home.
To cut a long story short Fletcher quickly finds himself in a sticky situation and is saved by a summoner called Arcturus, who sweeps him off to Vocans Academy for his summoner training to begin.
Because we are introduced to the world of summoning at the same time as protagonist Fletcher, it is very easy to get to grips with the way that everything works. For that reason alone I’d say this is the perfect series for those who are just starting to read fantasy. I always found the genre quite intimidating when I was younger, but Taran Matharu strikes the perfect balance between explaining the mechanics of his world and not handling the reader with kid gloves. Things aren’t dumbed down, and so I did find that there were a few sections of summoner lore that I needed to reread a few times just to make sure I had my head wrapped around the concept fully, but this only occurred a couple of times towards the beginning of the first book. Once you’ve got the basics under control, the rest of the series is a breeze.
However, the other reason I’d highly recommend this to fantasy beginners is the wide range of sources Taran Matharu gathers his inspiration from. The demons themselves are reminiscent of Pokemon/Digimon – in fact the entire reason I didn’t finish this book pre-release was that I kept getting distracted playing Pokemon! – while Vocans draws comparisons to a certain castle in the Wizarding World. Then there are the different races of characters (dwarves, elves, orcs) which combine the lyrical aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings with the brutality of World of Warcraft. Add in Fletcher’s fashion sense, rivalling those of the cast of Assassin’s Creed, and you’ve got a mixture of elements which manage to appeal to even the most hesitant reader.
There is quite a large cast of characters in this book, but all of them become relevant to the plot at some point during the series and it’s done expertly. I did struggle to connect with some of the characters at the start because we are introduced to a lot of people very quickly – Fletcher is one of the common summoners, so we are introduced to all of the other common summoners when he arrives, but there are plenty of noble summoners who are introduced too – but as the characters grow throughout the later installments I found myself getting attached to almost all of them. That’s before we begin looking at the teachers at Vocans, of which there are a few!
Because The Novice introduces us to the world of Hominum it does have the slowest pace out of all of the books in the series. If you’ve read this book and have managed to resist carrying on with the series (to which I ask: how?! That CLIFFHANGER, man!) then I highly recommend at least trying The Inquisition, as the pace picks up dramatically.
The Inquisition – 4 stars
That brings us nicely to the second novel in the Summoner series.
As I’ve just mentioned, The Novice ends on a pretty dramatic cliffhanger, so it might surprise you to learn that The Inquisition is set one year after the events of the first book. Luckily we haven’t missed much with Fletcher, though, who has spent that year in jail after getting arrested at the end of book one.
The Inquisition is two stories in one. The first half, unsurprisingly, is the titular inquisition. Fletcher is on trial for the crime for which he was arrested, and – without giving any spoilers as to the outcome of the trial – he has to face an inquisition led by some familiar nobles who hate him very much.
The second half of the story shows Fletcher being sent into orc territory to attempt a rescue mission. Is this punishment for his crime? You’ll just have to read it to find out! But I will tell you it reunites him with a lot of the characters we meet in book one, and the dynamic between them is explosive.
As I mentioned previously, The Novice took us a little while to get through because the pacing is a lot slower – understandably, as it is setting up the entire Summoner universe – but the tension in the second half of The Inquisition made me desperate to read it in as few sittings as possible.
Although I also gave The Inquisition four stars, I believe it was probably closer to a 4.5. It still wasn’t my favourite book in the series (that’s The Battlemage!) but it’s far stronger than the first book. Whereas The Novice has a huge focus on Vocans and Fletcher’s first year learning the art of the Summoner, The Inquisition takes us further afield into the land of Hominum and completely absorbs you into the world and the lore Taran Matharu has crafted.
This book also ends on a huge cliffhanger, so I was grateful that I already had book three lined up and ready to go. This is a series which screams the words binge-read, and thankfully Matharu must have predicted that his novels would end up being read that way because the recaps are woven very subtly into the start of each installment. One of my biggest pet peeves is when you pick up the next book in a series and it clunkily regurgitates the events of the previous volume, so I’m glad that wasn’t an issue here.
Not only is there an extremely dramatic cliffhanger, but there is also one hell of a reveal. I was screeching from excitement because I did not see it coming at all. Another of Matharu’s skills is the art of crafty foreshadowing.
Now, moving on to my favourite book in the Summoner series…
The Battlemage – 5 stars
I do not have anything to criticise about this book. It is flawless, and is probably the strongest series ender I have ever encountered.
Picking up right where the last book left off, The Battlemage begins with Fletcher and the gang in mortal peril. They’ve travelled far from Hominum and are in a race against time to make it home safely, attempting to evade getting captured by a group of orcs who are hunting them (while also bumping into quite a few new – and highly dangerous – demons).
One of the best things about the Summoner series is the fact that we are constantly getting introduced to new demons. A couple of them only pop up for a scene or two, while other demons are seen over and over again, and it helps you to appreciate the size of the world Matharu has created. In each of my paperback copies there were brief sections at the back describing the demons and featuring little sketches of them, so if you don’t have the best imagination it’s a great way of getting to see them in all of their glory. Some of the demons looked very different to the way I had imagined them!
