Sword and Pen review

Sword and Pen by Rachel Caine

Having finished the previous one in this series January 2019, I was very excited because I loved this series but also had no idea what’s going on. Thankfully within the first chapter I was reacquainted with the characters of the series, as well as The Great Library of Alexandria where scholars and obscurists live and protect the library. If you have no idea what I’m talking about please go and read the rest of the books because this will make no sense to you.

If you insist on continuing and have no idea what’s going on, here’s a quick summary MAJOR SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS BOOKS: the Great Library of Alexandria survived and still exists. There are automatons and people with a mix of alchemy and magic called obscurists. The previous head of the library, the archivist, was corrupt and has been overthrown, and he is now sitting and plotting the downfall of the library. Owning books is not allowed. The magic people, obscurists used to be imprisoned. Jess has criminal connections. His twin brother died at the end of the last book. He had a brief fling with Morgan, a powerful obscurist. Jess joined the high garda, who guard the great library. Thomas is really really smart. There are a group of people called burners who burn books in protesting the great library. Some people have invented a printing press.

So back to the review. I think the whole concept of the library system is really cool, with all knowledge being controlled by the Great Library which has denominations in other countries, and book smugglers. I was genuinely excited to see what events would unfold and let me tell you I did not expect a single one of them. A constant atmosphere of uncertainty and drama was maintained throughout the book with lots of action and twists and turns.

The book follows several individual viewpoints and different times in the novel which I enjoyed, although sometimes when switching from character to character we went back in time a bit to show what was happening in different places at the same point. I didn’t really notice for most of the book, and thankfully didn’t find it too disruptive. I forgot the main adult relationship was a gay one which was an awesome surprise, and the one thing that really stood out for me was Jess’s injury. He suffers an injury at the start of the book, and instead of it being brushed off or healing strangely fast and not bothering him, it is given the focus necessary for that type of injury which I really appreciated.

I was very happy with the ending, and the way all the characters’ storylines were wrapped up. Would I survive this book? Yeah I think so, although I’m not sure if I could live without free access to books.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder Review

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

I was super excited to read this book, and within a few pages I was ready to cancel the rest of activities in my day to finish it!

I’m going to have to start with the setting. I hadn’t known this beforehand, but Holly Jackson is a British writer and the book is set in one of the counties near me, so I knew a lot of the places and I don’t know why but that always excites me! There were several British aspects to it, including Pippa, the main character doing an EPQ in sixth form. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s an Extended Project Qualification (a project done on a chosen subject that helps with university applications.

Pippa does her EPQ on a murder that happened a few years ago in her town, since she doesn’t believe the boy who was blamed for Andie’s murder truly killed her. As she digs deeper into it, she teams up with the alleged murderer’s younger brother and uncovers layer upon layer of coverups and secrets.

The book is written in prose, as well as having transcripts and written logs from Pippa’s EPQ. I think this was an excellent choice because it allows insights into the conversations Pippa has with suspects and witnesses first-hand, as well as knowing Pippa’s private thought processes through her written logs. The tension is slowly ramped up, until I was really quite anxious! The plot is incredibly intricate and tangled, with each thrilling clue painting a different picture of what really happened with Andie’s murder. I was absolutely addicted to the ominous and dark atmosphere.

I really liked all the characters, especially Pippa who absolutely refuses to put up with prejudices, as well as refusing to stop her EPQ or agree with anyone. I especially liked that she is a high-achieving student and the whole murder mystery began with a school project and she isn’t shown as a boring, no fun nerd. All the characters were complicated, as is necessary with a mystery, and one of my favourite bits is that in the beginning Pippa’s friends are more surprised that she’s already started her EPQ than the subject of the murder, which is very relatable. My one grumble is that when one of Pippa’s friends goes through a breakup and simply sends a text saying SOS, they all rush over to her house with chocolate and face masks and things. That’s just not very realistic, at least in my experience?

In conclusion this is an incredible, tense murder investigation by a schoolgirl who isn’t supposed to be doing it, and I loved it. SO many twists. It was even better than I expected, and it had been pretty hyped up to me!

Wool Review

Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool is the first adult sci-fi book I’ve read in a while, and it did NOT disappoint. I had been putting it off because I was a bit (a lot) intimidated by its thickness but I am now very annoyed that I didn’t pick it up sooner! As I write this review I’m actually finding myself smiling at the thought of it.

Wool is set in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone lives in underground silos, with 144 levels each with different purposes. The earth’s air is toxic, and the people live under lots of regulations but there is one main one: never say you want to go outside. Going outside is fatal, and the people who get sent out only live long enough to clean the cameras which provide a view of the outside world. Anyone who says they want to go outside are sent, as well as criminals.

