Monday, 26 February 2018

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 320 
Publisher: Ebury Digital 
Released: 8th of February 2018 

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! 

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical...

What I Have to Say 

I loved this book so much when I was reading it. But it's one of those that ends up leaving you a bit sad. It was a beautiful book though. Full of amazing things. I love books with this kind of magical surrealism. I love books that take an aspect of life and add something amazing to it. The emporium is a place that you will fall in love with. You'll want to visit and buy toys from it. Until it all goes wrong of course. 

The whole thing with the toy soldiers, for me, was the perfect metaphor for the conflict of the pre-WW1 mentality that war is glorious and the post- WW1 disillusionment that most of the soldiers suffered. It was really interesting to see these two mentalities go up against each other, as they must have done constantly with soldiers who had been to war and people who hadn't. To see this argument be played out over a bunch of toy soldiers was a really cool was to do it. 

I think this is a book that will stay with me for quite a while. I loved the characters so much and elements like the toy soldiers and the paper trees and Sirius the patchwork dog are all things that I'll remember fondly for some time. 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for providing me with this copy for review. 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 359 
Publisher: Penguin Random House 
Released: 8th of February 2018 

 Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice's life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice's grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate - the Hazel Wood - Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away - by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD. 

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began . .

What I Have to Say 

This book was creepy. So, so creepy. The best way to describe it is that it had the atmosphere of a horror movie when you know something horrific is going to happen but it hasn't happened yet and you're just sitting there waiting for it to happen. Luckily for me, it never got into outright horror, though I don't know how horror fans will like this, it was perfect for me. I like creepy things but I get scared so easily and then can't sleep. 

The whole plot was full of mystery and suspense. It maybe had quite a long set up for how short it was when things actually went down, but there was so much to explore. From the book written by Alice's grandmother, the strangers stalking Alice throughout her childhood, to the story that shares Alice's name and the disappearance of her mother, there are so many different arcs to this story that come together beautifully at the end. 

Just be careful reading this on the train or you might end up missing your stop! 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for providing me with this copy for review. 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 264 
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing 
Released: 8th of February 2018 

Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she's ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn't really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for "at-risk" girls. 

Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn't mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She's tired of being singled out as someone who needs help, someone people want to fix. Jade wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows, her pain and her hope. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference. 

What I Have to Say 

This book was beautiful and had so much to say. In one way it was about a Black girl trying to get through life with a mother who works so hard and can barely afford to keep the family fed. On the other hand, it was also a book about a private school girl who finds it hard to assert herself and ask for what she wants out of life. And about how to make people listen to her when she does. It's about racism. It's about opportunities. It's about Spanish and poverty and being Black. It's about so much more than anyone could put into a small synopsis. 

I loved the bits of Spanish at the start of each chapter and how much that Jade was into languages. They made such an interesting point about how giving a girl a trip to the opera when she's passionate about the Spanish language and making collages, isn't much of an opportunity when they could send her on a trip to a Spanish speaking country or help furthering her art. Giving her opportunities for an actual career and life rather than just viewing her as an underprivileged Black girl who needs charity. 

At it's heart though, it's about Jade learning to speak up for herself. Learning what opportunities are worth pursuing and when she has to speak up and say "this isn't useful for me, this is what I want" and getting the people around her to listen. 

This book really has something for everyone. It's an incite into what it's like to be a Black girl, what it's like to be a teenager and what it's like to live in poverty while also giving out advice and life lessons that is useful for everyone to know. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for providing me with this copy for review. 

Monday, 12 February 2018

Sunflowers in February by Phyllida Shrimpton

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 384
Publisher: Hot Key Books 
Released: 8th of February 2018 

Lily wakes up one crisp Sunday morning on the side of the road. She has no idea how she got there. It is all very peaceful. and very beautiful. It is only when the police car, and then the ambulance arrive, and she sees her own body, that she realises that she is in fact... dead. But what is she supposed do now? Lily has no option but to follow her body and see her family – her parents and her twin brother start falling apart. And then her twin brother Ben gives her a once in a deathtime opportunity - to use his own body for a while. But will Lily give Ben his body back? She is beginning to have a rather good time...

