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Review: The Red Palace by June Hur

Thank you to Feiwel & Friends for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: The Red Palace

Author: June Hur

Year Published: 2022

Summary (click here)

Joseon (Korea), 1758. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, eighteen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father’s approval.

But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders four women in a single night, and the prime suspect is Hyeon’s closest friend and mentor. Determined to prove her beloved teacher’s innocence, Hyeon launches her own secret investigation.

In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself as the murderer, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the deadly secrets behind the bloodshed.

June Hur, critically acclaimed author of The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls, returns with The Red Palace—a third evocative, atmospheric historical mystery perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Kerri Maniscalco.


Content Warnings: graphic depiction of murder, mentions of torture

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4.5/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 4/5

The Red Palace was an engaging young adult historical mystery set in 18th century Korea that kept me hooked throughout with a romance so sweet it will give you a cavity. I didn’t really know what to expect from it because I don’t usually read mysteries but I enjoyed it so much and now I definitely want to read June Hur’s other books.

The bloody palace full of spies and secrets where people either lost their lives or their humanity was the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery. It created this unwaveringly tense atmosphere that had me on edge the entire time.

What made it even more interesting was reading the author’s note and finding out The Red Palace is based loosely on the death of Crown Prince Jangheon (Crown Prince Sado). Reading more about his tragic story added a new dimension to the story for me and I love it when I reading a book leads me to read about a topic further and learn something new. In fact June Hur wrote a whole newsletter about this and it’s an interesting read I’d recommend you check out. The main character, Hyeon, was a uinyeo (a female nurse/ physician who treated women during the Joseon dynasty of Korea) and I also liked getting an idea of what medical practice was like at that time.

It really struck me in a sad way how for a historical book the themes of violence against women with little justice for them and the lack of accountability for those in power felt so relevant to our society today. 

I found Hyeon to be really impressive. She was determined, smart and most importantly extremely adaptive in high pressure situations- she really knew how to think on her feet. I feel like her insecurities linked to feeling like she could never make her father proud no matter how excellent she was and tying her worth to her position in the palace would be relatable to a lot of people. That’s why I loved the growth she had in realising she defines her own worth and beginning to seek out the things that will truly make her happy instead of doing things just to receive praise and validation from others even if it puts her wellbeing at risk, I think it’s a good message to take away.

Hyeon’s relationship with her mother improved a lot over the course of the book and was one of the most interesting aspects of the book for me. I do wish this relationship was developed a bit better because the change in Hyeon’s mother seemed very sudden. I think the issue is the dissonance between the way Hyeon described her mother and her mother’s actual actions during the book and the reader is expected to read between the lines a bit too much.

The romance was so cute I am obsessed about Hyeon and Eojin I could read about them for hours without getting bored because they are just EVERYTHING. The slow development of trust and warmth between them was so beautiful and I love how thoughtful Eojin was. For example, when they ate together he gave her all the best bits of meat from his soup. I think it’s the little thoughtful things that make the most difference and that was what Eojin was all about.

I liked how the mystery unfolded in a satisfying way that all made sense. The only thing that annoyed me was how whenever Hyeon approached someone for information no matter who they were they just seemed to tell her everything she needed to know just like that, a lot of the time it felt too easy. I felt like her investigation realistically would have had more resistance and obstacles.

Overall, I would highly recommend The Red Palace and if you have read it and are desperate for more you can read the bonus epilogue which is truly the most adorable thing I have read in my life!

Have you read The Red Palace? What did you think? And are there any other historical mysteries you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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Review of The Theft of Sunlight

Thank you to HarperTeen for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: The Theft of Sunlight

⬇️ Summary (click for dropdown)

I did not choose this fate. But I will not walk away from it.

Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend’s sister is snatched, Rae knows she can’t look away any longer – even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule.

Yet the court holds its share of surprises. There she discovers an ally in the foreign princess, who recruits her as an attendant. Armed with the princess’s support, Rae seeks answers in the dark city streets, finding unexpected help in a rough-around-the-edges street thief with secrets of his own. But treachery runs deep, and the more Rae uncovers, the more she endangers the kingdom itself. 

Author: Intisar Khanani

Year Published: 2021

Content Warnings: physical and emotional abuse, ableism, child slavery, human trafficking

  • Plot: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: 5/5

The Theft of Sunlight is the companion novel to Thorn that focuses on a new main character called Amraeya (or Rae for short). When I read Thorn last year I was very impressed with pretty much everything about it and I was even more impressed when this book had everything I liked about Thorn but was even better!

I have so much love and respect for Rae. She was strong but not in the way I’m used to seeing in fantasy novels- her strength lay in her empathy, loyalty and moral fibre and it was refreshing to read about such a character. 

