Book Review: Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch was my March book for the From My Bookshelf Challenge 2023.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Lovely cover, but I struggled to get into this book. DNF

Summary (from Goodreads)

A thrilling and powerful novel about a young boy lured to sea by the promise of adventure and reward, with echoes of Great Expectations, Moby-Dick, and The Voyage of the Narwhal.

Jamrach’s Menagerie tells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals, alongside Tim, a good but sometimes spitefully competitive boy. Thus begins a long, close friendship fraught with ambiguity and rivalry.

Mr. Jamrach recruits the two boys to capture a fabled dragon during the course of a three-year whaling expedi­tion. Onboard, Jaffy and Tim enjoy the rough brotherhood of sailors and the brutal art of whale hunting. They even succeed in catching the reptilian beast.

But when the ship’s whaling venture falls short of expecta­tions, the crew begins to regard the dragon—seething with feral power in its cage—as bad luck, a feeling that is cruelly reinforced when a violent storm sinks the ship.

Drifting across an increasingly hallucinatory ocean, the sur­vivors, including Jaffy and Tim, are forced to confront their own place in the animal kingdom. Masterfully told, wildly atmospheric, and thundering with tension, Jamrach’s Mena­gerie is a truly haunting novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival.

Favourite Quote

“This new labyrinth of narrow lanes teemed with the faces and voices of the whole world.”

(From Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch, page 8)


First: this book has a beautiful cover. It’s what attracted my attention and persuaded me to buy it. I didn’t even read what the book was about. Yes, I do that a lot!

Second: I did not finish it. It’s very rare for me not to finish a book, and even rarer for me to review it after not finishing. But having read 60 pages out of approximately 350 pages, I noticed a handful of things:

  1. I did not care about the characters at all. Not even a little.
  2. I wasn’t eager to pick up the book and continue reading it.
  3. I’ve mentioned elsewhere I’m not keen on reading about animals not being lovingly cared for, and the 60 pages I read was full of caged animals, some of them looking sad.

So, given things were not going great by page 60, I decided to call it a day.




From My Bookshelf – March 2023 Book Reveal

And March’s book is…

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch.

And the treat to accompany the book for March, a hand-poured candle in the fragrance, Berry Blast, made for me by my sister ❤

You can find out everything you need to know about the From My Bookshelf challenge, including links to the books as they are revealed, and the reviews once they are written, here.

Book Review: Roots of Rookeri by Crispina Kemp

Crispina Kemp, historical fantasy author of the five book series, The Spinner’s Game, and Learning to Fly, is about to release another fantastic story, this time, Roots of Rookeri, my review for which you can find below.  It’s set for release on 15th April 2022, so add the date to your diary, or follow the link to pre order: Roots of Rookeri eBook : Kemp, Crispina: Kindle Store

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Highly imaginative, engaging and complex, Roots of Rookeri, is a rich, well-woven tale, set in an well-constructed world. With themes of astrology, political intrigue, history, mystery and romance, this story has so much to offer. Highly recommended to fans of wonderfully-intricate, creative fantasy. 5 / 5

Summary (from Amazon)

A Key, a Tree, a Prophecy

The Cast:
Booderas Rookeri-Sharmin – better known as Boody, playwright, poet, dancer and chorusmaster – orphaned nephew of the Elect of Raselstad, disciple of the Forty-First Avatar who brought the Founders to this new world.
“Worth is not measured in gold. To ban a word is not enough. To forbid the metals silver and gold will not lessen their attraction. The Guided Guilds give no protection against the Old-World demons.”
Eshe, daughter of Judge Madir, believes herself tough (she enjoys caving and climbing), unsuccessful in matters of the heart, fears her father will intervene and arrange a marriage.
Kalamite, head of the quasi-religious Runman Order, son of a queen no one has seen, for to ensure her safety he keeps her locked in the mysterious Wood Tower at the heart of Citadel Lecheni. He is her sworn protector.
Sifadis Lafdi, heiress of the wealthiest House in Lecheni. Owns every ship in the Luant; no one eats fish except by her catching. But marriage arrangements threaten, and a ruling husband would separate her from her passion – the study of the ancient documents stored in her library.

The Play:
A violation of Wood Tower has astrologer-priest Kalamite in fear for his mother, his queen. Planetary alignments foretell an invasion from the south. When Eshe arrives in Lecheni from southern Raselstad, Kalamite moves into action. He insists a spy is sent to Eshe’s hometown. Sifadis jumps at the opportunity to be that spy, to pursue a project of her own and to delay further marriage arrangements.
In Raselstad Sifadis meets her antithesis, Boody with his abhorrence of everything northern and Rothi. Yet they share a love for ancient books and Daabian plants. They also share an ancient connection which on meeting neither expects.

