Review: The School for Good and Evil (#1) by Soman Chainani

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With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.
The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.
But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

I’ve wanted to read this book for such a long time, since my good friend Pete told me how much he loved it after reading it in 2017. 5 years later, and I’m looking forward to meeting Soman Chainani at YALC in a few weeks time, and finally decided to pick up the start of this series. I actually read this first book on audio, and I really enjoyed the narration of it and actually found it easier to read than the physical copy.

I loved how this book existed in a world where fairytales are real and the two main characters find themselves in what was, essentially, a fairytale of their own. It made for quite a unique dynamic to the story but it still felt reminiscent of middle grade fantasy.

 “You’re not evil, Sophie,” Agatha whispered, touching her decayed cheek. “You’re human.”

The only big problem I had with this book was the fact it was told in third person, and I was quite glad to be listening to the audiobook because of that. The book often changes perspective, and I found it difficult to follow at times.

The best part of this book for me was definitely the female friendship between Sophie and Agatha, and I loved how they stuck together through everything. I was a little surprised by the amount of romance, but it was reminiscent of fairytales rather than YA/adult books.

Sophie smiled weakly. “Only if I have you.”

I don’t feel like I quite loved this book as much as many people seem to, but I did still enjoy a lot of aspects of it and will definitely be recommending it to children who are looking for a new fantasy read, and have already started listening to the second book in the series!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.
To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.
A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör is designed to retain its luster and natural appearance for a lifetime of use. Pleasingly proportioned with generous French flaps and a softcover binding, Horrorstör delivers the psychological terror you need in the elegant package you deserve.
Designed by Andie Reid, cover photography by Christine Ferrara.

I’ve wanted to read a Grady Hendrix book for a very long time, and when I saw the design for Horrorstor, I just knew I had to pick it up. This book is designed to be a copy IKEA catalog, and it makes the whole book incredibly entertaining to read. I think the design of this book is pure genius, and the story itself was pretty good too.

I had no idea what to expect on the horror front – but this turned out to be paranormal style horror, which I enjoyed. It was weird, not too spooky, and not quite real. A good balance of horror for me personally, although I could have stood maybe slightly more creepiness in places.

There are enough people running around in here.

I also related to the main character, Amy. There is a large part of this book that focuses on the difficulty of working in retail. I’m talking the day-in-day-out slog of working with shitty customers all day, every day. I love my job, but I also know what it feels like to be in the kind of retail Amy was constantly sassy about. I loved, and very much related to, that satirical narrative. See this review for a brilliant selection of gifs about working in retail (and a review of the book of course!).

The plot kept me entertained and was super fun in a lot of ways. I read this in two sittings and it kept me interested throughout. I had no idea how it was going to end, but I did quite like the ending we had. The characters banded together in a way that reminded me of my own work family and I can imagine us coming together if we ended up in a crazy situation like this one!

It’s starting to feel like an episode of Scooby-Doo.

Overall, this was a great introduction to Grady Hendrix and I can’t wait to read more by him.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun (#1) by Tola Okogwu

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Onyeka has a lot of hair­—the kind that makes strangers stop in the street and her peers whisper behind her back. At least she has Cheyenne, her best friend, who couldn’t care less what other people think. Still, Onyeka has always felt insecure about her vibrant curls…until the day Cheyenne almost drowns and Onyeka’s hair takes on a life of its own, inexplicably pulling Cheyenne from the water.
At home, Onyeka’s mother tells her the shocking truth: Onyeka’s psycho-kinetic powers make her a Solari, one of a secret group of people with super powers unique to Nigeria. Her mother quickly whisks her off to the Academy of the Sun, a school in Nigeria where Solari are trained. But Onyeka and her new friends at the academy soon have to put their powers to the test as they find themselves embroiled in a momentous battle between truth and lies…

This book reminded me how much fun middle grade can be. I picked this one up hoping for a fantasy reminiscent of Amari and the Night Brothers, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Onyeka finds out early in this book that she has psycho-kinetic powers from her hair, and the book honestly explodes from there. I was hooked on this book from the first few chapters, because it was so action packed and quick to read.