The plot drew me in from the very start and dragged me deeper and deeper into the depths of its mysteries. It never gave too much away but maintained a steady trickle of breadcrumbs and breakthroughs that kept me hooked up until the very last page. There were twists that I saw coming but they were so well built up to and executed that it didn’t feel predictable or boring in the slightest. I also felt that there was a very good balance of softer, emotional scenes and dramatic, action-packed, confrontational scenes that it never felt too slow paced or too overwhelming. AND THE CLIFFHANGER!!! The book ended on a cliffhanger which I usually find very frustrating but it felt like a fitting conclusion and I can only hope that we get a sequel so that I can find out what happens next!

In the acknowledgements Khanani mentions that the slavery in The Theft of Sunlight is modelled on modern day human trafficking and I definitely saw a lot of real life parallels in the book. Every day children were ‘snatched’ without a trace, transported and sold into slavery and everyone lived in fear- it was extremely chilling to read about. It made me so sad reading about the grief of families who had lost their children, not knowing their fates or whether they were even alive- especially knowing that there are countless real families living with that sorrow all over the world. 

What was most chilling was how those in power were either completely oblivious of the problem, willingly in denial of it or trying to cover it up. I shared in Rae’s shock and disgust at the utter disregard shown by those who were wealthy and privileged simply because it wasn’t affecting them even though they had resources and power that could help so many but sadly, I also wasn’t that surprised at all because it’s the precise attitude that so many in powerful, privileged positions in our world have.

The Theft of Sunlight was an impressive and refreshing read, balancing high stakes and mystery with softness and emotion that I highly recommend!

Is Thorn or The Theft of Sunlight on your tbr? Let me know in the comments!

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Epic Fantasy at its Finest: Review of The Jasmine Throne

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: The Jasmine Throne (Burning Kingdoms #1)

Author: Tasha Suri

Year Published: 2021

⬇️ Summary 

Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.


  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4.5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: 4/5

Before picking up this book I hadn’t read an epic adult fantasy that takes place on such a large scale in a long time and I really missed it so you can imagine how delighted I was when The Jasmine Throne delivered in every way possible. I adore Tasha Suri’s writing (her other book, Empire of Sand, is one of my all time favourites) and she deftly wove together a story of resistance, magic, duplicity and sapphic yearning that utterly captivated me.

The story was very slow paced and took its time to build the detailed, vivid world and set up the plot and while I think this was necessary I still struggled at times to get through it. In hindsight, think this was because I wasn’t in the right mindset at the time to read such a book and I think it’s important to be aware of this so that you read it when you are in the mood for a gradual, immersive read and have the time and capacity to properly enjoy it. It’s important to note that with the way this book ends it seems like the sequel will be incredibly action packed and intense so I’m definitely looking forward to that!

The two main characters were Priya, a maidservant haunted by her past, and Malini, a princess who had been imprisoned by her brother the emperor. I loved how their relationship slowly developed and deepened into something gentle, mature and founded on profound mutual understanding. When I say slowly I mean slowly. For the majority of the book they feel drawn to each other but don’t go beyond that, however when they finally do it is extremely satisfying and works with the story (waterfall scene!!!).

Both Priya and Malini have so many facets to them but most people around them only perceived or accepted the facets palatable to them. What I liked most about their relationship was how they accepted all of the facets of each other- even the more monstrous ones

Another aspect of the story I liked was how it portrayed different types of strong women making a place for themselves in a patriarchal society and refusing to conform to the paths prescribed to them by men. Priya had powerful magic and incredible physical prowess yet she was also nurturing and gentle. I loved how she refused to sacrifice her humanity for power and made it a source of strength for her where others thought it a weakness. Malini was smart, ruthless and resourceful yet her brother saw her capability as a threat that needed to be burned at a pyre. Her refusal to burn led her on a journey to come into her own and seize power for herself as opposed to power derived from the men around her.

I also loved Bhumika, I thought she was the most interesting character in the book. While her husband, the regent, thought her to be ignorant and docile she had actually quietly accumulated a network of servants and guards loyal to her and wielded more power than him. I found it interesting how she exploited her husband’s belittlement of women to her advantage.

The story was mainly told from Priya and Malini’s perspectives but it did regularly incorporate the perspectives of other characters. This meant that overall there were about ten different POVs and it truly is a testament to Suri’s writing skill that she managed to make it work. Usually when I read multi POV fantasy novels there’s that one character whose perspective I just don’t care about but that wasn’t the case here; every perspective that was introduced engaged me and made me more immersed in the story while carrying the narrative forwards.

The Jasmine Throne was an intricate read exploring themes of resistance against imperialism and misogyny and full of nuanced characters and messy, complicated relationships. I would definitely recommend it and am very excited to read the sequel. Tasha Suri is an amazing writer and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Have you read The Jasmine Throne? Is it on your tbr? Let me know in the comments!