I’ll start with the plot and writing. The writing and plot were amazing. The end.

Just kidding.

Not about the plot being amazing though. There was a delicious mix of slow reveals with clues dispersed through the chapters, and shock reveals that left me staring into the distance trying to process it. Since it’s been a while, I had forgotten how complex adult sci-fi could be and how many things happen simultaneously and it was a delightful surprise, never over-complicating while having lots of depth. The further I got the more questions I had, and one answer would create a thousand more questions which I loved since the answers came at a sensible rate. The story is brilliantly paced, keeping the atmosphere of different scenes right while moving on the plot. Basically most of my notes are me being shocked. Some quotes include ‘I am shook. How did I not see this coming. I’m as observant as a mole’ and ‘If I am given one more shock I will have a heart attack please stop this and let me live the story, I keep having to stop.’ I also noted down page 200, so I think the action steps up then. The action descriptions are wonderful and immersive, bringing me onto the characters.

The main character, Jules, is not introduced immediately, instead we follow the story of a couple of other members of the silo. This continues throughout the novel, so while we spend a lot of time following Jules, we also follow several other characters for varying amounts of time to supplement the plot. Even so, I fell in love with Jules almost immediately. She was direct and down to earth and not afraid to speak her mind. The characters are subtly created through their interactions rather than descriptions leaving strong impressions, and then smashing my heart to pieces over charcters I barely know.

I always love seeing the communities in fantasy and sci-fi, how different people interact, and this novel illustrates its world beautifully, mostly drip-feeding information about the building of the silo, the different levels and how people interact. The way they live fascinates me, like how the electricians are a family and how people only go up to the top levels after a clearing and the different uses of the different levels as well as the mysterious way relationships and families work, which I’m still slightly in the dark about. Quick clue though: the place is very dysfunctional.

In conclusion, wow. The characters. The plot. The action. Just amazing. The only problem is that it ended far sooner than I thought, because there were lots of pages at the back! Very disappointing but the ending was great, and I’m excited to read the sequel. Would I survive this book? Unlikely, I hate being underground, I probably would have been wiped out in the apocalypse.

January 2020 Round-up

Happy January Everyone!

I can’t believe that January has gone by so quickly! It seems crazy we’re already a month into 2020, with only 11 to go when it seems like Christmas was yesterday. I’ve read 26 books this month and I’ve definitely got lucky- I’ve enjoyed every single one of them! There’s been a good mixture of fiction from authors new and old as well as some nonfiction, mainly medical because that’s one of my favourite nonfiction genres.

I’ve also done some writing, by which I mean I realised that I needed to finish my first novel there and put the rest in a second novel, then realised that it’s now a bit limp because it doesn’t have the rest of the plot so  I need to do something about that. And right as I was about to finish the novel I came up with a new idea for another novel and got side-tracked, so am now in a bit of a writing-related mess.

So, without further ado I am going to give my top 5 books of January 2020, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER because choosing an order might kill what’s left of my sanity and lead to me being a mad, reclusive bookworm. Or more accurately a madder, more reclusive bookworm.

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

What I liked about it: the unique format, gripping action and fast pace

What I didn’t like about it: my local library does not have the sequel

My favourite character: Hanna, a rich girl turned badass

Position in series: 2/3

Genres: sci-fi, young adult, fiction

Wool by Hugh Howey

What I liked about it: well thought out world building, lots of plot twists, every detail enriches the story in some way

What I didn’t like about it: too big to easily carry around

My favourite character: Jules, an all around legend and mechanics genius

Position in series: 1/3

Genres: sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, fiction

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

What I liked about it: rich culture, awesome magic, vivid characters

What I didn’t like about it: the sequel hasn’t even been announced yet

My favourite character: Zelie, a magic wielding, realistic emotioned maji

Position in series: 1/3

Genres: young adult, fantasy, fiction

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

What I liked about it: genuinely funny, well explained, honest and emotional

What I didn’t like about it: the lack of funding to the NHS, which is amazing

My favourite character: Adam, an ex-doctor

Position in series: standalone

Genres: nonfiction, medical, autobiography

For the Winner by Emily Hauser

What I liked about it: stunning setting descriptions, epic depiction of Ancient Greece and mythology, strong female character

What I didn’t like about it: nothing. Please write more Emily Hauser.

My favourite character: Atalanta, a bow wielding, powerful princess of Ancient Greece

Position in series: 2/3

Genres: historical fiction, fantasy, ancient Greece

Honourable mentions go to The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave for beautiful, lyrical writing, and to Renegades by Marissa Meyer for being fresh and all around excellent.

