The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue Review (Montague Siblings #1)

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Book: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue (Montague Sibilings #1)

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Bechdel Test: Fail-By conceit of this novel, it kind of has to fail, the narrator is a guy, his friend is also a guy and they travel with his sister, but aside from her, there are very few important female characters in this book and given that the book is narrated by Monty, he is involved in pretty much all the conversations we see her have.

This book was my #RockMyTBR challenge book for June, and I’ve heard so much great stuff about this book over the past couple of years that I was super excited to dive in, but also nervous in case it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I’m so happy to say that wasn’t the case and you can consider me fully on the bandwagon because I LOVED THIS BOOK. It was so funny, and diverse and heartbreaking but also hopeful and the characters were amazing, and I am so excited to read the sequel now BECAUSE FELICITY (but more on that later). Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I kind of have to start this review with Monty, because he’s one of the many reasons that I basically fell in love with this book from the first page. His voice is just brilliant, dry and sarcastic and cheeky and just so engaging, I loved it. Voice is such a hard thing to get right and Mackenzi Lee completely nails it. Monty is brilliant, he’s a complete and utter dickhead, but he owns it and where Lee could have made him one dimensionally awful, she creates a flawed, but incredibly well rounded character. You feel for Monty, in part because he’s very upfront about who he is and doesn’t shy away from his less tolerable attributes, but also because Lee shows us the vulnerability beneath the surface, he’s dealing with a lot, especially with regards to his father, and suffers from low self esteem and self doubt so even when you want to slap him (which is often), you still feel for him. It also helps that he’s pretty charming and hilarious! He has great character development too, Felicity and Percy aren’t afraid to call him on his bullshit and he does learn and grow from his mistakes over the course of their adventure.

It’s not just Monty who makes this novel though, we have two other parties in our trio. We have Percy, the lovable and incredibly caring best friend, who is so sweet that like Monty, you just can’t help but want to protect him. And we have my personal favourite, Felicity, Monty’s smart and brilliant younger sister. She’s basically the mother hen of the group, grumpy and disapproving, but secretly enjoying her brother’s antics, and she’s also incredibly funny (she has the best one liners in the entire book, including an incredible period joke which had me chuckling long after I read it. She’s also the only one of the three of them who actually gets shit done, without her Monty and Percy wouldn’t have made it to Barcelona, let alone the end of their trip! She is done with the 18th century sexism and is determined to make use of her medical skills, acquired by covertly reading medical textbooks. I’m so excited to see Felicity take centre stage in her own adventure!

The three of them make such a brilliant team, Monty gets them into all the trouble and Percy and Felicity (mostly Felicity) have to help solve all the dangerous situations Monty lands them in. They have such a great group dynamic as well, Monty and Felicity are the bickering siblings, Monty and Percy are clearly in love but won’t admit it and Felicity and Percy basically bond over eyerolling at all Monty’s stupid decisions. I really loved Monty and Felicity’s sibling dynamic, it felt very authentic, they argue a lot but ultimately love each other and always have each other’s backs and it was so lovely to see Monty’s respect for his little sister grow through the book.

There is so much diverse representation in this book, which is awesome! I love seeing historical fiction becoming more diverse, because history wasn’t full of white, straight people and it’s amazing to see historical novels starting to reflect that. The entire main trio is LGTBQ+ (Monty is bi, Percy is gay and Felicity is aroace, though that is only hinted at here, it’s confirmed in Lady’s Guide apparently). Percy is also biracial, and epileptic and Monty pretty clearly suffers from depression and PTSD.

I loved that Percy’s epilepsy wasn’t resolved with a magical cure, it seemed like that was where this book was going, but Lee definitely came through and Percy is seen to be happy and comfortable with his epilepsy as part of his life, rather than something that needs “fixing”.

It was also really nice to read about 18th century history rather than 20th century for a change, I feel like YA historical fiction can so often be saturated with 20th century stories, so it’s nice when I get to read books outside that time period. Lee definitely doesn’t shy away from dealing with the less palatable aspects of the period, homophobia, racism and sexism are all explored in the book but in a very natural way that never feels preachy and Monty is called out on his white, male privilege multiple times. I will say that the time period could have done with a little clarification, this is probably a nerdy history student thing, but I would have liked to know exactly what part of the 18th century the events were happening in!

I’d never heard of The Grand Tour before reading this book, so it was really cool to learn more about a part of history I wasn’t all that familiar with.

I also thought in places, the setting could have used being described slightly better? I felt this was mostly an issue in Barcelona & Marseilles, the author does a pretty decent job of painting a picture of 18th century Paris, Venice & Santorini.

The book is also really well paced, there’s a lot of great drama and shenanigans throughout the trio’s adventure but also lots of smaller, quieter moments as well. There’s a particularly great scene with Monty and Felicity discussing their sexualities and though they don’t have our twenty first century language to describe their identities, it’s a beautiful thing to see in a historical novel. I will say that some of the chapters felt overly long, but for the most part, the 500+ pages of this book definitely don’t drag. My only quibble with the pacing was that I felt the climax was slightly rushed, I had to read back over parts of Chapter 29 because I kind of missed what was going on.

I really enjoyed Lee’s writing style, she manages to write in a way that both fits the time period and is appealing to a contemporary reader, which is no mean feat and she particularly excels with dialogue and humour, which pleased me immensely because those are always my favourite aspects of a book. You can also clearly tell that she knows her stuff when it comes to history, and she doesn’t describe all European countries as a monolith, which can be an issue when it comes to American authors writing Europe.

