Saturday, 30 January 2016

"Sins & Needles" (The Artists Trilogy #1) by Karina Halle

Sins & Needles (The Artists Trilogy, #1)Sins & Needles by Karina Halle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars!

My book resolution for the year was to read books outside my two usual genres of YA and fantasy, and that's how I ended up reading "Sins & Needles". It caught my eye because of the criminal aspects, to be honest. It's marketed as a romance, but there's a lot of crime, mystery, and suspense as well - to call it just a romance novel would be selling it short. I enjoyed "Sins & Needles" enough to finish it in one day, which is unusual for me outside of fantasy novels!

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the characterisation. I felt that I truly knew and understood the main characters' intentions, and nothing they did ever felt out of character. Ellie's backstory is intriguing and well-written, and even though she's kind of a b*tch most of the time, I still empathised with her. She makes some, frankly, terrible decisions - but we all do (hers just tend to be a touch more illegal)! Camden was a good character (mostly because he was beautiful), but Ellie wins the most in-depth and interesting character award for this book.

Ellie and Camden's romance was well-paced and believable. One of the reasons I often avoid romance novels is because the characters fall in love two pages in, which is so ridiculously unrealistic it's laughable. Although Ellie and Camden have history, they don't fall head over heels straight away. The reader is given time to appreciate their platonic relationship before we are thrown into romance territory, which I greatly appreciated. Also, the few sex scenes the novel had were hot! I really hope that continues into the next novel...

One issue I did have with "Sins & Needles" was that Camden's motivations (outside the romance) were a little meh. Nothing about that aspect of the plot felt particularly innovative. Javier and his thugs were okay, but I did not know enough about Javier to truly fear him - I have a feeling that comes in "Shooting Scars". But Ellie's plot line and history more than made up for the average-ness of Camden's and Javier's, in my opinion.

Overall, this was a different and interesting romance with action, suspense and a strong protagonist. I would recommend it to anyone who likes romance, but wants more to a plot than just the romance!

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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

"Prince's Gambit" (Captive Prince #2) by C.S. Pacat

Prince's Gambit (Captive Prince, #2)Prince's Gambit by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No, seriously.
This book is so amazing it can't actually be contained in real words.

I adored "Captive Prince" - but "Prince's Gambit" blew it out of the water. The intricacy of the plot, the brilliant detail of the politics, the beauty of the romance. Everything worked. You know, when the romance is amazing but the government makes no sense, or the politics are beautifully detailed but the romance feels hollow and rushed? This book beat this age-old problem. Nothing was lost to make way for some other aspect; the book was perfectly balanced.

Alright, let me be 100% honest - I would give this book 5 stars for chapter 19/19.5 alone. I know, I'm terrible. But I waited SO LONG FOR THOSE SCENES. SO. LONG. The relationship between Damen and Laurent felt so honest and beautiful - this was not just a physical attraction, but a true emotional connection as well. Everything about them made sense - even when it was maddening and I just wanted them to kiss already, I knew that was not true to their characters. Pacat gave me what I did not think I wanted, and I loved the story all the more for it.

Romantic aspects aside, the strategy and politics of this series are extremely well-constructed and intricately detailed. Every time a new part of Laurent's plans were revealed, I was taken aback by how brilliant his thinking was, and how silly I was to have missed it. The plot never felt contrived, overly detailed, or rushed. I loved every minute of it. Oh, and the King Regent, with his disgusting rape of young boys, is the perfect villain - a slimy git and absolutely abhorrent, but also smart and cunning enough for me to believe he could actually outsmart intelligent opponents.

Overall, this was a stunning follow up novel with great character development and political detail. I recommend this to anyone. Ever. (As long as you aren't too squeamish).

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Monday, 25 January 2016

"Captive Prince" (Captive Prince #1) by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince Volume OneCaptive Prince Volume One by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars!

Well, this is certainly a different sort of book to what I usually read. If you've read any of my reviews before, you'll know that I mostly read YA. Maybe that's why I liked this novel so much - it's different from my usual books and therefore feels fresh. Whatever the reason, this book pulled me out of a mini reading slump (hurrah!)

First and foremost, I loved Pacat's writing. 'Captive Prince' was such a well-crafted book - it was really easy to read, but used a lot of beautiful and complex language as well, making it feel like I was not even reading at times. This is a hard balance to strike, and I applaud Pacat on it.

