Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

A few weeks ago, my nan told me about a book written by an autistic teenager that recently won the Wainwright Prize (which is a UK award focusing on books about nature) and offered to buy me a copy. Naturally, having a great love of nature myself and also wanting to read more autistic voices, I said I’d love to read it. (Though, amusingly, the book is yellow, which is the one colour that is absolute sensory hell for me – an easy fix though, as I simply turned the dust cover inside out.)

The book is written in journal format and is compiled into sections based on the four seasons. It’s difficult to fully articulate my feelings on it, but I’ll try. (A warning, though: this is likely to be a long and rambling post detailing some of my own life experiences rather than just focusing on the book. I promise it will be relevant, though!)

Firstly, Dara’s writing is very evocative and poetic – I had serious writer envy on this one. He seems to have the ability to place you exactly in the situation he’s describing; every detail fed to you as if your own senses were picking it up. At least, that’s how it was for me – maybe it’s because the way my senses work are very similar to his, but judging by the amount of praise this book has had, I doubt it’s just that. This did, however, present something of a problem in that it was sometimes too much for me to handle. My head would be reeling after reading a section just like it does when I’m experiencing sensory overload. I was also a little intimidated at the beginning by the sheer knowledge he has; every species and sub-species mentioned is identified, which meant a lot of names to get my head around. I did get used to it once I got past the first quarter, but it took some time. But nature has been central to his entire life, so it makes sense that his knowledge is so vast.

Secondly, his passion leaks from every word, and while noting the intricacies and completely fascinating things, he also goes into detail about the very real threats to the world (I would say the natural world, but we are part of nature rather than separate from it): climate change, deforestation, hunting, pollution, just to name a few. Now, as mentioned above, nature is one of my loves too, and I’m very passionate about protecting it. But over the years, the apathy and unkindness of others has beaten down my willingness to express why it’s important to me. I used to share all the petitions I sign on my social media pages, but now only share a handful, and in 2013, I tried fundraising for a charity (Cool Earth – check them out if you can) by getting tattooed in the armpit, only to have very little response. Realising that I’d pretty much silenced myself without even knowing came as quite a shock. And I felt like I’d let myself and the environment down, that I wasn’t doing enough.

But I kept reading, and as Dara also documents his mental health, having experienced intense bullying at school because of his interests, I came to understand that the key to why I stopped was because my own mental health wasn’t good enough to handle such negativity. That, and I get so overwhelmed about how much of a crisis the world is in that I feel like I might be crushed by it.

However, I also came to realise that though I haven’t been as vocal as I would like, I’ve still continued doing things to try and bring about the changes I’d love to see. I still sign petitions, and when my finances allow, I donate to relevant charities. I also sneak bits into my books to generate awareness, like including several stories focusing on endangered animals and deforestation in my short story collection, When the Bard Came Visiting, and having characters interact with nature in quite profound ways. So, while I might have too much anxiety to go to a climate march (not that that would be a good idea during the current pandemic), or experience too much overwhelm to constantly share facts about how much the rainforests have been cut down or the oceans have been polluted by plastic and oil spills, I can continue to do the little things within my area of expertise. And if I spark even one person’s passion for the environment, then it’ll be worth it.

Now, back to the actual book.

Dara’s ability to reflect on his experiences is really what makes this book come together, and though at first it seems quite simple, it covers an awful lot of ground. As I mentioned above, he talks about mental health and bullying, and how it’s often quite hard for autistic people to express themselves. I know from my own experiences how difficult it is – the ideas are there in my head but refuse to come out in any intelligible way. He also splashes in bits of Irish and world mythology here and there, which creates yet another layer to what he’s reflecting on. I really loved reading those parts.

In short (after taking far, far too much space going over the ‘long’), this book is a beautiful exploration of our world and being part of a minority within it, and despite the mental turmoil it caused within me, left me with an awful lot of hope, too.

If, as I would urge, you decide to pick up a copy, you can get it here. I would also encourage you to check out his blog and Youtube channel too.

Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Living on the Spectrum: Autism and Youth in Community by Elizabeth Fein

At the beginning of last month, I received an email from Elizabeth asking if I wanted a review copy of her book. She stated that there were some sections in it which looked at the connections between autism and fantasy literature, and thought I might find it interesting. (If you’re new here, hi, I’m autistic and write fantasy books.)[Also, please excuse the bird images, WordPress is being odd and not allowing me to use paragraphs, so I decided to cheat and break up the text this way.]
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Elizabeth Fein is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University and a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania (as stated in her bio on the book’s back cover), and so actively works in the field. At first I was unsure of whether to take up her offer, not only because I find academic texts extremely hard to read, but also because I was afraid that the book would take a very medical approach to autism and possibly speak positively of a cure. However, after re-reading her pitch a few times, I decided that her approach sounded a lot more considerate of autistic people as actual people, rather than patients with something solely negative that needs to be removed.
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Here is the pitch she sent:
The book combines approaches from psychology and anthropology to look at how youth diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions reconcile controversies around autism as a disease vs. autism as an identity.  I spent several years doing research in places where people on the spectrum come together to work, play, live, love and learn. The book describes how youth on the spectrum are looking beyond medicine for narratives that make sense of their lives, re-telling their own stories through a shared mythology drawn from roleplaying games, anime, and other forms of speculative fiction.
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(The book delves into these things solely within America, as that’s where Elizabeth is based, and only briefly mentions other countries. It also mostly focuses on teenagers and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.)
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The book starts with a very comprehensive introduction, which outlines how her research was carried out (lots and lots of field work, much of which was talking to autistic individuals and the people who work with them), where her personal interest in autism started (I found this part extremely heart-warming) and also a bit about the history of autism as a diagnosable condition – she mentions both Leo Kanner (who noted what is still sometimes called ‘classic’ autism; meaning individuals with high care needs who may be non-verbal) and Hans Asperger (who looked more at individuals who are often highly verbal and excel in topics they’re interested). She also mentions the controversy around Hans Asperger (which is highly Google-able), and notes how terminology around autism has changed over the years, and presently all variants of autism are diagnosed under one umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (some places prefer to say ‘condition’, others use ‘disorder’). When I was diagnosed early last year, it was under this umbrella term, though the psychologist I spoke to said the way my traits manifest are closest to what was previously called Asperger’s Syndrome.
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Elizabeth also notes that she uses both autistic person and person with autism to refer to individuals on the spectrum throughout the book, taking particular care to use the version the person she’s interviewing prefers. (Many people, like myself, prefer to say they’re autistic, however, there are some who like to say they have autism.) I actually liked this, as despite my own preference, I felt she was trying to be as inclusive as possible. Other notes she includes are that everyone interviewed has been given a different name in the book to protect their identity, and that as her research was done over a number of years, the way the participants referred to themselves in terms of gender may also have changed. There are many others, which all helped to put me at ease with the prospect of the topics the book talks about.
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Now, onto the main parts of the book:
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The first chapter looks at the idea of structured socialising, in this case through a live-action role-play camp specifically for autistic kids, and how having that structure can put people more at ease in social situations. Basically, the kids were given the ‘rules’ of the particular fantasy world and their characters, and interacted with those in mind. For me, the idea that having more structure makes socialising easier seemed kind of obvious, but then, as that’s how my brain responds best, I suppose it would. I also really enjoyed the journal/diary based style that parts of this chapter were written in – Elizabeth attended this camp and took a very active part in it.
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The book then moves on to looking at how autistic kids navigate school and followed a number of individuals and schools themselves. This section was particularly interesting for me, as because I was diagnosed as an adult, I attended mainstream schools without any assistance (I ‘coped’ by taking a lot of work home and getting my family to help), whereas theses kids were already diagnosed and trying to access the services they needed, which were often limited and difficult to get.  The difficulties in accessing suitable support for autistic people were highlighted strongly, which I appreciate. This isn’t often talked about.
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Following chapters talk about the different concepts of what autism is and whether the two main views of it can co-exist, and how individuals on the spectrum feel about them. One of the chapters is called ‘The Pathogen and the Package’. The pathogen part referring to the view that autism is a negative thing akin to a disease that is stopping someone from being the person they ought to be; whereas the package looks at autism as a different way of being that has positives and negatives, and that the idea of removing it (or curing) would change a person’s very being.
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This was the part that I was the most concerned about reading, and parts of it made me angry – not what Elizabeth herself was saying, as she deliberately maintained a very neutral discussion of the different views so as to fully explore them, but where she quoted speakers from talks she attended. She mentions the organisation Autism Speaks, fully explaining how it was formed and that one of the organisations that it’s made up of was previously called Cure Autism Now!. She notes how, because of the controversy of a cure, Autism Speaks removed finding a cure from their list of goals and also makes use of very careful language (which, as Elizabeth quoted so much of it, I interpreted as the organisation still being willing to spend money and resources on finding a cure while not directly saying that’s what they’re doing).
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There is a chapter where Elizabeth looks specifically at the idea of a cure and what people on the spectrum and their families think of the idea. This section was delightfully heavy in interviews with said people, and very much reflected the difference in opinion between autistic individuals and their family members. The trend seemed to be that the autistic people themselves viewed a cure as something that would stop them from being who they were, while their family members, who saw how much these kids struggled in the world, thought a cure may ease some of those struggles and thus might not be an inherently bad thing. Elizabeth speculated that this may also be because of the age difference and continuously evolving views on autism and neurodiversity as a whole. However, there were one or two autistic individuals who thought that maybe something like a cure would be useful, and I’m glad she included these too. 
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(My personal view is that my struggles are largely due to the fact that the world around me is not designed for people outside the norm; therefore, the problem is more with the environment rather than my brain. I’d hate not to have the insights and fascinations that come from being autistic. To my mind, non-autistic people miss a lot of things. Thus, I find the idea of a cure utterly repulsive.)
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The last chapter moves on again (or perhaps back) to looking at the use of fantasy in how autistic kids see themselves and their position in society. Again, this chapter made excellent use of interviews and quotes, and I identified with a lot of it. Many of the examples were of characters kids had made up based around their own behaviours. There were a lot of half-demon, half-human concepts, which I suppose reflect the things we struggle with and often feel we have to hold back versus the things we’re good at.
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Elizabeth ends with a conclusion, which summed up, says that autistic people should be allowed to carve out their own space in society and that perhaps current medical views and interventions might not be as effective as others involving more active settings (like role playing or going about town in a group to explore and learn how to do/interact with different people and things – something that I feel would have benefited me greatly, and probably still would).
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So, as you might notice by how long this post is, there’s an awful lot to consider about this book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not very good at interpreting and understanding academic texts, and some of the sections were very heavy with that kind of writing, so my take on this book may well be very different to that of someone who is actually able to take in all of that rather than getting the general ‘gist’ of things. However, though I found parts difficult to get through or follow, the more narrative parts and interviews were very fun and fascinating to read. I think Elizabeth’s research was conducted in a very careful, considerate way with full respect for everyone involved (this is also confirmed at the end of her acknowledgements).
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Though I was worried about the segments surrounding ideas of autism as a disease and whether it needs a cure, the very fact that she was so thorough in every part of the discussion (everyone was given space for their voice to be heard) left me with little doubt that she is very much a person who cares about autistic people being allowed to be their own selves (and make their own choices). My one peeve about the book is that few individuals with more drastic care needs were included, however, the reasoning for this is clearly explained in the introduction, so I can’t complain too much. Still, it would have been nice to hear from individuals from all areas of the spectrum. I appreciated the voices from autistic adults as well as young people, though, as I feel that autistic adults are often forgotten about.
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I very much appreciate and respect the level of work that has gone into this book, and I’m more than grateful that she reached out to me about it. If you can happily read academic books or are open to the challenge, I would easily recommend this one. I hope it gets read and shared by as many people who work in the medical field as possible, plus many more (perhaps it should be a library staple).
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The book is published by New York University Press (www.nyupress.org), and I believe Amazon has it too.
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Reviews

