Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Review: The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett

One dead Santa. A town full of suspects. Will you discover the truth?

Christmas in Lower Lockwood, and the Fairway Players are busy rehearsing their festive pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, to raise money for the church roof appeal. But despite the season, goodwill is distinctly lacking amongst the amateur dramatics enthusiasts. Sarah-Jane is fending off threats to her new position as Chair, the fibreglass beanstalk might be full of asbestos, and a someone is intent on ruining the panto even before the curtain goes up.

Of course there's also the matter of the dead body. W
ho could possibly have had the victim on their naughty list? Join lawyers Femi and Charlotte as they read the round robins, examine the emails and pore over the police transcripts. Will the show go on?

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πŸ“Œ Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher  
πŸ“Œ Publication date: 26/10/2023 

I loved The Appeal, so I was looking forward to reading The Christmas Appeal.

A few things to know before going into it: If you haven't read The Appeal I don't think you'll enjoy this. In my opinion, it's for people who are already fans. While I once again liked the epistolary style, and thought it was nice being re-united with the quirky cast of characters, I have to admit I was let down. I went into it thinking it was going to be a full length novel, but at around 200 pages, it's actually more of a novella. The mystery, if it can even really be called that, doesn't come into play until much later in the book. I will confess that had I known this before hand I might not have been so eager to read it. Overall, The Christmas Appeal was a quick and somewhat fun read, but not really the great mystery I was hoping for. 


Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Review: The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon

All Talasyn has ever known is the Hurricane Wars. Growing up an orphan in a nation under siege by the ruthless Night Emperor, Talasyn has found her family among the soldiers who fight for freedom. But she is hiding a deadly secret: light magic courses through her veins, a blazing power believed to have been wiped out years ago that can cut through the Night Empire's shadows.

Prince Alaric, the emperor's only son and heir, has been forged into a weapon by his father. Tasked with obliterating any threats to the Night Empire's rule with the strength of his armies and mighty Shadow magic, Alaric has never been bested. That is until he sees Talasyn burning brightly on the battlefield with the magic that killed his grandfather, turned his father into a monster, and ignited the Hurricane Wars. In a clash of light and dark, their powers merge and create a force the likes of which has never been seen.

Talasyn and Alaric both know this war can only end with them. But a greater threat is coming, and the strange new magic they can create together could be the only way to overcome it. Thrust into an uneasy alliance, they will confront the secrets at the heart of the war and find, in each other, a searing passion--one that could save their world...or destroy it.

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πŸ“Œ Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher  
πŸ“Œ Publication date: 12/10/2023 

While The Hurricane Wars didn't work for me, I'm sure it will be a hit among romantasy fans. 

Fun fact: The Hurricane Wars started out as Reylo fan fiction. So, in terms of the relationship between Talasyn and Prince Alaric we have: an age gap, small girl vs. big boy (which I don't hate on principle, but it gets tiring when constantly mentioned), and of course an enemies to lovers romance. I wasn't really invested in their romance, because I wasn't invested in them as individuals. Which is a shame as I thought the tension between them, and the pining on his part was great. Plus, the spicy scene was well written. I mean, if you enjoy the boy falls first and is obsessed with the mc trope you will love this. 

The word building was confusing, I couldn't imagine any of it. My biggest issue was that everything was centered around the romance. Personally, I love a good romance in my fantasy but I need the world and the plot to be better developed.

The ending of the story didn't pack a punch, it was very meh. While I am somewhat curious to see where the story goes next, I highly doubt I will be picking up the sequel.


Sunday, 20 August 2023

Review: The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma

In a kingdom where flames hold magic and the desert hides secrets, an ancient prophecy comes for an assassin, a princess, and a king. But none are ready to face destiny—and the choices they make could burn the world.

 “If we carry the burdens of our fathers, we’ll never know what it means to be free.”

For Elena Aadya Ravence, fire is yearning. She longs to feel worthy of her Phoenix god, of her ancestors who transformed the barren dunes of Sayon into a thriving kingdom. But though she knows the ways and wiles of the desert better than she knows her own skin, the secrets of the Eternal Flame elude her. And without them, she’ll never be accepted as queen.

For Leo Malhari Ravence, fire is control. He is not ready to give up his crown—there’s still too much work to be done to ensure his legacy remains untarnished, his family protected. But power comes with a price, and he’ll wage war with the heavens themselves to keep from paying it.

For Yassen Knight, fire is redemption. He dreams of shedding his past as one of Sayon’s most deadly assassins, of laying to rest the ghosts of those he has lost. If joining the court of flame and serving the royal Ravence family—the very people he once swore to eliminate—will earn him that, he’ll do it no matter what they ask of him.

But the Phoenix watches over all and the fire has a will of its own. It will come for all three, will come for Sayon itself….and they must either find a way to withstand the blaze or burn to ash.

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πŸ“Œ Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher  
πŸ“Œ Publication date: 31/08/2023

Originally self-published as The Boy with Fire, The Phoenix King is an Indian inspired fantasy with sci-fi elements. 

