The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Horwitz #BookReview #ChildrensFiction

Title: The Wingsnatcherswingsnatchers1
Author: Sarah Jean Horwitz
Series: Carmer and Grit #1
Format: Digital ARC, 368 pages
Publication Details:  April 25th 2017 by Algonquin Young Readers

Genre(s): Children’s (middle grade); Fantasy; Steampunk
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

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A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.


Review

The Wingsnatcher’s is the first book in a series featuring Grit the one-winged faery princess and Carmer, a (failing) magician’s apprentice who live in two very different worlds but have one thing in common – they are both in need of help. And so they make a pact to help each other and become firm friends along the way.

I loved the premise of this book and the story itself did not disappoint. Horwitz has created a fantasy world that is both adorable and edgy. Some will fall in love with Grit and her plight of being a one-winged faery, a disability she has accepted and overcome, and others will love Carmer and his ambition of being this great inventor but who feels a loyalty to the hopeless magician who took him under his wing.

Together, the unlikely duo try to discover who is attacking faeries, and win the invention competition as Carmer’s livelihood and future is at stake.

I really enjoyed the dynamic of these two characters, and their dialogue was great. I also really enjoyed Steampunk elements of the story; there are these demonic mechanical cats who were genuinely scary so I’d bear that in mind when giving to a younger child – I loved them though.

Great action, great descriptions and interesting characters; I just thought the pace was a tad slow, and that the book didn’t need to be over 300 pages, especially considering the target market.

unicorn rating 3

 

 

Reading Round-up: March 2017 #BookReviews #MarchReleases

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Welcome to my new post where I discuss any books that I read in the month which for one reason or another didn’t warrant a full review. This is a way for me to keep track of what I’ve read but without the pressure of having to write comprehensive reviews for them all. 

The only book I read this month and didn’t feel like reviewing in full was….

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King’s Cage (Red Queen #3) ~ Victoria Aveyard

I think I’m pretty much done with this series. I really loved the first book, and the second one was OK, and then this one was even less OK. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it but I don’t really feel the need to continue reading if that’s what’s happening. The ending made me think that it’s just going to go on and on.

I liked seeing Mare and Cal back together again in King’s Cage (not much of a spoiler I don’t think!), but the whole red/silver war thing just felt so samey. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

unicorn rating 3

Other Reviews

The Invisible Hand by James Hartley #BookReview #YA

 

Title: The Invisible Hand theinvis
Author:
 James Hartley
Series: Shakespeare’s Moon #1
Format: Paperback, 168 pages
Publication Details: February 22nd 2017 by Lodestone Books

Genre(s): YA; Fantasy
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

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The Invisible Hand is about a boy, Sam, who has just started life at a boarding school and finds himself able to travel back in time to medieval Scotland. There he meets a girl, Leana, who can travel to the future, and the two of them become wrapped up in events in /Macbeth/, the Shakespeare play, and in the daily life of the school. The book is the first part of a series called Shakespeares Moon. Each book is set in the same boarding school but focuses on a different Shakespeare play.

Review

I’ve always really liked Shakespeare – even at school – which is strange because I remember hating most things I was forced to read for school. Shakespeare always seemed more interesting though. I enjoyed having to decipher the language to discover the meaning, but I also totally understand why people dislike it, and why children and young adults find it difficult.

I’m therefore always pleased to see more accessible books based on Shakespeare, and its modern-day retellings. The Invisible Hand is the first in a new series to be set in the same boarding school, with each book based upon a different Shakespeare play. In this case it’s Macbeth.

In this short novel, Sam is quite perturbed about his strange, vivid dreams where he finds himself in Scotland in what seems like medieval times. Whilst trying to make sense of the dreams, he’s also trying to keep his head down at the boarding school but is finding it increasingly harder to concentrate in the present day. Especially when the girl he has a crush on in his dreams starts to turning up at school.

Things get even weirder when Sam starts studying Macbeth in English and the events of the play bear more than a passing resemblance to Sam’s dreams that may not be dreams after all.

