Rewritten – Tara Gilboy

rewritten cover

“The problem with real memories, Gracie thought, was that they had actually happened.”

I enjoyed 2018’s Unwritten, about a girl who discovers that she’s a character from a book, escaped into the real world with her parents, but now having ‘glimmers’ of the story written for her. I wasn’t wholly expecting a sequel, but it works: there’s still a lot of aftermath to deal with from such a revelation, and Gracie’s attempts at a normal life might not go as smoothly as she hoped.

Indeed, her ‘normal’ life is less happy than any of us would want, especially with the constant suspicion over her former ‘villain’ status. She’s not the only one: the author of Gracie’s book, Gertrude Winters, is appalled that her writing lead to such misery – and worried that her other, unpublished, stories might have similar consequences. And when Gracie flicks through some of the pages, it’s not just her own story she’s having glimmers about…

This was a nice, easy read, just what the current times call for. It’s still got its moments of darkness, but Gracie learns a lot about herself and her purpose, and about her friends. It’s perhaps a little heavy on her inner woes, with other characters appearing a little flat or pantomine-ish (Cassandra), but overall the story works well.

There were many hints that there could be further adventures for Gracie et al – I kept forgetting this was a children’s book, and quite short, and thus kept expecting her to go into one of the other stories. I’ll be looking out for those adventures!

NetGalley eARC: 200 pages / 22 chapters

First published: 7th April 2020
Series: Unwritten book 2
Read from 15th-20th March 2020

My rating: 8/10

Cogheart – Peter Bunzl

cogheart cover

“Malkin pressed his forepaws against the flight-deck window and peered out.”

Lily is not cut out to be a proper Victorian girl, preferring the adventures in her penny dreadfuls. But when her father’s airship crashes and he goes missing, Lily’s life is thrown into dangerous chaos.

Aided by her pet mechanical fox, Malkin, and watchmaker’s son, Robert, Lily must navigate a world of airships and clockwork servants, pursued by sinister men with silver eyes…

I so wanted to love this book. It had all the elements to whisk me away into a magical steampunk world of whimsy. Alas, while not a bad story at all, it just failed to really capture my attention. Partly due to the tone – I frequently enjoy books aimed at younger readers, but this one missed the mark for me. Something in the writing style failed to really possess any sense of danger. Obstacles are overcome either easily, or are given three sentences when it’s nothing more than a stuck window catch. It made it somewhat difficult to grow much of an attachment to the characters, however many tragedies they face.

Overall, I think I just found it a bit flat and every so slightly… moralising? Which is a shame, because I wanted fun and adventure and magic.

NetGalley eARC: 235 pages / 26 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Cogheart Adventures book 1 (of 3)
Read from 8th February – 21st December 2019 (yup, put it down for a loooong break!)

My rating: 5/10

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

wundersmith cover

“Morrigan Crow leapt from the Brolly Rail, teeth chattering, hands frozen around the end of her oilskin umbrella.”

(As per usual, vague spoilers for events in book 1 just by mention of how the second starts, and with what characters – read on at your peril!)

Following from the events in The Trials of Morrigan Crowour titular heroine is settling into life in the wonderful land of Nevermoor. We ended book 1 with her acceptance into the Wundrous Society, so now her education begins. But, the residents of Nevermoor have been taught to fear Wundersmiths, and Morrigan’s teachers are determined to school her in the evils committed by her predecessors. Can Morrigan prove that she belongs in WunSoc? Will her secret get out – and make her former life as a ‘cursed’ child seem pleasant in comparison?

And in the wider community, are a series of mysterious disappearances linked? The new WunSoc class are discovering new marvels of their town, twisty lanes and secret railroads. But they also have to face dark myths, creatures made out of old bones, and a horrible market that wouldn’t hesitate to sell sentient ‘wunimals’, or a person’s ‘knack’…!

