BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore – double review!

Eight years have passed since the young Princess Bitterblue, and her country, were saved from the vicious King Leck. Now Bitterblue is the queen of Monsea, and her land is at peace.

But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisers, who have run the country on her behalf since Leck’s death, believe in a forward-thinking plan: to pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck’s reign; and to forget every dark event that ever happened. Monsea’s past has become shrouded in mystery, and it’s only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle – curious, disguised and alone – to walk the streets of her own city, that she begins to realise the truth. Her kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year long spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past.

Whatever that past holds.

Two thieves, who have sworn only to steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, who possesses an unidentified Grace, may also hold a key to her heart . . .


Title : Bitterblue
Author : Kristin Cashore
Narrator : Emma Powell
Series : Graceling Realm (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)/audiobook
Page Count : 572/17 hours, 58 minutes
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Dial Books
Release Date : May 1, 2012

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Oof, now I understand why I had weird rememberings of not quite enjoying this on the same level as the other Graceling Realm books. Because this one is a lot. Not just in page length, either (ba dum boom hiss..).

I feel like Cashore has done a really great job up until this point introducing unsavoury characters who have done terrible deeds and that lead-in is what makes Bitterblue especially tough in the aftermath. And the way Cashore handled this, the slow, twisting, winding path in getting us to the end..? Well, I can definitey see that maybe I wasn’t in the right mindset to take that journey the first time I read it. Maybe I was distracted, maybe I put it down too many times to keep all the threads clear in my mind, who knows. But wow I could not pull myself away this time. Sure, there are some parts that are better than others, maybe sometimes it gets a bit bogged down or meandering, but it’s not without purpose. These things play an important role, and the confusion and frustration is real, in trying to pick apart lies and secrets. As well as the lost moments, lost people, lost items.

“.. that’s how memory works. Things disappear without your permission, then come back again without your permission.”

In a post-Leck world, after surviving the reign of a man who could crawl into your mind and convince you to do things — and generally his inclination was for awful things — how do you live with yourself? How do you deal with the trauma you’ve survived or the trauma you’ve forced upon others? When your mind has been so twisted and torn apart that you can’t even remember some parts of your life.. while other events, other deeds, that you would wish to forget have been tattooed into your memory.

[the] challenge, she thought, is to balance knowing with healing.

This was a hard read, it was. There is still some excitement, some romance, a little bit of levity and loveliness from reuniting with characters from previous books, and a whole ton of mystery, but Cashore has set up this devastating situation and she works her characters through it. She works her reader through it. And yeah, fine, no one is surprised by this anymore, but there were like three or four instances near the end that just had me in and out of tears. Feels, emotions, I had so many.

The characters in this world, particularly this book, are.. something else. Not perfect, no, and complicated, stubborn and bratty and self-sacrificing, so many things. But they are so much themselves, in their choices, their mistakes, their tragedies, in their missteps even with one another, that you (I) cannot help but love them.

I am so so incredibly glad I reread these going into book four (out January nineteenth!) and it is incredibly relieving, in my current “get rid of and downsize books you don’t love!” mode that these are not going anywhere. They are staying pretty on my shelves.



Micky’s 3 star review

I ended up listening to Bitterblue on audio as the library wasn’t being helpful with a copy at the ready. Although I enjoyed the read, I think audio may have affected my experience a little and I’ll explain why later (it has nothing to do with the narration).

I loved Bitterblue’s character and the depth of her experiences in Graceling, so I was looking forward to her book. When we met Bitterblue in this book, years had passed (about eight) and she was frustratedly ruling her kingdom. Bitterblue still had that wild streak and much of this story stemmed from her rebellious high jinks, just attempting to get a bit of real life experience outside of queening.

You can imagine that Monsea was a mess post-Leck and story rotated around that history, atrocities and its legacy. Bitterblue found herself embroiled with a character called Saf, a thief with integrity. This connection was meant to partly be the crux of the story but I didn’t feel their bond and I actually wanted Bitterblue with Giddon. Giddon seemed much changed since Graceling and I liked him so much more.

Major bonus points for all the Po time there was in this instalment and the bit of Katsa we got. Also the reappearance of an character (now elderly) from Fire. I love the interweaving of these seperate lands, time frames and characters Cashore has brought to the series overall. The last 20% of this read was the best part for me and pulled me back into love with the series after feeling a bit uninspired for the majority of the listen.

The narration was excellent, so it wasn’t this element that made me enjoy this book less. I think my issues were more about the many different characters and keeping track on audio can be more difficult (and you can’t flick back through the book to remind yourself). Also the Saf/Bitterblue connection reduced my feels on this.