The Invisible Hand was a great introduction to Macbeth. It was a simple but action-packed story which uses some of the events in Macbeth and gives them a modern relevance. I enjoyed it a lot. It was fun and speedy. If I had one thing to criticise though, it would be that I wished Hartley had taken it further. I wanted more Shakespeare, more detail. It was too short!

The Invisible Hand has certainly piqued my interest however, and I would love to see what they do with other Shakespeare plays. I definitely think there is room for more Shakespeare inspired YA novels like this to show that it’s not all about archaic language and ruffled collars.

unicorn rating 4

 

Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister #BookReview #MarchReleases

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girlindisguiseTitle: Girl in Disguise
Author: Greer Macallister
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 308 pages
Publication Details: March 21st 2017 by Sourcebooks Landmark

Genre(s): Historical Fiction; Adventure; Mystery 
Disclosure? Yep, I received an advanced copy in exchange for an HONEST review!

Goodreads 

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For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can’t. She’s a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she’s been assigned to nab.

Inspired by the real story of Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective’s rise during one of the nation’s greatest times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.

Review

I didn’t know what to expect from Girl in Disguise having not read Macallister’s debut novel The Magician’s Lie or knowing much about the Pinkertons/ that era of American history to be perfectly honest. However, I do enjoy a good historical yarn now and then as long it’s not too bogged down in facts and figures, so I was eager to give it a try.

We first meet Kate Warne – famous for being the first ever female detective – when she is setting out to be just that. She answers an ad in a paper knowing full well that it will be difficult to persuade them that she’s the right man for the job, as it were. But of course she does, and so we follow Kate as she begins her training with Allan Pinkerton to learn everything she can about being an undercover operative.

Kate has a bit of a shaky start, including a run-in with colleague Bellamy but after that we watch her go from strength to strength and become more confident and cunning in her abilities.

I really enjoyed Macallister’s take on Kate Warne. She could probably come across quite cold and stern to some but because we hear the story from her point of view we know differently, we know it’s merely a self-defence tactic which is necessary for her to adopt considering all the things that are stacked against her. The main one of course being that she is a woman in a time where ‘respectable’ women aren’t even supposed to have jobs, never mind this kind of job.

I liked that Girl in Disguise is an action-packed adventure but also uses Kate Warne’s story to explore a lot of interesting issues surrounding equality. In a time of female oppression, Kate not only makes ground-breaking steps forward, she is also fiercely aware that other women are so accustomed to inequality that they’re often their own worst enemies…

They don’t hesitate to hang women down here”

“Could they be so awful?”

“What’s awful about it?” she shrugged. “Our crimes are as serious as theirs. Our punishments should be too.”

“A miserable sort of equality to hope for.”

Even in these terrible circumstances, she looked proud. “If we take the good, we also have to take the bad.We don’t get to fetch it up piecemeal.”

I think that sort of double-standards still rings true today. There is also the character of Deforest who Kate – whilst working on her tracking skills – discovers he is harbouring a secret that would see him hanged – he’s gay. Kate and Deforest’s friendship was my favourite in the novel, and I liked how the author captured her initial reaction and how her attitude towards him changed throughout the book. It rang true to the era and didn’t take the easy route of making Kate completely ambivalent towards it.

“In some way, I couldn’t possibly fathom him, his unnatural interests, his decision to be like he was. But the undertow of his terror, I understood.”

Macallister has done a great job in researching the real Kate Warne and building on that with her own version of the detective. Like I said earlier, I’m not a fan of historical fiction when it’s all facts and no storytelling but there was definitely a lot of storytelling here, with the facts seamlessly embedded. I thought some of Macallister’s descriptions were lovely too, making it a compelling read.

“The woman lay on the carpet as if resting, which I suppose she was, only forever.”

My one critique is that first half of the book felt a bit like a montage of events which made the pace nice and fast but I longed for more detail; it sometimes felt like Macallister was trying to fit too much in at once. She could have concentrated on just one or two of Warne’s interesting cases rather than an overview of many. This was most definitely improved on in the second half of the book though.

