The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

37759491.jpgIn Orleans, beauty is valued above all else. People are born grey and plain, and only a Belle can make them beautiful. Camellia has always wanted to be the Favourite; chosen to tend to the royal family and their courtiers. But once at court, she quickly learns that everything is not as she has been told.

The Belles didn’t have as much depth as it could have. The kingdom is clearly unhappy with the prospect of Princess Sophie becoming queen (understandable – she is a piece of work) and poisonings are mentioned, but we get no insight at all into political matters or any attempts to stop her becoming queen. Instead its all about beauty and the belles. I get that the entire concept is kind of shallow, but the book didn’t have to be too.

The other big thing I didn’t enjoy was the pacing, which is rather slow. The plot isn’t particularly complex or detailed so I’m not entirely sure what all those pages were actually used for.

However, there were a couple of good things as well. I especially liked that, despite being all about beauty, there are no set ideas about what is beautiful. The people of Orleans change their hair, skin, body shapes and everything in all different ways without one being considered prettier than the other (outside of trending periods).

I’m not entirely sure if I liked it enough to pick up the next book. On the one hand, I found it pretty boring on the whole. On the other hand, the ending was EXCITING and I do want to know what’s going to happen next.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Beast’s Heart – Leife Shallcross

36273241In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the focus is on the Beast’s side of the story. A lonely beast, cursed and isolated, has a chance encounter with a lost traveller. In return for saving the man’s life, the Beast gains the company of his daughter, Isabeau, for a year, during which he finds both love and his humanity.

For the first half of this book, I felt a bit cheated. It wasn’t so much a retelling, but rather an almost identical version of the Beauty and the Beast story we’re all familiar with, from the point of view of the beast. To me, this felt like a bit of a cop-out and was a little disappointing. Fortunately, the second half of the book and the details of Isabeau’s sisters did take the story in a new direction.

The magical elements are enchanting. The book is very descriptive and beautifully written with a flowing plot and complex characters. Plus, how stunning is that cover, right?

It’s a classic story, and very well-written, if a little unoriginal. I enjoyed it a lot.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Starborn – Lucy Hounsom

34114570.jpgOn the day she comes of age, Kyndra accidentally destroys an ancient tradition and gets the blame for an unnatural storm that targets hers town. Two strangers with powers fuelled by the sun and moon rescue her and take her to the hidden citadel of Naris. Once there, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions, brutal tests, and meets both fanatics and rebels all trying to use her for their own cause.

I really expected to love this book, but actually, it didn’t have a lot of the things I look for in a YA fantasy. Yes, this means it avoided most of the usual tropes and clichés, and managed not to be just the same as every other YA fantasy story, but it also made it kind of boring. Honestly, not that much actually happened, and it’s not a short book.

I wasn’t a big fan of Kyndra, and not liking the lead character is always problematic. She wasn’t too annoying or sassy, instead she was just kinda bland. She was obsessed with getting back to her family even though she knew that, realistically, she couldn’t return to her village (they did try to kill her, after all) and that was pretty much her only drive. Also, there wasn’t even a hint of romance to the story, which I do like at least a little bit of.

I did like Bregenne and Nediah. I could have happily read an adult fantasy book about them. Same world, some of the same characters, but an adult target market and less of the irritating and argumentative teenager.

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Truthwitch – Susan Dennard

29588505.jpgAfter an unfortunate run-in with a dangerous Bloodwitch, young witches Safiya and Iseult are forced to flee their home and hide. When things take a turn for the worse, the girls have no choice but to accept the help of Prince Merik of Nubrevna, a Windwitch. Together, they sail to Nubrevna to escape the Bloodwitch, the emperor, and anyone who would use Safiya’s Truthwitchery for their own gain.

This story is exciting and action-packed. It’s a true YA fantasy adventure, with witches, magic and a lot of fighting. It all sounds pretty awesome, but was sort of, not.

For starters, the writing style was very repetitive. This is a weird complaint, but the author used the girls’ names too often in the narrative. It stopped the story from flowing smoothly and was just kind of irritating.

I loved the focus of the story being on a female friendship. There are romance elements within the story, but it is in no way the main feature. It was nice to read about girls sticking together instead of falling out and taking each other down. However, the characters were just alright. Safiya and Iseult both had potential to be kick-ass and awesome, but they were both a bit hot-headed and lacking. And far too reliant on each other. My favourite by far was Aeduan, just because he’s pretty cool, but on the whole I didn’t care much for the other characters.

