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: 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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Book Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance  

Publishing Info: January 2017 by Simon and Schuster Children’s UK (first published 2016)

Pages: 669

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

Glitz, glamours, and Shadowhunters abound in this heartrending opening to Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series.

I have loved Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters series for what feels like a very long time. City of Bones was my introduction to her world many, many years ago. She releases books so quickly, I’m trying to catch up! I thought I might get bored of them, but I haven’t so far. I love returning to the world of the Shadowhunters every time I pick up one of her books.

Lady Midnight is the first in the Dark Artifices series and is set a few years after The Mortal Instruments. When I finished reading it, I just sort of sat at stared at my bedroom wall for a minute because I had so many feelings about this book. The characters and their relationships are what makes this book so good. I just became so invested in the Blackthorn family. And Cassandra Clare is really good at giving you hope for characters and then tearing your heart to shreds (in the way a good book does).

Emma and Julian are the two main characters, but all of the others stole my heart too. From Cristina, to Mark, Livvy, Ty, Dru and little Tavvy. I loved seeing the family interact and how Julian has had to bring them up, they’re like his own children despite him being their older brother. It was also great seeing how Mark changed over the course of the book and I’m interested to see where his character goes in the next book.  

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Book Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: February 2020 by Feiwel and Friends, Fairyloot Edition

Pages: 326

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

The Shadows Between Us is a standalone fantasy novel and my first introduction to Tricia Levenseller’s writing. I wasn’t sure this book would be for me, but it came in February’s Fairyloot box in the most gorgeous edition, so of course I had to give it a go. It’s described as a Slytherin romance, and I’m very much a Hufflepuff, so that selling point didn’t speak to me personally. But I ended up loving it! It also makes a nice change to read a standalone fantasy, as this genre is so often long series.

Alessandra is such a determined character. Right from the start, we get a sense of her personality. She’s not afraid to be herself and she fights for what she wants. Her eyes are set on the throne, and she’s willing to kill the king to get it. Alessandra also designs and makes her own dresses and the descriptions are divine. She bends the rules of what women can do in this world, and uses her power to change things for the other women of the court too. She’s ambitious and scheming and she stands out from other young adult protagonists for that reason. From that perspective she’s quite an unusual protagonist really. This sort of character is often the antagonist, so I loved seeing a story told through the eyes of a different kind of character.

Kallius is an equally interesting character. He’s not a noble hero. We see him kill a guard for failing to keep watch. He wants to conquer more of the surrounding kingdoms. But since Alessandra isn’t your typical protagonist either, they are very well suited. They’re both ambitious and driven.   

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Book Review: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova (eARC)

Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 464

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

An epic tale of revenge and redemption in a world where a memory thief must fight against terrifying monarchs bent on the destruction of her people.

When the royal family of Puerto Leones sets out to destroy magic through a grand and terrible inquisition, spy and memory-thief Renata seeks to kill the prince, leader of the King’s Justice, who plans to use a terrible new weapon to wipe out the magic of the Moria…

For fans who enjoyed the ferocity of Ember in the Ashes, INCENDIARY explores the double-edged sword of memory and the triumph of hope and love in the midst of fear and oppression.

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

Incendiary is set in a fantasy world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain. The concept of having a character who can steal memories intrigued me. But while the world and concept were interesting, this book was in some ways disappointing.

The opening few chapters grabbed my attention, but there was a lot of new information for the reader, some of which could have been explained better. I did feel a bit lost at times with all the new words and concepts. It was never really explained why Ren is occasionally referred to as an Incendiary, and since that’s the title of the book, it’s a shame that doesn’t come across. I like that we were thrown right into the story, but that did mean I found it a bit difficult to get my head around the magic system. There is a lot of exposition which makes the pacing drag. The first section of the book is very exciting and the last section is also very gripping, but the middle was quite slow and didn’t keep me hooked.  

Ren is a good protagonist. While she’s shunned by society because of her magic, she’s also looked upon with mistrust by the Moria because her magic is rare and seen as dangerous. She has the ability to steal people’s memories, and if she steals too many she can leave a person as a Hollow. This creates some great conflict, as Ren doesn’t really fit in anywhere, and it also means she has a lot of internal conflict which is what drives a lot of the story. However, many of the reveals come from memories Ren has stolen. While she is an active rather than passive character, she doesn’t do much to work things out for herself at times, the reveals for the reader are kind of handed to her.

