Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver
Spinning Silver
by Naomi Novik

A beautiful and magical story inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, I absolutely loved the world and the complexity of the characters but it lacked a little of the emotional investment I was hoping for.


Will dark magic claim their home?

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village. Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.

Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.

As with her standalone novel Uprooted, Naomi Novik has once again been influenced by classic folktales. Taking Rumpelstiltskin as her starting point, she’s woven a rich, multilayered new story which is a joy to read.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the wintry landscape on the cover suggests, this is a beautifully written, enchanting and magical story with some nods to the classic fairytale Rumpelstiltskin. I have to admit though that while I did find the writing beautiful and the world the author created incredibly vivid there was something about the story that left me feeling a little bit cold.

That’s not to say the story isn’t good, because it is. This was my first book by Novik and I was expecting it to be yet another retelling with a slightly more adult spin but it’s so much more. Rumpelstiltskin is obviously the inspiration behind it but Novik has taken the idea and expanded it into something truly her own. There is so much depth and detail it’s very easy to become completely immersed in the world she creates. It’s a little slow to get going as a lot of time is spent introducing the various characters and their place in the world but once I got into it I was completely captivated.

This is a story that makes you question everything. There’s nothing black and white about the events and the characters face some difficult decisions and moral dilemmas. No one is entirely good and even those who would be considered the “heroes” don’t always do the right thing. I actually loved how complex the characters were. This may be a fantasy set in a foreign land but they felt very real and their actions entirely convincing.

The story is told from multiple point of views, something I wasn’t so keen on, but primarily from the view of three young women, Miryem, daughter of the local money lender, Irina daughter of a Lord who’s scheming for power and Wanda, who ends up working for Miryem. I thought all three were wonderful characters and I loved how well it portrayed the limited role of women in this world and how each of them rises out of the role they’re pushed into despite their perceived weakness.

I loved how strong they all were in their own way but if I was naming a favorite it would have to be Miryem. She makes a lot of mistakes (bragging about turning silver into gold, which lands her in a lot of trouble, for example) but most of it comes from a good place, or at least a place of justifiable anger at the treatment of her family by the town. I love how she isn’t afraid to be hated if it means saving her family. I also have to admire how brave and clever she is, she thinks and schemes her way out of whatever trouble she lands herself in. This cunning and pride does however make her a little difficult to warm to. Similarly Wanda’s and Irina’s meekness and lack of self assurance, while completely understandable, also made them more frustrating than relateable.

As far as the other characters go I did find them intriguing but I’m not sure there was anyone I really cared about. The Staryk king, who kidnaps Miryem, was fascinating but a little too cold, aloof and mysterious to really care about and Mirnatius, the new Tsar who is possessed by a fire demon, did draw a lot of my sympathy (the chapters from his pov were actually some of my favorites) but there’s not quite enough of him. There were a few pov’s I felt were unnecessary and it caused the story to drag a bit but I did love the various themes the author worked in and how you could never tell where it would go next.

The ending when it comes does seem a little rushed and I thought there were elements which were a little unresolved particularly around Irina but if the author wanted to revisit the world and complete the tale I wouldn’t have any complaints.

Overall I would say this is beautifully written and captivating but lacked a little of the emotion I look for when reading. If you love retellings, incredible world building and don’t mind a slow pace and complex characters I would really recommend you pick this up.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an ARC. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The Mermaid
The Mermaid
by Christina Henry

This may not have been the happiest or most uplifting of stories but it’s a wonderfully written and compelling read. Henry creates an incredible sense of time and place and shows the best and worst of human nature through the eyes of someone extraordinary.


From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay before I start this review I should probably say that The Greatest Showman is one of my favorite films. I’ve watched it far too many times and had the soundtrack playing on repeat for months.

You might be wondering why this is in any way relevant to this book but I have to admit my love for the film colored my experience of reading the book. This is the story of a mermaid who wants to see the human world and agrees to appear in PT Barnum’s museum of curiosities to fund her travels. Needless to say as soon as Barnum, wife Charity and his daughters appeared on the page I couldn’t help but imagine the cast of the film.

