WITH AND WITHOUT YOU by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

#Wibbroka is back with another swoony YA–this time tackling long-distance relationships, in a novel based on their own romantic history.

If high school seniors Siena and Patrick were a superlative, they’d be the Couple Most Likely to Marry. They’ve been dating for three solid years, and everyone agrees they’re perfect for each other. But with college on the horizon, Siena begins to wonder whether staying together is the best idea. Does she really want to be tied down during possibly the most transformative years of her life? So she makes a decision to break up with Patrick, convincing herself it’s for the best. Before she can say the words, though, he beats her to the punch: his family is moving out of state. Caught off guard by the news, Siena agrees to stay with Patrick, believing their relationship will naturally fizzle out with time and distance. But over a series of visits throughout the school year, Siena begins to see a different side of Patrick–one that has her falling in love with him all over again. 


Title : With and Without You
Author : mily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date : April 19, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

It’s probably not great that my least favourite read by this duo happens to be the one that is based (loosely, I hope?) on their own romance. Whoops.

But what really hurt this story was the lack of a secondary POV. I truly can’t recall anymore if all their books are like this or if some are dual (I really need to start making GR shelves for this but alas I probably will never do it) but this one needed it. Siena’s narrative was not always fun and while the second voice wouldn’t have improved that it would’ve given us something of a break.

I don’t begrudge this story for existing, particularly for all the YAers who are feeling similar things — not just the conflict inspired by leaving for college and whether the relationship will endure, but the added conflict of that looming issue when already dealing with a long-running relationship that you feel you may have outgrown. There needs to be space for these conversations and these dynamics and these circumstances.

But. That doesn’t mean I had to like this one. Siena spent the majority of the book wondering if she still fit with Patrick and honestly, girl, I wonder the same. He may have been unwilling to be open to new things without realizing the importance of them but she was equally rigid and uncompromising. And while you’d think living in her head would make you more sympathetic to her perspective (hah) oh no, it was worse. The book wasn’t all bad but that first 30% was real rough and I just don’t think it ever recovered.

Having said all that, I am hopeful that I won’t continue to reside in the 2.5-3 range for any more of their books because when they are good, they are great. I would maybe just give this one a pass.

I KISSED SHARA WHEELER by Casey McQuiston – double review!

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.


Title : I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : ARC / eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary romance
Publisher : St. Martin’s Press/MacMillan Kids
Release Date : May 3, 2022/May 12, 2022

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This book is really making me reconsider my rounded up “3.5 star feels” for One Last Stop. Because I Kissed Shara Wheeler gave me the queer ensemble of my dreams whilst also having an electric and fun and unexpected plot without any of the lulls found in the author’s sophomore release. Infact, this made me incredibly nostalgic for their debut because I’m left with that same sparkly feeling — minus the hangover from some of the more intense emotional moments.

God, why is he still here? What is he doing? There’s no way his job is that hard. All he des is cut the arts budget and misinterpret the Bible. How many hours can that possibly take?

Because, yes, I Kissed Shara Wheeler? Fantastic. I knew by the end of chapter one I was going to be a goner for this book and only something absolutely terrible could ruin it. And, spoiler, nothing did.

While she does like boys, she generally finds the traits of a compelling villain — arrogance, malice, an angry backstory — tedious in a man. Like, what do hot guys with long dark hair have to be that upset about? Get a clarifying shampoo and suck it up, Kylo Ren.

As usual my brain is stalling out a little on what to say but like. This has that competitive academic rivals tension. It has a kiss-fuelled scavenger hunt. It has unlikely allies who become true friends. It’s about self-discovery. It’s about quiet rebellions that lead to louder ones. It’s about old friends become new again. It’s about found family. And so much more.

Chloe, we’re gay. We can’t do math.
Okay, well, next time I’ll come and make a spreadsheet.
This is why we need you. Once in a generation, there is born a bisexual who can do math. You’re the chosen one.”

It’s not all easy or fun or just non-stop queer shenanigans, though. With the setting of this book, both in a little town in Alabama and at a Christian school to boot, you know there’s going to be some issues to tackle. But those issues never overwhelmed the story. But neither were they too minor to not play a part. It was the perfect balance.

