Book Reviews · Reading

Quarantine Reads #3: ARC edition

If you’re new to the book blogging biz, you might be unfamiliar with the concept of ARCs. ARCs, or advance readers’ copies, are books yet to be released.

Basically, publishers send books to book bloggers, librarians and other bookish professionals to create buzz for upcoming releases. NOW, I’m not some big shot blogger or anything like that, but given that we’re currently all stuck indoors, I decided to delve back into my ARC requests on NetGalley, a great website which allows you to request books that you want to read! I requested a couple of middle grade novels (bc they are my absolute favourite), so here are my thoughts on them:

51838643._SX318_The amazing humour and world-building of Nevermoor meets the wisdom and warmth of Rooftoppers in this completely unforgettable and totally gorgeous comedy-adventure!

In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1886, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket.

Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou; who were swiftly and firmly deemed ‘the unadoptables’. Twelve years on the children still have each other – until the fateful night a most sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart. The gang decide to make a daring escape, fleeing the frozen canals of Amsterdam for an adventure packed with puppets and pirate ships, clock-makers and cruel villains – and with only a scrap of a clue to guide them to their mysterious new home . . .

OH MY GOUDA. This book, guys. I’ve already gushed about in on twitter, so sorry if you’ve already seen this before, but I need to talk about this book. THE UNADOPTABLES tells the story of five orphans in 19th century Amsterdam who are thrown into an adventure when they are forced to escape their orphanage one night. I visited Amsterdam a few years ago, and fell in love with it, so reading a novel set there was just fantastic. Hana captures the feel and essence of this magical city with ease, transporting the reader not only geographically but also back time. The world-building was complex and multi-layered, and partly because of this I sunk completely into the story.

This neatly moves us on to the next point of my gush-fest: the plot. It was compelling and twisty-turny and pace-y and unputdownable. Basically, it was a fantastic story. ALSO, there was a fortune teller. On to our main characters: we have five of them, which was daunting (I have a hard time keeping up when there are lots of characters). However, each of the unadaptable orphans were so different from each other, and they were complex and 3D people, so it was very easy to keep track of who was speaking and to whom. I also adored the diversity of the MC’s–we have a person of colour, a disabled character, and a character with selective mutism.

FINALLY, Hana’s writing was exquisite. This was one of those stories where certain sentences and turns of phrase made me OOH and AHH with appreciation (and a little bit of writerly jealously). This has been one of my favourite reads of 2020 so far; it is most definitely a classic in the making, and you need to read it when it comes out in July. I have pre-ordered, and I will definitely be re-reading it in the near future.

50930279._SY475_Step into a world of secrets, folklore and illusions, where nothing is as it seems and magic is at play…

Madame Augustina Pinchbeck, travels the country conjuring the spirits of dearly departed loved ones… for a price. Whilst her ability to contact ghosts is a game of smoke and mirrors, there is real magic behind her tricks too – if you know where to look.

Through a magical trade, she persuades children to part with precious objects, promising to use her powers to help them. But Pinchbeck is a deceiver, instead turning their items into enchanted Cabinets that bind the children to her and into which she can vanish and summon them at will.

When Pinchbeck captures orphan Leander, events are set into motion that see him and his new friends Charlotte and Felix, in a race against time to break Pinchbeck’s spell, before one of them vanishes forever…

A historical adventure with a magical twist from an outstanding debut talent. Perfect for fans of Michelle Harrison, Sophie Anderson and Emma Carroll.

This was creepy in the best possible way. The lore of magic and folktales was so intricately weaved, our villain, Pinchbeck, complex and dangerous and horrible, and our heroes clever, determined and resourceful. Set in Victorian England, THE VANISHING TRICK immediately captured the essence of the time period–and I think it was this skilful world building that helped make the magic seem real.

I thought the whole concept of using Spiritualism (a VERY trendy religious movement at the time) as a cover for Pinchbeck’s real-life magic was HIGHLY original. The use of herbs, tarots and other witch-y elements added to the eerie-ness of the whole book, and made Pinchbeck a formidable villain.

Our heroes, Leander, Charlotte and Felix each had POV sections throughout the book, and I really enjoyed getting to know all their inner thoughts as Pinchbeck’s scheme’s got progressively more danger-filled. I thought the development of their friendship was done brilliantly, and I have a serious soft spot for Charlotte–she initially lashed out because she was so furious with her lot in life, but this anger was only a mechanism to protect herself.

