Audiobook ARC Review: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Genre: Contemporary fantasy, romance

Publishing Info: Audiobook by Hodder & Stoughton Audio, ARC, narrated by Samara MacLaren

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos “pretending” to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

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

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is a very sweet and charming read that drew me in from the start and enveloped me in warmth and magic. Add to your cauldron a house by the sea, found family, a grumpy librarian, some romance, three children in need of a witch to teach them, an adorable dog, a dash of humour, and a sprinkle of magic, and you have the perfect potion for a heart-warming story.

There are quite a few characters but the author paints each of them so vividly that I felt like I was seeing old friends, and instantly fell in love with the charm of Nowhere House and its inhabitants. Of course, with three young witches unable to control their powers, disaster is sure to follow and there were plenty of opportunities for humour which Sangu Mandanna delivered spot on, and I found myself smiling and laughing at many points as I listened.

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Audiobook Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Fantasy

Publishing Info: Audiobook by Hodder & Stoughton Audio, ARC, narrated by Laurie Catherine Winkel and P.J. Ochlan

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Paris, 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets.

Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: an engineer with a debt to pay; a historian banished from his home; a dancer with a sinister past; and a brother in arms if not blood.

Together they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history – but only if they can stay alive.

From New York Times bestselling author Roshani Chokshi comes a novel set in Paris during a time of extraordinary change – one that is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous desires . .

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

The Gilded Wolves originally came out a few years ago, but is now being published with shiny new covers in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton. Despite having heard a lot about this book, I had never read it, so was excited to get to read an audio ARC ahead of the UK audio release.

The amount of worldbuilding at the start is a little overwhelming, with so many details to get to grips with. However, the world and magic system is so creative and magical, and I was entranced from the very first page. I was totally swept away by the imaginative Forging and intriguing applications of the characters’ abilities.

I absolutely adore a good heist novel and there were plenty of twists in this one, along with a fantastic cast of characters. One of my favourite things about The Gilded Wolves is the characters, the friendships and relationships between them, their interactions and humour – that is what kept bringing me back to this book. It’s also great to see such a diverse multi POV cast, with BIPOC, LGBT, and autistic characters. Roshani Chokshi explores racism, colonialism, and many other important themes, interweaving these in well with the characters’ stories and showing the impact these issues have had on their lives.

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Audiobook Review: Breathe and Count Back From Ten

Breathe and Count Back From Ten by Natalia Sylvester

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: Audiobook by HarperAudio, May 2022, narrated by Frankie Corzo

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Verónica has had many surgeries to manage her disability. The best form of rehabilitation is swimming, so she spends hours in the pool, but not just to strengthen her body. Her Florida town is home to Mermaid Cove, a kitschy underwater attraction where professional mermaids perform in giant tanks…and Verónica wants to audition. But her conservative Peruvian parents would never go for it. And they definitely would never let her be with Alex, her cute new neighbor. She decides it’s time to seize control of her life, but her plans come crashing down when she learns her parents have been hiding the truth from her—the truth about her own body.

I have found it quite difficult finding the right words for this review, and have found myself feeling quite emotional as I reflect on my feelings. Breathe and Count Back From Ten is a is so clearly written from the heart, and it spoke to my own. I wish I’d had this book as a teen, when I felt alone and afraid growing up chronically ill, when I didn’t know how to understand or express what I was feeling. Like the protagonist, the author has hip dysplasia and is Peruvian-American, and this story is written authentically from her own experiences.

Although I don’t share Verónica’s disability, I could relate to her thoughts and feelings around being disabled, stigma, and ableism. The author captures the experience of being disabled and articulates the complex and conflicting emotions of this experience so well. I found it so incredibly relatable as a disabled person, it truly touched me, and I am so thankful to Natalia Sylvester for sharing this story. It is raw and honest, and exactly the kind of disability representation we need more of.

This novel is beautifully written, lyrical and emotive, and the audiobook is narrated excellently by Frankie Corzo. The interweaving of the mythology of mermaids, Verónica’s own journey to become a mermaid, and her journey as a disabled person, is so beautifully done.  

