Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Never lets you down

Rereading this for the first time after twenty years (I’m not a huge rereader), I can say that there were scenes I’d very much forgotten, and other scenes that have stuck with me, but mostly because of the film. I now have Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid permanently in my head every time he appears. Which isn’t necessary a bad thing, but does show how much film can affect reading. Of course, all the other main characters have their images in my mind because of the film, too. Although Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry actually didn’t deviate so much from the cover images, anyway.

Some particular scenes that were now easier to visualise because of the film were when Harry spoke to the snake at the zoo and “helped” him escape. Yet I can’t believe I had totally forgotten exactly how Hagrid found Harry! Oh, and the pig’s tail – how on Earth could I forget that? Less important scenes, of course, I really forgot about Vernon’s obsession with drills. But little things like that just disappear so quickly when you get into the bulk of the story – Harry.

It’s hard to imagine the shy boy wearing over-sized hand-me-downs turning into the trainee wizard that defeats Voldemort once again… And how that pale skinny boy next to him at the fitting turns into a school bully with a lineage that openly supported Voldemort, claiming they were “brainwashed” or something similar.

We’ve got a book with quite a cast of characters, who’ve become our neighbours and friends throughout the years. Yet when rereading it’s easy to see what enticed us into the pages in the first place – a complex but fun story that, despite the bullying, is so easy to understand and connect with. There is so much going on here, yet it’s so easy to read! It doesn’t matter if you’re a child or adult, because the story is so engaging, you just don’t get bored.

But back to the bullying for a moment – it actually shocked me a little how much of it there is. Dursley uses Harry as his favourite punchbag… Kids are like that, but it is somewhat frightening it being so visual like that.

Good and bad aside, you just can’t help but love it anyway. A three-headed dog, that sleeps to music. Trying to save Hagrid from his pet dragon (and the consequences of obtaining the egg in the first place). Wizard’s Chess, life size! It’s like these kids were born to get into trouble, and are adept at doing it, without too much trouble, all with Dumbledore’s sly encouragement (he did, after all, give Harry his father’s invisibility cloak).

Really, many have said other things, and I guess I could go on forever. But, best stop here, and ready myself for the next adventure.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

Join or Die by J. Adrian Ruth

The race to save Otherworld

This book is initially set in the human realm, before Alex suddenly receives a visitor who tells him that his absentee father is a “Creature”, the various monsters out of myths and legends, and that he most likely will transform into one, too.

So there Alex is, a half breed with a human mother, suddenly taken away to a private boarding school for Creatures in another realm, Otherworld, leaving behind his best friend, Carlos, his mother, and everything he’s ever known. Worse than that, he’s told that he’s the Scion Heir (leader of all the Creatures), being a descendant of the original Scion, and that he’ll eventually have to battle the other Heir to become the leader of all.

Luckily, he somehow manages to find his place in this new world, making new friends who gradually form a part of his Ciorcal (Celtic for “circle”), the group that will support, protect, and guide him, if and when he does fulfil his destiny.

In the meantime, however, he has no idea what Creature he himself is going to be, and has to face off a Creature who has been killing off all of the Heirs. Along with some other hijinks with his Ciorcal, it’s a fight for survival he hadn’t been warned of or planned for.

I must say that the beginning didn’t thrill me quite so much, but the last part of the book made up for that and was pretty good. I can only assume that this is because this is quite obviously the author’s first book, with it having at times too much information, then at others not enough. There are still quite a few typos in this book, but I’m guessing that that is because it is, at the time of ARC release, still not fully edited.

However, despite its similarities to other Paranormal schools, it has enough differences in it to make it a new take on the idea, somewhat familiar yet with unique elements.

Hopefully the sequel, once it’s finally released, will further develop the ideas here and, after reading the preview, it looks like we will find out more about the current Scion and the ongoing war against him.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Heart wrenching

This couldn’t be more beautifully told. Although, at the beginning, I was extremely sceptical. I’m not really a volleyball fan, so whilst I appreciated the detail in the story of all the gameplay, it was a bit lost on me. Yet, as the story gathered momentum, the story behind everything grips and doesn’t let go.

Sage, the superstar volleyball player, considered aloof to any outsider. Yet we soon find out that Sage isn’t all she appears to be. When Sage passes out during a match, it’s discovered that she has a heart condition which disqualifies her from playing. For life.