The Battlemage is another book which splits quite neatly into two parts. The race against time takes up the first half of the book, but the second half focuses intensely on the war between the people of Hominum and the orcs – a war which is bubbling in the background throughout the first two books, but boils over explosively towards the end of book three. I’m still trying my hardest not to give spoilers, so I won’t tell you which of our main characters makes it back to Hominum in one piece, but I will tell you that you’ll be trying hard not to shed tears by the end of The Battlemage. There are always casualties in war, and Taran Matharu isn’t afraid to kill off characters which have been loved since the first book in the trilogy.
There were a lot of things which I expected to happen in The Battlemage that didn’t happen, and I loved the fact that there were so many red herrings sprinkled throughout the series (some which went as far back as book one!). I’m not going to give anything away because I want you to be as surprised as I was, but just know that this is not a predictable series at all. Too many YA fantasy novels recycle the same tropes over and over again, but the ones which Matharu uses are given fresh spins and the majority of them are hinted towards and then dismissed which really keeps you on your toes.
Although Taran Matharu doesn’t seem to have plans to write any more Summoner books at the moment, the world is rich with potential and I’m hoping that he might change his mind at some point in the future. This is a series which I’m definitely going to be rereading, and I can’t wait to recommend them to my children when they’re old enough. If these books had been released when I was a little bit younger I think I would have been an avid fantasy reader much earlier in my life!
The Battlemage is the end of the Summoner trilogy, but I’m also going to share my thoughts on the prequel novel.
The Outcast – 4 stars
It might seem counter-intuitive to review the prequel novel at the end of this series review, but Taran Matharu himself recommends reading it after you read the main series.
I actually found myself wishing I had rebelled against his advice, because after the breakneck pacing maintained throughout The Battlemage, The Outcast feels as though it bumbles along a little bit. That’s not a bad thing, but I did find my attention drifting a little bit at points because I just didn’t connect with Arcturus’s story as well as I did with Fletcher’s.
This might be because I had already read Origins – a free eBook which was offered on Amazon prior to the publication of The Novice – and loved it, not realising that The Outcast is an extended version of Origins (the short story is the first third of the novel, so I ended up skipping the first 100 or so pages and just diving in where Origins finishes).
The Outcast tells the story of Arcturus, the first common Summoner who attends Vocans Academy. His story is quite similar to that of Fletcher’s so there are bits and pieces that feel quite repetitive, but I thought getting to know the nobles who also attended Vocans during Arcturus’s time there was invaluable. A lot of these nobles become relevant to Fletcher’s story, so getting to see their teenage years made it much easier to understand their motivations.
I couldn’t think of anything that would have overtly spoilt any of the reveals or twists in the main trilogy, but there are some things which would have made it a bit easier to see some of the reveals coming so I can understand why Taran Matharu recommends reading this one last. Personally, I’d recommend reading it first to see if you’re interested in the Summoner series, and if you are try and wait a few months before you pick up the main trilogy so that you can hopefully still experience the surprises as though you were reading them in the recommended order!
I’m not sure whether I would have been as interested it reading The Novice without reading Origins first, because I thought it was such a brilliant introduction to the world. It gave us a glimpse into Vocans and the way that the Summoner universe worked without giving too much away, and it made it far too tempting not to read the rest of the series.
Although I did get a bit restless at points, I still enjoyed The Outcast enough to give it four stars, and I loved the excuse to revisit the world of the Summoner so soon after finishing the trilogy.
All in all, the Summoner series gets a very strong four stars!
I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at a series review, and I’m crossing my fingers that I haven’t revealed too much about the events of the series. This is a really hard series to review without giving spoilers, because so much goes on.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you soon with another post,
I took part in How To Train Your Gavin’s Believathon between the 11th and the 24th of May. If you haven’t heard of Believathon, you can learn more about this readathon here, but it’s basically a celebration of all things middle grade. Middle grade is a genre I’ve always meant to read more of, so I was beyond excited to have an excuse to prioritise it for a couple of weeks.
I’m going to take you on our Believathon journey and share my thoughts of each of the books we read. We completed all eleven prompts – just, we finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with about half an hour to go – so I’ll tell you which book we read to journey to each location and fulfill each of the prompts Gavin created.
Ready? It’s time to Journey to the Stronghold!
The Poacher’s Pocket Inn: A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison – 5 stars
Our Believathon journey started at The Poacher’s Pocket Inn, where we had to read the first book in a series to progress on to the next location. For this I chose the book which inspired the prompt, Michelle Harrison’s A Pinch of Magic.
A Pinch of Magic is the first book in a middle grade trilogy following the Widdershins sisters: Betty, Fliss and Charlie. Betty has always dreamed of leaving Crowstone, the island where they live, but when she and Charlie attempt to sneak off to the fair for some Halloween fun they discover some pretty shocking family secrets.
First they learn that their family have three magical heirlooms which have been passed down through the generations, which seems pretty sweet… Until they learn that there is also a family curse, and if they leave Crowstone they will be dead by the next sunset. Ouch.
Using their magical artefacts and a prisoner named Colton who claims he knows how the answers, the Widdershins sisters attempt to solve the mystery of the curse only to end up with a race against time on their hands. Can they end the family curse, or will they all be dead by sunset?
