The Toymakers

By Robert Dinsdale

It has been a very long time since I’ve finished a book that has left me feeling so emotionally gutted. The Toymakers broke my heart many times over, in the best possible way. It’s rather hard to put this review into words because my heart is actually still alternating between being clenched and then fluttering like a host of butterflies. Just like the magic the author describes, this book is bigger on the inside, evoking feelings inside that I rarely feel with a book. I’m going to have a hard time pulling myself out of this enchantment, and I’m not sure I want to.

Summary

34846987The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! 

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs, and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical… 

Musings

The story revolves around Cathy, a young girl who finds herself pregnant at 16 and runs away to find a place she can live with the child and not have to give it up. The Emporium welcomes her with open arms, and there she meets Papa Jack and his two sons, men from the East who make toys so magical they could almost be real. Or, perhaps, they are – that is the magic of toys after all.

From there, the book sweeps across a life: we start in 1907 and finish in 1953, the Emporium surviving two world wars… and a war of its own. The Long War has been fought between the two brothers ever since they became toymakers themselves, pitting toy soldiers against each other, while they also try to take control of the store itself. By following Cathy, we see the lives that are changed in this place, and the magic toys can bring.

There is so much in this book. Patchwork dogs that seem alive; paper trees that put down roots; Wendy houses that are the size of a real house inside. Even toy soldiers who can wind each other up. We follow Marth, Cathy’s daughter, as she grows. Kaspar, the eldest son of Papa Jack, as he returns from war a changed man. Every time I thought I was settling into a story, it turned into something else, so I could not anticipate where the story was going.

The magic of the Emporium is reminiscent of books such as the Night Circus and captures that feeling you remember of toystores at Christmas when you were a child. The magic in this book comes from how the author winds real magic into the pages: he says Papa Jack can make the toys so realistic because he uses the perspective of a child, and so the author has done the same, weaving perspective to make the pages come alive. I was fully immersed in Cathy’s story, in her relationship with Kaspar. During the last chapters, I felt so empty, imagining myself in her shoes.

While the pacing is slow, it’s still impossible to put down. Again, I’m going to blame it on magic. Towards the end when we begin to skip years at a time, I felt as if I myself was watching my life flash before my eyes, my own story coming to an end. I can’t believe I let myself get so engrossed by a book. Like one of Kaspar’s massive toy chests, I’ve fallen in, and I can’t get back out.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’ve reread the last chapter twice. It’s a real masterpiece.

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Our Dark Stars

By Audrey Grey

This book is everything I need in a sci-fi: brilliant conflict, strong characters, love, betrayal, and of course the immensity of outer space. And in a fangirly voice – this book was SO COOL.

Summary

37459966While she sleeps, the whole universe changes.

Princess Talia Starchaser has it all. Wealth. Status. Adoring citizens. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she’s forced to publicly betray her best friend, a companion mock she’s had since birth, setting events into motion that lead to the destruction of the humans, and the princess floating through space, a remnant of a time when humans ruled over droids.

One hundred years later, half-mock captain Will Perrault and his ragtag crew discover a device floating in space. When a very human Talia emerges from its depths, Will suspects she’s the key to buying his way back into the regiment he once commanded against the last remaining rebel humans—and the ruling mock queen’s good graces.

Both Talia and Will would rather get space-tossed than trust one another, but with the queen’s forces chasing them across the galaxy and the fate of both worlds hanging in the balance, they’ll forge the unlikeliest of alliances to survive.

Musings

Talia Starchaser is now of age to accept the responsibilities of her role as princess, and she does so with dignity despite knowing the limitations imposed on her. She’s being married off to a stranger in the name of politics, and forced to abandon the life she loves, piloting starfighters with her best friend. The latter is a Mock: an android so close to being human, the only thing stopping her are the imposed limitations in her program. The two are inseparable, until the moment when Talia is forced to chose between their friendship and her hold on the kingdom.

A hundred years later, the results of this choice are being found by Will, a Mock who lives in a world where the roles are now reversed, and humans are subjugated. The reign of the Starchasers, once the first to have colonized the realm, is all but forgotten. Together, Talia, Will, and his crew must find their way in this dangerous universe – and right wrongs that cannot be left in the past.

