Review: Extraordinary (#1.5) by V.E. Schwab

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Torn from the world of ‘Vicious’, where death is not the end, only the beginning of extraordinary powers… Three new “EO”s must grapple with their new abilities… and with those who would hunt them down! Featuring unseen character design galleries from Andrea Olimpieri and story commentary from V.E. Schwab! 

Although this book is 1.5 in the Villains series (setting it between Vicious and Vengeful), this book can be read before, during or after the series. My boyfriend Mark read this without having read any other books in the series and actually really enjoyed it, but it will give you minor spoilers for the other two books.

I read this book a couple of days after finishing the two main novels in this series, and in a way I think this was a bit of a mistake. Still being super connected to the original story did leave me feeling disconnected and disappointed with this story. The story of Extraordinary not only shows Victor and Eli, but also introduces 3 new characters. I have no problems with this at all, but I do have a problem with how much these three new characters (Charlotte, Felix and Marshall) reflect Victor, Mitch and Sydney from the main series. I just couldn’t separate their characters in my head and couldn’t help but feel disappointed I wasn’t reading about them.

I do wish I’d waited a little to read this, as I definitely feel like I’d have a different experience if I didn’t have the emotional connection to the found family character group in the original story. But I’d definitely like to re-read this in the future as I did really like this story as a standalone and it feels like a great balance of a new story that still reflects the original.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Vengeful (#2) by V.E. Schwab

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Magneto and Professor X. Superman and Lex Luthor. Victor Vale and Eli Ever. Sydney and Serena Clarke. Great partnerships, now soured on the vine.
But Marcella Riggins needs no one. Flush from her brush with death, she’s finally gained the control she’s always sought—and will use her new-found power to bring the city of Merit to its knees. She’ll do whatever it takes, collecting her own sidekicks, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other.
With Marcella’s rise, new enmities create opportunity–and the stage of Merit City will once again be set for a final, terrible reckoning. 

I was so hesitant to go into this one after the first book in the series ended up being my first 5 star read of 2022. But even though I didn’t quite end up rating this one 5 stars, it was pretty darn close. I loved the first book so much and this one is no different. The audiobook was, again, brilliant. The short chapters kept me hooked and the addition of a new character in Marcella kept the story interesting and fresh. I love the way Schwab manages to hook me with a new story – whether that is within a book I’m already reading or the start of a new one – with just a few lines.

This book picks up soon after the first book ends, and I like how it feels like both a new plot line and so familiar because of the first book. I also love the relationships between the three main characters – Victor, Sydney and Mitch. Mitch warmed my heart so much in this book and is such a soft character, and I loved the found family aspect that shone throughout.

Maybe we are broken. But we put ourselves back together. We survived. That’s what makes us so powerful. 

I continued to love our main characters and the morally grey aspect of Victor and Eli, which I feel works when balanced out with the love I had for Sydney and Mitch. I felt so worried in this book about what would happen to the side characters rather than the two main ones.

The reason this book didn’t quite reach 5 stars for me is because the ending felt a little rushed. I also felt like we were set up to feel so much for these characters and I actually wanted a few more tense moments with them. The ending left me wanting more and wanting something just slightly different to what we received – but I do understand Schwab wants to leave the story open for future projects.

And as for family—well, blood is always family, but family doesn’t always have to be blood.

Although I had a few nit-picks with this one, the concerns I had were so minimal and I still absolutely adored this series. It’s such a creative one that I know I’ll be recommending to everybody!

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Vicious (#1) by V.E. Schwab

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Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.
Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

It’s time to talk about my first 5 star read of 2022, and it’s no surprise that it’s a V.E. Schwab book! I’ve been slowly making my way through buddy reading some more of her books with Alex, and I’m so glad we finally picked up Vicious. Schwab has this incredible skill of writing completely unique stories with a writing style that feels equally different in each book/series and familiar. I love diving into new books by her and picking up a new story knowing I never know what to expect.

