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

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

2021 TBR: 24 Books I Want to Read in 2021

A new year, a new probably unrealistic list of books I’d like to tackle before the end of the year. In 2020 I set myself a list of 30 books I wanted to read from a bunch of different genres. I ended up only reading…well, 14 of them. Er, yeah. It could have been better. Anyway, here’s hoping that this year is more productive and less subject to intense shifts in my reading mood.

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte: I bought a Penguin faux leather copy of this and it’s too pretty not to be read. Hopefully I like it a lot more than I did Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier: I’ve been putting this off for YEARS. Now that I’ve watched an adaptation, I feel I really, really need to finally read the book.
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott: Yes, this book was on my 2020 list. Yes, it’s here again.
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: Lately I’ve been wanting to try my hand at writing a ghost story. I should probably see how one of the experts does it.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benhamin Alire Saenz: I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book and it sounds so good.
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne: Heaps of positive reviews, an interesting sounding blurb and recommended for those who liked A Little Life (which I did). Please don’t make me cry.
  • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami: I tried reading 1Q84 many years ago and found it super weird. This is supposedly less so. I might hate it, might love it. Trying it for something different.
  • The Comeback – Ella Berman: There’s something intriguing about this book. It just seems like something I’d like. Plus very topically relevant in today’s day & age.
  • If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio: I read The Secret History back in 2020 and really liked it. This has been regularly recommend as being similar in feel. Yay, dark academia & murder!
  • The Boy From the Woods – Harlan Coben: I came across TBFtW while perusing the GR Choice awards noms. I do enjoy a good mystery from time to time and this one certainly sounds exciting.
  • The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager: It’s bizarre, I am so keen on reading Sager’s books despite having this nagging feeling that I won’t love them. This one is set at a camp which is cool yet creepy.
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: This is my next stop in the search for an amazing YA crime/thriller book. I’ve been burnt before but reviews have been great so fingers crossed!
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini: The size is definitely intimidating but as if I’m going to pass up new Paolini, and an interesting sounding one with a gorgeous cover at that.
  • Dark Age (Red Rising 5#) – Pierce Brown: You guys already know how much I love this series. I FINALLY read Iron Gold last year so that means it’s time for Dark Age. I’m preparing my heart.
  • Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline: Reviews on this one haven’t been great but a) I got it for Christmas and b) I really liked the first book. So we’re doing it in 2021.
  • The Midnight Library – Matt Haig: The Goodreads Choice Awards Fiction winner for 2020! This book sounds so good and I’m almost 100% positive that I’m going to love it.
  • The Burning God (The Poppy War 3#) – R F Kuang: I’m legit obsessed with this series. Book two was my favourite read of 2020 and I’m SO keen for the last book. Pain is coming, I can tell.
  • Piranesi – Susanna Clarke: Shiny foiling on covers, I can’t resist it. Piranesi sounds super different from other things I’ve read in recent years and I’ve seen some amazing reviews, too.
  • The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2#) – Brandon Sanderson: I have a sudden desire to go back to this series (blame Skyward maybe?). I read The Final Empire back in 2015 but for some reason didn’t continue onward. I’ll have to reread it before tackling TWoA but I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: I’ve had Foundryside on my radar for a while now and I think it’s finally the time. Magic, politics, a heist, adventure…sign me up!
  • Layla – Colleen Hoover: It’s been hit or miss with Colleen Hoover reads, but I like the sound of this. Hopefully it’s more Verity & It Ends with Us than Confess. I also got it for $2 on kindle, SCORE.
  • The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver: The concept for this sounds kind of weird but I enjoyed Josie Silver’s One Day in December so I’m keen to give this a whirl.
  • From Blood and Ash – Jennifer L. Armentrout: Blame the hype. I have to see what people are talking about. I’m sure it’ll be tropey and cringey to the max but the FOMO is too intense.
  • Today, Tonight, Tomorrow – Rachel Lynn Solomon: This looks like a solid ya rom-com. It also features enemies to lovers (= my crack). I’m worried about rushed development because of the time frame but we shall see.

What’s on your list of backlist books to read in 2021?

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

Top 10 Tuesday: Fantasy/Sci Fi Sequels I Enjoyed More Than the Original *Gasp*

This week’s TTT topic is a genre based freebie so I’m looking at books which managed the impossible – they impressed me more than the original book in their series. Shocking! I know. Here are 10 sequels that made the cut.

