ARC REVIEW: As Good As Dead by Holly Jackson

First of all, the biggest thank you in the world to Electric Monkey for the eARC. Words cannot express how excited I was when my request got accepted, and how excited I was while reading it, and how excited I was when reviewing it. So… thank you!

As Good As Dead follows Pip, Little Kilton’s resident teenage detective-slash-genius, as her life descends into chaos once again following the events of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and Good Girl, Bad Blood.

This time, though, instead of the focus of her investigation being on her friends, neighbours and acquaintances, Pip’s latest case is all about her, and it’s proving to be much darker and much more dangerous than anyone could have imagined.

It’s difficult to put into words just how much I adored this book. I loved books one and two and have been recommending them constantly since they came out, but this book is in a whole new league. It’s so, so much darker than I expected it to be and so terrifyingly clever that it was completely impossible to put down.

Pip’s character is fascinating as ever, but she’s so different now than the cheerful wannabe-detective that she was in the first book that exploring her character is even more gripping. Over the course of the series, she’s become stressed, scared and much less strait-laced, as expected from someone with her track record of getting tied up in murder investigations, but she’s still somehow so recognisable that it really felt like I went through the whole dark, terrifying journey right alongside her. After so many books and so much time getting to know them, I was just as captivated by the growth of Ravi’s character, Pip’s friends and fellow victims, and even the villains of the story as well.

I’ve mentioned how clever this book is, but it’s so important to highlight just how scarily intelligent Holly Jackson must be to write this. It’s a long book at 570 pages, but every single page tied together perfectly and all details seemed well-researched and unnervingly believable. Every time I thought I was ahead of the plot twists, I found myself being tricked and pulled into a different story entirely, until I just gave up guessing in an attempt to get through the story even quicker.

I can quite honestly say that this is one of the best thrillers I have ever read, and absolutely the most gripping book I’ve read this year. It’s fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat scary, clever, dark and somehow sprinkled with comedy at the same time. I haven’t been this captivated by a story in such a long time and am certain that I will read absolutely anything that Holly Jackson comes out with next.

Basically, please please please pick up this series! 1) because I need someone to talk to about it!!! and 2) because you absolutely 100% will not regret it.

Rating: 5/5

ARC REVIEW: Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

First of all, a huge thank you to Hodder for the eARC of this beautiful book, and HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY to Elizabeth Lim! I’ve become so obsessed with Spin the Dawn in the last few months that I was desperate to get my hands on a copy of this, and I’m so glad I got the chance to read and review.

Six Crimson Cranes tells the story of the magical princess Shiori as she finds herself thrown out of her palace home on discovering that her stepmother isn’t who she says she is. In a beautiful YA fantasy take on the classic tale ‘The Six Swans,’ Shiori is cursed and forced to live as a voiceless, unknown peasant girl, whilst her six brothers suffer their own kind of curse by being turned into cranes, unable to return home.

As Shiori works to break her curse, she embarks on a dangerous adventure that takes her into the North, where she encounters danger in so many forms that it’s hard to keep track. From cruel royals to magical creatures, Shiori must face numerous challenges as she fights to find her way home and protect her brothers, and the kingdom, from the dangers that they suddenly face.

As I’ve come to expect from Elizabeth Lim’s books in the past few months, Six Crimson Cranes is a beautifully written, magical book. The setting is described in perfect detail and the magic throughout, both in Shiori and in some of the creatures that she encounters, is so believable that it’s really easy to get sucked into their world and find yourself adventuring right alongside Shiori.

Shiori is a fascinating protagonist and her growth throughout the story is really well done. She begins as an entitled, spoiled princess, but as she faces struggle after struggle, the change in her is evident. Character growth is so important to this story and it was amazing to be able to root for Shiori as she fought to become a better person. Other characters that I adored were Takkan (obviously), Megari, Sheryu and, most surprisingly, Kiki, Shiori’s paper bird companion who I was rooting for just as much as Shiori.

