Gallant, a review

Gallant by V.E. Schwab was an Illumicrate book box pick for March and so I read it along with the Discord buddy read in April. The Illumicrate edition of this is absolutely *stunning*, just gotta get that out there.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the book completely stunning. Now don’t get me wrong, the writing was absolutely gorgeous and it was a fun read. I personally didn’t have many pacing issues and I loved learning about this world Schwab created. Our orphaned main character has mutism, and communicates through sign language. As a non HOH or Deaf person I thought this was done well, but of course please go and find own voices reviewers for an actual accurate review.

The utilisation of a shadow world, one that’s the dark version of our world, is one that I love. And I’m always down for any books about death. However, this book really seemed to be lacking something. There was a significant lack of depth throughout the book. We barely learn about the orphanage and who Olivia was before she leaves the orphanage and meets the family she’s never known. We barely learn anything about said family, meaning that when there is risk abound, well we care significantly less than we should. We also barely learn about this “dark” world and the true aims of those who reside there. And her parents. We learn a fair bit about Olivia’s mum, although it also somehow doesn’t feel like a lot. But we specifically do not learn about her dad. And that leads me onto my next point.

This basically felt like a prequel book. It’s a nice novella, a prequel to a bigger series where we’ve had time to develop further at least some of these characters. This is just backstory, extra information to add to the main storytelling arc. Not a book on it’s own. Additionally the ending was far too quick. It’s like someone gave Schwab a page limit and she had to try and squeeeeze everything in there, and unfortunately she didn’t hit the mark.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 7, Atmosphere: 7, Writing: 8, Plot: 6, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 5, Enjoyment: 7, with a score of 6.86 and a 3.5* rating.

I will 100% pick up any other books that Schwab could possibly publish in a Gallant series, because I think it has so much potential. But unfortunately, as it is, unless you’re a die hard Schwab fan this one just isn’t worth the hype. (imo, obvs). Let me know, if you’ve read this, what you thought! Do you totally disagree with me and think this is the best book ever written? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

From Ostia to Alexandria with Flavia Gemina, a review

I adored the Roman Mysteries series when I was a kid, and so when I spotted From Ostia to Alexandria by Caroline Lawrence in a charity shop I knew I had to buy it and read it straight away!

This is a non-fiction account, albeit simplified, of Lawrence’s time travelling around Europe and North Africa to gather firsthand experience and information about the areas she wanted to set her books in.

Lawrence is a historian, so her books are incredibly accurate, and I really enjoyed seeing how she was inspired to do further research after seeing historical sites and learning about the culture from those who live there.

I really didn’t like how Lawrence kept calling lower class people “peasants”. She was using this to refer to modern day men and women and it felt very elitist and classist. This book was originally published in 2008 so I wouldn’t want to simply assume Lawrence has the same views in the current day, but it is something to be aware of going in.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Credibility/Research: 7, Authenticity/Uniqueness: 6, Writing/Readability: 8, Personal Impact: 4, Intrigue: 4, Logic/Informativeness: 4, Enjoyment: 5, which gives a score of 5.43 and a 3* rating.

I really enjoyed seeing places that I’d been and Lawrence’s own explorations in here, as well as learning more about different locations. I would love to use this as a little travel guide myself!

Dark Days, a review

We’re onto the second trilogy within the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy! Dark Days is where the violence, the gore, and the death all start to ramp up

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As per usual, this is a difficult series to talk about in a spoiler free review because there’s so much going on and I don’t want to accidentally mention something!

For what I can say, I like the development of Skulduggery and Valkyrie separately to each other. I think this is done really well with the circumstances and shows the events of the books well in terms of the mental impact on them. I also like how Val’s separation from her parents is handled more within this book and how it’s shown.

Of course, I adored the sharp wit, the stupid banter, and the fight scenes. As well as references to other nerdy things littered throughout!

I also like how the magic within the series is delved into more here. We learn more about the different uses if elemental magic, as well as the other branches and what advantages they hold. It fleshes out the world more and provides more depth for the other non-elemental characters actions (as Skulduggery and therefore Valkyrie have focused mainly on elemental magic).

On CAWPILE I rated this book:

Characters: 9

Atmosphere: 8

Writing: 9

Plot: 9

Intrigue: 8

Logic: 9

Enjoyment: 8

Which gives me an overall 8.57 rating which is a really good 4 stars! Is anyone really surprised at that??

