ARC Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 4 May 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation. Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: I have been eyeing up Ms Wein’s books for some time now especially Code Name Verityher wartime book that I’m told portrays the endurance of friendship during times of difficulty. The Pear Thief is actually billed as a prequel of Code Name Verity but it can definitely be read as a standalone which is what I did.

The Pearl Thief is set in rural Scotland and honestly this book made me fall head over heels with the landscape because Wein’s descriptive language and setting was so evocative. I will confess that there were quite a few words that were totally new to a born and bred Londoner like me (burn – which I think is Gaelic for ‘fresh water’ for example) so some of the descriptions weren’t the easiest for me to visualise but despite this I was able to get an idea of the gorgeous highlands and grand country house that Lady Julia lived in – testament to Wein’s writing definitely! I will say though, this is one of those books where a map at the beginning would have done wonders and perhaps a glossary for idiots like me 🙂

The river has a voice that doesn’t die. It is as inhuman and ancient as starlight.

Lady Julia our protagonist was an interesting character. I didn’t immediately take to her but she grew on me as the book went on. I liked how adventurous and gutsy she was and willing to be open-minded and experimental even if society frowned upon it. Her friendship and dynamic with Ellen was easily my favourite – it was complex and a lovely surprise in a historical YA book! There was quite a cast of secondary characters but as The Pearl Thief is told from the Julia’s perspective, I felt we didn’t get to delve into their personalities as much as I’d have liked to – especially the McEwens and Mary who stood out.

Wein wove in societal issues like discrimination against the traveller community, rape and poverty in a really subtle way and gave an insight into what life was like in rural Scotland during that period of history. The discrimination theme was eerily timely and a little frightening how many parallels I could draw between Britain in the 1930s and 2017! One of the unique things about The Pearl Thief was the premise: the Strathfearn family estate being sold to private developers – a part of history that is oft-overlooked. The sexier Downton Abbey-esque era definitely gets more attention and so it was intereting to see a teenager dealing with a drastic change of fortune. I enjoyed seeing Lady Julia rise above her title and circumstances and discover her privilege but also we’re not all that different – be it Lady or traveller.  

They were the ‘dirty bold sleekit tinkers’. They were not dirty, did not appear to be all that bold, and it remained to be seen how sneaky they were. In fact, I was floored by the girl’s beauty.

The mystery and plot of The Pearl Thief definitely kept me guessing. I managed to figure out some of it right towards the end but was still pleasantly surprised at the reveal. I loved that the mystery had a solid story behind it, the pearls were given significance and a history which made it all the more interesting. However, I felt the pacing of The Pearl Thief could’ve been better. I definitely think the book could either have been shorter and punchier or instead just gone the whole hog and had more detail about the other characters – instead it was somewhere down the middle and had me at times just wanting to return to the central mystery.

Besides some minor issues, The Pearl Thief was a solid historical YA with a unique setting not often found in young adult lit. Wein’s descriptive language really added authenticity and the mystery was good whodunnit that kept you guessing. If you’re after something with a great heroine like Pullman’s classic Sally Lockhart series or Y. S. Lee’s brilliant The Agency series this one’s for you! The Pearl Thief is out on 4 May in the US and UK. Thanks again to Bloomsbury for the ARC 🙂

Are you planning to read The Pearl Thief? Or have some other brilliant YA historical/mystery recs? Let me know in the comments below!

ARC Review: The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

Release Date: 9 February 2017 (UK) by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Series: Untitled (#1)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: It’s been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who’s still reeling from her father’s shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods–only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and other like him. Forbidden to reveal himself to anyone other than his victims, X casts aside the Lowlands’ rules for Zoe. As X and Zoe learn more about their different worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future. But escaping the Lowlands and the ties that bind X might mean the ultimate sacrifice for both of them.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: Well The Edge of Everything surpassed my expectations! And that was partly to do with the fact that I’m an idiot and, having read the Netgalley blurb, thought this was a contemporary (realistic) romance?? I did not clock at all that this was a fantasy until quite a few pages in… But when I did, an already promising start just improved 10x over. The story itself is an intriguing one, not much good comes from having a boyfriend literally from hell it turns out (!) It took a while for me to get the gist of the Lowlands but when I did I was totally immersed in the star-crossed lovers’ fate and the thrilling ride that Zoe and X embarked on to save themselves and stay together.

A frantic beetle was flitting back and forth between the panes of glass, trapped forever with the wide world in full view. X knew what it felt like to be that bug.

The Edge of Everything is one of those rare books where I could forgive the instalove and actually get behind it! Jeff Giles has crafted the characters in such a way and with so much depth that it’s almost inevitable that they would be attracted to each other and you cheer them on because they complement each other really well. I loved that Zoe is the badass, fierce and bold one in the pairing whilst X is very much the shy, naive but hopelessly in love one. I loved that the sweetest stuff between them was often unsaid/thoughts or physical gestures. 

I really warmed to Zoe – she’s dealing with some pretty horrific stuff but manages to stay strong throughout. She’s by no means perfect, and I liked that we saw this part of her. At times she’s pretty mean to her little brother but it is the way she loves fiercely and loyally whether it is her family or her friend Val that really shines through. X on the other hand is less snarky but so resilient considering how he has grown up and what he is expected to do. The fact that X is able to hold on to his ‘humanity’ having never experienced it is such a beautiful thing. Reading about their first meeting and what follows, the sweet moments and the heart wrenching really swept me up and just totally immersed me in their story.

