A Pocketful of Stars Review

A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby

Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange alternative world that looks a bit like one of her games. And there’s a rebellious teenage girl, with a secret, who looks suspiciously familiar . . .

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This wasn’t a gift from a publisher, but rather a hand me down from Stephanie Burgis, which I ended up lending around before I read it.

I seem to have a penchant for stories about grief. And of hope. A Pocketful of Stars is a bit of both (or rather quite a lot). Safiya is struggling to get along with her mum, who to her doesn’t seem to understand what she likes, and instead is pushing her to do what ehr mum wants.

But after a bad argument, a week later her mum is in a coma and Safiya is double guessing herself. The classic “if I hadn’t done x, this wouldn’t have happened and if I had done y it would’ve been okay”. And part of it is because her being the daughter may not know what medical condition her mum has or anything.

Somehow, this whole if this and that starts a “game”. Into a quest of dinign items that trigger memories of a young woman in a similar mind space and situation as Safiya and her mum. It becomes a race for Safiya, a lot of superstition and a lot of gaming, of trying to find the best, as maybe it will revert what happened to her mum and wake her from the coma.

At the same time, Safiya’s best friend “grows” up a little quicker than Safiya is comfortable with. Not in the sense of her not wanting to grow up, but rahter her friend being immature and calling it “growing up” (when you’re an adult you cringe about this type of attittude but we all did some kind of thing attempting to be more grown up and actually acting very childish).

It was an interesting story, I was intrigued, however it is a story laced with grief and emotional growth. And as such it talks about death, illness and a coma. So read when you’re in a mood that you can cope with the theme of it.

The Never Tilting World Review

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

Frozen meets Mad Max in this epic teen fantasy duology bursting with star-crossed romance, immortal heroines, and elemental magic, perfect for fans of Furyborn.

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses —along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger —set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands.

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This is my first book from Rin but the premise sounded amazing and when Harper360 sent the email for proof requests I couldn’t help myself. (This is a proof provided by Harper for free, though they would prefer if I can review it but that definitely doesn’t shape my views)

I am very glad I chose it. This felt like a fairytale plus meet cute plus crazy epic adventure and mystical touches. In my head this was like a darker grown up sibling of The Spinner of Dreams (like the teenage sibling of it).

We get the story from four viewpoints, which would usually drive me MAD. But because the voices are telling two stories that will merge into one, this was easier (and probably it was due to the voices being distintc enough but not too much to break continuity). At the beginning I was totally team Odessa and Lan over Haidee and Arjun. But as the story progressed I ended up switching who my favourite couple was. (And to be fair I could see myself more in Haidee than I did in Odessa).

The middle of the book is a bit slow and feels like filling to add worldbuilding and a bit of extra intrigue, and the other thing that reduced it’s rating was that the ending isn’t a good ending (and I don’t mean I was expecting a Happy Ever After one, I know it’s a duology(?)). What I mean is that there is a LOT of mysteries they are working on finding and solving once they arrive at the Great Abyss, and most of it doesn’t get an answer and instead you end up with even more questions (plus I couldn’t believe much on Odessa’s reactions on the end, Haidee had a good build up to the what/why, whereas Odessa had no reason/motive or anything to do what she did).

Obviously, this is a proof so the final copy may have this better (also to note, there are grammar errors but I don’t usually mark those as 99% of the time they get picked up before final print). I just wish that the next book was complete because I wanted to read it after I had finished this one.

Outside Review

Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes

The Proof of the Outside follows the story of Ele, who is held captive in a small room by a man known as ‘Him’. Ele is determined to prove there is a world Outside. And when she finds a hole in the wall, the proof starts leaking in. In this dark and compelling debut novel, Ele’s strong and heartbreakingly optimistic voice shines through, revealing an important lesson about the power of stories to save lives.

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I got a proff for this book, and just ahdn’t felt like reading it for a while. I am glad I waited as it is a heavy themed book.

But before I start on the review of the book, content warnings: rape, child abuse, sexual assault, disassociation…

Ele knows that there is an Outside, she has collected a set of “proofs” like the fact that He comes to the Inside and sometimes brings scents and other times gifts from it. She’s been trying to collect proofs and this seems like her life’s purpose.