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We Find Ourselves in the Sea: Review of The Ones We’re Meant to Find (Blog Tour)

Hello! Today I am so excited to bring my stop on the blog tour for The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He as I’m a member of her street team (Hesina’s Imperial Court)! For more information check out the launch post here!

Review:

Thank you to Roaring Brook Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: The Ones We’re Meant to Find

*Click here for all the buy links*

Author: Joan He

Year Published: 2021

Summary (click for dropdown)

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Studio Ghibli.

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara is also living a life of isolation. The eco-city she calls home is one of eight levitating around the world, built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But as the public decries her stance, she starts to second guess herself and decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own. 


  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Writing: 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

The Ones We’re Meant to Find was an atmospheric and twisty read that brought together science fiction and climate fiction in a dystopian world– with Studio Ghibli vibes for extra spice.

Reading this book was a unique experience that had its ups and downs and at the end I felt a strange mix of awe, poignancy and bewilderment that left me mulling over the story for days afterwards. The Ones We’re Meant to Find is something special, the sort of book that stays with you, lingering in the corners of your mind. I don’t think I was as emotionally invested as I wanted to be but I appreciated the depth and scope of the story, the nuanced characters and subversion of the usual tropes. 

At the beginning of the book I was very, very confused and had no idea what was going on but as I progressed I realised that was how I was supposed to feel. The book is structured in a way that confuses you in the start as you grapple to understand this ravaged dystopian world and the characters’ places in it and there is a distinct sense that something is not right but as a reader you lack the necessary information to know what that something is.

As the book progresses you are gradually given the puzzle pieces and there was a point where I had a giant OHH! moment because I finally had enough pieces to make sense of it all. If you don’t like books that have convoluted plots and never spell anything out explicitly to the reader then this is definitely not for you. But I would also say if you start reading and feel disheartened because you don’t understand what is happening I would advise you to keep going because it all comes together eventually and it does so beautifully

“Alone is an island. It’s an uncrossable sea, being too far from another soul, whereas lonely is being too close, in the same house yet separated by walls because we choose to be”

The story focused on Cee and Kasey and switched between their vastly different perspectives. Cee was passionate, lively and determined and her chapters were full of hope and pain and longing. On the other hand, Kasey was a genius who was logical and very emotionally detached. She often wondered why she was different to everyone else, why she felt less, reacted less, became less attached to others… felt less human.

I loved how He emphasised the contrast between them by writing Cee’s perspective in the first person and Kasey’s in the third. Cee was likeable in a very conventional way that I think most people would relate to but Kasey’s character was refreshing and different to what we normally see in YA fiction. She wasn’t what anyone would usually describe as likeable but I think a lot of people will be able too see themselves in her too. 

The book was set in an Earth poisoned by humans beyond repair and plagued with extreme weather and devastating natural disasters, the only refuge being eco cities that floated in the sky. The book questioned if humanity deserved to be saved if it had brought its own demise upon itself. If it was more important to live freely or live in a way that preserved our planet. If it was fair that innocent people had to suffer for the destructive, polluting acts of others. It served as a chilling reminder that our greed and unsustainable lifestyles are pushing the planet over the brink.

At a personal level, the book explored the bond between two sisters that not even the ocean or hundreds of years could sever. The relationship between Kasey and her sister was rocky at times and they had very different perspectives on life but I loved how their unconditional love for each other shone through with every decision they made.

There is so much more that I want to say about this book that I can’t in this review because it would spoil the most important parts. The best way to go into the book is with absolutely no idea what it’s about beyond the little information provided in the summary so that the plot twists and turns have the maximum impact. The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a story brimming with profound emotion that spills over the pages, straight into your heart. I definitely recommend it!

About the author:

Joan He was born and raised in Philadelphia but still will, on occasion, lose her way. At a young age, she received classical instruction in oil painting before discovering that storytelling was her favorite form of expression. She studied Psychology and East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Pennsylvania and currently writes from a desk overlooking the Delaware River. Descendant of the Crane is her debut young adult fantasy. Her next novel, The Ones We’re Meant to Find, will be forthcoming from Macmillan on May 4th, 2021.

Tour schedule:

Monday, April 26

Tiffany | Sara | Carina | Anthony

Tuesday, April 27th

Chloe | Avery | Jenni

Wednesday, April 28

Lauren | Bella | Charvi

Thursday, April 29

Iza | Shenwei | Ace

Friday, April 30

Stella | Lexie | Kristi | Finn

Saturday, May 1

Umairah(me!!!) | Justice

Sunday, May 2

Sarah | Fin | Ming

Monday, May 3

Julith | Cathy | Adrienne | Victoria

Tuesday, May 4

Leeann | Isabelle | Asher

Wednesday, May 5

Trinity | Jenna | Jasmin

Thursday, May 6

Katie | Sophie | Ceillie

Friday, May 7

Althea | Lili | Alessa | Paola

What did you think of The Ones We’re Meant to Find? What are your favourite climate fiction books? Let me know in the comments!

