Queen of Zazzau (J.S. Emuakpor)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Totally kick-ass!

TL;DR – A smashing tale of war, love, magic and gods, with seriously strong female characters

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Fans of historical fantasy, fans of strong female leads

About the Book…

Amina is a princess, heir to the throne of Zazzau and a destiny of war and bloodshed. Amina must prove herself as a warrior and lead Zazzau against hordes of foreign enemies and strange magic. But the god of war has his sights set on Amina, and ruling the nation soon proves to be far more complicated than Amina could have possibly imagined.

Queen of Zazzau follows Amina from her beginnings as the heir apparent, through war and love and impossible bargains. The book takes place over some 80 years, during which Amina becomes a strong military leader, a Queen and the wife of a god. It is full to the brim with battles and magic, gods and romance.

What I thought…

I put off reading this book for a while as it is pretty long, clocking in at 510 pages – and what a selection of pages they are!

My favourite thing about this book is its lead character, Amina. Amina is a wonderful example of well-rounded, strong female lead. She’s powerful, clever, loving, dedicated – she is brilliant. We get to explore so many facets of Amina’s character as the story progresses, from romantic interests, battle tactics, diplomacy…even an unexpected pregnancy. Life throws so much at Amina, and she doesn’t take it lying down, but at the same time, she has this fragile side that feels so real – she struggles to keep going at times, allowing fear and panic to take hold of her. Amina is such a great character for so many reasons, and I’m super pleased to have read her story.

Another thing I loved was the way religion is explored in this book. Strictly speaking, the Zazzauwa are Muslim, but for many, if not most of them the old religion still exists – a host of other gods hold some sway over the workings of the world and I found it really interesting to see how the two quite disparate set of beliefs gelled together into a functioning belief system.

My only complaint about this book was the ending. Now, I need to say before I go further, that I did like the ending – I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with it. Feel free to skip this paragraph as it does contain spoilers and isn’t hugely important.

So an old prophecy has linked Amina and the god of war for years, and when he first appears, Amina wants no part of it. She’s quite happy as she is, she is already in love with someone else but the god of war insists that she will be his eventually. This turns out to be true, but when she finally does go to him, she offers herself in exchange for his influence over a battle that will decide the fate of her kingdom and everyone in it. So Amina becomes his wife, and then the god drops the bombshell that she will now feel intense sexual desire, which he will only satisfy when he feels like it. She is free to sleep with other men, but they MUST die afterwards. I think we can all agree this is beyond creepy and straight up abusive – but that’s gods for you, those guys are jerks. Anyway, because of this, Amina is prevented from properly experiencing love for her entire life – which, incidentally, is spent eternally young, so for 80 years she can’t allow herself to love another man, instead of taking a number of ‘temporary husbands’ and killing them, or periodically having sex with the god of war. Which brings us to the end. Turns out, after all this, she completely loves the god of war and they ride off into the sunset together.

OK spoilers over, on to my point. As I’ve said in other reviews, I’m autistic – I have trouble understanding how other peoples minds work. But to me, the end doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure what I would have wanted in its place, and I’m not begrudging the bitter-sweet ending, but still, it doesn’t sit quite right with me. But that could just be my weird interpretation – don’t let it prevent you reading the book and making up your own mind.

Final Thoughts…

This book is an epic tale with so much to love about it. I’m really pleased I read it and will definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for anything J.S. Emuakpor might release in the future.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Mirai (Mamoru Hosoda)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

One of my favourite books ever.

TL;DR – A wonderful, beautiful story about family, sibling rivalry and love.

EBBannerRagdoll Rating: EXCEPTIONAL

Recommended For: Anybody who wants a beautiful story and isn’t put off by a bit of confusion.

About the Book…

Life is pretty good for Kun, until his sister Mirai is born. Suddenly his parents seem irritable, and have less time to spend with him, and poor Kun struggles to adapt to his new reality. He hates his new sister, he hates his parents and he hates his new life. Kun’s world has been turned upside down in an instant. But after an impossible encounter with a future version of his new little sister, Kun is thrown into an even more impossible journey and nothing will ever be the same.