Morning Star (Red Rising Saga 3#) – Pierce Brown

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I could have comfortably listed either Golden Son or Morning Star on this list but I’ve decided to go with entry 3 because it’s my favourite book of the original trilogy (before Pierce expanded the series). I’ve mentioned my love of these books quite a few times on this blog, recently even. So, why not mention it again for the zillionth time? I really like Red Rising, it’s fantastic, but it’s always those pages at the beginning which let it down. A 4.5 instead of the full 5 stars. Morning Star is just amazing from start to finish. Action, humour, friendship, THE EMOTION… There isn’t a dodgy sequel in sight with this book. Basically, if the series had ended here, I would have had no complaints.


A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOTAR 2#) – Sarah J. Maas

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This entry will be a shock to absolutely no one. As I’ve said before, when I first read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I liked it, it was fine, but it wasn’t exactly my new obsession. I only continued with the series a good while later (after a re-read of book 1) because of how popular the sequel was. I ended up being so glad I did because I really loved it. The characters are so loveable and the dynamics between them are great. Also, the expansion of the world beyond the Spring Court was a lot of fun. And need I mention the romance? It’s awesome. Fictional ship gold right there. Mutual respect, passion, banter – I’m in love.


Siege & Storm (The Grisha Series 2#) – Leigh Bardugo

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Like ACOTAR, this is another series where I didn’t mind book one but I wasn’t blown away. In the end I decided to keep going with the series because (a) I liked the villain, (b) I loved the Six of Crows duology and, (c) I was determined to meet the famous Nikolai Lantsov. I ended up having a great time with Siege & Storm. There was a good amount of action and the book kicked into gear quickly. I appreciated certain characters a lot more and Nikolai was, well, everything people said he was. This book is easily my favourite of the three.


Legendary (Caraval 2#) – Stephanie Garber

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If you’ve read my re-read review of Caraval, you’ll know that despite liking the setting & atmosphere, and progressing through the book quickly, I had a few issues with the story, characters and world building. I never saw myself continuing the series but after seeing book 3 pop up everywhere on release and hearing that people with the same Caraval problems as me had enjoyed Legendary, I decided, stuff it, I’ll try it out. As it turned out, people were right. I liked Tella as a protagonist much more than Scarlet and the world building in this book was miles ahead of Caraval. Plus the introduction of Jacks was a lovely surprise. I’m almost tempted to read Finale. Almost.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter 4#) – J. K. Rowling

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Everyone who follows my blog will know by now that I’m a major Harry Potter fan. But in a series of seven books there’s, of course, going to be some you like better than others. While I love The Philosopher’s Stone, it’s the book that made me fall in love with the characters and world after all, Goblet of Fire has always been my favourite of the series in all it’s beautiful, chunky glory. A magical competition, dragons & merpeople, more wizard schools, and a Big Bang ending that completely changes the direction and mood of the series going forward. I’ve read it a hundred times and could probably stand to read it a hundred more.


The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air 2#) – Holly Black

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I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince when I first read it and I was certainly one of those people who eagerly awaited the release of The Wicked King before quickly going out and buying it on release day. Book two is definitely my favourite book in this series. I love the sense of momentum, plot twists, romance, and more morally grey characters doing questionable things. This book made me appreciate Jude as a protagonist a lot more which then translated over to my re-read of book one later on. Also, as a writer, if you’re looking for a way to end your novel that basically guarantees your audience will be desperate for the next one – this book is a prime teaching material.


The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle 2#) – Maggie Stiefvater

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After reading three books in The Raven Cycle, my response to this series is still somewhat apathetic but I’ll willingly admit that The Dream Thieves was the entry I enjoyed the most. I feel like I got to know the characters much better in this one which was nice. My favourite element of the novel, however, was Maggie’s inclusion and development of Ronan’s dream based abilities which made for some interesting plotlines and an exciting climax in seeing those powers tested against that of someone else’s. Overall, I liked the book enough to want to continue to book three and was a little sad I didn’t have the same level of engagement going forward.


A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes 2#) – Sabaa Tahir

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In all fairness, this is only the tiniest bit higher than book one but we’ll take it because I love it when a sequel does well. Book two is fairly different to book one. It really feels like a proper adventure and I enjoyed the cat and mouse dynamic between Elias and Helene. As Helene is probably my favourite character, I loved getting to see her given more presence & independence with her own challenges and plotlines. There’s a great level of political drama with the new emperor in charge and the Commandant pushing for power. Also in its favour is an exciting prison break sequence and a few major things happen with big consequences in book 3.


City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments 3#) – Cassandra Clare

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I was obsessed with this series in high school. I wanted all of my friends to read them and almost jumped out of my skin when I finally got to hold City of Glass on release. Back in the day, this book was my favourite of the bunch mostly because of the high stakes of it all and the fact that some of the other characters got more of a chance to shine. After re-reading the first four books in recent years, while books 1 & 2 have slightly diminished with time (we don’t talk about City of Fallen Angels…), City of Glass hasn’t and it’s still my favourite of the series (later additions included, even though I still haven’t read book 6. But let’s face it, there’s no way it’d be better than City of Glass).


