Review: The Stolen Kingdom by Bethany Atazadeh

An exciting, tightly-plotted adventure with powerful characters, ‘The Stolen Kingdom’ really captured me. What I loved about this retelling was everything new Bethany Atazadeh brought to the classic Aladdin story – the magic, the female empowerment and combining it with a larger fairy-tale world.

The main character, Arie, really stood out to me. She’s a princess that cares about ruling her kingdom one day, without being afraid to get her hands dirty and do things for herself. Her determination was so strong, even in the face of manipulation, capture and almost drowning(!)…it all came through in her voice.

Her love interest, Kadin, had a equally powerful presence, and the switching between their perspectives always came at just the right point! I absolutely loved how Arie’s power to read minds affected their relationship and how they saw each other. It was such a clever way to get to know Kadin immediately, and shows an attention to character as well as plot that not all fantasies manage! I was pulling for their romance the entire time, and really anticipate what’ll go down between their as the series continues (if I could find a Jin myself, I’d wish for a happily ever after, of course!)

The pacing was excellent – everything that happened perfectly building on what came before. The scenes with the crew of thieves in the palace, and Arie showing off her powers were my favourite, you honestly won’t be able to put the book down when things come to a head with Amir. And those final chapters….wow. Talk about character development!

I read the book in one sitting, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series! Imagining how this world will expand and how the characters’ journeys will continue is so exciting. Seeds have been planted for ‘The Jinni Key’ that have me wondering if it’s even possible to wait until its December release.

We’re looking at the next ‘Lunar Chronicles’, for sure!

*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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Review: Dead Popular by Sue Wallman

I’ve enjoyed every single Sue Wallman book I’ve read since her debut, Lying About Last Summer. With each new release, she proves herself an absolute master at crafting YA thrillers that are impossible to put down!

Dead Popular follows Kate, the most popular girl and Head Prefect at Pankhurst boarding school. One of her old friends, Sasha, is not returning for the school year after expulsion, and somebody wants revenge. We follow Kate and her form as they throw status symbol parties disrupted by school room pranks with more sinister motives. Everything can be explained away until one girl ends up dead.

Seriously, all you have to do is read the first page to get pulled into the story. I love narratives that begin with something dark, so you’re just anxiously waiting the entire time for things to turn ugly, but you don’t know when it’ll creep up on you. The energy this book has is definitely unnerving in how everything seems normal until the last minute.

I thought Sue Wallman did a great job at capturing the characters of a posh boarding school, their entitlement and preoccupation with beauty. I really understood the group dynamics – who was supposed to end up with who, who we weren’t supposed to like after what happened last summer – it was all developed so well in such a short space of time. And with all that, there still manages to be an intriguing romance plot thread to further complicate the relationships between everyone, from a book that’s under 300 pages. You really can have it all!

Boarding schools are one of my all time favourite book settings, and it was used perfectly to give that sense of isolation from parents…and civilisation. That said, the greater setting of the beach, from the cliffs to the chip shop, was so well conjured too, I could almost smell the salt air as I turned the pages.

The mystery itself I didn’t see coming. Always a good thing with thrillers, right? But of course, looking back at the end, all the seeds were there to make the reveal feel earned. It’s just a testament to the characters and atmosphere that I can be so oblivious to the genre they’re built it!

If you love thrillers, and are looking for the next book that not even ice cream in the blistering heat could tempt you away from, then I strongly recommend adding Dead Popular to your TBR.

 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Interview with Lucy and Lydia Connell, authors of #FindTheGirl: All That Glitters!

Today, we have the pleasure of taking part in the blog tour for Lucy and Lydia’s follow up to #FindTheGirl, All That Glitters! If you’re out of the loop on the series, it focuses on twin sisters, Nina and Nancy. They have polar opposite personalities: Nancy is a popular, beauty and boy band obsessive, while Nina is a reserved, musical prodigy. The pair find themselves at the centre of a social media campaign when one of the girls spends quality time with Chase, the lead singer of Chasing Chords, and he’s desperate to find out who she is. There’s drama, romance and music you wish you could hear in real life!

Reading about the bond between twins is particularly special for us, and the journey that Nina and Nancy go through in All That Glitters, dealing with the pressures of the spotlight, and stepping out of each other’s shadows felt so deeply real. So, we were ecstatic to get the chance to interview Lucy and Lydia about the series, and how their relationship reflects in their characters.

Are each of you more like Nina or Nancy?