The Academy of the Sun was such a brilliant setting and the plot kept me gripped from beginning to end. I also really enjoyed the complexities of the plot in relation to Onyeka’s friends and family relationships.

I loved how this book discussed Black culture and focused on the power of Onyeka’s hair. The author has worked in hair care and this shows throughout the book, especially in the passion of Onyeka’s power.

I hope that many children pick up this book and see themselves in Onyeka. This story was so refreshing, fun, fast-paced and entertaining.

I’m so excited to hear this book will be adapted for screen by David Oyelowo and Will Smith and released on Netflix!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family—and from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitating toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?
Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

It was very odd going into this one straight after reading The Love Hypothesis, because this one actually had a little bit of a reflection of the plot, in a way. Dimple and Rishi meet at a summer program before college, and the romance mixed with academia did remind me of a younger The Love Hypothesis.

When Dimple Met Rishi is actually one of the books that had been on my TBR for the longest, and I’ve probably had it sitting on my shelves for almost 5 years. Because of that, I have been quite hesitant to pick it up, as I just felt like this one would be too young for me. Although it does come across as quite young, I did still enjoy it more than I expected.

This is our life. We get to decide the rules.

I quickly found myself jumping into the story, and I really liked the summer program setting, which I could picture well and made it super easy to read – just what I needed. Delving into this one on long summer days was just perfect! The fact this one discusses arranged marriages and Indian traditions gave it an extra element too, and I liked having different sides from both Dimple and Rishi.

However, I did find this book quite predictable, and it also felt quite a lot older than it actually was. If I’d have guessed, I’d have imagined this book was released around 2010. I can’t pinpoint the reasons why, but I’ve seen more detailed reviews (like this one) calling out some issues such as sexism, which although I didn’t notice at the time per se, I can see on reflection and may be why it felt so dated to me.

We get to say what goes and what stays, what matters and what doesn’t.

Overall, I did enjoy this one but it wasn’t amazing. I can see why this book has a lot of fans, and it was a nice easy read when I needed something to dive into, but I don’t think I’ll be carrying on with the series.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

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As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.
That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.
Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

I never expected to be here, almost a month after I read this book, still thinking about how it might just be my favourite book of the year so far.

There are certain books that I just don’t find myself being drawn to – and this was one of them. I never wanted to read this one, because I don’t tend to drift towards romance, or ‘TikTok books’ in general. But I changed my mind when I first heard this book had demisexual rep, and soon afterward started getting recommendations for this from friends. Thank you specifically to Amy and Charlotte for recommending this and making me finally pick it up!

I wish you could see yourself

I read most of this one on audio, and then finished reading it physically because I literally couldn’t put it down. I was absolutely hooked, and I wanted to know what was going to happen to Adam and Olive. I loved Olive as a main character a lot, and Adam was an absolute sweetheart. Adam’s personality absolutely made my heart melt, and I rooted for them throughout the entire book.

But there was more than just the romance to keep me interested – I really loved the atmosphere around Olive being at university, and reading about her PhD while I was finishing off my dissertation was so good. I feel like there was so much I could relate to on the academic front, and I also enjoyed reading about her friendships and other relationships too.

the way I see you.

Honestly, I just don’t have a bad word to say about this book. I absolutely loved it, I immediately wanted to read anything else by Ali Hazelwood and I still want to re-read it. I never expected to love this as much as I did, but it was so good.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Better the Blood by Michael Bennett

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A DETECTIVE IN SEARCH OF THE TRUTH
Hana Westerman is a tenacious Ma¯ori detective juggling single motherhood and the pressures of her career in Auckland’s Central Investigation Branch. When she’s led to a crime scene by a mysterious video, she discovers a man hanging in a secret room. As Hana and her team work to track down the killer, other deaths lead her to think that they are searching for New Zealand’s first serial killer.
A KILLER IN SEARCH OF RETRIBUTION
With little to go on, Hana must use all her experience as a police officer to try and find a motive to these
apparently unrelated murders. What she eventually discovers is a link to an historic crime that leads back to the brutal bloody colonisation of New Zealand.
A CLASH BETWEEN CULTURE AND DUTY
When the pursuit becomes frighteningly personal, Hana realises that her heritage and knowledge are their only keys to finding the killer.
THE PAST NEVER TRULY STAYS BURIED
But as the murders continue, it seems that the killer’s agenda of revenge may include Hana – and her family . . .
WELCOME TO THE DARK SIDE OF PARADISE. 

