Sunday, January 7, 2018

Book Review: How to Hang A Witch by Adriana Mather


Title: How to Hang A Witch
Author: Adriana Mather
Publication date: January 4th 2018
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: YA Contemporary/Fantasy
Source: Won

Description: The trials of high school start to feel like a modern-day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem's past in this thrilling, creepy and romantic New York Times bestseller.

After Sam's father is hospitalised, she has to move from New York to Salem with her stepmother, Vivian. Unfortunately, Sam is related to Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for the Salem Witch Trials, and to say she feels unwelcome in Salem is an understatement... She is particularly unnerved by The Descendants, a mysterious and tight-knit group of girls related to those persecuted in the Trials. At the same time, she must deal with Elijah, the handsome but angry ghost who has appeared in her house, and her new neighbour Jaxon only complicates things further.

When a centuries-old curse is rekindled, Sam finds herself at the centre of it. Can she stop history repeating itself? 

My thoughts: I've noticed on my last few YA reads that I was really struggling to enjoy them, and had started to think I should skip reading any for a while. Then I picked up this one: YA, contemporary, high school setting: everything I thought I was bored of reading, and yet I got sucked in to the story right away. The story opens as Sam and her step-mother arrive at the large, spooky house that will be their new home in Salem, and in fact is the house her father grew up in. Sam never had any contact with her grandmother, the last person to live in the house, and has never been to the town before. Even so, everyone seems to have it in for her.

The house and town come to life immediately as very atmospheric places - let's just say it's not somewhere you want to be telling ghost stories after dark. As people from the old Salem families start dying, everyone at school points the blame at Sam. She must race to solve the clues in her grandmother's diary and prove her innocence before someone decides to get rid of her for good.

The characters were engaging, and the landscape of Salem is as much a character itself as the people. I've always loved stories about houses with secret rooms, so Sam's house was a treat to read about. It's a very tense story, and although the escalation of the bullying seemed a bit unrealistic at first, I could understand as the story went on why people had such strong reactions.

It's an exciting story that had me whizzing through the pages - I felt a little bit like the way I did when I first read 'Twilight'. I was totally sucked into the world, and the town was brought to life perfectly. I highly recommend it for fans of contemporary YA, especially if you like a fantasy twist in books. 8/10.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Bookish and Blogging Goals


It's that time of year for making goals and planning ahead, so this is a quick post about some of my bookish, blogging, and vlogging-related goals which you might be interested in.

1) Post 52 reviews over the course of the year.
I tried this in 2017 and didn't quite make it, but now I've fully settled in to a new flat and job, I'm much more able to plan my time, and I'm giving it another shot this year.

On a related note:
2) Post 3 times a week on the blog. 
I'd like at least two of these posts to be reviews. Others might be tags, or memes like Stacking the Shelves, and I'm also planning to cross-post more of my booktube videos. I'm thinking of occasionally doing some life updates, too; I work in publishing so I figure some people might be quite interested in hearing about that.

3) Upload one video a week to my YouTube account (which you can find here). 
This is very much going to depend on managing my time. I'm thinking I'll film on Sunday afternoons while I've got the flat to myself, then either post the video that afternoon, or hold it for the following weekend. YouTube is SUPER slow at uploading my videos and tends to choke out the rest of the internet while it's doing it, so I don't think it's something I can really do on weekday evenings... but I will test that and see how it goes.

4) Read some 'classic' science fiction and fantasy books. 
By this I mean books that are sort of the foundations of the genre, and key books that followed. Authors like Isaac Asimov, David Gemel, Ursula le Guin, and people like that. I'm looking for recommendations in this category, especially for female authors, so let me know any suggestions!

And the final, possibly toughest one:
5) Read two books off the TBR shelves for every one that's added. 
And I have to read two before I can add another one! This is going to be tough to stick to, but we got a new bookshelf recently so my shelves aren't double-stacked anymore and it really highlighted how many books I own that I haven't read yet, and how many of those I'm really looking forward to reading. I need to catch up on my TBR shelves, and continue to get better at culling books I'm never going to get round to reading.

How about you? What are your reading/blogging/etc goals and resolutions for the year? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.
-Ailsa

Friday, December 29, 2017

2018 Reading Challenge: Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo


I've planned a couple of reading/blogging goals for myself to aim for in 2018, which I'll post more about next week, but I've also decided to join in on the Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo that Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm has set up. It's a simple bingo card of themes etc in SFF books, and they're all quite broad categories, as you can see:

 

I can already think of a few books from my shelves that will fit some of these categories, and I think it'll be another fun way of choosing what to read. 