Favourite Quote

“What is time?” His hands spread in expansive gesture. “A commodity which cannot be bought and yet we spend.”

 (From Roots of Rookeri by Crispina Kemp, page 207)


Firstly, it’s worth pointing out, Roots of Rookeri is not set in the same world as the author’s previous books, so you don’t have to have read them to read this one.  However, it is also worth pointing out that I do love those other books and never tire of recommending them here on Sammi Loves Books, and the world in which Roots of Rookeri is set is just as authentic and well-constructed as the other one.  So read them all! Now, on to my review proper…

Let’s begin with what we first encounter: that beautiful front cover.  Isn’t it gorgeous?  The colours and the text work so well together to catch the eye and the attention of the reader.  The talented designer behind this front cover (and all of Crispina’s releases so far) is Lauren Willmore. 

And my thoughts on the story…

Roots of Rookeri is a rich, complex tale, one that, with the imagination of the author, pulls the reader in and grabs their attention.  With themes of astrology, political intrigue, history, mystery and romance, this story has so much to offer.  I was lucky enough to be a beta reader for this story, and I fell in love with the world and the characters almost immediately.  On this, my second reading of the book, I am even more captivated by the places and people, and the storyline as a whole.

The world building is simply remarkable and covers every aspect of life in the two countries.  As I read the story I could clearly envisage all the locations visited, from the towered city of Lecheni in Rothi, to the sprawling, open Raselstad in Luban, (there are maps at the end of the story of both places) as well as being able to picture the locales in between. The invented language and slang is intricate and adds another layer of richness to the story. Then there are the two religions and their gods, stemming from one common source but interpreted in a vastly different way by each.  I found this so fascinating to read as it so clearly echoes reality.

The interconnectedness of the stories of the four main characters was so cleverly done and woven together. All four were engaging, and together it meant there were so many layers of story unfolding as we progressed through it. Sifadis and Eshe were both strong, intelligent, independent brave women, whose stories almost mirrored each other, yet they were not the same. Boody the poet and playwright was entertaining and smart, and the love of his art was clearly important to him, as was his loyalty to his friends. And as for Kalamite, his single-mindedness and strangeness as well as being head of the Runmen Order made for an intriguing character.

All in all, Roots of Rookeri captures the imagination and transports the reader to another world, and I found once I started reading, I struggled to stop.  If, like me, you enjoy wonderfully intricate, creative fantasy, I highly recommend this to you.


Book Review: Wolf’s Bane by Julie Midnight

Wolf’s Bane is the second book in the Monstrous Hearts series by Julie Midnight

Quick Review:

This series isn’t the usual type of werewolf story, making it a refreshing read, and the prose is almost lyrical in places, making it a beautiful read as well. 4 / 5

Summary from Goodreads:

In the months since escaping an abusive relationship, Alice has sought peace living in the wilderness with Colton, her mysterious lover who shifts from man to wolf at will. There in the shadows of the woods, she hopes to lick her wounds and rebuild her life. But ghosts have a way of stirring from their graves, and Alice is about to learn that one can never hide from the past for long. Sometimes, the past can come back to life, and when it does, it has teeth sharper than any wolf’s…

Favourite Quote:

“Far above them hangs the moon, returned to its usual ivory glow that brings to mind wedding lace dulled with dust and bones bared of their flesh.”

(From Wolf’s Bane by Julie Midnight, chapter 15)


I read the first book in this series, Wolf’s Wife, back in 2018 (see my review for that here). Before I go any further with my review, it might be worthwhile sharing the opening of my review for the first book:

“…this isn’t the usual type of paranormal book I read.  There is a lot of mature content to be found in the story – so should you go off and read it yourself, you’ve been warned…  Neither is it full of the usual werewolf fare.”

All three points remain true this time round. One: this isn’t the usual type of paranormal book I read. Two: there is a lot of mature content to be found in the story – a lot more than I recall for the first book. Three: this story isn’t full of the usual werewolf fare.

It’s the characters which again make the story. Alice is growing, transitioning from the breakable woman we meet in Wolf’s Wife into a stronger, empowered woman who owns who she is. We also get to see a different side to Colton in this instalment as he helps Alice navigate an existence between the remnants of her old life and the unusual path they have ahead of them.

