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.

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