Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

Happy Halloween everyone!

This year seems to be really flying in. As it is Halloween I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share my review of one of my favourite reads from the last couple of weeks, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen. It’s You’ve Got Mail but with zombies, well kind of. There’s an enemies to lovers, grumpy sunshine type romance at the centre with a truly unique world and some wonderful secondary characters.

What’s the story…

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

My thoughts

I really, really liked this book. I was very tempted to give it 5 stars based on the ending but I don’t think I can quite justify a perfect rating. It did come very close though as it has all the things I love in a fantasy romance.

I originally spied this on booktok and just loved the sound of it. It’s very much based on the movie You’ve Got Mail with a fantasy twist. Some of the scenes and plot lines could have been almost lifted directly from the film. I just love the whole enemies to lovers thing so it was right up my street. I loved that they hated each other and couldn’t have a single civil conversation but formed such a true connection through their letters.

I liked Mercy a lot but I think I loved Hart the most. He is the grump in this grumpy sunshine relationship but it’s largely surface grumpiness driven by grief, loneliness and fear. Underneath it all he’s a big marshmallow. I really wanted to give him a hug (even though he’d hate it).

Mercy was much more open, upbeat and positive but still a little bit lonely and isolated and carrying so much responsibility with no one to lean on or confide in. Basically they were perfect for each other but were completely clueless. I adored the letters they sent each other. I could very happily have read more of them but I guess then I would have missed out on the fun of the other relationships and secondary characters.

The other characters were for the most part equally lovable (there are a couple of villains in there) and I loved the relationships between them. Highlights for me were Mercy’s sister Lil who is not afraid to speak her mind and is pretty bad ass and the relationship between Hart and apprentice Duckers. The teasing is a lot of fun and it was great to see Hart lightening up and also opening up.

My only slight niggle and the reason I don’t think I can quite give 5 stars is the world building. I do think the world the author has created is wonderful. It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into it and it’s really original. The problem I had is that it was probably too original and there was just too much going on and not all of it was really explained or described.

There are a lot of place names, a whole religion and belief system and a lot of new words and language. Forms of transport, days of the week all seem to have these different words and there are certain things that I never really understood what they were and couldn’t picture.

The story is however strong enough that I could skim over these without it affecting my enjoyment too much. I do think it would have been better if kept a little simpler.

Overall though a very enjoyable read and one I’d definitely recommend

4.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

Highfire by Eoin Colfer
by Eoin Colfer was definitely an original read but despite a very promising premise and some wonderful writing I’m afraid this just wasn’t for me.


From the internationally bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl series: Eoin Colfer’s first adult fantasy novel is a hilarious, high-octane adventure about a vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon who’s been hiding out from the world – and potential torch-carrying mobs – in a Louisiana bayou . . . until his peaceful world’s turned upside down by a well-intentioned but wild Cajun tearaway and the crooked (and heavily armed) law officer who wants him dead.

Squib Moreau may be swamp-wild, but his intentions are (generally) good: he really wants to be a supportive son to his hard-working momma Elodie. But sometimes life gets in the way – like when Fake Daddy walked out on them leaving a ton of debt, or when crooked Constable Regence Hooke got to thinking pretty Elodie Moreau was just the gal for him…

An apprenticeship with the local moonshine runner, servicing the bayou, looks like the only way to pay off the family debts and maybe get Squib and his momma a place in town, far from Constable Hooke’s unwanted courtship and Fake Daddy’s reputation.

Unfortunately for Squib, Hooke has his own eye on that very same stretch of bayou – and neither of them have taken into account the fire-breathing dragon hiding out in the Louisiana swamp…

For Squib Moreau, Regence Hooke and Vern, aka Lord Highfire of Highfire Eyrie, life is never going to be the same again.

Highfire is a genre-bending tour-de-force of comedy and action by the million-copy-selling master storyteller.