What I thought…

Let it be known by one and all that I want to kiss Mamoru Hosoda and his beautiful mind. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this strange little book is one of the best I have ever read.

I don’t know what it is about this book. Perhaps it’s got something to do with being the eldest of four children, perhaps it has something to do with my own internalised difficulties with perceived rejection and change, perhaps it’s something else, but this book reached out and touched my very soul (an impressive feat considering I don’t believe in the soul!). Kun is such a relatable and believable character. He is flawed, what child is perfect, but everything he does, from his initial negative, even violent reactions over the arrival of his new sister, to the results of his dream-like journey…I just felt it, deep down inside me, that I knew exactly how he felt, and how he was hurting.

Kun is a lost boy, trapped in a scary world of conflicting emotions and change and that hits me where I live. Seeing his journey, meeting members of his family and learning from them, and then losing himself completely and almost irretrievably was heart breaking, and completely poetically beautiful. I refuse to tell you much about the ending, all I can say is that if I hadn’t been convinced by the story up until that point (which I absolutely was) the final few chapters would have swung it.

My only critique about this book is that the dream-like encounters come out of nowhere. You’re reading a slice-of-life story, and all of a sudden things get weird and sci-fi. I still have no idea what was going on, and a little bit of me wants an explanation, but a much, MUCH bigger part of me doesn’t care. Just be aware of it, and if it bothers you, please just accept it and keep reading, it is SO worth it.

Final Thoughts…

I genuinely did not expect the reaction I got from this book. It is currently 3:30AM, and I hauled myself out of bed as soon as I finished reading to write this review because I felt an overwhelming urge to tell anyone and everyone who would listen to read this book. I love it, and I really hope you’ll give it a try.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Tardy Bells and Witches Spells (Sarina Dorie)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Fans of magical romance

About the Book…

Tardy Bells is the tragic story of a teenage nerd who wants to be a witch. Clarissa Lawrence is a geek. She loves Star Trek and Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings, and she loves magic. But her wish for magic turns sour when, after an incident at the Oregon Country Fair, where Clarissa’s sister becomes convinced she will be murdered by Clarissa before her 18th birthday.

What follows is a tale of magical discovery and teenage romance.

What I thought…

I really enjoyed this book, it was another one of those can’t-put-it-down reads where, had I not had other things to do, I would have read it all in one sitting. I hate how much I relate to Clarissa, the 14 year old girl inside me was crying out the whole way through screaming “Oh my god YEEEEESS!” She is a nerdy little girl who doesn’t fit in, struggles at school and has a group of weird friends. She is a total underdog and you can’t not root for her. Her sister is the preppy, beautiful popular cheerleader. Clarissa’s life reads like a story book, which for a character so heavily influenced by fiction seems highly appropriate.

It is established that Clarissa is geeky by namedropping all the various geeky things she enjoys, from Star Wars to My Little Pony. I understand why it was done, it was just super irritating.

Also, I hate Clarissa’s mother. I personally feel that the events of this story, much like the events in Disney’s Frozen, could have been easily avoided if the child’s parents weren’t total morons. Clarissa’s mother goes out of her way to make Clarissa think magic doesn’t exist, allegedly for her own protection. To whit, she has drugged her daughter since birth, and after an argument, literally burned every magic related item Clarissa owned, which was about 90% of her stuff. When Clarissa’s sister gets abducted at the Country Fair and comes home raving about how Clarissa is going to murder her, instead of sending the sister to a psychiatrist or something, the whole thing seems to be put on Clarissa. Her mum hates Derrick because she senses magic in him, and worries Clarissa’s magic will surface by association. Now to her mums credit, that is exactly what happened, but realistically if she had done the sensible thing and talked to her daughter about the situation like a normal person, the terrible things that happen throughout the book might have been avoided. Infuriating, but good reading.

The story is paced well and reads nicely. The writing style is informal, I suppose very much in the way you would expect a well-read 14 year old to recount things. It makes for very easy reading. I love Clarissa and Derick as characters, I see so much of myself in both of them, which was really nice. I just want them to be happy! I’m so pathetic!

