[Friday Flash Review] The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

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❧ Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
❧ Author: Holly Black
❧ Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
❧ Publication date: 13th January 2015
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough

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20958632In A Nutshell

✎ Role reversal twins: soft guy princey type; warrior girl knight. Small town in rural America where the forest is full of dark secrets and danger. Having spent their childhoods in the woods, Ben and Hazel know that things aren’t always as they seem, even if the town of Fairfold is so used to its long history with faeries that the things that happen are simply just accepted as they are.
✎ Queer romance! Changelings! Cursed sleeping faerie princes!
✎ A mysterious faerie, loved by both twins but without much of a lasting, terrible sibling rivalry love triangle (where the straight ship is launched, because isn’t it always if this happens).
✎ A brilliant juxtaposition of contemporary fantasy and fairytale and folklore, with life in Fairfold every bit as normal as any other town in rural America. Except for the faeries, of course. And the occasionally missing tourist, but hey.
✎Diverse ☒ (queerness and secondary characters who are PoC)

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What I loved

✎ Everything. Absolutely everything. This book is enchanting and delightful and reads every bit the way a modern faerie tale should. Ben and Hazel are compelling, interesting characters and they are so well-written as siblings.
✎ Q u e e r  r o m a n c e. I can’t stress this enough, really. Any book that gives me queer romance is automatically going to get bonus points, let alone if its a m/m romance.
✎ Faeries! Anyone who knows me knows that faeries are my thing. I am an actual changeling so really that shouldn’t be a surprise. I eat up stories that involve the fae, whether they’re fantasy or urban fantasy or that grey area between. Basically, faeries.
✎ Black’s writing style is just meant tot write books like this: it’s very gently lyrical whilst being utterly engaging and even “mundane”, but in the best of ways. It’s as though she brings faerie completely to life in a modern setting without losing or compromising on any of the magic and wonder and even terror of what faeries can really be like.
✎ The point that Ben and Hazel’s parents are generally guilty of “benign neglect”. I am always eager to see the various ways in which parents can totally mess up with their kids being displayed: it’s important to demonstrate and explore the fact that violence and/or abuse aren’t the only ways in which parents can hurt or damage their kids. Not being there can be just as damaging and even if the parents themselves are great people that does not mean they’re great at being parents.
✎ Hazel’s strength and bravery and general kick-assness, matched with her brother’s artistic softness.

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If you liked this…

…then you might also like: Holly Black’s other faerie tale books, particularly her Modern Faerie Tales books, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, as well as the upcoming The Cruel Prince, which the first of a new series called The Folk of the Air and is also about faeries. This is slated for an early 2018 release.

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Ten Thousand Skies Above You, by Claudia Gray [Firebird#2]

Title: Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: 3rd November 2015
Rating: ★★.5 / ★★★ – depending on what day you catch me!

17234659Ten Thousand Skies Above You, the second of the Firebird trilogy, by Claudia Gray was a good continuation of the story and a surprisingly, complex sequel to follow after A Thousand Pieces of You. There were elements of the story I loved, and some that felt like pure filler. I keep emphasising “story”—and there’s a reason for that.

Just like A Thousand Pieces of You, I adored the story of this book; I love the revelations we’re given, I love the game-changer at the end of the book that sets up a very, very interesting possibility for the dynamic in the third book.

But, I did not love Marguerite. I feel the girl we knew from the first book is gone. Where? I’m not sure.

We find ourselves plunged back into our time-travel-but-not adventures, with Marguerite fleeing a crowd bent on accusing her family (the scientists Caine) of witchcraft. Hold up—science as magic? We must be in the dark ages or something. Oh, we are. It’s an exciting start to the book, setting a pace that… is never truly realised thereafter. We skip between exposition of what happened before she began travelling again, whilst vaguely taking tiny steps forward into the rest of the subsequent story. The book kicks off rather frantically in a reimagining of medieval Italy, where Marguerite finds herself in hot water whilst on the search for Paul (again…).

As with the first book, Marguerite is forced to do more dimension hopping. Except this time, revenge is far from her mind. This time, she’s trying to save people. Both Theo and Paul need help and, as ever, being the perfect traveller that she is, Marguerite is the only one who can do anything of use.

