Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Book Review: A Clean Canvas by Elizabeth Mundy!

It's been a while since I read a really good cosy crime novel so when the opportunity to be on the blog tour for A Clean Canvas* came up, I jumped at it. And I'm so glad I did because this was a blast. So much so that I've asked my local library to get in the first book because I really want more of Lena and her investigations.



Crime always leaves a stain...

Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner, dusts off her detective skills when a masterpiece is stolen from a gallery she cleans with her cousin Sarika. But when Sarika goes missing too, accusations start to fly.

Convinced her cousin is innocent, Lena sweeps her way through the secrets of the London art scene. With the evidence mounting against Sarika and the police on her trail, Lena needs to track down the missing painting if she is to clear her cousin.

Embroiling herself in the sketchy world of thwarted talents, unpaid debts and elegant fraudsters, Lena finds that there's more to this gallery than meets the eye.


A Clean Canvas is the second book in the Lena Szarka mysteries with a Hungarian cleaner solves crimes in London, and if that doesn't appeal to you then I don't know what will. There's something about reading about cleaning and a main character who genuinely enjoys it that just inspired me to do a bit around the house. I even found myself running a wet rag over the skirting boards! I've read a cosy crime series about a cleaner before (the Lily Bard series by Charlaine Harris) and this was so much more realistic to me.

I'll admit, even with a good many detective books on my shelves, I didn't see who the thief was until the very end. I had many theories along with Lena and it felt like we explored them together rather than being led down a path then told it was a dead end. There were twists and turns and lots of intersections with other life events crossing over our main storyline. It's a great example of cosy crime and why I tend to reach for it more than other styles of crime books.

I liked that even in a light-hearted read, there was still a fair bit of social commentary on how the middle-classes treat people who work for them, especially immigrants. When something is stolen, it seems like everyone's first thought is Lena and her cousin. When things go missing from a clients house, the suspitions are immediately aimed at Lena. It was interesting to see that addressed and not treated as a joke.

The only thing that didn't work for me was the portrayal of OCD. I felt it came across as quite stereotypical, like a caricature of a person with OCD. However, at 280 pages, I imagine it would be quite difficult to dive into it. The rest of the book was so wonderfully diverse that it really was the only blip.

You can find A Clean Canvas here, and the first book in the series; In Strangers' Houses here!

"Coffee is terrible everywhere in this country... But at least it is not tea."

Do you like cosy crime?

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Book Review: Magisterium: The Silver Mask by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare!

While this is a spoiler-free review for book four, it might contain spoilers for book one, book two and book three so beware!



A generation ago, Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn't succeed... but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt. 


Now Call is one of the most feared and reviled students in the history of the Magisterium, thought to be responsible for a devastating death and an ever-present threat of war. As a result, Call has been imprisoned and interrogated. Everyone wants to know what Constantine was up to- and how he lives on. 

But Call has no idea. It is only when he's broken out of prison that the full potential of Constantine's plan is suddenly in his hands... and he must decide what to do with his power.

I've been a fan of this series from the word Go. I think it's one of, if not the best middle-grade fantasy series and I even re-read the first four books which is pretty unusual for me! Plus, as this was my second read of this book, I've started picking up on the little things Holly Black and Cassandra Clare have added as foreshadowing and it just showed how cleverly written they are.

I love the character development that's happening book-to-book. The kids are kids but they're slowly growing up at a reasonable rate, and it's just such a realistic timeline. There's no jumps to suddenly being a grown-up, like some other books I've read. I've mentioned in previous reviews that the Jasper/Callum friendship is a treat and it continues to be great, they're kids being kids!

"You're the only one I can talk to, Call," said Jasper.
"You mean because I'm chained to this floor and can't get away?"
"Exactly."

I really appreciated the addition of queer representation in this book as well. An established character told the story of falling in love and it wasn't a big thing. It was just a man loving a man and it was so normalised. More of this, please. Although, I still wish there were a few more female characters. It's really the only thing that lets down the series for me, but we're talking two female to five or six male characters and I really hoped in my review of the third book that this would even out. It hasn't, which is a bit disappointing.

Since starting, I've always been waiting for these books to go full Harry Potter dark on me, but I'm pleased to say that they haven't. They keep up their overall optimism and I love them for it. They even balance out the sadness with some comedy which made me laugh out loud.

What's your favourite middle-grade series? Have you read the Magisterium books?

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

My Winter Book Haul!

For the past couple years I've been trying to curb my book buying habit. No more book hauls where I never end up reading the books, no more TBR that could crush a human, no more! Then this year, I said no more to that. I told myself that as long as I read them, I could buy them. So...



I haven't read many of these yet... but I'm working on it!



Starting with the oddballs, Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews has been on my radar for a while and I decided to finally pick it up after finding myself craving urban fantasy.
Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs on the other hand, was just because I was catching up on Bones and boy, did it jump the shark. I'm hoping that the source material has the vibe that I fell in love with the TV show for.
And Collected Stories by Vladimir Nabokov was because I'm studying Creative Writing and I needed to read some short stories for reference. And I love Nabokov's Lolita so he was an obvious choice.



