Review of Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, in Dark Lullaby a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.
When Kit decides to have a child, she thinks she’s prepared. She knows how demanding Induction is. She’s seen children Extracted. But in a society where parenting is strictly monitored under the watchful gaze of OSIP (The Office of Standards in Parenting), she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

There was something deeply personal about reading Dark Lullaby, speaking honestly as someone who suffered from PND and often felt massively inadequate as a first time parent I couldn’t help but put myself in the place of the parents we meet in this book. It’s a path that has been trodden before, a society beset by infertility where children are revered, however, Dark Lullaby takes it to a new level with the sinister OSIP. Literally anyone, anywhere can be waiting to pounce, to pass judgement on the smallest infringement of their overbearing standards of parenting. Feeding, sleeping, soothing, these are all things that as parents now we struggle through but with support, to think of doing that alone and under scrutiny of failure made this a heart shattering read at times.

Told in an alternating “Then” and “Now” style we see Kit go from an “Out” the term for woman who chose not to go through Induction to the desperate mother we meet in the opening chapters. How eventually a society obsessed with child bearing reduces a woman’s worth to almost zero if they chose to remove themselves from the process. Substandard housing and career stagnation can all be escaped by fulfilling your destiny as a woman to produce a child. Its sad to see the pro’s and con’s of having a child weighed initially in lifestyle perks and how conditioned women become, even knowing the pain and risk involved, that this is the ultimate in achievement.

There was something utterly compelling about Kit’s story though, understanding the choices she makes through what she has witnessed and what she believes society requires of her is stunningly written. Despite the heavy subject matter it doesn’t feel heavy to read, I found myself bounding through the pages, the short and snappy chapters building up to the storm we know is coming, the urgency of Kit’s quest spilling into my fingers and I turned page after page desperate to know how it ends. Whilst the connection to The Handmaids Tale is fair given the subject, it’s actually the Black Mirror feel that stood out more starkly for me. Everything should be questioned and I was left with an uneasy satisfaction at the way things played out, which is a curious feeling and one that I don’t think a book has ever left me with before.

Even though my own experiences made this a difficult read in places, it was as brilliant as I hoped it would be from the blurb and the stunning cover. There is also some pretty clever propaganda floating around from the publisher which you should definitely seek out too to round out the reading experience. Thank you as always to Titan Books for providing me with an early copy of Dark Lullaby for review.

4 Stars

 

Review of The Swimmers by Marian Womack

A claustrophobic, literary dystopia set in the hot, luscious landscape of Andalusia from the author of The Golden Key.
After the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies. Social inequality has ravaged society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the plastic-polluted Ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants.
The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are ‘equal’. Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her.
 

Firstly I want to say a huge thank you to Titan books for the advanced copy of this title. I was excited to see a new book from Marian Womack, her previous book The Golden Key was a book that I loved so I was eager to dive back into her ethereal writing style. Unfortunately this dreamlike quality, which worked so well in a gothic setting, fell short in this story for me.

The premise is strong and a stark take on the future we could find ourselves in, the rich continuing with their opulent lifestyle whilst the poor remain on what’s left of the surface. The world has in many ways started to reclaim itself and the surface feels very colourful even if the local fauna is a much mutated version of how we would see it today. Reusing and recycling is a way of life, but society has also regressed to one full of superstition and stories over fact. The Swimmers is very subversive in this way and for those on the surface, including our protagonist Pearl, their myths have become part of their way of life, the salutary tales a clever means of control. The Woman in White a figure who both gives and takes in a way that feels immensely cruel, yet her stories continue to be told. I enjoyed how some of these stories were peppered throughout the book to really help drive home how close to propaganda some of them were.

Pearl was an interesting protagonist, her story jumps and is mainly in retrospect, I was never clear as to whether she was recollecting or dreaming but I liked how that matched how disorienting her life had become. One of the more fortunate of the surface dwellers she is top of a caste system which sadly still exists and I actually found it quite sad that with all the apparent progress, we still have a society heavily propped up by servitude. Her history is complex and her family full of secrets, her mother being one of the titular Swimmers – which If I’m being brutally honest, I’m still not sure I understand the significance of, especially as the ocean is pretty much a sheet of plastic debris. The introduction of Arlo as a second narrator was much needed and I found his sections in the earlier stages brought a real balance to haphazard recollections of Pearl. His eyes brought a fresh take to what was happening on the surface and I enjoyed his arc very much.