So that brings us to the end of my January top 5. It’s not a long read, but it certainly took me long enough to try and decide which five books to choose, and in the end I cheated by adding some honourable mentions at the end anyway! I hope your January reading has gone well and you’ve achieved any goals you wanted to! Get in contact and let me know or leave a comment below 😊

Gemina Review

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

I LOVED THIS BOOK.

First, a bit of context/ raving about the series as a whole. The key to this entire series is the format. Told through online messaging, transcripts, AI dialogue and other reports, there is not a single stream of narrative, which is what makes these books so incredible. They are so completely unique, yet the story pulls together brilliantly and I found myself more engaged in this series of documents than some normally written books so don’t discount them just because they look a bit different. That being said, I did try to read them as ebooks and that was a lot harder than reading them as physical books, which is ironic because the whole format is based on being online. The format is perfect for this story, it adds to the scientific/ space tech side of the story and it makes you piece together the story a little, which makes it far more exciting than having it all laid out in front of you while adding information that couldn’t have otherwise been in it. Plus, you don’t have to remember character names because of the transcripts say.

Gemina is the second book in the illuminae trilogy written by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. It follows the attack of the Jump Station Heimdall by a bunch of madpeople/ assassins sent by Beitech to catch the people of Hypatia when they arrive. So you can already tell this is going to be WILD. Once I picked it up I could not put it down, I got sucked in like a ship into a wormhole.

The main characters we meet are Nik and Hanna, along with the murder squad and Nik’s awesome cousin Ella. Somehow from simple dialogue and transcripts the characters make huge, distinct impressions on you, and they fight believably and they hurt but they keep going and it was a whole lot of emotions going through this journey with them, especially as links with the previous book began appearing. Hanna is a legend in a bomb jumpsuit, and I love her especially. Finally, he isn’t technically a character but the employee who transcribes the videos is absolutely great, humorous and real. The worldbuilding is incredible, believable and intricately detailed. Every little is detail is thought out, from the gravity on each level of the space station to imports and the drug trade. Kristoff and Kaufman have created such an amazing universe and it is utterly captivating.

And then there’s the plot. It blew my mind. An absolute rollercoaster. The first few pages were a little confusing, getting used to new characters, but the speed picked up and suddenly my heart was being used as a ping pong ball. The action in this is sustained through most of the book but never feels tired, it’s always beautiful and believable and shocking. It is chaotic with different things happening in different places on the ship yet I never felt lost. I was so gripped I completely forgot to make any notes throughout most of the novel, which might be why this review is slightly messy. The pace is fast, picks you up and doesn’t set you down until the end where you put down the book and squeal, slightly shellshocked. I am desperate for the sequel, and my local library does not have it which is incredibly upsetting. Other things that feature in this book are airlocks, blood, snakes on drugs, sass and quite a bit of murder.

Would I survive this book? No chance, I’m just a body floating around in space. Maybe a small chance if I hid in a wardrobe and stayed there the entire time. But unlikely.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance Review

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the second book in the Children of Orisha series. The novel starts just after the events of the previous book, continuing the incredible tale of Zelie, Inan and Amari and the struggle of the maji. This book was quite different in some ways, since Zelie managed to release magic it means that all the maji now have magic, as well as some of the non-maji, named titans. This changes how the battles are fought , as well as causing resentment as people who have oppresed the maji for so long for having magic now have magic themselves. Tomi Adeyemi artfully weaves religion, culture and magic together to create a brilliant setting for a fantasy novel.

The setting of the novel is like none I have ever read in a fantasy novel before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The use of a different language for the maji added to the sense of a different world, and the source of magic, while quite traditional in being from the gods, was written in a refreshing way including religion seamlessly in the culture. The settings described were beautiful, especially the rebel base, an ancient sacred place.

This story was told from three viewpoints: Princess Amari, Prince Inan and Zelie, a maji. All the characters in this book were very realistic despite it being a fantasy, and having three viewpoints showed three distinct individual ways of thinking and seeing the world, giving the story greater depth than it would have from just one. Not only this, but the main characters genuinely behaved like young adults. They made huge mistakes and refused to listen to reason because they were angry. They gave up after fighting pointless battles and watching people getting killed, they doubted themselves and their abilities no matter how many times things went right, and it wasn’t shallow, silly worries that young adults are sometimes given, but the perfect mix between superficial and deep.  

