Review: ‘Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests — or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

A bookseller told me that Nevermoor was being touted as the new Harry Potter. But publishers have been making that claim for years, trying to tap into JK Rowling’s huge success, so I was a little scepitcal. Still, I’d already bought the book by that point (I am a book hording dragon, okay?), so I decided to give it a go anyway. And … I can see why they made the comparison.

This review might be a little gushy. Try to bear with me!

Morrigan has a couple of things in common with Harry in the first book of that series. Both are eleven, and both come from mundane families that intensely dislike them. However, Nevermoor isn’t set on Earth or any parallel thereof but in a fantasy world which has the states of the Republic and the more magical Free States. The former are still kind of magical — they use an energy called Wunder in a manner similar to electricity, but dragons are real and children born on Eventide are seen as cursed, causing all manner of disaster to befall those around them. The Free States are truly, spectacularly magical, though, and make the Republic (or at least those parts of it that we see) seem drab by comparison. They are quirky and fun, and I loved them.

Jupiter chooses Morrigan to be his first ever candidate for the Wundrous Society. He is an adorable, bizarre character who makes Dumbledore seem staid, but both men share the ability to dissemble, never answering straight questions. This is to Morrigan’s intense frustration, because she knows she can’t get into the Wundrous Society without a knack, and Jupiter, while assuring her all will be fine, refuses to answer questions about it.

I really enjoyed Morrigan. She’s bright and determined and just wants to find a true home and friends (and not be deported and face her fated death). She also dresses all in black (well, you would if your name was Morrigan Crow, wouldn’t you?) and is scared of the idea of acid-spitting land dolphins. What’s not to love? My other favourite characters were Jupiter and Fenestra, the giant talking cat who works at the hotel where Jupiter and Morrigan live. Fen is snarky and a little callous, but ultimately comes to regard Morrigan the way a mother cat might her kitten.

One interesting element of the book is the way that Morrigan — who entered the Free States illegally, without the appropriate immigration paperwork — is treated by the border police. One of them in particular is an a-grade bigot who regards illegal immigrants as less than human. There’s an opportunity for parents to discuss the concept of refugees with their kids after reading this book.

Nevermoor fits into the middle grade category rather than young adult. There are a few scary scenes, but nothing graphic, and no sexual content or bad language that might deter some parents from buying this for their kids. Or for themselves. I won’t judge!

After all, I’m super-keen to snap up the sequel myself. 😉

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Review: ‘Obsidio’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza — but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion?

Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys — an old flame from Asha’s past — reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.

With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.

This series, you guys.

Obsidio is the third book in The Illuminae Files trilogy. (You can read my reviews of the first two books, Illuminae and Gemina, here and here.) It continues in the same vein as the first two books, told through “found footage” and transcriptions of camera footage. There is some art included, as was the case in Gemina — though not as much this time.

I love love love this series, you guys. I love the way it’s presented. I love that we get a sense of these characters through chat logs and camera footage and diary entries. I love that the lines of dialogue describing the actions of spaeships themselves swoop and twirl across the page, and that the lines belonging to everyone’s favourite crazy computer, AIDAN, are filled with glitches and code. As well as being a great story, this trilogy is a work of art, in the visual sense. Everyone should own it.

As far as Obsidio goes, specifically, I gave it five stars — the same as for the rest of the series — though, if I had to pick a favourite of the three, I think Gemina would win. It’s a near thing, though.

Asha and Rhys are older than the other leads in this series. They had a history as teens, and are now meeting up again in their twenties. But they aren’t the stars of Obsidio the same way that the other two couples are of their books, because Kady, Ezra, Hanna and Nik are all part of this story as well. The book switches between events on the Mao and events on Kerenza, the planet where everything kicked off in the first place.

It’s sometimes easy to forget how old the protagonists are in these stories; one of the things I liked about Obsidio was how some of the minor characters expressed horror at being expected to take directions from teenagers. (I’m not saying I like people ignoring teens — I wouldn’t read so much YA if that were the case — but it was very realistic to have a seasoned, grizzled adult express incredulity at some of the things that our four teen heroes have done. These kids have had a very bad few months.)

