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Book Review: As Far as the Stars

As Far as the Stars by Virginia Macgregor – Kindle Edition, 384 pages – Published April 18th 2019 by HQ Young Adult

This was another one of those books I read without knowing anything about. I knew the genre, and I’d seen the cover, but that was it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it this way, and so I’ll try not to spoil anything for potential readers.

The book is narrated by a teenage girl called Air, who is on her way to pick her brother Jude up from the airport. Their sister is about to get married, but Jude tends to mess things up so Air is trying to figure out where exactly he is. Their mother is getting worried about them turning up late, but Air is sure that it will work out – Jude always fixes things just in time.

When at the airport, Air meets Christopher. He’s waiting for his dad, who’s flight has been delayed. But then news comes in of the plane being missing, so Air decides to drive Christopher to his mum’s. The problem is, he hasn’t seen her for years.

Amongst all the confusion and stress and grief, Air and Christopher (and Jude’s dog) begin to enjoy each other’s company. They take several pit-stops along the road, despite the urgency of the situation, and actually find themselves having fun.

The end of the novel was fantastic, full of emotion. It was resolved beautifully with the epilogue. However, I did have a few issues throughout the majority of the book. Firstly, I found it to be a bit repetitious. Air went over the same thoughts several times, which made sense in some cases as she was anxious and scared, but happened a little too much for my liking. I also found her to be a little too dramatic; for example, when Christopher finally told her about his dad, she got incredibly upset. I don’t really understand why. It wasn’t Christopher’s fault. It didn’t change anything. If anything, she should have felt more sympathetic for him.

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

I also noticed quite a few typos and missing words, but that may just have been because I have a review copy and not the final publication.
Overall, I’m giving this 4 stars. The ending really made the book for me.

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Book Review: The First Time Lauren Pailing Died

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd – eBook, Published July 11th 2019 by HQ

Wow. Wow.

I don’t like discussing the plots of books too much because of spoilers, but I don’t think I’d actually be able to describe this one even if I wanted to. There isn’t really a single plot – as there isn’t even a single reality.

At first, Lauren is a young girl who sees strange visions of different realities. Sometimes they include the people she knows, sometimes they’re complete strangers. Sometimes the worlds she sees look so similar to her own that she thinks she may be seeing the future.

As the title suggests, Lauren dies. But then suddenly she awakes in a slightly different world – one where her mother is slightly less pretty, and her accident was damaging but not fatal. She lives a wonderful life, despite feeling slightly out of place. But then she dies again, and wakes up as a mother of two children who she barely recognises. This time, her memories of her past lives slowly begin to make some sense.

I’ve focused on Lauren a lot there, but actually a large portion of this book follows other characters; her mother from one reality, her father from her first, and even her husband from her second life. It’s all rather confusing but there are small ties throughout the book which I found to be wonderfully clever.

It was amazing and surprisingly emotional to see all these different outcomes of everyone’s lives. Lauren’s mother goes on to have a wonderful life, while in another reality she can’t bear the grief and ends up committing suicide.

There is one constant throughout every reality, though; Lauren’s father’s boss, Peter Stanning, is missing. I’m not entirely sure why this became quite so important, why it was tied to Lauren’s strange situation. But I was relieved to find some closure for that particular thread of the story in the end.

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

My two main criticisms of this book are that it is really quite confusing and hard to follow at times, and there are also a lot of mistakes and missing words. As I received an ARC I cannot be sure whether these mistakes will be printed in the final publication or not, though.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was heartbreaking and lovely and unique and strange. 4.5 stars!

Book Review: All The Lonely People

All The Lonely People by David Owen – eBook, 320 pages – Published January 10th 2019 by Atom

This was quite different to how I anticipated it to be. In a good way, I think.

The protagonist is Kat, and young feminist who loves Doctor Backwash and the YouTuber Tinker. As a fan of Tinker, Kat becomes the victim of a lot of online abuse. Slowly, she has to delete her entire online presence, including her YouTube account and her personal, custom-designed website. For so long, the online communities have been the only place she really felt she belonged. Now it was all gone.

And so was she.

The ‘fade’ that Kat experiences is very interesting. Suddenly nobody remembers her. Except one of the boys responsible for her disappearance, Wesley. He’s determined to find out what happened. Even if it’s just to alleviate his own overwhelming guilt.

There are a lot of important messages throughout this book, mostly about feminism and masculinity. The theme of sexism and abuse is huge. I did feel like it was maybe a bit exaggerated in places, but actually it does happen like that, sadly.

Kat also finds herself building a vital relationship during the fade, with another girl who is fading. Safa was one of a group of people, called ‘the lonely people’, who actively tried to fade. Like Kat, she is all but forgotten by the rest of the world.

The magic realism was great. It really felt like this was possible, if rather improbable. It was intriguing and exciting, especially when Kat discovers that a extremely sexist YouTuber is planning something bad. How is she going to stop him when no one can even see her?

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

I really enjoyed this book. It had emotional moments, funny moments, and plenty of endearing moments. Wesley is a problematic character but he learns from his mistakes, and definitely grows more mature throughout the book. I’m giving this 4 to 4.5 stars.

Book Review: Little Darlings

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding – eBook, 336 pages Published April 30th 2019 by HarperAvenue

I am a huge fan of thriller, detective and suspense novels. I also adore fantasy elements, which this book incorporated fantastically.

Right from the very beginning, this novel creates a sense of unease and suspense. Even when Lauren meets her twin sons, I felt myself waiting for something to happen.

Throughout the novel are excerpts of folk tales, fairy-tales, rhymes and so on relating to changelings. So naturally, you expect something to happen within this area. It made it so much more exciting, like you are always waiting for something bad to happen.

What I especially liked about this novel was that it really blurred the lines between reality and fantasy or even the supernatural. I don’t want to ruin this for anyone who may read it, but the ending is somewhat open. It leaves space for your own interpretation; though certain things are strongly hinted at. All throughout the novel there is an ongoing debate as to whether the ‘case’ of Lauren Tranter is an actual criminal case, or simply a mental health case. I found this super intriguing.

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

Overall, this was a great book. The ending could be seen as somewhat unfulfilling, but I liked how it left some things to the readers’ own imagination. 4 out of 5 stars!

TRILOGY Review: The Firebird Chronicles

The Firebird Chronicles is a children’s/young adult fantasy series following two young Apprentice Adventurers, Scoop and Fletcher.

Rise of the Shadow Stealers (The Firebird Chronicles #1) by Daniel Ingram-Brown – eBook, Published January 25th 2013 by Our Street Books

The first book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, follows the confused youngsters as they make sense of their surroundings. Neither has any memories of who they are or where they come from, and with the help of their mentor, the Yarnbard, they slowly piece together the story of their past.

Throughout the book, Scoop and Fletcher are held back by Grizelda, an evil old woman who’s determined to take control of the land. They are set monumental tasks by the mysterious Storyteller – the creator and controller of the world they live in. Grizelda desperately tries to prevent them from succeeding at every turn.

My immediate reaction to this book was that I was too old for it. I always emphasise the fact that children’s books can still be good books, enjoyed by any reader. This was, in all honesty, not fantastic. The plot wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t exactly hard to read, but the writing wasn’t particularly outstanding and there were tons of grammatical errors. One recurring mistake I noticed was the misuse of “passed” and “past”. Little things like that really affect how professional a book feels, or how immature the writing comes across.

2.5 stars for this book. The plot was okay, but the characters and speech were overly childish and didn’t feel authentic.

The Nemesis Charm (The Firebird Chronicles #2) by Daniel Ingram-Brown – eBook, Published May 27th 2016 by Our Street Books

The second instalment of this series is The Nemesis Charm. While this book had similar issues with character development, speech and grammar, I found it slightly better than the predecessor.

