Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Book Review: Spelled by Betsy Schow

Read: April 26-27     Verdict: 3.75 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

Spelled is a whirlwind, fun and whimsical ride into the land of fairytales and fairytale princesses where the Emerald princess is Dorothea. Because of a curse laid upon her family a long time ago that threatens that an Emerald princess could turn evil, none of them are allowed to live their castle...ever. And Dorothea is sick of it. After a disastrous ball including a stalker magician, a weird munchkin girl and the announcement she's getting married to some handsome but annoying stranger, Dorothea makes a wish and it comes true. Now everything is upside down and Dorothea, her fiance-turned-hairy beast and a sulking servant girl have to try and fix it.

This was just a lot of fun. The kind of book that you can read really quickly and serves you up some quick bursts of laughter throughout. There were so many clever things put into this book that were reminiscent of our real life such as the Castle Shopping Network, the storage cloud (real clouds in the sky), ebooks (enchanted book) and the band Wrong Direction and their hit single 'My Spell's What Makes You Beautiful'. I'm a sucker for these clever and amusing pieces in fairytale retellings.

Dorothea is not a character you warm up to quickly. She's spoilt and stubborn and cares a lot more about her clothes and shoes than she does for people around her. She mistook her fiance as a gardener on the first occasion she met him and hardly knows any of her servants names. But there's something about her that you have to like. Overall she's plucky and her journey into damsel in distress to butt-kicking flame-haired (literally) princess is great to follow. I also enjoyed her relationship with Kato and how it developed.

I wish there hadn't been quite so much of characters stabbing her in the back but it all made for an interesting read and I can say that overall I was entertained by this book. If anyone loves a good fairytale retelling, give this one a go!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Book Review: Your Voice Is All I Hear by Leah Scheier

Read: April 15-16   Verdict: 2.5 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

April is an introvert and her best and only friend just moved schools. April doesn't know what she's going to do until she meets the new boy Jonah. They immediately hit it off and become an item but before long April notices that Jonah is changing. Jonah is diagnosed with schizophrenia and enters a psychiatric facility, with April supporting him the whole time. 

So, I had some expectations for this book and I can't say it met them all. The book's plot sounds really interesting and I've never read a book that focuses on schizophrenia so I was really interested to dive in. There were some emotional bits in this, and overall I think Jonah's struggle with his illness was well-documented, I had some problems with it as well.

1. Insta-love. Jonah and April's relationship seemed to happy VERY quickly. They went to 5-100 in a week and within two weeks she was telling her friend that she thought he loved her. You're fifteen and going out two weeks and haven't even kissed him, jeez!

2. Bullying. There was so much horrible bullying in the school, it was awful to read. At no point did it seem that teachers, even though the teachers were suppose to be excellent in this school, did anything to stop the bullying.

3. General reaction to mental health was really poor and disturbing from Jonah's mother's reaction to the doctor mentioning psychosis to Jonah's dad WHO IS A DOCTOR saying things like "counselling crap" and basically belittling all psychiatric help. Like the boy is talking about mental probes and government spying and you think there's nothing wrong with him and you're going to storm out of a doctor's office, okay then. His first psychiatrist is often treated like the villain as well. She may not have been the best match for Jonah but she was still only doing her job.

4. At one point, April and Jonah's teacher starts discussing Jonah's changes to April and weird things he said in his homework BEFORE discussing anything with Jonah's mother. I really don't think this would ever happen or be allowed. Discussing one student's mental or physical health with another, even if they're his girlfriend, before discussing it with the student's parent would be a big no no in my books.

5. April is really stupid for a lot of this book, lying to Jonah's parents, teachers and counsellors about his behaviour. She is the person he really trusts and talks to and yet she never speaks up about it so they can help him better. And despite knowing his diagnosis, she doesn't really do much research on it.

6. April's attitude towards her best friend is pretty despicable. As soon as Jonah was on the scene, she dropped her best friend like a hot potato and lost any interest in her life. Kris had moved away and made a huge effort to continue seeing April yet April ignored her for most of the time, even before Jonah got really sick. She pretty much broke all the rules of Girl Code.

I did like April's project at the end and the reality she showed her classmates, as well as the statistics. I also loved the fact that she mentioned how people with illnesses such as cancer get the support of the whole community but people with mental illness are often shunned because people are scared of them.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Book Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Read: April 2-5  Verdict: 4.5 Stars

There's something about Mitch Albom's writing that is so beautiful and magical, I could just bathe in all the words.

Frankie Presto was once one of the greats and rubbed shoulders with Elvis, Hank Williams, Django Reinhardt and Darlene Love.He was born in the middle of Franco's dictatorship of Spain and found his way through America. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto starts with the death of Frankie and we make our way to the start of his story, who he was, how he learned to play the guitar like he did and who gifted him the magic strings that turn blue when he changes someone's life with his music.

I think this is a must-read for anyone who loved The Book Thief. Instead of Germany in WW2, we have Spain in the late 1940s. Instead of book-loving Liesel, we have music-loving Francisco. And instead of being told by Death, Frankie's story is told by Music. Yeah, you read that right. Music is a being, an all-seeing entity in this book. It gives a piece of him to newborns to create music during their lives and when they die, it takes it back.

“All humans are musical.
Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?”

I'm not huge into music but even I was fascinated the way Mitch Albom was able to place Frankie Presto into the time of Elvis and Johnny Cash and weave him into the lives of other famous musicians. Presto meets Django Reinhardt, Hank Williams, Elvis, Darlene Love, Roger McGuin, Lyle Lovett, Tony Bennett over the course of his life and we find out how he rose and fell in the limelight and why he stepped out of it altogether but was never forgotten by fellow artists and fans of great music.

This was such an amazing story of an amazing life, and you would almost believe Presto was a real person in this era. You're almost sad that he wasn't a real person! There were real heartbreaking moments in this one - Francisco looking for Baffa at the factory, when he meets his aunt and screeched 'momma', his lost moments at Woodstock, the last song he sings to Aurora...there are so many wonderful moments that really gripped me.

I'm taking away a .5 of a star just because near the end some of Frankie's actions annoyed me a bit and I was ready for the story to start winding up. But I thoroughly enjoyed this one for the most part and Mitch Albom has proven to be again that he can cast me under a spell with his words. Wonderful.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Book Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Read: April 1- 2   Verdict: 4 stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

New York City is split into two part. Light and Dark. Light magicians who create magic using light (duh!) and sparkling rings live in the Light section and reign over Dark magicians and Dark citizens who are treated as second-class citizens. Dark magicians receive power through blood and darkness. Lucie was born to in the Dark city but is a Light magician and through certain circumstances earned her freedom into the Light city. Lucie's boyfriend Ethan is the golden child of the city and when one night his life is threatened, Carwyn reveals himself - Ethan's doppelgänger, someone created through dark magic and thought as evil and soulless. As a revolution sparks and people on both sides of New York begin to have their life threatened, Ethan, Carwyn and Lucie have to work together to try and save everyone.

Sarah Rees Brennan is one my favourite authors and I have read The Lynburn Legacy trilogy and The Demon's Lexicon trilogy (and loved them), as well as some other stories she has written. So I knew I had to read this and that I would most likely love it because I love her writing, her plots and her characters. I will admit though, I was a bit apprehensive going into Tell The Wind And Fire, mainly because it's a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, one of the very few books I have ever DNF'd. It was a classic I just didn't get on with, and a brief excerpt I had read of Tell the Wind and Fire that was shared by Brennan left me a bit confused re the magic system involving 'light' magic and rings.

I'm really pleased that I ended up for the most part loving the tale, though obviously not surprised. Even though I'd read maybe 50% of A Tale of Two Cities (and okay, I skimmed the rest and then looked up the story cause I wanted to know what happened) I could easily see the parallels between the two stories and the parts that Brennan really received inspiration from Dickens' classic. Lucie as a character was pretty interesting as a whole. She's someone who's not so pushed, I guess, into changing things. She's aware of what's going and knows that people in the Dark are not being treated well. As much as it hurts, she's not willing to put herself out there and speak up for fear of her father and the people she loves. While there's a part of me that kind of wants to dislike Lucie and there's times she's a bit bland because of her stance on these things, there's another part of me that respects her as well as she's battling something very hard everyday in keeping control all the time.

There's one part where Lucie mentions how, as a little girl, she was viewed as pure and innocent and was used as a symbol of hope and the 'Golden Thread of the Dark' but then Lucie found her status changing slightly when she grew into a woman's body with womanly curves and her sexuality was suddenly viewed as seducing and a bit mistrustful. There was something about this that resonated with me and I just found it a powerful observation.

"I remembered my changed shape in the white dress. A child, a daughter, could be innocent in a way a woman - a woman with a man - could not be."

I freaking loved Carwyn. If anyone is a fan of the Grisha trilogy and had a bit of a thing for The Darkling, you might love Carwyn. He is something made from darkness, and plays the darkness up by acting as people believe like he has no feelings, no soul and no heart. But now and again, he shows glimpses of goodness. The first time he kissed Lucie, he went to say something before he was cut off. I feel like it could have been romantic. He waited for her outside the bathroom to make sure she was safe. And the concern he showed when Lucie rang him about 'the blood on the wall'. I feel like these are glimpses of something else Carwyn is other than a creature of darkness. 

"I know there is nothing between us and there never could be. But I would do whatever you asked. I would do anything you want. If I had anything worth giving to you, I would give it. If I had anything to sacrifice, I would sacrifice it for you."

Ethan felt rather flat and stale next to him to be honest. And a tad boring. He was just too good and I'm a sucker for a bad boy. I did like one way that Lucie described her feelings for Ethan and how he didn't save her, but he saved her dreams:

"I had never wanted Ethan to save me. But I had always been so grateful to him for saving my dreams, for bringing the hope in me back to life."