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

This book was such an interesting combination of thriller and historical. I was initially quite hesitant to dive into this one as I don’t really read historical fiction at all – but this one is actually set in contemporary New Zealand with a historical influence.

I liked the main character, Hana, who gave us a modern voice for this story. She also had a lot of depth and her own secrets, which are revealed throughout the book alongside the historical background. Hana’s story also included a lot of discussions of family and relationships that added another layer to the story.

The pacing of this book did feel quite slow, however, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to go back to reading it and honestly haven’t retained a lot of information about the book since. The atmosphere was quite good, and I could picture the story well, which I imagine would translate well to screen.

The best part of this book was definitely the historical connection and the way it was reflected in a modern setting without feeling too heavy or literary. However, it didn’t find it as compelling as I would hope from a thriller, which did disappoint me.

★★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Tashikazu Kawaguchi

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In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.
In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.
But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .

I’ve wanted to read Before the Coffee Gets Cold for a very long time, and I recently finally picked it up (on audio, of course…). I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to feel about this book, but it is a beautiful story of wanting to spend every last second with a person, even if you know going back in time isn’t going to change the present, or future.

This book (and I believe, the one that comes afterwards) reads almost like short story collections, following a set of characters as they visit a cafe where they can go back in time, with some (many) restrictions. I loved how this book played with an idea I think about a lot – that people all around us have lives just as complex as our own. We see a number of different characters with completely opposing narratives, but they all face different struggles, and have different loves.

She wanted to do things without having to worry what others thought.

I read this one on audio and I really liked the narration. The book itself isn’t very long and each chapter of the story was told as one continuous audio chapter of around an hour each – perfect for a long run or car journey. I liked the opportunity to have these snippets of somebody’s life in one go, and be able to fully absorb myself into their story.

These characters are ever so slightly intertwined, but are merely mentioned in one another’s perspectives – leaving the full attention on them and their story. The focus on each character left me so invested in each story that I found myself feeling quite emotional as I discovered certain aspects of their life, or left them at the end of the chapter.

She simply lived for her freedom.

I can see why this book might not be for everybody, as it does have a balance of magical realism I haven’t seen before, and could sometimes become confusing with many different characters. I do also wish we could have re-visited the characters at the end of the book, as some of the endings felt quite abrupt. But overall, I really loved these stories and I will definitely be reading the second book.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan

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1955: In a cramped apartment on the Lower East Side, school teachers Dovie and Gillian live as lodgers, unable to reveal the truth about their relationship. They guard their private lives fiercely – until someone guesses their secret.
1975: Twenty years on, in the same apartment, Ava Winters is desperately trying to conceal her mother’s fragile mental state from the critical eyes of their neighbours. But, one sweltering July morning, Ava’s mother escapes.
Alone after her mother’s departure, Ava takes delivery of a parcel. The box is addressed only to ‘Apartment 3B’, and contains a photograph of a woman with the word ‘LIAR’ scrawled across her face.
Seeking refuge from her own crisis, Ava determines to track the owner of the photograph down. And, in so doing, discovers a shocking chain of kindnesses, lies and betrayals – with one woman at the centre of it all…

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

As soon as I read the synopsis for this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I was so drawn in by the idea of this parcel turning up on a doorstep, and a journey of finding out was in the photograph…

And this book definitely didn’t let me down. I picked up the audiobook, which I really enjoyed and would definitely recommend if this one appeals to you. I really liked the multiple points of view in this book and the way it flicked between time periods in the same apartment. I find sometimes with multiple POV, I end up being more invested in one character than another, and although I did prefer reading about Dovie and Gillian more, I still found myself invested in Ava’s story. Ava was the only part of the story that let it down slightly though, and I did find her voice to be a tad immature in comparison to the rest of the book.