The experience however is very different from that portrayed in the film. This isn’t a happy story where differences are celebrated and our mermaid Amelia finds confidence and acceptance. It is unfortunately much more real and I’m afraid to say much darker and more depressing. It’s set in the 1840’s and portrays very effectively the very worst of human nature.

Amelia as a mermaid had self assurance, was independent and adventurous but despite her initial desire to see everything she’s gradually beaten down. As a woman she has no power and as a mermaid she’s treated as something inhuman. There are those who view her as a miracle but just as many or more who see her as something sinful or as an abomination.  I loved her as a character and hated the way she gradually lost her spark as she was insulted, abused and made to feel powerless.

Henry’s portrayal of Barnum is similarly depressing. He’s a money hungry conman with no respect for anyone and pretty much no morals. Before Amelia meets him he’s already worked an elderly lady he bought to death then sold tickets for her autopsy. He’s a truly despicable person (a far cry from the version portrayed by Hugh Jackman) and seeks every opportunity to exploit everyone he meets. He can’t believe his luck when he discovers a real mermaid but despite some initial wonder it isn’t long before he’s trying to use her in any way he can.

This story isn’t all doom and gloom however as there are some genuinely wonderful moments, Amelia outwitting Barnum time and time again, the joy she brings when people first witness her transformation, the friendship that grows between her and Barnum’s wife, her general disdain for clothing (and the very prudish attitudes of the time) and the relationship between her and Barnum’s eldest daughter Caroline. There’s also a very sweet and gentle romance, some heartbreak (yes I cried) and a few laughs.

The writing throughout is brilliant creating a real sense of time and place. You can very easily imagine yourself on the cold, harsh coast of Maine or in the noise and crowds of New York. The beginning in particular where Amelia meets fisherman Jack has a real fairytale feel to it that I absolutely adored. I felt connected to each and every character and became so emotionally invested in them that despite it being a relatively slow paced read I was anxious to know how their story would end.

I seem to be reading a lot of books about mermaids at the moment but this was a truly unique and memorable experience. Definitely one I would recommend if you like strong female characters, historical settings and a slower and darker story with just a little bit of wonder.

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun (Flame in the Mist, #2)
Smoke in the Sun
by Renee Ahdieh

The author creates a truly magical and beautiful world in this, the conclusion to the Flame in the Mist duology, however there was just a little too much going on for me to really connect to this story. It has some wonderful moments but I’m sorry to say didn’t quite live up to expectations.

The Blurb

The highly anticipated sequel to Flame in the Mist—an addictive, sumptuous finale that will leave readers breathless from the bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn.

After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice—to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor’s ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.

With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.

My Review

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I’m only giving this book 3.5 stars. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and having loved Flame in the Mist I fully expected this to blow me away but it just never happened.

I’d love to say it was me and not the book but I don’t think that’s the case I’m afraid. It’s true that I picked this up having just read some absolutely brilliant books and it was always going to struggle to compete but I’m sorry to say that this is a book with some problems and my more recent reads just highlighted them to me.

It did begin well and I loved the similarities in the first few pages to the opening scene in Flame in the Mist. My immediate thought was “YES!!! This is going to be so good” but within the first couple of chapters my hopes began to sink. It was wonderful being back in the beautiful, magical and dangerous world the author created but I just got so confused. In fairness this was, at least in part, my own fault as I couldn’t wholly remember the first book so should maybe have had a quick re read but it took me a while to figure out who was who again, what relation they were to each other and how they’d ended up in their current positions. It probably didn’t help that at the end of the last book there was a big reveal that certain characters weren’t who you thought and this book began with trying to recap that as well as introduce a few new(ish) characters. My poor brain which is rubbish with names and relationships at the best of times just couldn’t keep up.

I think the story just became too big for me and the author tried to bring in too many storylines and characters. There wasn’t enough space for it in one book and as a result it became too thin and lost focus. There are a lot of characters and it’s told from multiple pov’s so I struggled to connect with it or really feel anything. It’s so frustrating because I love the author’s writing, the world she has created is brilliant and there is potentially a great story there but I couldn’t get to it because it’s trying to do too much all at once. I kind of wish it’d just stuck with main character Mariko and let her be the star.

