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.

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Catwoman: Soulstealer

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Book: Catwoman: Soulstealer (DC ICons #3)

Author: Sarah J Maas

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Selina, Ivy and Harley all talk to each other about things other than men, their heists, Ivy’s past, Ivy & Harley’s relationship etc.

Catwoman: Soulstealer was my April #RockMyTBR book, I got it last summer but was kind of putting it off because I’d heard some mixed reviews of it, despite the fact that Sarah J Maas is one of my favourite authors and also I’m not really a massive comics person? I’ve been getting more into comic book related stuff over the past year or so, I’ve watched The Flash and Arrow (both of which I enjoyed) and the Marvel shows on Netflix (with mixed results), but the most I know of Catwoman is from the Halle Berry film, which from the little I can remember of it, wasn’t very good. Anyway, all this to say that I had pretty low expectations of this book going in, but I think that was a good thing because I ended up being pleasantly surprised and enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. It was a refreshing change of pace from ACOTAR or Throne of Glass and it was nice to see Sarah playing around in a different world, but still putting her own unique spin on things. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play. It’s time to see how many lives this cat really has. . . .

Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. She quickly discovers that with Batman off on a vital mission, Batwing is left to hold back the tide of notorious criminals. Gotham City is ripe for the taking.

Meanwhile, Luke Fox wants to prove he has what it takes to help people in his role as Batwing. He targets a new thief on the prowl who seems cleverer than most. She has teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and together they are wreaking havoc. This Catwoman may be Batwing’s undoing.

Now let’s start with the obvious here, I don’t have any experience of Catwoman in other forms. I’ve only watched the one film featuring her and it was so long ago that I barely remember, and I don’t read the comics. I’m also not massively familiar with Gotham. I felt that this was actually a help rather than a hindrance to me here though, because I wasn’t going, oh such and such is different to the comics and although it does assume some basic knowledge, it’s easy enough to follow if you’re a DC newbie, which I appreciated.

I liked Selina, she’s smart and cunning, very good at gymnastics and a pretty ruthless killer. I don’t know how Catwoman is in the comics, but I liked that Selina still felt very human, she can be vulnerable, she’s not totally one thing or the other, completely good or completely evil, her characterisation was quite a nuanced take on a villain and in fact I would argue, probably more anti-heroine than villain here, which worked quite well for the story. She’s very easy to root for and despite reading some reviews that said she was basically just a carbon copy of Celaena, I would have to disagree, whilst Selina does have some of the same swagger as Celaena, I thought her character was a lot more nuanced. The contrast between Selina as Catwoman and as Holly was done pretty well also, I think helped by the dual POVs because we get to see her through her own eyes as well as Luke’s, so the contrast is emphasised even more.

The pacing in this was much better than usual for Sarah J Maas’ books, it was a bit of a slow starter, but the chapters were nice and short and once we got into the Catwoman action, the pace really picked up. I think writing a standalone did force her to not include as much filler as she does in her series’ which was very much to the benefit of the book! I will say that there were aspects of the plot that were a bit repetitive, a lot of Catwoman/Batwing confrontations, many heists and quite a bit of Luke and Holly (Selina’s alter-ego) hanging out, but I think that was just the nature of the book and for the most part I did enjoy all those things, so it’s not necessarily a complete negative, just something to note.

I really loved Selina’s relationship with Maggie, I can’t really say too much about it without diving into spoilery territory, but I am a sucker for a good sister relationship and this definitely was one. Maggie has cystic fibrosis as well, which is not something that you often see in books!

Luke Fox, aka Batwing, I did feel was a little bland. I liked that Sarah J Maas had a non-white love interest in this and I appreciated the PTSD rep, because again that’s something you don’t often see, but Luke as a character didn’t really make much of an impression on me. He was also kind of an incompetent hero, he didn’t seem to be able to do anything about Catwoman and all the chaos she was causing. I also didn’t really feel like there was much chemistry between the two of them, perhaps slightly more as Catwoman and Batwing, but as Luke and Selina (well Holly)? Not so much. I do love that she always emphasises consent in romantic relationships though and that’s seen again here (this book does not contain the same level of graphic sexual content as some of her other books, just a little kissing).