Final Thoughts…

This really is a book for the outcast weirdos out there. This book is a fun little read, that I couldn’t put down. It’s a little weirdly written at times, and the constant name dropping bugged me, but I’m glad I read it and will definitely be reading the rest of the series (I have the next 2 downloaded already!)

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Kwik Review: Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball (Laura Ellen Anderson)

Kwik Reads


Goodreads Link | Author Website

This is the book I wish had been around back when I taught primary kids.

TL;DR – A gross and funny tale of vampires, yetis and obnoxious princes, with sublime illustrations.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS (Fang-tastsic)

What I thought…

I read this book because of the cover art. I adore the art style. It’s so cute and fun. I wanted to see if the story was as good as the art. (It is).

It’s time for the annual Barbaric Ball, and Amelia is dreading it. Prince Tangine, an insufferable little twerp, has just started at Amelia’s school and Amelia is stuck showing him around. The prince is selfish and spoiled, and his father, the King gives him anything he asks for. When the King and Prince Tangine visit Amelia’s home, the prince starts demanding their property, first a statute, then a valuable heirloom chair. The King grants these requests much to Amelia’s fury – but the the prince demands Amelia’s pet pumpkin, Squashy! Amelia and her friends hatch a plan to rescue Squashy from the Prince during the Barbaric Ball, but in the process Amelia learns a terrible secret!

This book is charming, and super gross. It’s the kind of book I would love to have read to my classes when I was a teaching assistant, because oh boy would they have loved it.

The world is turned on it’s head. Amelia is a vampire, her friends are ‘monsters’, Grimaldi is a young Grim Reaper, Florence is a rare breed of yeti – they are creatures of the Dark. As such, their worldview is different. Calling someone a lovely little armpit hair could be a compliment, glitter is terrifying. It’s a small thing that makes the world fun and believable, but also opens the gates for all manner of gross ideas, from compliments to food.

The story is simple, but engaging. The characters are wonderful – and there is a particularly nice 2-page spread introducing them all. But the my favourite thing about this book is that every page has some form of illustration.  Sometimes a whole page worth. The illustrations are absolutely adorable. I think having read this book, that Laura Ellen Anderson is probably now my favourite illustrator, and that is absolutely not an exaggeration.

I’m 28 years old, and I really enjoyed this book. It was funny and gross and weird and silly. It was heartwarming, and sad, it made me angry and it made me smile. It is exactly the sort of thing I wish I could write, and I recommend it to anyone.

Give this to the weird kid in your life. (Reviewers note: All kids are weird, give this book to all of them.)

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Gray Hawk of Terrapin (Moss Whelan)


Goodreads Link

The fever dream of a madman.

TL;DR – I couldn’t sum this book up for you if you held a gun to my head – I literally have no idea what happened.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 1/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I was asked by the publisher if I would like to read and review this book, and I wasn’t about to turn that down. It sounded good in the synopsis so it seemed like a safe bet.

The Story…

A girl with an overactive imagination is taken to a fantasy world for some reason and I really don’t know what to tell you after that, so I’m just going to borrow a bit from Goodreads:

Ever since her father’s death, Mool has been talking with an imaginary green lion named Inberl. (…) Inberl is arrested because he’s looking for Gray Hawk. Springing into action, Mool sets out to rescue Inberl.

Mool… (finds) …a secret map, finds a hidden bridge and crosses it (…) On the other side of the bridge, they find a secret city that keeps Terrapin at war.

Since that doesn’t explain much I’m going to paint you a little picture.

Imagine, if you will, that you have been kidnapped by sinister forces. The sinister forces have taken you to a place that looks like Disneyland and they have tied you up on Main Street. Attached to your arm is a large IV bag labelled “Adrenalin”. This strange Disneyland extremely busy, except instead of tourists, every patron is a costumed character. They take it in turns to read to you from Alice in Wonderland. In the background, you hear the theme tune to The Magic Roundabout playing far too loud, on a permanent loop. Every time you close your eyes, a costumed character clouts you round the head with a shovel. Every time you try and sleep, they pump you full of adrenaline. Imagine this continued for a full month – a full 31 days of loud, repetitive music, shovel beatings, adrenaline, sleep deprivation and surrealist literature in a setting that is quite ludicrous. Then, for no apparent reason, it all stops and they untie you.