I loved this book so much and it’s definitely solidified Elizabeth Lim’s position as one of my new favourite authors. Her writing has a magical quality that I’ve found to be quite rare, and Six Crimson Cranes is a story so beautifully told that I’m already desperately awaiting its sequel.

Rating: 5/5

BLOG TOUR STOP: THE ISLAND HOME by Libby Page

First of all, a HUGE thank you to Orion for gifting me a beautiful copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and a spot on this blog tour! If you want to hear more about this wonderful book, I fully recommend checking out the rest of the tour 🙂

The Island Home follows two women, Alice and Lorna, as they are thrown together during Lorna’s visit to her childhood home.

Alice, a yoga instructor and farm-owner on the Isle of Kip, has loved island life since the day she first moved, and very voluntarily got wrapped up in its sense of community and the comfort of knowing that all of her neighbours are there to support her. Lorna, meanwhile, is visiting from London out of obligation and wishes nothing more than to get in and out of Kip, the island she grew up on, full of former neighbours and lost family, as soon as possible.

When Lorna reaches the Isle, though, she starts to remember the good as well as the bad, and decides to use the time to make amends with her brother (Alice’s husband) and some old friends that she left behind. What follows is a moving, heart-warming story about community, belonging and friendship.

The majority of books I read have very dark content and themes, so it was so refreshing to get completely sucked into such a moving, heart-warming book. It wasn’t always happy and some quite difficult themes were explored, but Libby Page’s writing is so consistently positive and uplifting that, despite some of the tougher content, the book had an overall really heart-warming and comforting tone. So many characters were just so kind and good that it was hard not to feel like I was part of their lovely community and feel supported as Alice and Lorna did when things got slightly tough.

Alice and Lorna had fairly similar voices, making it difficult at times to differentiate between the two, but this also made it easy to love and root for both of them on their individual journeys. At the beginning, Alice is a welcoming and kind character who embodies community spirit wholly in a way that I rarely read, whilst Lorna is a strong, independent, self-reliant woman who shows just what you can be capable of alone. As the story went on, however, it was lovely to read about how their mindsets started to become more similar and watch as they formed a really sweet bond.

This book is the definition of summer reading and would be so perfect as both a beach read and a book to cheer you up on a miserable day. I certainly found myself getting absorbed in the lifestyle of the characters on the Isle of Kip, and would absolutely recommend you do the same.

Rating: 4/5

The Island Home published in HB and ebook on 24th June, by Orion.

ARC REVIEW: Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

*Thank you to Harper Voyager for the eARC of this wonderful book*

First of all: that cover!!! I read this book on kindle last week but have already ordered the stunning hardback edition because I just couldn’t resist…

Meet Me in Another Life tells the story of Santi and Thora as they meet again, and again, and again, in the same place, at the same time, across many different lives. In what may be fate or a coincidence, the two are drawn together across so many lifetimes that the question soon changes from ‘what is happening?’ to ‘why?’ and it becomes clear that they must work together, despite their consistently differing outlooks, to figure it all out.

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before. The way that it is structured, almost making each chapter a stand-alone short story about Santi and Thora, makes it a very quick read, but the questions that the characters pose to each other are often quite philosophical and challenging. Despite this, and the constantly shifting scenarios, it was really easy to get completely sucked in and start theorising my own explanations for their constant meetings. I got through this entire book in a day, desperately waiting for them to figure it all out.

Santi and Thora were fascinating characters and the way their many lifetimes took a toll on them and changed them in each chapter was really interesting to see. Thora especially altered so significantly in the story, but also somehow remained believable, that I was really impressed by how strong her character’s personality was. A lot of this story revolved around the characters finding and understanding themselves, and I think this was done really well. I also loved the way we got to see their characters almost stripped down to the recurring elements of their personalities so that we could really understand why they thought what they did, and see if so many lifetimes could possibly change that.

It took me a while to figure out what was happening towards the beginning, and the major differences in certain lifetimes did throw me off, but I enjoyed every chapter all the same and found myself especially invested in the ending (which did not disappoint). It’s definitely sci-fi but this only comes out in occasional parts of the book and I’d consider it a worthwhile read even for sceptics of the sci-fi genre. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone that is looking for something unique, or for a book that really makes you think.