I have to confess I’m at a little bit of a loss on what to say about this so am really struggling to review. I didn’t dislike anything about it but there was nothing I especially liked either. I seem to have found myself in the position of having literally no feelings about it which is probably not a good sign for me but doesn’t mean others won’t love it.

I did love the sound of it, I mean it’s dragons who doesn’t love the sound of any book with a dragon, it just seemed so weird and quirky and while I hadn’t read a book by Colfer before he does seem to be highly regarded. Hopes were therefore high.

And… the story is unique, the writing can’t be faulted and the characters are interesting but I’m afraid I just never connected with any of it. I kept reading out of curiosity about where it would go but never really became emotionally involved.

I do have the feeling it’s maybe supposed to be funny? But honestly I’m not sure and if it is it wasn’t my sense of humour.

It was an easy and quick read and the story flows along quite nicely. There’s plenty of action (and I should probably say violence and swearing) and it’s certainly not predictable.

I think a lot of people will like it but I’m afraid I don’t think it was for me.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. All views are my own.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.


As a fan of retellings I had high hopes for this book inspired by Beauty and the Beast and it did not disappoint. I did feel it was a little slow to get going but once we get to the “beasts lair” I couldn’t put it down. I loved the unique spin the author added to the story by weaving in Greek mythology (and maybe a dash of Rumpelstiltskin) and I thought it was wonderful how complex each and every one of the characters were. There’s not a single one who is wholly good or pure of heart.

Nyx makes for my favourite type of heroine. She’s strong, determined and dutiful but she’s also fierce, angry and full of hate. Her father may have raised and trained her to defeat the Gentle Lord but she doesn’t want to be the one giving up her life because of a deal her father did and she can’t help hating him and her sister who is cherished and loved. Everyone wants something from her and it seems as though no one genuinely cares about her. It’s not surprising that she falls for the first person who accepts her as she is and doesn’t want anything.

To be fair, I could kind of understand why both Ignifex (the Gentle Lord) and Shade (his shadow) were so appealing to her. Shade shows her kindness and understanding and Ignifex sees exactly who she is and values her for it. Ignifex in particular I loved, he is not what Nyx has been led to believe and I loved his humor and honesty, even if he is a little bit evil. The relationship between Nyx and Ignifex is an absolute joy to read. I do love the whole enemies to lovers trope and it is done so well in this. Neither trust the other and in fact Nyx is actively trying to destroy him. There’s lots of verbal sparring between them (including the odd death threat) but they develop a mutual understanding and acceptance. In many ways they have a lot in common.

I should also add that I loved the way the relationship between twin sisters Nyx and Astraia was portrayed. It’s a complex mix of love and hate. Nyx can’t help but feel jealous of Astraia and though she does love her, she also hates that Astraia is the chosen one, the one who is protected and cherished. This isn’t Katniss volunteering as tribute to save her sister this is Nyx being offered up as an unwilling sacrifice. Some of the most intense moments in the story are in fact those between Nyx and her sister, who is not a naive and pure as we’re led to believe.

Added to the wonderfully complex cast of characters there’s also some very beautiful writing and incredible world building. The pace is occasionally slow but the world the author creates is so detailed and vivid that it didn’t really matter, I was still hooked. I especially loved the castle, with it’s magical and impossible rooms which were at turns terrifying and wondrous.

My biggest criticism of this book is however the ending. I’m so confused. I kind of get it but don’t fully understand how they got where they did. If anyone does understand it please, please explain it to me.

Overall though I still loved it and would recommend. If the ending had been clearer it would’ve made my faves list for sure.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Empress of All Seasons
Empress of All Seasons
by Emiko Jean

I loved the idea of this but while I did for the most part enjoy it I’m afraid it just didn’t live up to expectations. There are some great moments but the whole thing feels rushed and lacks the depth and emotion I was hoping for.


In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.