Then imagine they told you that you could leave, but first you had to write a book. I imagine this is the book you would have written.

I tried to finish this book. I read about 65% of it. But in the end I had to add it to the extremely small list of books I just couldn’t finish.

What I thought…

I really don’t know. It’s trying to be like Alice in Wonderland – it’s surreal, and strange, there’s lots of made-up words and concepts, there’s even a Dodo and a chess theme. Problem is, I don’t like the Alice books very much, and they are pretty classic, so a book in the style of Alice wasn’t necessarily going to go down that well anyway.

Thing is, I kept reading this book because of a couple of throwaway lines and details. First off, Mool’s father has recently died and she’s been seeing a green lion ever since. Second, was a line from Mool’s mother who says Mool doesn’t go to school – they have an arrangement; something to do with her overactive memory. These two things made me think that the explanation for this book lie in Mool’s mental health. This book reads like an explanation of ADHD, autism and maybe some sort of dis-associative disorder (and as someone with the latter 2, that spoke to me) – so I kept reading hoping that at the end I would have some traumatic explanation about grief, mental health and recovery, and for all I know that’s exactly what I would get, I just couldn’t make it that far.

Problem was that I don’t know how to process any of what I read. The plot jumped wildly, to the point that I felt like I was missing pages or even chapters. I could follow it in so far as Mool tries to rescue the green lion, but anything more specific than that was just lost in the relentless tsunami of peculiarity.

There were made up words galore, and many of these were in italics, so you knew they were made up. Problem was, they weren’t all in italics, and there were – possibly – a bunch of spelling errors from time to time. Thing is, I had no way of knowing if it was a made up word or a spelling error due to the inconsistent use of italics. The grammar was also peculiar in many places – words seemed to drop out of sentences and appear elsewhere, and I have no way of understanding if this was intentional or not.

To be honest it all felt excessive. Like a teenage boy telling racist jokes because he thinks the harder he tries to be edgy, the funnier he is, this book just goes so far into the surrealist realms that the story gets lost along the way.

Final thoughts…

I couldn’t follow it, I didn’t have any reason to care about any of the characters and the constant surrealism made it feel like it would never end. So I apologise to the author, but this just wasn’t for me.

Having said that, I have heard from others who have read it, that if you are a fan of the Alice stories, and surrealism in general, then you might really like it. To each their own I suppose.

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Please note: I received a free e-book copy of this work from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Exile of the Seas (Jeffe Kennedy)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 4/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Fans of fantasy romance

About the Book

Princess Jenna has escaped from the clutches of her abusive and evil husband and headed across the seas aboard the Valeria. On the journey she meets a warrior priestess called Kaja who helps her conceal her identity and make her own way in the world. But her husband and his goons are never far enough behind.

This book is equal parts fantasy adventure and romance novel.

Trigger Warning: This book contains references to serious sexual assault, abuse and bodily mutilation. It’s not particularly graphic, but it comes up a lot and might be distressing (I certainly found it upsetting).

What I thought

It took me a little while to get into this book, and it wasn’t until I had finished it that it was the second book in a series, which explained why I thought the author assumed a whole lot of knowledge on my part when starting the book. My bad. But once I got my head around the setting I found it a very enjoyable read.

The book focuses on Jenna, beginning with her passage on the Valeria (under the name Brian), and quickly see’s her becoming an acolyte of the Goddess Danu, under a new name, Ivariel. We see Ivariel go from her sheltered, submissive (and horribly abusive) past life in Dasnaria to becoming a warrior and making her own way in the scary new world.

I liked the fact that Ivariel wasn’t just dumped in the world and competent. In fact she was beyond useless in most regards and stayed that way for most of the book. Her strengths came from the skills she actually had experience of. She was given a knife to practice with and couldn’t even grip it – but she was athletic and able to learn because of the way she was raised. This meant that Ivariel was believable and very relatable.