The balance between humour and heartbreak is straddled really well, there are definitely more serious aspects to this novel (content warnings for homophobia, abuse, alcoholism, PTSD, racism, ableism, epilepsy) and it definitely takes some dark turns, but this is all very well balanced with the more light, humourous, adventurous events in the novel.

I really loved the pirates and I wished we could have seen more of them, not just because I love pirates, but because I really liked the burgeoning, almost father/son relationship that Monty and Scipio developed and I would have loved to see more of it.

Percy and Monty’s romance is brilliant, there is a ridiculous amount of romantic and sexual tension through the book and so much flirty banter, but of course, they’re both morons who can’t see that they’re both equally as besotted with each other! It has such a beautiful payoff though, the final scene was just EVERYTHING and I loved Monty’s letter to his dad at the end. It takes a lot of getting there, but don’t worry, there is no #buryyourgays here. I also loved that all sexual activity in this book, even kissing, happened WITH CONSENT. It’s so important to show teens what consent looks like and that definitely happens here.

Overall, I really loved this book. it had everything I love, bickering siblings, a great LGBTQ+ romance, an adventure filled with pirates and highwaymen and alchemy, tons of humour, a brilliant voice and an incredibly badass woman! I wish I already had the second book to read right now!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book, Bedlam, by Derek Landy (also coincidentally, will be the only book by a male author that I’ve read so far this year).

 

 

 

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Finale (Caraval #3) Review

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Book: Finale (Caraval #3)

Author: Stephanie Garber

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-There are no conversations between named female characters in this book that don’t somehow involve men.

This book was one of my most anticipated releases of this year, after loving both Caraval and Legendary, I was really looking forward to seeing how this series wrapped up and the ending of Legendary promised an exciting “Finale” (pardon the pun) and this time we got both sisters’ POV. I have to say though, I was kind of disappointed by this book? It lacked focus and structure and almost felt like a bunch of ideas thrown together rather than a cohesive storyline. Whilst using the Caraval game a third time might have been overkill, it gave structure to the first two books and without it this time, it was actually quite difficult to follow the story. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Welcome, welcome to Finale, the third and final book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Caraval series!

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…all games must come to an end.

It’s been two months since the last Caraval concluded, two months since the Fates have been freed from an enchanted deck of cards, two months since Tella has seen Legend, and two months since Legend claimed the empire’s throne as his own. Now, Legend is preparing for his official coronation and Tella is determined to stop it. She believes her own mother, who still remains in an enchanted sleep, is the rightful heir to the throne.

Meanwhile, Scarlett has started a game of her own. She’s challenged Julian and her former fiancé, Count Nicolas d’Arcy, to a competition where the winner will receive her hand in marriage. Finaly, Scarlett feels as if she is in complete control over her life and future. She is unaware that her mother’s past has put her in the greatest danger of all.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun―with lives, empires, and hearts all at stake. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win…and those who will lose everything.

This book picks up about two months after the end of Legendary, Legend is on the verge of becoming Emperor, but the Fates have not yet awakened. It all starts off quite well, there’s a lovely prologue which shows the girls with their mother just before she “disappeared”, however as the book goes on, it becomes clear that there’s no real structure, and the author seems to jump from one plot idea to the other without really developing any of them fully. Most of the plot threads from Finale that it seemed as if they would be important were kind of dropped, the Fates didn’t play nearly as important of a role as I thought they would, nothing really ever came of Legend’s ploy to be Emperor and the whole Paradise/Lost Heir thing? Barely even mentioned. I think this was a side effect of not having a Caraval game being the focus of this book, without that framework, there was nothing for Garber to structure her ideas around and she kind of just threw everything in with no particular thread linking them together.

The pace was also really quite slow for the first couple of sections of the book, it’s structured into a prologue, Beginning, Middle, Almost Ending, True Ending and an epilogue and it’s only really towards the end of the Middle that things really start to pick up. These have never been particularly fast paced books, which is fine but Caraval and Legendary had the mystery of the Caraval games, trying to work out what was real and what was the game, whereas this book you were just waiting for something to happen.

I also found it a bit ridiculous that Garber introduced  a new villain in the final book and it became all about fighting him. It’s hard to talk about this without going into spoilery territory, but I thought from the last book, this book was going to be all about stopping the Fates and getting them back into the cards, and it kind of veers off course from that and brings in this entirely new villain in the form of a Fate we hadn’t even really seen before and to be honest, he wasn’t even that compelling of a villain? It honestly would have been more compelling if Legend had become the villain of this story rather than someone completely new.

There was way too much focus on the romantic drama in this book, the first two books were fantasy with light romance, whereas this book felt like a romance with light fantasy. And it was all pointless anyway, because both girls end up with who you know they’re going to end up with so all the constant angsty back and forth, particularly from Tella is just infuriating. The romance just completely took over all aspects of the plot and the thing is, I actually did like the romances in this series before this book, but in this book I was like “Okay we get it, you both like *insert character’s romantic interest here*, can we please get back to the Fates potentially destroying the world?”. The romantic drama could have easily been solved within the first part, if only the CHARACTERS ACTUALLY TALKED TO EACH OTHER. Both options for Tella were kind of awful as well, they were emotionally abusive to her and I honestly wish she’d just chosen herself.

