Young Adult

Book Review: Paper Bag Mask

A huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my review!

This book is about a prank. Kind of. Not really. It’s complicated.

AP student Redmond Fairweather steals the whomper.

Ok, so the ‘whomper’ is this little wooden sword his AP History teacher, Mr. Street, uses as a prop in class. There’s nothing particularly special about it – the origin is different every time Mr. Street is asked about it – but he seems strangely fond of it. And when Redmond sees Mr. Street handing a suspicious little bag full of powder to a student, he decides that Mr. Street deserves a little pain.

And then Redmond, Alice and Deep (his two best (and only) friends) are making a ransom video, wearing paper bags over their heads to disguise their identity.

He didn’t plan it. He actually meant to give it back almost immediately, but then the exremely popular (and hot) Elodia Cruz confronts him about it, telling him he must not return the whomper. It turns out that Redmond isn’t the only one getting weird vibes from his teacher – there are rumours of past interactions with students, not to mention how his current wife was originally a student where Mr. Street was working as a TA.

Bit by bit, Elodia and Red (as Elodia calls him now) gather a team, including members of the school’s most popular band. Red and Alice start dating, Deep is clearly falling for the singer of the band, and Elodia is shocked at how much she realises she likes Red. It’s all very, very exciting.

Then the plan escalates. They decide to steal the giant whomper (a paper-mache debut to the original built by a past class, measuring about ten whole feet). And then, naturally, there’s another ransom video. And finally, Red tells Elodia what he saw happen between Mr. Street and Jasmine (the girl who received the bag of drugs, who also happens to be Elodia’s best friend). Linked with the rumours of the ‘White Whale’, a teacher distributing drugs through a network of students, the gang decide to out Mr. Street. Publicly.

They post all the videos online, including a final one where they destroy the whomper for good, and out Mr. Street as the White Whale. It becomes really quite messy. There are police involved, Alice and Red’s relationship is on the line, and they’re even interviewed on national television. Red thinks this is it, he’s finally been seen, he’s liked by the other students. And then it gets worse. And worse. And worse.

This was a super enjoyable book! It was set in high school (I think the students are around 17, so that’s the equivalent to Sixth Form here in the UK), so it was aimed at a slightly older audience than a lot of other YA books. It had a great sense of humour throughout, and an informal, ‘chatty’ kind of vibe. But there was a lot of more important stuff, deeper topics like drugs and even abuse being broached. And of course, there was the typical kid-messing-up-big-time followed by kid-finding-his-true-self aspect that pretty much all coming of age novels have.

I did notice a few tiny mistakes with grammar, simple typos and such, as well as a few instances where double punctuation has been used. This may have been purposeful, to give that whole teen voice, but I thought it just looked incorrect/immature/unprofessional.

Overall, I really did like this. I found myself feeling genuinely embarrassed on Redmond’s behalf, and although I could see where he was going so wrong at times, I couldn’t help but read on and see what happened. 4.5 stars!

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Book Review: Two Skies Before Night

A huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my review.

At first I thought this was a detective novel, but I soon realised that it was far more sci-fi than I anticipated. This combination of science fiction and detective elements was really unique and honestly, I loved it.

Initially, Detective Lang is working on a double murder case. It seemed quite simple at first, if a bit strange what with all the bizarre descriptions of characters. It got a bit confusing when Lang began commenting on the ‘undersky’ and people from ‘Above’ and ‘Below’, but I soon figured it out. All these different elements made a thoroughly intriguing story, and things I didn’t think were important at first turned out to hold quite a deal of significance.

The Powers were really interesting. The few that were described were so strange, and I loved them. The few times these Powers interected with citizens of the City were strange, too, and I was really intrigued to see what the Powers actually did. They were like gods, feared but almost worshipped by everyone. I would have liked to find out a bit more about them – perhaps there will be a sequel that will reveal more.

There are a lot of intertwining details, which I always appreciate. It was definitely a unique story, with a lot of exciting moments and unexpected discoveries.

One issue I had with this book was that there were a few mistakes, misplaced commas and so on. The copy I received was a review copy, so I can’t be sure whether these mistakes are in the final publication, but I thought I should point them out just in case.