I really enjoyed the flashbacks to her time at the League and I would have liked to have seen more of them, the way the story works is we get the setup of how Selina joined the League at the beginning and then it skips right ahead to two years later. Now I understand why Sarah J Maas did this, training montages can be quite dull and she wanted to preserve the mystery for later in the book. However, we only really get to see brief glimpses of what happened at the League and I just would have liked a little more because I really enjoyed those parts.

The writing was for the most part okay, it’s a much simpler style of prose than she uses for her other books which made sense since the overwrought but very pretty metaphors she uses in her Fae worlds would have been extremely out of place here. I will say though that there were occasions when the writing felt a little stilted and there were some odd phrasings here and there, but for the most part, it was pleasing to read and fitted well with the setting and the story. Also much to my relief, she was not too overzealous on Catwoman purring!

I really enjoyed all the cool tech, it was a nice taste of what could be to come in her new series, Crescent City as that’s supposed to be a more futuristic setting than her other books. Ivy’s powers as well with the biotoxins and the plants were really cool.

I loved all the female friendship in this, it was wonderful to see Selina working together with Ivy and Harley to cause chaos, though I will say that I think Harley could have been more fleshed out, I felt like Ivy was the more developed character of the two of them, you get more of her history and talents than Harley’s.

There are obviously some really great action sequences in this, particularly towards the end, which I really loved. One of my favourite scenes is as Selina (as Catwoman) and Harley and Ivy are leaving one of their heists, they get the band to play them out with “Don’t Stop Me Now” which I just found so funny.

Selina’s motivations are somewhat murky throughout the book, which is initially annoying but you do get really great pay-off in the end and I loved how Sarah tied everything together as the final plot unfurled and it really makes sense as to why she does everything she does throughout the book and comes together in such a satisfying and exciting way.

I will say that Sarah employs a trope she’s used in previous books in this one again, and it kind of irritated me because it seemed a little implausible that particular trope would be possible here, given the circumstances in the book.

It all wrapped up very nicely, and whilst it’s definitely a standalone book, if Sarah was ever asked to do a sequel by DC, I would be very happy because I’d love to see Selina and her friends causing more chaos together!

Overall this was a really enjoyable book, lots of fun action, cool tech, a great main character and epic female friendships, I would definitely recommend this book whether you like comic books or not!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of the sequel to The Exact Opposite of Okay, A Girl Called Shameless by Laura Steven, though that probably won’t be until the end of the month, since I’ve only just started it!

 

 

Descendant of The Crane Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Descendant of The Crane

Author: Joan He

Published By: Albert Whitman & Company

Expected Publication: 9th April

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: Pass-Brief conversation between Mei and Hesina which is not about men.

I received this book from Albert Whitman & Company, through Netgalley UK, in exchange for an honest review.

As always, thank you to Albert Whitman and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, this was a much anticipated release for me this year, so it was great to get to read it early.

I was super excited to read this book because it sounded so good, but I think in this case the comp title I had seen for this book did it a disservice, I’d seen it described as the Chinese Game of Thrones and honestly, this book is nothing like Game of Thrones, aside from the fact that both books have a lot of political manoeuvrings. I ended up being kind of disappointed because I was expecting this amazing, epic, fantasy adventure and it was nothing like that? And that’s not the book’s fault, but had I known what this book was really about before I’d picked it up then I might have realised that it potentially wasn’t for me. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, Joan He is a great writer, but it definitely lagged on the plot side of things and I found it difficult to connect to the characters. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by
death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high? 

I want to start off on a positive note, so I’ll talk about the writing first. Joan He definitely has a way with words, the opening line was killer and even in parts when I wasn’t enjoying the plot of the book, I still noticed how nice her writing was, so in that respect, the book was good, it was well written, no doubt about that.

I also liked the concept of the world, a Chinese inspired fantasy world is something I’d definitely like to see more of, and there were a lot of great descriptions of that. However, I felt that the world building kind of let me down a little and there were lots of things that I felt I didn’t quite understand or could have been explained better, particularly regarding the Sooths, and the Eleven. There are more explanations as we get further into the book, but it’s kind of too little too late.

It’s also a very weird mish mash of genres, I wouldn’t even really say that calling this a fantasy is an accurate description because there is very little magic, it’s more kind of political drama meets detective meets tiny bit of magic, it’s really only a fantasy world in the fact that it’s not set in our world. I don’t know just for me personally, I prefer fantasy worlds with more magic and when there is a “banned magic” type world, I think you at least have to explain more about how the magic works.