After rediscovering their identities, Scoop and Fletcher have settled into their lives and begun building a relationship with their parents. But of course, this calm does not remain for long. Soon, citizens are falling ill with a mysterious sleeping disease, the Storyteller’s Princess among them. Yet again, Scoop and Fletcher are tasked with saving everyone.

Grizelda continues to fight them at every step, while raising her own army and attempting to take control of the world (again). Scoop and Fletcher find themselves travelling with a Dark Pirate towards the Threshold, the Uncrossable Boundary to a mysterious world beyond.

There is also a whole other side to their story – the real Storyteller, if you will. A girl in Leeds called Libby, who is continuing the story her missing mother began.

I got strong Inkheart vibes from this series. The main difference was that this seemed a whole lot more immature, and amateurish, honestly. There were still so many mistakes, and Grizelda really felt like a typical children’s villain. I think this is supposed to be ‘cheesy’ and predictable to a certain extent, as it is playing on the idea of stories and heroes and so on, but it was hard to take it seriously at times.

2.5 to 3 stars for the second Firebird Chronicles book. It was alright, clever and exciting, but still had its faults.

Through the Uncrossable Boundary (The Firebird Chronicles #3) by Danial Ingram-Brown – eBook, Published November 30th 2018 by Our Street Books

The final book in this trilogy is called Through the Uncrossable Boundary. I think you can guess what that means.

In my opinion, this was the strongest book of the three. Again, it still had a fair few errors, but it was unpredictable and unique. Everything was finally explained in full, and the ending was tidy and satisfying. There was loss and heartbreak, and massive revelations.

Basically, Fletcher and Scoop end up in our world. While this is a little predictable, and some of the following events may be a little cheesy, I think it was quite good. It was a nice ending to the trilogy.

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

3 stars for the final book.

Book Review: The Silent Patient

I’m really glad I found this book – it was almost perfect for me! The narrator, Theo Faber, is a forensic psychotherapist, which is what I’m studying at uni starting this September! I will admit this possibly made the job out to be a lot more exciting and dramatic than it often is in reality, but pretty much every book on this topic does the same thing. It did include a fair amount of subject-specific terminology which I appreciated, but not so much that it was overwhelming or too much like a textbook.

I’m not going to discuss the plot much at all, as a) it’s really quite confusing, and b) I don’t want to ruin it at all for any potential readers. The bare bones of this is basically Theo working with Alicia Berenson, who was charged for the murder of her husband, but hasn’t talked since the day of his death. It’s almost a detective novel – Theo wants to find out what really happened, and why. At the same time, Theo has things going on in his personal life, and in his spare time he also follows ‘leads’ regarding Alicia’s case – her friends, family. It becomes more than just therapy, for sure.

As expected, there are twists and shocking discoveries – but I really did not expect one of these in particular. I found it fantastic; not cheesy or predictable at all.

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

My only criticisms are a few typos – which may be due to my copy only being an ARC – as well as the fact that some aspects were perhaps a bit overly dramatic. Theo’s actions at one point are really quite… drastic. Unbelievable, almost. But then, I suppose some people do handle things in similar ways.

4.5 stars for The Silent Patient.

Book Review: The Hunting Party

The Hunting Party

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley – ebook (ARC), Published December 3rd 2018 by HarperCollins

This was an incredibly interesting book. I’ve read several novels which alternate between different characters’ narrations, but this took that to a whole new level. Not only did we switch between characters regularly, we even switched between first and third person narrative. I found this a very unique choice.

At first, I will admit that the sheer number of different perspectives was a bit overwhelming. It was hard to keep up with who was who. But as I got further into the story I was able to make sense of things more, and I could tell what was important to the story and so on.

This is, essentially, a ‘whodunit’ kind of book. There is a large group of people isolated in the middle of nowhere, and a dead body. One of these remaining people must be responsible for the murder.

As well as the switching narratives, the story flips between ‘before’ the murder and ‘after’. Most of the first part of the novel is before, and we begin to learn about the group of guests’ past and relationships with one another. Bit by bit we see that everything is not quite as rosy as it first seemed.

