Book Review: The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly (eARC)

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

Genre: Fantasy  

Publishing Info: eARC from Harper Voyager

Pages: 384

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Askia became heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh because of her devotion to her people. But her realm is facing a threat she cannot defeat by sheer will alone. The mad emperor of the Roven Empire has unleashed a horde of invading soldiers to enslave her lands. For months, her warriors have waged a valiant, stealth battle, yet they cannot stop the enemy’s advancement. Running out of time, she sets sail for sun-drenched Vishir, the neighboring land to the south, to seek help from its ruler, Emperor Armaan.

A young woman raised in army camps, Askia is ill-equipped to navigate Vishir’s labyrinthine political games. Her every move sinks her deeper into court intrigues which bewilder and repel her, leaving her vulnerable not only to enemies gathering at Vishir’s gates, but to those behind the palace walls.

And in this glittering court, where secrets are worth more than gold, Askia fears that one false step will expose her true nature. For Askia is a witch gifted with magical abilities—knowledge that could destroy not only her life but her people. As her adversaries draw closer, Askia is forced to make an impossible choice—and no matter what she decides, it may not be enough to prevent Seravesh’s fall.

Thank you so much to Harper360YA for providing an eARC of this book via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Frozen Crown is an intriguing political fantasy revolving around a princess desperate to save her kingdom from the empire that has invaded her lands. Although I was a little unsure about this book at the start, it did grow on me after the first few chapters, and I found myself invested in Askia’s quest to find an army to help take back her kingdom.

Although The Frozen Crown is an Adult fantasy novel, the writing style, with first person narration and quick-to-read prose, was more reminiscent of YA. While the simple style made it an easy read, my preference would have been for more description and vivid prose to make the settings and scenes really come to life in my mind.   

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Book Review: A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth (eARC)

A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth   

Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 512

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

The Cruel Prince meets City of Bones in this thrilling urban fantasy set in the magical underworld of Toronto that follows a queer cast of characters racing to stop a serial killer whose crimes could expose the hidden world of faeries to humans.

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.

A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.

A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.

The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.

For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.

Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?

Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Dark and Hollow Star is a fun urban fantasy novel with stunning world building and brilliant characters. I had high expectations for this book since the blurb sounded amazing. Although I found it slow to start, by the end I realised I really loved it.

The world building in A Dark and Hollow Star is very well done. The level of detail is incredible. It’s clear the author spent a considerable amount of time working on the world building and it pays off. I felt completely immersed in a world which is familiar yet unfamiliar – our world but with faeries roaming the streets. The different types of faerie, the Courts, and immortals, the way it’s all hidden alongside our world, was depicted so vividly. I loved the mix of fantasy and modern-day technology and pop culture references.

However, as much as I loved learning about the world, it felt very overwhelming. There is so much information crammed into the first few chapters that my brain felt like it was going to explode from trying to absorb everything. The focus on world building also meant I felt more distanced from the characters at the start, who were well-written, but felt side-lined by the world building at times in the first half. It also meant the book had a slow pace in the early parts.  

The way the world building interrupted conversations for several paragraphs made it feel disjointed and I found it hard to get into many of the early scenes as they didn’t flow. The world building is so very good, but needed to be better woven into the narrative. However, I enjoyed the second half a lot more. It wasn’t as bogged down by long descriptions and explanations, and I was able to really get into the story and enjoy the ride.

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Book Review: A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas  

Genre: Fantasy

Publishing Info: May 2018 by Bloomsbury YA

Pages: 229

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

ON THE DARKEST NIGHT, THE STARS STILL SHINE.

Feyre’s first Winter Solstice as High Lady is drawing near. With it will come a hard-earned rest from the work she, Rhys and their friends have done to rebuild the Night Court and the vastly changed the world beyond. Yet the festive atmosphere can’t keep shadows from looming. Even as her own heart heals, she finds that those dearest to her have wounds that go deeper than she knew.

AND THE SCARS OF THE PAST WILL TOUCH HER COURT IN TIMES TO COME.

A Court of Frost and Starlight follows on from the events of A Court of Wings and Ruin with a fun, cosy, wintery novella. This was a perfect festive read as the characters are celebrating the Winter Solstice in the Night Court, which has some similarities to Christmas traditions. So I think I enjoyed it more for reading it at this time of year.        