The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & The Olympians 5#) – Rick Riordan

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Percy Jackson is another one of those super popular series. It’s also happens to have quite a few books, ergo there’s always a favourite among the bunch. As a whole, I liked PJ&O – they were fun, creative novels full of adventure, mythology and likeable characters. Yet, being intended for a middle grade audience, they did feel on the young side for me in my mid-twenties. However, I really, really liked The Last Olympian. In fact, many of my reasons for this are similar to City of Glass – action packed & dramatic battles, real stakes, and more characters in the spotlight. With the characters around 16 at this point, the book also read much older, which I appreciated. Major points to an author who can grow with their audience.

If You Liked This, Try These: One of Us is Lying, American Panda, and Six of Crows

Ever read a book you enjoyed so much that upon finishing it all you wanted was to find something just like it? Yep. Me, too. Well, here I am to save the day and give you a few book recommendations based on things you might have already read and liked. Maybe they have similar characters, settings or plots? Or perhaps they have some common themes? Regardless, hopefully one of these books will help fill the void.

Now, I should state up front, I haven’t read every book in this post and that’s where reviews, tags, blurbs, genres and other factors come into play. Still, I’m pretty confident that even the books I haven’t read will be suitable recommendations for the books below. If not, give me a heads up. Although, in my defense, just because the books may be similar that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll love every book in the group. Everyone’s got their own personal preferences after all!

One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

  • The Cheerleaders – Kara Thomas: Like OoUiL, The Cheerleaders has a small town murder mystery type plot in which teens take on the investigating role because of a personal involvement in the deaths (in this case, the mysterious deaths of 5 cheerleaders within a short time period). Both books tackle some heavier topics and share a solid friendship element.
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: Again, more small town murder vibes. If you were a fan of Bronwyn and her sister Maeve in OoUiL, you’ll probably like MC, Pip. There’s also a romantic subplot if enjoyed that about OoUiL. I haven’t actually read this one yet but I’ve heard amazing things.
  • All Your Twisted Secrets – Diana Urban: This book also features a group of characters fitting high school stereotypes, The Breakfast Club style, being thrown into the deep end (here, a potentially deadly dinner party). AYTS is more thriller-y than OoUiL and less drawn out timeline wise, but they definitely share similarities.
  • Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson: If you’re looking for something in the YA mystery genre that isn’t exactly similar to OoUiL but still has quirky high school characters and a fun, out-there scenario, Truly Devious is a good pick. It also involves the death of a high school student, only this time it’s at a prestigious high school in the mountains and our investigator is a girl named Stevie who has a fascination with crime.

American Panda – Gloria Chao

  • Loveboat, Taipei – Abigail Hing Wen: If you really liked Mei in American Panda, you’ll probably also enjoy Ever. Both girls dream of dancing but their parents expect that they’ll become doctors instead. These books share similar themes of self-discovery, family, love and straddling two cultures. Loveboat is more drama filled, has a larger cast of characters and is set in Taiwan, but both are fun reads.
  • Frankly in Love – David Yoon: American Panda and Frankly in Love look at family dynamics and the difficulty in reconciling traditional cultural values with modern American ones. This is especially so where it comes to dating. Like Mei, Frank falls for someone he knows his family wouldn’t approve of and has a similar history of having a sibling cut off for their choice of partner. The characters handle things differently but the challenges they face are alike.
  • I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn: Like Loveboat and American Panda, this is another book featuring a heroine trying to weigh up her own creative dreams (fashion) against parental expectations. Again, we have a sweet story of journeying to self-awareness, romance and complicated family relationships. However, unlike AP this book is set in Japan.
  • Always Never Yours – Emily Wibberly & Austin Siegemund-Broka: Those who enjoyed the coming of age, identity and romance elements of American Panda, will find plenty to love in Always Never Yours. It involves a group of students putting on a production of Romeo & Juliet and an MC whose exes always seem to find ‘the one’ right after she breaks up with them.

