(Mixed Bag because I am lazy) Little Bits

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Received from NetGalley for review. 

3.5 stars

Although The Price Guide to the Occult is by no means a bad book, it felt a bit flat to me. The opening and initial build up is strange and eerie, but I felt that after that it became too much of a slow-burner. The premise is interesting, if nothing particularly new – a line of witches who are cursed, repeating the same mistakes and carrying on the line on an isolated island – but I generally love stories about witches so I wasn’t too bothered about the lack of originality.

Nor is the latest Blackburn daughter and is happily unremarkable – her Burden (power) being an ability to understand animals and plants. We immediately know that Nor has magic, we soon learn that her mother Fern is psychotic and up to something, but nothing else really happens – it’s just a lot of waiting for Fern to turn up and watching things on Anathema Island become weirder and darker. It’s only 288 pages long, but those last 100 were a bit too much of a struggle to get through, and as much as I liked the characters I found myself not really caring what happened at the end because I’d pretty much figured it out less than fifty pages in. So, not bad, but not brilliant either – I found it to be a bit bland in terms of plot, but I did like the characters and their interactions.

Read: March 30th 2018

3.5/5 stars

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett

I never knew I could love a book about climbing mountains so much, but here we are. Admittedly, it was about climbing an incredibly dangerous, never-climbed-before mountain to hunt down an ancient talisman and prevent the end of the world but still, I was not expecting it to be as enthralling as it was. The setting – a Himalayan-esque, Nepalese inspired mountainous world, the characters – Kamzin, River, and Ragtooth (and the yak) I’m looking at you, the journey, the magic. Everything about it, I loved.

I only had two minor issues with the story – I called the ‘big reveal’ early on (but it was still amazing so I didn’t really mind) and I found the ending, and I mean the last three or so pages, a little lacklustre. After all the reveals and danger that had come before it, the ending was more of a whisper than a bang. HOWEVER, I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book in January and will just have to live in torture until then.

Read: April 7th-10th 2018

5/5 stars

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Little Bits

Angry Arthur by Hiawyn Oram

“Why was I so angry?” he thought.
He never did remember.
Can you?

Still relatable over thirty years after it was first published, and over twenty years since I first read it.

Read: 1st March 2018

4/5 stars

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: prompt #35, a past Goodreads Choice Awards winner.

i stand
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
thinking
what can i do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther

– legacy

Rupi Kaur makes me feel like I have been stripped down and laid bare, been wrenched apart and lovingly put back together; her poetry is my soul song and I am full to the brim with power, femininity, magic, and chaos. She speaks of trauma, of abuse, self-hate and self-love, women and all their might, and she does it with such skill that it leaves me breathless. Outstanding.

Read: March 25th 2018

5/5 stars

The Knight Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Barbara Shook Hazen

I remember reading this when I was about six and being highly amused by a knight who was scared of all kinds of dark (even the momentary dark of putting his armour on), but the older I get, the more I relate; darkness is scary and that knight wasn’t so silly after all.

Read: circa 1996, remembered in 2018

4/5 stars

Little Bits: NetGalley Edition

Everless (Everless, #1) by Sara Holland

Received from NetGalley for review. 

DNF @ 143 pages

I’m putting this on hold for now; I don’t think it’s a bad book, or poorly written, simply not the right book for me at the moment. The premise is interesting – a society where time has become currency, so the rich live for centuries and the poor bleed themselves dry just to try and survive – but I found the execution rather dull. Although I was initially interested in Jules’ story, once she arrived at Everless I felt that interest disappear, and the book has been sat on my table gathering dust for months since. I might return to it (I still think the story has promise, I’m just not bothered about it right now) but, for now, I’m going to move on to other things.

Read: March 18th 2018

2/5 stars

The Magic Garden by Lemniscates 

Received from NetGalley for review.

This is an adorable children’s book; a perfect introduction to the magic of the natural world and the wonders you can find in your garden. The Magic Garden discusses the many marvels of nature throughout the year, with nature itself telling a young girl, Chloe, about all the creatures and plants and how they change and survive. I especially liked the extra information at the end of the story, where different aspects of the natural world – how caterpillars become butterflies, why spiders weave webs, what pollination is – are explained in an accessible way. The illustrations are lovely – both delicate and vibrantly coloured – and show off the beauty that can be found in nature, complementing the text perfectly.