I did enjoy Truthwitch, but it seemed to take a really long time to read (and it’s not that long a book). When I love a book, I get through it really fast. This was just not one of those. It was good, but it dragged. I didn’t love it. I will be giving Book #2 a go, because I already own a copy. If I didn’t have one already, I’m not sure if I’d bother.

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The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell

34527740.jpgThe Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve magical, mysterious and unusual short stories, featuring a coffin hotel, spirits in jars, and replacement hearts.

Now, I liked this book. I’ve never read a book of short stories before (and to be honest, I’m not really sure it’s my thing) but this was a good first experience. ‘Short stories’ felt like a bit of a stretch; the twelves in this book are actually more like snippets – short chapters of something bigger. The open-ended nature of the stories added to this, because they felt sort of unfinished. In some cases this was frustrating, but in all cases it made me want to read more.

Each story was weird and whimsical, with a dark and slightly sinister vibe. I enjoyed some more than others, (my favourites were Jacob and Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel) but they were all good.

Interesting, snappy, and thought-provoking, I would definitely recommend this one.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Girl in the Tower – Katherine Arden

34731459This is Book #2 of one of my favourite books of last year (The Bear and the Nightingale), so I was beyond excited to be offered the opportunity to read an advance copy. I had verrrrrrry high expectations, and I was not disappointed. Vasya, facing the choice between marriage or life in a convent, decides instead to run away and travel. Her adventures soon take her to Moscow, where she finds herself having to defend the city and the Grand Prince from something awful.

Katherine Arden’s writing is fantastic. She weaves clear and enchanting images, and no part of the story is boring. Every single word was a joy to read. There really aren’t many books I’ve come across that are quite as magically well-written. That being said, there was, sadly, a bit less magic in the book than in the first, but there was still just enough to keep it special.

Vasya and Morozko are two of my favourite characters to ever exist. Vasya is strong and determined – and nothing like the usual fantasy heroines – while Morozko is a powerful and compassionate… What a babe. I just love him. And I can’t not mention Solovey: I’m not usually a fan of horses in general, but his connection to Vasya throughout the story is so lovely.

My one and only criticism of this book is the ending. It was abrupt and kind of unsatisfying, I was completely unprepared for it to end when it did (and not just because I enjoyed the book so much I didn’t want it to end). There seemed to be a lot of only partially resolved threads, and the ending just felt very sudden. It was quite a jarring and unsatisfying end to my reading experience.

However, the abrupt ending does not take anything away from the magnificence of the rest of the story. I cannot wait for the next book. 10/10. 5 stars. Full marks.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Frostblood – Elly Blake

32618150Forced to hide her Fireblood abilities from the Frostblood ruling class, Ruby has never had the opportunity to practise or develop her skills. When Frostblood soldiers destroy her village and murder her mother, she is suddenly thrown into a battle she has little time to prepare for. Her mission: kill the Frost King.

Frostblood is a classic, fantastic YA fantasy adventure. By far the best I’ve read in a long time. It is very well-written, with all the predictable but vital components of the genre: a feisty teen heroine, a rocky but passionate romance, and an epic battle between good and evil.

Ruby is a strong, volatile character. She has some serious anger-management issues and the tendency to jump to conclusions, but it’s all essential to her Fireblood personality which stops her from tipping over the edge into annoying (like so many YA heroines do). The rest of the characters, including love-interest Arcus, are also likeable and well-developed. I especially loved brother Thistle – what a babe.

The plot is really, really good. It’s super eventful and unpredictable. There were good amounts of plot development, character and world building in equal measure. The book was at no point boring, but also didn’t speed along too quickly or become too action-packed. Plus there were one or two plot-twists that genuinely took me by surprise.

Frostblood is a must-read for fans of fantasy and magic. I will be buying book #2, immediately.

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The Warlock’s Nemesis – Alena Des

36000377.jpgAlice is a healer, so when a deadly virus ravages the world, she is sent to help. Teamed with the powerful warlock, Tannon, Alice does what she can to save the human race. However, the power behind the virus has a different target in mind, and things take a serious turn for the worst for Alice, just when things seem to be looking up.