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February 2020 Wrap Up

This has been a bit of a tough month for me. There’s been a lot going on at home and so I’ve not been much in the frame of mind for writing blog posts. Hopefully things will work out but things probably won’t be great for a while.

Reading

There has been so much hype around Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin so I caved and read it. Although I wasn’t sure at first, the story and characters grew on me as I read. I didn’t really realise how much I loved this book until I’d finished it and realised how much I wanted to return to the story again. I can see myself rereading this book and am definitely excited for the sequel which is coming out this year.

I read an advanced copy of Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova – review coming soon! I’ve nearly finished reading The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. If you haven’t read a novel in verse before, I’d really recommend it, even if you don’t think poetry is your thing.

Book Haul

So I had planned on having a bit of a book buying ban this month, but then my life turned upside down. And I always end up buying books when I’m upset or down. It also doesn’t help that I can easily get to a book shop in my lunch break, making buying books easy and tempting… I ended up with Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin and Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. Having loved Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, it was a bit of a no-brainer to get the sequels Gemina and Obsidio, and I also picked up their new book Aurora Rising.

Writing

Despite everything that’s been going on, I did manage to get some writing done. I’ve started editing my YA fantasy novel. I’ve edited ten chapters so far, so fairly happy with that. I’m planning to get lots more done in March.

Book Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: September 2019, kindle edition, Harper Teen

Pages: 518

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle:
thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

I have heard so much about this book that I just had to read it. I was curious why it was being raved about so much. At first when I started reading, I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I might find Lou annoying, but the characters and story grew on me. Shelby Mahurin really pulled me into their story and I ended up being hooked. It was an addictive read and even though I only recently finished it, I know I’m going to want to read this book again.  

Enemies to lovers romance seems really popular right now. I hope we’re not going to get flooded with these types of stories like we did love triangles years back. The romance was gradual and not forced in anyway, their growing chemistry was written really well. I can see why enemies to lovers romance is appealing to readers, and I did enjoy the romance in this story, even though I don’t usually enjoy romance-focused stories as much as plot/action focused ones.

Lou and Reid really grew on me and I loved seeing how they changed over the course of the book. The supporting characters were great too, especially Ansel and Coco. Although Beau felt a bit randomly thrown into the group at the end and I wanted to know more about him and why he didn’t seem fazed by the magic. Maybe he’s just a rebellious prince. But I hope we know a bit more about him in the next book so his presence doesn’t seem so random.

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Book Review: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: November 2019, Illumicrate Edition, Harper Voyager  

Pages: 454

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

You may or may not be aware that there was some controversy around this book prior to its publication. A Twitter backlash resulted in the author deciding not to publish the book initially, and later, having made some changes, going ahead with publishing it. There was a bit of a Twitter pile on by people who hadn’t even read the book, which seems completely ridiculous. If you’ve read the book you can form an opinion on it, but I don’t get it when people hadn’t even read the book. Besides, people shouldn’t be going round attacking authors on Twitter. I’m glad the author did decide to publish in the end. This post is going to be purely a review of the book. If you want to know more about what happened, a quick google will pull up a tonne of articles on the subject.  

Blood Heir hooked me from the start, with a tense and compelling opening few chapters. Ana’s Affinity means she can control blood. She can sense it in other people and use it to kill people. There is the potential for her to use it to heal too, but she’s never been taught how to do this. Since her Affinity revealed itself, she’s been viewed by others as a monster, meaning she also views herself as a monster. Ana’s internal conflict revolves around the view of herself as a monster, and trying to accept that it’s how she uses her ability that shows who she is, that she isn’t inherently bad because of her Affinity.