The biggest problem for me in this book though was the pacing. IT WAS SO SLOW. The first chapters had so much promise, but as soon as the second part started with the trial, everything slowed down to basically a crawl. It took me so long to read this precisely because I could always find something else I’d rather be doing, and the chapters were so long as well, so it took me forever to get through.

I found the characters so hard to connect to as well. I really liked Lillian, she was quite funny and added some light relief to proceedings, and Caiyan became more interesting as we got further through the book. However both Hesina and Akira were kind of bland to me and I struggled to work out why I should care about what these characters were going through. I liked the dynamic between Lillian and Hesina but for a novel so reliant on family dynamics, I felt like they fell flat a lot of the time. I honestly couldn’t pick a character in this book that I felt was really well developed, so I definitely think more time needed to be spent fleshing out the characters.

The politics was also kind of hard to follow, the Kingdom of Yan is supposedly at odds with Kendi’a, a neighbouring kingdom and one of Hesina’s ministers is trying to manipulate her father’s trial in order to get a war with that Kingdom but it’s never really explained why and Xia Zhong doesn’t really make a particularly convincing adversary, due to lack of development.

The trial scenes were completely pointless, since Hesina was off doing her own thing most of the time anyway, so I was like well what is the point of this then? I got how the trial fed into the main plot by the end of the book, but reading it, when Hesina was doing her investigations on the side was kind of frustrating because it didn’t really seem to be doing anything.

The romance was pretty terrible, Akira and Hesina have no particular chemistry and it just didn’t feel necessary at all. WHY MUST WE SHOEHORN ROMANCE INTO EVERY YA BOOK EVER? THEY DON’T ALL NEED IT *repeats and screams until death*.

I did at first wish that there was a glossary for the Chinese terms, but actually there are relatively few, and once they’ve been used a couple of times, you can work out from context what they mean, so a glossary isn’t really needed.

There were some decent plot twists towards the end of the book but at this point, for a standalone, the author had left herself too much work to do, so whilst you get explanations for most of the things that happen throughout the book, the ending is pretty open and seems to demand a sequel because there’s so much left unanswered.

I also found the epilogue, with the change of POV kind of jarring. It explains a lot about some of the events in the book, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it was wrongly placed, it maybe should have come earlier in the book.

Overall this book had potential, and the author is definitely a good writer, but the flat characters combined with the confusing world and weird mish mash of genres as well as the slow pace, made it quite difficult to read. I would read more books in this world because I think the author has promise, but overall, this one wasn’t for me.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of Sarah J Maas’ Catwoman: Soulstealer, my April #RockMyTBR book.

Becoming Review

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Book: Becoming

Author: Michelle Obama

BECHDEL TEST: Not applicable, since this is a memoir.

My mum actually got me Michelle Obama’s book for Christmas last year, my sister had read it and obviously I was desperate to read it because I love Michelle Obama, I think she’s such an inspiring woman and I really wanted to read her story in her own words. I’m not usually a big reader of non-fiction, in fact the last memoir I read was Pippa Funnell, I think a good 10 years ago, so I was a little bit nervous going in but I shouldn’t have been, I absolutely loved this book! Michelle is refreshingly honest, and she writes in a way that makes it feel like she’s talking to you (I can definitely understand all the audio recommendations for this, I read it in physical format, but the way she writes definitely lends itself to that medium) and I learned so much. I realised that whilst I admired Michelle Obama for being an intelligent, hardworking woman, I didn’t really know all that much about her life, at least not before she became First Lady, so it was wonderful to get to learn more about her, in her own words. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. 

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

This book was split into three different parts, plus a preface and an epilogue, and there were different chapters within each part, with the middle section being by far the longest and the last section the shortest. Usually I would complain about lengthy chapters, and there were quite a lot of lengthy chapters here, but Michelle writes in such a way that I never felt bored when I was reading, which was great. I liked the different sections as well, you get to follow Michelle at each stage of her life so far, through childhood and teenagehood, her college years & early years with Barack & then through her life as First Lady.

I loved Michelle’s writing style, she was refreshingly candid and it felt like sitting down with a friend for a chat, I looked forward to reading it every night because I knew I had another chapter of Michelle’s beautifully honest words to look forward to. It’s funny when needs be, emotional when needs be and filled with love for her friends and family.

