Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Fall TBR pile

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fabulous Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in with future topics here!

There's always a flurry of excellent books scheduled for release in the autumn, which is great for my voracious reader, less great for my bank balance... But here are ten books coming out over the next few months that I cannot wait to get my little mitts on and read this autumn!

The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli
September 27th 2018

Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished - until the day a terrible accident took Essie's life and trapped her soul in this world.
Dax - the heir to Firgaard's throne - was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa's people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she'd give him the army he needed if he made her queen.
Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax's promises go unfulfilled. Roa's people continue to suffer.
Then a chance to right every wrong arises - an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.
All she has to do is kill the king.

I adored the first book "The Last Namsara" and have eagerly thrust it upon friends going read this now so it's no surprise that this book is on my to read pile, and pretty near the top. Let's face it, I'll be diving straight into it as soon as I get my hands on it...

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she's capable of.
As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel's near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

I need to catch up on the first book. It's been sat on my shelves for far, far too long. It's one of those strange ones where you know you're going to love it, but you're saving it for the moment you need it most. However the audiobook is read by one of my favourite narrators, so the temptation to launch into the audiobook instead is strong... Either way, I'm excited about the sequel.

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

The battle has been fought, blood has been spilt and a queen has been crowned, but not all are happy with the outcome.
Katharine, the poisoner queen, has been crowned and is trying to ignore the whispers that call her illegitimate, undead, cursed.
Mirabella and Arsinoe have escaped the island of Fennbirn, but how long before the island calls them back?
Jules is returning to Fennbirn and has become the unlikely figurehead of a revolution threatening to topple Katharine's already unsteady rule.
But what good is a revolution if something is wrong with the island itself?

Words cannot express how much I love this series. It was such a sneaky little book that crept up on me and then hit me over the head with its gloriousness. I adore this world, I love the characters, and I cannot wait to get back to Fennbirn.
The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa are the Boneless Mercies—girls hired to kill quickly, quietly, and mercifully. But Frey is weary of the death trade and, having been raised on the heroic sagas of her people, dreams of a bigger life. 
When she hears of an unstoppable monster ravaging a nearby town, Frey decides this is the Mercies' one chance out. The fame and fortune of bringing down such a beast would ensure a new future for all the Mercies. In fact, her actions may change the story arc of women everywhere.

Full of fierce girls, bloodlust, tenuous alliances, and unapologetic quests for glory, this elegantly spun tale challenges the power of storytelling—and who gets to be the storyteller.

This intrigues me. I know nothing about it bar what's in the blurb, but it just appeals. Bad ass lady assassins? Yes. Please.

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas

Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day…
With Aelin captured, Aedion and Lysandra remain the last line of defense to protect Terrasen from utter destruction. Yet they soon realize that the many allies they’ve gathered to battle Erawan’s hordes might not be enough to save them. Scattered across the continent and racing against time, Chaol, Manon, and Dorian are forced to forge their own paths to meet their fates. Hanging in the balance is any hope of salvation―and a better world.
And across the sea, his companions unwavering beside him, Rowan hunts to find his captured wife and queen―before she is lost to him forever.
As the threads of fate weave together at last, all must fight, if they are to have a chance at a future. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever in the explosive final chapter of the Throne of Glass series.

I'm not ready. I will never be ready for this series to be over. But after the devastation of "Empire of Storms" and the fantastic world building in "Tower of Dawn" I cannot wait to get back to this world. In the mean time I'm keeping myself occupied with a re-read so the heartbreak is super fresh going in...

39943647Fire & Blood by George R R Martin

With all the fire and fury fans have come to expect from internationally bestselling author George R. R. Martin, this is the first volume of the definitive two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros.
Centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones, House Targaryen—the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria—took up residence on Dragonstone. Fire and Blood begins their tale with the legendary Aegon the Conqueror, creator of the Iron Throne, and goes on to recount the generations of Targaryens who fought to hold that iconic seat, all the way up to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart.
What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why did it become so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What is the origin of Daenerys’s three dragon eggs? These are but a few of the questions answered in this essential chronicle, as related by a learned maester of the Citadel and featuring more than eighty all-new black-and-white illustrations by artist Doug Wheatley. Readers have glimpsed small parts of this narrative in such volumes as The World of Ice & Fire, but now, for the first time, the full tapestry of Targaryen history is revealed.

