The Bear and The Nightingale Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Bear and The Nightingale

Author: Katherine Arden

Narrator: Kathleen Gati

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, didn’t keep track.

Content Warnings: Body horror, child marriage, death in childbirth, sexual assault, misogyny, ableism and ableist language, adult-minor relationships, child abuse, suicide, discussion of abortion, grief and loss, death, graphic animal death and hunting, war themes, mentioned rape and marital rape, implied paedophilia, self-harm

The Bear and The Nightingale is one of those books that just seems to be everywhere around the blogosphere, and once you’ve seen something praised enough times, you can’t help but by intrigued. So I picked up the audiobook last month, wanting to know what all the fuss was about. Sadly the hype didn’t ring true for me, I found it slow paced, confusing and ultimately quite dull. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

So I’ll start with my biggest problem with this book, which is in a surprise to no one was our old friend: PACING. This book is next level SLOW, it takes a good 70% of the book to actually get to the plot described in the synopsis, and the rest of it is just backstory for Vasilisa and her family, most of which has hardly any bearing on the main plot, it was only really in the third part of the book where things started moving, by which point you’ve invested a good nine or so hours into the book!

In addition to it being incredibly slow, there’s really not much plot at all. I could hardly tell you what actually happened in this book because so little did and what did happen was incredibly confusing and difficult to follow. I know lots of people like the all vibes, no plot type books, but I’m not one of them!

Having said that, the wintery atmosphere is perfectly done and was probably the best thing about this book.

I didn’t much like the narrator, her accents for the different characters were too similar so it was hard to tell who was speaking at what point. I also found her delivery kind of dry, it all felt very serious and stilted. That was a problem throughout the whole book really, everything and everyone was so serious, it felt like there was no life or colour in the story.

The characters were all very flat and not that fleshed out, even Vasya who was supposedly the main character. She has serious “not like other girls” energy, as if riding horses and liking the outdoors somehow made her a special kind of woman! The whole “one special girl” and all other women are bad for following societal norms is incredibly tired. It also felt like there were way too many of them and most of them were only given a passing mention and then dropped out of the story. I would have rather had fewer, more fully developed characters.

It didn’t help that all the characters had about 10,000 names, their full name, a shortened version and then a ridiculous number of other nicknames. It was hard enough to keep track of who was who in the first place, let alone when you brought in all of the other names.

It was also seriously overwritten, too many extraneous details that weren’t necessary for the story and though many people love extremely descriptive writing, I am not one of them and felt a little overloaded on description. It was also just generally too wordy for my liking. The switching of perspective happened too often as well, sometimes several times within the same paragraph, which contributed to the story being hard to follow.

I was kind of expecting more from the fantasy elements, given that it’s supposed to be a fantasy book, it felt more like a historical with a couple of fantastical elements that a pure fantasy novel. All she seemed to do was cram a load of creatures from folklore in there with little explanation as to what they were, and give Vasya magical powers that aren’t really explained. I think it would have been better if Arden had fully developed one or two of the folkloric creatures and given more explanation as to how Vasya, and her mother before her had witch powers. I would have liked the Frost demon to be more involved in the plot too, given how heavily he features in the blurb.

I also wasn’t keen on the focus on religion, this may be a personal thing because I’m not religious, but I wasn’t expecting how densely focused on religion this would be (which I probably should have based on the blurb, but this just shows how much I read the blurb before I read).

The unrelenting misogyny was kind of exhausting. We get it, it’s 14th century (rough guess, no actual time was established) Russia, but I just got so tired of the derogatory comments about women and how desperate everyone was to marry Vasya off at the age of 14 (again guess, her actual age is a little fuzzy). I’m just really tired of all these fantasy worlds where everything must be awful for women, it’s a world where you can have frost demons, we can have things being not completely terrible for women, it’s not much of a stretch!

On that point, I wanted to talk about Anna Ivanova in more detail because she really gets the short end of the stick. She’s a child bride, forced into a marriage with Pyotr and is then repeatedly raped by her husband and there’s no comment on it in the narrative at all? NAH. Not here for this at all. She’s also demonised for her mental illness and that definitely didn’t sit right with me. Basically, the poor women is made out to be the villain of the story because she uses religion to deal with her trauma, and it just all felt very off to me.

We also fall into the incredibly annoying trap with Vasya not really having any female friends, & all the women in the book being treated as lesser than Vasya because they don’t go against the grain of their society, and it just seemed like the author was trying to go for a feminist message with Vasya but completely failed because her treatment of all the women in the book was terrible.

Some of the chapters were definitely overly long, and this did not help with the book’s pacing issues.

The implication that the priest, Konstantin was sexually interested in Vasya was incredibly uncomfortable & also a bit of a gross and tired stereotype to use. Between him and Anna Ivanova and Pyotr, there were a few too many age gap relationships/implied interest for my liking.

There was way too much prose and not enough dialogue, which I think contributed to the book feeling longer than it was, because there were so many really dense passages of prose with no breaks.

I’m still not a massive fan of the third person omniscient perspective that was utilised here, I definitely feel like it kept you at a distance from the characters and contributed to them feeling flat.

I felt like the author expected you to know as much about Russian folklore as she did, which didn’t really work, because I was just left confused as to what was happening.

The ending felt super rushed and I didn’t like that the story didn’t have a satisfying conclusion, I get that the book has sequels, but it should still feel like it works as a self-contained story and it just doesn’t.

Overall, this book just wasn’t for me. It was badly paced, the characters felt flat, the plot was thin and confusing and the messages around women just weren’t it. I feel like this book could have had potential as the setting was so well done, and the idea was good, it was just poorly executed. I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequels as I can’t slog through another 800 pages over two books of all vibes, no plot.

My Rating: 2/5

My next review will be of Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn, my final October audiobook. I’m still stuck on four books left to review, as I finished I Am Malala this week, but at least the review backlog isn’t getting any bigger!

Top Ten Tuesday #343

Hi all! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these, I was in London again over the weekend, we went to see The Shark Is Broken on Friday night, a new play in the West End about the making of Jaws, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, it was really funny! I also stopped by both Charing Cross Foyles and Waterstones Piccadilly on Saturday, as when in London, visiting bookshop heaven is a must!

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, so I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you guys, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week we’re talking Characters I’d Like An Update On. I actually did this very topic for an article I did for The National Student three years ago, imagining what some of my favourite children’s book characters would be doing as adults, so today’s topic is going to be very similar to that, though I imagine most of you won’t have read that article I did, so hopefully some of these will be new for you (and I am going to do some different ones compared to that article!). I’m only including books where the author is still alive on this list, so there is actual potential for future instalments one day, much as I’d love updates on characters from children’s classics I read when I was younger, that’s impossible when the author is dead! So here we go:

  1. Percy Jackson-PJO Universe-Rick Riordan

Of course I would want to see what Percy was up to as an adult, since Percy Jackson was such a big part of my teenage years. However unrealistic it might be for teenage romances to last into your adult years, I’d like to think that Percy and Annabeth would still be together, living at the Big House at Camp Half-Blood and training a new generation of demigods. I don’t feel like either of them would particularly want “normal” jobs and this would be a nice way for them to still be involved without going on dangerous quests themselves (as they definitely both deserve a rest!). I know in the books they’re in New Rome, but I like to think that they’d come back to Camp Half-Blood eventually.

2. Lila Bard-Shades of Magic Trilogy-VE Schwab

This may be cheating slightly as Threads of Power is going to be coming out in the next couple of years, so we will soon find out what Lila Bard has been getting up to since A Conjuring of Light. I imagine that Lila has been going on lots of adventures and seeing the world, and never really stopping, so I’ll be intrigued to see what brings her back to (I presume) Red London and Kell and Rhy and Alucard.

3. The Diviners gang-The Diviners series-Libba Bray

Now King of Crows may only have come out last year, but I’m already desperate for more! The epilogue totally sounded like Bray was setting up for a spinoff series, with the hints about Hitler’s rise to power, so I would love to catch up with The Diviners gang and see where they all are going into the 1930s and towards WWII.

