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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Top 10 Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2021

Yet again there are so many new releases I’m excited for! Here are 10 of the ones I’m most looking forward to coming out in January-June 2021.

Top 10 Tuesday was originally created by The Broke and the Bookish, but has now moved to That Artsy Reader Girl. If you’re interested in taking part click here.


Lore by Alexandra Bracken

From the No.1 New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds comes a high-octane story of power, destiny and redemption. A lifetime ago, Lore Perseous left behind the brutal, opulent world of the Agon families – ancient Greek bloodlines that participate in a merciless game every seven years. A game that is about to begin again…

For centuries, Zeus has punished the gods with a game called the Agon, which turns them mortal for one week, and at the mercy of being hunted by those with godly ambitions. Only a handful of the original Greek gods remain, the rest replaced by the mortals who killed them and ascended.

After her family’s sadistic murder by a rival bloodline, Lore escapes and vows to repay her parents’ sacrifice by doing one thing – surviving. For seven years, she has pushed back dark thoughts of revenge against the man responsible for their murder, a man by the name of Wrath who has attained unimaginable power. Except for one week, every seven years. A week that is fast approaching …

When Lore comes home on the first night of the Agon to find Athena gravely wounded on her doorstep, the goddess offers her an alliance; they have a mutual enemy, after all. But as the world trembles under the force of Wrath – a god with the power to destroy all of humanity – will Lore’s decision to bind her fate with Athena’s come back to haunt her?

I have loved anything to do with Ancient Greek mythology since I was a kid so this book sounds right up my street.


A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer

Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace.

Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.

As two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and an old enemy resurfaces who could destroy them all, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.

Even though I didn’t love A Heart So Fierce and Broken as much as A Curse So Dark and Lonely, this is still one of my most anticipated releases this year. I have no idea how the story is going to end but I have a feeling it will break my heart.


The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The start of a bold and immersive West African-inspired, feminist fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther. In this world, girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice.

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

If I remember correctly this book was originally due to come out in 2020 but was one of many releases pushed back by the pandemic. I got an early finished copy in a Fairyloot box which I was very excited about since the premise sounds so good, but haven’t got round to reading it yet!

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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: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Publishing Info: March 2018 by Hodder Paperbacks (first published 2017)

Pages: 532

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Since he was five years old, Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the mythical lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to go in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself – in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors – and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

Strange the Dreamer is, well, strange and dreamlike, and absolutely beautiful. Laini Taylor’s writing is absolutely stunning. Her lyrical prose had me spellbound from the first page. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my favourite books, so I had high expectations for Strange the Dreamer, which is the first novel in a separate duology.

The worldbuilding is phenomenal. I felt completely immersed in the world, as well as being captivated by the mysteries of Weep. I loved discovering the world along with Lazlo, and I was propelled through the first half of the book by my need to know the story behind the mystery of Weep. Even though it had a slower pace, I was intrigued enough for it to hold my attention. In the second half, we get to explore Weep itself, but I won’t tell you too much about that, because part of the wonder of this book was seeing the world unfurl through Lazlo’s eyes. It really is best going into this book not knowing what to expect, because the unexpected in this book is wonderful and mind-boggling.

The two main characters don’t meet until around halfway through the book, so the romance element did feel quite squidged into the second half. I believed Lazlo and Sarai’s feelings for each other and loved their scenes together, but it all happened in a relatively short space of time, and I would have liked more time for their connection to develop.  

There are no caricature villains here, but rather grey characters who do bad things, but you can completely understand the reasons behind their choices, which made for a really compelling cast of characters. There are two groups on opposing sides of a conflict, and the story is crafted in such a way that I felt empathy for both sides, rather than it being a simple case of good vs evil.

Strange the Dreamer is magical, but it also has dark undertones and ultimately explores the effects of tragedy and loss. There is deep meaning woven into this mystical story, and it provides important messages about issues in our own world.

The ending of this book broke my heart and left me feeling utterly devastated and breathless. There is a flicker of hope, but it comes with a price. I will definitely be getting my hands on the sequel, Muse of Nightmares.  

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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Fairyloot July 2020 Unboxing

I have to say I wasn’t that excited for this box but I absolutely loved it! Even though the theme sounded good, I hadn’t read many of the books mentioned in the fandom list, so wasn’t sure how much I would like the items. However, most of the items you can enjoy even if you’ve not read the book they’re inspired by which I was really glad about.

Fairyloot is a UK-based YA fantasy subscription box. If you subscribe, you get a box a month which includes a hardback book and 5-6 exclusive goodies around a theme.

The theme for July was Resilient Royals! So let’s see what was inside…

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Let’s Talk Bookish: The Popularity of YA

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. I’ve not participated in this for a few weeks as I was ill earlier this month but I’m planning on getting back into blogging more again now I’m feeling better!