But…I am primed and ready for Winterkeep and I’m really looking forward to it.

MEMENTO by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – double review!

From New York Times bestselling authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff comes an Illuminae prequel digital novella that gives readers a hair-raising glimpse into the calamity that befell the invincible AI system known as AIDAN–and the daring young programmer who would risk her life to keep it from crashing.

AIDAN is the AI you’ll love to hate.

The advanced AI system was supposed to protect a fleet of survivors who’d escaped the deadly attack on Kerenza IV. AIDAN was supposed to be infallible. But in the chaotic weeks and months that followed, it became clear that something was terribly, terribly wrong with AIDAN…


Title : Memento
Author : Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Series : The Illuminae Files (book .5)
Format : audiobook (overdrive)
Page Count : 59 (hour and a half via audio)
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 20, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

I had intended to read this in true Illuminae Files form by listening to the audiobook and following along with the physical but, as I was doing chores while listening along, the physical follow along kind of crashed and burned before it could even take off. That said, shockingly, this was so easy to follow along with anyway; a big miracle for me considering I only do audio for rereads. But I think between my familiarity with the world, and the short novella length, this wiggled its way into a sweet spot for me.

I absolutely loved returning to this world, and to this fantastic production and full cast audio, and it shed some light on the events leading into the events of book one in this world. The problem I have is now wanting to just continue on and reread the rest..

This whole premise is basically a spoiler to the main series so there isn’t much I can say but if you like space, like snark, and want to have a mini movie playing out between your ears? Give this a go. And then do what I am now resisting : read the rest. This series is just perfection. Highly recommend.


Micky’s 4 star review

Fantastic short story but how I wanted more. How dare Kristoff and Kaufman drag you into new characters, get you invested and then it be over within a brief time. I love this world, this series and I miss it. This story took you to the prior to of Illuminae, AIDAN was at the centre of this and all I can say is …sneaky, sinister AIDAN who I can’t help but like. He’s the darkest of heroes.

I don’t want to spoiler, I won’t spoiler, but AIDAN what the f***. I did really love Olivia and her story arc was definitely a roller coaster. What all this tells me is that my favouritie author duo could definitely write more in this world…pretty please?

I do feel like the narrator for this AIDAN was different to rest of the series and I preferred the original cast member.

FIRE by Kristin Cashore – double review!

It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.


Title : Fire
Author : Kristin Cashore
Series : Graceling Realm (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 480
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Dial Books
Release Date : October 5, 2009

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

This was quite a different experience for me for this reread. Initially I had a really hard time connecting to this story, the worldbuilding, the characters even a little (though they were easier to lose myself in), and I don’t really know why. True, this is part of the Graceling Realm but it’s a totally different part of that world and while we do have a character from book one present, though in a very different state and from a different time, it’s night and day compared to what we knew of this world from reading book one. So just bear that in mind. Likely you won’t have my issues, and I still don’t truly understand them, but I was definitely worried for a while this would be a total miss for me.

It wasn’t.

This book, even some of the themes, and certainly the events, differ so much it’s definitely it’s own animal. I have no sense of memory as to whether anything from this book will be relevant in book three (my memory, she bad), so it’s almost better to treat this as less of a prequel and more of a companion. Which most people likely do anyway. But enough rambling.

I really did come to love this story, and especially the characters, once I’d regained my footing. In fact this made me cry, or tear and choke up, at least a few times. Hormones could be blamed but I think it was just also the writing, the moment, and how I’d come to appreciate this complicated layered personalities.

While Graceling featured a protagonist who had done things that made her feel monstrous, this time we really do have a monster of a protagonist. And if that doesn’t hook you into picking this book up, what will!

Cashore’s writing was vivid and lovely, descriptive and occasionally devastating, and layered with all sorts of interesting.. well, layers. Also, once again, full on repping the normalize talk of periods and what a body undergoes. It had a pretty relevant reason for being talked about to the extent it did, too, and I loved how she worked that in.

But anyway. Read this series. So far this revisit is going really really well and I’m excited to read the third book which I do remember not liking as much, or very much at all, but honestly.. that’s all I remember. So we shall see.


Micky’s 4.5 star review

4.5 stars

Fire swept me up immediately in this Graceling Realm tale. I had stupidly thought this would be a continuation of Katsa and Po but this was a totally different land and cast of characters from the world. Gracelings were a minor but important feature.