I loved the intricate play between the two perspectives – and time periods. The author meshed them together so perfectly that it felt natural when the two lives collided. And there’s something I just adore about ‘stasis’ tropes; when a character awakens to find the world they knew completely upside down. How the author builds a universe populated by Mocks that makes sense, with new rules and limitations.

Exploring this world was a blast. Seeing how much had changed, seeing how much needed to change, it really dragged the reader in. I could not put the book down at this point. I loved Talia, with her cute naive side and her well trained, educated royal side; and Will, the mock with his humanity partially intact. The supporting characters were lovable and engaging as well, especially Jane whose character arc was powerful.

The ending happens incredibly fast. Once you find the twist, which was mildly predictable, from there the book races to an ending. I was surprised it wasn’t more drawn out, but it worked. I finished the book both wishing for more and glad it was self-contained, because I could imagine the characters having their happy ending.

All in all, this book is an engrossing work of YA science fiction, perfect for fans of the Starbound series. An irresistible read!

Expected publication: March 6th 2018 by Blaze Publishing, LLC
Preorder here


P.S. Back in December, I published a short story called DARK STAR, also about a princess in stasis found by a scavenger. It was published in the FROM THE STARS anthology by Torment Publishing. After I started reading this book and realized the similarities, I raced to the author’s Facebook page to discover we must have been writing our stories simultaneously. This is like an episode of the Twilight Zone! 

Ruined

A Regency Retelling of Jane Eyre
M.C. Frank

Once again, I have dove into a genre I rarely read because of a book written by an author I admire, and once again I’m thoroughly impressed and glad I gave it a chance.  Ruined is a perfect book for all the lovers of Regency era, or historical romance, or romance in general – not usually my cup of tea but thanks to M.C. Frank, I think they’re growing on me.

32181020Summary

The Duke of Ashton sits at the Opera at Vauxhall Gardens, bored out of his mind, and plans murder.

He curses the day that brought the little governess, destitute and sad, at his door eight months ago, to upset his careless if a bit meaningless existence. 
How could he have guessed the terrible, evil secrets she was hiding? And now that he knows all, the truth appears wilder, even more despicable than even he could have imagined. He hadn’t counted on losing his heart to her, of course, but he did.

What he doesn’t know is that a tendril of the shadows of madness and sin that followed Beatrice to his door is still out there, looking for something to devour.
The only one who can save him from the darkness is the girl herself, but he knows he’ll never see her again. He who once prided himself on his indifference to other human beings, feels his chest constrict with pain every time he even thinks of her.

Musings

After his cousin’s death, Dominic Halifax suddenly inherits the title of the Duke of Ashton, and by a shocking move in the former’s will, is now in charge of the man’s daughter, Adelina. Headstrong and stubborn, she is impossible to control, and is ruining Dominic’s bachelor lifestyle – he needs help. She has rejected every candidate he has found suitable to be her governess, until, that is, he finds Beatrice Devon. Only three years older than Adelina herself, Beatrice somehow manages to bring her under control.

But Beatrice caries a heavy secret: a history of mental and physical abuse. But as Dominic begins falling in love with her, more is revealed about her past – can she ever move forward?

I haven’t read Jane Eyre in quite a long time so I might not be a good judge of how good of a retelling Ruined is, but the plot itself is very different from what I remember – this book is definitely not a linear retelling! The relationship between Dom and Beatrice seems to be the main similar element, and it’s adorable how he uses the same imagery to describe her as what I remember from studying the book in high school – frequently calling her bewitching or accusing him of casting a spell on her, for example. Highly creative!

We alternate between the points of view of Dominic and Beatrice, telling the story with secrets kept hidden. The plot was neither slow nor fast, a nice gentle evolution of the relationship with a handful of mystery thrown in. The author also carefully mimics the writing style of the era, while not losing the style her readers love. It’s easy to see M.C. Frank in the pages, even while she’s using a regency era turn of phrase. This might put off some readers, but I found it easy to get into and very fitting for the novel.

Beatrice shows amazing growth through the novel: I love a strong female character who has her flaws. She’s smart, persistent, and somehow hasn’t lost a love for humanity through all she’s been through. Now I must war some readers that the flashback scenes are troubling at times, and very unsettling, but how Beatrice deals with them is masterfully done. I did get a little tired of her crying/fainting, but it was a really minor qualm I had with the book.