Obviously learning about her early life and family was a completely new thing for me, I’m not American and whilst you glean certain things from news articles, basic facts like where she grew up and went to college, there was a lot I didn’t know. I had no idea she had an older brother, or that her father had MS and the love for her family and their influence on her life completely came alive off the page so I really loved those parts.

She’s wonderfully candid about being black and a woman in America and it’s great to read about, because I might have experienced the things that come along with being a woman,  but I’m obviously a privileged, young, white woman and  it was very eye opening to read about some of the things Michelle experienced due to her race because they are things I’ve never had to experience and she talks about them in such an eloquent and candid way. There’s nothing that she shies away from talking about in this book, she lays everything out on the table and I really engaged with that.

I also loved the inclusion of photos, there’s a huge spread of them just over halfway through the book, and I kept flipping back and forth to them whilst I was reading so I could see the photos of what she was talking about.

A consistent thing she talks about through the book is her feelings of “Am I good enough?” which she comes back to through her life and I found that very relatable, because I’ve definitely had feelings of that throughout my life as well.

Reading about all the women who inspired her and how much her female friends mean to her was wonderful as well, the women in her life clearly mean so much to her and have been such inspirations and I love seeing that woman I admire also have women in their life who are that for them.

Obviously she talks a lot about her and Barack’s relationship in the book, which I loved. She’s not afraid to poke a bit of fun at her husband, the first chapter where she meets him starts with the fact that he was late on the day they first met, and I loved little details like that, as Michelle said in one of her later chapters when she says she talked about Barack leaving his socks lying around their apartment, it makes him seem less like this unattainable president and more like a regular guy. It’s so clear though that she loves and admires him so much and the little bits of her playfully jibing him made that even more clear to me, because it’s something me and my friends do to each other quite a lot! I particularly loved her recollection of his proposal to her, it was the cutest darn thing!

The parts about her not being sure of what she wanted to do with her life and struggling between wanting to do good and keeping on the high paying career track, really hit home for me, reading it at this particular time. It’s not so much that I necessarily want a high paying career (Journalism is not known for pulling in the big bucks!) but that I’m coming to the end of Uni and I’m not really sure about what I want to do next, where I want to go, what I want to do, so knowing that someone like Michelle Obama also struggled with that makes me feel a whole lot better!

As well as Michelle’s lovely wit, there’s a great deal of emotion in her memoir as well, she speaks of her friend Suzanne dying, of her father’s death and of a miscarriage she experienced, all with such honesty but also such genuine emotion, I was definitely close to tears in several of those parts.

Her love for her kids just leaps off the page, it’s so clear how much they mean to her and it was great to read about how she balanced her work and her family without sacrificing her love for one or the other.

Even when she was covering events I was more familiar with, like the presidential campaign, although I’ll be honest, I remember the re-election campaign far better than the initial campaign, I was 12 when Barack Obama first ran for president and though I definitely remember the buzz of him being elected President and seeing it on the news and everything, I don’t really remember the campaign as much, since at that time, I wasn’t really all that interested in politics. She’s very candid about how she feels about the political world, and firmly puts to rest all of the presidential rumours in the epilogue of this book. I had no idea how involved she was in the initial presidential campaign & how much flack she took from the press both prior to being First Lady and when she was in office.

It was so interesting to read about the transition, because it’s something I’ve always wondered about, obviously you have two months between getting elected and actually moving into the White House and Michelle shed a lot of light for me about what actually goes on during that period!

I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the last part as much, since it was talking about her time as First Lady and of all the parts of the book, that was what I was most familiar with, but I needn’t have worried because honestly I didn’t really know that much about all the initiatives she implemented whilst in the White House and how much she did for children (girls’ education especially) and military families. It’s clear how much she cares about all of her causes and I loved seeing how proud she was of the work she did.

I will say my only little gripe was that some of the later chapters skipped through time quite quickly so I did sometimes find it a little difficult to follow where exactly she was in the course of Obama’s presidency.

I loved seeing her talk about things I remembered happening, Obama singing Amazing Grace at the Charleston service, marriage equality going through, the Carpool Karaoke she did and of course, the Hamilton performances at the White House.

The shade she throws at Trump is just awesome, she’s clearly no fan of the man (but let’s be honest who is), but the way she talks about being devastated at the result and still ensuring that they made the transition for the Trumps as seamless as possible is a true testament to how classy a lady Michelle Obama is.