What I Have to Say 

This was a weird book, but I enjoyed it in most parts. Lily was a realistic teenager, cut from life too soon and desperate to just live one more day. So though she treats Ben terribly and is really selfish and immature, you can really see why. so even though her decisions annoyed me sometimes, I understood them completely. 

I was really sad, especially in the first part where Lily is just following her family around. Though I felt it lost it's feeling after Lily gets to live again inside Ben's body. Though I was worried about Ben, I felt the emotion and sadness that was captured so well in the start of the book. 

So, really I was a bit disappointed as the book went on. I enjoyed it all. It definitely wasn't a bad read, but I feel that it could have been so much better. 

It's worth reading. It shows the feelings of grief and terror of being dead so well that you could imagine it's real. It just wasn't as moving as I thought it would be. 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Hot Key Books for providing me with this copy for review. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Unveiling Venus by Sophia Bennett

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 400
Publisher: Stripes Publishing 
Released: February 2018 

Mary Adams continues her journey through Victorian society – now as the much-admired Persephone Lavelle. From lavish Venetian balls to luxurious Mayfair townhouses, she gets a glimpse into the most glamorous lives of the age. When she meets a mysterious Harlequin she has the chance to rise to the very top, but to do so she must betray someone close ...

What I Have to Say 

It was good to return to the scandalous world of Persephone Lavelle and the Pre-Raphaelite painters that she attracts. I was really excited by the fact that she ment to Venice because it's one of my favourite cities in the world and definitely a backdrop suitable for Persephone's style. 

The story was a lot more twisted than the last book. I hated one of the characters by the end of it because of how he treated Persephone and Kitty and just everyone. He came into the book and just destroyed everything with his actions. It was exciting, action packs and just perfect as a follow up to the first book, because how can a girl like Persephone seem more scandalous to the society around her? Well here's how. 

I loved the ending. It was the perfect way to end the story and though I think it would be a good place to leave the series, I want there to be another book. I'm not quite ready to leave Persephone's world yet. 

My thanks go to Stripes and Netgalley for providing me with this copy for review. 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Upside of Falling Down by Rebekah Crane

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 247
Publisher: Skyscape 
Released: 30th of January 2018 

For Clementine Haas, finding herself is more than a nice idea. Ever since she woke up in an Irish hospital with complete amnesia, self-discovery has become her mission.

They tell her she’s the lone survivor of a plane crash. They tell her she’s lucky to be alive. But she doesn’t feel lucky. She feels…lost.

With the relentless Irish press bearing down on her, and a father she may not even recognize on his way from America to take her home, Clementine assumes a new identity and enlists a blue-eyed Irish stranger, Kieran O’Connell, to help her escape her forgotten life…and start a new one.

Hiding out in the sleepy town of Waterville, Ireland, Clementine discovers there’s an upside to a life that’s fallen apart. But as her lies grow, so does her affection for Kieran, and the truth about her identity becomes harder and harder to reveal, forcing Clementine to decide: Can she leave her past behind for a new love she’ll never forget? 

What I Have to Say 

This was a great book about picking yourself up and finding a new identity after a tragedy. Clementine has no memory of who she was before the crash and she's scared of hurting the people from her old life by pretending to be someone she's not. So she runs away from her life and chooses to find a new identity rather than chasing after an old one. 

Obviously it is not a good idea to run away from hospital and go off with a complete stranger in a foreign country, but I really understood Clementine and wanted her to succeed. I wanted her to go back to her dad, but I also wanted her to find her new life and run away with Kieran. It's a book that really makes you think hard about the choices that Clementine is making and whether what she's doing is for the best. 