Dominic’s evolution is a fantastic one. I loved his broodiness at the beginning, his real stubbornness he can’t see in himself. But Beatrice brings the best out of him, and he out of her. I enjoyed watching their relationship grow and wishing that they end up together. Underneath that bachelor-life-loving exterior beats the heart of a true and caring gentleman.

I found the ending a little confusing, somehow – a few jumps in time that weren’t clear, moving forward and back but without any guidance. I’m not sure if this is just me, and it threw me off a little, but the action picked up and I was drawn right back in.

All in all, this isn’t your everyday retelling of Jane Eyre: it’s a beautiful homage to the book, with a story about abuse and growth, love and strength. The author creates a beautiful story with so much to love. If you like historical romance, then you’ll strike gold with Ruined!

Ruined 1

I have kindly received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

“It takes true courage, integrity and selflessness to turn yourself into a person that the world would be the wealthier for possessing.” 

Unearthed

What an incredible book. So fast paced I couldn’t put it down: in about three hours I was breathless, shaking, and desperate for a sequel. I knew a twist was coming when there was so few pages left and so much that had to be resolved… but I didn’t expect it to end like THAT.

25446297Summary

When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

Musings

I loved everything about this book. The characters were fabulous: I was instantly connected both with Jules and Amelia, despite them being so different. While both started with somewhat selfish goals, they were shown to be more selfless than was shown on. They made me feel for them, and the plight of our planet Earth, which had declined so far.

The authors truly managed to create a compelling world. Using a catastrophe of such a massive scale to turn mankind’s eyes away from the stars, to scorn curiosity and search only for short-term relief; that was insanely clever. We can see that Kaufman and Spooner have such a smart view of anthropology and archaeology, looking back on our own species as scientists. Weaving math into a new language was brilliant.

If there was one thing I can groan about, it’s the stretched out internal monologues. Sometimes I just wanted to say “we get it!” to Jules, reminding us about all his father lost, and how much the earth could lose; or to Amelia, going on about her harsh life and her sister’s terrifying contract. It did help us understand the plight of the characters, but might have been overdrawn.

But the description was incredible. All of the action takes place away from earth, and the worldbuilding is stunning. Fantastic imagery that makes the book a fully immersive read.

The logic tests were fun to follow, and I can see why many people have called this book Indiana Jones in space. I need a movie of this, and a sequel!

January Read Books

Hello readers! This month I read quite a variety of books that I never got around to reviewing. Most of them were sitting on my TBR, dying to be read for ages. I feel rather proud of myself for sticking to my new year’s resolution and finally reading them!

Strange the Dreamer

28449207by Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Brilliant and beautiful book.

The author is clearly a lover of stories. When you have a storyteller writing about storytellers, magical things happen. Everything about Weep and the world around it, all the magic and depth and complexity, it’s a true work of art.

I do agree with other reviewers that Lazlo takes the crimes in stride perhaps too quickly. Awful, atrocious things were done, by both sides. Maybe it’s because he’s the Dreamer, and can see the good in people, but it was a little quick in my opinion.

Even so, this is exactly the kind of book I want more of. And I need a sequel right now!

My review: ★★★★☆


Colliding Stars

By Debbie Zaken36428272

Since Skye Reilly can remember, she has been looking up to the stars. With high school graduation upon her, her telescope in one hand and her college acceptance letter in the other, she has life as meticulously mapped out as her star chart. That is, until the Celeians arrive and she meets Ethan, an alluring alien. Ethan collides into her like an asteroid, causing a gravitational shift in Skye’s trajectory and hurling her life into a cataclysmic collision course of interplanetary proportions.

The Celeians promise many things. An end to disease, global warming, and famine. The knowledge to help humankind. Despite the suspicions surrounding the intriguing aliens and rising anti-alien protests, Skye gives Ethan her trust, and eventually her heart. The very heart he could stop with a lethal electrifying touch of his hand. 
When the Magistrate, a council of alien leaders, threatens to put an end to their interspecies relationship, following her heart could cost Skye her life and the lives of everyone she loves. 
Not even light can escape the pull of a black hole.

I was really excited to get a copy of this book: I love YA sci-fi, adore the alien/human relationship trope, and was so eager to connect with an MC who loves space as much as me. But I was really let down: this is just my personal opinion and I can see why people loved the book, but for me, there were quite a few problems I just couldn’t get past.