4. The Dregs-Six of Crows duology-Leigh Bardugo

This is also another cheat, seeing as Leigh Bardugo has said that she is planning to do a Six of Crows 3 “down the line” (very vague, could be anything from a couple of years time to ten years down the line!) but I would love to see what the Dregs are getting up to in the future. Do Kaz and Inej continue working through their trauma and build on a relationship together? Does Nina rejoin the Dregs? What crazy heist do they get into next? I know Six of Crows #3 is probably a long way off but I shall be impatiently waiting to see what my favourite gang of criminals gets up to next.

5. Ead and Sabran-The Priory of The Orange Tree-Samantha Shannon

Samantha Shannon has suggested that she would like to write a sequel to Priory in the future, and I would desperately like to know whether Ead and Sabran actually reunite in ten years time as they planned to when they parted in Priory. I just need to know that they have a happy ending!

6. Flavia, Lupus, Jonathan and Nubia-The Roman Mysteries-Caroline Lawrence

I really loved The Roman Mysteries when I was a kid, though I never actually finished the series, I was borrowing them from the library and I don’t think they had anymore after the 10th book, so I never got around to finishing them. But anyway, that’s neither here nor there, I loved the books I did read and would love to see what our four detectives ended up doing as adults, whether they all remained friends, whether they all split up across the country and went down separate paths, if Flavia kept on solving mysteries…..there would be a lot to catch up on with these characters as adults and I would love to see it!

7. Liesel Meminger-The Book Thief-Markus Zusak

I know we do get a sense of what Liesel did with her life at the very end of the book, and The Book Thief is perfect as a standalone, but if Zusak ever were to want to explore Liesel’s adult life, I would be very happy to read it. I’d love to know how she ended up in Australia, and whether she became an author like I’ve always imagined she did and how she managed to cope with everything that happened to her in the war.

8. Risa and Connor-Unwind series-Neal Shusterman

I was kind of sad that the collection of short stories set in the Unwind universe that Shusterman released a few years back, didn’t have any that actually featured Risa and Connor. I would love to see what happened to them post UnDivided, whether they stayed together or went their separate ways, and what they both ended up doing with their lives.

9. Tessa-Blind Beauty-KM Peyton

I doubt KM Peyton would ever write a sequel to Blind Beauty, given that it’s been twenty odd years since it was published and is a very self-contained story, but I would love to have an update on where Tessa is in her life. I doubt she’d still be a jockey as they tend to have quite short lived careers, but she definitely still works with horses in some capacity, maybe training racehorses or perhaps working at a riding school for disadvantaged kids.

10. Aelin Ashryver Galathynius-Throne of Glass-Sarah J Maas

I was satisfied with the way the series ended, but of course, as with all worlds that I love, I would happily come back for an update on how Aelin and her friends are doing following the end of Kingdom of Ash. I’d be interested to see how she was getting on being Queen, and how the rebuilding of Terrasen was going as well as how the whole continent is rebuilding following the war.

So there we go, those are just some of the characters I’d like updates on following the end of their books/series. Do you agree with any of these? Have you read any of these books? Which book characters would you like future updates from? Let me know in the comments!

Next week’s topic is Bookish Memories, which should be a really lovely one, as I have many fun (and slightly embarrassing) bookish memories, and I had definitely run out of ideas for the annual Thanksgiving freebie, so quite glad we don’t have that this year!

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Left-Handed Booksellers Of London

Author: Garth Nix

Narrator: Marisa Calin

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, didn’t keep track.

Content Warnings: Violence, loss of loved ones, gore, murder, kidnapping, mentions of drugs, death, brief mentions of blood drinking, guns

There are definitely some fantasy authors that it feels as if all fantasy fans talk about, and everyone seems to have read but me. Garth Nix is definitely one of those, and I don’t really have any reason for not having read any of his books yet (unlike Tolkien where Lord of The Rings has just never interested me). Still I came across The Left Handed Booksellers of London when I was wandering round Waterstones a couple of months ago, and the pretty cover plus intriguing description enticed me, so I decided to give it a try. Did it work out for me? Kind of. It was definitely a fun and quirky book and I really enjoyed Merlin as a character (Susan, less so). However the world-building was definitely very vague and underdeveloped, and in a rare turn for me, it was actually too fast-paced. It felt like the book needed a bit more time to slow down and breathe, and then it might have fulfilled on the potential of the concept a little more. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.

Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.

Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

So as I mentioned at the top of the review, I loved the concept for this book. An alternate (though really not by much, I was expecting a few more differences from the actual 1980s) 1980s London with magical booksellers who protect the modern world from the world of ancient beings and mythical creatures that threaten to intrude on it. I love books where the magic lies just beneath the surface of the real world, so that worked really well for me. I also loved the idea of booksellers being the guardians against all these mythical creatures.

However, despite my love of the idea behind the world, the world-building itself definitely disappointed me. It was very vague and hand-wavy, we don’t get much explanation on what the booksellers actually do, the differences between the left and right handed booksellers (other than that the left are the fighters and the right are the thinkers) or much information about Susan’s powers. Basically whenever any kind of question comes up in the book, it’s waved away by one or more of the characters as not important, and as a reader, I’m like “Wait but I want to know!”. I am a bit of a world-building nerd, so I like to know more than maybe some other people do, but I feel like we at least need to get the basics and every opportunity for learning a little more about the world Nix was trying to create in this book seemed to be glossed over. This meant I found myself fairly confused throughout much of the book, this may have been the intention, so the readers were as confused as Susan, but it doesn’t really enhance the reading experience when you don’t understand what’s going on!

I also wasn’t that keen on Susan as the main character, she was kind of bland to me. She’s definitely a passive protagonist, she does nothing to push the story forward, everything just kind of happens around her, which isn’t really what you want in a fantasy novel. Also no one should be that accepting of all this weird stuff happening to them, I mean she’s attacked almost the instant she arrives in London and she seems to take it all really well, and just go along with everything that Merlin drags her into. I would definitely not be as calm as she was if the things that happen to her in this book happened to me!

Like in Little Fires Everywhere, this book is told in omniscient third person POV, and I had the same problems here as I did there, it felt like I was being kept at a distance from the characters, I think if the book had been told from Susan’s POV, we would have got to see more of her personality so she wouldn’t have seemed quite so bland.

I did however really enjoy Merlin, he was funny, charming & kind of silly and I just found him a lot more fun to read about than Susan. He also appears to potentially be gender fluid, though the book doesn’t use any specific labels, he wears women’s clothing and expresses a desire to shapeshift into a female body (as his family are shapeshifters) which suggests he doesn’t feel he fits into a binary gender identity. I would have maybe liked this to be explored a bit more, but I did appreciate that it was very casually included in the story.

We also have a bit of romance between Susan and Merlin, which I wasn’t a massive fan of. Once again, it seemed like an editor had decided to shoehorn in it because it feels like a YA/Adult crossover and they wanted something to appeal to younger readers. I really wish this would stop being a thing because I’m so tired of reading about couples with no chemistry that are just put together because editors think that readers are expecting a romance, and don’t care if it’s good or not!

I actually felt like it should have been longer, which is rare for me! The audio was only a little over 11 hours, and it felt like it was somewhat short for a fantasy book? Especially one as complex as this one with all the different mythologies and folklore and the world of the booksellers, I think if it had been a bit longer, then it would have allowed Nix to explore all the ideas he wanted to explore properly. There’s also too much action (again rare for me to say as I usually love action sequences. It felt like Nix was throwing us from one action sequence to the next, without giving any time for the book to slow down and allow the characters and story to breathe a little! I think had the book been a little longer, some of these issues I had would have been resolved.

Also while I enjoyed the quirkiness of the book and all the different supernatural creatures, and mythologies, it did feel like it almost lacked focus in this regard? I think it would have been better if Nix had decided to ground the book in one particular mythology, and developed that more rather than throwing so many ideas at it that the reader isn’t sure where to turn.

I also didn’t get a lot of the 80s references, I understood some (mostly the political ones) but a lot of the pop culture references went right over my head, since 1983 was 13 years before I was even born!

I had a couple of quibbles with the writing. Firstly the descriptions were a little too in depth for me, I really don’t need to know every single item in a room, and every detail down the wall colour, description like that is totally lost on me because I don’t picture things in my head. I would have much preferred to have more sparse description and more in-depth detail on things like character emotions. There are also quite a few Americanisms in the writing which I would have taken out as they didn’t fit with the UK setting. The writing was also quite clunky and relied heavily on exposition, which I didn’t enjoy.