This story is different from anything by Schwab I’ve read before, and I really loved the premise. This one is a gritty story following two college roommates who become extra-ordinaries, and ten years later are trying to track each other down as enemies. The chapters switch between many different time periods, from present day to 10 years before and pretty much anywhere in between, and I was so surprised at how easy it was to follow – it really requires some skill to write like that.

Plenty of humans were monstrous,

Schwab writes amazing morally grey characters and I loved reading about them in this book. Although I can never decide whether I want to root for the characters, there are definitely a couple of characters in this series who I liked, and I want to get behind as I go into Vengeful.

The writing in this is immaculate, and I absolutely loved the audiobook too. The narrator did an incredible job of reading this and fit the book so well. I couldn’t stop listening to this book and I found myself becoming so involved in the story easily.

and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.

I firmly believe this is the superhero book that everyone needs. The short chapters make it addictive, with a fast paced plot and easy-to-read writing. I know I’ll be recommending it to everybody!

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Pride & Prejudice – a retelling by Laura Wood

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Witty, intelligent Elizabeth Bennet has no desire for a marriage of convenience. And when she meets the handsome, wealthy Mr Darcy, her opinion of him is quickly set: he is aloof, selfish and proud – the last man in the world she would ever marry.
Until their paths cross again, and again, and the pair begin to realise that first impressions can be flawed… But as Elizabeth and Darcy become entangled in a dance through the strict hierarchies of society, will there be space for true love to bloom?

After having read A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen last year, I knew this one would be one I wanted to pick up. I then realised just before the book was released that this one is actually published by Barrington Stoke, a dyslexia friendly publisher. I’ve read a few books published by them, and after reading this one with Alex, we found out there’s also retellings of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights that we’d love to pick up in the future.

Rather than this book being inspired by Pride & Prejudice, it’s actually a direct retelling of the story using the same characters, plot and basis for the writing. It’s a simplified version of the story which takes the bare bones but keeps the feeling, plot and even some of the main quotes from the original book, which I loved.

Laura Wood did an incredible job of taking this story and making a much shorter, more accessible version that still gave me the atmosphere and feeling that the original book did. If I ever wanted to have a taste of the original book without watching an adaptation, I’d definitely pick this one up happily!

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Twin Crowns by Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber

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Wren Greenrock has always known that one day she would steal her sister’s place in the palace. Trained from birth to return to the place of her parents’ murder and usurp the only survivor, she will do anything to rise to power and protect the community of witches she loves. Or she would, if only a certain palace guard wasn’t quite so distractingly attractive, and if her reckless magic didn’t have a habit of causing trouble…
Princess Rose Valhart knows that with power comes responsibility. Marriage into a brutal kingdom awaits, and she will not let a small matter like waking up in the middle of the desert in the company of an extremely impertinent (and handsome) kidnapper get in the way of her royal duty. But life outside the palace walls is wilder and more beautiful than she ever imagined, and the witches she has long feared might turn out to be the family she never knew she was missing.
Two sisters separated at birth and raised into entirely different worlds are about to get to know each other’s lives a whole lot better. But as coronation day looms closer and they each strive to claim their birthright, the sinister Kingsbreath, Willem Rathborne, becomes increasingly determined that neither will succeed. Who will ultimately rise to power and wear the crown?

Thank you to the publishers of this book for a pre-release copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is one of the most advanced copies before release I’ve ever been sent – it actually doesn’t release until May 12th! I’ve had this one for a couple of months, but I’ve finally picked it up a few months ahead of publication and this one was such a pleasant surprise. I’ve read Wing Jones and Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber and absolutely loved them, so when I saw she was a co-author of this new YA fantasy, I knew I wanted to pick it up.

I wasn’t sure how this would read, and I was a little daunted by the size of it, clocking in at just over 500 pages. But I soon realised this one is such an easy read and almost feels a little guilty pleasure because of it – I’ve seen that this is a-likened to The Selection and although I would disagree in a lot of ways (this one is definitely a lot more sophisticated!) I definitely felt similar with how easy this one was to read.

