Book Review: When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

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Rating: ★★★★
RRP Paperback: $29.99 AUD | $35.00 NZ
Publication Date: February 1st 2020

A huge thank you to the wonderful people at Simon and Schuster for gifting me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads synopsis:

A heart-swelling debut for fans of The Silver Linings Playbook and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Sometimes life isn’t as simple as heroes and villains.

For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:

1. A smile means “thank you for doing something small that I liked.”
2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.
3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.
4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.
5. Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.

But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.

When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all…

We are all legends of our own making.

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What a fantastic, insightful and unforgettable read! I thoroughly enjoyed this. It had me feeling all types of feelings! A book that will challenge peoples thoughts and tackles taboo subjects with humility and grace!

When We Were Vikings is the story of Zelda, a woman born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, who lives with her older brother Gert, who is doing everything he can to try and keep them afloat, which includes some pretty shady dealings with some very shady people.

What made this whole book for me was Zelda. She had such a strong and unique voice, it made the whole thing really interesting to read! It was the first book I have ever read that was narrated from the perspective of someone with special needs and it was an absolute  pleasure to see such diversity in literature and have these characters portrayed as epic, strong and passionate individuals!

All the characters were very complex and real. There were times when certain characters were introduced and they would do things that made me physically uncomfortable. Zelda gets taken advantage of several times throughout and called some really horrible names, which I found particularly unsettling. But Zelda is unapologetically herself the whole way through, despite the obstacles she is faced with. Which is one of the many reasons I loved this! It really is a lesson in resilience and not being afraid to be oneself!

The plot was great. It covered a lot of intense issues such as poverty, drug abuse and sexual assault. It flowed nicely and I loved being inside Zelda’s head for the duration of the novel, she was honestly such a badass! It was such an interesting read, that really got me thinking! There were occasions that I think could have had a more emotional impact if they were done slightly different, but otherwise, this is a book I would definitely recommend everyone read.

Once again, a massive thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy this beautifully heartwarming story in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

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Rating: ★★★★
RRP Paperback: $29.99 AUD

A huge thank you to the wonderful people at Pan Macmillan Publishing for gifting me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads synopsis:

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

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This book really took me by surprise! Having been sent this book by Pan Macmillan, it wasn’t the kind of book I would normally pick up! But I am honestly so glad I did! It was really emotional and woven together so perfectly. It honestly felt like watching a painting come together.

Big Lies in a Small Town is told from two separate perspectives. One is that of Anna Dale, an ambitious young female artist in the 1940’s who, having won a competition, is chosen to create a mural that will hang in the post office of a small town in North Carolina. The other is that of Morgan Christopher, a woman serving time for a crime she did not commit, who is given a life altering opportunity to be released from prison early in exchange for restoring an old mural.

I really fell in love with how this story was told. it flowed so well from one perspective to the next and had this really beautiful way of making you slowly fall in love with these characters. The diversity of the supporting characters was amazing, the way the author delved into mental health and trauma was done incredibly well and I really enjoyed the history that was woven throughout the novel. I also really appreciated that we got two strong leading ladies in this book!

The plot itself was amazing. I want to say it’s almost a little bit of a “slow burn” in terms of pacing! It takes its time getting to know the ins and outs of the characters and unveils each plot point in a really intricate and interesting way. There were times I felt heartbroken, times I was genuinely shocked and times that I was in awe! A couple of the plot points I did find the tiniest bit predictable, but others were so intricate and surprising that it made for a really interesting read.

An emotional and perfectly painted mural of a book, that I highly recommend picking up. 4 stars!

Book Review: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

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Rating: ★★★★.5
RRP Paperback: $19.99 AUD

A huge thank you to the wonderful people at Scholastic AU for gifting me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads synopsis:

The dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die.

And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all.

Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality.

Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it.

Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer . . . and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do. But that is nothing compared to the destruction that is about to be unleashed. . . .

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Note: If you’re here, I’m going to assume you’ve already read The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. If you haven’t, please go do that first and then read Call Down the Hawk! This book/book review wont make a lot of sense to you if you haven’t!

As with every other work by Stievater that I’ve read, this novel has a beautiful way of telling a complex story in a very subtle and intricate way. It focuses very heavily on the character experience, which is something I’ve always loved. A character driven novel is always more interesting and inspiring to me than a novel that is full of action but no strong character development. Stiefvater has this incredible knack of having a book feel like nothing really happened, but also everything happened all at once, it’s breathtaking and I adore it.

Call Down the Hawk gives us Ronan Lynch’s story. He’s a dreamer. He can literally bring things back from his dreams and manifest them into life. But the Dreamers are being hunted because a small group of people call Visionaries have been having visions of a Dreamer who will manifest a fire so terrible, it will burn the earth to cinders, bringing about the end of the world. This was a really amazing start to a pretty intense mystery and I cannot wait for the next book!

