Tag: four star review

TBR Jar Round #6

TBR Jar Round #6

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…

Blog tour: The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

Blog tour: The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

Hey everyone! I am SO excited to be taking part in the blog tour for The Ship of Shadows, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to The Write Reads for having me on board. I first read the swashbuckling adventure back in…

Series review: Summoner by Taran Matharu

Series review: Summoner by Taran Matharu

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,

Alyce

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Blog tour: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Blog tour: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Hello, and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like. First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Meghan from Wednesday Books for reaching out and inviting me to take part in this blog…

TBR Jar Round #5

TBR Jar Round #5

Another month means it’s time for another set of TBR jar reviews. I picked out a wide range of titles for June and could hardly remember anything about any of the titles, so it was fun to discover them throughout the month. Before you check…

Blog tour: Midnight’s Twins by Holly Race

Blog tour: Midnight’s Twins by Holly Race

Hey everyone, and welcome to my stop on the Midnight’s Twins blog tour! A huge thank you to Faye Rogers for organising this tour and letting me take part.

If you’ve been to one of my blog tour posts in the past you’ll know I always tell you a little bit more about the book before I share my thoughts and feelings, so buckle up and let’s get into it.

Fern King is about to uncover a place that she could not have imagined in all her wildest dreams. Annwn is the dream mirror of our world, a place where Dreamers walk in their slumber, their dreams playing out all around them. An enchanted, mysterious place that feeds our own world – as without dreams, without a place where our imaginations and minds can be nourished, what kind of humans would we be?

But Annwn is a place as full of dangers as it is wonders: it is a place where dreams can kill you. Annwn and its Dreamers are protected by an ancient order known as the Knights – and when Fern’s hated twin Ollie is chosen to join their ranks, Fern will have to do whatever she can to prove she is one of them too.

But the world Fern discovers in Annwn, in this dream mirror of her London, is a fragile one, threatened by vicious nightmares. Nightmares that are harder and harder for the Knights to defeat. Something dark is jeopardising the peace and stability of Annwn, something that must be rooted out at all costs. And gradually, Fern realises that the danger lurking inside our sleep is more insidious and terrifying than any nightmare. Because if you can influence someone’s dreams, you can control their thoughts…

Before I review the story itself, can we just take a moment to appreciate that cover?! If possible it’s even more gorgeous in real life. The illustrator, Gavin Reece, deserves mad amounts of praise.

When the book begins we find ourselves back in 2005 following Una King, Fern and Ollie’s mother, as she races across Annwn in the attempt to avoid a dangerous monster called a treitre and get home to her babies. Unfortunately the treitre catches Una, and the next morning back in Ithr she is found dead in bed, believed to have passed away in her sleep.

The prologue made my heart pound and was a very startling introduction to the world of Midnight’s Twins. In fact, it made it impossible to put Midnight’s Twins down, because it gave me so many questions which I just couldn’t wait to get answered, and it certainly gets the award for the most memorable start to a book that I’ve read this year so far.

Fifteen years later, Fern starts receiving mysterious texts from someone who claims that they murdered her mother. Having always accepted the fact that their mother died in her sleep, Fern is determined to find out more about Una and the world of Dreamers which ended up being the death of her.

One of the first things that struck me about Midnight’s Twins was how simple yet effective the contrast between Fern and Una’s viewpoint is. Una’s viewpoint is told in third person, whereas Fern’s is told in first, and it so easy to read. The two viewpoints are impossible to mix up because of how differently they are written, and it makes it a pleasure to dip back into the past and learn more about Una’s time with the Knights. I can’t think of another book which switches from third to first person without it feeling awkward or distracting you from the story, so it really makes this book stand out from the crowd.

It’s pretty impossible to briefly sum up the events of Midnight’s Twins, because so much happens throughout this book. Not only do Fern and Ollie have to undergo training to prove their worthiness as Knights of Annwn, they also have to undergo some serious soul-searching to attempt to repair their relationship. Meanwhile, there’s the big bad Sebastian Medraut: a rising politician in Ithr, and one of the most dangerous figures Annwn has ever seen.