The Illuminae Files have broken the mould. I can’t wait to see what other books follow in their footsteps — and I can’t wait to see what Amie and Jay get up to next.


Review: ‘Honest Love’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Book #1 in the Twisted Hearts duet

When you’ve got nothing left to live for, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

In one tragic moment, Cameron Lewis lost everything. His fiancée. His unborn child. His perfect life.

Now, he does what needs to be done in order to get by. Work hard. Play it safe. They’re his mottos, and he’s not going to break them.

Until a beautiful woman with the ocean in her eyes and freedom in her soul comes to his rescue. She’s never known the kind of tragedy he has — and that’s what makes her so damn appealing.

But can Cameron finally let go and risk that last piece of himself? Will honest love be enough?

Please note that my review will contain a tiny spoiler, one that is revealed in the first chapter or two of the story. If you’ve already bought the ebook, or are going to, and want to go in blind, then I’d suggest not reading any further.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: contemporary romance usually isn’t my jam, but Lauren K. McKellar is a contemporary romance author who is an auto-buy author for me. Her stories have that perfect combination of epic-level feels and the slow evolution of a relationship that never seems contrived. I love them!

After losing his wife, Bella, and his unborn child — and effectively losing his father — in a tragedy a couple of years before the story takes place, Cameron sought solace for a while in alcohol. One mistake during that period was enough to set him back on the straight and narrow: he drunkenly sleeps with a woman named Giselle, who bears a passing resemblance to Bella. Eighteen months later, she is sent to jail for drug offences (she’s a real class act) and hits Cameron up to look after her nine-month-old daughter, Piper.

Cameron is more than a little shocked to suddenly become a daddy, but he takes to it well. I really enjoyed the scenes early on where he’s adjusting to parenthood (especially parenthood in the light of his apparently untreated PTSD), and I adored Piper and her squishy cheeks and enthusiasm. McKellar wrote this story when her own child was a baby, and she really captured the wonder and worry of that time — although at least Piper is a good sleeper! If she weren’t, the story wouldn’t have gotten very far, I expect… 😉

The relationship with Everly develops slowly; her and Cameron’s attraction to one another is clear from the start, but Cameron struggles with the idea that he is being unfaithful to his wife, and that he is broken and unworthy of anything more. Everly is clearly hiding something about her previous relationship — I have my suspicions but won’t voice them here — but she is a midwife who’s good with kids and provides the sort of no-nonsense support that Cameron needs.

Once Cameron really grows attached to Piper, he naturally doesn’t want to lose her at the end of the three months and never see her again. I admit, I really struggled with this aspect of the story — through no fault of its own, but because the idea of losing access to a child really guts me. I had to put my e-reader down for a couple of days and come back to it. Still, McKellar’s writing (and my desire for closure) pulled me back in.

That brings me to the most important thing you need to know about Honest Love. I knew it was part of a series going in, but I didn’t realise the books were a two-parter — and that the first one ends with a cliffhanger! Aaaah! (YMMV, but I hate cliffhangers! Not wrapping up a metaplot works for me, but not cliffhangers!) The only good thing is that the sequel, Bitter Truth, is already out, so I don’t have to wait.

Thank goodness for that. 🙂

 


Review: ‘Ice Wolves’ by Amie Kaufman

Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragons are sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

I read a lot of YA, but not a lot of middle grade fiction, which Ice Wolves is an example of. Still, I’m a fan of Amie Kaufman’s YA collaborations, so I decided to give this a go. And it was a lot of fun — I can see that it’s the sort of book I’d have loved when I was a teen. I mean, it has shape-changing dragons. And wolves. And a school where a boy learns to be a wolf (though he’s not that good at parts of it).