Your mama and I decided long before you were both that we would let you be whoever you are, no matter who that is.
And if who you are is a snarling little Pomeranian with eyes like fire, than that’s who you are, darling.”

If YA is all McQuiston plans to ever write again (this is not confirmed, I’m just saying), I would honestly only be a tiny bit upset to lose adult content from them. Because it really was that good. I know I will be rereading this and, likely, loving it even more.

Highly recommend.

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
YA contemporary comedy mystery
Dramatics
Bigatory

There’s lots to recommend this read, it’s beautifully queer, a fun romp but somehow, it just didn’t hit the notes for me. There’s an eclectic band of friends thrown together in this story and that was the element I became most fond of.

Shara was missing and I struggled with Shara as a character for much of the story, and maybe I was supposed to. She seemed manipulative and they way she had all these peers pitched against one another initially, really wound me up. There was space for redemption but overall I didn’t like her. Shara however, wasn’t really the main character even if the whole story was centred on her, Chloe was the MC and I did like her mostly. Chloe had some epic moms which I appreciated.

The themes were welcome in this book and they included exploring identity, sexuality and rebelling against bigatory. These important themes were well handled but it felt alongside a fair bit of dramarama. I think the drama and manipulative characteristics of Shara were what kept me from connecting with the characters sadly. I didn’t feel any chemistry in the romantic moments either.

I am disappointed I didn’t enjoy this more but I can see that so far from a ratings perspective, I am in the minority.

Thank you MacMillan Kids for the early review copy.

WARRIOR WITCH by Danielle L. Jensen

Cécile and Tristan have accomplished the impossible, but their greatest challenge remains: defeating the evil they have unleashed upon the world.

As they scramble for a way to protect the people of the Isle and liberate the trolls from their tyrant king, Cécile and Tristan must battle those who’d see them dead. To win, they will risk everything. And everyone.

But it might not be enough. Both Cécile and Tristan have debts, and they will be forced to pay them at a cost far greater than they had ever imagined. 


Title : Warrior Witch
Author : Danielle L. Jensen
Series : Malediction Trilogy (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Angry Robot
Release Date : May 3, 2016

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

While this didn’t quite knock things out of the park like I hoped.. it did a lot of good. While, maybe, also having an equal part of things I was ambivalent about. But the ending? I can only imagine how many readers were split down the middle of loving or hating it but, surprisingly, I loved it. I even got a wee bit emosh about it. It was incredibly bittersweet.

We might not have as many big reveals in this instalment as we did in book two but we did have one and.. I don’t know. I feel after the way things went in book two it made this twist a little overdone. But it once again reinforces the concept of layers and how not everything in this world was as it seemed. Not to mention how clever the characters were and how long they had been playing the game, which did go some way in reinforcing how they’d been able to be so many steps ahead of everyone else.

I did, however, enjoy how the world was “saved” and the troll issue was solved; I thought everything about the learning of that fix was very clever. Jensen crafted this story in such a different way from the usual we’ve come to expect and I really appreciate that.

I do think, however, some characterizations were harmed in getting the plot moving and certain plot points were used and then apparently discarded, never to be spoken about again, so it was a little messy. It was a little pacey, too. So much happens and yet at times it feels like nothing is happening. But overall I’m really not mad about the whole of it.

I’m happy to have finally finished this series and while I will be unhauling (this was on my Series to Finish list because, yes, it needed to be finished but also because it’s one I owned and I need to split my focus between both of those goals) it’s not out of any kind of hate or disappointment; it’s merely because it’s not so loved that I want to keep it for future rereads. Plus, there’s always the library. That said, I definitely wouldn’t talk anyone out of reading this series and it’s actually given me some motivation to read more by this author. Maybe not anytime soon but I certainly won’t put off the urge if I ever feel so inclined.

THE LAST LAUGH by Mindy McGinnis

In the dark and stunning sequel to The Initial Insult, award-winning author Mindy McGinnis concludes this suspenseful YA duology as long-held family secrets finally come to light . . . changing Amontillado forevermore.