Mariko is a wonderful character and I love how she has developed over this duology. It’s great to see a female lead who doesn’t have any special powers or super fighting ability but instead uses her intelligence and wits. She has her doubts and her insecurities and that makes her incredibly relateable. I wish she’d been given a little more page time as she begins this story in enemy territory (the palace) and has to play a game she lacks skill in (lying and deceiving) to save the person she loves. The most memorable scenes in this are in fact when she’s either lying and scheming or with Okami, but then I do love Okami and the relationship between them.

The other characters are interesting and there are some welcome additions, Raiden and Kanaka for example, but I’m not sure all were necessary and it became confusing (for me at any rate). I loved when Mariko was amongst the Black Clan but they feature very briefly and instead we have a lot of new characters within the palace. We get to meet the new emperor Roku and his brother (and Mariko’s betrothed) Raiden. There is the old Empress, Roku’s mother and her ladies, Raiden’s mother, the various Lords and advisors and even some servants and soldiers. It’s a lot and there just isn’t the time to fully develop all of them, and to be honest I’m not sure they serve much of a purpose to the story.

The story itself felt quite slow to me but when I think about it there was a lot of action. There are twists and turns, political intrigue, betrayal, torture, battles and even executions/murder but for some reason I just never felt any excitement or emotion from it. Even deaths which should have triggered some kind of reaction passed me by and when I suddenly realized it was all over I felt a little let down. It seemed very rushed and not the ending the story deserved. So much was left incomplete and unfinished and it was just so unsatisfying.

Anyway, it isn’t all bad. The world the author creates is wonderful and there are some very lovely moments I just think it could have been more. I have however been a little down on YA fantasy lately though so please don’t let my review put you off. It is still a duology worth reading for the world building alone.

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

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Ash Princess
Ash Princess
by Laura Sebastian

The story was a little too familiar for me to really love it but this was an enjoyable enough read and a promising start to a new series.


The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser’s warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn’t expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

From author Laura Sebastian comes Ash Princess, a nail-biting YA fantasy debut full of daring and vengeance.


I wanted to love this but despite some edge of the seat moments this just never really hooked me. It’s not bad, in fact once I hit the halfway point I found it incredibly difficult to put down, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly new or exciting about it. I felt like this was a story I’d read before, more than once, and those parts that were original I wasn’t sure I wanted.

It’s a common story, a young princess whose kingdom was taken over by an evil tyrant has to fight to free herself and her people. Add in special magical powers, a love triangle involving the princess, her best friend from her childhood (boy next door) and the son of the tyrant and this is essentially the same story we’ve heard a number of times (it reminded me a lot of Red Queen).

There are of course some differences, the author has created an intriguing and well set out magic and belief system and I really liked how the main characters religious beliefs played into her actions. I loved how the ideas of one culture being overtaken by another were reflected. There are elements of eradication (bans on using the language for example) but also cultural appropriation and the impact of this on a “native” of the kingdom were very well presented.

What I wasn’t so keen on however was the level of abuse towards women within the story. I do understand why it’s there (and the author has been open in why she included it) but I’m not sure it was necessary to have main character Theodosia (Theo/Thora) being beaten regularly and subjected to mental torture from the age of 6. I generally don’t mind a bit of violence in books but this felt too much to me and while it did bring an edge to the story it was uncomfortable to read (even though very little occurs on the page).

I also think it raised questions over how believable Theo was as a character. I thankfully haven’t had her experiences but her general attitude, actions and responses just didn’t feel right considering the level of abuse she’s been subjected too. As a character there were aspect of her I liked, how she tried to hang on to her memories and beliefs, how she manages to survive and the insecurities she has but there was a lot about her that frustrated me. She’s too hesitant and too trusting and loyal and I just wanted her to act.

As I alluded to there is quite a bit of romance in this and yet another of those dreaded love triangles with one love interest the boy she was best friends with as a child and the other the son of her enemy. I don’t really mind a love triangle and this one is pretty inoffensive. There are some very sweet moments and I particularly loved the relationship between Theo and the Prinz with all of the questions over how much is real and the conflict between love and duty.

