4 star, YA

Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Books are dangerous things in Collins’s alternate universe, a place vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England. It’s a world in which people visit book binders to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once their stories have been told and are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean and their memories lose the power to hurt or haunt them.

After having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer is sent to the workshop of one such binder to live and work as her apprentice. Leaving behind home and family, Emmett slowly regains his health while learning the binding trade. He is forbidden to enter the locked room where books are stored, so he spends many months marbling end pages, tooling leather book covers, and gilding edges. But his curiosity is piqued by the people who come and go from the inner sanctum, and the arrival of the lordly Lucian Darnay, with whom he senses a connection, changes everything.

4 Drink Me Potions

The Binding is an alternate world where some chosen individuals are born to be binders, a special type of person who is able to “bind” a person’s memories, releasing the original memory from the original holder. This story follows Emmett Farmer, who is called to work as a binder. Not dissimilar to a coming of age story, we follow Emmett as he embarks on the journey to learn this sacred trade – not looked upon highly by all. To some it is evil, a black magic that only witches perform, and to others, a means to an end, whether to forget a painful memory or for something more sinister.

I’ll admit it, I actually randomly picked this off the shelf at Chapter’s one day because it seemed interesting – and boy was it interesting! This led to me getting hooked on the first 100 pages, and then forced me to find a way to finish the rest of the story. This world is just so darned interesting. Like the brief suggests, the world is reminiscence of 19th-century England. The main difference is of course, the art of bookbinding. Now, as if I wasn’t already interested enough in the art of bookbinding in real life, Collins put an extra spin on it, and I almost wish that her imagined bookbinding it were a real art.

At first glance it’s harmless enough, what’s wrong with forgetting a bad memory? Feels like most people in the modern day world can agree to a thing (or two) that would be better left forgotten. How much easier then would it be to just start over after that? Quickly you discover that just like any tool or technology out there, it can be monetized, taken advantage of, and even abused. A tool is just a tool, depending on how you use it. This story follows Emmett as he transitions from being a common farmboy into a revered (or outcasted) bookbinder. He meets many different people in his journey, and most have a differing opinion on the bookbinding profession. He travels between the countryside where he grew up as well as the big city, and just like in real life, the difference between the two settings is stark.

The story really takes a wild turn when he discovers certain names on books, which threatens to reveal secrets of the past meant to be hidden (forgotten?) forever. Collins does a fantastic job leading us through this journey, and really explores the value of memories, now that they can be detached from the original owners. The cost of having something so valuable ripped from you will certainly leave behind a type of scar if not done properly. Which memories are worth keeping, and what is the value in forgetting?

Whew! I really enjoyed this book, and also quickly ate it all up in one day after my initial taste of it at Chapters. The themes that are explored are extremely fascinating, and you quickly find yourself on the emotional journey with Emmett, ready to face the very interesting world that Collins has built.

Overall Recommendations:

The Binding follows a farmboy, Emmett, as his whole life changes when he is called to the sacred art of bookbinding – or the taking of one’s memories and sealing it in book form. This novel truly explores the importance and value of human memory, as well as the whole concept of a book in general. Just what should and shouldn’t be forgotten? And how does one determine the value of a memory? This concept of memory and bookbinding certainly had me spellbound, and wishing that it were real. If you have any interest in this concept, or love a realistic world with just a hint of magic, this may be the book for you!

4 star

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Series: The Scholomance #1

Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly.

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

Rating: 4/5 Drink Me Potions

A unique spin on a magical school, this isn’t your typical Harry Potter stuff – though I will admit that was an alluring point that drew me to this book to begin with.

If you don’t mind the information overload and trying to situate yourself in this magical school that wants to kill you, literally at every turn, I would think you’d start falling in love with the book. Not the place because the Scholomance only wants to kill you. Even the showers and your own furniture hidden with magical beings called maleficaria who want to suck you dry of your magic.

We follow the inner thoughts and monologue of protagonist Galadriel (hip hip hurray for Lord of the Rings references) – if you can picture that lady in the film this is probably a good representation of the uneasiness others seem to feel around our girl – who everyone thinks is going to turn evil one day, if she isn’t already. It’s not her fault she has an affinity for destruction and deadly spells, is it? 

I normally hate stories with giant monologues, little conversations between characters, and generally just looking at the world through one person’s eyes. BUT, this isn’t the case here. Naomi Novik does an amazing job of making El so real to me with such a compelling voice that I couldn’t help but be sympathetic to her plight. Rude? I would totally be there with you, girl, since everyone avoids you like the plague. And that is totally a bad thing in a school where you need at least someone else to even go brush your teeth with if you don’t wanna be killed by some monster. Resisting the urge to show off your killing prowess to those who bully and demean you? Yeah, such restraint!