The story was well-written and the dark horror and fantastical elements blend seamlessly with the more realistic passages. And the author’s writing style gives a poetical, lyrical feel to the prose. Some of the sentences and paragraphs (like my favourite quote above) are simply beautiful.

I read Wolf’s Bane for free via Wattpad. I’m hoping to get around to reading the third and final book in the series, Wolf’s Kin soon, maybe even by the end of the month, so I can include my review with this year’s Indie Only reads…


Book Review: The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

The last battle front cover

The Last Battle is the seventh and final book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

My least favourite of the Narnia stories.  I wished I had stopped with book six, The Silver Chair, which I enjoyed immensely. 1 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Many Narnian years have passed since Eustace and Jill helped ensure the Royal line. But when they are jerked back violently into this strangest of lands they find the present King in danger and Narnia facing its darkest hour. With Eustace and Jill at his side, the King, the noble unicorn Jewel and a few remaining loyal subjects must stand fast against the powers of evil and darkness and fight the Last Battle to decide the future of this once glorious kingdom.

Favourite Quote

“People shouldn’t call for demons unless they really mean what they say.”

(From The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 81)


It’s hard to write a review and maintain my review policy of ‘no spoilers’ when I feel so strongly about this book.  Sigh.  But I’ll give it a go…

Probably my least favourite of all the books, and I must admit, I was left feeling disappointed with the ending. I wrote this review a while after I finished reading the book, and I’m still left reeling over the conclusion to this series.  And, I can’t help but wonder what I would have made of it if I had read it as a younger person. I certainly can’t imagine recommending this book, but especially not to a child.

The style of the story is very different from the other six books.  The Narnia we get to visit is dark and horrible and very serious. Even when I wasn’t particularly gripped by the storylines and subplots of the other books, I always had the fantasy world-building to fall back on and enjoy.  As I’ve mentioned in my other reviews, I really loved exploring the geography and landscape of Narnia and the surrounding countries, but in The Last Battle, even that was lacking.

Also, there’s no getting away from the fact this book is pretty unsavoury, in terms of racism and sexism, issues I’ve mentioned before with the other books.

Unlike the other instalments (except for the Genesis-inspired passages from The Magician’s Nephew), where the Christian allegory was only noticeable (to me) if I searched for it (I didn’t), The Last Battle is heavy with it. I really wanted to enjoy this book, but when I finished the final page I was left feeling flat.  I understand the ending was supposed to be uplifting but it really didn’t work for me, and certainly not as a children’s book. I also understand the ending in reference to the series arc, but still, not great reading.

I can’t help but wish I had ended reading The Chronicles of Narnia with The Silver Chair.  And, should I return to read the series again, I know now where to stop.  I won’t be returning to The Last Battle again. I did not like it.



Book Review: The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

The Silver Chair is the sixth book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Quite possibly my favourite book in The Chronicles of Narnia. Full of action and adventure, with entertaining characters and an interesting setting, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you only read one of the Narnia stories, I would certainly recommend it be this one. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Jill and Eustace must rescue the Prince from the evil Witch.

NARNIA… where owls are wise, where some of the giants like to snack on humans (and, if carefully cooked, on Marsh-wiggles, too), where a prince is put under an evil spell… and where the adventure begins.

Eustace and Jill escape from the bullies at school through a strange door in the wall, which, for once, is unlocked. It leads to the open moor… or does it? Once again Aslan has a task for the children, and Narnia needs them. Through dangers untold and caverns deep and dark, they pursue the quest that brings them face to face with the evil Witch. She must be defeated if Prince Rilian is to be saved.

Favourite Quote

“Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we’ll hardly notice the weather.”

(from The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, page 60)


Quite possibly my favourite instalment in the series. I loved the setting and the characters, and the story itself was good. Fast-paced and full of action and adventure, the quest felt focused and fulfilling, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I loved Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle. His pessimistic nature ensured he was always surprised when things turned out better than expected, and he is never dull, but rather interesting, engaging and quirky, not to mention brave. Without a doubt, he is my favourite character from the whole series.

I missed the Pevensie children in this one, but I think Eustace and Jill were good main characters. Neither are perfect, but they do well in the face of adversity and are relatable (the Pevensies, even Edmund, do tend to come across as a little too perfect, I think). Jill in particular is strong and likeable, determined and courageous.

Again, we are shown parts of Narnia we have not been to before, and as always, the geography of this world is one of my favourite parts of the books. What was interesting in The Silver Chair is that a large chunk of the story takes place below ground which made for fascinating reading.