I really wanted to love this book but despite a promising start and the odd brilliant moment I’m afraid this was more of an okay read rather than something special. I’m starting to think that YA fantasy just doesn’t work as a standalone and if this had been developed into a series it could have been so much better. As a single book, and not a particularly long one, there’s just not enough space for everything the author tries to do. Characters are under developed and rather two dimensional, the action feels rushed at times and there’s a general lack of emotion throughout which left me feeling rather unsatisfied.

That’s not to say it’s bad, I think a lot of readers will enjoy it (for the most part I did). The start of the story is wonderful, I loved the diversity in the characters, I loved the Japanese influences and the way the author weaved mythology through the story. The world building is also very well done and the characters likeable. I just feel like the story tries to be too big and ends up a little lacking. If the author had kept it simpler or expanded it I think it would have worked so much better.

The story itself is kind of The Selection meets the Hunger Games (I hate these types of comparisons but that seemed the best description), with girls coming from across the kingdom to compete for the chance to marry the Prince and eventually become Empress. This isn’t your average episode of the Bachelor however as the girls have to make their way through a series of four rooms (one for each of the seasons) surviving the elements, various creatures and (despite the no fighting rules) each other.

Main character Mari is one of those competing in the contest for the prince but as a yokai (a sort of monster) she may have special abilities and training that will help her win but if her secret is discovered it will almost certainly mean her death. She has a little bit of help however from Akira, a boy from her home who is part human, part yokai and a prince who doesn’t want to be the emperor (or the prize in a competition).

The story is told predominantly from the pov’s of Mari, Taro (the prince) and Akira and all three are for the most part likeable characters. Mari is probably the most well developed and the one I was most invested in but I definitely had some sympathy for both Taro and Akira. All three are outsiders in some way and are struggling with the roles they’ve been forced into. I did enjoy watching Mari develop over the course of the story but while both Taro and Akira also changed I’m not sure it was a change I liked.

The secondary characters unfortunately appear only briefly and are a little flat and I think this is a large part of where the story went wrong for me. There’s quite a bit of violence in this book and more than a few deaths and… I didn’t really care. It’s probably not helped by the deaths generally being a bit rushed, a character is barely introduced before they’re bumped off, but I should have been upset when certain character’s stories came to an end. And, as far as the villains go I wanted them to get the comeuppance they deserved and a lot of what should have been big moments never came.

This is particularly true of the ending, I’m not going to give anything away but there was just something rushed and unsatisfactory about it. It’s not that I disagree with the ending, I liked the direction it took, it’s more the way it’s written, it lacks the emotional punch it should have had.

As you can probably guess there is a bit of a romance in this and yes the classic love triangle but to me neither relationship felt particularly believable (one is too sudden and the other one sided) so it was pretty inoffensive.

Overall I’m sorry to say this was a bit of a disappointment for me. I had such a good feeling when I started it and I loved the world and the magic system but it just didn’t take the time to develop the characters or the relationships between them and consequently it lacked the feels I was looking for.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

Slayer (Slayer, #1)
by Kiersten White

Slayer is a great introduction to a new series set in the slayer verse. As a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was very happy to be back in this world and White does a great job of creating much of the same feel and humour. It is a little slow in the beginning but with likeable characters and an addictive story it was an enjoyable read.


Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.


Confession time, I am the biggest fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love the original movie, was completely addicted to the show when it was first aired and I don’t even want to count how many times I’ve watched it again since (I very probably know some of the scripts). Needless to say when I heard Kiersten White, author of one of my other fave YA series, was writing a brand new story set in the slayer verse I knew I had to read it. I just couldn’t wait to see what she would do with it.

As you can probably imagine when my netgalley request was approved I was literally jumping up and down. This total fangirling pretty much lasted through a substantial chunk of the book before I managed to settle enough to read what was on the page. I can’t guarantee that my review will not be coloured by my love of the show or that non fans will feel the same about it but I thought the author did a pretty awesome job.

It’s not perfect but White has certainly managed to capture the feel and the humour of the show. The story is a little on the predictable side and it reads on the younger side of YA but the writing is great and once it hits its stride there’s plenty of action and twists to keep you hooked.