I love-love-loved The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams after reading it last year so, of course, I needed her first trilogy. The Copper Promise, The Iron Ghost and The Silver Tide by Jen Williams are at the top of my TBR right now and I'm even thinking about doing a reading vlog because I have a good feeling they're going to be one of those series that I'll always wish I could read for the first time again.



I've always found military history interesting and lately I've been curious about the LGBT+ soldiers. After searching around, I found the non-fiction Fighting Proud by Stephen Bourne and the fiction The Charioteer by Mary Renault. I'm really excited to get to both of them once I finish Regeneration by Pat Barker, a book I already owned that got me interested in the topic.




More LGBT+ books that made it to my shelves this season were The Heart Begins Here by Jacqueline Dumas, Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall and Autoboyography by Christina Lauren. I actually read Autoboyography last year and loved it so much that I needed my own copy, and needed more like it, which is why I bought Been Here All Along, another M/M YA romance. In comparison, The Heart Begins Here is an adult book about a feminist bookstore run by a lesbian couple at a time when independent bookstores started feeling the heat of chains and the internet.

Have you read any of these? What do you think of my picks?

Monday, 11 March 2019

Books I Read in October!

I'm slowly catching up on these reading wrap-ups and I have to say, October of last year was a pretty amazing reading month for me! It definitely helped having a holiday to Iceland but I was just really enjoying picking up books and reading in October. I think as the seasons change, I'm more inclined to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and enjoy a good book with a cup of cocoa.

Pile of books in front of a patterned background


Dominion by Jennifer Ridyard and John Connolly*
This took me a good couple years to get to. I loved the first two books in this trilogy so much that I got stage fright when it came to the final! I built it up in my head that it felt near impossible that it would reach my high expectations. Despite this, it did.
I cringe from the word 'banter' but there really is no other way to describe the charming back-and-forth between the cast of characters. An entire cast who are all fleshed out with insights into their backstories and personalities, no matter how minor. There are no throwaways here. But the thing that stands out the most to me is the use of time. It was impossibly clever but impossible to go into without spoiling the first two books so look out for that in my series review. These books are truly the best YA that I've read and I recommend them to everyone.
The clear water still lapped in her mind like all the tears ever shed in the universe, and she found her tears were wet with it.


The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare*
I decided to re-read the Magisterium series when the fifth and final book came out for a couple reasons; I actually read along with the release dates for the most part so it's been quite spread out, and I never finished my full review of the fourth book and I wanted to refresh my mind a little before I got to it.
I wrote a full review of this book back when I first read it three years ago and for the most part, I still agree. If anything, I love it more! No longer do I find the tunnel school creepy, but charming and I actually prefer this world to Harry Potter. And the foreshadowing? Incredible.


The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare*
In my initial review of this I wrote: "I think it has great re-readabiliy" and y'know what? I was right! Go read that review because everything I wrote there stands up three years later including for when I found this hard to get into at the start. It was still a little tough for the first couple chapters.
"I always have a plan", she said, raising her eyebrows. "Sometimes even a scheme. You should take lessons from me."


Service with a Smile by P. G. Wodehouse
I’m truly so impressed with how the threads of Wodehouse's plots tangle and untangle over the course of the book. He is a master even if it does get a bit repetitive. At least if he's self-aware;
-it sometimes seemed to her that Blandings Castle had Imposters the way other houses had mice-


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I had a go at reading this in Summer last year, but didn't get very far and moved on to other Austens. However, in October I discovered that Audible had released the audiobook read by Rosamund Pike, who read Pride and Prejudice to me last December which I loved! She really brings the characters to life.
And y'know what? I really liked this! I wish the relationships ended up a different way than they did but it was really funny and I might actually prefer it to Pride and Prejudice as my favourite Austen. I'll have to re-read both at some point to see. 
-with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect.


Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
This felt too much like two separate books for me to love it. The Bath section and the Northanger Abbey section felt so distinctly different that while listening to the audiobook, I was convinced I had skipped chapters or something. However, I very much enjoyed the novel-adoring heroine and her paranoia coming from reading too many scary stories reminded me a lot of my personal fears following my reading of It by Stephen King last year. 
Nothanger Abbey has the added benefit of Austen’s comments on writing, which I really enjoyed! She speaks to the reader about common opinions on novels at the time she was writing and maybe it's the English Lit student in me but it was really interesting.
"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not the pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."


Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Fostering: The Three Kittens in a Boat!

When I got these three boys (exactly a year ago today!) I consulted my list of foster names and knew immediately that they were the Three Kittens in a Boat I had been waiting for. Three boys, all looking very handsome, and clearly the types to take a boat trip down the Thames. They came to me as an owner-surrender since they hadn't been neutered and vaccinated yet, so couldn't be adopted out.



I was surprised when Harris was first to be adopted. You always hear how black cats are the last to go, especially when he wasn't particularly cuddly. But the people who came to pick wanted a good mouser and Harris was a perfect fit. He was basically a mini-panther. It was a little bit heartbreaking when Jerome followed him into the cat carrier. Once he left, his brother wailed and wailed for a good while.