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch: While TLoLL is an adult fantasy, like Six of Crows it features a gritty city setting, band of likeable thieves pulling off a heist, and an intelligent, plotting, money-loving leader with a decent heart. There’s also the found family trope that SoC fans love so much.
  • The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson: The Final Empire is, again, an adult fantasy. Similarly to SoC, it has good world building, great action, a group of not so reputable characters carrying out a plan, and a witty, criminal mastermind. If you like the magical grisha elements of SoC you’ll probably also love the magic system here which is wonderfully unique and based around metals. And for the romance shippers, yes, there is a romantic subplot.
  • Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: In Foundryside, you have another adult fantasy featuring some great world building, thieves with appropriate levels of snark stealing important artifacts, exciting magic, and fun action. Much like the women of SoC, this book also includes a strong, independent female lead with unique abilities.
  • The Diviners – Libba Bray: At first glance, these two books seem to be completely different. However, the strength of both lies in their cast of well crafted and loveable characters. SoC & The Diviners also share darker story elements, romantic subplots, strong friendships, magic, and rich world building. The plot & setting may be different but the vibes are similar.

What books would you recommend for lovers of these picks?

New Additions to My Goodreads To-Read Shelf | 20.02.20

Like the typical bookworm that I am, I’m always stumbling across books which manage to catch my eye for some reason or another. Next thing you know, BAM..I’ve added them to the to-read shelf. Currently, my to-read shelf is at a much more manageable level than it has been in the past so I don’t feel so bad about throwing a few extra things on there now and again. After all, how else am I suppose to remember the massive amounts of books that I want to read?! Here are a couple of novels that have recently been added to the list.

Slay – Brittney Morris

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This book caught my eye while I was searching for something else at the book store a few weeks ago. The cover is really striking and once I saw the blurb, I knew I’d have to add it to the to-read list. As a gamer myself, there’s just something about video game stories. Slay is about 17-year-old Kiera who has developed a multiplayer online role playing card game called SLAY which is popular among Black gamers. None of the people in her life know this though. However, after a teen is murdered over an in-game dispute, SLAY is picked up by the mainstream media and labelled as racist and exclusionist. Kiera is left to deal with the consequences of this, including one particularly vicious troll, all whilst trying to keep her identity a secret.


The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

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I remember being intrigued by TBATN a good while ago but for some reason never added it to my to-read shelf. I think I ended up falling on the side of: I don’t know if this will be my cup of tea. However, while writing my recent post showcasing YA books set in other countries, it came back onto my radar and I decided to give it a go. The book is based on Russian folklore and tells the story of Vasilisa, who lives with her family in a small village. Vasilisa is special in that she can see & speak to the creatures/spirits that live on the land. After her father re-marries and a new priest enters the community, attitudes towards these beings and Vasilisa’s abilities change, leaving her an outcast and previous superstitious practices abandoned. Soon things in the village begin to go wrong such as failing crops and sinister things emerging from the forest. Now Vasilisa must use her gifts to save her loved ones.


Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett

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Foundryside is another book that I took note of a while back but for some reason just didn’t end up adding to my shelf for future reference. Having recently gone back, read the blurb and some reviews, and stared at the gorgeous cover for a good few minutes, I’ve decided this will probably be something I’ll like. The book is about a thief named Sancia who is hired to steal a magical artifact with immense power and the potential to revolutionise a magical technology known as scriving. However, in stealing it, Sancia angers the powerful merchant houses that control the technology and now they want her dead. Her only way out is to gather allies and learn to use the power of the artifact for herself.


Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

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Lately I’ve been adding more adult contemporary fiction to my TBR. Such a Fun Age has been popping up a lot over the last few weeks and I’ve heard some good things about it. It’s about two women – Alix & Emira. Emira is the 25-year-old, black babysitter to Alix’s daughter and currently juggling multiple jobs whilst trying to work out what to do with her life. Alix, on the other hand, is a wealthy, white, feminist blogger and influencer who has doubts of her own. After Emira is accused of kidnapping Alix’s daughter, Briar, whilst out at the supermarket one evening, the whole altercation is caught on camera. Emira wants to forget and move on but Alix is determined to get justice for her. So begins a story about race, friendship, white saviourism, privilege, and parenthood.


Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb 1#) – Tamsyn Muir

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This book could go very well or not so great at all based on what I’ve seen from reviews. Apparently there is a long period of not having a clue what’s going on. Yet, I can’t help but be super intrigued. It’s centred around a smart mouthed swordswoman named Gideon. Harrow, a necromancer, has been summoned by the emperor to compete in a set of mysterious trials to potentially ascend to something that will bring immortality. But, Harrow is unable to compete without a cavalier at her side. Enter Gideon. However, when the other necromancers and cavaliers start getting murdered, Gideon not only has to worry about assisting Harrow but keeping the both of them breathing and tracking down the culprit. It’s dark, queer, unique, and I’m super excited to read it.


There we have it, five additions to the list. Lord knows when I’ll actually get around to buying and reading any of them. Then again, I do have a habit of letting books skip the queue because I’m a serious mood reader. Guess, we’ll have to see.

Have you recently added anything exciting to your to-read shelf?