Although aimed at a younger audience (than me ;)) I absolutely loved the first book in this series. The mix of magic and wonder and a healthy dollop of danger makes for a great adventure. Book 2 picks that up excellently, growing the story organically and still making Nevermoor feel very much like a place I’d like to visit.

Bring on book 3 – and 4, 5, and oh so many more?! Fingers crossed 🙂

Library Paperback: 404 pages / 29 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Nevermoor book 2
Read from 9th-16th November 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury

halloween tree cover

“It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state.”

One spooky Halloween night, a group of boys find themselves on a fantastic journey through time to learn the origins of the festival. Their guide, Moundshroud, takes them to ancient Egypt, Celtic Britain, Medieval Paris and more. But even as they discover the origins of the costumes they have chosen, they also try to discover what happened to their missing friend and group ringleader, Pipkin – is he a mummy? A gargoyle on the Notre Dame? Or is he… (gulp!) dead?

My Habitica book group chose this for their October read, and I thought why not – especially as the library had a digital audiobook I could borrow. I’m still trying to get ‘in’ to audiobooks, and this was a great one to try: aimed more at younger readers, it wasn’t too long or complex for easyish listening, and Bronson Pinchot (actor, Perfect Strangers, Beverly Hills Cop, etc) is an excellent narrator.

I didn’t really know what to expect going in to this, so was surprised and intrigued when it shifts from what seems might be a haunted house-ish kind of story, with the boys stumbling across Moundshroud’s home and the titular tree, to this fantastical journey through time.

The story is nicely creepy, but not too scary. I’m not sure half the ‘explanations’ actually have much to do with the festival of Halloween, but they do capture the origins of popular costumes e.g. mummies, witches, and the like. However, the tale is much bigger than the boys’ adventure, it’s really about cultural attitudes to death and how those have changed – pretty hefty stuff dressed up in a spooky kid’s tale!

I can see this possibly inspiring the likes of Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book) and Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, so if you’re a fan of those this might appeal too. I hear there’s a cartoon adaptation, too, and while I’ve not seen it, this story certainly lends itself to the idea of visual representation.

Audio book: ~144 pages / 3 hours 10 listening time / 19 chapters
First published: 1973
Series: none
Read from 13th-30th October 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

Trials of Morrigan Crow cover

“The journalists arrived before the coffin did.”

Morrigan Crow has a miserable childhood. She’s a ‘cursed child’, doomed to die on her eleventh birthday and bringing dreadful luck to those around her until that day. Her family keep their distance, leaving her feeling more than a little unloved.

Events transpire, however, to save her – hardly a spoiler, that the main character doesn’t die at the start, even if we do begin with a funeral! – and she finds herself in the strange land of Nevermoor. She’s entered into the annual competition to join the Wundrous Society – except, the lucky few must pass four trials, the last of which is to display a ‘knack’, a gift better than anyone else’s. And Morrigan does not have a knack…

I know I’m older than the target audience for this book, and yet it perfectly hits the sweet spot of whimsical but not talking down to the audience, making it perfect for grown ups, too. In fact, I loved it. There are nods to all sorts of possible inspirations – from Narnia to Doctor Who – but it’s brought together very nicely. Nevermoor is somewhere I’d like to visit, and sign me up for a room that alters itself to match moods.

The story of Morrigan’s trials (not quite Hunger Games level, don’t worry!) is perhaps less original than it could be, but again it’s told well. The mystery of her missing ‘knack’ is maintained throughout, keeping you guessing. The rivalry with the nasty girl is a bit of a cliche, but y’know what? It’s overall sweet and uplifting and entertaining, and well worth the read by kids of any age!

NetGalley eARC: 513 pages / 26 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Nevermoor book 1
Read from 17th-26th August 2019

My rating: 9/10

In the Hand of the Goddess – Tamora Pierce

in the hand of the goddess cover

“The copper-haired rider looked at the black sky and swore.”