The sad thing for me is that I found The Swimmers to be so confusing. The story went in different directions and threads were left unanswered. The writing just didn’t feel cohesive and I found it such a hard book to motivate myself to come back to. The Swimmers is not a book you can read piecemeal and I think that’s perhaps why I struggled. I wasn’t able to have a really large chunk of time and indeed the last quarter where I had more time, I found that I was, to a degree, able to get into the story. However I still felt like I was missing things and had to flip back to check.

All this being said though, The Swimmers had one of the most deeply satisfying endings I have read for a long time, I had no idea with the dwindling pages how it could be ended but a simple epilogue spoke of so much and painted the picture perfectly. However, for much of the story I felt that the focus was in the wrong place and I wanted to know what was happening elsewhere which was a shame as I think a bit more structure could have made this a book I would have really loved.

3 Stars

Blog Tour Calico Thunder Rides Again by T. A Hernandez

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the Most Fantastic Show on Earth…
Three years ago, the Ban changed everything, outlawing certain forms of magic and bringing about the rise of powerful crime syndicates. Now, speakeasies in every city sell illegal charms and jinxes, and bootleggers traffic restricted potion ingredients across the country. But even in this changing world, the magic of the circus still acts as a wondrous escape and provides entertainment for all.​
Jake Strickland owns one such circus, inherited after an accident ended his career as a rodeo dragon rider. He also inherited the circus’ financial troubles, but since the show became his, he’s slowly managed to turn it into a profitable business once more. Or at least, that’s what he thought.
When a dangerous mobster comes to collect an old debt, Jake resorts to desperate measures to get the money before a strict deadline. With lives and livelihoods at stake, he battles the clock, his responsibilities to the circus, and a longstanding personal grudge that has festered for years. Can he pay back the mob before it’s too late?

Calico Thunder Rides Again is a beautifully magical read that packs in all the feels with great dose of action and adventure. I’m a huge fan of the historical era of the 1920’s and this story perfectly blends the feel and look of the time with the many fantastical elements. The two are woven seamlessly together and I loved how care was taken to ensure that the magics fed into the environment.

Jake is a wonderful character and his situation is made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that he has worked so hard to make everything right. He has earned so much trust and respect from his team and also his patrons, it’s a wholesome environment full of love and care, especially for the magical creatures including the dragon Calico Thunder! He takes everything in his stride as best he can and has the wellbeing of others at the front of his mind at all times.  Grace is equally wonderful as the carer of the magical creatures and her and Jake make a great team as they attempt to save the day as plans inevitably never quite come together.

The circus is a vibrant environment and the author paints a wonderful picture of the circus acts and also the interactions behind the scenes especially with the circus’s resident diva! It’s a fast paced story leading up to an exciting conclusion that will certainly tug at the heartstrings but ultimately leaving you with a feeling of soaring like you’re dragon riding yourself!

4*

I received this book to read and review as part of the BBNYA 2020 competition and/or the BBNYA tours organised by the @The_WriteReads tours team. All opinions are my own, unbiased and honest. 

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. 

If you are an author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (https://www.bbnya.com/) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official. If you would like to sign-up and enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 AUTHOR SIGN UP FORM HERE. Please make sure to carefully read our terms and conditions before entering. 

If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also remember to read the terms and conditions before signing up)! 

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (If you love beautiful books you NEED to check out their website!) And the book blogger support group TheWriteReads.

Review of All the Tides of Fate by Adelyn Grace

Through blood and sacrifice, Amora Montara has conquered a rebellion and taken her rightful place as queen of Visidia. Now, with the islands in turmoil and the people questioning her authority, Amora cannot allow anyone to see her weaknesses.
No one can know about the curse in her bloodline. No one can know that she’s lost her magic. No one can know the truth about the boy who holds the missing half of her soul.
To save herself and Visidia, Amora embarks on a desperate quest for a mythical artifact that could fix everything―but it comes at a terrible cost. As she tries to balance her loyalty to her people, her crew, and the desires of her heart, Amora will soon discover that the power to rule might destroy her.