Overall, this was a really interesting book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Fearless (Eye of the Beholder #2)

I may have done it again. I read a sequel without reading the rest of the series. I am so sorry. I really need to be more careful!

I was given the opportunity to review this thanks to Edelweiss+, so a huge thanks to them and the publisher/author for providing me with it.

This begins with an intro note from the narrator, Grace, which immediately set the scene perfectly. It was actually really convincing, and definitely a strong start to the novel.

It was immediately clear that I was in the dark due to not reading the previous book. However, I think the most impoprtant things were recapped in enough detail that I was still able to follow and enjoy this book. There were still references I didn’t get, though, which is a shame. I wish I had read the other book.

I’m not going to discuss the plot. What I will say is that it seemed incredibly plausible. I was taking some sociology exams while I read this, one of which contained questions on the topic of religion. This book tied into that perfectly. The future described was so realistic, and the details about secularisation and such were spot on. It was a bit too similar to my sociology books at some points, as in it almost felt like an assignment to read at times. That was only at times, though, when the political system of the rebel group was being outlined, for example.

The relationships in this book were a little inconsistent in my opinion. I thought Grace was really connecting with someone, and then suddenly she was almost falling for her ex again. I don’t know, it just seemed a bit wishy-washy to me.

This was a really clever book, and I did thoroughly enjoy reading it. There were a few things I wasn’t particularly keen on, but nothing that really put me off. 4 stars; I would suggest reading the first novel, Sinless, beforehand though.

Book Review: Rebel Song

First of all, thanks so much to the Hidden Gems ARC programme for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book!

Rogan Elwood is a teenage orphan who owns a vineyard in Arelanda. He’s pretty normal – his most noteworthy trait is being the son of a rebel martyr, who he is inevitably following in the footsteps of. The Cause, as they call themselves, are deeply unsettled. They want change, and were not disheartened by failed previous attempts at uprising.

And then along comes El. She’s beautiful, and definitely from a family with power (and money). Rogan meets her by chance, but the pair agree to meet again, and again, and again… The couple soon become close, and El decides it’s time for Rogan to know who she really is.

The heir to the throne. Princess Elyra Ballantyne.

They know that continuing their affair is dangerous – almost a certain death sentence – but they can’t stay away. And when things don’t seem like they could get any worse, Elyra discovers Rogan’s link with the rebels working against her family.

There’s a lot of politics and strategy, and no shortage of corrupt individuals in powerful positions. Sometimes there were a few too many characters and details to keep track of, but overall it was a thoroughly intriguing story. I felt genuine hatred for some of the characters, and sadness at the loss of others. I was even quite invested in El and Rogan’s relationship, which is rare for me as I don’t tend to like romance.

Elyra was perhaps a bit too naive and headstrong, but she exhibited fantastic character growth. Rogan was probably my favourite character, though he definitely had his flaws.

My main criticism is the grammar and punctuation throughout this novel. There are a lot of mistakes, and it was a bit frustrating at times. Other than that, I really enjoyed this. The writing was good, and I felt real emotion for the characters. 3.5 stars.

Book Review: Station Zero (Railhead Trilogy #3)

I did it again. I requested a book that concludes a trilogy I haven’t read. Oops.

Because I didn’t read the previous books in this series I’m afraid my review is probably going to be a bit more critical than if I had read them. The first thing I’m going to say is that I had problems immersing myself in the world set by Reeve, and a lot of the concepts, characters and terms used took a bit of getting used to. For wanting of a better phrase, I “had trouble getting into it”.

I do believe that the best books, whether part of a series or not, can be read as standalone novels. There should be enough detail in a book for any reader to follow and enjoy it without having read the previous books. This was not particularly easy to follow at first, but I did begin to enjoy it after a short while.

As this is a conclusion to a trilogy, I really don’t want to give too much away. It begins with Zen Starling sneaking onto an alien train – as this is set in a universe with intergalactic railways. He’s sent a mysterious message, which he believes to be from an entity called Nova. I eventually learned that this was a “Motorik” that Zen fell in love with. She was trapped in the Black Light Zone (which I’m afraid I can’t really explain at all). Anyway, Zen wants to find her. But it turns out that there’s more to the story than just her.

