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)

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

MARCH WRAP-UP

Happy April!

I’m optimistic about this month for a lot of bookish reasons. The new releases coming out this month are incredible, the bookshops are re-opening(!!) AND I am, for once, not starting the month in a reading slump. I feel like I read in every spare moment I had in March and I was given so many good new books on NetGalley that things in the non-reality sphere are definitely looking good.

With that in mind, here’s my (pretty exciting) March wrap-up…

The Loop by Ben Oliver – I was gifted this book and its sequel for a blog tour (that will be up very, very soon!) and I loved it SO much. If you like The Fifth Wave or The 100 or The Maze Runner or really any of the slightly older dystopian YA, this book is definitely worth a read. Full review to follow but, honestly, a wonderful start to the month.

Hunter x Hunter (volumes 11 and 12) by Yoshihiro Togashi – this is a kind of random choice since I haven’t read volumes 1 through 10 but I love HxH and could not resist picking these up when I found them in a charity shop last year. Both were super fun, though 11 was by far the more exciting of the two. On a side note, if you haven’t watched HxH (2011), you absolutely need to…

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue – my review for this one is here. This was a super fun, slightly younger YA read about tarot reading, with lots of good LGBTQ+ rep.

The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst – contemporaries are not normally my thing in winter, but I requested this one on a whim and really enjoyed it. Though a little predictable at times, this was a funny rom-com set in a very familiar setting (a rented house-share in London…).

Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien – this again is not my usual genre, but it was a pretty unique and very interesting exploration of how different women cope with love and loss in the twenty-first century. My review, if you want to check it out, is here.

Of Wicked Blood by Katie Hoyez and Olivia Wildenstein – this one was my only audiobook for the month and I’ve been listening to it forever on NetGalley. It’s a magical adventure set in France, following a life-or-death quest and an unlikely romance. I didn’t really connect with it as much as I would have liked, but the narrators were great and I loved the action elements a lot.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim – this book is the best thing I read in March. As with The Loop, I’m super excited to be reading the sequel this month and can’t wait to see what happens next. My review for this is here.

And that’s it! Hope you have a wonderful reading month ahead, and I’d love to hear what your best book of March was, in case it’s something I need to add to my TBR…

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 Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme

THANK YOU to Tor Teen for sending me an eARC of this wonderful book 🙂

Maralyth Graylaern, the daughter of her country’s most well-renowned vintner, has spent a lifetime hiding the magical power that she’s been assured she shouldn’t possess. And Prince Alac Thungrave, the forgotten second-born of the King of a stolen throne and possessor of stolen dark magic, has spent his life trying to avoid the power at all costs.

When Maralyth discovers that her magical abilities actually prove she could be the rightful heir to Alac’s father’s stolen throne, she rapidly finds herself being manipulated into a coup that will have her on the throne, at the expense of the Thungrave family and their cursed abilities. But the deeper Maralyth finds herself in this plot, the more she starts to worry that the plan to get her on the throne may cause more harm than good.

With a taste of the power she could possess, for the greater good, she wants the throne; but she absolutely does not want Prince Alac, or any other innocents, to die.

I am obsessed this book. It’s a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat story from start to finish, and I found myself desperately turning the pages as one climactic scene built into another. The world-building is impressive, and the magical abilities felt so real that I could feel the tendrils of dark magic and the bursts of life from Maralyth every time she could.

The joint narrators, Maralyth and Alac, were fascinating characters, and I loved both of their stories; Maralyth in her guilt and selfless desperation to do what’s right, and Alac in his quest for knowledge to end the curse that magic has held over his family for generations. Their feelings for each other were equally enjoyable to read about, and I loved how they warred with their emotions constantly as they tried to juggle romantic feelings, as well as their- perhaps slightly more important- goals of saving the entire country.

With its forbidden romance, dark magic and high-tension fights for a long-since stolen throne, this book is a unique addition to a very much loved genre of YA, and I enjoyed every second of it. It’s exciting, unputdownable fantasy, and I’m so caught up in the land of Perin Faye that I’m not sure I’m fully ready to leave.

Rating: 5/5