Highlight here for trigger warnings: violence, death, bombing attempt and event, attempted murder, wrongful incarceration, torture, PTSD, lack of bodily autonomy, severe burn injuries

This is a series that I adore and it’s so much fun to be reading through them again! We’ve only got one book left to come in the series overall now so it’s nice that I’m “delaying” that ending by rereading through all of the books! Have you read any books in the Skulduggery Pleasant series? What do you think of it?!?!

Dead or Alive, a review

The most recent Skulduggery Pleasant novel!!

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If you follow my reviews you might be wondering why I’ve jumped from book 3 to book 14 in this series. So I’m one of the co-hosts for the Dead Famous Readalong where we’re reading the full Skulduggery Pleasant series, one book at a time. But I wasn’t going to not read this just because I’m rereading the beginning of the series!!!

I post my reviews in chronological order of when I read the books (unless it’s an ARC with a time limit) and so here we are. Dead or Alive. Book fourteen in the series.

This is so. So. So different to the early books! Of course I knew that logically but seeing it side by side with the early books put it into stark contrast!

This book is even darker than the ones that came before and has so much character development within it. Val herself? Wow. So much. And so much about so many side characters that I don’t want to mention because they might not even have been introduced depending on where you are in the series! This really goes down a certain route and leaves us on a cliffhanger that’s painful and I NEED the next book now thank you Landy.

There are so many plot points and strings all converging together by this point, and yet Landy is handling them deftly. Interweaving them to create a rich tapestry of utter chaos and I fucking love it.

I can’t even begin to explain how complicated this is becoming. Party because of spoilers and partly because I just don’t want to. That is too much effort. But Landy has managed these plot developments and twists and turns so well that it feels natural to read. You already know all of the information, you have all the puzzle pieces, Landy is just slotting them into place.

I’m so so excited for the final book in this series. I do hope we get some sort of happy ending. It’s Skulduggery so of course it’s not going to be sunshine, rainbows, and kittens. But I hope there is some vague semblance of peace. Both for the reader and the characters. But unfortunately, that’s not up to me.

For my CAWPILE ratings I gave this book:

Characters: 10

Atmosphere: 8

Writing: 8

Plot: 8

Intrigue: 9

Logic: 8

Enjoyment: 9

Which gives us an 8.57 and a pretty high 4 star rating!!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: violence, death, guns, mental illness, police brutality, xenophobia

I’m both so so excited and so sad that this series is coming to an end! Here’s hoping it’s a good one!!

Skulduggery Pleasant – a review

It’s finally time. I’m finally reviewing Skulduggery Pleasant!! This is a series that I have read and reread since I was around 14 and that I’ve been rereading this year as part of the Dead Famous Readalong which has been so much fun! We follow a young girl, 12 years of age, who’s uncle has recently passed away. At his funeral she meets a very weird man. Later on she discovers that he is a detective. A living skeleton detective. That Ireland is filled with magic. And that the world is a lot stranger than it seems.

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This is a very dark middle grade read, and one that I have adored from the very first page. We get violence and magic and mystery and all sorts of weirdness that continues throughout the series. This is a hard one for me to review because of how many books there are in the series in total. I don’t want to give any spoilers so I’m hesitant to give even the slightest of details.

What I can say that if you’re worried about starting this very long series, it’s actually split into trilogies. You could read the first one and leave it at that. Or you can read just the first trilogy (which I originally did…. cause the rest of the books weren’t out!). And the trilogies continue through the series so that can be an easier method of making your way through.

If you’re actually the intended age range for middle grade (unlike my 24 year old self) I would warn that this is a book on the darker side. As in I often am surprised at how violent and dark this gets. If you’re like younger me and that sentence made you excited and wanting to read it even more? Go for it! Otherwise this might be one to miss. For older readers though, unless you really cannot handle death and violence you should really enjoy this series.

It also has Irish wit, which is reasonably similar to the British variety, so that’s a lot of fun to have the dry humour throughout mixed with the utter absurdity of the magical “reality”. This is a surprisingly hard book to review, the whole series is (and given I’m rereading them all please pray for future me) as all of the cool points are best found out by yourself! Even those that aren’t spoilers are just that much more fun to read for the first time and I don’t want to be the one to take that away from you!

