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: 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: Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Genre: Fantasy

Publishing Info: Audiobook by Simon & Schuster Audio 2021

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.

For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated.

Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all… but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.

Among Thieves has been pitched as perfect for fans of Six of Crows, and it has a lot in common with that work which many will enjoy, namely a ragtag crew from a criminal gang taking on a massive heist. The novel follows five POV characters as they are forced to work together, each with their own secrets and agendas. While I enjoyed Among Thieves, it didn’t quite keep me turning the pages the way I had hoped, especially for such a short, fast-paced Adult fantasy. 

In the opening chapters, we’re introduced to our main characters – Ryia, Tristan, Nash, Ivan and Evelyn. Three of these five characters had very similar backstories – they are on the run and their real identities are a secret that none of the others know. This similarity made it difficult to remember who was who at first, and also meant their stories didn’t feel unique enough to hold my interest.

The plot moved fast, was engaging, and the stakes were high. Inevitably, all their plans for the heist go wrong, and they have to adapt. Some parts kept me guessing, others felt a little too predictable.

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Graphic showing Shadow Kiss book cover and a 3 star rating

Book Review: Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead

Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead   

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal     

Publishing Info: Kindle edition 2008 by e-Penguin

Pages: 448

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires – the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a Dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

Rose knows it is forbidden to love another guardian. Her best friend, Lissa – the last Dragomir princess – must always come first. Unfortunately, when it comes to gorgeous Dimitri Belikov, some rules are meant to be broken…

Then a strange darkness begins to grow in Rose’s mind, and ghostly shadows warn of a terrible evil drawing nearer to the Academy’s iron gates. The immortal undead are closing in, and they want vengeance for the lives Rose has stolen. In a heart-stopping battle to rival her worst nightmares, Rose will have to choose between life, love, and the two people who matter most… but will her choice mean that only one can survive?

Shadow Kiss is the third book in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series. Even though I didn’t love the first two books, I enjoyed them enough to carry on reading. Unfortunately, I found Shadow Kiss quite slow and somehow seemed to be lacking in direction.

After the events of Frostbite, Rose and the other students have returned to school and the dhampirs are undergoing the field experience part of their training. Lissa and Adrian are learning to use spirit. But it didn’t feel like a whole lot was going on. A trip to the royal court could have proved an interesting diversion, but that section fell a bit flat for me, as not much happened to create any kind of tension or suspense. There just wasn’t enough to hold my attention and keep me engaged.

The pacing picks up massively towards the end, but there was once again something missing from the action scenes for me. The style in which they’re written made me feel really disconnected from the action, so I didn’t feel any of the suspense I should have done in those sequences. I love reading action scenes, so this is a big downside of this series for me. There is a lot of potential for suspenseful and exciting sequences, but the writing is just really missing something in this area.    

The ending should have been emotional and impactful, but I didn’t really feel all that much, which is what made me realise I hadn’t really connected with this story and the characters as much as I have for other books I’ve read. I like reading Rose, Lissa and Dimitri’s story, but I’ve never really felt a strong connection to them.

I don’t know if I’ll continue with this series or not. Although I didn’t feel the emotional impact of Shadow Kiss’s ending, it has sent the series in a direction I hadn’t anticipated, which might make for an intriguing storyline going forward.

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 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: 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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Book Review: Shielded by KayLynn Flanders

Shielded by KayLynn Flanders

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Publishing Info: July 2020 by Delacorte Press (Fairyloot edition)

Pages: 424

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s–her brother’s–magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong–the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.

Shielded wasn’t on my radar but it came in the Fairyloot July box so I decided to give it a go. My initial impressions weren’t so good, but this one grew on me as I read. The opening chapters felt very introductory and it took too long for the story to get going.

The section in the Wild dragged on and at times it read like a list of Jenna’s actions, just her doing one thing and then another and another. Since she spent so long in the Wild, I was expecting something that happened in that part to become significant later, but there wasn’t a meaningful connection to anything else, so this part of the book needn’t have taken so long. Besides being referred to as a dangerous place in between the two kingdoms, the Wild isn’t referred to much in the rest of the book.  

I didn’t enjoy the writing style. It could be a bit clunky, and I times I even felt confused. There were bits of dialogue or description which I had to read a few times to understand what the author meant, and sometimes I still didn’t understand. Between some of the chapters there were short one or two page snippets showing what the villains of the story were up to. They were written in a very vague way, perhaps to provoke intrigue in the reader, but I just felt confused. Speaking of the villains, they were quite one-dimensional and I didn’t really get much grasp of their motivations.  

