Wednesday 15 July 2020

Review: Aix Marks The Spot by Sarah Anderson

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publications date: June 16th 2020
Publisher: Seabreeze Books
Pages: 380

Jamie has been dreaming of this summer forever: of road trips and intensive art camps, of meeting cute boys with her best friend Jazz. What she didn’t count on was the car accident.
Exiled away from her family as her mother slowly learns to walk again, Jamie is sent to Provence and trapped in an isolated home with the French grandmother she has never met, the guilt of having almost killed her parents, and no Wi-Fi. Enough to drive a girl mad. That is, until, she finds an old letter from her father, the starting point in a treasure hunt that spans across cities and time itself. Somehow, she knows that the treasure is the key to putting her shattered family back together and that whatever lies at the end has the power to fix everything.
Armed only with a high-school-level of French and a map of train lines, she must enlist the aid of Valentin, a handsome local who’s willing to translate. To save her family, she has castle ruins to find and sea cliffs to climb; falling for her translator wasn’t part of her plan… 

After living in France for several years, and experiencing the whole wildly out of water experience of moving to a country where you cannot for the life of you get the words you know to come out in a coherent fashion, I am always keen to find books that distil that experience out onto the page. And this one does, but also doesn’t. It’s a curious mix.

Good things first: I really loved exploring the south of France. There were places that I’ve been to before and I shrieked delightedly at my husband that they were visiting Cassis. And places that I’ve never experienced that I immediately added to the itinerary or our next trip. It made me feel homesick for excellent coffee and pastries and the food. It transported me straight into the middle of a hot French summer, where you can barely think beyond the sound of the cicadas. 

However (you knew it was coming, didn’t you) I just couldn’t connect with Jamie. Whilst I completely empathised with the fish out of water experience, and struggling to keep up in a country where you aren’t fluent, I found her to be incredibly unlikable and frustrating. She is convinced that she’s been exiled to France because her parents hate her, and yet the few interactions she has with them early on do nothing to provide a basis for that. She struggles with the language yet makes zero effort to learn. She finds other tourists with their loud, obnoxious English conversations to be mortifying, yet can’t seem to understand that she is exactly the same.

It’s a light and quick read, and one that I enjoyed up to a point. But it never really finds its feet because it is weighed down by how frustrating I found Jamie. She wasn’t someone I wanted to spend time with - half the time I just wanted to shake her. However, as a book that catapults you right back into the heat of a summer in France it was a good escape.

Monday 13 July 2020

Review: Sisters of Sword & Song by Rebecca Ross

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publications date: June 25th 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 432

From the author of The Queen’s Rising comes a thrilling YA stand-alone fantasy about the unbreakable bond between sisters. Perfect for fans of Ember in the Ashes, Sky in the Deep, and Court of Fives.
After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.
Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

Rebecca Ross hit my auto-buy author list with her debut novel, and this (her third outing with a truly beautiful standalone novel) has cemented that position. It’s a truly beautiful novel, and the fact that it’s contained in a single book rather than investing in a new series just made me love it more. It’s refreshing in a world full of trilogies to be able to enjoy a book on its own.

I adored the world that Ross created, filled with Gods and relics and myths. It’s very reminiscent of ancient Greece, with its own twists and magic seeping into every crevice. Frankly I’d love a masterclass from Ross in world building, because she is just so good and with every story she tells, her world building becomes more complex and brilliant.

It’s a beautiful plot, tripping along from piece to piece and drawing you further into the world. But truly, the characters are what bring this to life. The sisters particularly are so complex, layered and their growth is so wonderful to watch. I was initially curious how the two differing voices would work in this story, but as it unfolds it becomes more obvious precisely why you need to hear both voices. Evadne and Halcyon demand to be hard, and their love for each other is what propels the book. They are two sides to the same coin, and I fell for them hard.

This was a standout book for the year. It’s filled with gorgeous prose, engaging characters, and fully immerses you in a stunning world. It’s a book that has stayed with me long after reading, and will be a story I return to again and again.

Friday 10 July 2020

Review: The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: 5th May 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Pages: 400

When King Jameson declares his love for Lady Hollis Brite, Hollis is shocked—and thrilled. After all, she’s grown up at Keresken Castle, vying for the king’s attention alongside other daughters of the nobility. Capturing his heart is a dream come true.
But Hollis soon realizes that falling in love with a king and being crowned queen may not be the happily ever after she thought it would be. And when she meets a commoner with the mysterious power to see right into her heart, she finds that the future she really wants is one that she never thought to imagine.

I do not expect anything deep and meaningful with a Kiera Cass book. On the whole, they’re light, fluffy romances, that don’t really require too much thought and yet are highly addictive books. Which was exactly what I needed when I picked this up, and precisely what I didn’t get. There wasn’t really anything to redeem it - the character’s are flat caricatures that never develop or turn into anything worth sticking with. There is little to no plot until the last part where suddenly what could have been an entire book's worth of plot is rammed in and has little to no emotional resonance because of the aforementioned rubbish characters and lack of time spent developing the plot that’s shoved in. And insta-love. Oh boy, the insta-love. 
There were a couple of characters I would have been interested to have a book from, but nothing is really developed.In short, it is an absolute hot mess, that I’m staggered made it to being published. 

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Review: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Spoilers below, proceed with caution.
Thanks to Netglley for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Publication date: 17th May 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 313

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.
Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.
Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

This book had all the marks of a read that I was going to adore, but sadly ‘The Gravity of Us’ just didn’t pull me in. Part of this was due to not really connecting with Cal, as he often came across as completely selfish and didn’t give any consideration to what was going on with those around him. But the majority of this was due to slightly dubious  issues of consent running throughout.

There are two big instances of this, and they completely marred my enjoyment of the rest of the novel. Firstly, when Cal knows there are cameras on himself and Leon, and that Leon isn’t out, yet chooses to take Leon’s hand and have an intimate moment with him that he knows is being filmed and will eventually be broadcast. Leon is unaware of what’s happening, and only finds out when the footage is released. There’s a brief moment where Leon is horrified about what has happened and the knowledge  that Cal knew and acted with intent, but then it’s completely forgotten about and never discussed or resolved.
The second instance is the entire relationship between Cal’s parents. Cal’s father applies for the space programme without talking to his wife about it at any point. He then uproots the entire family and completely disregards his wife’s anxiety and wishes. Now maybe these are dealt with in conversations that Cal isn’t privy too, but it doesn’t seem like it, and the entire portrayal left me with a bad aftertaste.

The idea is intriguing, but it never really flies. I wanted to like it so much, but ultimately I just felt frustrated and disheartened by the issues I’ve outlined above, and they coloured my overall enjoyment of the book.