Witchcraft, Murder and Demon Princes from Hell: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

After a disappointing and frustrating experience with Stalking Jack the Ripper back in 2019, I was extremely hesitant to read Kingdom of the Wicked. But, in the end, there were just too many of my favourite buzz words associated with it to resist.

Who, What, Where?

The story follows Emilia, a Sicilian witch who has grown up being told terrifying stories about the demon princes of the underworld. When she finds her twin sister, Vittoria, murdered, Emilia vows to track down the culprit and get revenge. However, Vittoria is only the latest in a string of dead witches. Desperate for answers, Emilia summons a demon. To her shock, it’s no lower level lackey who answers her call but one of the princes, Wrath, with his own reasons for wanting to investigate the murders. And so, Emilia and Wrath come to an agreement to work together. However, Wrath isn’t the only demon, or member of the royal family, who’s recently appeared in Palermo.

Too Fast, Too Slow

One of the main issues I had with KotW was Maniscalco’s writing style. First up, there’s quite a lot of telling vs showing going on, especially in the first half of the book, and often in the form of Q&A type conversations. Second, there were points where I couldn’t help feeling as though certain scenes/developments were slightly rushed and would have benefited from greater build up or descriptive detail. This would have enhanced the sense of drama and better helped the reader follow what was happening. Prominent examples include the discovery of Vittoria’s body and the book’s end sequence, during which I was muddled as to what exactly was going on. Then, on the other hand, there were other scenes where it felt like we lingered too long. Did I really need to read about Emilia preparing what I’m sure was a lovely bruschetta? Probably not.

All About that Atmosphere

The atmosphere in this book is great. The descriptions of the buildings, food, markets, sounds and smells of Palermo worked wonderfully in not only creating lush Sicilian settings but varying the story’s tone from chapter to chapter. One minute we’re in a sunny, bustling, seaside city with the characters enjoying tasty cannoli, the next Emilia is rushing around ominous, darkened streets with demons potentially around the corner. Yet, I do have to mention that as I was reading I had trouble placing when the story was set. Had I not gone back to check the blurb before writing this review, I still wouldn’t be sure. While KotW is a fantasy, it takes place in a real part of the world and aside from a few references to clothing, there aren’t many era indicators which would have better helped immerse me in the story.

Witch/Detective/Chef

As a heroine, Emilia is a mixed bag. While I appreciated her tenacity, love for her sister, and passion for food, she has a habit of making annoyingly naïve, rash and bad decisions. At first, I was willing to let these slide but there comes a point where you wish you could just shake some common sense into her. She gets fixated on illogical theories despite there being a valid explanation to counteract them and often charges into danger without a proper plan. Here’s hoping for some improvement in book two.

Not So Fairy Tale Prince

In comparison, Wrath is a more interesting and less frustrating character. Mysterious, slightly dramatic, kind of a flirt, and I enjoyed Maniscalco’s somewhat dry approach to his humour. The only problem is that even after a whole book, I still know barely anything about him, which is very disappointing, but I expect that will change drastically in the next book. The interactions between Emilia and Wrath take some time to properly get going but I really enjoyed their conversations and seeing them slowly learn to trust one another, despite their opposition to the other’s species. Plus, the sexual tension is definitely something I’m keen to see more of *winks*.

No Rest for the Wicked

When it comes to the actual plot, KotW took a good while to grow on me. After the original set up, the earlier chapters deal mostly with Emilia attempting to investigate the murders on her own. This isn’t exactly a bad approach, but considering my issues with her as a character, it wasn’t the most exciting time. There’s also the fact that Emilia starts out with very little to go off which results in a lot of her poking around in a somewhat aimless fashion, just hoping a clue will land her in her lap (which it does). The other thing that dampened my enjoyment somewhat is I expected Emilia to team up with Wrath far earlier than she did and this delay was mostly out of stubbornness.

Following approximately the halfway mark, I began to enjoy myself a lot more! The investigation became more focused, Emilia and Wrath were pleasantly bouncing off one another, the interactions with the different demon princes representing the seven deadly sins was fun, and the bigger impending threat of the story was introduced. By the time I reached the climax, I was genuinely disappointed the book was about to be over. While I wasn’t a fan of certain elements of the ending, I’m really looking forward to the exciting change of scenery it creates for the sequel.


As far as a final verdict goes, there were things I liked about this one and others that missed the mark. Still, it’ll likely appeal to a lot of other readers, especially if you enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. I will say though, I do feel like it’s set things up for a really good sequel and I’ll be eagerly picking that up later this year.

