What Happens After You Fulfil Your Destiny?: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

As much as I hate to say it, Chosen Ones is another one of those books with a great concept but not so great execution. I mean, taking the chosen one trope and grounding it in reality by looking at the aftermath and trauma that comes with it? Such a good idea! If only this fantastic potential had been better taken advantage of.

Who, What, Where?

Fifteen years ago, five teens – Sloan, Matt, Inez, Albie and Esther – were singled out by the government as potential chosen ones, prophesied to defeat a powerful entity known as The Dark One. Following his defeat, the world seemingly returned to normal. Now adults, the group is trying to adjust to living as regular people again. But how can they when they’re the most famous people around? More so, after everything that’s happened to them? Sloane, in particular, has had a hard time moving on – nightmares, PTSD, and secrets about her kidnapping by the Dark One that she hasn’t told anyone. Around the tenth anniversary of their triumph, one of the five shockingly dies and the remaining chosen ones are sent hurtling into another prospective battle with a new Dark One.

Too Long to Reach the Good Stuff

If I had to use one descriptor for this book, it would unfortunately have to be ‘a slog’. The last third or quarter of Chosen Ones is actually pretty enjoyable. Plotlines come together, secrets are revealed, there’s action, our villain develops a backstory…but gosh, does it feel like a trial to get there.

The pacing for most of this book leaves a lot to be desired. My interest would register in short bursts only to disappear again for large stretches of time. The earlier chapters deal with establishing the chosen five (plus their baggage) and the world ten years after the defeat of The Dark One. This was fine at first but after a while I found myself wondering where it was all going. Once part two hit, a major and unexpected shift in the narrative occurred which led me to believe things would start to pick up. Instead, I got some wandering around the city, character squabbling, and boring magic instruction (something I’m normally crazy about). Finally, at long last, some new characters were introduced and I began to get a better sense of the overarching conflict, allowing me to feel more engaged in the story. However, by this point, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was a case of too little, too late.

Not My Chosen Ones

When it comes to slower reads, I’m 100% fine provided I have characters I can connect with and get invested in. This wasn’t really the case here. I enjoy the occasional abrasive, emotionally complicated and typically ‘unlikeable’ character, but for some reason I just didn’t click with Sloane. I’m not sure whether it was the distance created by the third person narration but I never really felt as though the book got as emotionally deep with her trauma as it should have. Regrettably, I felt the same way about the rest of the chosen ones and for a book that I believed was going to focus on exactly this theme, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

In the end, my attitude towards most of the characters in this book can only be explained as indifferent. While I thought Albie was sweet, Ines disappeared for most of the book, Matt was annoying and boring, and Esther was…eh. Both Mox and Ziva were likeable with solid potential but because of their point of introduction in the story, there wasn’t enough time to properly develop them into anything substantial.

Documents and Files

One of the things I quite liked about the book was its use of files, reports, newspaper clippings, etc. to break up the third person narrative. There may have been one or two inclusions that I found a little pointless (poems?), but overall, these were a nice way to provide context to some past events in a different way than the standard flashback. Each excerpt isn’t always relevant at the exact moment it arises, but they do provide useful world building and background information for events further on down the track.

All Grown Up?

Chosen Ones is Veronica Roth’s first adult classified book. Despite it being targeted at an older audience, there’s a definite young adult vibe here. A couple of the themes seem slightly more mature, but the characters and writing often still have that YA feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I can understand why such an approach would fit this particular story. Here, we have several adults who lost a significant part of their teenage years training to fight a mass murderer magician in a fight they weren’t even sure they would survive. Consequently, they didn’t go through the usual milestones, learning experiences and development of normal teens and this has impacted on how they interact and behave as adults. Sure, it can be a bit frustrating to read about adults acting like bickering teenagers, but it’s believable in the context of the narrative.


The later parts of Chosen Ones give me hope for a more enjoyable sequel, yet I don’t really see myself picking up the second entry in this duology. I’m sure that the big bang ending to the book will pull a lot of readers in on curiosity to see how events play out, but I don’t think I can trudge through another 400 or so pages if I’m wrong.    

2.5 Stars

Binge Reading: How Many Adult Contemporary Romances Can I Read in a Week?

Now, looking at the title of this post you might be thinking: Why? Well, to that I say: Why not?

Okay, for a more expanded explanation: in August I finished a total of 2 books which is kind of sad and probably because I’ve been apathetic towards reading lately. Romantic contemporaries are always quick and easy reads for me so I thought, why not give my bookwormishness (what a monstrosity of a made up word) a jump start with an entire week of them?! I’m probably going to give myself whatever the bookish equivalent of a cavity after eating too many sweet things in one go is, but WHO CARES.

For fun, I’ll be scoring them using my usual star system but also doing individual ratings for sweetness, humour, sexiness/steam, and romance – just to give a better idea of their mood. I’ll also be mentioning whether they include any diversity because yo, it’s 2020. Let the week of romance begin!

Day 1-2: One to Watch – Kate Stayman-London

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Premise: A plus-sized fashion blogger goes on a reality dating show called Main Squeeze (a fictional version of The Bachelor/Bachelorette) and dates a bunch of hot guys whilst showing that bigger girls can be attractive and deserve love too.