Wow, where to start! I absolutely adored All the Stars and Teeth and it was easily in my top 10 reads of last year. It’s no surprise then that All the Tides of Fate was high up on my list of anticipated reads and honestly, it didn’t disappoint. Thank you so much to Titan Books for sending me a e-arc to review, I devoured it in a day!

Set a season after the closing stages of book 1, Amora is fighting a number of battles, one to keep her loss of magic a secret, another to hold her own against the old cronies who feel they know best, and lastly to convince a Kingdom that she is up to the task of setting right decades of wrongs. Immediately there is a new maturity to Amora, the “do first think later” princess has pushed those thoughts into an inner monologue and at least has perfected sounding like a Queen, full of ideas of how to rebuild. I hated the corner that Amora was pushed into and that her ability to rule was immediately reduced to the production of an heir. But as a plot device it allowed the story to get where it needed to – another adventure!

I enjoyed the different sides that we got to see of the Islands throughout their travels and whilst Amora’s secret mission threatens to unravel at every turn, her sense of duty also runs high and its a delicate cat and mouse balance for her. Whilst she is often far from regal, it makes for great reading as the team all do what they do best together. For as many that are delighted by her there are clearly many who deplore her being in such a position and want to hold her to account, which leads to some of the most stressful moments of the story to read. I felt that the mental health portrayal was very well executed, Amora has PTSD from what she experienced at the end of book one and she has no control over where and when it finds her,  and it is telling that those around her have also had severe trauma as both Vataea and Shanty quickly recognise the signs and are able to help her work through it.  Whilst it was difficult to read I do feel that it was important that having witnessed what she did that in fact it would be more unbelievable that she just carried on as usual.

The islands are beautifully written and I had such a huge sense of being there with them, the sights the smells and the sounds all perfectly balanced to create a totally immersive reading experience.

But OMG the end was so heartbreaking at times and whilst one character got their just deserts another really didn’t and as the true understanding of what we had been told fed into what had happened I honestly had so many tears.  Minor little down points were that the twist was quite easy to work out, and on occasion Bastian sounded a bit like a controlling alpha but it was pulled back by looking deeply into the connection the curse had upon them and actually their thought process about that ended up quite sound. For me this was everything I hoped for in the conclusion, the world was more vibrant with the changes Amora’s leadership had instigated and the characters had a new maturity, which as an older YA reader I absolutely was here for.

5*

Review of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.
There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

Piranesi is one of the most surprising books that I have read in a long time. The blurb was kind of informative but also vague and I really didn’t know what to expect going in. I’m still not really sure how I would describe it, but I’m going with intensely captivating. As i started reading I was hit with a sense of dystopia which quickly moved onto something else and then something else entirely. Piranesi is a beautiful voice to follow though, he has almost childlike wonder at this home and he is so wholesome with his earnest approach to every task and situation he finds himself presented with. He is resourceful and mindful and just a joy to read. Because of how joyful he is, that is what for me, as a reader, made it so difficult to come to terms with what happens in the pages. Whilst there was a minor sense of underlying unease from the very start as the story unravels it becomes very dark at times as a wider existential conspiracy begins to surface.

It’s very hard to write a detailed review because of how much the story twists and takes you by surprise which then makes it even harder to explain what it didn’t like, because sadly this fell short at the final stage which I think was mainly down to a certain flatness following a major incident. I feel that there were many paths the author led us too but only really walked us all the way down one when I wanted to know so much more!

Piranesi as a character though remains infinitely charming throughout and I could have read his often soothing and methodical narrative for many days more. If you’re a fan of short punchy books which are full of twists and puzzles, you will love Piranesi!