Unfortunately this time, Paul is little more than a plot device. The reason for Marguerite to travel. It’s a disservice to Paul, because there’s so much character there, if you scratch beneath the surface. I wanted to get to know Paul more. He’s not the most fleshed-out of characters in the first book, and I had hoped for an opportunity to see more of him here. For some reason, we’re denied this. This should have been a book of Paul and Marguerite travelling together.  But moreover, it’s a disservice to Theo, because, through Marguerite’s blinkeredness in Paul’s direction, she completely erases Theo. Never mind the fact that she is convinced that, essentially due to the behaviour of another Theo, her Theo can’t be all good.

Well, newsflash, Marguerite: nobody is all good. This, unfortunately becomes something that our once seemingly well-rounded Marguerite develops some interesting double-standards with. The second someone other than herself does one thing in one dimension, then it must immediately mean that that little fragment of darkness is lurking inside them, because they are essentially all the same people, even though the very nature of the plot and the formula makes it painfully clear that they’re not. People are made by how they live, both the sum of and more than the sum of their experiences, choices and how they have grown throughout their lives.

Except her, of course: she readily forgets the party-girl Meg from the Londonverse, and, refuses to really acknowledge the damage she did in the Russiaverse; instead, using the universe as a refuge during the story, where she literally just barges into her other self’s life (again) and remains there as she pleases (again). Sure, she realises how much she screwed up, but if she was truly sorry and realised just how violating her presence was, she would not have used the universe as if she had the right to; she would have left immediately. But she didn’t. She didn’t want to leave, so she took the right to stay. Unfortunately, Marguerite has selfish sides of herself that turn into hypocrisy through her complete disregard of them, yet her willingness to point them out in others. Such as Theo, and, through this book, others around her, too.

Furthermore, in each world she travels to, Marguerite basically commandeers the lives of Alternative Marguerite and does as she pleases, constantly trying to engineer herself closer to Paul, whether or not she is with Paul in said dimension. It’s selfish and entitled and completely erasing of what her other selves’ lives are like. It’s presumptuous and, when she lands in dimensions where she is actively seeing someone else, completely disregarding and erasing of anyone else’s feelings. Except her own, of course.

Where is my Marguerite gone? Because this isn’t the girl I loved.

And the worlds we travelled to, so varied and exciting in the first book, have become random and even pale in comparison. Where’s my world where Theo and Paul are together? Where’s my world where Marguerite is a lesbian? Where is my world where she and Josie hate one another? Where’s my world where Marguerite doesn’t get on with her increasingly-oh-so-perfect parents? Where’s my world where she has different parents; a different family; a stepparent; adoptive parents; something different? Where Marguerite is biracial; where she’s different? Where is my world where Marguerite and her immediate surroundings aren’t so straight and white and completely unrealistic?

You can’t begin to play with the accepted notion of “infinite possibilities” if you never actually think outside the box, never think outside of straight-white-middle-class. And that’s all we ever, ever see and it’s impossibly dull by this point. Here, we have this exciting plot, far-reaching and overarching—especially with the revelations in this book itself—and yet we tread the same sort of ground, again and again.

Couple this with Marguerite’s selfish erasure of other people’s feelings and her blindness to her own faults, and we have a rather unlikable protagonist in place of our determined, thoughtful and relatable Marguerite. She can so easily flee to another universe where she doesn’t belong and has no need whatsoever to go to “take time away” from an event where someone was hurt by someone she doubted had that kind of violence inside them, when in the first book she was the one hell bent on revenge on Paul.

Never mind the fact that it would be a change to meet Paul and Theo in a universe where one of them wasn’t obsessed with her. That would be good. I know the number of worlds we’ve seen isn’t that high, but that’s precisely my point: you have to make them count.

In addition, the only world in which any manner of different sexuality is mentioned is where a particular character is the bad guy and they sleep with the opposite sex, as well as the same sex (anyone will do!), as a way of hurting more people and not giving a damn. I don’t care if it was accidental: do better. When it’s the only LGBT reference, do better.

I love the plot of these books, I love the formula, the writing, the delivery… but now, I do not like Marguerite. Mostly, her selfishness, her entitled attitude is what finally turned me off towards Marguerite. The fact that she chooses to invade on another of her lives again, entirely by choice and without any fragment of necessity whatsoever, only to go and live in that Marguerite’s shoes for a while, as if staying over in a hotel built for her, even going so far as to willing interact with people in these Alternate Marguerites’ lives (such as a psychiatrist, whom she brazenly uses as a shrink for her own issues instead of just leaving Marguerite to her own life)—just, no.

