Review: The Shadow of the Wind (#4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Goodreads | Waterstones

Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, one cold morning in 1945, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julián Carax.
Captivated by the novel from its very first page, Daniel reads the book in one sitting. But he is not the only one interested in Carax. As he grows up in a Barcelona still suffering the aftershocks of a violent civil war, Daniel is haunted by the story of the author, a man who seems to have disappeared without trace after a duel in Père Lachaise cemetery.
Then one night, in the old streets of the city centre, Daniel is approached by a figure who reminds him of a character from ‘The Shadow of the wind’, a character who turns out to be the devil. This man is tracking down every last copy of Carax’s works in order to burn them. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julián Carax, and to save those he left behind.

I hardly ever read historical fiction – it’s just something I’m never really drawn to. But I’ve wanted to pick this one up for a while ever since knowing that it’s one of BooksNest’s favourite books, and the synopsis sounded so interesting. I read the audiobook of this one, and I must say from the first chapter I knew I’d enjoy it. The writing (which is both a testament to the original author, translator and narrator), is so easy to get into and is also beautifully written.

The beginning of this book was my favourite part, and I was immediately drawn into the story. Sadly, it did dip in the middle for me slightly, but it definitely picked up again towards the end. I just felt that this had the promise of so much intrigue and I felt slightly let down with the level of mystery. The only reason I didn’t give this one 5 stars is because of the slight lack of something. Either a bit more romance, or a little more of a thriller aspect would have been great.

Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it.

I loved the European settings and the range of characters, who I really liked and found their friendships to be enjoyable to read about. I also really liked the idea of this being a book about books, and the bookshop/library settings were very enjoyable to see.

I will admit that I did guess the mystery element quite early on, so it didn’t quite surprise me when we got to the end of the book. However, I feel like the mystery is only a small part of the book, and it is more of a labyrinthine ramble through Carax’s life leading up until Daniel finding The Shadow of the Wind.

Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.

Although this isn’t something I’d usually pick up, I did enjoy it a lot and I will definitely carry on with the series! I also thought the audiobook was really enjoyable and I’m glad I picked it up as an audio version.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

Goodreads | Waterstones

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

Wow. This was everything I love about middle grade (and children’s books in general) rolled into a gorgeous little parcel and tied with a bow. Throughout reading this one, I kept thinking back to what I loved as a child and I just know I would have adored this one if I picked it up.

We follow April, an animal loving girl who travels to a remote island with her father so he can look after the weather station there. While living alone with her father on this island, she makes friends with Bear, a polar bear who isn’t meant to be on the island.

There were so many aspects of this book I adored. I loved the relationship April had with Bear, it was so sweet and moving but also made April reflect on other aspects of her life, such as climate change and her relationship with her father.

Although this one is emotional and does discuss grief, it never felt too heavy or overwhelming and felt like the perfect level for children to understand and relate to. The discussions of climate change also felt quite appropriate for children, while also being passionate and important.

The adventure aspects of the story made it so easy to escape into, and I loved being able to pick it up and fly through some pages. I honestly think this is perfect for adults and children, and I never felt like I was reading a story that wasn’t applicable to me, despite it being written for a much younger audience.

I can’t wait to read more from this author and dive into her newest release The Lost Whale. I also would like to congratulate Hannah on winning the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2022, which is so well deserved!

★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: How to Kidnap the Rich by Rahul Raina

Goodreads | Waterstones

Ramesh is an ‘examinations consultant’. He is a cog in the wheel that keeps India’s middle classes thriving. When he takes an exam for Rudi – an intolerably lazy but rich teenager – he accidentally scores the highest mark in the country and propels Rudi into stardom.
What next?
Blackmail. Reality television. Grotesque wealth.
And after that?
Kidnap. Double-kidnap. Reverse kidnap.
In a studio filled with hot lights, with millions of eyes on the boys, and a government investigator circling, the entire country begins to question: who are they? 

I don’t often pick up thrillers, especially this kind of thriller, but something drew me in with the synopsis. This book sounded intriguing, and it definitely lived up to expectations on that front. How to Kidnap the Rich follows Ramesh, who impersonates his clients in exams to help them in their next stages.

But his life changes when he impersonates Rudi and accidentally scores the highest mark in the country, propelling Rudi into stardom. Here begins a story of the two being intrinsically woven together through thick and thin, having to do anything to get people to stop looking their way.

It is our great contribution to world culture,

There was a lot to like about this book, and I can definitely see it being a brilliant movie. The aspects of the stardom Rudi achieves would look amazing on film. It also made me laugh out loud in multiple places with absurd and witty comments keeping the atmosphere lighthearted even through the most difficult times. The satirical look at Indian culture and class divide was so interesting to read about, and I really enjoyed the snappy commentary on the middle class.

