Wrap Up | March: Quick Fire Reviews!

I’m starting a new thing today: a wrap-up post featuring mini reviews of all the books I read in the past month! Here goes:

Ember Burning by Jennifer Alsever

Rating: 3 stars

Interesting plot: Girl who wants to escape from her life finds a secret world in Trinity Forest, but is it too good to be true?

Yes. It always is.

So drama and mystery ensues, and a lot of actually quite creepy stuff happens. I wasn’t a huge fan because of the stilted dialogue and patchy character development, but I’m willing to give the second one a chance.

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Rating: 4 stars

Time travel, mysterious girl, thievery and plundering throughout time?? Yes, this was right up my street. It was action packed and full of interesting and varied characters. I’m actually tempted to dye my hair a completely random colour thanks to this book! It was well paced, kept me hooked from around halfway through, and ended with a bang. Definitely worth a read!

Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Rating: 5 stars

Wow. An amazing book! I adore Holly Black’s books no matter what she writes, but this slow and twisty faerie-tale is definitely one of her best yet. The flaws in the characters were exceptionally real and believable, the plot was confusing and dark in a very good way, and it made me emotionally connect to the characters so much! I loved the focus on deception and strategizing and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out this was the start of a trilogy. Seriously, go and read this!

Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows

Rating: 3 stars

This book was a little bit of a let down: not enough dragons, plot, or character development. It felt very much like a prequel book to a more filled series, one that could have been condensed down to half the size and sold as a novella. I’ll keep reading, because I think it could get a lot better from here now everything is established, but I was sad about the lack of dragons in what was sold as a book full of them!

So that’s my March Book wrap up, if you liked this post let me know and I’ll keep doing them!

Review | Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1) by Jodi Meadows

Before

Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer. Since the day she was born, she’s been told she’s special. Important. Perfect. She’s known across the Fallen Isles not just for her beauty, but for the Mira Treaty named after her, a peace agreement which united the seven islands against their enemies on the mainland.

But Mira has never felt as perfect as everyone says. She counts compulsively. She struggles with crippling anxiety. And she’s far too interested in dragons for a girl of her station.

After

Then Mira discovers an explosive secret that challenges everything she and the Treaty stand for. Betrayed by the very people she spent her life serving, Mira is sentenced to the Pit–the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. There, a cruel guard would do anything to discover the secret she would die to protect.

No longer beholden to those who betrayed her, Mira must learn to survive on her own and unearth the dark truths about the Fallen Isles–and herself–before her very world begins to collapse.

Title: Before She Ignites

Author: Jodi Meadows

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This, annoyingly, was a bit of a disappointing book for me.

I expected so much more: More dragons, more emotion, more plot, more suspense, more description. But it was just kind of lacking in all areas. I found myself rolling my eyes quite a bit at various point in the book, wishing parts had been expanded on more.

Dragons:

We only really got a few seconds of some larger ones, and those were so sparce that I can’t even tell you what colour they were or much about what happened during them. Even the smaller ones only got a few pages each, barely enough to give them a personality of their own. (And I love when pets have personalities, Church the cat from the Shadowhunter books or Chainsaw the raven from The Raven Boys are so memorable!)

For a book that was advertised as ‘Dragons, Dragons, and more Dragons!’ it was a bit of a let down on that front.

Emotion:

Now, I do have to say something good about this point before I continue: The generalised anxiety representation wasn’t terrible. The main character constantly puts herself down and drowns in negativity whenever it’s even hinted that she’s done something bad. Her panic attacks are overwhelming and it isn’t used as an insult anywhere in the book. No-one calls her weak for panicking or for having low self esteem.

However, outside of the panic attacks, Mina doesn’t seem to have a huge range of emotion. She’s quiet and worried a lot, and only really has one moment of decision making. (Even then she realises afterwards that she could have done it a whole lot better.)

She’s a bit of a passive character, with one good punch in her. Maybe she’ll grow as a character more in the later books? I hope so.

Plot and Suspense:

So for the first almost half of the book, we’re in a prison. But we don’t know why we’re in this prison, and we have barely any backstory on the main character to make us care about this. The reason behind this prison sentence is made out to be this big secret that the main guard bullies and threatens out of Mina, but by the time she reveals it… it’s actually fairly mediocre.

Even the back and forth threats to get ‘more information’ out of her was not hugely scary because I found myself just wanting her to tell them everything she knew right away because of how little it seemed to matter. She didn’t seem to have a whole lot of logic behind her reasoning to keep any information a secret given her situation.

And parts that I thought would have suddenly been interesting or shaken things up were resolved or destroyed as options within a couple of pages. It felt like the whole book was just a long and slow prison sentence, from the perspective of a side character. Maybe following the main character’s friends would have been more interesting as the hints of their points of view that we got made me very intrigued.

Description:

This niggled at me for the whole book. Occasionally something would happen or Mina would turn around and some vital description is just left out so suddenly I have no idea where a new character has appeared from or even what the heck just happened. A little bit more description around what was happening, and maybe the environment, would have just grounded me a bit better and not had me jumping out of the story being disoriented as much as I was.

Overall:

Overall I did enjoy reading it, but I honestly feel like this book could be skipped as a prequel to hopefully the more interesting second book out later this year. If the main character develops more and maybe we get different perspectives from other characters and some flashbacks I think it would flesh it out a whole lot more and keep me interested and caring about what happens to the characters.

I don’t think it was a bad book by any means, I enjoyed reading it. It was just that the little things that were wrong with it really removed me from the book and made me not want to pick it up as much as I usually do. I never say a book isn’t worth a read unless it’s terrible, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to recommend it.

*My review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy and some details may be subject to change*

What did you think about this this book?

Review | The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black

“Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.”

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

 

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

 

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

[Disclaimer] I received a free copy via a Giveaway on Goodreads, but this has not affected my review in any way.

I heard quite a few mixed reviews about this book before I picked it up myself, and quite a few outright bad ones, which made me wary.

I love Holly Black and have pretty much solidly liked everything she’s written so far, but that doesn’t stop any author from writing new books that I might not like. They could be trying out a new style, or just write a character I don’t connect with, anything could mean that my streak ends.

But I really shouldn’t have worried.

It. Was. Amazing.

The detail in such a small world, only a fraction of Faerie itself, and already she’s managed to cram in Goblins, Selkies, and so much more. I even noticed the characters from Tithe which was a lovely touch. (You don’t need to have read the Tithe series to understand their significance, they work just as well as new characters too.)

The main character is also so lovely. She’s brave, a little headstrong, stubborn, a strategiser, and determined as hell to find her own place and purpose in Faerie.

I loved reading about a flawed main character who had flaws that weren’t just ‘my parents/sibling/loved one died so I’m getting revenge’, even though that was also a part of it in a way. She was able to make mistakes and pull herself back up without seeming weak or stupid.

She uses strategics as her main weapon in this world, realising that she might be weaker in other aspects and so cultivating this as a necessary skill to survive. It was very refreshing to see a character use something other than brawn or skill with a weapon, something that is saturating the YA badass-female-character market nowadays.

And her having an identical twin absolutely helped with my love of her character because I’m an identical twin myself! Their close but tense relationship has definitely been us at times and I loved how they were similar but had started to differ purely because their main goals had diverged, but that their stubbornness with which to achieve that goal was the same.

She was very easy to identify with, even if my goals, if I was in her world, would have aligned more with her older sister Vivi. I worried for her and I rooted for her, so this book definitely connects you with the characters, no doubt.

To be honest, I thought this book could have been a standalone, but finding out that it was part of a trilogy instead was very exciting! Holly Black could have so easily ended the book as it was, and left you wanting more of the world and wanting to know more of the future of the characters, but instead – we get to read about this ourselves!

More time in a world I love can never be a bad thing in my books.

Another interesting thing about this book was how the overall themes are very violent and cruel, like a lot of faerie-based books it seems, but throughout the book you start to get used to this almost like Jude has herself I suppose. In any flash of the human world we get, the stark contrast almost makes our world seem less real, and Faerie more so. It flipped my perspective on its head, which I enjoyed a lot.

The ending wraps things up very nicely, while also leaving it wide open for sequels. A lot happens in the run up to the end, but it doesn’t feel rushed, only as if everything was leading up to it. (Even if a lot of what happened was unexpected). I closed it feeling happy and satisfied, like you should after reading a good book.

Summary:

Strong, but well-flawed main character who uses strategy as her main weapon.

Compelling writing that makes you feel as though you’re in the world and everything is normal (though it’s actually far from it!)

