Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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Cass can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead.
When Cass’s parents start hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh. Here, graveyards, castles and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms.
But when Cass meets a girl who shares her “gift”, she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil—and herself. And she’ll have to learn fast. The city of ghosts is more dangerous than she ever imagined.

I was drawn to this book for a few reasons: 1. It has such a pretty cover, not going to lie. 2. It’s has such an intriguing synopsis. 3. I’ve never read a VE Schwab book before, and I thought MG might be a good introduction!

And I definitely wasn’t wrong. I don’t usually read middle grade at all, but it didn’t stop me from really enjoying this one. I read it in just over a day, and I just know I would have loved it in my pre-teen years!

‘”Stories have power,” she says.’

This book was so much fun and overall a great adventure. I’ve never visited Edinburgh myself, but this book has made me want to. It seemed to capture the history and essence of the city, and it was so atmospheric. The fact Cassidy was visiting a city for the first time herself too made it even more of an adventure, which I loved.

City of Ghosts is such an entertaining novel, fast paced and full of action. I really couldn’t put it down, even though the plot was definitely predictable for an older reader. Unfortunately this brings me to my only criticisms, this book lacked depth. Not much, I just wish the characters were a little more fleshed out and the plot a bit more intricate. It’s totally what I expected from a MG book and I completely understand the reasoning behind it, but that’s my opinion as an older reader.

‘”So long as you belive them.”’

Saying this, however, I still found depth in some of the more poetic lines and passages, and the relationships Cassidy had. Her somewhat complex relationship with Jacob was so interesting to read about and I’m interested to see where it heads in the further novels. I also found her relationship with her parents well written, and I really liked the scenes with her parents. They led such interesting lives themselves!

Overall, definitely a very enjoyable read, just lacking a little depth and leaving me wanting more. I’d definitely consider re-reading this around Halloween!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Arctic Zoo by Robert Muchamore

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From London . . .
Georgia gets straight As at school, writes essays for fun, has been placed first in twenty-six drone races and has a serious addiction to buying Japanese stationery. She plans to follow her older sister Sophie and become a doctor, but her worldview is shattered when Sophie commits suicide.
To Lagos . . .
Julius lives in Ondo, a Nigerian state where half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. But he isn’t one of them. His uncle has been governor of Ondo for more than a decade and his mother is the power behind that throne. He finds refuge in a derelict zoo with best friend Duke, but as the two of them grow close, the world outside becomes more and more hostile.

Disclaimer: Thank you so much to Hot Key Books for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This has not affected or changed my opinions in any way.

I really didn’t know what to expect with this book, and I was surprised in a big way. From the synopsis, I expected most of the book to be set in a mental institution, but instead I found a journey to both characters ending up there. I love how Arctic Zoo book flickered backwards and forwards between different times in the characters lives, often enough to feel fast paced but not often enough to make the reader confused.

In fact, let’s talk about these delightful characters. I honestly loved them both for different reasons, and I was shocked by how well the alternate PsOV from both characters worked so well. They lead very different lives, with Georgia being in the UK, a girl with straight As, who has been brought up on drone racing and has a difficult home life, especially when her sister commits suicide. Georgia, who has always looked up to her sisters achievements and followed in her footsteps, realises there might be more to life than studying.

Julius is a very different story. A young gay man in Nigeria, coming to terms with his sexuality and struggling with his family’s political status. His coming out changes his life in many ways, and the book explores his relationships, family/home life, school and friendships, all in a politically turbulent time and place.

Both of the characters, however different, lead very unique yet equally compelling and intriguing lives. Before long, I felt sucked in to both of their stories and I was struggling to put the book down, finishing it’s 400+ pages in just a few days. Sometimes, with books of different PsOV, I find myself favouring one character over the other and I struggle to give completely equal attention to both. This wasn’t the case with Arctic Zoo, and I think that’s because their stories are so different and not often intertwined. Some readers might find it disappointing that they actually don’t spend much time together, but I found it refreshing and well-paced, as the alternate view points would be a break from the one before. I never felt stuck in one persons reality, and knew something fresh was just a few pages away.