However, the biggest disappointment for me in this book was the pacing. I needed it to be quicker, and the 10-20 page chapters definitely didn’t help. I just didn’t quite get the turn-paging aspect I wanted, and I wasn’t propelled to pick this one up when I wasn’t reading it. By the end, I was drawn in and read the last 100 pages much quicker than the first 200, which made me feel like there was just too much build up with not enough payoff.

that and the bhangra song they play at gora weddings.

Overall, mixed feelings. But I still enjoyed it, and if you’re looking for a snappy, satirical and laugh-out-loud funny book about Indian class divide with thriller elements, this one is for you!

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

Goodreads | Waterstones

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.
Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.
Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.
But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

Thank you to the publisher, Hodder, for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I read XOXO by Axie Oh last year and I loved it so much, and when I saw she was writing a whimsical fantasy I couldn’t wait to read it. This book is incredibly different from the K-pop contemporary that is XOXO, and I was hesitant to go into such a different book by the same author.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is inspired by Korean legend and weaves together an intricate tale of love and sacrifice. I’ve heard that this is inspired by Spirited Away, which I’m not sure is true but I can definitely see some similarities. I love Studio Ghibli and I can see the comparison, it definitely has the same whimsical tone.

I was angry at the fate I’d been given. 

I did find myself feeling quite lost in the story sadly, and it felt complicated to start with. I didn’t fully get into the book until at least halfway through, and I definitely found myself enjoying the second half so much more. I loved the idea of the characters, but I just sadly didn’t find myself connecting to them as much as I wanted to. I think due to the way the plot is a main focus, and some aspects of the location needed a lot of explaining, the characters do seem overshadowed in places.

I loved the location and it sounded absolutely beautiful, but I had to really let go and immerse myself in the story to actually picture it crystal clear in my head. When I did manage to picture the world, however, I fell in love with it.

Because I realised that in order for you to have what you want, I’d have to lose the only thing I’ve ever wanted.

There was so much to love about this book, but I did lack a connection to the story sadly. I’d be tempted to re-read it in the future, to see how it feels on a second try!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

Goodreads | Waterstones

For centuries, witches have maintained the climate, their power from the sun peaking in the season of their birth. But now their control is faltering as the atmosphere becomes more erratic. All hope lies with Clara, an Everwitch whose rare magic is tied to every season.
In Autumn, Clara wants nothing to do with her power. It’s wild and volatile, and the price of her magic―losing the ones she loves―is too high, despite the need to control the increasingly dangerous weather.
In Winter, the world is on the precipice of disaster. Fires burn, storms rage, and Clara accepts that she’s the only one who can make a difference.
In Spring, she falls for Sang, the witch training her. As her magic grows, so do her feelings, until she’s terrified Sang will be the next one she loses.
In Summer, Clara must choose between her power and her happiness, her duty and the people she loves… before she loses Sang, her magic, and thrusts the world into chaos.

I was hoping to save this one for Halloween/October time, but I was running out of standalones to read on Scirbd, so I made the decision to pick it up now. And as this book is so focused on all seasons, I actually don’t think there is a perfect time to pick it up anymore, everything works!

I really like the premise of this book and I can see why it became so popular so quickly. I enjoyed the elemental magic and the idea of climate change affecting the witches magic felt very important and relevant. I did read this one as an audiobook but it flew by and I feel like I would have read it super quickly if I’d have picked up the physical version.

But I like winter. Winter is the truest of the seasons. It’s what remains after everything else is stripped away. The leaves fall. The colors fade. The branches get brittle.

I liked the idea of Clara having this inner turmoil and it gave a solid plot for the story, but I can also see why some readers think she is a little annoying. Her naivety made her seem like a very young narrator and that, along with the romance, echoed Twilight era books for me. I managed to overlook this most of the time, but I think it’s worth considering if you’re going into this one.

I liked the love interest and the romance, and I feel like it made the book easy to like. The fantasy system was unique and I liked seeing the changing of the seasons, with snippets from another book throughout. It was such an easygoing fantasy that felt very approachable and easy to read.

And if you can love the earth, understand it when all the beauty is gone and see it for what it is, that’s magic.