  • Hurrah! A strong start to the week. I enjoyed this one, mostly because it was super relatable for me. As someone who’s far from a size 6, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have a protagonist who shares many of the same insecurities about love and relationships that I do. Reading about the MC, Bea’s, journey was hard but also empowering and encouraging. The body positivity message is very, very on the nose but I can mostly forgive it.
  • Diversity wise, this book is amazing. Aside from Bea being plus sized, among the contestants there’s also a black man, an Asian-American, and an asexual man. They’re all portrayed as being desirable & unlike on real life TV, they all make it close to the end!
  • The Bachelorette concept was fun and definitely why this caught my eye. However, having Bea cycle through different dates does mean that the love interests share the limelight, reducing the ability to give them lots of depth but the real focus is Bea anyway. Still, there are plenty of sweet moments and a little bit of sexual tension.
  • The book plays around with style a lot using articles, tweets and text convos in between standard third person narrative. It’s somewhat jarring to get used to at first but fine after a while.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★.5
Sexiness/Steam: ★★
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: Yes! All the YES.


Oh god. A four star read out of the gate. It’s got to be downhill from here, right? Suddenly the books on my pre-made list seem risky and unappealing. What does Goodreads suggest instead…

This looks interesting. *checks Amazon* SIXTEEN DOLLARS? ON KINDLE? This better be worth it.

Day 2-3: You Deserve Each Other – Sarah Hogle

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Premise: Naomi and Nicholas seem like the perfect engaged couple but, in reality, these days they can barely stand one another. Now with only 3 months left til their wedding, the pair decide to try their best to get the other to end the engagement and foot the massive bill. But what if they turned their attention to working out what went wrong with their relationship instead?

  • Yes, it was easily worth the $16. This was so unexpectedly enjoyable! I love a good enemies to lovers trope but it was great to see it used in a fresh way. I will gladly read another book about two people finding themselves again and remembering why they loved one another in the first place.
  • One of the best parts of this book was easily the humour. I was surprised by how funny it was. Like, actually laugh out loud funny. The banter between Naomi and Nicholas is great, mostly because, as a couple who’ve been together for a while, they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. Particularly where Nicholas’s mother is concerned.
  • The characters are very likeable, too. With the way Naomi acts at times, I should have found her childish and petty but honestly, I loved her boldness and vulnerability. Nicholas, meanwhile, can just marry me. A man who can banter, loves skittles, proudly owns a How to Train Your Dragon tie and will fight for his relationship – swoon.
  • I should also mention how seamlessly the book’s mood changed from light and fun to serious and emotional. I loved that I could enjoy myself reading about Naomi and Nicholas’s antics one moment then sympathise with their difficulties in repairing their relationship and behaviour the next.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★★★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★
Romance: ★★★★
Diversity: Nope.


We’re definitely going down now. It’s inevitable. Maybe I need something completely different. Well, different within the confines of contemporary adult romance. Just kidding. More enemies to lovers it is. But with cupcakes. Cause I love cupcakes.

Day 3 – 4: Kiss my Cupcake – Helena Hunting

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Premise: Blaire Calloway is excited to finally be opening her own cupcake & cocktail cafe. However, her parade is rained on when she discovers hottie Ronan Knight opening a sportsbar next door on the same day. The two clash, setting off a competition for customers. But when a chain of popular bars opens their newest location across the street, the two have to work together to keep their businesses afloat.

  • Can I just say, this book has SO MANY CUPCAKES. Thank god I had left over birthday cake in the house while I was reading this because I might have died of cravings otherwise (it’s possible, okay).
  • I quite enjoyed the chemistry between Blaire and Ronan. Blaire is somewhat over the top in her reactions to things (especially at the climax of the book) but overall she’s okay. Ronan is hot – physically and in personality. He can stay. Enough said.
  • At the end of each chapter, the book incorporates “tweets” supposedly posted by Ronan and Blaire’s businesses but honestly, they’re mostly cringy alcohol & cupcake puns which offer nothing to the story. I have no clue why they’re included.
  • With romance novels I always expect some drama around the 80% mark before the couple makes up and sails off into the sunset. Unfortunately, the dramatic climax of this book is super disappointing. In fact, it’s almost non-existent and just makes Blaire look bad for thinking so badly of Ronan with barely anything to go off. That this is then followed up by an over the top and cheesy ending put a dampener on my enjoyment of the overall book.
  • The story is told in split perspectives between Ronan & Blaire but the balance between the two is really uneven, leaving Ronan with only a couple of chapters. I found this a somewhat odd choice which made me question the reason for the split at all.
  • KMC is definitely the most steamy of the books I’ve read so far this week. As in, there’s an actual sex scene. There’s also noticeable sexual tension throughout the book. So if this kind of thing floats your boat, *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour:
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★★
Romance: ★★
Diversity: Nooopppee


Alright, let’s turn up the “romance” rating a bit more. I want some swoon-worthy love story here. Real depth of emotion with boomboxes outside windows. I will accept no substitutes.

Day 4-5: One day in December – Josie Silver

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Premise: When Laurie locks eyes with Jack riding the bus home one day, it’s practically love at first sight for the both of them. That is, until the bus drives away with him on the curb. She then spends the next year searching London for him until finally she finds him – introduced as her roommate Sarah’s new boyfriend. What follows is ten years of missed opportunities and complicated choices.