I do like Stephanie Garber’s writing, but she’s always had a tendency of going overboard on the similes and metaphors and leaning into prose that just doesn’t make sense, like “he smelled of ink and heartbreak” and whilst in the first two books, I felt like it created a good atmosphere, in this one I just found it annoying! There was so much repetition of stuff you’d already read and it would only come like two paragraphs after the first instance of seeing it, and I’m like, I have a pretty good memory, I don’t need reminding of something I read literally two seconds ago. There were parts of this book when I really did enjoy the writing, in fact, it is more good than bad, but when it’s bad, it’s really bad.

There’s a plot twist involving Scarlett that a lot of people have complained about, I personally didn’t mind it, but I think it would have made more sense if the author had chosen a different character given that the character she chose didn’t have any link to Scarlett’s ability to see people’s emotions at all, though I suppose it would have made Tella’s storyline a bit creepy! (I’m sorry, that was super cryptic, but I can’t really explain it better because it would be very spoilery).

I definitely feel like this book could have been shorter? If the author had narrowed her focus on just destroying the Fates, like it seemed she would in the last book, then I think it could have had a much more streamlined and easy to make sense of plot. This book is almost 500 pages, and it really didn’t need to be that.

I was expecting Paradise to play way more of a role in this book. She’s so important in Legendary, Tella spends the whole book trying to find out what happened to her and then she’s basically hardly there in this book and I felt like that was such a missed opportunity because Paradise is such an interesting character and I wish she’d been explored more.

The chapter lengths were pretty uneven, we went from super long Tella chapters to super short Scarlett chapters and I reckon it would have helped the pacing more if the chapters had been more even. It’s also kind of unbalanced in terms of the Scarlett/Tella narration, Tella gets far more chapters than Scarlett and weirdly I would have actually preferred more Scarlett? The two girls really seemed to switch places in this book, Scarlett is the one with more agency who seems to be actually doing more in the whole taking down the fates thing and Tella seems mostly focused on her romantic drama. I did like that we finally got to see them working together a bit more in this book though, they felt more connected as sisters in this book than they did in either Caraval or Legendary.

They spend the whole book trying to work out how to take down the villain, when they already knew how all along and it seemed so pointless. Garber would introduce all these plot points and then dropped them the next chapter, it was like she couldn’t make up her mind what direction she actually wanted to take this book. Everything is solved way too easily as well, as soon as the characters faced a problem, the solution was just dropped in their lap. so the stakes never felt very high.

I really wish that this book had come with a warning for arachnophobes, there’s a section that involved spiders that I really couldn’t handle!

I loved the map at the beginning of the book, it was really beautiful.

There’s a part of the book which relies on time travel as a solution, and again without delving too far into spoilery territory, it’s something I always find a bit iffy because it’s very difficult to explain and very few authors actually get it right, I don’t think Stephanie Garber did.

I felt like a lot of questions went unanswered, especially what happened to Caraval after the ending, I felt like that wasn’t really made entirely clear.

I did like the ending. It was maybe a little too neat and some of the things that happened were a bit of a stretch, but I loved how everything came full circle and tied back to the first book, when so much of the book felt disconnected to the previous two, it was nice to have that one thread at the end that tied everything back together, I found that really satisfying.

I know I’ve been quite negative about this book in this review, and it must seem like I didn’t really like it at all, but I do still love the characters and the world and there were definitely aspects of the book that I enjoyed, I think the negative stuff just stuck more because I was so anticipating this book and it didn’t really go at all like I expected. I think people who like heavy romance in their books will love this one a lot more than I did!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my June #RockMyTBR book, The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. I just started it yesterday and I’m really loving it so far!

Romanov Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Romanov

Author: Nadine Brandes

Published By: Thomas Nelson Fiction

Expected Publication: 7th May (sorry!)

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: FAIL-There are several named female characters in this book, Anastasia and her sisters, but when they talk to each other, it’s generally concerning the men around them, their brother, their father, or the Bolshevik soldiers.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson Fiction, through Netgalley UK, in exchange for a honest review.

As always thank you to Thomas Nelson, and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book.

I loved Nadine Brandes’ previous book, Fawkes when I read it last year and as soon as I saw what her next book was about, I knew I had to read it, I love the Romanovs and find that whole period of history completely fascinating. I will admit that I didn’t love this quite as much as I loved Fawkes? The first half lags a lot (though it does really pick up in the second half) and it’s kind of light on the magic, it’s historical fantasy but definitely leaning more towards the historical than the fantasy, which is fine, but I personally would have liked it if it had had a little more magic. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them . . . and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her . . .

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

So I guess I have to start off by saying that the main thing that bothered me about this book was once again, the pacing. I said it about Fawkes, and the same is true here. It starts off with a little prelude, which I found really gripping, but then the entirety of the first half of the books is focused on the Romanovs in exile before the execution, and so the whole time you know what’s coming and you’re just waiting for it to happen. Things definitely pick up after the execution takes place and the author’s imaginings of the events kicks in, but you’re already about 20 chapters into the book and I’m not sure everyone will have the patience to get through the exile section to the exciting stuff. I’d also say that the chapters were a bit overlong in the beginning. The transition in speed just feels quite jarring as well, because you go from the mundanity of exile to action packed train chases, it felt like you were reading two different books and I think if the magic and everything from the second half had been woven in earlier, it wouldn’t have been quite so jarring.

I loved the writing though, I think Nadine Brandes has a wonderful way with words and I could honestly just wrap myself up in her prose quite happily, so that was a definite plus with this book, it makes it much easier to love a book when you enjoy the author’s writing style. There were some uncorrected proof errors, but I’m sure those will have been fixed in the final version of the book.

