LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI by Abigail Hing Wen

For fans of Crazy Rich Asians or Jane Austen Comedy of Manners, with a hint of La La Land

When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.

Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.

Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart? 


Title : Loveboat, Taipei
Author : Abigail Hing Wen
Series : Loveboat, Taipei #1
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Simon & Schuster
Release Date : January 7, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star read

LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI had a narrative voice that just shouted ‘give me more’ vibes and I enjoyed the reading experience. I’ve heard this book heralded as a more mature & Taiwanese ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ and it did give me some of those vibes at times. This is a more mature YA from a sexual perspective but the characters weren’t always mature in their decisions and actions.

This book brought an enjoyable coupling of American-Asian and authentic Taiwan culture as the protagonist Ever was sent to a summer school in Taipei. The students were all sent by their parents for a summer immersion into the language and customs, but that was not the focus for the students. They were rebellious rabble-rowsers, looking to hook-up, drink alcohol, have fun and break the rules.

Straight A’s
Dress like a Nun
Curfew of Ten
No Drinking
No Wasting Money
No Dancing with a Boy
No Kissing Boys

No Boyfriend

A triangle emerged that I wasn’t super excited about but in actuality, it was pretty palatable. Xavier and Rick were two very different characters and the more I got to know them both, the more I thought they were both great friends and potential boyfriends for Ever. There was a lack of tying up of ends in one direction and I am really hoping that book two will journey down this character’s path.

There were friendships that seemed empowering and positive and there were friends to hate with a passion. I struggled a little with Ever’s quick forgiveness and I’m still holding a grudge.

This book is generally fun but it did tackle some serious topics of domestic abuse and exploitation (of which, I’m not going to elaborate on). I appreciated that Abigail Hing Wen actually ‘went there’ with sexual relationships rather than glossing over or pretending that things wouldn’t go that far. This made it a much more tangible story.

I think this was a great author debut and I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book. I enjoyed the Taiwan context as I knew little about the country but I now know just a little more.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the early proof copy.

THE NIGHT COUNTRY by Melissa Albert

The highly anticipated sequel to Melissa Albert’s beloved, New York Times bestselling debut The Hazel Wood!

In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Woodwas just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…


Title : The Night Country
Author : Melissa Albert
Series : The Hazel Wood (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : January 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

This series has definitely been one of the darker, and bloodier, stories surrounding fairytales that I’ve ever read. And it feels very true, reads so much more honestly, than the versions our generation grew up with. I think it’s that darkness, that depth, that I love most of all. The creativity of twisting these tales, or letting them be their truth, is fantastic. I love it. But there’s also another side of these books that just doesn’t quite line up for me.

In book one, it was Alice’s unlikeable self, the strangeness of the set up, before it finally settled and things were explained. Once again, in book two, it’s the same early chapters where I’m just.. waiting. But this time, I’m waiting it out to understand and see where things are going.. and just how far we’re going to backslide.

This installment does reunite us with a character I didn’t think I missed as much as I did and yet I’m also a little confused about how his presence, and his role, jives with a throwaway line near end of book one? Curious. But anyway I enjoyed his chapters, I enjoyed all the fairytale/Hinterland characters and their backstory woven into their page-time, and I think the eerie disturbing concept around the whole big purpose of THE NIGHT COUNTRY was really interesting and weird, but like, getting there? I don’t know.

Also, I mean, how was it not obvious to an extent? I’m conflicted.

I honestly finished this book with no idea what to rate this. But as I sit here, typing these words, I know : it’s not a four, it’s more than a two, so I guess we’re going with the old faithful three. These are incredibly fascinating and creative books, written so well, but I guess my problem is not always enjoying where it goes? Or how we get from one point to the next? I don’t know, it’s weird. But I’ll definitely keep picking up this author’s books and hoping for a slam dunk win. I think there’s one out there for me.

If you read and enjoyed THE HAZEL WOOD, you absolutely need to pick this up.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

LOVE LETTERING by Kate Clayborn – double review!