Read: March 21st 2018

4/5 stars

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

To Kill a Kingdom

Received from NetGalley for review.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: prompt #25, a book set at sea.

“In my heart, I’m as wild as the ocean that raised me.”

Princess Lira is a lethal siren who has the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection – one for every year she has been alive – but finds herself transformed into a human and outcast by her mother, the Sea Queen, unless she can bring her the heart of Elian, the prince of Midas. Lira thinks her task will be easy, she’s a ruthless killer who hates human, but she finds herself delaying Elian’s death, initially because her human body is weak, and then because a tentative friendship begins to form between her and Elian (and his crew), and we all know how that plays out…

“…I let it all fall away. My mission, my kingdom. The world. They exist somewhere other than in this moment, and now there is only this. Me, my ship, and a girl with oceans in her eyes.”

Yes, the storyline is predictable. The romance even more so. But, To Kill a Kingdom is such good fun, and the writing so lovely, that it really doesn’t matter. Killer sirens that physically rip hearts from a human’s chest, siren-hunting princes that are more like pirates, actual pirates, magic, ancient powers, the might and cruelty of the sea…it all makes for one hell of a novel and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Lira and Elian, and Elian’s crew on the Saad.

“They celebrate love as though it’s power, even though it has killed far more humans than I ever have.”

Predictability aside, I really enjoyed this novel. I loved Lira and her unapologetic fierceness, I loved Elian when the arrogant prince demeanour fell away, and I loved Elian’s crew (Kye, Madrid, and Torik are as precious as murderous pirates can be). There were some surprises in the plot throughout, but the real draw for me was the beautiful writing – I was there every moment with Lira and Elian, soaking up that salty sea air – and the characters, who I think Christo has crafted magnificently. They are so believable in every way and the way they trust and love one other is so lovely to read; no character felt flat or unnecessary. This really is an astounding debut – the story has depth without being difficult to read or understand, and the characters feel so real. I can’t wait to see what Christo writes next.

“In the pits of our souls – if I amuse myself with the notion that I have a soul – Elian and I aren’t so different. Two kingdoms that come with responsibilities we each have trouble bearing. Him, the shackles of being pinned to one land and one life. Me, trapped in the confines of my mother’s murderous legacy. And the ocean, calling out to us both. A song of freedom and longing.”

Read: March 4th-11th 2018

4/5 stars

(Not So Little) Little Bits: NetGalley Edition

The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek

Received from NetGalley for review.

He paused to take a breath. ‘And there were no sirens. They wanted everything to burn.’

The Children of Willesden Lane is another great addition to the wealth of memoirs and accounts of World War II. Golabek tells the story of her mother as a Jewish teenager in Vienna; Lisa is a musical prodigy who finds herself sent to England with thousands of other Jewish children through the Kindertransport, an organised rescue effort to get them out of Nazi Europe and to safety. Through Lisa’s eyes we see how the Nazi regime affected Jewish citizens, even those who managed to get away from Nazi occupation, and the worry and confusion that comes with it.

Through her music, however, Lisa is able to find amazing bravery and resilience, as are the other inhabitants of Willesden Lane, who find inspiration from Lisa and each other to work hard and persevere. There is so much courage and hope throughout the novel, and it really shows how brave people of all ages had to be during the war – Lisa may have escaped the terror of Hitler’s regime but there were still obstacles to overcome and hardships to endure, and I liked how the novel showed that perspective of the war.

It was odd, she thought, how being with others like herself made her fears easier to endure.

Read: January 19th 2018

4/5 stars

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Received from NetGalley for review. 

Look until the leaves turn red, sew the worlds up with thread. If your journey’s left undone, fear the rising of the sun.

The Hazel Wood is trippy as fuck. I wish I had a more eloquent way to put it, but I really don’t. A reclusive author, being followed by bad luck, the mysterious Hazel Wood estate, dark fairy tale characters coming to life, the Hinterland bleeding into the everyday. It’s like you’ve had just a few too many drinks – I spent the first 70% of the novel wondering what the hell was going on, but still enjoying every moment of the bizarre journey Alice was undertaking as she desperately tried to find her mother. It’s creepy and mysterious and wonderful.

