Nemesis by Anna Banks

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Princess Sepora of Serubel is the last known Forger of spectorium, a living element which provides her land with energy – and that’s why she’s a danger to her country. Sepora flees Serubel, heading to the neighbouring kingdom of Theoria, where she plans to blend in with the Serubelan freed slaves. However, she is captured during her journey and ends up in servitude to King Tarik of Theoria. Tarik and Sepora soon form a complicated bond, made all the more confusing by the fact that the one thing Tarik needs to stop the plague sweeping his nation is spectorium – and although Sepora is the only one who can provide him with the element, she must keep her gift a secret at all costs.


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Nemesis & extras from November’s Fairyloot box

Nemesis just happened to be one of those books that I couldn’t get excited about, but didn’t exactly dislike either. There were definitely high points and low points throughout, but it seemed that the majority of it was just sort of middle points? Anyway. I figured the best way to sum this book up was to do my favourite thing, and make a list!
Likes:

+ The Egyptian inspired setting. Theoria is very much Egyptian, from the pyramids (although Theorian pyramids are made from spectorium) to the clothing style, to the eye makeup. I haven’t read many Egyptian inspired fantasy worlds before, so this was interesting and I think it really worked!
+ The Serpens. Serubelans have these lizard-like things that seem to look like giant snakes but with wings. Legless dragons? I think so. I imagined them as legless dragons. They also have massive needle-like teeth, so maybe they’re more like flying basilisks? I don’t know. Anyway. Most Serubelans seem to see their Serpens as tools, but Sepora really cares for her Serpen, Nuna. There are also different types of Serpens – Defender Serpens, Seer Serpens, etc. More Serpen-lore in the sequel, please. 
+ The changing of the grammatical persons. Both Sepora and Tarik are POV characters, but Sepora’s chapters are written in first person, and Tarik’s in third person. I thought this was really interesting and I haven’t seen it done before – if nothing else, it helped to differentiate between the two character’s chapters!

+ The romance. This isn’t something I often say about this type of book, but I actually liked the romance portrayed in Nemesis! It wasn’t too rushed and I actually liked the idea of the two characters together.

+ The ending. I definitely didn’t expect the plot twist, and because of this I’ll definitely consider reading the sequel once it’s out.

Dislikes:

+ Sepora’s voice. It’s probably an odd thing to say, but I really struggled to connect with Sepora mostly because of the way she spoke. She’s very formal, and yeah, I know she’s a royal, but do royal’s always think in such a formal manner? I doubt it, but if there are any royals reading, do feel free to prove me wrong. 
+ The lack of action. I felt as though Sepora’s journey to Theoria at the beginning of the book could definitely have been shorter – it didn’t seem to develop her character or the plot in any way, and once it was over I felt as though the book picked up a lot. 
+ Lack of character development. Sepora is often referred to by others as being really smart etc, but there isn’t much to show this. I also felt that, as I mentioned, the way that she spoke and acted in her POV chapters didn’t help her character development.

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love,


Heartless by Marissa Meyer

                
Angharad’s thoughts:

I will admit that I had high hopes going into this novel despite never have read a book by Marissa Meyer before. I’m a huge fan of the Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass tale and to read not only a retelling, but a retelling of the series biggest villain sounded amazing. However, it fell short for me and I only ended up giving it three and a half stars. Here are my likes and dislikes –

Likes:
The character of Lady Catherine. It was so interesting reading an author’s interpretation of the Queen of Hearts before she became a ruthless villain. Meyer writes her as a sweet young girl, the daughter of a Marquess and aspiring baker. She is destined to marry the King of Hearts and become a respectable Queen (delving into the idea of female repression in this world) but all she wants is to open a bakery with her maid/friend, Mary Ann. You feel Cath’s desperation at trying to break free of the role forced upon her but it becomes a whole lot more complicated when she falls in love with the new Court Jester, otherwise known as Jest. I haven’t read any of Meyer’s other books but meeting Catherine has made me want to look into her other series. She is a dynamic character and develops massively along the course of the story. 
I loved Marissa’s writing, especially her descriptive text when it came to Cath’s baking. My mouth has never watered this much reading a book! She set the scene wonderfully, allowing us to feel Cath’s love for baking and how much passion she had for it. It makes you all the more desperate to see her succeed even though you know she doesn’t because, you know, the Queen of Hearts probably doesn’t frequent her kitchen. Too busy cutting off heads.
The romance. Okay, it was cliche but it’s a fairytale retelling, it’s going to be cheesy but it developed wonderfully. Catherine and Jest had fun together and protected each other. Even when Cath was courting the King, Jest had to learn to accept it, even going as far as helping the King write his love letters. Their moments were very cute together, especially one of their first moments in the garden after they meet for the first time. 
Raven. Okay, so Jest has a Raven on his shoulder where others would have a parrot but this Raven is based off of Edgar Allan Poe so he speaks primarily in rhyme. I love him. I loved the moment where a lot of panic was happening and Raven pronounced something that didn’t rhyme because he was panicking too. Probably one of my favourite characters in the entire story. Yes, a bird. Especially at the end! I also really enjoyed the character of Hatta. He was a very complex character and he had an interesting story to tell as we meet him at the first stages of his ‘madness.’ And yes, there is a tea party. 
+ I did like the ending but when I say the ending, I mean around the last ten pages. They were amazing! I won’t go into what happens but I just wish we could have had a little bit more because Catherine truly became the Queen of Hearts and everyone bows the hell down. 

