Review: Fireborn (#1) by Aisling Fowler

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Ember is full of monsters.
Twelve gave up her name and identity to train in the art of hunting them–so she says. The truth is much more deadly: she trains to take revenge on those who took her family from her.
But when Twelve’s new home is attacked, she’ll find herself on an unexpected journey, where her hidden past is inescapably intertwined with her destiny–and the very fate of her world.

I don’t often drift towards middle grade but I couldn’t resist the pull of Fireborn, a beautiful adventure story following a heroine known as Twelve and her squirrel companion.

I listened to the vast majority of this book as an audiobook and really enjoyed the narration, although I do think this can be a little difficult to follow due to the flashbacks, which are italicised in the physical print. The plot was fast paced and full of adventure, and felt like a true quest story at heart which I loved.

The world was rich and vibrant with a great cast of characters who felt like a real found family – they had their disagreements and difficulties, but it just made them feel more like brothers and sisters to me.

I did personally follow the first half of the book much easier than the second half, but that could also be me becoming distracted while listening and struggling to follow. I picked up the physical book for the last 50ish pages, which I found easier to follow and stumbled across some beautiful illustrations too.

If I hadn’t been hindered by my personal difficulty with following a chunk of this book, I honestly think this would have easily been a 4 star read for me. However, if I do rate it as a personal experience, it feels more like a 3.5 star. But it was still a super enjoyable middle grade adventure story!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Vow So Bold and Deadly (#3) by Brigid Kemmerer

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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.
Fight the battle, save the kingdom.
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 a magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.
As the two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and a dangerous enemy returns, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly is the conclusion of the Cursebreakers series, a fantasy story loosely reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. This series has been really enjoyable so far, and I’m glad to finally be able to say I’ve finished reading it. I was also glad to find out there will be more books set in this series, in the Forging Silver Into Stars series set in the same world.

I definitely enjoyed this final book more than the second one, A Heart So Fierce and Broken. We had more of an equal balance of POV between characters, which I really enjoyed. It was great to see more chapters following Harper and Rhen, which I did miss in the second book.

I know trust is not something you win once, 

I once again really enjoyed the writing and the world-building, which gives these books a real comforting feel and is reminiscent of many YA fantasy books. I actually really enjoy this – this whole series feels unique while still feeling familiar.

I did enjoy the romance in this book, but I also felt like there was a slight lack of character development. This could be a risk of having (at least) four POV, and not being able to focus too much on specific characters.

but is instead something you must earn over and over again.

Overall, this one was entertaining but didn’t blow me away. At the end of this series, I definitely liked A Curse So Dark and Lonely the most and neither the second or the third book has quite lived up to the feeling I had from re-reading the first one. But I have enjoyed all of these books, and found them very easy to read.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Nothing More to Tell by Karen M McManus

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True crime can leave a false trail.
Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favourite teacher. The case was never solved, but she’s sure that the three kids who found Mr. Larkin’s body know more than they’re telling, especially her ex-best friend Tripp Talbot. He’s definitely hiding something.
When Brynn gets an internship working on a popular true-crime show, she decides to investigate what really happened that day in the woods. But the further she dives into the past, the more secrets she finds.
Four years ago someone got away with murder. Now it’s time to uncover the truth . . .

Thank you to Penguin for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been reading Karen M McManus’ books for a long time, and I always forget quite how much I enjoy them, until a new one comes along and surprises me. Nothing More to Tell is her newest release, and I always marvel at how she makes each book feel so unique. Being YA thrillers, they naturally all follow similar plots and groups of characters, but each of her books has something different about it. This book is set in a private school, and I really liked the premise and atmosphere.

I listened to the audiobook of this one for most of the book, and I felt like it was done really well. This book is told in alternate viewpoints of two characters, and I liked following both of them a lot. With around 80 pages left, I decided to pick up the physical version, and although I was only planning on reading a little bit physically and going back to the audiobook, I found myself not being able to put it down until it was finished.

The world would be a better place if more people knew when to stop talking. Everyone says too much, all the time.

This book kept me gripped until the very end, and I honestly did not guess where this one was going at all. I wouldn’t say this is my favourite Karen M McManus book so far, but it did feel like the most intricate. There was so many twists and turns, and every time I thought we were coming to a conclusion, something else happened to change that. We don’t find out who the killer actually is until the last 10 pages, and that really kept me hooked!

Although the characters weren’t my favourite, I did like them a lot and they felt very 3 dimensional. I also really liked how they had reconnected as friends after a number of years. Neither of the main characters were perfect, but that’s what made them feel real. I find the balance of liking characters when they are all suspects hard to find, but this one was done well.

Ask them a simple question, and they’ll give you their entire life story. No one cares! Just say yes or no.

This was brilliant, and it made me so happy to be reading something by Karen M McManus again. If you’re looking for something fast paced, entertaining, easy to read and honestly unputdownable, look no further than McManus. Especially this newest release!

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Any Way the Wind Blows (#3) by Rainbow Rowell

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In Any Way the Wind Blows, Simon and Baz and Penelope and Agatha have to decide how to move forward.
For Simon, that means deciding whether he still wants to be part of the World of Mages — and if he doesn’t, what does that mean for his relationship with Baz? Meanwhile Baz is bouncing between two family crises and not finding any time to talk to anyone about his newfound vampire knowledge. Penelope would love to help, but she’s smuggled an American Normal into London, and now she isn’t sure what to do with him. And Agatha? Well, Agatha Wellbelove has had enough.
Any Way the Wind Blows takes the gang back to England, back to Watford, and back to their families for their longest and most emotionally wrenching adventure yet.
This book is a finale. It tells secrets and answers questions and lays ghosts to rest.

It’s been a while since I read the first (and second!) book in this series, but I was excited to dive back in and I didn’t find myself too confused by the story. I listened to this one as an audiobook, which I enjoyed and made this 500+ page book quite a lot less daunting. My only complaint is I feel like it would have gained quite a lot by being a full-cast audio (or even just by having a couple of narrators).

When I read the first book, I absolutely fell in love with it. Many years later, this series didn’t quite live up to my hopes, but I did still enjoy this one. It felt quite comforting, and I found I liked Baz and Simon’s romance almost as much as I used to. I did find this one a little more risque than I expected for a teen book, though!

What a ridiculous creature. Happy that I put butter on his sandwich. 

I’ve always quite enjoyed the characters, and the found family element of this book. Even though the narration could have done with a full cast, I did really like the multiple Points of View, and I didn’t feel like any detracted from the story.

My biggest, and really only major criticism about this book is I felt like it was lacking in a clear plot. Although I could see where the story was going, it almost felt like there was a lot of smaller elements to the book rather than a big plot point. These books have always felt quite high stakes and high action, and this one just let me down slightly in that aspect.

 As if I wouldn’t make the world spin backwards if I thought he’d like it better that way.

Overall, I did really enjoy this one, though, and I’m glad I read it. There’s a lot to love about this series, especially SImon and Baz!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan

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Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school’s code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her overbearing mother. The two are drawn to each other and can’t deny their growing feelings. But while Morgan–out and proud, and determined to have a fresh start–doesn’t want to have to keep their budding relationship a secret, Ruby isn’t ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path toward living her truth, can they go the distance together?

I’ve wanted to read a Jennifer Dugan book for a while – I’ve heard so many good things about her books, especially Hot Dog Girl. I saw a collection of her hardbacks for sale at YALC, and couldn’t help but snap them up! I picked up Verona Comics, Melt With You, and Some Girls Do, which was the first one I decided to read.

I liked the idea of this book – with two distinct female characters. I was really excited to read about Ruby, a girl who both competes in beauty pageants and also loves mechanics. As a runner myself, I was also looking forward to reading about Morgan, a track athlete.

