Catch-Up Quickies 37

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That’s the plan anyway and it is Cupid’s month, so let’s see if we can find some books to fall in love with!

Title:  Sisters of Moonlight
Author:  Katherine Livesey
Publisher:  HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Blurb:  Anne of Green Gables meets Diana Wynne Jones in this whimsical fantasy adventure perfect for teen readers.

Each step was like an old familiar song…

Still recovering from the inferno that consumed Kelseth lighthouse, apothecary Lily Knight, powerful witch Alice Blackwell, and their newfound family find refuge in a mysterious mist-wreathed castle to regroup and draw up a plan of action.

Because the shadows are closing in and Hecate Winter, High Priestess of the notorious coven that almost cost Alice her life, is only getting stronger…

But there are murmurings of an even more sinister threat brewing on the horizon – and it has something to do with the castle.

When Alice’s nightmares begin to bleed into her daily reality, everything changes.

Can Lily pull her back from the edge or will she finally succumb to the darkness?

Review: This is a sequel to Sisters of Shadow and it is best to read them in order as the stories and characters follow on so you would miss important development if you dive straight in to this second book.

This is marketed as a teen fantasy adventure series, but the character ages felt a little ‘off’ to me, making me wonder whether this was originally pitched as a middle-grade story and then tweaked. Alice, Lily, Grace and Jem are supposed to be late teens, Cass and Morven mid-teens, and Brenna and Maeve tweens, but it felt like Alice and co acted far younger at times whilst considering themselves adults (drinking, having sex, parenting the others). And they kept calling the others ‘children’ and treating them like ‘little ones’ even though there is only a few years age difference between some of them!

I had far less sympathy for main characters Alice and Grace in this book than I did in the last, as most of their problems here are caused by their own thoughtlessness, selfishness and self-absorption. Hecate and the Brotherhood really don’t need to try to destroy them – Alice and Grace can do it all by themselves and take all their friends down with them. In stark contrast, Lily and Jem feel old before their time, and a little too saintly!

There are some major character developments in this story too, especially in the case of Uncle Alf and Hecate. I am a bit baffled at how quickly Hecate switches from the Big Bad witch to be feared by all for her evil tortures, to a petty teenage girl throwing strops and fussing about friendships, and allowing Alice to tantrum all over her.

The ending is open ready for the final book in the trilogy, but I think I will probably leave it here, as this one just wasn’t for me. Perhaps actual teens might enjoy this one more, buying in to the relationship dramas and vague dangers a little more than adults would.

I do have to say though, the covers are gorgeous!

Purchase Link: Sisters of Moonlight on Amazon

Title:  The Birdcage
Author:  Eve Chase
Publisher:  Penguin Michael Joseph UK

Blurb:  Three sisters. A twenty year old secret. One chance to set it free . . . THE SPELLBINDING NOVEL FROM THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF RICHARD & JUDY PICK THE GLASS HOUSE

When half-sisters Lauren, Flora, and Kat are unexpectedly summoned to the Cornish house where they spent their childhood summers, it’s the first time they’ve dared return.

Because the wild cliffs and windswept beaches hide a twenty-year-old secret.

The truth about what they did.

Someone who remembers them lurks in the shadows, watching their every move.

And there are other secrets, even darker than their own, waiting to be unearthed . . .

Review: The Birdcage is an emotional, dual-timeline, coming-of-age, family drama.

The story is told from the perspectives of each of the three sisters – Lauren, Flora and Kat – in the ‘present-day’ narrative and the flashbacks to 1999 are told from Lauren’s first person viewpoint. The language is evocative and conjures sensually vivid images that brought a lot of nostalgia with them.

The plot is all about memories, secrets and hidden truths; the masks we wear, even for our loved ones and to ourselves; about imagined comparisons to the lives of other people and about sisterhood. The reader is pulled from chapter to chapter, chasing the different stories and conflicting perspectives to try to piece together the full picture of what the pivotal event was from years before and how it all happened.

After so much angst in the unravelling of the tale, I particularly liked the gentle, hopeful ending, and that feeling is what I carried away from the book, along with a wistful nostalgia for my own Nineties teens.

Purchase Link: The Birdcage on Amazon

Title:  Rumaysa: Ever After
Author:  Radiya Hafiza
Publisher:  Macmillan Children’s Books

Blurb:  Return to a Once Upon a Time where anything is possible . . . Rumaysa: Ever After is the enchanting sequel to Radiya Hafiza’s Rumaysa: A Fairytale – a gorgeously empowering and funny story that spins the classic fairytale to show that anyone can be a hero.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fiercest one of all?

Ever since she escaped her tower, Rumaysa has been searching the land, far and wide, determined to find her long lost parents. But after she receives a mysterious invitation from Saira White, Queen of Bishnara, she is soon pulled into a dark, magical adventure, that threatens her own happily ever after . . .

This eagerly anticipated sequel enchantingly intertwines traditional stories of Princesses, Princes, Witches and Beasts with a fresh and empowering perspective, beautifully illustrated by Rhaida El Touny.

Review: More of Rumaysa’s fairytale adventures on the way to find her parents, but this time the focus is mostly on the story of Snow (Saira) White, with touches of Rapunzel and any tale with a beast-by-night curse.

We also see snippets from the other side, as we get some of the story from the perspective of Naina and Sunar as they search for their long-lost daughter.

This duology of books contains lovely fairytale retellings, with gentle moments of humour and lessons about forgiveness, loyalty, vanity and trust, alongside plenty of action and quick thinking from our heroine and her allies. And we finally get a happily-ever-after, although I really think this could have run into a longer series quite easily!

The Rumaysa stories are ideal for middle grade readers upwards who want traditional adventure stories but with modern morality and perspectives.