Furthermore, the topic of grief comes up, however briefly in this book.  She immediately acts as though grief is something that will eventually be worked through and isn’t an excuse for rash or selfish behaviour…

Says the girl who toddled off traveling to get revenge on Paul after the assumed death of her father. Everyone else’s grief is uncomfortable and inconvenient for her. And this was a huge, huge, huge issue for me. Our society is pretty shit at dealing with grief (heck, when the only way we can get in touch, as a society, with grief, is through the catharsis of public grief over a shared figure or person, and otherwise grief is something to be shuttered away and not talked about and dealt with alone, that’s messed up) and to have this exact sentiment reflected in a book for younger/more millennial-minded people, that’s not okay with me.

Ultimately, only her feelings ever matter. And worse, only she is a valid Marguerite and only her feelings matter, above all Marguerites.

I wanted so badly to love this book as much as I’d loved A Thousand Pieces of You, which I’d really, really loved. The problem is, I do still really, really like the story. The dimensions, the travel, the newly-revealed stakes and twists and turns—I loved all of it. Just, not the main character.

If you’re someone who can put up with protagonists you can’t stand, in favour of the story you love, then you’ll get along with this sequel just fine. If, like me, Marguerite has become an entirely different person, one you don’t recognize, but you still do love the story… then you’ll manage and you will still probably, like me, read the third book. Only, it won’t be at the top of my TBR list when it does eventually land.

2-star copyMost of why this book got so low a rating and a rather meh review from me, is entirely down to Marguerite, and a few niggles here and there about things that could have been better. It’s not a terrible book—it’s not even a “meh” book. It’s a book with problems (lowercase; not the big, yicky Problems you really don’t want to find in a book!) and it is lacking in diversity (which, let’s be frank: we shouldn’t even be calling “diversity” as if it’s something special. It should just be called realism), which is something I’m going to start coming down heavily on. Overall, if we’re talking favourably about Ten Thousand Skies Above You, then this was a much-slower paced sequel to what was an exciting, thrilling first book, but a fantastic continuation of the overarching story itself. The ante is upped and things get big, and this is what will keep me reading to the end of the trilogy. But if we’re being candid, then Marguerite almost made me put this book down.

Cover Reveal: Crushed, by Eliza Crewe [Soul Eater #2]

Finally!

Sometimes the books I’m most excited about are the books the lab-bunnies at Strange Chemistry are the most schtum about. This is one of them. Let me cast your mind back to Cracked and the stellar review I gave it, after loving the socks off of this quirky and energetic first installment. It was good. And now we’ve got a cover for Crushed, the second book? Rock on, Strange Chem.

I’m kind of in love with just how wicked this book looks, which is totally fitting for Meda. ψ(`∇´)ψ You remember Meda, right? Just check out these wicked-awesome covers side-by-side and if you’ve not read Cracked yet, you gentle reader, are missing out.

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(Credit: Art by Dominic Harman)
Cracked-144dpi
(Credit: Art by Dominic Harman)

Witch Fire, by Laura Powell [Burn Mark #2]

Title: Witch Fire (Burn Mark #2)
Author: Laura Powell
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 11th April 2013
Rating: 

admin_1-asset-5163f082e3d48Witch Fire, the second Burn Mark novel, tells the story of Lucas and Glory’s next assignment—and it makes me want to petition Laura Powell to write all the books because I had so much fun with this. The second adventure of witch and witch, teen secret agents of WICA, are off out on another case that might turn out to be a thousand times more dangerous than they’d planned for, and reveal more about themselves than either ever thought possible.

Enrolled at a don’t-ask-don’t-tell private school for witches where the law regarding minors and bridling is loose and malleable, Glory and Lucas must put aside their still-differing views and band together in order to uncover a possible intelligence operation bent on recruiting young and disillusioned witches into a terrorist group.

Lucas, still coming to terms with his fae, and Glory, still reeling inside from the events of Burn Mark must try to remain as invisible as possible at this school of so few pupils, where although nobody is enrolled against their will, the discipline is strict and their every action is monitored. It will not be easy to find what they’re looking for. If it’s even there at all.

Unable to practise witchcraft, Glory soon begins to chafe and her temper blossoms into something fiery as she uncovers the secret Lucas has been keeping from her—the secret involving her mother and his own father. Driven away by her own anger and seizing an opportunity to flee to the other side of the world, Glory rushes off, heedless of the consequences of deserting WICA. She’s too mad to think and with Lucas having betrayed her trust…what else is she to do? But whilst on her own, Glory becomes entangled in something even she might not be able to magic her way out of; something that might make the recurrent nightmare of burning at the stake become a reality.