If you'd also like to take part, Ellie is running a giveaway for people who sign up on her original blog post, here. Let me know if you're doing it! 
-Ailsa

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton


Title: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Release date: 8th February 2018
Publisher: Raven Books (an imprint of Bloomsbury)
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Description: A brilliantly original high concept murder mystery from a fantastic new talent: Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie

‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath... 

My thoughts: The premise of this book caught my attention right away: someone repeats a day again and again in a different body each time, until he can solve a murder. And having read it over the past week, it's snuck in at the last minute to be one of my favourite books of the year. I'm already planning to buy copies for a couple of people when it comes out.

The tension kicks in on page one and barely lets up through the entire book. At first, Aidan has no idea what's going on. Gradually he's given instructions and starts trying to put everything together. Stuart Turton's fantastic plotting means that every little conversation you see has a significance, every detail or interaction is important. It's a long book, but it didn't feel like it dragged at any point - I was on the edge of my seat through the entire thing. There are so many twists and turns.

The story takes place at Blackheath House, a crumbling manor deep in the woods. It's the age where guests arrive in horse-drawn carriages, and when someone is offered the option of driving a car to the village, he's horrified at the idea of getting in the vehicle at first. It's a dark, atmospheric setting, and combined with the intricate murder investigation I was strongly reminded of Agatha Christie books.

I can't say much more about the plot without giving things away, but I don't think I need to: Aidan does his best to investigate the murder, talking to various characters and trying to piece together the puzzle of what's going on in the present day, and what happened nineteen years ago when Evelyn's younger brother was murdered. It's clear early on that there's a connection between them, and he hopes that by figuring out the truth of the first, he might untangle what's going to happen to Evelyn and why.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredible book. Stuart Turton has done a great job of keeping the tension high throughout the entire book. It's like The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August crossed with your favourite Agatha Christie novel. If you love a good mystery novel, I one hundred percent recommend it. Ten out of ten.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Book review: I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan


Title: I Am Thunder
Author: Muhammad Khan
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication date: 25th January 2018
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Source: Review copy from the publisher through NetGalley

Description: Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem is passionate about writing and dreams of becoming a novelist. There’s just one problem - her super-controlling parents have already planned her life out for her: Step 1) Get educated. Step 2) Qualify as a doctor. Step 3) Marry a cousin from Pakistan. Oh, and boyfriends are totally haram. No one is more surprised than humble Muzna when high school hottie, Arif Malik, takes an interest in her. But Arif and his brother are angry at the West for demonizing Islam and hiding a terrible secret. As Arif begins to lead Muzna down a dark path, she faces a terrible choice: keep quiet and betray her beliefs, or speak up and betray her heart? I Am Thunder is the debut novel from stunning YA voice, Muhammad Khan, which questions how far you'll go to stand up for what you believe.

My thoughts: I heard about this book when the publication deal was announced in The Bookseller magazine, and thought it would be very interesting to read this sort of book written by someone who is actually Muslim. The book begins with Muzna as a 13 year old, and it introduces what life is like for her. Her parents already have high expectations for her and are determined that she'll be a doctor one day. They disprove of her friend who is becoming more interested in boys, and who they believe is leading Muzna astray from being a good, dutiful daughter. While I liked this section of the book in that it set up the family, their expectations, as introduces some of the racism that the whole family faces in everyday occurances, Muzna herself annoyed me quite a bit - she makes some very silly choices and I was quite skeptical that in this day & age any teenager would be that ignorant.

The story then jumps forward to Muzna when she's about 16 (if I remember correctly). She moves to a new school, and it's the opportunity of a fresh start. I loved the supportive English teacher, and how he tries to encourage Muzna, and handle the anger and racism amongst his class. You could definitely tell in the classroom scenes that the author Muhammad Khan has worked as a teacher in the past.

I thought that the slow steps Muzna is lead down towards extremist views were quite believable. It was done in small enough increments that you could see why she was agreeing to Arif's suggestions and going along with his view of Islam. There were times again where I wanted to shake her because she couldn't see that teachers and friends were genuinely concerned about her and wanted to help her, and that she'd drastically changed from who she had been before she met him.

I found I Am Thunder to be a really interesting book giving a believable look at how young women can be radicalised. It was also very educational for me to read another book about someone from a Muslim & Pakistani background, as I really don't know as much about the culture as I should. That said, the book wasn't quite as interesting or gripping as I had hoped. Taking that into account, I'm giving it 6/10.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Book Review: Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb


Title: Last Christmas in Paris
Author: Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Release date: 3rd October 2017
Publisher: William Morrow (available in the UK through Harper 360)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review copy from Harper 360

Description: 
Christmastime in Paris... Thomas Harding travels to the City of Lights, a packet of cherished letters in hand... letters that tell a story of love a loss, friendship and family, and the innocent hopes of a generation devastated by war. As he reads the letters one more time, Tom is transported back to 1914 and the sunlit August day when Evie Elliott waves goodby to him and her brother Will, as they head to the Western Front. 

All believe the war will be over by Christmas when the trio plan to reunite and celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris. But it is not to be. As months slip into years, Tom's and Evie's lives become bound together by the letters and telegrams, notes and stories that travel between them, from the front line in France to a quiet suburb of London. But as their friendship flourishes, there is far more than words held between the pages of Tom's and Evie's letters. 
Now, decades later, Thomas finds himself once again in his beloved Paris, determined to fulfill a last promise and to lay to rest the ghosts of the past... but one final letter is waiting for him. 

My thoughts: 
The basic premise of Last Christmas in Paris is quite straightforward: Evie and Tom write letters to each other during the First World War, with occasional letters to other friends and family included too. Tom and Will go off to France all excited, eager to do their part, sort out the enemy, and meet their friends a couple of months later. We all know how it actually turned out, and the horrors of the Front.

I loved that it was all told in letters, and I found it very quick to read in that format - 'just one more letter' is a lot faster than 'one more chapter', so I'd end up reading far more at once than I expected to! It was really interesting seeing how their lives developed, and how things went unsaid, and their slow realisation that in fact they did love each other. But the framing of the story is that Tom is rereading these in Paris years later, and it's vague enough that you really don't know up until the very end if it all turns out ok for them. I liked the fact that that tension remained throughout the whole book.

Although this is a fairly typical war story, with ups and downs and lots of personal growth and a slow building romance, I did really enjoy it, and was in tears in several places. A well written book, in a really enjoyable format that managed to sustain the tension right through to the end. Overall I'm giving it 7 out of 10.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Book review: Ramses the Damned by Anne and Christopher Rice


Title: Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra
Author: Anne Rice and Christopher Rice
Publication date: 21st November 2017
Publisher: Anchor Books
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC from publisher

Description:
Ramses the Great, former pharaoh of Egypt, is reawakened by the elixir of life in Edwardian England. Now immortal with his bride-to-be, he is swept up in a fierce and deadly battle of wills and psyches against the once-great Queen Cleopatra. Ramses has reawakened Cleopatra with the same perilous elixir whose unworldly force brings the dead back to life. But as these ancient rulers defy one another in their quest to understand the powers of the strange elixir, they are haunted by a mysterious presence even older and more powerful than they, a figure drawn forth from the mists of history who possesses spectacular magical potions and tonics eight millennia old. This is a figure who ruled over an ancient kingdom stretching from the once-fertile earth of the Sahara to the far corners of the world, a queen with a supreme knowledge of the deepest origins of the elixir of life. She may be the only one who can make known to Ramses and Cleopatra the key to their immortality--and the secrets of the miraculous, unknowable, endless expanse of the universe.

My thoughts: 
The book opens with a preface that sums up some key events that happen before the start of the story, and touches on some of the main characters. I found it very odd that some of the book reads like a sequel, while large portions of it don't, and nowhere on the proof did it suggest it was a sequel. Goodreads, however, says that it is book two of the series. I think it worked fine to read it without having read the first book, but it's something to keep in mind.

Ramses, former ruler of Egypt, is an immortal and has recently woken up in 1914 after hibernating for hundreds of years. He's heading to England with his fiance for an engagement party, but both of them are troubled by thoughts of Cleopatra. Ramses used the magical elixir that gave him immortality to resurrect her mummified body, but she ran away and now they fear she'll come after them and attack them. Added in to the mix are two other immortals who are far older, who have yet to meet Ramses but have heard rumours about a mummy coming to life and guess that he might be immortal.

I liked that none of the characters are 100% likeable - they're all flawed in some ways, and make dreadful assumptions about each other and the motives of other people. Ramses and his fiance Julia both presume that Cleopatra is mad and that she means them harm. Cleopatra thinks Ramses hates her and wants to kill her. It made me want to shake them sometimes and tell them they were being silly, but it also made the multiple points of view in the story more interesting to read, because you get to know the true motivations and also see how their actions are misinterpreted.

The writing style is quite old fashioned. In some ways this fit with the time: the way Julia and another character, Sibil, narrate their parts makes sense, as they're born into the early 1900s. At other times I felt like there was just too much description when I wanted to get on with the action of the story.

It's an interesting story that looks at some of the moral and philosophical problems of these immortal creatures, how characters may or may not change over time, and how both humans and immortals are affected and changed by their experiences. I enjoyed the story a lot, even though it wasn't as fast-paced as some books, and I'd definitely like to read the next book in the series to see what happens next. Although some plot threads are left unresolved, the book does have a satisfying conclusion. I'm giving Ramses the Damned 6 out of 10.
 

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