3 stars

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

Undeniable Good and the Evil it Falls Prey To: The Project by Courtney Summers

So, let’s not add ‘join a cult’ to our bucket list. But then again, I guess no one really plans to join a cult, do they?

Who, What, Where?

Following the death of her parents in a car wreck, thirteen-year-old Lo Denham was left in the care of her great aunt when her sister, Bea, mysteriously joined The Unity Project, a religious charity organisation working across Upstate New York. Now nineteen and alone, Lo hasn’t heard from her sister in years and spends her days working as an assistant to the head of SVO magazine. One day a stranger recognises her by name shortly before throwing himself in front of a moving train. The man’s father blames The Unity Project for his son’s death. Lo has always believed there’s more to the organisation and its charismatic leader, Lev Warren, than meets the eye and sees this as the perfect opportunity to not only expose the group and find her sister but to make her name as a journalist. To her surprise, Lo is granted permission to write her story and full access to both The Unity Project and Lev himself, the organisation hoping to prove once and for all that they have nothing to hide. Yet, the more Lo begins to investigate, the more she starts to question who to trust and what the truth is. But is the truth really what she’s looking for?

Lo

One of the things Courtney Summers is known for is her unlikeable but complex leading ladies, and Gloria ‘Lo’ Denham definitely fits the mould. I started out somewhat unsure about Lo. She’s acerbic, ambitious, stubborn, and because of the loss, rejection and trauma in her past, it often feels as though she walks around with a giant rain cloud hovering over her head. My connection with Lo is complicated in that while I never grew to “like” her as a person, with time I did come to care about what happened to her and to appreciate her emotional depth. Seeing other characters take advantage of her loneliness, fears and insecurities was difficult to witness and I hoped that she would find some level of peace by the end.

Having A Sister is a Promise

Like Sadie, at its heart The Project is a novel about the bond between sisters. The story is told effectively in dual timelines between Bea in 2012 and Lo five years later. Early on, I found it difficult to invest in Bea and Lo’s relationship as their scenes together are limited and mostly take place either when Lo is a baby or not fully conscious after the car accident. Yet, Summers managed to successfully build the connection over time through the intensity of the girls’ thoughts and actions to create a messy, raw and painful depiction of unconditional love.

There’s a beautiful contrast between the progression of Lo and Bea’s stories that I really enjoyed. Both girls start out with vastly different attitudes towards religion, The Unity Project, and themselves, and it’s interesting to see Bea’s eyes slowly open to the issues around her whilst Lo simultaneously seems to close hers for want of family, safety and belonging.  

Hidden Monsters

The Project is not a twists galore, drama-filled book. It’s a very slow build that takes time to get into, and as I was reading there were several points at which I wondered where it was all going. I later came to understand that this pacing is crucial to the story it’s trying to tell. As an Average Joe, it’s difficult to grasp the psychology behind people who willingly join and remain parts of religious cults. More so, how cult leaders can hold such power and sway over their members. The Project takes the time to illustrate this in a believable way. Through both Bea and Lo’s stories we’re able to see just how much influence a person can wield over those who are isolated, lost and broken by making them feel seen and valued, and giving them hope and purpose. The manipulation, control and gaslighting within The Unity Project is subtle and insidious. By the time the darkness underneath starts to reveal itself, the reader (like Lo) has been led into such a false illusion of peace and comfort that it’s difficult to recognise or process the acts of abuse so casually mentioned.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Something I’ve come to realise about Summers’s books is that while they’re classified as YA and the writing feels like YA, her stories, characters and themes are much more mature and adult in essence. After Sadie, I expected The Project would be dark, especially considering the premise. And dark it was. This is a book which isn’t afraid to delve into the bleaker sides of humanity and religion. It deals with child abuse, suicide, grief, murder, torture, manipulation, PTSD, and intimate partner violence, just to name a few topics. Some of these elements take a while to creep up and rear their ugly heads, but eventually they do. While I enjoy these types of grittier narratives for their gravity and realism, I know a lot of other readers prefer to steer clear. However, I should note that despite its tough subject matters The Project manages to retain a strong underlying sense of hope and goodness in the world that will somehow shine through no matter how dark circumstances may seem.

Mixed Bag Ending

I have mixed thoughts on the ending for this one. There are parts that I liked, but there’s certainly one major component I wasn’t fond of at all, largely because there’s no explanation for it. Over the course of the novel there are several instances of events which characters interpret as being miracles but each of these have alternative real-world explanations. The sequence of events at the end of the book, on the other hand, does not appear to have any sort of non-miracle reasoning. My issue with this is that not only does it make the ending feel too neat but it has caused me to rethink the book’s overall scepticism towards religion as truth, leaving me confused as to how to interpret some of its overarching ideas.


