The Devouring Gray (The Devouring Gray #1)

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Book: The Devouring Gray (The Devouring Gray #1)

Author: Christine Lynn Herman

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Augusta and May discuss the town in their card reading.

Content Warnings: Loss of a loved one, death, murder, depictions of grief and trauma, violence, abandonment, talk of rituals and self-sacrifice, assault, attempted filicide, kidnapping, emotional/abuse neglect, animal death (though resurrected after), gore, depictions of a cult

This one is another book that I wasn’t initially intending on reading this year, but after not feeling in the mood for Sherwood in September, and swapping it out for Tunnel of Bones, I needed a new book for my October #RockMyTBR read and it seemed like the perfect time of year for this one. Sadly it wasn’t quite as creepy as I’d hoped, and the incredibly slow pace meant I felt quite bogged down by it for most of the month, and didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d have liked. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Branches and stones, daggers and bones,
They locked the Beast away.


After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny-to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities—before the Gray devours them all.
 

I should start with my biggest issue with this book, which seems to be an ongoing issue from this year, which is PACING. THIS BOOK WAS SO SLOW, EVERYTHING MOVED AT A SNAILS PACE. Plus you had my own personal nemesis, lengthy chapters so between the action moving so slowly and the chapters being like 30 pages long, it took me like a day each to get through one chapter! A slow buildup is fine, but not when it takes most of the book for any real action to happen.

The constant POV changes within chapters was also pretty jarring. I mean this might be largely a personal thing, but I generally prefer when multiple POVS keep to one character per chapter. I have liked books that have done POV switches mid-chapter in the past sometimes, but it just felt very clumsily done here and I found it a little tricky to follow whose perspective it was all the time.

I was expecting it to be creepier? The concept is super cool, the founder powers are super cool, I was expecting this really great atmospheric read. However, I didn’t find that the author really created that eerie atmosphere and I have to put that down to the writing style. Herman’s writing is very straightforward and to the point and it didn’t really seem to fit the tone she was going for with the book? Had there been more eerie descriptions, then I think I would have maybe felt the atmosphere a bit more but it all felt a little bland to me.

The characters are also somewhere where the book fell down a little for me. Had the characters been super memorable, even though the book itself was slow I probably would have enjoyed this one a little more. As it is, it felt like none of the characters really expanded much beyond one or two characteristics: Justin is the hometown hero, Violet is the goth new girl who plays piano, Isaac is moody and reads books and Harper likes swordfighting. I didn’t feel like any of them were really developed enough for me to root for them. Augusta Hawthorne, Justin’s mother, actually seemed like the most interesting of the bunch, I would totally have read a whole book about her.

This book does okay for some representation and not so much for others. There is a lot of bisexual representation in here, with Violet, Isaac, Augusta Hawthorne (Justin’s mother) and Juniper Saunders, Violet’s mother all being bisexual which I thought was great. It’s also really cool that Augusta and Juniper had a past relationship as you don’t often get to hear about adults in previous f/f relationships in books. Harper also has a missing limb, and whilst I can’t speak to the quality of the disabled representation, there was nothing that stuck out as obviously offensive or hurtful.

Then we get to where this book falls down: POC. Near everyone in this book is painfully white. And we know this because Herman takes pains to point out everyone’s skin colour when they’re introduced. There’s nothing wrong with this, I appreciate authors tackling the assumption of whiteness on page, but it’s very clumsily done as she only tells you the character’s skin colour and nothing else about them and also it really highlights the lack of diversity in this book. It’s 2019 and just because it’s a small town, doesn’t mean all the main characters have to be white?

There’s a lot of clumsy exposition when it comes to the town’s history, and even then there was a lot that I still didn’t get. Like why are the Sullivans known as “daggers”? Their power seems to be reducing things to ash, surely it would make more sense if they were ashes? I also didn’t really get how the Founders protected the town, the patrols didn’t really seem to be doing anything, and their powers didn’t seem like they were massively helpful for protection. We never find out how exactly the Beast came to Four Paths in the first place either. I also don’t understand why the people in Four Paths don’t just leave? I mean as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing stopping them from leaving town, and if I knew there was a Beast in my town that could kill me, then I would definitely go! Do the Founders have extended family that live elsewhere? Things like the rituals and the Deck of Omens were super cool but there were a lot of aspects of the worldbuilding that didn’t seem massively well thought out.

I was glad that the romance in this was limited, but it did seem awfully convenient that all four of the main characters have their pairs. JUST FOR ONCE COULD WE PLEASE HAVE A YA BOOK WHERE ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IS SINGLE AND DOESN’T HAVE A LOVE INTEREST??? I mean I could kind of see Isaac and Violet bonding given their shared understanding of grief (though it’s so freaking obvious that he likes Justin) but Harper and Justin? They have way too many communication issues and given their history it seems unlikely that they would ever be able to have a healthy relationship.

I think Herman was trying to establish a “squad goals” dynamic, but it didn’t really work because the four main characters spend most of the book apart, working on their own issues, so when they come together at the end, it doesn’t really feel earned because we haven’t been able to see the building of their friendship.

There were a lot of kind of contrived conveniences about Stephen Saunders and the resolution to Augusta’s memory wiping towards the end of the book that seemed to be mostly there as plot devices.

All of the founders seemed to live in some kind of manor except Harper (well and I guess Isaac, but I’m imagining that his family had a large house when they were alive) which seemed a little odd to me, is everyone in this town super rich?

I had to look up the whole Garbage Plate thing as well as it’s not something I’d heard of before, and it sounds gross! Why anyone would want to eat macaroni with chips, baked beans, meat and bread together is beyond me but then it’s not something we tend to eat in the UK.

The parents in this book are all pretty terrible, Augusta is controlling, Juniper is emotionally distant & Harper’s dad is part of a creepy cult (how no one could tell that cult was up to no good is beyond me), none of them are examples as model parents, though I can’t remember the last time I read a YA book where parents were so integral to the plot so I guess props for that even if they are awful?

Darn that ending, I was pretty certain I probably wouldn’t read the sequel to this book until the end. Now I really need to know what happens because that ending was mean!

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of Jodi Picoult’s latest release, The Book Of Two Ways.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

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Book: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

Author: VE Schwab

Published By: Titan Books

Publication Date: 6th October (oops!)

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: Pass-Addie and Sam talk about art.

Content warnings: Grief, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, attempted sexual assualt, attempted suicide, loss of a loved one, war, starvation, sex work, forced marriage, emotional abuse, mentions of cancer in the past, vomiting, mind control, drugging without consent

Thank you to Netgalley UK and Titan Books for allowing me to read this book early, it in no way affected my opinion of this book.

I am in no way exaggerating when I say that this was my most anticipated book of this year. I’ve been excited for this book for a long time now, since I first heard VE Schwab talk about it and have eagerly snapped up every little snippet that she’s posted on Instagram since. So it’s safe to say that my expectations for this one were super high, and I’m thankful that they were met and then some. It didn’t meet the heights of A Darker Shade of Magic, Vengeful and A Conjuring of Light, but it’s definitely up there with my favourite Schwab books. It’s going to be a hard one to review without going into spoilers, but I’ll give it my best! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever-and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore, and he remembers her name.

