For today’s Blogtober post, I’ve decided to challenge myself to another round of #10in20. In this challenge, you write 10 books in 20 minutes, meaning you have only two minutes to write as much as you can about each book you review. This was a …
Tag: book reviews
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 out because I keep getting such huge disappointments) and I’m looking forward to carrying on with the jar for many months to come.
As always I picked out five titles from my TBR bucket while filming my July TBR, but I ended up having to substitute one of them because it hadn’t sent across from NetGalley properly and was archived years ago (#fail). It then also took me a few days at the beginning of August to finish Permanent Record, which is why this post is coming to you a bit later than normal!
Surely my picks couldn’t be as bad as last month… Right?
Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi – 5 stars
Permanent Record is a book which I related to (and not because I’ve had a secret relationship with a Disney star!).
Pablo Neruda ‘Pab’ Rind doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life. An ill ventured attempt at attending NYU has left him with thousands of dollars worth of debt, made all the worse by the fact that his mother warned him against attending in the first place because of the high price tag. Working at the local bodega – sorry, health food store – Pab is stuck in a rut. Until he meets Leanna Smart.
Leanna Smart is the new Miley Cyrus/Demi Lovato/Selena Gomez. Guys want her, girls want to be her, she’s a household name across the globe… And for some reason she’s in Pab’s bodega in the middle of the night on Valentine’s Day.
The interesting thing about how much I loved Permanent Record is how little I cared about Pab and Leanna’s relationship. Having read Mary H.K. Choi’s debut, Emergency Contact, I was expecting this to be a dual perspective narrative, but without seeing inside Leanna’s head it’s hard to get a read on her. She’s driven and ambitious, with some insecurities, but she spends more time globetrotting than we spend getting to know her. If we had seen things from Leanna’s side I would have rated this even higher (which is impressive, considering I gave Permanent Record five stars even without it).
As it was, I found the scenes focused on Pab’s relationships with his family and flatmates to be far more compelling than any he shared with Leanna.
The reason I loved this book so much was because I read it at exactly the right time in my life.
‘I care about everything equally until I care about so many things I get overwhelmed and care about nothing at all.’
I don’t think I’ve ever found a quote which describes me so perfectly. It’s the reason I decided not to go to university in the first place; I had a notebook filled with huge lists of courses that I was interested in, and it was impossible to narrow it down so I… didn’t.
When you’re surrounded by YA books filled with characters who know what they want to study and how to get there, it’s refreshing to meet a character like Pab who does not have his shit together in the slightest. It’s inspiring, and it gave me a boost I didn’t even know I needed. It’s reminded me that you can’t rest on your laurels in life. It’s better to pick one thing, regret it and need to try something different later in life rather than do nothing.
Permanent Record isn’t perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it will stay with me. It deserves five stars for that if nothing else. I’m so glad I picked it out of the TBR jar this month, and I can’t wait to pick up more of Choi’s work in the future.
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom – 5 stars
Not If I See You First was another five star for me. I put off reading it until the end of the month and ended up flying through it in a day, which was a pleasant surprise.
Not If I See You First follows a girl called Parker Grant, who is blind. Parker has a set of rules that people must follow if they want to be her friend, and if you break one of these rules you’re out. For good.
Parker’s ex-best friend Scott broke one of the rules when they were younger, and she hasn’t spoken to him since. This was helped by the fact that they went to different high schools, but now Scott’s back, and Parker begins wondering whether rules were made to be broken.
I enjoyed so many different aspects of Not If I See You First, but first and foremost I loved Parker. She is a pretty horrible person – snarky, sarcastic, straight-talking to the point of rudeness – but it makes her so interesting. I’m a huge fan of reading unlikable characters, and if Parker had been nice and sweet this would have been a much less compelling story. Parker claims that she’s honest because of her blindness – she can’t see the way people react to her comments, so why should she care? – which makes it interesting to experience things from her viewpoint. Not only does the reader not know how other character’s are reacting, but we only know what the character’s look like based off of Parker’s memories (and the bits of information the other character’s tell us about themselves) which makes for a unique reading experience.
There’s just so many different things that this book handles, and handles well.
