Review: A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

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In the dark, gothic town of Wickdon, Maggie Welty lives in an old creaking manor. Maggie’s mother is an alchemist who has recently left town, leaving Maggie with just her bloodhound for company. But when Maggie spots a legendary ancient fox-creature on her porch, her fate is changed forever. Whoever tracks down and kills the hala in the Halfmoon Hunt will earn fame and riches – and if Maggie wins the hunt, she knows her mother will want to celebrate her. This is her chance to bring her home.
But the rules state that only teams of two can join the hunt, and while Maggie is known as the best sharpshooter in town, she needs an alchemist.
Enter Wes Winters. He isn’t an alchemist … yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, this is his last chance.
Maggie and Wes make an unlikely team – a charismatic but troubled boy, and a girl who has endured life on the outskirts of a town that never welcomed her. But as the hunt takes over, the pair are drawn together as they uncover a darker magic that may put everything they hold dear in peril…

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

I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I listened to the audiobook mostly, diving in at the end of the physical version, and I really enjoyed the experience. This one captured my attention from the start with brilliant world-building, a stunning atmosphere and beautiful writing. I listened to around half of this book driving across the English and Welsh countryside on a long drive, and it was the perfect autumnal setting to settle into this story.

I really loved the romance, which was very slow burn and a lot of lusting, but was written so well that I couldn’t help but fall for these two and really root for their relationship. There was also several different family dynamics explored, and I really liked reading about Wes’ relationship with his sisters, and Maggie’s life spent largely alone.

When she looks like this, flushed and hazy and haloed by the moon,

The fantasy aspect of this book was well done and gave another layer to the story, but was incredibly complex. If I had a slight complaint about this one, it felt like the fantasy elements were over complicated in places and the space could have been used to discuss the side characters in more depth, which frequently appeared but were sometimes not fully integrated in the story in my opinion.

I did, however, really enjoy the discussions of Irish folklore and culture, and although I cannot personally speak about the Irish Catholic and Jewish rep, I have read several other reviews discussing their positive feelings towards the representation. I also really liked the alchemy aspect, but it feels like it could have been explored in more depth. The time period and setting was largely ambiguous which I didn’t particularly mind but I can understand why it might bug some people as it was difficult to pinpoint!

he truly can believe God exists, and her name is Margaret Welty.

Overall, there was so much to love about this book, which had a delicious romance, an atmospheric setting, and beautiful writing. Although I had a few small criticisms, I’d recommend it!

★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker

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Since the world fell sick with fantastical illnesses, sisters Payton and Ani have grown up in the hospital of King Jude’s.
Payton wants to be a methic like her father, working on a cure for her mother’s sleeping fever. Ani, however, thinks the remedy for all illness might be found in the green wilderness beyond the hospital walls.
When Ani stumbles upon an imprisoned boy who turns everything he touches to gold, her world is turned upside-down. The girls find themselves outside the hospital for the first time, a dark mystery unravelling …

I listened to the audiobook of this one and it was such an immersive and fantastical world! I loved the way this used slightly different language that had a more classical feeling. It didn’t feel overly complex and still felt familiar enough to the reader but gave a different level to the story.

The plot definitely kept me hooked and I was intrigued to see where the story was going for both of the sisters. Talking of the two sisters, they made for great main characters, but my biggest gripe with this one was that I never felt particularly close to either of the sisters. Although I rooted for their stories, I didn’t find them particularly memorable or remarkable.

I was a little concerned reading about a pandemic in our current situation, but this one does have enough a fantasy feeling to distance ourself from the world, while feeling relevant and current. It does also face some other difficult topics that felt a little older than the 9-12 age range I would categorise it at, and would be good as a transitional read into younger teen books.

Overall, I really liked the world-building and the visualisation of the fantasy world was definitely the best thing for me. This wasn’t perfect, but was still enjoyable and I really liked the audiobook!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Balloon Thief (#1) by Aneesa Marufu

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For Khadija, the only escape from her father’s arranged betrothal is the sky. When she spots a rogue hot air balloon fighting against its ropes, she leaps at the chance for adventure.
Khadija soon finds an unlikely ally in a poor glassmaker’s apprentice, Jacob. But Jacob is a hāri, and Khadija a Ghadaean.
The hāri are oppressed and restless―their infamous terrorist group, the Hāreef, have a new fearsome leader. And the ruling Ghadaeans are brutal in their repression. Soon, a deadly revolution threatens their friendship and their world. The Hāreef use forbidden magic, summoning jinn―wicked spirits made of fire―to enact their revenge, forcing Jacob and Khadija to choose what kind of a world they want to save… 

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

This book drew me in from the very first page, and I really loved the concept and focus on hot air balloons. It was such a unique idea and I love how the world building centred around the balloons from the very start.

I listened to the audiobook, which at the start of the book really drew me in and I enjoyed Khadija’s chapters a lot. The concept of her escaping her possessive and controlling father gave an added layer to the story that felt really important and well written. We also had a POV of Jacob, a Hari, who were looked down upon by society.

The unlikely friendship struck between these two meant the prejudices and divergences between the two characters were faced head on and discussed throughout the book. I really enjoyed seeing the divisions dissolve between the two main characters and this felt like an important theme.

However, this book did start to let me down in the second half, as more and more started to happen. We went from a story focusing on family, friendship and prejudice, to a highly complex world including terrorism, Jinn, protests, attacks and dark magic. There was an introduction of a large amount of characters that left me feeling confused and struggling to focus on the story.

Overall, this book started so strong and I really loved the concept throughout, but lost me as it became overly complex and seemed to drift away from the original plot and point to the story. A solid debut with great world building, but I most likely won’t be continuing with the series.

