Book Review

The Once And Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow

I am diving into one of my favourite genres today with a review of The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. Many thanks to Alix, and to Little, Brown Book Group UK, for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be. 

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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REVIEW:

As you well know by now, I adore books about witchcraft and The Once and Future Witches is a book that practically sings with magic from the very first page. I lost some serious sleep over this book as I had to really force myself to put it down and go to bed.

The Once and Future Witches is a story of three women not so much pushing through the boundaries placed on them by gender, race and sexuality, but more burning those boundaries to ash, a story of empowerment and of women claiming their place in the world.

There is a lot to love about this book, and in fact I could wax lyrical about it for hours if nobody stopped me, but I will attempt to contain myself to my particular highlights here. One of these was the rhymes and witch-tales that are interspersed through the book, familiar, yet not, as Perrault, Lang and the Grimms are reimagined as women. I loved each of the Eastwood sisters for different reasons, although bookish Beatrice won a particular place in my heart. In contrast, Gideon Hill is an antagonist to make your skin crawl and give you goosebumps.

Some books just demand to be held as a physical print book and the e-book is just not enough. I was trying to justify buying the hardback when I already had the e-book, so it absolutely made my day when the lovely K T Robson gave me a copy for Christmas. I just know this is a book that I will be rereading and guarding with my life as a treasured possession.

 

Book Review

All Girls – Emily Layden

Today’s review is for coming-of-age novel, All Girls by Emily Layden. Many thanks to Emily and to John Murray Press for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

A keenly perceptive coming-of-age novel, All Girls captures one year at a prestigious New England prep school, as nine young women navigate their ambitions, friendships, and fears against the backdrop of a scandal the administration wants silenced.

But as the months unfold, and the school’s efforts to control the ensuing crisis fall short, these extraordinary girls are forced to discover their voices, and their power. A tender and unflinching portrait of modern adolescence told through the shifting perspectives of an unforgettable cast of female students, All Girls explores what it means to grow up in a place that promises you the world––when the world still isn’t yours for the taking.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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REVIEW:

There is something about books set in prestigious boarding schools that I just find irresistible, so I was so happy when I was approved to receive a copy of All Girls. Unlike most boarding school books I have read, which are focused on back-stabbing, bitchiness and bullying, All Girls deals with a number of different issues. The girls of The Atwater School are outwardly nice, well-rounded girls, but as each section of the book focuses on the experiences of a very different girl over the course of one academic year, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to these girls than meets the eye.

Covering issues including sexual assault, unhealthy relationships, mental health issues, sexuality, affirmative consent, and gender disparity, All Girls is a book that, for me, the title says everything – all girls are struggling with something, and all girls should read this book. Yes, the subjects are challenging, and not always easy to read, but Emily Layden handles each of them with sensitivity and nothing is included simply for the shock factor to keep the reader engaged.

With such a range of characters telling their stories, I think everyone who reads this book will find someone to relate to. Although I am significantly older than the target demographic for this book, I could still see elements of myself in more than one character and found myself totally engaged with each of their stories. What I found particularly interesting was, with the frequent changes of point of view, you saw each character through their own eyes and through the eyes of the other narrators, and it was fascinating just how different people’s opinions of themselves and others was.

All Girls is an engaging read that makes you challenge things that perhaps you have always just accepted and highlights just how many struggles teenage girls are facing.

Book Review

Shiver – Allie Reynolds

I have a chilling (quite literally – put on a jumper before reading this) thriller to share today in the form of Shiver by Allie Reynolds. Many thanks to Allie and Headline for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

They don’t know what I did. And I intend to keep it that way.

How far would you go to win? Hyper-competitive people, mind games and a dangerous natural environment combine to make the must-read thriller of the year. Fans of Lucy Foley and Lisa Jewell will be gripped by spectacular debut novel Shiver.

When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can’t seem to let go.

The five friends haven’t seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don’t know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth.

In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light. 

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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REVIEW:

I do enjoy a good psychological thriller, especially one where the characters are completely cut off from the rest of the world in some way or other with limited or no means of escape. Even better if the threat to their safety apparently comes from within. In Shiver, Allie Reynolds delivers on all these fronts and then some. The location, the isolation and the mysterious invitations to a reunion at a deserted ski resort gave me chills that had nothing to do with the weather (although as previously mentioned, just reading this book made me cold!).