Lucas feels terrible. Struggling with his developing feelings for Glory—and the obviousness of hers for him—Lucas decides he, too, must do what he can to help Glory, by striking out on his own and following after her. WICA be damned, but Glory is too important to let go and wasn’t it his fault that she left the school and their assignment in the first place?

So with their assignment cancelled, Lucas and Glory travel to a small part of South America where witches are not treated in quite the same way as elsewhere in the world; where the Inquisition does not hold power supreme over witchkind. But once landed, so far from home, the two realise that there is a dark underbelly to everything—just as there was with the Inquisition in London and its corrupt Inquisitors, revealed by the events of Burn Mark. Before long, Glory is in deeper than she can handle and it will be up to Lucas to come to her rescue—along with an unexpected ally or two—like she did for him at the hands of Gideon. Only what if Lucas is too late? The plot in which Glory finds herself all tangled up is so big it’s beyond her imagining and she has everything to lose. And what if some thorns are determined to remain in your side, no matter how far away you think they are?

More fun than Burn Mark and with twice as much heart, Witch Fire is an utterly compelling book with unlikely romance, humour and a dark knot tied at its centre; so much will be revealed and take place that it’s impossible to imagine there not being more books starring Glory and Lucas. The ending deliciously mirrored the start and made me a solid fan of Powell’s teen witch-agents. Thrilling and with more than a few surprises, this book is just so good. A hundred times better than the already fantastic Burn Mark, this second adventure was a page-turning thriller of a book that offered everything from spying and magic to danger and deceit. Fun, fast and quirky and in all the right places, I’ve utterly fallen for Glory and Lucas.5-star copy

Pacy and deft and one hell of a ride, there’s little to say about this book other than: read it. Read Powell’s WICA agents and lose yourself in a world so close to home that is so almost the same it’ll make your toes curl in the hope that magic really is real and the next time you look up, you might just spot the blue jackets of WICA agents in training.

Magical, fun and exciting—this can’t be it for these two, can it? Say it ain’t so. A deliciously-developed relationship, both working and otherwise, woven between two books that merge action, intrigue and modern sorcery into one hunk of magnificence. Just brilliant.

Burn Mark, Laura Powell [Burn Mark #1]

Title: Burn Mark (Burn Mark #1)
Author: Laura Powell
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 7th June 2012
Rating: 

image001Burn Mark, by Laura Powell, is an enjoyable, exciting example of taking an old concept, dabbling with alternative history, and making something shiny and new emerge from within the expected. In this world, an almost-real-life world in a time mirroring our own, with England and London as the centre stage, witchcraft is real and has been around since the beginning of time. With power—the fae—drawn from within, witches, both male and female, are now an almost second-class citizen bridled by iron cuffs (sized depended on how much iron is need to impede their fae) and registered with the government. Anyone can become a witch, regardless of their family bloodline, or their history. Anyone. But being a witch means a life of suspicion, of being bridled and being watched closely. The power of witches is not practised openly.

Unless we’re talking about the covens—the illegal crime syndicate groups who work with unbridled and unregistered witches. Imagine the criminal underworld, the mob—but with witches at their side. Of course, not every witch is incredibly powerful. Glory’s aunt, for example, is only a passable witch; nothing at all like her late younger sisters—the Starling twins—and nothing at all like Glory’s mother. They were powerful witches.

But through the campaigning of a charismatic witch invested in promoting both the rights of witchkind and a safer cooperation between witchkind and humans, the lot of witches might be starting to change. Despite the years of terrorism still in the country’s memory, despite the death and destruction, the fear and tension, the situation does seem to be changing. That means little to Glory, since she’s desperate to be a witch and either way, she’s a coven girl—a Starling girl—so she’ll become the head witch in a coven and follow in the legacy of her name. She just would like to do so with her mother there to see and her father not so much a hollow shell of himself, always lost between the incessant beep-beep-beep of his video games. And she would do without the dreams of burning, too.