In this novel we see Kate Warne’s rise and fall, and the changing attitudes towards her from those around her. It’s a fun, rollercoaster of a read, and one which reads as a love letter to plucky women whose actions make the world a better place. Therefore it’s bound to be called a great feminist story, but I’d prefer to just call it a great story, Full Stop.

unicorn rating 4

 

Lazy Saturday Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness #MiniReview #YA

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I started doing ‘lazy Saturday reviews’ as a way of getting reviews done in just 30 mins, and they proved to be quite popular. They are quick and snappy, and concentrate less on the plot (or content) and writing and more on my overall feelings about said book. They generally end up being a bit of a rant. My fave!

therestofusTitle: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness
Series: N/A
Format: Paperback, 434 pages
Publication Details: 
August 27th 2015 by Walker Books
Genre(s): YA; Fantasy; LGBT
Disclosure? Nope, I borrowed it from Dora, thanks Dora! 

Goodreads 

bookdepo

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Review

I wasn’t sure about this at first but ended up absolutely loving it. Patrick Ness has this amazing ability to nail that insecure, confusing time of adolescence when you don’t really understand who you are yet, and he does so in increasingly imaginative ways.

TROUJLH is set in a world where zombies and vampires are real, but the main characters aren’t part of that world, they’re always on peripheries  – just watching, they’re just the normal kids in world full of superheroes and martyrs.

I loved everything about this book – the way it was structured, the uniqueness of the premise, and as always, the execution by Ness was perfect. But it’s the characters that really stand out. All completely different and unique but startlingly real. Whether they’re gay, unsure, struggling with OCD, depressed, or desperate to go to a concert, they’re all just doing what everyone is trying to do – get through the day, the week, high school, life.

Have all the unicorns, Patrick Ness!

unicorn rating

Reading Round-up: February 2017 #BookReviews #NewReleases #MiniReviews

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Welcome to my new post where I discuss any books that I read in the month which for one reason or another didn’t warrant a full review. This is a way for me to keep track of what I’ve read but without the pressure of having to write comprehensive reviews for them all. 

I was much better this month and the only book I read and didn’t feel like reviewing in full was this:

 

thechalkpit

The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway #9) ~ Elly Griffiths

This was the first Ruth Galloway book I’d read and at first it didn’t seem to make a difference that I hadn’t read the previous ones, but I think as the story went on it became evident that I would have enjoyed it more if I had. It’s for that reason that when I say I was little disappointed with this novel I don’t particularly think I can blame the book itself. It was a perfectly good crime thriller but I personally felt like the plot unfolded a little too slowly. Griffiths’ writing style was nice and effortless though, and I’d like to give the first book a go in the future.

unicorn rating 3

Other Reviews

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones #BookReview#YA #FantasyReads

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wintersongTitle:
 Wintersong
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Series: N/A
Format: Paperback, 508 pages
Publication Details: February 7th 2017 by Titan Books
Genre(s): YA; Fantasy; Romance
Disclosure? Nope I bought it! 

Goodreads 

bookdepo

‘Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.’

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Review

Inspired by one of my favourite films of all time, Labyrinth, I met Wintersong with equal amounts of excitement and apprehension. It’s not a short book at 500ish pages, but it flew by…however, I don’t feel like I can say I loved it. In fact I’m really not sure how I felt about it and I finished it a couple of weeks ago!

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Basically, The Goblin King steals away Liesel’s beautiful sister Kathe to lure Liesel to the Underground where he plans on making her his bride. Liesel has always dreamt of The Goblin King. She’s drawn to his beauty and his power, but also fears him. There is a passion between the pair but being The Goblin King’s bride means leaving her family behind and never setting foot overground again.

Wintersong was certainly cringe-worthy in places, and outright bizarre in others, and it never went where I thought it would which is a double-edged sword in that it’s good that it was unpredictable but bad in that I wanted things to happen that didn’t.