Parker’s dad has just died, so there’s an exploration of grief. Parker thinks it’s healthy to bottle everything up and rewards herself with a gold star for getting through each day without crying. However, this doesn’t end up being the healthiest plan, and Eric Lindstrom makes a big point of showing that it’s okay to not know how to grieve, and you can grieve in multiple ways.
This also makes for some interesting dynamics between Parker and her aunt’s family, as they have to uproot their lives to move to her home after her father’s death. There is understandable animosity on both sides, and it was another aspect that was very realistic.
There’s also Parker’s running. Parker runs in the local park every morning, because she loved running before she lost her vision and she refuses to let her blindness take everything from her. This terrifies a lot of the able-bodied people around her, because they think it’s dangerous and it doesn’t fit with their preconceived notions of what a blind girl should be doing, but I think it’s a brilliant way of showing that individuals know their own capabilities and there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to disability.
I thought the relationship between Parker and Scott was very realistic. I’m not a huge fan of miscommunication, and a lot of their issues could have been avoided if Parker had just listened to Scott in the first place, but she admits this herself! I also think it’s very easy to tell people to hear someone out, but when you’re in that situation and you’re feeling betrayed then it’s impossible to do it, especially at a young age.
Most YA contemporaries are hyper-focused on the look of the love interest, so it’s refreshing that this story focuses on Scott’s personality instead. That might be why I liked their relationship so much despite having some issues with it (one of which being the fact that Parker still thinks of Scott as her soulmate despite the fact that she’s hated him since she was 13!). Eric Lindstrom left their story open which I loved, but it’s also a very hopeful ending; it brought a tear to my eye, and I don’t often cry while reading.
I’ll admit, Not If I See You First isn’t perfect, but if a book is trying to address so many different things at once and is tackling all of them to a very high standard, I can’t give it lower than a five.
Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger – 2.5 stars
I found Follow Me Back very conflicting. The concept is clever, the synopsis made this sound like it would be a new favourite, but the execution was meh.
Tessa has been suffering with agoraphobia after an incident occurred in New Orleans over the summer. Since Tessa has been unable to leave the house she’s gotten obsessed with singer/songwriter Eric Thorn, and she manages to get his attention after her racy fanfic #EricThornObsessed gets his name into the top trends.
Eric is disillusioned with fame and detests the fangirls who are only interested in him for his body. Has anyone even bothered listening to his latest single? Can the screaming girls at every show even hear his lyrics over the sounds of their adoration? He decides it’s time to take matters into his own hands and makes a fake Twitter account to destroy his reputation.
However, it backfires. No one’s going to take a Twitter troll seriously when they’re trying to take down one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Eric changes tack and uses the account to attack Tessa, who replies civilly. He instantly realises she’s not like other fans and they strike up a friendship which develops into more.
I thought this story was going to be a thriller rather than a contemporary romance, but it’s definitely the latter. There are thrilling aspects towards the end of the story but they come out of nowhere with hardly any setup and it makes things wholly unsatisfying, although it does mean that the pacing in the last quarter is dramatically faster.
The more I think about this story the more it annoys me, because I did enjoy the beginning of the novel. The story is interspersed with excerpts from police interviews, so you know shit is going to go down… It just ends up being a bit of a cop out, which is a shame. Even Tessa’s agoraphobia doesn’t end up being tackled in a realistic way, so if you do suffer from agoraphobia I wouldn’t recommend picking this book up. I’m not a agoraphobic, but I found the way the plot ended up being resolved to be quite patronising and insulting (but if you have experience with agoraphobia and felt differently when you read this please let me know!).
I was impressed with the surprising, whiplash ending, which is a twist on a twist… Then discovered that there’s a sequel, which dampened the impact enormously. This doesn’t feel like a story which needs to be dragged out further, so it’s probably not a series I’ll continue.
Meanwhile, just because Tessa’s not like other ‘fans’ and not ‘girls’, it doesn’t mean I’m going to hate this trope any less. If Eric would get his head out of his ass and stop presuming all of his fans are rabid attach dogs waiting to bite, he’d soon learn that they’re all individuals, not cookie cutter ‘fans’. Definitely not the book for me.