I would not usually read a straight romance novel, but I do enjoy a well-constructed and believable romance within another plot as much as the next reader. Damen and Laurent definitely fit this category. They aren't even really involved in 'Captive Prince', nor did our narrator hint at more than a physical attraction for most of the novel. And yet, I found myself shipping them hard. Like, insanely hard. The angst is real, you guys. Anyway, that's the mark of a good romance in my opinion, so I am really looking forward to the next book, in which that will (hopefully) be developed further.

I enjoyed the world this novel is set in as well. It was not an overly complicated world, which is something you often find in the fantasy genre. I, personally, think that this worked in its favour. The sexual aspects of this book were a little strange and confronting, but I can see how they fit into the overall plot (side note: despite the terrible and many things wrong with Vere's sexual politics, it was nice to see a world where homosexuality is not demonised - and it was pretty original, to say the least). While this story did feature a lot of political aspects, it was largely about Damen and Laurent. I think this was a good thing, since their relationship is a unique and interesting one.

Overall, this was a brilliant novel featuring two intriguing and well-constructed main characters. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes their romance a little angsty, and enjoys fantasy that is not overly detailed.

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Sunday, 17 January 2016

"Six of Crows" (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was beyond exciting - it was enthralling, thrilling, and satisfying all at once! I could not put it down, and I barely made any notes to refer to for my review, because that would have meant I had to stop reading for a moment... so sorry if this review is terrible, everyone.

I went into this book with high hopes - I loved Bardugo's first series, I personally love books featuring thieves, and of course, the hype surrounding it was palpable. That's a major part of why I put off reading it for so long, because so often when I read a book with such high expectations, I am let down... but not with Six of Crows! This book had me hooked from the first page, and barely let me breathe for its entire story.

First of all, the pacing was relentless in the best way possible. Six of Crows is action-packed, jumping from one scene to another with ferocity. It did not slow down for even two or three pages, which is saying something considering how long this book was. One thing I must say, though, is that while I think you could read this novel without having read Bardugo's first series, having read the Grisha Trilogy definitely enriched my experience of this book. I'd recommend reading those first if you can, as Bardugo has some fabulously detailed world-building in the Grisha trilogy which she builds on in Six of Crows.

Often times when there are multiple protagonists, I find myself groaning when I see one of their names at the start of a chapter - but I loved all the protagonists in this book. I definitely had my favourites, though (Kaz and Inej, anyone?) Bardugo's characterization was flawless, and I felt that I understood each of the characters and their intentions equally. This is an especially impressive feat considering just how many characters this novel follows. I also loved the tiny bit of romance in this book - there was barely any, but enough to make my heart hurt (sidenote: Jesper & Wylan better happen in the next book!)

Well, you are probably thinking "she seems to love this book - why hasn't she given it a 5 star rating?" Thanks for asking! This book was so close to a 5 star rating, but one thing held me back. The actual thievery plot did not feel particularly unique to me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it, but I was not wowed by its originality and ingenuity. For this reason, I only gave Six of Crows 4.5 stars.

Overall, this book was a stunning, fast-paced, and action-packed novel with a brilliantly imagined world and great characters. I would recommend this to anyone who is new to the fantasy genre or just loves a fast-paced novel.

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Friday, 8 January 2016

"Dumplin'" by Julie Murphy

Dumplin' (Dumplin', #1)Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read this novel as a part of the BRTD Bookclub! Come join us for monthly YA reads and discussion :)

3.5 stars

Those of you who follow my reviews know that contemporary is a genre that I never get particularly excited about. However, I have recently had amazing luck with contemporary novels, so the times might be a-changin'! Books like All the Bright Places and Frankie struck a chord with me, and now so has Dumplin'. I was pondering why these books in particular resonated with me, and I think it's because they deal with important issues in a light(ish) way. There's a lesson, but you don't feel like you're being taught.

Anyway, I digress. Dumplin' makes a lot of great points about body image, which is an issue I have always struggled with, and perhaps that's why I enjoyed it so much. This is the kind of book I wish had existed when I was a 15-year-old, because Willowdean is a perfectly realistic combination of confident and insecure. Some days she does not care what people think of her appearance, and other days she cares far too much. Some days she defends people who are mocked, and other days she is just as judgmental as the bullies. That, in a nutshell, is what I liked about her. Protagonists that are either totally likable or totally hateable (I'm making up words now) feel unrealistic, because nobody is that one-sided.