The plot was fast moving and unpredictable, and the lurking sense of danger throughout the story made ME terrified about the fate of our heroes–there was a constant feeling that anything could happen. This debut is an OUTSTANDING historical fantasy, and I can’t wait to read what Jenni writes next.

 

50773919._SY475_Sky Pirate: Echo and the Great Beyond is the first title in a thrilling new action-packed adventure series

11 year-old Echo Quickthorn has grown up believing that nothing exists outside the Kingdom of Albion, but everything changes when an eccentric professor parks his airship outside her window armed with a map that shows all the magical places that exist beyond the city walls. Together with her pet lizard, Gilbert, Echo sets off on an incredible adventure to find her missing mother; an adventure that will take her to unimaginable places …

OKAY, this book features a very clever pet lizard named Gilbert. WHAT. ELSE. DO. YOU. NEED. TO. KNOW?? It also features other favourite troupes of mine: a plucky headstrong heroine, a hate-to-love friendship arc, and a slightly steampunk-y technology system. OH, and imaginative world building, a kindly and clever professor with five cats and PIRATES.

Basically this book is everything I love. Deftly written and stunningly smart, SKY PIRATES is Fun with a capital F. I thought the concept of a country shut off from the rest of the world was so interesting and executed brilliantly. I really enjoyed Echo’s tenacity, her determination, and her growth as a character in terms of the importance of friendships, belonging and found family. I also ADORED the focus on inventing and the kooky technology Echo encounters on her adventures (particularly the mechanical pigeon messenger!! SO COOL).

The plot is pace-y and exciting. I read this in a flash–I just couldn’t put it down and I think that marks it as a great middle grade adventure book. I also think it left off at a point that makes it PERFECT for a sequel. I’ve got my fingers crossed we’ll see more of Echo’s adventures in the future.

46123742Pack your suitcase for a magical adventure! Perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The Train to Impossible Places.

At the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, each suitcase transports you to a different world. All you have to do is step inside . . .

When 12-year-old Flick Hudson accidentally ends up in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, she uncovers a fantastic secret: there are hundreds of other worlds just steps away from ours. All you have to do to visit them is jump into the right suitcase. Then Flick gets the invitation of a lifetime: join Strangeworlds’ magical travel society and explore other worlds.

But, unknown to Flick, the world at the very centre of it all, a city called Five Lights, is in danger. Buildings and even streets are mysteriously disappearing. Once Flick realizes what’s happening she must race against time, travelling through unchartered worlds, seeking a way to fix Five Lights before it collapses into nothingness — and takes our world with it.

This is VERY high praise, and I’m well aware of the connotations of the comparisons I’m making, but this book gave me serious DISCWORLD meets ROALD DAHL vibes, whilst at the same time being completely and utterly original in concept. It was fantastic–imaginative and full of wonder, with an irresistibly likeable main character in Flick. This is gonna be the next Big Thing, I can feel it.

Whilst reading THE STRANGEWORLD’S TRAVEL AGENCY, I was completely struck by the sheer amount of work and word building that had obviously gone into crafting this book, and the multiverse it contains. It was extraordinary–each world felt like it could have been written about for a WHOLE BOOK, and that is the mark of creating a compelling and believable fantasy story. I adored the writing–it was gorgeous and fun at the same time, and at one point there was even a slinky reference! A SLINKY REFERENCE! (not gonna lie, reading that sentence made me want to dig out my old box of childhood treasures and bounce my slinky down the stairs!)

Flick, our main character, was fabulous. Sure of herself, a little too adult for her age, and living in a new house with very busy parents and a cute (but sometimes tiresome) baby brother. She was smart, loyal and utter believable as a kid in an extraordinary circumstance. I related to Jonathan, the acting custodian of the travel agency, a little too hard. He was only just an adult, and at one point in the book he mentioned wanting an adultier adult to help him–I CAN’T COUNT THE NUMBER OF TIMES I’VE THOUGHT THAT EXACT THING! Searching for his father, who mysteriously disappeared in another world before the events of the book, Jonathan is Flick’s erstwhile guide to being a world traveller. Their partnership and friendship was a delight.

The plot was fun, full of mystery, and entirely unpredictable. I was hooked from chapter one, and I devoured the story, desperate to find out the ending. The stakes were VERY high–a whole world was in danger–and the danger of that permeated the story. As I turned to the final page, I was very excited to see the words ‘To be continued’ written. This is the kind of story that almost begs for a sequel–I want to visit more worlds, I want to uncover more secrets about the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, but most of all, I want to see Jonathan and Flick go on more adventures. This is one of my favourite books of 2020 so far and I can’t wait to read more!

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