Enchantée by Gita Trelease


cover152585-mediumEnchantée
by Gita Trelease

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…

 

I was very much looking forward to reading this book and although overall I enjoyed the story it wasn’t quite the book I had hoped for.

Trelease’s writing is very beautiful and detailed, and perfectly evoked the opulence of Versailles as well as the poverty of the home Camille starts out in. Camille’s family history set up the main plot of the book in an interesting effective way- I really felt like I could understand how desperate they were for money after the death of their parents and I was immediately on Camille’s side, urging her and her sister Sophie to escape from their violent, drug, gambling addicted brother Alain.

The romance between Camille and Lazare was also wonderful and I had butterflies reading about their fledgling relationship and the will they/won’t they flirting. The storyline about Lazare’s balloon was interesting, if a little drawn out in places and distracting from the main story at times. The scenes with the actual balloon flights added some much needed adventure to the book and I enjoyed stepping in Camille’s shoes and imagining how incredible it would feel to be flying at this point in history where it was almost unheard of.

Unfortunately, I found the scenes in Versailles failed to keep my attention for the most part. I found the magic system one of the most interesting parts of the story to begin with, but it felt to me as if it was almost never used. All Camille used it for was to change her appearance, go to the palace and win some card games. It seemed almost pointless to have included the magic within the book as she could equally have just been a naturally skilled gambler. I also felt that it was strange of Camille as a character to choose gambling when she was so against her brother Alain’s habit. I think it would have been more true to her as a character to have her find cleverer ways to use magic to gain power and money.

Overall, I enjoyed this story, particularly the relationship between Camille and Lazare. I think the pacing of the book is very slow at times and would have benefited from much less time at the card tables.

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Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen


41heqn7kcpl._sx343_bo1,204,203,200_Louis & Louise
by Julie Cohen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see?

Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story began.

In one, Louis David Alder is born a male.
In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female.

Louis and Louise are the same in many ways – they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?

 

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Julie Cohen’s writing is utterly wonderful. From the opening pages I was struck by her way with words and the way she approached this idea of following one person’s life and exploring the differences that might occur if they were born male or female.

It’s a fairly simple concept, and yet could have been misrepresented so easily. Julie Cohen manages to delve into this topic exquisitely and with sensitivity. Louis/Louise has the same best friends, the same love interests, and the same ambitions and the book really focuses on how society imposes it’s ideas of gender on a person, rather than a person’s soul being in some way changed just because of their gender.

Lou’s life story is for the most part a sad one, full of secrets and hurt which at points left me heartbroken and in tears. The emotion within the writing was so rich and believable it was impossible not to get swept up in it. I was so invested in Lou’s story that I found myself reaching to read more at any small given opportunity, even if I only had time for a page.

Louis & Louise is a masterpiece with an important message which will leave you pondering gender long after you finish reading about Lou’s life.

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The Last by Hanna Jameson

71WD9ECN1QL.jpgThe Last by Hanna Jameson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb:

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead

Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

I recieved an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

It took me a while to get into this book, partly because I was expecting a typical post-apocalyptic/dystopian story and this book has so much more to it. In order to set the plot up properly there is a lot of time devoted to introducing the characters and letting the reader know the dynamics between the inhabitants of the hotel.

I initially stuggled with the idea that this book was only told from one person’s point of view- Jon Keller an American Historian. I’m used to books like this having break-out short chapters which provide news about the outside world but in The Last, the reader is as cut-off as the guests trapped within the hotel. Once I got used to this lack of knowledge, I found myself falling headfirst into the book barely coming up for air.

The murder mystery plot worked incredibly well against the post-apocalytpic backdrop and left me feeling increasingly on-edge as Jon circled nearer and nearer to uncovering the truth.

Despite the sci-fi nature of the this book, I can’t say that reading it was particularly an escape from stresses of life. In fact, it was fairly uncomfortable at time how closely the book mirrored the political climate of the world currently. Every so often I had the stark realisation that this fictional catastrophy wasn’t actually that far-fetched of an idea, which was incredibly unnerving.

As far as the characters, I’m not sure that I actually liked any of them, but then again I’m not sure any of us would be the best version of ourselves at the end of the world. Still, I invested in their stories and even shed a few tears for them. I wanted them to find a way to start rebuilding their lives and living happily.

The conclusion of the book tied up the murder mystery plot well, which I was pleased about. As I neared the end of the story I was concerned we were running out of pages to resolve that plot and it would have been easy to leave it unresolved.

If post-apocalytic dystopian reads are your thing I would definitely recommend The Last. It has a feel of the Walking Dead about it, but the writing is much more accomplished and subtle. It is a scarily believable imagining of what might happen to civilisation if a nuclear war broke out on this scale.

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The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

indexThe Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb:

GRACE ATHERTON HAS FALLEN OUT OF LOVE … AND INTO LIFE

Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Within the opening pages of this book I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. There was a lot of focus on violas, violins, cellos, classical perfomances, classy Parisian apartments and it all felt incredibley far removed from something I would enjoy.

However, after the incident in the Metro happens and the relevation that Grace and David were having a long term affair, my interest was piqued.

