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

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne  

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: October 2017 by Usbourne Publishing

Pages: 410

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk Bookish: Romance as a Subplot

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s topic is all about romance subplots and I feel like I’m going to have a lot to say about this one!

I think romance subplots need to strike the right balance. They can add to the story in a really great way, but when they come to dominate the characters’ thoughts it can get annoying. This is especially an issue in fantasy and sci-fi, where the stakes are pretty high, say for example there is some kind of world-ending crises, but all they can think about is their feelings. Of course, their feelings are still important, but focusing on the right elements of the story at the right times is so important. Romance can end up distracting the characters from the main plot too much, and that does frustrate me sometimes.

The worst thing about romance subplots is when they are thrown in for the sake of it. Sometimes romance subplots, especially in YA, feel like they are included just to tick a box because it’s become so expected for there to be romance. I can’t think of any I’ve read recently, but I remember noticing this in the past.

I like variety in what I’m reading. I do love stories with romance in them, but I do also enjoy reading books that don’t have romance, and are more focused on the plot, platonic relationships or family. We need more of these kinds of books! Or ones where there is romance, but it develops more slowly over a series rather than in the span of one book. Sometimes romances just seem to develop too quickly.

Another important thing for me when it comes to romance is reader expectations. I want to know what I’m getting myself into before I read a book. If a description doesn’t make it clear romance is the focus, I’m disappointed when the whole book is about romance, especially if I’ve picked it up because I’m looking for something without romance right then. And on the flip side, when a book is promoted based on its romance and then that content is lacking, that’s disappointing too. So I think expectations are important.

Romance can work as a main plot or a subplot, and I enjoy both. What I want to read depends what mood I’m in. So how the book is marketed and whether I go into it with the right expectations is going to make a difference to how much I enjoy it.

I do seem to have read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books in the last couple of years in which romance plays quite a big part, especially in YA. However, a recent read that springs to mind is Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, which I loved, and it didn’t have any romance in it! I could see there being some romance potentially develop in the sequel, which would be fine, but I really liked that the first book in the series focused on the plot and friendships. I would like to read more books that have less of a focus on romance, so if anyone has any recommendations do share them with me in the comments!

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: 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: Bone Crier’s Moon by Kathryn Purdie

Bone Crier’s Moon by Kathryn Purdie

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: March 2020 by Katherine Tegan Books (Fairyloot edition)  

Pages: 453

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Bone ​Criers have a sacred duty. They alone can keep the dead from preying on the living. But their power to ferry the spirits of the dead into goddess Elara’s Night Heavens or Tyrus’s Underworld comes from sacrifice. The gods demand a promise of dedication. And that promise comes at the cost of the Bone Criers’ one true love.

Ailesse has been prepared since birth to become the matriarch of the Bone Criers, a mysterious famille of women who use strengths drawn from animal bones to ferry dead souls. But first she must complete her rite of passage and kill the boy she’s also destined to love.

Bastien’s father was slain by a Bone Crier and he’s been seeking revenge ever since. Yet when he finally captures one, his vengeance will have to wait. Ailesse’s ritual has begun and now their fates are entwined—in life and in death.

Sabine has never had the stomach for the Bone Criers’ work. But when her best friend Ailesse is taken captive, Sabine will do whatever it takes to save her, even if it means defying their traditions—and their matriarch—to break the bond between Ailesse and Bastien. Before they all die.

Bone Crier’s Moon is an imaginative, fast-paced young adult fantasy. I was expecting romance to play a bigger part, but this book has a wider focus. The novel is told from three first person perspectives – Ailesse, Bastien and Sabine.

The magic system and world building in this book are creative and enchanting. The Leuress ferry the dead once a month, guiding them on to Tyrus’s underworld or to Elara’s paradise. They draw their magic from the grace bones of animals. A Leuress has to kill an animal and take one of its bones (warning: there are a few animal deaths in this book). When they wear this bone, they take on the graces of that animal, for example enhanced hearing or strength. In order to become a ferrier, the Leuress have to complete a rite of passage in which they kill their soul mate. The mythology of the bone crier’s is so vivid and it’s such an interesting idea. I loved discovering more about them and I hope we’ll gain even more insight into their magic and their role as ferriers of the dead in the next book.