Len, short for Lennon, named after, well, her father is a huge Beatles fan, so should be obvious. She was once an amazing student, set for great heights in photography, yet everyone at school, including her teachers, have noticed she’s changed. The students typically laugh at her for being the weirdo, the odd one out, which just isolates her even more.

Sage is surprisingly sympathetic of Len, even before her diagnosis, yet she doesn’t understand at all. Once Sage receives her diagnosis, Len is the first one to notice that Sage is carrying a heavy burden of sadness. Len is also the only one to not judge, to not push her to be happy. Somehow, through these encounters, each seeks the other out, and develop a tenuous friendship, that may indeed save both of their lives.

As the story develops, all the signs are there of Len’s OCD, yet Sage is the first to truly notice and take an interest in it. Len, of course, in all her confusion, believes it to be something entirely different. The quirks of the condition are handled so well, the panic attacks, the obsessive behaviour. If you understand any of this in any way at all, then you can appreciate fully what Len is going through and how sympathetically it is written.

It’s near the ending when everything breaks lose, when Sage is on the verge of collapse after pushing herself too far, and Len comes to save her. Then Sage helps Len to finally confront what happened that changed everything. My Gods, I truly blubbed when Len was reunited with her sister.

This is a story of friendship beyond the lines, how two seemingly different teenagers meet and form a friendship from the ashes of disaster and devastation. By the time I got to the end, I appreciated, loved, and had a respect for it all.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Burn the Dark by S.A. Hunt

Poor Start to Near-Epic Finish

This book started off with a bunch of bad sayings, that made no sense whatsoever. Well, it was a review copy, so may have been updated by the time the book was released, but there is nothing more off putting (well, perhaps there is) than a bunch of author-created nonsensical sayings.

But, once I got into the book, despite the horror edge to the story, I actually quite enjoyed it. A few laughs, a few gory moments. A few excellent characters to top it off, with a few interweaving storylines.

The witches themselves are devious. And there is just something not right about that house… Yet Robin manages to go back to where she grew up and find out more about her past than she could have wished for, gaining a handful of trusty sidekicks along the way.

I might not understand much about the background or culture (typical Brit trying to watch US TV dramas and failing to get the context), but all in all it wasn’t bad at all.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Avoiding the Abyss by A.C. Ward

Too much abuse

This book starts straight off the bat with Aubrey getting a beating by her mother. It is given under the guise of “training”, because Aubrey is a bad fighter, but it is very clear that her mother detests her. Yet, Aubrey remains throughout her staunch defender.

Others amongst the rebels pity her, but do very little to defend her, because her mother is the “hero”, the one who rules the rebels and is renowned as the best fighter.

Everything is turned on its head when she is captured by government, yet not at all in the ways that she expects. She keeps on supporting her mother, even secretly, right up to the last. Even when she does find out the truth, can she keep supporting someone who her entire life has seen her as useless until it’s discovered she has powers?

The ending, or perhaps more late middle to end, were the only redeeming parts of this book. The way the abuse is treated just appalled me that I nearly stopped reading after the opening scene. The latter parts made the universe interesting, enough that I want to continue the series, but I can’t ignore that beginning.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK.

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Catching a Warlock by Laura Greenwood

Great finale

Yes, seriously, what a great ending to this mini spin-off from Mona’s story! And I will say again that it’s great that the books run in tandem with each other!

Daphne has been suffering from some side effects to the spell that they performed, but luckily one of her soon-to-be boyfriends is on hand to give a bit of assistance in controlling it. Plus problems with this damned jealous vampire are resolved – her attempts to ruin Daphne’s reputation backfired on her big time, courtesy of Daphne’s new-found talent (aka spell).

In the end, it appears that both Daphne as well as Mona have boy trouble alongside cat trouble…!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked.

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Catching a Wizard by Laura Greenwood

Yet more paranormal drama

I was firstly so happy to see that the Grimalkin Academy books run parallel to each other, as it makes it so much easier to follow (I’ve heard that timelines and planning help a lot!). So there are no spoilers in Mona’s story, as long as you have also been keeping up to date with the progress on that side, too. Any spoilers to be found are minor, anyway, so it shouldn’t spoil reading either way.

Anyway, we are here about Daphne, who is struggling with a troublesome vampire and two warlocks. Suddenly she’s not only caught in the middle of three men after her attention (well, the vampire needs some convincing), but also has to contend with her brother’s continued pressure to find this damned spell!