The story was set in the time of Leck’s childhood (nausea brewing) and you need a steally stomach for elements of this especially pertaining to animals. Talking of which, I adored Small in no small way. Fire and Small’s connection was just lovely. Fire’s character was a slow revealing throughout the story, she became more as she revealed more of herself to others. I had a really vivid picture of her in my head. The whole premise to Fire’s attraction was fascinating and difficult for her to live with; I enjoyed that whole story arc.

There was a delicious slow burn romance in the background that was founded on hate. Fire and Brigan had such a believable connection spurned on tragedy, trust and mistrust and family. There were side characters for days that made this read as colourful as Fire’s hair. I found Nash annoying then hilarous, Hanna was sweet, Clara forthright and Fire’s guard were fantastic.

This really was an addictive read, I wanted to devour it and thought of it when I wasn’t reading. If you’ve not read this series, put it on your planning for this year.

FOREVER WILD by K.A. Tucker – double review!

From the international bestselling author of The Simple Wild comes Forever Wild, a novella that continues the story of Calla’s journey to the Alaskan wild and a life she never imagined for herself. 

The holiday season is upon Calla and Jonah, and with the mistletoe and gingerbread comes plenty of family drama. Jonah is bracing himself for two weeks with a stepfather he loathes, and while Calla is looking forward to her mother and Simon’s arrival, she dreads the continued pressure to set a date for their wedding … in Toronto. Add in one bullheaded neighbor’s unintentional meddling and another cantankerous neighbor’s own family strife, and Christmas in Trapper’s Crossing will be anything but simple. 


Title : Forever Wild
Author : K.A. Tucker
Series : Simple Wild (book 2.5)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 156
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : December 1, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

So somehow this novella did what the previous full length installment didn’t do for me. It made me happy, it made me sad, it made me cry, and it also made me excited about a companion book featuring the same cast and crew but with a different protagonist. It was also all that and very festive and lovely for the holiday season, too.

My one gripe would be that there was a dynamic introduced between Jonah and another character that definitely worked as a way to give this short read some angst and tension.. but I’m not entirely sure it wrapped in a satisfying way. Or, like, at all? It also had another suspense/tension element that ties into this and also maybe wasn’t necessary, particularly as the thing that ties it all together was.. again, not quite a resolution. So if I think too hard on that I might be tempted to round down but.. honestly, carrying over from the major positive in book two? Roy. Roy broke me in this one. I had so many feels. I enjoyed the Calla and Jonah romance dynamic too, don’t get me wrong, but was more periphery for me. I was more invested in the whole town/group dynamic. And yeah mostly Roy. My heart..

So if you want something sweet and cozy and maybe also a little sad but still lovely, and you’re already a fan of this series, you absolutely need to fit this in before the end of the year; or at least while still in the throes of winter.

Micky’s 3 star review

A short and bland review from me I’m afraid. As with all the books in this series, Forever Wild was easy reading and mildly entertaining but it didn’t give me much on the feels front. It’s definitely an added extra and not required reading in the series. In fact, I felt short-changed a bit by the end section, it was very rushed.

I do have an vague affinity for Calla and Jonah but even more for the setting of Alaska and romance in that context. I liked Calla in this but Jonah fell flat for me on this one. There wasn’t much of his personality on the page unless you count the grounching at parents. The storyline was sweet and enjoyable. Roy was a highlight, his grumpy self was so endearing.

One of the best things was the promise of a book for Marie, I’m definitely here for that.

GRACELING by Kristin Cashore – double review!

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. 

She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po. 

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone. 

With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.


Title : Graceling
Author : Kristin Cashore
Series : Graceling Realm (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 481
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Dial Books
Release Date : October 1, 2008

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

This was another reread for me, and another that I haven’t read in aaages, and honestly I’m not mad at all about ending a crap year with some old favourites which are all turning out to still be favourites. Is there anything better?

When you’re a monster, she thought, you are thanked and praised for not behaving like a monster. She would like to restrain from cruelty and receive no admiration for it.

That said, nostalgia wasn’t the only reason for revisiting this world after so long. As has been the trend for a few older and beloved trilogies, we have a new release coming very shortly for book four in the Graceling Realm world, and I definitely couldn’t pick that up without a solid refresh. Most of the plot points I had remembered but the details, the emotions, some of the characters? All hazy.

Mercy was more frightening than murder, because it was harder.

But oh man was this good. I love when YA stands the test of time. And, in hindsight, Cashore did so many great things with her characters, things we expect now but didn’t always get then, and that’s why it will continue to do well even ten years from now.

The basic premise of GRACELING follows a king’s killer, a Graced individual with the gift for killing, and how she breaks away from his control to be her own person, in control of her own actions, and along the way helps to save another nation, and even find love. Yes, I’m being vague, but a lot of people have read this so why rehash and for those who haven’t? I want to tempt you, tease you, tantalize you into picking this up and learning more.