  • Based on the few reviews I’ve read of this book, I honestly didn’t expect to like ODiD as much as I did. Then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for stories told over several years in characters’ lives. I just love watching people grow, change, and experience life.
  • Normally I’m 100% in the camp of NO to love at first sight but somehow, this book actually made me believe in it for its duration. Now, if that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.
  • The characters in this book aren’t always logical and don’t consistently do the right thing by themselves or each other, but that’s people. For the most part, I cared about what happened to Laurie, Jack & Sarah, and genuinely wanted them to get their happy endings. ODiD is definitely one of those books where you do have to be invested in the characters and their lives to enjoy it, otherwise it’s going to be pretty darn boring.
  • I should warn you, if you hate cheating plotlines, there’s an element of it here. Physically only minor but emotionally, plenty.
  • My two main gripes are: 1) I wish the ending had been handled differently as it felt odd and abrupt when fit into the rest of the story (I mean, we’d been waiting TEN YEARS by this point). Perhaps another time jump afterwards would have helped? And, 2) I would have liked more done with Laurie’s career considering its importance to her.
  • Less of a fluffy read than the other books so far this week, but very enjoyable.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★.5
Romance: ★★★★
Diversity: No, again. More straight, cis, able-bodied, white people problems.


I’ve just realised that this post is lacking a noticeable amount of gay so we should rectify that right now. Bring on the LGBTI romance!

Day 5: Boyfriend Material – Alexis Hall

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Premise: As the son of two rock legends, Luc has always been in the spotlight. After a compromising photo puts him in hot water with his employer’s donors, Luc is told to clean up his image by finding a respectable boyfriend. Enter Oliver Blackwood – vegetarian, barrister and in need of a date for a big event. And so the two strike up a deal: a fake relationship for a few weeks and then go their separate ways. But what happens when real feelings get involved?

  • Did I pick this book because it reminded me of Red, White and Royal Blue? Yes, you caught me. And I’m so glad I did because it was the perfect combo of adorably sweet & hilarious. I had an absolute ball.
  • The humour in this is great, mostly found in the lengthy sections of dialogue. Part of it stems from the banter and chemistry between Luc and Oliver, but the rest can be attributed to the fun supporting cast. This includes Luc’s vague co-worker Alex (my favourite) and his publisher friend Bridget.
  • I loved the relationship between Oliver & Luc. It’s an opposites attract situation which requires time to sort through the kinks but develops into something wonderful. I really enjoyed how good an impact they had one one another, especially with regards to Luc’s self-esteem and trust issues.
  • Aside from the romance, BM also involves a plot to do with Luc’s estranged, famous father. However, for something that took up a chunk of the novel, it ended up weirdly…fizzling out. It’s even more disappointing considering how much Luc’s life was impacted by his dad’s choices and lifestyle.
  • Speaking of family, there’s also an incident involving Oliver’s which I wish had been built up to more over the novel instead of becoming a factor all of sudden in the later stage of the book.
  • This book is boyfriend material in more ways than one – would for sure recommend snuggling up with it on a night in.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour: ★★★★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★.5
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: Yes! We have straight, bi and gay characters in this one.


I might be able to squeeze in one more book. Just ONE more.

Day 6-7: Get a Life, Chloe Brown – Talia Hibbert

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Premise: After a near death experience, chronically ill computer geek, Chloe Brown writes herself a list of tasks designed to help her “Get a Life”. Realising she’ll need a hand in completing it, Chloe enlists the help of talented artist (and her building superintendent) Redford Morgan, who has baggage of his own to deal with.

  • Once again, yay for diversity: this book features a black, curvy protagonist with a chronic illness. Even better, Chloe’s condition isn’t forgotten about whenever it’s convenient. It actually factors into her behaviour and how the romance plays out. It sounds like such a small thing but I adored the fact that Red was so attentive about Chloe’s pain & exhaustion, and that he always kept her condition in mind when they did things together.
  • It was interesting having a male lead who looks physically strong dealing with getting out of an abusive relationship. Not just physical abuse but emotional, too. Seeing how this trauma impacted Red’s self esteem and his painting really added something different to the novel.
  • To my complete shock, GaLCB ended up being the most steamy book I read this week! From the description and cover, it seems super cutesy but then BAM masturbation scene, public acts of indecency, dirty talk, erections & taut nipples galore…!! To be honest, it was probably too much for my liking. There were quite a few conversations between Chloe and Red which I wish had been more emotional and less I-can’t-stop thinking-about-your-body-on-mine.
  • Based on the blurb I was under the impression that there would be more elements to completing Chloe’s list and that this theme would provide a more structured plot. I was also expecting that doing these things would be the reason for Chloe’s new lease on life but it ended up mostly being about her opening up to Red. This was nice and all but I wanted something a bit more.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour: ★.5
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★★★
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: YES!


There we have it – 7 days, 6 adult contemporary romances. Phew! I’m pretty happy with myself to be honest. I had a fun week of reading, beefed up my Goodreads tracker for 2020 and I’m already looking forward to the next book I tackle. FYI, it will not be a contemporary romance. I’m starting to feel the bookworm cavities… Too much of a good thing.

Are you a romance reader? If so, what are some of your favourite picks?

Should I try doing this with a different genre in the future?

Summer Romance with Depth: Beach Read by Emily Henry

I think it’s time that I list adult contemporary romance as one of my favourite genres. They’re just so enjoyably bingeable. The banter, the sweetness, the steam – it’s the perfect little package I can’t resist. Almost like wiggling a Mars Bar in my face. And that’s pretty much what hearing the premise for Beach Read was. Two authors, living in beach houses, engaging in some friendly competition to see if they can write a book in the other’s genre, bouncing off one another until they eventually crack and rip each other’s clothes off… You see what I mean, right?

