[SPOILER WARNING] Review | A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.

Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist.

Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

Title: A Discovery of Witches

Author: Deborah Harkness

Genre: Paranormal romance

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

So I really couldn’t help filling this review with spoilers, there’s just so much I want to say about it! Warning: this review is one of my longest yet.

I went into this thinking it was going to be awesome, a hands down five star read, and the beginning very much looked like that! But… then Matthew arrives on the scene. I’m not one of those people to judge others liking or reading any kind of book whatsoever (I also loved Twilight when I was younger too) but even the best books can hide dark issues that really need to be talked about.

Add to that the fact I know a few people who’ve been in an abusive relationship and how damaging it can be to think that some of this behaviour is okay or to take on blame yourself in these situations, and I hope people can understand why I needed to talk about it in this book.

Okay… let’s start.

I’m used to guys in YA being a bit possessive, a bit overprotective, a bit creepy sure. This was a completely new level! He starts off warily okay, so I’ll give my impressions as it progressed below:

Diana says she’s ‘done something wrong’ or ‘said something wrong’ when all she’s done is ask a question, or sometimes she doesn’t even know what she’s done to make Matthew mad. This veers on victim blaming in emotionally abusive relationships so I am not a fan of this…

I feel like it could have been fixed easily by replacing it with something more along the lines of ‘I’d clearly touched a nerve there’ or ‘he reacted viscerally to what I’d thought was an innocent question’ or honestly anything further away from ‘oh no, it’s my fault he’s mad.’ *rolls eyes as hard as I can*

Okay later he PHYSICALLY RESTRAINS her when she doesn’t want him to, and she thinks of things she’s learned in a SELF DEFENCE CLASS in order to escape from him. He again says that she knew how possessive and protective vampires were and puts it on her, just barely apologising later. (he doesn’t actually say he was sorry, so i’m not really counting it.)

Not to mention the number of times he doesn’t want her to ride a horse or go outside or do anything by herself without him constantly there to ‘protect’ her. He threatens her also, saying things like ‘if you’d have jumped that fence we would have gone back to the house instantly’ like she’s a child he has to tell off. And annoyingly these things are reinforced by the one time she goes outside unsupervised she almost immediately gets kidnapped and attacked. AND his constant saving her even though I seriously think she could have held her own in many more fights than she did.

*Sigh*

I described this book to my sister as ‘an adult twilight, but darker, and with witches.’ To be honest, I didn’t realise how right I was until I got past half of the book. It was a good thing towards the beginning of the book: a Twilight where the main character is intelligent, wary and actually powerful herself, but then the Edward-times-a-million level main character kind of marred it for me.

But it did hit quite a few of the same things as Twilight did: Vampire drawn to human because she’s special (adrenaline blood making her super attractive), him constantly saying she should be afraid of him or he’s dangerous, taking her out for a meal and them dancing around the whole vampire topic, him wanting to take it slow in the bedroom and waiting for marriage, her getting kidnapped and him coming to save her, etc. I actually paused a couple of times thinking about which had come first and whether Stephenie Meyer had read this book before writing hers…

Another thing: Characters keeping SO MANY secrets from each other!

This is usually ‘to protect them’ or just because ‘i don’t tell someone else’s tales’ which is so watery as a reason to hide things and further the plot. Matthew then doesn’t have a leg to stand on when Diana holds things back from him to ‘protect’ him (or usually so he doesn’t get scarily mad which is another bad sign), but she still manages to feel guilty about this.

*deep breath*

Okay, even though it might not look like it, I did actually really enjoy this book and found it fun to read (minus the occasional throwing it and screaming at it) so there were actually things to like about it!

A couple of characters I adored were Sarah and Em, Diana’s aunt and her partner. They were an adorable couple, acting so much like so many couples I knew that they felt so real and like parents I’d be happy to have. A book always gets some points from me for LGBTQ+ rep, but especially when that representation is real and lovely and shows how many awesome and varied people there are out there. Em always reigning in Sarah was so sweet and made me chuckle to myself quite a lot.

Talking of Sarah and Em, their house was absolutely awesome! It was practically a character in its own right; with expanding rooms and a sort of consciousness that knew what people needed at any particular time, including extra rooms for guests about to arrive. I can’t remember if this was because of all the ghosts in it or just a side effect of being around so much magic over the years, but it added a little bit of unpredictability to the story and gave a nice sense of magical realism in an otherwise purely paranormal book.

I also loved – being quite a science nerd myself – the science and history that weaved through the whole plot. Alchemy turned up a LOT and genetics and history and even medicine. (I’ve now seen time travel precautions for the first time ever in a book!)

The use of innoculations for hundreds of years old diseases was a nice touch too (though I did wonder if it was a modern strain or if they’d managed to preserve a super old strain of the bacteria for the vaccine so Diana would be safe so far back in the past) because usually people forget that even a cold could have killed us if it was a thousand years ago and our modern bodies weren’t used to anything like it.

Talking of time travel: I absolutely didn’t see that coming and it was a really nice touch for the book! I mean, I wasn’t sure if their future bodies go back and take the place of their past bodies, or if they jump to the past and their past doubles are still there also because it didn’t quite feel explained enough to me, but it was still something really fun to see. I look forward to more time travel stuff in the second book!

So yeah, that was about a page each of good and bad stuff, a fairly even mix! Hence the 3.5 star review. I’ve already ordered the second book so clearly I’m happy to keep reading this series, I just hope some of the toxic relationship side of things gets dealt with in an appropriate way.

Did anyone else have such a Jekyll and Hyde feeling about this book also?

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Wrap Up | April: Quick fire Reviews!

Only three books this month, but they were some good ones!

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Obsidio by Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff

Rating: 4.5 stars

An Illuminae Files book is always a good book option! Despite there being less tension and suspense for me in this than in the previous two books, it still holds up and is an emotional and satisfying ending to an amazing trilogy. Space battles, drama, mystery, and artificial intelligence! What more could you want from a book?

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Rating: 5 stars

If I could give more than five stars for any book, it would be this one! Simon is the most relatable character and his experiences are ones that many people have gone through and still struggle through now. It’s a heartwarming, amazing book that I’m sure will not only help a lot of people, but be an awesome read while doing so. A good book stays with you long after you’ve finished reading – I’m sure I could quote someone with that – and this book will probably stay with me for a freaking long time, I’m sure.

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Artemis by Andy Weir

Rating: 4.5 stars

April seems to be the month of Space books (she says, having read two… but it’s a third of my April reads so still counts!) and both were pretty damn good reads.

Artemis is the Ocean’s Eleven/spy/murder mystery book in space that I never knew was the absolute perfect book for me! The pacing was awesome, the main character was sarcastic in the best way, and it left me with the best feeling: like I could take on the world.

A pretty good April if I do say so myself.

Review | Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Creekwood, #1) by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Title: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli

Genre: YA Contemporary

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is the book every LGBTQ+ kid needs! It skips all of the ‘Am I gay?’ questioning bit and goes straight to the ‘Okay, so I’m gay… now how do I tell everyone?’ part. To be honest, I find this part the most interesting because the process of realising you’re gay can come on so slowly that you’re never really sure when you actually decided for certain. (I know people can have Eureka moments, but there are plenty of books out there about that too, don’t worry!)

Simon is a boy in love, and he can’t tell anyone about it. I mean, I don’t know how he manages to hide all the stupid grins and happiness he must be feeling, but apparently he does so around his friends and family well enough that they seem to have no clue whatsoever at the beginning of the book. To be honest, I think people see what they want to see or what they think should be there quite a lot of the time so this was realistic for me. Not everyone’s best friends are all ‘yeah, we knew, you never mentioned how you fancied girls on TV or in films and you liked *insert incredibly stereotypical gay thing here… musicals?*’

And his messages with the mysterious but lovely Blue are cute and funny and so realistic I could absolutely imagine these two falling for each other over email alone.

Most of the book deals with the issues related to coming out and who Blue is, but even though the plot might not be as dramatic as I’m used to, it still feels so full and interesting. I literally could not put this book down, and read it the fastest I’ve read a book in a long while (excluding when I’m on holidays), finishing it in only two days!

All the characters are so nice and have their own stories too. I liked how a few even had storylines that Simon didn’t get to see, just moseying along in the background. That’s how life is, so it was nice to see a character who isn’t aware of literally everything going on around him. A little flaw like not being hugely observant is really refreshing because you don’t often get that in many young adult books, at least that I’ve seen.

The varying levels of homophobia was also quite nice to see (bear with me here!), because anything bad gave the book a chance to fight back and show what was wrong with that particular reaction. It seemed like a very realistic approach to coming out and the internal struggles and external reactions you can get. It also showed that homophobia can come in small ways that don’t at first glance seem vicious or dangerous but can pile on top of you until it’s hard to bear it, and it’s nice the book showed that negative effects can come from anywhere and even iffy positive reactions can hurt sometimes, if they’re not what you expected. It’s a confusing thing and Albertelli captured that extremely well.

Simon is also a very relatable character; flawed, a little oblivious to other people, quiet and nice. He’s genuinely so unaware when he does anything rude or mean because I think he can’t even comprehend doing anything bad on purpose so it has to happen unawares or else he’d never cause any conflict (and be a pretty bland character in the end). If I was in school with Simon, I would absolutely want to be his friend.

It was overall a very warm and happy book, and I want to live in that universe forever and ever! If I could give a book more than five stars, this would be the one.

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: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️