Typing that title has made me realise that it has been six months since I started my TBR Jar! How wild. I’m glad that I’ve stuck with it (even though it’s been getting progressively harder to motivate myself to pick up the titles I pick…
Hey everyone! 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,
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…
When The Beautiful was announced, everyone I heard talking about it said it was a duology. Alas, after finishing The Damned I have realised that that is not the case – in fact, it’s rumoured that there are another two books to come in The…
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 out my reviews, I’d love it if you could check out the Black Lives Matter carrd. It collects links for petitions and places where you can donate to support the cause, so if you have some spare time or money it can make a huge difference.
The Memory Game by Sharon Sant – 1 star
I had high hopes for The Memory Game. The blurb was reminiscent of Phyllida Shrimpton’s Sunflowers in February which I read back in 2018, but after finding that story a little bland I thought The Memory Game might impress me more.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. I hated The Memory Game, and if it hadn’t been so short – coming in at under 150 pages – I would have abandoned it, review be damned!
David is dead, killed in a hit-and-run accident, but he’s still hanging around. His mum can’t see him, and neither can his best friend… In fact that only person able to see David is Bethany, the girl he used to bully.
I wrongly assumed that David was going to be trying to solve the mystery of his murder, so I was disappointed when Bethany suggested that and David said the identity of the hit-and-run driver didn’t matter. Really, man?! Someone killed you and you’re just blasé?
That wasn’t even the first thing about this book that annoyed me. David’s a massive sexist, blaming the girl he had a crush on for his death because – wait for it – he was only on that road because he was heading home after work, and he only had a job so that he could save money to take Ingrid somewhere nice IF she said yes when he eventually asked her out. Oh boy. Just take responsibility for your own actions, you moron! Then there are the jokes about him possibly following her home and watching her in the shower… Gross.
There is a reason why David is hanging around, which I saw coming from a mile away (and hoped I was wrong about). It’s a disappointing, unsatisfying conclusion. If it hadn’t been published back in 2013 I would have expected a sequel to be on its way, because the story ends very abruptly and it feels unfinished.
However, despite the fact that I really didn’t enjoy this book I was quite impressed by the concept of the memory game itself, which David and Bethany play together. David feels as though he’s fading away and is losing himself, so Bethany describes tastes, smells and feelings which he’s forgetting – it’s very simple, but the scenes featuring the two of them playing the game are some of the most enjoyable in the story.
Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung – 3 stars
To paraphrase a quote from this book: this wasn’t good, this wasn’t bad, it was nice.
After Lucy wins a scholarship to the prestigious Laurinda school, she begins writing letters to her old friend Linh to tell her about everything that goes on at the new school. From the Cabinet – the three most popular girls, who manipulate and bully anyone who crosses them – pranking a teacher so badly that she quits to the headmistress seemingly condoning the behaviour. Laurinda life would be hard for anyone to adjust to, but Lucy’s immigrant parents and downtrodden neighbourhood make it even harder for her.
Lucy tells Linh all about her first year while trying to work out how she fits into the world of Laurinda and who she really wants to be. Would she rather sit by and let the people in power get away with their terrible deeds, or does she want to stand up as leader of the underdogs?
There’s a big twist towards the end of this book which I don’t want to spoil, but I assumed that was where the story was going and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy it as much as other readers seem to. I’d been expecting something with a bit more drama, but Lucy and Linh almost reads like literary fiction rather than YA: the writing is a lot floatier, and the story is extremely character-driven. At times it doesn’t even feel like it has a plot, because when you boil it down it’s simply Lucy attending school for the majority of the book. In fact, I was far more interested in Lucy’s mother’s story: if this had been a book following her – having a new baby in a foreign country while working all hours of the day and night to provide the bare minimum for her family – I think it would have been much more interesting.
That being said, I did enjoy Alice Pung’s writing style. The descriptions of Stanley, Lucy’s hometown, are very evocative, while she gives Laurinda its own unique aspects so that it stands out from amongst other fancy private schools I’ve read about in the past. I think it helped that this book was set in Australia, as I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like this which wasn’t set in America or the UK!
This just didn’t really have any impact on me, and I think I’m going to end up forgetting about this completely sooner rather than later.
Southern Perfection by Casey Peeler – 1 star
I was really looking forward to reading Southern Perfection, but I ended up being completely underwhelmed. I was expecting something a bit more like One Chance Night by Eliza Boyd – which I only gave three stars, but for some reason really sticks out in my mind – so I think I can partly blame my expectations for the reason that this book fell so flat.
However, the synopsis is also hugely misleading. Referencing appearances being ‘not what they seem’ and ‘all the questions are answered with one night, one song, one story, and one boy’ you’d think this would be a cute contemporary romance and not much deeper than that, right?
Wrong! The secret that Raegan Lowery is hiding is that her Grandaddy has leukaemia, so there is far more to this story than I’d expected. If this had been more obvious based off of the description I might not have been as disappointed, but I was looking forward to reading a summery romance, not a girl struggling to come to terms with her grandfather’s impending death.
If Southern Perfection had been solely focused upon Raegan and her Grandaddy, I probably would have given this a higher rating. That plotline is handled very well. Raegan wants her Grandaddy to undergo chemotherapy, while he values the quality of his life over the quantity so is hesitant to do the treatment. This is highly realistic (although Raegan wasn’t as supportive as I thought she could have been. Her constant storming out and flouncing off didn’t seem like the actions of a girl who would do anything to keep her Grandaddy happy).
But, of course, there has to be the romance aspect, and I HATED the relationship between Emmett and Raegan. Emmett has recently come back to town, and because he gave Raegan a toy bunny rabbit when her parents died when she was seven, it’s a-okay when they fall in love within a week.