This is such a fabulous fantasy and I am excited to continue this reread journey; not only to get to the new content but revisit all the things from books two and three that I’ve forgotten — which is pretty much everything!


Micky’s 4 star review

Another late entry to the party on this beloved-by-many series. It took me a little while to get into it but I really enjoyed the characters and world that Kristen Cashore created. The graces that certain chosen ones were bestowed with at birth were varied, interesting and not always for the good.

Katsa swept me away in this book. She wasn’t easy to get to know initially but when she cracked her facade a little, her whole self was so likeable. Po brought out the best in Katsa as did Bitterblue (I can’t wait for Bitterblue’s book). This story had the most vile villain and I loved everything about how that played out.

For me, this was a subtly feminist tale. Katsa was wholly feminist but there were themes that really sold this to me – the haircut and marriage views. I loved this element to the story and that it underpinned Katsa as a strong woman but still a woman with a heart.

This was a story told over time, time for character building and development, for friendships and relationships to really feel solid and for there to be a strong history to how the tale played out. This all makes me think this is so well written, I can’t find fault with any of that. I’m so looking forward to reading on with this and the plan is to get completely up to date with the series this month – wish me luck!

I read and listened to this on an audio/ebook combo and despite this being a full cast audio, I really didn’t gel with it. For me, the ebook was preferable.

SPOILER ALERT by Olivia Dade – double review!

Marcus Caster-Rupp has a secret. While the world knows him as Aeneas, the star of the biggest show on TV, he’s known to fanfiction readers as Book!AeneasWouldNever, an anonymous and popular poster. Through his stories, Marcus is able to get out his own frustrations with his character, especially the ones that feature the internet’s favourite couple to ship, Aeneas and Lavinia. But if anyone ever found out about his online persona, he’d be fired. Immediately.

April Whittier has secrets of her own. A hardcore Lavinia fan, she’s hidden her fanfiction and cosplay hobby from her ‘real life’ for years – but not anymore. When she decides to post her latest Lavinia creation on Twitter, her photo goes viral. Trolls and supporters alike are commenting on her plus-size take, but when Marcus sees her pic and asks her out on a date to spite her critics, she realises life is really stranger than fanfiction.

Even though their first date is a disaster, Marcus quickly realises that he wants much more from April than a one-time publicity stunt. And when he discovers she’s actually Unapologetic Lavinia Stan, his closest fandom friend, he has one more huge secret to hide from her.

With love and Marcus’s career on the line, can the two of them stop hiding once and for all, or will a match made in fandom end up prematurely cancelled?


Title : Spoiler Alert
Author : Olivia Dade
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus/Little Brown UK / Avon
Release Date : October 6, 2020

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Rounded up to 5 stars!

I lived for this book for 4 days of a work week, I couldn’t wait to get back to the characters. SPOILER ALERT was a contemporary romance with heart and some heat. It focused on fandom and fan-fic life and this couple’s story was something that most readers would cheer for.

April and Marcus met under unconventional circumstances, and for April it was an almost dream-like situation. I was completely on board and gripped from that moment. The chemistry between these two ended up being so believable because it took time to find its footing.

Both Marcus and April had trust issues and I really enjoyed the foundations of those back stories, they were real and identifiable. I did struggle somewhat with the secret between them. When this book turned serious and the peak of the inevitable crash happened…the emotion was raw and dialogue was fantastic. I highlighted and highlighted because it just hit me in the gut and made me feel.

At long last, he was letting her see him without any barriers, any artifice, any deception between them.

Basically, Marcus was my favourite character. He had such hidden depths and evolving character development, I couldn’t help but love him. April was his worthy opponent.

If you want a fun, flirty story that turns out to run deep with feelings, then SPOILER ALERT is for you. It’s one of the best contemporary romances I’ve read this year.

Thank you to Piatkus, Little Brown UK for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 4 star review

I feel there like there was no real downside to this book. In any way. What a fun ride.

SPOILER ALERT tackled so many things — particularly emotional things, like body shaming, like learning disorders, like being accepted for who you are and how you look — and yet never lacked in fun. I think this is partially because of the fandom aspect and how our leading man’s starring role was a Game of Thrones-esque phenomenon, complete with all the final season nonsense that we as fans (and they as actors) experienced, and also because not only did we get fanfic snippets between chapters but, my favourite? We got mini scenes and dialogue from the protagonist’s previous acting gigs.. and they were almost unanimously.. terrible. Hilariously bad.