One thing I did find strange, and this links back with my reading of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is that the woman Prince Caspian marries, and who is the mother of Rilian, is never named. She is called Queen, and is referred to as the wife of a king, the mother of a prince, and the daughter of Ramandu, but she doesn’t seem to possess a name of her own.

If you only read one of the Narnia books, I would certainly recommend you read this one. Although not as well known nor as iconic as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Silver Chair is by far the most well-written and most engaging of the stories, at least in my opinion.

The final book in The Chronicles of Narnia is The Last Battle, which I read straight after this one, so expect the review soon.


Book Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is, chronologically, the fifth book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting adventure with plenty of action, mystery and magic. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Lucy and Edmund, with their dreadful cousin Eustace, get magically pulled into a painting of a ship at sea. That ship is the ‘Dawn Treader’, and on board is Caspian, King of Narnia. He and his companions, including Reepicheep, the valiant warrior mouse, are searching for seven lost lords of Narnia, and their voyage will take them to the edge of the world.

Their adventures include being captured by slave traders, a much-too-close encounter with a dragon, and visits to many enchanted islands, including the place where dreams come true.

Favourite Quote

Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.

(From The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, page 70)


I felt like this book was a bit of a mixed bag really.  There were some parts of it which I loved dearly, but others not so much. And, there were parts where I felt the pacing was fast (not too fast) but others where it felt too slow. Hence the rating. Yet, I think this book, out of the five that I’ve read so far, contains the most interesting and inspiring quotes, and so it was with some difficulty I picked the one above.

I really liked the characters in this one.  Lucy and Edmond were always my favourite of the Pevensies, so for them to get their own adventure was fun, yet there is a reminder here that all children grow up.  This time around, their cousin Eustace joins them, albeit unwillingly, but his presence in the story is also very good. We also get to meet Prince Caspian again, who is now King of Narnia.

There is plenty of action and adventure to be found in the story, as well as mystery and magic, of course. My favourite adventure of the book was the one with the dragon (I shan’t go into details for fear of spoilers), but the place where dreams come true was also very clever. And I really enjoyed exploring the different geography in this story: we are taken to distant islands and cover great swathes of ocean and see all sorts of things we haven’t seen in Narnia before.

The next in the chronological order of the series, is The Silver Chair, which is book six and the penultimate volume in The Chronicles of Narnia. I plan to read it in February…


Book Review: Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Prince Caspian is the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable and engaging fantasy read, with a wonderful cast of characters, both old and new, and with a different Narnia to explore. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Pevensie siblings are back to help a prince denied his rightful throne as he gathers an army in a desperate attempt to rid his land of a false king. But in the end, it is a battle of honor between two men alone that will decide the fate of an entire world.

Favourite Quote

“That’s the worst of girls,” said Edmund to Peter and the Dwarf. “They never carry a map in their heads.”

“That’s because our heads have something inside them,” said Lucy.

(From Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis, page 105)


Prince Caspian was the second Narnia book written by C. S. Lewis to be published.  However, in the chronological reading order it is actually book four, and it is this order I am reading the series in.

I think Prince Caspian might be my favourite book in The Chronicles of Narnia so far. I loved the time travel aspects of this book, with hundreds, if not a thousand years having passed since the Pevensies were kings and queens of Narnia. The country as they remember it no longer exists, the people having changed and the landscape having evolved with the passing of time.  Yet, all the things which made Narnia special lives on in folklore and memory.

Lucy, as always is my favourite, but Edmund really has grown up. The lessons he learnt in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe have had a profound effect on his character, whilst Peter and Susan are more adult than children, which is reflected in their decision-making, making them appear a little out of step with the world they find themselves back in.

The names of the characters were well-chosen.  Not only did they sound like they reflected the characters, but they were just simply awesome.  A few examples being the mouse Reepicheep, the centaur Glenstorm, the giant Wimbleweather, the dwarf Nikabrick.

Again, I can’t help but see parallels with Tolkien’s writings, and I love that they were friends and were part of the same writing group, so would have discussed these aspects of their books together. Yes, I digress…In this instalment, it was that small people can be brave and save the world, and as for worldbuilding / fantasy elements there was a part that reminded me of the march of the ents…

There was only one part of the story I didn’t like, and it did interrupt my enjoyment of the book, albeit briefly. It was when a group of schoolgirls were said to be “mostly dumpy, prim little girls with fat legs”, (page 171), and a group of schoolboys, “who looked very like pigs” with “mean little faces” (page 172). The descriptions seem unnecessarily mean and cruel, and there appeared to be no justification for it.