Luckily, Jerome found a home soon after. He was the only long-haired boy of the three and the first long-haired cat I'd ever spent much time with. When they came to me they were infested with fleas, even after treatment, but none as badly as Jerome. The first couple hours I spent with them, I could pick them off with my fingers as they crawled all over them. Jerome was the only one who had the horror of a bath though. He got through it well though and the little kids in the family that adopted him were smitten with this pretty boy.



And finally, my favourite, George was adopted. I'll admit, this one stung a little. Not as much as dear Gilbert but close enough that I shed a tear or two! He was such an affectionate cat, and would stand on the back of my desk chair and rub his face all over mine while I studied. Sometimes he would even 'wash' my hair. He ended up being adopted by someone who knew my dad so we got an occasional update and he broke his shoulder a few months after adoption, but bounced back.



I had these three in totally for about a month and it really shows how varied cat fostering can be. You can have shy kittens, neglected cats, pregnant queens, or in this case, three healthy boys who just needed a little tender loving care and a place to be while they wait for a home. It's totally up to you how often you take them in and doesn't cost a thing but time, since I foster through Cats Protection who cover food, litter, vet visits and even toys!

Cute, right?

Thursday, 21 February 2019

My 2018 Book Haul!

One of the goals I had in 2018 was to buy less books. I wanted to continue the ten-out, one-in thing that I did in 2017 but ended up unhauling only 30 books (here, here and here) and buying 16. Ah well! That's still a net-loss, right? I totally gave up on it all this year and I've already bought ten books so I don't think a yearly haul will do for 2019. Let's not think about that, and instead...



I picked up Date With Death by Julia Chapman at a small independent bookstore because it looked so dang cosy and cute! I actually read this a couple weeks ago and it wasn't my favourite but I have to buy a book whenever I go into a small bookstore!

A slightly less moral purchase was Ink and Bone and Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine. They both went on sale for £1 on Amazon a couple of months ago and this series has been on my radar for a while so I picked them up. I might not get around to them soon but as a student on a limited budget? A must-buy!

I started listening to a new podcast, Shedunnit, and Dorothy L. Sayers gets mentioned a lot so when I saw a collection of the first three books in her series; Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness and Unnatural Death, for £5.99 on The Book People? I had to!



Face Off by Brenda Novak and Magisterium: The Golden Tower by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare are both series I started reading because I was sent the first couple books by publicists and continued on to buy the rest myself because I loved them so much! I read both of these in 2018 and I really loved both of them.



Kitty Steals the Show, Kitty Rocks the House, Kitty in the Underworld, Low Midnight and Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn are all the Kitty Norville books I have left to finish the series which I started reading in March 2014! I read three out of five in 2018 and I'm so close to the end, I can practically taste it! The UK publisher doesn't have rights for the last four books, so I had to import the last four and my bookshelf is much less aesthetic now.




I was one of 1576 backers of Heartstopper by Alice Oseman on Kickstarter and it's now being published by Hodder! Plus, you can still read it for free online. I think Heartstopper is great but I don't think the art translates as well in print.

Rhianne is an incredible blogger who writes about writing so I picked up her first novel; The Collective as she has really helped me become a better writer. I'm a terrible reader though and haven't got around to this yet but it's on my ASAP-TBR, especially with the second book in the series now out.

Charlaine Harris is my favourite author so I, of course, had to pick up An Easy Death. It's her new series and while the first book didn't really blow me away, she's my ride-or-die author and I'll be continuing the series.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Monday, 11 February 2019

2018 in Reading!

In 2018 I read 54 books, and according to Goodreads, that figured out at 19408 pages. Interestingly, I figured out that while I read less books than I did in 2017, I read longer books so more pages. The longest being It by Stephen King at 1376 pages, which is just obscenely long, but also a lot of 400-500 page books that I wouldn't have dreamed picking up in the past.

I rated 13 books as 
I rated 14 books as 
I rated 19 books as 
I rated 5 books as 
And 2 books as 

But which were my favourites?



Third place goes to... Autoboyography by Christina Lauren!
I'll be talking more about this when I finally catch up with my monthly reading posts but I read this in hours, as an audiobook, which is so unlike me. And it's a YA romance, which isn't my genre. This just blew me away on so many levels and has me searching for more M/M romance to fill the gap this has left in my heart.

Second place goes to... The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams!
Sometimes a book is refreshing. It reminds you why you like reading in the first place and the real magic of a good story. You can read my full review rave here because I truly need to stop myself before this becomes another post all about how great this book is and how everyone should read it right this second.

My favourite book in 2018 was... The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot!
Of course, my favourite book this year was a classic! It's wild to me that looking back to when I started this blog, I was truly anti-classic. This was a wonderful book, and the only one in 2018 to make me cry. If classics aren't your thing, give The Mill on the Floss a try, it's progressive and charming and heartbreaking and a true English delight.

What were your favourite books of 2018?

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