Alice was an interesting character to read as she’s pretty unlikeable most of the time; she’s angry, guarded, and can be ignorant (police incident with Finch, I’m looking at you), but I found myself rooting for her at the end and I do think she grew as a character as she learned more about herself. Finch, on the other hand, was adorable and I loved him, even if his motivations sometimes seemed a bit misguided, and Janet was a brilliant character as well.

I’ve read a lot of reviews by people who found this book boring and I can see how it might be seen as long-winded road trip, but, even though it is definitely a slow burner in places, I was kept hooked by the mystery of the Hazel Wood and the Hinterland.

Read: February 25th-March 1st 2018

4/5 stars

Little Bits

The Inner Beauty Bible by Laurey Simmons

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: prompt #22, a book with alliteration in the title → I have never been a massively spiritual person, but I have always been open minded and felt a strong affinity with the natural world and its healing potential, as well as its beauty. Although I found some of the rituals in The Inner Beauty Bible too entrenched in a spiritual lifestyle, I love the way Laurey Simmons frames the world and the emphasis that she has placed on ancient and multicultural teachings about nature and inner beauty. In this chaotic, stressful world I think it’s really important to be able to disconnect from the madness and pressures placed on us, even if all that involves is a walk, hot bath, or a nice candle, and there are some lovely suggestions here about slowing down, taking a breath, and nourishing that inner awesome.

Read: January 28th 2018

3/5 stars

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

4.5 stars

The Sky Song was the call of Eska’s tribe, built of wild, unexpected things – Erkenbears, eagles, giants, inventors, little lost girls and the Sky Gods themselves – and it was the fiercest sound of all.

Well, consider me an emotional wreck. This is such a beautiful story, full of magic, wonder, and the power of both stories and friendships, and I was enamoured with Eska and her world from the very first sentence.

Read: February 18th-23rd 2018

4.5/5 stars stars

Make More Noise! by Various

Make More Noise

“You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

Make More Noise! has been published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage – when some women were finally able to vote in Britain. The stories have been written by established and new voices within children’s literature, and they all celebrate strong, inspiring female characters throughout the ages, both fictional and real. As well as celebrating women’s suffrage, and the continuing battle for worldwide equality, £1 from the sale of every book goes directly to Camfed, which tackles poverty and inequality by supporting women’s education in developing countries.

“Women everywhere are fighting this. We’re coming together, and we’re kicking, and we’re shouting, and we’re marching, and we’re speaking, and we won’t be silenced. And we will win.” – Out for the Count

Out for the Count by Sally Nichols – 5/5 stars. 2nd April 1911, the census. Women all over the country walked out of their houses and refused to be counted for the census if they wouldn’t be counted for the vote. An excellent insight into what was happening during 1911, what the suffragettes were fighting for, and the horrendous inequality of the time.

“And I think if we want to discover the secrets of life and make something important, we shouldn’t have to listen to people that tell us what we are supposed or not supposed to do.” – The Bug Hunters

The Bug Hunters by M.G. Leonard – 5/5 stars. Oh, I loved this. Sofia, who loves bugs and nature, has to move and attend a new school, where the other children promptly mock her for her love of bugs. The children are really cruel, and it saddens me that children can be that horrible and judgemental, even at eleven. Beatrice, however, shows Sofia kindness despite being labelled as the ‘weird kid’, and I was practically tearing up when Bea got up to do Show and Tell about Maria Merian.

All Things Bright and Beautiful by Patrice Lawrence – 4.5/5 stars. Such a harrowing and hopeful story about the plight of working and living conditions of girls and women in the Victorian era, and the exposure Olive Malvery gave them.

The Green-Hearted Girl by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – 4.5/5 stars. A broken-hearted weather witch, a sea of tears, tree people, a green-hearted girl. A wonderful myth-like story about overcoming differences.