January & Gus

The two leads in this book are great. They’ve got complexity, great chemistry and, most importantly for romance, appropriate levels of personal baggage to dramatically bring up at opportune moments. January is a romance writer who after the death of her father and discovery of his mistress has been suffering from severe writer’s block. In the hopes of finally getting something written and recovering her sunny, hopeful disposition, she moves into her dad and his girlfriend’s empty beach house. To her surprise, her new next door neighbour is her former university classmate, and now successful literary fiction author, Augustus Everett.

Unlike January, Gus is cynical, broody, and more than happy to murder fictional characters. But he’s also sweet, funny and somewhat mysterious. Also, to my immense joy, he has none of that Alpha male type bullshit typical of romantic leads these days. Look romance writers: Proof that you can be nice and still have sex appeal!

Banter-ific!

As you can probably tell, this is an opposites attract kind of relationship and it works really well on that level. January and Gus’s interactions are perfectly balanced between fun banter and get-things-off-my chest emotional. Even when there’s not much happening plot wise, the book is enjoyable simply by having them be around each other, whether they’re terribly line dancing or writing notes Taylor Swift style through their windows. These interactions make up the bulk of the novel so thank goodness their exchanges work as well as they do.

Battle of the Authors

I really enjoy books about authors and writing so the idea of a competition between two writers involving them producing work vastly outside their comfort zones was a massive draw card here. Yet, while the competition is present and does result in January and Gus doing several research activities, it isn’t as prominent as I would have liked. Mostly because it tends to take a backseat to their romance and dealing with past troubles, particularly in the middle. It does, however, pop more to the forefront toward the end of the novel.

In Cheesy Territory

Beach Read is cute, okay. It is. It’s fun and sweet and mostly enjoyable. But it’s also kind of… cheesy and over the top at points. There were certainly a few lines of dialogue (“I don’t need snowflakes.” He kissed me. “As long as there’s January.”) and moments I could have done without to avoid the cringe factor. This is especially so considering the seriousness of some of the plot points. The book also frustratingly leans into the age old complication of failure to communicate properly. I could see it coming and resigned myself to the fact, but I really wish it hadn’t been done twice. There were also a few points at which I feel January behaved somewhat annoyingly irrational but hey, you can’t have everything.

Deceptively Fluffy Covers

I feel I should mention that because of the genre, blurb and cover imagery, this is a book people will go into expecting fluff, levity and laughter but, like me, will probably be surprised to find there’s a heaviness to it, too (something that’s become common in romance reads lately). Infidelity is a big theme in this book but there’s also the death of January’s father, Gus’s research into a cult, and both our leads’ somewhat fractured outlooks on love and life to contend with. In other words, be prepared for things not to be constantly sunshine and daisies.


As far as contemporary romance goes, this is a good choice. It’s got more emotional gravity than you’d expect from something titled Beach Read, but that’s perhaps what makes it more memorable. While I wouldn’t count this among my favourite romance reads, it’s definitely a good way to spend a few hours. If this seems like something you’ll like, there’s probably about a 90% chance that it is.

3.5 stars

Room for (Home) Improvement: The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

When the world goes insane, there’s nothing like copious amounts of junk food and a solid romance novel to get you through. Having read two books by Christina Hobbs & Lauren Billings in 2019, The Honey-Don’t List was definitely on my radar for 2020. However, after seeing a bunch of mediocre reviews, I did what any reasonable bookworm would do: I lowered the hell out of my expectations.

Who, What. Where?

THDL follows two assistants named Carey and James who work for home renovation gurus and reality stars, Melissa and Rusty Tripp. The Tripps are on the verge of airing a new Netflix series and have just released a guide to marriage and relationships. The only problem is that they can’t stand one another. When Melissa finds out about Rusty’s latest affair, Carey and James are forced to join the couple on their book tour to help keep their image intact. Both would rather be anywhere else but with Carey needing to keep her medical insurance and James desperate to salvage his resume, they’re stuck. Although, the more time they spend together, the more it seems like this tour may be the start of something unexpected.

Carey & James

One of the major reasons I’ve enjoyed past CL books is their characters. THDL is told in alternating first person POV and while I thought Carey and James were likable characters, they weren’t exactly favourites. Of the two, I definitely found Carey more memorable and interesting. Carey has been with the Tripps since she was sixteen, back when they owned their first furniture store. Now twenty-six, she does all the design elements of their projects with zero credit whilst managing her dystonia and having almost no personal life. I really felt for Carey and it was great seeing her grow in confidence to eventually take charge of her life and stand up for herself.

James was hired by the Tripps as a structural engineer and to his frustration has somehow ended up Rusty’s babysitter. After the last company he worked for turned out to be acting illegally, he desperately needs something respectable in his work history. James is what you’d call the hot-nerd type – smart, clean cut, looks good with his shirt off, and caring. I really liked how supportive and understanding he was of Carey, but…he’s also a teensy bit boring which made connecting with him difficult.

Romance with Missed Potential

In terms of the romance, I’m on the fence, mostly because the relationship shifts felt rushed within the time-frame. The bickering between Carey and James becomes attraction very quickly, they “get together” at halfway, and say the ‘L’ word by the end. It’s too much, too fast and the development of the relationship is often sacrificed to serve The Tripps storyline (which feeds into Carey and James’s personal journeys). When it comes to the relationship itself, while they don’t have the ease of Josh & Hazel or banter of Olive & Ethan, I still found Carey and James well suited for each other and sweet to read about. With more attention and time given to their interactions, this relationship could have been something really good.