In the vein of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Life After Life, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab’s #1 New York Times Bestselling Author genre-defying tour de force.

I feel like I have to start off with the writing on this one, because it’s definitely the most noticeable thing about this book. It’s quite different to the way Schwab writes in any of her other books, she definitely leans into the description more here but it works so well. I’m not usually one for description but the writing in this book is SO BEAUTIFUL. You know when you read a book and you’re just in absolute awe and wish you could write something as gorgeous as that? Yeah, that’s the writing in this book for me.

I will admit, it is a very slow paced book, which is not usually what I like, but this is the kind of story where a fast pace just wouldn’t have worked. By it’s very nature, the story is a slow unspooling of hundreds of years of history. There were some places where I’d have liked things to move a little faster, but for the most part, the slow pace didn’t bother me and things picked up quite nicely when Addie met Henry. It did help that though there are a lot of chapters, they are all pretty short. 

This is definitely a character drawn story rather than a plot one. The plot can be a little thin in places, it does feel like a series of unconnected snapshots in places but again, as soon as the two main characters meet, things improve on that front. Plus, thankfully the characters are really strong. I definitely connected more to Henry than Addie, he felt more grounded and I loved seeing a softer and more sensitive male character being cast as the love interest as I so often read about these brash alpha male leads. Basically if you like cinnamon roll characters, you will love Henry. I could also relate a lot to Henry’s struggle with figuring out what he wanted to do in life and his feeling like time is moving too fast sometimes, as those are definitely feelings I’ve had in the past too.

I did like Addie’s character, her stubborn determination, her ability to find joy even when her life seems so bleak, her need for adventure and longing to escape from her small town, all of those aspects of her character I loved. However, due to the nature of her curse, she does have a tendency to be quite self absorbed and selfish and she did feel kind of aloof and disconnected in places. I have to admit for someone who longs for adventure, Addie certainly moves very slowly through the world and stays in places for a very long time, though I guess that makes sense for someone who has never been further than her small village in her entire life! 

However that is the beauty of Schwab’s characters, they are always flawed, Henry also has flaws, I can’t say too much about this because it’s actually a spoiler for a certain plot thread in the book, but I thought Schwab made a really interesting choice in the way she showed Henry’s flaws through this particular plot thread (I’m sorry, I know that’s super vague, but I literally can’t say more than that without dropping a massive spoiler). 

Luc is the villain in this book, and as with all of Schwab’s villains, he’s incredibly morally grey. It’s easy to see why Addie is captivated with him, he’s certainly charming and mysterious, but she definitely doesn’t shy away from his less palatable aspects either, he has serious anger issues and is very emotionally manipulative. 

THE EMOTION IN THIS BOOK WAS EVERYTHING. Schwab definitely leans hard into the emotional beats of this story and it paid off: over the course of 483 pages, I felt ALL THE THINGS.

I loved that the entire main cast of this book was LGBTQIA+ and that it’s so casually done, it’s just a fact, it’s not a big deal, it’s just another aspect of their identities. Henry is pansexual, Addie is bisexual (it’s not confirmed on page that’s she’s pan, so I’m going with bi, as opposed to Henry who makes a statement on page that confirms his pansexuality), Bea is lesbian and Robbie is gay. It’s basically everyone is gay here vibes in a book!

Having said that, there is definitely a lack of acknowledgment of POC in this book. Bea is the only POC character confirmed on page, and this does seem like an oversight, especially given that Addie lives through the height of colonialism, it feels like that should definitely have been acknowledged in the text. All of the places she visits are Western as well, it would have been nice if Schwab had ventured a little further afield than Europe and the US.

I love how honestly Schwab explores Henry’s mental health in this book, she mentioned in her Waterstones event for this book that she drew on her own experiences for this and you could definitely tell, his struggles felt so raw and real and I loved that she didn’t shy away from exploring that.

Okay, so the romance. Schwab has said that this is the closest thing to a love story she has ever written and to some extent that’s true, but of course because it’s Schwab, things are not as simple as that. 

First we have Luc and Addie. The dynamic between Luc and Addie is very interesting, they certainly have this kind of cat and mouse thing going on as he tries to get her to surrender and she consistently refuses. They definitely have an attraction, but this is not a healthy relationship and Schwab definitely reinforces that. Addie is essentially emotionally manipulated by the Darkness for 300 years, their relationship is based on him wanting to own her, to possess her, to be the only thing in her life. I would definitely say that their dynamic has some of the hallmarks of emotional abuse, and I think that’s what Schwab was trying to go for: it’s reinforced over and over again that Luc looks as her as a prize to win, that he gave her no other option but him and she says several times, “This isn’t love”. So if you’re looking for a romantic love story based on mutual respect, you will not find it in Addie and Luc!

The other romance is Addie and Henry and whilst I did like them together, their relationship definitely felt very one sided. Henry actually seemed to genuinely like her and care about her, whereas Addie really seemed to only care about the fact that he could remember her. That’s probably quite cynical of me, but I genuinely felt like Henry deserved better than someone who didn’t really seem to care all that much about what he brought to a relationship, more the mere fact that he remembered her. That could just be me being cynical though!

This book is all about the small moments. There are some plot twists (though most are quite easily worked out), but for the most part it’s about the small moments that make up a life, the first time seeing the sea, a visit to the opera (that bit particularly got to me as it reminded me how much I miss theatre) and in any other book, I so would not care, but Schwab has this way of making the small moments feel monumental.

Obviously in the e-ARC that I read, the art that’s interspersed between the part dividers isn’t there, but I got a finished copy as well and WOW. They really went above and beyond with the art for this book so if you can get a physical copy, I would! Art is so important in this book, it’s basically Addie’s reason for being, how she survives alone in the world for 300 years and that really struck a chord with me. I’ve really relied on art to get me through this pandemic, be it music, TV, film, theatre (livestreamed for the most part), books, it’s all those things that have kept me going and this book really draws on that feeling of how important art can be for survival.

The past and the present timelines were done really well, they’re interwoven really neatly and the switching didn’t feel clumsy at all (not that I’m surprised by that, Vengeful showed just how masterful Schwab is at switching between different points in time). I loved all of the flashbacks to the past, honestly I could read a whole different book just about everything that Addie did in the past (petition for a book about Addie as a spy in WWII PLEASE!). 

Schwab does so well with the side characters in this, there are a lot of people who are only a fleeting part of Addie’s story, but even if they are only there for a chapter, you feel their impact throughout the book and how they’ve shaped Addie, it definitely feels like they all could have their own stories.

I like the way that certain objects recur throughout the book, the bird, the leather jacket, the ring, it’s cool how certain objects in Addie’s life have particular significance to her story.

I’m not usually a fan of fabulism, but I thought the way Schwab used it here with Luc worked really well.

The way faith plays into this is very interesting, there’s a definite juxtaposition between Catholicism and Paganism which I thought was cool. Henry is also Jewish (though not practicing) and it’s one of very few times I’ve read a book with a Jewish main character where the book wasn’t about the Holocaust, so that was great (and I have to admit, I feel a bit silly for not realising before now that her family is Jewish!). 