Tress Montor murdered Felicity Turnado—but she might not have to live with the guilt for long. With an infected arm held together by duct tape, the panther who clawed her open on the loose, and the whole town on the hunt for the lost homecoming queen, the odds are stacked against Tress. As her mind slides deeper into delirium, Tress is haunted by the growing sound of Felicity’s heartbeat pulsing from the “best friend” charm around her fevered neck.

Ribbit Usher has been a punchline his whole life—from his nickname to his latest turn as the unwitting star of a humiliating viral video. In the past he’s willingly played the fool, but now it’s time to fulfill his destiny. That means saving the girl, so that Felicity can take her place at his side and Ribbit can exact revenge on all who have done him wrong—which includes his cousin, Tress. Ribbit is held by a pact he made with his mother long ago, a pact that must be delivered upon in four days.

With time ticking down and an enemy she considers a friend lurking in the shadows, Tress’s grip on reality is failing. Can she keep both mind and body together long enough to finally find out what happened to her parents?


Title : The Last Laugh
Author : Mindy McGinnis
Series : The Initial Insult (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA mystery thriller
Publisher : Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date : March 15, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Much like book one in this series, I don’t quite know where I fall with this one. Strangely, in a time where memory is fleeting because time has no meaning, I remembered so much of that weird ass first instalment that picking this up without a refresher was easy. And I blitzed through it. Maybe I was just excited to be reading something after a week-long dry spell but I also definitely think that’s purely the McGinnis factor.

This is a series I definitely won’t be recommending to anyone but I think anyone who does pick it up will likely be fascinated, just like I was. This story is dark and brutal and strange and a few times you will want to yell at your iPad much like we yell at athletes on the screens of our tvs. Because how dare that character be so stupid to do (or not do..) a thing. But overall? I was hooked. But did I like anything that happened? Maybe one or two things. The problem, I think, beyond the darkness and the weirdness, is we learn so much so late in the game — which is the same for the MC — that you flounder, pulled along in the current of wtf and why, for just too long.

Having said that, I’ll never stop picking this author up because whether it’s a win or a lose or a whoevenknows, I am fascinated not only by the way she tells stories but of what kinds of stories she chooses to tell.

HIDDEN HUNTRESS by Danielle L. Jensen

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…


Title : Hidden Huntress
Author : Danielle L. Jensen
Series : Malediction Trilogy (book two)
Format : physical
Page Count : 464
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Strange Chemistry
Release Date : June 2, 2015

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I ended my review of book one by saying how GR told me I’d read book two, but after the ending of book one, I was hard pressed to believe it. Having now actually read the book.. what? None of this was remotely familiar. I can’t explain it at all but.. hey, it is what it is.

So while book one was a surprise for how much I still enjoyed it, this one was obviously knocked down a peg. I wasn’t mad at the plot, the separations, or the losses and conflicts. I was mostly surprised by how there was one major reveal that should not have been a reveal. Or, rather, as it seemed so obvious from the get-go, I was frustrated it took the entire book for it to be unveiled. It was just painful. Yes, the characters had a red herring or two along the way but the fact that it never even crossed their mind.. arg. I wanted to give them a good shake. Particularly because these are not dumb characters.

Having said that, I didn’t see other reveals (post-major reveal) coming but really appreciate Jensen’s little “hah! you thought you knew it all” move. I should’ve seen it coming, because this series has always had layers and she’s made a lot of smart and atypical choices, but based on how long the main event took.. I just didn’t think there’d be room for more. Really enjoyed that.

Otherwise, if not for that complaint, I did enjoy this. Jensen didn’t pull punches in the sense that the stakes are high in this world and truly no one is safe. In both how that pertains to what these characters must endure and the friends they lose along the way. We also get further confirmation as to the world and how these trolls initially were part of it all and.. well, other spoilery things I’m not going to hint at. Naturally.

We’ve come full circle on one part of this conflict but there’s much more to come after the ending. And wow what an ending. I certainly didn’t expect the author to pull that particular rabbit out of the hat but she did. I’m really hoping we go out with a bang and yes, I’m diving right in to book three.

STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle L. Jensen

A girl destined for the stage. A prince cursed to darkness. A bond that will unleash magic caged for centuries.

Centuries ago, the Isle of Light was ruled by cruel creatures with dangerous magic until a witch bound them to their underground city. But a prophesy has spoken of a union with a human girl that has the power to set them free.

Cécile is a singer destined for the stage when she is kidnapped and bonded to the cursed prince of Trollus, with their minds linked in a way she never dreamed possible. Trollus is both magical and deadly, but as Cécile hunts for a way to escape, she discovers there is more to her mysterious husband than anyone realizes. 

As tension brews and political games escalate, Cécile finds herself at the center of a rebellion… and she is the one with the magic needed to overthrow the tyrant who rules.

Torn between returning to her human life and becoming the princess Trollus needs, Cécile must decide which world she belongs to… and how far she’s willing to go to save the prince who holds her heart. 


Title : Stolen Songbird
Author : Danielle L. Jensen
Series : Malediction Trilogy (book one)
Format : physical
Page Count : 469
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Strange Chemistry
Release Date : April 1, 2014

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Yes, I am surprised about this rating myself. In no way did I expect this to live up to the four stars I gave it back in (check notes) 2015. I even rather jokingly said to a friend that I did not have high hopes for my return to “troll YA”. And here I’m eating them words. Yum.

In hindsight, while I thought I remembered this story, I only remember the first half (this seems to be a trend). Everything after that felt like reading something for the first time which was a nice bonus. I will admit I did like the first half more (maybe why it was more memorable) but the latter was still good. Just.. a little chaotic and fast moving.

But yes, if you didn’t already know about this one, it’s about a girl who has been kidnapped and brought to a kingdom of trolls, long since thought to be gone from the world, who have been trapped under a mountain by a long-ago witch’s curse. Thinking to break said curse, Cécile has the unfortunate luck to match the description of a prophecy and is quickly bonded (wed) to the prince. Their dynamic, of course, is reluctant and uninterested and fractious — at first — but time, and necessity, and then more, changes that. Also, as she realizes she cannot escape the mountain, she slowly starts to integrate into her surroundings and take note of the various politics occurring around her; the oppression and violence targeting the half-bloods or those too mortal to have any magic.

I was actually pretty surprised by how well Jensen handled numerous elements in this story, not just the romance. Though that was well done, too. This felt fresh and different in a variety of ways and I flew through it over the course of a few hours. I can only hope the trend continues for the rest of the series. GR tells me I read book two but after that ending.. I was actually doubting the accuracy of my shelving because I can’t picture any details that follow. Guess we’ll see!

BLOOD SCION by Deborah Falaye

This is what they deserve. They wanted me to be a monster. 
I will be the worst monster they ever created.

Fifteen-year-old Sloane can incinerate an enemy at will—she is a Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods.

Under the Lucis’ brutal rule, her identity means her death if her powers are discovered. But when she is forcibly conscripted into the Lucis army on her fifteenth birthday, Sloane sees a new opportunity: to overcome the bloody challenges of Lucis training, and destroy them from within.

Sloane rises through the ranks and gains strength but, in doing so, risks something greater: losing herself entirely, and becoming the very monster that she ahbors.


Title : Blood Scion
Author : Deborah Falaye
Series : Blood Scion (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : March 8, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’m going to ask you to slide on right by this review because I definitely think I’m going to be an outlier on this one.

Truthfully, the only reason I picked this up was because I attended an event and saw the author pitch it. The pitch immediately hooked me and it was one of the books I was most interested in once the event had wrapped, which was pretty impressive considering I hadn’t even heard of it until that moment. So, naturally, I was excited to receive a copy. I did enter with a bit of trepidation as I think I’ve got one foot out the door when it comes to YA but every now and then they still surprise me and blow me away. I hoped this would be one of those.

Therefore, with those prefaces out of the way, let’s dive in.

