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.

BLOG TOUR REVIEW: THE LOOP AND THE BLOCK by Ben Oliver

Blog tour posts are my favourite posts, and I’m so excited to be part of this one! The Block by Ben Oliver came out on April 1st and I was lucky enough to have a read of this and its predecessor, The Loop, courtesy of Chicken House (thank you!). This is a super exciting dystopian series about an AI-run prison, a ravaging war and the potential end of humanity, and I’m so excited to share my thoughts on it!

So, to begin:

The Loop tells the story of Luka Kane, a sixteen-year-old inmate in a dystopian, AI-run prison, whose repetitive and torturous life is completely upended by the prospect of a war raging outside of his prison block. As the world outside descends into chaos, so too does the inside of the prison, and the question arises of whether now is his chance to escape and, more concerningly, whether it would be safer just to stay inside.

There is so much that I loved about this book that I don’t know where to start. The Fifth Wave was one of my favourite books when I was growing up, and this is the first book I’ve ever read that matches up when it comes to telling the story of teenagers acting as saviors in a ravaged, dystopian world. The storyline was painful to read at times – as can be expected from a book containing young people trapped in a prison – but the pace and action were so intense that I couldn’t bring myself to put it down.

Luka is a driven, independent character who knows what he needs to do and will let none of the obstacles life throws at him stop him from doing it. His fellow inmates (the ones that aren’t terrifying, murderous or completely out of control) share a similar drive, and I think I enjoyed reading about them just as much as I liked Luka. Even the warden, who definitely gave off completely unavoidable damsel-in-distress vibes at various points, was a developed and interesting character.

Basically, I loved this book. It was an incredibly fast-paced, unique combination of genres with a hero that you can root for and a cast of characters that immediately intrigue. If, like me, you’re slightly older and read The Maze Runner, The Fifth Wave and all those other mildly disturbing dystopias when they first became popular, this book is absolutely for you. And if this isn’t a genre that you’re familiar with yet, The Loop is definitely a wonderful place to start.

Rating: 4/5

The Block review

*Some spoilers for The Loop will definitely follow, so be warned…*

As expected from the sequel to The Loop, The Block is an action-packed, at times gruesome and wholeheartedly entertaining story of Luka’s continued mission to save the world. Once again, he has found himself imprisoned, but this time it’s far, far worse. Instead of the young offenders’ institution, Luka is struggling to cope with the long hours of torture, lack of interaction and psychological manipulation of The Block, and he knows that if he doesn’t break out soon, he’s going to lose his grip on reality and risk humanity altogether.

I found The Block as gripping and unique as its predecessor. It still definitely had elements of older YA (The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Fifth Wave) but it also felt completely unique with its newly added aspects of virtual reality. The addition of various new technologies to this story fascinated me and I found myself completely invested as the characters made their discoveries about the disturbing dystopian world that they found themselves in.

In terms of characters, there was a lot of growth for so many people in this story. Luka fully developed into his role as a leader and he did it so. well. Likewise, although they went through so much suffering in The Loop and could have made the decision to give up and hide, the whole troupe’s experiences seem to have only made Luka’s friends much stronger as they find themselves becoming the faces of a struggling rebellion and searching for ways to save the world. The new characters – there are lots that I could focus on but I need to shout out Apple-Moth, in particular (an adorable companion drone that joins them on their mission) – were so entertaining too, and I definitely felt like part of their squad as the story went on.

I loved The Loop, but this is definitely one of those rare occasions where I loved the sequel even more! It was fast-paced, action-packed and sometimes slightly horrifying, and I cannot wait to pick up book 3 as soon as it comes out.

Rating: 5/5

BOOK REVIEW: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

First things first, THANK YOU to Hodder for 1) giving me an e-ARC of Spin the Dawn and 2) giving me a e-ARC of Unravel the Dusk (because it is absolutely my number 1 TBR priority now).

Spin the Dawn follows Maia, a young girl who takes her brother’s place in a competition to become the new Imperial Tailor, in an attempt to restore her family’s name and achieve a lifelong, impossible dream. After an intense competition to prove herself to the Emperor and his reluctant soon-to-be wife, Maia is tasked with making the most breathtakingly magical dresses, stitched from the sun, the moon and the stars, and she finds herself on a quest, alongside the palace’s mysterious Enchanter, to do the impossible and alter more in the palace than she ever could have imagined.