I do wish there was more dialogue, this book is very heavy on the description and very light on the dialogue and I will always at heart be a dialogue lover (and Schwab does dialogue so well) so I would have liked a bit more, especially to break up some of the more chunky passages. Where there is dialogue, it’s great though, especially some of the witty exchanges between Addie and Luc.

I love how Schwab approached female pleasure in this book, Addie’s sexuality is explored in a wonderful way. She mentions female masturbation, which is something you HARDLY EVER SEE in books (I can count on the fingers of one hand books that have mentioned it, in fact I think this may only be the second I’ve read). I also loved how consent was emphasised in the book, it’s super sexy and makes the sex scenes so much nicer to read (they are few and far between don’t worry if it’s not your thing). 

Schwab does explore how being a woman makes it harder for Addie to move through the world, which I appreciated as it would have seemed strange if she hadn’t acknowledged that given the time period Addie comes from. Like I said before it does miss the mark on race though, there’s no acknowledgement of how being a white woman makes it easier for Addie to move invisibly through the world that it might have been for a Black woman with the same curse.

Addie does also have a slight tendency of “not like other girls” about her when she looks down on her friend for wanting to be a wife and mother. Fair enough highlight how women had less choices in the 18th century, but I didn’t love how Schwab portrayed Isabelle’s choice as obviously the wrong one just because it wasn’t what Addie wanted. 

There is less worldbuilding than in Schwab’s other novels but that’s largely as this one is set in our world. She definitely seemed to have thought through all of the logistics of the curse though, everything had an explanation (barring one small exception that I thought she could have explained better). I would have liked it if I’d had a slightly better sense of place in the past chapters though, Schwab does bring in some historical people, but I would have liked a few more historical details in the past chapters to really establish the point that Addie is in time.

I loved the bookstore Henry works at, The Last Word, and especially the shop cat Book, it reminded me of second hand bookshop that my Nana used to take me to when I was younger that had a shop dog, a Border Collie!

I LOVED THE ENDING SO MUCH. It definitely hit me with all the emotions but I thought it was a really perfect way to wrap everything up and it definitely did feel like a self contained story, though there are things I would still love if Schwab explored further in the future.

Overall this was a really fantastic book, it’s beautifully written, it’s incredibly emotional and though the plot could be a little thin in places, it has wonderfully lively characters that you’ll just fall in love with. Schwab’s adult books are always fantastic and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

My Rating: 4.5/5 (just didn’t quite make the 5, if the plot had been slightly stronger it probably would have).

My next review will be of The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, my October #RockMyTBR book. Thanks for bearing with me whilst I’ve been catching up on my slight review backlog from October, I finished everything in kind of a rush in the last few days of October/first few days of November, so I’ve been a tad behind! 

 

Men Who Hate Women Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Men Who Hate Women

Author: Laura Bates

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Laura Bates

BECHDEL TEST: N/A, non-fiction

Content Warnings: Mentions of sexual violence, assault and abuse, online harassment, murder and terrorist violence.

I’ve been meaning to read one of Laura Bates’ books for ages, my sister got me Everyday Sexism for Christmas a couple of years ago (I still haven’t read it, I will soon!) and I’ve seen quite a few of her articles in The Guardian, but till now I’d never read one of her books. Back in September, I attended a virtual event she did in support of this book and thought it sounded like an interesting read. It definitely was, but it’s certainly not an easy one either, Laura was certainly very brave going undercover in these communities that hate women so violently! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

An explosive book examining the rise of secretive, extremist communities who despise women. In this ground-breaking investigation, Laura Bates traces the roots of misogyny across a complex spider’s web of groups extending from Men’s Rights Activists and Pick up Artists to “Men Going their Own Way” trolls and the Incel movement, in the name of which some men have committed terrorist acts.

Drawing parallels with other extremist movements around the world, Bates seeks to understand what attracts men to the movement, how it grooms and radicalizes boys, how it operates, and what can be done to stop it. Most urgently of all, she traces the pathways this extreme ideology has taken from the darkest corners of the internet to emerge covertly in our mainstream media, our playgrounds, and our parliament. Going undercover online and off, Bates provides the first, comprehensive look at this hitherto under-the-radar phenomenon, including fascinating interviews with trolls, former incels, the academics studying this movement, and the men fighting back.

First off, I really enjoyed the narration for this one, I’ve not read many books where authors narrate their own work (this tends to be more of a standard for non-fiction than fiction) and I really liked that, Laura explains everything in a way that is very succinct and easy to understand.

I learned so much from this book! I’d heard of both incels and men’s rights activists before and knew of some of the mass attacks that Laura spoke about in the incel chapters but there was definitely still a lot I didn’t know. I’d never really heard of Pick Up Artists as an organised group, and I had no idea that Men Going Their Own Way was even a thing. It was also horrifying to learn that Incels originally started as an innocent project to help foster a community of single people who were lonely, that was started by a WOMAN and has become so twisted by men who have co-opted it in the years since. I also had no idea the extent of some of these communities, I had definitely assumed that Incels were a far smaller community than they actually are! I’d also never heard of Gamergate before this.

It is very western focused, the cases talked about tend to be from the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand but this is pretty understandable, trying to cover the entire world of online misogyny would have been a pretty mammoth task.

I did appreciate that she looked at the intersections of race and gender in her discussions of these groups, as so often extreme misogyny and racism are inextricably linked, so it definitely would have been disingenuous if she had only focused on gender without considering how race plays into these communities as well.

I was definitely impressed at the lengths Bates went to to research these communities, I would never have been as brave as she was! The one part that particularly struck me was when she talked about going to a Men’s Rights Activists meeting who had specifically used her in their advertising, incredibly brave to go into a meeting of people who you already know are going to hate you.

The story of the pregnant journalist who ended up having to give up her job because of death threats she received after writing a tongue in cheek article about ways men ruined her year really hit hard for me, I’ve never really worried to much about being threatened because of stories I write, but it did remind me that it can be dangerous to be a journalist even if you’re not actively working in a war zone or something like that. The description of Bates talking about her sexual assault in front of a group of teenagers and them not believing her was quite emotional as well, as was when she described her ordeal trying to report online trolls the police.

As Bates comes from a journalist perspective as well, it was interesting for me to see how she spoke about the media and the role that they play in perpetuating the extreme misogyny agenda, it’s definitely something I want to see how I can help to change as I enter the industry.

From the title, it might seem that Bates is focused on attacking men, but this could not be further from the truth. A lot of her book, as well as talking about the ways these groups hurt women, talks about the damage that they do to men as well, particularly impressionable young men and how they manipulate them for their own gain.

The chapters are quite long, I might have separated them down into smaller sections within the overall topics as 90 minute to 2 hour chapters is quite a lot to listen to in one go. I did particularly like how each section had interviews with people from the groups/who were affected by the groups talked about, it really helped illustrate Bates’ arguments.

I would never have thought of incel attacks as terrorism before and this book certainly made me wonder why: they’re based on an extreme ideology that involves violence and intimidation towards a particular group, if these attacks were carried out by anyone other than white man, they would certainly be considered terrorist actions.

