The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

The Left-Handed Booksellers of LondonThe Left-Handed Booksellers of London
by Garth Nix
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781760631246
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Pages: 374
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Eighteen-year-old art student Susan Arkshaw arrives in London in search of her father. But before she can question crime boss Frank Thringley he's turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is one of the youngest members of a secret society of booksellers with magical powers who police the mythic Old World wherever it impinges on the New World - in addition to running several bookshops, of course! Merlin also has a quest of his own: to find the Old World entity who arranged the murder of his mother.

Their investigations attract attention from enemies of the Old and New Worlds. Soon they become involved in an even more urgent task to recover the grail that is the source of the left-handed booksellers' power, before it is used to destroy the booksellers and rouse the hordes of the mythic past. As the search for the grail becomes strangely intertwined with both their quests, they start to wonder… Is Susan's long-lost father a bookseller, or something altogether more mysterious?


I think I’m being unduly harsh on this book.  I bought it on the strength of the title and the blurb, but when it arrived I discovered Nix is an Australian author.  I have a very sketchy relationship with Australian fiction; sketchy as in ‘I rarely like it’.  But still, it sounded so good…

… and I almost DNF’d it on the second page of the prologue.  The writing was too too.  Too flowery, or verbose, or trying too hard.  Maybe all of the above.  Still, it seemed a little harsh and judgy and I paid for the damn book.  The start of chapter 1 was not encouraging either.  I have an aversion to numbered lists and the one on page 8 (the only one, thankfully) screamed of pretentious, or overly precocious, writing.

Still, aware of my bias, I persevered, and by the end of chapter 1, the writing had evened way out, and the story had found its footing.  I found myself drawn in by the characters, cheeky though Merlin is (I don’t think we’re meant to believe he’s the Merlin, just of, perhaps, his lineage).  I still think the author tried to hard to be relevant and current, while writing a book placed in an alternate early 1980’s, but that also fades away as the story progresses.  By about 1/3 of the way in, I was left with what the story should have been all along – a rather entertaining fantasy adventure written for the late teen readers – or at least the characters are all late teens.  The book won an Aussie book award for “older children”, which to me is NOT late teens, but early teens.  I’d easily give this to my 12 year old niece to read, though some of the innuendo might fly past her unnoticed.  Or not.

I was disappointed by the lack of time spent in actual bookstores.  Considering 2 or the 3 main characters are book-sellers and 8 out of 10 of the rest are as well, there was only 1 scene that took place inside bookshops.  The rest is a series of attacks, kidnapping attempts, and general mayhem that starts and ends in London, taking in the Lake District in the process.  It was fun, but entirely lacking in bookstores.

I suppose the ending was predictable, but not so much as to dim the journey getting there.  I have no idea of this book was meant to be a standalone, or the start of a new series, but it’s obviously left open to be one, even though no dangling threads remain.  If a second book is published, I’d likely read it.  I found the characters endearing, and maybe in the next book, they might spend time in the actual bookshops.

Havenfall (Havenfall, #1)

HavenfallHavenfall
by Sara Holland
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781526621962
Series: Havenfall #1
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Pages: 304
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Proof that I can’t resist a free book?

One of the schools I work at is near a small independent bookstore they try to do business with whenever possible.  Last week I went into the staffroom – something I try to generally avoid at all costs – and there were boxes of books on all the tables that said “free”.  Seems the local bookshop was cleaning house and these were all the advanced reader copies that had been accumulating in their back room.  I grabbed one on Elizabeth von Arnim, and because it’s been sooo long since I’ve gotten any new books, I lingered and pawed through them all and finally thought ‘what the hell?’ and grabbed this one.  YA Fantasy is usually more miss than hit with me, but did I mention how long it’s been since I’ve had a new book?

I have to say, it wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t amazing but it held my attention nicely after a rather weak and tedious start.  The second half of the book really morphed into something worth reading and I give points to Holland for sneakily weaving an Important Societal Lesson into the story about the power of perceptions and propaganda to alter history.

It wasn’t so good that I’m curious about what comes next, but it was good enough that should I stumble across the second book I’d probably pick it up.

World After (Penryn and the End of Days, #2) – re-read

World AfterWorld After
by Susan Ee
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 1477867287
Series: Penryn End of Days #2
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Pages: 438
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Skyscape

I hadn’t planned on re-reading all three of the Penryn books, but I should have known better; I’ve never been able to just re-read one book in a series without wanting to re-read them all.

This one stands up exactly as well as it did the first time around.  It’s good, but not awesome, and of course, the whole science fiction angle doesn’t score points with me, as it’s just not my jam.  Still, the angel mythology remains compelling.

Why would Angels need science if they have magic?  Why would they need human doctors?  Human-derived technology?  None of this is explained in either of the two books so far.