What I found especially intriguing romance wise in this book was Theo’s mothers life. She was romantically involved with a number of different men (leading to the question over who Theo’s father was) but committed to no one. It did make me wonder about her kingdom’s attitudes to love and romance and I would have loved for this to be developed further.

As far as the other characters go some were a little cliched but for the most part they were inoffensive. I didn’t really have strong feelings towards any of them with the possible exception of best friend Cress. She was just terrible and honestly I don’t know how Theo couldn’t see it (this was maybe my biggest frustration in this story). The characters I did find intriguing (the Kaiser’s wife for example) didn’t get enough time and I would have liked to see more from the women in the palace.

Story wise I did find this a little slow in the beginning but it does really pick up around the halfway point and from that point on I did find it difficult to put down. There aren’t a lot of surprises, a lot of it has been done before so you kind of know what to expect but I did still enjoy it.

The writing is pretty good and while there is a little bit of info dumping at the start as the author develops the world, the magic system and the religion, there is some real emotion conveyed. I found myself on the edge of my seat at times with the tension created, horrified with the violence and on one occasion I may have shed a tear.

Overall therefore I’d rate it as good but not great. It’s just lacking that little spark and bit of originality to make it something special. I will however no doubt read the sequel when it’s released as now the world building is largely out of the way I think it could really take off.

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.

ARC Review: Legendary (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber

Legendary (Caraval, #2)
by Stephanie Garber

I had high hopes for the sequel to Caraval and Legendary surpassed them all. I absolutely loved it and I can’t wait for book three.

Spoiler Alert: As this is the second in the series there may be some spoilers for Caraval from here on in.


A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.


My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Wow this book was just so good. As soon as I finished I wanted to go right back to the beginning and read it all over again. Having read a lot of great reviews and very much enjoying Caraval I did have high(ish) hopes but wow this surpassed them all.

The story picks up not long after Caraval and this time around follows younger sister Tella as she tries to fulfill her side of the deal she made to rescue her sister Scarlett from their abusive father and discover who Legend really is (something I very much wanted to know too). It’s not long before she discovers the only way to find Legend is to take part in the game and win. Tella may think that she’s been behind the scenes and knows it’s not real but this is a very different game from the one her sister played and the stakes have never been higher.

I did wonder how Garber could follow up Caraval and keep the mystery when the reader knows the truth behind it but she does it masterfully. From the very start it’s made clear that this is not the same. There’s no warning that it’s only a game and not to get swept away but instead that this time it’s real. But, is it or is the “it’s all real” just another part of the game? It’s such a wonderful spin that you still can’t help wondering what’s real and what’s not. We know some of the characters from the previous book and we know they’re actors playing a part but there are a few new characters and Legend is known for setting the scene well before the game begins so just what is an act and what is true, is anyone who they appear and just who is Legend? It’s even more confounding when it turns out that one thing we thought we’d discovered in Caraval was not remotely true.

I was right there with Tella as she quickly began to doubt her own convictions and started to question if everyone was in fact playing some kind of game with her. At moments it seems as if even sister Scarlett could be in on the game and don’t even get me started on love interests Dante and Jacks.

While picking up this book felt initially like sinking into a familiar and reassuring world with characters I knew and cared for Garber takes it to a whole new level, developing both the world and the people in it into something completely new, strange and unsettling but consistent with what came before. The magic system is further developed but there’s also more insight into the wider world, its people and the various religious and belief systems which added so much depth and detail I found myself completely immersed in this magical world.

For the most part I also loved how the characters were developed. I hadn’t been keen on Tella in the first book but she really made this story for me. She’d always seemed quite a selfish and shallow character, thoughtless and determined to get her way but it’s not long until we find her motivations were very different from what I believed. I adored how forthright she was. There’s no hesitation. She may be scared or have doubts but she makes a decision and she goes for it, putting on a show that nothing gets to her and relying on the fact that most people (myself included) underestimate her. She is a little reckless and her actions are frustrating at times but she’s young (something I kept forgetting) and it makes for such an exciting and engaging read.