I’ve not much experience with memoirs but after this one I’m definitely going to be seeking out more, it was such a fun a read and actually a refreshing break from fiction? I love my fiction books of course I do, but I definitely think I’m going to be breaking them up with more non-fiction from now on.

My Rating: 5/5 (March has been an AMAZING reading month guys, I can’t want to talk about it in my wrap up!)

My next review will probably be of Joan He’s Descendant of The Crane, as I’ve only got a few chapters left of that.

 

To Kill A Kingdom Review

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Book: To Kill A Kingdom

Author: Alexandra Christo

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-There are no conversations between named female characters that don’t revolve around men, Lira and her mother have a conversation that would have counted, but since her mother is not named, it does not.

To Kill A Kingdom was my March #RockMyTBR book, I picked it up last year at YALC, it was the one book that all three of us (me, Hannah and Hannah, yes they are two different Hannahs) picked up at YALC this year and both Hannahs had already read it and loved it, so it was my turn next. I was a little nervous going into it because I had quite high expectations, and I read a Little Mermaid retelling last year that disappointed me, so I didn’t want to be burned again. Thankfully I wasn’t, To Kill A Kingdom was dark and brutal, with amazingly complex anti-hero characters, so much witty banter and an enemies to lovers romance that was just amazing. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive.

There are seventeen hidden in the sand of my bedroom. Every so often, I claw through the shingle just to check they’re still there. Buried deep and bloody.

Princess Lira is siren royalty and revered across the sea until she is cursed into humanity by the ruthless Sea Queen. Now Lira must deliver the heart of the infamous siren killer or remain a human forever.

Prince Elian is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world and captain to a deadly crew of siren hunters. When he rescues a drowning woman from the ocean, she promises to help him destroy sirenkind for good. But he has no way of knowing whether he can trust her … 

I feel like I have to start with the writing for this one, because it was just so stunning! It was beautifully descriptive and immersive whilst also reflecting the brutality of both Lira and Elian’s characters, and I was completely hooked on every word, even when the pacing of the story lagged, I was still invested because I loved the writing so much. The first line of this book is everything: “I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive”. It’s intriguing, hooks you instantly and really makes you want to read on. Descriptive writing can be a bit hit or miss for me as it can have a tendency to descend into purple prose, but Christo toed the line nicely, with just enough description to immerse me in the world, but not so much that it felt over the top.

I loved Lira so much, she was brilliantly brutal and fierce girls who are completely unapologetic about it are my jam! And yet she’s also grappling with her humanity and the fact that she’s been turned into this monster by her abusive mother, it’s not just that she’s evil by nature. She was just so brilliantly complex, she is fierce and brutal but she’s also grappling with the fact that her mother made her this way and that she feels compassion towards her cousin and that her mother sees any kind of compassion as weakness. It’s wonderful watching Lira develop over the course of the book and realise that humanity doesn’t have to be weakness, but also keeping the fierce, brutal, siren streak and using it to fiercely protect those she cares about. I definitely have a new favourite YA heroine in Lira. She was also so sassy, which as you all know is something I cannot resist.

Elian is also brilliant, I have to admit that I did prefer Lira, but I still loved Elian, he just took a little longer to grow on me. He actually reminds me quite a bit of Nikolai from the Grishaverse, he’s a pirate-prince who doesn’t want to be completely tied to his royal life. Elian and Lira are quite similar, both brutal, both fiercely determined and both very witty, plus they have families who are trying to push them to be something that they are not. Elian is by no means good though, he is cunning and brutal and will do what he needs to do to get the job done, and yet he’s also a prince who just longs for adventure. I love that Christo created two such incredible anti-heroes and allowed them to be the stars of the show without having to become solely good.

I found Elian’s longing for adventure and freedom so relatable, I’ve always wanted to get out and see the world, so I could definitely understand why he would want to do the same.

The chapters were are relatively short, which I liked, it kept the story ticking along nicely, although there were some that ran a little overlong. The pacing was generally good, but it did lag in places, mainly in the beginning before Lira and Elian meet and a little in the middle. It didn’t really matter too much though, I liked the writing & characters so much that I was invested even when not much was happening in the plot.