INSERT SPOILER TAG HERE

I really liked the way the author used Raffe’s sword to share with Penryn and the reader Raffe’s POV and some of his long backstory.  Also, the sword’s way of using those memories as training exercises for Penryn – not that she ever used the lessons as far as I could tell.  Once past the halfway-ish mark, the story started pulling me in again.  It’s no coincidence that it’s also about the same time Raffe makes his re-appearance in Penryn’s life.  The two of them together are a more intriguing story to me than they are apart.

There’s a soupçon of humour in this book that was all but missing in the first one.  I’m still shaking my head over ‘Pooky Bear’ but can totally appreciate the naturalness of how the name came about.  Put me in the same scene in place of Penryn, and I’d have responded in much the same way to Dee/Dum.  Though I’d have probably said ‘Twinkle Toes’ or something equally obnoxious.

I read somewhere that 5 books are planned for this series.  If that’s the case, I predict, even though this book ends with the tides seemingly turning against the Angels, that they will rally in the third book.  It’s hard to imagine stringing this out for more than 3, 4 books at the most, but I’m sure the author has much more in store for everyone.

Just please don’t let it be more science fiction.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)

Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: Paperback
Grave MercyGrave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780547628349
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Pages: 484
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Andersen Press

In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Brittany, seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts, and a violent destiny.


I just ate this story up with a spoon.

I’ll admit this has sat on my TBR pile for awhile as I was a bit shy about starting such a thick YA book.  But once I picked it up I was loathe to put it back down again.  I’m usually a character driven reader; I can put up with a lot if I connect with the characters.  But I can’t say it was the characters that drew me deeply into the book.  I liked them, don’t get me wrong.  Ismae, Gavriel, The Beast, Anne – all of them characters you want to see come out all right.  But here, it was the story, the palace intrigue, the writing, that sucked me in well and good.  I know absolutely nothing about the time period this book takes place in, so I wasn’t burdened with knowing whether or not there’s any realism, or whether any research was done.  I was just along for the ride.

I didn’t give the book 5 stars because in a sea of villains, it was still obvious to me who the ultimate traitor was.  It didn’t in any way hamper my true enjoyment of the book, but it felt like the author could have hidden the clues a bit better.  I suspect I’m also not the books target audience so perhaps I’m being too harsh a judge.

Grave Mercy is YA really only in the sense that the MC is a 17 year-old.  The writing is oblique enough that I still can’t figure out if anyone was getting lucky or not, so I guess someone could argue that makes it more ‘age-appropriate’.  Although that someone wouldn’t be me.

If you enjoy historicals, and a bit of mythology this is a book that might be worth checking into.

World After (Penryn and the End of Days, #2)

World AfterWorld After
by Susan Ee
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 1477867287
Series: Penryn End of Days #2
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Pages: 438
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Skyscape

I couldn’t wait for the paperback; I had to see what was going to happen next. iBooks wasn’t selling it and I gave in to weakness and bought it from Amazon. Ultimately, I should have just waited and bought it in paperback.

If you haven’t read Angelfall and you think you might want to, beware there might be spoilers here for you

World After, for much of the first half of the book, was just too Science Fiction for my taste. All those scorpion/locust chimera’s and Angels performing science experiments. Not for me. The whole thing just felt too contrived. While Angelfall didn’t feel like a book written with the YA demographic specifically in mind, World After did. It was still a good read; I just felt like some of the suspension of disbelief needed in this book would be easier for someone closer to that age group.

View Spoiler »

I really liked the way the author used Raffe’s sword to share with Penryn and the reader Raffe’s POV and some of his long backstory. Also, the sword’s way of using those memories as training exercises for Penryn – not that she ever used the lessons as far as I could tell. Once past the halfway-ish mark, the story started pulling me in again. It’s no coincidence that it’s also about the same time Raffe makes his re-appearance in Penryn’s life. The two of them together are a more intriguing story to me than they are apart.

There’s a soupçon of humour in this book that was all but missing in the first one. I’m still shaking my head over “Pooky Bear” but can totally appreciate the naturalness of how the name came about. Put me in the same scene in place of Penryn, and I’d have responded in much the same way to Dee/Dum. Though I’d have probably said “Twinkle Toes” or something equally obnoxious.

Generally, enjoyable.

 

Why would Angels need science if they have magic?  Why would they need human doctors?  Human-derived technology?  None of this is explained in either of the two books so far.

INSERT SPOILER TAG HERE

I really liked the way the author used Raffe’s sword to share with Penryn and the reader Raffe’s POV and some of his long backstory.  Also, the sword’s way of using those memories as training exercises for Penryn – not that she ever used the lessons as far as I could tell.  Once past the halfway-ish mark, the story started pulling me in again.  It’s no coincidence that it’s also about the same time Raffe makes his re-appearance in Penryn’s life.  The two of them together are a more intriguing story to me than they are apart.

