Review: Kingdom of the Cursed (#2) by Kerri Maniscalco

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After selling her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, Emilia travels to the Seven Circles with the enigmatic Prince of Wrath, where she’s introduced to a seductive world of vice.
She vows to do whatever it takes to avenge her beloved sister, Vittoria… even if that means accepting the hand of the Prince of Pride, the king of demons.
The first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. With back-stabbing princes, luxurious palaces, mysterious party invitations, and conflicting clues about who really killed her twin, Emilia finds herself more alone than ever before. Can she even trust Wrath, her one-time ally in the mortal world… or is he keeping dangerous secrets about his true nature?
Emilia will be tested in every way as she seeks a series of magical objects that will unlock the clues of her past and the answers she craves…

I’m so glad I re-read Kingdom of the Wicked before diving into this one. We pick up Emilia and Wrath’s story pretty much exactly where we left off at the end of the first book, and I definitely got a lot more enjoyment out of the book by reading them very close together. In this book, we leave the real world for the Seven Circles, which I imagine to be some kind of underworld.

I loved the world and I think this is where Kerri Maniscalco really shines. She managed to paint such a vibrant and beautiful picture of this new setting, and I loved how visual it was to picture while reading. The world is so luscious and extravagant and comes across so beautifully on the page.

Of course. There is nothing more dangerous…

The plot was so fast paced and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. This book does have some more adult scenes, but I actually think they were done really well and become part of the actual plot. I find it difficult sometimes when fantasy books rely heavily on more spicy scenes and sometimes don’t get the balance right, but this one managed it. The scenes were really enjoyable to read too and felt quite gracefully done for the most part!

Although I really enjoyed reading about Wrath and Emilia’s relationship, my only complaint is the power dynamic is a difficult one to write properly. With Wrath being a Prince from this darker world, he does have a certain magical power over Emilia, and although this is part of the way he is, sometimes the way he displayed this power made me very uncomfortable. There is a certain level of manipulation that is justified to a degree, but did unsettle me and I felt like it wasn’t explained with full clarity.

…than a woman who owns who she is and apologizes to no one.

Overall, the writing was brilliant and I didn’t want to put this book down! There was a lot to enjoy and I did like this one ever so slightly more than the first book. My only slight complaint was the discussions of abuse, which I feel could have been handled a bit better.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Jane Eyre ranks as one of the greatest and most perennially popular works of English fiction. Although the poor but plucky heroine is outwardly of plain appearance, she possesses an indomitable spirit, a sharp wit and great courage. She is forced to battle against the exigencies of a cruel guardian, a harsh employer and a rigid social order. All of which circumscribe her life and position when she becomes governess to the daughter of the mysterious, sardonic and attractive Mr Rochester. However, there is great kindness and warmth in this epic love story, which is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Yorkshire moors. Ultimately the grand passion of Jane and Rochester is called upon to survive cruel revelation, loss and reunion, only to be confronted with tragedy.

Jane Eyre was the first classic I read, at around the age of 11. I’ve read it 4 or 5 times since, and enjoyed it every single time. Even though my thoughts changed a lot in this reading, I still regard it as one of my favourite books of all time. As I’ve grown up in the past 10 years, my viewpoints on parts of this book have certainly changed, but my love for the story hasn’t decreased.

I’ve always loved the romance in this book, but for the first time I looked at Rochester and noticed so many problems. This is something that has also come from reading Wide Sargasso Sea and having more of an (imagined) background to his character. There is absolutely no shying away from the fact Mr Rochester does not treat Jane well and repeatedly addresses her in ways that appear problematic today. However what I truly love about this story is that Jane doesn’t stand for anything. When she truly believes that she is not being treated with the respect she deserves, she stands up for herself.

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me:

There is no doubt there are many feminist elements to this story, and Jane is one of the most independent women I have come across in Victorian fiction. I spent so much of this story being in utter admiration of her character and how she stands up for herself. I would even argue this book stands away from (or even above) Jane Austen novels, especially in the way this book could have very easily not ended in marriage. Jane creates her own pathways through life and her own prospects, and everything she does is of her own accord.