I even enjoyed how the characters ended up in different countries for the majority of the book. It still amazes me how Muchamore wrote Julius’ chapters in Nigeria having never visited the country himself. I can be no judge for accuracy, but I felt fully immersed in the story and it felt real. It shows that he had people who had experienced life in Nigeria check his work.

The only downside for me was actually Georgia’s story, towards the end. It just felt a little…rushed? I left feeling as though everything had happened too smoothly, and too quickly, and without much room for full explanation. I won’t go into it too deeply in fear of spoiling the ending, but I just wanted a little more in way of description of how everything slotted into place at the end. Unfortunately for me it left me feeling disjointed about her story as a whole, which I had otherwise really enjoyed.

However, this was a very small disappointment in the grand scheme of what turned out to be an incredibly enjoyable, heartbreaking but hopeful read. If you want something a little different in YA but still relatable and easy to read, this one is perfect!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Last Namsara (#1) by Kristen Ciccarelli

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In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer. 
These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.
Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her. 

I saw that this author is going to be at YALC 2019 and decided to give it a go! Unfortunately, it was a super slow burner for me and I’m left with very mixed feelings. I always find reading fantasy for me can go two ways – either I love it straight away or it takes me a long time to completely understand the story and eventually might enjoy it. This was the latter!

For a start, I couldn’t, even at the end, picture the characters very well at all. It just seemed to lack basic imagery, and I would have loved more detail about the characters appearances and the land itself. I find that some authors, especially for debuts, will be able to picture a world in their head so well that they struggle to include the smallest details on paper, because for them, they aren’t needed. But for us as readers, we need even the smallest detail to build up a picture of the world.

‘Then may Death send his worst. Cold to freeze the love in my heart. Fire to burn my memories to ash.’

Unfortunately because of this, it took me almost a week to finally finish this book. I just wasn’t drawn to it for the majority, and I didn’t particularly mind what happened to the characters. However I pushed through and got to the last 150 pages, where I felt the book really picked up!

For a start, I loved Asha as a main character. She was strong, brave, and a brilliant woman. After reading the acknowledgements at the back of the book, I found an even deeper respect for Asha as a female main character. I love the strength she had and I love that she challenged what is expected from her as a woman. We definitely need more girls like her in literature!

‘Wind to force me through the gates. Time to wear my loyalty away. I’ll wait for you at Death’s gate.’

I could definitely see the writing improve greatly by the end of the book, and had a clearer picture of the world in my mind. I was more invested in the characters and loved Safire (Asha’s cousin), Dax (Asha’s brother) and Torwin.

Even though this wasn’t my favourite, it slowly grew on me and I’ve decided to continue with the series eventually! Considering this was a debut, I saw the improvement throughout the first book and I’m sure the writing improves with the others.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer

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Rob had it all – friends, a near-guaranteed lacrosse scholarship to college and an amazing family – but all that changed when his dad was caught embezzling funds from half the town. Now he’s a social pariah. 
Maegan always does the right thing. But when her sister comes home from college pregnant, she’s caught between telling their parents the truth about the father and keeping her sister’s trust. 
When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a project, they form an unexpectedly deep connection. But Rob’s plan to fix his father’s damage could ruin more than their new friendship …

Disclaimer: Thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for providing me with an Advanced Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

This was my first Brigid Kemmerer book, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I spotted this one on Netgalley and the synopsis intrigued me straight away – and the book didn’t let me down!

I love a good contemporary with a twist, and this one had everything. It had great romance, friendships, complicated emotional families, some lovely LGBTQIA+ rep in side characters, and a dark, twisted element that really made the story for me.