While The Project may not have been as completely immersive and devastating an experience as Sadie, I enjoyed this book and feel as though it mostly succeeded in what Summers was trying to achieve. If you’re looking for a well written, strong and emotionally grounded story, and are willing to be patient for a pay-off, you’ll likely enjoy The Project.

3.5 Stars

Threaten, Flirt and Repeat: A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

To those who said this book was better than the first, you lied. I feel betrayed. Prepare yourselves for an unpopular opinion. A VERY unpopular opinion,

Plot, Wherefore Art Thou?

I have no idea how to talk about the plot of AKoFaF. If I had to sit down and write a summary, I wouldn’t know where to start because, aside from an early kidnapping attempt and a mild skirmish while travelling, almost NOTHING happens for most of the book. While From Blood and Ash had a few action-filled and dramatic events to keep things engaging, this book mostly feels like a million pages of Poppy talking (and “not talking”) to Casteel and side characters. When that’s not happening, it’s pages of inner monologuing about the same tedious things until you want to stab someone. Things start to pick up around 75%, or maybe a bit more, but by the time I was finally interested in what was happening, the book was over.

Keep the Tropes Rolling

I mentioned in my review of FBaA that it was a trope-filled bonanza. Well, it keeps on going in AKoFaF. Clearly JLA couldn’t handle missing a couple in book one. As a result, we get the soulmates, here comes the cavalry, and fake dating tropes. Now, I normally love fake dating but its use here was not only annoying but unnecessary. As we all know, the point of this trope is that by two characters pretending to love one another they actually do fall for each other. My issue is that Casteel and Poppy already love each other. That’s what the first book was for! So this whole ‘fake it til you make it’ layer to their relationship only serves to add frustrating, silly drama and makes Poppy spend ages questioning everything Cas does or says.

More Romance, Less Fantasy

While FBaA felt mostly balanced between romance and fantasy, AKoBaB is more the former. If you were disappointed by the number of steamy scenes in book one, there are certainly more here. A couple feel same-same in the middle, but overall they range from very decent to hot. The whole vampire aspect of the romance is played up more this time, too, which I was super happy about (just give the people want they want, alright?). Yet, I did find that the other interactions between Poppy and Cas got tedious as the book went on, mostly because their exchanges are so damn repetitive, even more so than in book one. Half the time it feels like JLA has hit copy & paste and changed one or two words of dialogue in the hopes we won’t notice.

Cliffhanger Ending

By about 65% of the way through this book, I just wanted it to be over. I was also almost positive that I wouldn’t bother to read book 3. And then…the last couple of chapters came. *sigh*. Damn you, JLA. Why couldn’t the rest of the book be as interesting as the last 20%? WHY? The reveal at the end is predictable as all hell and still, I was like YES, PLOT DRAMA. GIVE IT TO ME. Unfortunately, now my brain keeps thinking it wants to read the next book. Good, God.

Pluck Poppy

Poppy tested my patience in this book. She really did. Her personality can now be narrowed down to just two things – is violent and asks a lot of questions. I also find it ridiculously frustrating that, despite her empathic abilities, she’s a blockhead when it comes to understanding other people’s motivations and feelings. The cherry on top: her repetitive, constant and lengthy internal ramblings which made me want to scream by the end. Just figure your shit out already, girl.

Something I actually liked was that one of the plot points in this book deals with Poppy’s powers beginning to evolve. The reasoning is vague but we’ll allow it. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll be able to guess where that leads us by the end. This plotline really doubles down on the super special protagonist trope but because it feels like the natural progression for Poppy’s story to take (especially since people treat her like a super special snowflake anyway) I’m cool with it.

Other Random Thoughts:

  • Kieran is easily my favourite character. What a bro. His relationship with Poppy is cute, too.
  • I can’t help finding it really weird that Poppy feels people’s emotions as flavours. Like, why?
  • Why is it that people like Poppy or will like Poppy just because she’s stabbed Casteel? Um, how much do you people hate Cas? Poor guy.
  • “Heartmates”. Ugh. Had I been drinking something, I would have spat it all over my kindle.
  • Poppy and Cas getting it on in the back of a carriage right in the middle of a battle was a bit of a WTF moment. Like guys, to quote Kourtney Kardashian: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire is longer than it should be, mostly filler, and loses some of the funner elements I liked about the first book. After everything I’ve just said, I wish I could say I won’t be continuing with the series but that would probably be a lie because, clearly, I hate myself.