In this warm and witty romance from acclaimed author Kate Clayborn, one little word puts one woman’s business—and her heart—in jeopardy . . .

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .


Title : Love Lettering
Author : Kate Clayborn
Format : ARC/ebook
Page Count : 320
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Kensington Books
Release Date : December 31, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5/ ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This is a hard review to write because I want to get it right. Why I loved this. How extraordinary the writing is, the moments we were given, shown, even the ones that were hidden until they were ready to be told.

To me, this a love story for all the people who were told they were mistakes or were mistaken, and even felt it in themselves. Who never got a do-over, never got a second chance, or the opportunity to explain themselves. It’s a quiet story, in a way, one that just goes along with things.. until it doesn’t.

I’ll preface this, a little belatedly, by saying that if you don’t love a little whimsy in your novels, if you can’t use your imagination to bring something to mind, you might not always love this read. Fonts, lettering, as one might infer from the title, play a very big part. And I loved this. It offered a richness, a uniqueness, to the characters and this world — even if it is our own.

And speaking of the characters.. they were all, equally, in their own way, five stars. With exception to one obvious selection (Cameron) and one maybe not so obvious (not naming names, cough, Sibby, cough). Meg was a delight; watching her come into her own, every step she made, every mistake.. it was lovely. Reid, however, I almost have no words for. This is the most charming of all romance heroes. Not a grump, not an alpha, not a jerk. Just a giant, awkward, stoic creature. A total gentleman, a diehard math nerd, completely out of his element in almost every situation. He stole my heart, totally, and every interaction between them was just.. I want more.

Reid, did you make a joke?
Probably not. I’m not known for my sense of humour.

For such a quiet story, the plot of this did take me a bit by surprise, but in hindsight everything slots into place. Every t gets crossed, every i gets its dot. But the banter, the chemistry, the build up.. everything, was fantastic.

I hesitate to say more because, again, I really want to get this review right. I’m not sure I succeeded. Just know this book made me laugh, made me soft, made me gushingly share passages with a friend (who had already read it!) and, I mean, full stop, what better expresses a reader’s love than that? At this point, all I can say is : read this book.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 2.5 star review

2.5 stars

saved this book for when I needed a go-to, guaranteed great romance. I had a number of friends singing it’s praises. Let me tell you, that backfired on me so bad. I’m not here to rant just to tell you why this didn’t work for me.

I was confused when by 20% I just did not get what was going on with this couple. I got that Meg was trying to engage Reid but what did Reid think he was there for? Reid was a super awkward character that I think may have had ASD (just my take, unconfirmed) and I really liked him. However, I felt like a spectator without a translator, missing half of the story and I promise, I was concentrating.

I can say I finally got into this a bit more by 60%, which is too much reading commitment for me to finally feel a bit of something. From there on I did feel chemistry with the MCs but overall, the story fell incredibly flat for me. Reid’s big secret seemed unnecessarily shoe-horned into the story but I’d lost my give-a-damn by then.

I’m sorry I missed what so many found special about this story, but it is what it is, a flop for me.

WHEN THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens

A novel about a young woman determined to make her way in the wilds of North Carolina, and the two men that will break her isolation open.

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark.

But Kya is not what they say. Abandoned at age ten, she has survived on her own in the marsh that she calls home. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life lessons from the land, learning from the false signals of fireflies the real way of this world. But while she could have lived in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.


Title : Where The Crawdads Sing
Author : Delia Owens
Format : Paperback Arc
Page Count : 368
Genre : Literary Fiction
Publisher : Corsair/Little Brown
Release Date : December 12, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING was a singular story, carried by a cast of many in the background but only Kya in the foreground. It was a story evoking strong emotion, anger and empathy and I experienced all of these feelings many times whilst reading. It was also a tough reading experience from a contextual perspective in a number of way and therefore there may be trigger themes for some readers.