I knew before I started this book that I would love it but I had no idea just how much. It combined my loves of enchanting, magical YA, with a love of fashion and elements of Mulan, and it was absolutely one of the most engrossing books I’ve read this year. Maia was strong-willed, determined and completely selfless, so she was a really exciting character to root for as she went on her quest. Edan, similarly, was determined and wise, so with him as a guide and Maia as a heroine, they made a fascinating duo. Add their obvious chemistry to that and reading about their journey became entertaining and addictive on so many levels.

The magical elements of this book are vital to the story, and the descriptions and imagery that came with these were incredibly well done. What initially felt implausible quickly became completely believable, and the scenes with Maia working her magic were simple but yet also so captivating that I found them just as entertaining as the more action-packed scenes in the book. Imagining the breathtaking designs that the tailors put together was so easy and I somehow envy the characters who got to wear the beautiful pieces that were put together throughout.

So many things (cover included because look at it) contributed to my requesting this, and I’m so so glad I did; it was a whirlwind of a story that kept me hooked from start to end. The romance was swoon-worthy, the magic was enchanting, and the action was so constant that it made Spin the Dawn impossible to put down. I loved how it included minor elements of various fairytales without becoming at all predictable, and I’m already desperately awaiting the answers that I’m hoping for in Unravel the Dusk.

Rating: 5/5

ARC REVIEW: Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien

*Thank you to MacLehose for gifting me a copy of this book*

Love in Five Acts is a five-part story that follows five loosely-connected women as they try to navigate life, love and motherhood in the aftermath of traumatic pasts and imperfect relationships. As we see the world through these women’s eyes, we experience every possible angle of their relationships, and witness the various ways in which women find love and cope with trauma.

This is not my usual genre at all so it took me completely by surprise just how quickly this book gripped me. Paula, Judith, Brida, Malika and Jorinde were all completely different characters, each with some relatable and some not-so-relatable traits, and I found myself as invested in every new section as I was in the last. Brida’s story in particular fascinated me, with the focus being on her attempt to juggle motherhood and her dream career of writing, but I found myself in support of every woman in the story as I learned of the completely believable but often upsetting things that they each went through.

Translated fiction can sometimes be fairly heavy to read, but this book was so quick and easy to get through that I found myself reading it in every spare second and finishing it within two days. It was emotional, poignant and, at some points, slightly complex, but it was so readable that it felt like it took no effort to get from start to finish at all. It also really helped that each story flowed well into the next, with the connections between the women obvious but the relationships being often quite complex. Judith, I think, appeared in the most stories, and it was fascinating to see how the different women viewed her compared to how she viewed herself.

Love in Five Acts is a fairly intense read with its occasionally upsetting subject matter and it’s definitely quite adult, but if you have any interest in reading about women’s experiences of motherhood, sisterhood, relationships and grief in the twenty-first century, I would strongly urge you to read it. It’s a current, believable story of life and love, and an entertaining insight into the minds of complex and fascinating women who need to deal with and adapt to the challenges that life throws at them.

Rating: 4/5

Love in Five Acts publishes in the UK on April 29th 2021.

ARC REVIEW: All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

Before I get into this, I just want to say: look. at. that. cover!!! This book jacket is absolutely beautiful and I definitely requested, in part, because it looked so unique. I try not to judge a book based on its design but, honestly, I just loved the look of this one so much that I genuinely couldn’t help it…

That being said, it’s also a witchy YA about a tarot reader and a missing girl, so I was very excited when I got a copy. So… Thank you very much to Walker Books for the e-ARC!

When sixteen-year-old Maeve discovers a pack of old tarot cards in her school, she finds herself immediately drawn to them. She quickly discovers that she has a knack for the supernatural and finds herself doing readings for all of the girls in school that hear about her unusual talent.

Somehow, though, her exciting new reputation crumbles rapidly into one that her classmates fear when, following a reading for her former best friend, Lily, Lily goes missing. Maeve enlists the help of popular girl, Fiona, and Lily’s sibling, Roe, and it doesn’t take long for them to realise that they may need to confront the supernatural in order to get Lily back.

I’m so used to reading older YA that I was slightly taken aback by how young Maeve’s behaviour seemed initially but, when I remembered that she’s only supposed to be sixteen, her personality seemed fitting. She’s an inquisitive, perhaps slightly naïve, young girl who is thrust into an unknown world of chaos and magic, and it was fascinating to read about her thought processes and how she responded to all of the crazy things that were happening to her.

