Review: The School for Good and Evil (#1) by Soman Chainani

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With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.
The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.
But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

I’ve wanted to read this book for such a long time, since my good friend Pete told me how much he loved it after reading it in 2017. 5 years later, and I’m looking forward to meeting Soman Chainani at YALC in a few weeks time, and finally decided to pick up the start of this series. I actually read this first book on audio, and I really enjoyed the narration of it and actually found it easier to read than the physical copy.

I loved how this book existed in a world where fairytales are real and the two main characters find themselves in what was, essentially, a fairytale of their own. It made for quite a unique dynamic to the story but it still felt reminiscent of middle grade fantasy.

 “You’re not evil, Sophie,” Agatha whispered, touching her decayed cheek. “You’re human.”

The only big problem I had with this book was the fact it was told in third person, and I was quite glad to be listening to the audiobook because of that. The book often changes perspective, and I found it difficult to follow at times.

The best part of this book for me was definitely the female friendship between Sophie and Agatha, and I loved how they stuck together through everything. I was a little surprised by the amount of romance, but it was reminiscent of fairytales rather than YA/adult books.

Sophie smiled weakly. “Only if I have you.”

I don’t feel like I quite loved this book as much as many people seem to, but I did still enjoy a lot of aspects of it and will definitely be recommending it to children who are looking for a new fantasy read, and have already started listening to the second book in the series!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: House of Sky and Breath (#2) by Sarah J Maas

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Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal―they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.
The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

It took me way too long to read this book. I’m talking like, over three months. I read around 150 pages in April, got distracted by a lot of other books on my tbr I needed to get through, and then finally managed to get back to reading in June. I must say though, from the very start of this book I was so happy to finally be back in this world and with Sarah J Maas’s writing.

I found House of Earth and Blood quite difficult to get through and it also took me a while to read (not quite 3 months though!). I did enjoy the second half a lot more, and that carried onto the second book, so I felt like it took me a much shorter time to get into the story itself.

Our love is stronger than time, greater than any distance.

I really like Bryce and Hunt and the best part of this book was definitely reading about their relationship. The sex scenes were okay but didn’t carry the same excitement as A Court of Silver Flames. I also just found their points of view just didn’t take up anywhere near enough of the book. Instead, we followed a variety of characters that changed frequently and were mostly male. This just isn’t what I see as Sarah J Maas’s trademark, and I really missed the female power and strength.

The plot itself was okay, but it also felt like there was so many elements (and so many characters) to remember, that some of it went over my head a little. But having heard so much about the ending, I was expecting to be blown out of the water, and I wasn’t wrong. The ending astounded me, and I can’t wait to pick up the next book now.

Our love spans across stars and worlds. I will find you again, I promise.

Overall, this one ended up being better in some areas than House of Earth and Blood, but I missed the focus on Bryce and Hunt. This series is definitely my least favourite of Maas’s, but I am excited for the next book after that ending!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: As Far as You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

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Now that Marty is almost 18, he’s about to decide what he wants for his future, and finally moving to London is it. He arrives with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but Marty is excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.
To his friends back in America, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, and his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse. Will Marty be able to finally find a place that feels like home? 

I’ve had this one sat on my shelf for a while now and I finally decided to pick it up as a summer contemporary. And although this one was quite easy to read and definitely has some summery vibes, it was quite a lot heavier than I expected too. This book delves into themes of abuse, homophobia and eating disorders, which I didn’t expect.

However, the writing was easy to fall into and perfect for a holiday read, as I got sucked into the story quickly and wanted to keep reading on. I also really enjoyed the UK setting between London and Cardiff.

Love is something entirely different. It’s realizing the storm’s been raging so long you forget you’re drenched,

I just can’t help but feel like this book was kind of just okay. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It had some really great elements, but I almost wanted more, and I just don’t know if Stamper managed to 100% deliver what he wanted to in what turned out to be quite a short book.

I did like the friendship group and they felt quite found-family esque, which was great. I didn’t enjoy the romance or love interest, however, and the plot didn’t lead in the exact direction that I wanted it to by the end.

until the sun kisses your cheek, dries your tears, and shows you where your real home is.

Overall, I did like this book, but it felt a bit tropey and cliche to be honest. It does take a lot for a YA contemporary to blow my mind, but this one wasn’t it.

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.
To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.
A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör is designed to retain its luster and natural appearance for a lifetime of use. Pleasingly proportioned with generous French flaps and a softcover binding, Horrorstör delivers the psychological terror you need in the elegant package you deserve.
Designed by Andie Reid, cover photography by Christine Ferrara.

I’ve wanted to read a Grady Hendrix book for a very long time, and when I saw the design for Horrorstor, I just knew I had to pick it up. This book is designed to be a copy IKEA catalog, and it makes the whole book incredibly entertaining to read. I think the design of this book is pure genius, and the story itself was pretty good too.