I liked so much about this series on top of the wonderful writing – both Wren and Rose were brilliant female main characters, and I really liked both of them. I was a little concerned about Rose coming across as privileged due to her upbringing, and even though she does to a degree, I still really liked her character. I also liked the love interests which definitely made for a more enjoyable read, and I liked the animal companions so much too!

The setting and magic world are both great to read about, and I could definitely picture the world very well. The world-building is brilliantly balanced with the rest of the story, and I really enjoyed reading about it. The plot was well paced for the most part, and the only part that let me down slightly was right at the end, which felt quite rushed.

Overall, this book just had so many great parts to it and I really enjoyed reading. It didn’t quite reach 5 stars for me, but it was very close to it!

★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Poppy War (#1) by R.F. Kuang

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When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

You know there are some books that just grip you from the start and you have a feeling that they just may turn out to be a 5 star read? This one was one of those books, but I’m very sad to say it didn’t quite live up to expectations as we went through the story.

This book starts with Rin studying to pass the Keju exam which will allow her to travel north to Sinegard, a military academy and escape a marriage that has been set up by her parents. I loved these chapters so much and I was so optimistic with the start of this book. I listened to this one on audiobook, and I feel like there are some audiobooks you have to focus on throughout the entire story, and some that capture your attention so suddenly that you can’t help but be entranced. This was one of those books.

I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible. 

However, what I thought might last for the entire book ended quite soon into the story, and around 150-200 pages in, we are thrown from Sinegard Academy and into a war zone. Although this was more what I expected from this series before starting it, I was enjoying the academy setting so much that I did find it quite disappointing to go to the complicated, confusing and pressure-filled environment of a war. Although the rest of the book was still enjoyable, it in no way blew me away like the first 150 pages did, dropping my rating from 5 stars to 4.

There was still so much I loved about this book, however. I really liked how a lot of the topics were handled, from marriage to birth control and children, racism and classism to self harm. Please beware if you are going into this book there are a lot of trigger warnings and heavy topics that I will mention at the end of this review, and some of these were disturbing to read about. But for the most part, I thought a lot of the difficult topics were handled quite well.

Was she now a goddess or a monster? Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.

Overall, this didn’t end up being a 5 star read for me, but I did still really enjoy it and I’m intrigued to see where the story goes in the next two books!

TW: sexual assault, self harm, violence, murder, genocide, gore, rape, animal cruelty, human experimentation, torture, mutilation

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

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A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive. How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?
As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a very long time, and I don’t know why I’ve felt so daunted by it. Although this book is fairly long, clocking in at almost 500 pages, it reads so easily and so quickly. It’s been so long since I read a Patrick Ness book and I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed it.

I don’t know what I quite expected from this one, but it definitely wasn’t what it ended up being. We follow a boy after he drowns as he wakes up in his childhood home, which doesn’t appear to have changed since he was a child and his family moved to America. He is the only person in the world, and nobody appears to have been around for years.

A book… it’s a world all on its own too. 

I was a little concerned where this one would go, as I often feel with dystopian books. This one was the second dystopia/post apocalyptic book I read in January and with both I really wasn’t sure where this was going to go or even where I wanted it to go. I just knew that I’d feel at the end if the outcome was what I wanted or not.

I wasn’t quite sure how I felt at the very end of the book, but overall the outcome was super interesting and inventive. This took a sci-fi turn which I didn’t quite expect but I didn’t mind the way it went. Considering the story mainly focused on one character alone in the world, the pacing felt very fast, and it was interspersed with flashbacks from his life. There were some important topics faced, including homophobia and sexuality in general.

A world made of words, where you live for a while.

Overall, this one was a super enjoyable read. Not quite 5 stars, but one I found really entertaining and I sped through over a couple of days.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.
Achilles, “best of all the Greeks,” is everything Patroclus is not—strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess—and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative connection gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

I can’t believe I finally read this book and that I’m finally going to articulate my thoughts and feelings on this one. Which are very, very mixed. I feel like reading and reviewing books as hyped as this one is always going to be difficult, and I couldn’t help but be very apprehensive going into this one. I’ve read Circe by Madeline Miller and sadly it wasn’t for me, but I had a lot of hope going into this one because it does read very differently.