This book contains constant reference to the horrors of Ivariel’s old life – which as I mentioned above, is horrific – and it’s upsetting. Upsetting to the point where I’m not sure if I could read the first book because I’m worried what it might contain. That said, this book also tries to focus on her path to healing the wounds of the past, which is considerably nicer. Ivariel goes from mentally scarred and disassociating when sex is referenced, to having romantic and sexual feelings for another character. Which I can understand to a point, although one element did stick out like a bit of a sore thumb – please skip the following box if you want to avoid spoilers:

Spoilers: Ivariel takes a vow of chastity (and silence) and the start of this book, which she chooses to end over the course. The bit that stuck out for me is that the very last thing that happens in this book is that she gives up her vow of chastity – something she took because of how psychologically (and physically) damaged she was in regards to sex – and it seemed like an incredibly big leap for her to take for no apparent reason. Yes she’d just had her life saved, but her only ‘sexual’ interaction in the books at that point had been a kiss, where she had punched the kisser in the face, and a forced stripping where she killed everyone. I just can’t imagine that she would give up that vow just to say thank you, or because someone mentioned in passing that the vows were a sort of shield. But perhaps that’s just me.

I also liked that the romance in this was not too heavy. It was there and building the whole way through but it didn’t take precedent over the plot of starting a new life, which I worried it would.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, although I could have done without quite so much horrible backstory. It’s a good read, but if you think for even a minute that the triggers I’ve highlighted might be an issue for you, then don’t risk it, otherwise it’s worth a look in.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Foundryside (Robert Jackson Bennett)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (August 2018)

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Ragdoll Rating: Exceptional

Recommended For: Fans of fantasy and adventure. Also anybody else at all.

About the Book

Sancia Grado is a thief. A good thief. But she is also different. Tevanne is a strange land, that runs on a form of magic known as scriving. If you know the write sigils, you can alter objects and change their behaviour – legend has it that an ancient group called the hierophants could use scriving to bend reality to their will!

Sancia is a scrived human. The only scrived human. She started her life as a slave and she was experimented on – but the scrived plate in her head gives her some special abilities which make her an excellent sneak thief.

Sancia is offered the job of a lifetime – steal one item for more money than she could ever hope to see in her lifetime. She takes the chance, and then her world falls apart.

What I thought

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this book. I mean I really, REALLY loved it. It’s 512 pages long, and I must have read 350+ of them in one sitting – I would have read three quarters of the book in one day if I’d had the energy to keep reading. It was that kind of book.

First of all, we’ve got to talk about scriving. At first this seems like your pretty average magic stuff. Say the right words and it does what you say kind of thing. But it isn’t. It goes WAY deeper than that. Bennett goes into considerable detail over the course of the book about the mechanics of scriving, the theory, the practical uses and the history. It’s rare to find a magical mechanic in a story that has been this clearly thought out, which would be worth big points in my book on its own, but it was the way this information is relayed to the reader that really made this book stand out. We never get too much information in one go – it doesn’t feel like you’re reading fictional non-fiction – you get just enough information to understand without breaking the flow of things…and it’s just really cool.

I’m not sure if the following paragraph counts as spoilers, but I’m gonna talk a bit about why scriving is awesome:

  1. Scrived objects are logical and stupid – you can only change them in ways that make sense. For example, you can make wood stronger, by scriving it to act like stone, but you can’t make it melt by telling it that it’s ice, because that’s too different.
  2. BUT you can do cool things with it if you are clever. For example, you can make a cart propel itself by telling the wheels they are rolling down a hill and telling them how steep the hill is. This leads to some wild things later on.
  3. It’s hard work. You’ve read got to know what you are doing to make it work, and experimentation can be really dangerous because its so easy to get things wrong – because of this, it’s a rich mans game, which has led to a really horrible unequal society.
  4. It controls (almost) everything in Tevanne. It’s so understandable. Sometimes you read about something amazing in a story and wonder why it’s under utilised, like the Force in Star Wars. If I had the force I would never stop using it, all the time for EVERYTHING. But they never do. But in Foundryside, those who can afford scriving, use it for everything they possibly can. It supports buildings, changes weapons, powers foundries, it is everywhere, and that can lead to big problems.