I did find the character of Medraut and his One Voice party to be scarily relevant. With so many politicians across the globe acting as though a vote for them means unquestioning agreement with all of their policies it feels as though people are being silenced, so the concept of a politician whose whole shtick is to get people to be silent is both realistic and terrifying. He’s so charismatic that people can’t see the negative side of him, and it makes him so much easier to hate: I just wanted him to experience his comeuppance, but with this being the first book in a trilogy it wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be for Fern and Ollie to triumph.

There’s so much that I highly recommend about this book, but I’m trying my hardest not to give any spoilers because I want you to discover the story for yourself! I will say that you might want to keep some tissues close by, because there are some seriously heartbreaking named character deaths. This might be marketed as YA and feature teenage characters, but there’s more death in this than you find in most fantasy novels! My jaw dropped a couple of times, because I couldn’t believe that some of these characters were being defeated so early in the series.

The only reason I didn’t give this book five stars is because there were a few scenes which were written a little clunkily. I found myself being thrown out of the story because I had to pause and reread a couple of times to get my head around what was going on, but it didn’t take too long to get back on the horse so it wasn’t a massive issue. That might be because this is a debut or because it’s a series starter, as there is a lot of exposition and world building to craft the world of Annwn properly, but I’m hoping this will become less of an issue as the series continues.




Holly Race works as a development executive in the film and TV industry, most recently with Aardman Animations. Holly is a Faber Academy graduate, and Midnight’s Twins is her debut novel and the first in a trilogy. After spending several happy years in East London, a few streets away from where Fern lives, she now resides in Cambridge with her husband, their daughter and a large black poodle called Nymeria.

If you’d like news on the sequel to Midnight’s Twins as soon as it is announced, you can follow Holly on Twitter and Instagram.




If you need me at any point in the next year you’ll be able to find me here, eagerly anticipating the release of the next book in this series.

Once again, a huge thank you to Faye for letting me get involved in this blog tour. I loved Midnight’s Twins much more than I thought I was going to, and if the rest of the trilogy is as strong as this book Holly Race will easily become a new favourite author of mine.

Thank you for visiting!

Alyce

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Rapid Reviews #5: The 2020 edition

Rapid Reviews #5: The 2020 edition

Hey everyone, and welcome to another installment of Rapid Reviews! I’ve been making a valiant effort to keep on top of reading new releases this year, so here are reviews of five books published in 2020 so far. I’ve gotten these from a mix of…

TBR Jar Round #4

TBR Jar Round #4

First things first, I just wanted to post a link to the Black Lives Matter carrd. Please take some time today to sign petitions or make a donation to the BLM movement. It doesn’t seem right to carry on blogging as normal when there are…

Blog tour: Again Again by E. Lockhart

Blog tour: Again Again by E. Lockhart

Hey everyone! I am so excited to be welcoming you to the blog today for my stop on the Again Again blog tour. This is actually the first E. Lockhart book I’ve ever finished – I know, why have I been sleeping on her?! – and I was pretty blown away by how creative this novel is.

I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Again Again a bit further down, but first I’ll share some more information about the book itself in case you’re yet to hear about this new release.

In this novel full of surprises from the New York Times bestselling author of We Were Liars and Genuine Fraud, E. Lockhart ups the ante with an inventive and romantic story about human connection, forgiveness, self discovery and possibility.

When Adelaide Buchwald’s younger brother succumbs to a drug overdose, she saves his life. In the aftermath, looking for distraction, she becomes a stylish, bright charmer who blows off school and falls madly in love – even though her heart is shattered.

Adelaide is catapulted into a summer of wild possibility, during which she will fall in and out of love a thousand times while fully confronting her brother, their history, and her own strength.