I loved the dynamic between Elian, Lira and the crew of the Saad, it was a wonderful found family dynamic with so much witty banter which I loved-Alexandra Christo certainly knows how to do brilliant dialogue which I always appreciate. It was also great that Lira and Madrid had a nice friendship as opposed to a girl-hate one.

The Sea Queen was horrible, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like she was kind of underdeveloped as a villain, she’s evil because that’s just the way she is, we don’t really get any backstory on her and how she came to be the way she was.

I liked that there were aspects of the Little Mermaid in there, but it largely felt like it’s own story, that’s what retellings should be, you should be able to see the inspiration but not feel like the author is just rehashing the original and I felt like Christo struck the perfect balance.

The world building was pretty good, I loved all of the siren mythology and how Christo established the differences between mermaids and sirens, and how she established all the different Kingdoms, we get a good sense of how the world works and the different places Lira and Elian come from. I would have liked a little more, but I’m a worldbuilding nerd, so take from that what you will.

The romance between Lira and Elian is brilliantly done, it’s so slow burn, they start of quipping at each other and hating each other and then whoops, oh no, now I’ll die for you because I love you so much. It’s honestly my favourite kind of relationship and the chemistry between these two is just FIRE. Their first kiss scene was just so good, Lira asks Elian to kiss her and if anyone ever tells you that consent is not sexy, please direct them to this particular scene in this particular book because they are WRONG.

There were some brilliant action sequences towards the end, although it was a little hard to keep track of what was going in places in those last few chapters because just SO MUCH WAS HAPPENING.

I found the end just the tiniest bit confusing, I think because the battle scenes go on for a few chapters and it’s just a bit jarring to go from the end of that to an epilogue of sorts, but as far as I could tell, everything wraps up well and it’s a satisfying end for Lira and Elian. I’m kind of sad there’s not going to be a sequel though, as brilliant as this was as a standalone, I just want to see Lira and Elian have more adventures!

This was a brilliant, brutally dark, banterous piratey romp and I absolutely loved it from beginning to end-360 pages was far too short!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming. I only just started it though, so it won’t be up for a while!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely Review (e-ARC)

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Book: A Curse So Dark and Lonely  (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Published By: Bloomsbury

Expected Publication: 29th January (sorry!)

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: Pass-Harper and Freya talk about their female relatives.

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

As always, thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, I was really excited to read this one, so it was great to get to read it early.

I was really excited to read this book, I love Beauty and The Beast retellings and I was really interested in this one because it sounded like such a different take on the traditional story. Sadly however, it fell kind of flat for me. It was a kind of weird contemporary/fantasy mix, but there wasn’t enough in the real world to make it contemporary and I would argue that Emberfall didn’t really come across as fantastical enough for me to make it fantasy, so in the end neither the real world aspect, nor Emberfall worked well for me. I did however love the inclusion of a disabled main character in a fantasy novel as I’ve seen so few of them and I did enjoy the characters, so it wasn’t a total loss, it just wasn’t as brilliant as the hype had led me to believe. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin. 

I’ll start with the positives, I really liked the writing in this one. It opened with a killer first line, which I always appreciate and it was descriptive without being overly flowery which was great. I also really enjoyed two of the three main characters, Harper and Grey. Harper is this great, fierce, feisty girl who is keen to learn about archery and swordplay and everything else in this new land she’s ended up in. Grey is your classic, tough on the outside, soft on the inside guardsman who takes Harper under his wing. The two of them really made the story for me, because a lot of the other characters fell kind of flat for me. It was also so cool to get to see a disabled heroine at the heart of a fantasy story, although I can’t speak to how good the representation was, given that I do not have cerebral palsy myself. I really loved that Harper loved horses as well, it’s an automatic connection between me and a fictional character if they love horses! I loved that she had realistic curly hair as well that got tangled and messy, because you rarely ever see that.

Rhen in particular felt a little flat to me, I couldn’t really get too much of a handle on who he was as a person and he wasn’t all that compelling as a hero of the story, plus in comparison to Harper and Grey, he just seems even blander. It’s very difficult to feel invested in a relationship when you find one half of the couple incredibly dull to read about! Lilith as the enchantress also came across as kind of a flat villain, she could have used further development I think.

The chapters started out nice and short and I originally thought the pacing of this book was going to be great, but then they get slowly ever more meandering and the whole middle of book just lagged for me, which meant we had a very fast beginning, a lagging middle and a too quick ending, all of which meant the pacing was incredibly uneven. I also think that this book was about a hundred odd pages longer than it really needed to be, 496 pages is quite a lot especially when the pacing is so uneven. I didn’t really get the point of the one line chapters from the monster’s POV either.