Overall, this book isn’t without it’s problems but was very easy to like and I can see why it’s so popular! I’d definitely recommend it if you think you can overlook the younger tone.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Message Not Found by Dante Medema

Goodreads | Waterstones

Bailey and Vanessa shared everything: laughter, secrets, and packets of Pop Rocks to ward off bad days. But that all changed the night Vanessa left Bailey’s, headed for home, and ended up swerving off a cliff nowhere near her house. Now Bailey, who thought she knew Vanessa better than anyone in the world, is left with a million unanswered questions, and the only person with answers is gone.
To help grieve her loss, Bailey creates a chat bot of Vanessa using years’ worth of their shared text messages and emails. The more data she uploads to the bot, the more it feels like she’s really talking to her best friend. That is, until the bot starts dropping hints that there was more going on with Vanessa than Bailey realized–a secret so big, it may have contributed to Vanessa’s death.

Thank you to Harper 360 for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I had a feeling I’d really enjoy this book, and I wasn’t wrong. It was such an interesting mix of contemporary, romance and thriller, and I couldn’t put it down. The chapters were super short and lead me to flick through the pages so quickly, I just wanted to find out where the story was going.

I really liked Bailey as a main character and her experience of grief felt real and visceral to me – although I can’t be a judge of this personally having never lost anybody as close to me as Vanessa was to Bailey. The idea of Bailey finding out what happened to Vanessa after she died, through a chat bot, was so fascinating to me and I knew I’d want to pick this up.

I did really like the aspect of the book focusing on the chat-bot, although I have to admit that I initially thought this would be much more of a thriller than a darker contemporary. I wish I’d have realised before going in that this one would be much slower, sadder and more visceral than the thriller I expected. The chat bot didn’t necessarily reveal things itself, but rather prompted Bailey to question those around her and her surroundings, which in turn revealed things about Bailey’s death.

There were a lot of underlying aspects about this book that I really enjoyed – and seeing Bailey learn more about herself throughout the book was lovely to see. There was also some great diverse rep throughout the book, and some mentions of a pin-badge that reminded me of my favourite book, The Invisible Life of Addie Larue.

I’d definitely recommend this one, just keep in mind it might be more of a heavy contemporary with thriller/mystery elements than a straight up thriller.

★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

Goodreads | Waterstones

Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse.
A lighthouse that has weathered more than storms.
Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.
Coincidence? Or curse?
Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left.
Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .

It kind of felt like the wrong time of year to read this one, I’d have liked to have picked it up closer to Halloween if I’m honest. But I ended up picking up this one as audiobook and I really enjoyed it. I actually think, having read the final 30 pages in physical format, that the audiobook was a more accessible way to pick this up. Having a whole cast of narrators was just great for this book, as it kept the chapters distinct and easy to follow.

The haunting tale of this book was woven throughout time, and kept me interested throughout. Told between 1998 and 2021 across multiple narrators, I can see this one being impossible to put down if I’d read it physically. There’s a lot of historical references and background which I enjoyed seeing throughout the story, too.

We form stories about our lives to create meaning out of them—without meaning, they feel shapeless and without purpose.

The characters were easy to sympathise with and I enjoyed the different viewpoints of the mother and sisters, which built on my love for the family aspects. The island setting of this book was haunting and felt just perfect for the story. It was full of atmosphere and I could picture the island well, which I always appreciate from an auidobook.

I was trying to work out the secrets of this book and work out where it was going, and I honestly don’t think I’d have guessed the ending. It was a bittersweet ending which I actually really liked, as I was a little hesitant about how it would end. My only complaint would be some of the details of this book were sometimes a little far-fetched or worked out a bit too conveniently.

When something lies beyond the realm of meaning, it’s terrifying.

Overall, this was really enjoyable read and I’d definitely recommend the audiobook if you think you’d like to read it! I’d also recommend reading it around Halloween if you can.

★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Lulu and Milagro’s Search for Clarity by Angela Velez

Goodreads | Waterstones

Overachiever Luz “Lulu” Zavala has straight As, perfect attendance, and a solid ten-year plan. First up: nail her interview for a dream internship at Stanford, the last stop on her school’s cross-country college road trip. The only flaw in her plan is Clara, her oldest sister, who went off to college and sparked a massive fight with their overprotective Peruvian mom, who is now convinced that out-of-state-college will destroy their family. If Lulu can’t fix whatever went wrong between them, the whole trip—and her future—will be a waste.
Middle sister Milagro wants nothing to do with college, or a nerdy class field trip. Then a spot opens up on the trip just as her own Spring Break plans (Operation: Lose Your Virginity) are thwarted, and she hops on the bus with her glittery lipsticks, more concerned about getting back at her ex than she is about schools or any family drama. But the trip opens her eyes about possibilities she’d never imagined for herself. Maybe she is more than the boy-crazy girl everyone seems to think she is.
On a journey from Baltimore all the way to San Francisco, Lulu and Milagro will become begrudging partners as they unpack weighty family expectations, uncover Clara’s secrets, and maybe even discover the true meaning of sisterhood.