I would definitely say that Lydia is more like Nancy and my personality (Lucy) is definitely more like Nina. There is so much of us in these characters, I feel like they are exaggerated versions of ourselves! Lydia is much more outgoing, I feel like I’m so much like Nina! When our viewers and friends read this book, they will definitely see us in these characters!

If you could swap places with either of them, who would you pick?

Ohhhhh this is so hard! We both loveeeee Nancy’s confidence, style and fun loving personality but Nina has such a big heart and is such a talented musician and in this book, she attends the Guildhall summer music program which is something we would have loved to have done! Also she’s dating dreamy Chase! SO IT’S REALLY HARD!

How did being twins yourselves influence Nina and Nancy’s characters?

One thing we love about being twins, is that twins have such a special bond, which is something we really wanted to highlight in both of our books. There is no bond as strong as a twin bond, you’re always stronger together. The twins are so close at the end of our first book, but in this second book, they face some new challenges of having to be independent. Nina is now the ‘IT’ girl, dating Chase from the biggest boyband Chasing Chords and Nancy finds this quite hard as their roles of popularity have now reversed. Nancy is struggling with feeling left behind and not knowing exactly what she wants to do and Lydia felt a little bit like this when she was at school.

Obviously Lydia and I are extremely close, and have always been so it was fun to explore the possibility of these twins being polar opposites, and having such different personalities that we could really develop!

What was the best and the hardest part of writing together?

The best thing about writing our books together is that we could really bounce ideas between us. This really helped develop our story, all of our ideas and enabled us to be extra creative with the story. The hardest part of writing together was that we wanted to work on the same chapters, and when we did this we would have to decide on which version we preferred/had to choose which part we preferred.

Describe the series in emojis!

💗 👭 🎵 ✨ (pink heart, two twinning girls and a music note because of the love of music in the book and of course the sparkle emoji because our new book is called ALL THAT GLITTERS! 

In the way that Nancy is obsessed with Chasing Chords, what are you both obsessed with at the moment? 

We are both absolutely obsessed with Soul Cycle gym classes at the moment! They are so much fun! We are also obsessed with mini ice cream Twisters! They are a summer must have! Of course, just like Nancy we are music obsessed and we have actually made a FIND THE GIRL playlist that would be the most perfect soundtrack for our book! We have been listening to this on REPEAT!!

FIND IT HERE :  https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1FI88x3lZNvb7R4Uu3QpPs

We absolutely lived for your New York Minute recreation on Instagram last year! What are your top 3 Mary-Kate and Ashley movies?

Thank-you so much! Those photos are some of our favourites ever! We love recreating our favourite Mary-Kate and Ashley movies. They were our idols growing up and we looked up to them so much! We hope Nina and Nancy can be an inspiration just like Mary-Kate and Ashley were to us! Our favourite Mary-Kate and Ashley movies were definitely Holiday In The Sun, Our Lips Are Sealed and New York Minute!

 

Thank you to Penguin Random House for inviting us to be part of this blog tour, and to Lucy and Lydia for answering our questions! Twin sisters > anything else!

Review: A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

A Sky Painted Gold is the story of Lou, who sneaks into the mansion house across the lake to escape her small-town life, until the glamorous Cardews arrive and she becomes their new fascination. Set in the late 1920s it’s the UK’s glitzy YA answer to The Great Gatsby. 

First of all, Lou is an incredibly relatable character. Her sister’s just gotten married, and she’s feeling pretty lost, so obviously she gets completely swept up by the secrets and hidden desires.

I really adored the settings how they could become claustrophobic crucibles at some times and magical expanses of freedom. The atmosphere was addicting, and really pulled me through the entire story. It never lost a sense of the Cornish countryside vs. the smog of London divide, and I enjoyed seeing how Lou acted differently, and how she explored new aspects of herself, in each setting.

Romance is possibly the main thread of A Sky Painted Gold, except no one is with who they’re supposed to be with! Who doesn’t love a good masquerade ball though! I adored this scene, because it was the perfect opportunity for truths to be revealed and scandals to cause ripples! However, I was pleasantly surprised that the romance resolved relatively with little complication that there was an F/F thread. I guess I was assuming the worst of these people, but it turns out they were just nice at heart, and I don’t know about you guys, but that made my heart sing.

Overal,, I’m giving A Sky Painted Gold 3.5 stars. I was drawn in; I loved the characters, and the world, and the writing was beautiful too. If you’re in need of a slower paced, yet addicting, summer read, I would definitely recommend this one!

I haven’t read a lot of historical fiction, but if Laura Wood writes any more, I’ll certainly be reading it!