I loved the dynamics between the characters in this book, both in the situation they currently find themselves in, and in the events of ten years ago which are slowly revealed throughout the split timeline of the story. Each and every character has a secret to hide, and something to feel guilty about, and with them not knowing who did or didn’t do things themselves, it makes for a very twisty read that I truly had no idea how it was going to end.

Shiver is the perfect winter’s read – although perhaps not if you are yourself tucked away at a remote ski resort. Maybe read it when you get home. If you are a fan of Lucy Foley, then you will thoroughly enjoy this book. It is a brilliant debut and makes me excited to read whatever Allie Reynolds writes next.

Book Review

Secrets Of The Starcrossed – Clara O’Connor

I have the first book in what promises to be a fabulous new series to share with you today. Secrets of the Starcrossed is book one in The Once and Future Queen series by Clara O’Connor. My thanks to Clara and One More Chapter for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

In a world where the Roman Empire never fell, two starcrossed lovers fight to ignite the spark of rebellion…

Londinium, the last stronghold of the Romans left in Britannia, remains in a delicate state of peace with the ancient kingdoms that surround it. As the only daughter of a powerful merchant, Cassandra is betrothed to Marcus, the most eligible bachelor in the city.

But then she meets Devyn, the boy with the strange midnight eyes searching for a girl with magic in her blood.

A boy who will make her believe in soulmates…

When a mysterious sickness starts to leech the life from citizens with Celtic power lying dormant in their veins, the imperial council sets their schemes in motion. And so Cassandra must make a choice: the Code or Chaos, science or sorcery, Marcus or Devyn?

Panem meets the Grishaverse in this explosive new YA trilogy perfect for readers of Marie Lu, Bella Forrest, and Cassandra Clare.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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REVIEW:

Part historical fiction, part dystopia, Secrets of the Starcrossed appealed to me on so many levels. Clara O’Connor has created a series that presents a clever twist on history, entwining hints of real British history with a reimaged world where the Roman Empire still reigned supreme. From a history perspective, I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of familiar names such as Owain Glyndwr, Elizabeth Twdwr, and the Plantagenets, and how their stories had shifted in this alternate world.

As we follow Cassandra to her classes, I found myself picturing ultra modern monorails whizzing around the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheatre in Verona. The landscape of Londinium with its street and area names that I have walked many times was easily recognisable, but at the same time strange and unknown, and I found this intriguing. The concept of taking something so familiar, both in terms of geography and history, and twisting it into something so very different made this book absolutely fascinating to me right from the start.

As soon as I finished reading I had to dash to Amazon to pre-order the next two books, and I am very interested to find out what happens next and hopefully learn more about the people of Britannia.

Book Review

The Boy I Am – K.L. Kettle

Today I am reviewing YA novel, The Boy I Am by KL Kettle. Many thanks to KL and Little Tiger Group for my copy of the book which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

They say we’re dangerous. But we’re not that different.

Jude is running out of time. Once a year, lucky young men in the House of Boys are auctioned to the female elite. But if Jude fails to be selected before he turns seventeen, a future deep underground in the mines awaits.

Yet ever since the death of his best friend at the hands of the all-powerful Chancellor, Jude has been desperate to escape the path set out for him. Finding himself entangled in a plot to assassinate the Chancellor, he finally has a chance to avenge his friend and win his freedom. But at what price?

A speculative YA thriller, tackling themes of traditional gender roles and power dynamics, for fans of Malorie Blackman, Louise O’Neill and THE POWER.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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REVIEW:

Set in a dystopian world where women rule all and boys/men are nothing, simply toys paraded in pageants to the highest bidder, The Boy I Am presents an interesting twist on the sexual inequalities faced in this world.

Although the physical world in which Jude lives is not explained in great detail it is instantly captivating and I quickly formed an image of it in my head and it soon became clear that it is a world where no one is safe. It is an incredibly insular society, with an in-built fear of the ravaged world outside meaning that there really is no place to hide or escape to.