The story is full of passion, music, love and friendship and though some parts of the story are predictable (if a man has been stringing you along for the best part of a decade whilst he stays with his wife, your story probably won’t end happily…), Anstey Harris’ writing is beautiful and the story is weaved in a way that made me want to gulp it all down in one go. I loved Grace and so desperately wanted her to find a happy ending.

A lot of the themes of the book are sad, but the tone of the writing is so empowering that I felt a wonderful sense of wellbeing and peace once I’d finished reading.

Without a doubt the unlikely friendship between elderly customer Mr Williams, teenage shop assistant Nadia and Grace was the highlight of the book. It was a joy to read about their enthusiasm for music and their support of Grace.

I also really liked that once David’s true colours were revealed, Grace was fully focused on moving on. I would have found it too frustrating to read about that weasel of a man winning back her affections!

This book is a fantastic, warm read, perfect for a rainy afternoon to lighten your soul and your mood. Oh, and if you give it a chance all of the information about how violins and cellos are built is actually really fascinating.

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Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

61kYThMpzVL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb:

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exhange for an honest review.

Skyward was the first Brandon Sanderson book I have ever picked and I was not disappointed. Prior to this I’ve always been put off of Sanderson’s work because they tend to be fairly lengthy books and I found that intimidating. However, as soon as I heard about Skyward I just had to read it immediately.

The description that drew me in was “it’s like ‘How to train your Dragon’ but in space” which is quite frankly the most appealing sentence I’ve ever read and I have to agree, aside from, ya’ know, the lack of any actual dragons in Skyward.

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it’s true what people say about Sanderson’s writing: he’s a master of world building. The creation of this planet with its layers of detritus protecting/blocking the inhabitants from space/their enemy the Krell was just incredible. The cave systems was described in-depth and the political running of the world seemed to be explained very quickly and yet within a couple of chapters I felt I knew exactly how the planet was run. There were no long boring descriptions, but somehow Sanderson got the important points across masterfully.

The Krell themselves are a formidable enemy and I loved how we began knowing hardly anything about them and then slowly gathered more information as the plot built.

As a lead character, Spensa is one of the strongest heroines I’ve read for a long while. She’s fierce, talented and ambitious with a huge need to prove her worthiness and step out of her father’s shadow. Most of all, she’s believable and the insights we get as readers into the insecurities and worries she indulges in privately really endeared her to me.

The camaraderie of Skyward flight really sparked and flew off the page. So many different personalities in one team made every class a joy to read and I didn’t want to put the book down.

All of this added together made an amazing book, however, my absolute favourite character was Spensa’s ship M-bot. I love him. His hilarious attempts at understanding humans, his inexplicable dislike for Rig and, I’m not ashamed to say, it was a part of the book involving M-bot which made me so emotional I even shed a few tears because I was so proud of him.

Skyward ended in a very interesting place, with Spensa finding out some really interesting stuff regarding her father and the Krell. I will be pre-ordering the next book in the series as soon as the details are announced because I am DESPERATE to read more!

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: 

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales. 

I’m a huge fan of Russian literature but I’ve read any Russian folklore before so I was interested to see what I’d think of this book. I’d heard some really persuasive reviews and I finally decided I couldn’t put it off anymore.

From the first few pages I was hooked on Arden’s writing which so perfectly evoked the small Russian village community she was writing about. I felt myself completely there, feeling the biting cold of the wind and snow of their bitter winters and the creeping fear of the shadowy demons as they appeared.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a perfect mix of historical fiction, fantasy and fairytale. The story flows beautifully, even though it’s a fairly slow burning story as the first in a trilogy of books. The introduction of the characters is masterful, the Russian folklore mixing with the slow creeping danger of the village men and Konstantin the priest who are so distrustful of Vasya’s strength and vivacity as a woman ahead of her time who has no intention of doing as she is told.

I just couldn’t get enough of the rich Russian folklore or the wonderfully fierce character of Vasya, from young child to young woman.

I can’t wait to continue with Vasya’s story and immerse myself back into the wonderful atmospheric tale Arden is weaving.

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Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich


Dear Evan Hansen
by Val Emmich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

I’ve listened to the Dear Evan Hansen broadway soundtrack several times a week for the last year so when I heard it was being released as a YA novel I was desperate to get my hands on it. It was the only ARC at YALC I was desperate to go home with and sadly I didn’t manage to win the raffle. I was lucky enough however to be granted access via Netgalley AND my husband bought me a copy of the final published book (can you tell I went on about it a bit?!)

I find this story really sad. My heart hurts for Evan and the struggles he faces and the situations he gets himself into. Reading the book was more emotional than the musical because the novel format allows you to delve further into Evan’s brain and really expand on the emotions and issues he experiences. This also makes the book far heavier than the musical as there are no lighthearted catchy tunes to raise the mood. With no light relief the book is a really intense reading experience which is incredibly immersive.

The author’s writing is captivating and very believable. I imagine it was extremely hard to write this story without making it sound preachy- how can Evan learn his lesson without making it sound like a cheesy cautionary tale?
The authors managed to tell the story with compassion and through it all Evan remains a sympathetic, lovable character.

I recommend curling up with this book with the soundtrack on in the background. You can never have too much Dear Evan Hansen!

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