The metaphor this book left me with will stay with me for a long time – we all make mistakes. No one is perfect, but it’s how we deal with these mistakes that make us who we are. The character arcs of Maegan and Rob were so interesting, both trying to be happy again after big events in their lives changed them forever. In Maegan’s case, she had made a mistake herself, and in Rob’s, he was trying to survive after his parents made mistakes that ruined his reputation. Throughout the story, he is trying to find himself and become his own person, without making the same mistakes his parents did.

Seeing two different scenarios and both characters worked really well. Each character was flawed, but real and lovable. I really enjoyed reading both of their POV. The romance was tasteful and believable – not too ‘insta’ but the natural reaction of two struggling teens finding each other in the chaos.

I have to also include how much I loved the cast of side characters, including the parents and friends. Everyone had their own story, their own quirks and struggles, and we even saw the flaws of the characters parents and I sympathised with them, too.

The plot left me feeling like I’d just come off a rollercoaster. It threw me, and the added drama made this book fly by. I constantly wanted to learn the next twist or turn, and couldn’t put this book down after around 40%. My only small criticism is I would have liked more of an insight into the actions of Rob’s dad, and I wish the exact workings of his crimes would have helped.

I’m definitely now looking forward to A Curse So Dark and Lonely and I’d love to read more of Kemmerer’s books!

★★★★

4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.
But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

It’s been a while since I’v read a good fantasy, and this one was just a delight to dive into. I admired this book so much, it was such an immersive experience with beautiful writing, and I’m so glad I picked it up.

Girls of Paper and Fire follows a world with 3 castes, Paper (fully human) being the lowest, followed by Steel (partly demon) and Moon (fully demon, with animal like qualities). The premise is somewhat like The Selection series, with 8 Paper girls being chosen each year to please the King, who is of the highest caste. This story follows Lei, who was unexpectedly chosen and taken away from her family to become a Paper girl, and seeks revenge for an attack on her village that killed her mother.

‘But time has a way of folding itself, like a map, distances and journeys and hours and minutes tucked neatly away to leave just the realness of the before and the now,’

I say this book is like The Selection, but the likeliness stops there. This book, this world, holds so much more. More depth, more emotion, more intrigue and fight and hardship. It’s no secret that this book tackles some difficult topics, such as sexual abuse, and even though I was prepared, I was left with tears in my eyes in parts. Despite, or maybe because of these difficult subjects, this book is just so powerful.

The politics were interesting to read about and I loved hearing the side of the story from the people who wanted revenge against the Palace. It balanced out perfectly with the gentle friendships the girls found in each other, a unique bond with intriguing characters I could easily read more about.

‘as close as hands pressed on the either side of a rice-paper door.’

The romance that blossoms within this story is beautiful, powerful and healthy. I found myself being reminded of my own relationship and seeing reflections of how myself and my partner support each other, and it was so lovely to read about. I won’t say too much to avoid spoilers, but it felt so wholesome and made me love the characters even more.

The only small problem I had with this book was the pacing at the beginning. Unfortunately, it took me a good few days to get through the first 100 pages, but after that I couldn’t put it down! I was soon whirled away with the lovingly written landscapes, friendships, romances, action and much more. In fact, I want to end by saying the writing was just incredible. I saw a Goodreads review describing it as sensuous, and that is just spot on. Ngan has such a way with words, that resonated with me and has stolen my heart.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Meet Cute by Various Authors

