Book Review: Crownchasers by Rebecca Coffindaffer

Crownchasers by Rebecca Coffindaffer

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction  

Publishing Info: September 2020 by Harper Teen   

Pages: 375

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

A deadly competition for the throne will determine more than just the fate of the empire in this duology opener.

Alyssa Farshot has spent her whole life trying to outrun her family legacy. Her mother sacrificed everything to bring peace to the quadrant, and her uncle has successfully ruled as emperor for decades. But the last thing Alyssa wants is to follow in their footsteps as the next in line for the throne. Why would she choose to be trapped in a palace when she could be having wild adventures exploring a thousand-and-one planets in her own ship?

But when Alyssa’s uncle becomes gravely ill, his dying wish surprises the entire galaxy. Instead of naming her as his successor, he calls for a crownchase, the first in seven centuries. Representatives from each of the empire’s prime families—including Alyssa—are thrown into a race to find the royal seal, which has been hidden somewhere in the empire. The first to find the seal wins the throne.

Alyssa’s experience as an explorer makes her the favorite to win the crown she never wanted. And though she doesn’t want to be empress, her duty to her uncle compels her to participate in this one last epic adventure. But when the chase turns deadly, it’s clear that more than just the fate of the empire is at stake. Alyssa is on her most important quest yet—and only time will tell if she’ll survive it.

This book reminded me why I’m such a sucker for space opera, and why I want to see more of it in YA. Crownchasers is a planet-hopping adventure and I had so much fun reading it. At just 375 pages, it was a pretty quick read, and I was on my edge of my seat for every single one of those pages.

The plot revolves around the crownchase, a competition between the prime families of the empire to determine who will be the next emperor. This involves a lot of space travel, discovering new planets, and working out mysterious clues. There is also a media element as well, as the whole galaxy seems to be watching the crownchase to see who will be victorious, which reminded me of The Hunger Games.

Alyssa Farshot is a reluctant participant in the crownchase. She loves exploring, and has never had any desire to sit on the empire’s throne. Alyssa brings a whole lot of snarky humour to this book and I loved how daring and reckless she is. Her voice is one of the best parts of this book, I felt like I was on this wild ride right along with her, and it was great to see how her character developed over the course of the story. As well as the pressures of the crownchase, she also has to deal with her grief over the loss of her uncle, and I thought Coffindaffer did an excellent job of weaving Alyssa’s character growth into such a fast-paced and action-packed book.

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Book Review: Malice by Heather Walter (eARC)

Malice by Heather Walter

Genre: Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Del Ray  

Pages: 400

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

A princess isn’t supposed to fall for an evil sorceress. But in this darkly magical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” true love is more than a simple fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.

Utter nonsense.

Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.

Nonsense again.

Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.

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

The word ‘retelling’ is sure to get me interested in a book, and when I saw Malice was a Sapphic reimagining of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain, I just knew I had to read it. Malice includes many key elements of Sleeping Beauty (as well as a dash of other fairy tales, like Cinderalla), but weaves these into a new world and story in a refreshing way.

From the start, I really enjoyed the world building, and how the society of Briar is depicted. The upper classes are selfish and vain, obsessed with beauty and luxury, and how they can use the Graces to obtain those things. In return for their services, Graces receive payment and invitations to parties, but then when their magic Fades, they also fade out of the spotlight. Graces have little control over their lives due to the Grace Laws, and although their lives seem glamorous on the outside, there is an insidious undercurrent to the way this society functions. Good and evil isn’t so simple here, as almost every character falls somewhere in between.

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Book Review: Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: September 2020, Harper Teen

Pages: 528

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Dames Blanches, Lou, Reid, Coco, and Ansel are on the run from coven, kingdom, and church—fugitives with nowhere to hide.

To elude the scores of witches and throngs of chasseurs at their heels, Lou and Reid need allies. Strong ones. But protection comes at a price, and the group is forced to embark on separate quests to build their forces. As Lou and Reid try to close the widening rift between them, the dastardly Morgane baits them in a lethal game of cat and mouse that threatens to destroy something worth more than any coven.

Serpent & Dove was a surprise read for me last year. There was so much hype around it that I was curious to read it and ended up loving it more than I expected. The sequel, Blood & Honey, has not been received quite so well, so I was a little cautious going into reading it as I didn’t want to set my expectations too high and be disappointed. 

It took me a while to orientate myself at the beginning of the book, and I had to search for a recap online in the end because there were some important points from the end of Serpent & Dove which I just couldn’t remember. So I would definitely recommend rereading Serpent & Dove or looking for a recap if it’s been a while since you read the first book.

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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: 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: 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: 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: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: June 2020 by Page Street Kids (Fairyloot edition)

Pages: 385

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training, she plans on challenging her rival for the position of the queen’s next royal spy, but she’s forced to abandon her plan when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

With her mysterious ability uncovered, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King—the only person powerful enough to control the haunted Dead Wood that separates the kingdoms and, ultimately, enforces peace. But the Spider King’s hold of the Dead Wood is weakening, and he needs Sirscha to use her newly awakened powers to obliterate the bloodthirsty forest. As war looms on the horizon, it’s up to Sirscha to learn what she can do and who she can trust before time runs out.

Forest of Souls is a fast-paced fantasy novel with an Asian-inspired setting and I absolutely loved it. I’ve read a lot of character-driven YA fantasy recently so I enjoyed reading something that was more plot-driven and a bit faster paced. The Dead Wood is so spooky! Some of the scenes were really atmospheric and creepy! The way the trees partly come to life and grab at the characters as they’re trying to get through the forest was really gripping. The world is painted really vividly and I loved learning about the various peoples, their cultures, history and magic, as I read.

There was no romance in this book and I have to say I was really happy about that. Every YA book seems to be either romance-heavy or at least have a main romantic subplot. So it was refreshing to read a fantasy novel that didn’t focus on romance or try and shoehorn a romance in.

Theyen was hands down the best character. He’s so full of sass and has some amazing lines. He really brought the scenes he was in to life. However, most of the supporting characters just didn’t seem very complex. By the end of the book we know hardly anything about them as the focus is so much on Sirscha. While I appreciated the book focused on her personal journey, I would have liked to have known the other characters more. Even though this book is clearly plot-driven, it would have benefited from the supporting characters having more depth. Having said that, I did love all the characters and can’t wait to see them again in the sequel.

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Book Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (eARC)

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: eARC from Orbit

Pages: 528

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Thank you so much to Orbit and NetGallery for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Once and Future Witches is a well-written and expertly crafted exploration of magic and feminism. Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, made a big splash, so there have been big expectations for her follow up. I haven’t yet read The Ten Thousand Doors of January, so The Once and Future Witches is my first time reading her work. I have to say I was impressed by the quality of the writing. It’s lyrical and captivating, perhaps like a magic spell, which is why it suits this story so well.

The historical setting, the women’s movement and witches are woven together so well. It really works. I loved how magic is done through words from rhymes and stories passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. There are also some subtle and clever changes to history and literature, such as the Sisters Grimm instead of the Brothers Grimm. The rights of witches and the rights of women are tightly connected in this book and shows the struggles women faced in the 1890s. It isn’t just a story of witches and magic, it’s also deeply thought-provoking.

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