Of the twins, Anders is the follower. He’s clearly the introvert to Rayna’s extrovert, and after she is taken away from him, he struggles without her to take the lead and have his back. Watching him come out of his shell and make other friends is a delight. Still, he never forgets his devotion to his sister (in fact, his focus is a little single-minded at times). Rayna, on the other hand, isn’t in the story much; I had my doubts about her, but she won me over by the end of the book.

Bookworm loner Lisabet rapidly becomes Anders’s closest friend at the Ulfar Academy; she, Anders, and two other first years are put into a dorm together, in a way that is presumably designed to forge a bond between them and enable them to become a pack (in this context, a basic ice wolf military unit). Over time, he becomes friends with them all, as well as with a few other minor characters who we don’t see much of.

One of those minor characters, Jai, deserves a special mention. Jai is non-binary, and the book refers to them with a gender neutral pronoun without making a fuss. I loved that — I have a non-binary tween friend, and I squeed on their behalf, not gonna lie. I just wish Jai had been in the story more.

Another big diversity tick for the book is that Vallen is a trade town with a hugely multicultural population: Anders and Rayna are black, and I think Lisabet was white (honestly, I could only see her as Hermione, so I may be wrong there!). As with Jai, this was all accepted by the characters without a fuss. It was refreshing. (Also, check out the cover — hooray for the lack of whitewashing.)

That’s not to say that there’s no bigotry in the world of Ice Wolves — but instead of being based around skin colour or gender, it’s around the ice wolves vs scorch dragons dynamic. The ice wolves can’t see the dragons as other than selfish pyromaniac murderers, and Anders really struggles with this prejudice, even after his sister becomes one of them.

The story is easy to read and well-written; it has slower parts (a chunk of it is set in a school, meaning there are classes and research to deal with), but the pace does pick up towards the end.

Ice Wolves is a solid four stars for me, and I’ll be picking up the sequel when it comes out.


Review: ‘Silver and Stone’ by Felicity Banks

Getting into prison is easy.
Getting out is hard.
Getting away is nearly impossible.
Getting the power to control your own destiny might cost everything you have.

Emmeline, Matilda, and Patrick are sworn to rescue Patrick’s mother from the infamous Female Factory prison, but when a vengeful police officer tracks down their hideout, things get worse fast.

Soon they’re framed for a double murder and fighting a magical monster in the eerie and unfamiliar island of Tasmania. Patrick’s mother hides crucial papers in a tin under her prison smock, and her best friend Fei Fei is dying in the overcrowded prison.

More than one woman’s life hangs in the balance.

This book is number two in the trilogy The Antipodean Queen; I reviewed the first book, Heart of Brasshere. A lot of what I said there is still true of Silver and Stone: it is a fast-paced story set in a parallel world to colonial Australia, one with steampunk technology and a slightly more modern feel in certain regards than was the reality — the author says in a note at the end that she wanted to write a tale that was fun, so she eased off on the worst of the grim racism and bigotry. But it wasn’t completely glossed over; there was still acknowledgement of some of the worse events in Australia’s history, such as the complete extermination of the Aboriginal people in Tasmania.

Emmeline is the narrator. She is a scientist and engineer in a world where metals can be activated and bestow certain abilities, and her passion for experimentation and discovery is enjoyable to see. Yet she is still quite the proper English woman in some ways. Although she’s an outlaw and a bandit, she can’t fathom the idea that she might choose not to wear a full dress, for example, and although she and Matilda are a couple, she gets very flustered at the other woman’s more casual approach to nudity. In a fight, Emmeline does tend to expect someone else to rescue her rather than rescuing herself — but, undermining the ‘damsel in distress’ trope a little, the one doing the rescuing is usually Matilda.

Did I mention that I love Matilda? She’s a feisty woman whose mother is Aboriginal and  father English. She is clearly struggling to find her place a world that doesn’t quite no what to do with her, but at the same time, she’s not afraid to just be who she is. I also loved seeing Emmeline gradually growing more bold, following Matilda’s example.