As I can’t give the plot away too much I’m going to have to be really vague with my review. The most notable thing may be how Reeve portrays technology. For example, the trains in this book seem to be conscious. All phenomenons are carefully explained through science, and there is even a theme of discussion over whether Motoriks are people or not. I thought this was really interesting, and definitely a relevant topic to include in a sci-fi novel. There is also the theme of aliens being people, too, rather than being seen as lesser beings.

My favourite characters (if they can be called that) may actually have been the trains. I won’t give anything away, but I seriously admired them!

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The bigger themes in this novel were a bit confusing to me. For example, the Railmaker. I understood what it was (kind of) but I didn’t really get why it was quite so important. And Raven. I had no idea who he was at first – he was obviously introduced in an earlier book, and so the reader was expected to be familiar with him by now.

There were a lot of really interesting, well-developed concepts in this, and I really admired how most things were explained through science and not left to ‘magic’ or some unknown force. I am aware that I would probably have a different opinion if I had read the rest of the series first, so I am very sorry I was unable to do that. As a standalone novel I’d give this 3 stars, but as it is not actually a standalone, I will give it 3.5.

Book Review: The Secret of the Silver Mines (Dylan Maples Adventures #2)

I didn’t know that this was part of a series when I first requested it but luckily it was perfectly fine as a standalone read. It’s a young adult adventure novel, but I definitely got the feeling that it was aimed at younger young adults than myself. The main character is 12-year-old Dylan Maples, so I assume the target audience is around that pre-teen age, too.

Dylan’s father often moves around for his work, which is as a lawyer. They’re now moving to Cobalt, in north Canada. “Hicksville”, as Dylan calls it. It’s only for a few months, but Dylan is dreading leaving his friends behind. Cobalt is bound to be so boring. How will he ever survive?

But of course, Dylan finds adventure in this seemingly sleepy town. As usual, I won’t tell too much of the plot, but I will say that Dylan finds himself in the middle of the law suit his dad is working on.

Dylan makes a friend in Cobalt, too – Wynona. He meets her almost immediately, though they don’t become acquainted until a little later on. Their relationship remains platonic, though it is fairly obvious that there are some deeper emotions.

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Personally, I found this to be quite a young book. It included a huge amount of similes and metaphors and what I’d consider ‘simplistic’ writing. It wasn’t bad, it just felt like it was a bit too young for me to enjoy.

For a younger audience I could see this as being quite interesting, though I found it a little slow at times. 3 stars.

Book Review: Finding Grace

Yesterday I finished Finding Grace, a short historical fiction book I was given the chance to read thanks to NetGalley. It follows Grace, a thirteen-year-old girl living in a Belgian convent in 1975. She was left on the steps as a baby, along with her disabled sister, Dotty. But Dotty recently died, and everything is changing.

Grace is moved to the girls’ boarding school dorm. She soon becomes close with Fran, but also has a few run-ins with the stuck up Deirdra. While helping Fran with a history project Grace discovers an old journal kept by one of the nuns at the convent during the war. It tells her horrific story of abandonment, rape and loss.

All the while, the girls are trying to find out more about Grace’s past, and avoid the wrath of the horrible Sister Francis. Eventually Grace does get some anwswers, but they were certainly not the ones she was looking for.

I’m not usually very interested in historical fiction but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Even though it was short, the characters were well developed and the plot was exciting and intriguing. I felt immersed in the setting, and felt empathetic for Grace. I actually felt quite invested in her and her search for knowledge.

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There were a few typos and such, but as this is only a review copy I can’t be sure whether the final publication will include them. It was a quick, interesting read, a good introduction to historical fiction. 4 stars!

Book Review: All Rights Reserved

I finally got round to finishing this book a little while back, and I am so glad I did! As usual, I will avoid going into too much detail regarding the plot so as to prevent spoiling it for any potential readers. 