Book review: A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

 

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I heard about A Kind of Spark a few weeks ago, as I’ve followed its publisher, Knights Of, since they first formed some years ago. Knights Of are an independent UK publisher looking to boost the voices of marginalised writers and artists, so it came as no surprise to me that they took on this book, which is an own voices by a neurodivergent author.

The story is about 11 year old Addie, who is autistic, and her campaign to get a memorial made for all the ‘witches’ trialled in her small village in Scotland in the 1600s. She can’t help but see the parallels between those who were accused of being a witch and herself – both she and they are seen as other by everyone around them, and she longs to right that.

Before I started this book, I thought it might feature Addie going around different sites and compiling facts about the witches to use for her case, but it’s actually more about how everyone in the village treats her, and her older sister who is also autistic, Keedie.

This made it a very difficult read for me, because the teacher Addie has is truly horrible to her – tearing up her work, humiliating her in front of the class, accusing her of copying, trying to tell her parents that she’s a problem and shouldn’t be in that school – and when I was in Primary School, in the infants class, I had a teacher who bullied me just like that and scared me so much that I got ill and couldn’t physically go in. So for a lot of those scenes, I was in tears trying to squash down my own memories. Added to that were much newer memories that came up in the scenes where Addie would talk to Keedie (who is also the twin of Nina, a neurotypical girl who clearly loves her sisters but doesn’t understand them the way they do each other).

Keedie is about 18, and in the first few months of university. She’s able to commute, so she comes home every night, but it’s clear that it’s taking a toll on her, especially when she tells Addie that she hasn’t told anyone there that she’s autistic and is constantly masking. I connected just as much with Keedie as with Addie because of this, as I masked so much while I was at college and then when I tried working. There’s a scene where Keedie can’t take it anymore and gets thrown into burnout, and it really resonated with me. Well, the whole book did, but these parts were the most intense.