Rating: 4/5

Meet Me in Another Life publishes in the UK on July 8th!

BOOK REVIEW: IN THE RAVENOUS DARK by AM Strickland

I’m back from yet another unintentional blog hiatus today with a review of a book that I am completely desperate to talk about. I finished In the Ravenous Dark earlier this month, after have the eARC sat on my NetGalley shelf for far too long, and I’m honestly ashamed that I haven’t been raving about it on Twitter every second since.

So… first things first, thank you to Hodder for the eARC of this book!

In the Ravenous Dark follows Rovan, a young bloodmage who, after her powers are discovered and abruptly used against her, turns against the city she grew up in to seek revenge and spark a revolution. She quickly finds herself teaming up with various members of a fascinating royal family, a guardian spirit that she openly despises and a whole host of other dangerous allies to fight against the nation’s dangerous rulers, both in the land of the living and the land of the dead.

Young adult fantasy is easily my most-read genre, but I can honestly say that I have never read anything quite like this. It’s unique, darkly intense and set in such a well-woven world that I was completely sucked in as soon as I started reading. The setting was quite typical of a royal, fantasy YA, but the atmosphere was so unsettling and the blood magic so… graphic, that I was completely unprepared going in for what the book ended up being.

Rovan’s moral ambiguity and her warring desires to do what’s right for her loved ones whilst also seeking power and vengeance made her a fascinating protagonist, and I found myself falling so deeply in love with Japha, Lydia and Ivrilos as well that I couldn’t pick a favourite character from their team of rebels. I love antiheroes, and both Ivrilos and Rovan came across as these, with their motives varying from freedom and revolution to brutal revenge. The amount of representation of LGBTQ+ characters and relationships in this book was also really great, as it included positive representation of pansexuality, lesbianism, asexuality, a major non-binary character and a polyamorous relationship.

The story was incredibly fast-paced, and there wasn’t a single page that didn’t include any intense action, intense romance or intense gore. It’s certainly not an easy read or a book for the squeamish, but it’s so perfect for fans of dark YA fantasy that I know I’ll be recommending it to anyone who will listen.

Rating: 5/5

ARC REVIEW: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

*Thank you to Orbit for gifting me an eARC in exchange for an honest review*

It’s nearly the end of the month and I should probably be posting a monthly wrap-up BUT this month was a somewhat… small reading month. Instead of reading ten books like last month, I read the grand total of three (and, honestly, one was just okay and another was just plain bad).

Because of this very tiny reading month though, it’s with great confidence that I can say that The Bone Shard Daughter is the best book I read in May. So, instead of a wrap-up, here’s my review:

The Bone Shard Daughter tells a lot of intertwined stories, but primarily follows Lin, the Emperor’s daughter, as she tries to unravel her family’s secrets and face her father’s declining rule. She’s unhappy with her life in the palace and desperate to discover what her father is hiding behind all of his closed doors, but the more truths she uncovers, the more complicated everything suddenly seems.

Meanwhile, revolution is stirring across all of the Emperor’s isles, and Jovis- the nation’s most renowned smuggler- and Phalue – the daughter of one of the isle’s governors – find themselves becoming dangerously wrapped up in it.

What combines these stories is a fascinating and intricate narrative of magic, revolution and a hunger for power and justice.

This book is dark, magical and incredibly well written. For the first few chapters, as more and more perspectives were being introduced, I did find myself quite confused as to what tied all of the stories together and, honestly, who I should be rooting for, but the more sucked into this story I got, the more captivated I was by every single chapter. Jovis and Mephi were probably my favourite characters in this story, but I adored Lin’s chapters as well, especially as her story got progressively darker and much more dangerous.

The bone shard system and magic in general within this book is unlike anything I’ve read before, and it was so fascinating to discover everything as Lin, Jovis, Phalue, Ranami and Sand did. It was also so unique to see perspectives of all sides and how they tied together, including inside the palace, at a local governing level, and deep inside the rebellion’s HQ.