The world in which Ana lives – the Cyrilian empire – is one that misunderstands and mistreats Affinites. Those with abilities are used for their magic and are looked down upon by society. When her family learn she’s an Affinite, Ana is locked away and attempts are made to ‘cure’ her. Due to being kept hidden in the palace, it’s only when Ana is outside of its walls that she discovers her Empire isn’t as good as she had thought, but is actually very corrupt. Affinites are trafficked and the Empire’s own soldiers are complicit in it. Many Affinites come to Cyrilia looking for a better life, but are separated from their families and trapped in work contracts they can’t escape. The author has drawn on her own multicultural experiences in writing the book. She moved from China to the US when she was 18. Amelie has stated that Affinite indenturement in Blood Heir reflects the issues of human trafficking in Asia. As the reader uncovers the truth of what’s happening in Cyrilia alongside Ana, it’s an eye opening experience to the corruptness of the Empire’s system and the conditions the trafficked Affinites endure.     

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Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: October 2015 by Oneworld Publications  

Pages: 602

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the worst thing she’d ever been through. That was before her planet was invaded. Now, with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating craft, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But the warship could be the least of their problems. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their biggest threat; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking to get to the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: Ezra.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents–including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more–Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

I’m not sure how to approach this review as this book is so different from other books I’ve read. All I can say for sure is that I absolutely loved it. After I finished it, all I could think was wow. I had to wait a while before writing this review so I could process how I felt about this book.

 Illuminae is told in an epistolary style through a mix of interviews, reports, emails, diary entries and more. This makes it a unique reading experience, which does make it hard to compare to other books. It’s very visual as well. The artwork makes it really feel like you’re reading a file of documents.

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick this book up as it’s just the kind of unique thing that I would like. I think I did have reservations of whether the style would actually work and whether I would connect to the characters, which is perhaps what stopped me from picking it up in the past. But I really did not need to worry about that. Even though it’s told in this fragmented style, all the various documents flow really well so that skipping between different reports and emails and conversations didn’t feel fragmented, it felt like one long narrative. I also really connected with Kady and Ezra, and even many of the other more minor characters, even though the novel isn’t written in a traditional style. The voices of all the characters really pop off the page.

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Book Review: Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray

Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction           

Publishing Info: March 2018 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 394

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Noemi Vidal has returned to her planet, Genesis, as an outsider – ostracised for refusing to end the Liberty War by sacrificing Abel, the most advanced mechanical man ever made. She dreams of travelling through the stars again, and when a deadly plague arrives on Genesis, Noemi gets her chance. The only soldier to have ever left her planet, it will be up to her to save its people. If only she wasn’t flying right into a trap.

Abel, now fully aware of his soul and captaining his own Vagabond ship, never dreamed he’d see Noemi again, not when the entire universe stands between them. But when his creator Burton Mansfield delivers news of Noemi’s entrapment, Abel knows he must save her, even if it means risking his own life.

Danger lurks in the dark corners of the galaxy, and Abel and Noemi will discover a secret that could save Genesis and Earth… or destroy them all.

In this thrilling and romantic sequel to Defy the Stars, bestselling author Claudia Gray asks us all to consider what drives us, and where we truly belong.

The first book in this trilogy, Defy the Stars, was absolutely gripping and thrilling to read. I liked that it also explored complex issues and topics such as what it means to be human. Defy the Worlds continues to do that. While it was a little slow at the start, the stakes are quickly ramped up. Claudia Gray is great at getting her characters in difficult situations and forcing them to think of ways to get out of them.

I love Noemi and Abel as characters, and their relationship with each other. Noemi is so headstrong and determined to defend her planet. Meanwhile Abel, as a mech, is still trying to work out his human side in many ways. They have a few differences in opinion, but there actually isn’t much character development for either of them in this book. In Defy the Stars, Noemi has to overcome her preconceived notions of mechs, and Abel has to fight an internal battle against Directive One (his programming). There seemed to be a lot more character development in the first book. However, saying that, the events of this book seem to lend themselves to greater character development in the final installment.

I like how this series questions what it means to be human. Despite how Noemi has come to see Abel as having a ‘soul’ despite being a mech, some other humans still treat him differently and as lesser. This is a really interesting concept to see played out. Even as the books progress, Abel’s own understanding of what and who he is changes as he learns more about his unique life state through his experiences. The book also explores elitism, poverty and biological warfare, so there is some pretty deep subject matter amongst the action.

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