If there is one thing I will always love in a book, it is a rebellion. I love the unity of forces against a common enemy, I love the underdog fighting again and again to right things in a world gone so wrong, I like the struggle to win without becoming the monsters they are fighting. Children of Virtue and Vengeance follows every moment of the rebellion which I quite liked, since sometimes books skip battles or fast forward in time. Showing each battle emphasised the struggle of the rebellion, and having main characters on both sides, desperately trying to reach out and find peace gave an inside view into the heartbreak, humanity and hardship that went into every brutal decision of the war. The aftermath of each battle, not just the whole war was clear, affecting how the battle continued and causing the character’s change to be shown more gradually through the story. But it wasn’t just darkness, hope was also beautifully illustrated, how groups of people facing adversity can come together to find hope in the bleakest circumstance, how they don’t give up.

And the ending? I have just one word for that. WHAT?! Okay, I’m done now. I adored the elegant, sharp writing of this book, and would definitely recommend it (although please start with the first one).

I’ve decided to add to my reviews a new thing where I decide whether I would have survived the novel. So, would I have survived this novel? I’ll be honest, probably not, unless I was a normal person living in another land. Apart from that I would probably be just civilian casualty #135.

Renegades Review

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

This story is an interesting and original take on the traditional superheroes vs villains fight, similar in its uniqueness to Marissa Meyer’s other retellings including The lunar chronicles and Heartless, one of my favourite books. Renegades matched the other books in being very readable and engaging.
The origins of the prodigies’ powers (as the people with superhero powers are called) was not the typical born with it, instead most people getting theirs through traumatic circumstances, although a few were born with it. The story is told from two perspectives- Nova, who is an anarchist called Nightmare against the superheroes and Adrian, the son of three of the biggest superheroes, and definitely for them. (Side note he has two gay dads 🙂 )
Nova is an anarchist with the codename Nightmare. Her family were killed while under the proteection of the main superhero organisation and she is understandably bitter
Some of my favourite things in the story included Nova’s unwilling affection for the people she meets, the well thought out and fantastic future the book presents and the deeper considerations like whether people should be relying on superheroes or step up for themselves, and how even the best-intentioned organisation can end up trapped by well-meaning but outdated rules.
I really enjoyed this story, and look forward to reading the next one. If I can find it. My library has the first one and not the second one- how could they do this to me?!?!

The Tyrant’s Tomb

The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rick Riordan.

For more of me saying how much I love Rick Riordan, check out my previous post!

‘We didn’t count the dead. They weren’t numbers. They were people we had known, friends we had fought with.”

What a line. Without spoilers, my heart was broken once again in this book. I really wish Riordan would stop writing such loveable characters who you see develop and grow and then doing horrible things to them. I would be perfectly happy to have a book of just daily life at Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood. There’s is no need for all the pain.
I love this new version of Apollo, seeing him reflect on the mistakes he has made and truly regretting them, watching him change from a haughty god to someone who genuinely cares about the people around him. I loved the choice of the song Sweet Caroline. I love the mix of old and new characters, from Apollo and Meg to Thalia Grace. And most of all I love the line ‘We didn’t count the dead. They weren’t numbers. They were people we had known, friends we had fought with’ even though it made me cry. It just seems so relevant.
This book was so readable but never over-simplified, the world doesn’t feel at all tired or overwritten despite the volume of books Riordan has published and the mix of new and old characters and plots is just seamless. Reading this after a while of not reading any of Riordan’s books feels like coming home.
As usual, Riordan has an excellent plot, awesome characters and lots of humour. If you haven’t read these books, what are you waiting for? Go and get Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

A Dangerous Collaboration Review

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn

Veronica Speedwell is one of my favourite characters of all time, so I couldn’t help but love this book. She is intelligent, sassy, honest, open-minded and unashamed of her enjoyment of sex. She is also really passionate about butterflies.
Instead of being so based in London as the previous books of the series are, A Dangerous Collaboration takes place on a private island off the coast of cornwall. The isolated setting, mixed with an old aristocratic family living in a castle with lots of secret passages created the perfect atmosphere for a traditional english murder mystery. Deanna Raybourn pulls together an interesting group of suspects, and slowly reveals titbits of information, enough to give some kind of clue but not so much that the whole plot is revealed. The charming, remote cornwall setting also adds extra mystery with all the local superstitions and traditional country characters, from a wise woman in the village to rumours of a bride being stolen by giants. These mix well with Veronica and Stoker’s scientific efforts to find out what happened.
Not only was there an awesome mystery, the tension between Veronica, Stoker and his brother Tiberius is continued and heightened, leading to some black eyes and lots of exasperation from Veronica. After four books of absolute torture something happens between Veronica and Stoker, although I won’t say what it is or whether it is positive or negative. Veronica pretending to be Tiberius’ fiancee and the frustration this causes to Stoker, added to Tiberius’ mysterious links to the island and the defensive islanders creates the perfect setting for lots of drama and dramatic reveals.
I really enjoyed the ending, and as can be expected from a murder mystery there was a twist. Apart from that my lips are sealed- read it yourself!

