What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

~~
“All I’m saying is there are rules.” Rachel’s face has gone chalky. Her voice is soft and quavers a little, as if she’s desperate to convince us of something. She stares into her plate, afraid to look at me. “You don’t get wasted. You don’t take off your top. You don’t flirt with raging drunks.” She leans in and grips the edge of the table, lowering her voice. “You don’t dress like a slut. You have to play by the rules. If you don’t, this is what happens.”
TW: RAPE


Angharad’s thoughts
This novel was truly heartbreaking.
I feel like it wouldn’t be right to mark this as anything but five stars. It is a book that doesn’t make you focus on punctuation or grammar etc, but more the story itself.
This novel is based on a true story and we follow Kate Weston who after attending a party, wakes up with no memory of its events. However, four people from Kate’s school are arrested over charges of sexual assault and child pornography. What is heartbreaking is that the victim, Stacey, is not believed and pretty much the whole town rallies around to support the assaulters. 

“Will be boys’ is what people say to excuse guys when they do something awful.” 

So many times during reading this book, I wanted to scream and cry and tear my hair out. It deals with sexism, rape culture, slut-shaming, feminism and the vicious web of social media. Stacey became an outcast all because she was brave enough to speak out and because Kate dared to believe the victim, she too was cast aside by everyone she knew. This is happening every day in our world and as the author states at the start of the book, ‘And for every “Stacey” whose story was never told.’

It is an important read, an eye-opening read. It will make you angry and heartbroken but it will also make you realise how important this topic is.

“Not being able to say no isn’t the same as saying yes.”


Becky’s thoughts
I’ve literally just finished reading this and I don’t know whether to cry or scream. I literally sat down and read the entire book in one sitting and under three hours, it was just that powerful. 

What We Saw follows the story of Kate, who recently attended a party, left early, and over the next few days discovers that an old friend of hers who was also at the party has filed allegations of rape and assault against four boys from their school. Stacey, the victim, immediately has her claims dismissed by the entirety of the small town that the girls live in. Only Kate bothers to give her the benefit of the doubt and question what truly happened at the party. 

Lindsey sits up and looks at me, her eyes are bright, but clear—quickened by the rage that fills her voice. “You heard Rachel’s ‘rules.’ If you learn what we learn here—that Dooney and all those guys are entitled to tell you if you’re pretty or not, that it’s up to you to make sure you don’t give boys a reason to hurt you? Then you don’t think it was a crime. You think what happened to Stacey was fair game. It was boys being boys. Just a trashy girl learning the hard way what can happen when she drinks too much and wears a short skirt.”


What’s truly heartbreaking about this book is that it’s based on a true story, and not only that, but reflects the stories of so many rape victims throughout history. Stacey is called all sorts of names intended to be derogatory, and no one will even bother to listen to her side of the story. It is such a relevant book in todays culture – besides dealing with issues of rape, assault and consent, it also looks at negative views of feminism and slut shaming. Stacey is called a whore and a slut after going to the police with her allegations, and when a feminist group threaten to post information on the case online, they’re immediately bombarded with derogatory comments relating to their views. 
“Why does everybody say ‘feminist’ that way?” 

“What way?” 

“The way Dooney kept saying ‘herpes’ after health class last year. Like it’s this terrible, unspeakable thing.”


I just literally don’t know how to express how much this book has impacted me already. It definitely wasn’t the most brilliant book I’ve read in terms of writing style etc (although some of the literary techniques that the author used were brilliant – I especially loved the use of some modern lyrics that sounded rather disturbing when mixed with the subject matter being fitted in between pieces of dialogue) or even in the plot (as I found a lot of it to be quite predictable), but the content and issues it deals with are just so important that it still definitely deserves the 5 stars I’ve given it. What We Saw is definitely a must read.





The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

“It’s a fitting punishment for a monster. to want something so much—to hold it in your arms — and know beyond a doubt you will never deserve it.” 

 

The Wrath and the Dawn (a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights) follows Shahrzad, a girl who has volunteered to marry Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. Every night, Khalid marries a new girl, just to see them hanged by a silk cord the following dawn. After Shahrzad’s closest friend is chosen for this fate and killed, she is determined to break this cycle and distract Khalid until she finds an opportunity to kill him. What Shahrzad doesn’t expect is that the two of them will fall for each other, and she will be sucked in to the many secrets that Khalid is hiding from her and the people of Khorasan.
Becky –
I have to say, I was unsure about reading The Wrath and the Dawn, and at first I wasn’t really getting into it – but I’m so glad I gave it a chance and carried on reading. This book was amazing and the ending blew me away! I’m in the middle of preordering The Rose & the Dagger as I type this.
Usually, I feel as though I would find this sort of plot to be too cringey for me, but I loved Shahrzad and Khalid. Their romance was developed perfectly and with just the right pacing so that it didn’t seem too unrealistic.
Aside from the romantic aspects of this book, the fantasy world is set and created really well, and I love the hints of magic throughout – it does seem as though this is something that will be expanded upon in The Rose & the Dagger as well, which I’m really excited about!

The ending was awfully heart-wrenching and has left me counting down the days until I can read the sequel, but I don’t know why I expected anything different of such a brilliant book.

My one initial problem with The Wrath and the Dawn was the beginning – it seemed to jump into the plot very fast, and I wasn’t too sure what was going on for the first couple of chapters. However, it did encourage me to keep reading so I could work out what on earth was happening and who each character was, and once I’d properly got into it I loved it!
Angharad –
 
I wasn’t sure about this one, purely because I’ve never been a fan of retellings but the beautiful cover and good reviews finally convinced me. I’m not kidding when I say I finished this book in ONE sitting. As in, I didn’t go to bed. As in, I sat still for a few hours until it was done. Why? Because it was so good.
Without mentioning spoilers (which I am prone to do), I will just say that this book was a fantastic and refreshing read. I loved the Arabian setting, I loved the concept and I love how we had to wait until pretty much the end of the novel to find out the reason for Khalid’s actions, making us as desperate to find out his secret as much as Shahrzad.
My criticisms are that I do wish that there had been more world-building so we could learn more about the fantasy aspect of the world. I also wish Shahrzad hadn’t of forgot her thirst for revenge so quickly. I think if the book had been longer, this would have been explored more. 
 
Renee’s writing was spellbinding. I could imagine the atmosphere in great detail and the magic of the book was in the writing itself. The romance was beautiful, really bloody beautiful. I love that it built up slowly but surely and then it just burst into so much intensity and want. “My soul sees its equal in you.” I mean?? It was lovely and I’m not usually a reader who likes the romance being the main point of the book.
Overall, I do recommend this book. As I mentioned, a few things could have been improved but other than that, it was a captivating read and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.
What were your thoughts on this book?
Let us know in the comments!

Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin

“Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them–made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.”
Wolf by Wolf takes place in 1956 and is a book set in an alternative history in which Hitler won the war. The story follows Yael, a girl with the unique gift, she can shape shift as a result of being experimented on in a death camp as a young child. She accepts a mission to compete in the annual Axis Tour: a motorcycle race across the continents but in order to do so, she must impersonate Adele Wolfe, last year’s only female winner. Armed with her ability and a mind filled with revenge, she sets out to win the race and ultimately, kill Hitler.

Angharad:
I was immediately drawn to this book as I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, however, I’ve never really read any alternative history. The premise was amazing, what would have happened if Hitler and the Nazis had won the war? What would become of the world and its people? Yael for me is one of my favourite characters. She is strong and clever and uses her tragic past and her reminding ability to achieve good. She doesn’t let anything get in the way of her goal, not even Adele’s twin brother, Felix and fellow competitor and former love interest, Luka.

The story switches between ‘then’ and ‘now.’ We learn of Yael’s past and all the people she lost along the way who are symbolised by the wolf tattoos on her arm, the only part of her appearance she can’t change.


The race itself has you on the edge of your seat. It is filled with obstacles and plot twists and moments that make you stare and whisper, “shit.” I love that Yael constantly has to be on guard and she isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done in order to win. The ending had me shocked but ten times more excited for the sequel.


Overall, I loved this book. My only criticism is that I wish the ending hadn’t of been so quick but it did make it all the more sudden. Read this book if you are a fan of historical fiction, especially with a twist and a love for action-packed journeys. If neither of those things grab your attention, read it for Yael.
Becky:

I loved this book so much that I started and finished it in just a couple of hours. As soon as I was recommended it, I knew it was just my sort of thing – a WWII era setting but with a twist on what we know actually happened after the war and an amazing, badass girl for a protagonist with an interesting back story. 


The book begins with Yael’s experiences as a young girl, which allows you to be plunged into her world straight away. Graudin takes Josef Mengele, Hitler’s infamous Angel of Death, and creates from him the nightmare that will both haunt Yael’s dreams and will change her into the weapon for the resistance that she becomes. Obviously, there are so many books and films that portray the awful things that happened inside Auschwitz and other death and labour camps during WWII. However, I’ve never read or seen anything that focuses on a character inspired by one of Mengele’s victims, and although Yael’s story is fictional, it really did bring to mind the horrifying reality that real people actually went through the things that Yael experiences, to an extent. The “Then” chapters of the book, which focus on Yael’s past and her path to where she is in 1956, really are chilling and at times left me on the edge of my seat. 

I think many people who didn’t experience WWII first hand have been told the stories of how our lives could have been today if Hitler had won the war, and Wolf by Wolf plunges you straight into those imagined horrors. What I really love about this premise, besides how unique and fascinating it is, is how the horrors really are hidden at times. Yael, the main character, will be walking down the street and be stopped by some German officers. All seems fairly average, until they make some throwaway comments that truly set the scene:

“Stray bitches make good target practice. Almost as much as commies and Jews.” The soldier laughed and slapped the butt of his Mauser.

It was, in a way, parts like this that really topped the book off for me. 

Wolf by Wolf was definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year so far – everything about it from beginning to end was action packed and completely drew me in. The ending took a huge, unexpected twist, leaving everything in the balance. 

I honestly can’t think of anything I disliked about this book – the one “problem” I had with it was that I wished it could have been longer, and although there was a lot of back story in there, I definitely wouldn’t have complained if there had been more! 


A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas


“Be glad of your human heart, Feyre. Pity those who don’t feel anything at all.”

A Court of Thorns and Roses is Sarah J. Maas’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The story follows Feyre, a young girl who is forced to hunt in order to keep her father and sisters alive. However, when Feyre kills a wolf that turns out to be a faerie, she is taken across the wall that divides the mortal lands and faerie lands to pay for her crime by spending the rest of her life in the Spring Court of Prythian, where she will face trials that she could never have anticipated.


Angharad:
Oh wow, this book was a roller coaster of a ride.

I almost put the book down after 100 pages. It just did not hook me in any way and I found the huge information dumps about the fae world to just be monotonous. Although in its defence, I have never been a huge fan of fairy tales/stories. I was originally going to give this book 1 star but the last 100 pages saved it, in my opinion.


Before the last few pages, I was reading purely for the sake of reading. I found Feyre’s time in the Court to be so uneventful that I nearly tore my hair out. Painting, eating, hunting, painting, eating, hunting and on and on and on. The occasional event happened but other than that, it was extremely boring.

On to the romance side of things. The relationship between Feyre and Tamlin, in my opinion, was quite problematic (the whole bite thing. Her fault apparently??) but other than that, it was… there. They were basically like horny teenagers. The three characters I enjoyed the most were the side characters – Lucien, Rhysand and Nesta. 

Basically, to cut a long story short, as soon as the trials began, so did the story. It’s such a shame that we had to wait until the end of the book for that. I’ll be in no rush to get the sequel.



Becky:

Well. What can I say about A Court of Thorns and Roses?
I LOVED THIS BOOK.


I haven’t found a fantasy novel that I literally couldn’t put down in a very long time (probably since I read Throne of Glass, to be honest) so I was so happy when I was immediately sucked into Feyre’s story. 


I thought that Maas adapted the classic story of Beauty and the Beast enough so that it didn’t feel as though you knew exactly what was going to happen whilst reading, but at the same time the inspiration for the book still very much shone through. A Court of Thorns and Roses really is a fairytale through and through – from the events leading up to Feyre’s actions and the consequences of it, the way that the love story develops, the folklore elements, to the three trials at the end of the book. As always with Sarah J. Maas’s books, it was written beautifully and I thought that the world building was perfect – I really could imagine what both the locations and characters looked like whilst reading. 

As for the characters, I loved Feyre from the beginning. The Hunger Games (as it did for many others, I imagine) ignited in me a love for girls who are good archers, and Feyre’s passion for art touched a soft spot too. As well as this, I loved that she had shouldered the task of keeping her family alive, despite being the youngest and not really being noticed or appreciated for all that she did for them. Her strength and bravery carries on throughout the book, when she willingly goes with Tamlin to Prythian in order to protect her family yet again, and when facing the three trials. 

On to Tamlin – of course, I hated him to begin with, but as his and Feyre’s romance developed, he grew on me more. However, Rhysand is the faerie that truly has a place in my heart after reading this book. 
I really enjoyed most of the other side characters as well, especially Lucien and Nesta (her development was perfect!) and Amarantha was an amazing antagonist. 

I did feel like this would have worked really well as a standalone book, but at the same time I am so glad that it isn’t and I can’t wait for the sequel!

I’d definitely recommend A Court of Thorns and Roses to all fantasy and fairytale lovers, and definitely to people who’ve loved the Throne of Glass series so far!



Have you read A Court of Thorns and Roses? What did you think? Let us know in the comments! 

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo



‘Six of Crows’ by Leigh Bardugo is a novel based in her much-loved Grisha universe. It follows the story of six misfits who must work together to achieve the impossible; break into the seemingly impenetrable Ice Court. The gang utilise their skills and must put their pasts behind them if they wish to succeed. What follows is a story of friendship, danger and edge-of-the-seat reading.


Becky: 
No mourners. No funerals.


Oh my gosh. I have just been blown away by this book.

I originally wasn’t too sure about reading Six of Crows, since I was so disappointed with the ending of the Shadow and Bone series. However, I’m so glad I decided to pick it up! 

Six of Crows is set two years after the Shadow and Bone series, and is much darker. The writing style seems almost more mature in a way, as if it’s aimed at a slightly older audience. It’s written from five different POV’s, with two other cameo ones included, but despite this it still manages to flow perfectly and you still feel as though you know the characters – none are skimped out on. I’m definitely hoping for a Wylan POV in the sequel though!

The book is immediately gripping and stays that way through it’s entirety – it was one of those books that I just didn’t want to put down, and was reading at every possible moment. All of the characters are so instantly likeable, especially Inej, who I adored from the start. A truly badass girl with an interesting back story is something that always makes a book perfect for me. 

“She was not a lynx or a spider or even the Wraith. She was Inej Ghafa, and her future was waiting above.”


I have to say, the typical bad boy is also kind of appealing to me in a good fantasy. Kaz, however, is so, SO much more than that. Again, the backstory is what makes it for me, but all I will say on the matter is:


         “I will have you without armour, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”


Anyway, if you’re looking for a gripping fantasy, or you loved the Shadow and Bone series, what are you waiting for? Go and read this book!




Angharad:
“What bound them together? Greed? Desperation? Was it the knowledge that if one or all of them disappeared tonight, no one would come looking?”

Six of Crows is one of those novels that makes peeing and hunger a distant need. I read it on a train and I almost missed my stop… twice. To summarise, it’s that good.

Six of Crows is a book about six, for want of a better word, misfits who are given the chance to complete the impossible: break into the Ice Court. The only snag is that this place is seemingly impenetrable. The book takes place in Leigh Bardugo’s much-loved Grisha world but you do not have to read her previous books in order to read this.

The book switches between points of view; Kaz Brekker (the thief), Inej Ghafa (the spy), Nina Zenik (the heartrender), Jesper Fahey (the sharpshooter), Wylan Van Eck (the runaway) and Matthias Helvar (the convict.) Together they must overcome their differences and work together. What follows is a dangerous mission filled with romance, hostility and friendship. 

Kaz Brekker – a morally ambiguous character who will do any job for the right amount of money and yet he is fiercely loyal to those who are loyal to him. He has a disability but it is never mocked and everyone appreciates his abilities. He’s also secretly in love with Inej but shh.
Inej Ghafa – also known as ‘the wraith.’ I fell in love with her first. Throughout the book, it is discovered that she has so many nicknames dedicated to her skill set (climbing and spying) but towards the end she realises that she is just Inej and she is in control of her future despite the horrors of her past.
Nina Zenik – She is just the sweetest little thing who loves anything with sugar in it and yet, she can kill a man with a flick of her wrist. She sacrificed everything for her friends, knowing that it could destroy her. She’s the kind of person you’d want to be friends with.
Jesper Fahey – A bisexual POC??? Need I say more?
Wylan Van Eck – He is just a little golden retriever. He is so sweet and has no confidence until the end when he stands up for himself (I did a little fist pump.) He is underestimated greatly but he saves their skins more than one. Basically, he’s excellent at blowing shit up. He also has a crush on Jesper.
Matthias Helvar– My wolf man! He’s been through so much and he was pretty much lost and the gang brought him back. He is kind of the outcast at the start and hates pretty much everyone but seeing him learn to trust the guys as the story went on was truly heartwarming.

Overall, I loved this book. It’s a novel that totally immerses you into the world and the heist is described in SO much detail that I was actually on the edge of my seat wandering what was going to happen. This is a showcase of Leigh Bardugo’s excellent writing and her ability to create characters who are real and horrible and beautiful. Give it a read!

An Ember in the Ashes – Sabaa Tahir


An Ember in the Ashes follows the stories of Laia and Elias. Laia is a Scholar girl, living in her home which has been invaded by the cruel Martial Empire. Elias is a soldier, training at Blackcliff Military Academy to become a Mask – one of the Empire’s elite fighters. When Laia’s grandparents are murdered and her brother arrested by the Empire, she has no choice but to turn to the rebels to help her free her brother. They offer her this help, but at a price – Laia must spy for the rebel movement upon the Commandant of Blackcliff. To agree would put her at risk of torture and danger at every turn. To be discovered would mean her death.




Angharad:
THIS BOOK BLEW MY SOCKS OFF!!

The book goes from 0-60 in about two seconds. There is no build up, you are dropped straight into the action and it stays that way until the end, it literally never slows down. I know a lot of people would hate that but I’ve read so many books lately where the beginning is so slow that this book was a breath of fresh air. I liked switching between Elias and Laia because although they do eventually become love interests, their experiences in this book are very different so seeing it from two points of view was a good idea.

As for the romance in the book, beforehand I had read that it featured a love triangle/square and so for obvious (repetitive) reasons, I was hesitant to read it. Elias gets torn between his childhood friend and fellow soldier, Helene and Laia. Laia gets torn between Elias, a person who she should see as the enemy and Keenan, a member of the resistance. As much as I loved this book, I found all of this unnecessary but luckily, it didn’t take up a lot of the plot. I wish Elias and Helene had only seen each other as best friends because that in itself is a strong bond and I just didn’t get the fascination Laia had with Keenan? Oh well, like I said, the romance was minor in this book.

As for characters, I want to kick off with the Commandant. Oh my bloody trifle! She scared the hell out of me. A woman who basically jumps at the opportunity to inflict pain on her slaves, or pretty much anyone. I honestly feared for Laia’s life on more than one occasion, whenever she was spying on her, I held my breath for fear of what would happen. As cruel and terrible and sadistic as she is, it’s nice to finally have a ‘villain’ that you are scared of. 
Laia is a good character. She goes on a fantastic journey into finding herself and her strength. She never forgets about her brother and her need to save him. She withstands everything that happens to her (and a lot happens to her) all for her him and she finds her courage doing so.
Elias is a refreshing male character. Even though he is the finest soldier in the Academy, his only goal is freedom. He has a moral compass which brings him a lot of suffering in this world of tyranny. 
Helene is brilliant. Although I don’t agree with a lot of her views, she did everything she could for herself and for Elias. She is a brilliant female character who takes zero shit from anybody considering she is the only female in the Academy (may I also mention this book contains mentions of rape!!) Although she comes across as being a hardass and a tough girl, she has a gift that is none of those things. I thought that was a beautiful juxtaposition. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. My only criticisms is that I wish there had been more world-building and that the love shape of some sort was taken out. Other than that, I am really looking forward to the sequel and I would definitely recommend this book!

Becky:
As soon as An Ember in the Ashes popped up on my recommended books, I knew that it looked as though it was just my thing; a rebellion brewing in a land overtaken by an Empire inspired by Ancient Rome, and I ordered it straight away. However, when I started reading, I wasn’t 100% sure about it. It seemed to rush into the story quite fast, and I thought I was going to end up being disappointed by the time I finished it. 

How wrong I was.

The first chapter, from Laia’s point of view, doesn’t waste time jumping straight into the action. As I said, I did struggle with this to begin with as although I don’t like a deathly slow start to a book, I do like to get to know the characters a little first. However, in the long run, the fast paced start didn’t affect the book badly – since the pace is kept up through the rest of it, it definitely worked in its favour. The one problem I did have with the point of view alternating for each chapter is that I felt as though some of the chapters seemed a bit short before you jumped back into what was happening with the other character, but this did help to build the suspense and tension really well. 

It didn’t take me long to love Laia as a character. I’d mark her amongst the badass girls of young adult fiction, however, Laia isn’t like the usual sword or bow and arrow wielding badass – she’s simply completely brave and selfless throughout the book, and constantly sees herself as weak and cowardly because she’s unable to fight and often gets scared. However, by agreeing to spy on the Commandant (possibly the most terrifying character I’ve ever seen) and carrying on with her mission even though she endures constant trials and physical pain. she proves herself to be the strongest character in the book. 
Back to the Commandant – this woman is both terrifying and intriguing. I was on the edge of my seat whenever she appeared, or even when there was the slightest possibility that she could appear. I’m also really interested in finding more out about her backstory, and how she became so hardened and cruel, even towards her own family. 
Elias, the other POV character, was also very likeable – he was willing to go against everything he’d grown up being taught in order to protect others. Some of his scenes were so intense, and they really did emphasise the cruelty of the Empire. 

There is, unfortunately, some sort of double love triangle shape thing happening in this book – Laia and Elias naturally become love interests to each other, but Elias also has something going on with his childhood friend Helene, and Laia has a thing for Keenan, a resistance member who she reports to whilst she spies on the Commandant. Honestly, most of the romance shown in the book is between Laia and Elias, so it isn’t too much of a big deal, but I thought the other love interests just didn’t make sense. Although Elias and Helene were obviously very close, Helene didn’t share Elias’s dreams or ideology, and Laia and Keenan just had zero chemistry and barely seemed to know anything about each other. 

Alongside the strong characters and plot, what really made this book for me was the subtext. This book is about the ideals of right against wrong; it asks how far you must or should go in order to achieve something, even if that something may be awful in itself, but could bring around the best possible conclusion to a situation. 

I thought this was a brilliant read, one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I cannot wait to see how the story progresses!