The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood & Co. #2)

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. 

Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood’s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

Jonathan Stroud’s writing is filled with magic and great character development, but I still think there was something missing in this book. I much preferred The Screaming  Staircase because it was more character driven and the plot was just absurdly genius. This book however… I still liked it, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t fall in love with it quite the same way.

The ending was utterly shocking, but then again so was the ending of the first book. What Stroud does so well is he creates this incessant need for his books, like you just have to read the next one or else you’ll burst with anticipation. That is a brilliant way to write a series because it urges the reader to go on and continue with it.

Lockwood, Lucy and George are still one of my favourite characters of all time but I felt like they had a side role in this book. There was a lot of insinuation regarding Lucy and Lockwood (YAAAS!) and I kept waiting for something to happen and nothing did. You better not disappoint me in the third book, Stroud! George was as awkward and lovable as ever and he is just the central part of this group in my opinion.

Some scenes were so outrageously hilarious, I laughed at loud till I started crying! Stroud is such a funny author, I adore his humour. The plot line was a bit predictable, especially the identity of the villain, I had a hunch about them from the beginning. It wasn’t as scary as the first book, which was also a bit disappointing (and I dislike scary books!). That extra something just wasn’t there for me.

I am really curious to see what happens in the third book, especially after that shocking ending! And I do hope we see Lucy and Lockwood’s relationship progress (oh, please, please, please). Despite the fact that this is classified as YA, I think fans of fantasy will adore this series. It has just the right amount of humour and action and the characters feel like family when you read about them.

Heir of Ashes by Jina S. Bazzar

Roxanne Fosch had a perfectly normal life at the age of twelve. Cool, popular, pretty, smart. Her dreams of a perfect, successful and prosperous future seemed well within her grasp.
By the time she was twenty-two she had become a commodity. A fugitive. She was being hunted.
As Roxanne embarks on the dangerous quest to search for half-truths about her past, she discovers she’s not just an abnormal human, but a rarity even among her Fee peers.
She is hunted by scientists, keen to exploit her extraordinary abilities, as well as other beings far more dangerous whose plans for her she cannot fathom. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

I read The Curse which is the prequel to Heir of Ashes first and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! The story line was so complex and original, though I did wish for more explanations but since it is just a prequel it works perfectly. We were introduced to this mystical world of supernatural beings and to an unlikely love story which ended tragically. This was the opening to Roxanne’s story and it was by far the best prequel I’ve read.

Heir of Ashes was a wonderful urban fantasy novel though I did wish it would contain more fantasy elements, like the prequel. Roxanne was such a great main character, strong, independent, flawed, but still determined to gain her freedom and lead the life she wanted. I admired her courage and the fact that she didn’t sulk and gave in to self-pity. She knew how to handle herself and exploit her strenghts.

Logan was also a great character though I wish we’d learn more about his past (maybe in the next book? I sure hope so.) and his relationship with Archer and Roxanne’s father. The only thing that bothered me about Roxanne and Logan was the fact that Logan kept rescuing her. I mean she’s way stronger than him, why couldn’t she save herself? I do wish the tables will turn in the next book and that Roxanne will get a chance to save him from a deadly opponent or something similar.

The action scenes were a bit too long for my taste and the book itself is quite long which at times didn’t work so well. But overall I really enjoyed the story and would definitely recommend it to fans of urban fantasy and fantasy novels. The one thing I LOVED about this book was the fact that Roxanne wasn’t a teenager. Finally we get a twenty-something-year-old for a main character! How refreshing!

I am very curious about Roxanne’s next move and her relationship with Logan and about the entire supernatural world. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of that in the next book. The writing style was superb and the story kept moving in a fast pace, so I wasn’t bored. I also felt like a lot of thought went into the dialogue which I highly appreciate because a lot of YA fantasy novels are pretty predictable regarding that.

Thank you Jina S. Bazzar for sending me a copy of your book for review, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it and Logan is probably somewhere in my top ten favourite fictional boyfriends. Roxanne was such a delight and I feel like the story really explored her pysche and her background and we got to know her pretty well. I can’t wait to see where life takes her next!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…. 

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. 

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

April is turning out to be a wonderful reading month for me because this was the second book I’ve read and it was spectacular. I cried at times and laughed at the jokes but what this book offers most is the sense of kinship and the importance of stories and kindness and friends. It is a heartbreaking portrayal of wartime difficulties and the devastating consequences that followed. It is one of those books that I think would appeal to a variety of readers, no matter their genre preferences.

The epistolary format was such a fun way to portray the different personalities and to share their personal stories and different ways of seeing the world. Each character was meticulously crafted though of course the story is centred around the members of the society. My favourite character was Isola, I just found her so funny and peculiar.

The historical background was pretty hard to digest, because we are talking about the atrocities that occured during the WWII and you cannot make them into less horrendous than they really were. The book gives just enough (and at the same time far too much) to learn what happened to the people of Guernsey during the German occupation and what happened to those that were sent to concentration camps.