I was really intimidated by this book at first so it took me longer to fall in love with it than I thought it would but, by halfway, I was completely hooked. There were moments that broke my heart, moments that made me terrified for what was coming next, and plot twists that I absolutely did not see coming. I’m desperately awaiting book two and can’t wait to see how much darker and more intertwined all of these stories can get.

Rating: 4/5

ARC REVIEW: Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim

If you follow me on Twitter (@rarelyinreality, come say hi!), you’ll probably know that I am obsessed with the Blood of Stars duology by Elizabeth Lim (and that I just ordered the Fairyloot special editions and could cry at how beautiful they are).

I talk about this series all the time but only just realised I never shared my review of Unravel the Dusk so… here we are.

As with book one, THANK YOU to Hodder for the eARC!!

Unravel the Dusk follows Maia, the newly-appointed Imperial Tailor, as she struggles to cope with the raging war, her recent sacrifices and all of the traumatic events that she suffered in Spin the Dawn. She finds herself on a new mission, this time without the help of her Enchanter, to help end the war before she loses herself to the magic that is overtaking her.

Spin the Dawn is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’m so glad that I found myself as completely blown away by its sequel. Unravel the Dusk is much less of an adventure-based story than its predecessor, but the action is infinitely more dramatic. Maia’s inner turmoil and physical struggle with herself make up a large part of the book, but these slightly more reflective scenes were balanced really well by the scenes of war, the intense battles and some incredibly dramatic sacrifices towards the end.

My favourite thing about this book was definitely the character growth. Maia’s strength by the end of the story is incredible and it was so fascinating to see her develop from the brave-but-wary tailor at the beginning of Spin the Dawn to the powerful and motivational leader that she finally becomes. In much of book one, Maia is completely reliant on Edan and his magic, so seeing her grow on her own is both fascinating and empowering.

Lady Sarnai’s growth was equally incredible and she went from a character that I liked but didn’t love to one of my favourite characters in the entire duology. It was wonderful to see her also develop her own identity and fight for what she believed in, rather than following the people she had always been forced to listen to.

Reading Spin the Dawn is an absolute must before reading this book, but I cannot recommend the duology as a whole highly enough. It’s magical, beautifully written and completely gripping, and I will absolutely be buying everything I can get my hands on by Elizabeth Lim going forwards.

Rating: 5/5

The *beyond* beautiful paperback edition of this book publishes on June 1st 🙂

ARC REVIEW: Things To Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr

Things to Do Before the End of the World follows Olivia, an introverted seventeen year old girl who, along with everyone else on the planet, has just discovered that she has less than a year to live. The world is ending and she realises quite suddenly that she has absolutely not been living life to the fullest.

When a long-lost cousin shows up and takes over the task of getting Olivia out of her shell by sweeping her through Europe and teaching her to perform street tricks, Olivia finds herself becoming an entirely new person. But the longer she spends with Natasha, the harder it is to figure her out.

What started as somewhat of a contemporary about a young girl changing her life for the better turned quickly into a page-turning thriller about revenge, mistrust and, as expected from the title, the impending end of the world. Olivia was a somewhat naïve girl who, in trying to become more outgoing, found herself completely wrapped up in a potentially-final summer that she absolutely didn’t sign up for, and it was fascinating to see her react to her situation in exactly the way a somewhat amenable but intelligent teenager might.

Natasha was a fascinating character, and my opinions about her changed back and forth so rapidly that I spent the majority of the book completely confused as to how I should feel about her. There was a side of this to most characters in this book, including Olivia’s mother even, so I was completely hooked and desperate to find out who to trust the entire way through.

It was hard to figure out where this book was going but the ending did not disappoint. Although I found some of the recapping and discussion towards the end slightly unnecessary, I was so shocked by some of the twists that the book didn’t lose its page-turning quality for a second, and I felt that the story was wrapped up and explained fairly tidily when everything was finally revealed.