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A Gift and a Curse: Review of Reaper of Souls

Thank you to HarperTeen for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Reaper of Souls

Summary (click for dropdown)

After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—at a terrible price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom in shambles, and long-buried secrets about who she is.

Desperate not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, Arrah must return to the tribal lands to search for help from the remnants of her parents’ people. But the Demon King’s shadow looms closer than she thinks. And as Arrah struggles to unravel her connection to him, defeating him begins to seem more and more impossible—if it’s something she can bring herself to do at all.

Set in a richly imagined world inspired by spine-tingling tales of voodoo and folk magic, Kingdom of Souls was lauded as “masterful” by School Library Journal in a starred review. This explosively epic sequel will have readers racing to the can’t-miss conclusion.

Author: Rena Barron

Year Published: 2021

  • Plot: 3/5
  • Characters: 3.5/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 3/5

I was so excited to read Reaper of Souls as I was completely enthralled by the first book in the trilogy. I have to admit, while the book had a lot of strong points, it didn’t fully live up to my expectations and pales in comparison to Kingdom of Souls. I think my problem is that objectively it is exactly the sort of interesting, twisty book that I usually love but it just failed to engage me and all the aspects of the first book that I loved weren’t as compelling to me in this one.

In this book Arrah was a lot more mature and also much wearier and worn out by all that she had been through and all that she had yet to do. Haunted by her past actions, it was interesting to see Arrah realise that the magic she had sacrificed so much for was a double edged sword that she couldn’t trust herself to wield only for the good of others. Comparing her decisions at the end of this book to her decisions at the start of Kingdom of Souls it was clear how far she has come and how her outlook on the world has changed. The only thing that didn’t diminish for me in this book is how much I love Arrah. She wasn’t perfect, she made reckless decisions and did morally questionable things but she was also strong and loyal and in her heart she wanted the best for everyone. I like how she was at one with herself and owned her mistakes even as she often walked the fine line between hero and monster in the eyes of others.

This book was also Rudjek’s time to shine– he even had chapters from his perspective. In the previous book I felt like he was less self-assured so I liked how he stepped up in this book and came into his own, taking on leadership and initiative. I liked how the barriers between Arrah and Rudjek being together were explored and how they communicated about it but I didn’t love their relationship as much as I did in book one. As I was reading I became less and less engaged in their romance and cared less and less about whether or not they’d get to be together.

I read most of Kingdom of Souls in one sitting unable to stop and desperate to find out what would happen next. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Reaper of Souls. For most of the book I wasn’t engaged by the plot and there were many points whilst reading where I was so close to DNFing but didn’t because I remembered how much I enjoyed the first book and convinced myself it would get better. However, near the end of the book there were some good plot twists and I think the book ended on enough of a strong point to convince me to read the final book in the trilogy when it comes out. The thing I disliked the most about the plot was Dimma and the Demon King’s story. I can’t really explain why without spoiling too much but even though it was an important part of the storyline I didn’t like the focus being taken off of Arrah and Rudjek because they were the ones I cared about.

Although it built on the same ideas as Kingdom of Souls- magic being a gift and a curse, the corrupting nature of power and love that destroys as well as heals– I liked Reaper of Souls but nowhere near as much as the first book. However, I would recommend fans of book one to give the sequel a chance because I know for a fact that there are a lot of people who enjoyed it more than I did. 

Have you read Reaper of Souls? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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Violent Ends: Review of These Violent Delights

Thank you to Simon Pulse for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: These Violent Delights

Summary

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Author: Chloe Gong

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: Blood, violence, gore, character deaths, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, parental abuse (from author’s website)

  • Plot: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: 5/5

BREAKING NEWS! Recently, sobs of anguish have been issuing from Shakespeare’s grave at random hours of the day. There is much speculation over the cause but I’ll let you in on a secret: Shakespeare’s ghost is weeping on the other side because finally, after all these years, he’s been outdone. Who by? Chloe Gong and her painfully beautiful debut, These Violent Delights.

Did my heart love till now? I think not. This book has become one of my favourite reads of all time because simply put, it is perfect in every way. It is a young adult historical novel with elements of science fiction/ fantasy that retells Romeo and Juliet in 1920s Shanghai with rival gangs, a monster and a mysterious contagion for extra spice.

I’ve read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and while I appreciate that it’s extremely well written, I very much dislike it because I just find the plot illogical (if you disagree don’t come at me these things are subjective). Luckily, These Violent Delights took everything I dislike about the original play and made it into something that I adore with all my heart- that in itself is a miracle as far as I’m concerned.

I did however enjoy being able to pick up on the many small Romeo and Juliet references scattered throughout. The author included tiny details that showed how much thought and care had gone into the retelling. A non-spoilery example would be how in the novel Juliette often says things that have double meanings to hide her true intentions which is exactly what Juliet does in Shakespeare’s play.