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Whether or not you believe in fate, or luck, or love at first sight, every romance has to start somewhere. MEET CUTE is an anthology of original short stories featuring tales of “how they first met” from some of today’s most popular YA authors. 
Readers will experience Nina LaCour’s beautifully written piece about two Bay Area girls meeting via a cranky customer service Tweet, Sara Shepard’s glossy tale about a magazine intern and a young rock star, Nicola Yoon’s imaginative take on break-ups and make-ups, Katie Cotugno’s story of two teens hiding out from the police at a house party, and Huntley Fitzpatrick’s charming love story that begins over iced teas at a diner. There’s futuristic flirting from Kass Morgan and Katharine McGee, a riveting transgender heroine from Meredith Russo, a subway missed connection moment from Jocelyn Davies, and a girl determined to get out of her small town from Ibi Zoboi. Jennifer Armentrout writes a sweet story about finding love from a missing library book, Emery Lord has a heartwarming and funny tale of two girls stuck in an airport, Dhonielle Clayton takes a thoughtful, speculate approach to pre-destined love, and Julie Murphy dreams up a fun twist on reality dating show contestants. 
This incredibly talented group of authors brings us a collection of stories that are at turns romantic and witty, epic and everyday, heartbreaking and real.

I’m always a little hesitant when it comes to short story collections, because they can be so hit and miss. But this one didn’t let me down, and overall I enjoyed all of the stories in some capacity. In some ways the stories being so short (20-30 pages each) was good, because I didn’t have to spend too much time on those I didn’t like as much.

I really liked the concept of these books, with each short story being about two people meeting, and you have no idea where the relationship heads afterwards. It’s such a cute idea, and leaves a lot up to the imagination of the reader! A few of these were LGBTQIA+ and diverse in other ways, including race and a plus size character.

‘”What do you think the difference between wanting to be friends and wanting to be more than friends is?”

As with anthologies, this book included many different concepts that varied by author. This was so fun – we had a lot of contemporary, but also some magical realism and fantasy! I’m going to go through each one to give my opinions.

Siege Etiquette by Katie Cotungo ★★

This story was about two people meeting in the bathroom at a party and kind of hitting it off. Unfortunately it felt flat to me, had a weird writing style I wasn’t used to, and I really didn’t see the connection between the characters. A poor start!

Print Shop by Nina LaCour ★★★★★

Thankfully, the book greatly improved for me with Nina LaCour, who frankly will never let me down. I love the creative idea, with the main character working in a print shop and meeting one of her clients when her order went wrong. Very cute with great characters!

Hourglass by Ibi Zoboi ★★★

I don’t want to give this a bad rating but the fact I don’t remember anything that happened is really not a good sign? It definitely wasn’t all bad, featuring a girl who doesn’t want to go to prom and her friend who does. Great diversity with a cute ending, but unfortunately very forgettable.

Click by Katherine McGee ★★★★

This one featured an interesting futuristic concept where people meet via an app in which they are matched with others. It reminded me of the Black Mirror episode Hang the DJ, and I really enjoyed it. It had a unique concept that stood out for me, and sent out a good message!

The Intern by Sara Shepard ★★★

Another one which wasn’t bad as such but was just lacking. Of course this book includes many stories and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, and this one blended in too much for me. It was very insta love, with a celebrity and intern who worked at a music shop.

Somewhere That’s Green by Meredith Russo ★★★★

This story included a transgender character and a character struggling with accepting her sexuality. They had great chemistry and an interesting story. I loved the different PsOV, and found the characters compelling and touching.

The Way We Love Here by Dhonielle Clayton ★★★★

The only fantasy story in this collection and that definitely made it memorable! I’m not usually one for stories like this, but I really enjoyed it. The two main characters are born on an island where everyone has soulmate bands that lessen as the date to meeting their soulmate gets closer. It was so touching and heartwarming with enough twists to keep me on my toes.

Oomph by Emery Lord ★★★★

I read a review on Goodreads that describes this story as a Hayley Kiyoko song, and I cannot describe it better. Two girls meet in an airport, and one overcomes her anxieties to connect with the other. Overall, a fluffy and cute read that worked.

The Dictionary of You and Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout ★★★★

Another really cute read, but set in a library. Yes, the perfect setting for bibliophiles to read a romance story set in. This story was so sweet and touching, and I loved the awkward but adorable characters.

The Unlikely Likelihood of Falling in Love – Jocelyn Davis ★★★★★

This story was definitely one of my favourites, and followed a girl studying the statistic of whether she was going to see a guy she was attracted to on the subway. I loved it all. The concept, the characters (the classmates were super cute), the setting. So well executed!