1.5 stars

Vampire Romance Makes a Comeback: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I may not be twelve anymore (thank god), but for some reason my ears still prick up at the mention of ‘vampire romance’. I can’t help it. It’s like my brain’s been programmed against my will. So, you’ll understand why this + ‘most hyped romance of 2020’ lead to me giving into FOMO and reading From Blood and Ash.

Who, What, Where?

Our protagonist is Poppy, ‘The Maiden’ and chosen of the Gods. Poppy lives her life with strict restrictions on how she dresses and behaves as she waits for the day of her Ascension – a mysterious ritual that will supposedly secure the future of the Kingdom. However, Poppy longs to experience life outside her limited bubble and is drawn to activities and interests that risk her being found unworthy. After a kidnapping attempt, she’s assigned a new guard, the attractive and alluring Hawke who’s like no one she’s ever met before and makes her rethink her destiny. But when things inside the castle turn deadly and a fallen kingdom rises, determined to retake what was lost at any cost, Poppy begins to question whether everything in her world is what it seems.

You get a Trope! And YOU Get a Trope!

If you’re looking for something original, keep walking. However, if you’re a reader who eats tropes for breakfast, step this way. I knew going into this it’d be trope heavy, just not this heavy. Honestly, I wish I’d had a bingo card. Let’s start a list, shall we? Hidden/growing powers, dead parents, “The Dark One”, the servant confidant, ‘Not Like Other Girls’, the chosen one, a secret identity, forbidden romance, the virginal MC and experienced love interest…there’s more, but I’ll stop here.

Don’t Need a Crystal Ball to Predict This One

Tying in with what I said about the book’s reliance on tropes, From Blood and Ash is very predictable. Even going into this 100% blind, I guarantee you’ll work out all the major plot reveals from a mile away. Unfortunately, you then have to sit through the rest of the book questioning why characters (*cough* Poppy *cough*) are so freakin’ stupid that they can’t work it out themselves.

The Maiden & The Guard

In terms of our leads, Poppy is, for lack of a better word, okay. I love the fact that she knows how to kick ass and I do sympathise with her difficulties, but she also feels annoyingly young at times and extremely dense when it comes to seeing things right in front of her face. Hawke feels like many of the fantasy love interests I’ve seen before (especially if you’re a SJM fan). He’s generally likeable, has some depth, but he’s nothing new.

For the most part, I enjoy Poppy and Hawke’s relationship. It’s banter-y, fun, sexy and I love the scenes where they physically face off. Yet, there are a couple of things that bother me. First, Hawke does verge into toxic ‘alpha male’ territory at times and second, there are a few moments where their interactions verge on forced. For example, Poppy says something, and Hawke just has to give an arrogant/teasing/sexy reply even though it doesn’t really suit. They also weirdly have a couple of the same exchanges repeatedly (‘You’re so violent, it turns me on’, ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you’, ‘You love it’). I know they’re supposed to be in jokes but it’s a lot.

Steam Up Those Windows

No complaints here. If you’re in this book for some solid smuttiness just know that you’ll have to wait a long time to get there but it’s worth it. Also, bonus points for actually mentioning contraception. Woo!

Questionable World Building

Ah, world building. I wish I could say this book doesn’t fall into the trap of dumping boring bits of information on you in heaps right from the beginning, but I can’t, and it does. There’s even a chapter in which Poppy reads passages from a history textbook *face palm*. Even with these infodumps, I was mighty confused for a while. It’s probably all the terms – Rise, Rite, Ascension, Atlantians, Descenters, Ascended, Wolven…lord, help me.

This aside, there are elements that I liked. I just wish they’d been handled better than coming together at the end. I enjoyed the idea of the three different types of “vampires” and the distinctions between them – bloodthirsty traditional vampires, not-so traditional vampires, and the vicious, zombie-like Craven. I also enjoyed the reveal of the history between the Atlantians & the Ascended, although it does paint a very basic good vs evil scenario.

Pacing

The pacing in this book is messy at points. While the opening scenes which take place at a gambling den/brothel are engaging, following this, things get slow and take some time to pick up again. After this point though, I found the story pretty addictive and raced through to the end. The latter chapters, however, is where things get out of sorts again, slowing down and speeding up in a weird mish-mash of events that left me feeling serious whiplash and confusion.