On a more positive front, the dialogue was quite witty, especially Merlin’s which I appreciated, as I’m a big dialogue person, so that worked well for me.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the narrator either, she was fine for the prose parts, but some of her accents on the dialogue were truly horrendous.

I would have liked to have spent more time in the actual bookshops, considering that “Booksellers” is in the title, we are only very briefly in the bookshops which I thought was a shame!

In general I think the characters needed to be developed more, but there was one particular character I’d have liked to have learn more about, and that was Susan’s mother. She sounded like she’s had a very colourful life and I would have just loved to learn more about her (honestly, it definitely seems like Nix could do a prequel about Susan’s mother in the 60s at some point). The fact that the characters were so thinly developed made it hard to care when people died as well, as I didn’t really feel an emotional connection to them.

I’m not usually one to bother about basic life logistics in fantasy books, like when characters eat, sleep, go to the toilet etc, but I SWEAR SUSAN NEVER EATS and it really bugged me because all I could think about was how she never ate and how she could be functioning when her last meal was several days ago! I mean I know it’s physically possible to go without food for a couple of weeks, but I get so crabby when I’m hungry that I can’t imagine Susan would function that well on such little food!

The villain was kind of predictable, they were flagged from the very beginning as someone shady, so I wasn’t massively surprised by that reveal.

The ending was a little too neat for me, everything seemed to be wrapped up in a happily ever after but it didn’t feel earned. Though it seems to be intended as a standalone, I’d like there to be a sequel as it’s a fun world that Nix has created, and I’d like to see the world and characters developed more in any potential sequel.

Overall I generally enjoyed this book, despite being fairly confused through a lot of it! I think Nix created a fun and unique world and I just wish that it had been developed more. I would definitely read more from this world in the future if he ever decided to do any sequels.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of The Bear and The Nightingale, my first October audiobook, so I’m now only one month behind in my reviews, yay! I’m off all this week, and the beginning part of next week, so I’m hoping to get a bit more caught up with them. I still have four reviews to do though, as I finished A Psalm of Storms and Silence last week, and it’s soon going to be five as I reckon I will finish I Am Malala this week. I really need to slow down on the audio clearly! I still think I’m going to be on track to finish all my reviews by the end of the year though which is good. Hopefully next year, I will turn over a new leaf and actually finish my reviews in the same month as I finish the book!

Top Ten Tuesday #342

Hi all! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these. I was in London over the weekend, we went to see the new musical version of Indecent Proposal on Saturday and it was really fantastic, I highly recommend going and seeing it if you’re in London before its run ends on the 27th November, because it was such a fun night out, and the Southwark Playhouse is such a lovely venue, who like all theatres after almost two years of the pandemic could really use the support! We also had a great meal at this lovely little Italian place called Flavours of Naples, which I definitely want to go back to again.

Anyway, it was Tuesday when I started writing this post (even though it’s not now, sorry about that, this took way longer than I thought to do!) and so I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week we’re meant to be talking Books To Read if You Love/Loved X, but I decided to switch it up a little and instead I’m going to do If You Liked This Book….Watch This TV Show, as I thought it would be easier and I read a really fun post on LindseyReads blog a few weeks back that used the same idea, so I wanted to try it for myself. Most of these will probably be similar vibes & themes than necessarily have massive plot similarities, just so you know! So here we go:

  1. If you liked The Last Bookshop In London……watch Land Girls

Not really all that similar in plot, but both are set in around the same time period (The Last Bookshop in London covers the early war years and the Blitz (1939-41) and Land Girls is similar, around the early 1940s. They also have a strong focus on the home front, so if you’re interested in UK based war stories and what the largely women left behind at home did to contribute to the war effort, then Land Girls would be great for you after reading The Last Bookshop In London. They’re also both quieter kinds of war stories, which I thought made Land Girls a good fit for fans of The Last Bookshop in London.

2. If you liked Vicious……watch The Umbrella Academy

Again this is definitely more a vibes thing than the plots containing many similarities, aside from the fact that both focus on superheroes (or villains in the case of Vicious) but I feel like fans of Vicious would definitely find a lot to like in the Umbrella Academy too. Like Vicious, The Umbrella Academy follows people with special powers, although instead of college roommates, it’s a family of estranged adoptive siblings, who come back together after the death of their adoptive father. I would say The Umbrella Academy is a bit weirder than Vicious, but they definitely have similar vibes, stories about people with superpowers set in worlds that are similar to our own & both have adoptive families/found families centred in them (Mitch, Victor and Sydney in Vicious and the Hargreeves in The Umbrella Academy). Vicious also just feels very comic book-esque, so I feel like a series based on a comic book is a good shout for Vicious fans.

3. If you liked The Diviners…..watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Okay so 90% of this is the 1920s setting, let’s be honest here, the 1920s is the biggest draw of The Diviners and it’s the biggest draw of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries too. Miss Fisher doesn’t have fantastical elements like The Diviners, however, it does have a female lead who much in the vein of Evie from The Diviners, is considered “too much” for the time period. I feel like Phryne is who Evie could be when she got older and grew into her “too muchness” and accepted it as a positive rather than a negative. We also have a murder mystery in The Diviners, so if you liked that, well it says it right there in the title, Miss Fisher has murder in spades. Miss Fisher also deals with a lot of social issues of the time in the same way that The Diviners does. Honestly, this is all really just an excuse to get more people into Miss Fisher because it’s such a fun show!

4. If you liked We Were Liars…..watch Gossip Girl

So We Were Liars is completely different to Gossip Girl in terms of plot, one is a mystery, the other is a soapy drama, though it does have a mystery element as a running thread of the show is working out who the anonymous blogger behind Gossip Girl is. Where the two do share massive similarities though is the focus on extreme wealth and privilege: We Were Liars definitely does i with a lot more nuance, but I think fans of We Were Liars could find a lot to like in Gossip Girl as well as Gossip Girl also delves into the messiness that lies underneath the trappings of wealth, and I definitely feel like the Sinclairs with their arguing over the family fortune could definitely have been Lily and Carol in one of the latter seasons where they argue over their mother’s estate.

5. If you liked Dangerous Girls……watch How To Get Away With Murder

This is definitely a vibes more than a plot thing, How To Get Away With Murder is a law school set murder mystery, with characters in their 20s whereas Dangerous Girls follows three high schoolers on their spring break when one of them is murdered and the other is arrested for her murder. But the reason I feel fans of Dangerous Girls would love How To Get Away With Murder is that both have seriously shocking plot twists, so if you like twisty books (which Dangerous Girls definitely is) then How To Get Away With Murder is right up your street. Dangerous Girls also jumps around in time a lot, exploring both before, during and after the murder, and How To Get Away With Murder does the same thing, you get the initial outcome of the mystery first and then it jumps around in time to show how you get there, so if you liked that structure from the book, you’ll definitely like the way that How To Get Away With Murder unravels its stories.

6. If you liked Every Breath……try Elementary

Like Every Breath, Elementary is a modern day Sherlock retelling, and it also has a gender swapped Watson, so if you’re a Sherlock fan (which you clearly are if you’ve read Every Breath) and liked the gender swapping aspect, then Elementary might be right up your street. Every Breath is set in Melbourne, Australia and Elementary is set in New York but the basic idea between both are the same, so if you’re a mystery fan who likes Sherlock then I highly recommend Elementary (controversial opinion here, but I actually liked it more than the BBC Sherlock. The 45 min episodes meant the mysteries were tighter and I thought they got a little more creative with making characters that are so well known a bit more their own).

7. If you liked Ninth House…..watch The Magicians

This may be slightly cheating as The Magicians was a book before it was a TV show, but I don’t care, the comparison worked. If you liked Ninth House for the University setting mixed with dark magic, then The Magicians would be right up your street as it is set in a magical University and definitely explores the darker side to magic too. The series definitely went off the rails a bit, I think around Series 3 was when it got a bit too weird for me, but the first couple were a lot of fun.