While it is set in the Buffy universe, there’s a whole new cast of characters to follow in this and they’re very easy to like. I will admit I was hoping for some of the original cast to play a part but while there’s the odd reference to what happened to them (I am not happy with some of that) and maybe a cameo from one or possibly two this is a whole new story and it’s a good one.

Magic is broken, the watchers are very nearly extinct, there are some strange goings on (hell hound attacks) and mysterious deaths. Main character Nina has just discovered she’s the last slayer, something she and her family are less than pleased about, so it’s up to her to learn how to use her new powers to figure out what’s going on and protect those she loves.

I will admit I kind of figured things out pretty early on but the story was no less enjoyable for it. Nina is a likeable character and I loved the way she developed over the course of the story. She did drive me a little crazy at times with her swings between not wanting to be the slayer and going on about how much she loved her new powers but given her family history I could understand a bit of internal conflict.

Speaking of her family, I loved that Nina had a twin sister although at times the relationship between them (and also between Nina and her mother) frustrated the hell out of me. Both Artemis and their mother treat Nina like she’s useless and the changing power dynamic doesn’t really seem to make any difference. I could certainly see why Nina turns more to her friends (and pretty much any random stranger) rather than her family.

There is a little suggestion of a romance in this but unlike some YA books it doesn’t take over the story and Nina mostly manages to keep her head when her childhood crush (and source of one of her biggest embarrassments) returns to the watchers institute and I really liked the relationship that developed between them.

Like all good slayer stories however romance needs to wait as there’s an apocalypse on the horizon and a big battle that Nina has to fight, and it is suitably epic. It wraps things up for the most part but leaves lots of room for more in the books to follow in this series.

As you would expect from Kiersten White, the writing is pretty good but the one niggle I did have is that there’s a lot of back story at the start. The slayer verse is pretty extensive and the author had to do it but I will admit to finding it a bit slow. I’m sure it’s useful for those who haven’t been watching the show on repeat for years but I mostly wanted to know what had happened to the original cast in the interim and for this new story to get going.

Overall though, this is a great introduction to what could be an exciting new series in the slayer verse and now that a lot of the back story is out of the way I’m hopeful it’ll really take off in the next book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: A Curse So Dark & Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
A Curse So Dark and Lonely
by Brigid Kemmerer

This may be yet another Beauty and the Beast retelling but it is one of the best I’ve come across. I absolutely loved the new spin the author put on this classic tale and main character Harper is truly awesome.


Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.


I absolutely adore retellings, reading pretty much every one I can get my hands on, but even I have to admit my first thought on seeing this was not another Beauty and the Beast retelling. I must have read at least a dozen of them so it was difficult to see how Kemmerer was ever going to make this one stand out. Somehow however she does and I can say, hand on heart, that this is one of the best versions of this classic tale I’ve come across.

It may be based on a story we all know and love but the author has put her stamp on it and turned it into something a little bit different. There’s no beautiful but misunderstood young girl held captive by a hideous monster who turns out to be nice on the inside and they fall in love. Instead we have a contemporary heroine who accidentally manages to get herself kidnapped and transported to a new and magical world. There’s no beast either as the prince she meets is handsome and charming and maybe just a little too smooth. There is a curse placed upon him (it’s in the title) but this curse is that he’s doomed to repeat the same season over and over again until he manages to find someone to fall in love with him. At the end of the season, if he hasn’t found true love he is transformed into a terrifying beast who will kill everyone and everything in sight before time resets and he begins the season anew.

It really is a wonderful take on the story and I absolutely loved this notion of time repeating for Prince Rhen and also the sense of urgency his impending transformation brings to the story. I loved that the enchantment caused everything within the palace to repeat despite Rhen and captain of the Guard Grey being the only ones there. Food magically appears at certain times, rooms tidy themselves and musical instruments play the same music they did for Rhen’s first season (even without the musicians). There’s something wonderfully magical about it but it’s also a little bit sinister too.