Nastya was a great main character, she’s fierce and incredibly loyal and loves her family so so much & loves a bit of mischief. I thought she was really easy to relate to and I loved how she was able to stay so positive even in such a terrible situation. I don’t know what the real life Anastasia was like, but I loved Nadine Brandes’ rendering of her. I also really loved Alexei? He’s so sassy and adorable and their relationship was absolutely everything to me! All the familial relationships were amazing, it was clear how close the Romanov family were and how much they cared for each other.

I liked the magic system but I felt like it could have been utilised a lot more? Basically, there are people called spell masters, who are able to make something called spell ink, and people use this ink to write spells which have different effects depending on the word written. It’s very light on the magic, Anastasia mainly uses healing spells for her brother and I would have just liked a little more. I also wished that the magic’s connection to the Romanov bloodline had been explored more, because I didn’t really understand it.  The limits of the magic system aren’t really established well either, so the author kind of uses it as deus ex machina at the end of the book, and stretches it a bit beyond belief.

The historical aspects were dealt with well, the author is very accurate to history and even when she bends things a little, they do have a grounding in the actual history. It does romanticise that actual Romanov family a lot, and brush over some of Nikolai’s failings as a Tsar which is understandable given that the book is narrated by his daughter and she wouldn’t see him that way, but a bit problematic for people who do not know much about the royal family because they’ll come out with the idea of him as this all caring Tsar which is just not true. His wife Alexandra is presented as this weak, sickly woman and I also took issue with that because again, no. Alexandra was despised by the Russian people and had a lot of influence over her husband. The Bolsheviks weren’t great either, but there were legitimate reasons behind the Revolution and this book kind of casts them as Mean Bolsheviks being mean for no reason, which yeah, no. Rasputin is also kind of glossed over, he was a lot worse than the book makes him out to be. It does also assume prior knowledge of the Romanovs on the part of the reader, which is fine for me, because I did the Romanovs as part of my History A-Level so I don’t need the background context, but readers coming fresh to it might not necessarily understand all the ins and outs of why the Romanovs are in exile in the first place.

I wasn’t entirely convinced about the romance between Zash and Nastya. I think because Zash felt kind of flat at the start of the book anyway and he only really gets fleshed out in the second half but also because the whole prisoner/captor romance thing is very iffy to me? I mean I liked that Nastya struggled with that too, but I still felt like I couldn’t get fully on board with them because of that.

We do get some disability rep with Alexei and his haemophilia, and though I can’t speak to how accurate it was, it’s a great thing to see a disabled character in a fantasy. I will say that there was a lot of suspension of disbelief in the latter half of the book, that pain relieving spells would help him that much when he was pretty much bleeding out and also the initial events that lead to the second half of the book require some suspension of disbelief on the haemophilia part as well, but it is generally handled well.

In terms of content warnings, there is a lot of blood and a lot of death and violence, but I think that’s about it. I very much appreciated that the dog, Joy, did not die, because animal death is not something I handle very well, though their other two dogs do (that is also true to history, Joy survived and became a pet of the British Royal Family).

I thought the ending was really lovely, even if it did take some deus ex machina workings to get there, it was a nice happy for now ending and it fitted with the story, not a happily ever after, but with enough hope that things might get better for the characters in the future.

Overall, this story was a decent reimagining of the story of the Romanovs and whilst I did have issues with it here and there, I thought it was generally well executed and enjoyable and I hope Nadine Brandes does another historical fantasy in the future!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of Finale, the final book in the Caraval trilogy by Stephanie Garber, which I should have for you by the end of the week, or the beginning of next week as I’m almost done with it.

 

Uprooted Review

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Book: Uprooted

Author: Naomi Novik

Bechdel Test: FAIL-I couldn’t find anything that I would really class as a conversation between two women that wasn’t about a man, especially as most of Agnieszka’s conversations revolve around the Dragon.

Uprooted was my May #RockMyTBR book and I have to admit that going into it I was kind of in two minds. On the one hand, I’d heard that it had Beauty and The Beast-esque vibes and all the reviews that I’d seen of it were really positive, but on the other, I tried one of Naomi Novik’s other books Spinning Silver, last year and I really couldn’t get into it, so that kind of put me off trying this one. After reading it, my feelings really aren’t any less conflicted than they were before I read it, on the one hand I thought it was a creative concept and I liked reading a fairytale type story with less obvious influences, but it was an incredibly dense book, Novik’s prose was kind of unwieldy and I couldn’t really relate to any of the characters. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A dark enchantment blights the land

Agnieszka loves her village, set in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest’s dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. A young woman must serve him for ten years, leaving all she values behind.

Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she is everything Agnieszka is not – beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he takes. 

Honestly I’m not even sure how to review this one, the plot was kind of complicated and confusing anyway, and it’s generally meant to be quite a strange story, so it’s difficult to know where exactly to begin.

I’ll start with the writing, since that was one of my biggest bugbears about the story. I’ll admit this is a very me thing, and the writing isn’t necessarily bad, but for me the prose was incredibly dense and kind of unwieldy. I’m not sure if purple is exactly the way to describe it but it was definitely heading that way. Some people like that kind of writing, but I’m not one of them, so from the get go, this was a bit of a difficult one for me to read.

The pacing was incredibly uneven, the first half is incredibly slow and there’s not all that much really happening and then we get the latter third or so and suddenly everything is going at breakneck speed and it’s kind of confusing because things are going so fast that you can’t quite work out what’s going on.