I’m sure there is more I could say about why I like this element, but I don’t want to go on and on. Trust me though, it’s really cool and it stays cool all the way through.

Secondly, two words. Unexpected Queers. I’m not the only queer person who, unless explicitly told otherwise (and often even then), assumes every character in everything is 400% queer. Then I find out it’s not the case. Well guess what – there’s at least 3 actual, factual queers in this book (by my count). Which is GREAT. Not just because they are queer –  but because it’s written completely naturally. Nobody bats an eye. In Tevanne, it’s perfectly, completely and utterly normal to be queer. And that is so refreshing. It’s so nice to read a book that – to the best of my knowledge – isn’t presented as queer-lit where a characters queerness is just another part of their character. It was also really nice to be right for a change, after deciding a character was queer.

Thirdly, the plot. I am a big fan of the idea that if it’s gonna go wrong, it may as well go catastrophically wrong. I like it when things go to hell, real fast. It’s fun and I like seeing how it can get worse as much as I enjoy seeing how that characters fix the problems – and this book did not disappoint on that front. I found every page more exciting than the last (especially the pages involved in the previous paragraph 😀 ). Everything went from bad to worse, and was written really well so you actually care about it.

Finally, the mystery element. This book has a lot of folklore in it – tales of the Makers or Hierophants or Ancient Ones – a race of giants who could bend reality to their whim with scriving. It also includes a talking key and a bunch of weird artefacts which are all surrounded in mystery. You find yourself constantly guessing how the ancient mysteries actually work, and how to solves the puzzles the characters are trying to solve – and I was right about 50-70% of the time. Actually if I’m honest this was probably the only element (besides some peculiar phrasing at times) that I didn’t like as much – mainly because for some things (for example, how the ritual works), I knew how it worked so long before the characters I wanted to yell at them for being so dense! But I suppose that’s the advantage readers have over characters – we get the extra context.

Final Thoughts

I loved it and I think anyone with even a vague interest in the fantasy / adventure genre should read it immediately. Also, I cannot wait for part 2 in the series!

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Alchemist’s Illusion (Gigi Pandian)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Fans of mystery novels. Young folks.

About the Book

The Alchemist’s Illusion is part of the Accidental Alchemist series, although it is mostly a stand-alone work. This book makes frequent references to things that I assume happened in the previous three titles – I’ve not read them yet, so I can’t be totally sure – but I didn’t feel I missed anything from not having read them, everything was explained to some extent.

Zoe Faust has set herself up in Portland, Oregon. Zoe is an alchemist who created the Elixir of Life and has lived for hundreds of years. She has led a life on the run, skipping town and changing her identity every few years to avoid detection and revealing her secret, but now she had built herself a comfortable little life and she want’s to stay where she is. Then she discovers her old mentor, Nicholas Flamel is in danger and needs her help. Suddenly her life is turned on its head, and Zoe finds herself in the midst of an alchemical conspiracy / murder mystery.

What I thought:

It took me a while to get properly into this book. I think it was the abundance of language related to alchemy that did it. I know absolutely nothing about alchemy, which highlighted two thoughts in my head. Firstly, I didn’t know what any of the words meant, and secondly, I didn’t know if the vocabulary used was accurate or just made up by the author. I don’t know why this bugged me, and I don’t know why it stopped bugging me either. But it did stop, and once I got over it I was in the middle of a really excellent mystery novel. I read the whole book in less than a day – I stayed up all night just to finish, it was that kind of book. I couldn’t put it down.