I just love Westeros, I'm fascinated by this world Martin has created, and more of the history is always a good thing. Plus, Targaryens and dragons. What more could one want from an autumn read?

The Other Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
November 20th 2018

She was in the wrong place...
Fiercely independent and adventurous, Poppy Bridgerton will only wed a suitor whose keen intellect and interests match her own. Sadly, none of the fools from her London season qualify. While visiting a friend on the Dorset coast, Poppy is pleasantly surprised to discover a smugglers' hideaway tucked inside a cave. But her delight turns to dismay when two pirates kidnap her and take her aboard a ship, leaving her bound and gagged on the captain's bed…

He found her at the wrong time...
Known to society as a rascal and reckless privateer, Captain Andrew James Rokesby actually transports essential goods and documents for the British government. Setting sail on a time-sensitive voyage to Portugal, he's stunned to find a woman waiting for him in his cabin. Surely, his imagination is getting the better of him. But no, she is very real—and his duty to the Crown means he's stuck with her. 
Can two wrongs make the most perfect right?
When Andrew learns that she is a Bridgerton, he knows he will likely have to wed her to avert a scandal—though Poppy has no idea that he is the son of an earl and neighbor to her aristocratic cousins in Kent. On the high seas, their war of words soon gives way to an intoxicating passion. But when Andrew's secret is revealed, will his declaration of love be enough to capture her heart…?

Julia Quinn is an auto buy author for me. Her books have got me through lots of tough times, and they are guaranteed to give me all the warm fuzzy feelings. Any book she writes is an immediate must read, and this latest will be no exception.

And finally, three books that are already out but I cannot wait to curl up with this autumn.

Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett

They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king years ago. Now Kate lives as an outcast, clinging to the fringes of society as a member of the Relay, the imperial courier service. Only those most skilled in riding and bow hunting ride for the Relay; and only the fastest survive, for when dark falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals. But it’s this magic that she needs to keep hidden, as being a wilder is forbidden, punishable by death or exile. And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan massacred by nightdrakes in broad daylight—the only survivor her childhood friend, her first love, the boy she swore to forget, the boy who broke her heart.
The high king’s second son, Corwin Tormane, never asked to lead. Even as he waits for the uror—the once-in-a-generation ritual to decide which of the king’s children will succeed him—he knows it’s always been his brother who will assume the throne. And that’s fine by him. He’d rather spend his days away from the palace, away from the sight of his father, broken with sickness from the attempt on his life. But the peacekeeping tour Corwin is on has given him too much time to reflect upon the night he saved his father’s life—the night he condemned the would-be killer to death and lost the girl he loved. Which is why he takes it on himself to investigate rumors of unrest in one of the remote city-states, only for his caravan to be attacked—and for him to be saved by Kate.
With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin have to put the past behind them. The threat of drakes who attack in the daylight is only the beginning of a darker menace stirring in the kingdom—one whose origins have dire implications for Kate’s father’s attack upon the king and will thrust them into the middle of a brewing civil war in the kingdom of Rime.

Thanks Bookstagram for highlighting this gorgeous book! I picked up a gorgeous copy with pretty sprayed pages at YALC this year, and I've been waiting for a good moment to sit down with it and lose myself in the story.

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia's family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess--a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.
For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She's endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.
Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn't always won on the battlefield.
For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.

Another Bookstagram offering - I kept seeing beautiful pictures involving this one, and then the reviews started living up to the hype created by the cover, and I am now thoroughly intrigued.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.
Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl—a subspecies of dragon—who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.

I adored "Seraphina" (although I don't want to talk about "Shadow Scale") and I'm really curious to see what this latest book by Hartman is like. I've heard good things, and I'm looking forward to it, but... Part of me is terrified I will feel more like I did after "Shadow Scale" than "Seraphina" when I read it. With that in mind it's sat on my to read pile for a while, but I'm looking forward to a blanket, a pot of tea, and an afternoon finally reading it.