Writing Issues

There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing as I was reading:

  • Ellipses. I’m probably a hypocrite saying this, but boy were they overused in this book.
  • JLA has a weird habit of repeating the exact same information about something in dialogue and Poppy’s thoughts, almost word for word, very close together. It’s bizarre and unnecessary.
  • For a high fantasy book, the language used by the characters is extremely modern. It does make the book more digestible, but the idea of characters using words like ‘totally’ and ‘whatever’ in this context is disorienting.
  • Two words, ‘female’ and ‘male’. Just no. JLA you’re banned from reading Ms Maas.

Now, the two big questions, do I think this book deserves the hype and best romance of 2020? No x 2. Still, despite my massive amounts of complaining, I didn’t mind From Blood and Ash. It’s not amazing or revolutionary but it’s addictive, fun and a good way to shut your brain off. With this in mind, I’ll be reading the sequel.

2.5 Stars

How to Survive a Magic School Full of Monsters 101: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Magic, monsters, and dark academia. Did I need further reasons to read this book? NOPE.

Who, What, Where?

In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation.

A Prickly Heroine & Bland Hero

El is far from your traditionally likeable heroine. She’s snarky, rude, foul tempered, frequently annoying and has a doom-filled prophecy about her to boot. This, among other things, made the early parts of the book a struggle for me to get through, particularly as it’s told in first person. However, as the book went on, I got to learn more about El’s history and came to understand why she’s so bitter and angry at the world and acts the way she does. After a while, I found that she’d grown on me, like a stubborn mould, and I was genuinely happy to see her build up some genuine connections by the end of the novel with people who saw past her prickly exterior.

Aside from El, the other major character is Orion Blake, golden boy and protector of students everywhere. While I didn’t dislike Orion, I did find him somewhat bland and it massively frustrated me that there was no explanation for his apparent “specialness”. This aside, I did really like his and El’s bizarre friendship. It’s mainly El telling Orion what an idiot he’s being and him simultaneously being frustrated by it and liking it because nobody else treats him like a normal human being. I can get behind that.

The Supporting Cast

There are quite a few side characters in this book. Although they’re ethnically and linguistically diverse, for the first half I found them to be vague and flat. Much like with El though, a few of the more prominent ones did improve as the story progressed, namely Liu, Chloe and Aadhya, who each developed their own traits and minor side plots. By the end I had a much greater appreciation for these three and really enjoyed seeing their relationships with El evolve.   

Tell, Not Show

Good news: the world is good. Bad News: We get told about it in ridiculous amounts of info dumping. And we’re not talking easy to follow stuff, we’re talking complicated world building necessary for understanding much of the events and dynamics between characters – magic sources, specialisations, languages and their relationship to magic, the structure of magical society, etc. It’s especially prominent in the first couple of chapters. After the opening hook I kept waiting around for an actual scene or conversation to take place for a good while.

Info dumping aside, I just don’t think I’m much of a fan of Novik’s writing style. This is something I noticed while reading Uprooted a few years back. It’s dense and wordy (unnecessarily so), there’s a large amount of inner monologuing, and a tendency to spend time on things that aren’t important to the story or the reader’s enjoyment, e.g. the history of a spell El uses at a high intensity moment. While I was interested in the general gist of the book, I found myself bored and skimming chunks of it from time to time.

Wanted: More Plot

Another thing I see people having problems with is the plot. Or the lack of one until about 70% of the way through. Most of A Deadly Education feels like a collection of small subplots happening as El goes through her day-to-day school life. These include El figuring out what to do after graduation, her relationship with Orion, the resulting antagonism with the New York kids, Liu’s struggles with malia (dark magic), etc. For the most part though, it’s just El and the other students trying to avoid being killed by a variety of determined and crafty creatures which Orion regularly saves them from. Once a larger plot become apparent it did provide some context to a few of the earlier events and I quite enjoyed where the story ended up climax and ending wise.

Racial Controversy

Over the last few months there’s been discussion online about certain elements of this book being racially offensive (e.g. a problematic passage about locs). As a white, Australian reviewer, I don’t feel I’m the right person to comment on these, especially as others who are better qualified than myself have already done so at length. You can find three different posts here, here and here. I should also mention that Naomi Novik has apologised for some of these inclusions and vowed to do better in future.


A Deadly Education gets some things right and others, not so much. If you’re already a dedicated Novik fan, you’ll probably enjoy this latest offering. Despite the book not living up to its full potential in my eyes, with how things ended I’ll probably give the sequel a go when it releases in 2021.

3 stars

The Marks We Leave Behind: The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue by V. E. Schwab

I wanted to love this book. I was prepared to love this book. In the end, I…liked this book.

