Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Review: The Guinevere Deception

Rating: 3/5 
Buy or Borrow: Buy 
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review! 

There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom's borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution--send in Guinevere to be Arthur's wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king's idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere's real name--and her true identity--is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot. 

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old--including Arthur's own family--demand things continue as they have been, and the new--those drawn by the dream of Camelot--fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur's knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself? 

It genuinely pains me to give this book only three stars as I was expecting this to be a five star read for me. It's been one of my most anticipated books ever since I spotted it on GoodReads and it didn't even have a proper synopsis. Kiersten White is the queen of retellings for me, I loved And I Darken as well as Slayer, though I haven't gotten around to her Frankenstein retelling just yet but I've heard incredibly good things. So considering how much I love all things King Arthur I was so, so excited for this book and for her to give us a retelling that I expected to be wonderfully twisted to her style. In all honesty, White has never let me down with her offerings post-Paranormalcy which is the only book of hers that I didn't really like and didn't finish the trilogy. 

As soon as I started to read this book I got Merlin vibes. Merlin is one of my favourite TV shows in the world and I rewatch it frequently, and as I was reading this book...hardcore Merlin vibes. I thought of Merlin more than once as I was reading this, and at times I thought I could see echoes of the show, or nods to it. At one point I even had the thought that this was like a twisted version of the show a little. I could picture some of the scenes as scenes in the show, just changed slightly. 

I'll start with the things that I did enjoy about this book. I found the magic interesting, I've not encountered knot magic in a book before and I liked the consequences to using it as it meant Guinevere had to be careful how much she used magic and what she used it for. Being familiar with the mythology, some plot points were predictable but there were some great twists thrown in there to keep me on my toes...Lancelot, Tristan and Isolde and so on. There was some brilliant LGBTQ+ rep and some feminist undertones to it. I liked Guinevere well enough, I admired her determination to succeed at protecting Arthur and wanting to prove herself and find a place for herself. However, in all honesty my favourite character was Mordred. The thing is, I was sympathising with Mordred, I liked him and his humour, he made me chuckle but I know Mordred so I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop when it came to him and then boom. There it was. Of course. I still love him though, I can't lie. 

My problem is, I eagerly started to read this having been so incredibly excited for it...and I wasn't grabbed. Alarm bells started ringing because this couldn't possibly be right, this is supposed to be one of my favourite books because Arthur and Kiersten should be the perfect combination. I started to wonder if it was because I was tired and just not in the mood to read so I put it to one side for a little bit. Then I struggled through to around 60 pages and I was seriously considering DNF-ing this because I just don't have the time anymore to read books that I'm not enjoying. But I decided to persevere even if I did resort to skim reading at one point and I couldn't believe this book drove me to that. The majority of this book is so slow and I had no urge to keep reading, I was reading because I felt I had to and because I wanted to get it finished. 

Guinevere doesn't do anything for most of this book. She faffs about with her knot magic, chatting to her new friends and the other Knights wives, chatting to Mordred and Brangien and so on. Towards the end it does pick up and there's a lot more action but..that's right towards the end after you've struggled through a couple hundred pages of not much at all and I found my attention wandering. I was bored and I didn't think that would happen with this book. 

I also feel like the reader is kept in the dark for too long, to the point it becomes frustrating and then it's all a bit of a cop out. There's so many mentions in the narrative of her 'not being Guinevere' and her alluding to her real name and so on, I was expecting her real name to be revealed at the end of the book and I had a few theories as to who it was...she forgot. She forgot her real name so I didn't even get that at the end although I'm fairly sure I do know who she is. Or where she's from anyway. 

The romance Arthur was bland to me. He doesn't stand out at all, he's just very kind, very brave and he puts the good of Camelot and its people before anything and anyone else. The romance is barely there and there's an attempt made at a love triangle that might have been more interesting if Arthur wasn't He was forgettable and he didn't stand out at all. Then again, none of the characters really did for me. I liked them well enough, but Mordred's the only one that even remotely stands out to me when I think back on the book. 