For you romance lovers out there, this is a fantasy story that has minimal reference to a huge romantic arc, at least in this first book. While there is a love interest (can I even call him that?), Orion never explicitly mentions anything and El is hilariously against the notion of being labelled as a couple the whole time he started hanging around her. However, I could totally see this developing into something more eventually. The progression of being virtual strangers to learning to see one another not for what they tried to present to others but for who they really were inside was endearing and worth so much more than instant attraction alone.

Speaking of relationships, the character development El begrudgingly goes through really tied it all together. She’s the voice we hear and the eyes we see through so seeing how she learns to form some friendships with other students was both entertaining and added value to the overall action plot taking place.

Which brings me back to the fact that this school LITERALLY tries to kill you at every page.

With our protagonist finishing off her junior year, seniors literally have to fight through hell to graduate and escape this school. The slug of information this book provided may have set my rating a little lower but I am confident sets the foundation for what I know will be an explosive sequel as El and friends head into their final year at the Scholomance.

As a final note, I will address a little on the controversies around this book. I will not address all of it, but as I am also a Chinese reader, I wanted to speak up that at least from the standpoint of Asian names and racism, I never once found any of it alarming or insensitive. I have many friends who go by different names or may have a first name that sounds like it could be a last name (or is actually a last name of other people I’ve known). There are also a ridiculous amount of ways to spelling the same Chinese character into English, and I rather enjoyed the diversity in ethnicities in the characters, especially seeing some representation of someone who would look like me. I’m aware people want to point out insensitivities and I appreciate that, but this isn’t one of those cases and you don’t have to defend us on this point in this particular situation.

Overall Recommendation:

A Deadly Education provides another unique voice to our horde of heroines that is sure to last in your memory. Galadriel “El” is standoffish and frankly downright rude to other people, but that’s just part of her charm, right? Or perhaps, her strong will and determination to remain good although her magical affinity is to destruction and death. Paired off with golden boy hero Orion Lake, these two will find themselves in some trouble as the school and its monstrous residents (and I don’t mean the students) tries their skill and will to survive until graduation. When the school literally can kill you at every turn, maybe having dark magic is a good thing? A decent pace and solid foundation in world building, this book prepares you for the craziness that is only ahead in its sequel!

4 star, adult

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Image result for the turn of the keyWhen Rowan Caine stumbles across an ad for a live-in nanny post with a staggeringly generous salary, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten – by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by the picture-perfect family who lives there.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke her up with booming music in the middle of the night and turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no other adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She’s not innocent, by any means. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

4 Drink Me Potions

The Turn of the Key begins from the perspective of our protagonist, Rowan Caine, from a jail cell struggling to write to her lawyer about the events that transpired at the Heatherbrae House. Immediately we are thrown into a gloomy and suspenseful environment where the ending is all but certain. Even though we already know that our protagonist ends up behind bars, the whole suspense in this thriller novel is still kept up until the very end. Knowing how the story will end somehow makes the dread all the more suspenseful as we follow her through Heatherbrae House, fully aware that all is not as it seems, and behind every corner lurks yet another family secret.

This mystery follows the life of Rowan Caine (in the past), who takes up a new nannying job at Heatherbrae House, way out in Scotland. She sees the ad for a very generous salary, and quickly takes the interview for a chance at a new life. There, she meets the Elincourt family, living in their modern day fairytale dream of paramount technology, mixed in seamlessly with their ancient house and land. Though she receives some warning signs, she quickly brushes them off, confident that she can outlast the previous nannies and enjoy a comfortable life.

However, very quickly many things seem to go wrong. The house is mostly controlled by an app called Happy, which allows wireless and also voice control of many of the house’s appliances and amenities. While this is initially a delightful experience, Rowan quickly discovers that someone else seems to have more control than her over the house, even though she is the only adult there. Seemingly many “malfunctions” and mysterious events start happening, which Rowan is determined to stick through for the money, despite her growing anxiety.

Ware carefully builds each character in a way that makes them each simultaneously friendly yet also suspicious. Even the less likeable characters have their redeeming qualities, making it ever so difficult to guess who is really friend or foe. This builds up Rowan’s (and in turn ours) anxiety as the number of people she can trust dwindles, and the number of shady characters increases. So many inexplicable things happen to her while she is at Heatherbrae House, and it truly becomes her unending nightmare.

The whole novel has a very suspenseful feel to it, and even with some of the ending given away at the beginning, it is still impossible to tell for sure who is responsible during her journey there. Ware has even hidden one last crucial secret to be revealed at the climax of the story, which really brings all the carefully placed icicles of mystery come crashing down around Rowan. Once again, Ware has created an incredibly thrilling story with elements that will truly chill you to the bone.

Overall Recommendation:
If you are into the heavy psychological thriller type of story (like I am), you will definitely enjoy this novel. Ware has quickly become one of my favourite modern authors of such mysteries, as each story is so well written and really keeps me in suspense no matter how much I get used to her plots. Although the ending is not necessarily the ending I wanted to see, the whole journey was definitely a delightful(ly scary) experience, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys all the twists and turns of a psychological thriller!