I didn’t feel much chemistry between Harper and Rhen, it felt like that was being forced to get to the ending that the author wanted, Harper and Grey felt like they had more natural chemistry, although I wouldn’t necessarily say I wanted them to have a romance either, I liked them as friends. The one scene I did feel like they had chemistry in was when he was teaching her archery, but I think I liked that more for the Princess Diaries 2 vibes than anything else.

The issue with Beauty and The Beast retellings that all authors have to get over is that the whole story is based on kidnapping. This book kind of gets over that by having it so that Harper is accidentally dragged into Emberfall whilst trying to protect a girl from being kidnapped, but that doesn’t really change the fact that abducting girls is at the heart of the story which you know, isn’t great.

I feel like a fantasy story needs a lot more worldbuilding, we get the basics on how the curse came about, but we don’t really learn much about how Emberfall as a society functions, how magic works, anything like that and it’s not really made all that clear how the modern world connects to Emberfall, so it’s kind of confusing to follow, especially when the two worlds collide at the end of the book. I also wish we’d known more about Harper’s life before going to Emberfall, as we barely get to see it and kind of have to take her closeness to her family on her own word.

I did like the diversity in the book, Harper has cerebral palsy, her brother is gay and his boyfriend is a POC, so it was nice to see all that represented in this book.

Without giving away too many spoilers, the ending of the book was incredibly confusing for me. It was so rushed that honestly I have no idea how it ended up at the point it did but honestly I was past the point of caring because at that point the story had dragged so much that I just wanted it to be over.

Overall, this was a different take on a Beauty and The Beast retelling, which I appreciated, it just didn’t really work for me and I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequel next year.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my March #RockMyTBR book, To Kill A Kingdom, by Alexandra Christo, which I am LOVING so far.

Hamilton and Peggy!: A Revolutionary Friendship

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Book: Hamilton & Peggy! A Revolutionary Friendship

Author: LM Elliott

Bechdel Test: PASS-Angelica, Peggy and Eliza discuss Martha Washington.

As I said in my last review, my February reading was entirely dedicated to Hamilton, in preparation for me going to see the show in London (saw it last week, it was INCREDIBLE, and I cannot believe that was only a week ago!). I was really disappointed in the first book I read, Alex & Eliza as it was incredibly historically inaccurate and just not a particularly engaging story. I’m happy to say that this book fared much better for me, it was clear the author had done her research (IT HAD A BIBLIOGRAPHY. My historian heart is very happy) and although the title was a bit of a misnomer, since Hamilton is not in the book very much, I still really enjoyed it and came out with a newfound appreciation for how awesome Peggy Schuyler was-And Peggy should never be used as an insult, because Magarita Schuyler Van Rensselear was one badass woman!

Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The colonies are in the throes of the Revolutionary War and caught in the midst of spies, traitors, Loyalists and Patriots, is the charming, quick-witted Peggy Schuyler—youngest of the famed Schuyler sisters and daughter of General Philip Schuyler. Her eldest sister Angelica, the “thief of hearts,” is known for her passion and intelligence, while kind, sweet Eliza has a beauty so great, it only outshone by her enormous heart. Though often in the shadows of her beloved sisters, Peggy is talented in her own right—fluent in French, artistically talented, and brave beyond compare.

When a flirtatious aide-de-camp to General Washington named Alexander Hamilton writes an eloquent letter to Peggy asking for her help in wooing the earnest Eliza, Peggy is skeptical but finds herself unable to deny such an impassioned plea. Thus begins her own journey into the Revolution!

Inspired by the cultural phenomenon of the Broadway musical, “Hamilton.” 

So I guess first off, I have to talk about Peggy because she was AWESOME. I honestly didn’t know much about Peggy before reading this, since she’s kind of an afterthought in Hamilton the musical, so getting to see what a smart, kind, adventurous woman she was, was brilliant. I loved getting to see Peggy get involved in the action of her father’s spy rings, and her going back to save her baby sister when the Schuyler home was raided by Redcoats, it was just great to see a 18th century woman who was determined to be just as involved in the action as the men were (or at least as much as she could get away with given society at the time). Obviously I loved seeing her relationship with her sisters, but what really surprised me was Peggy’s relationship with her father, I had no idea that the two of them were so close and it was really heartwarming to see.