It takes a while to set the scene and all the details that will become important later in the story, and that start was brutal and also confusing. Then Ele escapes the Inside and stays with a reclusive man and his son who is more than happy to welcome someone other than his father.

And Ele starts to figure out the Outside and the “rules” that make it, like never talking about Inside. And at the same time, her hosts are trying to figure her out and in a way help her. I know some reviews asked why the father takes his sweet time to get help from others or to question Ele further, but I can see why he wouldn’t want to pry (those who don’t want people to pry into their business tend to leave others alone, kin knows kin, not that they are related in this story). But also, if he doesn’t pry, he can build trust, and it is obvious to him that she is vulnerable. Trust is a big thing here, so he does do things in the best way he can given the circumstances.

Anyway, to tell the rest of the story would be to spoil it, but the reveals suddenly pile up, and the whole “a first person narrator is unreliable at least in one way” works beautifully with this intense story.

The reasons I gave it a low rating was that it is very brutal and the content warnings weren’t fully there (the scene set up kinda warns you where this is going, but still), and that despite the brilliant work done with an unreliable narrator, the story is slow and it kjust feels like it keeps tripping on itself a little too much. (But it may be due to my copy being an ARC, so the finished version may be better).

It was a well done book but I didn’t enjoy the story, it was a little too brutal, too intense for me.

Emily Eternal Review

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Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Meet Emily – she can solve advanced mathematical problems, unlock the mind’s deepest secrets and even fix your truck’s air con, but unfortunately, she can’t restart the Sun.

She’s an artificial consciousness, designed in a lab to help humans process trauma, which is particularly helpful when the sun begins to die 5 billion years before scientists agreed it was supposed to.

So, her beloved human race is screwed, and so is Emily. That is, until she finds a potential answer buried deep in the human genome. But before her solution can be tested, her lab is brutally attacked, and Emily is forced to go on the run with two human companions – college student Jason and small-town Sheriff, Mayra.

As the sun’s death draws near, Emily and her friends must race against time to save humanity. But before long it becomes clear that it’s not only the species at stake, but also that which makes us most human.

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I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And this book sounded right up my street, so I said yes.

Emily is quite interesting, she is an Artificial Consciousness developed to help psychological issues in humans, therefore she has to be as “human” as can be, and the focus isn’t in her being “Intelligent” and robotic but rather to be able to develop feelings and empathy.

From the get go, this book reminded me of Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui, which I read eons ago and loved (it is a classic Japanese story, that mixes reality with something else, if you’re not really into Japanese writing style, there’s a good film you can watch). I digress.

Both Paprika and Emily have a lot of similarities, but in Paprika we go slightly into the fantastical and blurring lines between dreams and reality. Emily Eternal, is more of a dystopia, near apocalypse tale.

It doesn’t pose the question of what we do after the end of the world, but rather, what do we do when the end of the world is inevitable? And of course, leave the figuring out to smart humans, government and Emily to figure it out.

This book has a lot of science (which sadly deteriorates as the book progresses, and that was what I struggled the most with in this book, the science being less there and just fitting the narrative, whereas at the beginning the science was making it work SO well). It touches on psychology, biology (lots to do with DNA, which was fascinating), a little on computer science and related, and of course robotics.

Emily as a concept was fascinating to me, and it was very interesting the way the author tried to show how a machine trying to emulate humanity would try to do so. Probably one of my favourite things of the book was the whole “Emily is trying to be human”.

This book has a bit of everything, assassinations, end of the world, space stuff, robots, an artificial consciousness, romance, action, adventure… conspiracy theories even get a little bit and even things like cancer and sickness. And family, and relationships in general.

If you like techie science fiction that isn’t a space opera and has the end of the world in it, I can definitely recommend this one. It left me with a good feeling after finishing.

 

 

Echo Murder Review

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Echo Murder by Laura Laakso

Yannia Wilde returns to the Wild Folk conclave where she grew up, and to the deathbed of her father, the conclave’s Elderman. She is soon drawn back into the Wild Folk way of life and into a turbulent relationship with Dearon, to whom she is betrothed.

