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

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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!

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Bookish Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Published: March 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult

Series: The Dark Artifices (#1)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Synopsis from Goodreads: In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word… Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles… When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge – and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks… and before the murderer targets them. Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets… 

Review: This was my first read of 2017 so I had high hopes for it, wanting to start the year on a high. It was actually a book club read, and one that if I’m being totally honest would not have picked myself. I actually abandoned The Mortal Instruments part way through the third book because I just could not engage with the plot, couldn’t relate to the characters, and just did not care for what was going on. 

However, Lady Midnight was a very pleasant surprise! I’ll start with what was easily my favourite thing about Lady Midnight which is the story itself. Cassandra Clare has crafted a brilliant story. It was a solid mystery which moved along at a good pace and I liked how all the different story arcs and elements wove together at the end without leaving any glaring plot holes. Plus, a big bonus was the fact that there was no mahoosive cliffhanger to be found at the end – always a thumbs up from me. 🙂

What did you do, what could you do, when what threatened the ones you loved was something else you loved just as much?

I really liked how the mystery was the main plot line but it was woven with relatable issues like family, responsibilities, secrets etc. One of the reasons fantasy, especially high fantasy, is my favourite genres is because it is pure escapism – it’s totally removed from reality and lets you immerse yourself in a completely different world. For this reason, urban fantasy doesn’t usually appear to me but I found that wasn’t the case with Lady Midnight. The California setting was also a nice change to the New York setting of TMI. The world building was great, but I found it even more impressive as I was essentially relearning the whole Shadowhunter ‘verse and Clare really helped brush up on the TMI and TID series without coming across like a dry history lesson and regurgitation of the plot lines of previous books.

The characters also left an impression on me – I found them so fascinating! Julian’s multi-layered personality was refreshing compared to some of the ‘tortured soul’ 2D male characters you can come across in YA – frankly, Julian had way bigger fish to fry than nurturing his angst (although there is a tiny bit of that – it’s not YA without it!) i.e.playing father to his younger siblings. I loved how family was so important to him and a tangible part of him, his paternal instincts, and how many of his decisions revolves around being a father figure. The sacrifices he makes to keep his family together really made him across as a properly complex character to me.

When you were twelve years old and you were all that stood between your family and annihilation, you didn’t learn moderation.

Emma, on the other hand, was a little irritating in that she came across as priding herself on being sharp and on top of things but her obliviousness to a certain plotline was a bit much for me and had me rolling my eyes. But I loved the other characters! Again it was brilliant to see the same representation in LM as in TMI whether it was sexuality, autism, suicide or mental health. I also really liked how the secondary characters felt like fully formed characters – each one had a distinct personality and this was given quite a bit of page time rather than token nods. Mark and Ty were easily my favourite characters, struggling with their differences to ‘the norm’. 

My only criticism of Lady Midnight was the flowery and overly-descriptive writing Cassandra Clare seems to be fond of. The book was really long at 500+ pages and honestly I think she could easily have cut down by just removing repetitive descriptions. I got tired of hearing about how many different shades of yellow made up Emma’s blonde hair, how bodies look through what I assume must be completely translucent shirts, and dark and long eyelashes against sculpted cheekbones. Some of the metaphors and similes were also very overwrought and jarring that I often stopped to try and figure out what Clare was trying to get at. For example:

A pearlescent lightening of the water, as if white paint were spilling into the world through a crack in the sky.

Those slight annoyances aside, I really recommend Lady Midnight to anyone who wants original and interesting characters wrapped in a solid mystery. It goes without saying that this will go down well with fans of the Shadowhunter series and may convert others like me who gave up on TMI! I’m now eagerly awaiting the next installment!

Have you read Lady Midnight? What did you think? Is it better than The Mortal Instruments or The Infernal Devices? Let me know your thoughts!!

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: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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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!

Bookish Review: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

91cHcWU-ICLThe Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

Published: June 2015 by Egmont

GenreMiddle Grade, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is one of those books that has been swimming around my radar for a while. It’s a mystery wrapped up in historical fiction so I was very much like “gimme” when I finally got around to it.

Sophie Taylor is trying to make her way in the world after being suddenly orphaned following the death of her beloved father. Luckily, she manages to land a job at the Milliners Department of the new, first-of-it’s-kind Sinclair’s department store. However things get off to a rocky start after the priceless clockwork sparrow, on show at the store, is stolen and Sophie finds herself being investigated by the police as the prime suspect. With the help of her new friends Lil, a Sinclair’s model and stage actress, Billy, the shy porter with a soft spot for Sophie, and Joe the stranger on the run from the East End, can Sophie clear her name before it’s too late?