The only way I can describe what I’m feeling is to say that it’s like meeting someone with the qualities that should make them your soulmate but no matter how hard you try, the chemistry is missing. So, as much as it pains me, I’m friend-zoning The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue.

Who, What, Where?

The premise of TILoALR is great. Even after being disappointed in elements of its execution, I maintain that I love the concept of this book. The story follows a girl named Adeline who grows up in a small village in 15th century France. Not content with simply being married off, birthing babies, and never seeing anything of the world, Addie makes a deal with a mysterious god of darkness. Immortality in exchange for her soul. The catch, however, is that no one retains their memories of her once she leaves their sight. As you can imagine, this creates a freeing yet difficult and lonely existence. Things take an unexpected turn when in 2014 she meets a bookseller named Henry who somehow remembers her.   

Whimsical Prose

Schwab’s writing in this novel is beautiful. Sure, she repeats some details more times than she should (e.g. Addie’s freckles, Henry’s curls) but, by and large, the prose is stunningly poetic and lyrical. Had I been reading this on my kindle the pages would have been covered in highlights. Yet, while I admired the style, I feel as though it also distracted me and contributed to feelings of disconnect at times.

A Not So Love Triangle

TILoAL is a love triangle and yet, it’s not. If you were looking for a great love story, you won’t find one here. It’s just not that kind of book, it’s far more complex. The two main relationships are between Addie & Henry, and Addie & Luc (the dark God). Neither is deep, romantic love in a traditional sense but they’re as close to it as Addie feels she will get within the parameters of her existence.

Due to the nature of their deal, Luc is the only constant in Addie’s life, and he understands her like no-one else ever will. The book features numerous run-ins between the two over the centuries and although I enjoyed the adversarial nature of their relationship, these exchanges did become repetitive over time. They also largely lacked the deep, personal conversations necessary to support the book’s claim of them having an intimate, special connection. Things do evolve eventually, which I really liked, but I wish it had been a more gradual shift and started far earlier.

Henry is Addie’s first, and perhaps only, opportunity at pursuing a normal-ish, human relationship without the power imbalance involved with Luc. Their relationship is sweet and I really enjoyed the beginnings of it. However, once Henry and Addie get together, it does feel as though not a lot happens until late in the book. It won’t be difficult to guess the “twist” in their story, but I don’t feel that it affected my enjoyment at all.

A Girl, A Boy & the Devil

Confession: I never really warmed up to Addie. I sympathised with her desire to make her bargain and efforts to leave a mark on the people and world around her in spite of her curse, but I think my main issue was stagnancy. Although Luc claims Addie is learning and changing, I didn’t see this beyond the early chapters. Despite living over 300 years, travelling, meeting people, experiencing the world’s good and bad, Addie always felt like the same person in the present as she did in the past. Describing her, I could say she’s stubborn, streetwise, attracted to artists, and desires to see the world, but overall, her personality just seemed…flat. There was never anything that pushed me to either like or dislike her.  

Henry seems like another one of those boring, nice-guy characters but underneath he’s a lot more than that. As someone who, just like Henry, is currently in their late twenties and stuck in a low paying, uninspiring job because they can’t decide what they want to do with their life, I really related to and was unexpectedly comforted by his character. Henry’s struggles with depression and feelings of being lost or never enough will definitely resonate with a lot of readers. His story reinforces the idea that everyone deserves to be seen, loved, and appreciated for exactly who they are and even if you don’t know what your future holds yet, you’ll find your way eventually.

Luc is the character I’m most disappointed with. So much untapped potential! The reader’s time with him is mainly limited to his conversations with Addie and because of his unwillingness to provide her with information about himself, it really weakens his character development. With how compelling and mysterious he is, this frustrated me a lot. While I understand that limiting the reader’s exposure helps to put us in Addie’s shoes and understand the toxic, manipulative nature of their relationship, I can’t help feeling like I missed out on something big.

Then & Now

The narrative flicks back and forth between 2013/2014 New York and different moments from Addie’s past. I really liked this structure but considering the fascinating parts of history that Addie has lived through and places she’s been (few of which we actually see), I was expecting more interesting anecdotes from her past. I feel as though the book shows us little of her experiences during big historical moments where she would have been directly impacted and the stories that we do get start to seem the same as time goes on. The 20th century is also dealt with very quickly, something I found odd with how important it was to Addie’s relationship with Luc and the book’s climax.

The End

While I have a lot of praise for the ending, I get the feeling that many people won’t be so keen on it. For one, it’s quite open but it also reinforces the idea that the novel is not meant to be happy or a love story. It’s intriguing and really fits the trajectory of the story well.  