It’s not every day a witch is burned by the Inquisition—reserved only for the worst witchcrimes—but it happens and it’s a feature of a dream Glory has had for years, and keeps having. Only, in the mirrored reflection she sees in the dream, it’s not her anaesthetised and burning to death—it’s her mother. Gone overnight when Glory was a child and with only a postcard slipped though in her wake, suggesting Glory and her dad forget about her, Glory’s mother has been missing for years. Glory thinks maybe she’s dead—or that she will end up so, burned by the Inquisition. Burnt by the “prickers” who stab witches with iron pins to find their witchmark, their “Devil’s Kiss”, which neither feels pain nor bleeds.

From a less than savoury part of London, with her large hoop earrings and rough, outgoing attitude, Glory is a world away from the life enjoyed by her counterpart.

The son of a very important Inquisitor, Lucas knows he will join the Inquisition; knows he will hunt witches like every other Stearne before him. Except that some plans are never destined to work out. Before he knows it, Lucas finds himself in a situation he knows nothing about, and those who should have been friends, are suddenly more like enemies. With everything changing around him, Lucas practically loses himself, his single purpose in life suddenly snatched away. With his cushy existence, his private school, and money and influence suddenly meaning very little, Lucas must find another way to continue on the spirit of the Stearnes, if not the letter of them.

These two polar opposites will have to band together in order to uncover a plot more sinister and insane than they could have imagined—but this won’t be easy, not with someone out to get Lucas from the start and not with Glory’s delicate situation as an unregistered witch with ties to the infamous Wednesday Coven, where its head enjoys the life (and power) usually afforded celebrities or politicians. If he finds out that Glory is a witch, he will reveal his own plans for her—plans her aunt warns won’t be in her best interests.

Together they must step on delicate ground and strive to unearth the full truth at the heart of the matter—and all before whatever progress has been made on behalf of witchkind is destroyed in an instant. There is a plot afoot and it is up to them and them alone to thwart it.

4-star copyBurn Mark is immensely fun and demonstrates that Powell is a thoughtful and skilled writer. She effortlessly weaves a working relationship between two people from completely different sides of London, with completely different ideas and agendas. Both Glory and Lucas are resistant but determined and despite being so different, they will discover they are more alike than they know and that the other is nothing like they imagined them to be.

An entirely enjoyable and exciting urban fantasy that offers elements of mystery and danger coupled with investigation and the paranormal.  If you like the idea of witches and a teenage secret service, then this one is for you. Bucket-loads of excitement and definitely a thrill-a-minute once the real action starts. Give it a go: it is fun, fast and a little bit different.

Feather Bound, by Sarah Raughley

Title: Feather Bound
Author: Sarah Raughley
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 1st May 2014
Rating: 

FeatherBound-144dpiSometimes a book surprises me; mostly it’s always in a bad way. But Feather Bound, by Sarah Raughley, surprised the hell out of me by being not only a brave novel in so many ways, but also by being utterly stunning and completely honest to life. It’s rare that I read something as truly dark and honest as Feather Bound and the five-star rating is so well-deserved I can’t help but ramble on about this book to anyone who will listen—and anyone who won’t, for that matter!

Beneath the glittery façade that Feather Bound might present, lurks a darker undertone that nobody talks about. It is at once like homosexuality and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality, the prejudice and the frosty reception it can receive, all coupled with the shocking truth of both rape, abuse and sexual threat.

That sounds heavy. Honestly, if that were the cover copy, I might not have read it. I don’t read books that strive to convey a social or mental truth or insight into the human condition; I just don’t. But what I do read are fantasy and urban fantasy novels that wrap issues in layers of story and character, cushioning whatever point is being examined with a tapestry of prose that invites the reader into an almost-the-same world and delivers an engaging story before revealing, bit-by-by, casually and softly, the darkness that lurks beneath. That, I happen to love. It doesn’t shoe-horn anything; it doesn’t trigger or shock or point its finger.

But what it does do it create an expertly crafted tale that reads almost like a modern fairy tale that’s been taken and turned on its head, giving it a different purpose that subverts the expected but still dazzles and glitters in the light. That is Feather Bound. Raughley has written a modern, urban fairy tale that plays on so many of the small details expected from fairy tales and fables, and transformed them into something completely different.

It’s difficult to pour my heart into this review without extreme spoilers—so I won’t. I’ll hold back, somehow. (Honest: this is me holding back.)

When Deanna’s childhood friend returns from being dead—you know, something that happens every day—Dee isn’t sure she wants to reconnect with him. The son of a magazine mogul, Hyde has always been rich, famous and privileged. But now he’s very much alive and for years she missed him; she mourned him when she was just a kid. Coupled with the effects of the death of her mother, Dee is a little sensitive. There’s little chance that Hyde, however close they were as children, will find a way to break through her impenetrable armour. It’s not easy being the youngest of three sisters, when she’s neither the one who married rich nor the one who doesn’t give a shit.