8. If you liked Little Fires Everywhere……watch Desperate Housewives

If you liked the small town vibes with lots of secrets and mysteries that Little Fires Everywhere is full of, then Desperate Housewives would be right up your street. The narration is very similar (Little Fires Everywhere is told in limited third person POV, and Desperate Housewives has a literal omniscient narrator as dead neighbour Mary Alice Young narrates the story of her friends), and though Little Fires Everywhere is definitely more serious than Desperate Housewives (which is basically soapy fun), the whole idea of a small town where the neighbours know everything and the neighbourhood looking perfect on the surface but being far from it are definitely prevalent as much in Desperate Housewives as Little Fires Everywhere (note: Desperate Housewives is a show from the early 00’s so there are aspects that have aged…..badly to say the least).

9. If you liked The Time Traveler’s Wife…..watch Outlander

Again this might be cheating a little as Outlander is also a book, but again the comparison worked. The Time Traveler’s Wife also follows a couple who has a relationship across different time periods as one is a time traveller, although Henry travels within his own timeline whereas Jamie and Clare are only together in his time, and The Time Traveler’s Wife is not historical fiction. Outlander, like The Time Traveler’s Wife is very romance focused, the core story revolves around the romance between Jamie and Clare, with obviously a time travel element, so if you liked that about The Time Traveler’s Wife and you’re interested in history (as Outlander is set across different time periods in the past) then Outlander is definitely worth a try.

10. If you liked Blind Beauty……try Heartland

This is definitely a niche one, as Blind Beauty is a book from my childhood, it was originally published in 1999, and if you’re not into horses, it’s probably not one you’ve read. However if you have, I highly recommend watching Heartland, as the centre of Blind Beauty is the relationship between Tessa and her horse Buffoon and how the two form a bond and help to heal each other from the trauma of their lives. Heartland has a very similar focus as Amy’s job is working with traumatised horses and their owners, and the bond between horses and their owners is a key one for the series, so if you liked that aspect of Blind Beauty, I definitely think you’d enjoy Heartland. Heartland is also a book series that I loved when I was a pre-teen (though the show is super different, they stopped following the books after I think the second season!).

So there we go, those are some of my If You Liked This Book….Watch This Show recommendations, I hope that the hours I spent fighting with the WordPress block editor to do the images were worth it! Have you read any of these books? Seen any of these shows? Do you agree with my recs? Are there any other shows you would recommend to fans of these books? Let me know in the comments!

Next week’s topic is Characters I’d Love An Update On, which should be a fun one as I always wonder what book characters are doing after the story is finished! Bonus, that post won’t include pictures, so shouldn’t take anywhere near as long as this week’s, and you should actually get it on Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday #341

Hi all! I hope you’ve had a good week since I last did one of these, I have been so busy with work, we’ve been having 500-600 appointments a day at the centre in the last couple of weeks, and with boosters and 12-15 year olds now eligible for vaccines, it’s just getting more and more. I do have holiday planned towards the end of the month, so I’m looking forward to that, as I’m sure by then I’ll definitely need the break!

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, and so I have another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is a quote one which I feel like we haven’t done in a while, so I’m super excited by that. We’re talking Top Ten Memorable Things Book Characters Have Said, so you can probably expect a lot of jokes in this one, as we all know I love a quip:

  1. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.” -Lila Bard, A Darker Shade of Magic, VE Schwab

I’m pretty sure it was this one line that sealed my love for Lila Bard, because it so perfectly encapsulates what I want in my life. I want to have as many adventures as possible, and see as much of the world as I possibly can in my life. Honestly the past year and half has felt a lot like standing still, and I’ve been so excited over the last six months or so to finally feel like I’m starting to move again, even if only small steps!

2. “Life is cruel, and often without cake.” -Enrique Mercado-Lopez-The Silvered Serpents, Roshani Chokshi

Ah Enrique, how I love you.

3. “Look, I didn’t choose to be a half-blood.”-Percy Jackson-The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

This is technically monologue and not speech, but it’s one of the most iconic opening lines of ever (and one of those times where I knew from the very first line that I would love the book), so I just had to include it.

4. “Doors are for people with no imagination.” -Skulduggery Pleasant, Derek Landy

Fun fact: I wrote out this quote and had it on my door at Uni for four years!

5. “I can survive well enough on my own if given the proper reading material.” -Celaena Sardothien, Throne of Glass, Sarah J Maas

Ah Celaena, with the bookworm mantra for life. Give us a great big pile of books, leave us alone for a month or so, we’d be absolutely fine. We’d probably thank you for it.

6. “Tell me that’s how you want our story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sands.” -Jin, Rebel of The Sands, Alwyn Hamilton

I loved the first book in this series so much, I was so sad that the other two didn’t live up!

7. “I’m not a fucking coat Marcus. You don’t get to check me at the door.” -Marcella Riggins, Vengeful, VE Schwab

One of many Marcella lines in this book that made me inwardly cheer (if the turning men to dust quote had been actual dialogue, I totally would have used it as it was my FAVOURITE part of this whole book.)

8. “No mourners. No funerals.” -The Dregs, Six of Crows

I had to include this one as it’s one of the most iconic YA mottos of all time, there’s a reason it’s all over the Six of Crows fan art!

9. “Words are everything. Words give wings even to those who have been stamped upon, broken beyond all hope of repair.” -Jaxon Hall, The Mime Order, Samantha Shannon

Given Jaxon’s way with words and love of language, it seemed fitting that one of his quotes would make this memorable quote list!

10. “I’m talking about menstruation sir!” -Felicity Montague, The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats and Piracy, Mackenzi Lee

And so we go from the profound to the hilarious, which I thought was a good note to end on, since my favourite quotes do tend to be either funny or super profound. This little outburst happens when Felicity is trying to explain to a panel of doctors at Edinburgh Medical School, why it might be beneficial to train female physicians, and her point goes completely over the chairman’s head, which is when she comes out with this, and of course all the men react in horror because 1700s.

So there we go, those are just some of the most memorable things characters have said in books I’ve read. Have you read any of these books? Did you like them? What quotes did you go for this week? Let me know in the comments!

Next week’s topic is Books To Read If You Love/Loved….insert topic here. I actually want to switch this topic up a little, because I’m finding it hard to think of one specific book or series that I could do a lot of these for, so instead, I’m going to do TV Shows To Watch If You Loved….and pick a bunch of different books to do TV recs for!

Little Fires Everywhere Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Narrator: Jennifer Lim

BECHDEL TEST: Pass-Mia and Izzy talk about her music teacher.

Content Warnings: Racism, arson, abortion, alcoholism (mentioned), animal abuse (mentioned), bombs, bullying by a teacher, car crash, death of a sibling, mentions of domestic abuse, drugs, grief, hospital scenes, infertility, kidnapping, miscarriage, postpartum depression, poverty, pregnancy, mentions of rape, sexism, mentions of spiders, stalking, victim blaming, mentions of war

Little Fires Everywhere is one of those rare books where I actually watched the TV adaptation before I read the book, and there definitely seems to be a pattern with these, because I definitely enjoyed the TV mini-series more. Whilst the book certainly brought up some interesting discussions surrounding race and white privilege, the plot was kind of all over the place, and the distant style of narration meant that it always felt like the characters’ were kept at arms length from you, and that you were reading a report of the events rather than a narrative. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

As I mentioned at the top of the review, one of my biggest issues with the book was the distant, omniscient type narration. I’ll admit that it’s my least favourite type of narration anyway, I like getting in characters heads, so first person really works best for me, though I have enjoyed books with close third person before. All this to say, I like feeling close to the characters, and I found that the distant style of narration at this book kept you at arm’s length from them. It also felt more like reading a report of the events rather than a narrative, like this happened and then this happened, and I just don’t think it was the most interesting way to tell the story? I reckon if it had been in close third person then I probably would have enjoyed it more because I could have had more of an idea of how the characters were feeling.