But while I liked returning to this world and spending time with these characters, this novella doesn’t really add much. I’m struggling to see what its purpose is as there, well, wasn’t really any kind of plot. We get some insight into what all of the characters have been up to since the war, but there’s no plot to drive this novella. By the end, it just fell a bit flat for me because it didn’t really have any direction. It feels like a stepping stone between A Court of Wings and Ruin and A Court of Silver Flames. But even so, it didn’t feel like there was much new information that couldn’t have been woven into the beginning of A Court of Silver Flames.    

If you haven’t read the first three books in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, don’t read this one. You need to have read, and liked, the others to get any enjoyment from this book. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll enjoy being reunited with the characters and getting to see their festive shenanigans, but don’t go into this expecting anything more.

I would say that this has piqued my curiosity more for A Court of Silver Flames though. I’m curious to see where Sarah J. Maas takes Nesta’s character in the next book in the series.   

Book Review: Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: May 2020 by Rock the Boat

Pages: 497

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Our heroes are back… kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: an ancient evil—you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of gremps who’d like to rearrange their favorite faces.

And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri.

Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it’s time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago, the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them. But time is short, and if Auri can’t learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.

Aurora Burning is the second book in the Aurora Cycle series. Aurora Rising is one of the best books I have read this year, so I had high expectations for its sequel. While I did love Aurora Burning, it didn’t quite hit the same high note as Aurora Rising for me.  

We’re thrown right into the action with a superb opening which really reminded me why I loved Aurora Rising so much. The first third or so of the book is action-packed and full of the humorous exchanges that make this series such a fun read. Unfortunately, the pacing slowed and started to drag a little in the middle and the beginning of the second half. I just wasn’t as gripped and didn’t feel such a connection with the story. There is a bit more of a serious tone in the second half, which makes sense since the stakes are really high for the characters, but that meant it lacked the fun spark that the first half of the book and Aurora Rising had. Having said that, I still didn’t want to put it down. There are some seriously big reveals and twists in this book that I didn’t see coming!

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Book Review: It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne  

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: October 2017 by Usbourne Publishing

Pages: 410

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Audrey is over romance. Since her parents’ relationship imploded her mother’s been catatonic, so she takes a cinema job to get out of the house. But there she meets wannabe film-maker Harry. Nobody expects Audrey and Harry to fall in love as hard and fast as they do. But that doesn’t mean things are easy. Because real love isn’t like the movies…

The greatest love story ever told doesn’t feature kissing in the snow or racing to airports. It features pain and confusion and hope and wonder and a ban on cheesy clichés. Oh, and zombies… YA star Holly Bourne tackles real love in this hugely funny and poignant novel.

This is my second book by Holly Bourne and she is definitely a talented writer. Once again, I found myself sucked into the story. She has a way of writing YA contemporary books that just reads so naturally and is really easy to connect to. I wish her books had been out when I was a teen because they are just so good and really relatable, and so amazingly feminist too.  

What I loved about It Only Happens in the Movies is that it’s fun and humorous, while also giving a really realistic portrayal of teen life. The book examines all the clichés you find in romance films and how unrealistic they are. As much as I do enjoy a good romance flick, they don’t explore any of the messy bits of relationships and can be so predictable!

Holly Bourne is really honest about the ups and downs of being a teen. So many YA romance stories almost feel like a fantasy in a way, because there are often a lot of clichés and predictable endings, but It Only Happens in the Movies feels so real and relatable.

There are some really well-written sex scenes and conversations about sex and the anxieties around experiencing it for the first time. Audrey’s parents are also going through a divorce and Holly Bourne portrayed the conflicting feelings and raw emotions of that experience so well.

If you haven’t read any of Holly Bourne’s books yet, I would thoroughly recommend them! I especially recommend to UK readers! There aren’t enough books set in UK high schools and sixth forms and I so enjoyed reading a book with a setting that I could relate to more than the typical US high school stories. I shan’t talk about the ending, because I don’t want to spoil it, but it was a very satisfying conclusion to an excellent book.

Book Review: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance  

Publishing Info: May 2018 by Simon and Schuster Children’s UK (first published 2017)

Pages: 699

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Emma Carstairs has finally avenged her parents. She thought she’d be at peace. But she is anything but calm. Torn between her desire for her parabatai Julian and her desire to protect him from the brutal consequences of parabatai relationships, she has begun dating his brother, Mark. But Mark has spent the past five years trapped in Faerie; can he ever truly be a Shadowhunter again?