I also love the setting of Thornfield Hall and the Victorian Gothic aspects of it. There is so much atmosphere crammed in between these pages and the writing portrayed the wild nature of the the British countryside so well – I could picture every scene. I listened to the audiobook this time and I’m glad I did – it gave me a different view of the story and made it feel more accessible too. I’ve always felt this is quite an accessible story, but it is quite long at over 500 pages and I can see why it would feel dense to some. I think because of the length of this book, movie adaptations do not manage to do the writing justice. Even though I love watching adaptations, the book stands above them all easily. You simply can’t portray all of Jane’s flawed character and relationship with Rochester in a condensed format.

I am a free human being with an independent will.

Overall, I did consider lowering my rating because of how problematic Rochester is and comes across as. But the takeaway from this book is Jane, Jane, Jane. She deserves all of the stars in the world.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Cousins by Karen M McManus

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The Storys are the envy of their neighbours: owners of the largest property on their East Coast island, they are rich, beautiful, and close. Until it all falls apart. The four children are suddenly dropped by their mother with a single sentence:
You know what you did.
They never hear from her again.
Years later, when 18-year-old cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story receive a mysterious invitation to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort, they have no choice but to follow their curiosity and meet the woman who’s been such an enigma their entire lives.
This entire family is built on secrets, right? It’s the Story legacy.
This summer, the teenagers are determined to discover the truth at the heart of their family. But some secrets are better left alone.

I’ve been a fan of Karen M McManus for a long time, but I do prefer her standalone work to One of Us is Lying. Up until now Two Can Keep a Secret has been my favourite book by her, but it might just about be beaten by The Cousins. She is definitely an auto-buy author for me and I’m so glad I finally picked this one up! It feels like it’s been a while since I read a YA thriller and this one was such a quick read and so entertaining.

I enjoyed the dynamic between the 3 cousins who had never met before, and the setting of Gull Cove Island was so much fun and felt like the perfect environment for the family murder-mystery we had going on. I just wish I’d read this one in summer!

You gotta shoot your shot when it comes…

At first, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like one of the cousins, and since this is a multiple point of view story I thought that I may not enjoy all of the perspectives. However, as the story went on I did sympathise with all of the main characters and feel like having several POV worked well. The way the author uncovered secrets about the family kept me on the edge of my seat and I wanted to read on to find out what was going to happen.

The writing was so addictive and easy to read and I sped through this despite not having much time to read. Once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down and just wanted to keep reading. The only negative is that I expected more murder! Having read books by McManus before, I did go into this expecting more graphic content. However, the focus on more of a family drama was still fun to read about and was written really well. The fact the 3 main characters didn’t know each other before the story began gave an extra layer of secrets and lies that were super interesting to uncover.

Who knows if you’ll get another chance?

Karen M McManus is definitely going to still be an auto-buy author for me and I’m glad I picked this one up as it was so entertaining to read!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:
A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse.
An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made.
A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile.
And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.
They are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edge of things. The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved…

This was my first Neil Gaiman book, and I’ve been recommended it more than once by friends and colleagues! After booking to see the West End play, I knew I wanted to finally pick it up before seeing it on stage. I finally picked it up the other night, just days before the play, and ended up finishing it in just one evening.

I read the beautiful illustrated edition with artwork by Elise Hurst and it fit the book so well. Hurst has done a beautiful job of creating haunting, dark, shadowy illustrations that compliment the scenes perfectly.

Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Gaiman, having not read anything of his before, but I knew it would be whimsical and dark. However, I found this book a lot more grounded than I expected, with more of a real life focus and magical elements, than a complete fantasy world.

I loved the writing and found it emotive but so easy to read. I flew through this book and easily read 100 pages in 45 minutes, which is very fast for me! This illustrated copy is around 80 pages longer than other editions, and I definitely feel like the artwork helped break up the reading experience and therefore made me speed through even faster. I just found that once I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down!

Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

Overall, I feel like this one was a great one to choose as an introduction to Gaiman, and I’m excited to pick up another. Which do you think I should pick up next?

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in London, is summoned to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to sort through her papers before returning to London. It is here that Kipps first sees the woman in black and begins to gain an impression of the mystery surrounding her. From the funeral he travels to Eel Marsh House and sees the woman again; he also hears the terrifying sounds on the marsh.
Despite Kipps’s experiences he resolves to spend the night at the house and fulfil his professional duty. It is this night at Eel Marsh House that contains the greatest horror for Kipps. Kipps later discovers the reasons behind the hauntings at Eel Marsh House. The book ends with the woman in black exacting a final, terrible revenge.