I loved Elena, she is a 25 year old princess/soon to be queen who is determined to bring change to her kingdom. Reading about a brown main character in a fantasy book, and coming across familiar words such as chaas, adrak wali chai, and burfi made my South Asian heart so happy. We also get the point of view of Elena's father, Leo, and an assassin called Yassen. I have to admit that I was disappointed with the name choices of Leo and Elena. I wish the author had gone for more authentic Indian names rather than these Western ones. It just didn't make sense to me seeing as other side characters had Indian names. That aside, I thought Leo was an interesting and morally grey character. I honestly don't think I've ever been so torn about what to think of a character. Some of the things he did were terrible, but at the same time he truly wanted what was best for his daughter and his kingdom. I mean, it was hard not to feel for him. 

Although this is adult fantasy it reads like YA, and I don't mean that in an offensive way (I love YA fantasy), I just mean in terms of the plot and tropes. I will say that there was a lot of deaths, but what I appreciated was that they weren't just included for the sake of showing how brutal the fantasy world was. The world building in The Phoenix King was richly crafted and it had some sci-fi elements that I wasn't expecting. 

I like when books include the POV of the love interest as it helps build the romance, in my opinion. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here. I never got the sense that Yassen had romantic feelings towards the Elena and vise versa. So, while I enjoyed some of their scenes together (especially the dance/dupatta scene, very Bollywood-esque) the romance was lacking. I think Verma could have leaned into the forbidden romance trope and included more pining and angst. Such a shame because I was excited about the romance, and I liked them individually. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Phoenix King and am looking forward to the sequel. 


Sunday, 23 July 2023

Review: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.

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πŸ“Œ Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher 

Believe it or not, I came across Fourth Wing before the hype. I was on the explore page of Instagram, when I saw the US publisher post the cover along with some buzz words. The buzz words in question were something along the lines of 'dragons, war college, and enemies to lovers' so of course as a fan of all those things I was sold. 

When I got accepted to read an e-arc I was excited to dive in, but unfortunately my initial impression wasn't great. The modern day writing style and cringey dialogue didn't fit the fantasy setting. I thought okay this is going to be a DNF,  but then after it was released there was all this hype. Hence I decided to give it a second chance to see what all the buzz was about. From having a look online the author's previous books are all romance. She doesn't have a fantasy background and it clearly shows from the lack of world building and writing style. I found the idea of students being able to kill each other without any consequences ridiculous. It seemed like the only reason it was included was to show that it was a brutal fantasy word. It just didn't make sense, especially considering that they needed people for the war effort. 

While I admit that chapter 30 was well written I wasn't invested in the romance between Violet and Xaden at all. They hardly knew each other and there was no build up, it was just Violet constantly thinking about how hot Xaden was. Also, I know Xaden calling the mc, Violence, was meant to be cute but it didn't make sense as she wasn't violent. I mean, she was reluctant to kill or harm her peers.  

Speaking of the romance, the love interest, Xaden, is a POC and this has been confirmed by the author.  The fact that she had to state this and that there has been fan art casting him as white says it all. The words she used to describe him such as tawny and bronze brings to mind a tanned white person, so to me, it doesn't feel like a case of white washing. The fan art of Violet's best friend, Rhiannon, on the other hand have been of a black girl, and this is because she is described in a way that leaves no doubt i.e., the colour of her skin is stated clearly. None of this bronze/tawny nonsense. 

On a more positive note I liked the main character, Violet. I can't help but root for an underdog and I appreciated how she used her intelligence and her background as a scribe to her advantage. Though I will say that the fact that the end of her hair is silver made me roll my eyes. Moving on to the secondary characters. Apart from Rhiannon and Liam the secondary character lacked depth, they honestly just felt like place holders. We were only given one characteristic about them, for example, that Ridoc was funny, and that's it. 

Ultimately, this felt like watching an episode of my favourite trash TV franchise, The Real Housewives. It was a fun and entertaining time and the sequel, at least, I will likely read. The rest of the books, since there is going to be five apparently, I highly doubt I'll pick up.

If you want a good dragon book with morally grey characters, political intrigue, and a friends to lovers romance with pining, I would suggest checking out Fireborne by Rosaria Munda.


Tuesday, 27 June 2023

Review: The Scarlet Veil by Shelby Mahurin

Six months have passed since CΓ©lie took her sacred vows and joined the ranks of the Chasseurs as their first huntswoman. With her fiancΓ©, Jean Luc, as captain, she is determined to find her foothold in her new role and help protect Belterra. But whispers from her past still haunt her, and a new evil is rising—one that CΓ©lie herself must vanquish, unless she falls prey to the darkness.
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πŸ“Œ Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher 
πŸ“Œ Publication date: 26/09/2023  

Based in the same world as the Serpent & Dove trilogy, The Scarlet Veil, is a fun read that is easy to get through. I have no interest in reading the Serpent & Dove trilogy, but what drew me to this book is the fact that it has vampires in it. If you haven't read the original trilogy I personally don't think it takes away from the story, but it depends on you as a reader. There are things referenced that I'm sure some readers will want full details on, but for me, it isn't necessary. 