The interview with Ben Hurst at the end was also an interesting addition, it was cool to hear more about the process that Bates went through writing the book and her thoughts on certain topics after its completion.

Overall this was a really enlightening, interesting read and I learned a lot, though it’s definitely not an easy book to read. I definitely look forward to reading more of Bates’ work in the future, will have to push Everyday Sexism up the reading list!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of my latest Netgalley read, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab, one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I’m hoping to post it tomorrow, if not Monday, because I’m already done, so I just need to write up the review.

Tunnel Of Bones (Cassidy Blake #2) Review

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Book: Tunnel of Bones (Cassidy Blake #2)

Author: Victoria Schwab

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Cassidy and Lara talk about ghosts.

Content warnings: Loss of a loved one, drowning, death of a child, mild violence

I wasn’t originally intending on reading this book this year, but I switched it out for City of Ghosts when that got chosen for me as a book club pick. I was also originally intending for it to be my October TBR read, but instead I’m counting it as my September read as I just could not get into my planned read Sherwood.

I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book, I love Paris but I don’t feel like Schwab captured it quite as well as Edinburgh and the story just wasn’t quite as creepy? Still it was a nice, fast paced short read and it was quite fun, so it wasn’t a total loss. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual.

She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.

When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter — and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger.

And if Cass fails, the force she’s unleashed could haunt the city forever. 

So like I said at the start, this book wasn’t as creepy as the first book was. I think because Schwab lives in Edinburgh, she was just able to capture the city better and it felt more like a character in that book whereas here, the fact that they were in Paris just felt kind of incidental.

I also thought the main ghost in City of Ghosts was just creepier than the one here, woman who steals children is just a scarier idea than child poltergeist. I know we were meant to feel scared at the poltergeist’s antics, but I didn’t really.

I also didn’t really feel like I needed the reminders at the beginning of the book of Cassidy’s backstory and the fact that she’s a ghost hunter, I mean obviously I forget things between books all the time, but usually I don’t need reminding of the general premise (though obviously this is a MG book, so perhaps that’s more of an audience thing than a real problem).

I did like Victoria’s writing as always, but I definitely preferred it in City of Ghosts, again, it just didn’t feel as atmospheric here.

I don’t really understand how they are able to take Grim everywhere without having to quarantine him, I’ll admit, I don’t really know what quarantine laws are on bringing animals in from the US to either the UK (in the first book) or France, but I’m sure it’s not as easy as just flying to the country and strolling straight on through!

I have to admit, though I’ve heard of most of the landmarks in the book, I’ve not been to all of them. I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, and seen the Louvre and the Tuileries and Notre Dame but I’ve never been to the Catacombs and always wanted to go. Thankfully this book has not put me off!

Jacob and Cassidy’s friendship is still wonderful, Jacob injects some great humour into the book and I love seeing a platonic friendship between a boy and girl highlighted (okay yes, one is dead so there’s not exactly any chance of romance but still). It was also great to find out a little more of Jacob’s backstory here, his emerging human-ness definitely seems to be coming more to the fore in this book and probably in future ones as well.

I do love a good map and this book also has one!

The Harry Potter references definitely felt weird here after everything that’s happened this year with JK Rowling, though I know this book was written before all of that happened, it was still a little jarring. Also I feel like Cassidy must have some other reference points? Like Harry Potter cannot be the only thing you love.

The pacing was pretty decent, I will say that it lagged a little towards the end and the final battle with the ghost felt a little anti-climactic but it was for the most part a quick read.

Cass’s parents really are ridiculously oblivious, she disappears all the time and they barely even seem to notice till she’s back. I don’t understand why she doesn’t tell them what’s going on, they’re literally doing a show about ghosts and though she says they didn’t believe her when she tried to explain at the end of City of Ghosts, I don’t think she did a particularly good job. She clearly doesn’t mind other people knowing as she did tell some of the people she met in this book!

The ending definitely left me with a lot of very spoilery questions, so I can’t wait to find out what happens next in Bridge of Souls when it comes out next year.

Overall I did still enjoy this book, even if I didn’t enjoy it as much as City of Ghosts. These books are definitely a good palate cleanser between the longer books I read, but they’ll never be my favourite Schwab books, and that’s fine, I’m sure the target 9-12 year olds will love them and hopefully become lifelong Schwab fans!

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my October #RockMyTBR book, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman.

Bloodwitch (Witchlands #3) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Bloodwitch (Witchlands #3)

Author: Susan Dennard

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, honestly found it hard to keep track!

Content Warnings: Violence, animal death, death of parents, mention of suicide, blood & blood magic

When I read Windwitch back in May, I was a little disappointed as I didn’t enjoy it as much as Truthwitch, there were a lot of pacing issues and it was difficult to follow in places. Thankfully I did enjoy Bloodwitch more and I definitely think it did more to drive the plot forward, though I still found some of the same problems from the other books in the series here. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Loyalties will be tested as never before.

The Raider King’s plans to claim the Witchlands are under way. Now, his forces sow terror in the mountains, slaughtering innocents. After finding the slain, Aeduan and Iseult race for safety. And despite differing goals, they’ve grown to trust one another in the fight to survive. Yet the Bloodwitch keeps a secret that could change everything . . .

When Merik sacrifices himself to save his friends, he is captured by the Fury. However, Merik isn’t one to give up easily, and he’ll do whatever it takes to save those he loves. And in Marstok, Safi the Truthwitch agrees to help the empress uncover a rebellion. But those implicated are killed and Safi becomes desperate for freedom.

War has come once more to the Witchlands. Perhaps if Safi and Iseult were united, their powers could bring peace. But chaos is not easily tamed.

So I have to start again with my biggest problem in this book, which was again the multiple POVs. Don’t get me wrong, I do love multiple POV books, a lot of multiple POV books are my favourites, but the way Susan Dennard does it makes it really hard to follow. There are POV switches in the middle of chapters and there are about five different character threads to follow, all of whom have POVs which means that often by the time a character’s POV has come around again, I’ve forgotten where they were last! There’s such a sprawling cast I honestly found it quite difficult to remember who was fighting with who.

There’s also a lot of journeying in this book which isn’t my favourite, once again, it seemed to be a lot of buildup and then this kind of mad rush at the end where there were a lot of battles and it would have been nice if things had been a bit more even! I also think it was slightly overly long.

I did enjoy the narration here more than I did in Windwitch, though I still don’t love Cassandra Campbell’s accents for the characters!

Vivia was definitely a highlight for me in this book, she’s really coming into her own as a character and I loved seeing her taking charge and standing up to her father. Her newfound alliance with Vaness was an unexpected surprise and I’d like to see where that relationship goes.

In terms of worldbuilding, we get to see more of Marstok in this book which was pretty cool, though there are still some things that I found kind of confusing, like the doors in the mountains and the role of the Paladins in all this. I’m assuming this will be explained more in future books? It was also interesting to see Iseult’s powers develop more in this book but I’d like more explanation, because it felt a little like she was able to do some of the things she did in this book because she needed to for plot reasons rather than having any real basis in what we’ve learned about her magic so far.