So the first thing I really liked was the way alchemy was portrayed in the book. As I’ve just said, I know nothing about it, so perhaps everything is totally accurate (in so much as you can be accurate about something like alchemy), but it was different to how I usually see it portrayed. There is a lovely line in the book that says that the different between alchemy and chemistry is that alchemy requires a connection to the materials, and proper intention (or words to that effect). Zoe, for example, really struggles to turn things into gold, because she’s just not interested in it, but she is superb with plant-based alchemy. Edward Kelley can’t make gold, because his intentions aren’t good – he’s greedy and want’s the power and so he just can’t manage it. It’s very different from, for example, the Harry Potter style of alchemy where the philosophers stone gets made and suddenly anybody can use it just by having it on them.

It was also really interesting to see the variety of alchemy. Nicholas Flamel is sort of the traditional alchemist, lead into gold, that sort of thing (although by no means limited to just that one thing). Zoe is all about the plants. Tobias is a spiritual alchemist – someone who works to transform the spirit into something better. Phillipe Hayden is a alchemical painter – using raw materials to do magical things with paint. It really makes the world of alchemy more interesting and alive to know that there is so much to it that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

Another thing I liked was the characters. Particularly Dorian – a gargoyle who became real by accident. Dorian still looks like a gargoyle – he’s grey, he’s got wings, he’s 3 feet tall – but he wanted to do things with his life, so he apprenticed under a blind chef and cooked for blind folks as a way of being out in the world but not seen. He’s heavily influenced by the books he reads and throws himself into any situation that calls for his attention. He’s just a wonderful creation and the whole book was improved by his existence.

One thing I noticed – and this an observation more than a criticism – is that Pandian has a tendency to repeat things that have already been said. The attic room where Dorian lives, for example, is probably described 3 times in much the same way at different points in the book, and there are other examples that escape me – mostly alchemical things. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly helped cement some of the concepts in my mind, but I’m aware it could bug some people. Also there were a couple of times where characters said things that I just can’t imagine any human being every saying. The one that sticks in my mind most was an outburst by a murder victims wife, who says “He was wearing that on the moonlit night he was murdered!” The night he was murdered, sure, but the moonlit night? Perhaps people in Portland are more poetic than I am. Again, this isn’t a criticism it just struck me as a bit peculiar.

The thing I liked most about this book is that, as I said, after a shaky start (due to an abundance of technical terminology) I was completely and totally hooked. I think I read a few chapters Monday night, and then the entire book in on sitting last night. That’s not something I usually do, unless I’m really hooked into something. I’ll read for a long time, but it’s not often I find something I’m willing to stay up all night just to see how it ends. I’m also desperate to read the other three books in the series so I hope that goes some way to showing just how much I liked this book.

Final Thoughts

This is a really fun book, that I would happily recommend to anyone, and will probably wind up buying a physical copy of the series so my younger sisters can read it too, because I know they will love it.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Coraline (Neil Gaiman)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

I cannot overstate how much I adore this book.

TL;DR – A truly creepy tale.

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RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional

Why I read it…

I got this book signed at a talk Gaiman did at Ely Cathedral years ago – it’s the pride of my book collection! I read it again today (all in one sitting) because I’ve been trying to read books aimed with a younger audience in mind (as I am trying to write a book for younger audiences) and this is probably my favourite of them all.

The Story…

Coraline Jones is bored. She has just moved house, her parents are busy working, her toys are not fun anymore and there is nothing for her to do. Until she discovers a doorway to another world – a world full of colour, with attentive parents, delicious food and excitement by the bucket-load.

But all is not what it seems, and Coraline must learn the a lesson in the hardest way possible. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side – and if it is, it’s probably poisonous!

Why I love It…

I freely admit I am biased. I adore Gaiman’s work, but there is a reason for that. I like the way the man writes. It dances merrily between serious and silly, formal and informal. Behind it’s sometimes playful wording, lies a seriously creepy tale of terror. It’s the kind of thing I wish I’d been read as a child, or alternatively, wish I had a child to read it to.

I love Coraline (the character). Her motivations are so believable, boredom, curiosity, and a vague sense that nobody is really interested in her or her thoughts lead her to dive into this new and exciting world. But she is also clever, brave, resourceful and ever so caring. It would be so easy for her to have just stayed in the Other world (except, perhaps, for having buttons sewn onto her eyes), but instead she risks her own safety to save the souls trapped by the Other mother.