The first chapter was riveting. I loved the straight to action pacing: was pulled straight in, instantly connected with Skye and was so excited to see what happened after aliens arrived. But from then on, the pacing slowly declined, until the story became really dull.
Ethan, the alien love interest, comes off as one of those characters who is too perfect. Are they called Gary Stu’s, you know the type: flawless in every way, more beautiful than any human, with abilities humans could never have. In any case, he falls instantly in love with Skye, and she falls for him, hard. But of course, being from an alien delegation trying to establish diplomatic relations with earth doesn’t make dating easy. Are his people even trustworthy? And would her parents approve?

Sit back, relax, and dig in, because three quarters of the book is just that question. Over, and over again. There are chapters devoted to convincing people around her that they should let her give this relationship a go. Despite being an adult, entering a relationship with Ethan makes her parents ground Skye for life. But it’s ok, nothing can hold him back from visiting her! Sneaking into her room at midnight uninvited, or making her go to sleep with his hypnotic voice…

I think that’s where the book lost me. Ethan’s obsession with Skye wasn’t cute, it was creepy. He stalks her, takes her alone into the woods without cell reception (I am totally with her mom on this one), enters her room in the middle of the night, uses hypnosis on her to alter her mood. Every time he said something about nothing keeping her away from him, I wanted to tell Skye to get out of there. Red flags were everywhere. We even learn later he manipulated certain events around her with his abilities so he could see her more, which was moving beyond stalker territory.

From here until the last two chapters of the book, it all reads like Twilight. Replace the brooding vampire with a brooding alien, and it’s the same: there’s even an awkward prom. (And an excuse for chastity, which felt contrived, and familiar). When we finally got some action at the very end, it raised some interesting plot points but should have come much earlier in the book to keep my attention. I honestly was hanging on until the end in a hope that Skye would realize the relationship was toxic and possibly dangerous for the human race.

The dialogue between Skye and Ethan also really bugged me. Like many Gary Stu’s, Ethan speaks incredibly eloquently, and is, of course, super genius. But take this from someone who is surrounded by astrophysicists, cosmologists and astronomers day in and day out: that’s just not how anyone talks. Quoting Carl Sagan and calling it “Quantum Physics” or thinking someone is a genius because they know Venus has phases like the moon made me feel like Ethan was insulting her intelligence.

I was honestly hoping for more, but it was just a little too flat for me. I can see why others would like it, but I couldn’t get pact Ethan’s creepy stalker habits.

My review: ★★☆☆☆


The Power

by Naomi Alderman29751398

In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

It’s amazing reading the reviews of this book, and seeing how it has affected us all in such a similar way.

For the first half, I found myself feeling elated, energized. I felt pumped up in a way I never did before. I loved the concept, the world in which women finally had the power to stand up to abuse and oppression, and could walk outside without fear. I found myself imagining how much I wanted that ability, realizing I wanted to go outside but couldn’t because it was dark and my own neighborhood is unsafe. Reading was an experience that actually gave me energy.

Then things started to get out of hand, and I was disturbed. Really, really disturbed. There are some scenes that I can never get out of my head again, and I wish I hadn’t read. Disgusting, terrifying. I was actually sickened by what I read.

And then, framing the narrative with the ‘historical novel’ approach, the dialogue between a man and a woman in a world 5,000 years in our future? At first, I thought, no, this cannot be possible, because if women were in charge… and it hit me that those with power have the power to abuse, and will do so. It doesn’t matter which gender they belong to, but power and hate go hang in hand. And reading the last sentence had me laughing uneasily, out loud, for way longer than I’d like to admit to.

The author accomplished exactly what she set out to in this book. I feel like I connected with it, was able to suspend my disbelief even when things were pushing coincidences a little too far. It didn’t bother me, I was engrossed. A masterful piece of work.

My review: ★★★★☆

 

Paintbrush

By Hannah Bucchin

Some days things just end up falling into place, and you wonder if the universe is messing with you, because coincidences like this just don’t happen. For example, when you’re on a truffle tour in the south of France with your family, and on that same tour group of a dozen people, there’s another YA author, who’s part of the same groups as you are online. The fact that she’s awesome just happens to be bonus (thanks universe!) so the second I got home I ordered her book on Prime, and couldn’t wait to read it. Another reason to thank the universe? The book, author Hannah Buccin’s Debut novel, Paintbrush, is charming and adorable, and everything I needed right now. And I think you might need it too.