Back in London, unassuming office worker Tim Wedgebury is surprised when police appear on his doorstep with a story about how he was stabbed in the West End. His body disappeared before the paramedics’ eyes. Given that Tim is alive and well, the police chalk the first death up to a Mage prank. But when Tim “dies” a second time, Detective Inspector Jamie Manning calls Yannia and, torn between returning to the life she has built in Old London and remaining loyal to the conclave and to Dearon, she strikes a compromise with the Elderman that allows her to return temporarily to the city.

There she sets about solving the mystery of Tim’s many deaths with the help of her apprentice, Karrion. They come to realise that with every death, more of the echo becomes reality, and Yannia and Karrion find themselves in increasing danger as they try to save Tim. Who is the echo murderer? What sinister game are they playing? And what do they truly want?

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The delightful wonderful human behind LWB sent me a copy of this book to review, because I have fallen so hard for Fallible Justice, and I couldn’t wait to read the next one. As the sticker says, I can do whatever about it. But even if I didn’t get this early copy, I am/was getting a copy anyway.

Now to the review. The book picks up just from where Fallible Justice ends. Yannia is making her way back to the Conclave and the Wild Folk with Dearon. Karion has stayed back to do his thing (whatever that is).

And we also meet Lizzie and Tim, who like to go on dates, and Tim really seems to be on the bad side of luck, because he keeps dying every time he goes out with Lizzie. Best/worst part? Tim doesn’t have a girlfriend, and  he’s very much alive. So who gets called in?

Yannia does (no ghostbusters in this one!).And this lady isn’t stepping down from investigating things, so she starts trying to find out what type of magic and who could’ve done this.

The tricky thing the “illusions” of the murders are starting to bleed in with the real Tim, and it is becoming more and more dangerous as time goes by. What is making this particular magic so powerful? How can it be?

I loved the writing and the story. However, I have to say that this book has a lot of violence, and some of it is domestic, there is abuse, and well, it is an intense book. But it is also extremely good. I opted for reading it in the morning during a flight. One of those “read it in one sitting”.

It was quite good, and it keep me wondering. Alas, because of the particular topic, it was relatively easy for me to figure out who was behind the Echo murders, and part of the motive. But not everything I guessed and the reasons unspooling as Yannia understood them and raced to catch the one behind it all before Tim actually dies. High stakes indeed.

Karion, Wishearth, Lady Bergamot and a few others still make an appearance, so all good for me. So my take is, read Fallible Justice, read this, and cry until the next one comes out because it is so far away. (You can come cry with me, I’ll share my blanket fort, and give you access to the Moon library).

 

Shadowscent Review

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Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P. M. Freestone

In the empire of Aramtesh, scent has power.

When disaster strikes and the crown prince lies poisoned, long suppressed rivalries threaten to blow the empire apart. It’s up to a poor village girl with a talent for fragrances and the prince’s loyal bodyguard to find an antidote.

To succeed, the pair must uncover secrets – cryptic, ancient tales as well as buried truths from their own pasts – in an adventure that will ignite your senses.

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When I first heard of this book, I longed to read it and requested a review copy. Lo and behold this proof copy was provided to me in exchange for a review. And it came with the added bonus of a vial of perfume which was a delightful boon that I hadn’t expected (but that made me feel extremely happy, and the perfume is lovely indeed).

I have delayed this review to have it as close to the publishing date as I could and here it is! The finished copy is even lovelier but I am still waiting for that one to arrive. Enough about me, now to the book.

Shadowscent tells us the story of Rakel, who has honed her scent and her perfume making skills so she has a chance at becoming a perfumer to the rich (and she wants this because she loves scent and to give her father a longer chance of survival, a better life as short or long as it may be). From the beginning I enjoyed Rakel’s chapters enormously and just all of her view of the world was something I wanted to read a bit more every time. I was rooting for her at the perfumer trial, and just kept rooting for her throughout the story.

Plus, Rakel is good with horses, and she has a lot of street smarts, but not in an aggressive way but rather an “I learnt this and I know it and I am going to use it, even if I am not rich and can’t compete on fair grounds, but let’s give it a go, I won’t give up”.