He realised now that he didn’t know very many stories – and certainly no pleasant ones. So he told her their story. He began with her knocking him down on the ice.

I also loved how the other characters all had their own stories and personalities – whether it was Regent, Banger and Ripper in the Lowlands or Jonah, Val and Dallas (loved the dialogue between him and Zoe!) in Montana. The female characters were very badass and inspirational – with brilliantly sharp tongues! The sibling relationship between Zoe and Jonah was also interesting, especially how far she was willing to go for him, and I liked how her protectiveness brushed off on X too. In that sense, I’m really glad this is the first in a series, because I seriously need more page time for these secondary characters! 

The world building was top notch and Giles writes beautifully. The Lowlands was fascinating and I liked how some of it is recognisable and other bits totally original. Again, this book set us up with lots of questions about how the Lowlands works and I’m looking forward to discovering more in the next installment. This is the second book I’ve read in so many months where it’s set in a snowy location. Zoe’s Montana was beautifully described and the bits on caving which I’d probably usually find rather dull actually had me vividly imagining (and later googling!) chandelier-esque rock formations. The story weaves together a good mix of fantasy elements and romance and moved along at a thrilling pace.

The light, meanwhile, was dying fast. The coffin lid over Montana was getting ready to shut.

One of the things that really stuck out to me about The Edge of Everything was how Giles dealt with ‘big’ issues like morality, grief, and the afterlife but did it in a non-claustrophobic or preachy way. I found it really interesting to see how the characters dealt with different, and often uncomfortable, feelings like remorse and mercy and it was actually quite emotionally stirring. I liked that Giles does not shy away from the worst base instincts of humanity but doesn’t glorify them either – if anything he highlights the ambiguity inherent in things like morality and that was a fascinating thing to see in YA. 

The Edge of Everything is out on 9 February in the UK – it is a stunning debut, so make sure to grab yourself a copy. I am already eagerly awaiting the sequel which sadly (and worryingly!) isn’t even up on Goodreads yet (don’t leave me hanging Mr Jeff Giles!!!)

Are you looking forward to The Edge of Everything? Any recs for great urban fantasy YA? Drop me your thoughts in the comments below!

ARC Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

gallery-1473414254-florabankscoverreveal123The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Release Date: 12 January 2017 by Penguin Random House UK Children’s

Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Young Adult

Series: None (Standalone)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks has one of the most interesting premises I’ve come across and that blurb instantly hooked me so I was delighted when I managed to get my hands on an ARC copy.

First things first, this was a totally unique book in terms of premise, plot and protagonist. I have never read anything where the main character suffers from “anterograde amnesia” and The One Memory of Flora Banks really gave an insight into what it’s like to live with a chronic illness like that. Especially at the beginning of the book, we follow Flora as her memory “resets” several times in a day and it is so disconcerting to see her retracing the same steps over and over again. It really brought home how difficult simple things must be for Flora.

How can I have forgotten that I have amnesia? How, though, could I possibly remember?

And it is precisely that which makes the plot of the novel so much more compelling. Although I know the premise of a kiss/boy spurring Flora on to undertake a cross-continent journey has understandably rankled some readers, I thought it was less the kiss and more the profoundness of her recalling something. I’d like to think if it was any other memory, she’d react in the same way purely because of how rare it is for her to remember anything. It was heart breaking to see Flora deal with having a memory and her desperation in wanting to believe it an indicator that she is healing.

I check my hand. FLORA, it says, be brave.

I loved reading about Flora’s coping mechanisms. I could vividly imagine her with her arms scribbled on and her house with things to trigger her memory of who she is. Flora’s voice is so captivating, her thoughts, fears, and dreams really jump off the page. I found it inspiring how candid Flora is about her memory loss and how she’s both naive and brave at the same time – she doesn’t let her chronic illness and constant reminders that she shouldn’t try to function alone stop her from going after Drake and the truth. 

This is how my journey will begin. One thing at a time.

The story itself kept me intrigued, wanting to know why she’d remembered the kiss and what would happen when she found Drake. The setting of Svalbard was brilliant – Barr really excelled at using the desolate landscape to draw comparisons with Flora’s state of mind. The other characters were intriguing in how they dealt with Flora’s amnesia, especially how they must adapt to her forgetfulness. For 90% of the book though we are “alone” with Flora seeing things through her eyes so you’re always wondering how much of a reliable narrator she is.

He does not know me, or he would never ask what I did yesterday. People tell me what I did yesterday: they do not ask.

For me, the book picked up the pace in the last quarter of the book and I was riveted by the last few chapters! However, it felt like it ended rather abruptly – I actually would’ve liked to see more development and the aftermath of what happens in those last few chapters. Without giving away spoilers, I’m also a little disappointed at how some things were explained away rather easily when they seemed to me to be pivotal parts of the narrative and plot.

Despite these few niggles though, The One Memory of Flora Banks is great if you’re after a good slow-burn thriller with a compelling narrator and story or if you’re interested in a good YA exploration of living with a chronic illness. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything and Eileen Cook’s With Malice. This book was Barr’s first foray into YA but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for her other offerings. The One Memory of Flora Banks is out next week on Thursday 12 January!

Are you looking forward to The One Memory of Flora Banks? Are you a big fan of mystery/thrillers? Any recs for great YA similar to TOMoFB? Drop me your thoughts in the comments below!