Overall, I enjoyed this strange, slightly melancholic tale that brought a new Goblin King into my life. I obviously pictured a young Bowie with a ridiculous wig and an even more ridiculous cod piece but that’s not the point (swoon). There were some deliciously dark moments in Wintersong, but the relationship between the MC and The Goblin King never truly felt right, not even in that ‘so bad but good’ way.

I do think Jae-Jones has written a lovely tribute to Labyrinth though, and I also loved the evident use of, and inspiration from Rossetti’s The Goblin Market which I’ve only ever read snippets of but now want to read in its entirety.

“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.

– The Goblin Market

unicorn rating 4

(I rounded-up)

New(ish)Picture Books: Mini Reviews #PictureBookReviews

I’ve recently started paying attention to picture book releases, and existing picture books because I’m trying my hand at writing a couple. I requested the following books on Netgalley so I thought I had better write reviews for them, albeit very teeny ones 🙂

Pirates in the Library ~ Nadia Ali & Jake Tebbits

 

piratesHardcover, 40 pages
Published October 15th 2016 by Star Bright Books

Prepare to set sail for the adventure of a lifetime with fierce Captain Jake when he discovers a treasure map that leads him, his crew (and a parrot, too), right to the library. Ms. Benitez, the librarian, welcomes them—as long as they behave! The pirates’ search is on! 

Soon they discover—with the aid of Dread Pirate Dewey’s map—treasures galore on the shelves. Now the dilemma: Can they keep these treasures? Ms. Benitez has the answer.

Pirates in the Library is a lovely little story to introduce the wonder of libraries and books to children. They will be sure to love Captain Jake and his parrot too!
The text is nicely rhythmic and repetitive so that children can recite it with glee. The illustrations are bright and simple with a nice warmth and humour to them. I really liked the balance of fun and learning in this story, and the important message of supporting your local library because they really are full of the best kind of treasure – stories and knowledge.
unicorn rating 4

Princess Lemonella ~  Saarein te Brake & Sassafras De Bruyn

princesslemonella

Hardcover, 32 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Clavis
Princess Lemonella is born angry. She always looks sour and never smiles.
When the king and queen try to find a prince for her, she sends all the candidates away.
Until one prince just rides past her …
 

A funny and romantic fairy tale about how love can make you smile. 


For princes and princesses aged 5 years and older.

 

I was torn by this one. On one hand I loved the beautiful illustrations and some of the themes of the story such as that everyone is different and that there is someone for everyone.

However, I’m not a huge fan of modern children’s stories that are based solely on a princess having to find a prince. I love fairy tales but I do think that they need to be modernised to reflect and embrace diversity. I’m not sure how healthy it is for little girls to constantly read about the need for a Prince Charming, or in this case, a Prince Grumpy!
unicorn rating 3

Calling Major Tom by David M. Barnett #BookReview

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callingmtTitle: Calling Major Tom
Author: David M. Barnett
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 304 pages
Publication Details: June 18th 2017 by Trapeze
Genre(s): General Fiction; Science Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

Goodreads 

bookdepo

CALLING MAJOR TOM is a heart-warming and ultimately life-affirming story of a man who has given up on the world… but discovers in the most unlikely way that it might not have given up on him.

We all know someone like Thomas.

The grumpy next-door-neighbour who complains to the Residents’ Committee about the state of your front lawn. The man who tuts when you don’t have the correct change at the checkout. The colleague who sends an all-company email when you accidentally use the last drop of milk.

Thomas is very happy to be on his own, far away from other people and their problems.

But beneath his cranky exterior lies a story and a sadness that is familiar to us all. And he’s about to encounter a family who will change his view of the world.

Review

Calling Major Tom is a story about family and friendship, and more importantly about losing your way.

Thomas Major is an extremely grumpy scientist who partly by chance and partly by his own stupidity becomes the first man to be sent to Mars. It’s basically a suicide mission but that doesn’t bother Thomas. He’s just happy that he’ll be alone. For a really, really long time, if not forever.