“If you want things to change, you’ve got to speak up. You have to fight for what you want.” – Tea and Jam

Tea and Jam by Katherine Woodfine – 4.5/5 stars. Another suffrage-era story, with Eveline, a young maid, having her eyes opened to the suffragette movement and the different ways that equality can be fought for.

“I may not reflect the old-fashioned notion of feminine beauty, but why should there be only one kind?” – On Your Bike (perhaps not such a strange or radical notion in 2018, but in 1894? Annie was making waves and smashing those glass ceilings).

On Your Bike by Jeanne Willis – 4.5/5 stars. Annie Londonderry became the first woman to cycle around the world, proving most of the world wrong after two wealthy men made a wager that a woman would never be able to do it. A truly inspiring story.

The Tuesday Afternoon Ghost by Ella Risbridger – 4.5/5 stars. Maybe a ghost story, maybe not, this is all about the power of stories and how they’re told and believed.

The Otter Path by Emma Carroll – 5/5 stars. A lovely war-time story about not assuming you know everything about someone, and realising that there’s often something going on beneath the surface. Plus, otters!

The Race by Ally Kennen – 4.5/5 stars. A young girl staying on a farm with five rambunctious male cousins and her eccentric aunt and uncle who starts off whiney and quiet? I wasn’t expecting to love this as much as I did, but then it turned into this wonderful tale of Faith finding herself and being true to who she really is. So heart-warming and inspiring.

“Honestly, all these people sitting round saying something should be done, and doing nothing! We’re different. We discuss, decide and then do something!” – Discuss, Decide, Do

Discuss, Decide, Do by Catherine Johnson – 5/5 stars. Post-war Britain, The 43 Group, standing up and fighting against fascism, bullying, and racism. A very powerful ending to this excellent collection of short stories.

If I’ve taken anything away from this collection, it’s that you can never just stand by and hope things will get better, or that people will become less ignorant. We have to affect change if we want it to happen. Make sure you use your voice in any way you can, any way that is safe. Stand against cruelty, nastiness, bullying, inequality, dehumanisation. Don’t just stand by and watch: make more noise, until they listen.

Read: February 14th-18th 2018

5/5 stars

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1) by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince

Received from NetGalley for review. 

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: prompt #34, a book that’s published in 2018.

If I cannot be better than them, I will be so much worse.

I won’t lie – I want to live in Faerie. Even with all the danger, the intrigue, the trickery, the brutality, I love it. And I especially love Holly Black’s imaginings of the Fae world. The Cruel Prince is full of darkness and cruelty, non-stop action, moves and counter-moves, and I was living for it.

Jude is a mortal, stolen away to Elfhame after the murder of her parents, with her twin Taryn, and half-fae sister Vivi, by Vivi’s father, Madoc. Although Madoc protects and loves Jude and Taryn, they are seen very much as ‘other’ amongst the Fae and have to protect themselves against enchantments, Fae food, and glamours. Throughout the novel, Jude struggles with wanting to fit in with the Fae whilst being aware of how dangerous they can be; most of the other Fae are rude or cruel to Jude and Taryn (especially Prince Cardan and his cronies), and Jude can’t help but rise to the bait, which usually makes things worse.

I can see why humans succumb to the beautiful nightmare of the Court, why they willingly drown in it.

loved Jude – she is smart, sarcastic, tough, and relatable as a teenage girl trying to find her place. She wants nothing more than to become a knight and serve the High King, but soon finds herself embroiled in the messy world of politics, and surrounded by murderers, thieves, and rogues – she has to try and be smarter than the Fae, more cunning that centuries old immortals who have no time or inclination for human kindness. I also loved Prince Cardan, though I’m still not sure whether I’m meant to or not. He has the whole beautiful, cruel, and brooding thing going on, with the hint of something deeper beneath the surface. I’m a sucker for a pretty Fae prince.

Storms are less fickle than they are, seas less capricious.

Although the novel didn’t quite play out like I wanted it to – the last one hundred pages or so were a bit hit and miss for me – I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know anyone interested in the world of Fae, or Holly Black’s previous novels, will do too. It’s an incredibly twisty plot, full of politics and intrigue and cut-throat Fae, and I fell in love with the characters and their murky alliances.

Read: February 8th-12th 2018

4/5 stars