Less Laughs, More Drama    

One of the other boxes CL usually tick for me is humour. Whether it’s dialogue or crazy situations, they normally get at least a snort. With The Honey-Don’t List, not so much. The conversations don’t have the same charm and the story itself is more serious than past books. There’s a failing marriage, a muscle disorder, cheating, two young people getting taken advantage of by their bosses – it’s not a “fluffy” read. This isn’t a bad thing, just something to be aware of going in.

An Underwhelming Plot

As for the actual plot, it’s okay. Not keep-you-up-to-til-early-morning exciting, not boring. just middle of the road, ‘eh’. Things happen as expected but there’s enough going on with the characters to keep you mostly engaged. A few things to comment on though: first, I could have done without the police interview transcripts which frame the story and mess with the tone, two, I wish the ending had more closure on certain characters, and three, I wonder whether the story would have been better served by having it set filming the renovation series rather than on the book tour.


Overall, a quick and decent romantic contemporary, but missing a couple of things. If the blurb appeals to you, give it a go but if you’re after a great adult romance, I recommend picking up one of Christina and Lauren’s other works.

2.5 Stars

Beware Guests Who Never Leave: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

The Family Upstairs is one of those books that I was excited to read the moment I first saw the cover and read the blurb. Mysterious deaths, a creepy house in London, I was like, sign me right up.

Who, What, Where?

The main gist of the story is that back in the 1980s, three people were bizarrely found poisoned to death in a Chelsea mansion. Upon arriving at the scene, police discovered a letter proclaiming a group suicide and a ten-month-old baby girl. The circumstances surrounding the deaths never became entirely clear and the other children said to have been living in the house prior disappeared entirely. Now twenty-five, the baby, Libby, has inherited the house by virtue of her parents’ will. After being made aware of the mystery surrounding her parents’ deaths, Libby begins to look into what happened all those years ago.

A Mystery of Past & Present

The Family Upstairs is told in a mixture of first and third person, focusing on two timelines and three central characters. At first, it’s slightly confusing working out who’s who, what’s going on, and how things connect, but this doesn’t last for very long. In the past we have Henry, the son of the owners of the Chelsea house. He recounts the years leading up to the deaths in which several guests with sinister motives come to stay but never leave, completely altering his family’s lives. In the present, the storylines revolve around Libby (and her investigation into the family with a journalist named Miller) and Lucy, a mother of two living on the streets in France.

Both Henry and Libby’s stories involve a great deal of set up to progress the book’s later events and some readers may find the pacing slow because of it. As the book goes on, the two plotlines increasingly begin to tie into each other and accelerate. Henry reveals certain puzzle pieces in the mystery and Libby discovers others, allowing the reader to gradually construct a timeline. I liked this concept, but I do feel as though it could have been utilised more effectively in terms of Libby’s discoveries contextualising or leading into events in Henry’s timeline.

Too Many POVs

Lucy’s storyline, on the other hand, is something I feel I could have done without. I generally don’t mind books utilising multiple POVs, provided they’re done well and enhance the storytelling. While Lucy’s story is sometimes interesting, when viewed against the main trajectory of the novel, the events of it are largely an unnecessary distraction until close to the end. This time would probably have been better served developing the other characters in the book, especially young Lucy considering her importance to the story.

Missing Charisma

Speaking of characters, there are quite a few in this story. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that a lot of them don’t feel particularly well fleshed out. This left me feeling somewhat apathetic at big moments, particularly when certain characters from the past showed up in the present. One character which could definitely have used extra attention was David, our villain of sorts who eventually turns the inhabitants of the Chelsea house into a cult. We’re told that David is intelligent and charming and yet, from what I was shown in the novel I still have no idea how he managed to hold such influence over so many people, especially the women. Considering how crucial this was to the novel, it severely damaged the realism of it for me.

Engaging and Ominous

Despite my issues above, I have to say, I found this book highly readable. Lisa Jewell has a very easy-going writing style, which makes getting sucked in simple, and a great sense of place (busy London, a bizarre market, the streets of Nice, the slow decay of the house from glamourous to oppressive). She also excels in instilling ominous and creepy feelings where necessary. Once I got past the early chapters, I was engaged in what was happening and genuinely looked forward to finding out how things would end. The book throws in a couple of twists, some of which utilise an unreliable narrator, and although they’re not particularly surprising, I was generally okay with them.

The End…?

One of the things that really damaged my enjoyment of this one was the ending. With thriller reads, I always go in expecting an exciting and dramatic climax. After all, the author has just spent a lengthy number of pages building tension, laying the groundwork, and you assume there’ll be a payoff for it. However, the climax here ended up feeling…flat. Whether this is because of the writing style or slow build up, I’m not sure. Worse, I’d hoped that the ending would be able to rectify it somewhat but no. Instead, I ended up with something weird, unrealistic, unearned (character wise), and incomplete.


Overall, while there were some things to like about this one it just wasn’t the read for me. I’m in the minority here though, so if you’re a big thriller fan I’d recommend giving The Family Upstairs a go – you might really enjoy it.

2 Stars

Ghosts, Dark Magic, and Murder: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Now, this is a tough one.

