Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage (Mirage, #1)
Mirage
by Somaiya Daud is probably not the most original story but there’s definitely something magical and unique about Daud’s writing and the world she creates. I found it an engaging read and am already looking forward to the sequel.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.


MY THOUGHTS

I have to confess I’ve been a little bit down on YA fantasy and sci fi lately so despite receiving an advance copy of this from NetGalley I kept putting off reading it. I thought it’d be the same story I’d read a million times before however, while there are a lot of similarities to other stories, there is definitely something special about this and it was not at all what I was expecting.

I should probably have read the synopsis properly before picking this book up as I had no idea it was sci fi. From the cover I thought maybe some kind of Moroccan inspired fantasy, I did not anticipate intergalactic travel and droids but actually despite these elements this book reads much more like fantasy. It may just be the magic of Daud’s writing (there’s no magic in the story), the beautiful and vivid descriptions, the romance and the intrigue but this never felt like sci fi and I was perfectly happy with that.

The story is a familiar one, main character Amani is taken away from her home and family by the Vathek (an alien race who have invaded and colonized her home world) and held captive within the palace. She bears an uncanny resemblance to the cruel and unpopular Princess Maram so is tasked with acting as her double. Terrified and with no other option Amani has to learn how to be Princess Maram so convincingly that not even the Princess’s family, friends or fiance can tell the difference.

This isn’t a fast paced or action packed story but a slower paced character driven story and I liked that a lot. We follow Amani as she’s taken from everything she knows and loves and forced into a strange and violent world where one mistake could mean her death. It’s an engaging read and Amani is very easy to like. She admits herself that she’s a bit of a dreamer and it is her faith and belief in her people’s religion and mythology that gives her the hope that she can get through anything. She’s not physically strong, she has no special powers or abilities but she still shows bravery and a determination to overcome all of the challenges thrown her way. I’m sure this will make her incredibly relateable to a lot of people.

I also loved how her character develops over the course of the story. Forced to pretend to be someone completely different she starts to question herself, she feels like she’s losing herself in the character she’s pretending to be and has to fight to hang on to what makes her unique, finding a strength she didn’t know she had.

There is as is compulsory in all YA novels a romance, this time a forbidden one between Amani and Princess Miram’s fiance Idris, and I very much enjoyed how it slowly developed. It’s not insta love but instead a connection forged through similar histories and an understanding or each other. Idris was not my favourite character, he comes across a little weak and naive but I did like how they were together.

The star of the story was however Maram. I love a good villain and Maram fits the bill perfectly. She starts out seemingly nasty, vindictive and cruel but she’s much more complex than first appearances would suggest. As we find out more of her background and she softens a little I found myself feeling some sympathy for her. She’s very isolated and alone, desperate to prove herself a worthy heir to her cruel father’s empire by the only means she knows how. She’s unpredictable and it’s impossible to tell how she’ll react in any situation.

I also absolutely adored the world the author created, the descriptions make everything feel vivid and rich and I loved how the mythology was woven into the story. There are some heavy themes running throughout, oppression, colonialism, the stripping away of heritage and tradition and I thought the author handled them well.

As the first book in a series I thought it was pretty much perfect and I look forward to book two.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has not influenced my review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin

Foul is Fair
Foul Is Fair
by Hannah Capin is an absolutely stunning read and nothing like I thought it would be. Powerful and fierce, I found myself unable to put it down and even when I wasn’t reading it I couldn’t stop thinking about it (or wanting to talk to people about it). I loved it.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Jade Khanjara and her three best friends rule their glittering LA circle. They decide how the party ends – every night but one. The night four boys spike Jade’s drink, lock her in a room and brutally attack her. The night they try to ruin her.

But they chose the wrong girl. Certain that the boys will face no consequences, Jade and her friends take vengeance into their own hands. There’s no mercy left: and now Jade won’t rest until she gets bloody satisfaction . . .


MY REVIEW

Wow… Just wow!!!

I was not expecting that and in fact for the first few chapters I wasn’t sure I was going to get on with this book at all. The writing style is unique, it’s heavy on imagery (lots of references to birds and talons and wings), and I’m still not sure I liked it (not a fan of imagery) but this wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful and original without it.

Despite the pretty big clue in the title I honestly didn’t realise this was a YA retelling of Macbeth till I was around quarter of the way through. The story follows Elle/Jade, the Lady Macbeth, who with the help of her three best friends, vows to get revenge on the group of boys who drugged and sexually assaulted her at a party. She changes her appearance and sets about infiltrating their group with a view to destroying them from the inside.

Jade is an incredibly powerful, complex and unique character and one I don’t think I’ll forget any time soon. She’s a popular, mean girl from a wealthy family who is determined to not let what happened to her change her. While she’s downright nasty to those who are trying to help her and isn’t necessarily that likeable you can’t help but admire her determination to not let what happens change her. She refuses to be a victim or even a survivor and I found myself somewhat rooting for her to succeed even though her plan seems crazy and over the top.

As you can probably imagine this is not an easy read. The assault is off the page but it’s referred to throughout. It’s a violent and twisted story that even I found a little shocking at times. It is however incredibly well done and once I got past my initial uncertainty about the writing style I couldn’t put it down. It’s one of those stories that invades your thoughts, that even when you’re not reading keeps buzzing around your head.

As someone who studied Macbeth at school (many, many years ago). I loved all of the little references to the original. The naming of the characters does make it a little obvious who is in which part (Mack, Banks, Duffy, Duncan) but it’s still fantastic to watch the drama unfold and there are so many other small references and quotes snuck in that it’s a joy for any fans of the original.

That being said, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t know the play, it’s just as powerful and engaging on it’s own merit, but I think you will get so much more out of it if you do.

Overall this is a stunning read and one that I think I’ll remember for a long time to come.

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

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
Wow, just wow!!! I absolutely loved this book. It may not be the most original of stories and it’s certainly not perfect but Sanderson is such an incredible storyteller you can’t help but become invested. It’s a wonderful start to the series and I can’t wait for what comes next.


THE BLURB

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.


MY THOUGHTS

This was my first book by Sanderson and I have to confess that despite being lucky enough to get a copy from Netgalley I put off reading it for ages, a combination of fear that yet again I would be that one person who didn’t like his writing and also my general wariness of all things sci fi.

When I finally picked it up though I found myself instantly hooked. I knew from pretty much the first page that this was a book I was going to love and I was 100% right. Yes, I can look back at it objectively and say it’s maybe a little longer than it needs to be, some of the characters are underdeveloped and it’s not the most original of stories but while I was reading it I was completely swept away by it.

There’s something about it that just feels epic sci fi. Something that made me nostalgic for those classic sci fi films I loved when I was young. It has that brilliant combination of alien attacks and school setting kind of like Enders Game or Top Gun (OK I need to think of better comparisons) and there is something about the writing which made it all feel very familiar and comfortable (despite having never read the author before). It’s hard to put into words but I just instantly knew that I could trust him to tell a story I’d love.

The characters do veer a little into the classic stereotypes, the hot headed, fiercely independent and determined heroine on a journey of discovery, the grumpy but good hearted mentor/teacher, the nerdy, genius best friend, and the seemingly aloof, priveledged nemesis/love interest but it didn’t matter. I loved main character Spensa and the journey she goes on. She’s just so determined and I love a character who’s proactive, who makes mistakes and who learns.

I loved the emotion in the story too, there is a lot of humour and many, many funny conversations between Spensa and a certain ship AI but there’s a lot of heart there too. There are some wonderful friendships which develop between the characters and for YA it’s nice to see these rather than a romance take centre stage.

The story and the world building are very well done too. There is plenty of action and lots of conflict to keep the story moving on, and the reader hooked. Yes it does get a little repetitive in places, one battle against aliens after another does become a little same old, same old but there’s enough going on with the characters to keep you glued to the page and rooting for them. I should also add here that I often get lost in big action sequences and struggle to visualise or keep up, but that was never an issue. I was seriously impressed with how Sanderson made it all so easy.

There are a few unexpected turns in the story and while parts are predictable (and a smidge tropey) it still surprised me. The ending in particular was epic in scale and left plenty of loose ends for the next book.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

THE BOOK
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.


MY REVIEW

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.


THE BLURB

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.


MY REVIEW

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)
Slayer
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.


THE BLURB

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.

MY REVIEW

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.


THE BLURB

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.


MY REVIEW

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.

THE BLURB

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.


MY REVIEW

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.


THE BLURB

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.


MY REVIEW

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: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

What If It's Us
What If It’s Us
by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

I knew from the very first page I was going to love this book, and I did. It’s just so sweet and funny and wonderful and made me smile so hard (and I’m still smiling). I really hope Albertalli and Silvera team up for another book.


THE BLURB

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?


MY REVIEW

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe more 4.5 stars but what the hell, this book put the biggest smile on my face.

From the very first page I knew I was going to love this book. The pairing of Albertalli and Silvera is just perfect and while you can tell their writing apart, their styles complement each other perfectly.

I am an absolute sucker for YA romances set in New York so there was always a fair chance I was going to love this. It is however the sweetest and funniest romance I’ve read since Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares. I loved the meet-cute at the start, I loved watching Ben and Arthur trying to find each other again and I loved the way their relationship developed. I thought it was wonderful how realistic their relationship was. They have this epic, incredibly romantic start but it’s not all smooth sailing. They each have their own issues and insecurities, they both make mistakes and everything seems to go wrong for them. It keeps you wondering whether they can make it work or if they’re just too different.

Character wise I loved both Ben and Arthur but have to confess of the two it was Arthur who made me the happiest. He’s just so earnest and enthusiastic and gosh darn likeable. I feel like I really need an Arthur in my life, he’s just a little ball of sunshine, but possibly not as the office intern. Ben was a little harder to love, he’s quite negative and closed off, but once he starts to open up he’s kind of adorable too. They really are a great match and I was totally rooting for them to make it.

The secondary characters are also wonderful. Dylan in particular, pretty much stole the book, as he had me laughing in pretty much every scene he was in. (Can he be my best friend?) I also loved the diversity in the characters – Ben is part Puerto Rican, Arthur is Jewish and takes medication for ADHD and Dylan has a heart condition – it’s fantastic to see so much representation in such a natural way.

The writing is as brilliant as you would expect, the pacing is spot on and the story is packed full of feels. I was supposed to be packing to move house and instead I binge read this in a day, I just didn’t want to put it down.

Overall, if you haven’t figured it out, I loved this book and would recommend to anyone looking for a feel good contemporary romance.

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