This week’s topic is ‘The Popularity of YA’. There is a lot to talk about here and there are some interesting questions in the prompt so this week I’m going to structure my post around some of those questions.

Do you like reading YA? Why or why not? What do you love/hate about YA books?

At the moment I do read mostly YA. I think some of the reason for that is I know what I’m going to get with a YA book. I can go into the bookshop and browse the shelves in that section and I can pick out books I think I’ll like. The Adult section is so much bigger and whenever I look there, I just feel a bit overwhelmed and don’t really know what to choose.

I mostly read YA fantasy and science fiction. What I love about YA fantasy and science fiction is that it usually has a pretty fast pace. I’ve not read as much Adult fantasy, but the ones I have read have been a lot longer and slower paced. I don’t mind a slower pace from time to time, but I find most of the time the faster pace and style of writing in YA books is more engaging for me. There are also a lot of white, male fantasy authors out there dominating those Adult shelves. This does seem to be changing and I intend to seek out more female and diverse Adult fantasy authors.

Another reason that I read a lot of YA is because I write it too. I love writing YA fantasy and sci fi so of course I want to read it as well. I’ve done so much more reading this last year and I feel it’s really helped my writing and also makes me feel more inspired.

What do you think is the most popular genre in YA and why?

YA does seem to move in trends. At one point paranormal was super popular, especially paranormal romance, vampires, werewolves and so on. Then dystopia exploded and was everywhere. That seems to have died down now and I’m not sure which genre is most popular at the moment. There do seem to have been a lot of popular fantasy series out in the last few years.

Should YA take up most of our reading (if it indeed does)? Do you think YA transcends the age barrier?

I don’t think there’s a problem with reading a lot of YA. While I mostly read YA, I do read other kinds of books too and I do like having a break from reading YA sometimes for some variety. The most important thing really is that people should read what they enjoy.  

One thing that does irritate me about attitudes to YA is that people can be condescending to adults who read YA. I’m in my 20s and I enjoy reading YA and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think some of that comes from misunderstanding what YA is and people seeing it as inferior, which is not the case. True, not all YA books are great, but neither are all Adult books.

I think YA can be enjoyed by people of all ages (well, teens and up!). People can relate to the way YA characters are trying to discover who they are and find their place in the world.

How do you feel about YA? Do you enjoy reading it? I’d love to know your thoughts, so discuss with me in the comments!

Book Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: 2017 by Orion Children’s Books (first published 2016)  

Pages: 560

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

When you can’t beat the odds, change the game.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Crooked Kingdom is the second book in the Six of Crows series. I feel there was a lot of pressure on this book since Six of Crows was so good, but Crooked Kingdom is even better. While Six of Crows was slow to get going and it took me a little while to warm to the characters, Crooked Kingdom hits the ground running. I didn’t realise quite how much I loved this crew of characters until I was reunited with them. As I was already invested in them and their stories, Crooked Kingdom had a grip on my heart right from the start.  

In Six of Crows, we see our gang travel to Fjerda for their heist, but in Crooked Kingdom the action is focused on Ketterdam. Leigh Bardugo does an amazing job of making the city come alive. The detail in the world building is phenomenal. There was a grittiness to this sequel which came from the setting and the closeness of that setting added to the intensity and suspense.

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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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Book Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Mass

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: September 2014 by Bloomsbury

Pages: 562

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Consumed by guilt and rage, Celaena can’t bring herself to spill blood for the King of Adarlan. She must fight back…

The Immortal Queen will help her destroy the king – for a price. But as Celaena battles with her darkest memories and her heart breaks for a love that could never last, can she fulfil the bargain and head the almighty court of Terrasen? And who will stand with her?

Heir of Fire is the third book in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series and so far it’s been getting better and better with each book. Sarah J. Maas introduces us to new locations and new characters in Heir of Fire which helped keep the story fresh. While the first two books were focused on Rifthold, Heir of Fire is split between three locations and storylines – Celaena in Wendlyn, Chaol and Dorian in Rifthold, and Manon in the Ferian Gap.

Celaena’s story and character development had me gripped the most. Celaena is broken and grieving after the events of Crown of Midnight and she grows a lot in this book. Celaena learns to use her magic and it is not easy. I appreciated that she didn’t get a grip of her magic instantaneously. It took time for her to learn to control her power. I’m not always keen on training sequences as they can be a bit samey and boring, but I didn’t find that at all in this book. Rowan is an interesting addition to the cast. He and Celaena don’t get on at first but their friendship grows as they realise they have more in common than they thought. I didn’t find the sections with Chaol and Dorian as entertaining. Although these parts were necessary for the plot, in places I just wasn’t that gripped by their storyline. Though I did like the introduction of Aedion Ashryver.

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