Raegan hides Grandaddy’s illness from him, then gets really pissed off when he figures out something is going on… Then Emmett hides something about Grandaddy from Raegan, so they have another blow out, just for him to hide something else from her as soon as he possibly can. What?! Just learn how to talk to each other if you really love each other that much!
Not only that, but this book is really poorly written. The characters are flat, and even though Grandaddy’s ill I just couldn’t find the energy to care because none of the characters are three-dimensional. I’ve lost a grandparent to cancer, so you would think this book would hit me right in my feels, but I felt completely neutral (comma bored) throughout the entire story. I just wanted it to end, and I really wish I’d DNF’d.
I was tempted to give Southern Perfection two stars, because the discussion of Grandaddy’s illness was very well done, but then the epilogue happened. OH BOY. I have no words for how much the ending irritated me. Blegh. Nope. Next!
Friend Request by Laura Marshall – 4 stars
Friend Request is the best thriller I’ve read so far this year.
It all starts with a friend request on Facebook. Maria Weston wants to be friends… which wouldn’t be a problem if she hadn’t been dead for 25 years.
Louise is terrified that someone has discovered her involvement in Maria’s death and they are coming after her, so she quickly finds herself thrown back into the teen drama she’s desperately tried to leave in the past.
It all comes to a head when she attends her old class reunion, and the next morning the body of one of her old classmates is found. With another death to investigate, it seems likely that the police are going to discover the truth about what happened to Maria, but will they get to the bottom of the mystery before the mysterious creator of the Facebook page gets their revenge on Louise?
The beginning of this book was ridiculously slow. Louise constantly alludes towards the terrible thing she did to Maria, but we don’t find out exactly what that was until quite a way into the book. However, as soon as that secret is out the pace ratchets up dramatically, and I read the last quarter of the book in one sitting in the middle of the night (this is not the kind of book you can dip into for a chapter or two when you’re trying to fall back to sleep!).
Jumping from 1989 to 2016, this book was half adult thriller and half YA drama, so it was right up my alley. The flashbacks fleshed the characters out a lot more, and by the time you reach that fateful night you find yourself really rooting for Maria to make it out alive. I tricked myself that she was going to be behind it all on multiple occasions while reading, even though it was so obvious that that couldn’t be the case!
I wasn’t surprised at all by the identity of the person behind Maria’s Facebook page, but I loved the twist which came afterwards regarding Maria’s fate. Turns out, Louise wasn’t as responsible for her death as she thought she was… But I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you, because I gasped when I realised where the story was going. More often than not I can figure out the culprits in thrillers and I always feel a little disappointed, but Laura Marshall wove the red herrings throughout her story so cleverly that it was such a huge surprise to discover what actually happened.
I’m so glad I read this book. After reading quite a few disappointing thrillers so far this year, it’s nice to find one which got my heart pounding and kept me guessing for the majority of the story.
The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark – 3 stars
Maddy and Gabe have been skating partners since they were six, but they’re much older now. When their skating coach decides it’s time for them to start doing more romantic routines, Maddy thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to finally show Gabe why they should be together.
Gabe is known for only being interested in each of his many ex-girlfriends for two weeks at the most, so when he starts developing feelings for Maddy he’s sure they’re going to go away. When they don’t, he has to decide whether he’s willing to risk their friendship – and their skating career – for the chance of a relationship which might fizzle out almost as soon as it’s begun.
My actual rating for this book is 2.5 stars because it was painfully average. I was certain I was going to love this one, so this is probably my biggest disappointment this month.
All of the foreshadowing was so heavy-handed. There was a mystery surrounding Maddy’s father which I guessed as soon as it was even hinted that there was a secret he was keeping. Meanwhile, there are constant references to the fact that skating is Maddy’s only plan for life, so when something bad happens towards the end of the book it’s so predictable that I found myself shouting ‘Finally!’ rather than experiencing any sort of emotional reaction. The same thing happens with a subplot regarding another skating pair, but then that doesn’t get dealt with at all – I’m not sure whether Katie Van Ark was planning on writing a sequel and then never got around to it, but there’s are quite a few things which are left dangling in a wholly unsatisfactory way.
Then there’s all of the ice skating language which is shoehorned in throughout the novel. It is CONSTANT, but one of the most irritating examples was when something was referred to as ‘ice-crystal clear’… Come on, surely crystal clear is a good enough turn of phrase!
The relationship was cute enough, but there’s a whole lack of communication between the two which causes a lot of angst and I didn’t find that believable at all. If you’ve been skating with someone for over ten years you’ll know how important communication is, so I don’t think that these two would be as terrible at talking to one another. It also gets majorly cringey towards the end of the book, and I found myself glad that it was over when it ended.
That’s not to say this book was bad. The skating aspects were described beautifully, and I could find myself visualising the choreography which Igor set them really easily. Maddy’s competitive nature comes across brilliantly while her and Gabe are practicing, and I loved her character during those scenes (but sadly when it comes to the relationship she becomes a bit of a simpering wreck). The contrast between Maddy and Gabe’s perspectives was also handled really well: their voices are very distinctive, and it’s impossible to get confused about who you’re following.
Unfortunately The Boy Next Door is currently Katie Van Ark’s only novel, which is such a shame because I would love to read more from her. This wasn’t the book for me, but I found her writing so easy to digest and would have loved to have seen where she went from here. Maybe one day.
I hope you enjoyed this round of TBR jar reviews! This wasn’t quite my worst month of picks, but it was pretty close… Hopefully July will be a bit more successful.
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!