So those are my top ten books for the autumn, what are yours? Tell me some that you think I should add to my to read pile in the comments!

Monday, 17 September 2018

Film Review: Sierra Burgess is a Loser

Warning for all the spoilers, as I rant at great length about this film.

After the brilliance of two new romantic comedies on Netflix, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" and "Set it Up", I was understandably excited about watching the much hyped (HI NOAH CENTINEO) "Sierra Burgess" film.
However when the credits finally rolled I was left feeling not that she was a loser, but that Sierra Burgess is Problematic...

A modern retelling of a frankly problematic story ("Cyrano de Bergerac" by Edmond Rostand) seemed to be an odd move, but the cast was fresh and exciting enough that I was willing to put my doubts aside and go in with an open mind. However the problems with the original story become all the more twisted and squicky in this modern, gender flipped version.

When we are first introduced to Sierra she seems smart, funny, has a great relationship with both her parents and best friend Dan (frankly some of the best comedy comes from him) and has her little niche of the world carved out thank you very much.
But then a sexy boy starts texting her. The sexy boy that we're meant to believe is too ugly and too much of a loser for popular girl Veronica to bother with, which is why Veronica gives aforementioned guy of sexynotsexyness!Jamey Sierra's number instead - with me so far?
And suddenly all of the character built up for Sierra goes poof. She's suddenly shallow and obsessed with looks and has gone completely gooey for sexynotsexy!Jamey and it is so insanely cringey that I developed eye strain from rolling them so hard.

Sierra realises that sexynotsexy!Jamey does not know who she is and thinks she's Veronica, and instead of embracing her smart, funny self and telling him he's made a mistake, she immediately decides that pretending to be Veronica is the best idea ever. Because catfishing someone is the way to start all great love stories...

I will admit that the breathless anticipation and electric charge of messaging someone you like is captured beautifully, but underpinning all of that is the horrible messedupness of this entire situation, so it's hard to just sit back and enjoy this blossoming teen love story. It's also incredibly frustrating because instead of doing the latest craze of popping text messages out onto the screen so you can actually see what the character's are writing to each other, this film decides to just leave them on the phone screens so quite often I had no idea what was being said. I know my eyesight isn't great, but surely a film that involves a lot of texting should have put a little more thought into the audience being able to read said texts?...

Then Sierra realises that the only way to keep up this ruse (WHY SIERRA, WHY?!) is to persuade Veronica to get in on this. Which she does, because Veronica is frankly too good for this movie, and once she drops the mean girl act becomes one of my favourite characters.
My favourite part of this whole train-wreck was the relationship between Sierra and Veronica, and frankly I would be a lot happier if they'd just ignored any romance by the end and focussed on this strong and powerful friendship that develops between the most unlikely of girls. It's wonderful to watch, truly, and it's the only thing that really salvages this movie. (That and shirtless Noah Centineo, because I am not made of stone.)

Thus begins a truly, truly awful plan. Which involves Sierra messaging Veronica answers to sexynotsexy!Jamey's questions whilst Veronica and Jamey are out on a date WHICH MAKES NO SENSE AND IS SO UNSUBTLY DONE HOW DOES HE NOT NOTICE. He then goes in for a kiss with Veronica (although why he's not running for the hills by now is a question for the ages) only she insists he closes his eyes and instead swaps out with Sierra so she can have her first kiss with him.


I'm sorry.


The consent issues alone with this are enough to make me get shouty. (If you can't see the issues with it, then gender swap that situation around and it becomes blindingly obvious how problematic it is.) And they thought this was a good, sweet, romantic idea for a film?...

Then we have a truly horrifically done scene where Sierra pretends to be deaf so she can't speak with sexynotsexy!Jamey so he won't recognise her voice, only the punchline here is meant to be that Jamey's little brother is actually deaf so he does in fact understand sign language.

Just going to give that one a minute to sink in.