Kya was a young girl, a ‘marsh girl’ abandoned by first her mother, then her siblings and finally by her father. She resided in a shack in the marshlands and learnt how to live. This aspect was much of the early book and my heart ached on reading. Kya was vulnerable, naive but a survivor with the kind of resilience that was hewn out of circumstance; it was do or die. Seeing Kya’s unfulfilled longing for love and relationships was distressing. There were themes of racism, prejudice and extreme poverty. I felt that these aspects were written exceptionally well with such tangibility.

There were people who came into Kya’s life and made it bearable, Jumpin’, Mable and Tate. I adored Jumpin’ and I loved Tate’s desire to help Kya without wanting anything from her. The lack of plain sailing was inevitable but it stung to read how things turned out. Chase was rotten from the first encounter and it was hard to see Kya’s naivety lead her in a sticky direction. The mystery that later unfolded was fascinating in a painful way.

The narrative and description in this book was decadent in terms of the flora and fauna but there were no holds barred in terms of the reality of marsh and shack life. Delia Owens had a way of bringing nature to life, birds, trees and feathers, through their sights and sounds. My visualisation was vivid and that was down to the descriptive prose.

I was grateful for the time frame and the journey in this book. I was relieved to have answers at the end and some surprises. This book has the kind of story that would appeal widely, regardless of what genre you might prefer; it is worth any reader’s time. WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING was a rare case of a book that lasts a lifetime and I sense it could also stay with me as long.

Thank you to Corsair and Little Brown for the proof copy for review.

THE HAZEL WOOD by Melissa Albert

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.


Title : The Hazel Wood
Author : Melissa Albert
Series : The Hazel Wood (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 365
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : January 30, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I knew so little about what THE HAZEL WOOD was about when I started it.. and as a result I don’t want to give it a review that could risk spoiling it for anyone else.

This is a story ripe with the darker side of fairytales, the ones with no happy endings, no lessons, just.. stories. Magic. But it’s also set in our world, or a contemporary one, and.. well. To be honest that’s all I want to say. That’s all I will say.

I’ll admit I didn’t quite love the characters at first (and, to be honest, I don’t think we’re supposed to, but I know that doesn’t make unlikeable characters easier to tolerate), and had no idea where the plot was going, but oh man, by the end? Actually, maybe.. halfway? I was completely enamoured. I got it. I understood the why and the how and, well, everything just clicked for me. That isn’t to say you won’t like the first half, but it definitely isn’t what you might be expecting, and takes a while to set things up, but things do shift into.. well, maybe what you’re expecting? But also probably not. But in a better way.

My understanding is that Albert’s second book, THE NIGHT COUNTRY, is either a companion or a sequel, but definitely set in the same world/universe, and I’m so so happy I have an ARC. I want to dive in right now. Instead I shall flex some of my willpower and resist — but that doesn’t negate my excitement.

** I received this ARC via trade (thanks Flavia!) and was under no obligation for a review. **

TEN BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston

Sophie wants one thing for Christmas-a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship. Cue devastation.

Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents’ house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That’s when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby.

When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she’s started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available.

This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever… or is it?


Title : Ten Blind Dates
Author : Ashley Elston
Format : ARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Disney Hyperion
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

This is the kind of read that is pretty much exactly what it looks like. It’s contemporary, it’s set around the holidays, there is a large boisterous family who conspires together to set up the newly heartbroken lead character on dates, of which there are ten of them. If this sounds like everything, or anything, you want from a romance, I don’t think you’ll have any complaints.

I definitely loved the concept of these dates, the strange charm of the whole situation. I loved the idea of this big family but I’ll admit.. in the beginning, it was too many names, too much at once, but it does get across that sense of chaos that comes from having many relatives — I assume. That isn’t my family at all — and, near the end, it does narrow down a bit to a few key players, which makes things easier.