Thinking he’s calling his ex-wife from space, Thomas actually gets through to Gladys, a grandmother suffering from dementia and he’s unwittingly thrown into the lives of a family with some very real problems.

Despite his best efforts to be alone, Thomas Major finds himself trying to help the family from space, and in helping them he learns that maybe he’s not quite the lost cause he thought he was.

Calling Major Tom is wonderfully odd. It’s one of those genuine heart-warming stories that just makes you smile. It’s far-fetched; not at all realistic in plot, but each and every character stands out providing a good injection of realness to bring us back down to earth.

That’s not to say that I didn’t find some faults in it. There seemed a  tendency to jump from one scene or thought to the next without any transition, but that may have just been the pre-proof format to be fair. However, it did put me off at first until I got into the erratic rhythm of it.

I am always impressed by anyone who can create a wonderful story like this, but what impressed me the most was how current it was. There are references to David Bowie’s death and Brexit which makes me wonder when Barnett started writing it and how long it took him. I loved all the Bowie references, naturally, and its crazy quirkiness and undeniable charm made it a perfect tribute to the great man.

 

unicorn rating 4

 

Reading Round-Up: January 2017 #MiniBookReviews

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Welcome to my new post where I discuss any books that I read in the month which for one reason or another didn’t warrant a full review. This is a way for me to keep track of what I’ve read but without the pressure of having to write comprehensive reviews for them all. 

There are quite a lot this month because I took January off from blogging and read anything I wanted. It was great!

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Bowie: The Story of Rock’s Enduring Enigma ~ Mike Evans

I got this book for Christmas and really enjoyed working my way through it. The text wasn’t anything spectacular but it was laid out well and the photographs and old gig posters/ticket stubs made it special. As a huge Bowie fan, I was surprised to see a few photos I didn’t recognise which is always a bonus.

unicorn rating 3

 

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Novelisation ~ A.C.H Smith

Another Christmas book and one I had wanted for so long! I’m so glad I wasn’t disappointed. There were some notable changes from the film which made it fresh, but without a doubt the best part of this book is Jim Henson’s notes at the back and Brian Froud’s original sketches. A must for any fan of the ultimate ‘kids’ fantasy film.

unicorn rating

Heartless ~ Marissa Meyer

I was really excited about this Alice in Wonderland tale (mainly because it looks so pretty tbh) but also quite apprehensive to start it. The Lunar Chronicles was amazing, and something that I thought shouldn’t work (Cyborg Cinderella), and I worried that maybe Meyer was churning out another retelling on the back of that success. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong and found Heartless to be an enjoyable origin story for the Queen of Hearts. There were some really great bits in it, but I felt it dragged in places. Not hugely exciting, but enjoyable enough.

unicorn rating 3

Ruin & Rising ~ Leigh Bardugo

It’s taken me a whole year to read this series. I was quite disappointed with the second book so I kept putting this one off but I’m glad I finally picked it up. The third and final book in The Grisha series was a vast improvement and I couldn’t put it down. I loved Alina’s character arc, and her complicated (and very different) relationships with Mal, Nikolai and The Darkling. It’s a vivid, dark fantasy world that Bardugo has created here using elements from Russian folklore, which is what sets it apart from other YA fantasy.

unicorn rating 4

Pagan Portals: Merlin ~ Elen Sentier

I’m not religious at all but I like to think I’m pretty open-minded and I’ve always been interested in alternative religions, especially those which worship nature rather than a person. I’m also a fan of Arthurian mythology so I figured this book would be an interesting read.

Unfortunately it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (which I guess was something along the lines of exploring Pagan values in the stories of Merlin and King Arthur). However, what I actually got was what seems to be an eccentric old lady who is frequently visited (in real life) by the wizard Merlin who guides her spiritually, and goes on describe how we too can befriend him if we try hard enough.

It just wasn’t for me and I couldn’t finish it.

DNF – no rating

January’s Spotlight Review was A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold.