Review: Glass Sword (#2) by Victoria Aveyard

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If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different. Mare’s blood is red – the colour of common folk – but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court wants to control.
Pursued by the vengeful Silver king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join the rebellion. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.
Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

I decided to carry on with this series straight away, and also read Glass Sword in audio format. As I’m not driving much at the moment, I’m only listening to audiobooks when I run, walk and occasionally do venture out in my car. However, I’m still challenging myself to read an audiobook per month, and I’m also trying to gradually make my way through this series! I just about managed to read the whole of Glass Sword in February, although these books keep getting longer, so I only hope I can do the same for King’s Cage in March.

The main thing I took away from this book was that it felt so slow. I’m not sure if it’s just the fact I read it over a longer period of time, but I just don’t feel like much happened. Red Queen was packed with action compared to this one, and Mare’s situation was constantly changing. However, with Glass Sword, I felt like most of the plot could be summarised very quickly and in very few sentences.

No one is born evil, just like no one is born alone. 

The slower plot did allow for more character development, however, which I enjoyed and felt was needed after Red Queen. Although I felt like I knew Mare quite well in the first book, I just didn’t know enough about the side characters to invest in them. But in Glass Sword, we definitely get to spend more time around everybody, which I really enjoyed. The only thing I have to point out is boy, does Mare get annoying in places. Especially towards the end, she is so full of self pity. I could always see where she was coming from and sympathised with her, but it did feel repetitive to read about in places.

Even though the plot was a little slow, we did have a few action packed scenes which were amazingly written, especially towards the end. Aveyard also knows how to write a harrowing scene, which left me feeling empty and hollow in places. The only slight disappointment I had was guessing the ending purely because of the name of the third book in the series…

It is worth pointing out that the plot of Glass Sword allows for a lot more exploration of the world, which I found myself really enjoying.

 They become that way, through choice and circumstance.

Overall, there was a lot to like about this book, but it had a little bit of sequel/second book syndrome for me. But hopefully that means King’s Cage is going to pick up once more and be more on par with Red Queen! I may also start reading these partly in physical format to see if that makes me feel any differently about the last two in the series.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Horrid by Katrina Leno

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Following her father’s death, Jane North-Robinson and her mom move from sunny California to the dreary, dilapidated old house in Maine where her mother grew up. All they want is a fresh start, but behind North Manor’s doors lurks a history that leaves them feeling more alone…and more tormented.
As the cold New England autumn arrives, and Jane settles in to her new home, she finds solace in old books and memories of her dad. She steadily begins making new friends, but also faces bullying from the resident “bad seed,” struggling to tamp down her own worst nature in response. Jane’s mom also seems to be spiralling with the return of her childhood home, but she won’t reveal why. Then Jane discovers that the “storage room” her mom has kept locked isn’t for storage at all — it’s a little girl’s bedroom, left untouched for years and not quite as empty of inhabitants as it appears….
Is it grief? Mental illness? Or something more… horrid?

I’m not usually one for horror books, but this one caught my eye and I really wanted to give it a go. When Blue offered to sell me their Owlcrate edition, I decided to try it. I have to say, this one didn’t disappoint and I’m really glad I picked it up. I did want to save this for Halloween season, but I picked this out of my TBR jar and I thought, why not?

This book was utterly enthralling and I struggled to put it down. It is written in large (25-100ish pages each, averaging at about 50 at a guess) sections rather than chapters, which I was originally apprehensive about but it really worked. I flew through this because I just couldn’t stop reading and I really wanted to know what was going to happen.

Jane had recently lost her father, which meant a big move for her and her mother from California to small town Maine where her mother grew up in a spooky old manor house. I absolutely adored the atmosphere, it really encapsulated the feeling of this book. The whole town has a creepy, isolated feel but especially the manor. I was utterly gripped by this book, especially the spooky scenes. It terrified me, but I loved it, because it was so cleverly done.

I think the important thing to realize, to try and remember, is that grief doesn’t have a rule book. 

Throughout the book, the mystery surrounding the house is slowly revealed to Jane, and she realises she does have reason to be scared of the big old house, which is shrouded in darkness. If this book was one thing, it was super dark. It demonstrates the darkest parts of the human mind, and felt so harrowing for it. I really enjoyed the way the mystery was revealed, although the ending did let me down slightly. I just expected it to be a little clearer, and I was left with a lot of questions. It was left very open, which lets the reader decide for themselves how the book really ends, but this just didn’t quite appeal to me personally and did make this not quite 5 stars.

Grief, mental illness and pica (a disorder when people eat things that have no nutritional value) are at the forefront of this book. I thought the depiction of grief was very well done, and I really sympathised with Jane. The quote I’ve included in this review really pinpoints the tone this book took with grief. Mental illness, especially anger issues, were prominent and I really appreciated the way Horrid talked about mental illness passing down between family members.

You’re allowed to feel every emotion under the sun. You’re even allowed to invent new ones. I think I’ve done that a few times

Overall, this was definitely a bit of a pleasant surprise considering I don’t usually drift towards horror. The writing really stood out, and was beautiful yet jarring. I also loved that Jane worked at a bookshop and was a reader herself. I actually really sympathised with her which shows how clever the writing was. The plot was enthralling and thrilling, with some absolutely spine chilling scenes. If you do enjoy a good scare, that has some poignant writing about family, mental illness and grief, I couldn’t recommend this enough.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Mark’s Review: In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk

Hello all, a little note before we begin to present you with a second review from Mark – my partner in crime, and sometimes, in reading. We occasionally will read a little together before going to sleep, read a few pages of our favourite books to one another, or even read together on a lovely summertime picnic, like pictured below. We always both have a book (or several!) on the go, and I’m here today to give you Mark’s review of one of the books he’s recently read, In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk.

Lindsey Kelk, In Case You Missed It (2020)

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When Ros comes home after three years away, she’s ready to pick up with life exactly where she left it. But her friends have moved on, her parents have rekindled their romance, and her bedroom is now a garden shed. All of a sudden, she’s swept up in nostalgia for the way things were.
Then her phone begins to ping, with messages from her old life. Including one number she thought she’d erased for good – the man who broke her heart. Is this her second chance at one big love? Sometimes we all want to see what we’ve been missing…

It’s best to start by admitting, at this point, I am unashamedly a fan of Lindsey Kelk. So feel free to call this a review, but definitely a biased one. Though know that I hope to convey a sample of my enjoyment in the hope you might find something similar in this, or another, of Kelk’s books.

The first time I read anything by Kelk it was unintentional and, I must shyly admit, in jest. At some point around 7 years ago in the kitchen of a shared house, I did a dramatic reading of a section of What A Girl Wants. A week later, after wondering what happened in the story after (and before) my performance piece I found myself ordering a copy of that book and the one that came before it. The Tess Brookes trilogy ended up helping me get through a very busy and incredibly stressful multi work contract year and ever since then Kelk’s novels have serendipitously arrived as the perfect…indulgence? Distraction? I am not sure what to call it… It’s honestly like a holiday with old friends when you didn’t realise you needed one.

As my interruptions in Beth’s blog will retrospectively prove, I’m not a massive reader of fiction and, even then, often not particularly contemporary fiction. So Kelk’s work is something of a rarity to me and I am probably a rarity in her traditional audience. Kelk is someone who’s books I will now blindly pick up and have, looking back, had with me during significant times over the last few years. One was in my kit bag shooting the last short film. Another I scoured late night supermarkets for to take with me for my first international marathon. And so we get to 2020 and In Case You Missed It. As the first lockdown in England was ending and, from the 10-15 hours of news I was still watching per day, I knew the rollercoaster ride was far from over, Beth messaged me one morning – simply “New Lindsey Kelk book!”.

As ever, Kelk writes a warm story, but one that will occasionally challenge you, yet always make you feel part of the gang. The story is the perfection of formula. Proof that something done well doesn’t have to be revolutionary to be fresh and work elegantly. You could call the outcome early on if you were given to, but if you did you would be missing the point. As with the best stories, the joy is not where it’s going but how you get there. Going on the ride and engaging with what it makes both you and the characters feel. This is neatly also a wider theme in the book, one that I was surprised to find oddly profound at points. Discovering that your life and your loved ones aren’t quite who you thought they were. Just as Ros raced back to London, I wonder how many of us will want to race back to some idealised old life when we call the pandemic officially over? And what we will later realise we missed along the way.

‘It has been a while, what if he’s changed?’
‘He could have been turned into a unicorn that’s tasked with protecting the Holy Grail and I still wouldn’t think it was a good idea to text him,’  she said, bluntly as ever ‘You were together six months and it’s taken you three years to get over him. Don’t do this to yourself.’
‘it was nine months,’ I corrected. ‘Almost ten.’

The book weaves a way through a range of memorably awkward locales in a convincingly homely London, a converted garden shed, a dark disco, a suburban tennis club, all on a collision course with both a video games convention and Ros’ Parents renewal of vows (which, thinking about it, my parents also did last year!). I have probably been reading this book since that day Beth brought me back a copy. Picking it up and putting it down, reading it through 2 more lockdowns. Never quite wanting it to end, but always finding it comfortable to come back to after say, the chaos of my return to work or whatever rude word you want to use to describe last Christmas. In Case You Missed It is like a hug from an old friend, right before they call you an embarrassing schoolyard nickname, on a night spent talking about the past and the future. It’s a friendly book about where we’re going in life, having nostalgic feelings but dealing with the reality of now.

‘We tend to assume we’re entitled to the things we have, we rewrite history to make life easier for ourselves. It’s not the case, Ros.’
‘I know, mum’ I said quietly.

From a lakeside read on a summer picnic (pictured above) to finishing it in the bath mere hours ago, I was once again happy to have been on a Lindsey Kelk adventure, with a set of new but invitingly familiar characters, during another weirdly intense period in time. With another book due next year, I find myself wondering…. what possible journey we’ll all go on next?

______________

It’s a random end note that, as a lifelong fan of pro wrestling, I always spotted occasional references in Kelk’s work that seemed too specific to be accidental. Later I would realise she is also a fan and now go looking for these nods, again this book didn’t disappoint. So this time, to bring my own, I used a WCW Arn Anderson trading card as a bookmark. No one needs to know this and the book itself will never appreciate it, but I had to tell someone to make it less odd.

-Mark

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Stacking the Shelves #38

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga where we share books we’ve bought or received this week. Find out more and join in here!

I don’t have a massive amount of books on preorder right now, but this was one of them. Although I haven’t actually read the 5th book in the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children yet, I definitely want to finally finish this series! I enjoyed the original trilogy a lot and I liked A Map of Days, so I am looking forward to carrying on with this story. As far as I’m aware, this is actually going to be the last Miss Peregrine’s book, but we shall see!

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What have you bought this week?

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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Review: The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker by Lauren James

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What if death is only the beginning?
When Harriet Stoker dies after falling from a balcony in a long-abandoned building, she discovers a group of ghosts, each with a special power.
Felix, Kasper, Rima and Leah welcome Harriet into their world, eager to make friends with the new arrival after decades alone. Yet Harriet is more interested in unleashing her own power, even if it means destroying everyone around her. But when all of eternity is at stake, the afterlife can be a dangerous place to make an enemy.

Lauren James never fails to blow my mind with her books. She has written some of the most original, unique stories I’ve ever read. Every time I read something new by her, I am astounded by her creativity and imagination. I always forget how amazing the twists and turns are, and how the endings absolutely hook you. I was left shocked in places with all of the plot twists, most of which I didn’t see coming! Whereas Lauren James usually writes science fiction, this book is very much paranormal.

This book starts with Harriet Stoker, a uni student who goes into an abandoned building in the grounds of her university to take photos, and falls to her death. She then becomes a ghost who is stuck in the building alongside every other ghost who has died on the grounds over the years. Harriet becomes frightened and in a panic, tries desperately to return to her grandmother. This makes her try everything and anything, making deals with the darker souls of the building and taking things from others.

Those early humans weren’t interested in entertainment. It hadn’t been invented yet. 

I found Harriet a very unlikable character for most of this story, which made me struggle to sympathise with her. I always struggle to truly enjoy a book where I dislike the main character, which is sadly what I found for most of this novel. Although she does have a redemption arc, and she isn’t the only one with a POV, it just felt like a large chunk of the book was not as enjoyable for me because of it.

We do learn more about why Harriet acts the way she does, which I very much appreciated and could sympathise with her more. She is also part of an amazing group of ghosts, centered around a particular friendship group, most of whom passed away in 1994 as residents of the building when it was student accommodation. This friendship group had such a lovely ‘found family’ feel to it which I loved, and the characters were really diverse. This was probably the best part of the book for me, alongside the amazing ending!

There were no happy endings or romance or heroes. The stories nearly always ended in death. 

I did find quite a lot of this book quite slow, and I did really notice the fact it was all set in one place. The ending almost makes up for it in terms of pace, as it is quite a payoff, but I still had mixed feelings about the pacing,

Overall, this was an incredibly creative read with some really well developed, interesting characters and amazing plot twists. Not everything was perfect, but it had such a great atmosphere and was such an easy, engaging read to fly through!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Hero at the Fall (#3) by Alwyn Hamilton

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Once, in the desert country of Miraji, there was a Sultan without an heir.
The heir had been killed by his own brother, the treacherous Rebel Prince, who was consumed by jealousy and sought the throne for himself.
Or so it was said by some. There were others who said that the Rebel Prince was not a traitor but a hero…
In the final battle for the throne, Amani must fight for everything she believes in, but with the rebellion in pieces, and the Sultan’s armies advancing across the desert plains, who will lead, who will triumph, who will live and who will die?

My first thought after finishing this series is it is so underrated. I found them on a table in a bookshop years ago, and have heard little about them since, especially online. I enjoyed this more than some of the biggest YA fantasy/dystopian series and they should definitely have more hype! First of all, this series has been so unique and I loved the fact it was set in a desert. The worldbuilding in this series has been excellent and I could picture the desert and palace so clearly.

One of my favourite parts of this series was the friendship group, which had a real found family aspect to it. Although in this particular book I felt there was a little lack of character development and some of the side characters were a little interchangeable, the main few I really liked. Their banter and discussions felt natural and even made me chuckle in places. The end of the book was absolute roller-coaster and I had tears in my eyes in places. I really liked Amani and Jin’s relationship and the connection they had was beautifully written.

But even if the desert forgot a thousand and one of our stories, it was enough that they would tell of us at all. 

This last book was definitely the most action filled, which made it a very quick read. But unfortunately for me, I didn’t like it quite as much as the second, which I think was my favourite. I tend to prefer character focused books that I can feel a real connection to, rather than action packed books that leave me feeling a little disconnected from the characters. That’s how I felt about this book, just a little too disconnected from the characters to enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. The last part of this book almost made up for the parts I didn’t find quite so clear, but not quite. The ending reminded me of the end of Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses when you just don’t know what is going to happen to the characters, or whether they will be okay.

Amani was an amazing, strong, brave female main character throughout this whole series, and she was one of my favourite things about it. She was such a great role model and I love how Jin complemented her but it was always clear she could be just fine on her own. It is subtle and in the background of the books until they are together and they burn so brightly, I loved seeing them together.

That long after our deaths, men and women sitting around a fire would hear that once, long ago, before we were all just stories, we lived.

Overall, I really liked this series. It was such a unique twist on YA fantasy and I haven’t read anything else quite like it. Also, it’s worth mentioning the covers are drop dead gorgeous!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

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What does persuasion mean – a firm belief, or the action of persuading someone to think something else? Anne Elliot is one of Austen’s quietest heroines, but also one of the strongest and the most open to change. She lives at the time of the Napoleonic wars, a time of accident, adventure, the making of new fortunes and alliances.

Yay for my first Jane Austen book, second classic of the year and first one of my Wordsworth set that I am actually reading this copy of! This is a book Mark recommended to me, and I knew I wanted it to be the first one I read in this set. If a cold Autumn day is the best time to read a Jane Austen book, maybe a snowy winter one can be second. I felt so cosy settling down with this book in the evenings with my fairylights on, it was just perfect.

Like many classics, I did find this a little dense. I’m not much of a classics reader usually (I’m really trying to get into them this year a little more!). I always find it takes me a while to settle into a classic and get used to the writing. I also have to get used to it taking me around double the amount of time it takes me to read YA fantasy and contemporary which I’m reading for most of the time! I definitely think a reread would be beneficial.

I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.

Something that really surprised me about this book was how humorous I found it. The writing is so poetic and beautiful, but also funny. Austen can be sassy and brutal and I loved it, it made me chuckle to myself in parts. I loved the writing in every sense, other than it being naturally a little difficult to read due to just not being used to the time period. It was lyrical and I wanted to savour it, and I definitely made sure to take my time with it and really appreciate the writing.

Anne made for a very likable main character and her discussions of love, friendship, women in society and family were so interesting and well done. I loved the subtle romance between her and Captain Wentworth, which was pining but not overwhelming to the story. The letter everyone talks about when it comes to this book is so beautiful and such a high point for this book. I love how we spend the whole book with Anne, to see the letter in return. What a beautiful scene.

None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.

Overall, this was a beautifully told tale full of romance, lust and persistence. I felt very involved in the story, I loved the setting and the writing, and I can’t wait to read more from Jane Austen!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Stacking the Shelves #37

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga where we share books we’ve bought or received this week. Find out more and join in here!

Hi all! I’ve been a little better at buying books recently, but I have something very exciting to show you all today! My lovely boyfriend Mark gifted me a book for Valentine’s day that I am so, so happy and excited about. I have been looking for the Owlcrate version of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue for a while now, and I’d almost given up on being able to find one I could afford. I was just trying to convince myself I didn’t need this beautiful edition, when Mark gave me this one. I couldn’t believe it!

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Credit: bookishluna.com

This is the beautiful back cover of the book, with the front cover being similar to the American hardback. I can’t wait to see them next to each other on the shelf!

What have you bought this week?

-Beth

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Review: Traitor to the Throne (#2) by Alwyn Hamilton

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Nearly a year has passed since Amani and the rebels won their epic battle at Fahali. Amani has come into both her powers and her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and the Rebel Prince’s message has spread across the desert – and some might say out of control. But when a surprise encounter turns into a brutal kidnapping, Amani finds herself betrayed in the cruellest manner possible.
Stripped of her powers and her identity, and torn from the man she loves, Amani must return to her desert-girl’s instinct for survival. For the Sultan’s palace is a dangerous one, and the harem is a viper’s nest of suspicion, fear and intrigue. Just the right place for a spy to thrive… But spying is a dangerous game, and when ghosts from Amani’s past emerge to haunt her, she begins to wonder if she can trust her own treacherous heart.

I’m reading this series with Alex and we’re really enjoying it! I liked Rebel of the Sands a lot but I wasn’t sure where this story would go. However, I actually enjoyed this more than the first book. It was even more of an emotional rollercoaster with so many twists and turns, me and Alex were messaging each other every day with our reactions and there were a lot of ‘did you get to this bit yet?’ messages too. Having read the first book, I felt a lot less daunted by this one and enjoyed it a lot more than going into the first one with no background to the characters and their story.

Again, I loved Amani as a main character. She is such a strong female lead, and the romance takes a backseat but I still really like the relationship Amani and Jin have. It feels like Amani is complemented by Jin rather than being supported by him, which I really liked. I also loved the supporting cast of characters yet again, and Sam was a great addition to the story. I feel like having a new character introduced into the second book in the series really helps boost the story and Sam made me laugh so much.

But then, this was what the desert did to us. 

I really liked the setting of this book. Rather than being the wider desert, it’s set in a palace which I loved. I felt like I could picture the palace so clearly and having the majority of the book being set in the palace helped a lot. I definitely preferred it being set around the palace than the wider desert! Looking back, I feel like this book should have been a slow burner. But although it’s hard to tell with this being a buddy read and reading a set amount of pages a day, I feel like this was actually quite a quick read. I just wanted to keep reading as this book just had so much tension.

Once again in this book, I really liked the found family element of this story. Even though Amani is on her own in the palace throughout this, she is surrounded from a distance by her supportive friends. I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional in places but genuinely chuckle to myself in others. These books kind of have it all!

It made us dreamers with weapons.

I’m very glad to say this book definitely didn’t have second book syndrome, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see what the last book has to give!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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