What surprised me, and ended up being my favourite part, was the connection between Sophie and her older sister, Margot, who is on bed rest, and then hospitalized, due to preeclampsia. There were a few moments between them, conversations via text, heck, even a few conversations between Sophie and her mother about Margot, that really got me. It hit a little close to home for me but also it was just really well done and hella emotional and lovely.

There was also a reunion between a friend group, most of them cousins, that I thought was great. Both the ups and the downs. All of it just felt super realistic and, despite some of the “remember this, that, and when..” retellings of stories to tell us how close they used to be, instead of showing, I really enjoyed all their interactions.

The dates themselves, much like the family members who chose them, were mostly over the top and ridiculous but a few were also fun and sweet. I definitely had a favourite but for the sheer surprise hilarity of it I don’t want to ruin it. Ultimately, though, it’s obvious pretty much from the get-go who Sophie is going to end up with. And though I did like it, I did feel things got kind of serious kind of fast and, personally, I would’ve preferred things to have been a little.. slower, I guess? I don’t know. I wanted more engine revving than full throttle, I guess. Though I totally appreciate the maturity of how they are handling things big picture-wise as they prepare for university and the next stage of their lives.

Overall this was a fun read, with an emotional backbone, and a few laughs. Definitely one I would recommend for anyone looking for titles to add to their holiday tbr.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

PERMANENT RECORD by Mary H. K. Choi

Mary HK Choi new book cover reveal Credit: ohgigue

After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local twenty-four-hour deli, selling overpriced snacks to brownstone yuppies. He’s dodging calls from the student loan office and he has no idea what his next move is.

Leanna Smart’s life so far has been nothing but success. Age eight: Disney Mouseketeer; Age fifteen: first #1 single on the US pop chart; Age seventeen, *tenth* #1 single; and now, at Age nineteen…life is a queasy blur of private planes, weird hotel rooms, and strangers asking for selfies on the street.

When Leanna and Pab randomly meet at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn, they both know they can’t be together forever. So, they keep things on the down-low and off Instagram for as long as they can. But it takes about three seconds before the world finds out…


Title : Permanent Record
Author : Mary H. K. Choi
Format : ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 
Release Date : September 3, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I read EMERGENCY CONTACT, Mary H. K. Choi’s debut novel, before the era of the blog so believe me when I say I liked elements of it but didn’t love it. I found the story to be a little dull, though the characters were occasionally vibrant even if I didn’t like them, with plenty of Real Issues(tm) to tackle, but overall the story felt a little.. sad. A lot sad. Nonetheless I wanted to give her follow up novel a chance because I wondered if there might be more of things I liked to balance out what I didn’t.

And, sad to say, the answer is a nope.

I definitely appreciate this take on the ‘normie-meets-a-celebrity’ trope, but. So much but. Again, this comes from not quite liking the characters even if sometimes they did dazzle a bit. Adding to this weird sense of dismay was a really rough read, with more Real Issues(tm), sprinkled (heavily. maybe doused) ontop of the whole experience. The greatness factor was having a young person deal with the horrifying and very real danger of credit cards, debt, and the uncertainty of post-graduate school. But w o w was it, like, a serious downer. Sure, we end on a high (medium) note, not resolved with everything tied up in a neat bow, but leaning into the reality, instead of avoiding it, but wow.

The book is hella diverse and occasionally did make me laugh out loud (twice? maybe three times) but honestly I’m just really sad because I know this isn’t the author for me. I can appreciate the work she’s doing, what she’s putting out there, and the people who will relate or learn from it. But I won’t do this to myself again and she deserves better than my low reviews when I now know, with certainty, we just aren’t meant to be.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

NOW ENTERING ADDAMSVILLE by Francesca Zappia

Zora Novak has been framed.