Tella is also incredibly self reliant and I loved how she didn’t look to anyone else to solve her problems. She’s not looking for romance but that’s not to say she doesn’t find some and when she does it is truly swoon worthy. There were more than a few occasions when I just wanted to melt into a big puddle on the floor. I should add a warning that there’s a bit of love triangle going on but both of the love interests are just yummy and not necessarily what they seem. Dante may be flirty and sweet but he’s one of the performers so may be playing a game and Jacks is probably not part of the game but is very mercurial and changes from cold and nasty to charming from one moment to the next. I found myself completely hooked every time Tella had a scene with them.

To be honest though I found myself completely hooked on the story as a whole. It’s full of mystery and intrigue and there were so many sudden reveals and twists my jaw was almost constantly on the floor. There was more than one occasion when I was seriously considering just staying on the train and not going to work so I could keep on reading.

If I had one criticism, and it is pretty minor, I would have liked to see more in terms of the game and the other players. It feels like a very personal game this time and the focus is almost solely on Tella. I couldn’t help wondering what everyone else was doing, what the game was for them. I was also a little disappointed in Scarlett, how little she featured and how she acted. We are seeing her from Tella’s pov but she felt like a very different character than in Caraval.

This is however an absolutely brilliant read and moved the story on so well. The conclusion when it comes is fantastic but left me wanting more. I hope we don’t have too long to wait for the next book, Finale.

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

Review: The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca   Ross
The Queen’s Rising
by Rebecca Ross

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Queen’s Rising may seem a little familiar in terms of story but there’s something very intriguing about it and I loved the author’s writing. I’m really looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.


Born out of wedlock, Brienna is cast off by her noble family and sent to Magnolia House – a boarding house for those looking to study the passions: art, music, dramatics, wit and knowledge. Brienna must discover her passion and train hard to perfect her skill, in the hope that she will one day graduate and be chosen by a wealthy patron, looking to support one of the `impassioned’.

As Brienna gets closer to the eve of her graduation, she also grows closer to her smart (and handsome) tutor, Cartier. He can sense that she is hiding a secret, but Brienna chooses not to reveal that she is experiencing memories of her ancestors – memories uncovering the mysteries of the past that may have dangerous consequences in the present.

A daring plot is brewing – to overthrow the usurper king and restore the rightful monarchy – and Brienna’s memories hold the key to its success. Cartier desperately wants to help Brienna, but she must chose her friends wisely, keep her enemies close and trust no one if she is to save herself and her people.


This book really surprised me with just how good it was. This probably doesn’t sound like much of a compliment but I’ve been pretty down on YA and YA fantasy in particular recently so for any book in this genre to impress me is a real achievement.

It didn’t particularly help that this book doesn’t seem to get the best reviews. There are some who love it but there are more than a few who fall on the “it’s too slow” or “it’s not original enough” side of the fence. Needless to say I was a little wary going in (I really need to stop reading reviews before picking up a book). But, while this book did take a little bit to get going there was something about it that I really loved. Yes, it does have some issues (that’s why I couldn’t give it 5 stars) but I found myself being drawn completely into the story and the world that the author created.

I will admit it is absolutely full of the usual YA fantasy tropes, mystery about main character’s background (she doesn’t know who her father is), discovery of unexpected abilities and important role (special snowflake alert), evil dictator style ruler, secret identities and forbidden romance but with likeable characters and an intriguing world I was happy to go along for the ride.

I thought Brienna made for a wonderful main character. She’s clever, inquisitive, brave and more importantly conflicted a lot of the time. She’s often feeling a number of emotions at once and I loved how the author portrayed this confusion, which is just so relatable. She has no special skills or abilities, no real passion for anything (other than finding out more about her background) so is often feeling a little lost, particularly as she’s surrounded in school by the incredibly talented who know exactly what their path is.

This ability of the author to make you relate so strongly to the main character and the way she portrayed emotions was definitely one of the highlights for me. I felt all of the feels and I loved the relationships between the characters. The romance may have been a little bit wrong (I won’t go into the why) but I shipped it so much. Similarly the friendships between the women in the book in particular were so well developed and real. I loved how they supported each other.