There are so many things I loved about this story. Each of the sisters has such a distinctive personality that it is impossible to get them mixed up, but they all bring something to the plot: there’s no way that this story would work if just one of the sisters was trying to end the curse.
I also thought Colton was a really fun character who added a great dynamic to the cast. If this was YA there probably would have ended up being a focus on romance, but instead we get to watch a friendship develop between him and each of the Widdershins sisters, who aren’t sure whether to trust him to start with (due to the fact of him being a prisoner and all).
I wasn’t expecting A Pinch of Magic to be so dark, but there are a fair amount of deaths discussed in this story – one of the perils of a family curse I suppose! That aspect made me love the story even more though, and I can totally understand why I’ve seen so many adult readers and reviewers absolutely raving about this series.
My actual rating for A Pinch of Magic is probably closer to a 4.5, but I couldn’t resist rounding up this magical story as I enjoyed it far more than I thought I was going to. The ending is really clever, and I didn’t see the solution coming at all. You do need to suspend your disbelief a little bit, though, so don’t try to look at it logically – it is a magical story, after all!
Yellow Brick Road: Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz – 4 stars
The next stop on our Believathon journey was the Yellow Brick Road, for which we had to read a book we’d been meaning to read years ago. Torn between Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and Stormbreaker we ended up going for the latter, as my mum has been bullying me to read these books for at least ten years.
Stormbreaker is the first book in the Alex Rider series. After Alex’s uncle dies and things don’t quite add up he decides to investigate his death and discovers he was actually an MI6 agent, and they hire Alex to finish the case his uncle started.
Again, this was more of a 3.5 star, as it is quite cheesy (all of the bad guys are foreigners; Alex has been studying kung fu for years and yet still has a training montage showing how useless he is) but it is utterly entertaining. I think this book took me maybe three hours to read from cover to cover, because it’s high octane from the very first page.
Stormbreaker is definitely not the best book I’ve ever read, but I can certainly see why these books are so popular, particularly amongst young boys. I’m already looking forward to seeing what Alex gets up to next!
Baba Yaga’s House: Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo – 4 stars
After travelling down the Yellow Brick Road it was time for a brief stay at Baba Yaga’s House, where we had to read a book featuring a family relationship.
Dreaming the Bear follows a girl called Darcy who gets seriously ill after he parents move to Yellowstone. She ends up befriending a bear who is also ill – suffering from an infected gunshot wound – and does everything she can to help her, bringing food to the cave which she is trapped in.
Despite the fact that this is under 200 pages it is an absolute tearjerker. Definitely make sure to keep tissues nearby, because you’ll almost certainly need them: books don’t make me cry very often, but I was welling up a couple of times while reading this one.
Dreaming the Bear is written in a very interesting style. The book jumps from Darcy’s perspective to the bear’s perspective which isn’t that unexpected, but Darcy also disassociates at points so not only does the viewpoint change but it also switches from first to third person quite freely which is an unorthodox choice. I did find it hard to get into the story at the beginning, but by the halfway point I was absolutely flying through: once you can get your head around the way that the style is jumping around it’s a very quick read.
The Wonderfalls: Wonder by R.J. Palacio – 5 stars
The next stop was The Wonderfalls, for which we had to read a book featuring a disability. We decided to pick up the book which inspired the prompt, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which also would have worked well for the Yellow Brick Road because I’ve been meaning to read this for donkey’s years.
Wonder tells the story of a boy called August, who is attending school for the first time in fifth grade. August has a facial abnormality so his parents have homeschooled him until now, but after visiting the school and seeing the potential Auggie decides to give it a go.
As I just said, I don’t often cry at books. That being said, I had to put Wonder down twice because I was crying too hard to continue. This is an absolutely heartbreaking book, but it’s also hopeful and inspiring. It destroys your faith in humanity but it goes a long way towards restoring it before the end of the book.
Wonder is brilliant because it is honest. As well as following Auggie himself we get the viewpoints of a couple of the other people in his life. The way that they think about August can be horrible, particularly in the case of Via, August’s sister. R.J. Palacio gives all of her characters depth and it makes the story feel very authentic: Via has sacrificed a lot because of Auggie and is slightly begrudging about that fact, while Will wants to be friends with August but knows it isn’t cool so says mean things about him to try to fit in with the popular crowd. Those scenarios are both painfully realistic, and nothing is sugarcoated in this story.
Although Wonder follows a 10-year-old boy, this is a story which will appeal to readers of all ages. I’m so glad that I decided to wait to read Wonder, because I don’t know if it would have had such an emotional impact on me if I’d read it before becoming a parent myself. I have gotten far soppier in the past two years!
This is a hard read, but I highly recommend it. The film adaptation came out in 2017 so if you’ve seen it please let me know if you’d recommend it: we don’t have much time to watch films, but this is one I’m really interested in seeing if it’s done well!
100 Acre Wood: Zom-B by Darren Shan – 3 stars
After the beauty of The Wonderfalls, it was time for a ramble through 100 Acre Wood. Unfortunately we didn’t see Winnie-the-Pooh, but we did spot a book with a yellow cover: Zom-B by Darren Shan!