I loved the use of the real historical letters at the start of every chapter, I thought that added a nice touch of realism and once again, showed that the author had really done her homework which is always nice to see, she mentions in her afterword that some characters’ dialogue is directly lifted from letters they wrote, which I thought was awesome!

I did feel like some of the chapters were a little overly long, and that the plot dragged in places, there were a lot of details about the Revolutionary War, which I enjoyed, but probably wouldn’t be for the non history student minded people out there. The spy ring that Philip Schuyler ran was of particular interest to me, as I had no idea that he did that and I found that I had a lot more admiration for him after reading this book as the musical obviously doesn’t really touch on anything that the Schuyler patriarch did. The ball chapter was a particular favourite of mine, I’m sure to no one’s surprise because if there’s one thing I love in a book, it’s a ball!

The title is a little misleading, because Hamilton is actually barely in this book, he pops up a few times, but it is largely Peggy’s story. I did like that because it allowed me to see just awesome Peggy Schuyler was, and his friendship with her was pretty amazing, it’s the kind of banterous friendship that I always love in books, but for those going into this expecting a lot of Hamilton because his name comes first in the title, don’t. This is very much Peggy’s story. It was nice to see a more nuanced portrayal of Hamilton in this than I’d seen in Alex & Eliza though.

I liked that we got to see the whole Schuyler family, and how Peggy was so sweet with her younger siblings, apparently she did do a lot of caretaking of her younger siblings in real life, so it was nice to see that portrayed here.

I did kind of feel that Eliza was downplayed a bit in order to make Peggy seem even more amazing, I understand that the author really admires Peggy, but Eliza kind of gets the short end of the stick as she comes off as the weak, insecure sister and from what I know of Eliza the woman, I don’t feel like that’s true at all, Eliza was incredibly strong to survive so much tragedy in her life and it would have been great if the author could have brought how amazing Peggy was to our attention without bringing Eliza down.

I liked the structure of the three parts with the prelude, interludes and postludes, I thought that was a great way of breaking things up and that it worked quite well, as each section of the book covers a different stage of the Revolutionary War.

Angelica was just as witty and brilliant in this book as I expected, but I did feel quite bad for her, I don’t know if her marriage with John Church (referred to by his alias Carter in this book) was really as strained as the author made it seem, but it was quite clear in this that she wasn’t all that happy with him.

I liked that this book introduced me to a load of players in the Revolutionary War that I had no idea about before, like Colonel Richard Varick (his crush on Peggy was sweet but misguided!), Moses Harris, Fleury etc. I especially loved getting to see Martha Washington and the way this book portrayed her has me really interested in going to look up her real life history because I thought she was awesome in this. I was a little bit distracted by the fact that Peggy’s aunt, Gertrude Cochran, had the nickname Gitty though!

It was nice to see Native Americans in this and the role that they played in the Revolutionary War as Hamilton the musical doesn’t touch on this and I had no idea the Schuyler family had such close ties with the Oneida. I can’t really speak to the representation, as I’m not from that community, I didn’t notice anything blatantly offensive in their portrayal, but obviously don’t take my word for that.

The writing style wasn’t always my favourite, it was quite formal which worked for the time period but I did find it was a little stilted at points.

I had no idea about Fleury, Peggy’s first and very brief romance, I honestly thought she basically fell in love with her cousin and that was it, so it was nice to see that and how that affected her view on marriage (and that there was actual historical evidence of this dalliance!).

I kind of wished we got to see more of Hamilton and Eliza’s wedding, but it’s not their story, so I totally get why we didn’t.

I thought the ending of the postlude was really lovely, showing everyone celebrating the end of the War and the first hints of Peggy’s romance with her eventual husband, that was such a nice positive note to end things on.

Also these things might be incredibly history nerdy of me, but I loved the afterword where the author explained what was historically accurate and what was a little embellished, that and the bibliography just made my nerdy heart incredibly happy.

Overall, this wasn’t the most action packed or exciting book ever, but it was a nice insight into a greatly overlooked historical figure and I appreciated how much detail and research went into producing what was a generally pretty engaging story.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of A Curse So Dark and Lonely which I finished on Wednesday, so it should be up relatively quickly for you, probably over the weekend.