Some people may find the main character, CΓ©lie, frustrating, which is understandable. However, what I find most compelling about her is that she's just an ordinary girl who has faced trauma and come out the other side of it determined to make a difference. She's scared and naive, and yes she makes rash decisions, but ultimately she only wants to help. In my opinion, she's strong, just not in a sword wielding way.  

I like her friend group, who are all anything but ordinary, and I'm sure if you've read the Serpent & Dove trilogy you'll appreciate their appearance. 

Plot wise, as to be expected with vampires there is violence, romance (that I hope we get more of in the sequel), ghosts and a mischievous talking cat. 

Be warned now that it ends on quite the cliffhanger! I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion and am glad it's not going to be dragged out into a trilogy. 


Monday, 5 June 2023

Review: A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid

Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. She’s had no choice. Since childhood, she’s been haunted by visions of the Fairy King. She’s found solace only in the pages of Angharad - author Emrys Myrddin’s beloved epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, and then destroys him.

Effy’s tattered, dog-eared copy is all that’s keeping her afloat through her stifling first term at Llyr’s prestigious architecture college. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to design the late author’s house, Effy fells certain this is her destiny.

But Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task: a musty, decrepit estate on the brink of crumbling into a hungry sea. And when Effy arrives, she finds she isn’t the only one who’s made a temporary home there. Preston HΓ©loury, a stodgy young literature scholar, is studying Myrddin’s papers and is determined to prove her favorite author is a fraud.

As the two rival students investigate the reclusive author’s legacy, piecing together clues through his letters, books, and diaries, they discover that the house’s foundation isn’t the only thing that can’t be trusted. There are dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspiring against them - and the truth may bring them both to ruin.

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πŸ“Œ Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher 
πŸ“Œ Publication date: 19/09/2023 

This is the third book by Ava Reid I've read and it's another great one. All her books are different but the one thing they have in common is how atmospheric they are. 

A Study in Drowning is dark academia excellence. It's got gloomy weather, a decrepit manor, a mystery, winter fashion, coffee, and of course academic rivals to lovers. 

The story is about Effy, the only girl in an architecture college, who secretly longs to be a literature student. However, she is unable to pursue her dream due to them only accepting males. She is barely getting by, but then just when things truly start looking glum she gets accepted to design her favourite late author's manor. There she meets literature student and rival, Preston.

Once Effy arrives at the manor, which is creepy and unsettling, nothing is as it seems. There is a story within a story, and a mystery that forces her to team up with Preston to figure out.  

Reid's female main characters are always compelling and nuanced. With Effy we have a young lady who is trying to find her voice after being surrounded by people telling her she is delusional.

I would describe the romance between Effy and Preston as sweet and soft, which if I'm honest, is not usually my cup of tea. However, this was so good! If that doesn't sway you, let me tell you this - if you're a fan of a certain scene in Holly Black's, The Cruel Prince, involving the love interest writing the main character's name over and over again. You may or may not find the same here. Just saying.

You can't say Ava Reid's books are typical or cliche, she always comes out with something new. 


Tuesday, 25 April 2023

Review: If I have to Be Haunted by Miranda Sun

Cara Tang doesn’t want to be haunted.

Look, the dead have issues, and Cara has enough of her own. Her overbearing mother insists she be the “perfect” Chinese American daughter—which means suppressing her ghost speaking powers—and she keeps getting into fights with Zacharias Coleson, the local golden boy whose smirk makes her want to set things on fire.

Then she stumbles across Zach’s dead body in the woods. He’s even more infuriating as a ghost, but Cara’s the only one who can see him—and save him.

Agreeing to resurrect him puts her at odds with her mother, draws her into a dangerous liminal world of monsters and magic—and worse, leaves her stuck with Zach. Yet as she and Zach grow closer, forced to depend on each other to survive, Cara finds the most terrifying thing is that she might not hate him so much after all.

Maybe this is why her mother warned her about ghosts.

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πŸ“Œ Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher 
πŸ“Œ Publication date: 26/09/2023

I was looking forward to read If I Have to Be Haunted, as the idea of a ghost and ghost speaker reminded me of Meg Cabot's The Mediator series, which I love. Unfortunately it ended up being a disappointment. 

First, I want to say that there is nothing wrong with this book, it just didn't meet my expectations. It reads on the younger side of YA, bordering on middle grade at times. Passed down from her grandmother, Cara, has the ability to see and speak to ghosts. When she stumbles upon the dead body of her classmate and rival, Zach, she unwillingly agrees to help resurrect him. Thus begins their journey into the liminal world. Once they entered this world, the reading experience felt like watching a Disney movie or even playing a game. Cara and Zach had to beat a foe in order to move on/level up. There wasn't anything exciting about the mini quests, and if I'm honest the story was quite forgettable. 

The one thing I did appreciate about If I Have to Be Haunted was the exploration into complicated family dynamics and the pressure of cultural expectations.

While it wasn't my cup of tea, I can see it appealing to the younger end of the target audience.