Ninth House was easily one of my more anticipated releases for the second half of 2019. Magic, dark themes, secret Yale Societies and Leigh Bardugo. Why, hello there, irresistible combination. As Leigh’s first adult novel, I was also super intrigued to see how it would be different from her YA works. And yes, it’s definitely different. But good different or bad different? In the end, it’s a bit of both.

Who, What, Where?

Ninth House is set at a fictional version of Yale University. Here, the rich and powerful members of eight secret societies regularly engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a smaller ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman to join its ranks, opening their eyes to the uses and potential dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts or ‘Greys’. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position within Lethe.

The book largely flicks back and forth between two time periods – Winter & Spring. The Winter chapters take place shortly after Alex’s arrival at Yale and deal with her starting to learn about magic and the societies through the assistance of a Lethe senior named Darlington. The Spring timeline occurs following Darlington’s bizarre disappearance, with Alex now largely handling the duties of Lethe on her own. When a young woman turns up dead on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies, despite being told to do otherwise, Alex decides to follow her gut and look into it.

Dark & Mysterious

If I were grading Ninth House on a lettered scale, it’d easily get an A for atmosphere. Leigh’s version of Yale is dark, dangerous and full of secrets. Ghosts roam the streets, magical substances exist to charm people and remove their free will, and wealthy, privileged students abuse dark magic for pleasure and power. It’s an intriguing setting and grounded well by Leigh’s ability to mix her own knowledge of the real Yale with her fantastical take on it. This twisted depiction of the University is further aided by the fact that it’s also populated by a multitude of morally grey, and sometimes black, characters – people willing to do whatever it takes to better themselves regardless of the costs to others. Even Alex, herself, is not so morally clean cut, but necessarily so to be able to survive in this kind of environment.

A Trigger Minefield

As I said above, Ninth House is not a young adult novel, by any means, and it won’t be for everyone. This book goes to some dark places and the trigger warnings list for it is lengthy. Drug addiction & overdose, murder, self-harm, child rape, forced consumption of human waste, toxic and abusive relationships, sexual assault involving video and date rape drugs, and more. For the most part, these things do tie into important plot elements and character development rather than being simply thrown in for extra colour, but it’s important to be prepared if any of these are things you’re sensitive to.

Connecting with Characters

One of the things I love about Leigh’s previous books is her ability to write interesting and loveable characters. With Ninth House, however, I had great difficulty connecting with them. Alex is a complex character with clear personality traits and a detailed backstory but at the same time, it just never really clicked for me. In terms of the other characters, Darlington was easily my favourite and yet, he’s only in a small portion of the book. Then we have Lethe’s support staff and perpetual PhD student, Dawes, and Lethe’s police liaison, Detective Turner, both of which I thought were okay, but was again missing that spark with.

There are a lot of side characters in this book and at some points it does feel crowded. Society members, Alex’s roommates, Yale faculty, ghosts/historical figures, people from Alex’s past, etc. Some are better fleshed out and more important than others, but I do feel as though there could have been a slight cut back to reduce messiness and confusion.

Stop & Start Plot

The plot of Ninth House is a lot like a dying engine, stopping and violently starting at a moment’s notice. This book could definitely have been shorter than 458 pages and there are a lot of sections in which the pacing is very slow, especially early on (& the info dumping doesn’t help). Momentum on the murder investigation takes a while to kick in and even when things do start to pick up, after every new puzzle piece discovered or dramatic moment that unfolds, there’s a long, drawn out pause. This is usually to shift to character backstory or something else. If you find these side-plots interesting, you’ll get by okay but if not, there’s likely to be some periods of boredom. While I wasn’t gripped in a constant state of excitement, I will say that, for the most part, I did remain consistently intrigued in how things would turn out, even though the ending wasn’t the satisfying conclusion I’d hoped for.


Overall, for one of my most anticipated releases of the year, Ninth House was somewhat of a disappointment for me. However, despite its flaws, I can still say I found it a mildly enjoyable, if bleak and at times confusing, reading experience. As to whether I’ll read the follow up, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

3 Stars

New Additions to My Goodreads To-Read Shelf 4#

I’ve been a very lazy book blogger this week. I willingly admit it. In my defence, two of my most anticipated reads have just been released and I’ve been reading like a maniac because THEY’RE SO GOOD. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about the gazillion other books out there that I want to read. Here are five recent additions to my ever growing virtual TBR.


Normal People – Sally Rooney | GR

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This book started popping up a lot at the end of last year but only recently have I start to pay attention. I read so much YA and fantasy that sometimes I forget I actually enjoy adult general fiction, too. This book has been getting fantastic reviews and it’s making major waves with regards to some of the big literary awards (Rooney is now the youngest author to ever win the Costa Novel Award). I’ve heard a number of people compare the story to One Day except far better which is a pretty decent endorsement because I quite enjoyed One Day. I like the idea of getting to know characters in really intimate ways and following them over a span of time. These kinds of books always seem to hit the emotions hard though. Still, I’m going to give it a go anyway.

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I Was Born for This – Alice Oseman | GR

34325090My interest in this may or may not be because the cover is a pretty orange. I’m clearly getting more superficial as I get older…oh well. Regardless, I’ve heard lots of good things about this one (it has a 4.26 average GR rating), apparently there’s no romance *shocked face*. I recently binged my way through Oseman’s Heartstopper webcomic (it’s so damn adorable and fluffy) so I’m super keen to see what her novels are like. Also, I’m still trying to up my YA contemporary game and this one seems like a solid pick. Oh and musicians. Musicians are cool, too.