I won’t give away any more of the story, but I will say that reading from Addie’s perspective (it’s written in first person present tense, so it’s a very close narrative style) completely echoed the sensory and social experiences and difficulties I have, along with what it’s like to get wrapped up in a special interest and the strong urge to right things that are clearly wrong. So, if you want to know what it’s like to be autistic, this is the book you should pick up. In fact, I encourage everyone to, as it contains many of the things I want others to be aware of while saying them in a more coherent way than I think I ever could.

I will say, though, that if you’re a neurodivergent person with similar traumatic experiences to mine, then to be gentle with yourself reading this. It’s hard. Things bubbled up in me that I thought I’d buried long ago. However, I spoke with the author, Elle, about it (she’s very active on Twitter and open to DM’s) and she said that she used a lot of her own experience for this, and it shows.

Also, on a side note, a lot of the people who worked on this book are neurodivergent too. I’m very hopeful that A Kind of Spark will be the start of a big change in the publishing industry, where opening doors to neurodiverse creators is the norm, not the exception.

Once again, please take a look at this book!

Reviews

Book Review, Artania: The Pharaoh’s Cry by Laurie Woodward

Laurie Woodward is a fellow Next Chapter author (previously, they were called Creativia Publishing) who writes middle grade books the same as I do, and when I read the synopsis for the first book in her Artania series, I was so intrigued I had to grab a copy for myself.

The basic premise for the Artania series is that art is alive and the creations there have their own realm – Artania itself – that is under threat from monsters that want to wipe out all the hope and creativity from the world so they can take over Artania for themselves.

The denizens of Artania, fearful of losing their home, reach out to two young boys who have been prophesied to save them, both of whom have a passion for art but come from drastically different backgrounds: Bartholomew Borax III, whose mother is the head of a bleach company and has such an obsession with cleanliness that he has to hide his art from her lest she declare it unclean and confiscate it, and Alexander DeVinci, a cool kid who moves to a new home with a larger room for him to paint in where he spends most of his spare time, much to his mother’s sadness when he becomes so absorbed in his work that he rarely speaks to her.

As the plot gently unfolds by the switching of viewpoints between the two boys with each chapter, I found I sympathized most with Bartholomew, as his mother is so strict about him staying clean and presentable, and not picking up germs from anywhere, that he really has no interaction with other kids his age at all. When she reluctantly agrees to let him go to a public school, he is very much an outsider and knows none of the social nuances most of the kids in his class use, and it’s only when he draws a detailed portrait that he gains any sort of respect from them.

Alex is very much the opposite of Bartholomew – confident, lots of friends, easygoing parents etc, but his problems begin when his mother becomes seriously ill, and he blames himself for prioritising art over spending time with her. This neglect for art and the negative emotions around it are what the monsters feed on, making them stronger. Yet when the boys are summoned by the Artanians and learn to be friends, Bartholomew manages to help Alex rekindle his love of art.

As this is book one of a series, it only covers a small part of what the boys have to do to save Artania, focusing on a group of pharaohs who have been kidnapped by the monsters. Because of this, a lot of time and detail is spent building up their world, and it’s clear that a lot of research has gone into this book. Many of the characters are true to Egyptian mythology and history, and I actually learnt a bit while reading.

The characters’ motivations were all crystal clear, and I did find myself rooting for the boys when it got to the nitty gritty of the story. I did, however, find the pacing a bit too slow for my liking, but that’s just personal taste – I like fast paced middle grade that doesn’t let me rest, and this just didn’t have that factor. But the idea behind it was still fresh and well thought out.

I don’t know whether I will continue with the series, as despite the strong writing and plot, I can’t say it gripped me as much as I’d hoped it would. But I imagine it will be a firm favourite with many middle grade readers.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good read.

 

Official blurb:

Young Bartholomew isn’t allowed to go to school, play outside or make art, so he sketches in secret. When Bartholomew meets the skateboarding artist, Alexander DeVinci, he’s yanked into a mythical realm of living paintings and breathing sculptures: Artania.

The two soon learn that the strange world, where everything seems to be possible, is on the verge of destruction. With Egyptian gods and goddesses by their side, they face daring battles and narrow skateboarding escapes.

But can they defeat the evil Sickhert’s army, and bring art back to the world?

Artania

Reviews

Review of Will Save: The Nibiru Effect by G. Sauvé

Earlier this month, I received a copy of Will Save: The Nibiru Effect from the series’ author G. Sauvé in exchange for sharing news of its release with my readers if I thought they would enjoy it. I’m always thankful when other authors share their work with me, and as I’d been sent the blurb as well, I was genuinely excited to read it. It promised time travel, adventure and high stakes, all things that snag my interest.