The Warlock’s Nemesis is book #2 in ‘The Kings’ series, but I read it as a standalone (having not read book #1). The events of the previous book are mentioned a few times, but it is absolutely not necessary to read book #1 first.

The most notable thing about this book is the number of plot twists. It is genuinely impossible to predict which way the story is going to go, making it surprising and exciting. Some of the events were a little farfetched and unnecessary, but this is a paranormal fantasy story after all.

Although I generally liked the characters and their relationships, I felt the relationship between Alice and Tannon was a bit forced. Alice kept going on about how much time they were spending together when – from the reader’s perspective – it had only been one or maybe two days. They were together for a maximum of a week and were suddenly utterly and completely in love. Also, once they were ‘together’, the way the spoke and behaved towards each other completely changed. It was quite jarring. I did like the way the relationship developed after that though, with the twists regarding Alice’s general temperament.

Overall, The Warlock’s Nemesis is a fun and eventful story, but it is a little flawed and the writing style lacked refinement.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Susurrus – B. Morris Allen

35514180Susurrus is the story of an orphaned girl who wants nothing more than magic and a home. But when the magic doesn’t do what she wants and instead kills the people she loves, Iskra turns her back on the possibility of love. Unable to find a place for herself and yet forced to continue living, Iskra travels all over the world learning magic and living multiples lives, all of which ultimately end in misery.

No evil sorceress is born evil.

I found this book a bit long and miserable, but with an overall good story. It is well written and descriptive, with some fun and exciting parts to temper the general misery. It is certainly not a happy read, but each new life Iskra leads is interesting and unique. Each life acts as a different section of the book, making it very easy to read in chunks, which is good because it would be a difficult book to get through in one or two sittings. Some parts are more fun to read than others (my favourite is her time with Tana and Snuggles), but all do add an important layer to the story.

There are a lot of different characters throughout the story, but Iskra is the only constant and most of the other characters are quite forgettable and unimportant. Iskra herself is a difficult character, because as the story progresses she becomes more self-centred and less likeable. Although this is a significant feature of the plot, it did make the book less enjoyable as it went on because I had no sympathy or connection with the main character. I particularly struggled with the way she blamed magic for all the unhappiness in her life, when actually the cause was usually her own selfishness or simple bad luck.

If Iskra had been more likeable during the start of the book, I may have got on better with it when she becomes more closed off. As it is, I would much rather to have gotten to know more about characters like Neris the peddler. Also, there was a weird amount of sex in the story. The sex is not graphic, detailed, or even particularly unnecessary, and it all fits into the story in different ways, but it was unexpected and just something to be aware of.

Overall, Susurrus is quite an average fantasy adventure. A solid, middling, 3*.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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On the Other Side – Carrie Hope Fletcher

25820674In this unconventional love story, 82-year-old Evie passes away peacefully, surrounded by her beloved family. But when she reaches the door to her Heaven, her heart is too heavy to pass through. To gain access, Evie must return to the other side and unburden herself of three secrets she’s kept her whole life. A magical and romantic exploration of the power of the heart.

On the Other Side is an incredibly… umm, creative love story. It was quite an enjoyable read, and is pretty well-written, but I did have some problems with it. Two big problems.

Number one: it is vain. The author is a well-known youtube star (who I do quite like), so her appearance and personality is no secret. For this reason, the similarities between Evie and the author are much too obvious. The character’s curly ‘caramel’ hair and ‘chocolate brown eyes’ are mentioned too often, and her generous and ‘hopeful’ (yes, she does mention the name of her online fanbase in the book) traits are features that the author clearly sees in herself. This, on it’s own, I don’t have a problem with, but a character so clearly based on the author in every positive aspect does come across as somewhat narcissistic. It got on my nerves.

Number two: the magic. The majority of this book comes across as a realistic, real-world romance. (The afterlife aspects are obviously not based on reality but still read as quite believable.) However, the magical aspects in the “real-world” (paper turning to glass, drawings coming to life, literally taking out a heart, writing on a bird?) didn’t really fit into the story and I really struggled to get my head around it.

Other, more overlookable issues include the clichéd characters, silly character names (Snow, Winter, Autumn, Frost, etc.) and the complete lack of any grey area between good and bad. If you can get past the clichés, vanity, and poorly integrated magical-realism, then On the Other Side is quite a sweet and light hearted romance novel and the actual writing quality is quite good.

Give it a go, but don’t expect too much.

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