Dislikes:
NOT ENOUGH FEMALE CHARACTERS OR DIVERSITY! Other than Cath, there were precious few female characters and if there were, they were poorly developed. The strong friendship between Cath and Mary Ann sours very quickly, Cath’s mother brings nothing to the table other than wanting her daughter to become Queen and another female at court only exists for Cath to dislike and for some Duke to fancy (and at this stage I can’t even remember her name.) It’s such a shame there wasn’t more, especially as Cath herself is a brilliant character. As for diversity, there was none that I was aware of so I can’t even go into that. It’s a retelling! You’re allowed to put your spin on things so spin us some diversity!!
I didn’t like the first half of the book. For me, it dragged incredibly. I’m all for books setting the scene and introducing us into its world but not for majority of the book and because of this, the second half had a lot of action, and although I loved the events of it, the ending felt a bit rushed. I mean, the entire first chapter of the book is dedicated to Cath baking some tarts and although I was hungry, I was bored. 
Becky’s thoughts:

I had quite a lot of thoughts about Heartless but no real ideas as to how I was going to put them into words. So, here’s a little list to make things easier for everyone:

Likes:
+ the character of Catherine.
I loved Cath! She was so authentic, determined and a breath of fresh air when it comes to YA protagonists. Cath is the daughter of a Marquess and therefore expected to be a Lady and be happy about the King taking a liking towards her, but all she wants to do is open a bakery with her best friend. The land of Hearts is incredibly sexist, and it seems that even if she weren’t a Lady, no one would approve of a woman opening a business, but Cath perseveres and doesn’t give up on her dream. This brings me onto my second point…

+ the cake descriptions.
When Cath is first introduced, she’s baking lemon tarts, and I’ve craved the things ever since. All of the descriptions of food are just so perfect, and frankly I’m going to go hunting for some cake right now just thinking about them.

+ the ending.
The last 70 or so pages were amazing! They took a really dark, exciting turn, and although they were tragic, I really enjoyed them. I won’t say anything more though as I don’t want to spoil anything!

+ the world building.
The book is set in Hearts, with the land of Chess, where the White Queen rules, being on the other side of the Looking-Glass. It’s completely Wonderland, but not the Wonderland that you already know. 

Dislikes:
+ the middle-ish section of the book.
I found the middle of the book to drag quite a bit and be quite boring. There was character development during this time, but I would’ve liked a bit more action within the plot as well.

+ most of the secondary characters.
I really liked Jest, Raven, and the Sisters, but apart from that, I couldn’t click with any of the other secondary characters. Cath’s family were awful to her, so were naturally meant to be disliked, but I didn’t think her friend Mary Ann was very well rounded either, and most of the rest of her acquaintances are dull or aren’t explained very well. 

(We’d like to thank Macmillan UK for sending us a proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Love,

    Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

    Vassa in the Night, a retelling of the Russian folklore tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, tells the story of Vassa, a young girl living in an alternate Brooklyn that is plagued by dark magic. Residents of Vassa’s neighbourhood have noticed that, whilst the days last mere hours, the nights last for days – and this all started when the local convenience store,  BY’s, was open by Babs Yagg – a shopkeeper who has a tendency to behead thieves. When Vassa heads out to BY’s in need of lightbulbs, she finds herself tied up in a contract with Babs, and her life will be forfeit if she’s unable to work at the store for three nights without making any mistakes. However, Vassa has help – a magical wooden doll by the name of Erg, made for Vassa by her mother before she passed away. With Erg’s trickery, can Vassa survive three nights at BY’s, and maybe even break the curse upon her neighbourhood?

    Bookmark from Behind the Pages

    I’ve always been a huge fan of Russian-inspired fiction, so when I received Vassa in the Night in September’s Fairyloot box, I was over the moon! I had previously read the tale of Vasilisa the Beautiful, and I would recommend reading it if you’re planning on looking into this novel – if anything, it’ll help you understand what’s going on when the magic gets too much!

    Overall, Vassa in the Night is quite a quirky, nonsensical book – but this is often the case with folklore, and definitely isn’t a negative. It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite books, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, but is written in a much more whimsical style to this. The book is very much written like a fairytale, what with the “things coming in threes” aspect, the overarching quest to save Brooklyn, the hero (Vassa) and the villain (Babs). There were also interludes which took place whilst Vassa was asleep, a little touch which I really liked – and these definitely complemented the plot. 

    Vassa as a main character was interesting, but I didn’t fully connect with her. I liked her attitude and sarcasm, but would’ve liked to have got to know her a little bit better. I do feel as though Erg got in the way of this at points, as she could be a very irritating character at times. I sometimes struggle with magic realism as a genre, but it managed to (mostly) make complete sense in this book – it worked well, in any case. It stuck to both the original story and to Russian folklore in general really well, and I appreciated this as the Russian aspects were basically what made me want to read it in the first place. 



    The only negatives I had with this book was that it could be a bit slow at times – considering that the majority of it is set in one location, this is bound to happen. I also did get a bit confused at some points, such as some sort of crazy fight scene towards the end (which confused me so much that I genuinely am not quite sure what happened). There was also a bit of a love interest at one point, which I just didn’t understand – it came from nowhere and had absolutely no build up or purpose.

    I’m not entirely sure who to recommend this book to, just because it’s written in such a niche style, but if you’re interested in Russian mythology or magic realism, I would definitely recommend taking a look at it! 

    Have you read Vassa in the Night? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!

    Love,

    Caraval by Stephanie Garber

    *Angharad’s thoughts* 
    Recently, after many years of doing anything but, I finally got around to reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Why? Because after the announcement of Caraval, people instantly started comparing so I decided this was the best time to read them both and see for myself. I can easily say that for me, Caraval ticked all the boxes of magic, mystery and plot whereas (and I know I’m alone in this), The Night Circus just wasn’t for me. Both tell the story of a mysterious and magical circus/carnival but that’s where the similarities end. 

    Caraval tells the story of Scarlett who has always lived on a tiny island with her sister, Tella and their ruthless father and became even worse after their mother’s disappearance. Scarlett’s life has already been planned for her, starting with an arranged marriage but from a young age, her wish has always been to see the legendary Caraval, an annual performance where the audience have the opportunity to participate. One night, just a few days before Scarlett’s wedding, an invitation to Caraval arrives and Tella manages to enlist the help of Julian, a mysterious sailor to take her and her sister to this magical event. Upon arrival, things turn sour as Caraval’s illustrious organiser, Legend, kidnaps Tella and thus begins Scarlett’s game with help of Julian, whether they wanted to play or not.

    First and foremost, I’ll talk about the characters because for me, characters are the most important aspect of a story, even in one as elaborate at this. I did really enjoy Scarlett. I love how the story focused on her love for her story and her desperate need to rescue her. Although she started off being quite timid and apprehensive, it made sense because she feared her father and wanted to protect Tella. She grew a lot over the course of the book which takes place during five nights of the Caraval. Although there was a romance aspect, Scarlett never deviated away from finding her sister which can be the case in a lot of YA novels. Unfortunately for me, Julian (whose name I forgot an hour after finishing the book) didn’t stand out for me. He’s like a lot of YA love interests – seemingly arrogant but is actually really nice and has a lot of depth – and even with the mystery surrounding him during most of the book, he still didn’t manage to grab my attention. YET, their budding relationship did from the moment Julian first nicknamed Scarlett ‘Crimson.’ They got on and that’s something I always want in YA relationships. They laughed together and he he helped her even when he barely knew her. I’m excited to see where their relationship goes.

    The plot is definitely the most exciting aspect of this book. Having it set over the course of five days made you anxious to find out what happened and if Scarlett would find her sister in time. There was a few twists and turns, a few moments that made you question the incentives of certain characters and also the added mystery as to Legend’s true identity. There were a lot of plot twists and even when you thought you had something figured out, something else would happen and I definitely think this was the strongest aspect of the book. Although it’s primarily a fantasy book, it has a lot of mystery weaved throughout it. I do wish we had seen more of Caraval, both the environment and maybe some other characters throughout. I think this could have happened as the trio arrive, rather than have Tella kidnapped straight away so nobody is thinking about the event itself. However, the epilogue gave us a very exciting cliffhanger which has made me extremely excited for the sequel. 

    Overall, this book is a must-read. Although there are a few things I would have changed, this young-adult, fantasy novel still manages to grab your attention from the first page. Nothing is straightforward and this seemingly magical world is full of darkness. I hope we find out more about Caraval itself in the sequel, maybe its origins and past players. I’m excited for Scarlett after seeing her witness so much but also grow as a character throughout this novel and also her relationship with her younger sister. This is a solid foundation for the rest of the series and I can’t wait to see where it goes as Stephanie Garber definitely knows how to play with your mind as much as the game plays with the minds of the characters. 
    *Becky’s thoughts*
    There has been so much hype about Caraval, despite it not even being released until next year – and the hype is definitely deserved. Although I haven’t read The Night Circus, as Angharad said, this book has been compared to a more complex, magical version of it.

    Caraval definitely is full of magic. Scarlett, the main character, has been entranced by Caraval all her life, and has been writing to Grand Master Legend of Caraval since she was a child. When we meet Scarlett, she’s been betrothed to a man she’s never met, and this is when she and her sister Tella receive their invitations to Caraval. 

    I really liked Scarlett – she appears to be very timid and scared for a lot of the book, but with the way she was treated by her father and her determination to keep her younger sister safe from him, this is completely understandable, and I’m so glad that Stephanie Garber chose to portray her in an accurate way. I feel like if she’d immediately become more bold once leaving her home and escaping her father, this wouldn’t have been a true to life depiction, so I really am glad that she stayed cautiously brave in her own way. Scarlett’s personality at the beginning of the book also really helped to emphasise her growth throughout, which I loved following. I wasn’t too bothered about the romance in this book, however I do think it’ll be a more compelling one in the second book. 

    Caraval was a very fast paced book, and I really didn’t want to put it down. There are five days of the event of Caraval, and so the book is laid out to complement this – each section of the book is called “First Evening of Caraval”, “Second Day of Caraval”, etc. As Scarlett has a countdown to find Tella after she’s been kidnapped, the book being laid out in this way really added to the suspense that’s created throughout the entire book. 


    What I liked most about Caraval is, although that I’ve finished the book, I still feel very much in the dark. I had a lot of questions towards the beginning of the book, and very few of them were answered, meaning that I probably have even more questions now. Although Caraval was a great book in it’s own right, I do think that it’ll end up being a strong start to a series that just gets stronger and more exciting as it goes along.

    This book is released on January 31st, 2017
    Love,

    Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

    In the conclusion to Wolf by Wolf, set in an alternate 1956 where Germany won WWII, Yael must deal with the consequences of her mission to assassinate the Führer, Adolf Hitler. After racing over 20,000 miles across Europe, Africa and Asia whilst wearing a face that isn’t hers, she must return to Germania without being caught by the SS and discovered as the skinshifter they are searching for. With resistance groups starting revolutions across the continent and SS members determined to keep control of the Third Reich, Yael must fight to see her mission through to the end, at whatever cost.
    Since finishing Wolf By Wolf with it’s ever so slightly evil cliffhanger, I always knew Blood For Blood would be a heartbreaker. How right I was. 
    Blood For Blood kicks off immediately where Wolf By Wolf left off, with Yael attempting to flee Japan and return to Germania (the Berlin of this alternate Europe). I fould Wolf By Wolf to be a very fast paced, plot based book, and Blood For Blood is quite the opposite – the plot is much slower for the majority of the book, and focuses a lot more on character and relationship building. However, this definitely isn’t a bad thing! 
    Yael has always been a mysterious character, and remained so throughout Blood For Blood – I do feel as though I got to know her a lot better than I did in Wolf By Wolf though, and learning more and more details about her backstory in the labour camp was just heartbreaking. Not only did you learn more about Yael in this book, but she matured so much and learned how to control her emotions more. I adored her rash braveness in Wolf By Wolf, but the way she behaved in this book seemed much more fitting with everything that she went through in it. Although Yael faced so many challenges in Wolf By Wolf, none of them were really her facing her true fears, and in Blood For Blood she is confronted with challenges that are so much closer to her heart. Yael opens up to people so much and slowly starts to learn how to trust and love again and hey, even though she’s fictional, I am so proud of her.
    There isn’t all that much of an authentic romance in Wolf By Wolf (considering that Yael is impersonating someone else for the majority of it) but there is one in Blood For Blood, which after the events of Wolf By Wolf, does just seem to make sense. I’m so grateful that the romance was slow-burning, as well – it wasn’t forced or rushed into, and it developed at the right pace considering the events going on around the characters. 
    Some new alliances are made in Yael’s quest to overthrow the Nazi’s, and new characters are introduced. I won’t say much about them so I don’t slip into spoiler territory, but I love Comrade Mnogolikiy. You’ll get to know them by other names once you read the book 😉 
    As well as new characters, we’ve still got point of view chapters from characters from the previous book – Luka, everyone’s favourite badboy, and Felix, the grumpy German teddy bear. Both are fighting their own moral battles throughout and I just love how each character’s story played out and the way in which they all intertwined. 
    I won’t say much about the ending apart from this – it broke me in more than just a couple of ways. This book just wouldn’t stop playing with my emotions, and I know that that ending will stick with me for a long time.
    If you’ve read Wolf By Wolf, you need to go and read this sequel right this second – and if you haven’t read Wolf By Wolf yet, what are you waiting for?
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    What do you think of the Wolf By Wolf series? Let us know in the comments!

    Love,

    The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

    “But boys will be boys, our favourite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.” 



    The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis is a young-adult contemporary bordering on the mystery/thriller genre. It is told in three perspectives – Alex Craft, a girl remembered solely for the murder of her sister, Jack Fisher, star athlete, valedictorian and the person every guy wants to be and every girls wants to be with and finally Peekay, nicknamed for being the Preacher’s Kid who is struggling to come to terms with heartbreak over her ex. Together, they tell the story of their senior year and how their lives come together and how it ultimately affects everyone.

    I loved everything about this story. I read it in one day and I haven’t been hooked to a book that much in a long time. The plot, the writing, the characters – everything was just addictive. It does not fall into your typical YA coming-of-age story. Yes, it tells the story of three characters in their final year of high school and yes, there is drinking and sex and relationships and rivalry but the one thing Mindy McGinnis does is include horror. There are mentions of animal abuse, sexual assault and murder. It also deals with rape culture, slut-shaming and gender discrimination. Despite it being about teenagers, the author does not shy away from the violence and acts of justice humans are capable of.
    Alex Craft is our morally grey character who isn’t afraid to punch somebody in the balls for touching her without permission, who attacks a man for drugging her friend and even kills her sister’s murderer. Since a child she has embraced her violent nature and yet she meets Peekay volunteering at an animal shelter and ultimately, is just a girl that cares too much. She can’t stand to live in a world where violent acts against women go unpunished. Jack is your typical valedictorian/star-athlete/popular guy who embodies boys will be boys and yet falls deeply and madly in love with Alex who will destroy anyone associated with that stereotype. This allows him to see typical male behaviour through new eyes. Peekay is the rebellious Preacher’s Kid who isn’t afraid to put the other girls down and feels like she needs to help people in the world. She misses her ex, has very supportive parents and is drawn to Alex and the way she sees the world. I love how complex she was and how much her character developed within the course of the story – she starts off hating Branley, the girl her ex left her for, even going as far as slut-shaming her and yet at the end, she is the one who helps and supports Branley when she needs support. Speaking of, Branley was such a refreshing character. She’s your typical Queen Bee, beautiful, heavily made-up popular girl who gets all the guys, including Jack but she is so multi-layered. She is just a young girl that wants to be loved and accepted, not just for how she looks. During as assembly about rape culture, some guys even shout that it is her who is most likely to be raped. There were times I wanted to scream at her for her actions but if anything, she’s the one character I was the most attached to emotionally.
    Ultimately, this is a book about rape culture. When the justice system fails, can we step in? Can we take revenge into our own hands like Alex? One of the first conversations in this book explores the animal kingdom and how the female of the species are deadlier. Therefore, the story delves into animal vs human nature. How far can we go to protect those we love? Alex, who is capable of extreme violence in order to protect against Peekay who fantasises about violence and yet finds it doesn’t come naturally to her. The girls volunteer at an animal shelter and yet Jack works with his father in a slaughterhouse. This book is filled with parallels between the characters, acts of kindness vs acts of good.

    The ending blew my bloody socks off and obviously I won’t go into details but let’s just say that I did not expect it. I started off really disliking and questioning what the author chose to do and if it had been any other book, it would have probably ruined it for me but for this book and the message it’s telling, it fits. Overall, I truly enjoyed this book and actually, I knew I would as soon as I read the synopsis. It is just my kind of story and it’s already much-loved in the Goodreads community. The author was very brave to write this novel and her hard work paid off. The writing flowed perfectly and although it was split between three perspectives, each character had their own unique voice. This was definitely one of my favourite reads in 2016 and I’m looking forward to see what else Mindy McGinnis releases in the future.

    Love,

    Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

          “How many times have you told me you’re a monster? 
         So be a monster. Be the thing they all fear when they close their eyes at night.” 

    *Becky’s thoughts*
    The ending of Six of Crows guaranteed that Crooked Kingdom would be about one simple but necessary thing: revenge. And hey, the revenge in this book was sweet

    Crooked Kingdom plays out in quite a different way from Six of Crows – where the first book shows the gang’s planning and journey to pull of one main heist in the Ice Court, Crooked Kingdom is made up of many smaller heists, tricks, sabotages, escapes and bargains around Ketterdam, leading up to the final play in a long game. It is written in an even more complex style than the first book, with more point of view characters, more of Kaz’s hidden tricks and plans, and in some ways, even higher stakes than in Six of Crows. In the first book, the dangers of Fjerda and the Ice Court added pressure to the gangs mission; in Crooked Kingdom, they are fighting for their lives in their own home, many of them fighting for a way out of the country without getting a bullet through their head due to the numerous wanted posters scattered around Ketterdam that feature their names and faces. 
    Although a good chunk of Six of Crows was set in Ketterdam, and there was an incredible amount of world building of the city in that book, Leigh manages to expand it even more in Crooked Kingdom. I feel as though I know that city so well that I’ve visited it a few times, am planning my next trip, and considering buying a holiday home in West Stave. 
    Now, onto the main focus of Crooked Kingdom: the characters. I absolutely adored all six members of the gang in Six of Crows, and after Crooked Kingdom, I just love them all even more. The character development in this book was out of this world, as well as the building of the friendships and relationships between them all. Characters that already had multi-layered stories are given even more complex pasts, and with those pasts come their weaknesses. On the topic of character development, I am so happy that Wylan had his own POV chapters in this book. I loved being able to finally see into his little innocent brain. 
    All three ships that were established in Six of Crows, in my opinion, played out perfectly (for the most part). Nothing is rushed between any of the couples and it is just so realistic, something that you don’t often see in relationships in young adult books.
    By the end of Crooked Kingdom, I definitely wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Wylan, Nina and Matthias. However, if I had to say goodbye to them, the ending of this book was definitely the best way to do so. I won’t go into detail, but the second to last chapter left me with happy-tears pouring down my face in the middle of a packed train (a girl opposite me later asked if I was enjoying the book I was reading, and I think I sort of hiccuped in her direction. Hopefully that’ll be a good enough recommendation and she’ll be stuck into this series right now). I’m still kind of hoping that some sort of spin-off will be announced (Ms. Bardugo, I hope you’re listening), but for now, I’m just going to go and cry in a corner again and fondly remember my favourite gang of misfits. 

    *Angharad’s thoughts*
    Unfortunately for me, Crooked Kingdom was released during my biggest reading slump this year which meant it took me about twenty years to complete. I’m going to start off by saying I did not enjoy the plot itself as much as Six of Crows, however, the character development in this sequel was off the charts – both the characters as individuals and their friendships/romances. I thoroughly enjoyed the heist in Six of Crows as the whole book worked up to that one heist, whereas in Crooked Kingdom, it was about the gang dismantling various players in Ketterdam. There were a lot of twists and turns and a lot of things going on which is difficult to do as readers, such as myself, can enjoy some aspects more than others.

    The characters of this duology are probably some of my all time favourite fictional characters. Kaz, my super intelligent, beautiful, damaged crow boy who secretly cares so much about his Dregs but can’t show it. Inej, my darling Wraith with her beautiful Suli proverbs and incredible skill-set who is the kindest person ever. Nina, my curvy bisexual princess who is literally me when somebody takes away her chocolate biscuits. Jesper who will flirt with anyone with a pulse but is too in love with Wylan. Matthias, my blond wolf boy who spends majority of his time drooling over Nina (same) and finally Wylan, who is a golden retriever puppy in human form. Even Kuwei who the gang take under their wings. They make me so happy, they are all so damaged and broken and have had such hard lives but they come together and they understand each other, they work together to achieve the impossible and most importantly, they love each other. My little misfit children will always have a special place in my heart. I mean, Kaz is a morally-grey, disabled character, both Inej and Jesper are confirmed POC and Jesper and Nina are bisexual. The diversity in just two books is fantastic.
    There are three main ships in this duology and although they were set up in Six of Crows, they developed beautifully in the sequel. None of them were rushed and no couple were the same. The relationships are built on trust and are slow-burning. Nina and Matthias have a beautiful domesticity amongst the gang, completely comfortable in their love for each other. Wylan and Jesper just constantly flirt and Wylan constantly blushes but it’s the most innocent and lovely thing ever. Kaz and Inej are perfect for each other – two sides of the same coin and their slow-burning relationship (which made me happy cry in the end) has made them one of my all time favourite YA couples. I have to also mention the friendships in this group – Inej and Jesper having this beautiful understanding, Nina and Inej comforting each other like sisters and Matthias finding his home amongst people who he was taught to hate. Amongst the fast-paced plot was the Dregs and their trust in one another and to me, that was the heart of the duology.


    Show Spoiler

    Overall, I did enjoy this book but if I had to choose, I preferred the events of Six of Crows. However, Leigh Bardugo has once again put herself at the top of YA fiction – her writing is flawless and her characters are diverse. I have fallen in love with the universe she has created and just pray that she is planning on more novels set in the Grishaverse. For now, I’m going to go ahead and reread the Grisha trilogy whilst missing my Dregs terribly.

    Have you read this duology? If so, what are your thoughts?
    Love,

    Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

    Three Black Witches are born in a glen,

    sweet little triplets 
    will never be friends.

    Three Black Witches, all fair to be seen
    two to devour
    and one to be queen.

    Three Dark Crowns tells the story of three triplet Queens, each with their own type of magic. On the festival of Beltane once the queens are sixteen, their fight to the death begins, and only one queen can survive to become the Queen Crowned of Fennbirn.
    This book is told from the points of view of all three sisters, which I enjoyed as it meant you got to know each sister individually, rather than from others thoughts. This writing style, however, did mean that the book took a while to get into, as you had to wait for each sisters chapter to roll around again to learn more of them. If you can be patient with the slow beginning though, this book is definitely worth it!
    Each of the triplets has been trained since they were six by families who have powers that are the same as theirs. Once the Ascension year began (starting on their sixteenth birthday) preparations for Beltane began too, including suitors visiting the queens – the book itself isn’t entirely clear on how a suitor is chosen, but presumably one will be chosen to marry whichever sister becomes the Queen Crowned.

    Here’s a little about each sister:

    • Mirabella is an elemental, able to control fire, water and wind. Her power is famed across the island of Fennbirn, to the point where even the priestesses of the island are openly backing her, an act which hasn’t been done before. Although most expect Mirabella to easily kill her sisters and become the Queen Crowned, Mirabella still remembers her sisters as children and wants to protect them.
    • Katharine is a poisoner, with the ability to digest any poison and survive, and a skill mixing them too. However, Katharine grows sicker each time she is poisoned, to the point where she’s incredibly thin and frail and is always covered in scabs, bruises and scars. The Queen Crowned has been the poisoner queen for the last hundred years, and the family training Katharine are keen to keep the poisoners on the throne.
    • Arsinoe is a naturalist, and should be able to make flowers bloom and crops grow, as well as having an animal familiar. Arsinoe’s power, however, is the weakest of the sisters. She struggles to even make a flower look a bit more colourful, and has basically given up any hope of becoming Queen Crowned. She lives with Jules, a very skilled naturalist who has a large cat as a familiar.
    Katharine’s chapter is first, and she immediately became my favourite triplet – I found Mirabella hard to connect with and was bored by Arsinoe’s chapters to begin with, as they seemed much more focused on her friend Jules than on Arsinoe herself. However, I grew fond of her as the book went on, and I’m not sure which queen I’d root for anymore (although I’m still not fond of Mirabella). 
    I liked the writing style and the setting of this book, as well as the world it’s set in (although I would like to know more about it) and the secondary characters were strong and well rounded. I didn’t find Three Dark Crowns to be predictable at all, which it could easily have become. I did think that this book would be a lot darker than it was, but it ended up being very driven by character development rather than plot based, and I do think that this style worked very well. After that huge twist at the end, I’m expecting quite a plot based sequel, anyway!
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    There’s just a few things that I didn’t enjoy so much about this book:

    •  As previously mentioned, the beginning is quite slow – probably the first 50 pages at least. Although not much happens here, I would encourage you to stick it out and keep reading!
    • There is a love triangle, and in my opinion, it wasn’t the best. I can’t say much about it without including spoilers, but I’ll just say that I really don’t think that the male character involved in the love triangle has any excuse for what he does in the book, and unless he’s been lying from the start, it’s just a bit ridiculous of him.
    • I would have liked more world building – a lot of history was mentioned that hadn’t been expanded upon much. Maybe this will happen in the sequel, though! 

    Overall, I really enjoyed Three Dark Crowns and would recommend it to most fantasy lovers. However, if a fast paced plot is what you’re after, this book probably isn’t for you.
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    Have you read Three Dark Crowns yet? What did you think of it?


    Love, 

    Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

    She brings the snow with her touch,
    they think she’s gone, but we know she will come again,
    she will reign in his stead,
    she will bring down the world on his head,
    oh come, snow, come…

    When Snow was five years old, she attempted to walk through a mirror, cutting herself to shreds. Ever since, she has lived in the Whittaker Institute – a mental hospital in New York. When she is banned from seeing her closest friend in the hospital, Bale, she devises a plan to escape with the encouragement of a strange new boy who appears in her dreams, encouraging her to find him beyond the tree. Snow soon finds herself in a world unlike her own, full of witches, magic, and snow-wielding kings – and it just happens to be the world that she had been born in. Now, she must uncover the secrets of Algid to help her find Bale, whilst trying to learn how to control her new found powers and come to terms with her royal heritage.
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    Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC of this book!
    First off, I just want to point something out – a lot of people seem to think that this is a Snow White retelling (and I did, too, before I started reading it). Although Snow White’s dwarves are mentioned, this is when Snow is talking about the fairytale, not reliving it. This story is, if anything, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Frankly though, if you’re looking for a retelling of that fairytale, I would honestly recommend sticking to watching Frozen. Really though, I think the world retelling is getting thrown around a bit too much now. This is a novel about a girl who has snow related magic and also happens to be a long lost princess, and we’ll leave it at that.
    Anyway. Stealing Snow was certainly an experience. And when I say that, what I mean is I had no clue what was going on for the majority of the book.
    At the beginning of the book, when Snow was still inside the institution, I was really interested. I wanted to know more about her life there, why she had been put there, about the other teens living there. Once Snow was outside and running around Algid, however, I lost interest quite fast.
    Snow is taken to Algid by Jagger, wanting to find Bale, but then gets caught up with a river witch, a girl with a penchant for magic who was so insignificant that I can’t remember her name (Gaude, maybe?) and this girls sort of brother Kai, who is essentially the epitome of male YA stereotype. I have never read a character who is so unnecessarily melancholy. So, let’s review. We’re probably not even 25% into the book at this point, and we already have three love interests. When reading YA, I would expect one, if not two, love interests. But three? What? For a start, Snow has literally just met two of these boys – one of whom she believes kidnapped her first love interest, and the other who is nothing but awful to her. Second, I just don’t see the need? I didn’t think that whatever she supposedly “had” with Kai impacted the story in any way – it was completely unnecessary. 
    So after Snow has had her run in with Kai and co., she meets up with Jagger again who takes her to meet a bunch of robber-girls who live in a castle, creating spells and changing their faces. You’d think everything would improve at this point, and the plot was definitely getting more interesting, but I still just didn’t care. I just can’t connect with a book if I don’t care about either the plot or the characters. 
    Overall, Stealing Snow wasn’t an awful book, and I have definitely read worse. It’s real problem was that it didn’t make me feel anything. Often when I dislike a book, it’s made me really angry, but this didn’t even do that. In my opinion, there was no world building, no plot or character development, and no explanation for anything that happened in the plot (for example, how was it that Snow’s powers just happened to appear? Hadn’t she ever accidentally frozen someone as a child or something? Where did they come from?!)
    This book does seem to be getting a lot of mixed reviews, so I would definitely encourage anyone who had been thinking about reading it to try it for themselves. Everyone has different opinions, after all!
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    Have you read Stealing Snow yet? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!

    Love,

    A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

    Thanks to HarperVoyager for the ARC of this book! This review will be spoiler-free.
    If you survive, you shall be a force to be reckoned with in this world. But first you will be unmade. First, you will be broken.
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    A Torch Against the Night kicks off right where An Ember in the Ashes left off – with Elias and Laia fleeing for their lives, on their way to rescue Laia’s brother from Kauf Prison. In order to reach Kauf in time, they must avoid detection from the Martials and the Commandant – but can they really trust those who they think are on their side?
    The Empire has taken an even darker turn under Emperor Marcus, and Helene Aquilla must face his atrocities firsthand with her new role as Blood Shrike. When her loyalty to Marcus is questioned, she is forced to take on a mission in order to keep those she loves most safe – even if this mission destroys her.
     
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    I think it’s quite easy for the second book in a trilogy to never quite live up to the thrill of the first book, however, A Torch Against the Night is definitely an exception to this. This book was just as amazing as, if not better than, An Ember in the Ashes. Once again, it was action packed from the start and there wasn’t a slow moment. I was worried that it would have a lot of filler material, and although a lot of the plot was definitely building up to something bigger coming which I assume will appear in the third book, everything was still relevant to this book’s storyline, and I definitely didn’t expect one of the big twists at the end.
    As with the first book, Torch was written from one point of view; however, I feel as though where Ember was very much Laia’s story, Torch focuses a lot more on the stories of Helene and Elias. I have always loved Helene, but after this book, she’s definitely my favourite character from this series. All of the characters grew so much in this book, but I think Helene did most of all – and she certainly made me cry more than once.

    I’d probably say that the one disappointing thing about this book was that the Commandant didn’t appear much. In the first book, I found her to be such a strong presence, and she’s definitely one of my favourite antagonists. I mean, when she did appear in Torch, she lived up to her reputation and was crueler than ever, but I think she definitely could have been around more. I’m hoping she’ll be a bigger character in the final book of the series!

    Despite this, I’d still give A Torch Against the Night a strong five stars. Bring on book three!

    A Torch Against the Night is released in the UK on the 8th September 2016 and in the US on the 30th August 2016. Are you excited to find out what happens after An Ember in the Ashes? Let us know in the comments!