Sabine was definitely my favourite character. She finds having to kill animals in order to get grace bones very conflicting. She isn’t even sure she wants to be a ferrier. I liked seeing her character grow over the course of the novel. I didn’t connect with Ailesse as much at the start, but she definitely grew on me. I also loved the strength of their friendship and how it drives them. Unfortunately, I felt we didn’t get to know Bastien well enough. I didn’t like or dislike his character; I just didn’t feel like I knew him as well as the two other POV characters. Odiva, Ailesse’s mother, was an interesting character. I knew there was something fishy about her from the start, but I couldn’t have guessed what the truth actually was!

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Top 5 Tuesday: Cute Romances

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bionic Book Worm! I don’t really read much romance or contemporary, so I’ve picked five fantasy and sci-fi books that feature romances I loved.

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin – Lou and Reid are two of my favourites. They hate each other at the start but grow to love each other. Shelby Mahurin wrote the romance in this book really well.

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray – What I loved about Noemi and Abel’s relationship is that they both help open the other’s eyes. Through getting to know Abel, Noemi sees mechs differently, and Noemi opens Abel’s eyes to the world. Together they discover what it means to be human.

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller – This book is described as a Slytherin romance and the Alessandra and Kallius are just really well suited. It ends quite predictably, and while part of me would have liked a more unexpected ending, I also can’t help but be happy for these characters.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare – There are so many great romances in Cassandra Clare’s books! If I had to pick one, it would be Alec and Magnus. They’ve been one of my favourite fictional couples for so long and probably always will be.

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh – This book is so mysterious and sumptuous. I just loved it. And the romance between Celine and Bastien is at the heart of it. I’m excited for the sequel, The Damned, coming out this year!

What romances have you enjoyed? Do you have any cute contemporary romances to recommend? I’d like to pick up a light romance sometimes but I don’t have any lined up so share your recommendations in the comments!

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: KindleEdition, January 2017 by Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 416

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

I was very conflicted over how to rate and review this book. I’ve had Caraval on my Kindle for a little while and was excited to finally get round to reading it. So many people love this series and the concept sounded really intriguing. Unfortunately I didn’t love it from the start. I didn’t enjoy the first half all that much, but things picked up in the second half and I found myself a lot more absorbed.

I can’t quite place my finger on why, but for some reason I just wasn’t hooked from the opening few chapters. Even once Scarlett reached Caraval, I didn’t feel engaged. I was expected to be enchanted by this story, but in the first half I was actually a little bored. I found Scarlet to be an irritating protagonist at the start. Her thoughts were very repetitive and I just didn’t connect with her character. She didn’t want to be there. So I didn’t want to be there. I think if Scarlett had been more excited about the magic and wonder of Caraval, I would have been too.

Scarlett’s focus is on finding Tella and there is some jeopardy around that, but we don’t get to know Tella that well at the beginning of the book, so I wasn’t really invested in the goal of finding her. I liked that she isn’t the cliché sweet sister, but I didn’t find her particularly likeable from what little we see of her before she disappears, so I just wasn’t worried about her. Later we do get to see there is more to Tella, but for most of the book I didn’t like her character.

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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: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: January 2019 by Bloomsbury  

Pages: 496

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

I have to admit, this is one of those books I picked up because of the hype. I passed it time and time again in the bookshop and considered buying it, but changed my mind (that shiny spine on the paperback edition catches the eye!). I’m not a big Beauty and the Beast fan, so that wasn’t a particular selling point to me, although I do love retellings. Eventually, I bought it, and I’m glad I did.

Although it’s a romance, it also explores the people of Emberfall and the conflict with a neighbouring kingdom, so there was a good blend of romance and fantasy. The writing style is easy to read but also vivid and at the end of each chapter I was eager to turn the page and continue reading. It’s told in the alternating first person perspectives of Harper and Rhen. It often takes me a while to settle into this kind of style, but I didn’t have that problem with this book. The story gets going right from the start, with Harper being transported to Emberfall, so I was hooked from the off.

I immediately took to Harper, Rhen and Grey. I’m so glad that Brigid Kemmerer decided to include a main character with cerebral palsy. There needs to be more characters with disabilities and chronic health conditions in YA books. I loved that Harper’s cerebral palsy doesn’t hold her back. She’s thrown into this fantasy world from DC and quickly adapts, using her fearlessness to fight bad guys and stand up for others. Harper has to be one of my favourite YA heroines.

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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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