Some of the other relationships worked a little less well and I do feel the author should have maybe taken a little more time over them. They developed a little too quickly for me to fully buy into them but this was due to what was my main issue with this story, the pacing. There is just a tad too much time spend on some sections and nowhere near enough on others. I can understand why some reviewers describe it as slow, the beginning in particular feels slow as the author takes a while to gradually build the world and the relationships between certain characters. I personally enjoyed these sections (I was very happy watching one relationship develop) but I can understand it frustrating others. Where I found issue was with the instant relationships. One very brief conversation seemed to be enough to form a lasting bond and intense loyalty which I’m not buying.

There isn’t a huge amount of action in this story, for the most part it’s plotting and scheming, unraveling mysteries and travelling across the world but it does have its moments. What violence there is tends to be sudden but I should add a warning that it’s a little gruesome in places and even I found it to be shocking. I did however love the contrast the author created between the two kingdoms Valenia and Maevana, one seeming very cultured and refined and the other brutal and savage and I think this occasional violence illustrated it well.

Overall this was a very enjoyable read and while I think it could have worked as a standalone I will be very interested to see how the story develops over the next two books.

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

ARC Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood
The Hazel Wood
by Melissa Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow this book was good. So dark and creepy and just wonderfully well written. I found myself becoming lost in the story which considering how tired and stressed I was while reading it was pretty impressive.


Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD. 

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .


I have to admit that while I initially had high hopes for this book, I did see some negative reviews that put a little bit of doubt in my mind. Thankfully though this book was right up my street. I am a huge fan of retellings and all things fairy tale and this, while not really being a retelling, certainly has the feel of one albeit a very dark and creepy one.

This is a story about stories where the lines between the real and the imagined become decidedly blurred. It’s a little confusing and frustrating at times and occasionally nonsensical but there’s so much mystery and so many twists that it’s difficult to put down. The world the author builds is incredible and draws you in so completely that it feels real. It’s dark and disturbing pretty much all of the time and I found myself getting genuine chill in places.

I’m not going to say much about the story as I think you really need to read it for yourself but essentially it’s a voyage of discovery for Alice as she tries to find her mother after she suddenly disappears. She uncovers a link to her recently deceased grandmother’s collection of dark fairy tales and has to find her way first to her grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood and then to the place that inspired her stories. She’s pretty much on her own with no other family and no money or resources so has to rely on a boy from school to help her but he seems a little too excited about going to the Hazel Wood.

The story is told entirely from Alice’s point of view and she is very much the focus of this story. There are other characters but they generally appear briefly, play their part and then move on. I’m not sure I would necessarily say I liked Alice but I’m not sure you’re supposed to. She’s cold, sharp and angry and not very nice but I did admire her determination and liked how the author developed her over the course of the story.

It was though, the other characters who left more of an impression on me despite only their relatively brief appearances in the story. They tended to the eccentric, with erratic sometimes violent behavior and talking in riddles (this is where it goes a little Alice in Wonderland). It’s rarely clear whether they are there to help Alice, are playing with her or using her for their own ends. I can understand some may find them frustrating and annoying but I just loved the mystery around it and found myself wanting more of them. There were a couple of characters in particular who I really wish we’d gotten to understand more about but if I’d gotten everything I wanted the book would probably be twice as long.

The one problem I will say I found with the characters however is that I thought the relationships between them were a little lacking. There just isn’t enough time spent fully developing them and consequently I didn’t feel their connection to each other. The relationship between Alice and her mother for example is key to the story, the whole plot is Alice trying to find her, but because her mother only appears briefly I didn’t feel any closeness. We have to rely on Alice’s assertions of how much her mother means to her which for me is not the same as showing it. Similarly the relationship between Alice and the boy who’s helping her just felt a little odd and uncomfortable. That may be intentional but even by the end there was something incomplete about it.