I had no solid sense of setting either, this is supposed to be set during whatever century it's set during but I had no clear image of that time period. In fact I was picturing the costumes and settings of Merlin more than anything else because aside from the odd mentions of a goblet here, or similar such things, there was no slid sense of time period for this book, which is a surprise and a disappointment considering how rich And I Darken is. 

The last 50 pages or so are good, there's action, it's engaging and it was what I'd been expecting from the entire book but I don't know if it was worth struggling through the rest of the book to reach it. There's some interesting set up for the sequel but I'm quite wary of it now, and unsure whether to read it. I'd like to think the sequel won't start out like this one did, slow and uninteresting for the most part, but then again I didn't expect to be so disappointed with this book either. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Review: Song of the Crimson Flower

Song of the Crimson Flower 
Rating: 3/5
Buy or Borrow: Borrow 
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Will love break the spell? After cruelly rejecting Bao, the poor physician's apprentice who loves her, Lan, a wealthy nobleman's daughter, regrets her actions. So when she finds Bao's prized flute floating in his boat near her house, she takes it into her care, not knowing that his soul has been trapped inside it by an evil witch, who cursed Bao, telling him that only love will set him free. Though Bao now despises her, Lan vows to make amends and help break the spell.

Together, the two travel across the continent, finding themselves in the presence of greatness in the forms of the Great Forest's Empress Jade and Commander Wei. They journey with Wei, getting tangled in the webs of war, blood magic, and romance along the way. Will Lan and Bao begin to break the spell that's been placed upon them? Or will they be doomed to live out their lives with black magic running through their veins? 

I was a little bit wary of this book, as I'd read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and I really didn't get on well with it. It had aspects that I did like, but for the most part I wasn't a fan of it and didn't bother to read the sequel. However, I was intrigued by the synopsis for Song of the Crimson Flower and was willing to give Dao's writing a chance one more time. 

There are some references to the duology and events that happened in it that you may or may not consider a spoiler. I for one, knew what direction the duology was going to take so I didn't consider anything in Song of the Crimson Flower to be a spoiler, it was more confirmation of what I'd thought was going to happen. There's enough information about what happened in the duology scattered throughout that you can understand what happened and you can see the connections between the books, especially when we meet characters from the duology. 

It was quite easy to sink in to the world of the book thanks to the descriptions but I'd have liked more from the world building. A bit more richness and depth, I know it's technically part of the series but seeing as we were visiting what I believe to be different places to the other two books, some more world building would have been great. The mysterious blood pox and its cause were easy to figure out from early on as well, it was fairly obvious what was behind it and which direction the story was going to go. 

There is a really great fairy tale-like quality to the writing and the story which I did enjoy throughout the book and the writing is quite simple which makes it an easy to read book. I whizzed through this in a couple of sittings though I wasn't particularly compelled to keep reading initially and it's not got all that much depth to it. It's a bit slow to start, and considering the book is around 300 pages or so, and Bao has two weeks to fix the curse, you'd think there'd be a bit more of a sense of urgency to things....but nope. I think it's around halfway through the book that they finally set off on the journey, and even then there's no sense of urgency. They're stopping here and there, getting involved with the goings on in a village and staying with other people and so on. The journey is rushed through by the time it starts, and I think it would have been better to start the journey sooner in the book than wait until halfway. 

Lan is quite sheltered and I wasn't sure I liked her at first after her outburst at Bao. But the fact that she showed genuine regret and wanted to make amends made me like her a little bit as that does take a lot of guts, however, she's quite a forgettable female lead and I found myself feeling quite neutral towards her throughout the book,  I didn't overly like her and I didn't overly dislike her. She did irritate me though, when she started going on about how Bao had 'sulked' long enough, or however she worded it, and said various other things. The thing is, Bao might have been upset and his feelings might have been hurt but he never outright hated her. The synopsis says that Bao now 'despises' her but he doesn't because the book is too short for that. The journey doesn't start until halfway through the book, what remains of the book isn't enough time for Bao to genuinely despise her and then rekindle his feelings for her without it being rushed, so he just simply decides to stop fawning over her quite so much. Honestly, Bao's not been treated the best by people, including Lan, and I did really feel for him. I understood his reaction to Lan and what she said to him, and he did the right thing and was honest so I did actually like him even if he didn't hold out against Lan all that much. 

The ending isn't a particularly strong one, it was obvious as to what was going to happen and you could see it coming because everything about this book is simple. The language, the world building, the characters and so on. I did like it more than I liked Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, I did enjoy myself reading it once things finally got going, but it's just an easy, quick read and it didn't leave much of an impression on me. I just wish Dao would go all in with her writing, and really bring in more of the world building and build up the characters some more. I think this will be the last book I read by the author because they just aren't quite enough for me. 

Monday, 27 January 2020

Review: Into The Crooked Place

Into The Crooked Place 
Rating: 3/5 
Buy or Borrow: Borrow 
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review! 

Magic rules the city of Creije Capital and Tavia Syn knows just how many tricks she needs up her sleeve to survive. Selling dark magic on the streets for her kingpin, she keeps clear of other crooks, counting the days until her debt is paid and she can flee her criminal life.

But then, one day, with her freedom in sight, Tavia uncovers a sinister plot that threatens to destroy the realm she calls home. Desperate to put an end to her kingpin's plan, Tavia forms an unlikely alliance with three crooks even more deadly than her: 

Wesley, the kingpin's prodigy and most renewed criminal in the realm

Karam, an underground fighter with a penchant for killing first and forgetting to ask questions

And Saxony, a Crafter in hiding who will stop at nothing to avenge her family 

With the reluctant saviours assembled, they embark on a quest to put an end to the dark magic before it's too late. But even if they can take down the kingpin and save the realm, the one thing they can't do is trust each other. 

I was very, very excited for this book. I read and loved Christo's To Kill a Kingdom, it's one of my favourite books and so I expected big things from this. A gang of misfits, a heist...but with Christo's storytelling and her originality from To Kill a Kingdom? Sign me up! However, as I was reading this, I just wasn't as grabbed and invested as I'd expected to be. If I'm being completely honest, as I was reading all I could think was 'this is essentially Six of Crows just with a different magic system'. 

The magic system we were presented with was intriguing, and I was curious about it, there was a nice  amount of initial world building that was enough to pique your interest but not overwhelm you and I always love morally grey characters like Tavia. I was also loving the whole magic black market, gangsters thing we had going on. Karam I particularly enjoyed out of all the characters, she was badass and I liked the humour and banter there was between not just she and Tavia but all of the characters in the book. The cast of characters was diverse, there's some intrigue and there's a lot of magic sprinkled with some action. 

However, there's not much else that I really have to say about this book. It was an okay book, it wasn't anything that really stands out to me among the multitude of other similar books. Wesley really reminded me of Kaz Brekker and I thought it more than once as I was reading. The characters are interesting, but I don't feel like they had enough depth to them. I wasn't overly attached to or invested in any of them, though they were likeable enough. I enjoyed the f/f romance, but after a certain point it became a little bit repetitive and as much as I liked the initial world building, I'd have liked to delve deeper because unless I missed something....I still have no idea why magic was outlawed. Much like the characters, there just wasn't enough depth to it for me. 

The writing was good, as was the world building and there were some great twists to it. I just struggled to make it to the end of the book and if it hadn't been an arc I probably would have DNF'd it. I never found it hard to put down, I found it hard to pick up because I wasn't that enthused with it although it did pick up towards the end, I'm still not sure I'll pick up the sequel. It's a lot of struggle to get to the really good stuff, and it was a little too predictable at points. 

My main problem with the book is that it felt quite bland to me. I found that it didn't stand out from Six of Crows and Gilded Wolves and so on, which is disappointing to me because I was expecting Christo to put her own brand of originality on this and take what's becoming a YA trope and make it something new and exciting and different to everything else. But the entire time I was reading I could just pick up echoes of other books and it felt very same-y to me as I was reading which was the biggest disappointment for me when it came to this book. 

Friday, 24 January 2020

Review: The Beautiful

The Beautiful 
Rating: 4/5 
Buy or Borrow: Buy 
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review! 

In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she's forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city's glitzy underworld, known as Le Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group's leader, the enigmatic Sèbastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of Le Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sèbastien's guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface. 

This review is way overdue, I read it near to when it came out but I struggled to figure out how to put in to words what I wanted to say about this book other than just screaming. That and uni work was kicking my a**. 

The Beautiful immediately drew me in with the intrigue scattered throughout the first couple of chapters. There's a mysterious prologue narrator, Celine and the hints to her past and what happened...and what exactly she did. By the time I got to the chilling third chapter with the ominous sense of something wrong, I was hooked in to this and more than willing to see where this was going to go and to get some answers to the questions that I already had building up. 

Ahdieh's writing is incredibly rich, she creates a palpable atmosphere as you read and you can feel the danger and the tension...and the overall creepiness in some scenes. She brings the streets of New Orleans to life and her descriptions are so vivid, whether it's for the settings, the food or the clothing. As you read you have a clear image of everything along with an aesthetic and a vibe to each scene that you can feel which makes it incredibly easy to slip in to the world of the book as you read. 

We quickly meet a colourful cast of characters. We of course have Celine who's our main character and I loved her. She's intelligent, she's brave and strong and she isn't here to fit in to the societal norms. She doesn't give a damn about society and what a woman should and shouldn't do and I loved that about her. She's feisty and such a brilliant main character. I loved her narrative and her internal monologue as she struggles with herself and the darkness within her. She also is of Asian heritage, and with the time period the story is set in it made for an interesting struggle she had as she's always been told by her father to ignore it, to not acknowledge it or admit it. I liked seeing her becoming more accepting of herself as she worked through it. We also have Pippa and the other girls at the convent, though I have a soft spot for Pippa. I loved that she stuck by Celine through everything and was such a good friend to her, even when Celine tried to keep her at a distance. Odette was another favourite character of mine, initially she's a mysterious, wealthy girl who commissions Celine but we quickly discover she's so much more than that. She's strolling around in pants instead of skirts, and I was intrigued by her from the start as well as her power. Speaking of powers, I was also intrigued by Arjun's and he was a fun character that I can't wait to see more of and get to know better too! 

Our male lead for this book is Sebastien, or Bastien, and boy did I love he and Celine's first meeting/interaction. I was living for the banter and the dynamic between them, and I couldn't wait to see more of them together and dive in to the romance. He also has some mysterious past with Michael which provides yet more intrigue as you try to figure out what their issue with each other is! 

I particularly enjoyed the chilling interludes we had with the killer as I was trying to figure out who it was. Their perspective as they choose their victims and the insight in to their motivations was interesting alone, but it also provides us with some key information about New Orleans and how things work, or more specifically how the world of this book works, with the mentalists and La Cour Des Lions. It also provides some nuggets of information on some of the characters which was especially fun as characters like Bastien and Arjun are quite mysterious in the beginning, so some light is shed on them...but you still want to know more. I feel like these little nuggets prepare you before you dive further in to the details, they lay the groundwork and build some excitement! 

For the most part, our point of view is Celine along with the killer, but we do get Bastien's POV eventually, it just takes a while to come about. It was perfectly timed if not a little odd to suddenly have it sprung on us. Thanks to that we do get to delve in to Bastien a bit more, who's been rather mysterious and elusive up until that point. It's a good chance to get to know him better as well as his crew, I just would have expected to get his POV close to the start although it does allow an element of mystery to be kept up. 

The thing I liked about reading this, is that there's no initial sense that it's a vampire book. The vampire aspect is as slow burn as the romance is, which I was loving by the way! I went in to it knowing that it was supposed to be vampires, but as Celine is our main narrator we're as in the dark as she is. We know what she knows, although we do end up a little bit more enlightened after a point thanks to the killer's POV. However, there's still plenty of questions to ask as the information was enough to tantalise but not satisfy your curiosity. As you're reading, it initially seems like a murder mystery with some potential magic going on, but the more information we got, the more curious I was about the vampire lore. We get more and more nuggets of it, and I was excited to find out all the details because it's certainly different to the usual. The vampires had been portrayed to us initially as magic users of a sort, or that's how they were portrayed to Celine, but as we head towards the end of the book we finally get a glimpse of their vampire sides and get to revel in the vampire-ness. 

The Beautiful is an atmospheric rollercoaster ride, and there's a few nice twists to it. One of the best ones being the reveal of the killer. There was an interesting piece of information dropped about the killer in one of the POVs that had me gasping and gave us someone else to keep an eye out for and when the reveal actually came, so many little pieces clicked in to place. The odd sentence or comment earlier on in the book turned out to be hints that I'd missed entirely, but could see clearly upon the reveal! So when you're reading...keep an eye out! 

The end is full of more twists than just the reveal of who the killer is, those twists keep on coming and there's so many fantastic reveals packed in to the last couple of chapters. One reveal in particular had me putting the book down and staring into space for a solid minute or two, thinking back over the entire book. I even went back to certain parts and everything just clicked that had been hinted at but that I'd once again missed, and it all fell into place and left me reeling. Even more so than Celine's actions that had me stifling the urge to shriek because I can taste the angst for book two already...and the impending love triangle although it's been spiced up a bit from the usual by the knowledge provided in the penultimate chapter. 

I'd expected good things from this book, it sounded right up my street from the start and it didn't disappoint me at all. It's in fact left me screaming and impatient for the next book because we go on quite a journey in this one, and some brilliant things have been set up for the sequel! 

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Review: The Secret Chapter

The Secret Chapter 
Rating: 5/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy 
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review! 

A Librarian’s work is never done, and once Irene has a quick rest after their latest adventure, she is summoned to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering deep into chaos, and she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this from happening. No copies of the book are available in the Library, so her only choice is to contact a mysterious Fae information broker and trader of rare objects: Mr. Nemo.

Irene and Kai make their way to Mr. Nemo’s remote Caribbean island and are invited to dinner, which includes unlikely company. Mr. Nemo has an offer for everyone there: he wants them to steal a specific painting from a specific world. He swears that he will give each of them an item from his collection if they bring him the painting within the week.

Everyone takes the deal. But to get their reward, they will have to form a team, including a dragon techie, a Fae thief, a gambler, a driver, and the muscle. Their goal? The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in a early twenty-first century world, where their toughest challenge might be each other. 

I. Love. This. Series. I say this every single time I review a book from this series, but there's never a bad book. Each book brings something new to the series, has a different vibe to it, and is a strong addition to the series, and The Secret Chapter is no exception. 

The attention grabbing first line had me happily sinking back in to the world of the Invisible Library and this time our adventure had some James Bond vibes to it, along with an Ocean's Eleven kind of vibe and I was living for it. 

The world that we visit in this  one is an interesting one, we've got a law enforcement branch called CENSOR that's in charge of dealing with supernaturals to contend with. Plus we have an interesting bunch of new characters and I found myself quite liking a few of them. We've got the fae, Ernst, Felix, Jerome and Tina, then we have a new dragon with ties to Kai in the form of Indigo who has a very interesting backstory. 

I actually ended up really liking all of the new fae and I became quite attached to them so I was sad to see one of them go, and sad that we might not get to see anymore of the others. I'm quite hoping they'll pop up and we'll get to see them again in future books! They were all a lot of fun, and had very different personalities to them dependent on their fae arch-type so they made for a great bunch of characters to assist in this heist! 

There's plenty of action, plenty of plotting and intrigue as we get to grips with the new world...and the shadiness of the mission. The romance between Irene and Kai never once overshadows the story. It's there, but it's in the background and subtle. I appreciate the fact that just because they're involved with each other, they don't merge in to one unit and go along with whatever the other wants. They both get involved in this mission for different reasons, and they stick to their own agendas even if that means keeping secrets. 

Obviously we have a lot of information on the library and how it works and so on, as well as a fair bit on the fae, this book takes us in the direction of the dragons which I was incredibly excited to discover. We get a lot of interesting information about the dragons, how they think and operate and a little about their history too. There's even some questions raised about them and their politics, and as I said...I was interested to meet Indigo! 

The ending leaves us with a couple of revelations that are going to be exciting and possibly dangerous to see play out in upcoming books, and I can't wait to see how they play out. My mind was completely blown and now I have even more questions than I did before, but I wouldn't have it any other way! I'm also intrigued to meet Silver's niece in the next book and see what she adds to our little group. The Secret Chapter is another exciting and rich instalment in the series, and each book builds brilliantly upon the others and brings more to the table. 

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