The chapter lengths were also a bit of an issue for me, they’re quite chunky and again on a personal note, I just don’t really like that. I read before bed, so chapter brevity is always a winner for me, it means that I can read more, plus the denseness of the prose meant that the chapters felt even longer than they already are. The book could definitely have been trimmed a few hundred pages, the climax seems to go on for far longer than is actually necessary. I kept thinking the book was over and then it just kept going!

As far as the characters go, for starters there were far too many in the latter portion of the book, as soon as Agnieszka gets to court, suddenly we are introduced to twenty million different people, and I just couldn’t keep them all straight in my head, especially since most of them were barely developed. Agnieszka herself also felt kind of flat to me, I wasn’t really sure what it was about her, but I just felt like I couldn’t connect to her. She also falls kind of into the special snowflake trap, she struggles with magic for a little bit but then suddenly she finds a book and it becomes super easy for her and she doesn’t seem to tire from using it until its convenient for plot purposes. I didn’t need to be reminded every two chapters that Agnieszka was plain and clumsy, but the author did anyway. I just didn’t find her particularly memorable as a heroine and I found that her voice was kind of detached, which meant I didn’t really feel the emotions in the story that I was supposed to.

The Dragon I had issues with for different reasons. He’s kind of a jerk and whilst I did enjoy some of his snarky comments, I didn’t really see what about him I was supposed to like? I do get the appeal of gruff guys, but usually they have a heart of gold underneath and that’s why you love them, The Dragon just came off as a jerk to me. He’s pretty nasty to Agnieszka and honestly I just couldn’t tell what she saw in him.

The romance I also had major issues with. For starters, we have the classic captor/captive trope, which should just die in a hole already, much as I love Beauty and The Beast, I have to admit that I have become ever more uncomfortable with that particular part of the story over the years. He is also over 100 and she is only 17, and whilst I did appreciate that he acknowledged this (most books don’t), it did seem to be glossed over pretty quickly. Plus, I genuinely just didn’t feel the chemistry between the two of them, Agnieszka seemed to feel more for Kasia (her best friend) than she ever did for the Dragon. We also get a very explicit sex scene late on in the book, that didn’t really seem to fit and made me kind of uncomfortable, though I did appreciate that the author made sure to include on page consent.

The magic system is another one of my big issues with this book. IT’S NEVER EXPLAINED. No one explains why certain people have magic and certain people don’t, we don’t know why Agnieszka is so drawn to this particular type of magic that no one else seems to really use, and there’s no hard and fast rules. They seem to be able to just throw out magic until it becomes convenient for the plot for them to be drained.

The Wood was an interesting villain and I liked not having a person, but rather a thing, be the source of evil, but I felt like the explanation for how the Wood turned bad and the corruption started wasn’t really thought through enough. The stakes were also never really that high, even when the characters were in danger, you knew that they were only one good magic spell away from getting out of it.

The ending I found kind of anti-climactic, I think it would have been fine ending off at Chapter 31, but then we get this weird extended epilogue that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and doesn’t really add anything to the story as a whole.

Overall, I liked the concept of this book but found the execution lacking. The first half was far too slow and then the second half was way too fast and confusing, the characters weren’t all that well developed and the plot became difficult to follow the further through the book you got. I don’t think I’ll be trying anything by this author again.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will either be of Finale, the final book in the Caraval trilogy by Stephanie Garber, or of Romanov, by Nadine Brandes, depending on which one I finish first.

We Are Blood and Thunder Review (e-ARC)

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Book: We Are Blood and Thunder

Author: Kesia Lupo

Published By: Bloomsbury UK

Expected Publication: 4th April (I’m sorry!)

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: PASS-It took until almost the very end of the book to find, but Lena and Constance have a brief conversation discussing the spell that counts.

I received this book from Bloomsbury UK, through Netgalley UK, in exchange for an honest review.

As always, thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early.

I saw a lot of people crowing about this book when ARCs went out, on Twitter, and it sounded intriguing, so I decided to request it from Netgalley and thankfully got accepted. However, the book didn’t actually live up to expectations for me, I was expecting something really great and instead I found it kind of flat and getting through it was a bit of a slog, honestly if I hadn’t been reviewing it for Netgalley, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In a sealed-off city, it begins with a hunt. A young woman, Lena, running for her life, convicted of being a mage and sentenced to death. Her only way to survive is to trust those she has been brought up to fear – those with magic.

On the other side of the locked gates is a masked lady, Constance, determined to find a way back in. She knows only too well how the people of Duke’s Forest loathe magic. Years ago she escaped before her powers were discovered. But now she won’t hide who she is any longer.

A powerful and terrifying storm cloud unites them. It descends over the dukedom and devastates much in its wake. But this is more than a thunderstorm. This is a spell, and the truth behind why it has been cast is more sinister than anyone can imagine … Only Lena and Constance hold the key to destroying the spell. Though neither of them realise it, they need each other. They are the blood and they have the thunder within.

I was so excited about this book, it sounded so different and intriguing! And it got off to a really good start, the opening was strong, the first chapter was really action packed, everything was setting up for something really exciting. And then the rest of the book happened.

It was SO SLOW. I’ve read 600+ paged books that were better paced than this, it made it’s 430 page length seem like it was twice as long. It did start to pick up again at the end but by that point, you had already had to slog through 300 0dd pages of nothing, and I’m not sure many readers will have the attention span to get through. It didn’t help that most of the chapters were 20 or 30 pages long, so despite there not being a massive number of them (29 + a prologue and epilogue, pretty standard), each one took forever to get through.

