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: 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.

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: 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.

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

ARC REVIEW: Threadneedle by Cari Thomas

I’ve decided that my reading of this book was fated. I saw it on Twitter, realised that I would die for a copy, and received an email the following day inviting me to review on Netgalley and giving me an automatic-approval link to it (so thank you so much to HarperVoyager for the e-ARC). I don’t think I’ve ever been so blessed by the book gods in my entire life and obviously, in the midst of my excitement, I had to read this entire book in a day.

That day was a while ago, but I was (for once) organised enough to write my thoughts as soon as I finished. Those thoughts were as follows:

Threadneedle is about a teenage witch named Anna, who has been raised by her aunt to detest and fear her own magic. She has spent her life repressing it, preparing herself for having it cut off by a group called The Binders when she turns sixteen, in order to protect herself from all of its dangers. Having been raised surrounded by ordinary humans and people with no knowledge of the beauty or the danger of magic, this hasn’t been especially difficult for Anna- particularly because her magic is reluctant to show itself in the first place.

But when Selene, an enchanting family friend who flaunts and thrives on magic, comes to visit with her daughter Effie and Effie’s best friend Attis, everything that Anna has been taught begins to blur. Anna is swept into a world of witches who proudly wreak havoc with their magic, a world of underground magical libraries, potions and all-out recklessness. And it quickly becomes unclear who she should believe when it comes to magic.

This book is very long, and yet I didn’t find it even remotely slow. There’s a lot of character building, a lot of scene setting and a lot of high-school drama thrown in amongst the magic and the mystery, but not a word of it was unnecessary. There’s a hugely varied, fascinating cast of characters, and an entertaining mix of romance, YA angst and dark magic, which I absolutely loved.

My favourite thing about this book, though, was how it made me feel. Namely: unsettled, the entire way through. With frequent mentions of a curse, the dangers of dark magic, the characters’ recklessness and Anna’s Aunt’s paranoia, I felt like something could go wrong any second and on every page. I was grappling with my fears of who to trust and what could go wrong the entire way through this book, and it left me feeling unnerved, anxious and completely enthralled.

I really wanted to love this book and I’m so glad that I did. Everything tied together wonderfully, the characters were exciting, and the world was entirely immersive. As someone who has only recently discovered the genre of Witchy YA, this book has only made me more desperate for book two and anything else about dark magic that I can get my hands on.

RATING: 5/5

My Top 10 Books of 2020

It’s December! And, having finally met my Goodreads goal (52/45!), I’m feeling nostalgic about my year in books. The change in my reading since starting this blog in November 2019 has been insane, and I’m so lucky to have discovered so, so many incredible, diverse authors and novels over the course of the year.

Picking my top 10 books for 2020 was way too difficult, so I’ve narrowed it down to only books that released this year in an attempt to make it easier (spoiler: it didn’t) and, after a lot of internal debate, I finally think I’ve got it. So, without further ado… my top 10 books of 2020:

TEN. Again, Again by E. Lockhart – I LOVED this book, but I think my rating is at least partially biased. We Were Liars is my favourite stand-alone of all time, but I’ve never really clicked with a lot of E. Lockhart’s books, so finding one in the same style with a cute story line and a lot of trippy parallel timezones was really all it took for this book to make the list.

Check out my review here.

NINE. The Rules by Tracy Darnton – This book is one of those books where you read the ending and can’t get over it for at least a few days. It’s a gripping, twisty thriller in the exact style that I one day hope to write and I adored it.

Check out my review here.

EIGHT. The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg – I bought this entirely as a cover-buy but ended up reading the whole thing in one night (finishing at 2am when I had to get up at 7am, oops). It was a really fun thriller with androids, romance, mystery, suspense and way too many parallels between the setting and Disneyland to be accidental.

(I didn’t review this, oops, but more information can be found here.)

SEVEN. Shine by Jessica Jung – I have never been as excited to receive an ARC as I was to receive this one. Electric Monkey literally only publishes books that I know I’ll adore, and this one tied my loves of Kpop and YA together so well. It was realistic, exciting and really well written.

Check out my review here.