What truly made this book for me however was main character Harper. I think she may possibly be one of my all time favourite characters. From the very start she has incredible strength and resilience and over the course of the book she develops into something even more, finding confidence and self assurance. Physically she’s not perfect, she has cerebral palsy which limits what she can do and means she struggles with a lot of things, but while it does slow her down at times it doesn’t curb her determination.

I truly admired how she coped with everything thrown at her. She’s magically transported to a new and more primitive world, is held captive in a cursed palace, becomes entangled with local politics and has the incredible pressure of being told she can save a kingdom on the brink of war. She has the odd wobble (fair enough I would too) but she doesn’t wait around for someone else to rescue her or fix things but instead steps up and does it for herself. Yes she does do some incredibly stupid things and doesn’t always listen but she acts which in my opinion makes her awesome.

Her relationship with Prince Rhen is also very well done. For a Beauty and the Beast inspired story it’s pretty light on the romance, there’s no insta love here or even an instant attraction. Harper isn’t naive and knowing about the curse pretty early on she never buys into his charm (and actually calls him on it). They bicker and they fight as neither wholly trusts the other and I have to admit I was never fully sure their relationship would turn romantic (and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to).

Rhen is an intriguing character but his guarded and thoughtful nature make it difficult to really become invested in him. He doesn’t show much of what he feels and to be honest he’s so dispirited and defeated at the start of the story that it’s not clear he feels much at all anyway. He does develop over the course of the book and by the end I did come to really care about him but I’m still not sure I ever really felt like he and Harper made the best match.

Captain of the Guards Grey however I almost instantly loved. From when he first accidentally kidnapped Harper for Rhen there was just something about him that made me happy. He’s incredibly loyal, brave and stoic but there’s a really soft and fun side to him that I thought made him a better match for Harper. Some of my favourite moments in this book were in fact between him and Harper which is probably not the way it should have been.

The writing is great and I thought the pace of the story was pretty much spot on. It’s a fast and easy read and there’s just enough intrigue and action to keep you hooked throughout. I loved the world building and while some of the secondary characters were a little stereotyped there was enough depth and complexity in the leads to make up for it. I will say I wasn’t wholly convinced by Harper’s back story and family and it felt a little bit forced to fit what the story needed but given how much I loved Harper I can let it slide.

Overall therefore, this is one of the best retellings I’ve come across and one I’d recommend all lovers of the genre pick up. The ending left things a little bit open so I can’t wait to find out what’s next for these characters.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are very much my own.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles (The Belles #1)This got off to a bit of a slow start for me but there is some wonderful world building and an intriguing story that’s so full of twists and turns that you can’t help but end up completely hooked. I just wish I could have connected a little more to main character Camellia but I have high hopes for the sequel.


Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.


How important do you consider appearances? Is there some little thing you’d change about your appearance if you could? Would you be willing to put up with a little pain to do it? What if the way you looked determined your place in society? I know it already does to an extent, but if you lived in a society where position and power were determined solely by how you looked how far would you be willing to go and where would you stop?

These are the questions at the center of the Belles where how you look is much more important than who you are or what you do. This is a world where everyone is born grey, grey skin, grey hair and red eyes however if you have enough money you can change this with a little help from one of the Belles. The Belles have the power to make you look exactly how you want in a matter of moments but as the saying goes “beauty is only skin deep” and in this world where everyone can look how they want appearances are most definitely deceptive.

This is a book with a lot of hype around it so I will confess I was a little nervous going in particularly when it didn’t immediately grab me in the way it seemed to do so many others. There have been a number of reviews saying how they loved it from the very first page and how it hooked them straight away but I’m afraid that didn’t really happen for me. It may just have been the mood I was in but while the world Clayton creates is vivid and beautiful there was something very cold and a little superficial about it.