Merik’s part in this story was honestly a little forgettable, I didn’t really feel like it added much the main plot and I’m so confused by what happened to him at the end!

Owl was a great new addition to the cast in this one and I found Isuelt’s frustration with her rather amusing!

There was an animal death scene in this that I didn’t feel was entirely necessary, Dennard could have told us that Aeduan killed his dog without going into any further detail!

I didn’t feel like any of the villains in this book were particularly well developed since we had no real clue as to what any of their motives actually were, which made it very hard to feel any real emotion towards any of them. I also really don’t understand what happened with Evrane at the monastery since the last we saw her she was supporting Safi and Iseult.

There’s also a plot twist with Safi that I didn’t feel made a massive amount of sense, although I suppose we will see the point of it in the next book. I did find Safi kind of frustrating in general in this book because she doesn’t like Vaness using her powers to see if her enemies are telling the truth, but that’s literally her power and she agreed to go to Marstok in the first place?

Once again, the storylines felt all quite separate in this book and I think that added to the confusion because you’re following five or six very different stories as opposed to the stories all tying in together, so although you’re following a lot of different people, it all fits into one big storyline (like say Six of Crows).

When it comes to the romance, there isn’t a massive amount (thankfully) but I did think that Aeduan and Iseult’s relationship was developed really well over the course of this book. I have to say, I’m not massively invested in Safi and Merik, they’ve been separated over the last couple of books and I wasn’t really all that bothered by them in Truthwitch anyway. If I liked Merik more then maybe I would, but honestly I think Safi deserves better!

The ending left me super confused. Honestly I have no idea where most of the characters even were at the end of the book, what had happened to them or what they were going to do next. I feel like this is the problem with having so many characters, it gets impossible to keep track of what has happened to everyone!

Overall, this book was an improvement on the second book, but still carried on a lot of the problems I’ve had throughout the series. Still, it does finally feel like things are actually happening in the Witchlands now, so I look forward to seeing where the story goes in the next book!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my September #RockMyTBR book, Tunnel of Bones (slightly late because of a last minute switch-around), which should be up before the end of the week as I have already finished the book, I just need to write up the review!

Queen of Volts (The Shadow Game #3)

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Book: Queen of Volts (The Shadow Game #3)

Author: Amanda Foody

Published By: HQ Young Adult

Publication Date: 1st September (okay, but the UK paperback doesn’t actually release till next Thursday, so technically it’s still coming out before a version of the book does!).

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Lola and Arabella (The Bargainer) talk about Enne.

Content Warnings: Extreme violence, death, grief, attempted suicide/suicidal ideation, PTSD, toxic and abusive relationships (with a parent and a romantic partner), addiction, emetophobia (Can I just thank Amanda Foody for having these easily accessible on her website? Made my job SO MUCH EASIER).

Thank you to Netgalley and HQ Young Adult for allowing me to read this book early, this in no way affected my opinion of it.

King of Fools, the second book in The Shadow Game trilogy was one of my favourite books of last year, so naturally Queen of Volts was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I don’t want to say I was disappointed, because there was a lot to love in this book, and I did ultimately find it a satisfying finale but it didn’t quite live up to the heights of King of Fools for me.

SPOILER ALERT: This review will contain unavoidable spoilers from the previous Shadow Game books. If you have not read Ace of Shades, or King of Fools, stop reading now.

Return to the City of Sin, where the final game is about to begin…and winning will demand the ultimate sacrifice.

Only days after a corrupt election and brutal street war, one last bloodthirsty game has begun. The players? The twenty-two most powerful, notorious people in New Reynes.

After realizing they have no choice but to play, Enne Scordata and Levi Glaisyer are desperate to forge new alliances and bargain for their safety. But while Levi offers false smiles and an even falser peace to the city’s politicians, Enne must face a world where her true Mizer identity has been revealed…and any misstep could turn deadly.

Meanwhile, a far more dangerous opponent has appeared on the board, one plucked right from the most gruesome legends of New Reynes. As the game takes its final, vicious turn, Levi and Enne must decide once and for all whether to be partners or enemies.

Because in a game for survival, there are only losers…

And monsters. 

I’m going to start with my biggest bugbears from this book, because though there was definitely a lot to love about this book, the two big issues were the things that brought the book’s rating down for me.

First off, SO MANY POVS. TOO MANY POVS. There are five different POV characters in this book, and whilst I do understand why Foody did it this way, it makes the story somewhat difficult to follow. It did get easier as the book went along, but I still found myself having to flick back and forth because it had been so long since a particular character’s POV, I’d forgotten what they were doing. I did really like having Sophia and Lola’s POVs, because I love the characters, but I think having five POVs made things more confusing than they needed to be. The final book is also very late in the game (bad pun, sorry) to be adding a lot of new POVs.

And then we have the pacing…..ah the pacing. Pacing seems to be my old nemesis (I’m actually going to be doing a discussion post about it soon) and this book was definitely lacking. I was expecting a high speed, action packed finale, and we do get there, but it takes A WHILE. There’s a lot of talking and plotting and planning and not all that much doing for the first few hundred pages of the book and I definitely feel like some of that could have been trimmed because it did take a while for me to really get into the story. I was expecting the Game to be a lot more violent than it ended up being (even though there are some rather gruesome death) but the main characters are so unwilling to kill each other that everything remains at a standstill for longer than I’d like! (clearly I’m too used to reading violent fantasy books when I complain about not enough violence).

I did really enjoy the writing style, Amanda Foody has a great way of making you feel like you’re in the setting without ever getting into purple prose territory, which I love.

I also really appreciated that Foody showed her characters struggling to deal with the trauma that they’d faced in the previous books. A certain death in King of Fools has a big impact on all of the main characters and I’m glad she didn’t just brush past it and actually explored the fallout from it because so often books don’t. Enne’s PTSD and her issues with guns after the last book was particularly well done.

I was a little confused by the omerta logic in this book, Foody is usually pretty good at her worldbuilding but there are definitely some holes here, as a big plot point is that Harrison’s omertas will die if he does, but there are characters in the book that should have died in the previous book if that logic was true.

The Bargainer is a big part of this final book and she was definitely very interesting, though I kind of wish we’d learned more about the awful things she’d done in the past!

So Enne and Levi continue being their extremely frustrating selves in this book, and though their issues do make sense considering what happened at the end of the last book, there’s only so much back and forth I can take before it feels stale. They don’t really work through any of their issues really and it’s hard to believe they’ll ever be completely happy together when they spend a decent proportion of this book barely trusting each other. Honestly my feelings on them haven’t really changed from the last book, they have great chemistry but the angst makes them hard to root for as a couple.

I really liked Sophia’s arc, a lot of her arc in this book is about uncovering her lost memories and finding out about her past and that definitely had a really satisfying conclusion.

There’s a LOT of great reveals in this book for things that have been hinted at since the start of the series (Enne’s heritage, the origin of the Shadow Game, Lourdes, Enne and Levi’s hallway dream etc) and there’s a lot of stuff that really ties back to the first book in the series which I loved (despite being a terrible planner when it comes to my own books!).