The story flows quickly, with the characters barely having a chance to rest between one adventure and the next. Some of the things they get up to would be impossible in our world, but I didn’t have trouble suspending my disbelief given that our world also doesn’t have steel corsets that give a woman the strength of a man, or aluminium that, when affixed to an item, neutralises its weight. However, the story focuses less on the characters’ emotions and more on what happens next. I would have liked a bit more emotional depth.

As with Heart of Brass, the last 100 pages or so of the paperback are devoted to a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style story. This one is from the perspective of Patrick’s mother, as she waits for Patrick to rescue her from the Female Factory. I really enjoyed that!

The last book in the series comes out later this year, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for it.


Cover reveal and excerpt: ‘Honest Love’ by Lauren K. McKellar

It will be no surprise to people who’ve read the last few reviews on my blog that I am a huge fan of Lauren K. McKellar’s writing. She lets the reader experience her characters’ emotions (as she puts those characters through hell!) like no other. Well, I was lucky enough in the last week or so to get to read the first few chapters of her impending release, Honest Love, and then I couldn’t help but sign up for the cover reveal.

Keep scrolling, you guys — not just for cover-y goodness but for an excerpt.

Title: Honest Love (Twisted Duet #1)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release: March 8, 2018
Cover design: BE Designs

Cover

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Blurb

When you’ve got nothing left to live for, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

In one tragic moment, Cameron Lewis lost everything. His fiancée. His unborn child. His perfect life.

Now, he does what needs to be done in order to get by. Work hard. Play it safe. They’re his mottos, and he’s not going to break them.

Until a beautiful woman with the ocean in her eyes and freedom in her soul comes to his rescue. She’s never known the kind of tragedy he has—and that’s what makes her so damn appealing.

But can Cameron finally let go and risk that last piece of himself? Will honest love be enough?

 

Excerpt

I staggered onto the street, the chill of the late autumn air creeping into my bones. The yellow glow of speeding vehicles blurred into a long never-ending light.

“I’ll never let you go.”

I rubbed my thumb against the ring on my finger. Today was the day. The day he would have been born. The day our baby …

And then I saw her.

Red hair curling down her back.

A white dress, billowing in the breeze.

She was about ten feet ahead in a group of three. Two other women I didn’t know.

My chest tightened. My throat constricted.

I grabbed at the wall of the building next to me, but my hand couldn’t make purchase. It slammed against the ground, my body weight behind it, but I didn’t feel the sting, didn’t feel the pain.

Bea.

“Wait!” I pushed to my feet, darting between shadows of people, my eyes on the red hair moving so far in front. “Please!”

I ran, my breath coming shorter. Too much whiskey. Too much love—both were the culprits and I didn’t give a damn. Because I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know why, but she was here. My Bea. She’d come back.

My feet pounded against the pavement, my soles slapping on the concrete. People turned to look, but for once, I didn’t care. Let them look. I wanted to laugh, a crazy, maniacal laugh. Let them look all they want.

Bea.

It was her.

I was sure of it.

It was her—

And then she turned around.

And for one glorious second, it was her. The woman I loved.

The woman I saw every time I closed my eyes, and sometimes when they were open, too.

The woman who’d own my heart forever.

“Hey,” she said.

But her voice—it wasn’t right.

I shook my head. No.

“Hey.” She tried again, but her smile was big. Too big.

Bea never smiled like that.

Nausea churned in my gut.

“Aren’t you that guy from the—”

Bile raced up my throat. I doubled over, clutching at my waist, and emptied the contents of my stomach into the gutter. Acid burnt the back of my tongue, and I coughed and spluttered, wiping at my mouth.

It wasn’t Bea.

No matter how many times I thought I’d seen her during the last six months, it was never Bea.

And as I stared at my own vomit, wanting her to be there, needing her to be there, I wished that just once I could pretend she was. That for one night, I could hold her in my arms again, stroke her long, red hair, and tell her everything would be all right.