When someone burns down the home of the school janitor and he dies in the blaze, everyone in Addamsville, Indiana, points a finger at Zora. Never mind that Zora has been on the straight and narrow since her father was thrown in jail. With everyone looking for evidence against her, her only choice is to uncover the identity of the real killer. There’s one big problem—Zora has no leads. No one does. Addamsville has a history of tragedy, and thirty years ago a similar string of fires left several townspeople dead. The arsonist was never caught.

Now, Zora must team up with her cousin Artemis—an annoying self-proclaimed Addamsville historian—to clear her name. But with a popular ghost-hunting television show riling up the townspeople, almost no support from her family and friends, and rumors spinning out of control, things aren’t looking good. Zora will have to read between the lines of Addamsville’s ghost stories before she becomes one herself. 


Title : Now Entering Addamsville
Author : Francesca Zappia
Format : ARC
Page Count: 364
Genre: YA paranormal
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ .5


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

Is there anything worse than reading a new book by an author who wrote one of your favourite books.. and not liking it? Worse, wanting to DNF it after like twenty pages?

Okay, there are many many worse things, but roll with it.

NOW ENTERING ADDAMSVILLE was such a dissa-aca-pointment (one day I’ll stop referencing these movies but today is not that day #pitchperfect4lyfe). It’s not that I had major hopes for this story in general, I just expected to love whatever this author came out with, expected to feel something (a lot of somethings, if her last book was any indication) and that didn’t happen.

This is the author’s first paranormal fiction and.. like.. it didn’t work? Or at least not for me? The worldbuilding was kind of all over the place, the mundane setting played such a huge part and yet I’m baffled as to what that was all about, and the characters? I liked maybe.. one. Maybe half of one. And this had a significant cast, there were a lot to choose from, many on offer to the reader, and nope. I’m just all around confused by how we went from ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS to this.

I know this is coming off harsh and as a result I’m going to quit this review now before it goes any further but honestly? I just have the sads.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

GIRLS OF STORM AND SHADOW by Natasha Ngan

In this mesmerizing sequel to the New York Times bestselling Girls of Paper and Fire, Lei and Wren have escaped their oppressive lives in the Hidden Palace, but soon learn that freedom comes with a terrible cost.

Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel Demon King wasn’t the end of the plan—it’s just the beginning. Now Lei and her warrior love Wren must travel the kingdom to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans. The journey is made even more treacherous thanks to a heavy bounty on Lei’s head, as well as insidious doubts that threaten to tear Lei and Wren apart from within.

Meanwhile, an evil plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy and protect her love for Wren, or will she fall victim to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her? 


Title : Girls of Storm and Shadow
Author : Natasha Ngan
Series : Girls of Paper and Fire (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : jimmy patterson
Release Date : November 5, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ / ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

There was a quote I immediately thought of when I finished this book. It comes from Pitch Perfect 3 courtesy of Anna Kendrick who says :

Oh, honey, that was.. we didn’t like that at all.

I’m not as disappointed about this as I might have been had I actually liked book one to begin with. But I did hope the story, or plot, would transition into interesting avenues, or at least properly process trauma and/or grief. And it didn’t. I feel like little to nothing actually even happened in this instalment beyond journey chapters, training sequences, inappropriately timed jokes and banter (some of which felt so modern for such a distinctly historical-ish/fantasy story), and a few reveals that might have been surprising had I not clocked them through some poor attempt at being sneaky with foreshadowing.

I’ll admit I’m also disappointed this is not the duology I thought I would be and that I still have another book to read to finish this series (and I will read it) but that’s more a me problem than anything else. Though arguably it’s all a me problem.

I’m not enamoured by the writing, the plot, the bloated cast of characters and names that I lose track of, and while one of the few things in book one that won me over was the romance, in this one.. I don’t know. I feel the cracks that have begun to show are perfectly natural and expected considering both trauma, events, and losing the blush of one’s first love/exiting the honeymoon stage, but.. I don’t know. I don’t think these characters even like each other anymore? They just lust after each other and call it love. That sounds harsh but considering the genesis of their relationship, it might not too far off base. And also, hey, nothing wrong with lust? Just call it what it is?