I love the chapter separators in this book, it’s split into twenty two parts, and each one is named after a card in Bryce’s game, that little attention detail is great. The little quotes from New Reynes’ papers as well were a lovely touch. It also has a map (and I do love a map!).

Levi and Tock’s little heart to hearts were a real highlight of this book, as I felt the friendship moments kind of went by the wayside as there’s a lot of focus on the romances? Grace and Enne also have some lovely moments together, which makes up for the fact that Enne and Lola are at each other’s throats for most of the book. I kind of wish Grace had got a POV at some point in the series (though there were already enough in this book and I do understand why she didn’t get one) as I really loved her! She’s definitely the voice of reason that Enne desperately needs!

Speaking of Lola, her arc in this book I imagine will probably be one of the most polarising, because she definitely makes a lot of questionable decisions, but I think her arc made a lot of sense as she’s always been trying to find her place in the Game when she doesn’t really consider herself a player and a lot of her story is reconciling that and trying to work out her place in the world. I do wish she and Enne hadn’t been on the outs for so long, but it definitely make sense why they would be.

I will be honest, there were a few players, like Delaney, who I’d actually forgotten who they were because there are SO MANY CHARACTERS IN THIS SERIES.

The treatment of Enne by the Chancellor (Fenice sucks) and the other politicians vs Levi was a little jarring, though I don’t know if Foody intended on making a comparison with how powerful men and women are treated. Still, Enne seems to bear the brunt of the punishment, even though orb-makers are almost as feared as Mizers and Levi is just as much of a criminal as she is which didn’t seem very fair to me!

As with the other books in the series, this book continues to have a diverse cast of characters with POC rep, LGBTQ+ rep (most of the main cast is LGBTQ+) and some disability rep (Lola loses her hearing in one ear after an injury).

Harvey, who was barely featured in King of Fools becomes a major player here as his relationship with Bryce. I have to admit, I didn’t think Bryce as a villain was as well drawn as Vianca Augustine, but I did appreciate how Foody showed the toxic relationship between Bryce and Harvey in this book and how Harvey grew throughout the book to realise that he deserved better than Bryce. I was never really sure what side Harvey was on throughout the book, but that kept things interesting! It was also a really nice surprise to see Harvey and Narinder growing close in this book as that was something I wasn’t expecting.

There’s quite a few time skips throughout this book and as with King of Fools, I still found them slightly jarring and it wasn’t always immediately clear when they’d happened.

There’s one very brief sex scene between Enne and Levi, and between Harvey and Bryce. I was really glad that Foody emphasised consent in the scene between Enne and Levi (though there is a moment earlier in the book when Enne kisses Levi without his consent, not great). The fact that Levi mentioned he hadn’t been with a woman before so casually and that in no way negated his bisexuality and wasn’t at all judged was really great.

There’s a really great scene in The House of Shadows later in the book, I can’t say too much about it because it would be spoilery, but I loved how important Enne and Levi’s hallway ended up being!

The ending was very full circle, I thought Foody did a pretty good job of concluding everyone’s story and I loved how everything in the end circled back to the first book, it felt like a very completed arc (though obviously I hope that Amanda Foody does more books in this world at some point!).

Overall, this was a decent series finale but failed to live up to the heights of the second book, for me at least!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will either be of Meagan Spooner’s Sherwood, or Susan Dennard’s Bloodwitch, depending on which one I finish first.

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder #1)

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Book: A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder #1)

Author: Holly Jackson

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Pip, Lauren and Cara have a conversation at the beginning of the book which doesn’t revolve around boys.

Content Warnings: Animal death, mentions of sexual assault, drug dealing, drink spiking, mentions of suicide, kidnapping and imprisonment, racism, mentions of revenge porn, student/teacher relationship, past parental death, past car accident, violence

This is one of those books that definitely feels like it’s been everywhere since it’s release, heck even before, I remember it being super hyped up at YALC back in 2018 where they were giving away the proofs with the end pages ripped out. It was sitting on my shelf for over a year and I was always a little nervous of reading it because of the hype (and the fact that YA thrillers have a tendency to underwhelm me) but thankfully, this one ended up being really good! It’s going to be a super difficult one to review without heading into spoilery territory, but I’ll do my best.

The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.

But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?

As I said before, I’ve had mixed luck with YA thrillers before, largely because I never seem to find them all that thrilling? I loved Dangerous Girls but ever since I read that one, I’ve not been able to find anything that surprised me as much! Thankfully, A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder was refreshing in terms of what I’ve come to expect from YA thrillers, it really surprised me, I didn’t work out who did it until right before the end and it was really well plotted and thought out. I had a suspect in mind from pretty early on and I was totally wrong!

The entire premise does require a little suspension of disbelief, given that if her supervisor had followed up with her AT ALL during the course of her project, she would have realised that she’d had contact with the families involved in the case (the conditions on which she was allowed to do the project strictly prohibited her from doing so) and her project would have been stopped. Also as someone who has had to do an ethics review for my Uni final project, I highly doubt that Pip’s topic would have made it through an ethics review given that it covers a fairly recent murder investigation. But then it wouldn’t be any fun if it was completely true to reality now would it?

I also want to note that as a journalist, Pip violates A LOT of ethical (and legal) boundaries in this book which is something I probably wouldn’t have noticed before my degree but after you’ve done a whole module on media law, it’s pretty difficult not to notice! Again, doesn’t really impact on the fun of the story, just something I wanted to note!

The use of multimedia throughout this book was really well done, I loved how she integrated Pip’s production logs and interviews, maps, diary pages, text messages, it really gave the story an extra layer and it was fun to follow all of Pip’s “workings out” along with the main body of the story.

I will however say that the switching between first and third person (first in Pip’s production logs and interviews, third in the main story) was a bit jarring and I would have preferred if Holly Jackson had kept to one kind of perspective throughout. Personally I felt the first person voice was stronger than the third person but then I do prefer first person narration anyway, so that might be my bias talking!

I enjoyed the main characters, I thought Ravi was really sweet and charming and funny. Pip was also a lot of fun, she’s smart and super determined and honestly I have no idea how she didn’t drop down of exhaustion because carrying out a murder investigation whilst getting all her schoolwork done seemed a near impossible task! She did frustrate me a lot at certain points in the book though, when she insisted on throwing herself into danger with no help!

The side characters could have done with a little more fleshing out though, I get it, there were a lot of characters, but it would have been nice if Pip’s friends and some of the murder suspects could have been fleshed out a little more.

I really enjoyed the platonic friendship between Ravi and Pip, it was so refreshing because it’s still annoyingly rare in YA books, so I’m not going to lie, I was a little miffed when it ended up turning romantic (sorry for the slight spoiler, but I need to rant about this) because their friendship was so lovely and NOT EVERY MALE/FEMALE PAIRING IN A BOOK NEEDS TO BE ROMANTIC. PLATONIC PARTNERS IN MURDER SOLVING IS GOOD TOO.

There were some discussions of prejudice and racism and how that played into the original murder investigation, I’m not really in a place to say how well this was done being a white woman (the author is also a white woman) so I’d recommend checking out reviews from POC, particularly Indian reviewers (Ravi is British-Indian) for their thoughts. As well as Ravi, Pip’s stepfather is Nigerian and her half-brother is biracial.