Honestly, my only complaint is that when reading the Raven Cycle books, I fell in love with Adam Parrish (Ronan’s partner for anyone who stuck around, even after my warning that this won’t make a lot of sense!) and this book had entirely too little of him in it! I hope we get more of Ronan and Adam together in the next book! All the new characters were incredible though and I honestly loved learning more about Ronan’s family.

As usual, this book just felt like magic. Maggie’s writing is so atmospheric, I could have been there with these characters while reading. Now I know these books aren’t for everyone, they are highly character driven and less about moving the plot forward at lightening pace but more a slow burn, intricate web of detail for us to wade through. They are incredible, subtle and magical. I highly recommend you give them a go. 4.5 stars!

Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

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Rating: ★★★★★
RRP: $32.99 AUD

A huge thank you to Penguin Publishing Australia for gifting me a copy of this incredible book in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life. 

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“Are you lost or are you exploring?”

I have no words.

This was beautiful.

It was poetic and magical.

It was everything I could ever want in a book.

And it’s easily my favourite book of the year!

The Starless Sea takes you on an incredible, vivid adventure. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, this book thoroughly immerses you in magic and wonder. I have already set a goal to read it again before the year is out so I can further understand all the small intricacies!

After Zachary Ezra Rawlins stumbles across a mysterious book in his university library, he is whisked off on an adventure that leads him through a magical painted door to a mysterious underground labyrinth filled with stories.

This book was gorgeous! It made me remember why I loved The Night Circus so much. Erin Morgenstern has a way with words. She is a poet. Honestly, my heart is so incredibly full after reading this book. The characters were beautifully written and complex, we got a perfect slow burn (and wonderfully queer) romance and the plot was layer upon layer of intricate detail that came together so beautifully in the end. It’s the kind of book that has you intrigued the whole way through and as you read the last page it’s as if all these pieces fall into place and you look up from your book and just stare in utter reverence at how incredible some story tellers are.

Now I understand that this book may not be for everyone. It can be a little “heavy”and as I’ve stated, there is a lot of intricate detail that some people may find a bit much. But for me, it was absolute wonder. This is a world I would very much like to be a part of!

Over all, I cannot fault this glorious book. It has everything I love in a story and I will read it over and over and over for the rest of my days. Go ahead, leap down the rabbit hole, step through the back of your cupboard, walk through that painted door. You won’t regret it. All the stars in the night sky for this one. Utter perfection.

 

Book Review: The Toll by Neal Shusterman

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Rating: ★★★★★
RRP: $16.99 AUD | $18.99 NZ
Publication Date: November 5th 2019
Find it on Book Depository

Goodreads Synopsis:

It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver.

In this conclusion to Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.

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This was such a satisfying and epic conclusion to this series! I’m so lucky to have been able to read it early! Thank you so much to Walker Books for sending me a review copy. Just wow! It was amazing! If you haven’t read Scythe or Thunderhead yet, go do that before you read on! You won’t regret it!

After the major cliff hanger we had at the end of Thunderhead, The Toll tells the story of the events that have happened over the three years after the sinking of Endura. Rowan and Citra have been found, we see a world gone mad under Scythe Goddard’s rule (which was both entertaining and utterly horrifying), we get an array of new characters, which at first felt really overwhelming, but after a while was fantastic and really pushed the plot forward and executed the story perfectly and, of course, we get epic intertwining story telling!

I honestly loved this, I can’t fault it. I feel really satisfied with how the series ended and would highly recommend reading it. I actually forgot how much I enjoyed Neal Shusterman’s writing style! It was both very fun and very matter-of-fact all at the same time (if that makes an ounce of sense). As with both Scythe and Thunderhead, The Toll tackles huge issues and  it was  really interesting to read and see the parallels forming between the main villains and their corrupt ideals and the horrors of real people from our own history! You almost read this while wanting to scream “ARE YOU CRAZY!? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!?”

The characters, new and old were amazing, I feel like we got just enough of all of them. This book has certainly come a lot further since Scythe and branched out in terms of loveable and realistic characters. We got some INCREDIBLE representation when it came to Jericho, the feisty and tenacious sea caption, who is non binary! They identify as male under the cover of clouds and female under the sun. I really loved that and was so happy to see such awesome representation continuing into this book!

The Toll had all the elements that I really loved in Scythe. It got you thinking about your own morals and your own perspective on human kind all the while keeping you incredibly entertained! Too much happened in this amazing book for me to feel like I could ever truly do a review that would give it justice. So my final word on The Toll, is go read it! Read the whole series if you haven’t done so yet! 5 stars!

Thank you once again to Walker Books! You guys are all incredible. I truly appreciate being given these opportunities!