A raw and funny story that will surprise you over and over, Adelaide is an indelible heroine grappling with the terrible and wonderful problem of loving other people.

When I first heard people talking about Again Again, it sounded like it was going to be a Sliding Doors-esque YA novel with some Groundhog Day vibes, and my interested was piqued. I was hoping to discover something similar to Justin A. Reynold’s Opposite of Always, which was one of my favourite releases of last year, so it’s safe to say that my expectations were high.

The multiverses come into play very quickly: Adelaide is walking five dogs at the dog run in the local park where she meets Jack. This encounter plays out in a few different ways, jumping back to a specific point and running slightly differently each time. In one world Adelaide accidentally offends Jack, cutting their friendship extremely short, while in another they begin falling in love as soon as they meet.

I was reading an eARC of this book via NetGalley, and to start with I did think it was a formatting issue because it happens so suddenly. All of a sudden the characters are repeating themselves and you’ve got a horrible case of deja vu, before you realise ‘ohh, that’s the whole point!’. I don’t know how I expected the multiverses to play out – possibly in alternate chapters, jumping from one sequence of events to another – but this really did pull me up short, and I had question marks popping up around my head for the first few occurrences. I’m not sure if this is the case in the physical copy, but I’m not sure I read this one in the easiest format!

That being said, once I got my head around the abrupt nature of the multiverses I found myself very absorbed in this story. Because the timeline keeps changing and the previous events are linking up with the current events, you have to concentrate very hard: there’s no chance to put your brain on autopilot and speed read, because you need to try and work out ‘wait, is this the version of Jack and Adelaide who kissed in the bathroom or went and hung out on the hammock?!’. I’m still not completely sure I’ve managed to unravel it all perfectly, but it was a lot of fun to think you were with a Jack and Adelaide who had one version of their history only for them to reference something else which had played out earlier on.

This is a very short story, coming it at under 300 pages, but the themes that it tackles are really powerful. Adelaide’s brother Toby has recently come out of rehab, having been addicted to drugs since he was fourteen. His addiction has a huge impact on who Adelaide is as a person, and this is played with cleverly by exploring a few multiverses surrounding Toby, too. The portrayal of his addiction is painfully realistic, and shows the impact it has on the entire family. There’s also an in-depth exploration of first love and loss and the effect that both of those can have.

This is a book which makes you wonder ‘What if?’. With such simple alterations sparking huge changes in the events which occur, this is the butterfly effect in action, and although it can be a bit startling at first it is very cleverly written. I would absolutely love to see Again Again get the adaptation treatment, because I think this would be extremely effective on the screen: it would be far easier to keep track of everything, that’s for sure!

It’s hard to rate this book after a first read, because I think this is a title which I’d get a lot out of rereading, but I eventually settled on giving it 4 stars (rounded up from 3.5!). There are some aspects which I really wanted E. Lockhart to explore more thoroughly, only for that multiverse to be dropped and for the story to shoot off in another direction, but considering the limitations of the written word it’s impressive that she’s managed to convey a story like this so wonderfully and with the minimum possible amount of confusion.

If you’d like to learn more about Again Again, check it out on Goodreads. Alternatively, if you’d like to order a copy you’re in luck: it’s release day today! Again Again is available through both Amazon and Hive.



E. Lockhart is the author of many novels including the bestselling We Were Liars, a New York Times bestseller, and Genuine Fraud; also The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Cybils Award for Best Young Adult Novel; Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, and the Ruby Oliver quartet: The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Life Boyfriends. She co-authored How to Be Bad with Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski. Her latest book is Again Again.

You can find more information about E. Lockhart on her website and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.



Thank you for checking out my stop on the Again Again blog tour! I’d like to say a huge thank you to Faye for organising this blog tour and having me along – it’s such a huge honour to get to work with an author like E. Lockhart. Wow.

See you soon!

Alyce

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Believathon wrap-up

Believathon wrap-up

Hey everyone! 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…