The Song of Achilles is definitely a lot less dense and a lot more accessible than Circe, and I immediately found myself connecting much more with the characters. The first part of this book was much easier to follow and I enjoyed it more, and it contained a lot of intimate scenes between Patroclus and Achilles. I really liked these scenes, which I think is why I couldn’t connect to the end of the story.

I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. 

Although this does follow the lead up to the Trojan War, and the latter part of the book does focus on the Trojan War itself. This is where I really started to lose interest, and missed the lack of focus on the relationship side of the story and the intimacy between the couple. Another problem I had was with the way women were portrayed, and sometimes it almost felt like there was a ‘token’ woman who was treated better – in this case Briseis – that excused the way other women were treated. Despite this, Briseis is still treated very much as an object and a status symbol. Although this reflects the myth accurately, this is a retelling so in my opinion could have been changed or even left out. It does feel a little softened, but still came across badly to me.

I really liked the writing, however, and at times it reminded me of the writing in Call Me By Your Name, with the same beautiful tones and level of vulnerability and honesty. The two felt so human, and the way their love comes across is gorgeously written and portrayed.

I would know him in death, at the end of the world.

Although there were many aspects I enjoyed about this book, I think a lot of it still wasn’t quite for me. I’ll definitely keep this one on my shelves though, as I’d like to come back to it in future.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: This Woven Kingdom (#1) by Tahereh Mafi

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To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight.
The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can’t put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom—and the world.

Thank you to the publisher, HarperCollins, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This is one of those books I wanted to like so, so badly. I’ve had mixed experience with Mafi’s books – from being disappointed by Shatter Me but absolutely loving A Very Large Expanse of Sea. I decided to pick this one up due to the intriguing synopsis and some great blurbs from some of my favourite authors such as Cassandra Clare and Leigh Bardugo.

Sadly this book just ended up being okay for me. I read 400 out of the 495 pages in just one day, so I must say this one was an easy read and was compelling enough for me to continue. But I also feel like I could summarise the plot in a few sentences. What I expected to happen by a quarter of the way through the book happened three quarters of the way through, and I feel like most of the book was summarised in the synopsis itself.

I did really like Alizeh’s character and she had a strong identity which I loved, and she felt like a strong female lead. I wasn’t a big fan of Kamran and I do feel like Mafi struggles to write male characters that I have any sympathy with. Their romance felt very insta-love to me which I also struggled to enjoy reading about.

The part of the book that probably turned out to be my favourite was the world building, and I liked the fantasy elements a lot. It felt like a really unique fantasy in a lot of ways and elements such as the language felt really natural and genuine.

Overall, this one was definitely mixed but I enjoyed it, it just didn’t blow me away.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Monsters of Rookhaven by Padraig Kenny

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Mirabelle has always known she is a monster. When the glamour protecting her unusual family from the human world is torn and an orphaned brother and sister stumble upon Rookhaven, Mirabelle soon discovers that friendship can be found in the outside world.
But as something far more sinister comes to threaten them all, it quickly becomes clear that the true monsters aren’t necessarily the ones you can see.

This book reminded me of a younger version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and had a lot of gothic/horror aspects that still felt applicable for the age group. This one is a middle grade book following a house known as Rookhaven, where Mirabelle lives with her family. The family are monsters, and each have something that makes them unique.

The family are exiled from the local village, looked down upon by humans and protected from the outside world by a veil. But one day, a crack in the veil allows two humans, Jem and Tom, to break through and end up staying in the house with the family.

I really liked the growing friendship between Jem and Mirabelle, who end up being some of our main characters alongside a human from the local village and Piglet, one of the monsters. The friendship between the two girls represent a growing bond and understanding between the humans and monsters, and was super interesting to read about in this fantasy landscape.

The setting was a lot of fun to read about and it definitely didn’t feel small in the way it is contained within the house and the local village. The story is complimented beautifully with illustrations from Edward Bettison and I added an extra layer of chilling atmosphere.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this one for any ages, but it definitely has a childlike wonder alongside being deliciously dark!

★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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