The bare bones of this story, and many of the details that echo the real world, including the rich history based on the author’s own Yoruba culture, was both lovely and rich and completely unfiltered in an unflinching way. This book handles, and describes, dark themes and darker events; from the eradication of the people of this world and the accompanying revisionist history in the victor’s favour, to abuse and assault, to the drafting of child soldiers to fight and kill their own, and so much more. I thought it was all so well done (brutal, but well done). I also liked the magic system based around the Orisha gods even though we only got a little taste of this (hoping for more in book two!).

Where, for me, this failed was in the details, the pacing, and unfortunately the romance.

I was constantly losing track of the time that was passing (or, rather, not passing, as this takes place over the course of a month and yet felt like it should’ve maybe been six). I felt sometimes the details just weren’t enough on some parts, too much on others, and while I am not advocating for more horrors, I do feel like certain things just got glossed over and we didn’t sit with them to truly feel the impact. Which I think also applies to the romance. In some ways it came out of nowhere (though in others it was hard not to spot coming down the pipeline) but while there was some build, I don’t think there was enough. The foundation for it was made of clay. And, again, the timing of it all. I was also frustrated by Sloane’s behaviour towards this particular character (basically from the word go) when she should’ve been acting very differently. This just didn’t align. And maybe it’s just one of those things we’re supposed to accept but.. yeah, I never did.

My one other little gripe was that while I have no issue with Sloane, and her friends, being fifteen, I do have issue with how she felt (ie, read) so much older. I absolutely respect her circumstances, and life in this world in general, would age people differently but it just felt a little discordant.

And as for the big climatic events near the end.. I’m just perplexed. I just don’t feel it worked very well after everything that came before it. Having said all that, I almost forgot to mention that I did really like one of the reveals near the end — but did not appreciate the other one. If you know you know.

Overall, I found the first half of the book to be much stronger than the latter half, but in general I found the writing to be good; especially for a debut. I will absolutely be reading the sequel (yay for duologies!). Also, as always, and while it should go without saying by now, please check out reviews from other readers and take this particular one with a grain of salt.

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

GALLANT by V.E. Schwab – double review!

Everything casts a shadow. Even the world we live in. And as with every shadow, there is a place where it must touch. A seam, where the shadow meets its source.

#1 New York Times–bestselling author Victoria Schwab weaves a dark and original tale about the place where the world meets its shadow, and the young woman beckoned by both sides. The Secret Garden meets Crimson Peak in this stand-alone novel perfect for readers of Holly Black and Neil Gaiman.

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

New York Times bestselling author Victoria Schwab crafts a vivid and lush novel that grapples with the demons that are often locked behind closed doors. An eerie, standalone saga about life, death, and the young woman beckoned by both. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Melissa Albert, and Garth Nix will quickly lose themselves in this novel with crossover appeal for all ages.


Title : Gallant
Author : V.E. Schwab
Format : eARC / Physical ARC
Page Count : 352 / 310
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Greenwillow Books / Titan Books
Release Date : March 1, 2022 / March 8, 2022

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’m a wee bit bummed about this one only because at the onset it just felt like it had so much potential. And while I didn’t hate where it went, it just didn’t seem to live up to itself. Not to mention I’m not entirely sure this one really had a point?

The biggest draw to this one, beyond the author (though I’ll note I’m not a super fan but have enjoyed more than I’ve disliked), was the kind of person Olivia herself represented. Don’t expect much dialogue in this novel because, surprise, Olivia is mute. I wasn’t quite sure how this would work and yet somehow I didn’t miss the lack of dialogue at all. There were some conveniences, of course, as this is fantasy and there are certain characters who manage to find their way around this but otherwise.. a few characters did sign with her or she would make do communicating in other ways.

The other element I really enjoyed were the kinds of creatures that Olivia is somewhat haunted by. I loved how Schwab described these, how we learned how Olivia grew to be aware of them, and those interactions. And the greater role they later play.

Outside of this though, the plot itself? I don’t know. I think it hyped itself up somehow and I was rather left wanting. The story itself is rather sad, or melancholy, and yet it’s also pitched against this big drama and end-of-the-world stakes and somehow they don’t quite marry all that well. Plus the ending itself is.. well, sad. And almost open ended? Maybe not totally but certainly, somehow, unsatisfying even though I normally like that kind of end. But it just didn’t work here.