The plot was also kind of all over the place. There’s both a lot happening and yet very little happening at the same time if that makes any sense? Like the story in general is fairly slow paced, we’re simply following the daily lives of the Richardsons and Mia and Pearl, but then there’s also all this super dramatic stuff like the fire, the big court case, the events in Mia’s backstory etc, that it kind of gives you whiplash! I feel like the author almost had too many ideas and tried to cram them all into one fairly short book, and it just didn’t quite work. There were certain plot points that stretched the realm of credulity, though I can’t go into them without massive spoilers. Honestly I feel like the book needed to be longer (which is not something I say very often!), as the author tries to tackle all of these big and difficult topics and doesn’t do them all the justice they deserve because the book is simply too short to go into a huge amount of depth.

I felt like I was supposed to like Mia a lot more than I actually did? I mean I don’t know if some of that came from having already seen the TV show, so knowing the basic plot already did mean that I already had knowledge of who the characters were and what they did from the TV series. But still, it felt like the book made Mia out to be an angel, and in reality, she was just as flawed as Elena, the way she dragged Pearl across the country her entire life without ever telling her why, cutting her off from her father, running away with her in the first place, she’s not the saint that the narrative leads you to believe, and I feel like the book definitely wants you to think Mia=good & Elena=bad. I think the TV show did a much better job of showing the nuances of both characters, especially Elena who comes across as somewhat of a caricature in the book.

The way the narration keeps you at a distance from the characters meant that they weren’t able to be as fully developed as they otherwise might have been. I feel like I was told a lot about the characters, so I felt like I knew a lot of facts about them, but I never really knew how they felt about the events that were happening to them. I would have liked to get into their heads a bit more. The characters all seemed like stereotypes and not much more: you have Elena-uptight mum, Mia-outsider rebel, Lexie-Queen Bee, Trip-Jock, Moody-serious one, Izzy-Black Sheep & Pearl-good girl daughter who had serious “not like other girls” energy. It felt like there were perhaps a few too many characters to follow and so their development suffered. I also wish that we’d been able to see more of the relationships between the characters, it felt like we just got to see a select few interact properly.

I didn’t love the narrator, I found her accent kind of grating.

The switching between which character was the focus of the story within chapters was a little confusing, I would have preferred if each chapter had just followed one character because then it would have been more straightforward.

I definitely felt like the book made me feel more sympathetic to the McCulloughs than the show did, the show does mention her stillbirth in a flashback but I feel like the book went into more detail about her fertility struggles and that definitely allowed me to understand her a bit more.

The discussion of racism and white privilege was really well done, especially the focus on the “colour-blind” racism of a lot of Shaker’s citizens.

There was definitely too much narration and not enough dialogue for me, granted I am a dialogue person, but you need dialogue to break up big chunks of narration and this book didn’t have that. I also feel like more dialogue would have helped with developing the characters more as you can tell a lot about characters by the way they talk.

The whole message of biological parents being the best/only people to raise their children seemed quite invalidating to adoptive parents and those who are unable to conceive children of their own.

The writing was good, it was engaging and had a good flow, though it could be over descriptive in places: I really didn’t need to know everywhere that Mia and Pearl visited on their first day in Shaker, and to be honest, I didn’t really care for the map of the entire town that we had described to us in the first couple of chapters. She also really hits you over the head with the fire metaphors, like we get it, it’s the title of the book!

The flashbacks of Mia in NYC didn’t quite fit naturally with the rest of the book, though I understand that they were important for understanding how she and Pearl ended up in Shaker, it did feel like we were taking a detour from the main narrative for a few chapters.

The custody case was probably the most important part of the book and it felt like it was super rushed. I didn’t know whose side I would have come down on in the end, obviously Bebe suffered with postpartum depression and was really struggling to take care of her baby and clearly regretted what she had done in abandoning the baby in a desperate moment but the McCulloughs had been parents to the baby for almost a year, and clearly loved her and desperately wanted her, so I don’t know which side I would have come down on, it’s such a complicated case with all the issues surrounding transracial adoption as well, which was touched on, but I wished we could have spent more time on the case and less on things like Pearl and Trip seeing each other secretly.

I really appreciated that this book showed abortion as an acceptable option, and that Lexie wasn’t judged for her choice, but I didn’t love the whole outcome of her using Pearl’s name at the clinic and the way Elena judged her for what she thought was her choice, it kind of undid the positive aspects of the way Lexie’s decision was treated.

I didn’t love how open the ending was, I’ve never been a fan of an open ending for standalones (or series to be honest), and I would have liked more closure.

Overall, I was somewhat disappointed in this book, especially after the TV show was so good. I think this book had the potential to be really great, it had some great ideas and started some really interesting conversations but tried to do too much and ended up not giving all the serious topics it wanted to cover the attention they deserved. The characters weren’t developed enough, the plot was all over the place and the limited third person narrative made it feel more like a report than a story. It was such a shame because I really wanted to enjoy this, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, my final September audiobook. I’ve still got four reviews left to do as I just finished We Were Liars this week, I finish audiobooks a heck of a lot faster than I finish reviews apparently! Still I’m hoping that I will be all caught up on my reviews by the end of the year (which is approaching far sooner than I’d like).

Top Ten Tuesday #340

Hi all! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these, I was in London for a friend’s birthday last weekend, we played mini golf, and I was actually not as terrible as I thought I was going to be (I mean I was still pretty bad, but I managed to get a couple of the holes in 2 or 3 shots so I was fairly pleased with that).

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, and so I have another Top Ten Tuesday courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Books I Would Hand To Someone Who Claims Not To Like Reading, and honestly, it’s a tricky one to do generalisations for, because the books that draw people into reading are very specific to them and the things that interest them. However, as a way of narrowing it down, I thought I’d go for some short, fast-paced, engaging and easy to read books, as I feel like length & density can often be off-putting to non-readers. These will mostly fall into the category of engaging children and teenage reluctant readers, as I found it hard to come up with adult books that I thought would engage reluctant adult readers (as I read a lot of dense, epic fantasy!) but since adults can enjoy MG and YA as well, there’s probably books that would appeal to reluctant adult readers on here too:

  1. The Lightning Thief-Rick Riordan

I feel like Rick Riordan’s books are perfect for reluctant readers, because the whole reason that he came up with Percy Jackson in the first place was because his son had dyslexia and ADHD and was a reluctant reader. The Percy Jackson series is super easy to read, fast paced, funny and exciting and Percy is a great character for other kids who have dyslexia and ADHD to see themselves as the hero in a story.

2. The Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games obviously isn’t an easy read in terms of content, it’s very brutal, but I feel like it’s perfect to engage non-readers because it’s such a pacy book and so hard to put down. Every chapter ends on a mini-cliffhanger so you have to keep reading, I remember it being one of those books that I didn’t want to go to bed because I was so excited to see where things went. I’d definitely give this one to anyone who thought that reading was boring!

3. Heist Society-Ally Carter

This one is just really fun, it’s under 300 pages so it’s not daunting for a non-reader, and it’s not a super complicated mystery that might be off-putting to someone who doesn’t read much. It’s got great snappy dialogue, there’s plenty of action to keep you engaged, and the cast of characters are very loveable. This would definitely be a good one for someone who likes heist films but isn’t a big reader.

4. A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder-Holly Jackson

Another mystery, I feel like mystery is a good genre for non-readers to get started with, they’re usually quite short and there’s always lots of twists and turns to keep you engaged. A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder I think is a particularly good one, because the writing style is very accessible, and I think the multi-media aspects would suit non-readers well, as it’s not just dense walls of prose, the multi-media aspects add a kind of interactivity to the book as you’re able to work out the murder alongside Pip. The chapters are also fairly short, so it’s the kind of book that you can read in short bursts if you don’t have the attention span to sit and read for hours.

5. Artemis Fowl-Eoin Colfer

Fantasy can be a really daunting one for non-readers to get into, because so many fantasy books are huge and complex. This is where middle grade fantasy like Artemis Fowl can be a really great place to start. It’s funny, it’s easy to read, it’s got a lot of mythological creatures that readers will already be familiar with, and has a great anti-hero at the centre.

6. Skulduggery Pleasant-Derek Landy

Another fantasy that I think would be a good one for reluctant readers, it’s based in the real world, so you don’t have to learn a whole new one, and the magic system is straightforward, it’s not a massive amount to get your head around. It’s funny, the writing is easy to read, it’s fairly short book and there’s lots of action, all of which make it a good one to engage non-readers. It also has one of the most memorable protagonists of a book ever: a magical skeleton detective!