“You guys go ahead,” the redhead told her friends. She placed a cool hand on my back, bending to my level. “Are you okay?”

“No,” I croaked. “I was s’posed to be a father. Today.” My baby. I would have met my baby today. Our baby.

She gave a smaller smile this time, and damn, she looked like her. “My name’s Giselle.”

“I’m Cam.” I straightened, the world sliding as I overbalanced, then corrected myself. “I have to go …”

“No.” She linked her hand in mine. “Let me take care of you.”

And I shouldn’t have. But I was so tired of fighting, of blocking out the past, that I let her lead me to her hotel room, let her pour me another drink, let her take off my clothes.“We’re so incredibly lucky, babe.” I pressed a kiss to the soft skin of Bea’s neck.

“The luckiest.” She smiled up at me, tossing her hair out of her eyes. “The luckiest people in the world.”

Only, it turned out that we weren’t.

Because seven weeks after that positive pregnancy test, Bea died.

And I’d never let her go after that.

Author Bio

Lauren K. McKellar is a writer of contemporary romance reads that make you feel. This hybrid-published USA Today best-selling author loves writing books with stunning settings, heart-throb heroes, and leading ladies who overcome great hardships in their lives.

In addition to writing, Lauren loves to read, and you can often find her up at all hours of the night with a glass of wine, some chocolate, and a good book. She lives by the beach in New South Wales, Australia, with her husband, infant son, and their two dogs. Most of the time, all four of them are well behaved.

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Review: ‘Seeking Faith’ by Lauren K. McKellar

The inseparable are well and truly split.

Mack, Faith and Lacey, joined at the hip since they were kids, are about to graduate high school. You might think this sounds like a book about coming-of-age and taking that leap into adulthood.

It is — except one of them doesn’t make it …

Mackenzie Carter has one solid thing on the agenda for her future — get out of town and focus on her post-school studies. After all, she’s wanted to be a vet since she was a little girl, and nothing, not the thought of being apart from her two best mates or the idea that maybe she’s got more-than-friendly feelings for a sexy local surfer can alter that … can it?

Graduation changes everything.

Almost three years later, and Mack’s high school dreams are just that — figments of her imagination, thanks to the guilt that haunts her on a daily basis. Will a faux relationship with Byron Leckie be the thing she needs to get her life back on track? Or will it make everything worse?

One thing is for certain. When these two collide, the damage will be fierce. After all, graduation was never meant to end like this.

This is the second in the pair of companion novels that together comprise the Surfer’s Way series, parallel novels that look at the consequences of Faith’s death from the perspectives of her two best friends. I reviewed the first book, by Jennifer Ryder, here. (And if you’re flicking between the reviews, I recommend taking a moment to admire the cover art. The use of the same stock image has been so cleverly done here — it ties the two books together but is sufficiently different that you don’t get confused. I love it!)

I adored Seeking Faith. Mackenzie is a character struggling with guilt, forbidden love and a lack of direction that leaves her surviving rather than living, cut off from everyone she loves. Despite all this, when we first meet her, she isn’t flat and defeated — she still has the spark that defines her. I was cheering for her from the first chapter.

Her relationship with Byron evolves through both flashbacks and current day events, so that we get to see how they came to fall in love and be pulled apart. While Losing Faith (the other book in the series) is the story that tells you who killed Faith, Seeking Faith is the one that gives you the real, tangled backstory behind the events of graduation night.

Poor Lacey almost seems naive once you understand the full story.

As a writer, I’m amazed at the craft that has gone into these two books, that they each have their own puzzle and that neither one spoils the main secrets for the other. I take my hat off to both authors. Also, McKellar has this amazing knack for drawing you into her characters. She takes “show, don’t tell” to a whole new level. I’m in awe.

Like Losing Faith, Seeking Faith has some steamy sex scenes, so that’s something to be aware of if you’re worried about — or looking for — that sort of thing. It also has action, enough mystery to keep me (someone who isn’t normally a romance reader) hooked, and a hot leading man. What more do you need?