I liked that Pip actually had a present family in this, granted, she does keep them out of the loop in most of the stuff she does, but they are definitely around and there for her when she needs them.

The chapters were nice and short, and though it was a little slow to start (the opening chapters are mainly establishing Pip’s relationships/the murder suspects), once it got going it definitely didn’t let up!

I wanted to briefly bring up one scene that made me feel quite uncomfortable because I think it’s important to talk about: Pip is at a party (as part of the investigation) and she is interviewing a lead, who is super creepy towards her (honestly the whole time I was screaming at her to get out of the situation because it was so clearly off) and he ends up kissing her without her consent. The whole scene made me really uncomfortable and I don’t think it was really necessary to the book to have that happen to Pip.

Also unnecessary to the book? ANIMAL DEATH. NOPE. BIG NOPE. Honestly I very nearly did nope out at that point, because it’s just not something I can really deal with. I’m glad I did finish because it’s a good book, but just a pre-warning to other animal lovers out there.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the epilogue, it all felt kind of abrupt and unfinished and there were a few more loose ends than I would have liked, though I suppose there is a sequel, so hopefully some of those get resolved there!

Overall, this was a super fun, fast paced murder mystery and I’m looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for the next book!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of my latest Netgalley read, Queen of Volts, the final book in the Shadow Game trilogy by Amanda Foody.

Cinderella Is Dead Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Cinderella Is Dead

Author: Kalynn Bayron

Published By: Bloomsbury UK

Publication Date: 6th August (Yeah……)

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Constance and Sophia talk about things other than men.

Content Warnings: Domestic abuse, sexism, murder, homophobia, violence, death of a loved one, necromancy, imprisonment, animal death

Thank you to Bloomsbury UK and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, this in no way affected my opinion of it.

This book was one of the most talked about upcoming releases from a Black author on Twitter over the summer, so when I saw it was available on Netgalley, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m not usually a massive fan of Cinderella, but this one sounded like it could be a lot of fun. I’m so glad I did try it in the end, because I ended up really enjoying it, it definitely does something different to a lot of fairytale retellings I’ve read before. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

It’s 200 years since Cinderella found her prince, but the fairytale is over.

Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she’s tiny until the night she’s sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball . are forfeit.

But Sophia doesn’t want to be chosen – she’s in love with her best friend, Erin, and hates the idea of being traded like cattle. And when Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb. And there she meets someone who will show her that she has the power to remake her world.

Like I said at the top of the review, Cinderella is not one of my favourite fairytales, though granted, I’m more familiar with the Disney version than I am with the original Grimm tale. Having said that, I thought what the author did with it in this book was really creative, the Cinderella story in this is used as the basis for the King to subjugate all women as she is held up as the goal everyone should aspire to (i.e. a quiet, mild-mannered woman controlled by her husband). So often fairytale retellings feel like the author is simply telling the same story just with different characters, whereas here it was a totally different story, just with some elements from Cinderella drawn in.

It was also awesome to see a Black, lesbian lead as the main character in a fairytale, so often these kinds of stories are painfully white and straight so it was nice to see that not be the case here.

Having said that, I didn’t really LOVE the romance? Sophia (the MC) and her love interest have known each other all of five minutes before they’re falling all over each other and it just didn’t feel like it got much buildup? I liked both of the characters, but just didn’t feel massively invested in their relationship because it didn’t feel particularly well developed.

The world building was also a little lacking. The society is hugely misogynistic and though it’s explained that the Cinderella story has had an impact there, it’s not really clear why a society that presumably was okay with women, pre-Cinderella, suddenly went to forcing them into unwanted marriages? I mean I understand the King’s motivations but I guess I don’t really get why everyone else would go along with it? It didn’t make much sense that in 200 years, barely anyone had tried to rebel against the system.  It’s also kind of limited in scope, as we only really see the palace and the surrounding area, which I do get but I just would have liked everything to be a bit more fleshed out.

The characters probably could have been developed a little better? I liked both Sophia, and Constance but they didn’t feel massively fleshed out, it felt like we only really got to know the basics of their characters. I also honestly didn’t really understand why Sophia liked Erin (her original love interest) so much because she didn’t seem to be anything but awful to her!

The book is also maybe a little heavy handed in terms of its messaging? It’s very obvious that the author wrote this book to criticise misogyny and that’s totally fine, but it just felt like it could have been done with a bit more nuance. It would also have been nice if the female characters weren’t stuck to a binary of either fighting against the system or being complicit in it because reality is a lot more nuanced than that.

The writing style was pretty good though, it had a nice flow to it and the book was fairly fast paced so it was pretty quick to read.

There were some good twists and turns but for the most part, everything seemed relatively easy for Sophia, there weren’t all that many obstacles for her,

The ending was a bit abrupt, everything just kind of seemed to stop, it didn’t really come to a natural resolution and we didn’t really get to see how things turned out in all that much detail.

Overall, this was a really fun fairytale retelling that takes the Cinderella story and turns it into something new!

Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, by Holly Jackson.

 

Not Even Bones (Market of Monsters #1) Review

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Book: Not Even Bones (Market of Monsters #1)

Author: Rebecca Schaeffer

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Mirella and Nita talk about the death market

Content Warnings: Blood/gore, human trafficking, cannibalism, imprisonment, torture, mentions of colonialism, human dissections, murder, sadism, mentions of suicide, mentions of prositution, emotionally abusive mother

I got this book a while ago, I think in the year it was released (2018) but it’s been sitting on my shelves untouched for ages, and so when it was chosen for me to read by my Goodreads book club as part of our monthly Pick-It-For-Me, I jumped at the chance to finally get around to it. I’m glad I did, it was just what I needed, a short, fast paced read with lots of wonderfully morally grey characters. A lot of books claim to be “dark” and then actually aren’t, this one definitely lives up to the description.

Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.

Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place—because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.

I have to start with what I enjoyed most about this book, which was the characters, at least the two main characters Nita and Kovit, especially Nita. I love it when female characters are allowed to be “unlikeable” and Nita is definitely that: she makes questionable decisions, she’s prickly and doesn’t really like people, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to survive no matter the cost and she finds dissecting people relaxing. It’s surprisingly easy to root for her though, she’s been put in this horrible position where her very survival is at stake, so it makes sense that she’s looking out for herself above all other things. Plus it was just super refreshing to read a book where the female character is allowed to just be completely messed up without having to soften it in any way. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with soft female characters, in fact I think they’re very necessary, but I love the ones that lean more towards the side of evil as well.

Also yay for female scientists, Nita wants to use her black market acquired skills for legal scientific research one day and I think that’s super cool, it’s great to see girls interested in science portrayed in fiction.

Kovit was also wonderfully dark, he’s a Zannie so he basically feeds on other people’s pain and takes much joy in doing so. He’s seriously messed up too and there’s no pretence or excuses offered as to why he’s like this, he just is which I loved.

The characters outside of Nita and Kovit could have used a little more fleshing out, by its nature the book is more of a character study of these two, which is fine but there were so many other characters in this book that had the potential to be really interesting (Nita’s mother, Reyes, Mirella) if they’d been explored more.