Even better than the references were the clever ways Gong tweaked the plot to keep the reader guessing whether they were familiar with Romeo and Juliet or not. Because it’s a retelling, I thought I knew exactly how the plot would go but it completely inverted my expectations and left me reeling in shock.

The prose was so beautiful that I was captivated from the first sentence. It was intense and lyrical, Gong skilfully crafted vibrant, authentic atmospheres with just a few words. I adored the third person omniscient narration because it gave the story a sense of scope and grandeur. We get glimpses into the minds of so many characters and I loved that each one had their own distinct voice. It was definitely the most beautiful and experimental writing I’ve seen in a debut and Gong really pulled it off!

Juliette Cai was the heiress to the Scarlet Gang who had spent the past four years in America and come back different in many ways- only to find out Shanghai had done the same. She was smart, brave and reckless with nerves of steel and deadpan humourit was hard to not love her. Juliette Cai had so much more agency and power than Juliet Capulet and I loved to see it! She truly was a force to behold and I was cheering her on throughout. Her rage at the injustices of her world- the racism, misogyny, greed, xenophobia, lack of empathy- was palpable and it was so interesting seeing Shanghai through her eyes.

I think Juliette’s diaspora story is one that will resonate with many people. She found herself in a position where in America she was too Eastern to be accepted and when she returned to Shanghai, she was too Western to be accepted. That sense of not knowing who she was or where she truly belonged permeated her story arc.

Roma Montagov was the heir to the White Flowers. His inner conflict was so interesting because deep down inside he was soft, sensitive and dreamy hated being the heir to a gang. He wished he could just disappear with his loved ones and live a quiet life but at the same time, he was scared to relinquish the protection and privilege his position of power gave him. I loved his relationship with his younger sister, Alisa, it was so sweet. 

The main storyline of the book wasn’t focused on Juliette and Roma’s relationship but that didn’t make it any less memorable. Gong turned the original play on its head so that when they met at the start of the novel it wasn’t their first encounter because they were already exes with a complicated history full of lies and betrayal.

I loved this twist for two reasons. Firstly, because it took out the ‘insta love’ aspect that I didn’t like in Romeo and Juliet. Secondly, because it made their relationship so much more intense and dynamic. They had to get to know each other all over again, these harder and colder versions of themselves. They had to grapple with conflicting feelings of love and hate that have been festering for so many years. They weren’t children anymore and their love wasn’t romantic and innocent because the environment they were in would never allow it. Sometimes, the only way they could show their love was through painful, cruel choices. It was messy, angsty and the levels of yearning were through the roof. And the saddest part was it was through no fault of their own but as a result of the hatred and tension between the two gangs.

Their relationship was charged, unpredictable and quite honestly tragic (which is quite fitting considering the novel is a retelling of a tragedy). This picture basically sums it up (Roma would be the one with the rose, Juliette with the knife).

The side characters were all amazing and shone in their own rights. Gong’s take on Benvolio and Mercutio with Benedikt and Marshall was spot on and their relationship was so precious. Especially with Marshall, she really captured Mercutio’s dramatic, sarcastic nature perfectly. All of their scenes made me smile.

I was so glad that Juliette got some wing women too! Kathleen (who was trans!) was so kind and soft, I felt bad for her because she always took too much on and felt too much then ended up neglecting herself. I also found passionate, headstrong Rosalind to be an interesting character. Instead of taking too much on, she kept too much bottled up inside. She was so similar to Juliette it was uncanny, the only difference was that one was the heir and the other wasn’t. I loved how even though their personalities clashed they were there for each other always.

And if you found fiery Tybalt to be infuriating in Romeo and Juliet… wait until you meet Tyler. Gong really hit the nail on the head with him, capturing the same volatile nature that makes Tybalt so detestable. His arrogant nature was a façade for his weaknesses but obviously he got away with it because he was a man. While Juliette, the extremely competent heir, had to work twice as hard to prove her worth.

The world-building was immersive and detailed, it felt like a glimpse of the past. I liked how both the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers were both so distinct in their general aesthetics and in their core values and principles. 1920s Shanghai was a brilliant backdrop for the story. It was a setting full of contrasts and divisions mirroring the divisions and conflicts between the characters. Gong also seamlessly wove in a commentary on the destructive effects of imperialism and colonialism, racism and xenophobia into the narrative and setting making the story all the more relevant and hard-hitting.

I also loved the subtleties of language that the author portrayed: the characters switched between different dialects, different languages were used in different settings, words were more meaningful in one language as opposed to another. As someone who sometimes merges at least four different languages into one sentence, I appreciated it very much and it made the world feel more real and alive.

