Book of the Month

January

The Miniaturist

The MiniaturistOn an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader, Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways…

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realises the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Historical novels are not usually my bag, baby, but I had heard so much about this one that I just had to give it a go. Upon finishing it, I reflected that, although this sort of novel still isn’t my preferred choice, I’m really glad that I read it.

There is something quietly magical about this book, and despite the slow pace, something about it absolutely sucked me in and kept my turning those pages. The world that Jessie Burton has built is so rich with detail – I could literally see, taste, and smell 17th Century Amsterdam. There are not many novels that can immerse the reader in quite this way.

Without going into details, I know that some readers found the resolution slightly lacking, but I don’t agree. I love how there is a certain ambiguity to how The Miniaturist ends – it fits with the slow, subtle magic that permeates the pages.

 

February

Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must DieI didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a road of yellow brick – but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission: Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart. Steal the Scarecrow’s brain. Take the Lion’s courage. And – Dorothy must die.

Ever since I was tiny, I loved getting lost in magical worlds. I spent more time in Narnia and Neverland than I did in the real world, but for some reason – one that I have never fully understood myself – I have never been able to connect with the wonderful world of Oz.

This book has changed all that. I love dark, twisty retellings of classics, and Dorothy Must Die was no disappointment. For the first time, I was really, truly excited to be in Oz. Certain things mentioned in the blurb actually don’t happen in the book, but the brisk pace, tense action, and dark fantasy aspects made that a non-issue for me. It just made me more excited for the sequels.

For anyone who loves Oz, or anyone who has never been able to get into it, give this novel a try.

 

March

The Girl at Midnight

The Girl at MidnightBeneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is one way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants…and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

This book was just gorgeous. I loved the urban fantasy world that Melissa Grey has created, and I loved the wonderful characters she has introduced me to. If you’re looking for a kick-ass heroine, genuine friendships, snappy dialogue, and a great, brooding romance, this is the book for you.

A quick toddle around Goodreads led me to understand that a lot of people compared this to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and while I can see that there are similarities between the books, I truly believe that The Girl at Midnight stands on its own two feet as a magical, fantastical read.

This has the potential to become one of my most favourite YA fantasies ever, and now I get to savour the anticipation of the sequels.

 

April

A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and RosesWhen nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a dangerous, magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin – one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning that she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it…or doom Tamlin – and his world – forever.

Beauty and the Beast retelling? Magical fantasy world? Seductive, mysterious faeries? I literally fell over myself trying to get my hands on this book, and it was such a fabulous read that it was all I could not to jump and down, squealing with excitement, while reading it.

Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favourite fairy-tales. The Disney version is my favourite Disney film. Anything Beauty and the Beast related is bound to make me sit up and take notice.

I simply adored this book. The faerie world is vivid and real, the faeries themselves are steeped in beauty and mystery and magic, the romance is probably one of the best I have read in a while, and Feyre is a superb heroine – tough-as-nails without being unrelatable. I love how this book doesn’t flinch away from the dark, bloody sides of the faerie world, nor does it shy away from pushing its characters into some very grim choices. This is a fantasy world I can’t wait to get back to.

 

May

Peter and the Shadow Thieves

Peter and the Shadow ThievesA ship draws near Mollusk Island, bringing an eerie passenger – a cloaked stranger who makes even the desperate pirate crew shake in fear. Lord Ombra is coming for Pete and the Lost Boys…

Peter and Tinker Bell must travel to the mean streets of Victorian London on a mission to save the world from the forces of darkness.

But can they survive the sinister Shadow Thieves?

I adored the first book, Peter and the Starcatchers, and this sequel didn’t disappoint in any way. Packed with all the action and magic of the first book, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, is a fast-paced, gloriously exciting romp from Never Land to London to Stonehenge.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was that our heroine, Molly, has started to age, whereas Peter, of course, has not.  There is something rather poignant about Peter realising that the girl he likes is growing up without him Рas too are the Lost Boys Рwhile he will be a boy forever.

The Shadow Thieves are a wonderfully creepy addition to the story, drawing the reader away from traditional Peter Pan territory and into something fresh and new. This is one of those rare books that I simply couldn’t put down, and I hope that every book in the series continues in this vein.

 

June

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainRachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Everyone and their mother seems to have read this book, but it took me a lot longer to get around to picking it up. I have no idea why it took me so long! Before starting this, I had no idea that Rachel would be such an unreliable narrator, or that as a character, she would incite me to such levels of sympathy and loathing. Most of the characters in this book are not particularly likeable, but they sure are compelling, and our heroine is no different. I pitied and sympathised with her wretchedness, but at the same time I found myself deeply frustrated with her alcoholism, and the way she falls back into it, time and time again. Paula Hawkins definitely pulls no punches in showing her heroine isn’t all that heroic.

This book is chock full of secrets and deceptions. Every time I thought about putting it down to, you know, actually get on with my daily life, The Girl on the Train sashayed its hips in front of me, tempting me to read more. Which I did. Obviously.

If you haven’t already read this book, do it now!

 

July

Six of Crows

Six of CrowsKetterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone.

A convict with a thirst for vengeance. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first.

When I was teenager, I had a real yen for eighties-style fantasy novels – Dragonlance novels, quests written by David Eddings or Terry Brooks – that sort of thing. I grew tired of the traditional epic fantasy formula for a while, and then I stumbled upon this book.