How to Become a Book Reviewer for a Publishing Company

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Back when I started my Bookstagram, I hadn’t really put much thought into where I wanted to go with the whole thing. I knew I had a lot of thoughts and opinions about the books I had been reading, but I had never really done much more than drop a star-rating on Goodreads and be done with it. It wasn’t until I really started to delve into the Instagram community that I started to realise that running a blog could actually be a lot of fun! I started out writing my own content, “write what you know” as they say! So I wrote a lot of what I like to think is fun bookish content,  which included some how tos, book hauls and of course, reviews!

Once I had got some content onto my page, I thought about all those Bookstagrammers I had seen who were receiving books from publishers in exchange for honest reviews! I was so envious! Thinking that this could be something I do as more than just a fun little hobby, that maybe one day I could make it something more. That’s when I decided to really research how to become a book reviewer for publishing companies. Because there didn’t seem to be a lot of information out there, I ended up chatting to one of my Instagram friends who was incredibly helpful! But incase you don’t happen to have one of those friends, below are some of the things I have picked up along the way!

MAKE YOUR BLOG LOOK PROFESSIONAL.

First up, I recommend taking the time to set up a professional looking website! I am lucky enough to have a friend who is an incredible graphic designer, who was able to take my crazy, nonsensical ideas and come up with a really beautiful blog banner that fits my personality perfectly! I suggest getting something done professionally or even using the Canva app or website to try and create something yourself. You don’t have to do this step, but I honestly think it helps!

CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT!

Whether this is your instagram or your blog, you want to be as active as possible, so that the publisher can see you’re serious about what you do. I had had my Bookstagram running for about two years when I started getting serious about wanting to start a blog. It meant that I already had a great place to cross promote the blog too! Most publishing companies want to see that you have been posting consistently for about 6 months before they will add you to the blogger database!

ACTUALLY REVIEW BOOKS.

This goes without saying and ties in with the previous paragraph, but you actually need to be reviewing books you already have before you ask a publisher if you can be added to their database. It’s a really great way to get practice at reviewing books anyway and it helps show the publishers your style! A big part of becoming a reviewer for a publishing company is, well, actually reading and reviewing the books! So as long as this is something you’re able to do, you can go ahead and…

CONTACT THE PUBLISHING COMPANIES PUBLICITY DEPARTMENT.

Once you have your blog up and running and have been consistently creating content  for 6 months or more, go ahead and contact the publishing companies you’re interested in reviewing for. The easiest way I found was to jump on their website and send them an email. Make sure you are professional and courteous! A few things to remember to include in your email are:

  • Your website URL
  • How long you’ve been running your blog for
  • The amount of views your blog gets each month and
  • Links to your social media as well as the number of followers you have

And remember, be yourself!

FINALLY, DON’T BE DISCOURAGED IF YOU GET KNOCKED BACK!

Sometimes publishing companies have a set number of places to fill for bloggers, so don’t be discouraged if you get knocked back initially! Often times if you check back in a few months time they have positions that have become available!

Good luck on your blogging journey and happy reading everyone! If you ever want to chat books or blogging, hit me up here or on Instagram @readingsumpton.

Farewell To The Local Bookshop

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On Love Your Bookshop Day (August 10th 2019), along with a good friend of mine, I decided to head to the local bookstore we both know and love, to peruse the shelves, tell each other we really won’t be buying any books and then, of course, leave with a couple anyway. However, as I approached the store, I saw a large red banner covering its signage. “Stock Sale” it read.

My local bookshop has been open for twenty-one years. Twenty-one years. That feels like a lifetime, and I suppose for some, it is. Upon entering the store it was clear something wasn’t quite right. The once meticulously stocked shelves looked bare and unkept. The staff seemed forlorn. The store was closing down, they were given two weeks to get all their stock out the door. 50% off everything. That’s a pretty great deal, if only it didn’t come with a side of heartache.

twenty-one years. That’s more than half of my time on the planet. Now we won’t just be saying goodbye to the ink and pages that make this small corner of the shopping centre what it is, but also the potential new friends we could have made after spotting them contemplating the purchase of one of our favourite books or the cheerful look on the staffs faces when they are able to order you in that book you’ve been wanting desperately, but can’t for the life of you find anywhere else. We’re saying goodbye to an incredible independent bookstore.

Now, I can only speculate that this is possibly the result of higher rent within the complex, something a small, indie bookshop probably wouldn’t be able to compete with. But it also feels like a result of us. Supporting your local bookstore is important. I think this may have been the busiest I have ever seen the store. 50% off. What a steal, eh? Yet maybe, if we had chosen to shop there to begin with and paid the slightly higher prices, rather than bi-passing them in favour of large online stores or the chain department stores that are able to offer us cheaper goods, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

All I can really say is please, if you have a local independent bookstore near you, support them. Because it’s heartbreaking when they have to close down.

#supportyourlocalbookshop