Nice nods to other books by Holly Black, which loyal readers will enjoy.

A satisfying ending, and also two more books to enjoy!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Invictus by Ryan Graudin Review or I completely lost track of the time!

Time flies when you’re plundering history.

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

[Disclaimer] This review is of an Advanced Readers Copy so some things may have changed in the final version.

This book made me realise an important thing: I’ve missed books about time travel!

Ever since the Time Riders series by Alex Scarrow, I’ve been waiting for something to fill that void. This book is that book.

Just to start with something that I really loved about it (not time travel related) was the fact that there are multiple female main characters in this book, and they’re all such distinctive independent characters without falling into that ‘tough as nails’ basically having no personality apart from badass trope.

One girl chalks her hair every colour under the sun and fancies the mathematician/programmer type guy on the ship while also adoring her pet red panda. One is a mysterious loner who tags along on their missions and who seems to know far more than she’s letting on. One is a quiet medic who is in a relationship with the main character but doesn’t let that define her and who is inquisitive as hell.

Basically, it wins hands down on female character representation for me. I love them all!

At first glance also, the plot doesn’t seem too complicated, but when you break it down it actually has a lot crammed into it without feeling too bulky or info-dumpy. Things that happen are explained nicely so you don’t need to know quantum physics to get it, but you also don’t feel talked down to. Overall, a nice balance.

One thing I did find though: This book was a little too easy to put down.

Now, I’m not sure if that was just me at the time, or if the book didn’t pull me in enough to leave me wanting to find out what happens next enough. I mean, I put this book down at around 80 pages for months before picking it up again, that doesn’t lend itself to the label of ‘page-turner’.

However, this got better throughout the book, and though it didn’t ever get quite as magnetic as a lot of other books have been with me, it was still hard enough to put it down that I finished it easily within a week once I got going. This only knocks off one star for me from the rating, not too bad.

I really enjoyed this book: the evil characters were understandable and bad enough to be a threat but not cartoonish, female diversity, racial diversity (to a certain extent), a likeable but flawed main character, drama, and time travel thievery! There’s a lot to like about this book.

It left me happy and wanting to read more from Ryan Graudin, which is all I can ask of a book really!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ember Burning by Jennifer Alsever Review or Cabin in The Woods really took a different turn

Senior year was supposed to be great–that’s what Ember’s friend Maddie promised at the beginning of the year. Instead, Ember TrouvE spends the year drifting in and out of life like a ghost, haunted by her parents’ recent, tragic death.

At home, she pores over her secret obsession: pictures of missing kids– from newspaper articles, from grocery store flyers– that she’s glued inside a spiral notebook. Like her, the people are lost. Like her, she discovers, they had been looking for a way to numb their pain when they disappeared.

When Ember finds herself in Trinity Forest one day, a place locals stay away from at all costs, she befriends a group of teenagers who are out camping. Hanging out with them in the forest tainted with urban legends of witchcraft and strange disappearances, she has more fun than she can remember having. But something isn’t right.

The candy-covered wickedness she finds in Trinity proves to be a great escape, until she discovers she can never go home. Will Ember confront the truth behind her parents’ death, or stay blissfully numb and lose herself to the forest forever?

[DISCLAIMER] I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

This was a fairly tricky review to write; I loved this book, or at least the feeling it gave me, but it also had some issues.

I’ll start with the good stuff since I don’t often do that on here apparently!

The plot reminded me of those standard books you used to read as a kid/tween. Very much a loner girl finding a magical land and some new friends (one cute but brooding boy omg!!) and who is the only person who can solve the mystery lurking beneath it all. That part was warm and fuzzy and let me just sink into the book like an old friend.

It was also quite quick and easy to read, a good palate cleanser between books that strain your mind and make you think (I love those, but sometimes my tired brain just can’t take it!) and Ember was quite a relatable character for the most part, her background was dark enough to explain how much she had gone off the rails, but with that spark of interest in her old things still. I loved a scene where her and another main guy just bounce science facts off each other for a page or two, it made me smile.

But there were parts to it that made me leave the story for a little while, like I was pushed out of the film running in my head. It made it a little jarring to stay in.

For one, the speech was a bit stilted and unrealistic. One minute a character will be calmly talking down another, and the next they’re flying off the handle in a rage out of nowhere. I thought I knew one guy’s personality a lot, then he’d go and do something completely out of character.