While I do question the ease in which this relationship developed, with little to no celebrity + non-celebrity drama (not a bad thing, really, maybe it’s just that I’m used to that particular drama?), I loved the catalyst for it (we love a twitter connection!). And while I really liked the characters, I’ll admit they didn’t quite jump off the page for me. They both felt pretty real, and each had both baggage and hangups that never felt contrived or unrealistic, and even better they were on the not-twenty-five end of the age spectrum, I didn’t quite lose myself in them. But I did lose myself in the story; I couldn’t tear myself away all night. I’ve only just looked up to realize I’m hours past a reasonable time to eat dinner, haha, whoops.

This hit so many of the right notes and I’m so relieved because just before starting this I worried I was teetering on a slump or just general book ennui. Not so! Do yourself a favour and pick this one up. It’s hot, it’s got some heavy, but it’s also got heart. 

EMERALD BLAZE by Ilona Andrews – double review!

As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart. 

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.  


Title : Emerald Blaze
Author : Ilona Andrews
Series : Hidden Legancy (book five)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 399
Genre : urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : August 25, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

I’ll be honest. Give me some Baylor family banter and hijinks and I’ll pretty much be happy no matter what angst or torture this duo puts me through. Which is pretty much what happened in EMERALD BLAZE. Though it was light on both angst and torture so even better?

He broke your heart.
I broke my own heart, Leon. He was just the hammer I hit it with.

While I found the mystery of the Big Bad plot to be fine (not quite interesting, but not boring), I found the Big Bad Monster element of said same plot to be.. weird and whacky and freaky and fantastic fun. You might disagree about the fun part if you’ve read this but I just found it fascinating where this author duo’s brain goes (yes, I made a brain joke, I am not sorry!).

Your ego would survive an apocalypse.”
Thank you.”
It wasn’t a compliment.
It was to me.

For me, the star of this show, beyond the aforementioned Baylor Banter (copyright pending), was some of the insight we got into decisions made in the previous books. I’ll admit I couldn’t quite tell what was new information and what was just expanded upon which tells me I definitely should’ve done a series reread before this book (whoops, my bad), but nonetheless it felt mostly new and very shocking. I felt like every time the Evil Grandmother was mentioned I could never remember exactly what, or who, she had twisted to her own purposes and now? Wow. Cards are all out on the table.

I wasn’t mourning Alessandro abandoning me. I was mourning the old me. For the new me to emerge, the old me had to disappear, and killing her bit by bit hurt.

So that was fantastic but so was the romance. I enjoyed the heck out of this dynamic in book four but I was so much more sold this time around. Because more cards are on the table for these two as well, yes, but I also felt they had grown as individuals, particularly Catalina. I find her such a great protagonist because she’s strong but not invulnerable, either physically or emotionally, and she perseveres because she must. And as for Alessandro.. like.. be ready for some heartbreak.

I do so love happy endings.
Happy ending for you, maybe. I didn’t get to shoot anybody.

As a bonus we also get some page time with Nevada and Rogan so truly this book is a gift that keeps on giving. Less lovely? That ending. I had seen some vague shrieking about it on the internetz before reading this book so I was expecting the worst and I mean.. it’s not good but wow my brain is clearly a dark place because I expected something else. Also, for those of you unaware, this was also released by the authors but only to be read after reading book five. Don’t you dare peek ahead of time! Not only do I feel a little more comforted about said ending now but also I totally want an Arabella-centic book. I’m sure it’s coming. Maybe? Who knows. At the end of the day I just want IA to never stop writing; and I don’t care what series it’s for. Is that too much to ask?


Micky’s 4 star review

No quotes from me on this one, guess which dumb reader sent the library book back before writing their review? Yep, me. EMERALD BLAZE had a bit of a flat-ish start for me, I wasn’t immediately pulled in but by 20% that changed. This instalment of the Hidden Legacy was the usual fast-paced story you’d expect, full of drama, magic, fighting and tension. The evil thing in this one was super creepy animated thing and gave me slight vibes of one of the Kate Daniels instalment but it was still unique enough to hold its own.

I wasn’t sure about that cover, the emerald aspect but in retrospect, it all makes sense. I love the building storyline of House Baylor that stretches over the whole series and seeing Catalina come into her own even more is story-goals. I really enjoyed some honest dialogue between Nevada and Catalina, it felt like they were finally on an equal footing and to be honest, I’ve missed Nevada. The snippets of her and Rogan were like candy treats.

The best thing about this book was the tension between Catalina and Alessandro, ‘coupled’ with Alessandro finally exposing himself honestly. I lived for how their story played out. This story gave me everything I needed and wanted with regards to Catalina and Alessandro and I’m currently a pile of contemplative mush on finishing.