She shakes her head. “Because Tyler is a boy,” she says softly. Resigned. 

This book was super easy to read and I read most of it in less than a day. There was some tougher subjects tackled, including homophobia and abuse. The biggest issue I had with this book was that I didn’t find myself relating to either of the main characters. They both had a lot of issues and at times I felt like they were messing each other around quite a lot.

There was definitely some growth throughout the book, and I did enjoy the amount of side-plots which added extra layers to the story. The amount of interests both girls had did make them quite 3 dimensional, and I liked reading about Ruby’s love for cars and Morgan’s love for running.

“And girls aren’t supposed to like other girls.”
“Well some girls do,” I say.

Overall, this one was an enjoyable read, but definitely wasn’t perfect by any means. I would have liked a little more depth to the story, and the characters to be a little more likeable.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

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Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.
Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.
And Sam picks up the phone.
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.

I don’t often pick up books that I see as ‘TikTok books’, but the synopsis of this one (along with the beautiful hardback design and that cover) drew me in and I knew I wanted to pick it up. I actually read this one as an audiobook, and I really enjoyed the narration.

I was drawn in from the very start – this is such a sad but beautiful story following Julie after the death of her boyfriend, Sam. I was unsure where this book would go or how it would conclude, but I knew I’d enjoy the magical realism elements and some of the concept reminded me of Your Name, one of my favourite films.

Letting go isn’t about forgetting. 

The writing was definitely my favourite element of the book, which was poetic and beautiful. The group of friends was another part I loved, including Julie’s friendship with Oliver, which was a really joyous platonic relationship to read about. I found Julie’s grieving process believable (although obviously different due to her connection with Sam), and I liked reading about how she re-built a connection with Sam’s family.

This book does leave you with questions – but it’s a short, sweet and quite well formed. There was a few scenes towards the end, however, that I felt were slightly unneeded, including an argument between Julie and Sam.

It’s balancing moving forward with life, and looking back from time to time, remembering the people in it.

Overall, I did really enjoy reading this one even though it wasn’t quite perfect. Perhaps it would have made me more emotional if I’d have read the physical version, but I also didn’t cry, although I had tears in my eyes at the end of the book.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Heart So Fierce and Broken (#2) by Brigid Kemmerer

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Find the heir, win the crown.
The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.
Win the crown, save the kingdom.
Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen–until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?
The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed re-reading A Curse So Dark and Lonely and I knew it was finally time to continue with the series (sorry it took me so long, Bloomsbury!). This one was yet again super easy to dive into and I immediately fell in love with the writing style, which is so easy to follow.

We are introduced to new characters in this sequel, which I was a little hesitant about and definitely did impact my enjoyment of the book. I really loved the main characters of Grey, Harper and Rhen from the first book, so to see new people in this one did throw me a bit.

“I am crying because you are a prince,”

However, I did find myself really enjoying Lia Mara’s chapters, and she became a great female protagonist in the absence of Harper. I also really enjoyed seeing some of the side-characters from the first book become more prominent in this one, including Harper’s brother and his boyfriend.

The biggest let down for me was the lack of focus on Rhen and Harper, and I honestly felt like Rhen was really left on the back burner. His character seemed pretty unrecognisable and went from being someone I really liked reading about to being almost non-existent and when he was mentioned, pretty unlikable. I’m hoping the final book in the series focuses more on Rhen, and he has a redemption arc from this point!

I say softly. “And I…” I let out a breath. “I am not a princess.”

The writing is definitely the best part of this series for me, and I loved the descriptions of the world. Although I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book, I’m still looking forward to continuing with the series in A Vow So Bold and Deadly.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

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On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.
Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

I had a feeling from the very start that I would fall in love with this book. There is something about a love story that isn’t about romantic love that drew me in from the start, and I knew I would be able to relate to. Days after finishing Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, I am unsure how to talk about it. The way I feel about this book and the topics it spans is very difficult to truly explain in words. It hit me in every single way I expected it to, and more. It broke my heart into little pieces and warmed my heart, too. It gave me hope, and it gave me hurt too. The audiobook was also a masterpiece.