Purchase Link: Rumaysa: Ever After on Amazon

Title: Seasonal Fears
Author:  Seanan McGuire
Publisher:  Macmillan-Tor/Forge, Tordotcom

Blurb:  From New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire, Seasonal Fears is the extraordinary companion novel to Middlegame.

The king of winter and the queen of summer are dead. The fight for their crowns begins!

Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.

Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.

So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.

But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.

It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all….

“One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter.” —Thoreau

Review: I am so conflicted about how to review this book, in a way that I rarely am, because there were so many problems with the plot and characters and yet I completely loved reading it!

As I read an advance DRC, I really hope this gets a few more editing passes before release, because it has the potential to be one of my favourite books with just a few fixes.

I really liked the new characters we meet here – Mel and Harry, Aven, Trevor, Jack and Jenny – and love that we also get cameo appearances from old faves Roger, Dodger and co (in a lovely rainbow house, with a summer garden and every possible sandwich filling!). And we still get excerpts from the Impossible City series of in-world-but-also-in-real-life childrens’ books, which still sound fantastic (added to my wish list!), although the excerpts here don’t seem to link to the plot like they did in the previous novel.

This book deals with the alchemy of the seasons personified, which I found a lot more comprehensible that the maths-heavy alchemy of time and space in Middlegame. Which is lucky, because there is a lot more explanation of the alchemy in this sequel, whereas Middlegame kind of left you to pick it up running with the action of the plot. I honestly didn’t mind the info dumping here though, as I enjoyed the worldbuilding so much and really wanted to understand how it all worked.

I liked Mel and Harry as main characters, although got a little weary with the very intense romance. In contrast, Aven, Trevor, and Matthew/Misty’s threats were fantastically sinister, but their potential fizzled rather unsatisfyingly. I had expected some intense danger from the competitors in the maze, but they barely showed up! In fact, the whole labyrinth was a bit of a let down. It was built up to be this amazing trial of seasonal aptitude and personal qualities, then it was over far too quickly and easily, after just a couple of friendly chats… one of which we don’t even see at all.

Some of the lore got a little bit mixed up along the way too. William Monroe seemed to be both Winter and Summer King at different points, and I was baffled by how the final competitors just kind of milled around sadly towards the end – a little anticlimactic after such an epic life-and-death build up.

Yet despite all of the above problems I LOVED reading this book and was so immersed in the world that I found it hard to return to this one at the end. And I was left still wanting more and more! So again, I hope this gets the tweaking it deserves, to elevate it to the five-star status it promises.

Purchase Link: Seasonal Fears on Amazon

Title: Last Time We Met
Author:  Emily Houghton
Publisher:  Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Penguin

Blurb:  An emotional friends-to-lovers romance, perfect for fans of Mhairi McFarlane and Colleen Hoover

Aged thirteen, best friends Eleanor and Fin are inseparable. Convinced it will always be this way they make a pact – to go to university together, always live near each other, and if they’re both single at 35 they’ll get married.

Eleanor and Fin haven’t spoken in fifteen years. Life has run away from them and they’re both far from where they’d dreamt of being all those years ago.

It takes tragic circumstances for Fin to come back into Eleanor’s life, but everything has changed since the last time they met. Is it too late to mend their friendship? Or is there a chance they can keep some of the promises they made?

Review: Last Time We Met is a romantic drama that flits back and forth between past and present timelines, as flashbacks fill us in on background that is relevant to the current plot, but not in chronological order. Which sounds a bit confusing, but it does actually work!

I really enjoyed the two main characters, Eleanor and Fin, and their individual stories/development. Eleanor has family issues to work through, plus is struggling to get her love life on track and regain her passion for her life and work. Fin has a history of addiction and has his own family troubles to deal with, and he is clearly feeling disconnected from his hometown having spent so long in the US. We follow them both as they make new friends, paint, take photographs, work, flirt and keep bumping into each other.

The story covers some big issues – especially substance abuse, addiction, loss/estrangement of family members – and does so thoughtfully and sensitively. I really felt for Fin and Elles with everything they went through; they were very believable and engaging, and all aspects of their story are engaging and well-written.

Except (for me) one. But it is quite a big one!

Eleanor and Fin do not make a good romantic couple. I even struggled to see them as ‘good’ friends. They have an unhealthy co-dependent relationship as addict and enabler for most of the story, which we see them intending to change but with no actual change to show for the years they have known each other. Their communication is poorer than any ‘best friends’ I have ever known, seen or read about. They don’t seem to be able to talk to each other about anything, other than via big dramatic scenes when they are drunk, angry or grief-stricken. Both of them have closer, healthier friendships with other people (Sal, Rob, Reggie, Nurse Clara) and I didn’t feel much chemistry between them either – I felt Eleanor had much more chemistry with Ben, and I kept expecting Fin to realise that he was actually gay or asexual as I got no vibes that he was attracted to any of the women we see him with.

In fact, I thought this was going to be one of those stories where they realised they loved each other as friends/siblings but not as romantic partners and their HEA comes from growing up, moving on and conquering their issues to head for a more positive future. This book actually does end on a hopeful note for the characters, but as a reader I found it hard to envision that hope translating into a happy future together. If anything, it was because I loved and believed in the characters so much… I just wanted better for them both!

Despite this rather major disconnect between me and the main romance, however, I still really enjoyed this novel for the writing, characters and ‘adult coming of age’ storyline and would definitely read more from Emily Houghton in future.

Purchase Link: Last Time We Met on Amazon

Fantasy, fairytales, romance and drama. And some stunning covers too… what more could you ask for?!

If you’re looking for an escape from hearts and flowers in the run-up to Valentine’s Day this month, then this little selection has you covered.

Let me know if you fall in love with anything, and Happy Reading, always ❤


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