Breathe and Count Back From Ten is also a story about identity, belonging, family, dreams, friendship, and love. Although my review has focused on the disability representation so far, I also loved seeing Verónica’s relationships grow with her family. Plus, there is a very sweet romance which I adored. 

This novel is absolutely stunning and I had no hesitations in giving it the full five stars. This book is a must-read and is absolutely one of my favourite books.

Audiobook Review: The Stardust Thief by Cheslea Abdullah

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Genre: Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: Audiobook by Hachette Audio UK, May 2022, narrated by Nikki Massoud, Rasha Zamamiri, Sean Rohani

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

Neither here nor there, but long ago . . .

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Full of adventure and magic, The Stardust Thief takes readers on a journey through an Arab-inspired fantasy world where our protagonists take on a perilous quest fraught with danger. This fantasy debut is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights and uses storytelling as a theme throughout, weaving the stories and myths the protagonists know with the truth of the jinn they come to discover.

It took a little while for me to really get into this book. However, I enjoyed it more as the story progressed. There were some great twists in the second half which left me terrified for my favourite characters, as well as exciting and magical action. The novel focuses on the quest and the characters’ journeys, so if you are looking for fantasy without romance, I’d recommend giving this one a go.

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Audiobook Review: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Dark Academia

Publishing Info: Audiobook, March 2022, Tor, narrated by Steve West, Siho Ellsmore, Munirih Grace, James Patrick Cronin, David Monteith, Damian Lynch, Caitlin Kelly, Andy Ingalls

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

When the world’s best magicians are offered an extraordinary opportunity, saying yes is easy. Each could join the secretive Alexandrian Society, whose custodians guard lost knowledge from ancient civilizations. Their members enjoy a lifetime of power and prestige. Yet each decade, only six practitioners are invited – to fill five places.

Contenders Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona are inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds. Parisa Kamali is a telepath, who sees the mind’s deepest secrets. Reina Mori is a naturalist who can perceive and understand the flow of life itself. And Callum Nova is an empath, who can manipulate the desires of others. Finally there’s Tristan Caine, whose powers mystify even himself.

Following recruitment by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they travel to the Society’s London headquarters. Here, each must study and innovate within esoteric subject areas. And if they can prove themselves, over the course of a year, they’ll survive. Most of them.

The Atlas Six is one of 2022’s most talked about releases. Originally self-published, the novel was picked up by Tor Books and rereleased. With the intense amount of hype around this book, I felt a little wary going in as I didn’t want to be left disappointed. Dark academia is also not my usual genre of choice, but I was intrigued by the premise and decided to take a chance on something outside my comfort zone.

The opening intrigued me and the smooth writing style drew me in. It did, however, take a while to introduce all six point of view characters, and the formula of Atlas approaching each of them to make offers to join the Alexandrian Society felt a little repetitive after the first couple.

Having multiple POVs worked really well in this novel. It was fascinating seeing everything from different perspectives and getting to see how all the characters viewed each other, building tension very nicely. They are basically all morally grey in some way and each have an interesting backstory. There was a different narrator for each POV which was really effective, making it easier to distinguish the characters and feel immersed in each viewpoint.

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Audiobook Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, March 2021, Bloomsbury Publishing, narrated by Alana Kerr Collins

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

For the past two hundred years the Scion government has led an oppressive campaign against unnaturalness in London.

Clairvoyance in all its forms has been decreed a criminal offence, and those who practise it viciously punished. Forced underground, a clairvoyant underworld has developed, combating persecution and evading capture.

Paige Mahoney, a powerful dreamwalker operating in the Seven Dials district of London, leads a double life, using her unnaturalness illegally while hiding her gift from her father, who works for the Scion regime…

Having enjoyed Samantha Shannon’s epic fantasy novel, The Priory of the Orange Tree, I decided to delve into her backlist and try her debut novel, The Bone Season. While The Bone Season is vastly different from Priory, being set in future London rather than a secondary world fantasy, the pages were still filled with Samantha Shannon’s rich, detailed worldbuilding and readable, engaging prose. The audiobook narration by Alana Kerr Collins was also excellent and drew me into the story.  