And the faerie courts are not silent. The Unseelie King is tired of the Cold Peace, and will no longer concede to the Shadowhunters’ demands. Caught between the demands of faerie and the laws of the Clave, Emma, Julian, and Mark must find a way to come together to defend everything they hold dear—before it’s too late.

Lord of Shadows is the second book in the Dark Artifices trilogy. The first in the series, Lady Midnight, instantly became one of my favourite Shadowhunters books when I read it earlier this year. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed Lord of Shadows, I didn’t get quite the same feeling from it as the first book.

Lord of Shadows is very long and felt too drawn out to me. Too much time seems to be spent on the relationship drama, and the main plot falls to the wayside too often. Relationships are always a big part of Cassandra Clare’s books, but the plot was very strong in Lady Midnight with a clear arc and goal for the characters. While the characters did have a goal in Lord of Shadows, that didn’t become clear until a fair chunk into the book, and then the main conflict seemed secondary to character drama for too much of the remaining pages. The final, shocking chapter felt too rushed and ended very suddenly.

The Blackthorn family and their dynamics is part of what I loved about Lady Midnight, and is also one of the best aspects of Lord of Shadows. While I did feel the relationships dominated too much at times, I did appreciate the character development in this book. We got to see a lot more of some of the characters, such as Kit, Ty and Diana. I wasn’t keen on Kit at first but he grew on me and I liked seeing how he came to terms with his new position (can’t say more without spoiling Lady Midnight!).  

The Blackthorns end up in the London Institute for a time, and readers of The Infernal Devices will enjoy some references to that series. I haven’t read Chain of Gold yet, but there also seemed to be some references to the characters from the Last Hours series, which was published after the Dark Artifices series. It always astonishes me how far in advance Cassandra Clare seems to plan this stuff out!

I gave Lady Midnight 5 stars because I just fell in love with the story and the characters. Sadly, Lord of Shadows didn’t hit the same note for me. I’m still excited to see how the trilogy concludes in Queen of Air and Darkness though, especially after that final chapter took the story in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. I’m glad I don’t have to wait for it to be released. However, the final book in the series is an absolute monster at 870 pages so I’m really hoping the angst doesn’t take over too much…     

Book Review: These Violent Delights (eARC)

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton  

Pages: 464

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang-a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns-and grudges-aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My first impression of These Violent Delights was that Chloe Gong is a spellbinding writer. The first chapter had me hooked with its stunning writing and intriguing premise. As an English Literature graduate, I was all in for a Shakespeare retelling. Romeo and Juliet is a classic tale, and Chloe Gong has crafted an excellent reimagining which uses the themes from the original in an interesting way. I loved that this isn’t the story of them falling in love, but rather of them meeting again after years apart following a tragedy that caused a rift between them. There are also other references to the original Shakespeare play which are very satisfying.

Chloe Gong does an absolutely brilliant job of making the setting come to life. I felt immersed in 1920s Shanghai, in terms of the sights, smells and sounds, but also in terms of the history. I didn’t know much about the history of Shanghai before reading this book, and enjoyed discovering something new. As well as being about romance and the mystery, These Violent Delights also explores very important themes, such as political divides, colonisation and culture. Sometimes I feel like in retellings the stories are transposed to a different time period and/or setting for the sake of it, just as a way to twist the story, but in this case the choice of 1920s Shanghai really worked as an alternate setting for Romeo and Juliet. The story melded with the setting so well. This is an excellent example of how setting, plot, theme and character can intertwine very effectively.  

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Book Review: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Genre: Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: August 2020 by Hodder & Stoughton (Illumicrate edition)    

Pages: 336

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

CARA IS DEAD ON THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR WORLDS.

The multiverse business is booming, but there’s just one catch: no one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive.

Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying–from diseases, from turf wars, from vendettas they couldn’t outrun.

But on this earth, Cara’s survived. And she’s reaping the benefits, thanks to the well-heeled Wiley City scientists who ID’d her as an outlier and plucked her from the dirt. Now she’s got a new job collecting offworld data, a path to citizenship, and a near-perfect Wiley City accent. Now she can pretend she’s always lived in the city she grew up staring at from the outside, even if she feels like a fraud on either side of its walls.

But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined–and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

The Space Between Worlds is an impressive debut. The idea of multiverses and doppelgangers drew me to this book. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this twisty novel took me on a journey I wasn’t expecting. It strikes an excellent balance between being thought-provoking and entertaining.