If you read my review of Alanna, the first book in this series, you’ll know that I’ve waited several decades (!) to find out what happened to Alanna after those first adventures. So, was it worth the wait?

Usual warning: just mentioning a character in book 2 might be classed as a spoiler as to who survives book 1. Continue at your own peril 😉

Following on from the first book, Alanna’s secret is now known by a few, but all are sworn to keep quiet while she continues in her quest to become a knight. The final test – the Ordeal – is weighing heavy on her mind. Then there’s their new magic tutor – Jon’s cousin, Roger. He’s handsome and charming – and for some reason Alanna cannot stand him. Even if her suspicions are correct, what if anything can she do about them?

I’m kind of glad I didn’t read this back in the day, at the same time as Alanna. It continues the story, but at the same year-skipping pace, so we find our heroine going from child to pretty much an adult. With that creeps in romance – and although she swears she’s against it, there’s a fair amount of slightly creepy behavior from not one but two potential suitors.

So, not quite so much the kid’s book as the previous instalment, but then the writing style hasn’t updated. Big events are covered with a line or two, the plot drives forward in large chunks of time, and Alanna is still gifted and semi-revered, despite being a child amongst adults. Everything seems to be very easy for her.

I still enjoyed the light, easy read to a certain extent, and yes am glad to have finally moved on in the story. But, ho-hum, it’s not aged all that well and the problematic stuff just seems… off-putting. Still, book 3 purchased and I’ll go on.

Kindle: 233 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 1984
Series: The Song of the Lioness book 2 (of 4)
Read from 3rd-6th July 2019

My rating: 6/10

Alanna – Tamora Pierce

alanna cover

“‘That is my decision. We need not discuss it.'”

Back when I was but a tadpole and still book-mad, there was a glorious day at school when a book seller came to call and we all got to buy books. I’m guessing I was about 7 or 8 when I got this, oh, I loved it! The girl taking on the boys and doing what she wanted despite her gender, the magic, the colour-coding of magic and eyes (yup, details like that were a thing for me!). And then it ends, not on a cliffhanger per se, but obviously with so much more story to go.

Whether the second volume just hadn’t been published by then (yes, yes, I’m old 😉 ) or I just didn’t have the resources to track down series (I pre-date the internet), I never got to find out what happened to Alanna. Imagine my surprise – and slight regret – in finding out that there were another three books, and then several more series in the same world!

Even so, I held off any attempt at getting hold of this. How would a book I read and loved in childhood stand up to adult eyes? It was a recent Netgalley of another Tamora Pierce book, Tempests and Slaughter, that allowed me to think maybe I could go back.

Which is a lot of preamble, I apologise, but there are just some books that have more than the story between the covers to them 🙂

Thom and Alanna are twins. She’s about to be sent off to the convent, while he will train to be a squire and then a knight. Problem is, Alanna wants to fight and Thom hates it, preferring to study and learn sorcery. And so a plot is hatched that pretends they are twin boys, and the two swap places.

It’s not a long book, and yes written for a younger audience, but it makes for a lovely read as an adult, too. The writing isn’t dumbed down, just stripped of unnecessary waffle. We skip through several years but it never feels rushed, just that we aren’t being told unimportant details. And so we deal with Alanna learning to fight, covering up her developing womanhood (I think that was an important chapter to a young girl!), and facing her fears over her magical abilities.

I needed something light and positive to read during a trying time, and this fit the bill perfectly. My only real complaint would be how a child – Alanna’s about 11 – gets to be so good at nearly everything she does, and is treated quite as an adult at times. I imagine that went down a little better when I was about the same age 😉

I’m glad I went back to read this again. It didn’t spoil my memories at all, and – huzzah! – after so many decades I get to find out what happens next!

Kindle: 231 pages / 7 chapters
First published: 1983
Series: The Song of the Lioness book 1 (of 4)
Read from 1st-3rd July 2019

My rating: 8/10