We also get Ash chapters, and his point of view. He is a Shield, the bodyguard, defender, “loyal puppy” of the Prince that is chosen to become the next leader. (The politics here were a bit confusing, as there are a lot of concubines/wives that have children and they form the Council and it didn’t really spark my interest except that it was made up of females mostly). I have to admit I didn’t enjoy Ash’s chapters as much and read them as quick as possible. I wasn’t keen on the whole “I am so special but have to hide it and won’t hint but actually I will”. It was a bit overdone for my liking and considering the big “reveal” in the end, I think it could’ve been done better (don’t really want to spoil it, as it was interesting but even though it was a big reveal I was just like “yeah whatever, he’s special, move on”). It makes me sad to have to say this, because I enjoyed Rakel so much.

I liked the whole mystery, loved the concept of the Library, and enjoyed Rakel’s spunk and how she’s trying so hard but life just doesn’t seem to love her that much, or rather, not the way she thinks things should be. And I am quite curious for the next book.

More scentlore please, as it was quite interesting. And more Rakel, a lot more. There was a particular scene when they return to save the Prince and she talks to Barden and it was like “yes, I need to quote that because it is a great thing, so good” (it’s a bit spoilery, so I am holding on it, sorry!).

All in all, I think there was a lot more work in developing Rakel than Ash and it shows in the way it is written. But it is still an enjoyable read, the lore is interesting and I do wish for more of it.

Moon recommends

Preordering this lovely book, or going to your nearest book shop or library and getting it to have a read (preferably get a few candles, or some incense, or put something in the oven because this will make you want to be sniffing around).

The Twisted Tree Review

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The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

Part ghost story, part Nordic thriller – this is a twisty, tense and spooky YA debut, perfect for fans of CORALINE and Michelle Paver.

Martha can tell things about a person just by touching their clothes, as if their emotions and memories have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma’s cabin and became blind in one eye.

Determined to understand her strange ability, Martha sets off to visit her grandmother, Mormor – only to discover Mormor is dead, a peculiar boy is in her cabin and a terrifying creature is on the loose.

Then the spinning wheel starts creaking, books move around and terror creeps in . . .

Set in the remote snows of contemporary Norway, THE TWISTED TREE is a ghost story that twists and turns – and never takes you quite where you’d expect.

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I got this lovely book as a proof thanks to the amazing people from Hot Key Books (they’re some of my favourite people, but don’t tell them!). When I first heard about it, I wanted to read it because it sounded creepy enough but not too mcuh (because I don’t really do horror, it gives me nightmares).

The Twisted Tree follows Martha, who lost her eye recently after falling from (pause) the twisted tree (in case you wondered). And since she has fallen, everytime she touches clothing, even if it is just a quick brush, she gets glimpses of feelings or memories from the person who owns the clothing.

So she decides to visit her grandmother, Mormor, who lives in the cabin next to the tree. But when she gets there, Mormor isn’t there. There’s someone else, a young man who likes waistcoats (immediately liked him, waistcoats are bonus points in my scale) and seems to know where everything is, better than Martha.

As Martha starts to get to know Stig (the waistcoat mystery man), the island where the cabin is (and therefore them) becomes more and more creepy, something is out there hunting and it won’t stop, until someone stops it!

Trying not to spoil any further, I have to say, I loved all the Norse/Norwegian mythology woven into this. It doesn’t feel like a stretch but rather as it it belongs perfectly and nothing was out of the ordinary (though everything is). Martha’s “power” is interesting too, and the way she reads clothing was intriguing. The fact that different fabrics/threads show memories slightly different or differnet kinds of memories was one of those little things that make it unique and special. There was SO much detail and care put into this book and it shows.

I had a hard time putting down, and I just wanted to see what happened next. And I loved it. It is a great book, plus it isn’t a huge book (bonus points because sometimes I just want a good read that is a quick read too, and this one ticks both things).

Moon recommends

Go buy this delightful frightful book that comes out tomorrow! (Can you believe it? So soon!) I have a creepy/dark read to recommend next week, so I’ll stick to that, since it is a very good one (promise!).