Slow Pacing and Thoughtful Themes

Unlike Schwab’s previous books, TILoAL is much slower in pace. It’s less about action or drama and more about character journeys and exploring themes. I’m not normally averse to gradual narratives, but there were stretches during this where I found myself switching off due to inactivity or repetition. Themes wise, though, I need to give Schwab credit. This is a story about loneliness, memory, personal legacy, the beauty in living despite life’s ugliness, and it handles them all quite well. For example, Addie, Luc and Henry are all completely different characters but who experience similar feelings of loneliness and isolation. They present distinctly for each of them and their responses are equally unique. This is a book you need to think about and process as you read and I can easily see why it’s taken Schwab so many years to feel as though she’s told her story right.


Ordering my thoughts and feelings to write this review was not an easy task. I’m still questioning whether my final rating is an accurate reflection but, in the end, while there are things I enjoyed about this book, I can’t help feeling that it never reached its full potential. I know TILoAL will be a favourite for plenty of others out there. Unfortunately, it just isn’t for me.

3 Stars

Unpopular Opinions on a Sci-Fi Classic: Dune by Frank Herbert

Well, that was one of the more tedious books I’ve read. If ever there was a book I should have just stopped reading, it was this one. Honestly, it took me about two weeks just to finish the last 100 pages. But there ain’t no motivation like an upcoming film adaptation…

Who, What, Where?

Let’s get the summary out of the way first. Dune is set on the inhospitable desert planet of Arrakis which is famed for its rare and extremely valuable resource, Melange or “Spice”. When control of the planet is shifted by the emperor from House Harkonnen to House Atreides, this sets off a conflict between the two families. After Duke Leto Atreides is murdered, his heir Paul and concubine Jessica flee into the desert where they find sanctuary with the planet natives, the Fremen. Here, Paul plans to avenge his father and retake Arrakis.

Rightfully Hyped World Building & Decent Concepts

Much like with The Lord of the Ring and fantasy, I can see why Dune had such an important influence on the science-fiction genre. At the time it was written, this would have been something new and pretty revolutionary, and I definitely understand why people praise the world building as much as they do. It’s interesting, complex, and grounded in research about real cultures and landscapes. Herbert touches on ecology, economics, religion & mythology, politics, and a whole host of other things to create a rich and believable universe. But, unfortunately, world building alone is not enough to make a book good or enjoyable.

Dune’s story has some decent ideas – squabbling between familial houses, a chosen one, an elite group of influential women trying to bring about a prophecy, conflict over control of a precious resource… And yet, the way it all unfolds and is actually told is…bad. It’s just so bad .

Suspense, Plot Twists…What are Those?

There is almost no suspense in this book whatsoever. Why? Because Herbert tells us almost every major plot point well in advance, largely using “excerpts” from historical texts at the beginning of every chapter. Is Paul the prophesied Kwisatz Haderach? Who’s the traitor? What are the Harkonnens planning? We’re told it all in the first few chapters. Worse, the moment we do get to anything slightly more dramatic such as a battle, duel, or assassination attempt, it’s skimmed over in the blink of an eye.

Paul Gary Stu Atreides

I have often said that I can forgive plot failings in a book if it’s got great characters. That was not the case here. I honestly did not care what happened to any of the characters in Dune. If they had simply died in the desert half way through, it wouldn’t have made a difference as far as I’m concerned. Paul, especially, annoys the shit out of me. He just knows everything, spouts prophetic nonsense, goes on about his “terrible purpose” and somehow becomes this perfect, all-powerful and talented leader without really earning it. And the time that we could have potentially seen him earning it is skipped over in a 3 year time jump. Just…why.

Antagonists without Nuance

What is up with the antagonists in this book? No, really. The Harkonnens are so stereotypically, almost cartoonishly, evil (fat, prone to incompetence, plot/boast in overly long monologues, pedofelic) that it’s practically ridiculous. Then there’s the emperor, whose motivations I still have no freakin’ clue about. And to make matters worse, despite the page time these guys get, they end up being essentially useless because, as I mentioned above, Paul is supreme. Ugh.

Dodgy Dialogue

As I said earlier, the writing in Dune leaves a lot to be desired. The dialogue especially is clunky as all hell and there were times where it felt as though two characters were talking at each other rather than with one another. Stylistically, I wasn’t much of a fan of Herbert’s use of third person omniscient with its substantial amounts of boring and fragmented inner monologuing. For example, there’s literally a scene in which Leto thinks the same sentence in italics about 5 times! In general though, I just found the writing confusing, disjointed and uninteresting.