I’m not sure this was helped by my inability to connect with main character Camellia or if I’m honest with any of the Belles in the beginning. This obsession with beauty and their need to be the best at creating it so they can land the coveted spot as favorite really rubbed me the wrong way. And Camellia, who claims to love her “sisters” so much and want the best for them comes across as the most ruthlessly ambitious of them all.

First impressions are however not always correct and appearances aren’t always what they seem, and in this book nothing is truly what it seems. With every character presenting the face they want the world to see (literally) it’s difficult to tell who anyone really is and it soon becomes clear that life in the palace is not exactly what Camellia thought it would be. She’s promised a new and exciting life but instead finds herself worked to exhaustion, under constant scrutiny from the press who’re on the hunt for a scandal and caught up in a political power play that could put her life in danger. Add to this the fact that her most important customer is an evil tyrant and a bully (with a pretty face) and there’s something she’s not being told about how the Belles came to be and what happens to them when they’re no longer able to work and you have a very intriguing and engaging story.

There are more than a few twists and turns in this story, some I predicted some I did not, and once it got going I found it an incredibly addictive read. I may not have liked Camellia initially and having finished it I’m still not sure I do (she frustrated me too much) but I did like the way her character developed over the story and I loved the way certain relationships developed and changed. There were a couple of characters who surprised me in the best possible way and a couple I wish the author had developed a little bit further. I do however love a real villain and this story definitely has some truly evil ones (if you’re going to be bad be really bad, I think).

The writing is pretty wonderful and while I did think there was maybe a little too much going on at times the world building and the descriptions are incredible. It is the first in a series and I feel like I should warn you it does leave you hanging at the end (I’m gonna have to read the next book aren’t I) but it’s a great story and I think the next one just might be even better.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This in no way affected my review (which is now ridiculously late).

Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire, #1)
Girls of Paper and Fire
by Natasha Ngan

Unfortunately a promising start and an unexpected romance were let down by a disappointing ending. It’s not bad, in fact the writing and world building are very good, it’s just not as special as it so easily could have been.


Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.


I have to confess despite being very excited to receive a copy of Girls of Paper and Fire from NetGalley I put off reading this. I’ve been a little down on the genre and had a feeling this would be the typical YA fantasy with all of the usual tropes. Poor girl plucked from obscurity and sent to live in the palace of an evil dictator who discovers she has a special ability or skill she can use to save the world (all while falling in love with her soul mate). But, while it does wander into this kind of standard pattern there is something a little bit different about it and I found the start in particular intriguing. The prologue immediately drew me into the story and there were some early hints that this could head in an unexpected direction.

I hadn’t read much about the story, and it’s safe to say what I had read I’d forgotten, so I had no idea why there was so much buzz around this book. It didn’t take long however to figure out that the something special was the romance. It’s pretty obvious from the blurb that main character falls in love with someone she shouldn’t but who she falls in love with was completely unexpected and for me was the highlight of the story.

As I mentioned, the story is kind of the norm. Young girl is seized in a raid in her village by soldiers and carted off to be a paper girl, essentially a sex slave for the king (yep sexual assault trigger warning). Usually there are only 8 paper girls each year (it’s an annual tradition) but this year they make an exception for Lei, who is special due to her golden eyes. Along with the other girls she has to learn how to “please” the king, whether she wants to or not to keep her family safe. Unfortunately the king really is a tyrant and there’s trouble in the kingdom so Lei may end up in the middle of a rebellion.

It’s a little bit slow at times but I found there was more or less enough to hold my attention. I can’t say Lei is a new favourite character, she’s a little frustrating but other than that I didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about her either way. With the exception of Wren, there’s not really a lot to say about the other characters either. I thought they were a little underdeveloped and occasionally wandered into cliched. There’s the mean rich girl, the naive and innocent best friend and the evil villain. It’s all a little bit predictable, all that is with the exception of Wren who absolutely fascinated me. She sets herself apart from the other girls and gives very little away. It’s difficult to tell whether she’ll be a friend, enemy or something else entirely and I loved that uncertainty.