Family was strong as ever for the Baylors and I love the characters, how they knit together, banter and support one another. Did Andrews finish this cruelly? I guess you’ll have to read and find out.

*side note – will there ever be a book of theirs I don’t like?*

A DEADLY EDUCATION by Naomi Novik – double review!

In the start of an all-new series, the bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver introduces you to a dangerous school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death – until one girl begins to rewrite its rules.
_______________________________________

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.
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Wry, witty, endlessly inventive, and mordantly funny – yet with a true depth and fierce justice at its heart – this enchanting novel reminds us that there are far more important things than mere survival.


Title : A Deadly Education
Author : Naomi Novik
Series : Scholomance #1
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Random House UK/Cornerstone / Del Rey
Release Date : September 29, 2020

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


Micky’s 4-4.5 star review

I’m a bit dithery over that rating, take it as 4.25 if that helps! I just about devoured this book whenever I could and it made for tasty reading. The Scholomance was a school like you’ve never imagined, a school trying to kill its pupils with brimming magic, a void and tonnes of deadly creatures.

This was a witty read and that really surprised me. We’ve definitely seen shades of Novik’s sarcastic humour through Uprooted but this story had a lighter, laugh-out-loudness to it. I thought the whole concept of The Scholomance (the boarding school for wizards) was unique. Add to that the snarkiest heroine I’ve read in a while in Galadriel (El) and it was hard for this book to put a foot wrong.

When I want to straighten my room, I get instructions on how to kill it with fire.

Odd right? Spells didn’t flow in the expected way for her, but Galadriel was not a conventional wizard by Scholomance pupil standards, she was quietly and covertly exceptional. I loved reading about her systems, her talents and the languages she was studying. Most of all, I enjoyed reading her growth in friendships. El was almost made perfect with her use of British swears. I can say that Novik wrote a Brit (she was actually Welsh) particularly well.

The begrudging friendship/white knight (not needed) in Orion made for hilarity and chuckling. It was hard not to like Orion despite his saviour complex but there’s definitely more to unpack with him and I’m so glad we hopefully get to do that in the next book.

“You know, it’s almost impressive,” he said after a moment, sounding less wobbly. “You’re nearly dead and you’re still the rudest person I’ve ever met.”

The heirarchies in the school were something else and the void was just nausea-inducing to me. This truly was the school of nightmares and I wouldn’t last more than a minute in there! I simply cannot wait for the next instalment. And so I leave you with my favourite line (kudos to Jane Eyre here).

Reader, I ran the fuck away.

Thank you to Cornerstone/Random House for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 4 star review

A DEADLY EDUCATION is like a dark mashup of Harry Potter — if the only class was Defense Against the Dark Arts — complete with the magical puberty problems and monster-attraction issues ala Percy Jackson, but if instead of Buffy we had Faith saving the world all the time.. though hella reluctantly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This book is nothing like what I expected a book by Novik would be. This, for all the darkness and the fact that it’s set inside a castle that seems to be actively working to kill it’s residents — or at last lead it’s inhabitants into a position to die and casually look away — is funny, quippy, and strange.

Unlike Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or even Faith, we are tossed into the depths of things via Galadriel’s (El’s) point of view. She isn’t a noob blinking big innocent eyes as she wanders into this new world, no. She’s in her second to last year, having survived many years, many near deaths, with a prophecy already hanging over her head; she’s full of the bitterness and disdain from years of rejections, years of loneliness, and completely unimpressed when the school’s hero not only suddenly takes a shine to her but also saves her life.. a lot.

I liked our MC so much. I thought El’s snarky voice, her rudeness, was great. She has cultivated her niche deliberately because of circumstances completely out of her control but as delightful as she is at the onset, I loved her journey and evolution even more. Equally fun was Orion, the hero, the saviour, was equally not as one-note as he could’ve been. There are layers to both these characters and their interactions were a lot of fun as this definitely leaned into the enemies-turned-reluctant-allies-turned-friends trope. Infact, I don’t think I disliked a single character? Yes, I, too, am shook.

Though we never leave this young-person death trap of a school, Novik still manages to make her world feel big. This is helped not only because of the diversity of the students we are exposed to but, more importantly, all the Enclaves all over the world (think of them as Shadowhunter Institutes) they might be invited to after graduation if they are smart, skilled, or sought after enough. The rules are strange. I won’t explain further but.. don’t expect House points!

I had such a good time reading this, despite how different it was from my expectations, and I devoured it in less than a day. I enjoyed this so much and am very intrigued and very keen for more.