I’ll be curious to see more reviews as we get closer to release (I’m writing this on January twenty-third) and determine if I’m on par with most readers or the outlier. But, having said all that, I definitely wouldn’t talk you out of picking it up. It’s an easy quick read, for all that it took me a week to start and finish (work and life distractions, not boredom), and I may have even been moved emotionally at a certain part. So. Yes, if this sounds like your cup of tea, do not think this review is trying to convince you otherwise.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Intense creep level at times
Ghouls, grief and grand houses
Sad and lilting

There was so much to unravel in Gallant and in fact on finishing, I’ve not unravelled it all. This was such a clever book, incredibly easy to read and get into, with themes that could be less easy for some and a consistent level of creep and eerieness. I loved the eerieness, the dark atmosphere and how that ratcheted up to a level of heightened tension towards the end. Tenterhooks, people.

The protagonist, Olivia was unable or unwilling to talk, the former, I think and her world was grey with splashes of occasional colour. The opening up of her life to Gallant seemed like opportunity but it was a figurative can of worms, pandora’s box, a mess. The people inhabiting Gallant, Edgar and Hannah were warm and positive new influences on Olivia’s dull and austere life. Matthew was a different matter, but you just felt the more to his story.

The way the story eeked out, was haunting, unexpected and it had me on the edge of my seat; it was hard to put this book down. The book was brimming with sadness, it felt like a lilting melody and ultimately, that’s the feeling I’ve come away with. I am 95% satisfied with a slice of I wish.

This story was crafted with skill, ingenuity and former (and possibly future) reader’s tears. The illustrations and formatting of this book are incredibly special and bring much to the feels you get from reading.

Run, says her blood.
Stay, says her bones.”

Thank you to Titan Books for the stunning review copy.

GIRLS OF FATE AND FURY by Natasha Ngan

The epic romance of Lei and Wren comes to a breathtaking conclusion in the explosive finale to the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling Girls of Paper and Fire series.

‘Don’t struggle, Lei-zhi. It’s time to take you back to the Hidden Palace. You’re going home.’

The jaw-dropping conclusion to Girls of Storm and Shadow left the fates of Lei and Wren hanging in the balance. There’s one thing Lei knows – she can never return to the Hidden Palace. The trauma and tragedy she suffered behind those opulent walls will plague her forever. She cannot be trapped there with the sadistic king again, especially without Wren.

The last time Lei saw the girl she loved, Wren was fighting an army of soldiers in a furious battle to the death.

With the two girls torn apart and each in great peril, will they reunite at last, or have their destinies diverged forever? 


Title : Girls of Fate and Fury
Author : Natasha Ngan
Series : Girls of Paper and Fire (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date : November 30, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

“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.

That was how I left off my review for book two in 2019. Suffice it to say.. hopes were dashed. Having said that, though, this was not the series for me and I think I mostly knew that by book one. So no one is surprised by this result and also, you know, grain o’salt.

Also please note I’m only putting in this low-bar effort to review because we have reviews for the first two books on the blog. Otherwise this likely would’ve only existed on GR. Aren’t you all lucky.

I found the first half of this finale to be an utter and total slog to get through — true, I could remember almost nothing about how book two ended, or much about book two in general because it being a journey-centric instalment. But I soon remembered enough to get by. And even still, despite the bonus of having a new POV, nothing sparked joy or excitement. There was some minor enjoyment, or at least I was dialled in, for about twenty percent near the middle, but once that had passed.. more slog. Somehow, despite everything going on, especially a certain reveal near to the end, there was so intensity. There was no dramatic sense of stakes or danger or anything. Which I think is my whole issue with both the story and the writing : while sometimes emotion is conveyed, I can never actually feel it.

I can absolutely understand why people not only love this world but also the representation found within the pages as well as identifying with the characters. I appreciate all of those things. But that’s as far as it goes.

I doubt I’ll read this author again but I’m glad to have completed this series, and have one less unfinished story hanging over my head.