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How to Lead a Life of Crime – Kirsten Miller | GR

15715844So, this book is about a school for training criminal prodigies and it’s supposed to violent and dark. Winner. The story sounds kind of implausible but like it’ll be a hell of a ride anyway. Gosh, I love morally ambigious characters and the lead of this one sounds like a perfect example of this. The rest of the cast of characters is supposed to be pretty good too (yay for solid characterisation). Also, as weird as it sounds, I enjoy a good dark, gritty and sinister read occasionally. They’re a good balance to all the fluffy YA contemporaries that make my heart feel like a puffed marshmallow. Oh, and it’s a standalone so no long term commitment necessary!

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Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng | GR

18693763Ng’s book, Little Fires Everywhere was majorly making the rounds in 2018 and while I haven’t read it, it did somehow lead me to this novel which sounds  intriguing. I really enjoy character centric stories and from what I can tell, that’s what this book is in that it follows an American-Chinese family in the 1970s in the lead up to and following the death of one of the daughters. The story supposedly deals with a lot of really big topics- racism, sexism, family, loss, being biracial, but does so with subtlety and grace. I can tell this’ll be an emotional read so I better get my poor little heart ready to be smashed into a million pieces.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers | GR

Image result for the long way to a small angry planetLook at me branching out again, this time with a little sci-fi and it’s not even YA. This is another character based story and revolves around the crew of the Wayfarer as they travel through space, tunnelling wormholes. The characters are supposedly diverse (racially and sexually), memorable and unique, as well as form a really great little family to fall in love with. The plot is more about the journey than the destination and seems to focus on the adventures of the crew as they travel. Apparently if you’re a fan of Firefly, which I am, you’ll probably enjoy this one. I have no idea what a space opera is, but I’m excited to find out! Side note: I am so in love with this cover.


What are the newest additions to your to-read pile/shelf (virtual and real)? Tell me all about it!

‘Epic’ Doesn’t Begin to Cover it: The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

RR

This series. THIS SERIES, GUYS.

Just wow.

I feel like I’ve been on the most action packed, heart-breaking, riveting journey ever and the only thing helping me cope with the fact that it’s over is well, the fact that it’s not – because Brown just published the first book in a new trilogy set ten years after the events of this series.

This is another one I put off reading for years (I really need to stop doing that) and once again, I realise I’m a complete dolt because it’s AMAZING. Where do I even start? This is the point where you all quote The Sound of Music at me and say, at the very beginning. Prepare yourselves though. I’m terrible at concise writing when reviewing just one book and this is three. So don’t say I didn’t warn you…

RED RISING

4.5 stars

Our story is set in a future in which humanity has spread out across the solar system. Society is organised into a very strict class system broken down by colour. Each colour has its own visual characteristics, strengths, and roles in society. At the top of the pyramid are the Golds, the ruling elite who spend their lives lazing about in luxury, politically scheming, and playing at war with one another.  At the very bottom we have the reds, labourers who mine under the false belief that they are making planets habitable for colonisation, unaware that such an end was achieved long ago. Why, hello there dystopia….

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Enter Darrow, our overachieving protagonist. Well, not yet. At this point he’s just a sixteen year old, Mars born drill operator, trying to score some extra food for his family and very much in love with his wife, Eo. Is he willing to try and look beyond the awful little bubble he currently lives in? Nope. That is, until Eo is executed by Golds following a small act of rebellion, her final words a call to arms for low colours to rise up against their oppressors. Still with me? Good. Cause it’s about to get interesting.

From here Darrow is introduced to the Sons of Ares, a rebel alliance determined to remake society. Problem is, the only way to do it is to get a man on the inside, and not just the inside but close to the top. Remade Gold in mind and body, Darrow is accepted into an elite academy. Here, students are sorted into twelve houses and placed inside an enormous arena in a yearlong battle of wits, strategy, and violence to determine which house, and individuals, will rise above the rest. It’s a little bit Hunger Games, a teensy bit Divergent, a splash of Game of Thrones, and a whole lot of awesome.

Survival of the Fittest (And Most Devious)

For the first fifty or so pages of the book,  I’ll be honest, I was bored out of my little brain. I sat there questioning myself, as you do when reading a hyped book, going: is there something wrong with me? Then, thank god, they ripped Darrow’s body apart and built him up again. Yes, I know how bad that sounds but this is the point where the story kicks into gear and I latched on like a twelve year old whose just come face to face with Harry Styles. By the time we’d entered the arena, I couldn’t put the book down.

Ah, the arena. This is where the magic happens. If by magic you mean scheming, murder, rape, cannibalism and backstabbing. In order to win the game, you have to be the last house standing. To do so, all other houses must be knocked out by either wounding their members so badly they need to be evacuated or marking them with a house standard so that they become slaves. How they go about doing this is the fun part of the book as each house has their own resources and leaders with different approaches to winning. What makes things even more interesting is that within specific houses, especially Darrow’s, there are certain individuals who are willing to cut down members of their own team for more power and a chance to shine in front of the Gold higher ups (they’re watching the game on video screens to decide who to give apprenticeships to). This is the sort of book where you never know exactly how things are going to play out or if you do, when.