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

TOOLS OF ENGAGEMENT by Tessa Bailey – double review!

In Tessa Bailey’s latest rom-com, two enemies team up to flip a house… and the sparks between them might burn the place down or ignite a passion that neither can ignore!

Hair, makeup, clothing, decor… everything in Bethany Castle’s world is organized, planned, and styled to perfection. Which is why the homes she designs for her family’s real estate business are the most coveted in town. The only thing not perfect? Her track record with men. She’s on a dating hiatus and after helping her friends achieve their dreams, Bethany finally has time to focus on her own: flip a house, from framework to furnishings, all by herself. Except her older brother runs the company and refuses to take her seriously.

When a television producer gets wind of the Castle sibling rivalry, they’re invited on Flip Off, a competition to see who can do the best renovation. Bethany wants bragging rights, but she needs a crew and the only member of her brother’s construction team willing to jump ship is Wes Daniels, the new guy in town. His Texas drawl and handsome face got under Bethany’s skin on day one, but the last thing she needs is some cocky young cowboy in her way.

As the race to renovate heats up, Wes and Bethany are forced into close quarters, trading barbs and biting banter as they remodel the ugliest house on the block. It’s a labor of love, hate, and everything in between, and soon sparks are flying. But Bethany’s perfectly structured life is one kiss away from going up in smoke and she knows falling for a guy like Wes would be a flipping disaster.


Title : Tools of Engagement
Author : Tessa Bailey
Series : Hot & Hammered (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : September 22, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Possibly my favourite of the series?

We love a hate-to-love in this house, or at least a somewhat antagonistic dynamic hiding attraction, particularly when the pair are opposites, but throw in an age gap and a single dad-situation, too? I mean, c’mon. Catnip.

I like being referred to as your foreman. It’s got a nice ring.”
Especially compared to what I usually call you.”
Truth. It’s a definite improvement from dickhead.”

The build-up for this match up has been bubbling away in the background of this series for a while and, for this reader, it was definitely worth the wait. Pretty much everything about this just worked for me (maybe also helped by a bit of a dry spell in the contemporary romance genre?). Besides the delightful tease and torment, the peeling back of layers, I just really appreciated all the situations navigated. Bethany’s insecurities, Wes’ impermanence, and the fact that as they tear down a structure to rebuild, and do it together, they realize how well the fit. How one has a house — though it isn’t a home — much less one filled with joy, while the other is only ever a guest, never asked to stay. Never needed or wanted.

Can you tell this book made me cry?

Don’t worry, though, it’s also sexy and hot af, as one expects from a Bailey.

I’m not interested in a fling — and even if I was, you’ve wisely removed sex from the equation–
Deepest regret of my life.”
Yeah, pretty shortsighted of you.

I’ll admit the introduction of the reality show element wasn’t my favourite, though it worked as the spark to kick things off and ramp up the intensity and the stakes. And I didn’t love the big reconciliation moment (I think I said the same about book one? I’m just not always into these big showy expressions, I think). But I appreciated that things ended happily though not with every bit tied off in a bow; and but that I mean with the characters and their journeys, too. It helps shave off a bit of cheese from the whole HEA and makes it much more palateable.

That was poetic.
Your epitagh is going to be poetic once I strangle you.”
Having your hands on me is the ideal way to go.”

If you’ve enjoyed the books in this series, I think you’ll definitely like this one, too.

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


Micky’s 3.5 star review

This was another fun instalment in the series and what I’ve loved about the series, are the characters Tessa Bailey creates. Bethany and Wes were no exception and probably the most endearing characters so far. Bethany was a perfectionist with sometimes crippling anxiety and Wes was an ex-bullrider, trying to parent his niece. Said niece was funny and adorable. I love flawed (normal) characters so I found this set up appealing.

This was a bit of an age-gap romance (7 years) however at 23 and 30, it didn’t feel that much of an issue to me, but it was to Bethany. I was glad to see Bethany in close focus in this book and she was much more than the perfect house and event stylist I’d seen from other books. The tension between her and Wes was pretty hot-banterish with a side of snarky fake-hate. The dialogue was extremely fun.

Wes was adorable, parenting his niece, making it up as he went along but he was such a good guy despite the innuendo towards Bethany. He was protective to them both without being overly alpha-ish , which I really appreciated. The story was predictable but fun.

I don’t exactly know why this book didn’t hit the 4 stars having said all the above but I did keep putting the book down and it didn’t hold my attention on holiday, with no outside stressors. By 70% I wanted to get to the end, the predictability had won over and I knew there would be a hurdle then smooth. However, it left me with all the good feels with a strong ending.

