‘Our Dark Duet’ spoiler-free review!

“I know it hurts,” she said. “So make it worth the pain.”

– V. E. Schwab, Our Dark Duet

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What an appropriate quote that is! This book was definitely worth the pain.

I recently spent a Saturday binge-reading this book (a rare experience for me, I can tell you) and I loved it. Set 6 months after This Savage Song, this sequel really hits the ground running. Lots of new characters are introduced but the focus is still on Kate, who is as badass as ever, and my precious cinnamon roll August (who may be one of my favourite characters ever).

I just adore the whole concept of this duology. It’s dark and destructive, and highlights the fantastic issue of morality. I mean, nothing in these books is black and white. NOTHING. Every character has an amazing moral ‘greyness’ and nobody is all good or all bad. It’s refreshing.

Another thing that is refreshing is the lack of romance in this duology. I did get a little concerned at one point that Schwab was going to take things in a different direction but I think I worried unnecessarily. It’s so nice to be able to read a book (or in this case two books) where the protagonists can not only survive but excel without falling head-over-heels in love with each other; they don’t spend all of their time mooning over the flecks of gold in the other’s eyes, they actually GET STUFF DONE. Schwab keeps the focus squarely on the monsters and the violence and the super dark action. #priorities

The story was action-packed and never once slowed down, which is possibly why I was able to fly through it so quickly. It was a complete rollercoaster ride and left me feeling a little exhausted at the end (in a good way).

Schwab’s writing remains excellent and I am convinced that she is an evil genius. Her books (the ones I’ve read at least) are character-driven, and she writes great females who make no apologies for who they are. She also excels at including diversity, which is no easy feat within fantasy books, and this does not feel at all forced. I thought the inclusion of a gender-neutral character in this book was a fantastic choice.

I did notice a handful of minor errors scattered throughout that were obviously missed during editing, but I was so engrossed in the story that I couldn’t even force myself to care! It is testament to Schwab’s talent that I would class her as one of my favourite authors, even though I have only read two of her books. I definitely recommend this duology!

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Who else is a Schwabling?! Have you read this duology yet? And how soon do I need to read the Shades of Magic series? Let’s fangirl!

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‘Anne of Green Gables’ spoiler-free review!

“Dear old world, you are very lovely and I am glad to be alive in you.”

– L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

This was such a sweet book! Unlike many people, I did not meet Anne when I was a child and this was my first time encountering Green Gables. I’m pleased to say this had no negative effect and I still found this a heart-warming read as an adult. I loved the good old-fashioned humour and read the majority of this book with a smile on my face. It is completely delightful, with some really lovely messages at its heart, particularly about ambition and following your dreams.

Anne is such an endearing character and we would all benefit from sharing her outlook on life. I love that she sees the positive in every situation and treats everyone she meets with kindness. Though she does talk A LOT! There are pages and pages where she waxes lyrical about the flowers or the sky, and while the descriptions are beautiful, she definitely needs to just slow down a bit and chill!

The other characters in this book were all wonderful and I particularly loved Matthew, Marilla and Mrs Lynde, who reminded me of a woman you might find in a Jane Austen novel. The bond between Matthew and Anne was so lovely, as was the way Marilla tried not to show how deep her affection ran. I could picture them all so clearly. I did expect Gilbert to feature more heavily in the book from what I’ve heard of it, but maybe he is more prominent in the next books in the series. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll make an effort to acquire the rest of the books as I’m frightened they would ruin my perfect little conception of Avonlea in my mind! Though, at the same time, it would be nice to see where the story goes from here after an ending that caused me mixed emotions.

There were some beautiful descriptions of the Avonlea scenery and it actually made me wish I could have experienced this book as a child; I would have found it magical. Yet even coming to it as an adult, I felt a connection with it that I rarely feel with classics. It is the sweetest story and I can see it becoming a comfort read that I return to in the future!

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Any kindred spirits out there? Did you read Anne as a child? Or were you late to the party like me?

The ‘I Dare You’ #BookTag!

I recently saw this tag on Paperfury’s blog and had to steal it. I’m sure she would approve of my nefarious deeds. Yay for fun bookish facts!

1. WHAT BOOK HAS BEEN ON YOUR SHELVES THE LONGEST?

Read or unread? The book that has been on my shelf longest and that I’ve read is probably Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I really must treat myself to some shiny new editions of the series; mine are so beat-up* (*well-loved) Unread? Probably Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell. It’s a beast and it scares me.