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The story follows the journey of Will Save, an orphan who knows nothing about his parents until the first hour of his fifteenth birthday, when his friend and mother figure reveals that she has been keeping a gift from his birth mother safe for all these years. Despite being tempted to give it to him earlier, she followed the precise instructions his mother had laid out and finally hands it over as soon as his birthday begins.

The gift contains a ring, with a message for Will to wear it all the time as it may protect him from harm. Alongside it is another note: his mother wants to meet him that day. Encouraged by his friend, he sets out to meet her, but while he’s waiting at the train station, he gets involved in a dangerous conflict with complete strangers who seem to possess a technology alien to his time.

One side of the conflict vanishes through a portal that suddenly appears at the twist of a ring looking oddly like Will’s own, disappearing before the other side can chase them.

Confused by what’s going on, Will ends up on the train tracks just as a train approaches, and with shouts from his new-found associates, activates the power of his own ring, opening another portal. With death by train the only other option, all three of them jump through the portal. The next thing Will knows is he’s in hospital, in a lost city that should no longer exist.

What follows is an engaging adventure into prehistoric times that involves meeting humanoids previously hidden from history, being chased (and nearly squashed) by dinosaurs, eaten by giant worms, threatened by dragons and lots and lots of lava, plus having to navigating the subtleties of teenage love.

The time travel element in this book is very different to others I’ve read in that it relies on the effect the planet Nibiru has on Earth when it nears it. It was a great thread to work into the plot, and was tied with myths of Atlantis (another favourite of mine).

What I truly loved about this book was the sheer imagination behind the world building. The detail was very vivid, and I had no problem picturing it all. I also enjoyed the characters and how they developed throughout, particularly one of the prehistoric humanoids, called Korri. I think out of everyone, he was my favourite.

Will himself is quite unusual as a protagonist, because he fully acknowledges his cowardice, selfishness and lack of empathy throughout most of the book, and yet despite knowing that, he struggles to change. Only when the stakes are well and truly high does he finally bring himself to step up and push through all of that. At times, I found him to be repetitive in his whines and complaints, but overall I thought he was quite well developed and believable.

There were also a few points in the book where I laughed aloud at some of the situations the group found themselves in. Some were so unpleasant I could feel it, and yet they were hilarious at the same time. Not to mention, there were several nights in a row where I found myself reading into the early hours of the morning because I was so wrapped up in the story that I didn’t want to let go.

The only complaint I had was that some of the writing was a bit clunky, but it wasn’t enough to put me off. It did take me a few chapters to come around to the idea that the story is told through memories discovered on discs by Will’s son, Will Jr., as at first I couldn’t see the relevance of including the son’s timeline, but the ending tied it all in for me and I was left with the right kind of questions the first book in a series should leave.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic debut and I’m truly looking forward to the next installment of Will’s adventures.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, here’s the author’s website:

http://gsauve.ca/

 

 

Reviews

Book Review: The Waterfall Traveler by S. J Lem

The Waterfall Traveler is a young adult fantasy novel that I picked up last year after seeing the author do a cover reveal on the Books Go Social Facebook page. It looked stunning, so I kept my eye on it and ordered the paperback when it was finally released. Still, due to my enormous TBR pile, it’s taken me this long to get to it. But honestly, it was worth the wait.

The story focuses on Ri, a teenage girl who has been raised in a small village on an island cut off from the mainland. Samuel, the man who raised her, found her when she was just a child on his travels, so both of them are outsiders to the village, even though they’ve lived there for years. To make matters worse, Samuel has the Sickness (which initially seems like a form of dementia) and often goes wandering off on his own. After one of these episodes, he wanders into the forest surrounding the village. When Ri finally finds him, he tells her about a boy who travels back and forth through the waterfall. She dismisses it as one of his fantasies and sends him home while she stays to try and gather some food. However, it’s not food she finds. In the dark part of the forest, she discovers a human skull covered in slime. Before she can analyse it properly, a man steps forward and goads her, with the intent of taking the fish she’s caught. Ri doesn’t give in, but a strange noise sounds around them and he tells her to flee. She does, but injures herself and collapses by the river.

Sometime later, she awakens to see a boy around her age attempting to treat her wounds. Initially, she tries to ward him off, panicking about how long she’s been unconscious due to her need to look after Samuel, but she relaxes enough for him to patch her up. Yet the danger she faced is still lurking, and they both find themselves under attack by an unseen foe. Ri is shot with a poisonous dart, so with no other choice, the boy gathers her up and takes her through the waterfall to his home on the other side.