A RUSH OF WINGS by Laura E. Weymouth

Rowenna Winthrop has always known there’s magic within her. But though she hears voices on the wind and possesses unusual talents, her mother Mairead believes Rowenna lacks discipline, and refuses to teach her the craft that keeps their Scottish village safe. When Mairead dies a sinister death, it seems Rowenna’s one chance to grow into her power has passed. Then, on a fateful, storm-tossed night, Rowenna rescues a handsome stranger named Gawen from a shipwreck, and her mother miraculously returns from the dead. Or so it appears.

This resurrected Mairead is nothing like the old one: to hide her new and monstrous nature, she turns Rowenna’s brothers and Gawen into swans and robs Rowenna of her voice. Forced to flee, Rowenna travels to the city of Inverness to find a way to break the curse. But monsters take many forms, and in Inverness Rowenna is soon caught in a web of strangers who want to use her raw magic for their own gain. If she wishes to save herself and the people she loves most, Rowenna will have to take her fate into her own hands, and unlock the power that has evaded her for so long.


Title : A Rush of Wings
Author : Laura E. Weymouth
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA historical fantasy / fairytale retelling
Publisher : Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date : November 2, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

So there were three big, huge, reasons why I almost never read this book. One being that the fairytale this is inspired by also inspired my actual favourite book of all time (ten points if you’ve been here long enough to know which one) and so naturally nothing could ever measure up; two, I had already read another Six Swans inspired YA retelling this year (two back to back after all this time? it was weird!), and three, this is my third attempt reading this author after two massive fails and the only reason I broke my promise to never read her again was because of the premise. Spoiler alert, I probably am issuing that promise again because, as you can tell from the rating, this wasn’t a win. But.. it also wasn’t a fail.

The best part about this version of the story was the writing. Weymouth did a great job bringing me onto the rocky misty shores of this random village (or whatever) while bringing into focus the historical setting and tumultuous past of Culloden and an occupied Inverness. It made for a very real but mundane kind of danger while abutting all the fey dangerous magic, and also creatures, that was also present in this world. It certainly wasn’t perfect (I am still side eyeing the fact that the guards never saw the four boys going back and forth from within the castle or grounds or whatever while Rowenna was captured but, you know, we trudge on) but I could get swept up in it.

Where things didn’t work was.. well, almost everything else. This version definitely mixes things up; Rowenna is no Sorcha and I’m glad of that. I actually appreciated that she wasn’t the darling, wasn’t sweet, wasn’t easy, and was battling not just the curse but also herself. The lack of six brothers also speeds things up a bit for her as she has less curse breaking to do. But at the same time another hundred pages would’ve done a lot for this, I think. Mostly in giving us more familial dynamic because honestly beyond the general hope for her brothers to be returned to her, we didn’t know them well enough, or get enough foundation of their relationships and dynamics to root for them beyond principle — once they stopped treating Rowenna badly, at least. Which also applies to the love interest.

Strangely the strongest relationship or bond was between Rowenna and a sea creature. Now that could’ve been a story..

In all honesty, though, the absolute weakest part might have been the magical villain (as opposed to the human one) because I don’t quite think I ever understood their actual goal. Even in the end, when we see the devastation wrought, I’m still like.. (insert Ryan Reynolds, “but why?” gif here).

As for the aforementioned human villain, well.. the scene that almost made me chuck the iPad across the room is when Rowenna has an opportunity to triumph and does not. Like, yeah, I get it, but wow. Considering all the devastation he was responsible for, wow. But sure, get on that high horse. However what’s worse is how she initially ends up in his hands, and forced to do his bidding, and that whole little plot and.. I don’t know. I’m mixed about it all.

So, yes, incase you were wondering, this wasn’t a win and I don’t think it’s all to do with my bias though I’m sure that plays a part. If you’re a fan of this retelling, or just think it sounds up your alley, I would cautiously recommend, especially with the Scotland setting and uprising in the mix. H o w e v e r, while I’m normally not one to spell things out, I do want to caution you that if animal death or violence done to animals is a big trigger for you? Even when it’s somewhat spelled out without being graphic (if that makes sense)? Stay away.

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