But Dee does give a shit: maybe too much. She’s the one who has a job to try to help cover rent, the one who tries to take care of their drunk father, whose life has been on almost-shutdown since his wife died. Plus there’s no help coming from Erika’s rich husband, who controls the money like a miser counting pennies, always knowing what goes where. And none of it goes to help the Davis’ cover rent.

Yet Hyde always was oddly persistent and he might not give Dee a choice but to forgive him. When he talks about being away, something about him seems off—but what can Dee do when she’s still so mad and she never knows what’s true or not with Hyde? He always was a trickster, after all.

But one day, everything changes. It starts with pain and then fear. The denial comes next—but there’s no denying the feathers and what they mean. There is no denying that she is a swan. But with this sudden transformation comes a world of dangers that Dee hasn’t even entertained before. Suddenly she is something to be bought and sold, something to be coveted and owned, abused and hurt. Nobody ever reveals that they’re a swan, so how can Dee tell her family, or even Hyde?

But someone has found out and now Dee must do all she can to avoid both what she’s being blackmailed to do, and failing at the set task. If she does, she’ll be sold into swan slavery—and having seen first-hand just what a swan can be made to do, Dee will do anything to avoid being plunged into that sordid black market of rape and abuse.

Is it possible to do all this alone? And if not, who can she turn to after years of sealing herself away behind all the walls that she used to think kept her safe? Dee now finds herself alone and in need of help. With her world in tatters around her and a more tangled web of deception and darkness than she could ever imagine just out of reach, Dee will need to keep her feathers save, lest the same fate befalls her. Swans are for sale in this world, and Dee doesn’t want to end up as one of them.

This is a gorgeous, beautiful story that ticked so many of the boxes that I usually don’t even bother thinking about, because nobody ever even comes close to checking them off. Raughley is a dream in that she recognises that abuse isn’t something that happens exclusively to girls; that rape isn’t a solely-female problem. Both sexes can become swans and Raughley never lets the reader forget it. This is probably a more feminist book than any I’ve read in the past few years: this book recognises true equality. The kind that says boys get hurt and abused too. And I adored it.

Feather Bound is a shockingly twisted, delightfully dark story that wowed me from the start. The casual delivery of every issue is perfect and skilful. This story is about who you are and what the world makes you. It explores family and familial love. It subverts the image of the nuclear family and paints a fairly sad picture of real life, yet it is not as depressing as it should be, populated by rich and deep characters whose lives are spread bare on the page, under full scrutiny. This book demonstrates perfectly that nobody in your life is perfect—yet it also shows the sides of them you never see.

5-star copyThe darker undertone of this book is what got me: the raw truth and honesty of the approach sealed the deal, making Feather Bound so clever and delicious a novel that I want to hug it and squeeze it a little. I wasn’t expecting so…good a book. I was expecting a decent YA urban fantasy, a decent story. I was not expecting something so poignant.

But that’s precisely what I got. And damn is that a good deal.

If you don’t read Feather Bound for the gorgeously different notion of human swans and the glitz and glamour of the Upper East Side pitted against the honest grime of the poorer streets of Brooklyn, read it for the brave and deliriously tangled, twisted, tumultuous plotline threaded within and beneath the lines. This is how fairy tales should be written in the twenty-first century. And I’m all over them.

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, by M.G. Buehrlen [Alex Wayfare #1]

Title: The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare (Alex Wayfare #1)
Author: M.G. Buehrlen
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 4th March 2014
Rating: 

The57LivesOfAlexWayfare-144dpiBy now you’d think I’d have learned my lesson with Strange Chemistry books. You’d think, after all the glowing reviews and a mere handful (what is it, three?) of books I’ve not liked, that if I’m either disinterested or bored by the premise of a book, that I would remind myself that usually if my first instinct is to dismiss the book for whatever reason, it probably means the book is actually going to surprise me and I’m going to love it.

Because, yep; it happened again.

Sometimes I’m wary of past lives as a theme in books—I just am. It’s one of those things in the same way that I dislike dystopian societies or post-apocalyptic worlds or those gritty stories where everyone has to rebel against something. Or zombies. Because, man, do I hate zombies.