I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters, I felt like they were flat and could have been way more developed. I was interested in Lena to start off with, but she never seemed to develop at all from the beginning to the end of the book. Constance was a little more interesting and fleshed out but I still didn’t feel like I could connect to her at all, her voice seemed very detached. Emris was just your typical generic mentor and Winton, Constance’s brother seemed to have very little purpose and the Justice was a very cardboard cutout villain with weak motivations.

Constance and Lena have very separate story arcs and they don’t really combine till right at the end of the book, which meant that most of the book felt disjointed and the blurb was kind of misleading in that respect because it made it seem like their story arcs were more connected than they actually were.

The world building I found lacking and kind of confusing, the magic system is never fully explained, I didn’t really understand why the world hated magic so much and a lot of the world just didn’t really make much sense to me. I also felt pretty confused by the explanations we did get of the magic, it was a lot of waffle about Chaos and Order and Bindings and Gods without any real explanation.

The writing was fine, nothing to particularly crow about, but to be honest I was so bored, I don’t think that amazing writing would have saved it!

There was some representation in this, as far as I could gather, Lena was a POC, and Winton, Constance’s half-brother was gay, I’m not sure if there was anymore than that though, at least not on page.

The romance in the book was half baked and not at all developed, Lena and Emris seem to have a mentor/student relationship going and then all of a sudden they like each other and are kissing? I mean I know that can happen, but it just seemed to come out of left field. Constance is hinted to have had romantic relationships with a man from home Xander, and Emris, but nothing really comes of either. I also found it kind of weird that Emris and Lena got together, since it seemed as if Emris was the same age as Constance, and she was in her early 20s whereas Lena is 16 and whilst it’s not the weirdest age gap in YA ever, I’m not a massive fan of relationships between adults and under 18s (it’s different if it’s 16 & 18 or 17 & 18 but 16 & 23? That’s a bit weird).

There were some great twists towards the end of the book and I liked where the author went with the mystery about the storm, but I found myself rather unsatisfied by the ending, because it didn’t really feel earned, because of how slow everything had been up to that point, the ending felt somewhat rushed.

Overall this book just really wasn’t for me, slow pacing, a confusing plot, lacklustre characters and a rushed end made it very difficult to enjoy and I couldn’t really find much positive to say about it, which is a shame for me, because I always try to find at least one positive thing to end my review on.

My Rating: 2/5

My next review will be of my May #RockMyTBR book, Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

 

 

King of Fools (The Shadow Game #2) Review (e-ARC)

King of Fools (The Shadow Game, #2)

Book: King of Fools (The Shadow Game #2)

Author: Amanda Foody

Published By: HQ Young Adult

Expected Publication: 2nd May (yes, it releases today!)

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: Pass-Enne, Grace and Lola have multiple discussions which are not about men, about their gang, The Spirits.

I received this book from HQ Young Adult, through Netgalley UK, in exchange for an honest review.

As always, thank you so much to HQ Young Adult and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, this was a massively anticipated release for me this year, so getting the chance to read it early was amazing.

I really enjoyed Ace of Shades when I read it last year, and after the cliffhanger at the end of it, I was super excited to get to King of Fools. I’m happy to say that I really loved this book, even more than Ace of Shades. The stakes are higher, everything moves a lot faster, I was more familiar with the world and there are so many awesome new characters introduced. Amanda Foody definitely struck me in the feels with this book and the ending really made me wish that I had the third book to read, like right now! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Indulge your vices in the City of Sin, where a sinister street war is brewing and fame is the deadliest killer of them all…

On the quest to find her missing mother, prim and proper Enne Salta became reluctant allies with Levi Glaisyer, the city’s most famous con man. Saving his life in the Shadow Game forced Enne to assume the identity of Seance, a mysterious underworld figure. Now, with the Chancellor of the Republic dead and bounties on both their heads, she and Levi must play a dangerous game of crime and politics…with the very fate of New Reynes at stake.

Thirsting for his freedom and the chance to build an empire, Levi enters an unlikely partnership with Vianca Augustine’s estranged son. Meanwhile, Enne remains trapped by the mafia donna’s binding oath, playing the roles of both darling lady and cunning street lord, unsure which side of herself reflects the truth.

As Enne and Levi walk a path of unimaginable wealth and opportunity, new relationships and deadly secrets could quickly lead them into ruin. And when unforeseen players enter the game, they must each make an impossible choice: To sacrifice everything they’ve earned in order to survive…

Or die as legends. 

We get a map at the beginning of this book which I loved, as a massive fantasy nerd, there’s nothing that I love more than a map, although since it was an e-arc, I couldn’t flip back and refer to it as I would in a physical book, but that didn’t really matter, it was just nice that it was there.

I really love Amanda Foody’s writing and I would definitely say I think it has improved since Ace of Shades, not that her writing in Ace of Shades was bad, it was really good, but in this book it was even better, I could pick out more than a dozen different lines that I really loved, especially the opening line of the book, it really drew me back into the City of Sin. Much as with the first book, Amanda Foody is amazing at writing setting and atmosphere and every time I opened the book, I felt completely immersed in the City of Sin. I also really loved how funny this book was? I don’t remember the last book having quite so many funny quips, but this one was chock full of them, I laughed out loud so many times which was great. I think it’s so important for dark books to have a bit of levity in them and Amanda Foody definitely achieved that balance.

We get even more expansion of the world in this book, lots of amazing new locations and we get to see the South Side for the first time which is pretty awesome because you really get the contrast between the North and South Sides. I felt like this book really expanded the scope of the world, which I loved.