There’s a soupçon of humour in this book that was all but missing in the first one.  I’m still shaking my head over ‘Pooky Bear’ but can totally appreciate the naturalness of how the name came about.  Put me in the same scene in place of Penryn, and I’d have responded in much the same way to Dee/Dum.  Though I’d have probably said ‘Twinkle Toes’ or something equally obnoxious.

I read somewhere that 5 books are planned for this series.  If that’s the case, I predict, even though this book ends with the tides seemingly turning against the Angels, that they will rally in the third book.  It’s hard to imagine stringing this out for more than 3, 4 books at the most, but I’m sure the author has much more in store for everyone.

Just please don’t let it be more science fiction.

Death and the Girl He Loves (Darklight Trilogy #3)

Death and the Girl He LovesDeath and the Girl He Loves
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780312625221
Series: Darklight #3
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Pages: 255
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

WARNING:  If you haven’t read the first two books in this trilogy – there are spoilers ahead.  But no spoilers for this book.

I don’t read a lot of YA – usually only if someone I trust highly recommends it and if it’s paranormal.  But I picked up the first book in this trilogy based solely on the author, Darynda Jones.  I love her work.  I LOVE her snark.  She writes some of the best snarky banter around (Chloe Neill – also a favourite).

This trilogy didn’t disappoint.  If the fact that I choose paranormal didn’t give it away, I’m not looking for the realistic portrayal of teens.  All that angst and melodrama – Yuck!  These are teens I can thoroughly enjoy reading – smart asses every one of ’em!  But all thicker than thieves.

The trilogy, in a nutshell, focuses on Lorelei – she’s the last in a line of very powerful prophets, the one foretold to stop the end of the world before it starts.  She has a nephilim to protect her and the Angel of Death by her side along with her two best friends.  She has no idea how to stop the end of the world before it starts.  Adventures are had and information is gleaned.  Much snark and witty banter is exchanged.

I didn’t know until I finished this one and went searching for information that this was, in fact, a trilogy.  But the book ended in such as way that it could be the final wrap up or it could continue.  It was only when I turned to Google in confusion that I saw references on her site to it being a trilogy.  Boo and hiss.

I read through this final instalment in a day – I stayed up too late on a work night because no way was I going to put this book down.  It starts of a tiny bit slow – Lorelei is attending a boarding school in Maine, hoping to hide out from the chaos and forestall the inevitable until she can figure out what she’s capable of.  It picks up pretty fast though – she can run but apparently she can’t hide.  I was happy to find that the gang is only separated for a short time, and once they were reunited I became completely absorbed in the book.

It’s a fast, fun read with a final showdown that isn’t kind to anyone, but ultimately fulfils the prophecies.  The aftermath took me a bit to figure out – the transition was very abrupt and so left me feeling disoriented (which might be just what the author intended…) for a few paragraphs before I had my Ahhhh…. moment.  After that – fun.

And that last chapter…  it left me hoping….

Spell Bound (A Hex Hall Novel #3)

Loved this trilogy. The characters were fabulous – witty, interesting and likeable. The dialoge in this book and the others reminded me lot of the first few seasons of Buffy. Great snark. Even the ‘nemesis’ Edodie is a character you like and cheer on.

 

The over arcing plot of the trilogy was interesting, the ultimate villains not being the obvious foes. I won’t say the story arc was obvious – it wasn’t – but it wasn’t shocking to me either. But then, I’m a generation removed from the demographic for these books.

 

I genuinely enjoyed reading these books – I didn’t want to put them down until I was finished and the climax of this one left me feeling a bit misty eyed. I’ll definitely be checking out some of Ms. Hawkins’ other work.

Demonglass (A Hex Hall Novel #2)

A great read. I’ve found that just about every trilogy has a bit of a sophomore slump in the second book, but I enjoyed this one a lot. Fast paced, lots of action and such great characters! And such wonderful snark! Witty dialog can redeem a so-so book, but when you have a great story and witty dialog, it’s a joy to read and I didn’t want to put it down.

 

Luckily, my impulse book buying habits had me buying both this book and the third one at the same time. It’s not a major cliffhanger, but it’s not a small one, and I was thrilled that I could close this book and immediately pick up the third and keep on reading.

Hex Hall (Hex Hall Series #1)

It’s a bit hard to rate this book, or review it, as it’s definitely not a book for my demographic. BUT, this is a book I would have loved loved loved as a ‘Young-adult’ and as it is, I found it to be a very fun read as a not-so-young-adult. I love Sophie’s wit and humor and the students around her are all interesting and far from bland. The plot was excellent and I didn’t find it at all predictable – I loved the ending. Not so much loving the Archer twist…  Part of a trilogy, I’m looking forward to seeing how the story develops.