Six of Crows is like no fantasy I have ever read before. In one word, spectacular.

From reading reviews, I understand that there was a lot of hype about this book, and it’s not hard to see why. The worldbuilding is incredibly detailed without ever feeling info-dumpy – I could literally see, smell, and taste Ketterdam. Each of the main characters is brilliantly flawed – and the book effortlessly pulls off multiple point-of-views without ever feeling gimmicky or unnecessary. Each character is just as important as the rest, and each of them have their own issues, their own demons to tackle, and their own set of unique skills. The heist itself is complicated without ever making me feel frustrated, and as rich with detail as the rest of the novel.

I’m not going to say much else for fear of spoiling anything for people who haven’t read the book yet, but this is simply one of the most beautiful, incredible, and spellbinding fantasies I have ever read. Hell, it’s one of the most spellbinding books¬†I’ve ever read!!

 

August

The Iron Knight

The Iron KnightMy name – my True Name – is Ashallayn’darkmyr Tallyn. I am the last remaining Winter Prince, son of the Queen of the Unseelie Court. And I am dead to her. My fall began, as many stories do, with a girl.

Love is a weakness for mortals and fools. And Ash, heir to the winter court, is no mere mortal. But when he swore to be Meghan Chase’s knight, his oath bound him to her irrevocably. Now the girl Ash loves is ruler of a realm where no Winter Prince can ever survive. To be with her he must have a soul and a mortal body, yet the tests he must face to earn these things are impossible.

There is one thing stronger than his will to live: his vow to Meghan. As Ash battles he learns truths that challenge his darkest beliefs and show him that, sometimes, it takes more than courage to make the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s official: I would read Julie Kagawa’s shopping list. There is not one single book of hers that I have not fallen totally in love with. There was a point when I thought that Ash and Meghan’s story had come to an end in The Iron Queen, so I was unspeakably delighted when I realised there was a still a chance for them to have their happy ending.

This book was pure magic. Ash’s quest to become human so he can finally be with his beloved Meghan takes him deep in the darkest parts of the Nevernever, and this is always where Kagawa excels. Her boundless, vivid imagination paints the most incredible worlds and the most wonderful characters. I was overjoyed to see more of Grimalkin, my personal favourite character, and there is also a wonderful turn from another four-legged character, whose name I won’t mention in case anyone hasn’t read the book.

This book is equal parts dark and uplifting, raw and beautiful. It shows the lengths that people will go for love, as well as the sacrifices they are willing to make.

 

September

The Novice

the-noviceWhen blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning.

Fletcher is put through gruelling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power-hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.

As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands.

This book is the most wonderful blend of Harry Potter and Pokemon, while managing to be completely independent of both. The influence is there, but at no time does this book feel tired or cliched. It really feels like something that was written from the heart, written with passion, and those are always the kinds of books that come alive most for me.

Taran Matharu has created a richly realised fantasy world, and though the staple tropes are there – orphaned ‘farm-boy’ hero, orcs, elves, dwarves – this book still feels like a breath of fresh air. The prejudice and injustice that Fletcher receives at the hands of his noble-born peers, the beautiful friendship he forms with the dwarf Othello, and the understanding of the extreme racism facing dwarves that he gains as a result, not to mention Ignatius, Fletcher’s wonderful demon all combine to make this a truly memorable, addictive read.

I want more!

 

October

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-laneSussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother.

He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie – magical, comforting, wise beyond her years – promised to protect him, no matter what.

This really was a little slice of pure magic. It’s not easy to pull off the voice of a seven-year-old but Neil Gaiman’s narrator is incredibly realistic. His relaying of his childhood brings a beautiful, nostalgic quality to the book, and really reminds us what it was like to be a child, how it was to see the world through a child’s eyes.

And that’s what really brings the creepy elements of the book alive. As our child, our narrator struggles to understand the magic and danger of the world. He is near powerless against the evil that seeps through the cracks of his life – the kind of evil that most adults no longer believe in.

There is something of a fairy-tale about this book, but definitely one with all the dark bits left in.

 

November

The Inquisition

the-inquisitionA year has passed since the Tournament.

Fletcher and Ignatius have been locked away in Pelt’s dungeons, but now they must face a trial at the hands of the Inquisition, a powerful institution controlled by those who would delight in Fletcher’s downfall.

The trial is haunted by ghosts from the past with shocking revelations about Fletcher’s origins, but he has little time to dwell on them; the graduating student of Vocans are to be sent deep into the orc jungles to complete a dangerous mission for the king and the council. If they fail, the orcish armies will rise to power beyond anything the Empire has ever seen.

With loyal friends Othello and Sylva by his side, Fletcher must battle his way to the heart of Orcdom and save Hominum from destruction…or die trying.

Usually, when I fall in love with a series, I leave a few months between each book so that the journey isn’t over too quickly, but with a fantastic opportunity to meet Taran Matharu coming up, I jumped to read more of his wonderful books.

The Inquisition is every bit as addictive and enchanting as The Novice. The racial tensions have ratcheted up a few notches, the injustice that Fletcher and his friends are fighting against is worse than ever, the world-building continues to grow and flourish. We also get a fascinating glimpse into the world of orcs and gremlins, as well as the expanding pantheon of demons.

Above all, this book continues to be fun. It can be dark when it needs to be, and there was a certainly a betrayal that I didn’t see coming, but what really brings it alive is the passion with which the author writes. If you don’t believe me, read it for yourself!