While I definitely loved the body image aspects of this novel, Dumplin' was more than a little fluffy. The plot itself did not really excite me - "unconventionally attractive woman enters beauty pageant" has been done before. Even the romance aspects of this novel were a little 'meh'. Most of the characters (besides Will herself) were not that interesting. I enjoyed hearing Aunt Lucy's story, however. I think everyone has at least one image issue that causes self-doubt and stops us doing what we love, so this made me instantly relate to her.

It's hard to define exactly what it was that I liked about this book, beyond the body image stuff. I think it was the realism. Murphy never glossed over Will's self-doubt, and she did not end the book with everyone holding hands and suddenly accepting fat people. I especially enjoyed the ending because it was so open-ended - anything else would have been a disservice to Willowdean's character.

Overall, this was a light read with a poignant and realistic representation of body image issues. I'd recommend it to anyone who cares about this issue, and does not particularly mind if the plot is secondary to that.

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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

"The Goddess Inheritance" (Goddess Test #3) by Aimee Carter

The Goddess Inheritance (Goddess Test, #3)The Goddess Inheritance by Aimee Carter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review contains spoilers for the other books in the series.

This series, as a whole, was okay. There was nothing really wrong with it, it just was not especially unique or original. Having said that, this series certainly went in an unexpected direction - it's hard to believe that The Goddess Test and The Goddess Inheritance were part of the same series at all. This book, in particular, was definitely not what I expected.

In Goddess Interrupted, I felt strongly that Kate should be more actively involved in the plot. She is generally around when the action is happening, but does not contribute to it herself. Kate definitely gets more involved in the action this time around, which I really enjoyed, since she's the main character and all. Having said this, there was a lot going on in this novel - there was almost too much action at times. The final battle particularly fell flat to me, and was over far too quickly. Kate also seems to be the reason for all the action, which felt a tad unbelievable to me.

One aspect of this novel that I really did not get was the purpose of baby Milo. Obviously it was sweet to see Kate and Henry coo over him, but when we hear that Calliope used her powers to guarantee that Kate would fall pregnant, I had one big question - why? Calliope really only used the baby to motivate Kate and Henry to attack her, which makes no sense. The baby has no "special" powers (beyond the usual ones) and Calliope herself is capable of having children so it can't just be because she longs for a family. I get that she wants Henry to stay with her, but the baby is not essential to that. The forced conception of Milo just seemed like such an irrelevant plot point, I could not get past it.

I liked that this novel had less romantic aspects. I thought this whole series would mainly be about Henry and Kate's relationship, which it was not at all, and I am grateful for that. Greek mythology is so much more than just one relationship! I still think Carter could have utilised her myriad of gods and goddesses much better. For example, Ella was a big part of The Goddess Test, so seeing her presence dwindle over the series was disappointing. Also, Walter was such an unbelievable twat that I wonder why so many women were willing to have children with him. Seriously, Diana. I expected better of you.

The ending pulled this book down from a 3.5 to a 3 star rating for me. It was non-committal, expected, and happy, the worst combination for a series ending. Carter had so many possibilities to work with, and she chose the most boring one, which just felt anti-climactic and disappointing. Especially since we go from almost too much action to none.

Overall, this was a solid ending to a solid series. I enjoyed the overall premise, but it just fell flat for me. If you've already read the first two books, however, this one is very short, so you may as well finish the series.

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Monday, 4 January 2016

"Goddess Interrupted" (Goddess Test #2) by Aimee Carter

Goddess Interrupted (Goddess Test, #2)Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.

This book was better than its predecessor, and I genuinely enjoyed reading it. The characters had more depth, the story line was more exciting, and the romance was definitely more intriguing. I still had some problems with it, though, and that held me back from giving a 4+ star rating.

My biggest issue with this series is Kate. She reminds me a lot of Meghan from The Iron King, in that she does not really do anything. Kate always seems to be where the action is, in the thick of fights between gods and titans. But she does not fight, or even train to fight, and she's basically asked to stay home whenever anything exciting happens. I get that she's new to the whole goddess thing, but the others could at least give her some lessons on how to control her powers. Alas, no, Kate just does a lot of waiting and thinking about why Henry does not love her.

Kate and Henry's romance is, surprisingly, one aspect of this novel that I enjoyed - but not in the same way I normally get into romances (you know, like your heart might break if they aren't together). I felt it was realistic that Henry would have priorities other than Kate, and also that he would find it hard to adjust to marriage when he's been alone for literally 1000 years. If they had been all lovey-dovey like in a romance novel, it would have felt very unrealistic, and so I am happy they had their problems in this book. I am also a sucker for angsty romances, and Henry and Kate definitely count as angsty.