 

2. WHAT IS YOUR LAST READ, CURRENT READ, AND THE BOOK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

The last book I finished was Our Dark Duet (and oh my word, it destroyed me). I am currently reading Fellside (my book club’s pick for June) and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. My next read is going to be a buddy read of The Power, which recently won the Bailey’s Prize!

 

3. WHAT BOOK DID EVERYONE LIKE, BUT YOU HATED?

I’m not sure! I don’t tend to go in for over-hyped books so if the world and its grandmother are talking about something, chances are I won’t read it until the hype dies down (unless I was already interested in it before the hype!) A couple that come to mind that have disappointed me are Eleanor and Park and A Study in Charlotte.

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4. WHAT BOOK DO YOU KEEP TELLING YOURSELF YOU’LL READ, BUT YOU PROBABLY WON’T?

I never say never. But at this moment, I’d probably say something like Crime and Punishment. SO intimidating. But a girl can dream. Maybe one day I’ll just blitz my way through it and feel all of the achievement. (I wrote a blog post about more of the books that intimidate me; you can check it out here.)

5. WHICH BOOK ARE YOU SAVING FOR RETIREMENT?

None of them?! I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and my ghost would be very annoyed if I had never got to read certain books because I’d been saving them for a special occasion.

6. LAST PAGE: DO YOU READ IT FIRST OR WAIT TO THE END?

What kind of heathen reads the last page first?! Why on earth would I want to ruin the ending?!! Consider me confused.

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7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: ARE THEY A WASTE OF PAPER AND INK OR INTERESTING?

I love reading the acknowledgements! They make the authors seem like actual human beings and not mythical creatures who never feel any kind of anxiety or self-doubt.

8. WHICH BOOK CHARACTER WOULD YOU SWITCH PLACES WITH?

A lot of the characters I read about tend to go through a lot of life-threatening situations, so probably not many of them?! Possibly a minor character from the Harry Potter series? That way I’d get to experience the magic and Hogwarts, but I wouldn’t be too close to the psycho evil dude trying to kill Harry and everyone close to him!

9. DO YOU HAVE A BOOK THAT REMINDS YOU OF SOMETHING SPECIFIC IN YOUR LIFE?

During my time at university, reading really took a back seat for me as there just wasn’t time. However, my anxiety was so bad when I was sitting my finals that I started reading voraciously again in order to distract myself. So certain books that I read during that time are all mixed up with that horrendous jumble of emotions!

10. NAME A BOOK THAT YOU ACQUIRED IN AN INTERESTING WAY.

My life is pretty boring so I tend to just acquire books in the usual ways. However, until I joined the bookstagram community, I didn’t tend to get books from kind strangers! So that’s nice. Surprise book-mail on my birthday this year was the best.

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11. HAVE YOU EVER GIVEN AWAY A BOOK FOR A SPECIAL REASON TO A SPECIAL PERSON?

I live a sad existence where very few of the people in my life share my passion for reading. (Seriously people, why don’t you read?!) This makes gift-buying extremely boring. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad to have made some really good friends on Instagram, who I can shower with books at every birthday/Christmas/bad day. (Seriously, you should follow me; I’m a very good friend to have.)

12. WHICH BOOK HAS BEEN WITH YOU THE MOST PLACES?

Probably Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I have reread that book SO many times and it has been on many holidays with me since childhood. Pretty sure there’s still a leaf of grass between two of the pages from one of my excursions.

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13. ANY “REQUIRED READING” YOU HATED IN HIGH SCHOOL THAT WASN’T SO BAD TWO YEARS LATER?

I actually enjoyed most of my assigned reading in school. We had some very cool topics. For example, I got to read Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein during my Gothic Literature module, and I wrote assignments on The Colour Purple and The Book Thief. I did minor in English Literature during my first year of university and some of those books were less fun. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad was probably my least favourite and I don’t have any intentions of going back to it.

14. USED OR BRAND NEW?

I have to say brand new; I can’t help it, I’m a snob. I just love the feel of those crisp, clean pages and that gorgeous new book smell! I will read used books if they are in excellent condition but they very rarely are; and I can’t bear it when I turn the page and find someone’s dinner staining the next paragraph or suspect hairs lurking. *shudders*

15. HAVE YOU EVER READ A DAN BROWN BOOK?

No. And I can’t say I ever intend to. They just don’t seem like my kind of thing. I did watch The Da Vinci Code a few years ago but it absolutely boggled my brain.

16. HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A MOVIE THAT YOU LIKED MORE THAN THE BOOK?

It pains me to say it but… Stardust by Neil Gaiman. That movie was just so brilliant and coming to the book afterwards was a little bit of a letdown. I still loved it because I’m Gaiman trash; it was just that the movie captured the magic so perfectly and had such a wonderful cast.

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17. A BOOK THAT’S MADE YOU HUNGRY?

Heartless by Marissa Meyer. Holy Moly, there were cakes everywhere. And with a lemon-scented candle burning, I was all but drooling on the pages. (Almost, but I showed restraint for the sake of my book babies.)

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18. WHO IS THE PERSON WHOSE BOOK ADVICE YOU’LL ALWAYS TAKE?

Mia @thecosyreader! We have very similar tastes and I can practically guarantee that any book she recommends I will love.

19. MOST READ AUTHORS?

Lemony Snicket, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman. Clearly, fantasy authors win out.

20. SHIP FROM TWO DIFFERENT BOOKS?

I can’t say I’ve ever thought about this, but what an interesting question! I feel like Leigh Bardugo and V. E. Schwab’s books would crossover nicely?

 

What about you? Do you have any ships from two different books? Who are your most-read authors? And which book has been with you to the most places?

‘The Shadow Queen’ spoiler-free review!

I’m on a serious fairytale kick at the moment and I’m also trying to tackle my enormous TBR. That led to me recently picking The Shadow Queen from my shelves! I’m pleased to say that, even though there are mixed reviews for this one, I really enjoyed it! It gave me serious Once Upon A Time vibes (which I’m currently obsessed with so if you’re also a fan, please chat with me); some reviewers have complained about a lack of originality, but it was exactly what I was looking for. I found it to be well-written with some seriously cool elements (hello dragon shapeshifters and telepathic birds?!)

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I loved the way the story was twisted and messed with, while still staying true to the original fairytale. The Shadow Queen was fast-paced and action-packed, with some seriously dark moments that I wasn’t expecting! I did feel that it lost its way a little in the middle and slowed down a bit; Kol’s internal battle became a bit repetitive (so much ‘fire, blood and death’) as did the descriptions of Lorelai’s beauty (though the scent of ‘evergreens, snow and sweet burning wood’ does sound like it would make an AMAZING bookish candle). I can see why certain choices were made during the mid-section of the story and how they fit with what needed to happen, I just found it a little less exciting to read.

Even though the plot slowed down a little at times, I loved the connections between the characters and the reasons given for key elements of the fairytale. I’m really excited that this is the first in a series of standalone fairytale retellings, and I can’t wait to read the second instalment, The Wish Granter, to see how the author handles the story of Rumplestiltskin!

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Has anyone else read this one or The Wish Granter? Or have you read any other fairytale retellings recently that you loved? I’m on the hunt for more, now that I’ve had a taste!

‘Cleopatra’s Shadows’ spoiler-free review!

When I first started this, I thought I was going to love it. There was a nice opening hook and the Game of Thrones vibes were enjoyable. However, what works for George R. R. Martin sadly did not work here. I felt like too many minor characters were introduced with the sole purpose of killing them off, which wasn’t effective at eliciting any kind of emotional response from me because I hadn’t been given time to get to know them or become invested in their stories. They were purely a means of furthering the plot.

Speaking of plot, it took me SO long to get invested in this. For such an exciting period in history, the book really wasn’t as action-packed as I’d hoped it would be. It did pick up in the second half but it took forever to get going; it really shouldn’t take 200 pages before a book gets interesting! Then, the plot threads I did find myself more interested in did not really go anywhere and did not wrap up. The ending was disappointing and felt a little rushed.

I preferred the Arsinoe POV chapters to Berenice and especially liked the turn her story took nearer the end. However, as I mentioned, it then didn’t really go anywhere. I get that you can’t mess too much with history but I would have appreciated more of a focus on these particular events that took place outside of the royal court.

I also really didn’t like the blatant sexual abuse that was included in the book. Use of the ‘c’ word never became any easier to stomach, despite being used on numerous occasions. Again, I get why authors like George R. R. Martin use it and in those cases, while it is still foul, it kind of works for the situation. But here, it was just awful and didn’t add anything to the scenes where it was used.

It may just be a case of bad timing but, for some reason, I didn’t connect with this one the way I wanted to. It never really held my attention or called to me to pick it back up when I stopped reading. I just wasn’t feeling it. This book had a lot of potential but sadly didn’t live up to it, and was ultimately forgettable.

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Has anyone else read this one? What did you think? Can you recommend me any other historical fiction you enjoyed?

‘The Watcher in the Shadows’ spoiler-free review!