4*

Review of Fable by Adrienne Young

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.
As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.
But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive

I have always been a huge fan of Adrienne Young’s writing and for me Fable feels like the best her voice had been. This is the book I have been waiting for, a story that completely sweeps me up in all its glory, that keeps me up late to find out what happens next and one that I ultimately devour in less that 48 hours. Fable is a beautiful tale of loss, struggle, found family and acceptance and I’m here for it. I’m am so grateful, as always, to Titan books for sending me a copy of review.

Fable has not had an easy life, abandoned by her father on a cut throat isle where it’s everyone for them self and scraps are riches. Uneasy acquaintance is about as close to friendship as is possible. Fable was well written into this life. I knew as a reader that she didn’t take a single thing for granted and the underlying threat to her safety immediately pulled me in to her story. But this is Fable’s world and there is no let up. This is what made Fable so amazing for me, whilst she has her own journey she also inadvertently finds herself caught up in a cat and mouse game that she wants no part of, she has to balance between achieving her own goals whilst reconciling someone else’s. The gradual sink into understanding how the pieces fit together and the truth behind her time on the island dance gently around each other until the inevitable clash. There is not a word wasted and i never once found my mind wandered or i skipped – which I find usually happens a lot when I read on kindle – I was 100% absorbed and heaven help anyone who interrupted me.
The world building was simple island hopping but it was done so beautifully, just the right words were chosen to paint a picture and I was easily able to visualise every aspect from Fable’s terrifying escape to the stunning reefs. I loved how I got the feel of each place, like the smoke of the tavern, the bustle of the market, and the swell of the storm. I felt like I was there watching Fable like a film playing out.  The characters were all believable and had the right balance of endearing and menacing, even the side characters had richly woven back stories that I completely understood without being pulled away from the main arc. The cat and mouse pace was perfectly executed which led to breathtaking excitement as well as gut clenching fear, I genuinely felt at one point that I couldn’t turn the page for fear of what might happen.
Fable was simply a stunning read, everything fit together for me, great characters, wonderful world building and a story that just called out to me keep reading and find out what happened next, I can’t wait for Namesake and don’t hesitate in giving this 5 Stars

 

Review of Hall of Smoke by H.M Long

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.
While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.
Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.
Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.

Firstly a huge thank you as always to the team at Titan Books for sending a me a finished copy of this book for review, the cover is just stunning For a debut fantasy H.M. Long smashed it out of the park, what an undiscovered gem of an author, her writing pulled me in from the very first page with a world and characters that completely captured my imagination. As a reader we are gently eased into a complex world of humans, godlike, and gods old and new alongside of our protagonist, Hessa. She is our constant and we never leave her side throughout the story, it is very much hers and her journey to redemption is seldom strayed from. I really enjoyed the Viking style and feel to the world which was written in a really engaging way, I couldn’t wait to pick the story back up as more and more information was fed to us, whipping up to an astounding finale.

Hall of smoke is very much a journey driven story and one where I felt that the movement between sections was woven well. I easily became lost in the world as Hessa found herself both frighteningly alone at times and also easily taken into the care of strangers under the wonderfully named Hearth Law. Hessa throughout the story is grieving, be it her husband, her family, her village or her faith. Her fragility is at times allowed to splinter through her warrior exterior allowing us to see moments of vulnerability, moments where she is clearly shaken to the core. This gives such a humanising effect to Hessa, who despite being often pulled between loyalties, is singularly driven to put things right.

I loved the dynamic of the gods and whilst there was a huge complexity their nature, sometimes amiable and other times feral, they always felt they were either toying with Hessa or each other. Their in fighting and elitism, even within their own ranks, gave good explanation as to why things were falling apart in the way that they were. Sections within the Halls were beautifully painted, with a wonderful cinematic quality. The world building throughout was poetically written and helped to make this book such an immersive experience.

A small gripe is that the font is just tiny, it might be my eyes getting old but I honestly really struggled at times and sadly that did pull me out of the story as it left me feeling tired whilst reading, Hall of smoke is a very long story, and whilst I am so grateful it didn’t get dragged out into a duology an extra 100 pages in the paperback would have made it it better reading experience. I did also feel that the story often missed out on bringing depth to some of the side characters, but as this is totally Hessa’s story, I understand why that is.