“What is a game?” Marx said. “It’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It’s the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow centres games and game development, which I loved reading about and found fascinating to read about as a gamer myself. You definitely don’t need to have a love of games to appreciate this book for what it is, but I also felt like I could relate to it on a more personal level because of my love and appreciation for games.

My favourite part of this book was definitely the writing. There was constantly quotes that I wanted to save and shout from the rooftops, and I am already considering buying another edition just to read again and highlight. This book is quite long and has some interesting writing styles, which on paper feel risky but I fell in love with every time. I’ve never annotated a book before, but this one makes me want to start. I treasured the experience I had reading this book, and I just want to experience it over and over again. And I feel like with each re-read, it will become even more of a favourite. Even re-reading quotes and thinking about this book a week or so after finishing it is making me emotional.

The idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever.”

To say that Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a novel about games would be as limiting as it is infinite. I believe that games have the power to be life changing and world altering, carrying strength and hope and love and friendship. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow both showcases and includes all of these themes. It is a novel about games. But it is also a novel about the world. A novel about love, beauty, greed, wealth, friendship, hope, self-reflection, disability, motherhood, gender identity and Super Mario. It is a reflection within a reflection. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I get the sense I will carry it with me always.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

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Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.
There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.
Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

Sometimes you just want a book that might not absolutely blow your mind, but will be a thoroughly enjoyable end of summer contemporary. This book was just what I wanted, and needed, to pick up, and I really enjoyed the audiobook version.

Although this book was predictable at times, I found myself easily falling into this story, rooting for Henri much more than I expected to, and falling in love with his best friend Ming. Charming as a Verb felt like a great encapsulation of end-of-high-school, beginning-of-the-rest-of-your-life, with all the pressures that comes with it. But what I really appreciated about this book was the level of depth in all other aspects just under the surface.

Montreal is nothing like Manhattan; it’s smaller and more concentrated, and unlike the city that never sleeps, 

I loved the way Henri’s relationship with his parents was written, which felt genuine and relatable. I loved the way his mum was striving for her own new pathway, and his dad was willing to evolve to support his son. I loved the relationship Henri had with his uncle, and how not only him, but his family, would go to his uncle for difficult conversations. I love how this felt like a love-letter to the streets of New York City, but ended up with a small footnote to Montreal too.

There was an underlying tone to this book that explored living with money worries and a class divide too, which I felt was handled really well. Although Henri wasn’t always the perfect protagonist, and definitely makes some mistakes, for the most part I agreed with the direction this story took and enjoyed the ride.

Montreal feels like a city that’s gotten a good night’s rest and woken up in time for a bike ride alongside the Saint Lawrence River.

Young Adult contemporaries don’t often surprise me anymore, but this one is definitely a pleasant surprise. Although it was still predictable at times and I did question some of our narrators actions and the way they were handled, I enjoyed it a lot and it was the light and fluffy contemporary I needed!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Waldon

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Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As Mia, the newest member, gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. When Mia grows close to her new friends, she reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

What an absolutely stunning piece of art this book is. I’ve wanted to read something by Tillie Waldon for a long time, and my lovely friend Courtney gave me this one for Christmas last year. I finally got around to picking it up recently, and I’m so glad I did.

This book is about friendship, relationship, boarding school, space, emotions, loneliness, being alone, long lost love, found family, and a broken world. I would happily choose any number of these pages to have as printed pieces of art and stick them on my wall, and even then I would struggle with which ones to choose. Each page is breathtakingly beautiful and the colour scheme is striking.

Tillie Waldon is incredibly talented and I can’t wait to read more from her (I’ve already picked up i love this part which I can’t wait to read), but be warned that this book is a beast, clocking in at over 500 pages. Although I don’t think I quite connected with it as emotionally as other readers, I just know that I’ll re-read this and fall in love with it even more next time.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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