I had no idea what to expect on the horror front – but this turned out to be paranormal style horror, which I enjoyed. It was weird, not too spooky, and not quite real. A good balance of horror for me personally, although I could have stood maybe slightly more creepiness in places.

There are enough people running around in here.

I also related to the main character, Amy. There is a large part of this book that focuses on the difficulty of working in retail. I’m talking the day-in-day-out slog of working with shitty customers all day, every day. I love my job, but I also know what it feels like to be in the kind of retail Amy was constantly sassy about. I loved, and very much related to, that satirical narrative. See this review for a brilliant selection of gifs about working in retail (and a review of the book of course!).

The plot kept me entertained and was super fun in a lot of ways. I read this in two sittings and it kept me interested throughout. I had no idea how it was going to end, but I did quite like the ending we had. The characters banded together in a way that reminded me of my own work family and I can imagine us coming together if we ended up in a crazy situation like this one!

It’s starting to feel like an episode of Scooby-Doo.

Overall, this was a great introduction to Grady Hendrix and I can’t wait to read more by him.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Only on the Weekends by Dean Atta

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Mack. Karim. Finlay. Mack never thought he’d find love, let alone with two people. Will he make the right choice? And can love last for ever? A must-read queer love story for fans of Sex Education, written in verse by Dean Atta.
Fifteen-year-old Mack is a hopeless romantic – he blames the films he’s grown up watching. He has liked Karim for as long as he can remember, and is ecstatic when Karim becomes his boyfriend – it feels like love.
But when Mack’s dad gets a job on a film in Scotland, Mack has to move, and soon he discovers how painful love can be. It’s horrible being so far away from Karim, but the worst part is that Karim doesn’t make the effort to visit. Love shouldn’t be only on the weekends.
Then, when Mack meets actor Finlay on a film set, he experiences something powerful, a feeling like love at first sight. How long until he tells Karim – and when will his old life and new life collide? 

I really enjoyed The Black Flamingo by this author when I read it a while ago, so I was super excited to find out he was releasing a new book – Only on the Weekends.

However, I knew I might struggle with this one. The bottom line is, I really dislike cheating storylines, so I was hesitant knowing this was following a character who started crushing on a boy when he was already in a relationship. But I must say, I feel like for the most part that aspect of the book was handled really well. It still gave me the ick in places, but didn’t detract from the story itself as much as I expected.

So you get to feel invincible

I enjoyed the verse narrative yet again, which is definitely where Atta shines. The Black Flamingo was beautifully written, and Only on the Weekends was no different. This book is pretty chunky, clocking in at 521 pages, but I still felt like I connected well with Mack in pretty few words.

Although this one discusses coming out and coming to terms with identity less than The Black Flamingo did, it still makes up a part of the story and leaves room for new explorations, such as non-monogamy. Although this isn’t often discussed in black-and-white terms, there are some definite emerging themes that I found interesting to read about, if not exactly relatable on a personal level.

but I’ve got to stay invisible?

Overall, this didn’t blow me away like The Black Flamingo did. But I reckon that would be a pretty difficult achievement at this rate. This still made for an enjoyable read, and Atta definitely works wonders with verse.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

I was one of the very few people in the world (it seems) that actually didn’t really enjoy Daisy Jones and the Six. Honestly, I wasn’t planning on ever picking up another TJR book. But then I kept hearing about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and my best friend Courtney loved it so much she gave me her copy when she bought a hardback edition. So I thought I’d give it a go, and I don’t regret it.

I listened to most of this book on audio, and then read the last 80 or so pages in physical format because I just couldn’t put it down. The whole book was so good, but the last part of this book was simply astounding. TJR has woven a brilliant, genius story. I loved it.

People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, 

If there is one thing TJR manages across her books, it’s making her characters seem real. Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Daisy Jones and the Six, I can definitely agree that the band themselves felt like a real band. And in this case, Evelyn herself felt like a real star, in all of her good, bad and ugly glory. I was so drawn into her story and into Monique’s, who was writing Evelyn’s autobiography. And although I can’t speak from personal experience about the bi rep, I feel like it was done really well.

The plot was so intriguing, and the ending had me absolutely shook. There are very few books I have been that surprised about, but I was left reeling with this one.

when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.

Overall, this book was so compelling and enjoyable to read. If you haven’t already, please go and pick it up!

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun (#1) by Tola Okogwu

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Onyeka has a lot of hair­—the kind that makes strangers stop in the street and her peers whisper behind her back. At least she has Cheyenne, her best friend, who couldn’t care less what other people think. Still, Onyeka has always felt insecure about her vibrant curls…until the day Cheyenne almost drowns and Onyeka’s hair takes on a life of its own, inexplicably pulling Cheyenne from the water.
At home, Onyeka’s mother tells her the shocking truth: Onyeka’s psycho-kinetic powers make her a Solari, one of a secret group of people with super powers unique to Nigeria. Her mother quickly whisks her off to the Academy of the Sun, a school in Nigeria where Solari are trained. But Onyeka and her new friends at the academy soon have to put their powers to the test as they find themselves embroiled in a momentous battle between truth and lies…

This book reminded me how much fun middle grade can be. I picked this one up hoping for a fantasy reminiscent of Amari and the Night Brothers, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Onyeka finds out early in this book that she has psycho-kinetic powers from her hair, and the book honestly explodes from there. I was hooked on this book from the first few chapters, because it was so action packed and quick to read.