A Love Letter to Rick Riordan’s Books

I remember the day that I bought Percy Jackson and the lightning thief. It was a world book day, and we had vouchers that allowed £1 off a book so my mum took my brothers and me to a bookshop where we could choose a book. I spent some time looking around, but nothing in particular caught my fancy. (How?!) Then my mum suggested Percy Jackson. I read the blurb and although I was unsure about having a male main character, my younger self obviously decided it would do because I bought it. I was eight or nine at that point. I am now 17.

I have many memories of Rick Riordan’s books since then. I remember comparing favourite passages of the Son of Neptune with my primary school friends, I remember reading the Sea of Monsters and adoring Circe, I remember the torturous wait for The Blood of Olympus to be released. After that I paused for a while, with no new books and a new school to contend with. Yet the moment I saw that Rick Riordan had released two new series, Magnus Chase and The Trials of Apollo, I set my heart upon tracking them down and reading them ASAP. And even though I am irrevocably changed from the little girl who first read these books, they still retained their magic. I still raced through them, falling in love with the characters, perhaps even more this time because I was a teenager and I understood some of the things the characters were going through. I just finished reading The Tyrant’s Tomb in the Trials of Apollo series and without spoilers, it felt like my childhood was ending slightly, despite the fact there will be another book.

Rick Riordan’s books are a wonder. There is no debating that. I truly believe that anyone, of any age could enjoy them, and that they should. These books are so much more than fantasy-adventure books for children based on Greek, Roman, Norse and Egyptian mythology. They mix fantasy and the real world perfectly, with a hefty dollop of humour and sarcasm. No matter how many books Riordan writes in this world (and there’s quite a few now!) it never feels tired or overwritten. It just adds to the awesome.

The range of characters is astounding, each realistic and profoundly individual. You cannot help but fall in love with them, their quirks and habits and hopes and fears. Rick Riordan showed me that things society deems as flaws or disadvantages are not unilaterally so, taking dyslexia and ADHD as common characteristics for demigods because it helps them with reading Ancient Greek and being alert on the battlefield. Riordan has an incredible range of diversity, much more so than I see in most adult literature, and he had it when I needed it most. Characters struggling with their sexuality and hating themselves for it resounded with me deeply as I came to terms with my own, and the hardships that Riordan shows the characters overcoming, from their childhoods and personal lives, showed me that negative events do not have to define my future and there is always hope. Being different does not mean being wrong, or broken, or undeserving of happiness.

Gently, almost imperceptibly, Riordan weaves in messages that I am thoroughly glad I grew up with. It’s okay to be different, everyone has different strengths and together we can be stronger than apart. That it’s okay to be wrong, and what is important is learning from your mistakes, apologising and making reparations for what you have done. That it’s okay to show emotions, and it does not make you weak or unlovable. I am sure there are many more, and one I particularly noticed in the Tyrant’s Tomb was the way Riordan portrays battles. There is an element of fun, because of course these are first and foremost children’s books, of slaying monsters and awesome skills. But Riordan does not shy away from showing the aftermath, the heartbreak and devastation and grief that follows, the pain and destruction war causes. This can be so easily glossed over, making war seem heroic and brave rather than the devastating event that it is. I finally cracked and cried when I came to the line ‘We didn’t count the dead. They weren’t numbers. They were people we had known, friends we had fought with.’ It just seemed so relevant in the world we live in today, full of politicians quoting statistics and percentages like they are merely facts and figures, instead of people’s lives.

This is one of the few series that I have cried at character deaths, and it does not surprise me, for I have grown up with these characters, spent years following their stories. I very rarely reread books and yet my Rick Riordan books all have cracked spines from where I have spent hours poring over the pages, each time noticing some new details that makes me smile. The humour of the books, ever witty and sarcastic is my exact sense of humour and it does make me wonder whether I liked the books because of my sense of humour, or if I developed my sense of humour liking the books. Hearing of a new Rick Riordan book being released fills me with excitement every single time. They are so easy to slip into and get carried away by the story, so disappointing when they finish. Over the years they have been my solace, my guide and my reassurance that everything is going to be okay.

So, thank you, Rick Riordan. Thank you for the books that have shaped my life as I know it. I cannot imagine life without them, and I wouldn’t want to. Even if sometimes I love your books so much it hurts, reading them feels like coming home.