I also really liked the world building and the class system the author created and thought her descriptions of both place and people were incredibly vivid. I loved the idea of this huge big palace with very distinct districts within it all protected by magic. I would however have liked to see more of this magic and the shamans who can wield it. For a fantasy it’s pretty light on this and there’s very little on the magic system despite it being important in the world… which takes me on to my final point, that ending.

This book feels like a slow build to an epic conclusion. There are lots of hints and premonitions that something incredible is going to happen and that Lei will be central to it but while there is a big finish it fell a little bit short of expectations. It’s probably my own fault for building it up and imagining what it could be that makes Lei so special but it was all a bit of a let down. It is the first book in a trilogy so no doubt the really epic stuff and the big reveals are being saved for later books but it would have been good to get something to tide us over.

Overall therefore a promising start but not as spectacular as I hoped it would be.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. All views are my own.

Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The Silence of the Girls
by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a wonderfully absorbing and intense read that presents the story of the Trojan War from the female perspective. The descriptions are incredibly vivid and it’s a fascinating story but I wish the author had fully committed to the female point of view despite the limitations this would have put on the narrative.


From the Booker Prize-winning author of Regeneration and one of our greatest contemporary writers on war comes a reimagining of the most famous conflict in literature – the legendary Trojan War.

When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis’s old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she’s not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.

The Trojan War is known as a man’s story: a quarrel between men over a woman, stolen from her home and spirited across the sea. But what of the other women in this story, silenced by history? What words did they speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

In this magnificent historical novel, Pat Barker charts one woman’s journey through the chaos of the most famous war in history, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical settings and stories of war are not something that have ever really interested me but I have always had a fascination with the Greek myths and the Trojan war in particular. I’ve probably been a little guilty of romantacising it and if I did I think it’s safe to say The Silence of the Girls very quickly dispelled these notions of noble heroes and battles fought in the name of love. The picture Barker paints is dirty, degrading and it has to be said depressing. The “heroes” Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris and even Odysseus are for the most part proud, violent and easily offended thugs.

However the focus of this story is not supposed to be on them. This is the story of the women who are caught up in this war between men. Told primarily from the point of view of Briseis, wife of one of the Trojan kings, the story follows her journey from young and noble Queen to a slave, nurse and pawn in the battle between Agamemnon and Achilles.

It’s a wonderful concept and the first part of the story makes from some gripping and intense reading. Suffice to say life is not easy for women in this time regardless of their position in society. Treated like possessions to be used or traded they are never really free. Their value is dependent on how attractive they are and only those who are young, beautiful and connected to a powerful man will ever have some kind of security.

The descriptions in this book are incredibly vivid and it’s very easy to imagine yourself there with Briseis. The battle at the very start of the book where Briseis’s husband and brothers are brutally slaughtered was especially vivid (and horrifying) but what stood out the most to me were the descriptions of the Greek camp with its casual violence, filth, smell and rat problem. I can very honestly say I’m glad to never have to experience it.

Unfortunately however, while it starts strong I felt it lost its way in the second part when Achilles point of view was introduced. He’s such a powerful and intriguing character that he seems to take over the story, pushing Briseis to the side, which to my mind defeats the purpose of the story. He is a fascinating character and there is something both troubling and tragic about him but this was supposed to be the women’s story and it felt like it became centered on him. His relationship with Patroclus, his grief, his vengence and his acceptance of his fate. It’s a great story but for me shouldn’t be the focus of the book.

What makes it more frustrating though is that the author brings in Achilles point of view then doesn’t use it to let the reader experience some of the key events. I often felt like I was with the wrong narrator. I wanted to be with Achilles when he goes up against Hector but instead we’re with Briseis. Similarly, we kind of miss the final big battle and only hear myths and rumours of what happened. I feel like if the author wanted to tell the story from the female point of view she should have committed to it, and yes we would have missed some key scenes, but we kind of did anyway. I would have preferred it if she’d brought in a different female perspective, possibly someone remaining in Troy.