The Academy of the Sun was such a brilliant setting and the plot kept me gripped from beginning to end. I also really enjoyed the complexities of the plot in relation to Onyeka’s friends and family relationships.

I loved how this book discussed Black culture and focused on the power of Onyeka’s hair. The author has worked in hair care and this shows throughout the book, especially in the passion of Onyeka’s power.

I hope that many children pick up this book and see themselves in Onyeka. This story was so refreshing, fun, fast-paced and entertaining.

I’m so excited to hear this book will be adapted for screen by David Oyelowo and Will Smith and released on Netflix!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Witches Steeped in Gold (#1) by Ciannon Smart

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Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.
Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.
Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

I don’t even know what to say about this book, because I remember nothing. I had a strange inkling that I might not enjoy this book, and honestly I should have listened to that inkling. I finally decided to pick this book up because the author is going to be at YALC this year, and I also decided to listen to the audiobook.

Often, when I read a book on audio, I make every excuse to why I might not have enjoyed it. Maybe I was distracted? Maybe the format didn’t work for me? Maybe I had the speed too fast? But with this book, I am going with my gut and saying I don’t think the reason I disliked this one is because of me. It’s not me, it’s Witches Steeped in Gold.

Though the night is flush with stars, 

This book is just so long and I also don’t feel like anything happened. If you asked me to describe this book, I could still only tell you what is covered in the synopsis. I feel like there is so much attempted to pack into this series that it just all went completely over my head.

The only thing I do remember about this book is that they spoke in Jamaican Patois, which I found interesting to read and I liked that it was discussed in the book itself too.

the sky still seems like a lid of earth closing atop a grave.

Honestly, I would have most likely DNF’d this book if I hadn’t have already purchased the audiobook. I don’t think I’d have gotten through the physical copy, and I won’t be continuing with the series.

★★
2 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family—and from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitating toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?
Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

It was very odd going into this one straight after reading The Love Hypothesis, because this one actually had a little bit of a reflection of the plot, in a way. Dimple and Rishi meet at a summer program before college, and the romance mixed with academia did remind me of a younger The Love Hypothesis.

When Dimple Met Rishi is actually one of the books that had been on my TBR for the longest, and I’ve probably had it sitting on my shelves for almost 5 years. Because of that, I have been quite hesitant to pick it up, as I just felt like this one would be too young for me. Although it does come across as quite young, I did still enjoy it more than I expected.

This is our life. We get to decide the rules.

I quickly found myself jumping into the story, and I really liked the summer program setting, which I could picture well and made it super easy to read – just what I needed. Delving into this one on long summer days was just perfect! The fact this one discusses arranged marriages and Indian traditions gave it an extra element too, and I liked having different sides from both Dimple and Rishi.

However, I did find this book quite predictable, and it also felt quite a lot older than it actually was. If I’d have guessed, I’d have imagined this book was released around 2010. I can’t pinpoint the reasons why, but I’ve seen more detailed reviews (like this one) calling out some issues such as sexism, which although I didn’t notice at the time per se, I can see on reflection and may be why it felt so dated to me.

We get to say what goes and what stays, what matters and what doesn’t.

Overall, I did enjoy this one but it wasn’t amazing. I can see why this book has a lot of fans, and it was a nice easy read when I needed something to dive into, but I don’t think I’ll be carrying on with the series.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

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As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.
That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.
Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

I never expected to be here, almost a month after I read this book, still thinking about how it might just be my favourite book of the year so far.

There are certain books that I just don’t find myself being drawn to – and this was one of them. I never wanted to read this one, because I don’t tend to drift towards romance, or ‘TikTok books’ in general. But I changed my mind when I first heard this book had demisexual rep, and soon afterward started getting recommendations for this from friends. Thank you specifically to Amy and Charlotte for recommending this and making me finally pick it up!

I wish you could see yourself

I read most of this one on audio, and then finished reading it physically because I literally couldn’t put it down. I was absolutely hooked, and I wanted to know what was going to happen to Adam and Olive. I loved Olive as a main character a lot, and Adam was an absolute sweetheart. Adam’s personality absolutely made my heart melt, and I rooted for them throughout the entire book.

But there was more than just the romance to keep me interested – I really loved the atmosphere around Olive being at university, and reading about her PhD while I was finishing off my dissertation was so good. I feel like there was so much I could relate to on the academic front, and I also enjoyed reading about her friendships and other relationships too.

the way I see you.

Honestly, I just don’t have a bad word to say about this book. I absolutely loved it, I immediately wanted to read anything else by Ali Hazelwood and I still want to re-read it. I never expected to love this as much as I did, but it was so good.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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