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Let’s Talk Bookish: Is 3 Stars a ‘Good’ Rating?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. For today’s topic we’re talking about ‘Is 3 Stars a ‘Good’ Rating?’.

When I rate a book 3 stars, I think of it as a good rating. I rarely give 5 stars. So far this year I’ve read 32 books and I’ve only given 5 star ratings for three books, and last year I read 20 books and only gave one 5 star rating. Maybe I’m too harsh? I don’t know. For a book to be 5 stars it really has to blow me away. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to leave me with a certain feeling, I have to have no hesitation in giving it 5 stars. So therefore, the majority of books I love get a 4 or 4.5 star rating. Then the books I loved but not quite as much as the 4 star books get a 3.5 stars. And the books that get 3 stars are ones I enjoyed but didn’t love. I rarely give 1 or 2 star reviews, partly because I’ve been lucky so far while I’ve been blogging that I haven’t read many books I didn’t like.

Reviewers have different ways of choosing star ratings. I seem to give ratings based on feelings, rather than any objective system. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do it. If I’m torn about what rating to give a book, I think back to what other books I’ve read. For example, I’ll think about what other books I gave 4 stars, and decide whether I liked it more, less, or the same as those books.

I decided to look back at my reviews and see what books I gave 3 stars this year. Most recently was A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer which I liked but didn’t get the same enjoyment from as the first book in the series, A Curse So Dark and Lonely. I also gave 3 stars to The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White which I liked enough that I will read the sequel, but I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked and the writing style wasn’t to my taste. The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant, on the other hand, is beautifully written but the time jumps were a bit too jarring for me and there were a few other reasons I only gave it 3 stars.

If I’ve seen a book with a lot of 3 star ratings I will probably look more closely at the reviews before deciding if I want to read the book. Everyone has different tastes and some people might have given it a lower rating for an element that they didn’t enjoy, but which I know is something I love to read. I would be more hesitant to read a book with lots of 3 star ratings, but I would just do more research before making a decision.

Everyone can probably agree that 4 and 5 star ratings are ‘good’ ratings. But 3 stars is hovering in that strange middle ground. I can see why some people would see 3 stars as ‘bad’. For my own ratings, anything with 3 stars or more is on a scale of ‘good’. If I were to describe them in one word, I’d call 3 stars ‘good’, 4 stars ‘amazing’ and 5 stars ‘out of this world’.   

I’m really interested to see how other people respond to this prompt and whether there is a mixture of opinions. What do you think? Do you see 3 stars as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rating? 

Book Review: A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: January 2020 by Bloomsbury YA

Pages: 445

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Harper has freed Pronce Rhen from the curse that almost destroyed his kingdom. Bit all is not well in Emberfall: rumours are rife thatthete is a rival heir with a stronger claim to the throne and that ‘Princess’ Harper of Disi is nothing but fraud.

Grey has fled the castle carrying a terrible secret. When he is discovered by soldiers and returned to Ironrose by force, Grey’s allegiances begin to shift. And as he grows closer to an enemy princess, he is forced to decide whether he will stand against Rhen for the crown he never wanted …

A Heart So Fierce and Broken is the anticipated sequel to Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which was one of my favourite reads of the year so far. I had high expectations for this book and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it quite as much as A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

While the first book is told in the alternating perspectives of Harper and Rhen, the sequel focuses on the POVs of Grey and Lia Mara. Grey is such a great character so I was excited to get to see his perspective, but I didn’t feel like he developed enough in this book considering a lot of the focus was on him. Lia Mara is a new character, daughter of Karis Luran, the queen of Syhl Shallow. I did like her, but didn’t connect with her as much as I did with Harper.  

I liked getting to know some characters from the first book more, such as Jake, as well as meeting new characters like Tycho and Nolla Verin. Harper was my favourite character from the first book, so I did miss her in this one. She only has, I think, one POV chapter and pops up a couple of times but that’s all. Although the first book was told from Harper and Rhen’s perspective, I still felt I got to know Grey through their POVs. Whereas in this book, I felt very disconnected from Harper and Rhen. Also, Rhen seemed really different. I know a lot happened in book one, and I always liked that he was a bit of a grey character, but he was portrayed essentially as a villain in this one and that shift was kind of strange. I think the book would have benefited from including more chapters from Harper and Rhen’s perspectives.

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