The LGBTQ+ representation in this book is a really key part of the story, and it was great to see gender and sexuality explored so openly. Roe’s gender identity is ambiguous in a way that portrays well how they’re struggling to understand themselves, and Maeve’s sister’s sapphic relationship creates an opening to explore the challenges that LGBTQ+ teens and young adults face in a mature and, unfortunately, realistic way. Maeve had almost no prior knowledge about the social issues surrounding gender and sexuality so it did feel at times like a number of the conversations were trying to teach the reader about LGBTQ+ issues, but I adored the representation of these characters overall and felt that it was an important theme for young readers that was explored well.

All Our Hidden Gifts definitely reads like a book for a younger YA audience, but it was a really quick, unique and exciting read, with a few twists and an interesting depiction of magic. It definitely contains a few clichés, but it’s generally a quick, fun read, and I’d absolutely recommend it to witchy-YA readers looking for an easy read, and younger readers with an interest in magic.

Rating: 4/5

ARC REVIEW: Tell Me When You Feel Something by Vicki Grant

*Thank you to Penguin Teen for the eARC*

Tell Me When You Feel Something tells the story of somewhat-friends Viv and Davida in the lead-up and aftermath of a tragic event in their lives. When Viv is seen taking a pill that causes a potentially fatal reaction at a party, Davida is desperate to prove that this was some kind of mistake; but as we witness the weeks leading up to the party, it becomes clear that maybe nobody really knows Viv enough to understand what’s going through her mind at all.

This book is very intense and covers some incredibly serious and troubling subjects including addiction, sexual assault and drug use, but this is definitely handled carefully and, sadly, believably. The book is told from Viv, Davida and Davida’s boyfriend Tim’s perspectives, with police interviews with all involved parties mixed in following any big reveals in the plot. This was a really fascinating style for me, as I loved that the police interviews were almost responses to Viv’s chapters, and that the police were discovering things just as the reader was.

I can see from the twists and even the characters why this book is compared to One of Us is Lying and I would absolutely recommend it to fans of Karen McManus’ books, or anyone who likes intense, high-school set thrillers and contemporaries. It was a fast-paced, serious story with a troubled set of characters, an impossibility to determine who to trust, and a page-turning quality that no other book has gripped me with for a while.

Not only was the end surprising, it was also fascinating to see Viv throughout the story in situations that you wouldn’t expect and reacting in ways that were completely unpredictable. She’s a likeable, realistic character who is in no way to blame for anything that happens to her and that really makes this a heart-breaking tale and a saddening warning about society and the struggles that young people go through in the wrong situations.

RATING: 4/5

Tell Me When You Feel Something is publishing in June 2021.

ARC REVIEW: The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a thriller that follows former mean-girl Amb as she is forced to return to her university for her ten-year reunion and, in turn, to face all of the horrible things she did as she tried to fit in. It tells two stories: one of Amb at the reunion, trying to hide her former self from the husband that knows her as a sweet and innocent woman, and one of Amb at university as she finds herself becoming wrapped up in drugs, alcohol, drama, and her toxic best friend, Sully.

It’s so interesting to read the story of a girl who clearly becomes the villain in her own story as she creates nightmares for everyone around her and rapidly unravels. Her relationships are toxic, her friendships are toxic and, of course, there’s a traumatic event from her teenagedom that she is trying desperately to move past, despite the ghosts in her head that refuse to allow it.

I hated Amb but in all the best ways. She was actually quite a terrible human being but a fascinating protagonist, and it was unnerving how many of the toxic behaviours she and her friends exhibited that I’m sure everyone will have come across at some point in their lives. I didn’t like her and I wanted to scream at her to live her life differently, or to choose different friends but somehow, deep down, I was also kind of rooting for her in a terrible way.

The ending was really satisfying and helped resolve some of my struggles with who was really the good guy/bad guy in the situation and, although I didn’t find myself growing attached to many of the characters, I was deeply interested in a few of the side characters and could happily have read much more about them: namely Flora and her boyfriend.

This was an interesting read and an exciting story for anyone who has ever wanted to get inside the head of the mean girls from your past. It was quick and both timelines became equally gripping, to the point that I was completely unable to put it down, and I would definitely recommend to lovers of plot twists and unique thrillers.