I thought the addition of the contagion and the monster was genius. It expanded on a tiny detail in the play and gave the story more urgency by increasing the stakes. It also served as a plot device exposing the ugliness, greed and apathy lying beneath Shanghai’s vibrant exterior. The monster was like a metaphor for the monstrosities of imperialism and colonialism that were ravaging Shanghai. The protagonists were given the challenge of defeating a monster without becoming one themselves.

I found it chillingly similar to real life how those in power couldn’t see how dangerous the disease was and didn’t see the need to address it. For example, both Roma and Juliette’s parents were too proud and accustomed to power to think anything could unseat it. Leaving the younger generation to pick up the pieces and find a solution.

These Violent Delights is a brilliant read that captures all the drama, humour, action and emotion of the play it retells whilst also making it more relevant and exciting for modern day readers. This is a book I would recommend to everyone (as long as you can handle the more gory aspects) that will entertain and provoke thought.

The twists were truly incredible and the ending was the most exquisite form of agony. I don’t know how I will survive until the sequel comes out. I obviously won’t spoil what happens but suffice to say: these violent delights really do have violent ends.

Have you read These Violent Delights? What were your thoughts? Are there any Shakespeare retellings that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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A Light in the Darkness: Review of Night

Thank you to the author for providing me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Night (North #2) 

Summary

After months in captivity, Apaay managed to escape Yuki’s labyrinth with her life. But her freedom did not come without a steep cost. When the Face Stealer, the North’s most notorious demon, calls in her blood oath, Apaay must heed his demand. Debts, after all, must be repaid.

As Apaay attempts to navigate her uprooted life, something dark slithers among the snow-dusted conifers of the North. A long-dead war is unfinished, and there are those who would see it revived. In a place where misplaced loyalty could mean her death, Apaay must look inward to repair her broken soul—for if she cannot place trust in those around her, she might find enemies are closer than they appear.

In this stunning follow-up to Below, Alexandria Warwick brings the second book in her dark and seductive North series to thrilling new heights.

Author: Alexandria Warwick

Year Published: 2020

  • Plot: 3.5/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 3.5/5

Night was the sequel to Below that expanded on the first book well, although it was a bit too overwhelming at times.

In this book, Apaay was out of survival mode and everything that had befallen her in the labyrinth came crashing down on her. Her trauma was explored in a raw, emotive manner, so much so that her guilt, grief and despair were almost palpable. I felt sad watching her push everyone trying to help her away and make choices that were clearly going to lead to more pain but she was in such a dark place and that was the only way she could cope.

Below was about Apaay realising her self worth and knowing that she was enough exactly the way she was. In Night, she had to learn to forgive herself and leave the past behind her. It was emotional watching her slowly see a glimmer of light in the darkness and begin to work towards it.

I was very surprised that Ila quickly became my favourite character. I loved her strength, wisdom and determination. In this book, it was her turn to go on a journey of self discovery and it was interesting to see her navigate her expanding world. I was sad that her friendship with Apaay broke down but I do understand the importance of walking away from friendships that bring nothing but pain. I still wish they could have communicated with each other more.

I think I was supposed to like the Face Stealer in this book… but I didn’t. He has had some growth, there is a better side to him and he has shown remorse for previous events but I still think he has a long way to go before I can like him as a character. His intentions were always so murky and I never knew whether to take him at face value or not (pun not intended).

It was interesting to see Apaay’s opinion of the Face Stealer shift but there were times when it hinted at a possible future romance between them and I really hope that doesn’t happen! I would hate that. There would be an unsettling power imbalance and I can’t see Apaay forgiving him enough to love him.

While Below was mostly confined to a shifting and perilous labyrinth, its sequel, Night, expanded greatly on the world. I loved the contrast between the tight, trapped atmosphere of the first book and the sense of vastness in the second as we got to learn more about the subtleties of the world. The plot was much slower paced than the first book and there is nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t like how the pace sped up rapidly near the end making the ending feel rushed and confusing.

As Apaay’s world increased the scope of the plot increased too. Suddenly, the stakes were much higher than Apaay’s mission to save her sister. The fate of nations were balancing on a knife edge and war was on the horizon. However, one of my favourite aspects of Below was how personal it was to Apaay. As I closely followed her story I became more and more invested and compelled to keep reading. The widening of the plot’s scope made me feel less engaged with the story as I had to get my head around all these new components and characters and therefore felt less connected to them all.

I understand that it was necessary for the story but it made the novel feel like a transition between the first and third upcoming book. Therefore, I enjoyed it less than the first. But because of this I am very excited to read the next book as now that the larger plot is established I think I will be more invested in the next part of the story!

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Abandon Thought: Review of Where Dreams Descend

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with an digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Where Dreams Descend

Summary

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

Author: Janella Angeles

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: misogyny, character death, emotional abuse, manipulation

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4.5/5
  • Writing: 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

Where Dreams Descend is one of those rare books that actually surpassed my expectations. It seemed like the sort of book I would like but I didn’t think I would end up adoring everything about it!

Months after reading it, the characters and story are still fresh in my mind. Drawing inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge, Angeles crafted a world that will lure you in with its lavish façade only to trap you in the sinister claws of its secrets.

The book is set in a world where magic could be acquired and rarely, a gift one could be born with. However, it was only socially acceptable for men to take their magic to the stage and become show magicians. Women were expected to only use their magic (although it was often stronger) for labour and domestic tasks. The closest they could get to the spotlight was being a showgirl in an underground club or bar

“Why else destroy light if not envious of its radiance?”

Which brings us to Kallia, a showgirl in one of the aforementioned underground clubs who escaped to join a competition for magicians and carve her name into the spotlight.

Now when I say Kallia is a queen and deserves the world I really do mean it. I loved her determination and ambition, her sass and flair for the dramatic. She knew that she was talented and she demanded the recognition she was due. She faced the sexism in her world head on and was not afraid to put up a fight. There truly is nothing more satisfying than reading about Kallia putting another crusty, misogynistic man in their place. The sexism in the book had parallels with our world, especially the sexism in the entertainment industry.

For much of her life, Kallia was isolated from the world and manipulated. The book addressed her struggle with trauma because of this, hidden beneath a confident and arrogant mask. As well as her flamboyance, there was a vulnerable side to Kallia too. A part of her that was scared to show weakness, scared of failure, scared to let people in, scared that she wasn’t enough. This made her all the more relatable for me.

“Their first mistake was in thinking obstacles gave them an upper hand. Little did they know, she would always find a way to grow through cracks in the stone.”

Another character worth mentioning is Daron. Normally I don’t like the ‘broody love interest with a Tragic Past™’ trope but Angeles pulled it off. I liked how he gradually softened and opened up as Kallia (and the reader) got to know him. And I loved how his slightly awkward and sombre nature contrasted with Kallia’s vibrant character.

“She narrowed her eyes on each judge all the way to the end, and met Daron’s stare with a wink.”

The romance was sweet and full of yearning without being the main focus of the plot- we even get a swoony dance scene! And I’ve seen people saying this book has a love triangle in it but I disagree, to me it seemed like Kallia knew who she wanted to be with and there was only one love interest.

I loved Kallia’s friendship with her assistant, Aaros, and how he was always there to support her (although I wish we got to know more about him). I also loved the friendships she made with Canary and the circus women and how they found kinship and strength in one another. Another side character I liked was Lottie de la Rosa and I hope we see more of her in the sequel.

I can never resist a book with a strong sense of atmosphere and this book definitely delivered in that respect. It was full of elaborateness, music, dancing and glamour with ominous undertones lurking in the background. I loved Angeles’ gorgeous writing and imagery that reflected Kallia’s personality with its drama and intensity.

So you might be wondering: Umairah, if you loved this book so much why did you drop off half a star? And the answer to that would be: the plot. While I loved the mystery, magic and theatrics of the plot, the ending was extremely open ended. It didn’t answer any of the questions the story brought up and left me with even more of them. Personally, I like endings with a bit more resolution but I hope the sequel wraps up all the loose ends.

Where Dreams Descend was a spectacular (or should I say Spectaculore) read that had similar vibes to The Night Circus and gave me everything I found lacking in Caraval. It is a book that tackles themes like misogyny and trauma head on and I would highly recommend it!

What did you think of Where Dreams Descend? Have you read any other books featuring a magical competition/ game? Let me know in the comments!

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We Cheat Death: Review of Dangerous Remedy (Blog Tour)

Thank you to Zephyr for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Dangerous Remedy

Summary

The first in a dazzling, commercial, historical adventure series set in the extravagant and deadly world of the French Revolution. A whirlwind of action, science and magic reveals, with a diverse cast of fearless heroines, a band of rebels like no other.

Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In a fast and furious story full of the glamour and excesses, intrigue and deception of these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Author: Kat Dunn

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: violence, death, execution, human experimentation

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 4/5

Dangerous Remedy was an action packed read best summed up as queer Stranger Things meets Frankenstein during the French Revolution. It was a fun, enjoyable and quick read that I’d definitely recommend although I lacked the emotional investment that might have increased my rating.

I loved the fast pace of the story that still kept the balance between dynamic, dramatic scenes and quieter ones. The tight structure of the book was held together with short chapters ending on cliffhangers that compelled me to keep reading (I was so grateful for the short chapters, the number of books I’ve read recently with massive chapters is quite honestly draining). The plot twists were exciting although I saw a few coming and I also loved how the ending gave me closure while leaving enough loose ends to make me want to read the next book.

Camille was the protagonist one of the POV characters. Although personally, I didn’t find her to be the most likeable character she was still really interesting to read about and had admirable qualities. However, I was confused as to why the other characters in the book were all either in love with or really fond of her… I didn’t understand what there was to like. But I think that was the thing about Camille, she had a sense of purpose and drive that drew people in and made them forget about everything else. There were several mentions in the book of her having ‘weak lungs’ although it didn’t go into detail. I haven’t seen another book of this genre featuring a character with any sort of health issue before.

As I said, Camille did have admirable qualities. She had a burning desire to bring about justice and ‘do the right thing’ (even if she didn’t always know what that was) and she was a versatile, strong and pragmatic leader not afraid to resort to intimidation or violence to achieve her goals. The main reason I didn’t like her was that she had serious communication issues when it came to her personal relationships, I wished she would just sit and talk things out instead of avoiding it.

Ada was the other POV character and she was amazing. She was a smart and curious scientist and I loved to see it. I felt so angry for her not being able to go to university because she was a woman. I liked how she was kind, brave and a surprisingly good actress, making people see only what she wanted them to.

I liked her relationship with Camille and how their soft, romantic moments broke up the action. There were times when I wished Ada would set more boundaries with her but she loved her so much that she excused everything. But on the other hand, no relationship is perfect and the way they always chose each other despite their differences was lovely.

Olympe was a girl with supernatural powers after being subject to human experimentation (slightly similar to Eleven from Stranger Things). She didn’t have as much of an active role in the story, there times when I wished I could read a chapter from her perspective. I did like how we see her dealing with her trauma and slowly coming into her own. I also liked Guillaume, the calm, principled and wise big brother figure full of philosophic advice. And Al was a snarky character who pretended to be self serving but I always felt like he secretly cared about everyone the most. I really liked his friendship with Ada, it was unexpected.

In general, the battalion were so lovable, Dunn definitely pulled off the found family trope- I loved their camaraderie and banter! In terms of diversity, both Ada and Guillaume were POC, Camille was bisexual, Ada was lesbian and Al was gay. I loved how they made a group where they accepted each other without question, even if the wider society didn’t.

Dangerous Remedy was a high-octane read set to the historical backdrop of the French Revolution that I enjoyed very much and I can’t wait to read the next book.

Have you read Dangerous Remedy? Are you planning on reading it? What are your favourite books with the found family trope? Let me know in the comments!

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A Celestial Serenade: Review of Star Daughter

Thank you to HarperTeen for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Star Daughter

Summary

The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens–and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

This gorgeously imagined YA debut blends shades of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and a breathtaking landscape of Hindu mythology into a radiant contemporary fantasy.

Author: Shveta Thakrar

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: absent parent, critically ill parent, hospitalization, panic attack, person held captive and tortured

  • Plot: 3.5/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4/5

Star Daughter was a lyrical read interwoven with Hindu mythology that will reel you in and hold you in a starry embrace until the very last page. 

Sheetal Mistry was a girl caught between two worlds- half human, half star. Her mother was a star who went back to the sky when Sheetal was young, leaving her with her father. All her life, Sheetal had to hide who she was and lay low with her shimmering silver hair died black and her starsong held in. Until one day, after an accident with her starfire that hospitalized her father, Sheetal had to ascend to the sky and participate in a celestial competition to save him.

I loved how Sheetal gradually made her own place in both her worlds where she could be herself without fear. Her grief, pain and sense of abandonment was palpable and raw. She had to deal with the pressure and self-doubt of so much relying on one performance in what was basically a celestial talent show and I felt so worried and nervous for her. I loved how Thakrar contrasted Sheetal dealing with average teenager problems and high stakes magical dilemmas all in a short time span.

The side characters were really likeable too. Sheetal’s best friend Minal was a ray of sunshine– I loved their supportive friendship- and although I was annoyed at him at first Dev grew on me. Sheetal’s relationships with her family, especially her father and mother, were well fleshed out and given time to develop.

Star Daughter was a novel bursting at its seams with magic. The ethereal stars with their silver blood and hair, inspiring humans to create heartfelt works of art. The bustling Night Market which seemed so wondrous I wish it was real. It was a story full of whimsy and possible impossibilities that captivated my imagination.

I’m not an ownvoices reviewer for this book so it’s not my place to discuss the representation but it was a pleasure to learn about Hindu mythology and the nakshatras. I loved the author’s note at the start where she explained the inspirations behind the book (one of them being Neil Gaiman’s Stardust), her love for fantasy and how she wrote the story about a magical desi Hindu girl that she had always wished to read.

The book explored the themes of legacy, identity and how it’s important to own our mistakes and flaws as much as our accomplishments. I was going to give it 4.5 stars until the last few chapters where some of the plot twists made little sense to me and were confusing. Overall however, Star Daughter was an enjoyable, standalone novel that I would highly recommend to all fans of low fantasy!

Have you read Star Daughter? What are your favourite books inspired by mythology? Let me know in the comments!

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