The next book in The Chronicles of Narnia is The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, and I must say, I am really looking forward to it. After enjoying Prince Caspian so much, my expectations have risen…


Book Review: The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy is the third book, chronologically, in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fairy tale-like story full of beautiful landscapes and adventure. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Horse and his Boy is a stirring and dramatic fantasy story that finds a young boy named Shasta on the run from his homeland with the talking horse, Bree. When the pair discover a deadly plot by the Calormen people to conquer the land of Narnia, the race is on to warn the inhabitants of the impending danger and to rescue them all from certain death.

Favourite Quote

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

(From The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, page 130)


I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. It had a fairy tale quality to it which I liked. I didn’t expect most of the tale to take place outside of Narnia, in the kingdom to south called Calormen, but I found the location fascinating.

One of my favourite parts was the description of the journey north, and the different landscapes they passed through as they try to reach Narnia. I liked the characters.  Bree and Shasta, and Hwin and Aravis were interesting and I liked how Shasta and Aravis interacted. Aravis’s shy, gentle talking horse was my favourite. And, although the main characters were different, we still got to meet the Pevensies, who were now all grown up.

What I really didn’t like about the book was that you can’t get away from the undertone of racism in some of descriptions of the people. This certainly dates the book back to a time when this was acceptable, and it did hamper my enjoyment of it, hence the loss of a star, though I wonder if it should have lost another…I did struggle to rate this book because of this.

I noted a couple of similarities between Lewis’s Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The first was the use of the name “Bree”.  The second was a description of the city of Tashbaan, which reminded me a little of Minas Tirith.  I still prefer Middle Earth over Narnia, both in terms of location and stories, but I am really enjoying this series and am happy to be working my way through it, from beginning to end.

Chronologically-speaking, The Horse and His Boy, is the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia, but it was the fifth book to be published. The next book in the series is Prince Caspian, which I am really looking forward to reading. I hope I get around to doing so soon.


Book Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the second book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Enchanting and unforgettable, a wonderful fantasy read for both children and adults alike. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Narnia…the land beyond the wardrobe door, a secret place frozen in eternal winter, a magical country waiting to be set free.

Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old house. At first her brothers and sister don’t believe her when she tells of her visit to the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund, then Peter and Susan step through the wardrobe themselves. In Narnia they find a country buried under the evil enchantment of the White Witch. When they meet the Lion Aslan, they realize they’ve been called to a great adventure and bravely join the battle to free Narnia from the Witch’s sinister spell.

Favourite Quote

There were so many to choose from, but in the end I picked this one:

“…Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?”

(From The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, page 17)


It’s been many years since I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and having read the first book (chronologically speaking, not in terms of publication order) in The Chronicles of Narnia earlier in the year, I thought it was time to read the most famous instalment in the series.  I must confess to feelings of slight trepidation as I opened the book.  I didn’t enjoy The Magician’s Nephew as much as I hoped I would, and so couldn’t help but wonder if I would find this book as enjoyable reading it as an adult as I did as a child…

My fears were completely unfounded.  I loved it.  The characters were engaging, the world-building enchanting and the story itself, certainly unforgettable.  I enjoyed reading it as much as I did when I was younger.  It’s nice to know that the story has stood the test of time (at least for myself).  There’s a comfort aspect to reading something you enjoyed as a child.

The characters, of course, are memorable: Aslan’s personification of “good” versus the White Witch’s “evil”, Mr Tumnus the Faun and the four children.  Lucy was always my favourite of the latter, but this time round, I did feel a lot more sympathy towards Edmund.  There were a few I had forgotten until I started reading: Mr and Mrs Beaver, but perhaps more importantly, a rather well-known seasonal figure…

The Christian themes that are woven through the tale / inspired the tale, are clearly visible to me now, though at a younger age they probably didn’t even register with me.  I have always been one to get swept up in a story without necessarily paying attention to hidden themes and subtext.  However, this time I did notice but I didn’t find them overbearing.  I just noted it and moved on as the story carried me away.

I liked how the narrator was separate from the story and spoke directly to the reader. It meant that the tale was peppered with little snippets, such as hoping the reader never felt as sad as…, which really added something to the storytelling.

One of my favourite lines comes from the dedication at the start of the book, and I just think it is so magical:

“…But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Over all, I still prefer Tolkien’s writing, and Middle Earth to Narnia, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed this book any less because of it, and I have no doubt, I will return to re-read it, again, and again, and again…

The next book in The Chronicles of Narnia is The Horse and His Boy, which I don’t think I read as a child…