Contagion by Teri Terry – 2.5 stars
I was hoping I was going to love Contagion because I’ve enjoyed all of the Teri Terry novels I’ve read so far, but unfortunately Contagion fell a little short for me.
Contagion is about – surprisingly enough – a virus that sweeps across Scotland and the north of England called the Aberdeen flu. When the novel starts we are rapidly counting down to time zero, jumping between the perspectives of two girls called Callie and Shay.
Callie has been missing for a year, and she’s trapped in an underground laboratory being experimented on for unknown reasons. Shay is the last person who saw Callie, but she doesn’t even know Callie is missing until the book begins, so she contacts Callie’s brother Kai and they begin searching for her and for answers regarding who took her and why.
Despite the fact that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, I didn’t find the world that convincing which gave it a serious lack of tension. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it was that I didn’t click with, but part of it is that there are ‘surprising reveals’ towards the end of the book which I found obvious as soon as that aspect of the plot was introduced. I couldn’t believe that the characters involved weren’t able to see the pattern sooner.
Because this is YA there is a strong focus on the romance which develops between Shay and Kai, and although their relationship is quite cute it felt rushed. Within a day of them meeting each other Shay is getting butterflies when Kai texts her, and while I can believe that might happen I can’t believe it would be the priority during the outbreak of a pandemic which is killing huge swathes of the Scottish population.
I also struggled at times with the switching perspectives because Shay and Callie’s voices were quite similar. I found myself wishing we could follow Kai instead, because he was going off by himself and I was interested in what he was getting up to!
That being said, the scientific aspects were handled really well. The origins of the virus are realistic, and the way that Teri Terry explains some difficult concepts makes this easy to digest even if you don’t have a head for science.
I will be continuing on with the trilogy because this story has a lot of promise, but I’m feeling apprehensive. One of the characters has a mysterious identity and it seems obvious to me who will end up being unmasked. I hope I’m wrong because I don’t want all of the twists and turns in this story to be highly predictable, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the story resolves (and hoping I will like the next two installments a little bit more!).
The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse – 4 stars
The Summer of Us was my substitute title, replacing Altar of Reality by Mara Valderran.
It’s ridiculously appropriate that I picked out The Summer of Us this month because it begins on July 1st. I ended up reading each chapter on the date that the events in it took place, which on the one hand was a great idea – it felt as though it was me exploring Europe with my friends and made me feel far more connected to the characters – but on the other hand meant it took me two weeks to read a book which I should have been able to read in one sitting. Oops.
There is a lot going on in The Summer of Us. Not only do we travel around Europe, exploring Paris, Prague and Rome (amongst many other locations) but we also explore the rocky terrain of the relationships in this friendship group of five.
Rae has been steadily falling in love with Clara, who she’s certain is straight, and can’t wait to move to Australia for college to get as far away from her feelings as she possibly can. Meanwhile Aubrey and Jonah have been together for years and have a Plan – they’re both going to college in New York and everyone thinks they’ll be together forever – so why did Aubrey risk messing everything up when she kissed Jonah’s best friend, Gabe, a couple of weeks ago?
I found the dynamics of the gang intriguing, and by the end of the novel they felt more like friends than characters. This might have been because of the length of time it took me to read it because it meant that the characters and the situations were on my mind a lot throughout my day: there were a few times when the days ended on rather surprising cliffhangers! However I think it’s more likely to be because Cecelia Vinesse crafts believable characters. They’re flawed, but it adds a realistic dimension that can be missing from YA contemporaries.
Some people won’t enjoy The Summer of Us because it does excuse cheating and I think that’s the only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of. Considering this group are all teenagers they’re bound to be making mistakes, and I saw a lot of my own teenage years reflected in the antics that the group got up to, but I found myself feeling sorry for Jonah. This was a perfect read for this time of the year though: the only thing that could have made it better would have been reading it on the beach!
Two five star reads? The jar really was kind to me in July! However, I’ve already picked out August’s books and… Well, let’s just say we are already over a week into August and I’m yet to attempt to pick any of them up.
Have you read any of these books? If so, leave your thoughts down in the comments!
See you soon,
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!