Zom-B follows B, who we get to know through a bunch of high school drama before a zombie invasion breaks out and everything is flipped on its head.
Zom-B is more of a 2.5 star than a 3 star because I didn’t think it was bad, I just thought it was forgettable. This reads more like an extended prologue than the first book in a series. The zombies themselves only appear just after the halfway mark, and the cliffhanger ending means that the rest of the series is going to go in a completely different direction and this book isn’t necessary.
There’s a shocking reveal which I didn’t see coming which makes you look at the first half of the book in a completely different light which was fun and increased my enjoyment a lot, but a chapter later something happens – I’m not going to go into spoilers – but the way that it played out was very flimsy and unconvincing.
My main complaint about Zom-B is that the cast of characters is too large. This is obviously so that the zombies can kill people off left, right and centre when they (eventually) appear, but none of B’s friends are three-dimensional enough to make you care when they get slaughtered. In fact I was cheering the zombies on, because it meant I had less people to try to keep track of! It would have been far more effective if Darren Shan had written five fully crafted characters for the zombies to kill, rather than a group so numerous that I had forgotten about half of them before they’d even been killed off.
That being said, Darren Shan wrote B’s father really well. He’s a racist and seems to be part of a political group similar to Britain First, and even though he is absolutely deplorable he is the most realistic character we meet.
I will be picking up the next book in the series to see which direction Shan takes the rest of the series in, but this was nowhere near as good as I had expected. At least it was super short, and the version I read had illustrations throughout which made things a bit more interesting.
The Deepwoods: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 4 stars
Wandering from 100 Acre Wood into The Deepwoods, we found that we’d somehow stepped through a hole in time and found ourselves in the past. The only way to get back to our time was to read a book published before 2000, so we decided to begin our reread of the Harry Potter series.
If you’re new here, you won’t know this about me, but I’ve only ever read the first three books in the Harry Potter series. I keep trying finish them but it just doesn’t happen, so this is actually the fourth time I’ve read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I feel as though I took it in better this time, so I’ve actually dropped my rating from 5 stars down to 4 because I’ve finally been able to put my finger on why I am not a fan of the ending.
I’m assuming that you’ve all read Harry Potter so I’m going to get a bit spoilery here. If you haven’t, please continue on your Believathon journey and meet me at the Mermaid’s Lagoon!
At the end of the book, Harry Potter discovers that Professor Quirrell is working with Voldemort, harbouring his soul and helping him regain the powers he mysteriously lost when he came up against baby Harry. Harry blacks out, waking up in the infirmary a few days later and missing a chunk of the action, which Dumbledore kindly fills in for us.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of the ‘protagonist blacks out’ trope, but it has taken me this long to figure out why it doesn’t work in this situation. Earlier in the book, someone – cough QUIRRELL cough – enchants Harry Potter’s broomstick while he’s playing Quidditch, and he almost falls to his death. We leave our protagonist with his Bucking Bronco broom and pop down to the spectator’s stands, where his friends Ron and Hermione are trying to save him.
Now, my question is this: if J.K. Rowling isn’t opposed to moving between characters then why don’t we move to Dumbledore’s perspective when Harry blacks out? By having Harry black out the reader misses out on one of the most compelling parts of the story, and we get cheated out of a lot of tension and drama.
It’s a small complaint, but it feels like a very lazy way to finish off a book which – up until that point – can’t easily be improved.
I still enjoyed the rest of the story – Hogwarts is great, the world is well-crafted, the dry humour throughout had me giggling and I was genuinely surprised that I didn’t remember how funny parts of this book can be – but I didn’t feel the same love that I’ve felt for it in the past. I don’t know if that’s because I’m older or just because I’m a more critical reader, but it’s making me nervous about how I’m going to feel towards the rest of the series.
We also read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets during our Believathon journey, but you’ll just have to keep reading to see our thoughts on that…
Mermaid’s Lagoon: The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar – 4 stars
After making our way back to this timeline, we found ourselves in the Mermaid’s Lagoon, where we had to read a book featuring a female bond. What better way to celebrate women than by taking a trip on The Ship of Shadows, a pirate ship with a crew of only women and girls!
The Ship of Shadows tells the story of a girl called Aleja who finds herself inadvertently joining the crew of a notorious pirate ship. Despite always wanting to go on an adventure, Aleja feels guilty for leaving her family behind, but she has no choice but to help the gang on their mission to Morocco if she wants to get back home. Searching for fragments of a legendary map, Aleja and the crew must use all of their wits and wiles to figure out the clues left behind by the previous captain of the ship while escaping the clutches of a band of pirate hunters.
Aleja is constantly told that girls can’t go on adventures, so I loved the fact that she showed everyone by joining one of the most infamous pirate crews on the seven seas (even if it does happen accidentally!). This is the kind of book I would have absolutely loved reading when I was younger, and when my daughter is a bit older I’m definitely going to be recommending it to her. The lore behind the ship itself is very intriguing – people believe that the shadows are ghosts, but they’re actually the imprints of past members of the crew which are sticking around to help out – while the riddles and mysteries were very intelligently crafted.