The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was an early June read for me. It is a book which has been on my shelf for a few months now and I’ve never really been in the mood for it, but I knew that someday I would be. Turns out, that someday was this month!

I really enjoyed this book. I fell in love with Zafon’s writing last year when I read The Shadow of the Wind (which you absolutely must read if you haven’t already). I had been looking to reading more of his work and hoped it would be as rich and captivating as my first experience of it; though don’t get me wrong, I was under no illusion that anything would ever be as wonderful as The Shadow of the Wind. I think if you go into this with realistic expectations, you will be pleasantly rewarded!

You can tell that this is written for a younger audience but I didn’t mind as it brought a smile to my face on more than one occasion. In Zafon’s letter at the end of my particular edition, he talks about how he wanted to capture the essence of the adventure stories he read as a child, such as the work of Enid Blyton and Jules Verne. His goal was to remind readers of all ages of those happy bygone days when everything was exciting and magical; I would say he was successful in this aim! There were definitely moments that reminded me of those special days of my childhood.

I loved the setting of this book and found it to be very lush and Gothic. In fact, the setting was so well-written that it almost became a character in itself! I do love when that happens. The writing was exceptional, as I expected, and really demonstrated Zafon’s cleverness. Everything was so vivid and there were some very creepy moments! I also really appreciated the steampunk touches scattered throughout, as this is a genre I enjoy but don’t read enough of!

My only issue was with some of the characterisation; the younger characters seemed too mature for their age, and Dorian was pretentious and annoying. His speech didn’t seem realistic to a young boy. Though of course, it’s always difficult to know if things have been lost in translation.

Overall, I found this to be a fast and enjoyable read! Anyone who loved The Shadow of the Wind will also appreciate this, as long as they go into it with realistic expectations; TSOTW was a masterpiece and nothing can compare to it. Yet, this book still demonstrates Zafon’s love of the written word and his talent at creating unique and exhilarating stories for young and old. A strong 4 stars from me!

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Any other Zafon fans out there? Have you ever had trouble with translated books? Leave me a comment! 

May FairyLoot Unboxing!

The theme for May’s FairyLoot was Warriors and Legends!

May’s featured book was Flame in the Mist by Renee Adhieh! This was a highly anticipated release from the author of The Wrath and the Dawn duology, and was billed as a Mulan retelling set in feudal Japan. For once, I read the Fairy Loot book as soon as I received it (I have a bad habit of leaving them sitting on my shelf for months, oops). It was good but unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped I would. You can read my spoiler-free review here.

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‘Flame’ candle by In the Wick of Time

There were two possible candles in this month’s box: ‘Flame’ and ‘Mist’. Apparently, these were named by the author herself! I received ‘Flame’ and it smells like orange blossom and mint, which is a combination I would never have put together but it actually really works! I love how regularly FairyLoot include candles in their boxes.

Woodmark by Ink and Wonder

Ink and Wonder created an exclusive bookmark based on The Lord of the Rings. It’s completely gorgeous! I’ve never owned a ‘woodmark’ before and I was worried it would be really chunky and not fit in my books; however, it’s actually really thin and beautiful. I may have to purchase more from this shop in future. (You all know I can’t resist a pretty bookmark!)

Warriors & Legends Tea Blend by The Tea Leaf Co.

May’s box also featured an exclusive tea blend of green tea with hints of lychee and jasmine. The tea came in a lovely little tin and smells gorgeous! I haven’t tried it yet but I’m planning to brew it up on a special day, curl up with a book and relax.

Celtic socks by FairyLoot

I’m always a fan of socks so this was one of my favourite items in the box. The socks feature an all-over celtic knot design and are really comfy! Perfect for #socksunday pictures!

Word Mythology in Bite-Sized Chunks by Mark Daniels

That’s right, there were TWO books in May’s box! This was a very pleasant surprise. I’ve always been interested in world mythology so this interesting little book should be the perfect way to find out more! It has sections on Australian/Maori, Sumerian, Egyptian, Chinese, American Indian, South & Central American, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology!!

Metallic Feather Pen by Flora’s Wonder Emporium

Lastly, there was a super cool feather pen. I defy anyone not to feel awesome when using it. I got the pink one but I believe there were other colours sent out too. I’m going to display mine in a mug on my bookcase!

 

As usual, there were also some extra items included such as a sampler for an upcoming release, bookmark, signed bookplate and letter from the author! These special touches are part of what keep me coming back to FairyLoot. June’s box is based on elemental magic and the July theme was just released – ‘tricksters’! I have a fair idea what both books are and if I’m right, then I’m super excited for them!!