The battles are epic and the writing is no holds barred when it comes to the violence and graphic depiction of death, so be prepared for that. Ultimately though, I found Hall of Smoke to be a wonderfully written and immersive story which for me breathed new life into adult epic fantasy books.

4*

Review of Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?
Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.
Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.
With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Amari and the Night Brothers is nothing short of one of the most wonderfully magical books I have read this year, huge thanks to Egmont Books and The Write Reads tours for having Biba and I along for the ride!

To start the book had a wonderful wizard of oz style feel, Amari is dealing with the double whammy of her missing brother and dealing with the awful school bullies who push her to the edge with their taunts about her heritage and how poor she is. It feels bleak for Amari, but with one wonderful twist she finds herself in a brand new environment. An environment which still has the same prejudices, but where even the most mundane of skills or talents can be transformed into something super human. I loved how quickly the story flipped and completely transformed the narrative.

The bureau itself is wonderfully realised, so many facets and great little areas, I was a particular fan of the diverse range of talking elevators which were either hilarious, helpful or a hindrance depending on the mood they were in at the time. I loved how all the spaces weaved together from training to workspace to living space but yet managed to keep their own distinct bubble. The slow reveal of just how vast it is was fantastic, I never felt overloaded and just added to the overall wonder of it all.

Character wise, they are all fantastic, apart from maybe the mean girls, Amari’s room mate Elsie is a particular treat with her amazing creations and sage advice. Obviously the star is Amari herself, she is so focused on finding out what happened to her brother and is utterly fearless, she is so strong but she never gives herself the credit for it. Whilst the career kids have had years to learn and be aware of the supernatural world and have the upper hand, Amari’s fight against prejudice her whole life has set her up to deal with her magician standing by refusing to accept that it automatically makes her evil and forcing people to see that it doesn’t make her any different. As moral messages go, its beautifully simple but so impactful.

The pace is perfect, giving the reader time to learn with Amari yet also having the exciting fast action of the trials she must complete, I didn’t want to put this down, and rarely did as I found myself wanting to devour its pages through to its shocking ending which I 100% did not see coming at all, which for a children’s book (where the breadcrumbs are perhaps laid a little more clearly) I was pleasantly surprised with. Amari and the Night brothers is a perfect older children’s read (and adults!) full of magic and mayhem which is beautifully balanced with real life and real life issues, I implore you to add it to your must reads of 2021!

Biba’s review (age 10)

Biba hadn’t finished in time for the tour but her thoughts so far are: I like that there are lots of mysteries and how Amari’s supernatural ability was illegal, I found that a really interesting twist. I think Amari is very brave and loyal, and I’m excited to finish!

5 magical stars!

 

 

Review of The Midnight Howl by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Emily must battle the greatest evil that has threatened The Midnight Hour. Can she keep its magic from leaking into the real world?
They must have come from under beds, out of mirrors, up from caves, and down from attics, all out of the darkness and into the moonlight. They were the Night Folk, and this was their world.
Now that Emily knows that her blood ties her to The Midnight Hour, she feels more connected to this frozen pocket of time than ever. But not only does she have to come to terms with her new identity as a Pooka, her parents also had to go and have another baby. And how weird is that? Life is feeling frustrating from all angles…
But when Emily begins to encounter strange happenings within The Midnight Hour, her worst fears are confirmed: there is a hole in the Hour and it is leaking magic. Whoever is going through it is making the tear worse and worse, posing a threat to the survival of the whole world. With Emily’s parents distracted with the new baby, it’s up to Emily to find the hole and help fix it.
 

Biba and I went into the Midnight Howl without having read book one, The Midnight Hour, but we found that this can be read happily as a standalone with plenty of looks back to the first story to explain how it all fits in. The world is just wonderful though, utterly filled with magic and magical creatures that were fantastic to discover. The really is something for every reader in this book whether it be more on the spooky or more on the whimsical side, we both loved both the Library and Art!