This was a really fun, unputdownable story that combined the excitement of a coming-of-age contemporary with the suspense of a thriller. It was fast-paced and completely unpredictable and, if you’re looking for a book to devour in one go or a thriller to get hooked on, I would absolutely recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

*Thank you to Penguin Random House for gifting me an eARC of this book in exchange for a review*

ARC REVIEW: From Little Tokyo, With Love by Sarah Kuhn

First of all, thank you thank you thank you to Sam Bonner at Penguin Random House for gifting me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! I’ve been anticipating this book forever so cannot express how excited I was when I received it in the post…

From Little Tokyo, With Love tells the story of Rika, a Japanese-American teenage girl with a love for martial arts and a slight anger management problem, as she embarks on a journey to find her long-lost mother with the unlikely help of celebrity sweetheart, Henry Chen. What starts off as a mutually beneficial adventure shared between two near-strangers develops quickly into a companionable search for their own identities and where they truly belong.

This book was easily one of the best contemporaries I’ve read this year. It was sweet, romantic and heartfelt, with a meaningful message about how it’s not all that important to fit in and an exciting quest to top it all off.

In terms of characters, Rika definitely gave off a slight I’m-not-like-other-girls vibe at first with her hatred of all things girly and all things Disney, but instead of this being a fault, I found her to be a completely believable and unique protagonist. I loved her sisters as well, particularly the adorable young Rory, and Henry was the ideal YA love interest with his popular, beautiful persona, and his sweet, uncertain heart.

The story was definitely a little cliché at times (as can only be expected from any kind of fairytale), but I foresaw this going into it and can easily say that, if you’re looking for a cute and swoony read with a little bit of insta-love, you have come to the right place with this book. What makes it unique, though, is that it’s also an important and overdue modern fairytale-retelling about how you don’t always have to be a typical princess to get your happily ever after, and how being a little different (and, more specifically, a little temperamental and obsessed with monsters) isn’t something to be ashamed of.

This book is a great combination of cutesy and serious, and I honestly loved it. It tackles some very important and not-often-discussed-in-YA social issues – including racism within both Asian-American communities and Hollywood – whilst also being a sweet and charming adventure. I would absolutely recommend this if you’re looking for an easy, romantic read that’s a little more serious than usual, but that still hits those YA contemporary tropes that we all know and love.

Rating: 4/5

From Little Tokyo, With Love publishes today! (May 11th)

ARC REVIEW: The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner

*THANK YOU to Titan Books for the e-arc of this book*

The Forest of Stars tells the story of 12-year-old Louisa who, whilst searching for her long-lost father, finds herself in the Carnival Beneath the Stars. With some magical abilities of her own that she has never really understood, Louisa gets rapidly caught up in the carnival, as well as the chaos that has suddenly overtaken it.

This book seems to balance on the line between middle grade and YA but I can honestly say that, as an adult, I completely adored it. The protagonist’s age and the slightly younger writing style made it a very easy read, but it was written in such a magical, captivating way that I’m sure people of any age could enjoy this story.

Friendship is a large part of this plot, and I found the friendships in this story, between Louisa and the other younger performers, to be really sweet and completely believable. I love all of the performers that she teams up with and definitely felt like part of their little group as they tried to solve the mystery of the dangerous occurrences at the carnival. Louisa is also hugely motivated by her quest to find her father, and I found that this really justified a lot of her actions and kept the story intriguing throughout.

The imagery of the carnival is incredible, and it’s so easy to imagine that you are there with the characters, watching the shows and getting caught up in the adventure and mystery of the magic. More than once, despite the chaotic and dangerous things that are happening there, I found myself wishing I could be part of the carnival, and I thought that the atmospheric writing style did an incredible job of making this feel possible.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend to children, teenagers and adults alike. If you’re interested in fantasies or stories about magic, this is a perfect story to escape into, with an innocent and likeable protagonist, a fascinating cast of characters and an eerie, magical setting to completely get lost in.

Rating: 5/5

The Forest of Stars publishes on the 11th May 2021.