Memorable Characters

This is a book with quite a large roster of characters and it only continues to grow over the series. As a protagonist, Darrow is emotionally complex but here’s the problem. With each success, he’s the kind of person who grows increasingly more arrogant and annoying. Why? Because he seems to be good at pretty much everything that matters. Intelligent, brave, a quick learner, able to inspire loyalty – he’s essentially the perfect leader. This isn’t just an issue with RR and runs throughout the trilogy. HOWEVER Brown has a very effective method of compensating for this flaw in his MC: He hits Darrow over the head with the plot whenever he starts to get just a bit TOO cocky.

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Think you’re on top of the world? Oh ho! Here, Darrow, have a life threatening wound to the gut, or how about betrayal by a close friend? In his defeat, we, the reader then remember why we liked him just in time for the cycle to repeat itself.

Aside from Darrow, RR is populated by a number of other strong, memorable and complex characters. To name just a few, you’ve got:

  • Mustang, Darrow’s love interest, and a bad-ass fighter and strategist if ever there was one.
  • Sevro, the foulmouthed lone wolf who finds somewhere to belong for the first time in his life
  • The Jackal, the frightening leader of House Pluto whose bloody reputation precedes him in a big way.
  • And Cassius, bound by rigid ideas of honour and whose entire story line can be summed up as:

**Except replace father with brother.

Overall, 4.5 stars with half a star deducted for a boring beginning.

GOLDEN SON

5 stars

The problems I had starting book one, gone. What is this middle book syndrome people speak of? Because there ain’t none of that crap here. Book two was a fantastic ride from start to finish and my first five star read for 2018.

It’s been two years since the events of RR and Darrow is finishing up his final year at the Academy, but the real work is just beginning. Fissures have begun to erupt within the Sons of Ares and when Darrow’s position amongst the golds begins to crumble, he is forced to seek out new allies. This soon evolves into a war amongst the Golds not only for control of Mars but leadership of The Society as a whole. After all, what better way to destroy your oppressors than to have them do it themselves?

The Action Never Stops

This is one for the action fans, it’s the race car of sci-fi books. Zero to one-hundred and foot on the pedal the rest of the way. You’d think it’d get exhausting after a while but somehow it doesn’t! There’s always something happening – whether it be an epic space battle, some sword play (well, ‘razors’ are the weapons of choice in this series), or even just a highly charged discussion. Strap yourselves in folks, it’s gonna be a wild ride.

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More Fantastic Characters

The characters in RR are great but GS is where some familiar faces such as Mustang and Sevro really shine. GS also introduces several other wonderful new favourites including blunt and ruthless, Victra and the loyal but deadly giant, Ragnar. Brown manages to maintain a healthy attachment in his readers to each of the major characters, (even some of the more minor ones) but what’s even better is the great relationships between the characters themselves. These create some wonderful moments between certain parings and the occasional section of amusing group dialogue in the middle of some messy situations. After all, we all want someone to root for, don’t we?

Plot Twists & a Cliff Hanger

You know those annoying books that manage to hit you with a plot twist right at the end that leaves you screaming because (a) the characters are in the most completely terrible position imaginable and (b) you need to read the next one to find out what the hell happens? Yeah, this is one of those.

Screw you, Pierce Brown.

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A huge death, a betrayal by a major character, a reveal…I want to hate you, Brown-ey I really do, but the storytelling here is just so good, and completely altered the direction of the series going into book three, that I can’t. I freaking can’t because I love you so much.

Five stars. Easy.

MORNING STAR

5 stars

The end of the road, except, not really. You have no idea how worried I was going into this book about being disappointed by the conclusion, but I needn’t have been because MS ended up being my favourite book of the Red Rising trilogy.

At long last the war we’ve always known was coming is here and Darrow has to use all of his resources and allies to bring the Golds down once and for all.

Emotional Murder

Man, this is a book that knows where to hit you and hard. There are moments of triumph, pangs of the heart, and scenes of just downright despair. MS starts off in a pretty dark place after the end of GS and it’s soul crushing, to put it mildly. From there we have to make it through tests of our favourite bromance (Sevrrow), the death of ANOTHER major character (*shakes fist* Damn you, Brown!!!), PTSD and massive amounts of destruction.

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Yet, there’s also the redemption of one character, a wedding, some wonderful moments of friendship, and an epilogue so lovely it’ll make your heart do a Grinch and grow three sizes (even though it’s too bloody short).

World Building

The world building throughout the RR series has been phenomenal but I have to say, that you don’t realise the full extent of it until this book. Brown has done an absolutely fantastic job creating the world (er, universe?) of these books – the people, history, technology, environments, language, everything really. The scale is mind boggling and will take multiple re-reads to pick up on all of the details. You just want to see more and more of it. There’s so much material just waiting to be unearthed from this universe and I will gladly return to it.

Realism

Last, but not least. One thing I really love about this series is Brown’s unwillingness to shy away from the fact that none of the characters in these books are heroes. Darrow in particular constantly acknowledges that he has had to do some pretty terrible things to achieve what he sees as the greater good and that he’s likely damaged his soul in the process, but it’s a necessary sacrifice he has to make to fulfil the role he’s been given.

More importantly, the characters in MS don’t claim to know where society can go from here or that it’ll be some fantastic new world order. They just know that it has to be better than this. The series ends on a note of hope  but it doesn’t ignore the truth that a better world is still a long way off. Progress requires time and work, and there’s always the risk that after everything that’s happened, they won’t succeed, but they’re going to do their damndest to get there.

Five big stars and a big hug for giving me a new series to add to my list of favourites. I will be shoving these ones down the throat of everyone who will listen. Be prepared.

Now, where is my copy of Iron Gold…I’m coming for you.