I’m not a big horror reader, but my boyfriend Mark told me this is one of the only books that has ever scared him and made me want to pick it up as well! I thought it was the perfect time of year to dive into this one and I read the entire book in an evening – I couldn’t put it down. I read it by candlelight in the bath and it just added to the scary atmosphere of this book – I loved it.

The plot of this book was super interesting and honestly made it difficult to put down. We follow Arthur, who at the start of this book is reflecting on an experience he had when he was younger, and decides to write down the story instead of telling it out loud. Around 40 pages in, we start to be told that very story and here, things get spooky…

At the age of 23, Arthur was sent to sort out Eel Marsh House after the woman who owns it passes away. He works as a solicitor and travels away from his home in London to take care of the house. This whole story was so eerie and full of atmosphere, and the writing showed it off beautifully. There is so many aspects of this book that work together to make it spine-chilling – the weather, the isolated location of the house, the Victorian Gothic feel of the writing.

This one did send chills down my spine and I was definitely spooked out in places. Overall, I was just super impressed with this one and it was such an enjoyable read despite the creepiness!

★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Weathering With You (#2) by Makoto Shinkai

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Hodaka has finally started to feel like he’s found his place in Tokyo with Hina and Nagi, but his sunny days won’t last forever.
The Sunshine Girl powers are beginning to take their toll on Hina, putting her in danger of disappearing into the skies. And as the rain returns and Tokyo’s weather starts to intensify, an incident from Hodaka’s recent past closes in on him. He’ll have to fight to survive and keep the light of his life from fading out, but can he change the sad fate that awaits the Weather Maiden?

I recently managed to pick up the second and third books in the Weathering With You manga and decided to carry on with the series as part of my Spoopathon TBR. I love both the Weathering With You and Your Name films by Makoto Shinkai and I love finding out how they translate to manga and light novels.

This volume is the middle in the series of just 3 books and encompasses the sadder part of the story. I couldn’t help but find myself a little emotional at the end! If I’d have been reading this story for the first time without knowing the story prior to reading, I imagine I wouldn’t have been able to put this one down and it does end on such a cliffhanger!

Again, I love the artwork but it does work so well for the manga as it reflects the anime so well. Although it is naturally difficult for me to judge this one as I love the film so much, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Bridge of Souls (#3) by V.E. Schwab

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Where there are ghosts, Cassidy Blake follows … unless it’s the other way around?
Cass thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while travelling for her parents’ TV show.
But nothing can prepare Cass for New Orleans, which wears all of its hauntings on its sleeve. In a city of ghost tours and tombs, raucous music and all kinds of magic, Cass could get lost in all the colourful, grisly local legends. And the city’s biggest surprise is a foe Cass never expected to face: a servant of Death itself.

I’ve read this whole series with Alex from Alex’s Books on YouTube, and I’ve had so much fun! Neither of us had read the final book in the trilogy, Bridge of Souls before, and were super excited to finish off the series. I honestly believe this one was my favourite in the series and the adventures of Cassidy and Jacob get more entertaining and heartfelt with every book.

All of these books score 10 points for atmosphere, and this one was no different. I loved the setting of New Orleans and I feel like V.E. Schwab has written all of these books so visually. Just as with Edinburgh in City of Bones and Paris in Tunnel of Bones, I could picture New Orleans perfectly, especially the French Quarter.

Death will come for us again, one way or another.

The characters are such a joy to read about and I love the friendship Cassidy has with Jacob, who is a ghost. This made for an interesting part of the story as we found out more about their dynamic. I even got a little teary and emotional at the end of the book. I also love how Lara has remained a friend throughout this entire series!

This was another one day read for me, as all of these books have been. I read each one on audio and physical format, and this one was no different. I love the writing in all of these and found each hard to put down. All of these books have been creepy, but this one was by far the creepiest. I love the level these books have achieved in being just scary enough to still be very enjoyable to read, with just the right amount of chills.

We can’t live in fear of it. That’s no way to live at all.

I wish there was going to be more books in this series as I’d definitely read more about their adventures, but we shall see!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Medusa by Jessie Burton

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Exiled to a far-flung island by the whims of the gods, Medusa has little company except the snakes that adorn her head instead of hair. But when a charmed, beautiful boy called Perseus arrives on the island, her lonely existence is disrupted with the force of a supernova, unleashing desire, love and betrayal…

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

I’ve recently become really interested in Greek mythology, which is something I haven’t read much of growing up or know much about. I’ve read a few Greek mythology inspired books recently and sadly haven’t enjoyed them very much (Circe and Lore). This was the perfect level of mythology for me, which read more like a myth or fairytale than literary fiction or fast paced fantasy. Burton has written this to be aimed at young adults, which I really liked. It’s also interspersed with beautiful artwork by Olivia Lomenech Gill which compliment the story beautifully.

I love the way we see Medusa in this story. It’s told from her point of view and paints her as the victim of the story rather than the villain, as we know from the original myth. I really liked Medusa as a character and the relationship between her and her sisters. The setting of the island felt so visual too, and I could picture the book well.

There is some really important and beautiful messages throughout this book, focussing on acceptance and owning who you are even through your darkest times. This was such an amazing way to reclaim Medusa’s story and I loved the feminist messages behind it.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Magnusdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Arctic town of Vardø must fend for themselves.
Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God, and flooded with a mighty evil.
As Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them, with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.

I don’t read or enjoy much historical fiction, so I was definitely a little hesitant going into this one. But I really like Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s other work, and I’ve heard great things about this book. I ended up reading this one as part of a buddy read with some friends, which was really nice and definitely made me finally pick this one up! I’ve had this one since the hardback release, and it’s been a long time coming.

Firstly, I’m really glad I picked this one up in autumn. The book itself is quite bleak and it fit the season so well. I started reading this one while it was raining heavily outside and the atmosphere felt so perfect. We start this book with the women of the island losing all of their men to the sea, which I found such a fascinating premise to the book, especially in the historical context.

Many of them seem past caring what is true or not, only desperate for some reason, 

I quickly found myself really liking the characters and the fact this one follows predominantly women as they find their own independence. We follow Maren, who has always lived on the island, and Ursa, who moves to the island with her husband from mainland Norway. Having these two perspectives gave the perfect amount of contrast to the story and kept me interested in both of their stories, and I loved their growing friendship.

I found myself really enjoying the setting and although it makes the book feel very contained, it doesn’t necessarily feel limited. The writing was beautiful and portrayed the story well, and although this book does have quite a few harrowing and bleak scenes, they don’t feel unnecessary and they are there to push the plot forward. I must admit I did occasionally find the plot quite slow and not as engaging as I wanted sometimes. It took me just under a week to read this one, which felt like quite a while for a 350 page book.

some order to the rearrangement of their lives, even if it is brought about by a lie.

Overall, this one was really enjoyable in places, but the writing did let it down in others.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Tunnel of Bones (#2) by V.E. Schwab

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Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual.
She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.
When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter — and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger.
And if Cass fails, the force she’s unleashed could haunt the city forever. 

I’m reading this series alongside Alex as part of the readalong we’re currently hosting, #ghostsalong. If you want to find out more, our announcement video is linked below and we’ll be starting the last book, Bridge of Souls on Monday!

Although I’d read City of Ghosts before, it was my first time reading Tunnel of Bones and this book is such a great addition to the series. We continue following 12 year old Cassidy Blake and her parents as they travel around the world filming a paranormal TV show. But there’s a bit of a twist – Cassidy can see ghosts and draw back the veil to the other side. Her best friend, Jacob, is also a ghost and travels with them.

In this book, we visit Paris, which I loved and made for such an amazing atmospheric setting. One of my favourite aspects of these books is the atmosphere, which make you feel so involved and enveloped in the story. I once again listened to most of this book on audio and read the end in physical format, and loved it all.

What you can’t see is always scarier than what you can. 

Cassidy is such a fun character to follow but isn’t without her own moral dilemmas which I find so interesting and gives a great dynamic to the story. Considering these books are middle grade/young YA, there is so much depth to these stories. This book is even creepier than the first story and the poltergeist we follow seriously gave me chills. While listening to this while I was running, I couldn’t help but looking behind me a couple of times.

The writing is so easy to read and compelling but doesn’t feel shallow at all. Schwab does such an amazing job of keeping you on the edge of your seat and making you want to read more. I continued to love the characters and enjoyed finding out more about them. I was also happy to see some of the characters returning from Edinburgh in book 1.

Your eyes play tricks on you, filling in the shadows, making shapes.

This was such an enjoyable addition to the series and I’m so excited to read Bridge of Souls!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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