This was a good instalment in the series, but book 2 remains my favourite.

Thank you to Avon for the early review copy.

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden – double review!

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.


Title : The Bear and the Nightingale
Author : Katherine Arden
Series : Winternight #1
Format : Ebook / physical hardback
Page Count : 328
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Del Rey Books
Release Date : January 12, 2017

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


Micky’s 3.5 -4 star review

This read has been a journey, from starting the wrong book in the series first – I started Girl in the Tower, I don’t know how to explain my idiocy. Then I got back on track with the right book and found a slow build of the world and story. By mid-way I didn’t know if I was going to move from my middling feeling but the second half completely won me over.

This was a historical story of a Russian family, reasonably well off, living in a forest community with harsh conditions. But really this was a story of folklore, a reimagining of Russian tales and assembled around the character of Vasilisa (Vasya). Vasya was a daughter, a sibling but more than anything, she was wild, free and spirited. Added to that spirit, she saw the forest and house spirits and made friendships with them.

Some of Vasya’s family were great and some were not. I enjoyed reading about the family dynamics, her father, her brothers and her step mother. For a while though, it seemed slow and Vasya was young for a long time. In retrospect, I see how this built to a story of detail and depth and it made the foundation for the second half rich.

I loved when we finally got to Morozko, I felt like the whole story had been sewing seeds to get to this point. The cresendo of the story was creepy to me but I got through those aspects and loved where the story ended up. So here I am, converted unexpectedly. I feel like this is one of the cleverest tales I’ve read and I’m really looking forward to starting The Girl in the Tower again.

Thank you to the posse who have been book-pushing this one for a few years but mostly to its first champion, Hollis the bear-pusher.


Hollis’ 4 star review

This was a reread for me, my third in fact (!), and for some reason I thought my last visit had been more recent, that I had read this last year. Nope, it was 2018. I cannot believe how long it’s been, considering how much I love this world, but also I was definitely due to revisit. I needed this. And I had some rereading buddies along for the ride this time which as a lot of fun.

I think you should be careful, [..], that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing.

That said, I’m going to cheat and just copy in parts of my original review from GR here to the blog. Mostly because I’m lazy but also because none of my opinions have changed.

It’s time to put aside dreaming. Fairy tales are sweet on winter nights, nothing more.

For fans of UPROOTED who have still not read this book, I have one caution for you : I did feel the beginning of this book to be a little slow. But that’s likely because most readers come into this expecting a breakneck fantasy instead of a fairytale. Additionally, Arden takes the time to set up her story, layer it, with different perspectives from different characters prior to the birth of our heroine. And those multi-perspectives continue even as Vasya does become our main gateway into this story.

So you mean to go to the woods and die? A noble sacrifice? How will that help anyone?
I have helped all I can, and earned the people’s hatred. If this is the last decision I can ever make, at least it is my decision. [..] I am not afraid.

However, that slowness doesn’t mean it’s boring. Unlike the aforementioned novel this book is compared to, THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is one in a series, not a standalone, so we can afford this gradual unfurling of setting, people, and atmosphere. And they are all excellent.

Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than you willed it.

The first in the Winternight Trilogy blends legend with religion, myth with reality, and the upcoming battle to be waged between two forces, all set in the northern region of Rus. Vasya’s character was so charming and she’s also such a perfect role model for any YAers reading this book; strong, not traditionally pretty, adventurous, kind, wanting more for herself than is expected of her sex. Really, she’s a role model for us all. 

All my life, I have been told to ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed to me.

Wild and fey, she roams the woods, seeing things others don’t, and eventually it’s she who sees the damage being done by the newly arrived priest who urges the townsfolk to let go of the old ways and embrace God. The use of fear as a tool is what lets in the very real, very evil, darkness, what puts Vasya and her family at risk, and while there is loss and tragedy that befall those she loves, there is still such hope and lightness in the story. 

You should not have left your hearth.
I had to. They were going to send me to a convent. I decided I would rather freeze in a snowbank. Well, that was before I began to freeze in a snowbank. It hurts.

The last time I had read this book I was preparing for book three. Now, knowing everything that is to come, and how it all ends, gave me such a new perspective, let me pick up on a few things I might’ve missed. And yet it didn’t take away any of the joy, the heartbreak, or the wonder. This story is so magical, Arden’s writing so bewitching and clever, and even in the telling it really feels like curling up with an old favourite, a familiar tale you’d grown up with but forgotten over the years. It’s nostalgic and comforting and yet I am so excited to read on and get to THE GIRL IN THE TOWER. Where it’s everything I mentioned above but so so much more, too.