Who signed off on this film and didn't think that might not be the best idea?...
Particularly once you add in the transphobic and homophobic comments that are thrown in as punchlines and miss the mark so badly that it boggles the mind.
It's a script that just is so tonally deaf to everything that has been going on around it in the world, and yet still thinks it's so funny and clever. It's not, really it's not.

Then we get to the punchline, I mean climax, of the film. Sierra sees Veronica kissing Jamey. Gasp.
Let's unpack that one for a minute.
First of all, Veronica has (admittedly agreed to it, but still) been trapped into this fake relationship with a guy that she is now admitting is a little bit sexier than first given credit for, but she's pretending to be the Veronica that Sierra has been. Her consent really is questionable at this point. Her being kissed by Jamey to keep up the charade for Sierra is squicky, sure, but she is trying to be a good friend here, and she stops the kiss almost as soon as it starts. Sierra going off on one about this when this entire situation is her fault, makes me pull this face.

Then, in her brilliant clever-student level headedness (seriously, we keep being told she's an amazing student, but I have seen no evidence of this with her terrible decision making over the last hour) Sierra hacks into Veronica's Instagram account and posts a really intimate picture of Veronica and a guy she has spent the film liking, with a screenshot of him dumping her over DM. This is then sent as an alert to all the other students, and one bright spark decides to project it up on the big screen at the soccer game for maximum lols. And by lols I mean petty, hideous revenge.

Why does she do this? Oh, because Veronica is a mean girl who deserves it.

I don't really have any words to actually express my feelings about this. We're meant to empathise with Sierra, hell we're meant to like Sierra and root for her throughout the film, but mostly I just want to throw things at her and shout at her for being a monumental jerk.

It all comes out, Jamey discovers what's been going on, excrement hits fans, and Sierra is left crying alone in her room. I think we're meant to feel sorry for her at this point, but frankly I think Veronica and Jamey deserve more sympathy and their own upset piano playing montage.

Sierra then experiences mild shunning from Veronica, Jamey, and best friend Dan. She writes a song about how hard it is not being conventionally beautiful. She sends said song to Veronica, she patches things up with Dan  ignores all the problems and somehow Dan and her are magically friends again. Sierra is tragically sad but she will survive.

Then Veronica goes to Jamey and plays him Sierra's sad song (admittedly it is a very nice song, but I'm still grumpy right now) because apparently a sad song about why life is so tough for Sierra, and how much she loves Jamey is enough to make Veronica forgive Sierra for the awful things she did. And suddenly Jamey is all OH I DO LIKE YOU EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE LITERALLY THE WORST AND LIED ALL THE LOTS LET'S GO TO HOMECOMING.
And Veronica and Sierra forgive through the magical form of not communicating and just hugging, THE END.

I mean, really, there is so much wrong with that. We're shown that a smart, intelligent, funny girl goes absolutely googly over this sexynotsexy! guy, loses all rational thought, lies to him, manipulates him and her new found friend, turns into an irrational crazed person, takes away his consent over their first kiss, publicly slut shames her friend, and then IT'S ALL OK AND SHE GETS THE GUY ANYWAY WITH NO REPERCUSSIONS.


So, uh, yeah. Feelings, lots of them. Not good feelings. Frankly I want a do-over which just focuses on the glorious friendship between Veronica and Sierra. That's all I want, just that.

Do I regret watching this film? Yes. Would I recommend it? Well, there are elements that were enjoyable, and I think if you're aware of how problematic it is going in then you're less likely to combust from rage, but this film is a really terrifying look at how not self aware some portions of the film making industry are. Seriously guys, go take a long hard look in the mirror, because if this is what passes for romance and how to get that sexynotsexy! guy of your dreams, we have got a lot of problems...

Friday, 14 September 2018

Throne of Glass re-read: The Assassins Blade

Publication Date: March 13th 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 430 pages

Celaena Sardothien owes her reputation to Arobynn Hamel. He gave her a home at the Assassins' Guild and taught her the skills she needed to survive.
Arobynn's enemies stretch far and wide - from Adarlan's rooftops and its filthy dens, to remote islands and hostile deserts. Celaena is duty-bound to hunt them down. But behind her assignments lies a dark truth that will seal her fate - and cut her heart in two forever...
Explore the dark underworld of this kick-ass heroine and find out how the legend begins in the five page-turning prequel novellas to the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series.

With the upcoming release of the final book in the Throne of Glass series on October 23rd, it seemed like an excellent excuse to go back for a full re-read of the series, partly because who really needs an excuse? And partly because this is such a complex, well plotted series, that I really need a bit of a refresher before diving into the final behemoth. (over 900 pages!)

I haven't touched the prequel novellas since they were first released as individual e-books, mostly because Celaena at 16 is a spoilt and irritating brat. I found her incredibly difficult to deal with at that age. This highlights a) what a good writer Maas is to fully capture the arrogance and insistence of being an adult that can come at that age (I remember that well for myself...) and b) the incredible character development that Maas puts her through over the course of the series. Because that character development is a masterpiece, and should be praised as such.

So going in on my re-read I was prepared for annoying!Celaena, which helped, because the first time I really, really wasn't and I struggled to enjoy the stories as a result. It's fascinating to get these glimpses into life pre-Endovier, and it's really lovely to see some of the characters and story threads get set up so early, to then have such a pay off in later books. It's a master class in the long game of plotting and storytelling.

Some people question whether the books are necessary to read, and what order you should read them in. Firstly, they're not necessary, you can get by perfectly well without having the information conveyed in these stories, because Maas fills you in on the really important bits when they become relevant. But it's really lovely to see these stories and threads and then watch them play out their repercussions over the series.
Secondly, I wouldn't recommend reading these first when approaching the series. Yes chronologically they are, but I think if you are faced with sixteen year old Celaena straight off, I think a lot of people would find that off putting and wouldn't continue the series. Start with Throne of Glass, and come back to this book at a later date when you've already fallen in love with the series - you'll appreciate it much more at that point.

I've also found it fascinating to go back and re-read my original review and see that a lot of my initial feelings still stand, but that the furthering of the series has mellowed a lot of my feelings, and proven that Maas is truly a writing force to be reckoned with.

Check back later for my re-read review of Throne of Glass!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Warning, mild spoilers for the book

Publication Date: August 28th 2012
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 322 pages

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone A wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

I've heard so many people who loved this book, that I went into this with really high expectations, and I was therefore quite shocked that I actually really disliked this book. So, unpopular opinion, I really didn't enjoy this frequently very hyped story.

It showcases love without boundaries though! But I didn't see any examples of that? It explored the idea that Rhiannon was attracted to some bodies that A inhabited, but then really struggled with and disliked the appearance of others. So if you just wanted an exploration of how one person likes boys of a certain type, but really wasn't attracted to other boys or any girls, then sure this book does that, but it certainly didn't offer me what I was expecting which was a love that transcended physical appearance. Some people appear to have found that within this book, but I just couldn't see it. What I could see was Rhiannon becoming increasingly uncomfortable with some of the bodies that A showed up in.

But it shows true love! Does it? Where? Again, I expected a love story that really built into something wonderful and fascinating, but all I got was A increasingly stalking and pressuring Rhiannon into loving him and her resisting. The longer the relationship went on the more uncomfortable I became. Rhiannon is given no autonomy, she tries at various points to make her own decisions and choices, and A just steam rollers over them with what he wants. He stalks, he manipulates, he coerces, and he's taking over other people's lives to do it. That is not true love.
A 'falls in love with her' because only he can see her secret sadness and what an interesting person she is. He decides that he is the only person who can possibly understand her and make her happy, so he stalks her, he plots breaking her and her (yes a not nice) boyfriend up, he is invading her privacy, and we are meant to sympathize with him. It was horrible, and I found it baffling that so many people have seen this and gone 'Yup! That's true love!' No, it isn't, and I want to destroy this idea that stalking, possessive, creepy behaviour is love.

It shows all sorts of different people and the struggles they're experiencing! True, we see a lot of different people through A's eyes, but honestly it just felt like it was episodic 'today we're going to look at!' issues, examining depression, sexuality, obesity, transsexuality etc. Only they feel horribly formulaic and driven only by the desire to be seen as inclusive, rather than it actually furthering the story and looking at these things properly.