The world is super cool, there are lots of different supernatural creatures (Nita and her mother are able to both alter and heal their own bodies which is really cool), you have Zannies and vampires and unicorns etc but there’s no real explanation of how or why? It’s established that the book is set in our world, the place names are the same, Nita mentions pop culture stuff and technology like Skype but it’s just accepted that there are supernatural creatures? I’m assuming this is meant to be an alternate version of our world, but it would have been nice to receive some clarity on that. It was really great that this book was set in South America, because that’s a setting we don’t get to see very often but because it’s mostly set in the market, we don’t get to explore all that much of the outside world, it’s very insular, so I’d like to get to see more in future books.

Both of the main characters in the book are POC, Nita is biracial (her father is Chilean) and Kovit is Thai, which was great, it was very amusing when Nita referred to a white character as having mayonnaise white skin. It would have been nice if there were some LGBTQ+ characters too, but hopefully in future books.

I would have liked a little more dialogue, this book is a lot of internal monologue and though Nita’s mind is a very interesting place to be, a lot of large chunks of monologue broken up by very little dialogue is not what I prefer to read. The dialogue that was there was also a little stilted, though I suppose that did make sense for the characters as neither has particularly good social skills.

The pacing was pretty decent, the plot is relatively simple: Nita’s main goal through the entire book is to escape, so it’s a pretty singular aim but the short chapters kept things ticking over nicely.

I liked that there was no romance in this, there’s indications that there might be in future books but honestly I hope it doesn’t go down that route because I love Kovit and Nita as platonic partners in evil!

The writing was decent enough, though you could definitely tell it was a debut, there was some over-repetition of phrases at times (including the dreaded “breath she didn’t know she was holding”, seriously authors, I do know that this is a legit thing that can happen with anxiety but can we FIND SOME OTHER WAY TO PHRASE IT PLEASE!) and the aforementioned slightly clunky monologuing, but the author definitely has potential and I’m sure these things will have improved in the subsequent books. One thing she definitely did do well on the writing front was the gory descriptions of dissections, this book is definitely not for the faint of stomach!

I would have liked it if Nita hadn’t been quite so dismissive of Mirella, a fellow female prisoner in the market, not that women have to like every single other woman they come across, but it just would have been nice to see Nita have some positive female relationships in her life.

THAT ENDING. I did not see it coming at all and was thrown for a loop by some of the twists that Schaeffer introduced towards the end there! I’m really looking forward to seeing where things go in the next book after the way that this one ended.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of Cinderella is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron, which I’ve already read so it should be up tomorrow!

 

The Empire of Gold (Daevabad Trilogy #3) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Empire of Gold (Daevabad #3)

Author: S.A. Chakraborty

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Soneela Nankani

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Nahri and Hatset talk about Manizheh.

Content Warnings: Murder, war themes, mentions of torture and graphic injury, graphic surgery descriptions, slavery, blood, violence, racial supremacy (in a fictional context), mass terror/genocide, suicidal ideation/self-harm

SPOILER ALERT: This review will contain some unavoidable spoilers from all three Daevabad books. If you haven’t read the series already, stop reading now. 

The Daevabad trilogy has been one of my favourite discoveries of 2020, it’s such an immersive, complex fantasy world and the characters are brilliant. This finale of the trilogy had a lot to live up to, and it did….mostly. As an end to a series, the conclusion was satisfying, though it took a lot longer than it probably needed to get there! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The final chapter in the bestselling, critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war.

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved . . . and take a stand for those they once hurt.

As with all of the other books, this book suffers with its pacing. It takes a long time for the real action to start and it feels like much of the beginning of the book, up till Ali and Nahri get to Ta Ntry is largely treading water. It’s a VERY LONG book at almost 29 hours for the audio, and could probably have been trimmed a little without losing the essence of the story. Once again, some of the chapters were incredibly long, there was a chapter that was almost an hour and a half toward the end of the book.

Having said that the book doesn’t really pick up till Ali and Nahri get to Ta Ntry, I did appreciate that Nahri returned to Egypt in this final book, it felt right to revisit where she came from and it was lovely to see Ali so enthralled by the human world.

Okay, the Ali/Nahri romance, probably one of my biggest bugbears with this book. They had such a beautiful platonic friendship, and it really sucks that Chakraborty had to go down that road, especially when it felt super out of place them lusting all over each other when their city was on the brink of war. I appreciate that it ends in a place where they’re not married and simply working together as partners and exploring their relationship but I kind of wish she’d just left them as friends.

I’ve been very critical of Dara over my reviews of this series, and that doesn’t entirely change here, his POV works better than it did in Kingdom of Copper because he is our eyes into what’s happening in Daevabad here, but he still does some pretty heinous things over the course of this book. I felt a little cheated that Dara’s arc didn’t end in the way I thought it should, but the eventual resolution did work out well, with an ending that both fitted his character but didn’t give him undeserved redemption for his crimes.

There’s quite a bit of focus on both Nahri and Ali discovering their heritage in this book, which was really great. There’s a lot of similarities between them in this respect, they both straddle two distinct worlds (Ali with the Marid and the Djinn, Nahri with her human and Daeva heritage) so it was interesting to see them embracing the sides of their heritage that they’ve not necessarily ignored but been unable to explore fully up till this point. Nahri’s parentage has been a long running thread throughout the series, and it was resolved in a really satisfying way here.

The Daevabad trilogy up till this point has been largely confined to either Daevabad or Egypt, so it was pretty cool to get to see Ta Ntry in this book and discover more of the world Chakraborty has created here. Ta Ntry sounded amazing as well, I would love to live in a palace by the coast with an enormous library! I also really enjoyed Nahri and Hatset’s interactions in this book, they have a very interesting dynamic.

It was lovely to see Nahri and Jamshid bond even more in this book now that they know their true relationship to each other.

I wasn’t massively keen on the out of the blue return of the Peris in this book, I get that Chakraborty had introduced them in the first book and wanted to do something with them, but it seemed to come out of nowhere.

I still really enjoyed S.A. Chakraborty’s writing style, there’s something brilliant immersive about it.

I kind of missed Zaynab and Muntadhir in this book, they had a surprisingly small role here considering how important they were in the last book and I missed their sibling antics with Ali as they have such a great dynamic together.

It did feel like more of the main cast should have died? I don’t want to be too spoilery here, but for a book with a high body count generally, it seemed strange that more of the main characters didn’t end up dying.

Though it does take a while to get going, there are some really great action scenes later on in the book, the whole final battle against Manizheh is incredibly intense, and there are plenty of twists and turns especially towards the end of the book.

The ending was ultimately satisfying, without getting into spoilery territory, I appreciated that it fitted with the overall story and there was no everything gets wrapped up in a big neat bow, all the characters end in a good place but it’s clear that there is still a long way to go before Ali and Nahri’s vision for a united Daevabad comes to pass, which I felt was very realistic for this world, the tribes aren’t going to abandon their beliefs about the other tribes overnight.

Overall this was a really great series and I can’t wait to see what S.A. Chakraborty writes next!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer.