Hello everybody! Today, it`s time for my January reviews post, and I`m so excited to talk about all of the books I read (barring one for school that I hated which I had to read for Spanish coursework!), as they got my reading year off to a pretty excellent start. Onto the books!
The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle (received for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I saved this debut mystery-adventure specially so that it could be my first read of the new year, and I`m so glad I did as it got things off to a great start. It is the story of a girl named Clara, who lives with her emotionally negligent uncle, as he abandons her to fend for herself. Then the savvier Peter and his cat Stockwell arrive and it seems like life may actually be better for Clara, but soon they must unravel the mysteries of Clara`s past and save Clara`s deteriorating mansion, and themselves, from dangerous outside forces. Clara is such a classic book heroine, and I think a lot of people will adore her- she has had a really rather horrid childhood, she is bookish and best of all, she is extremely brave throughout all of the situations she faces, no matter how afraid she is. I also adored clever, caring Peter and their friend Amelia Ann, and of course Stockwell. The mystery element is also wonderful. While we learn fairly quickly who is posing a danger (it is very hard to talk about this part of the book without giving spoilers!), this only serves to make the antagonists more menacing, and I loved learning about the motivations behind their actions. I was totally glued to the book as I got further in, and I stayed up ridiculously late to finish it because I was just too worried about the characters and mystified about why things were happening that I simply couldn’t sleep without finding out. The ending and the revelations that come by the conclusion concluded this story so well, and I really love how things end for Clara and Peter. This is a really excellent, gripping story, and if you enjoy MG books in this vein then I`d highly recommend this one. 4.5/5
The Farm Beneath the Water by Helen Peters
I was already really quite ashamed that it had taken me so long to read the sequel to the Secret Hen House Theatre before reading it, and after doing so I was even more so. It follows Hannah and her family as their farm is once again threatened, this time by a reservoir project, and their attempts to save it, as well as the school play Hannah is part of. Both of these elements were really enjoyable to read- the school play was such good fun, and it was so heart-warming and inspiring to see Hannah, her family and her friends stand up for what they believed in and fight for the farm (the head of the reservoir project absolutely boiled my blood, and I think it would be impossible to be rooting for them to succeed). I also really like how this series has a contemporary and classic feel at the same time, and I adore the subtle but super enjoyable humour throughout, particularly in regards to Hannah`s family and their interactions, because each member is hilarious in their own way and I love them all a great deal. This is a really charming, lovely MG contemporary, and I really wish this wasn`t only a duology. 4.5/5
Asha and the Spirit by Jasbinder Bilan (received for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
In her debut novel, Jasbinder Bilan tells the story of a girl named Asha as a moneylender threatens to evict her family and she must set off in search of her father- who very suddenly stopped sending money home from his job in the city- to prevent this. Asha is such a compassionate heroine, and her determination to save her family really endeared me to her, as did her treatment of everyone she encounters- she unfailingly shows kindness, and I thought she was wonderful. I also absolutely loved her friendship with Jeevan, because the closeness of their bond is just so gorgeous to read about. The magical realism aspect was done so well too. Asha feels as if a bird that watches over them is the spirit of her grandmother, and the hope and strength that this provides her with was one of my favourite things about the book- there was one scene near the end that relates to this which made me especially emotional as it is so incredibly powerful. Finally, the writing was just as excellent as all of these other things, and it made the Himalayan setting feel so alive- I could picture every detail of every place that Asha and Jeevan are in throughout the book. This is an absolutely beautiful book all round, and I`m already excited to see what the author does next. 4.5/5
Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones
I`ve been meaning to read this Victorian murder mystery for ages, and I`m really glad I finally got to it. It is the story of the titular Wild Boy, who is a performer in a “freak show”, as he is accused of murder alongside acrobat Clarissa Everett, and they must team up to solve their names. I found this really difficult to read in places because the way Wild Boy is treated is so utterly horrendous and unjust, and I felt so much sympathy for him as a character, so I was fully on his side from the very beginning and just wanted his life to get better. Another reason I adored him was that he reminded me a lot of Patrick Jane (one of my absolute favourite fictional detectives) due to his excellent observational skills, and I was also a big fan of feisty Clarissa, who was such a good friend. The mystery was incredibly intriguing and well-paced too, and I was very proud of myself for managing to guess whodunit as it wasn`t obvious (I think it was more luck than any real detecting skill!). If you enjoy a pacy, gripping mystery with lots of adventure and action, I think you`ll like this a lot. I`m looking forward to picking up the second in the series at some point! 4.5/5
Swimming Against the Storm by Jess Butterworth (received for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I don`t think there is any other author who I find it quite as hard to write reviews for their books as I do Jess Butterworth, because everything she has written to date has been so special and masterfully done that it is hard to put that into words. This is the story of Eliza, and her attempt to save the swamp community she lives in from the dangerous rising water levels. Jess`s writing style is absolutely amazing. The description is so well done that I could practically feel the humidity of the Lousiana setting and my arms itching as if the flies were biting me as well as the characters. As well as this, I really loved the way that Eliza`s narrative voice is done, because the way she describes things is very representative of her background, and who she was a person and what mattered to her was clear before she ever explicitly stated them. The pacing is perfection too. The bulk of the book is set in one night, and it is so tense and dramatic to read about as it is incredibly eventful to say the least, yet nothing feels rushed or on the opposite end of things, dragged out. Sentence structure was used incredibly effective to this end also, as short sentences added even further to the fast pace. I also have to mention how much I loved Avery and Eliza, both as individuals with their own loveable, distinctive personalities that are so well conveyed, and their sibling relationship, because while it is complicated at times their love for each other is unwavering and so wonderful. Monsieur Beau Beau definitely continued the tradition of Jess`s books having epic animal characters too, because he was brilliant! I absolutely can`t wait for Jess`s fourth book, because I have no doubt it will be just as spectacular as those that preceded it. 5/5
Ghost by Jason Reynolds (received for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
This is the story of Ghost (aka Castle Crenshaw), who is a rather troubled young boy who is struggling to cope with things after a tragic family event before the beginning of the book, and how his life changes when he is recruited into an elite junior track team. Ghost is such a wonderful character, and even though he makes a lot of mistakes, it is impossible not to love him and want him to do well in his both this new endeavour and as a whole. His narrative voice felt so authentic too, and I was absorbed in his story from beginning to end. His relationship with Coach was another thing I really loved, because Coach has such a positive impact on Ghost`s life, and the bond they form is so special. This was also true of the friendship that forms between Ghost and the rest of the new track team members, who are all complex and interesting in their own ways, and have difficult or unusual home situations too. I`m very excited to learn more about them in their own books as the series progresses. This was heart-breaking in places but so heart-warming in others, and I`d highly recommend it if you`re looking for an MG contemporary that`s a bit grittier in tone. 4.5/5
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber
I have been excited about reading this for so long, and I`m so glad that I finally picked it up this month because it didn`t let me down. It is the story of Reiko, a girl still wracked with grief over her sister`s death a few years before the book begins, as she begins a relationship with a boy called Seth that isn`t really right for either of them. Unless I`m just drawing a memory blank, I don`t think I`ve ever read a book with the concept of a romance that is basically doomed from the offset before (which is one of the key parts of this plot), and it was so interesting to watch things unfold in Reiko and Seth`s relationship, particularly at the beginning when things are going reasonably well for them. I definitely didn`t like them as a couple as they just didn`t seem like a good fit, and it was a really strange but fun experience to be rooting for a couple not to get together. As a character on her own, though, I absolutely loved Reiko. She doesn`t always make the right decisions and she is to blame for some of the things that go wrong with Seth, but I felt so much sympathy for her and her heart was very much in the right place, so I was supporting her wholeheartedly throughout, no matter what she did. I also loved Dre, her best friend, and her family, who were incredibly supportive of her and really tried their best to help her navigate her feelings about her sister Mika`s death. I also need to mention Katherine Webber`s writing, because it is stunning and I felt transported to the desert setting as I read this; it is so lush and vivid in the way it describes things, and every emotion Reiko feels is palpable through it too. This is a very strong follow up to an exceptional debut novel, and I cannot wait to read even from Katherine Webber in the future. 4.5/5