The novel explores privilege and power in a world divided between those who live in the city and those who live outside it. Cara is from Ashtown but lives and works in Wiley City, so we get an interesting perspective on the lives of people in both locations and their attitudes and prejudices. The worldbuilding is really interesting and provokes reflection on the divides in our own society.   

At first, I didn’t gel with the protagonist, Cara, but she grew on me during the course of the book. She’s flawed but also likeable. She’s been through a lot and has endured both physical and emotional abuse. Alongside the main plotline, we also see Cara go through a healing process as she explores her past and re-evaluates what she knows about herself through her knowledge of her lives on other worlds.

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Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab (eARC)

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction  

Publishing Info: eARC from Titan Books   

Pages: 560

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

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.

Thank you so much to Titan Books and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is fantasy author V. E. Schwab’s latest book and is one of the most anticipated releases for 2020. Having not read any of Schwab’s work before, I didn’t go into reading this with any preconception of what to expect from her style. I was excited to read it because it has a very intriguing and mysterious premise, but I tried not to let all the hype around this book give me too high expectations for it. 

What struck me from the beginning was the beautiful writing. I was drawn into Addie’s story right from the first page. Something about the writing just captured me and didn’t let go. The book is written in third person present tense, which I don’t usually like as it can be really awkward to read. However, Schwab writes so beautifully in this book, I sunk into the writing from the first page and didn’t find the third person present tense awkward at all, in fact it read really naturally for this story.

The narrative goes back and forth between the present and the past. In the present, Addie is living in New York and it’s been nearly 300 years since she made her deal. Through the flashback chapters we see what led her to make that decision and how the mysterious, shadowy person she made the deal with tries to persuade her to give in and hand him her soul. My favourite chapters were the ones set in the past. It was really interesting seeing how Addie learned to cope with life with the boundaries of her deal. If everyone forgets you as soon as there’s a door between you, how can you do even simple things like rent a room? If you can’t have a job because everyone forgets you, how do you get money to pay for food? I also loved seeing Addie move through the different periods in history.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, as I really enjoyed the experience of reading when I wasn’t sure what to expect. The book’s description doesn’t give much away, and I liked getting to discover the story without too many preconceptions of what it would be about.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue explores themes of time, memory, identity, and what it means to be human, as well as the connections we make with other people. This is a thoughtful and imaginative novel which went right to my heart. It’s a book I will definitely want to read again.

Book Review: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco (ARC)

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Genre: Young adult, historical, paranormal  

Publishing Info: ARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 448

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Kerri Maniscalco introduces her next series, a dark tale of a beautiful young witch, a troubled demon, and their epic romance, set against a 19th century Italian backdrop.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe – witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to discover who did this, and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, the outlier among the seven demon brethren, always choosing duty over pleasure. He’s been tasked by his master with investigating a series of women’s murders on the island. When Emilia and Wrath’s fates collide, it’s clear this disturbing mystery will take a bewitching turn…

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me an ARC of this book, which I won as part of an #atHomeYALC giveaway on Twitter!

Kerri Maniscalco, author of the Stalking Jack the Ripper series, brings us another historical murder mystery, this time set in 19th Century Italy. I haven’t yet read her popular Stalking Jack the Ripper series, but the blurb for Kingdom of the Wicked sounded delightfully intriguing, so I was looking forward to this read. Unfortunately, while Kingdom of the Wicked had all the ingredients for a great book, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. 

The opening was satisfyingly spooky and set up the book excellently. There are touches of this throughout the book, but the mysterious, eerie atmosphere isn’t utilised as much as it could have been.

The historical setting also wasn’t effectively conveyed. In the opening chapters, I had no idea in what time period the book was set. Since I knew Kerri Maniscalco had written historical fiction before, I guessed it was historical. But there wasn’t anything to indicate a time period. In the opening chapters, it could easily have read as having a modern setting, because there were no details that clearly showed when the novel was set. So I went digging for information and found a blurb online that said it was set in the 19th Century. But there’s quite a difference between early and late 19th Century. The one clue in the text is a mention of the ‘Kingdom of Italy’. A further online search and I discovered the Kingdom of Italy existed from 1861, meaning Kingdom of the Wicked must be set sometime after that. Emilia is supposed to be the one solving a mystery, not me! For a historical novel, it really was lacking in historical details and flourishes. I didn’t feel immersed in the setting at all. It felt vaguely historical, but there wasn’t anything to tie it to its particular time period.   

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