Three days pass before Ri finally wakes up, but the boy — Bryce — tells her truthfully that he cannot simply take her back because the gateways between waterfalls change with the moon, and so the path to her island is cut off for another month. In a panic, she attempts to escape the cave Bryce lives in, only to discover the smooth-talking Carter coming to pay his best friend a visit, and to arrange the delivery of herbs Bryce gathered in the forest to certain city guards. Giving in, Bryce agrees to let her accompany them up into the streets of the city, where she discovers the huge divide between the rich and the poor, as well as the devastating news that Samuel is a wanted man there, accused of a crime she cannot bring herself to believe him capable of. And then there is the news of the Culling, a faceless danger attacking the city.

I won’t lie about this book – at first, I thought I wasn’t going to like it because I found Ri irritating and far too impulsive to be practical. However, she grew on me quickly, especially when it came to interacting with the other main characters. The book is all from her point of view, so it was interesting to be privy to the private thoughts she had about everyone. All the characters in this book are strong, with concerns so specific to them that their actions felt completely justified, even if Ri didn’t agree. Most of the hints weaved throughout the story about what was really going on linked together solidly in the conclusion, though as The Waterfall Traveler is the first book in a series, some were left open. The plot itself was well thought out, and the world building was so rich I felt like I could stroll inside the pages. Though perhaps not at one of the more perilous parts.

Another thing to note about this book is that it’s an indie, but it truly reads every bit (if not better, in some cases) as books by bigger publishers. So, if you’re unsure about reading a book that’s been self-published, I’m inclined to say give it go. I’d happily press The Waterfall Traveler into everybody’s hands if I could, and I know from experience that it’s not the only book that deserves more press than it’s had so far.

If I had to describe it in a word: enchanting.

Kat out!

Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Protagonist Bound (Crisanta Knight Book One) by Geanna Culbertson

Protagonist Bound is a book I picked up on a whim – it looked like a book that played with fairytales and stereotypes, which are two things right up my alley. And it did not disappoint (despite it taking me some time to actually get to it, thanks to my enormous TBR).

The story takes place in a land called Book (yes, you read that right) where a mysterious entity known as the Author sends out a book with a single name on the cover, and whoever the name belongs to will be a future protagonist. They have no choice in this matter. Female protagonists, including princesses, are sent to one school to learn about being good damsels in distress and such like (they have a lesson on how not to crease their gowns while fainting), while male protagonists, including princes, are sent to another, where they learn how to be swashbuckling heroes.

Crisa, the slightly wayward daughter of Cinderella, isn’t a fan of learning such lame things at school, and finds the fact that she is supposed to be a graceful, well-spoken damsel in distress unfair to say the least. When she gets her ‘prologue prophecy’ – a further note in her protagonist book that decrees she will marry a prince she truly despises and that will be her protagonist role – she refuses to believe she has no way out of it. In fact, she decides that the only thing to be done is to find the Author and confront them. Her friends – Blue, Red Riding Hood’s younger sister, SJ, Snow White’s daughter, Jason, brother of beanstalk lover Jack, and the quiet, irritating new-boy-at-school Daniel – all agree to her plan and go with her. But finding the Author is no easy task, especially with less than helpful fairy godmothers on their back, not to mention most of the Kingdom’s antagonists.

What I truly loved about this book (and books two and three, which I had to read immediately after) is how well the fairytale elements are woven together to make not only a strong, in-depth word, but also great characters that you want to succeed. And they are all so different personality wise that it really is like reading about a real group of friends – with all the ups and downs of their relationships on top of being nearly killed by equally intriguing foes. Everything about this series is well thought out, the writing itself is excellent and it’s great to see all these strong, butt-kicking characters shake away the stereotypes of what it means to be a princess or prince, and what a hero truly is.

This is the kind of book that after reading, makes me want to shove it into everyone’s hands. I won’t, because not everyone likes fairytales or YA books, but that doesn’t stop me from being very tempted.

So there you have it!

Kat out.

Reviews

Review: The Witches of the Glass Castle by Gabriella Lepore

I first heard about The Witches of the Glass Castle from Benjamin Of Tomes (Benjamin Alderson) who is a booktuber who also has his own publishing company, Oftomes Publishing. The Witches of the Glass Castle is published by Oftomes, and was recently on promotion, which is one of the reasons that I took the plunge and downloaded it. I say took the plunge because the book is about teenage witches with romance intertwined, not usually elements I’m interested in… but let’s just say I am now.

The Witches of the Glass Castle follows the story of Mia and her older brother Dino, who have just discovered that they’re both witches. Their mother and aunt, who they learn are also witches, take them to stay with their old mentor Wendolyn, who helps young witches develop their powers and also control them, while also providing a safe atmosphere for the youngsters to mingle… well, relatively safe. There are two types of witches that the siblings learn about; Arcana, who are then further split into groups depending on their power, be they Seer, Reader, Conjurer, Tempestus (elemental control) or Sententia (reader of emotions), and Hunters, who have individual powers like the Arcana, but are also trained as warriors from a young age and pride themselves on being detached from human emotion.

