Review: Spellslinger

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kellen’s father and mother are JanTep, great mages of their tribe who have been trained to do amazing things with magic. As Kellen approaches his sixteenth birthday however, it’s pretty clear that he won’t be following in their footsteps. Then Ferius Parfax arrives in town and everything Kellen thought he knew is suddenly turned upside down. Suddenly, not being a mage of the JanTep is the least of his concerns…

This was a very easy book to read and enjoy without being either too thought provoking or too lightweight. The “battle lines” of good and evil are very clearly drawn and the characters conform to their stereotypes brilliantly without being boring. Of course, Keeln and Ferius Parfax are the ones we hear most about and there is a great deal of detail about them. The many and varied supporting cast though are also a lot of fun; Reichis and his mother being hilarious and brilliantly sad all in the space of a few pages.

This is definitely not a book which will change the world or even really make you think. It’s just one that you’ll come away from with a bit more of a spring in your step.

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Review: Persons Unknown

Persons Unknown
Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Manon Bradshaw has moved her adopted son, Fly, her sister Ellie and nephew Solomon back to Cambridgeshire to try and keep Fly away from bad influences in London. Then Solomon’s dad is found murdered and Fly is implicated – has Manon made the right decision or has she brought Fly into the heart of danger?

I did enjoy the first Manon Bradshaw novel so I was interested to see how the story followed on. This second novel jumps straight in without really going back over old ground which, even as a previous reader, I found rather disorientating and a little bit confusing.

Manon herself is an interesting character but the author does seem to spend a lot of time making her, at 5 months pregnant, not able to do very much. I actually found this quite irritating and not at all true to life and it did really spoil the book for me as I cannot see why a woman who is 5 months pregnant with her first child can’t walk properly!

I have always very much liked the characters of Fly and Davey and they don’t disappoint again. The introduction of Mark is also positive as he is an interesting character who I would like to know more about.

The crime itself is not really a big part of the book to be honest and, even if it was, I didn’t really like the people involved. I really dislike corporate “fat cats” “getting away with murder” and I think this was done quite poorly in this story.

All in all, this follow up didn’t grab me as much as the first novel and I had started to get quite irritated with the character of Manon. I am not sure how the author can take it from here, but I won’t be rushing to read the next one if there is one. Rather a disappointing read.

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Review: One of Us Is Lying

One of Us Is Lying
One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nate (the Bad Boy), Cooper (The Baseball Hero), Addy (The Popular Girl) and Bronwyn (The Clever One) find themselves in a detention they don’t deserve with Simon, the author of a school app which discloses people’s darkest secrets. Then Simon has an allergic reaction and dies. Who did it?

I thought this was a great book; a real cut above the usual writing about teenage angst. All four of the central characters are so well written and the nature of the story means that their characters are revealed slowly and with so much care that you really feel you have got into their minds.

Other than the four main characters, there is a really excellent supporting cast; I particulalry liked Bronwyn’s sister and Cooper’s “Nonny”, but even the minor characters do have a part to play in bringing the story together and are equally as well written as any of the main four.

Of course, it wasn’t really hard to guess who did it and how but by that stage it wasn’t really the point. This is a book about having to come of age quickly and finding out who your real friends are when you need them and it does that brilliantly. Definitely a recommended read.

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Review: Exquisite

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bo and Alice are writers who meet at a writer’s retreat Bo is running and become fast friends. Bo invites Alice to stay with her and then, on Bo’s suggestion, Alice decides to move closer to continue the relationship. All of a sudden things take a much more serious turn. As both writers tell us the story of what happened, who is closer to the truth?

I like the premise of the book and the blurb describes it as “sinister” and “terrifying”. Unfortunately, it never reaches those dizzying heights for me and, in fact, I am not sure that either of those things are really true.

Alice and Bo are interesting characters and the way that the book is written (alternating their POV) works well and is clever. The trouble is (and without trying to give too much away) as the writers have so much to hide, it means we aren’t really getting to know them as well as we might and even the “reveal” at the end is confusing because it just means, for me, that the rest of the book makes even less sense than it did before.

I think this is an extremely cleverly plotted story and it is very well written. I just wonder if it’s a bit too clever for its own good!

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Review: Hunted

Hunted by Meagan Spooner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yeva’s father has taught her to be a hunter so, when the family are forced to relocate to a remote cabin in the woods, Yeva follows her father when he goes out to provide for his family. When he doesn’t come back one day, Yeva goes to look for him but in doing so encounters an adversary who is more than a match for her.

I absolutely love Slavic tales and Russian folklore so as soon as I opened this novel I knew it woule be for me. Although it is supposedly from the YA genre, I found it had a depth that those stories often don’t have and again, this added to my overall enjoyment very much.

Yeva and the Beast, of course, are very well rounded characters who we get to know well as one would expect. The real strength of this retelling for me though, were the other characters (both animal and human) who were also expertly brought to life and most definitely not just there on the sidelines.

The central relationship between Yeva and the Beast is sensitively done but not over the top, and we begin to get to know him as she does; as a complex character with many sides to him, all fighting for dominance. The cleverness with which the Beauty and the Beast tale is interwoven with Russian fairy tales adds yet another dimension to the story and again, just makes it an absolute joy to immerse oneself in.

This is a beautifully written story and a lovely book and I would definitely recommend reading it for yourself.

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Review: How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tom Hazard is a History teacher in London. He’s a pretty good teacher because to him it isn’t History – Tom has been alive for centuries. Marion is Tom’s daughter. She’s also still alive. Tom had to leave her and her mother to keep them safe but it’s the greatest regret of his life and Tom will do anything to find Marion alive. After all, there’s no point to life if he can’t find her. Is there?