Enne is 100% my favourite character in this book. She has grown so much from who she was initially in Ace of Shades and she goes through even more development in this book. She is so wonderfully unapologetic about who she is, she doesn’t feel like she needs to become more masculine to become a street lord, she will wear her lipstick and her heels and her pearls and also wield a revolver and that is wonderful. This book is so wonderfully feminist, there’s brilliant exploration of women and their relationship to power, and the parallels between Enne and Vianca are done so beautifully.

I also love how there are so many different depictions of women in this book. Not a single one of them is the same, they all have their own quirks and personalities and flaws and they’re just so wonderfully three dimensional and I WOULD DIE FOR THESE GIRLS, I SWEAR. Enne’s girl gang was without a doubt my favourite part of the book, they’re just hanging out in PJs and doing face masks with their cats who are all named after MURDERERS and it’s so brilliant. Also I can’t remember which female character it was, but one of the girls in the book had a dress with POCKETS and it is now canon that all New Reynes women wear dresses with pockets. I don’t make the rules. The fact that there are so many female friendships in this book and that they all support each other and there’s no girls hating on other girls for no reason made my heart so happy!

Levi kind of infuriated me in this book, but I think that was kind of the point. He’s basically a bit of a disaster and he’s so desperate to create his legend that he makes a lot of mistakes but honestly as much as it infuriated me, it did make me love him more. In the last book I didn’t feel like I got a great idea of who he was, after this book I feel like I understand him more and the fact that he made so many mistakes and was often selfish made him feel a lot more human to me. This book definitely embraced Levi’s flaws!

Jac gets his own POV in this book, and I was living for that! He goes through so much character development, he’s finally embracing who he is and that he doesn’t want to be a sidekick anymore, he wants the chance to create his own legend (legends being a big theme in this book). I loved his friendship with Lola, and his relationship with Sophia was wonderful. Jac’s story and his character development were definitely one of my favourite parts of this book.

Speaking of Lola, I love her so much! She basically disguises the fact that she’s a soft puppy with knives and in actuality, she’s a rule abider who won’t even jaywalk and wants her own library. I really hope Lola gets a POV in the next book, I think her POV would be so fun to read.

We get a lot of new characters in this book, which can sometimes be confusing, but Amanda Foody introduced them all so well and they’re such different people that it’s pretty easy to keep them straight. I think Grace was my favourite, she’s basically this murderous accountant who loves romance novels. There’s also Tock who has the talent of explosives and Sophia, who I can’t really talk too much about without getting into spoilers.

Levi and Enne’s relationship can get kind of frustrating at points in this book, there’s a lot of misunderstandings and secrets and well angst. Neither of them are really in a great place to be with each other at the moment, yet they are inextricably tangled together. I do think they will probably end up together in the end, but it was kind of frustrating to watch them interact in this one because a lot of the problems in their relationship are based on poor communication, though I suppose that it is quite realistic for a teen relationship! I’m kind of conflicted, because I didn’t love all the angst, but they do have really great chemistry and Amanda Foody writes such a great (and infuriating) slow burn. I’ll be interested to see how they work things out in the next book because I’m not really sure where they can go after the events of this book.

One of the big qualms I had with the first book was that the chapters were often very lengthy and the pacing wasn’t great. I’m happy to say that I didn’t have the same problems with this book, the chapters were a decent length but not overly long and the pacing was better, in fact I would say that sometimes this book had the opposite problem, in that it skipped through time a little too quickly. Unlike the first book which covered just a few days, this book is set over a few months and we would skip forward in time quite often, which I did occasionally find confusing.

The plot in this book was brilliant! It’s so twisty and complex but also action packed and just generally so much fun. The buildup is to the New Reynes elections and it was quite interesting to get to explore some of the politics of this world, it really added to the worldbuilding. There is A LOT happening, but credit where credit is due, Amanda Foody handles all these different storylines with ease and it’s pretty simple to keep track of each character’s arc. I can’t really talk too much about the plot without major spoilers, but for a 600 page book, I never felt that it lagged. There are some AMAZING plot twists and the last quarter or so of the book, I could barely catch my breath with everything that was happening. This book is such a step up in terms of plot from Ace of Shades, I can’t even.

The representation in Ace of Shades was really good and that continues here. Obviously we have Levi, who is black and bisexual, we also have Narinder, the bar owner from the last book who is gay, we have Tock and Lola who are both lesbians.

I loved how each section had a divider with a different legend from the North Side, it really added to the world building and fitted so well with a lot of the book being about creating your own legend. The sections were all based around cards so it goes up from 2 through to Ace, which was a pretty cool little touch.

I mentioned in my review of Ace of Shades how much I loved Vianca and the same is true here, she’s a brilliantly drawn woman and Foody uses her to explore a lot of how women can respond to being in a male dominated world, like I said earlier, it’s an interesting comparison drawn between her and Enne, Vianca who tries to make herself more masculine in order to get ahead in a male dominated world and Enne who unapolagetically embraces her femininity and uses them to her advantage. We also get to see her son, Harrison Augustine in this book and it’s quite interesting to see the similarities between the two of them, though I kind of wish we’d got to see them interact more.

There are so many awesome plot twists in this book as well, I wish I could talk about them more, but a lot of stuff happens that I didn’t expect and Amanda Foody pulls it all off so well and I really wish I could talk about them and not be spoilery-if anyone has read this and wants to have a spoilery chat via Twitter DM, I am open to that!

There were some small uncorrected proof errors, but nothing major and I’m sure they will have been corrected in the final copy of the book.