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Is anyone else a FairyLoot subscriber? Or do you subscribe to any other subscription boxes (bookish or not)?

‘The Diabolic’ spoiler-free review!

The Diabolic was my May book-club pick and the last book I finished in May. It was seriously great! I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did, as I’m a little bit shy of science fiction. This could be the book that changes everything!

I was immediately gripped by The Diabolic. It gave me both Star Wars and ASOIAF vibes, which I loved. Kincaid’s world building is fabulous and I loved all of the little details she created, such as beauty bots (how cool would it be to have them in real life?!) It also helped that there was a ship named after me (anyone else get a little thrill when they see their name in a book? Just me then.)

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This book was FULL of twists and turns, especially towards the end, and it really kept me guessing. A couple of things were hinted at early on that I can smugly say I deduced; however, a lot of things took me by surprise! Always enjoyable when a book does that. Kincaid also writes a brilliant fight scene!

I had a couple of minor issues, such as the over-used repetition that ‘Diabolics can’t cry’ – I got a bit bored of hearing that after the third or fourth time it was said. I was also a little dubious about the casual drug use scattered throughout the book; but because it was sci-fi, I was able to forgive it a little more than I would a contemporary.

The character development in this novel was fantastic and I loved the whole concept of Nemesis developing humanity. I found it to be very original. (Maybe it’s been done before but, like I said, I don’t tend to foray into the world of sci-fi very often, so it was new to me). I got a tiny bit confused in parts trying to remember all the names and allegiances within the court, but that was 100% down to my tired brain and not Kincaid’s writing!

I don’t know if there are plans for this to be a series; while it certainly has the potential, I would kind of love for it to be a standalone! I don’t understand why everything has to be a series these days. Though in this case, if a sequel does appear, I will absolutely be reading it! (Update: I have since found out that it’s the first in a trilogy so I will be ALL OVER THAT).

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Has anyone else read this? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

‘Flame in the Mist’ spoiler-free review!

Oh my goodness, this is a tough one to rate. It had so much potential and I wanted so badly to love it, but it fell a bit short of my expectations.

Firstly, let’s be clear. Apart from a few slight nods, this is NOT a Mulan retelling. I actually got far more of a Robin Hood vibe (which, don’t get me wrong, was still fun!) I just feel like this book was marketed wrongly and that’s part of why some people are disappointed by it.

There is a lot of both good and bad in this book. The world-building seemed lacking to me but what little there is was exquisite. I loved all the representations of Japanese culture, particularly the tea-house in Hanami; I just hoped for more vivid descriptions (especially after hearing such high opinions of Adhieh’s writing).

I also really loved the hints at magic but I wish they could have been expanded on in greater detail. They were just kind of stuck in with no explanation. Is this book supposed to be magical realism? Because I didn’t believe it to be part of that genre and therefore was taken by surprise by some of Adhieh’s choices.

My main issue with this one was the characterisation. I’m not going to lie, most of the characters just blended together and didn’t really stand out to me. It was all rather bland and I actually found the most interesting characters to be very minor ones, such as Yoshi and Amaya. They were SO interesting and I wish we could have had more insight into their lives. Everyone else bored me. As for our ‘heroine’, what did she actually do? I feel like it is insulting to compare her to Mulan because she just sat around whining a lot of the time and didn’t stick to her mission, despite it being rammed down the reader’s throat in nearly every chapter. There was too much telling that she was this super smart, badass woman but not enough SHOWING. And the few instances that did attempt to show it seemed really inconsistent with the plot. Like where would she have learned to do some of these super cool science-y things if she had lived the sheltered life we were led to believe at the start?!

I didn’t feel much for the romance and almost wish it had been left out. Adhieh made so many empowering statements about women defining themselves (which I LOVED) but then totally changed tack and added in a trope-tastic romance that undermined everything she’d been saying. I didn’t really feel that it was necessary; a story doesn’t need a romance to be successful!

The ending did nothing for me either. Maybe if I had been more invested in the story, I would have found it more dramatic? But by that point, I had lost interest. It seemed to come out of the blue after a lot of dull plot – though it didn’t help that I thought this was a standalone and it ended on a clear cliffhanger to the next book.

I’m so disappointed that this book didn’t live up to my expectations! I haven’t read any of Adhieh’s other work but I’d heard great things about it; maybe I just built this up too much in my mind? It had so much potential and, as I said, I think perhaps marketing it as a Mulan retelling did it a real disservice.

 

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Has anyone else read this one? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!