The writing is however wonderful with vivid descriptions and a really intense feel to it. It’s often violent, disturbing and kind of gross but I became completely absorbed in this story and the world. My only complaint was the use of some modern slang in the dialogue which I found a little bit jarring. I do get what the author was attempting but the inclusion of phrases such as “cheers lads” and “gagging for it” didn’t feel natural and knocked me out of the story.

It is a brilliant version of the story and I loved that we finally got the female perspective on it. I just wish the author had committed to the idea a little more.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance review copy. All views are my own.

Review: Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning
Sea Witch
by Sarah Henning

This book reminded me just what it was I loved about villain stories. It’s not perfect but there’s enough mystery and shocks to make it wonderfully addictive reading.


Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love a good villain story and this book made me remember exactly why that is. There’s just something so unpredictable about it, even though I thought I knew what the story would be it somehow managed to take me completely by surprise. The only thing I was sure of was that something bad was going to happen and the main character probably wouldn’t be getting a happily ever after. It’s an uneasy and frustrating feeling but it makes for some truly addictive reading.

Despite being yet another mermaid story (there seems to be a lot of them around at the moment) there was something different and completely unexpected about Sea Witch. I was anticipating a version of the Little Mermaid or a prequel but it was unclear in the beginning how this story fit with the fairytale we all know and love. For one thing the majority of the story is set in the 19th century in a small fishing port on the coast of Denmark. It follows Evie, a 16 year old girl, daughter of a fisherman and best friend to the Crown Prince.

She’s considered a bit of an outcast by everyone, in part due to her friendship with the Prince, Nik, but also due to the rumours of witchcraft surrounding her. This reputation is not particularly helped by death seeming to follow her around. First her mother dies saving her life and then best friend Anna drowns while they are both swimming in the sea.

Things begin to change however when a storm hits on the birthday of the Prince, washing him overboard from the ship they’re holding the celebrations on. He’s rescued by a mermaid who bears a remarkable resemblance to Anna and has a beautiful voice just like her friend had. When this mermaid reappears a few days later, transformed into a girl her own age and on a quest to win the heart of the Prince, Evie vows to help her. But appearances are not always what they appear to be.

I absolutely loved how unpredictable this story was. There are so many twists and turns I had no idea how it was going to end and there were more than a couple of moments which had me literally open mouthed with shock. There is this constant sense that there’s something not quite right and that disaster is approaching for Evie but it’s impossible to tear yourself away.

I liked Evie as a character but I have to confess she frustrated the hell out of me. Her intentions, while sometimes a little selfish, are generally good and she is completely loyal to those she cares about. But, it becomes clear very early on that she’s far too trusting and loyal and that she takes too many risks as a result, messing with things she doesn’t fully understand.

The other characters I wasn’t so sure about. Nik, the high born Prince is a little bit wishy washy and his cousin, who is Evie’s love interest, is never entirely convincing either. The romance between them seems too sudden and to me his feelings didn’t feel genuine. Mermaid turned human Annemette (who may or may not in fact be Anna) is a more intriguing character but at times felt a little over done.

There’s a lot of romance in this story and not one but two love triangles, neither of which I really bought into. Grumpy old cynic that I am I find the notion of true love and being willing to die for someone a bit much for a 16 year old. What interested me a lot more was the relationship between Evie and Anna/Annemette and also the magic system in this world.

I thought the way the magic centered around the sea and was based on a kind of barter system (to get something you have to give something) was wonderful, and a little bit terrifying. Everything has consequences and Evie, who is encouraged to mess with magic by Annemette, has no idea what these could be. It’s intriguing and frustrating and at times breathtaking. When everything is finally revealed I found myself on the edge of my seat, the conclusion is truly epic (and heartbreaking) and totally worth plodding through teenage romance for.

I’d recommend this to anyone who loves fairytale inspired stories without the happily ever after and doesn’t mind a love triangle (or two).

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own