While staying with Wendolyn in her home, the glass castle, Mia and Dino find out what their powers are. Dino can hear people’s emotions, and the sound causes him physical pain as his powers are so strong he struggles to control them. Mia, on the other hand, has the ability to control the elements, but no matter what she tries, she can’t seem to harness them. That is, until she has a run in with one of the castle’s Hunters, Colt, who tells her that the rainstorm drenching the castle grounds is entirely her doing and that she should stop it. When she protests that she can’t, he grudgingly helps her, and despite the divide between Arcana and Hunters, she starts to trust him – something that her friend, and Colt himself, think she’s crazy for.

As I said above, I’ve never been crazy about stories based on witchcraft or romance, and it was purely out of curiosity that I picked this book up. Yet I found the concepts of all the different magical abilities intriguing, and I liked the characters a lot – even if they weren’t likable in themselves, I enjoyed how they were written. Colt and the other Hunters caught my attention in particular, as they have no distinction between different types of passion – be it romantic passion, or passion for their next kill – it’s all one and the same to them, and I thought that played into the plot really well. There are some elements that are Harry Potter and Twilight-esque (I have never read Twilight, but I recognize the tropes in it) but I would say that they are only vague similarities at best. The glass castle isn’t really a school for magic, more of a place to study in one’s own time, with guidance if needed, and there are no structured lessons. That sort of thing.

Overall, I have to say that this book grabbed me so much that the moment I finished it, I bought the sequel and swallowed that up too, both in the space of about three days, and I had a serious book hangover once I’d finished. So maybe I do like romance and elemental control…

Kat out!

Reviews

Book Review: Waking Beauty by Brittlyn Gallacher Doyle

Waking Beauty is a retelling of the classic sleeping beauty tale, but as with all good retellings, it has a twist:

Aurora Claire (or just Claire, as she prefers) was always told that she would fall under a sleeping curse for one hundred years on her sixteenth birthday – a curse bestowed upon her by a vengeful dark fairy. She lived with the knowledge that everyone she knew would be dead by the time she woke up, and her life was filled with half-friendships and loneliness because of it. Yet she had her fairy gifts – grace, beauty, creativity, wit, sweetness, song – to make up for it. So on that fateful day, she climbed the tower where the dark fairy was waiting with the spindle that would send her to sleep for a century, and pricked her finger just enough so that a single drop of blood was spilt.

Fast forward one hundred years.

Waking in her tower from an age of nightmares, she finds the handsome prince who was foretold, along with his tall and awkward knight. She and prince Damien hit it off right away – he’s everything she’d ever hoped for – but the way his knight, James, seems to regard her with constant disdain makes her feel ill at ease. However, when they leave her tower, she is overjoyed to find that the rest of the castle has been asleep just as she was, and everyone she knows, including her parents, are waking up as well. Wedding plans are soon underway, with much discussion of alliances between kingdoms. A perfect future with a perfect prince, whose charm appeals to everyone. Almost too much so.

Yet after only a few days, a servant is found asleep, and no-one can wake him. Then another is found, and another. The curse appears to be returning, and Claire has no idea why. What’s more, her fairy gifts are disappearing too. She stumbles ungracefully, freckles sprout on her nose, and her hair is a fright. Nor can she keep her mouth shut at James’s obvious distaste for her. Where did her sweetness go?

As panic spreads around the castle, Prince Damien and James volunteer to seek out the fairy who altered the dark fairy’s original curse from death to a long sleep, in order to find a way for the curse to keep from taking hold again. Claire, feeling responsible, insists on coming along, and though James argues that she will slow them down, Damien uses his charms to quiet his friend and allows her to come along. Claire and James bicker incessantly, but after a while, she realises that she finds it much easier to talk to this disapproving, quiet knight than her beloved prince, and dares to even consider him a friend…

First of all, I love that this story focuses on what happens after Sleeping Beauty wakes up, and that it’s not an immediate happily ever after.

The characters are well written and likable (when they’re supposed to be). Claire’s development from prim princess who has always followed along with what everyone expects of her to a confident young woman who is capable of making her own choices is exceedingly well done, and as the story progressed, I liked her more and more. Damien I was suspicious of straight away – no-one is ever as perfect as they appear, and towards the end, his behavior really made me grind my teeth, as it was supposed to. James reminded me very much of a character from one of my favourite fantasy series, not just in appearance, but personality as well. He likes Claire for who she really is, not what her fairy gifts make her out to be, and the back and forth between them was full of wit and humour.