Thankfully there are no zombies here. And instead of being a book I had a vague interest in, I was hooked on The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare from page one. It is addictive and completely unputdownable. M.G. Buehrlen has astounded me; she’s a genius.

Since she can remember, Alex has always had visions she cannot explain. One moment she’s petting a cat, and the next she’s apparently a completely different person, wearing a dress and certainly not in her Pops’ yard. When riding a Ferris wheel, suddenly she’s riding the Ferris Wheel. Déjà vu, of course—it has to be. It makes no sense, but that’s what she decides it is. Until images of being a passenger headed for the New World on a ship assault her in Sunday school during a lesson on absolutely nothing to do with water, and until she finds herself terrifyingly ravenous after a vivid experience of Jamestown during the Starving Time—then Alex begins to think the visions might not be visions, exactly.

But what else could they be? She has certainly never entertained the notion that they could be past lives.

Finally Alex has had enough of this way of life—and of trips to the principal’s office. She just wants to be normal; she wants to pop some pills any shrink can give her and wave buh-bye to the visions forever. That way, her parents can worry about her sick sister Audrey instead of her. She can be a normal big sister for Clare and stop being such an embarrassment to everyone involved.

Normality is all she wants.

Until she meets Porter, a grandfatherly sort of guy who claims to hold all the answers she seeks. But it soon becomes apparent that even he is hiding something from her, and Alex isn’t the kind of girl to sit back and stay quiet about her unease.

And then there’s this guy…

When Alex makes a connection with a blue-eyed guy in 1927, she finds it hard to let go. Something about him stands out to her and she can’t stop thinking about him. But Alex isn’t that girl, she doesn’t go gooey-eyed over some boy she just happened to go out and share a kiss with. And yet… is she imagining this deeper connection? Is the fact that both he—and Porter—are so familiar to her just in her head? Porter is dismissive and ambiguous about Blue, but she sets out to do things her way and find out exactly what is happening to her—and why.

I love Alex. I would hang out with this girl. There’s something so addictive about Alex Wayfare…she’s quirky and geeky and dons her thick, nerd glasses with pride. She might be “Wayspaz” at school, a social leper—partially of her own doing, so as to keep herself alone and protected from wayward visions; the same with anything remotely fictional that could trigger one—have grades she can barely keep above a fail due to her aversion to reading (and the unfair treatment of her by her history teacher), and a “fix-it-freak”, but she is who she is and throughout the book she learns how to accept herself on an even deeper level. She will never be normal, but soon she realises normal sucks anyway. Anyone who thinks normal sucks is right there with me; love it. Love her.

Never mind the plot.

Wow.

It started with Danielle L. Jensen’s Stolen Songbird but my brother and I read The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare together. (That’s not as derpy as it sounds: we settle down and read a few chapters aloud [usually him; unless it’s Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters, then it’s me] at the end of a day and then get to fanboy about everything simultaneously. It works; it’s cool.) And let’s just say that there were some late nights with Alex Wayfare.

I couldn’t put this book down, couldn’t stop. There’s mystery and intrigue and about a thousand hints and red herrings to throw you off. This is the kind of book that needs to be read, book-club style, and talked about: “what’s going on?”, “who did this?” “whyyyyy?!” All this—and more. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is a stunning novel that is expertly written and paced and presented and—and everything. This book is beautifully heart-breaking and inspiring and terrifying and meaningful. It will surprise and delight and astonish.

The complexity of the book is delivered in a confidently, self-assured way that keeps everything fluid, fast-paced and easy to digest, both emotionally along with Alex herself, and mentally as a reader as you catalogue facts and keep filing away the information needed in order to piece together the meta puzzle. I’ve got a mental board with all my pieces laid out and I keep second-guessing if I’m reading too much into simple things, or dismissing big things because they’re too obvious.

It’s maddeningly brilliant.

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is quite easily one of the most exciting books I have ever read. Smart and quirky and so heartfelt and real it’s sakdjfhgdjhsfgghj (only a keyboard mash can even come close; the words, they don’t exist), this book drew me in and led me on a merry chase throughout history, completely entranced by Alex and her journey. And I was its willing victim. I have read nothing so pillow-chompingly (I’m not a nail-biter; I chomp pillows) excellent and exciting, quite possibly ever. There are so few coherent words to actually describe this book, so instead I would advise that you read it now5-star copy

If you like anything that’s perfect and awesome and thrilling and real and—

I think you get the point: just read it.