Throughout the book there are lots of little nods to the role reversal from the world we know – the swimsuit round in the pageant, never asking a man their age, assuming men can’t understand science or politics, women manhandling men and laughing about it with their friends. Whilst these made me chuckle at times, they were also food for thought, as I realised that although some comments and actions addressed towards Jude and his companions shocked me as I read them, in real life I just accept them as the norm.

My own unconscious bias came into play  whilst I was reading this, as I had assumed that the author was male and was really surprised to discover I was wrong. K.L. Kettle has created a world that is both thought-provoking and deeply unsettling, and I look forward to reading what she writes next.

Book Review

We Are Not Okay – Natalia Gomes

Today’s book is one filled with vitally important messages, We Are Not Okay, by Natalia Gomes. Many thanks to Natalia, and to HQ, for providing me with a copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

13 Reasons Why meets John Green and Jennifer Niven in We Are Not Ok – a powerful novel about what happens when girls are silenced.

If only they could have spoken out.

Lucy thinks she’s better than the other girls. Maybe if she’s pointing fingers at everyone else, no one will see the secret she’s hiding.

Ulana comes from a conservative Muslim family where reputation is everything. One rumour – true or false – can destroy futures.

Trina likes to party. She’s kissed a lot of boys. She’s even shown her red bra to one. But she didn’t consent to that night at Lucy’s party. So why doesn’t anyone believe her?

Sophia loved her boyfriend. She did anything for him, even send him photos of herself. So why is she the one being pointed at in the hallways, laughed at, spat at when it was him who betrayed her trust?

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REVIEW:

Natalia Gomes wrote one of the first books I ever reviewed on this blog, Blackbird, which I loved, and so even without the comparisons to Jay Asher and John Green, I knew this was a book I wanted to read. With those comparisons, I also knew that it was not going to be an easy book to read.

We Are Not Okay is told from the multiple viewpoints of the four main characters, Sophie, Lucy, Ulana, and Trina each of whom has their own secret to hide or issue to battle. Having four such strong main characters means there was a lot crammed in to one book. Each girl’s story could fill a book on its own and while I could see why Gomes chose to weave them into the one book, at times it felt that they weren’t explored to their full potential.

Covering issues including bullying, racism, the sharing of intimate photos on social media, and teen pregnancy, We Are Not Okay is an emotional read from start to finish, and is a heartbreaking portrayal of just how quickly situations can spiral. It is a book that served as a reminder of just how glad I am not to be at school today, and also that social media and camera phones didn’t exist when I was.

We Are Not Okay is full of important messages, and I hope that it will make any teenager reading it think twice about how their actions can affect other people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ND Gomes is originally from Scotland, but spent ten years living in America working as an educator in the public school districts.

She has an M.Ed. in Education and is working towards an MLitt. in Scottish Literature and Creative Writing.

She loves to read a variety of YA and adult fiction in all genres, and is always on the lookout for a new book recommendation. ND Gomes has an enthusiasm for books, travel, photography, yoga, vegetarian cooking, and spending time with her family, friends, and chocolate Labrador.

Her YA debut DEAR CHARLIE and second novel BLACKBIRD is published by HarperCollins imprint HQ in the UK.

Book Review

Girl, Serpent, Thorn – Melissa Bashardoust

Today I am reviewing Girl, Serpent, Thorn, a fantastic Persian fairy-tale inspired book by Melissa Bashardoust. Many thanks to Melissa, and to Hodder & Stoughton, for my copy of the book which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

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REVIEW:

Girl, Serpent, Thorn captivated me from the first page to the last. Before I started reading, I hadn’t realised that it was inspired by Persian myth, but Melissa Bashardoust’s writing has a magical feel that instantly put me in mind of folkloric tales handed down over many generations.

As a tactile person living through lockdown, I can understand Soraya’s need for human contact and the feel of soft textures more acutely than I think I would have before. Touch is something that we have always taken for granted, and yet it is something I have found myself craving over recent months. At least we have the hope that the situation won’t be permanent, but for poor Soraya there is no way out that she can see, and I can quite understand why she would be desperate enough to try whatever it took to break free of her curse.