I’m seriously hoping that this is going to be the first book in a series (the map is split into a few pieces, after all!) because I adored every member of this crew and would happily go on a few more adventures with them. My favourite member of the gang has to be Frances, who is totally cake-obsessed (I can relate). However, I think the best thing about The Ship of Shadows is that there’s really good representation throughout: multiple members of the crew have lost limbs, there’s a f/f relationship, and there are people from all different backgrounds, which is totally authentic considering a pirate ship would pick up crew members from all around the globe!
The Ship of Shadows isn’t out until July 9th, so I’m really grateful that I was able to read this early via NetGalley. Make sure you grab a copy yourself when it comes out: who can resist badass lady pirates?!
The Brolly Rail: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend – 5 stars
To travel between Mermaid’s Lagoon and Orion Found, it was time to hop on The Brolly Rail and read a book featuring transportation. As we borrowed Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – the book which inspired this prompt – from the library a couple of days before lockdown, it was the perfect time to start this magical middle grade series.
Nevermoor has been described as for fans of Harry Potter, but I’d say it’s actually better.
Morrigan Crow is a cursed child. Bad things happen around her. Every month her father is forced to pay people back for the property damage and lost business Morrigan has caused, while Morrigan herself has to write letters apologising to everyone who feels as though they’ve been wronged by her. Her whole life, Morrigan has known that she will die on her 12th birthday… But when Eventide, the fateful night of her death, is brought forward a year, Morrigan’s life seems as though it will be cut even shorter.
Enter Jupiter North, who whisks her off to the world of Nevermoor to take part in the Wundrous Society trials. If Morrigan can pass the trials, she will become a member of society and be allowed to stay in Nevermoor forever. If she fails, she’ll have to return home to certain death at the hands of the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow. High stakes, right?!
For a middle grade book this is rather chunky, coming it at almost 500 pages, so I thought it was going to take a few days for us to get through. I couldn’t have been more wrong: we read three quarters of the book in one sitting, because it’s absolutely impossible to put down.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I loved Nevermoor so much, but amongst other things this book contains: a handful of interesting trials, a Magnificat, found family, an umbrella transportation system, a Big Bad, the constant threat of deportation, friendship in unexpected places, and a chandelier which grows itself. Add that all together and combine it with one tenacious little girl who has a far tougher life than she has deserved, and you’ve got the makings of one of the best middle grade books I’ve ever read.
The world is so well-crafted, and I’m already eager to dive back in and read the sequel. With the third book being published in August, now is the perfect time to join Morrigan Crow on her adventures if you haven’t already.
Orion Found: The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge – 3 stars
Hopping off the Brolly Rail, we found ourselves in the out-of-this-world land of Orion Found. To get back to our Believathon journey we had to read a book related to space, and for this one we read The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day, which was featured in Gavin’s Believathon recommendations video and just happened to be one we already owned.
Starting this review off with a disclaimer: I’m not sure I’m smart enough to really understand this book, so I’m not really surprised that I didn’t enjoy it all that much.
The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day tells two stories in one, which is impressive considering it’s just over 150 pages. When we first meet Maisie she wakes up on her birthday to an empty house. Heading downstairs and looking for her parents, she opens the front door to discover nothing. Through the window she can see the neighbour’s houses and the front lawn, but when the door is open there is nothing but blackness. Blackness which begins rapidly devouring Maisie’s house.
Then Maisie wakes up. She goes downstairs and begins celebrating her birthday with her family. You think it was all a dream, until the next chapter throws us back with Maisie, who is in turmoil and desperately trying to work out what is happening.
There is a huge twist in this book and I don’t want to ruin it, so I’m not going to get too specific in this review, but I can tell you that this story might have been the longest 150 pages I’ve ever read. I thought we were going to be able to fly through it in less than an hour, but basically every time we switched between the Maisies I found myself feeling distracted and restless, and I couldn’t stop putting it down and doing other things. This might be because I don’t have a very scientific brain and psychics is one of the most exhausting subjects – not only am I not very scientific, but my spatial awareness is little-to-none – so if I’d known how much of this book would focus on Maisie’s love of the sciences I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.
It’s very intelligent, and if I’d read it when I was younger I might have enjoyed it a bit more, but it just went completely over my head.
That being said, I loved seeing a female middle grade character who was so interested in science! Perhaps if I had read this at a younger age it might have sparked more interest for the subject, and it’s definitely good to encourage young girls to develop a passion for STEM.
I did think the ending let the book down a little bit – it dampened what was a powerfully impactful story – but I’ll let you make your own mind up on that one.
Black Ice Bridge: Wonderscape by Jennifer Bell – 5 stars
Coming back down to Make-Believathon, we found ourselves rapidly approaching the Black Ice Bridge. We could see the Book-Keeper’s Stronghold in the distance and we knew that the end was in sight, but the Black Ice Bridge was quite rickety and unstable. To give ourselves the courage to cross it we had to read a book featuring an adventure or an expedition, and for that we chose Wonderscape by Jennifer Bell.
Wonderscape was on my radar after Gavin gave it a gushing five star review a couple of months ago, so I was beyond grateful to be accepted to read and review Wonderscape via NetGalley.