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Demon in the Wood (Grishaverse #0) by Leigh Bardugo and Dani Pendergast

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Before he led Ravka’s Second Army, before he created the Fold, and long before he became the Darkling, he was just a lonely boy burdened by an extraordinary power.
Eryk and his mother, Lena, have spent their lives on the run. But they will never find a safe haven. They are not only Grisha—they are the deadliest and rarest of their kind. Feared by those who wish to destroy them and hunted by those who would exploit their gifts, they must hide their true abilities wherever they go. But sometimes deadly secrets have a way of revealing themselves…

It’s no secret that I love the Grishaverse. Six of Crows is one of my favourite series of all time with some of my favourite characters of all time, but I also love the wider Grishaverse including Shadow and Bone and the Netflix series.

As far as I’m aware, this graphic novel expands on a previously published short story of the Darkling’s origin, and if I remember rightly this was also shown in the Netflix series at the start of the penultimate episode.

I honestly had no idea how much I needed this book exactly when it arrived. I’ve been struggling to pick up books in the past couple of weeks, but this was perfect, it was exactly the right amount of focus I could comfortably give to a book. I flicked through this in one sitting while also listening to music, and I fell in love with it.

The artwork is beautiful and Dani Pendergast has given such a brilliant atmosphere to this story. The colours are subtle but work so well and gives the book such a consistent feel too. Leigh crafts yet another amazing tale that I really enjoyed delving into, and I loved being back in this world so much, even if it was just for a taste.

If you’re a Grishaverse fan, I would really recommend picking this one up. It was so beautifully composed and felt familiar, yet added a new layer to the universe and story.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: i love this part by Tillie Walden

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Two girls in a small town in the USA kill time together as they try to get through their days at school.
They watch videos, share earbuds as they play each other songs and exchange their stories. In the process they form a deep connection and an unexpected relationship begins to develop.
In her follow up to the critically acclaimed The End of Summer, Tillie Walden tells the story of a small love that can make you feel like the biggest thing around, and how it’s possible to find another person who understands you when you thought no-one could.

This book is one you will read in only a few minutes but will stay with you for so much longer. I’ve wanted to read Tillie Walden’s books for a while and after recently reading On a Sunbeam, I decided to pick up i love this part. Despite this being a much shorter book, I actually preferred this one and found it much more closely aligned with my reading taste.

This book follows the relationship of two girls and I never thought a relationship could be captured in only dialogue, in only 68 pages. But this book truly does capture the essence of meeting somebody and falling for them through the are you okay?‘s and the is it just me and the listening to the same songs together and the sharing of breath, of space, of life. It encapsulates everything and more in a few short pages.

I have so much admiration for Walden that has grown even more after reading i love this part, and every page I could happily have as a print and put on my wall. I love Walden’s art style so much and the colour scheme was subtle but beautiful too.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Crumbs by Danie Stirling

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In a very special town, there’s an even more unusual bakery with a selection of baked treats hand-crafted to help your dreams come true. For Ray, a quiet young woman with special powers of her own, the order is always the same: a hot tea with a delicious side of romance.
When Ray meets Laurie, the kind barista who aspires to be a professional musician, she gets a real taste of love for the first time. But even with a spark of magic, romance isn’t so simple. Both Ray and Laurie are chasing their own dreams and even when Ray starts to see the future, she can’t predict her fate with Laurie.

Thank you to Harper Insider for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

As soon as I saw this book, I knew I wanted to pick it up. It just seemed so perfect for autumn – a cozy romance with a bakery and magic. And it definitely didn’t let me down.

I loved the artwork and would have loved to have read this in colour, but as I read an ARC copy, the printing was only in black and white. I obviously won’t be taking this into account with this review, but I would love to see the finished copy as the artwork was gorgeous.

The story was super sweet and I liked seeing both of our main characters have their own storylines and individuality. There did seem like quite a heavy focus on Ray’s job, which I didn’t mind but did make the story feel a little disjointed at times and left the world-building feeling slightly muddled.

However, I only have slight complaints and overall this was a super-sweet story and I adored the relationship and friendship group. The baking element was so lovely and heartwarming but didn’t take as much of a central pillar in the story as I expected.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

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When the YouTube-famous Ghost Gang—Chrissy, Chase, Emma, and Kiki—visit a haunted LA hotel notorious for tragedy to secretly film after dark, they expect it to be just like their previous paranormal huntings. Spooky enough to attract subscribers—and ultimately harmless.
But when they stumble upon something unexpected in the former room of a gruesome serial killer, they quickly realize that they’re in over their heads.
Sometimes, it’s the dead who need our help—and the living we should fear.

I spotted this one earlier in the year at Forbidden Planet, and decided to pick it up for spooky season. The cover drew me in, the concept gripped me and I liked the idea of a shorter read (this one clocks in at just over 200 pages).

The best part of this book was that it was a quick and entertaining read, but I sadly don’t feel like it achieved much more than that. I got through it very quickly and read most of it in one sitting, and I did like the concept and wanted to read on.

It’s nice to have someone who knows you that well 

However, I do feel like several aspects of this book let it down. It’s not often I comment on the writing, but this one did feel like a debut, especially at the start. The writing seemed quite underdeveloped to me. The characters were also all pretty unlikable and didn’t feel like they had distinct personalities.

Although I didn’t try to guess who the killer was, it was the most obvious choice for a murderer and didn’t have any kind of shock factor. There was a lot of gruesome parts and gore, but I also didn’t find this as creepy as I wanted or expected to.

and still wants to see your face every day.

Overall, this was definitely fun and entertaining and I enjoyed the ride enough to keep turning the pages, which is why I’m still going to give it 3 out of 5 stars. But if you’re looking for anything more than entertaining and fast paced, you might want to give this one a miss.

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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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: 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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