7. Daughter of The Pirate King-Tricia Levenseller

This is technically YA, but it veers towards the lower end, and I don’t think there’s anything in there that would make it unsuitable for middle grade readers (correct me if I’m wrong!), so it might be good for 12+ reluctant readers. It’s another one that is fairly light fantasy, so it’s a good place to start if you’re not massively familiar with the genre, and are daunted by the more dense fantasy tomes. It’s a really short read, at just over 300 pages, it’s a fast and funny pirate romp which I think would be great to engage people who don’t think reading is really their thing.

8. The Princess Diaries-Meg Cabot

I think the format of these books would be great for non-readers, it’s not a whole lot of dense prose, it’s done in the form of diary entries which I feel like if you struggle with reading might be easier to read than big blocks of dense text. It’s also a very light read, Mia has a good sense of humour which makes it a fun read, and Mia is certainly relatable if you’re also an awkward teenager! It’s also very short, so not too daunting, clocking in at under 300 pages.

9. The Medusa Project: The Set-Up-Sophie McKenzie

This was the book series that got me into Sophie McKenzie, and I think it would be a perfect introduction to reading for non-readers. It’s very short (again under 300 pages), it’s fast paced with a lot of action sequences, and it’s got quite a cool premise of kids with psychic abilities: it would be a really good one for people who like superhero movies but aren’t that into books as a starter, as it definitely has the whole ordinary people with extraordinary powers kind of thing going on.

10. The Thieves of Ostia-Caroline Lawrence

I loved The Roman Mysteries when I was a kid, I used to go the library every week to pick up the next one! Again, these books are fairly short, there’s lots of action and adventure, the writing is easy to read and the mystery is not overly complicated (given that these mysteries are being solved by 9/10 year olds, so I feel like it would definitely engage a reluctant reader.

So there we go, those are some books I would recommend to non-readers! Like I said at the start though, you have to find your own way into reading and it’s very subjective, so my suggestions may not work for everyone. I feel like the key is unlocking the thing you’re passionate about, find a book about that, and that usually ends up leading to more and more. Have you read any of these? What books were on your list this week? Let me know in the comments!

Next week topic is Memorable Things Characters Have Said, and this one is right up my alley because dialogue is my absolute favourite part of books, so I’m sure I’m going to have a ball with this one.

Witchshadow (Witchlands #4) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Witchshadow (Witchlands #4)

Author: Susan Dennard

Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, didn’t keep track!

Content Warnings: Animal death, body horror, death, gore, violence, blood, murder, mind and body control, infidelity, imprisonment

After a slight dip in the series for me with Windwitch, Bloodwitch brought the series back up to what I’d initially enjoyed in Truthwitch, and thankfully as I discovered the Witchlands series in 2020, I only had a year wait between reading Bloodwitch and Witchshadow. Unfortunately, Witchshadow wasn’t as good for me, the way the book was structured really let it down and four books into the series, I’m still massively confused by certain parts of it! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

War has come to the Witchlands . . . and nothing will be the same again.

Iseult has found her heartsister Safi at last, but their reunion is brief. For Iseult to stay alive, she must flee Cartorra while Safi remains. And though Iseult has plans to save her friend, they will require her to summon magic more dangerous than anything she has ever faced before.

Meanwhile, the Bloodwitch Aeduan is beset by forces he cannot understand. And Vivia—rightful queen of Nubrevna—finds herself without a crown or home.


As villains from legend reawaken across the Witchlands, only the mythical Cahr Awen can stop the gathering war. Iseult could embrace this power and heal the land, but first she must choose on which side of the shadows her destiny will lie. 

My biggest issue with this book is an unusual one for me, it was the structure of the book, but then this book does have a rather unusual structure. At first I thought I’d forgotten a lot from Bloodwitch because I didn’t recognise where we were when the book started (which to be fair, I had forgotten quite a bit!), but that wasn’t actually the issue, the book had flashed forward in time and starts in the middle of the story, then flashes back through the book back to where we were when Bloodwitch left off. Not only was this super disorienting as a reader to be thrown into an unfamiliar point in the story, it also didn’t work massively well for me, because the flashbacks just felt like an enormous info-dump to fill in the gaps in the present timeline. I don’t really see why Safi and Iseult’s story couldn’t have been told chronologically, the book didn’t gain anything from the non-linear way their part of the story was told, it struggled to keep the two timelines consistent for a start and the more exciting events actually happened in the flashbacks, so it would have been better for everyone if Dennard had just told those events chronologically. I do usually like a non-linear timeline, when it’s done well, but the flashbacks here didn’t seem to fit naturally where they were.

As with all of the other Witchlands books, we’re following a lot of different characters and once again I felt like there were too many points of view, this time we had Safi, Iseult, Vivia, Stix & Aeduan, and we’re across several different parts of the world and the characters are all doing different things, it was very difficult to keep track of where they all were at any given point. I really think this series could use a few less POV characters, because not every character really seems to add to the plot of the story. For me, in this book, Stix’s parts especially felt kind of redundant, I didn’t see what they added to the story so I would have been happy to lose them. Really, I think this book would have been fine with three different points of view, Safi, Iseult and Vivia were really driving the story, so that would have been more than enough.

The plots also all felt very disparate, aside from Iseult’s and Safi’s in the past, each character is on their own journey and it all felt very separate from each other, so the narrative didn’t feel particularly cohesive, it was more like you were reading several different stories in one rather than one book. According to the author, this was originally meant to be two books and her publisher asked her to condense it into one, and you can definitely tell, it does feel like plots that weren’t originally meant to be combined have been jammed together.

It wouldn’t be a review from me if I didn’t mention my old nemesis, PACING, and oh boy did this book have pacing issues. Right from the start, the pacing is incredibly uneven, the majority of the first half of the book is incredibly slow and then when we get to the second half, so many of the events felt rushed through. I think this again comes down to trying to fit the content of two books into one. This isn’t to say that combining two books into one never works, I have read books by authors who have done this before, but I think the Witchlands is so complicated as it is, that combining two separate books just didn’t work very well for this particular series. Some of the chapters were also overly long so that didn’t do anything to help with the pacing.

I also still don’t really understand all the Paladin stuff, even four books in. I don’t get the difference between the Paladins and the Exalted Ones, I don’t really understand who the Six are. Basically the world building feels like there are a load of words being thrown around, but I never feel like anything is really explained properly. Maybe I should have paid more attention to Sightwitch and then I would have understood more of what was going on with all of that, but I found Sightwitch super confusing too!

On the more positive side, I really did enjoy Iseult’s character development in this book. She’s never been my favourite character in this series, I’ve always liked Safi much more, and found Iseult a little cold and aloof (which to be fair, she is meant to be) but I found myself warming to her much more as we spent more time with her in this book. I liked seeing her come into herself and her powers more in this book, and especially seeing her start to deal with her feelings more and not constantly attempt to push them down. I also really loved seeing her start to heal her relationship with her mother as that’s been such a big part of her character arc throughout the series. Seeing her growing to care for Owl was really lovely as well, it felt like that was also a big part in her coming to terms with her relationship with her mother.

I still don’t really get what the endgame of this series is meant to be and we’re one book from the end. Is it reuniting the Paladins? Saving the Origin Wells? Stopping the war between the kingdoms? Something to do with Iseult and Safi being the Cahr Awen? I feel like there are so many ideas in this series that’s difficult to keep track and actually know what the stakes for the characters are, and without knowing the stakes, it’s super hard to feel invested.

I was disappointed that Safi and Iseult were apart again for most of this book, their friendship is meant to be the centre of the story and they’re so great when they’re together, I feel like they’re both at their best, so it’s a shame their interactions are still fairly limited in this book, I would have liked to have seen them together more. I hope in the final book they will be!

I was super confused by Aeduan and Evrane’s part in this book because at some point between Bloodwitch and Witchshadow, they’ve been possessed by Exalted Ones (I think? Like I said, I’m not so up on the differences between Exalted Ones and Paladins) but we never get to see what happened, so we’re just meant to accept that this possession happened off page and have no idea how Aeduan and Evrane got to where they were when we first see them in Witchshadow? It felt like a super large gap missing from the book, and another problem with starting in the middle of the story in this book.

I was quite surprised by the direction taken with Vivia and Vaness in this book, as I didn’t think it was heading towards a romantic relationship in the last book, more a rivalry turned begrudging respect and potentially eventual friendship, but it definitely went down more the romantic route in this book and I actually didn’t hate it, I felt like they had a strong connection and good chemistry, so I’m intrigued to see how this develops in the final book of the series. I don’t know how this is going to work out with the whole Stix/Vivia thing up in the air, because there’s definitely some unresolved business there and I think when the three of them come face to face in the final book (because surely it has to happen!), things will get very interesting.

I’m kind of annoyed that everyone in this series has to be some special type of witch, or resurrected being or royalty, I mean Safi’s the only Truthwitch, Iseult’s the only Weaverwitch, Aeduan’s the only Bloodwitch, Stix is a Paladin, Vivia’s a Queen, Merik’s a Crown Prince, Vaness is an Empress, the list goes on and on. It would be nice if just one of them was a bog standard, run of the mill witch and didn’t have to be super powerful, or special in any way!

There’s a LOT of mind/body control in this book which I didn’t love, because it brings up a whole load of consent issues that make me quite uncomfortable and I didn’t think the book necessarily really dealt with all of that.

Merik was also barely in this? I didn’t massively mind, because I don’t like him much, but it still felt odd that he wasn’t there as he’s been a main POV character from the beginning. I accept that he naturally probably didn’t have as much to do in the narrative of this book, but I’d rather have seen what Merik was doing that been with Stix and Ryber on their pointless adventure in Saldonica.

The writing in this was fine, though it did have a tendency to be very repetitive. I can never quite decide how I feel about Susan Dennard’s writing, sometimes I really enjoy it, and other times I find it kind of cringey and repetitive. I do wonder how much of this is the narrator for the audiobooks though, as Cassandra Campbell is not my favourite narrator ever.

There was one particular scene in this book that really grossed me out. Now don’t get me wrong, Emperor Heinrich is THE WORST, but there’s part of the book where Safi sneaks around to find her and Iseult’s threadstones, and the Hell Bard necklace, and she deliberately walks in on Heinrich and his mistress having sex in order to get what she needs. Now I do understand that Heinrich kept what she needed in his pockets, so she needed his clothes to be off, but she could have done it whilst he was asleep, and saved us all that incredibly awkward and cringeworthy scene!

In the end, this book didn’t really live up to my expectations, I was hoping for a jam packed, exciting sequel, ramping up the action before the big finale. Instead, I found a confusing, messily structured & unevenly paced book, that didn’t really build my excitement for the fifth book. The decision to merge what was meant to be two books into one didn’t do the book any favours and ultimately for me, hampered my reading experience.

My Rating: 3/5 (mostly for Iseult’s story).

My next review will be of my other September audiobook, Little Fires Everywhere. I’ve not really stemmed my review backlog any, as I just finished another audiobook, so I’m still at four reviews left to do after this one!

Top Ten Tuesday #339

Hi all! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these, I had a lovely holiday with my friends, I really enjoyed the time to relax and boy did I need that massage in the spa!

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, and so I have another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is our annual Halloween freebie, which gets harder and harder to come up with topics for each year, especially when you’re not a big Halloween lover! Still I’ve managed it, and this week I’m talking Book Titles With Halloween Words In Them. By a happy coincidence (or not as the case may be), many of this books are also very spooky, so two birds! Here we go:

  1. The Death Cure-James Dashner
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This one’s fairly self-explanatory, given that Halloween has a big connection to death! The Maze Runner series might not be the most obviously spooky series, but this book does have a seminal Halloween favourite, as the Cranks (people who succumb to the Flare) are essentially zombies.

2. Truthwitch-Susan Dennard

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The witches in this series are less pointy hats, warts and cauldrons and more insanely powerful people who can manipulate elements, blood, truth and even life and death. It’s not really a spooky read, more your classic sprawling epic fantasy with kingdoms at war and friends who are your family. But still, it has witch in the title so fits the topic (and it’s a really fun read, even if I got confused by a lot of worldbuilding-and am still no less confused four books into the series!).

3. Last Stand Of Dead Men-Derek Landy

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Not only does this, the 8th book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series have the word “Dead” in it, the whole series is tailor made for spooky Halloween reading. I mean one of the main characters is a walking, talking, magical skeleton detective, if that doesn’t scream Halloween, I don’t know what does. In all seriousness though, this was one of my favourite series as a teenager (I will admit, the more recent instalments of the series have not been as good as the original), it’s so funny, gets darker and spookier as the books go on, and Skulduggery may be one of my favourite characters ever created. Do start with the first book though, this is the 8th, the first is called (appropriately), Skulduggery Pleasant.

4. Death Cloud-Andrew Lane

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This series follows the adventures of Sherlock Holmes as a teenager, and it’s really fun, it’s a shame it was discontinued by the publisher. The title is probably the most Halloween thing about the book tbh, as it’s more of an action-adventure novel than a spooky one, the sixth book is probably the spookiest in the series as it’s set in a haunted castle in Ireland. However this first book had the best title for the topic, so I rolled with it!

5. Hunting Prince Dracula-Keri Mansicalco

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This book was MADE FOR HALLOWEEN. I mean what’s more Halloween than the most famous vampire in literature? The second book in the Stalking Jack The Ripper series (also a pretty good Halloween read, honestly you could probably read any of the books in this series around Halloween and they would fit), it follows Audrey Rose and Cresswell as they study at a medical school in Romania, former home of Vlad The Impaler (aka the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and try to solve a series of murders thought to be linked to the long dead ruler. If you’ve read the first book in this series and you’re looking for a Halloween read, look no further as this book has everything: spooky old castle, secret underground tunnels, bats and unfortunately for me, spiders.

6. Not Even Bones-Rebecca Schaeffer

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Bones are a perennial favourite in YA titles, luckily for me doing this topic, as it meant a lot of choice! In all seriousness though, this book is a Halloween read in more than just the title: the whole premise of the book is the daughter of black market monster seller ends up as one of her mother’s victims after she disrupts a big sale. It’s a very creepy book, with lots of blood and gore and body parts, loads of supernatural creatures and some seriously messed up characters. I definitely recommend this if you like dark monster books as this 100% fits the bill, and is perfect if you’re looking for something new to read this Halloween.

7. City of Ghosts-Victoria Schwab

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What would Halloween be without some ghosts? Cassidy Blake’s adventures certainly have them in spades. I could have used any of the titles of the books in this series on this list as they all have some kind of Halloween word in them due to the nature of the series, but I decided to go with the first one, as it’s the one I’ve enjoyed the most (thus far). I still think this book should have been set near Halloween rather than in the summer, but I get logistically why it had to be summer, as it needed to tie in with Cassidy’s holidays from school. If you’re looking for a lighter, shorter, but still spooky read for this Halloween, I definitely recommend City of Ghosts, Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in the world and I think Schwab captured it well here and certainly created a very spooky atmosphere.

8. The Bone Houses-Emily Lloyd-Jones

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Honestly I could have filled an entire list like this with just “Bone” titles, so you shouldn’t be surprised that they’re making another appearance. I’ve not actually read this book yet, but it was perfect for this list in both title and topic, as the main character is a gravedigger, who has to stop risen corpses (so I guess we’re talking zombies here?) from destroying her town. I’m really excited to read this, as apparently it’s influenced at least a little by Welsh folklore and I’ve really enjoyed listening to some Welsh folktales on the myth podcast that I listen to, so I’m excited to see how the author incorporated some of that here.

9. Mina and The Undead-Amy McCaw

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I’ve not actually read this one yet either, but I’m friends with Amy, we were paired together doing the Secret Sister project on Twitter, so I’m super excited to dive in. It was also a no brainer for this topic, as not only does the title have the requisite Halloween related word (undead is just as synonymous with Halloween as dead, if not more so), but it has a suitably spooky cover, and the story is all about a teenage girl trying to solve murders of the decidedly supernatural variety.