The way the story slowly unravels was fantastic. Thrilling, exciting. And the number of revelations that are revealed one by one… As the reader, we don’t know which of these is important, and which is just a red herring. Everyone seems to have their issues, but does that mean they’re capable of murder?

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Once I got familiar with all the different characters and plots going on, I really enjoyed this. The pace increased dramatically toward the end, making it hard to put the book down. I’m giving this 4 to 4.5 stars.

Book Review: Mr Doubler Begins Again

I loved Mr Doubler right from the start. He’s a potato farmer. He loves potatoes, his whole life revolves around potatoes. He may be lonely and old, but he has his potatoes to focus on. He’s content.

But when Doubler’s cleaner and friend is taken seriously ill, he realises just how lonely he really is. His children aren’t there for him, not really. He hasn’t even left Mirth Farm for twenty years. Miraculously, though, Mrs Millwood’s absence pushes Mr Doubler to make changes and new friends.

This book was almost like a coming-of-age novel, except for a slightly older character. Mr Doubler essentially builds his life anew, making new friends and even serving as the catalyst for other wonderful budding friendships. And while Doubler has been in a dark place after the loss of his wife, he actually finds a way to accept it and move on.

Doubler was a really loveable character, if a bit awkward and arrogant at times. He very much reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant in terms of his lack of social etiquette. It was truly amazing to watch him find himself, and I seriously respected him for confronting his son, Julian. Though Doubler hasn’t had much to do with his children for a while, he does still keep in contact. But Julian’s sudden show of apparent affection throws Doubler off. With the help of his friends, Mr Doubler realises – and more importantly, accepts – that his son isn’t actually a very nice person, and his only motivation is financial. Doubler also manages to reconnect with his daughter, and accept that his wife’s absence was not his fault, though Julian disagrees.

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

The ending was so sweet, too! It wasn’t overly happy – there’s still a shadow over the characters, a possibility of further loss – but it still made me smile. It was really lovely to just see Doubler so content and comfortable in his life at last.

The only criticism I have is that there were a few typos and such, but as I read an ARC and not the final publication, I’m not too worried about it.

Overall, this was a really lovely book. It sounds boring – an old guy who grows potatoes? – but it was full of some really important things. 4.5 stars.

Book Review: The Dollmaker

I’ve read pretty mixed reviews on this, and I must admit that it certainly wasn’t the kind of book I’d normally read. It had a very strange atmosphere to it, almost creepy at times.

Andrew recalls some of his childhood and youth, and his instant love for a doll he saw in a window. I actually felt that there was no sense of time even from the start – it took me a while to figure out how old Andrew was in particular parts of his story, let alone how old he is now. This was probably the root of my main issues with this book; I just couldn’t make sense of the timescale.

The introduction of Bramber’s letters was an interesting aspect, though I soon found similar troubles here: I did not feel the passing of time. I also had trouble keeping up with the characters. Still, the story being outlined was intriguing and quite exciting where Bramber’s past was concerned.

Bramber’s letters are included in-between Andrew’s own story, where he narrates his journey to surprise Bramber with a visit. They had never seen pictures of each other, or even spoken on the phone. It was a risk, but one Andrew felt was worth taking. Throughout this journey, Andrew tells more stories from his youth – several of which are quite – almost disturbingly – sexual.

It is also interspersed with Ewa Chaplin’s Nine Modern Fairytales, which all include a dwarf in some way. These stories were all rather creepy on their own, and Allan regularly refers to aspects from them in her writing.

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I do not want to go into detail recapping the plot. My three main points to convey in this review are: it had a very distinct, strange aura; there seemed to be a distinct lack of time passing; I personally felt no real connection to or interest in any character. I felt very detached from this book when I read it. There were no faults with the writing that I could identify, I just simply didn’t click with it. That being said, I do appreciate the writing itself, and so am giving this book 3 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.