This was a 3.5 verging on 4 star book for me. This was a nice, light read which sped along nicely. I think what really stood out for me though were the delightful characters. I loved how tenacious Sophie was despite how the tenuous life she’d tried so hard to build up was collapsing around her. I loved how supportive and genuine Lil was, she is basically the best friend all girls need. Billy was loyal, but adorably a little shy, whilst it was really interesting to see Joe’s character evolution. I loved the little gang that Sophie, Billy, Lil and Joe made up (also some intense shipping going on here!!) and liked that they were all distinct personalities from diverse backgrounds. The different POVs gave us a better insight into each of the characters and whilst this meant we didn’t get to know any of them particularly well, as this is a series, I’m sure that will come in time.

I think the plot was where the book fell down a little for me – it’s meant to be a light-hearted romp of a mystery aimed at the middle grade audience, so I really wasn’t expecting it to take the turn that it did and become quite political! The climax was a bit outlandish, especially when Sophie was the only person who could stop a major catastrophe from happening and I suppose I felt I had to suspend my belief a little. Nonetheless, it was exciting and I must admit the mystery did keep me turning the pages. I think I’m more interested in the hints and clues Woodfine sprinkled throughout the book surrounding the mastermind villain and her departed father than I am about mulling over the actual mystery of the book which I usually love doing once finishing the book… 

The setting was a big part of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Sinclair’s department store is inspired by the renowned Selfridges and Harrods of London, and there actually was a department store, Simpson’s, that stood on the current Waterstones site in Piccadilly!  I adored the lavish and detailed descriptions of Sinclair’s – the different departments, the luxury and innovation it represented but also the great machinery and army of workers needed to keep it going. Woodfine describes in exquisite detail everything from the beautiful architecture, the array of different departments, the luxury items on sale at the store, as well as the wealthy patrons who visit – so much so that I found myself taking a virtual tour of Sinclair’s 🙂

I would recommend The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow to fans of the Wells & Wong mysteries by Robin Stevens, or just anyone after a light read with delightful characters and a good plot that keeps you engaged and interested throughout. Fair warning though – it will leave you craving buns and wanting to visit a department store milliners to try on Edwardian style hats…

Bookish Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Published: May 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

GenreFantasy, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Behold the 2015 Costa Book of the Year Award Winner! I found out about The Lie Tree after its shock win, becoming only the second time a children’s book has won the award since Philip Pullman’s win in 2001 almost fifteen years ago. The Lie Tree is a murder mystery wrapped up in historical fiction and so I was super excited to get stuck in.

Fourteen-year-old Faith finds herself thrown into a tale of mystery and intrigue when her father dies suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. No one else in her new village seems to agree though, and so Faith takes it upon herself to solve his murder. Amongst her father’s papers she finds evidence that points to a tree that survives on lies and rewards the person who sustains it with hidden secrets. Faith realises that the tree contains the secret to her father’s death and begins to feed it with progressively bigger lies, but she finds that not all truths are easy to bear…

Dead people bled silence

Well what to say about this book? It simply and utterly blew me away. I was totally and completely engrossed in Faith’s world from page one. She is a wondrously complex and inquisitive character and, although only fourteen-years-old, will resonate with readers young and old with ease. She had faults, good intentions, she loved and hated passionately, intelligence beyond her years, and an understanding of the ways of the world and the unfairness of her place as a female within that society. However, she was also naive and desperate for the acceptance of her father. I could literally go on. I haven’t come across a character in a very long time that I was so invested in. She is a fantastically realistic character, bolstered even further by a strong cast of supporting characters.

The rules tinkled silently as they broke

The prose was another delight. Frances Hardinge is a master of the English language and I found myself highlighting loads of passages as I read (grand total being upwards of 30!). The Lie Tree was atmospheric and beautiful in its detail and almost seemed like a love letter to the British coast – with its overcast but evocative weather and eccentric village cast. One thing I really noticed was how imaginative and original Hardinge is in her use of similes and metaphors. There’s a page where the author describes the sensation of taste and it was so expressive that the description left me responding physically – suffice to say this doesn’t happen often and Hardinge’s talent shines through her prose.