This is yet another lovely, thought provoking story by the brilliant Matt Haig who, once again, goes right down to the essence of humanity and pulls out what living is “all about”. Tom has had a long and fascinating life but it isn’t enough; he lost the woman he loved and was then scared to put himself in that position again. The lovely scenes with Camille are what remind us all that the important thing to do is not to spend those times worrying about what will happen in the future and instead to concentrate on what we have right now. Living in the present is the only way.

Once again, Matt Haig reminds us what is is to be human. Once again, he’s right!

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Review: The Ice

The Ice
The Ice by Laline Paull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tom Harding and Sean Cawson are Arctic Explorers and best friends but as Sean becomes more successful in business Tom becomes more of an eco-warrior and when his body is recovered three years after the accident in which he disappeared, Sean must re-evaluate all his ideas of what success really means and whether it was worth it.

I like the premise of this book which is set only a few years into the future when climate change has really set in and the Arctic ice is melting. I can see that there is definitely scope for that to be exploited on both sides and I am sure that it will be if that is indeed what transpires and I think Laline Paull’s story based upon that idea is certainly an interesting one.

Having said that, I would have liked the Arctic itself to have been more of a “character” in the book, particularly as a lot of the human characters aren’t actually that likeable themselves – even Sean has done some quite unpleasant things to get where he is and Martine and Kingsmith are thoroughly reprehensible. In actuality, the whole group of people seem to be really self involved and it is therefore quite difficult to warm to them or start to be interested in what might happen to them.

The bits about the Arctic at the beginning of each chapter are interesting, but don’t always seem to relate to the rest of the action at that stage in the book and could probably be better placed with more careful thought. They do add to the idea of the Arctic being strange and interesting though, and again, this made me want to hear more about the land in the book than the machinations of the people involved.

In summary, I enjoyed the setting of this book as it is not one I have really had much to do with previously, and I would definitely read another set in the “Frozen North”. Whether I would read another by this author though, I am not really all that sure.

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Review: Sea

Sea by Sarah Driver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mouse and Sparrow are Sea dwellers; living on the “Huntress” whose captain is their grandmother and looking forward to the Tribe meet where they can meet up with their Da again. It isn’t da though, who gets onto the boat, it’s Stag who takes over Da’s job as navigator and who starts to change everything. Now Mouse must step up to be the Captain that she was always destined to be.

This is marketed as a story for younger readers but unfortunately I don’t think it quite hits that mark. Some of the themes are a little more adult than 9+ and some of the language and the way things are written would, I think, be more suitable for teens or YA than younger children.

Mouse is an interesting character but there didn’t really seem to be enough time to develop her relationship with anyone else in the novel before things quickly moved on and she was then spending a great deal of time with someone else. I can see that there was a lot to get through, but I did feel that the story was secondary to the ideas, and that everything could have taken just that little bit longer to evolve.

Having said that, the descriptions of “The Huntress” were excellent and really did come to life. These were definitely the best part of the book and I hope they won’t be lost as the story continues to the next stage in “Sky”.

This is an interesting start to a trilogy and I will definitely look for the next one; I hope that it gives the author a chance to settle into her stride and slow things down a little as there is definitely an interesting story to tell.

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Review: Waking in Time

Waking in Time
Waking in Time by Angie Stanton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Abbi is so excited to start at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in honour of her beloved Grandmother. Three days in, she wakes up in her own bed in her own room but with a new roommate and absolutely no idea of why she is now in 1983. Why is Abbi going back in time? Does it have to do with the mystery “baby” grandma mentioned? And if so, how on earth will she ever get back again?

This is a very easy novel to read and doesn’t really involve too much thinking. The characters of Abbi, Will and Smitty and fun but one doesn’t have time to become involved with any of the supporting cast as, as soon as Abbi meets them, she is on her way again. I have not read the other “time travelling” novels and do not know if this can be overcome in some way, but it does mean that most of the action centres on the same people and places and I think the author may have needed to take a bit more care that this was not too repetitive and that the reader, let alone Abbi herself, had time to get things straight before the action moved ahead.

This aside, this was definitely an enjoyable book as a light read and I am sure it will appeal to a range of readers of varying ages.

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Review: Rather Be the Devil

Rather Be the Devil
Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rebus is retired and supposedly taking things easy but he isn’t feeling great and has been persuaded to give up cigarettes. To keep himself occupied he thinks back to a murder from years ago when a wealthy socialite was murdered at the Caledonian Hotel. In the meantime, Big Ger Cafferty is also supposed to have started to take things easy. So when his rival, Darryl Christie, is attacked, Rebus knows who to go to. But is this new crime somehow to do with what happened years ago? And how can Rebus investigate when he isn’t even on the force any more. As Siobhan Clarke comes to see, being retired isn’t slowing him down one bit!

I do enjoy the Rebus novels and this one settles into its normal rhythms in the first few paragraphs with Rebus spending a meal out with Deborah Quant talking about a cold case murder. I did think the series had come to a natural end when Rebus retired and, although it is always good to see him, I am not entirely sure that even his bullish personality would just allow him to go around Edinburgh barging into police stations and interviewing suspects by not actually telling them who he is. Suspending this disbelief though, this is another great romp around the city with Rebus, as usual, sticking his nose into everyone’s business in order to solve both a very new and a very old crime.

Another rebus novel is always welcome and this one is no different. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will keep reading the novels as long as Ian Rankin is prepared to keep on writing them.

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