After an intriguing opening, The Bone Season very quickly went in a direction I was not expecting, giving me a kind of book whiplash. It left me feeling a little baffled at first, wondering what, exactly, it was I was reading. However, once I adjusted my expectations and got used to this complex and strange future world, I found myself becoming more and more invested in Paige’s story. I won’t talk about plot specifics, because I think this is one of those books where it’s best going in not knowing much at all. Many of the plot elements are familiar, but Samantha Shannon’s immersive world building makes it feel fresh.

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Book Review: Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

Genre: Young adult, contemporary fantasy

Publishing Info: October 2020 by Page Street Kids

Pages: 368

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.

But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.

Blazewrath Games is a creative and fun entry into the YA landscape, integrating fantasy elements into our contemporary world in a way that felt believable and magical. As much as I love high fantasy, there is something unique about the way contemporary fantasy makes magic feel closer, more real. The world Amparo Ortiz has created feels like a completely plausible alternative version of our own world. One where there are dragons, tournaments, and magic wand shops. Something about it just captured my imagination and that tingly magical feeling that you only get from some books.

We’re introduced to Lana, who dreams of playing in the Blazewrath World Cup for Puerto Rico. Lana is a very relatable character – she has dreams, is driven and has a strong belief in doing what is right. Amparo Ortiz also explores what it means to belong and Lana’s relationship with Puerto Rico after moving to the US as a child, and how that affects her identity and her place amongst the Puerto Rico team. A lot of readers will really connect to Lana’s internal struggles and appreciate seeing this represented on the page.

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Audiobook Review: Gods & Monsters by Shelby Mahurin

Gods & Monsters by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, July 2021, narrated by Holter Graham & Saskia Maarleveld

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:
The spellbinding conclusion to the New York Times and IndieBound bestselling trilogy Serpent & Dove. This stunning fantasy take on French witches and forbidden love is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas.

Evil always seeks a foothold. We must not give it one.

After a heartbreaking loss, Lou, Reid, Beau, and Coco are bent on vengeance more than ever before—and none more so than Lou.

But this is no longer the Lou they thought they knew. No longer the Lou that captured a chasseur’s heart. A darkness has settled over her, and this time it will take more than love to drive it out.

Gods & Monsters is the concluding novel in Shelby Mahurin’s Serpent & Dove series and, following an unexpected twist at the end of the previous instalment, I was intrigued to see how the story would conclude. While many fans of the first book found Blood & Honey disappointing, I found the character development and evolution of Lou and Reid’s relationship engaging, though there was a little too much filler in the plot department. Still, Gods & Monsters had a lot of work to do to bring the story round to a good conclusion and, while it did have a satisfying ending, the third novel sadly suffered from issues with the overall series structure.

The opening section of Gods & Monsters didn’t quite draw me in as much as I had hoped. Nicholina’s character was incredibly creepy, which I expect was the author’s intention, and the audiobook narrator did an excellent job of making her disturbing. Perhaps too good a job, as I felt a bit uncomfortable listening to this part of the audiobook. Lou also only had a small part in the first section, and without her presence, there was something missing.

After a while, I settled into the familiarity of the characters and Shelby Mahurin’s writing style, simply enjoying being back with these characters and enjoying the story. The character development was once again strong, with the characters challenged to face their deepest fears and truths about themselves they have yet to acknowledge.

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Audiobook Review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, June 2021, narrated by Elizabeth Knoweldon

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

A prim and proper lady thief must save her aunt from a crazed pirate and his dangerously charming henchman in this fantastical historical romance.

Cecilia Bassingwaite is the ideal Victorian lady. She’s also a thief. Like the other members of the Wisteria Society crime sorority, she flies around England drinking tea, blackmailing friends, and acquiring treasure by interesting means. Sure, she has a dark and traumatic past and an overbearing aunt, but all things considered, it’s a pleasant existence. Until the men show up.