And now Erasmus Sunderley would be added to the names of the deceased in the family Bible, another little human life crushed fly-like between its great pages

Although the story is based on an outlandish fantasy object, the Lie Tree, I like how the author doesn’t glorify or overstate the oddity of the plant and its powers. Instead, Hardinge focuses the narrative on an exploration of the human character including the effects of greed and gossip. I loved the insights into Regency society – Faith’s canny and witty observations threw into sharp relief the societal restrictions placed upon women and girls and how she desperately wants to defy these. Whilst the main characters are predominantly male and Faith encounters many obstructions from male characters in her investigation, it is the female characters who are vivacious and strong despite the restrictive rules and conventions of society. Hardinge’s exploration of this, and Faith’s desperation to learn and to be accepted for her mind, weaves through the story but is never heavy-handed. 

Each lady quietly relaxed and became more real, expanding into the space left behind by the men. Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.

The story moved along really well – there were no filler scenes with everything that happened contributing to moving along the plot. It was pacy and brisk, meaning that it kept the suspense ratcheted up – important in a book of this genre. I did not see the ending coming but liked it a lot. The only slight critique being that the action was a little hijinks compared to the rest of the novel and was a little jarring. However, it was executed well and did not detract from the overall excellence of the book.

I am not in the least bit surprised that The Lie Tree won the Costa Book of the Year Award. This was a brilliantly evocative story with just the right amounts of intrigue, drama, societal issues and coupled with a fantastic cast of characters. In case my adoration wasn’t evident in the rambling above, I wholeheartedly recommend The Lie Tree and if you haven’t read it already, it’s well worth bumping this up to the top of your TBR list!

 

Bookish Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide NotesSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Published: July 2015 by Simon Pulse

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♡ ♡ ♡

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I was drawn to Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls because of the haunting title and cover. The blurb held promise of teenage issues, intrigue and tragedy and compared the novel to Gone Girl and 13 Reasons Why, two books I’ve read and enjoyed. Plus it’s a mystery so basically it was ticking all of my boxes!

Up until a year ago, June and Delia were best friends. Whilst Delia was the more daring, experienced and also slightly unstable of the two, theirs was an unwavering friendship despite their differences, one bonded by the ties of secrets. However, when one night’s antics go too far, their friendship is tested and in the aftermath, June distances herself from Delia. That is until she hears news that Delia has died in a suspected suicide. For June, the incident dredges up the past and not-so-old feelings and she finds herself obsessing over what exactly happened that night when Delia went up in flames, and what drove her to take such drastic action? After Delia’s ex-boyfriend suggests foul play, June begins to dig deeper into her old friend’s suicide and is confronted with the fact that some details about the incident just do not add up…

“Having secrets together makes you real friends,” she said. “Secrets tie you together.” And June felt suddenly giddy at the idea that Delia would want to be tied to her.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls started well. When the idea that Delia’s death might not have been suicide, but something more sinister, was introduced it held promise. It was endearing at the beginning to see June so doggedly follow the few clues she had and put herself in uncomfortable positions because she was desperate to do right by her friend. The story was setup using flashbacks showing their friendship before they became estranged. It was these glimpses into the past that allowed the reader to get a better understanding of Delia and June and their friendship since details were scarce in the present. Their inseparability and reliance on each other was clear and it made the reader want to find out what exactly happened that changed things so drastically between them. These flashbacks though were not in chronological order and so the narrative did often feel rather disjointed.

As I read on, I also started to find the characterisation quite flimsy. I did not care one iota for Delia, and considering the whole point of this book was finding out the truth behind her alleged suicide, it didn’t help me feel any sympathy for the character or cheer on June to solve the mystery. I also couldn’t get fully behind the whole friendship either – it seemed toxic and didn’t seem to be balanced for the two of them. June seemed much more reliant on Delia, crediting her with giving her confidence, whilst Delia came across as rather possessive. Although close and almost obsessive friendships between girls aren’t all that uncommon when growing up, this friendship did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s like when Delia was around, the borders of June’s skin weren’t there. Delia wrapped her up and sunk right in.

In terms of the other characters, June’s boyfriend wasn’t well-developed enough for me to take his plot arc seriously. The characters introduced later on were also rather two-dimensional, their only purpose was to serve as plot devices and they all appeared to have just one or two basic characteristics – jealous, broody, pining etc etc. Although this could be explained by their background, which I won’t go into in detail because spoilers, I still didn’t feel like it was a good enough reason to not develop them a bit further especially as they’re pretty crucial to the climax. Save for Jeremiah, Delia’s ex-boyfriend, who seems to be the only character to show any genuine emotion, none of the characters felt realistic beyond walking and talking plot devices which was a huge shame.

The biggest let down for me was the turn the book took about mid-way. It felt a bit like a cop-out and invalidated all that had happened up to that point. And everything that happened from the point onward didn’t seem to have much substance or point – June, and the reader, were essentially just waiting around for the climax to happen and in the meantime all the characters had time to do was to indulge in some petty avoidable drama. Even still, I could’ve forgiven these issues if the twist wasn’t so guessable early on. It all got a little too far-fetched for me, and not enough was done by Weingarten to convince me to suspend my disbelief.