A fair bit of the plot is left to the background for a while too, like we don’t know a huge amount about Ember’s family or life and we don’t get to see much before she’s thrown into the mystery of Trinity. I’d have liked to see some more of her daily life, a little more school and interactions before Trinity happened. Also, this would have made the changes after her visit much more obvious and make her leaving mean more to me at the beginning.

I also quite disliked the magic plot device of the notebook Ember had been carrying around with her for almost the whole book. It felt like the information in that book would have made sense a lot earlier to her and helped her solve a few of the mysteries much earlier in the book too. But instead the dramatic reveal and piecing together of information later on just felt a bit frustrating to me.

However, the creepiness of the mystery really kept me hooked! It wasn’t obvious, or easily guessed (for me at least), and gave the book a good dark feel to it which paired well with the backstories of the poor main characters.

The ending was just creepy enough for me to be excited about the next book too. Not every book has to be amazing or super complex for me to enjoy reading it, and this book was overall quite an interesting and unique idea. Also I’m a sucker for creepy books every now and again!

That’s why I’ve ended up giving this book 3 stars, and might even be picking up the sequel soon.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Daughter of the Burning City Review or A Serious Problem with Second Hand Smoke

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

I genuinely enjoyed this book, it was one of those ‘ooh I can’t wait to get back to reading that!’ ones, but not because it was the Best Book Ever, more because it was cosy and warm. And when there’s snow everywhere right now in the UK, you need some cosiness and warmth if you can get it.

To be honest though, the first half of the book was a bit slow going. There wasn’t a huge amount of drama or gore in the murders that are the focal point of the book, and just a lot of wandering around Gommorah.

I felt like Sorina was easily convinced; her opinions seemed to flip to match whoever she was talking to at the time which made her seem a little like a pushover, but then when she gains some confidence and attacks out of nowhere this then just makes her seem a bit unstable.

It was also ‘LGBT’. I put those in quotes because it felt more like LGBT-lite than actual LGBT+ representation. People who were gay or Bi (like the main character) just kind of had it mentioned a few times and brushed over like it was no big deal and didn’t affect anything.

Now, I know that it’s almost the goal to have this be the case, that someone shouldn’t have to ‘come out’ and everyone should just be able to like anyone no matter who they are, but it felt a bit like a checklist of representation than actually meaning it. Also, with the universe in the novel being so strongly ‘religious’ in the book’s own way, with the up-mountainers so strongly against Gomorrah and the ‘sins’ within, I wondered why this never came up as an issue and could have added more to the depth of the book if it had.

I mean, I did love how one of the main characters was strongly Demi-sexual and this was done quite nicely for the most part. Though it was seen as almost a ‘freak’ attribute at times, at least this LGBT+ representation was given some adversity and so got the chance to defend itself a little.

Also, one thing that bugged me: how Sorina doesn’t know the names of anyone in Gomorra.

I mean, I understand not knowing people personally or having many friends, but even at school when I stuck to my small group religiously, I still knew the names of pretty much everyone in my class and maybe a fact about them. You spend enough time near anyone and you pick up the details.

However, one thing that made me want to keep reading and ultimately made me love it enough to give it 4 stars was the mystery.

The murders and who is doing them, in some other similarly-themed books, can be done very quickly and mostly relying on the main character being super slow and ignoring BIG clues so that the reader has almost guessed it by the end of the book.

This book doesn’t do that, at all. The characters talk through their problems and mysteries a lot, so much that I completely followed it all and knew all the clues they knew and still had no idea what was going to happen at the end.

The big twist was a surprise and the whole solution was only remotely guessable towards the very end of the book. And I love when that happens! I get to run through all of my own theories with the characters doing the same as I go, and still get the satisfaction of the answer without the frustration of waiting for the characters to get where I had already been chapters before.

The romance was a nice slow burn too, ignoring the quick physical attraction Sorina is too prone to having, it didn’t feel rushed or unrealistic. And the ending felt well wrapped up and complete, with me putting the book down at the end with a smile.

Overall it was a lovely read, with a few thorns, but hopefully Amanda Foody’s next book ‘Ace of Shades’ is just as good, with even fewer thorns for me to be picky about! Would absolutely recommend for a fun read.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️