Women + Power = Cannot Compute

Ah, the sexism. *sigh* I know it’s the 60s, but come on. This is supposed to be set in the future and women are still somehow entirely defined by their relationships with men. What frustrates me the most is the fact that Herbert actually created female characters like Jessica and Chani, Paul’s mother and lover, with all the necessary things in place for them to be strong and powerful but simply relegated them to subordinate roles! Then we have the Bene Gesserit – a group of powerful, intelligent women who can control men with a word, integrated into all the major powerhouses of the universe, and yet, their job is essentially breeding while they wait on some prophesied male child?? REALLY? I can’t. I just can’t.


As you can see, this really wasn’t for me. Perhaps if I’d grown up and read it at the time it was first released, I might have a different opinion. But because this is 2020, if anyone asks, I read it, survived it, and can thoroughly explain why I did not like it. To all the sci-fi lovers out there who consider this their bible, please don’t hurt me.

1.5 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?

Romance for Bookworms: Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

If there’s two things I love, it’s cute, YA romantic contemporaries and Beauty & the Beast. So, when I saw that Ashley Poston was releasing the next installment in her Once Upon a Con series combining both of these things, I quickly added it to my TBR. However, as much as it pains me to say, Bookish & the Beast just didn’t hit the mark for me.

Who, What, Where?

B&TB revolves around Rosie & Vance who meet at a convention whilst wearing cosplay. The two hit it off but don’t get details about who the other is. While bookish Rosie is currently trying to plan for college and dealing with her mother’s death, Vance is Hollywood Royalty and one of the stars of the Starfield film series. After a bad press incident gets Vance sent to a family friend’s place in Rosie’s town, the two run into each other which results in the destruction of an expensive and rare book. In exchange, Rosie offers to help organise and catalogue the owner’s library. Ordinarily Rosie would be excited to be working in close proximity to Vance but as luck would have it, he’s a massive jerk and wants nothing to do with her. Cue drama.

Missed Connections

One of my biggest disappointments on this one was the characters which I struggled to connect with. If I had to describe Rosie, the word would, unfortunately, be bland. All I seem to know about her is that she loves books, especially Starfield, and she’s the girl with the dead mother (something she says she doesn’t want to be defined as but won’t stop talking about). When she’s not being bland, she comes off as annoyingly immature – I mean the girl gets told off for using her phone at work and only a few minutes later does the same thing again! With Vance, I understood what the author was trying to do and probably liked/sympathised with him a bit more. Still, it didn’t click until a fair way into the book, probably because he spends the first half being a dick for very thin reasons.

Sparks Fly?

For romance stories, chemistry between the leads is everything and here I had trouble feeling the strength of the connection between Vance & Rosie. This wasn’t at all helped by the fact that they barely interact until the second half of the book (and, even then, it’s only over a couple of weeks!). Not the best approach when you’re trying to build a relationship solid enough to believe the two characters love one another by the end. Worse still, the moment real conflict affects their relationship, Vance immediately jumps to mistrusting Rosie without giving her a chance to explain. I’m sorry, but this is not what ships are made of.

Pop Culture Heavy

Something that’s damaged my enjoyment of books in the past is an overuse of pop culture references. They stick out like sore thumbs, age books much faster, and often feel forced. A few here and there is fine but when a book starts to feel cluttered, it bothers me. Particularly when it makes up a large chunk of the characters’ interactions. Did we need several references to Star Wars: The Last Jedi to legitimise the new Starfield film as being a big deal? Not really, no. And I love Star Wars.

Stuck to the Source Material

Retellings are tricky – you want to rely on the source enough that it provides a framework and satisfies reader expectations but not so much that it strangles the ability to tell a logical, creative, and enjoyable story. My issue with B&TB is there are multiple points where it feels like it’s trying desperately to cling to the Beauty and the Beast format even though it’s silly & forced in this context (Rosie chasing a “stray” dog into someone’s else’s house). But at the same time, there are others where it doesn’t feel related at all. Plus, the direct line references to the movie that should have been cute just left me cringing – “I don’t know half of the architectural jargon, but it’s pretty, and at least…it doesn’t use antlers in all of the decorating”.


On the whole, Bookish and the Beast isn’t a bad read but it’s a somewhat flat and disappointing one, especially after the highs of Geekerella. If you’re already a fan of the series, I’d recommend checking it out for yourself but as a first-time reader of Poston’s YA contemporaries, perhaps stick with the first entry.

ARC by Quirk Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.