This is a book which starts off with a literal bang. Arthur is on his way to school when his neighbour’s garden gnomes start exploding. He and fellow students Ren and Cecily call the police, but while waiting for them to arrive they hear a dog in distress barking in the house. Knowing that the house has been abandoned for a few years, the trio go in to save the dog, and moments later find themselves upon a research vessel with none other than Sir Isaac Newton!
It turns out that Arthur, Ren and Cecily have been transported to the 25th Century, right into a game called Wonderscape. This in-reality adventure game uses the latest in technology to allow its users to travel to different realms, completing tasks and challenges to win the honour of meeting famous figures from throughout history.
Isaac Newton has some bad news for them, though. Due to timey-wimey constraints, if they don’t make it back home within 48 hours there’s a good chance that the universe will erase their existence. Desperate to avoid becoming puddles of goo, the three classmates race against time to work out how to escape the Wonderscape before time runs out.
The best word to describe Wonderscape is propulsive. This story is non-stop action and the tension doesn’t let up for a second. Jennifer Bell cleverly never lets the reader forget about the time bomb ticking in the background, with Arthur regularly updating us on how much time is left causing your heart to beat just that little bit faster with each chapter that passes.
I thought the concept of the Wonderscape was so clever, and if it was a game which actually existed I’d be addicted to it! At points I was getting some Ready Player One vibes – it has certainly put me in the mood to re-read that story – so if you’re a fan of Ernest Cline’s debut but would like to try branching out into reading middle grade then this is a great place to start. (Or vice versa! If you read Wonderscape but are looking for something a bit more grown up, Ready Player One is awesome).
Parts of Wonderscape also gave me Marvel movie vibes. You think you know what the story is, but then another plot is revealed and the stakes get even higher. We read the second half of Wonderscape in one sitting for that exact reason: when you realise there’s more to the story than just getting the three main characters home safely, you need to know how it’s going to end.
My favourite thing about Wonderscape was probably Cloud the dog, who isn’t just a dog… But I’ll let you find out what’s special about Cloud when you pick up this book!
Wonderscape is published on June 4th, so you only have a few days before you’ll be able to read this story yourself.
The Book-Keeper’s Stronghold: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – 3 stars
We made it to the end of our Believathon journey, but there was a huge snake blocking the entrance to the Book-Keeper’s Stronghold! To vanquish it we had to read it a sequel, so we decided upon Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as I mentioned earlier.
Giving this book just three stars is probably the most unpopular rating I’ll ever post on this blog. It’s pretty sacrilegious to rate any of the Harry Potter books less than 5 stars, so claiming that one is middle-of-the-road is not going to go down well…
Again, assuming that you’ve read Harry Potter – because who hasn’t?! – I’m going to get a bit spoilery and not bother describing the plot. If you’re in the minority of people who haven’t picked this one up yet, please keep scrolling!
There were things I enjoyed about this book – the flying car, Aragog, and the delightfully loopy Gilderoy Lockhart – but it was all kind of overshadowed by J.K. Rowling’s recent behaviour (this article discusses something which happened AFTER I finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but Rowling’s repeated transphobic behaviour isn’t something which seems as though it’ll be going away any time soon).
When you’ve got male characters being treated with disdain and talked about derogatorily for going into the girls bathroom it could just be brushed off as boys being boys – wah wah, girls have cooties don’t get anywhere near them! – but knowing about Rowling’s feelings towards trans people gives it really uncomfortable connotations. It doesn’t just happen once, either, it’s a conversation which pops up multiple times throughout the book and every time I physically winced.
This would have been a four star book, matching its predecessor, but I just can’t condone that kind of attitude. However, I also can’t rate this any lower, because it is a popular classic children’s book for a reason: the character development is authentic, the mystery is intriguing and there are even some subtle NSFW jokes to entertain the adults and go right over the children’s heads, as the best children’s cartoons always manage to achieve. It’s conflicting and frustrating, and one of the reasons I think the saying should be changed from ‘don’t meet your heroes’ to ‘don’t let your heroes have social media accounts’.
I’m still going to carry on reading the Harry Potter series, but I’m definitely feeling more and more apprehensive. It’s extremely hard to separate an author’s beliefs and actions from their work – if you can manage it, power to you, but it’s something I struggle with – and I can’t help but critically view their releases in relation to that.
We did vlog our Believathon journey, too, so if you’re interested in watching those they are over on my BookTube channel.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Gavin for creating Believathon and being such a champion of middle grade books. He’s certainly helped reignite the spark of my love for middle grade, and I’m looking forward to continuing on with some of these series over the next few months (and taking part in Believathon III: The Mystery of the Missing Maleficarum, in November!).
My hands are about to fall off from all of this reviewing, so I’m off or a nap. See you tomorrow for my stop on the blog tour for Again Again by E. Lockhart!
Technically that title is a lie, because I’m no longer using my TBR jar. I have had to upgrade to a TBR bucket instead! But it still does the same job, it’s just a Halloween bucket rather than an unused travel mug meaning it is far more on-brand.
This is my second month picking titles out of my TBR jar, and after how unsuccessful last month was I was hoping to get some stronger picks this time around. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like a few of them as soon as I chose them, but you’ll have to read on to see what I ended up thinking about each of the five…
Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith – 4 stars
I took part in the blog tour for Breaking the Lore last year, but I did not get the book read in time to post a review because I was in the midst of a terrible reading slump (#justpregnancythings).