I had high hopes for Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls but I was left feeling underwhelmed and a little frustrated because it had potential. The plot took some pretty huge liberties at the expense of being “twisted” and “unpredictable” and, because I couldn’t connect to the characters beyond a superficial level, it fell flat for me. Still I’ve given the book 2/5 because I did want to finish the book and because the first half wasn’t terrible.

If you’re looking for a satisfying thriller/murder mystery which deals which weaves in unreliable narrators and toxic friendships, I suggest you look no further than Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas – one of my absolute all time favourite YA murder mystery thrillers.

Have you read Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls? What were your thoughts on the ending? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

Bookish Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

downloadCarry On by Rainbow Rowell

Published: October 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Rainbow Rowell’s previous YA books, Fangirl and Eleanor & Park are two of my absolute all-time favourites. So it was a no-brainer that I would read Carry On as soon as it was released. We were first introduced to the characters, Simon and Baz, in Fangirl as Cath, the protagonist, is a huge Simon Snow fan and prolific fic writer. In Carry On, we see Simon and Baz get an outing in their own right.

Simon Snow knows two things for certain: firstly, he is the Chosen One to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, the greatest threat to the World of Mages; and secondly, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch is his arch nemesis and roommate. Going back to the Watford School of Magicks to finish his eighth and final year, he must figure out how to overcome the Humdrum who is growing stronger by the day, whilst also navigate the pitfalls of growing up. Just in case there wasn’t enough on his plate already, Simon gets sucked into a mystery that could turn the World of Mages upside down. Luckily he can rely on his best-friend-not-sidekick, Penelope Bunce, and his roommate’s mirth to keep him grounded. Except Baz is nowhere to be found and Simon can’t stop obsessing over the infuriating vampire and his whereabouts…

Whilst reading Carry On, it is of course undeniable to note the similarities to the Harry Potter series – the prophesied destiny of the Chosen One, the infamous boarding school and wise mentor, and the assortment of friends and arch nemeses. But I found it refreshing that the World of Mages was very distinct to Harry’s world. Rowell’s magickal world was more in tune with Normal life, with much of the Mage population owning mobile phones and traveling by car.

Rowell’s approach to spells was also really interesting, if a little jarring at times because most of the phrases were so familiar. But this only served to make the things even more hilarious – nothing quite like a climatic scene where the hero begins chanting a nursery rhyme with honest and plucky intent to defeat the villain… Rowell’s trademark humour is clear and present in this book and you will adore the bits in brackets  – the internal converstations of the characters are absolute gems!

The characters in Carry On are compulsively likeable and Rowell has fun with the classic fantasy tropes that appear in fanfics everywhere. Simon, the reluctant hero, may not be the most talented magician in the world but his sense of loyalty and goodness is unwavering. Penelope is fantastic as the “brain”, seeming to know Simon better than he knows himself while Agatha gives us a balancing reality check – it was interesting to come across a character who is not as enthralled by the world of magic as the rest of us. Baz is of course deliciously antagonistic whilst nursing what he believes is an unrequited and frankly embarrassing infatuation for the Chosen One. Simon and Baz’s interactions are what make this book and the chemistry Rowell gives them is every fic reader’s dream (slash fic lovers eat your heart out!) Also, kudos to Ms Rowell for taking the classic roommate setup trope and making it classy af 😉

The plot intertwined a mystery alongside the usual overarching good vs. evil narrative. The novel was told from multiple viewpoints with Simon and Baz understandably getting the most page-time. This worked really well as there’s nothing like trudging through the narrative of an uninteresting secondary character amiright? The varied POVs made the mystery more intriguing and slowly revealed more clues as you read on. Although, I’m not entirely sure what happened during the climax, let’s face it, who was really reading Carry On for the plot? I devoured this book because it was the Harry Potter novel that never was, a “Harry Potter and the Alternative Plot Line”, if you like.

In short, this book was excellent. I remember voraciously reading HP fanfics and trying my hand at a few; Carry On will bring back fond memories of the classic fic tropes and make you want to re-read your favourites all over again (The Bracelet by AkashaTheKitty anyone?) I read this book for the Baz and Simon snark-fest ship and numerous Potter references and if that’s what you’re interested in, you will adore this book.

Have you read Carry On? Do you ship Simon and Baz? Any HP fic recs? Leave a comment letting me know 🙂