Against All Gods by Maz Evans (received for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I have been a huge fan of this series since it first came out two years ago, and while I am incredibly sad it is ending I don`t think this could have been any better a send-off for Elliot and the Gods. This picks up almost immediately after the end of Beyond the Odyssey and as such I can`t really tell you the synopsis without spoilers, but when we pick up it is safe to say everything is up in flames and Elliot and the Gods must fight a final battle against the Daemon Thanatos in order to save not only themselves, but the entire world. My very favourite thing about this series is the characters, because they are all amazing. Elliot is so incredibly strong, the Gods are the perfect mix of wacky and wonderful, and the villains are exceptionally well done- they manage to feel like very real threats, whether they are mythological or from the real world. I also loved how clear the way everyone has developed since the first book was in this (there is one character in particular who I thought was particularly epic in here that I really hadn`t expected to be so brilliant!). I also love the humour, both in the narrative voice and in the dialogue between the aforementioned amazing characters. Don`t be deceived by the fact that these books are hilarious though, because they also cover some really important topics (most notably the fact that Elliot is a young carer to a mum with dementia) and are incredibly emotional in places. I wept on numerous occasions during this, and even though I cry all the time so am not a good gauge I would recommend even people who don`t shed tears so easily go into all of this series, but especially this final instalment, armed with tissues. This was an emotional rollercoaster in the very best way, and as I said at the beginning, this was the epic finale I knew Maz would deliver for this wonderful series. 5/5
The Curses by Laure Eve
I reviewed the Graces when I very first started blogging and I absolutely loved it, so I couldn`t have been more simultaneously excited to pick up the long-awaited sequel this month. I can`t believe I`m saying this, but I honestly think it was even better than the Graces. This picks up a couple of weeks following the explosive (and extremely spoilery) ending of that book, and it is narrated by Summer Grace, who is the youngest of the siblings (the others are Thalia and Fenrin, if you`re unacquainted) and it focuses on the family and some of their friends trying to undo various very deadly curses that have affected them in the past and are affecting other people in the present. I know that`s very vague, but I think this is definitely one to go into with only a very sparse idea of what will happen, because I loved all the twists and turns and the way it blew my mind. I wasn`t sure what I`d think of Summer`s narration, but I was honestly obsessed with her. She is very rebellious and headstrong, and I had the absolute BEST time seeing the world through her eyes (there is one scene especially that I can`t begin to describe how much I loved- all I`m saying is that I would not want to get on the wrong side of Summer and her siblings…) The other really fun thing about seeing things from Summer`s point of view was that you get much more of an insight into the enigmatic family- who they really are and what they really do- than we do when seeing things from an outsider looking in like we did with River in the Graces. Along the same lines, but also as a separate point, I thought the sibling relationships were fantastic, and their interactions were often hilarious (between this and Summer`s narration, I was laughing a LOT while reading this, even though it gets pretty dark in places). The writing style is also brilliant in the way it creates a sort of otherworldly atmosphere, and it`s just so enjoyable to read. As already alluded to, I also really loved the mystery/intrigue side of things too, and I also adore the subtle and unique magic system. Basically, get onto reading the Graces if you`ve somehow managed not to in the years since it`s been released, and then pick up this. They`re officially among my favourite series I`ve ever read. 5/5
The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock (received for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
In her first foray into the fantasy genre, Fleur Hitchcock tells the story of a boy named Athan Wilde, who must protect the revolutionary flying machine that he and his mentor Mr Chen built together when the latter is murdered by people who will stop at nothing to get it. I must admit I had quite a tricky time getting into the story, but as I got further in it really started to pique my interest, and by the end I was absolutely gripped- and this was especially true when I reached the thrilling climax, which was tense and twisty and wonderful, and is followed by a beautiful yet very bittersweet ending. Other than this section, my favourite thing about this book was the characters. Athan is definitely a character that you`ll root for, and I defy anyone not to adore Beatty. I also really warmed to his mum and Polly over the course of the book, but my dislike of his grandmother remained steadfast. Another phenomenal character outwith Athan`s family was the primary villain, who was absolutely ruthless, and as such created some pretty scary moments throughout. Overall, I thought this was an interesting hybrid of fantasy and thriller, and reading it has reminded me once again that I need to read more of the author`s back catalogue. 4/5
Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente (received for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