RATING 4/5

ARC Review: The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood

*Thank you so much to Harper Collins for the e-ARC!*

The Shadow in the Glass tells the story of Ella, a young housemaid who dreams of a better life. Having been taken in by a wealthy family for a few years before being cast aside, Ella knows that she can’t live without the wealth and security that the world owes her; so when an empty-eyed woman appears and promises seven wishes, Ella jumps at the chance to start a new and better life. As she begins to twist the world to her liking, however, she quickly realises that this may not be quite the bargain she thought it was.

Before I read this book, I was convinced that every possible Cinderella retelling had been done, but The Shadow in the Glass completely proved me wrong. It was a new, dark twist on the tale that would be perfect for readers who prefer their fairytales a little more Grimm and a little less Disney. The overlap between the two stories was expertly done and, although I definitely have a few unanswered questions, so much of the story was answered either by aspects of the original tale or by inventions from JJA Harwood’s imagination that I was completely satisfied.

Ella was a fascinating protagonist. I’m still unsure how I feel about a number of her decisions and her moral position, but it was interesting trying to justify her actions and wondering what I’d do in the same position. I loved her transition too, from indecisive and doubtful in the first part of the story, to committed, serious and downright dangerous when she realised what she wanted.

This book took the darkest parts of Cinderella and made them darker, twisting this into a gothic and grim tale of dangerous magic. A number of incredibly serious themes are tackled from the very beginning and these hinted at how dark this book might get, but I was completely taken aback by how gothic it ended up being.

What started out slow and descriptive with only a hint of magic turned quickly into a gripping page-turner that had my mind wandering back to it every time I managed to put it down. I would recommend this book for adult readers, young adult readers, lovers of fantasy, fairytales and historical fiction. I don’t have too many to compare it to, but this was possibly the most compelling fairytale retelling I’ve ever read, and I’m excited to see what JJA Harwood will write next.

Rating: 4/5

The Shadow in the Glass is publishing on March 18th 2021.

BLOG TOUR STOP: The Wing Thief by Samantha Atkins

I’m forever looking for an excuse to read middle-grade, and books about fairies have been my favourites for a long time, so when I heard about this book, I was so excited – and being part of the blog tour is even more exciting than that! My contribution is an honest review, and I can’t wait to share it 🙂

Thank you to Smashbear Publishing for sending me an e-ARC of this book!

The synopsis:

Let me ask you a question. It’s a pretty straight forward question, but one that you shouldn’t rush to answer. Do you believe in magic?

Vista wanted two things: adventure and freedom. But nothing could prepare her for the fall that would change everything. In a single moment, Vista’s comfortable life in the Home Tree is over and she must find a way to survive in the forest alone. She soon learns that not everyone can be trusted and now she must race to save the family she left behind.

In a forest filled with magic and trickery, just how far can a flightless fairy go?

This book is such a fun read.

It’s been a long time since I read about fairies that weren’t inherently cruel tricksters (a curse of reading predominantly YA: Holly Black, I’m looking at you) and it was such a nice burst of nostalgia to read about an adventurous, kind-hearted and strong-willed fairy without a cruel bone in her tiny body. Vista is an inspirational, excellently role-modelling character with impressive ambitions and dreams, as well as a natural disposition to do what’s right. She surrounds herself with pure, helpful companions that remind you of the good in even the most fictitious worlds. Grecko the Gnome is the obvious favourite, with his kind heart, innocence and very strong sense of trust, and I found myself growing as attached to him as I was to Vista.

The plot of this book was really entertaining, and I especially loved that we got to see both the villain’s side and the hero’s side as they went on their very different quests. The contrast of seeing the villain preparing cruelly for his plan and seeing Vista initially just trying to create a new life for herself on the forest floor was fascinating, and seeing Vista’s mission reveal itself as the story went on kept this book exciting all the way through. To top it off, the world-building was great as well and I was sucked into the magical forest in no time too, with Samantha making it so easy to picture the Home Tree, and the entirety of the woodland.

Obviously, I’m a little (or a lot) older than the intended audience of this book, but I felt like a child again as I shared in Vista’s wonder and fear and adventure. I can imagine Vista becoming a favourite character for so many young girls and honestly wish that I had more people to recommend this book to. It’s a sweet and easy read, even if you’re traditionally too old for it, and it’s an action-packed and readable adventure if you’re not.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Wing Thief is out on 31st January 2021! And if you’re looking for more reasons to read it, keep an eye out for the rest of the blog tour 🙂