I also love the supporting characters. Gaiman has a knack for making characters interesting in as few words as possible. It’s a skill I infinitely admire, and am super jealous of. Characters such as Mr Bobo (Bobinski in the film), and his all-mouse circus.

‘The reason you cannot see the mouse circus’ said the man upstairs, ‘is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed. Also, they refuse to play the songs I have written for them. All the songs I have written for the mice to play go oompah oompah. But the white mice will only play toodle oodle, like that. I am thinking of trying them on different types of cheese.’

One paragraph and Mr Bobo and his world have come instantly to life. I can’t think of many authors who can make me so interested in the inner workings of a supporting character in so few words – heck, many can’t do it in a whole book.

I would also love to talk about how much I love the ending of this book – specifically the part about the picnic – but I can’t think of a way to do so without spoiling the ending for those who haven’t read it, so you’ll just have to trust me that it is wonderful.

Recommended For…

I recommend this book to everyone. Everybody should read this book at some point. It’s fun, it’s creepy and it’s brilliantly told. It is a beautiful example of the art of writing. Although I should point out that it could scare the impressionable youngsters (depending on their temperament), but they should read it anyway and just accept that being scared is a price well paid for such excellent and fun reading.

Final thoughts…

I love this book. The children I used to work with (primary school) loved this book. My sister saw the film this book inspired, and was completely (and hilariously) traumatised by how scary it was. It is truly excellent. Read it. Immediately.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Last Chance Hotel (Nicki Thornton)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (July 2018)

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It’s not often I feel compelled insta-tweet when finishing a book.

TL;DR – A twisting, turning magical who-dunnit – a really excellent read!

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I won this book in a twitter giveaway, so it’s been on my reading list.

The Story…

Seth is an ordinary kitchen boy, working in an ordinary hotel, situated in the middle of a not-so-very ordinary forest.

Seth’s world is turned upside down and inside out when a party of magical guests arrive. When one of the guests dies, Seth is accused of the murder and must do everything he can to clear his name.

What follows is a series of twists, turns, surprises and magic!

What I liked…

The thing I liked most about this book was the fact that by the end of the book, almost every guess I made was wrong. But more importantly, even though I was wrong I could pick the clues out all through the book afterwards. It wasn’t one of those murder mysteries where literally everything that happened before the last chapter didn’t matter, because the vital (and indeed only clue) turns up and destroys all previous theories (I’m looking at you Death in Paradise…). No, I had my theories, lots of theories, and while I was close, I was wrong – and that was a lot of fun!

Secondly, I liked Seth. Seth’s a darling. He works hard, despite his horrible bosses, and their scum-of-the-Earth daughter, Tiffany. He’s an orphan, so he’s stuck where he is – but he finds solace in cooking. He’s just a real nice kid. When he gets bullied by Tiffany you really feel his pain. When he’s accused of murder, and every bit of new evidence points to him, you fear for him, I mean it’d be a pretty dark children’s book if he got hauled off to magical jail at the end, but still, you really worry about him.

Thirdly, I liked the buildup. I can best describe this book using the phrase “Nothing is as it seems!” Every time I thought I had a handle on what was going on, something would happen to make me question everything I thought I knew. I still have a question that I want answering about the cat Nightshade, but who knows if I’ll get one! It was well paced, you just got used to things and then something new happened, and it was exciting too.

What I disliked…(but really sort of liked)

I intensely hated Tiffany. Delores Umbridge levels of hate. She is just horrible. Just thinking of how to write this paragraph makes my head spin thinking about the depths of my loathing. Which is obviously what was intended, and I think demonstrates the quality of the writing. Or it triggered some sort of bullying-related PTSD, one or the other. But I can’t put a character I hate as a mark against a book, because it makes the book what it is, which is why I’ve had to change to title of this section.

Final thoughts…

The Last Chance Hotel is a wonderful example of a murder mystery. It is an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read and I recommend it to anyone – especially the youngsters!

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!