Breaking the Lore follows a detective called Nick Paris who is investigating a rather mysterious suspected murder. The victim has been found crucified in someone’s back garden… But they’re a fairy, so they’re only a couple of feet off of the ground. Paris can almost believe that it’s a hoax, until a talking crow turns up on his doorstep and starts warning him about a demon threat. Huh.
If I’m being honest, I HATED the first 10% of this book, subconsciously abandoning it and completely forgetting I’d even started it until I pulled it out of my TBR jar. Malbus, the talking crow, is the best part of the book, so when he was found decapitated I was absolutely distraught – how could you kill off such a promising character after they’ve delivered such an ominous warning to our protagonist? Little did I know that the crow who was found decapitated wasn’t Malbus. He comes back into the story shortly after the place where I originally abandoned it, and as soon as he came back I started absolutely loving this clusterfuck of craziness.
If you love J.R.R. Tolkien’s world but find yourself craving an alcoholic British cop in the midst of the magical drama, this is the book for you. Fairies, dwarves, elves, demons – everything you could possibly imagine is present in this novel, and although it gets utterly wacky at points (a particular scene featuring Malbus serenading a conference of the best and brightest members of the police force springs to mind…) it’s a charming cheese fest and it works beautifully.
My only warning is that you need to love puns to read this book, because even though I’m a huge lover of pun-based jokes I still found myself rolling my eyes and groaning at a few of the jokes which are cracked. If you don’t like hammy humour then I’d definitely recommend skipping this book, because it’s a big part of Redsmith’s writing style and at points it strays dangerously close to ‘too much’ territory.
Since finishing Breaking the Lore I’ve discovered that the second book in this series, Know Your Rites, was released last July, so I’m planning on picking this up at some point in the next couple of months. I’m so glad I finally finished Breaking the Lore – I had completely forgotten that I’d started it, and if I hadn’t picked it out of my jar it might have been years before I attempted to tackle it again, but this was the perfect lighthearted read to ensure I started March off on the right note.
Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – 1 star
Oof, this one hurts me. I was certain I was going to love Whistle in the Dark because I’ve heard such amazing things about Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing. I didn’t actually realise I had this book on my NetGalley because I have it sitting on my bookshelf, so I thought this story was going to be swiftly moving from my ‘read then donate’ pile straight onto my shelf of favourites.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite ended up happening. I’m about to get spoilery, so if you haven’t read this book yet it’s probably time for you to jump down to my thoughts on Furiously Happy…
Whistle in the Dark doesn’t really tell a story. A girl goes missing during a vacation in the Peak District with her mother, and when she comes back she won’t tell anyone where she’s been. Her mother is worried that someone kidnapped her or took advantage of her, but Lana remains tight-lipped: is she protecting someone, or has she suppressed her memories of the traumatic event? Sounds like the makings of a perfect psychological thriller, right?
WRONG. This book has such a brilliant premise, but it doesn’t live up to it AT ALL. It starts to try to address so many different, interesting plot lines, then abandons them and jumps off on other tangents. There are a slew of almost thought-provoking inclusions – the struggles of parenting a child with depression, self-harm, sperm donation, religion – but in the grand scheme of things every single one of them falls short.
I’ve seen a lot of different reviews since I finished this book, and all of them have said that they were impressed by at least one section – either the beginning, the middle or the end – so they’ve felt justified in giving Whistle in the Dark three stars minimum. Meanwhile there’s me, the salty little sausage in the corner, who can’t think of a redeeming thing to say about the entire novel. The beginning was intriguing for all of five minutes, the middle perfectly showed the paranoid musings of an anxious mother (and then showed it perfectly over and over again, as Jen repeated her worries so regularly that I began to worry that I was pressing the back button on my Kindle rather than reading further into the book), while the ending was possibly the worst thing I’ve ever read.
Turns out, Lana went into a cave to OD, passed out, came around and got lost in the cave and managed to find her way out three days later. We learn this because Jen goes exploring and gets lost in the same cave… But gets out within a couple of hours. How long are we supposed to believe Lana was unconscious?! None of it added up, and it’s the least satisfying pay off I’ve ever gotten from a ‘thriller’. I’m still going to pick up Elizabeth is Missing, but I wish I’d trusted the Goodreads ratings on this one.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson – 5 stars
Furiously Happy is superb. As you can tell by its full title, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, this non-fiction title follows journalist Jenny Lawson as she experiences mental illness but does her best to continue living life to the fullest, taking awful situations and making light of them.
I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw the cover, but little did I know that that crazy-ass raccoon is actually taxidermy. We actually follow him on some pretty wild adventures of his own over the course of this book (the mental image of two taxidermy raccoons – oh yes, he has a brother – attempting to ride cats is one which will stick with me until the end of my days) so if you’re not a fan of taxidermy, or the kind of people who own taxidermy, then you’ll want to walk away now.
Yes, this book is so stuffed with hyperbole that it would make a really great pillow, but I loved every single far-fetched, utterly unbelievable moment of it. There are poignant moments which slow the pace down dramatically, but as someone who related to a lot of the ways Jenny Lawson described her mental illnesses it made this book feel like talking to an old friend. In act, I loved this book so much that I ordered Jenny Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, the night that I finished Furiously Happy.