In her dazzling debut, Dominque Valente tells the story of a young witch called Willow (who feels very inadequate as her only power is the ability to find lost items), as Starfell`s most famous witch Moreg Vaine arrives one day and unexpectedly asks her for help, because last Tuesday has gone missing and Willow must find it in order to save Starfell. First of all, the worldbuilding in this was amazing. Starfell has a really interesting history and magic system, and I absolutely loved learning about both, as well as seeing so many different subsections of the world and meeting the various different people/creatures who live them in them as Willow travels throughout the land. The dry-witted narration made me laugh a lot as I read, and another feature of the writing style I enjoyed was the sections we got every couple of chapters that hinted at who the antagonist was and what they were doing, which made the mystery aspect of what happened to the lost day even more intriguing and clued me in as to how far the villain would go long before Willow encountered them, which made that part a tense reading experience. I also absolutely adored each and every character (except the baddies, obviously)- Willow was a lovely heroine and I was so fond of her, her companion Oswin is a complete and utter DELIGHT (I can`t even express how much I love him) and the quirky, individual personalities of the supporting cast made all of them so fun to read about. The ending was so unexpected for me and it made me weep, and if her debut is this phenemonal then I couldn`t be more excited to see what Dominique writes next. If you`re a fan of Nevermoor, this is definitely one to keep an eye out for! 5/5
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
I have been meaning to read this book for ages, and I`m so glad that I finally did due to needing to research for an essay I`m planning for my English folio, because it was wonderful. It is a non-fiction book that recounts Adam Kay`s experiences as a junior doctor via the diaries he kept at the time and I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed it- I had heard it was wonderful, but didn`t know whether or not to believe the hype, so let me tell you that it really is worth all of it. For a book that tackles something so important and nails why the NHS funding crisis is so horrific, it manages to be completely hilarious almost all the way through. The wit and humour are tremendous, and I audibly snorted on more occasions than I care to mention. That said, it really packs a punch emotionally too, and there are some incidents that made me very teary indeed. I also enjoyed the informative footnotes (which also contain lots of jokes so it`s worth reading the explanations of medical jargon!) as they aren`t at all jarring or out of place like I feel they are in the majority of books. It`s so hard to review this book because it is someone`s personal experience and as such I can`t talk about characters I loved (though there were many people who feature in the book under pseudonyms who are wonderful) or how much I adored the setting, but I had a wonderful time reading it and would definitely recommend it. I didn`t think it was possible to feel more grateful to the NHS, but somehow this book made my gratitude even greater. 4.5/5
What books did you read in Janaury? Have you read any that I`ve mentioned, or would you like to now? I`d love to hear in the comments now!
11 thoughts on “January Reviews 2019”
I LOVED swimming against the storm!!! My first Jess Butterworth so I’m going to have to seek out the others.
I’m DESPERATE to read Starfell! So glad it’s living up to my imagination!
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Isn’t it amazing? I absolutely loved it. I definitely definitely recommend her others, because both were absolute favourites in the year I read them and of all time. Really excited to hear your thoughts on Starfell once it’s out! 💜
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Her others are both fantastic, you have to read them too! I love Running on the Roof of the World best, though I think Amy might prefer When The Mountains Roared?
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This is true, though I do love both!
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I’m so glad you enjoyed Swimming… though I knew you would!
Secret Starling sounds good too. I have The Boy Who Flew here, I’m not 100% sold on it yet, but your review sounds promising. I’ve got a copy of Asha on the way too, looking forward to that one more.
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The Boy Who Flew took me ages to get into, but I loved the ending! Definitely loved Swimming, and I think you’ll REALLY like the Secret Starling (it reminded me a bit of Emma Carroll) and Asha and (which gave me serious Jess Butterworth vibes). Sorry for not replying to this sooner btw- WordPress sent it to my spam 😒 x
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The cheek! (of WordPress obvs, not you!) And don’t worry – it quite often takes me ages to reply 🙂
I will let you know what I think of the others when I get to them!
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I know- how very dare they?! Really looking forward to hearing what you think of them 💜💜
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Sorry I am so late commenting on this. I wanted to take the time to read your reviews properly. Asha and the Spirit sounds good. I’m very excited to get to The Curses and the new Jess Butterworth. And I am thrilled that you’ve read and enjoyed Only Love Can Break Your Heart
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No need to apologise whatsoever 😗😗. I predict you will ADORE the Curses/Swimming Against the Storm. I think you’d like Asha and the Spirit Bird a lot too, particularly since you enjoyed the Jess Butterworth you read. It reminded me of her books a bit! X
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