So all I will say is that if you like action, wit, magic, and dark books. Pick this one up. No matter how old you are (unless you’re under 9, there’s a wee sticker on the back that says 9+. Always pay attention to stickers….. mostly always…. sometimes). This series is an absolute blast and I will forever love my mother for gifting me these books! (this reason only, of course).

Highlight here for trigger warnings: one swear word, mild violence, gun shooting and an implied instance of torture, death, magic

For my CAWPILE ratings I gave:

Characters: 10

Atmosphere: 9

Writing: 9

Plot: 9

Intrigue: 10

Logic: 9

Enjoyment: 9

For an overall 9.29 rating which of course comes out at a 5* read! Did we expect anything else? I gave it a five star when I first read the book and a five star every reread since!

What makes a book YA?

Recently on the Dead Famous Readalong livestream, we had a discussion about what exactly makes a book YA. And I think it’s a really interesting discussion. YA is such a prevalent genre on the bookternet, whether that’s in a positive or negative light, and it can sometimes be hard to tell if a book fits into the “Middle Grade” or “Adult” bracket rather than YA (Young Adult). Now of course there are a few more age distinctions that we could make, but I’m going to stick with the main three of MG (Middle Grade: 8-12), YA (Young Adult: 12-18), and Adult.

Even just with those categories we can see issues straight away. YA spans such a wide range of developing years. There are books in there that appeal to 12 year olds and books in there that are intended for 17 and 18 year olds! Definitely not the same demographic! But (to generalise MASSIVELY) they still have the same standard beats, same with adult books despite them spanning teenage years to retirement. So, let’s get into it!

People often wonder how books aimed at younger audiences are able to tackle such hard topics. Some think that if a book mentions traumatic events that is has to be aimed at a higher age bracket. A fantastic example, and the reason we got onto this topic in the live show, is Skulduggery Pleasant. This is a MG series. The first 6(ish) books are labled 9+, with the remaining books labelled 11+, so just squeezing into that MG bracket. When I read these at the target age, I adored them, I had no issue with the dark topics, I took them in my stride. As an adult re-reading them back, I’m surprised by how dark these books get pretty soon into the series. When looking for trigger warnings to put in my content there’s a surprisingly long list. But I remember having no issue with these as a kid! And so many other people are the same!

Hannah (from LadetteM) had such an insightful observation on this (right look, I know that sounds pretentious as shit but how would you word it?!?!) which is that the age bracket is actually determined by the character arc within the book. In middle grade books, our main character doesn’t develop a whole lot within themselves, but they learn a lot more about the world around them and how to navigate within it, for the social norms for the area you live. This means that the characters flaws and quirks will stay pretty static throughout the book/series with the world seeming to change around them.

Young adult, however? Well in those books there’s a metric shit tonne of character development! You’ll often see a character start out as having some major flaws, often ones that are associated with being childish, and have these develop and mature through the arc of the book/series. With the character appearing at the end, still with flaws, but they aren’t the same as the one’s they’ve started with. They’ve developed as a person through their interaction with the world and with other people.

When we then move onto adult books, we’re back again with not a lot of character development. The majority of adult books are set around people in the 30-40 bracket. By this point you tend to think that you’ve got this whole life thing sorted out. You think your personality, character, and flaws are pretty set and therefore that’s reflected in fiction. A lot of the time adult fiction will revolve around other people, learning how to navigate societal landscapes with those who are permanent fixtures in your life, like family, friends, and those at work. Often these books will have changes in life circumstances with a focus on how that changes the landscape of people present around you.

Now of course not all books fit neatly into these categories, and there can be other factors that can push a book into one category or another. That can include the intent of the author, they may intentionally write something that would seem as though it’s targeted towards a younger audience but actually intend for this to be within the adult category. There’s also times where this will vary from country to country. The use of swearing can impact how a country’s publishing house will categorise the book, as well as varying levels of violence altering a books position depending on the region.

Overall, however, this seems to fit! And this is definitely going to be something I try and look at when reading books from now on! Often books with a middle grade “feel” are marketed as YA and maybe thinking about it like this will explain why!

Seasons of War – a review

I’m gunna be blunt, this will be a short review. This is book THIRTEEN in the series and with the fact that I don’t want to do a spoiler filled review? Well there isn’t that much that can be said.

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I will say, I really enjoy this. It was a lot of fun, I flew through it as expected and if you’ve read any of the other books in this surprisingly dark for a middle grade series then you know exactly what you’re getting into. Or more accurately, you know you’ve got no real clue.