It’s difficult to define the exact genre of this book – thriller seems too harsh, but is probably the closest. It’s more like a historical thriller with an edge of tragedy which courses through the story and feels inevitable from the very beginning, but also had a great New York atmosphere that I loved. The characters are such a big focus of this book but don’t take away from the plot or the pacing, instead making it easy to sympathise with and follow their stories. I was left feeling emotional as I learned more about their backgrounds and lives.

This is more gentle than a thriller, more atmospheric than a historical, and more character-driven than a mystery. It is many things rolled into one, but I enjoyed it all the same.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

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This novel is about a woman called Martha. She knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn’t know what it is. Her husband Patrick thinks she is fine. He says everyone has something, the thing is just to keep going.
Martha told Patrick before they got married that she didn’t want to have children. He said he didn’t mind either way because he has loved her since he was fourteen and making her happy is all that matters, although he does not seem able to do it.
By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing – if you can find something else to want. 

This book isn’t one I’d necessarily pick up, but after hearing it has tones of Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts (which I adored!), I really wanted to give it a go. I picked up the audiobook for this one and I really enjoyed it, and the narrator really engaged me.

This book focuses massively on mental health and an undiagnosed mental illness that is never named in the book. This mental illness has a massive impact on the main characters life, but it doesn’t detract from the rest of the story either. I still found it super interesting to read about Martha’s family, friendships and relationship with her husband Patrick.

Everything is broken and messed up and completely fine.

I also want to point out that this book is really funny. It’s deeply, darkly, richly funny, but funny all the same. There are lines that have stayed with me since I read it almost a month ago, that stood out and I still chuckle at and repeat to people. Not only does this remind me how much I enjoyed this book, but it gives me so many chances to recommend this book to others because I do still recommend this one a lot.

Although I didn’t have many issues with this book, one of my major issues was the diagnosis itself. I didn’t, and still don’t quite, know how to feel about it. It is very natural to want to know what the diagnosis is, and I felt the same while reading it. I think it’s really important that this book does contain elements of a lot of mental illnesses because readers can see themselves in Martha, but I also feel like this book walked a fine line between building on a stigma that already exists.

There is a big element of this diagnosis that talks about the stigma surrounding Martha’s mental illness. And I feel like the best way to combat stigma is to talk about the mental illness. So there is a big part of my brain that feels like this book could potentially add to the stigma rather than detract from it.

That is what life is. It’s only the ratios that change. usually on their own.

I really enjoyed this book overall and I definitely will continue to recommend it. There is a part of me that still feels quite torn over the mental health aspect, but it made for a very interesting read.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Piranesi by Suzanna Clarke

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Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.
There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect of Piranesi. But it wasn’t quite this.

Thank you to Jo for recommending the audiobook of this one to me, which was such a captivating way to absorb this beautiful tale. Although I do feel like I would have enjoyed this in physical format too, the audio was wonderful and the narrator felt perfect for the story.

The House is valuable because it is the House. 

I quickly found myself being engaged with Piranesi’s world. This story is one of mystery, and I felt like I had to absorb myself fully within the book to really enjoy it. I felt so focused on Piranesi as a character and curious about the world around him. I feel like if you try and relate this book to the real world and understand it as a real thing, it will lose you. But if you lose yourself within this book, you just might win. And become curiouser and curiouser.

It is enough in and of Itself. It is not the means to an end.

The writing itself was definitely one of my favourite aspects of this book. It was so beautiful and the descriptions of the house made it really easy to picture and still visualise in my mind. The writing was very lyrical, beautifully descriptive and engaging. I felt so involved in the story.

I would really recommend not just this book, but the audiobook version. It was such a wonderful mystery and I would recommend sticking with it until you become curious about where it’s going, because then you won’t be able to put it down!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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