259 Million Miles by Kass Morgan ★★★

This one focuses on two people interviewing to be sent off on a mission to mars, and end up being locked in a room for 24 hours as part of their interviews. I loved the concept, but the ending really let it down. I just didn’t feel enough hope for these guys to be honest.

Something Real by Julie Murphy ★★★

This story was cute, and had really good elements, but I also didn’t click with it as much as I’d have liked. It featured two girls competing for a date on a reality TV show, and ended up liking each other instead. It was definitely the funniest of the stories, but something felt so cliche about it and let it down a little.

Say Everything by Huntley Fitzpatrick ★★

I had such high hopes for this story because of how much I love My Life Next Door, but ugh, no. It focuses on a waitress going on a date with one of her customers, and then finds out she has a weird connection to him. This one just felt kind of creepy and sinister, and didn’t work for me in such a short format? It needed more explanation to work!

The Department of Dead Love by Nicola Yoon ★★★★★

I loved this one. Of course Nicola Yoon wouldn’t let me down! This story is set in a futuristic world where you can have your memories of someone erased, have relationships studied by experts etc. and that’s what our main character thinks he wants. It had such a cute twist and I adored the concept.

‘”Some people you want to get to know and some people you want to know you. I think that’s the difference.”’

So overall, such a mix of short stories, but only let down by a few. I’d love to go back and read my favourites sometime, and it’s definitely a book you can just pick up if you want a heartwarming read.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

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17 year old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective. 
Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life? 

What a perfect book to start pride month with! I delved into this book with little expectations and not knowing a lot about it, and I ended up really enjoying it. I always like contemporaries with a twist that stand out from the crowd, and this one did because of it’s Bengali culture and diverse characters. Reading about how other people live is so important and fascinating, and so fun to find out how other cultures celebrate.

In fact, the representation of Bengali culture and Rukhsana’s religion (Muslim) were probably my favourite things about the book, and made me want to go back to it. Learning about how deeply flawed Rukhsana’s parents/families viewpoints are kept it so interesting and engaging, but was also written really well. For example, she understood that even though they were misguided more because of their culture, Rukhsana made us understand everyone is flawed, no matter their background or religion. Hence this quote, which I loved and found so important: “Every time I say something bad about my family, it becomes more about where I come from than just regular stuff people go through with their parents.”. Discussing this topic felt so needed.

‘We must be the masters of our own destinies. I did not learn that until it was too late. You have to fight to take back control of your life.’

From a plot point of view, this book flew by. It’s only short but not at all lighthearted, and discusses super heavy topics that left me with tears in my eyes at points. I just couldn’t help but feel heartbroken over Rukhsana’s situation, and that shows how emotionally connected to her I felt. However, it wasn’t all sad and the lighthearted scenes were so fun and heartwarming, and often included lots of food! I think the descriptions of food and drink meant so much in this novel, specifically because it pushed the feeling of Bengali culture.

Talking of more heartwarming parts, I adored the cast of characters. Rukhsana’s friends and distant relatives, plus people she found along the way, made this book what it is. Considering we had such a large group of people, I also coped pretty well, and rarely got confused. That’s definitely a testament to the writing!

‘Sometimes you will hurt the ones you love the most. But in the end, it will always have to be your choice.’

Which brings me onto my only real issue, and unfortunately the reason this book didn’t get 5 stars for me. The writing felt very disjointed and jumpy in places, especially when Rukhsana would change her mind about things so quickly. It’s very hard to describe how the writing impacted the book, but it’s almost as if the book had a very detailed plot line with a timeline of events, but the jumps between those events didn’t run as smoothly as they could have?

However, the writing only stopped me from enjoying the book a little bit, and it’s definitely something I can see improving as Khan writes more. Because of that, I’d definitely pick up other books by her!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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