Speaking of angst, I really enjoyed the introduction of Persephone. I thought she was a very relatable and honest character. I expected it to be an eternal cat fight between her and Kate, and so I was pleasantly surprised. It was also great to see Persephone and Henry interact, since all we know about their relationship beforehand is from Henry's perspective. I enjoyed the other secondary characters as well, especially Ava, Ingrid, and Calliope. Given the ending, I am intrigued to find out what Calliope is trying to achieve.

Overall, this was an interesting novel with a realistic budding romance, great ancillary characters, but a weak protagonist. It's definitely better than the first novel, so if you have already read The Goddess Test, I'd recommend this book to you.

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Friday, 1 January 2016

"Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club" (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, #1)Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, how I adored Lady Helen's rich and beautiful world! I have not been able to find many decent YA historical fiction novels as of late, so this one was a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

Ah, Regent London - what a time! I love reading about England in the 1800's, since it was such a time of change for the country. It was obvious from page one that Goodman had done extensive research on the customs of the time, and this made the story feel real. The historical aspects of this novel also melded seamlessly with the fantasy elements, making the Reclaimers and Deceivers seem as legitimate as the Prince Regent and his fondness for ostentatious clothing. Only thorough research and great writing could achieve that, so major kudos to Goodman!

Speaking of which, I thought the idea of Reclaimers and Deceivers was unique, well thought-out and thus enjoyable. It makes sense for the time, but would make equal sense had this novel been set in 2016. I think that is a cornerstone of great urban fantasy writing - can your world stand the test of time?

The characterisation in this novel was flawless. Each of the ancillary characters was three-dimensional, and Lady Helen herself was both badass and proper - very appropriate for her station and era. The romance in this novel was beautiful, well-developed over a long period, and not at all central to the plot. In my opinion, this is the best way to write a romance, and so I will go to my grave shipping Helen with a certain gentleman.

Fair warning, however - this book is long, and it reads long. I would not pick up this novel for a casual weekend read. The pacing is much better at the end, though, so the last ~150 pages went by in a flash. Personally, I think the beautiful prose made up for the lengthiness of this book.

Overall, this was a brilliant read that seamlessly combined history and fantasy to create a truly enjoyable story. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys well-written historical fiction with intriguing characters, but does not mind a long read.

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"The Prophecy of Shadows" (Elementals #1) by Michelle Madow

The Prophecy of Shadows (Elementals, #1)The Prophecy of Shadows by Michelle Madow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to Dreamscape Publishing for the ARC of The Prophecy of Shadows...

Perhaps the best word I can think of to describe this book is "solid". There's not too much particularly wrong with it, but the story also did not grab me. Maybe I'm just being a spoiled reader...

The Prophecy of Shadows was a really fast-paced story. Nicole finds out that she's a witch for the first time ever about two pages into the novel. Apologies for my crass terminology, but I could have used a little more 'foreplay'; a chance to get to know who Nicole is outside of this new destiny.

For better or for worse, this novel was a real page turner, going from action scene to action scene. Sometimes this was great - like when you are learning about the magical community. Other times, it was not so great - like on their quest, when they conveniently understood exactly what all the clues meant immediately, even though they were 300 years old and should have been written in more obfuscatory language. Anyway, all this definitely made it a quick read, which is a bonus if you're looking for a decent book to read but you have commitment issues.

Speaking of commitment, I found the romance between Nicole and Blake utterly forced and irrelevant to the plot. I was not barracking for them to get together at all, because Nicole was basically attracted to Blake because he was pretty. There was no relationship development, which is pretty much my biggest pet peeve ever. Especially when the romance is marketed as being a central plot point.

On the positive side, I thought the concept of diluted Grecian god blood was interesting. Madow had some good world-building happening, and I never found myself questioning the magical elements in this novel. It can be hard to write about Greek mythology, because it's such a huge theme in YA, so I was impressed with the mythology aspects of The Prophecy of Shadows. I plan on reading the second novel, as I think this one was mostly a prequel to the later adventures of 'The Elementals'.

Overall, this was a fast-paced novel with interesting Grecian elements, but a pretty weak romance. I would recommend to someone who wants a quick, action-packed read.

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