Once again, Foody hits it out of the park with the ending, pretty much everything is turned on it’s head in this book, the stakes are so high and that END? I need to know what happens next, 2020 is too far away!

As you can tell by my incoherent rambling, this book was AMAZING. So much happens, the stakes are raised through the roof, the characters go through so much development, the writing was great, I just loved everything about this book. I said in my review of Ace of Shades that I thought Amanda Foody had created a very ambitious world and she just didn’t manage to fit everything in that she needed to in the last book, but in this book, the plot and the stakes matched the ambition of the world so wonderfully!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will either be of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted or Kesia Lupo’s We Are Blood and Thunder, depending on which one I finish first.

Also if you are wanting more Shadow Game content, I’m going to be on the UK King of Fools blog tour, doing a Q&A with Amanda, that will be going live on Tuesday, so keep an eye out for that.

 

A Girl Called Shameless Review (Izzy O’Neill #2)

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Book: A Girl Called Shameless (Izzy O’Neill #2)

Author: Laura Steven

Bechdel Test: PASS-Izzy talks with numerous named female characters about things other than boys, to Ajita, Meg and Hazel about the campaign, to her grandmother about college, to her agent Eliza about her screenplay, there’s plenty of Bechdel test passing content in this book (unsurprisingly).

The Exact Opposite of Okay, the predecessor to this book was one of my favourite reads of last year, and so of course, this, the sequel to it, I had incredibly high hopes for. Did it meet them all? Well unfortunately, no, not really. Izzy’s voice is as fresh and realistic as ever, but the humour didn’t land quite as well for me in this book and whereas the first book had quite a clear main “incident” that shakes things up for the characters and makes the plot move, this book, being all about trying to change revenge porn laws, is a much slower mover and the book is basically like 95% buildup with only 5% reward, so whilst it’s still enjoyable, there’s not an awful lot actually happening. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Funnier. Ruder. Angrier. Izzy O’Neill is back in the hilarious sequel to The Exact Opposite of Okay. 

It’s been two months since a leaked explicit photo got Izzy involved in a political sex scandal – and the aftershock is far from over. The Bitches Bite Back movement is gathering momentum as a forum for teenage feminists, and when a girl at another school has a sex tape shared online, once again Izzy leads the charge against the slut-shamer. This time she wants to change the state law on revenge porn. 
Izzy and her best friend Ajita are as hilarious as ever, using comedy to fight back against whatever the world throws at them, but Izzy is still reeling from her slut-shaming ordeal, feeling angry beyond belief and wondering – can they really make a change?

I loved that we got a little recap of the first book at the beginning of this one, this is honestly something that I think should be an industry standard with sequel books, because it’s always at least a year, possibly more between instalments and not everyone has the time to reread the previous instalments before the new one, so I very much appreciated that, and that it was done in such an Izzy way!

Of course I still loved Izzy, she goes through a lot of character development in this book. She’s still dealing with the fallout from her nudes being released and she struggles to talk about her experiences and as angry as she is at the system, she’s incredibly reluctant to be a political figurehead. She’s also trying to work through dealing with her anger about the whole thing, and being more open with her family and friends as well as working out what is next for her future. It’s great that Steven doesn’t shy away from the fact that the nude leak had a serious impact on her and that is still ongoing in this sequel.

Her voice is still great and makes the book what it is, but I will say that the humour, I felt was kind of lacking this time. I don’t know if this was by design, because this book is about making political change and Izzy is trying not to hide so much behind her humour, but it wasn’t the same level of laugh out loud funny that The Exact Opposite of Okay was.

I did love the new “Tripod” of Ajita, Izzy and Meg, it was awesome that this book had such a focus on friendship, especially female friendship and these three girls are just so supportive of each other and I loved all their gentle ribbing of each other, like I said in my review of the last book, it reminds me very much of my own friendship group.

There were some spelling and grammar errors littered throughout, as well as occasionally continuity errors, where the date on the heading, didn’t match the events detailed within, which I know are probably editorial mistakes but still, they were kind of jarring to read in a finished book.

The plot itself was kind of slow, since the book is just continuing on from the last one, there’s not a big event like Izzy’s sex scandal (I mean the whole thing is precipitated on the release of another girl’s sex tape, but that happens quite early on in the book), most of the book is Izzy going through the motions of daily life whilst building up to the rally at the end of the book, which fair enough, that’s what most contemporaries are, I just didn’t find it particularly captivating.

The book also deals with the fallout between Izzy and Danny after the events of the last book and I was very glad that Izzy didn’t forgive him for what he did to her, because that would have felt highly unrealistic!

For the most part, the chapters were nice and even, mostly relatively short but there were a few overly long ones here and there and it would have been nice if they had been even throughout.

There is some nice representation, several POC characters (Ajita and Carson), LGBTQ+ characters (Ajita, Meg, Bella) and disability, with Meg in her wheelchair but I would have liked it if the book had explored more of the intersectionality aspects, between these identities and feminism, there are bits that touch on it, but by and large these identities are dealt with separately.

All of the talk of graduation really hit home for me because I’m in a very similar place at the moment as Izzy is in the book, albeit graduating from University rather than high school but I could definitely relate to her doubts and fears and confusion about what comes next for her!

Overall this was a nice ending to the duology and does offer some great commentary about feminism, sex, poverty, slut shaming and various other issues, but I didn’t find it quite as entertaining or hilarious as the first book.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be an e-ARC review, of Amanda Foody’s King of Fools, which comes out next Thursday in the UK, so my review will probably be up around then as well.