10. Before The Devil Breaks You-Libba Bray

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The Diviners is another series that is pretty much tailor made for Halloween, given that a lot of the series revolves around ghosts and the dead. I went with Before The Devil Breaks You, the third book in this series for this list for several reasons: a) it has the most obviously Halloween related title with the “devil” reference, b) quite a bit of it is set in a mental hospital, a decidedly spooky setting and c) simply because it’s my favourite book in the series!

So there we go, some books with Halloween words in the title! What topic did you choose this week? Have you read any of these books? Are you a Halloween fan, or no? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, next week’s topic is Books I Would Hand Someone Who Claims Not To Like Reading, this is going to be a tricky one for me, as I’m a firm believer that people who don’t like reading much just need to find a book that speaks to them, and that’s a very personal thing, so I’m not sure it’s something you can make a general list about, but I’ll give it a try.

Sky Breaker (Night Spinner #2) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Sky Breaker

Author: Addie Thorley

Narrators: Caitlin Davies & Natalie Naudus

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Enebish and Ghoa discuss the First Gods.

Content Warnings: Grief, violence, blood depictions, mild torture, near drowning, death, mentions of imperialism, forced labour, mind control over a person

Spoiler Alert: This review will contain some spoilers for Night Spinner, if you have not yet read it, stop reading here.

I read Night Spinner last year whilst I was in Cape Town (I still can’t believe that 2020 was last year, it feels like it should be way longer ago than that, ah weird pandemic time vortex) and though I never wrote a review of it due to limited Wi-Fi in South Africa, I really enjoyed it. I’m only really familiar with The Hunchback of Notre Dame through the Disney film, but Thorley’s retelling was great, I thought she managed to take the original elements of the story and really make them her own with this really cool arctic tundra setting and a weather inspired magic system. Unfortunately, Sky Breaker, the second book in her duology, didn’t quite live up to the heights of the first one. It suffered with serious pacing problems, much worse than the first book, and unlike in the first book, I really disliked Enebish as she’d undergone a serious character change from the first book. It also just wasn’t as exciting as I was hoping it would be after the way that Night Spinner ended. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Enebish has been deceived by everyone she once considered a friend. On the run across the tundra, her only allies are her best friend Serik and a band of ill-tempered shepherds. Her only hope of bringing peace to Ashkar is to unite the people of the Protected Territories and make a stand against the tyrannical Sky King and the hostile nation of Zemya. But that’s easier said than done. As supplies dwindle, the shepherds become far more desperate for food than freedom.

Meanwhile, Zemyan forces have stormed the Ashkarian capital. Imperial Army Commander Ghoa throws all of her power into a last-ditch effort to save her king, only to be abandoned by her fellow warriors. Held captive in a prison forged of magic and tortured by the zealous sorcerer Kartok, Ghoa learns his true ambitions lie far beyond the warring countries—he wants vengeance on the gods themselves.

The war between Ashkar and Zemya began centuries ago as a feud amongst the gods. Now it’s up to the two most hated people on the continent—the monstrous outcast, Enebish, and the notorious war criminal, Ghoa—to heal that spiritual divide before Kartok brings the skies crashing down on all of them.

I’ll start off with my biggest problem, which is our old friend PACING. I know you all probably get tired of me going on and on about it, but it really is so important to my enjoyment of a book. The first book was also kind of slow to get going, but this one was definitely worse in that department, half of the book was Enebish journeying across the country with the shepherds and there is nothing I hate more than extensive journeying because it is just so boring. This meant for the entire first half of the book, I wasn’t really engaged with what was going on in the story, and whereas in the first book, I had learning about the world to keep me interested, because this was the second book in the duology, I didn’t have that and so the slow start felt like more of a slog.

My other major problem with the book was Enebish, the main character. I really liked Enebish in the first book, I liked seeing her come into her confidence and her power, and I felt like she really grew so much through the book. However in this book, she undergoes a pretty stark character shift, she spends so much of the book being mistrustful and negative and paranoid, and it does make sense given the betrayals she endures in Night Spinner, but it also makes her character super frustrating to read, because after a while her constant negativity and paranoia becomes very grating.

We also get Ghoa’s POV in this book, which I thought I’d love as I found her really interesting in Night Spinner and I was looking forward to seeing how she was developed in the villain role in this book as that was probably one of the biggest reveals of Night Spinner. However I wasn’t completely sold with her character development in this, Thorley was definitely going for the villain redemption arc, which is fine, except that it didn’t feel believable. Ghoa does a complete 180 in terms of her beliefs and the side she’s on, and it was kind of unbelievable because it was so rushed. Had it developed slowly over the course of the book, it might have worked well, but it was so sudden, it definitely felt manufactured for plot purposes. I did find Ghoa’s part of the plot more interesting than Enebish’s though for a lot of the book, as it definitely had more action!

I was glad Enebish and Ghoa were able to repair their relationship, but much like Ghoa’s character development, it felt incredibly rushed for the sake of plot purposes.

I wasn’t a big fan of the narrators for this audiobook, there are two, one for Enebish, and one for Ghoa, but their voices weren’t distinct enough, so I kept getting the POVs confused. I also found that Ghoa’s narrator had an incredibly grating voice. I don’t know if the pandemic had some influence on this, maybe recording from home or something but I found both narrators spoke very quietly and I had to turn the volume up to full to hear (not ideal if you’re listening to a lot at once as it really hurts your ears!).

The shepherds were super annoying, I really couldn’t understand why Enebish kept helping them, as they were so ungrateful to her for protecting them and blamed her when everything went wrong, even when it wasn’t her fault, and they didn’t exactly seem to add much to their fight against Zemya anyway!

I did appreciate how important religion was to Enebish, as I’ve not read all that many fantasy books with religious characters, but I didn’t love the First gods actually being included in the story as real people, I think it would have been better if Enebish’s faith had been neither confirmed or denied.

I wasn’t happy with the way Temujin was used in this book, I thought after the events of Night Spinner that he had the potential to be a really great villain in Sky Breaker and provide a great challenge to Enebish but that never really happened. He was totally underutilised and I was really disappointed because I thought the first book had set up great potential for a massive showdown between Enebish and Temujin.

As expected, Serik and Enebish end up in a relationship in this book, which was fine, but I can’t say I was massively invested in it. I think this was largely because of Serik, as I found him kind of bland as a character, so I just didn’t really feel the chemistry between the pair of them. I was happy that it didn’t overtake the main plot of the book though, and I didn’t have to sit through pages and pages of Enebish mooning over Serik.

The Zemyan prince Ivander was an interesting new character, it was nice to get a different Zemyan perspective, as prior to this book, we only had Kartok who was obviously a villain. His relationship with Ghoa was one of the highlights of the book, he really brought out the best in her. I did think that Thorley was going to go down the romance route with them at one point, but I’m very glad that she didn’t.

The other major new main character of this book was Ziva, a Verdenese princess. I found her kind of annoying to start off with (she’s initially pinned as the classic perky younger kid sidekick) but she grew on me over the course of the book, and I felt bad for her that Enebish was so dismissive at first. It was nice to see Enebish eventually take her under her wing though!

I felt really bad for Ghoa when she was under Kartok’s control, the whole being able to control someone else’s mind/body thing has always made me really uncomfortable, and this was no exception. It was bad enough when he was controlling Orbai, but controlling a person? Not cool.

I liked how everything was resolved with Orbai in the end, I always have a soft spot for animals in books, and I was really worried that she might die in this book so I was glad that wasn’t the route that Thorley went down.

In terms of the ending, I kind of liked it? I liked where both Enebish and Serik ended up, I think they both ended in places that best suited them, and the final scene of the book was a really lovely way to end the story. However, I wasn’t best pleased with how the war between Ashkar and Zemya was resolved, I thought the solution Thorley came up with was a bit of a copout and I didn’t think it would have changed several hundred years of bad blood between the two nations.

Overall, this was a disappointing resolution to the duology, I was expecting a fast-paced, exciting book with a big showdown between Enebish and Temujin and instead, we got a lot of journeying, a lot of moaning shepherds and a slightly disappointing ending. I would like to read more by Addie Thorley in the future though, as I think she’s a really creative writer and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of one of my September audiobooks, Witchshadow, the most recent instalment of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard.