Reading Round Up – July

Another month, another round of reviews. Despite spending the first half of the month concentrating on writing, I did manage to find a little time as the summer holidays started to sit down and read. And I mean read a physical book, which is a rarity for me. As I usually work my design job with an audiobook on the go, I tend to let the pile of physical books build up, but with the weather good, I was able to get into two of them, swinging in my hammock while the boys played or drew in the garden. Success!

The Ivies

Alexa Donne

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Ivies

Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States. Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary. I would know. I’m one of them. We disrupt class ranks, club leaderships, and academic competitions…among other things. We improve our own odds by decreasing the fortunes of others. Because hyper-elite competitive college admissions is serious business. And in some cases, it’s deadly.

Alexa Donne delivers a nail-biting and timely thriller about teens who will stop at nothing to get into the college of their dreams. Too bad no one told them murder isn’t an extracurricular.

I started watching Alexa Donne’s YouTube channel a few years ago, not only for her writing tips but her insight into traditional publishing. Her previous two books (sci-fi retellings of classics) were more my usual read, but when her latest book came out, I decided to take a look regardless of the genre. And the book did not disappoint. 

I wouldn’t say I was on the edge of my seat (or hammock), but I was pretty close. There were just the right amount of clues dropped that I was able to guess most of the twists (though not all), but that’s perfect for me. I love being able to guess what comes next. 

When I started the book, I kept thinking I should recommend the book to a friend’s daughter in a similar schooling situation to the main character Olivia. She’s at a competitive private boarding school, but not one of the rich kids. But as the book progressed, revealing the dark underbelly of the fictional Claflin School, Olivia’s friends’ treatment of her, and Olivia’s own faults, I reconsidered! 

At first I disliked the ending. It wasn’t the conclusion I expected, and after such an intense read I was almost deflated. Until I hit the last page. That ending! It was perfect.

Breach of Peace

Daniel B Greene

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Breach of Peace (The Lawful Times, #0.1)

When an imperial family is found butchered, Officers of God are called to investigate. Evidence points to a rebel group trying to stab fear into the very heart of the empire. Inspector Khlid begins a harrowing hunt for those responsible, but when a larger conspiracy comes to light, she struggles to trust even the officers around her.

I was clearly on a YouTube kick, so went from The Ivies into Breach of Peace. A few years ago I went into a panic that I didn’t read enough. It was probably true. At one point I read all the time, but in writing my first book, having two young children, and just life in general, my reading levels had dropped. But I felt like I’d been out of the game for so long I didn’t know where to start. I stumbled across Daniel’s YouTube channel while on the hunt for reviews, and love his honest and helpful reviews (if he dislikes something, the reason is clearly explained and we’re not just told ‘the book was shit’).

To start, I don’t often read novellas, so I’m not certain how the book compares on that level. When reading it, I often wished more time could be spent on world building, or certain aspects of the investigation, or with the characters. When bad things happened to characters, I didn’t feel invested enough in them to care. But the time we did spend with each character was great, and something really special was being forged. There just wasn’t enough of it for me. I would have preferred a full novel.

I had heard the opening was fairly brutal (it opens on a crime scene). It definitely set the tone of the novel, though it did in part feel gratuitous—there’s a reason I don’t watch Saw movies. There were a few too many characters introduced too quickly, but again the novella format likely played a role in this.

But overall, I was impressed. It was a good introduction to the world, and it was the world really loved in this one. Very dark. My kinda read!

La Belle Sauvage

Philip Pullman

Rating: 4 out of 5.
La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)

Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…

Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.

He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.

When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Egyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.

Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

This one has been on my bookshelf since it was released, so finally I found time to read it. But did I read the physical book? No. Despite all my best intentions on the day I added it to my Christmas list, it was the notification from the library letting me know the audiobook was available that kicked me into gear. Some design work had come in, so the timing was perfect.

It was great to revisit this world so many years after reading his Dark Materials. I will always remember telling my mum how much I wanted to see a film of Northern Lights (back when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was being turned into a movie), and she said it would never happen because training all those animals would be too hard. Lucky for me technology did the work of an animal trainer, though unluckily the resulted in The Golden Compass… still the BBC series was much better. I digress only to say that I purposefully haven’t reread His Dark Materials as I didn’t want to spend my time watching the series comparing the two, so stepping back to Lyra’s Oxford in La Belle Sauvage was very welcome.

The book started slow, meandering as Malcolm did in his canoe. Having completed this book and started the next one, I can see exactly why La Belle Sauvage started as it did. I wouldn’t say I was bothered by the slow start, I enjoyed enough about it that I was gripped. Once things heated up (or should I say once things were flooded and destroyed) in the middle, I was glued to my headphones. Certain parts of the book lost me a little. I was thrown by the inclusion of fairies, but then when I think back to His Dark Materials, it wasn’t completely out of place. 

I made the mistake of thinking the book was middle grade, so when the shit really hit the fan I was completely thrown—do we normally drop f-bombs and rape and paedophilia in MG?—but no. It’s an adult book. Not that that meant I was happy reading about these subjects, but I wasn’t quite as baffled by their inclusion.

After leaving it so long to read this book, I dove straight into the sequel. I’m still reading The Secret Commonwealth at the moment, so shall post a review next month.