That being said though I did love the story. It drew me in completely, so much so that I almost missed my stop on the train. I especially loved the dark fairy tales that are told as part of the story and would really love it if the author wrote the whole complete collection at some point. Almost every story is left unfinished or interrupted and they were just so creepy and dark that I want to know how they end.

Overall, despite a few niggles over the relationships I have to say I really loved this story. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who likes fantasy and fairy tales with a dark twist.

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

The Hazel Wood is due to be published on 30th January in the US and 8th February in the UK.

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

by Sara Holland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original, addictive and frustrating as hell. This is one of those books where I just wanted to give the main character a good shake but couldn’t put it down.


Time is a prison. She is the key. Packed with danger, temptation and desire – a perfect read for fans of The Red Queen. 

In the land of Sempera, the rich control everything – even time. Ever since the age of alchemy and sorcery, hours, days and years have been extracted from blood and bound to iron coins. The rich live for centuries; the poor bleed themselves dry.

Jules and her father are behind on their rent and low on hours. To stop him from draining himself to clear their debts, Jules takes a job at Everless, the grand estate of the cruel Gerling family.

There, Jules encounters danger and temptation in the guise of the Gerling heir, Roan, who is soon to be married. But the web of secrets at Everless stretches beyond her desire, and the truths Jules must uncover will change her life for ever … and possibly the future of time itself.


There seems to be a lot of buzz about this book and I have to admit I was a little bit skeptical going in. Is there anything truly original left to do in YA fantasy? But actually, Holland does somehow manage it. Yes there are a lot of the familiar tropes but the central concept, that in this land time is used as a currency, is absolutely brilliant. Add to that some wonderful writing and world building and this is a book that’s definitely worth reading.

There is something instantly likeable about the authors writing style and the whole story feels very much like a fairytale, from the dark and dangerous woods, the poor peasant girl with the sickly father, powerful royals and secrets from the past. In the beginning it reminded me a little of beauty and the beast as Jules takes on her fathers debt in order to save him, venturing to the palace they ran from when she was a child to work as a servant. In Everless she finds cruelty, greed and excess but she also finds friends, old and new, and begins to uncover the secrets from her past.

The story is a little predictable, I saw pretty much everything coming, but while it’s frustrating watching Jules do ridiculously stupid things and trusting the wrong people it does make for some addictive reading. I was literally shouting at the pages but I couldn’t stop turning them.

Jules as you can probably tell drove me crazy. She is kind and brave but she’s a little too naive and trusting and I’m not sure that really changes over the course of the story. The other characters are a bit more complex and many are not as they first appear, although again the author scatters enough hints that nothing is wholly unexpected.

The pacing of the story is pretty much spot on and the author creates a very believable and engaging world. There are a few areas I think the author could have developed further, maybe that will come in subsequent books, but there are moments that are absolutely wonderful, shocking, touching, tragic or jaw dropping.

There is plenty of action and intrigue, a few twists and a little bit of romance to carry the story along to a pretty epic conclusion, although with this being the first in a series there are of course a few unanswered questions and a bit of a cliffhanger. This is the authors debut novel so it’s not perfect but it definitely shows a lot of promise and I will certainly be looking out for more.

Overall a great start to the series with a very unique premise and some wonderful writing. I’d recommend you give this series a try if you love YA fantasy and are looking for something a little different.

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

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)
The Cruel Prince
by Holly Black

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Dark, twisted and brutally violent at times, I absolutely loved this book. Black truly creates a wonderfully vivid world that you can quite happily lose yourself in.


Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.


Holly Black truly is the Queen of the Fae.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a story featuring Fae and I’m so glad I waited for this one. It’s deliciously dark and twisted and so, so good. The writing is wonderful, Black creates a fantastically vivid world and a story that gripped me from the very start.

Main character Jude is incredible and I loved how she developed over the course of the story. The other characters are similarly unexpected and complicated and the relationships between them are just as unpredictable. As the majority of characters are fae, there are a lot of tricksters, some charming and some vicious, nasty and horrible. Very few are who they seem and many turn out to be completely different than you thought.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this story, some I saw coming and others that took me completely by surprise. Almost everyone seems to be scheming and plotting to maneuver themselves into a position of power or at the very least safety. It’s a dangerous and violent world, think Game of Thrones, where there are sudden bursts of brutal and bloody violence as the various factions try to take out their enemies.