Anyway, suffice it to say I’m still waiting to be won over by this series and at this stage I can only hope it ends well. It’s a pretty low bar for me at this point.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 2 star review

I felt that GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE left the reader in a good spot. I started the second book, full of excitement about what was to come and full of hope for more in terms of the relationship between Lei and Wren, as this was something that wasn’t realised for me in book one.

I am sorry to say that GIRLS OF STORM AND SHADOW was a disappointment and a ball of reading frustration for me, probably exacerbated by the high hopes I had for this second in the series. The story started well with Wren and Lei in exile and hiding. It was a rather slow start but in retrospect I found this slow start preferable to the chaotic pace and storyline that ensued.

One of the things I wanted and expected from this book was to truly feel the relationship and emotional connection between Lei and Wren. I did not get this and their intimacy was faded and jaded for me. I feel awful writing this and it is with no malice, but with this lack of tangibility in their relationship, I slowly retreated from my connection with them as characters.

The story itself was disjointed and kind of repetitive, from lull to battle again and again. I was bored reading it and began to care less. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, a very contraversial trope appeared and it sealed the deal for me.

There were some things I liked, the castes, Merrin, Bo and Hiro. I liked the glimpses of Lei’s nemesis and would have liked more of this. I will be back to read the final instalment because at this point, I have invested but it will be a read with trepidation. That said, I really enjoyed book one, so I know there is possiblity of full circle.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.

THE STARLESS SEA by Erin Morgenstern

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world–a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth. 

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction. 

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life. 


Title : The Starless Sea
Author : Erin Morgenstern
Format : ARC
Page Count : 487
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Doubleday Books
Release Date : November 5, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime.

Let’s just get this out of the way, shall we? This won’t be a book for everyone. Just like THE NIGHT CIRCUS worked for you.. or it didn’t. But I can’t get enough of the way this author writes. Which makes it a travesty this is only book two from her. And yet.. if it takes this long to come up with something like this? I’ll happily wait. Again and again and again.

His religion is buried in the silence of freshly fallen snow, in a carefully crafted cocktail, in between the pages of a book somewhere after the beginning but before the ending.

If you enjoy evocative imagery, you’ll love this book. If you enjoy non-linear and/or disjointed narrative storytelling, you’ll love this book. If you enjoy stories within stories within stories (and on and on), you’ll love this book.

Do you want to know the secret to surviving once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole? [..] Be a rabbit.

I don’t know what to say about this one. Truly. It defies explanation and instead should just be experienced. It’s weird and wonderful and will wholly consume you. It’s complicated, it’s fantastic, it’s relevant, fantastical, and even a little bit meta. I have a feeling this is a read that’ll get better with every revisit and it’s already pretty fucking great after only one read.

“Sorry it’s so poetry out.”
So what?
Poetry. The weather. It’s like a poem. Where each word is more than one thing at once and everything’s a metaphor. The meaning condenses into rhythm and sound and the spaces between sentences. It’s all intense and sharp, like the cold and the wind.”
You could just say it’s cold out.
I could.

This is a story I didn’t want to leave while I was in it, and is lingering with me even now, and I’m sure I’ll still be thinking about it tomorrow. And the next day. But the one thing I’ll mention? I’m adding to this review on my “tomorrow” after having read, and reviewed, this yesterday. And the one thing I woke up thinking about was.. as much as I wanted to love the romance, I don’t think it endures. I don’t want to spoil things or get into detail on this one bit where I didn’t detail anything else but as much as I was living for certain elements, in hindsight, they do kind of pale against the rest. So. I’m knocking this down just a little from my original five stars. Maybe I’ll feel different in a reread? I don’t know. That said, it’s the only bit of weakness in an otherwise very strong story.

A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.

My recommendation? Skip over the summary (which I never did read, ever) and just dive in. Do it now.

** I won an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in a giveaway with no obligation to review. **