Ned Lightbourne is a sometimes assassin who is smitten with Cecilia from the moment they meet. Unfortunately, that happens to be while he’s under direct orders to kill her. His employer, Captain Morvath, who possesses a gothic abbey bristling with cannons and an unbridled hate for the world, intends to rid England of all its presumptuous women, starting with the Wisteria Society. Ned has plans of his own. But both men have made one grave mistake. Never underestimate a woman.

When Morvath imperils the Wisteria Society, Cecilia is forced to team up with her handsome would-be assassin to save the women who raised her–hopefully proving, once and for all, that she’s as much of a scoundrel as the rest of them.

Fancying a change of pace, I decided to pick up The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, expecting a historical romance with a dash of adventure. That is what I got, but with a tad more of the fantastical than I had anticipated.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is bizarre yet brilliant, with Victorian ladies flying pirate houses using incantations, regularly attempting to assassinate each other, capably wielding guns and knives, and drinking tea. The juxtaposition between the well-mannered ladies and their piratical behaviour provided some excellent humour. The magical element is only a small part of the world as aside from the flying pirate houses, there wasn’t any other magic. After my initial bafflement at the concept, the idea was so well integrated into the Victorian world that it quickly seemed normal. Why wouldn’t women fly pirate houses around England?

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Audiobook Review: Knot My Type by Evie Mitchell

Knot My Type by Evie Mitchell

Genre: Romance  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, November 2021

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

He doesn’t do relationships.

She doesn’t do flings.

Everything they thought is about to unravel…

Frankie

When you say you’re a sexologist, people imagine Marilyn Monroe. They don’t expect a woman who uses a wheelchair. As the host of the All Access Podcast, I’m breaking barriers, crushing stigmas, and creating sexual connections that are fulfilling for my fans. I’m like cupid, but with pink hair and fewer diapers.

Only, I’ve hit a snag. A lovely listener wants some advice about accessible rope play and I’m drawing a big fat blank. Which leaves me with no option but to get out there and give it a go.

Which is how I meet Jay Wood—rigger, carpenter, and all-round hottie.

I’d be open to letting him wine and dine me—only Jay isn’t my type. He’s not a one-girl kind of guy. Monogamy isn’t even in his vocab, and I’m not a woman who’ll settle for being second choice.

But the closer we get, the more Jay has me tied up in knots.

And it’s making me think, maybe I could compromise and accept a little Wood in my life. Even if it’s only temporary.

Jay

Frankie’s funny, intelligent, and ridiculously sexy. This should be a no-brainer. A little fun in the sheets, and a little romp with some ropes—simple.

Only the infuriating woman is asking for more. I’m not that kind of guy. I wouldn’t even know how to be that kind of guy. I’m the definition of easy.

It’ll be fine. We’ll be friends. Just friends.

So, why does my heart feel frayed? And why is it I can’t help but consider taking the ultimate leap of faith—tying myself to Frankie. Permanently.

I’m not usually a romance reader but I’m always on the lookout for books with disability rep, and this cover caught my eye. It honestly made me really emotional reading this one. I don’t use a wheelchair, but I’ve been chronically ill for most of my life and seeing this kind of rep just fills me with so much emotion. Never underestimate the value good rep for underrepresented groups can have. There is a scene in Knot My Type where Frankie secretly leaves a party to find an accessible toilet in another building because the bathroom is too small in her partner’s house, and although this isn’t something I’ve experienced, I really related to having to adapt your life as a disabled person and the feelings Frankie went through during this scene. 

This is just the kind of disability rep I want to see in fiction. It appeared to be well researched (I can’t comment on accuracy) and it wasn’t a book about disability, it showed a disabled person living and enjoying life, going through all the highs and lows that everyone goes through, experiencing love and passion. Frankie is intelligent, bold, funny and sexy – she is a fully fleshed out character, and her disability is part of who she is.

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