I think I would have liked a bit more building. Lucie explains that magic came to NYC and how it then split into two. But what about the rest of the world? Does magic exist there? Do light and dark magicians travel there? Do they live in co-existence with each other or are they also separated? I just had a few questions when it came to those sorts of things and wonderings.

The ending did disappoint me a bit. I feel like there wasn't a proper conclusion for the baddies. It's all fine and dandy for Lucie to say the new enemies would get their comedown but how's that okay for all the people who have already died and their families? And the people who are probably going to continue to die. As far as I can tell, this is a standalone? So, I just felt a bit like, "oh, that's it. They don't get a taste of their own medicine?" And of course, something else about the ending killed me a bit. Damn you Dickens and Brennan for breaking my heart :(

Friday, 1 April 2016

Book Review: Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan Mcguire

Read: April 1   Verdict: 5 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

Nancy is a teenage girl who is adjusting to having to live in a normal world again after she walked through a door in her cellar and found herself in a magical underworld land. Nancy's parents don't understand why she's different and send her to a special school for children like her. Nancy finds out that all of the students in her new school have been through portals and doors like hers and are trying to find their way back, including her teachers. Just as Nancy starts feeling less alone, disaster strikes and she has a mystery to solve.

I loved this! I knew from the get go that I had to read this short story. It was like an answer to everything I had always wondered. How did Wendy, Michael and John feel about having to live in normal old England without pirates and indians to fight, and fairy dust to help them fly? How did the Pevensies deal with having to grow up all over again, and stop being royalty? This story lets us know all the little things these other characters may have had to deal with in such cases.

This book starts off feeling quite magical but quickly turns into a dark and creepy murder mystery when the students start turning up dead with body parts missing. I definitely did the usual thing, suspecting everyone and fearing for my favourite characters. I did guess who it was in the end but I was totally okay with it. It was very intriguing to see how it all wrapped up.

I love how there were characters of different sexualities like Nancy who is asexual and Kabe who is transsexual. There was a beautiful acceptance among the characters and I loved Nancy's inner monologue about how she felt. It really gave me, as a heterosexual person, an insight into what a person who is asexual feels and must think about things when it comes to romance and relationships in a way I've never experienced before in other books.

This book is just chockablock full of beautiful observations and metaphors. It's magical, and creepy and poignant and a must-read.

Book Review: Stay the Distance by Mara Dabrishus

Read: March 31-April 1  Verdict: 4.5 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

July lives and breathes horses. She helps out her dad on a daily basis, who works as a trainer in a racing stables. The only problem is getting too attached to horses who may be sold on, and July is currently trying not to fall in love with a chestnut filly called Kali who wasn't made to be a racer. July is also dealing with an absent mom who she hasn't seen in 4 years after she walked out to chase her jockey dreams in another state. Plus, there's also the fact that the stables could be bankrupt and July will lose not just Kali, but all the horses.

I loved this! I would have read it in one sitting easily if I had started it a little bit earlier in the day but this was the perfect kind of horsey read for me to get my teeth into. I love books like this, Stories about people who simply love horses and it's a story that 100% invested in the world of horses and not just halfway there.

It's obvious Mara knows her stuff when it comes to racing but I found I was able to easily follow along with the different terms and races even though I'm not educated in the way of horse racing, and definitely not American horse racing which is seems to be all flat and no jumps. I loved the different people working in the stables but mostly all the horses and how Mara was able to give them all their own unique and beautiful personality - from gentle Diver, working Maggie, tenacious Lighter and the gifted-in-her-own-way Kali.

This book also didn't fall into a trope I see a lot of in horse novels which is the snobby and pretentious horse owners. Too often, there's the snobby, rich horse owner who looks down their nose at the plebs working in the stables and don't own their own horse. They often only ride their horses for the prestige of ribbons and trophies and not the love of riding, or even the horse themselves. With Stay the Distance, we had Beck who obviously cared for Lighter but wasn't a horse-mad fanatic like July was. We also had Beck's dad Delaney and his mam who obviously genuinely cared for the animals they owned, and the staff that worked for them. Plus Beck had a relationship with July and Matt with Martina, so they obviously weren't snobs with dating either. I loved how Delaney handled July asking him about Kali. It was perfect and lovely.

Beck and July's relationship was another great thing about this story. They obviously already had a history from growing up together and they had chemistry. They were obviously a good match and it was a waft of fresh air that there was major dramas in their relationship.

I think I would have liked more explanation about July and Marina's mom throughout the book as I was left confused as to what had happened in that she wouldn't even shoot them an email or a phone call. Considering they were teenagers when she left, it seemed really odd that she wouldn't even send them a text to let them know what she was up to.

Overall, I loved this book and I would highly recommend to anyone who loves a horsey read. I can't wait to read more of Mara's writing. I've already bought her next book!