As humans in a powerful fae family, twins Jude and Taryn are particularly vulnerable. They have no power and spend most of their time afraid and on the defensive, at the mercy of whoever decides to risk the wrath of their guardian Madoc. It fascinated me how both sisters were in the same position but took such different approaches, Jude looks for her own power while Taryn seeks protection. It makes for an interesting dynamic between them and quite a bit of conflict. I could understand Taryn’s attempts to go unnoticed and smooth the waters but I loved Jude’s determination and fire. The moment where she pretty much goes f*ck it and starts playing the game had me cheering.

There is some romance in this, those fae can be very tempting, but it is fairly light and like a lot of the story not necessarily what it seems. The focus is much more on family relationships, friendship, loyalty and trust. Basically all of the good things and I loved it.

Overall this is a brilliant story, so dark and twisty with a lot of violence. It’s one I’d recommend to all YA fantasy readers and I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book. As always all thoughts are my own.

ARC Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A prequel to Practical Magic, this is a book I was eagerly anticipating but took a bit of time to warm up to. The writing is wonderful, as you would expect from Hoffman, but with a slow pace, detailed descriptions and the focus very much on the characters and their relationships rather than spells and potions it took a while to fully engage me.

Franny and Jet’s story is fascinating and truly heartbreaking at times and I’m glad to have read it.

The Blurb

Find your magic

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.


I have to confess I’m really struggling with how to rate and review this. I finished it quite late in the evening yesterday and hoped that after a good night’s sleep I’d know how I felt about it but unfortunately my feelings are still all over the place.

I think it’s pretty safe to say when I first started reading it I struggled. Practical Magic is one of my favorite films (I haven’t read the book – sorry) so I think I was expecting something very similar in style and tone. When I was faced with a slow and drawn out story that felt more like a family saga I have to admit I was disappointed. Hoffman’s writing is brilliant and very vivid and she really makes siblings Frances, Jet and Vincent come to life but it’s done in such a slow and meandering way that it really couldn’t hold my attention.

The focus of the story is very much on the family and the relationships between them. There is however a lot of magic in this book, particularly in the beginning as the siblings set out to discover who they are and what they can do. Forbidden by their parents to dabble, they learn first from a hidden magical text and some experimentation and then from their Aunt Isabelle all of the rules, potions and spells they could ever need to know.

Like a lot of the story though there is no big bang or excitement when it comes to magic. It’s all very gently introduced with a focus on the theory rather than the practical. As information on what each and every herb could be used for or what ingredients are required for specific potions was presented I must admit I found my attention wandering. I began finding excuses to put the book down and go do something else and on a few occasions I was pretty close to just giving up on the whole thing.

This wasn’t really helped by my inability to really connect with any of the characters or the relationships between them. With Hoffman’s wonderful writing ability they are drawn beautifully and you get a real sense of even the most minor characters but there was something about them that left me a little cold. They are all well rounded, with both strengths and flaws but I just couldn’t relate to them. Given the nature of the story, it should have been packed with emotion but I just couldn’t feel it.

I think it was around the midpoint, when Franny, Jet and Vincent are on their own, that I finally began to feel and it was at that point I became engrossed in the story. Whereas previously I’d been struggling to pick it up I began to find it difficult to put down. I’m still not sure I really liked any one particular character, a lot of the time I wanted to shake them, but somehow, very stealthily they managed to sneak in and I found myself truly caring about them and hoping things would work out for them.

This is a story about family, love and accepting who you are more than a story of witchcraft and magic. The pace is slow and the writing full of vivid imagery and detail. There isn’t much in the way of fun or light and to be honest the whole thing left me feeling pretty depressed, I cried a lot, but overall I am glad I stuck with it and read to the very end.

It’s probably not a book I would recommend everyone reads, I think it’s more suited to the type of reader who likes a slow paced story about family and relationships rather than one looking for magic and excitement, but I did enjoy it.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. This has in no way influenced my review.