Thank you to the publisher, Harper, for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I listened to this one on audiobook and it’s a great quick read for summer! The audiobook was really enjoyable despite the narrator for one of the sisters (I forget which!) being a little annoying in my opinion, but I got used to it quickly. I liked the sisters and their relationship, which felt realistic and was interesting to see change throughout the book.

I liked the road-trip/travel aspect of the book which made it feel quite summery and fun to follow. It also gave the book a clear plot, which was quick and easy to read. The ending was definitely predictable but I also rooted for the characters, so I didn’t mind too much.

The two main characters were distinct which I liked but had similarities too – I related a lot more to Lulu than Milagro but both were enjoyable to read in their own ways. The side characters were distinctly under-developed though, and I don’t really remember anything about them a week after finishing reading.

This book was enjoyable enough but didn’t blow me away, and would have been much more enjoyable for me as a younger reader. But it was a fun and summery read!

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Goodreads

Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy—the best magic school in the realm—even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.
Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.
Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t—beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

Inspired by East Aisan Culture, Tidesong is a graphic novel with Studio Ghibli undertones, following Sophie, a young witch who struggles with both her magic and making friends. Sent to live with her cousin and great aunt, Sophie is given more chores than magic lessons. She attempts to perform magic on her own, but becomes entangled in a world of underwater magic, shapeshifting and dragons. As Sophie attempts to improve her magic skills, she also challenges expectations from family and friends.

The illustrations are absolutely beautiful, depicting a cosy seaside town with a vibrant, striking colour palette. Sophie is a headstrong 12 year old girl who struggles with anxiety, and this is visualised throughout the story in separate thought bubbles. The story feels somewhat familiar and comfortable, but has a complex magical plot which is foreshadowed by a section of mythology at the start of the novel. Due to the target audience being younger readers aged 9-12, the mythology could be a little confusing and hard to follow, and requires a considerable amount of backstory for a short story presented in a graphic novel format.

In such a brief space, the story manages to weave together a heartwarming relationship between Sophie and her newfound family and friends, including Lir, a shapeshifting water dragon who is trapped on land due to Sophie’s backfiring magic. The character development can sometimes feel a little rushed, with the balance difficult to strike in such few words. Sophie herself struggles with anxiety and this is reflected in the way she is treated by her parents. The separate thought bubbles to show her anxious thoughts were striking and relatable to the reader.

Tidesong will be perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli, with a beautiful, whimsical and magical feeling similar to Kiki’s Delivery Service. Although aimed at a young audience, the book could be suitable and enjoyable for all ages. The font is legible and created from the author’s own handwriting. The story was heartwarming with a beautiful moral about friendship, family and self-acceptance.

★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Endgame (#6) by Malorie Blackman

Goodreads | Waterstones

The first Nought Prime Minister, Tobey Durbridge, is about to go on trial for the murder of notorious ganglord, Dan Jeavons. Tobey insists he is being framed.
There were ten seats at Dan’s dinner party the night he was killed and each guest had their own reasons for wishing him dead.
Sephy Hadley was one of the guests that night. Haunted by the idea that she didn’t do enough to stop the death of her first love, Callum McGregor, Sephy will not sit quietly and wait for accusations to fall on her now. She has her children to protect.

After reading and really enjoying the 5th book in this series, Crossfire (review here!), I definitely had high expectations for the 6th and final book. Although I did enjoy this one, it sadly didn’t quite meet my enjoyment of Crossfire.

We start this book exactly where Crossfire left off, with tensions running high and politics at the forefront. At the end of the last book in this series, I was in disbelief at how long Blackman had managed to keep particular storylines running without it feeling boring or like it was dragging on too long. This book is almost 500 pages, but like the others in the series, it was super easy to read and really enjoyable.

I didn’t quite fly through this one like I did Crossfire, but I could have read it a lot quicker if I had the time to pick it up a bit more. I read the last 200 pages in around a day, and I liked the short chapters to keep the story going. I liked the characters, but there were some aspects of this book where I felt like I should have felt more emotional than I was.

I also feel like there was just so much going on in this book, and I struggled to follow every aspect of the story by the end without thinking about all of their characters and their motivations. I also feel like it did stop us from seeing a large amount of character development, which may have been why I didn’t feel such a connection to them.

The way racism is weaved throughout these books is so cleverly done, and I admire how there are aspects of this book that reflected events of even the past few years. It shows how prevalent racism still is in our society over 20 years after the original Noughts & Crosses was published, which is both shocking and sad.

I will always admire Malorie Blackman and the world she has created within this series. I’m so glad I’ve read all of the books and followed Sephy through her journey.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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