Emily is a great protagonist, although she is probably more for the upper range with her thoughts and actions, however, Biba thought that she was very brave and determined, so what do I know! Emily admits that her “gob” runs away from her so despite her speak first attitude she does keep herself in check. The dynamic she has with her newly found family members is brilliantly played out. The Victorian backdrop lends itself perfectly to the story which is hugely atmospheric, plenty of cobbled streets and swirling mists and things that go bump in the night. It can also be incredibly beautiful, a thorough picture painted so as a reader you knew exactly how to visualise each scene.

I would say that this is probably better placed for the upper end of the middle grade market, Biba is a strong reader for nearly 10 years old but this book uses complex language at times, is very descriptive and she often stumbled whilst reading aloud with me.

If you enjoy darkly atmospheric, magical reads, with lots of humour and holes in the fabric of space, then you will love The Midnight Howl! Thank you so much to Chicken House for sending us a copy of this for review.

4*

Review of The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

The Storys are the envy of their neighbours: owners of the largest property on their East Coast island, they are rich, beautiful, and close. Until it all falls apart. The four children are suddenly dropped by their mother with a single sentence:
You know what you did.
They never hear from her again.
Years later, when 18-year-old cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story receive a mysterious invitation to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort, they have no choice but to follow their curiosity and meet the woman who’s been such an enigma their entire lives.
This entire family is built on secrets, right? It’s the Story legacy.
This summer, the teenagers are determined to discover the truth at the heart of their family. But some secrets are better left alone.

YA Thriller is a genre that has really captured my reading imagination recently, and whilst this is my first Karen M. McManus book, I’ve heard great things about her others, so I was really excited be part of the blog tour for her new book The Cousins, which is hosted by The Write Reads. I am grateful to Penguin and Netgalley for the review copy.

It’s a slow burn start and a good amount of time is taken to reflect the point of view from each of the cousins and especially for Milly and Aubrey where we learn a little about their disinherited parents too. The focus in the early stages is looking at more of the family aspect and actually what the impact really is when children have such a loss to contend with, a life long grieving process that there can be no closure to. Yes, the cousins parents have their flaws but honestly, I think that whilst it makes them sometimes terrible parents, they fall just short of being the bad guys. The psychological impact is woven so well into the story, with some being cliche and others a more nuanced reaction to essentially abandonment. For the cousins themselves, they have had to live with the emotional fallout, and whilst they are reasonably well rounded, it’s clear that the sense of abandonment continues. It’s interesting to consider how differently things may have been had this overwhelming shadow of a grandmother, who in essence has it all, hadn’t loomed so intensely. The small trinkets they hold on to are really touching and show that despite it all they still need to have some connection with their grandmother.

Their lead up to getting to the island is fun and the boat trip, whilst short, really gets to point of their personalities quickly, Milly being by far my favourite! She is quick and cutting and very funny. They are all instantly likeable characters though which makes this such an easy read to pick back up again, their story is one that you want to know more about and the way they drip feed each other information about their lives is endearingly cautious, looking back at these opening stages so much makes sense and I feel silly for not seeing some of the clues sooner as there is more than one mystery ahead to be solved!

The island itself feels like a contrived step back in time, everything is very quaint, the shops have a boardwalk feel and the bars an 80’s vibe which I thought may have been more of a culture shock than it was. The resort itself in a weird way reminded me of the place in Dirty Dancing, I’m not sure why! There is a background feel of a “I know what you did last summer” and this is nicely rounded out by the time shift POV, but honestly I have to say the twist was one that I didn’t even have an inkling of! It was so cleverly done and the pieces that had been subtly laid throughout fell wonderfully into place in the closing stages. Whilst the early pages moved slowly, as the investigation begins it feels more solidly into mystery territory, and I place it no higher than that, The unfolding of the clues is steady with a snowball effect through to the conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book but I don’t think it quite satisfied the itch I was hoping it would. It’s solidly written with great fun characters who fill both the scooby gang members and meddlings kids villain nicely. It has a phenomenal twist and a great epilogue, and I think that had the thriller pace been more evident and the mystery investigation element been more prominent it would have been a 5* but I think for me it sits happily as a 4.

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