Each character is beautifully developed, and each has their own flaws and secrets (some more than others). I practically felt my heart crack at times, as the depths of betrayals were revealed and Soraya slowly learnt who she could and couldn’t trust and rely on.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a story of learning to be comfortable in your own skin – something I think we could probably all do with being a bit better at.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melissa Bashardoust received her degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, where she rediscovered her love for creative writing, children’s literature, and fairy tales and their retellings. She currently lives in Southern California with a cat named Alice and more copies of Jane Eyre than she probably needs. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is her first novel.

Book Review

The Wrong Side of Kai – Estelle Maskame

Today I am reviewing a great YA novel in the form of The Wrong Side of Kai by Estelle Maskame. Many thanks to Estelle, and to Black and White Publishing, for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:
Vanessa Murphy doesn’t do relationships.

With a father who doesn’t notice her, it’s easy for her to sneak around with her latest fling, Harrison Boyd. But when an explicit video of Vanessa hooking up with Harrison is leaked the morning after she ends things with him, her life is thrown into chaos.

And Vanessa wants payback. Enter Kai. With his own vendetta against Harrison, Kai proposes revenge, and the two pair up to ruin Harrison Boyd’s life. At first, they are nothing more than an illicit partnership. Teammates working towards the same mission.

But – between late-night stakeouts and crime committing – Vanessa is drawn into Kai’s life. And, as the two grow closer, she finds herself letting Kai into hers.

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REVIEW:

The Wrong Side of Kai is a book of two halves for me, as the two main characters divided my thoughts entirely. I found Vanessa a hard character to like at first. She seems a bit conceited and self-centred, thinking she can get any guy she wants and that everyone likes her. Her attitude to her dad’s grief seems harsh and although I understand that she is acting out because of her own grief, she seems to use losing her mum as an excuse for sleeping around. In contrast I totally adored Kai right from the start with his quirky humour and warm, slightly strange family.

The Wrong Side of Kai covers a lot of issues that are important to the YA community, but does so in an accessible manner. This is the first of Estelle Maskame’s books that I have read, but I suspect it won’t be the last.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Estelle Maskame is a novelist from Peterhead in Scotland. After gaining universal acclaim online during her teenage years, she signed a print contract with the Edinburgh-based publisher Black & White Publishing at the age of seventeen. She left school and now writes full-time.

Book Review

A New Dictionary of Fairies – Morgan Daimler

Today I am stepping away from my usual reviews of novels and heading into the world of the reference book with A New Dictionary of Fairies by Morgan Daimler. Many thanks to Morgan, and to John Hunt Publishing for my copy of this book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

Fairies are a challenging subject, intertwining culture, folklore, and anecdotal accounts across centuries and millennia. Focusing primarily on the Celtic speaking cultures, with some material from adjacent cultures including Anglo-Saxon and Norse, A New Dictionary of Fairies has in-depth entries on a variety of fairies as well as subjects related to them, such as why we picture elves with pointed ears or where the idea of fairies being invisible comes from. It also tackles more complicated topics like the nature and physicality of the fairy people. Anyone with an interest in the Good Neighbours will find this book a solid resource to draw from.

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REVIEW:

Those of you who have been with me since the start of my blog will know that it was intended to include posts about my attempts at writing a novel. You will no doubt have noticed that these posts have fallen completely by the wayside as my writing efforts stalled. I had an idea for a fantasy novel based in British folklore, but after an enthusiastic start, I lost my mojo a bit. Sitting down and reading this book, however, has inspired me once more though and I now have ideas for not one but four books set around each of the Celtic nations, and I am excited about writing again. I owe Morgan Daimler a debt of gratitude for this.

A New Dictionary of Fairies is exactly what you would expect – an A-Z of all things fairy. It is an easy book to dip in and out of, and feels incredibly thorough. As I was reading it, I found myself making notes about folkloric accounts and poems that I wanted to look up and read in their entirety as my creative juice really started to flow. I have a LOT of books on folklore and fairies, but this is by far the most accessible that I have read so far.

I know this is a book that I will refer back to time and again as I write, and I already have more of Morgan’s books lined up ready to read – more on those coming soon!