I’m definitely going to be following The Bloggess and will be inhaling Jenny Lawson’s posts as soon as she writes them in the future.
The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson – 4 stars
When I picked The Morning Gift out of my TBR jar, I was expecting it to be a children’s title, as the only Eva Ibbotson novels I’ve read in the past have been middle-grade. Although some people have described The Morning Gift as YA I definitely feel as though it falls in the historical fiction genre, as the pacing is much slower than your average YA release.
Not only that, but this story is intensely character-focused. Set during World War II, we follow Ruth Berger as she gets separated from her family and trapped in Vienna, where the Nazis are preparing to march upon the city. Forced to marry a friend from her childhood to get British citizenship so that she is able to rejoin her family, it isn’t long before Ruth manages to get to safely. Her new husband, Professor Quin Somerville, promises that he will use all his power as a famous paleontologist to get their marriage annulled as quickly as possible so that Ruth can marry her childhood sweetheart, Heini. His only conditions? That Ruth must promise to pursue higher education, and that she may never contact him again.
Ruth agrees to these conditions quickly, but due to some mixed messages she ends up enrolling in his class at college. Ruth and Somerville do their best to pretend that they don’t know each other, but their chemistry is unmistakable, not only causing tension between Ruth and some her classmates but also conflicting Ruth herself.
A lot of this novel relies on a lack of communication between the characters, which is one of my least favourite tropes and is probably the only reason that I didn’t give The Morning Gift five stars. If it was only used once I may understand, but with it cropping up a few times throughout the course of the novel it made some parts of the story a little unbelievable. That being said, as it was a historical novel this did annoy me less than novels which rely on this trope and are set in modern times – it’s not like Ruth and Somerville could have just messaged each other on Facebook to get to the bottom of things!
Overall, this story is remarkable. Eva Ibbotson’s magical use of language imbues each of the settings with vibrancy, from the local café to Somerville’s estate, and each member of the large cast of characters comes to life too. Some of the characters are only mentioned once or twice but are still very memorable, as Ibbotson gives each of them unique traits to make them more realistic. Yes, the story does drag at times – descriptions are definitely prioritised over the plot and the pacing – but that makes the payoff at the end of this story all the sweeter, and I found myself enjoying it far more than I normally like historical fiction.
Eva Ibbotson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child, so I’m glad that her writing still appeals to me now, fifteen years later. She has so many novels which I’m yet to read, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of them – and rediscovering my old favourites – in the future.
Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer – 4 stars
I’m beginning to wish I’d reviewed Call It What You Want as soon as I’d finished it, because as time goes on I’m struggling to remember why I liked this story enough to rate it four stars.
Following Maegan and Rob – a girl whose perfect scholarship sister has just announced she is pregnant, and a boy whose father attempted suicide after being caught embezzling millions of dollars – this is a much darker contemporary than I had expected after seeing the cute cover sprinkled with origami hearts.
I enjoyed both Maegan and Rob’s stories individually, but I begin to feel conflicted when I consider their romance. Maegan is vilified for cheating on the SAT, while everyone at school presumes Rob must have been involved in his father’s crime as he worked at his office, so it makes sense that they are drawn together as they can relate to each other’s struggles… But something about it still fell flat for me. Their relationship seems to develop very quickly, going from gentle flirting to intensely serious in a split second, and I just wanted this to be a bit more of a slow burn. They’re both have some trust issues, finding it hard to develop friendships because of the judgment that they’ve experienced due to their situations, and it would have been nice if this had been addressed more.
That being said, I obviously did enjoy it enough to give it four stars at the time! The writing is easily digestible and despite the length of this story we devoured it in a couple of sittings. Brigid Kemmerer also writes really great friendships: the interactions between Rob and the librarian will forever warm my heart – we stan a supportive adult who just wants to discuss books – and the friendship which develops between Rob and Owen (one of the victims of his father’s crime) is heartwarming to the max. I also loved the way Kemmerer tackled the relationship between Rob and his ex-best friend Connor: it’s a brilliant glimpse into the dynamics and intensity of male friendship, which isn’t focused upon too frequently in YA.
I’m definitely planning on reading more of Brigid Kemmerer’s work in the future, but I’m not sure I understand the hype that her writing attracts just yet. A Curse So Dark and Lovely is one of the other titles in my TBR jar, so I’m hoping I’ll pick that out sooner rather than later, but we also own Letters to the Lost, so I’ll be putting that on my TBR at some point over the next couple of months.
As you can see, this round of the TBR jar was far more successful than the first! I’ve already picked out the titles for April’s TBR – only four titles this time, as we’ve got a pretty full on month with the O.W.L.S Magical Readathon, and I’m also attempting to read the YA Book Prize shortlist in its entirety – but I’ll get a post up soon with my thoughts on the new picks.
See you soon!
Hello everyone! This is the most exciting blog tour I’ve been involved in all year, and I’ve been dying to share my thoughts on I Hold Your Heart – Karen Gregory’s third novel – with you all. I absolutely loved Countless and Skylarks left me …