I love books that make you think about things differently. The right and wrong of it all is obvious, but even then, it still makes you think about it all. 

A love letter to Ireland, with strong themes of identity and truth, this was a fantastic book all around. 

My thanks go to Skyscape and Netgalley for providing me with this copy for review. 

Monday, 5 February 2018

Things I'm Seeing Without You by Pete Bognanni

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 336
Publisher: Chicken House 
Released: 1st of February 2018 

Seventeen-year-old Tess talks to Jonah every day; through texts, tweets and emails.

So when she discovers Jonah has committed suicide, her world implodes. Feeling heartbroken and traumatized Tess unexpectedly finds herself at her estranged father’s house, wondering how well she really knew Jonah. Now, having dropped out of high school, struggling with questions about life and loss, Tess and her father come together to try and find the answers.

What I Have to Say 

I wasn't sure how this would be, so I was really glad to like it so much. It was really beautiful and poignant, with a few twists that make things really interesting. It's centred around the idea of how to mourn someone when you find out that you didn't really know him at all and how to get closure from a relationship that ends so dramatically. 

The father's funeral business adds some comedy to the book and also brings in the idea of funerals and different ways to celebrate and commemorate a person (or horse) after death. It was really interesting to see different ideas and ways to hold a funeral. 

It was a bit of a morbid book, but it really wasn't as depressing as I worried it might be. It was actually a beautiful moving tale of someone picking themself up and finding a way to go on after such a tragedy. 

My thanks go to Chicken House for providing me with this copy for review. 

Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Battle of the Beetle Trilogy (Beetle Boy, Beetle Queen, The Battle of the Beetles) by M.G. Leonard

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Pages: 336
Publisher: Chicken House  
Released: 3rd of March 2016

Darkus is miserable. His dad has disappeared, and now he is living next door to the most disgusting neighbours ever.

A giant beetle called Baxter comes to his rescue. But can the two solve the mystery of his dad’s disappearance, especially when links emerge to cruel Lucretia Cutter and her penchant for beetle jewellery? A coffee-mug mountain, home to a million insects, could provide the answer – if Darkus and Baxter are brave enough to find it … 

Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonard
Pages: 352
Publisher: Chicken House
Released: 6th of April 2017

Cruel beetle fashionista, Lucretia Cutter, is at large with her yellow ladybird spies - and she has a devious plan. Darkus, Virginia and Bertolt are determined to stop her, but Darkus's dad is dead set against their involvement. Hope rests on Novak, Lucretia's daughter and a Hollywood actress, but the beetle diva is always one scuttle ahead ...

 Pages: 304
Publisher: Chicken House
Released: February 2018

Darkus and his friends continue their unforgettable adventure in this final instalment of the Beetle trilogy. Arch-villainess Lucretia Cutter has a secret Biome hidden in the Amazon rainforest: can Darkus and his friends, human and beetle alike, find it before it's too late? If they can't stop Lucretia, she will release her hoard of giant Frankenstein beetles, and the planet will never be the same again ...

What I Have to Say 

Even those who are not fond of beetles will have plenty to enjoy in this series. I have a quite sizable fear of creepy crawlies and I have to say, the Battle of the Beetles series endeared me to them and made me want one of my own (even though I would still be terrified to go near it). Every word in the series shows a love and admiration for all beetles and what they give to the world. 

The characters are vivid and so memorable from the comedic villains to children that will warm your hearts and their beetle companions, it would be hard to read this book and not find at least a handful of characters you like. Though the comedy was not quite my style, even when I was a kid, it is a type that may kids love and will definitely find a good audience. 

This series is full of twists and turns and parts that will leave you with held breath right until the end, because you just want all the children happy and all the beetles alive and well back in their mountain, with the world saved from Lucretia's evil plans. But the ending is very satisfying and I promise you won't be disappointed. 

If you haven't picked this series up by now, what are you waiting for? 

My thanks go to Chicken House for providing me with a copy of Battle of the Beetles for review.