Summary

32452313

Mitchell Morrison and Josie Sedgwick have spent their whole lives at the Indian Paintbrush Community Village, a commune full of colorful characters tucked in the mountains of North Carolina, and they aren’t particularly close–at least, not anymore. Josie wishes she could spend all of her time at Paintbrush planting tomatoes, hiking the trails, or throwing giant communal birthday parties, while Mitchell can’t wait to escape the bizarre spiritual sharing and noisy community dinners. Luckily for both of them, high school graduation is just around the corner.

But when Mitchell’s mother makes a scandalous announcement that rocks the close-knit Paintbrush community, and Josie’s younger sister starts to make some dangerously bad decisions, the two find themselves leaning on each other for support – and looking at each other in a whole new light. Their childhood friendship blossoms into something more as they deal with their insane families, but as graduation approaches, so does life in the real world, forcing Josie and Mitchell to figure out what, exactly, their relationship is – and if it can survive their very different plans for the future. 

Musings

Welcome to the Indian Paintbrush Community Village for Sustainable Living: a beautiful commune filled with colorful characters. Among them, two teens on the cusp of adulthood. One, Josie, is nature loving, loves the Paintbrush community, dresses in long skirts and wears a braid. The other, Mitchell, could be the polar opposite: he just wants to fit into his high school, he’s on the swim team, popular, and doesn’t want anything to do with these ‘hippies’.

Life on the commune is peaceful, until one day when Mitchell’s mother does something earth shattering and changes his world forever.

The book deals with the questions that every teen struggles with as they reach adulthood: what is your place in the world? How do you choose your path for your future? Is it better to blend in, or stay true to who you are? How do you forgive the unforgivable – and so on. And it’s handled oh-so beautifully.

While the plot focuses on the growing and evolving relationships between Mitchell and Josie – who have more in common than they expect – it’s also using their two points of views to examine these questions. It’s a story of first love, and coming of age. Setting it on a commune frames this exploration in just a warm and loving embrace that you constantly feel hugged while reading the book. The supporting characters are just that: so supportive. In the best possible way.

If you’re looking for a YA contemporary that will leave you with a smile and a warm feeling in your heart. then you’re going to love Paintbrush. It’s a sweet and beautiful book that deserves a place on your bookshelf.

The Goblins of Bellwater

by Molly Ringle

Be forewarned: this book is odd and full of sex, and will mess with you. It’s not a usual kind of novel, and definitely not contemporary romance as it’s being advertised. All this aside, I think I loved this novel, but I’m left unsure because of just how strange it was. Ever see the movie “Dark City,” or “Labyrinth”? Even “Pan’s Labyrinth”? A bit like that.

Summary

A contemporary romance inspired by Christina Rossetti’s eerie, sensual poem, “Goblin Market.” Four neighbors encounter sinister enchantments and a magical path to love in a small, modern-day Puget Sound town, where a fae realm hides in the woods and waters…

Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out. 

Skye, a young barista and artist falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.

Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.

It’s a midwinter night’s enchantment as Livy, the only one untainted by a spell, sets out to save them on a dangerous magical path of her own.

Musings

This book falls more under the umbrella of “Magical Realism” than contemporary romance, in my opinion. The fascinating world of the goblins is explored, and boy does it put you on edge the whole way through! The author has an incredible talent for drawing you into the story, all while making you feel simultaneously attracted and repulsed by what you read.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen in reviews has been that the romance(s) felt forces, and the sex was terrible. I think that was the point, and if so, then I really, really appreciate it. It was so different from what I’m used to reading! The relationships are toxic and odd,  so… human. These four people are linked by blood, love, or by lust, and it ties them together in such a way that their lives depend on each other. It’s surreal and unusual. All in all, don’t come into this expecting a meet cute and romance, prepare to feel uncomfortable as heck.

The atmosphere is so macabre. I loved feeling dragged into this world, and the idea of goblins in the forest, stealing your iPhones, felt like a refreshing update on a tale as old as time. The challenges Livy faces at the end completely encompass the adventure of a fairy tale hero, and I love that the love of her sister brings her through.

So long as you’re willing to read a book that will leave you feeling icky and uncertain, then you should give this book a try. Do not go into it looking for romance: get ready for the disgusting side of magic, and especially, for the Goblins.