And, typical for this gang, things aren’t going to go quite as planned…

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Catching a Vampire by Laura Greenwood

The other side of the story

It was seriously great fun reading into Daphne’s story, which we got glimpses of during her escapades with Mona. Book one flows alongside of book one of the Grimalkin Academy: Kittens series, without any heavy spoilers on other side. I wasn’t too sure at first if it would work, as I much prefer to read multiple-character stories all in one book, but being as these are short stories, I guess that it does work, really.

And, as with Mona’s story, this is a sex-free slow-burn reverse harem. Although in this story she only has eyes for one, which proves to be a problem considering the one she’s interested in actually is the one she’s supposed to be bribing to help them find the family spell. Add to that a malicious betrothed of the said love interest, whether he’s interested in keeping to his parents set up or not, and things start to get a little hairy.

At this academy, things are never quite as expected.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Second Time’s a Curse by Laura Greenwood

Even more magical kittens!

Well, yes, what should we expect from a cursed witch who produces kittens with every spell? More kittens, of course! Wow, I’m not really sure how’s she’s going to have space for all of them if this keeps on happening!

Mona is slowly coming to terms with the fact that she has more than one love interest, partly buoyed by her best friend (and what doesn’t help is that one of the love interests happen to be said best friend’s twin brother…). Yet she has other things on her mind, namely this damned curse! Yet, despite the curse, she doesn’t want to do anything that might jeopardise the lives of her kittens, even if she’s frustrated that she keeps on producing them. I mean, they’re all seriously cute and all that, but a dorm room is only so big!

So, her friends pool together to try and find a fix for this wretched curse, in a less-than-legal manner, which, of course, doesn’t quite go to plan, or solve the problem of the curse itself.

Things not quite going to plan appears to be the name of the game, as serious trouble falls upon them once again. Well, there’s no “I told you so” in there, but there appears to be no clean way out of things this time.

Just as fun as the first book, with just as much cuteness, awkwardness, and trouble, this series is turning out to be fantastic so far! I just wish that the characters could see past the end of their noses sometimes…

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Rats: Tori (complete) by Laura Greenwood

Fun Steampunk adventures

This book is all three stories in one, so I will review each individual story below.

Ruler of Rats

The series starts us off with Tori and her three husbands looking to take over the “Rats” – the people so low of class that anyone of actual class pretends that they don’t exist. They have no official status or place in society at all. But, they have their own society, of sorts, which has traditionally been organised to benefit whoever is in charge, but Tori wishes to change that. But, in order to take over the Rats, she has to perform a task – steal a well-guarded necklace.

This was a nice, fun adventure, but what I found it lacked was the purpose of the mission; this item obviously has some value, so what is its story?

The book does end with a time jump, but it doesn’t disturb the continuation of the story in the following book.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Collector of Rats

In this second adventure, Tori decides to call in a debt. But, considering how the story has gone so far, it won’t be easy at all. She needs all her wits about her to complete the task, along with the assistance of her beloved husbands. Luckily the target doesn’t know about her relationship status, so they are able to play their difficult mark together.

This, for me, was the least interesting of the three stories. There was minimal adventure, with the main part of the story being the encounter with the “villain”.

This story also ends with a time jump, which left me to start wondering about what their ages must be at this point.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

Yuletide of Rats

This, I must admit, was the best of the three stories, most prominently for attacking such a complicated subject. It had a “nice” twist in it, with a historical reveal that actually linked back to one of Tori’s husbands. In fact, two of her husbands were affected by the situation. It is hard to say anymore without actually revealing any spoilers!

This also ended with yet another time jump so, if I’m assuming they’re still around eighteen when they start, it would make them in their late forties by the end of this story. Not such spring chickens anymore!

Oh, and there was a sort of reference to the necklace from the first book, but it was a little bit dismissive, really. In the end, there was no mystery?! That was probably the most disappointing part of it all.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

All stories considered, there was some fun to be had across their broad spectrum. With all the usual Steampunk accessories, like steam cars and airships, as well as some steam pistols (I must admit, I still prefer flintlocks). It gave a flirty nod to the genre, rather than bringing flesh blood to it.

And another thing to note, there is a surprising lack of children about. Now, no sex is fine, as you can have plenty of fun in a book without it, making this more a young-adult story, but it did feel a little like there was something else missing.

Final rating (rounded up): ★★★★☆ – Really liked