What I loved about this book was the sense of hope that lies in its pages. Despite the fact that we see so much of what occured during the war, we still see hope and the possibility that it will get better. I think that is a strong message and something that the world needed at that time. We see such a love of books that can transcend even decades and the most awful circumstances in which we may find ourselves. Books, stories, are what save us from ourselves.

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone, especially to avid readers who can appreciate the power of storytelling. A word of warning, though: this book will take a piece of your soul and claim it as its own. Bring tissues.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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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. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

Yesterday morning I set my alarm clock to 7 o’clock so I could finish this wonderful, heartbreaking story about old spirits, a beguiling winter demon and a courageous girl whose eccentricity put fear into the hearts of her fellow villagers. This book is a true jem of fantasy literature and I am already counting down days till the paperback release of the second part in the series. It is filled with magic and love and interesting characters and the language is rich and inventive.

What I love most about this book is the portrayal of family relations and the love that binds siblings together no matter what. Alyosha was probably my favourite character besides Vasya because he stood by her side despite what others said about her. He didn’t let society shape his opinion, instead he had a mind of his own and I loved him for that.

Vasya was such a great main character, unique and resilient and brave despite her fears. The winter demon was the most enigmatic character in the book which I did expect because he is after all the lord of the winter. The scenes in the last third of the book were so wonderful and filled with little hints, I couldn’t help but guess what would happen in the next two books.

Although I like romance in a fantasy novel, I actually didn’t miss it here. I mean, there were some hints of a romance woven in there but it was far from your typical YA love story. I wouldn’t even call it a love story, perhaps just a glimpse into what could (will?) happen. The mixture of old spirits and Christianity was tackled spectacularly and I thought the fear of the unknown was so realistically portrayed, I completely understood why people used to burn witches or so called wise women at stakes.

The characters were layered and not one of them was purely good or bad. Konstantin’s struggles pained me but he got on my nerves because of his fierce piousness and Anna Ivanovna seemed just crazy to me. The overall plot, the battle between good(ish) and bad was very original in its form and I honestly didn’t know what would happen next. I was glad to see the author wasn’t afraid to kill off some of the characters, even the ones I liked.

The story started a bit slow but man it picked up the pace. The last third of the book was so intense, I got freaked out at some parts and was even scared to go to bed, it was that scary. I think the story hinted at a lot of things, but the hints were so well crafted, it’s difficult to say what to expect next. I just know I’ll pre-order the second book and read it as soon as it arrives in the mail.

I urge fans of fantasy and YA literature to pick up this book and read it in one sitting. It’s insanely good and unlike anything I’ve read. It instanly became one of my favourite reads of the year and it’s barely April.

Keepers by Sacha de Black

Saving the world is easy: all Eden has to do is die.

Seventeen-year-old Eden East’s life is perfect… until her soul is bound to her worst nightmare. Then her parents are brutally murdered, and everyone’s a suspect, including her best friend.

As her world spirals out of control, a charismatic Siren, from a past she can’t remember, returns offering help, hope, and a heap of distractions.

Eden must put aside her grief to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder. In a race against time, can she break the binding to her enemy before he destroys her and her world? 

Three lives. 
Two murdered parents. 
One deadly choice.

(blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

Disclaimer: a free copy of this book was kindly sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

This book was AMAZING. I cannot express how much I loved it and how I wished it were longer. The characters were rich and complex and had such detailed and well script backgrounds (which is not often the case with YA) that I couldn’t help falling madly in love with them. The ending sort of broke my heart a little because there is a HUGE PLOT TWIST but I loved every second of it.

The first thing I noticed while reading this book was how well the author created the world in which the story is set. Basically the country is divided into sections or smaller countries and each has its own peculiarities and they were all intriguing, I loved reading about them and wanted to learn more. I think Sacha de Black did a lot of research and it shows in the quality of her writing.

The characters were so lovable and complex, they weren’t just goody goodies but they also struggled a lot. Trey had a great background story, he was so interesting and I loved reading about him, I started swooning every time his name was mentioned. Eden’s was a very brave character and I really admired her for it. I wasn’t a huge fan of Victor, much less Evelyn but I did love the side characters and felt like they were my new best friends.

The romance, oh, the romance. So sweet and gentle and powerful, I absolutely loved it. I rooted for them all the way (I won’t say who because I don’t want to spoil it for you, just go and read the book, it’s really good!). I think this book offers so much it is a must read for fans of YA and fantasy. It’s the best self-published book I’ve come across so far.

The overall story was well structured and balanced. I didn’t like the whole prophecy bit just because it reminded me a bit of Harry Potter and the identity of the main villain was also pretty obvious. The only thing that bothered me was the length of the novel, I really wished it was longer, more descriptive but since it’s the first part of a series I look forward to finding out more about this wonderful and interesting world.

I want to thank the author for gifting me a signed copy of the book, I will treasure it forever and I hope we’ll get to read more about Eden soon. I know I’m dying to find out what happens next!