The protagonist in this novel is Speth. Her name was chosen for it’s low price – the world she lives in charges citizens for everything. After the age of 15, a special cuff tracks speech, gestures, purchases and so on, and fines the individual accordingly. It’s copyrighting to the extreme. And, sadly, it really doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Click on the image to be redirected to the Amazon product page.

On Speth’s fifteenth birthday, she has her speech prepared and sponsors ready with products to advertise at her party. But a friend of hers suddenly takes a drastic move, stunning Speth into silence. And so, unintentionally, Speth begins a revolution.

Speth continues to uphold her silence, even when offered money and even attacked. Miraculously, she runs into a near-mythical group of people – the Product Placers. Nobody has ever seen them before. There is no footage of them, even in this world of constant monitoring and recording. And, even more miraculously, is that the Placers decide to help her.

Along with her own issues, Speth is trying to solve problems in her own home. Her parents have been taken to repay an old, old family debt, while her sister has been sued for looking too much like a famous actress. People – the Silents – begin to look up to her as a leader, and there are lawyers who are willing to pay good money to stop her “rebellion”.

There is a lot going on in this book, as you can probably tell from this brief summary. The development of Speth’s relationships is really interesting, considering she can’t speak or communicate in any way. I was also really quite surprised with how the romantic plot went, honestly. And toward the end… there is a huge blow. I definitely was not expecting that to happen.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It took me a while to get round to finishing, but not because I found it tiresome or anything like that. I found myself actually struggling to put it down as I got toward the end, which sounds really cliche but is the honest truth. It was so realistic and plausible, scarily so. 5 stars for this.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

Book Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood

I’m going to avoid discussing the plot too much so I don’t spoil any potential readers (and I do recommend you read this!).

This book is set in Dubossary, narrated alternately by Liba and Laya. Liba is the older of the two, the only children in their family. They are Jews, and while this book was hugely about their faith and discrimination against them, it is not only about that. This book was like a new fairytale. It had magic in every page, and was genuinely exciting to read. There were tragic elements, tons of romance, and even a sense of suspense.

The girls are left in their home alone when their parents rush off to Kupel in a family emergency. But just as they plan to leave, the girls’ Mami decides it’s time to tell her daughters who they really are: a bear and a swan.

As I said, I will not delve into the story too much. But I really loved the story involving Laya and the Hovlin brothers, as well as Liba’s own internal struggles. Laya’s romance at the end of the book was, in my opinion, a little rushed and unexpected, but that’s the only real downside I have.

The writing was lovely – it included Yiddish and Hebrew dialect, which was translated in the Author’s Note at the end. (A quick side note; I actually read the entire Note, which is

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really quite rare for me.) And Laya’s account, in particular, felt so poetic. She was definitely my favourite character, as much as I love Liba, too. And the relationship between the girls is so, so lovely. No matter how much they try to push each other away, they are always there for each other in the end.

As I enjoyed this book so much, I tried to talk about it with my boyfriend. However, I soon discovered that describing this story is really quite a feat. It was full of little details and twists that just made the story.

I really liked this book. As I only received an ARC and not a final edition, I didn’t have the official layout, which I can imagine may add to it also. Even so, I’m easily giving this 4.5 to 5 stars.

Manga/Graphic Review: Seto Utsumi, Volume #1

This manga was comprised of seven chapters, each containing a separate story. Well, story is not quite accurate… Each chapter is really a new conversation between the two teens as they sit by the river after school. They talk about anything and everything, from girls to bullies to ghosts. It’s sweet at times, when the boys’ affection for one another is made apparent, even without them actually voicing it. They tease each other endlessly, argue and taunt each other, but all in good humour.

Some of the things they talk about did seem rather shallow to me, and the way they spoke was a little strange to me. I get the feeling that this is aimed more at readers who understand the culture a bit more and can relate to the characters.

Personally, I found the book a little boring overall. There was no real plot, which can be nice sometimes, but just felt a little… lost here. Sometimes the boys spoke about interesting topics, but I would have liked to hear more about their personal lives, their emotions and fears.

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This was a strange read, honestly. I didn’t particularly like it, though I didn’t dislike it either. I just didn’t really connect with the characters or enjoy it that much. 2.5 stars.