The book also ended brilliantly, in a way that was satisfying but not overly convenient. The narrative is from Claire’s point of view, so I could really get inside her head, which I felt worked well for the plot as a whole.

Waking Beauty is definitely a book I’d recommend for anyone who loves fairy tale retellings with exciting twists, strong female protagonists and good character development, plus more than a dash of romance (which is odd for me, because I’m not normally a romance fan.)

Kat out.

Reviews

Review: Moroda by L. L. McNeil

Moroda is the story of a girl who escapes from her home city as it is burnt by Dragon fire, and tries to find her place in a world now threatened by war. With her sister, a foul-mouthed sky pirate, two weapon smiths with the ability to transform into animals, an ex-solider from the city, a man with the power to fly and control storms, and a man whose race is known for being deadly killers, she travels across the world of Linaria in search of the answers she so desperately seeks.

I first heard about Moroda via Twitter, as one of the people I follow retweeted a post by the author which showcased the cover. It caught my eye immediately, and led me to read the synopsis, which I found very captivating. I think the reason for that is it hinted at the idea of the plot itself revolving more around Moroda’s own personal journey of self-discovery than the typical fantasy quest of saving the world with an object/magic/intense training. It does have this basic element within it, because of the threat the dragons (and certain others) pose to all of Linaria, but McNeil has cleverly twisted it so that you don’t really notice such a trope is being used.

What’s captivating about Moroda’s character is that she is forced to recognise her own short-comings by spending time with characters with vastly different backgrounds and ideals to her – she and her sister grew up in relative luxury compared to most, but when their father suddenly died, all financial stability they had went out the window. So as she watches her companions, she starts to realise that she has very little experience in most areas of life and is eager to improve on that.

The other characters in Moroda were equally interesting. The sky pirate, Amarah, who is strongly independent and not afraid to speak her mind, is so well-written that I had a solid sense of who she was from the off. Palom and Anahrik, who have the ability to transform into animals, played well off of each other, highlighting that even though they have a strong friendship, they are very different people – Anahrik is hot-headed and quick to take up a challenge, whilst Palom is more rational and patient (until a certain point in the story, where Palom actually takes on some of Anahrik’s personality traits, for reasons I can’t state because of spoilers). Morgen, the soldier – in fact, I believe he is a captain – is a bit harder to get to know because his arc is somewhat slower that the others, more on par with Moroda’s, where he doesn’t really know what to do or where he belongs after the city is burnt. But I slowly picked up who he is: a good man initially quick to follow orders, then after he becomes aware that those orders may not be for the best, just a man trying to do his best to help prevent the oncoming war and protect those he loves.

Then we have Kohl and Sapora, both from races which Moroda knows relatively little about. Kohl calls himself a dragon hunter, and initially warns Moroda and her sister about the dragon heading to their city. He is an outcast from his race, and we don’t really find out why until a good way through, though the whole time it was unclear whether he was trustworthy or not – I wanted to, but felt like I should be wary. Though he can’t transform into an animal like Palom or Anahrik, he has wings on his back which allow him to take to the skies. His race all have the power to harness thunder and electricity, though his powers go a step further as he can freeze things. But it does seem very much like a power he doesn’t want.

Sapora is my favourite character, mainly because all the reader knows about him initially is that his race is associated with violence, and even though Moroda wants to look past that, his very presence put her on edge. The arguments he and Amarah have reveal a lot about both characters, and show off his sharp tongue.

Eryn, Moroda’s younger sister, is introduced very strongly, but as the story went on, I felt as though her individuality was lost. She follows Moroda because of how close they are – they have no other family, so they’ve had to depend on each other since losing their father. While Moroda can be a bit rash and impulsive, Eryn tends to hold her back to get her to consider things first before she takes action. I enjoyed the fact that even though Moroda is older, Eryn is the one who is most mature. However, some of her reactions and traits were ‘told’ rather than ‘shown’, and I think that’s why she paled as bit as a character for me.

With such a cast of characters, the plot is very driven by them, which is rather refreshing to see in fantasy. If I hadn’t enjoyed the characters, and had they not been so well written, then I would have said this was just an okay book. As it is, I think Moroda is quite the riveting read, and actually got me out of a reading slump I’d been in for a while. Yes, there is a lot of world building, and some of the lands and customs are only lightly touched upon, but I have to consider that this is the first book in a series, so many of the questions I have about Linaria will probably be answered in the sequels.

I consider myself quite an avid fantasy reader, and personally,  I would rate Moroda well up there with some of my favourite reads by authors published by big publishing houses. I really highly recommend it – even though I finished it a few days ago now, the story is still with me.