A black forest gateaux of a series – Caraval and Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended, teen book reviews

Scarlett and Donatella Dragma escape their cruel and controlling father to enter the magical world of Caraval, a magical game and competition run by the mysterious Legend. Each sister must risk their lives and test their daring and their love as they compete, to save each other’s lives and more as the alluring world sweeps them into it’s depths and stories. In a world where they can’t know what is true each sister has secrets and plans that in turn will affect the whole world around them.

Trying to summarise two books is difficult!! I thought I had already reviewed Caraval, but it seems not so I’m doing two in one. First thought – these are great! They are the books most like one of my favourites ever The Night Circus that I have read. They draw you in quickly and deeply, the world they create is exciting in it’s twists and turns and evocative and sensual in it’s magic and setting. I’ve really enjoyed them – but I do think they’re a bit over done, a little over sensual and over descriptive. A little over flavoured – like a black forest gateaux.

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A refreshingly paced read full of humanity and heart – Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended, teen book reviews

Taliah gave up on her father long ago: he never responded to any of her letters, and he’s a rock star. But one day the famous Julian Oliver turns up on her doorstep to whisk her away, not only to get to know him but her whole family. With her mother ignorant and out of the country Taliah has only a three days to find out where she came from, and why she’s never known him before.

This book was great! Probably my favourite thing about it was that the whole story, a fairly short novel, took place over only three days. We journeyed with Taliah in (much closer to) realtime, with each encounter and moment, not missing a conversation or encounter. I don’t remember when I last read a book like that, and I really enjoyed it.

I thought this was going to be the perfect book for me but it broke my heart – The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

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When Ásta and most of the rest of her Icelandic village are kidnapped and shipped off to Algiers she was about to give birth, and her third child is born in the hold of the ship, surrounded by people she has known for many years. Her family is separated and sold to different owners, and her husband is sent back to plead a ransom. Ásta finds her new world a confusing mixture of abhorrent and compelling, and must try to tread a path between mourning her lot and making a new life.

I was so excited when this book arrived. The cover is beautiful, it’s set in Iceland, the title suggests selkies (a Scottish and probably beyond mythological creature: a seal that walks out of the water and turns into a woman) and goodness gracious me, it’s actually a book about a mother. And boy was it excellent, but it was also utterly heart wrenching.

I’m so glad I stopped avoiding this book – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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When Cora’s husband dies, she is finally freed from a domineering and cruel marriage. She explores her interests: and when hunting for the mysterious Essex Serpent which has overcome a village’s imagination, she meets a man in a field and helps a farmer rescue a sheep. To both of their amusement she’s later introduced to him by mutual friends, and they start a friendship that enriches their lives beyond measure: until it goes further than they intended. Will’s wife is dying, Cora’s strange doctor paramour is pushing the limits of modern medicine, her servant is enlisting the help of a pining rich man and falling for a poor one, and the various people grow together and apart in interesting ways.

I avoided this book for quite a long time. I saw that it was about a vicar and read enough to suspect that it was going to be rather sordid, and as a Christian and a person who knows a lot of really great vicars I’m so tired of them being portrayed in a contrary way. After a real person recommendation I picked it up, and though there were a couple of moments, this was largely a thoughtful people study of a novel, and I very much enjoyed it.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo – I really did not expect to enjoy this.

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You know, don’t you? Like the film? No? Alright then. The Don presides over a vast array of networks and family, and through the book navigates the balances of power, warfare and affection that moves around him. Rival gangs fight. People ask for favours. Protection is given. But The Don is old, and his eldest son is only interested in women, the middle isn’t up the the job, and the youngest spurned the Mafia life long ago. With enemies closing in and the centre of power seeming to fail, what will happen to the family business?

I never ever thought I’d read this. I haven’t even seen the film. But when a friend with almost flawless taste recommended it, I had to give it a go. And to my shock, and despite a whole load of things that usually put me off, I really enjoyed this book. It draws you in so cleverly to the world of the Mafia; to their alternate morals and loyalties, to their feuds and family.