SIX. Foreshadow by Nova Ren Suma and Emily XR Pan – This is the only short-story anthology I’ve read this year because it isn’t really my go-to form, but I’m so, so glad I read this. The combination of stories, writing prompts and essays provided me with so much insight and motivation for my own writing that I couldn’t not include it.

Check out my review here.

FIVE. Skyhunter by Marie Lu – MARIE LU. DYSTOPIA. That is all.

Check out my review here.

FOUR. Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco – I was blessed to get this on Netgalley and I’m still mad about how long it took me to start it. It had a strong protagonist, an exciting romance and so much fantasy. It gave me major 2014/2015 YA vibes and I’m completely here for it.

Check out my review here.

THREE. The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant – THIS. I’m in love with Les Mis and have developed a newfound appreciation for Enjolras in the months since reading this book. It was so beautifully written that I swear I highlighted something on every other page and I’m beyond excited for the sequel.

Check out my review here.

TWO. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo – I’ve since read Poet X as well and I can’t get over how beautiful Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is. This book was a poetic masterpiece, and is another that I read in a single sitting.

Check out my review here.

ONE. The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu – oh look, more Marie Lu (how she managed to release two completely contrasting works-of-art in the space of a year, I will never know). I’m surprised that I enjoyed The Kingdom of Back more than Skyhunter but this book just feels so special to me. The order of my top 10 has shifted a lot in the last few minutes, but there is no doubt in my mind that this book deserves to be number 1.

Check out my review here.

And that’s it! Thank you so much to the publishers that gifted me books on this list (namely: Hot Key Books, HarperVoyager, James Patterson Presents, Electric Monkey, Algonquin and Little Tiger).

I would love to hear what your favourite books were this year, so comment below which books wowed you in 2020!

Book Review: Skyhunter by Marie Lu

I wasn’t sure whether or not to review this because I completely gave up on being impartial about Marie Lu’s books about 6 years ago- but in the end, I couldn’t keep my thoughts to myself. Surprise, surprise, this is not going to be a balanced review. It is instead going to be a short summary, followed by a post full of fangirling. You’ve been warned.

Skyhunter is the story of Talin, a specially-trained soldier, or Striker, for her struggling nation, Mara. Set far, far into the future, after the collapse of the world as we know it, Mara is the only land that remains un-colonised by the ever-growing Federation, and Talin is one of many, fighting on the front lines to defend from the oncoming attack, from humans, technological human experiments and ghosts, which are monstrous beings trained to obey the Federation’s every command.

When a presumed Federation soldier wanders into their territory, all but Talin are happy to watch him suffer for their actions, but Talin feels a strange connection that forces her to risk her own life for him. When he is later paired up as her partner, she discovers that there is more to him than meets the eye, and that he may become the key to their survival and a vital look into the Federation’s plans.

There are elements of Legend and Warcross in this book that were impossible for me to ignore. Marie Lu is incredible at writing dystopia, especially dystopia surrounding technology and world domination, and this book was really no different. The characters were as instantly fascinating as any of her books and I found myself loving and hating exactly who I was supposed to. Talin is a fierce, incredibly well-developed protagonist, suffering from a lot of internal struggle about her duties, her heart and her sense of belonging, and Red is an intriguing, unique and equally powerful character to read. Jeran as well, a close friend, a fierce soldier and a very useful translator for Red and Talin, was a particular favourite character of mine. I loved seeing him develop as the story went on, after finding myself particularly invested in him from the very beginning.

This story is fast-paced, exciting and completely immersive. I got sucked in so quickly to the world of Mara and the Federation that I completely forgot the outside world, caring only about their story and their survival. The technology Marie Lu invents is believable, the world is so detailed that it’s impossible not to find yourself in the story with them, and the characters are the kind that you want to keep in your mind forever.

Rather than recommending this book, I urge you to read it. Or read Warcross, or The Young Elites, or Legend, or The Kingdom of Back (which I also *cough* reviewed, here). Marie Lu’s books are incomparable: inclusive, diverse, thrilling, immersive and incredibly original. This book has further solidified her status as my favourite author of all time, and I can only hope that, if you take my advice and read it, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Rating: 5/5 (obviously…)