In this book we encounter another dimension (again) and Landy utilises characters with glee that’ve been blocked off from him for years. There were a few moments where I was confused, one of which I gave up and tweeted Landy about because the cogs in my tiny brain just were not aligning, but despite this wee confusion I was still engrossed and really enjoying the book. There was so many new concepts delved into here, and some old ones brought back too.

A couple of points were shaky, I wasn’t so keen on the treatment of one longstanding character, and for one of our series-long villains… what on earth are they doing? Why Landy? That’s so odd! (I’m aware this is cryptic, this is why I said it’d be a short review. What on earth am I supposed to say??) but overall I still really enjoyed the book and I’m very excited to get to book 14! By the time you’ve read this I should hopefully have my grubby hands on the latest release, as my pre-order has been delayed by Waterstones due to manufacturing errors, and I might have even read it! You’ll just have to keep an eye out on my blog for the next ridiculously useless review of book 14!

Good Night Stories Chapter Collection – a review

I was given access to Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls – The Chapter Book Collection by the Rebel Girls Group through NetGalley in return for an unbiased review. This collection aimed at 8-12 year olds contains five chapter books that each follow a woman through their formative years up to the amazing achievements that they managed in their lives. Each book comes in at 128 pages, with the collection totalling 640 pages, and at the end of each book there are some activity pages to be filled in to get the reader to actively think about the struggles that each of these women had to face and how they would have responded to the same situations.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls box set, by various authors.

I really like how the women chosen for this collection come from so many different parts of the world: the US, the UK, Japan, Cuba, and Kenya. They also come from various social classes, and look at very different “achievements” from science, to mountain climbing, to ballet, which should all combine together to show the young people reading these books that you can be a success in whatever you do. So often these sorts of motivational books for kids focus on a more science and maths based result, and I love that this collection branches out from that and looks at a wider variety of careers and paths by which someone can be successful.

Each book in this collection is a biography of the woman’s life, going through the facts of their struggles and successes. The books are, however, written in a very “storytelling” manner which keeps the reader engaged and interested in the arc of the story and this combination, as I know well from my childhood, can work wonders at getting somebody interested in non-fiction works!

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Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code by Corinne Purtill follows Lord Byron’s daughter from a young age as her mother encourages her to focus on maths in order to not be like her poet father. This develops into love for Ada who is able to imagine possibilities that nearly 200 years later inspire the digital age we’re so familiar with today. This biography summarises Ada’s long life into just enough to give the reader a taste for it and to make them want to go and research more!

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Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business by Denene Millner follows America’s first female self made millionaire. A Black woman who was the first in her family in the US to not be born enslaved, she is always working, and when she works she has her hair wrapped up. One day she notices that her hair is starting to fall out, she finds the right products for her, and then she invents something better. Marketing this product to Black women all over the US she goes on to build a booming business. I adore how this shows the hard work and dedication put in by Sarah Breedlove (Madam Walker) as well as how it focuses on haircare, a stereotypically “silly” thing to focus on. But in reality? Look what can happen if you do!

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Junko Tabei Masters the Mountains by Nancy Ohlin celebrates the life of the first female climber to summit Mount Everest. With a supportive husband who was happy to be the stay at home parent, as well as trials along the way, not just in the shape of a big mountain! Tabei’s story is one of perseverance in the face of blatant sexism and testing the limits of human endurance. Junko’s lack of natural athletic ability shows what you can achieve even if you’re not naturally gifted at something the first time you try it, something I could do to learn!

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Dr. Wangari Ma’athai Plants a Forest by Corinne Purtill follows Wangari growing up in rural Kenya, living as one with nature, to the negative influence from the corrupt government which results in the degradation of the land and the suffering of those who live off of it. She faces active resistance from the leaders of the Kenyan government, as well as sexism and racism on an international scale. Dr Ma’athai’s story, however, shows that a simple seed of an idea can replenish the soil of an entire country.

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Alicia Alonso Takes the Stage by Nancy Ohlin tells us about a young Cuban girl who struggled against her parents to follow her dreams and become a renowned ballerina on the New York stage. This all appears to fall apart though when Alicia starts to lose her eyesight and over time becomes completely blind. Despite this massive, seemingly limiting turn of events, Alicia doesn’t give up on her passion and still pursues her dancing goals. Within this book Ohlin describes some of the different ways in which Alicia navigated the stage and her classroom in order to perform and to teach her students.