 

Guest Post: Bryony Pearce author of Savage Island

Very excitingly, today we are hosting Bryony Pearce as part of the Savage Island blog tour! ‘Savage Island’ has to be my favourite of all the Red Eye books. It’s so atypical in terms of setting and tropes but I LOVED that Bryony thought outside of the box and made geocaching something to fear! The whole book played on expectations and cliches, and even though I was biting my nails the whole way through, I loved every second of it!

Now onto Bryony talking about how the setting represents the interiority of the characters!

Interior world, exterior world

Savage Island has two settings: the ordinary world at home, which is revealed in the Prologue and through flashbacks, and the island itself.

I always intended the island to be more than a setting however; it is more like a character in its own right. The island helps the protagonists, offers refuge or protection (caves, trees, rocks, ravines) and has moods of its own (shown in the landscape, weather, wildlife and time of day).

Further, the island is a representation of the interior worlds of our protagonists, reflecting what is going on with them.

The first we know about the island is its location and name. It is an island in the Shetlands called Aikenhead. (Aikenhead does not, of course, exist, but it is based on existing islands in the archipelago).

The Shetlands are a part of the British-Isles, the most Northerly part, but separate from them, just as the island follows the rules of the normal world but is apart from them.

Aikenhead is a Scottish name (one reason for picking it as the name of my fictional island), but it is also a surname. The most famous Aikenhead is Thomas, a Scottish student from Edinburgh, who was executed for blasphemy at the age of twenty (he was the last person in Great Britain to be executed for this crime).

In my last blog post I spoke about how the story forms a battle between the id and the superego. Thomas is another link to this – the arguments that got him killed were what many in this century might consider logical:

The prisoner had repeatedly maintained, in conversation, that theology was a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the moral doctrines of philosophers, and partly of poetical fictions and extravagant chimeras … That the Holy Scriptures were stuffed with such madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that he admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them.

So even the name of the island represents this battle between logic and instinct, what is right and what we want / need. It is also, more literally named after a young man who was killed. A victim.

Before they see the island, the teens are sent a description of it, so that they can prepare. From this they discover that it is mainly peat covered moorland dotted with rowan and birch copses.

The Celtic meaning of the Rowan tree is power, healing, protection and transformation. Similarly, in early Celtic mythology, the Birch came to symbolise renewal and purification. By telling the teams that the island is covered in Birch and Rowan, they are warned that something transformative is going to occur: they will not leave the island the same as they arrived.

The copses offer the team protection when they are hunted and they offer healing in the crutch that Lizzie uses when she is injured.

Birch trees are also associated with vision quests and this is what Ben has when he has his tooth extracted.

When they reach the Shetlands, the island is shrouded in mist: invisible. This is another hint that in going to Aikenhead, the team is going to leave their ordinary world, and enter another where the rules are going to be different.

On the island itself, the birds are its eyes, the animals its barometer.

Above us natural ramparts were completely covered in roosting birds; white streaks calcified the rock and bush-like nests protruded from every cranny. The noise was incredible: cawing and screeching, crying and jabbering – an unruly audience awaiting a show.

At night, when things get dire for the team the wildlife changes – from rabbits, sheep, seals, otters and seabirds to midges, owls, moths and bats – more irritating, more mysterious, more threatening.

During the daytime, at the start of the competition, the island is a beautiful place, sunlit, hopeful and inspiring. But even here, we find foreboding: trees deformed by the wind, the skua hunting the gull. As the sun sets, it transforms. Colours vanish, sounds alter, even the scents change.

We were almost out of the trees and the full moon had risen higher, casting shadows of its own. Twigs cracked underfoot and I noticed that the scents of the island had changed, become colder and fresher. The sounds around us had changed too. The gulls had gone, but now I could hear the buzz of bats’ wings and the distant hooting of owls.

Then there is the weather. As the team gets deeper into the island, as their experiences become more terrible, as their hope dies, the weather worsens: wild winds, storms, lashing rain. As they become more terrified, so their physical environment becomes more terrifying, until the climactic battle takes place on the island’s highest peak, during an epic storm, wherein the wind is as much a participant in the fight as anyone else.

I staggered sideways as a gust of wind hit us. Someone was bowled off their feet, there was a yell of surprise and someone else thudded into my leg, not quite knocking me over.

Curtis and the skinny boy had another cornered and the fourth was too far away, fighting the wind.

My head was pounding, blood was streaming from my nose, my eyes were swollen – definitely blackened – and the wind was screaming.

 

You get the sense, reading Savage Island, that the island itself is on the side of the protagonists. That there is some hidden Goddess beneath the surface who disapproves of what is happening; nature (Aikenhead) vs. human power (Gates); she sends as much help as she can.

 

Review: Strange the Dreamer

To celebrate the release of the Strange the Dreamer paperback, I’m sharing my review of the book!

Strange the Dreamer is a masterpiece through and through. It’s beautifully constructed and the setting and characters are so vivid and intoxicating. It’s the story of Sarai and Laslo. She is a magical being who resides in the lost city of Weep, and he is a librarian on an expedition to rediscover Weep.

The whole book is a slow-burn, gradually introducing you to this new world. But it has all the familiar Lani Taylor traits you’ve come to love if you’ve read her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. There’s magic, mystery, and fairytales. But rather than being super plot driven, it’s a character study. The story of a blossoming relationship between these two unlikelies. The scenes when Sarai and Laslo are connected are so atmospheric and heart-warming, I wanted to stay with them forever. Additionally, as much as I loved the primary characters, the secondary ones are also something special. You feel connected to all of them, and I would read a companion novel about every single one!

But, there’s a twist. An excruciating one that had me reeling for the next book, like, right now. (Luckily, we’ve not long to wait, as Muse of Nightmares comes out 2nd October.) Strange the Dreamer has to be one of my all-time favourite fantasy novels, and I really can’t wait to be immersed in this world once again.

Buy on Amazon |Pre-order Muse of Nightmares
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Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

After falling in love with Moxie over the summer last year, I was really excited to find Jennifer Mathieu’s first book on NetGalley, as it’s being published for the first time in the UK, despite being a 2014 release in the US.

It was great to see Mathieu deal with similar themes in All About Alice as with Moxie. This book focuses on four different characters, dealing with the rumour that Alice slept with two guys at one party. Elaine is the party’s host and girlfriend of Brandon, one of the guys. Kelsey is Alice’s ex-best friend and responsible for spreading even worse rumours. Kurt is a nerd who’s in love with Alice and uses Math tutoring as a way to get close to her. Josh is one of Brandon’s best friends. Each character had such a unique voice, which I was so impressed by seeing as this was told in first person and it would have been so easy to make the girls and the boys POVs blend.

For such a short book, I felt like I got so much detail about each character. The only reason I didn’t give it four stars is because I felt that it was too short in places, and I would have liked if Alice was given more voice, rather than a few pages in place of an epilogue.

Just like Moxie, everything that happened in this book could happen in any school, anywhere in the world. I’ve heard so many of the rumours spread about Alice over my time in secondary school and it’s just a fact that gossip will never die. Mathieu manages to deal with sensitive topics with ease, and make me feel sympathetic towards bullies and boys that believe in the friend zone, which shouldn’t be possible. She might be a wizard.

This is the kind of book you want to read in one sitting and then pass on to your best friend. If you enjoy books that deal with slut shaming, feminism, and the good old rumour mill, this is perfect and pace-y and needs to be on your TBR.

Review: How to Write a Love Story by Katy Cannon

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

How to Write a Love Story is all about Tilly, who secretly wrote the ending to her gran’s biggest romance series and sent it to the publisher while her gran, Bea, was in hospital with pneumonia. The reviews say it’s the most satisfying ending ever crafted, and so Bea encourages Tilly to write her own romance novel from start to finish. This should be no problem, since Tilly’s been living on a healthy diet of romance since she was twelve years old and has probably read every boy-meet-girl trope possible.

The downside is, even with all this theoretical knowledge of how to craft the perfect kiss, Tilly gets writer’s block and thinks the solution is experiencing love for herself to make the writing process genuine. I knew I wouldn’t be entirely on board with this plot point, because I fundamentally disagree that good writing can only come from lived experience, but whatever. That’s my ace showing. The angle made me think that young teen girls especially would get something out of this book.

(Also, this book was extremely hetero. It would have been cool if one of the books Bea had written included an LGBT+ plot line, or that one of the romances Tilly mentioned/wrote did. Especially because there are quite a few background romances in this that could have added that diversity I always look for. I think this comes from the fact that I’m doing a Romance module at university and all the books we’ve read have been M/F. I’m dying to find something different!)

All of the writing advice was sweet and definitely made me want to put pen to paper, but it was so easy to get invested in Tilly’s story, my novel had to wait until I was done. And I flew through this at record speed.

Something particularly great about this was the relationship between Bea and Tilly. You don’t often see relationships between grandparents and protagonists, and exploration into the experience of the elderly is something I want to read more of. If anyone has any recommendations for books with cute old people, please let me know!

As with most romance, Tilly’s love story was a little predictable. I saw the relationship twist coming as soon as all the boys had been introduced and yet I still liked the connection Tilly had with who she ended up with. I guess the lesson is always look for good banter, rather than good looks.

If you liked Katy’s other books, you’re guaranteed to like this one, but if you also like writing, romance and stories about fame, think about adding this to your TBR!

Review: Big Bones by Laura Dockrill

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Laura Dockrill is one of my favourite writers. She’s hilarious and inventive and no matter what she does, I always fall in love with it. It’s no different for Big Bones.

I loved reading about Bluebelle, a character who talked so candidly about her weight, but never fell into that terrible ‘pretty for a fat girl’ mentality that needs to go and light itself on fire. It was all about body positivity. There was no shame attached to her weight and the lifestyle choices she needed to make to get healthy were decisions she came to on her own, never buckling to external pressures until she was ready for the benefits.

When reading this, you are going to be hungry. It’s just a fact. Each chapter is split up into what Bluebelle is eating at that moment and some much of it sounded delicious. Laura Dockrill is so talented with imagery and sensory descriptions that I was surprised to look up and not find a roast dinner in front of me. As well as being a story about change, Big Bones is a love letter to food.

As well as Bluebelle’s personal journey, you get to hear about her parkour-crazy sister Dove and the very weird and one sided relationship between her divorced parents. It was quirky and weird, but while reading, I got invested in each and every one of them. Especially Dove. She and Bluebelle had such different mentalities, so it was fascinating to see them interact and use their Sisterly Bond to get through to one another better than anyone else could.

It was refreshing to read about an overweight character, one of the most underrepresented body types in YA and it’s definitely encouraged me to find more. (Dumplin’ is bumped to the top of my TBR!) It’s also been a while since I’ve read a diary format before and I find that storytelling method so immersive, I read Big Bones in one sitting.

Overall, Big Bones is a fantastic book by a fantastic author. After you’re finished reading it, you’re going to want seconds…and thirds.

How Successful Were Our 2017 TBRs?

This year more than any other, Bee and I have been making TBRs for ourselves and trying our best to stick them them. For some, we gave ourselves the whole year and others, we had a month.

First of all, there were the 5 books we wanted to read in 2017.
Maddie read: 4/5 | Leftover: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Bee read: 4/5 | Leftover: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
I wonder if we’ll use the last couple of weeks of the year to strike these two of our lists, but TUE wasn’t Bee’s favourite Morgan Matson book, so I’m not inspired to pick it up and TBS has completely slipped off our radar since January.

Then, our Easter TBR for Tome Topple.
M & B read: 4/5 | DNF’d: Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas.
This totally counts as completed, and means we’ve met one of our resolutions to not finish books we don’t like! Double points!

Next, there was our Summer TBR: Rainbow Edition.
M & B read: 7/7! Oh my goodness, we actually got round to all of these books, mostly thanks to our weekend readathons during the summer break. Maybe it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise, seeing as we did have a four month break…

During the summer, we were also prepping for YALC, so of course we made a TBR!
Maddie: 4/6 | Leftover: A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab and Spellbook for the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle
Bee: 9/11 | Leftover: Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green and Slated by Teri Terry
Bee really set the bar high for this one and managed to read loads, whereas I gave myself two books that were over 500 pages, so definitely slowed my pace.

Our last official TBR of the year was our Autumn TBR, with 5 books we wanted to read before the end of the year.
Maddie: 3/5 | Leftover: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Kingdom of Sleep by E. K Johnson.
Bee: 5/5! Okay, so it’s obvious who’s better at sticking to TBRs our of the pair of us!

Overall, TBRs have worked out pretty well for us this year. They’re something that we swore off when we first started our BookTube channel, not wanting the added pressure of reading a certain thing, but they’ve helped us prioritise what’s most important and shifted our focus from recently hauled books to ones that have been on our shelves the longest. Are they going to be something we continue to do in 2018? Of course! But, I think we’ll stick to TBRs with long deadlines, so the pressure is there but not suffocating.

It’s disappointing not to finish a TBR, especially at the end of a year because it just means those books will carry with us into 2018, but this post acts as a record, so hopefully in December next year I can look back and see that I’ve read everything I wanted…12 months late.

As for the last chance TBR we set at the beginning of Blogmas, as of the 19th, I’ve read both Ash by Malinda Lo and Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch. Bee’s only read Truth or Dare by Non Pratt, but she’s still got time to read her final book, so fingers crossed!

Were your TBRs successful this year? Have you got many books left over? Do you like TBRs or loathe them? Let us know in the comments!