Honestly I was just disappointed, and frankly quite angry when I finished this book. It was not what I was expecting given other reviews I've read, and honestly the portrayal of 'true love' was dangerous and problematic.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Review: The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross

Publication Date: February 19th 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 464 pages

Born out of wedlock, Brienna is cast off by her noble family and sent to Magnolia House - a boarding house for those looking to study the passions: art, music, dramatics, wit and knowledge. Brienna must discover her passion and train hard to perfect her skill, in the hope that she will one day graduate and be chosen by a wealthy patron, looking to support one of the `impassioned'. As Brienna gets closer to the eve of her graduation, she also grows closer to her smart (and handsome) tutor, Cartier. He can sense that she is hiding a secret, but Brienna chooses not to reveal that she is experiencing memories of her ancestors - memories uncovering the mysteries of the past that may have dangerous consequences in the present. A daring plot is brewing - to overthrow the usurper king and restore the rightful monarchy - and Brienna's memories hold the key to its success. Cartier desperately wants to help Brienna, but she must chose her friends wisely, keep her enemies close and trust no one if she is to save herself and her people.

I bought this book months ago because I was super excited to read it, and then it ended up languishing on my to read pile for ages. Why? Because I didn't want to squander it. Have you ever experienced that rare but wonderful feeling, where you know a book is going to be perfect and wonderful and important for you, but you want to save it for just the right moment? That was what I felt for this one, so I waited until the stars were aligned, then I picked it up and began to read.

And did not put it down again.

It was unexpected. It was beautiful. It had  wonderfully well drawn and crafted characters. And it had a compelling story at its heart. In short, I loved it. I loved it in a way I was hoping to, yet didn't dare fully express.

The story didn't follow the well worn paths I was expecting, and instead took me in several different directions. Some may find that jarring, but I personally found the unexpectedness refreshing. I enjoyed not knowing where I might be taken next, or how the plot might unfold. It can become so frustrating when you feel you know how a book will develop, so to be surprised was a welcome change.

The writing is beautiful, and really helps to pull you into the story and fully engage you in Brienna's world. I felt for her - her heartbreaks, her disappointments, her desperate desire to help protect her country and those she loves. It was gripping and wonderful, and so good to have a heroine who isn't afraid to get embedded in, to protect and look after herself, to not diminish herself for any man. She is strong within herself, with determination, her strength of character, her convictions, and her knowledge. Not all strength is in wielding a blade, and Brienna shows that beautifully, and I loved her all the more for that.

I cannot fully articulate how much I loved this, but it is most definitely one of my favourites of the year, and I cannot wait for the sequel to grace our shelves early next year.

There were echoes of other stories I enjoyed, so if you liked "The Belles", "A Great and Terrible Beauty", "Grave Mercy", or "The Queen of the Tearling" then you really should pick this up and start down Brienna's adventure with her.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Review: Ink by Alice Broadway

Publication Date: February 2nd 2017
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 366 pages

Every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora's father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all. 

Oh this book. It's a prime example of a beautiful cover and blurb not truly reflecting the pages within, which was gutting, because I had been so excited about this one only to feel horribly let down.

Instead of the unique and fascinating story I was expecting, I was left with a blandly flat main character who was not only 'the chosen one' (for no particularly good reason, just because, which only made her more unbearable) but Leora had absolutely no character to speak of. This was a problem with the writing style, because even though the ideas were there they just didn't translate well onto the page. The characters were all indistinguishable from each other because there was no variation in speech, everyone spoke the same, and as a result everything just felt flat and underdeveloped and honestly, incredibly boring.

It also suffered from poor editing, where it felt like key scenes or moments had been cut out and the story and character development suffered as a result. I was left feeling confused by thoughts and decisions that should have been clearer, and as though I'd been left in the dark for pivotal moments with Leora's realisations.

All in all this was a disappointment. I wanted to love it, I was all set to, with such a vibrantly fresh concept I didn't think I could not. Yet I was left feeling disappointed, frustrated, and like I'd wasted my time.