The Eight Books to buy this Christmas – my ultimate literary gift guide

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, children's books, Recommended, teen book reviews, Uncategorized

Stuck for present ideas? Look no further! A book is a thoughtful, pleasingly weighty and easily wrapped gift. It says, I’ve thought about you. I’ve considered what you might like. I’ve invited you onto a journey, nay, adventure, through these pages I have purchased for you. I believe that you can read.

And here I’ve done the thought and research for you. Pick the most appropriate gift for the person you love, tolerate or are obligated to buy for and get wrapping! Plus my top book of the year is hidden in there too…

Here are my top tips for:

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend – a ridiculously good adventure that I’ve already read twice

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Morrigan Crow has always known when the end would come. As a cursed child, she is destined to die on her eleventh birthday, but instead at midnight Morrigan finds herself apprenticed and semi-kidnapped by an extraordinary figure called Jupiter North and taken into a land that she never knew existed, and where she finds she has been entered into a contest to join the mysterious Wundrous Society, despite her apparent lack of a qualifying ‘knack.’ But on the journey through her trials she finds freedom, fun, loving family for the first time and hopes desperately that there is something she can do to let her stay…

This book was just so good. It put an almost constant smile on my face the whole way through. It begins with the maudlin and melancholy of Morrigan with her family, but moves into such a fantastic blend of warmth, crazy fantasy and humour that I was completely enchanted. It’s probably a book for 9-12 year olds but I’ve been recommending it to anyone who loves this sort of thing anyway – and I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Still reminding me of Narnia and still a great read – Traitor to the Throne, book 2 from Alwyn Hamilton

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A year after Amani joined the rebels in the desert, she’s become well known as the Blue-Eyed-Bandit and honed her skills in battle and in her magic power. But still, she is captured and imprisoned in the Sultan’s harem, where she is stripped of her powers, her support and her freedom. But plots are thickening in the city and the rebels are determined to reach her – and she is soon embroiled in more plots and works from within for the rebels cause.

It’s been a little while since I read this, so some points are a bit hazy for me: but I know I really enjoyed it. As I commented on the first instalment, to me it feels like an expanded study on sections of The Horse and His Boy, which makes it hugely attractive to me! Remember flashes of it and writing this makes me want to read it again – so that’s definitely a win!

When a sequel more than lives up to the first – I can’t get enough of Katharine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower

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After running from a home that is no longer safe (after events of first book…) Vasya tries for adventure, determined to travel the world and see it’s wonders. But evil is on the loose and children are being stolen – and it seems she may be the only one who can stop it. With her ability to see and speak to spirits, her much-more-than-ordinary horse and her instinct she must try to discover what is happening and save Russia, battling evil, politics, convention and even her own family along the way.

The first book of this series, The Bear and the Nightingale, has been one of my very favourite books this year, so when I found out there was another one and I could read it I was ecstatic! And the sequel didn’t disappoint. It jumped straight back into the story and hurdled through adventure, character development and a twisting plot with a fantastic blend of the familiar and the new. The setting continues to entrance me; Vasya is a terrific heroine and basically there isn’t anything I don’t love about these books. And there will be more, hooray!

This is possibly the cleverest book I’ve ever read – The Changeling by Victor Lavalle

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A new father is obsessed with his baby. Proud, loving, caring, desperate to care for it. But it’s mother does not think it’s a baby. When she commits the unspeakable then disappears, the father is left devastated – but in the middle of his grief and anger is drawn into a far stranger world than he ever imagined, which he must conquer to recover what has been lost.

This is probably the strangest book I have ever read – and certainly one of the cleverest. And also one of the most difficult. I am thoroughly glad I read this book a few months ago and not after my baby has been born (scheduling ahead from maternity leave here…) as I could only just about cope at that moment. It crosses boundaries books don’t usually broach, but follows it up extremely well. I was left shocked, surprised, thrilled, confounded and delighted by different parts of the story, and continue to think of it with complete amazement. What a triumph!