Overall I gave each of these books 3 stars, with my favourites being Madame C.J. Walker, Dr Wangari Ma’athai and Alicia Alonso. This definitely isn’t a low rating for me, for a book to get 3 stars I have to have enjoyed the reading process and find the book worthwhile. The reason these books didn’t rate higher is because I personally would’ve wanted either more story or more facts. We get the basics but they got me interested in these women and now I need to know more! But I do believe that the intended audience would really love these books and treasure them. I know they would be so nostalgic for me if I’d read them as a child.

If you’re looking to buy a book (or a collection of books!) for a kid between 8-12 (middle grade for US readers) or anyone who is able and willing to read from that age bracket, then these are a great pick. Interesting, unique, and focusing on amazing women from so many different cultures, these books are a great addition to any library.

The back view of the box set

Have you read anything from the Rebel Girls publications before? Let me know what you thought of them!

Firesong by William Nicholson – a review

I’ve done it! I’ve finally wrapped up this series! This is a series I have owned in two separate editions (accidentally) for well over a decade. And I’ve finally done it. So… what did I think of the finale to this trilogy?

Firesong (Wind On Fire, #3) by William Nicholson

Sadly, this wasn’t such a great book for me compared to the second book in the trilogy (Slaves of the Mastery). Whilst book two was intense, having me gripped and engrossed, book three was just… fine? I have a feeling that I would’ve like it a lot more if I had read it when I first got the book. But one of the reasons that I would’ve loved it then is a reason I wasn’t so keen now.

That reason is that everything is tied up very neatly in a bow, but this bow is wrapped around events that seem to come out of nowhere. Now don’t get me wrong, this is alluded to throughout the series, and I can appreciate that. But the final scene? Where on earth did that come from? Why? Huh? Whereas childhood me would’ve loved the “big twist”, adult me is just left feeling disappointed by a twist that could have been executed so much better.

There is also the issue of sexism in this book, it’s nothing out there and in your face but it’s very much a book (written by a man) of its time. There were definite moments where I was wondering why the hell the girl had to do all the saving but the boy got to be the hero (our two main characters are a boy and a girl who are twins). That was frustrating to read and I hope that Nicholson has educated himself since these books were published.

Despite what I’ve said above, I did enjoy this book. It was a quick read and was a nice little wrap up to the trilogy. Overall, I gave it 3 stars. There was nothing offensively bad, and I am reading quite a bit above my age range so I don’t want to be too harsh. But I can’t rate it any higher than that.

Have you read this series? Do you agree with my points or do you think I’m bonkers?! Let me know!!

Bedlam: a scene of uproar and confusion, an apt title

The 12th book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, an awkward one to talk about! This is going to be a spoiler free review, for the whole series as well as this individual book, just in case people who’ve read none or some of the previous books want to read this. I gave this book 5* unsurprisingly and really loved it.

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For those uninitiated, the Skulduggery Pleasant series starts off following a tweenager called Stephanie after her Uncles funeral, a skeleton detective called Skulduggery Pleasant and revolves around magic in Ireland, hidden from the mortals. It’s an 8-12 book (Middle Grade for my North American audience), but is surprisingly violent so don’t expect it to be wishy-washy just cause it’s aimed at kids.

Book #9 was the end of the first part of this series, with a cover and tone change from then onwards. In book #10 we come back after Stephanie has been away for a few years (the least spoilery way I could write it!) and the series continues on from there. Now we’re up to book #12.

As always, this was a fast paced, high action, banter filled read that was a pleasure to pick up. We hop around various different viewpoints in order to best see all of the action and in each one of them Landy’s humour shines through, which is really a standout feature of this series. This book probably had one of the least amounts of Skulduggery featured, as well as having a very fast paced and multi-faceted action plot, so as far as I can tell from the less excited reviews on Goodreads these may be reasons that the latest book isn’t your favourite. But personally I was still highly invested, still enjoying myself and still highly anticipating reading the newly released Seasons of War!

If you’ve never read a Skulduggery Pleasant book I really do recommend giving them a go! I’ve never listened to the audiobooks myself but they’re narrated by an Irishman, lending authenticity to those unused to the accent, and you can listen to the whole first audiobook for free here!! (at least at the time of writing) so do you really have an excuse not to give this series a go?