In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Genre: Adult mystery/thriller

Rating: 4/5 stars

Two old friends. A renewed connection. A cabin in the woods. Murder. What lies come out of the woodwork?

In a Dark, Dark Wood follows Nora, an author who unexpectedly gets invited to her estranged friend’s Clare hen weekend. Without speaking for over ten years, Nora cautiously accepts the invite to stay in the middle of the woods with a bunch of strangers for a couple of days. Things go sour when Nora realises that Clare is marrying her childhood sweetheart James, a romance she has never truly gotten over. Add mystery footprints in the snow, a secret message on a ouija board and a potentially loaded shotgun, and what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend turns into a nightmare. Sometimes old lies have a way of manifesting themselves, and the monsters aren’t always lurking in the trees…

This is my second novel by Ruth Ware, and I’ll straight up say I liked The Woman in Cabin 10 just that bit more. This book was her debut novel, and was good, but some minor issues in the ending left me disheartened. I still appreciated the story and suspense, and I’m starting to feel that the MC’s of Ruth’s stories are characters I really like.

What I liked:

– I’m not too good with horror or anything gory, and I’m lucky Ruth isn’t like that with her books. They’re more thriller than anything, and I appreciated the suspense.

– Nora was a likeable MC. I hear some people give flack to Ruth’s characters for being whiny or unlikeable in their opinion, but I’ve liked both that I’ve read so far. I find them relatable and just normal. Except for the occasional stupid choice they make, I like reading from their POV.

– The setting was eerie and added to the story. A glass cabin in the woods coated by snow raised the terror factor, and the constant feeling of being watched through the glass from outside was uneasy to read about. The characters were constantly conscious of it, causing underlying tension.

What I didn’t like:

– Clare annoyed me. She was meant to be this character that everyone loved and wanted to be like, but of course, she came across snobby and unlikeable. Why please someone like her? I understand that when you have history with someone, you turn a blind eye, but I always struggle to see past these things.

– The ending bugged me. The reveal of the murderer and their reasoning just felt odd. It was a shame after the lead up for the ending to be that way.

Overall, In a Dark, Dark Wood was a good read with great pacing and suspense all along. Despite the ending, I look forward to picking up more of Ruth Ware’s books.

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars

Passion. Destiny. Politics. War

Who shall be named Queen?

The Queen’s Rising was an unexpected delight with its royal ties, political wars and slow burn romance. The story follows orphaned Brienna, one of the girls at Magnalia House in Valenia studying one of the five passions: wit, knowledge, music, art and acting. She comes to the school as a favour of her grandfather’s and eventually chooses knowledge as her passion with Master Cartier as her teacher. Failing to find a patron on her seventeen summer solstice to take her on, Brienna is horrified at what will come next but all changes when she starts having visions from her ancestors about the infamous Stone of Eventide. The stone vanished centuries ago and with its recovery, the rightful heir to the Maevana (rival kingdom to Valenia) empire will come to power. With all hell breaking loose with its current King, and Valenia ties strained, Brienna has become the source of knowledge the people have been waiting for.

She is accepted from a disgraced patron who has plans to use her visions to locate the stone and after meeting the rightful heir to the throne through him, she is set to work using her visions. But all is not what it seems, as Brienna’s past comes into play and she is torn between following her new family or her old one…

I loved this book. I put it off for awhile as it seemed daunting and I find lots of fantasy books are too similar. This one had me captivated. The characters were likeable, the political warfare between Valenia and Maevana was so interesting, and the slow burn romance between Brienna and Cartier was really great. Everyone had secret identities so the twists just kept on coming.

My favourite points:

– The slow burn romance between Brienna and Cartier was so lovely to read. You didn’t know if they were going to get together as he’s technically her teacher and there’s at least a ten year age gap, but it felt suitable. Not creepy. He was so respectable and sweet to her and when I say it was a slow burn romance, it really was, which made it all the much sweeter.

– The politics were so interesting to read about. It wasn’t too technical and the rivalry between Valenia and Maevana was well explored. The magic element also added an extra layer to the story and I liked how this book set it all up for the sequel.

– The twists weren’t major but there were enough that caught me off guard and surprised me. Everyone had alter egos and I was hooked reading it all unfold. I definitely had moments where I was like, “What!” and I’m looking forward to seeing where the characters go next.

– The pacing of the book was done well. I was interested throughout the novel as there were enough plot points to keep my focus. I just wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It’s intriguing, passionate and magical and has a strong storyline to keep you interested. The set of characters were likeable and I’m excited for the sequel next year to come out.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Genre: YA Fantasy/Science Fiction

Rating: 4.75/5 stars

Good vs evil.

Superheroes vs villains.

Who wins in the end?

You may think you know the answer but Renegades will make you question it. Marissa Meyer writes a tale from the villain’s point of view and with all its multilayered characters and rich landscape you’ll find the lines get blurred and wonder…

Who put them there in the first place?

The story follows the Renegades, a group of superheroes who run Galton City and keep it safe from the Anarchists and other rogue superheroes. We see things from Nova’s (alias Nightmare) perspective as one of the Anarchists who wants to overthrow the Renegade Council and restore power to the people so that all people with superpowers can live freely. She’s the niece of Ace Anarchy, the founding member of the Anarchists, and with his death by the hands of Captain Chromium, the Renegade leader, she wants justice served. Leaving her group of misfits behind, Nova goes undercover as a newbie Renegade (new alias Insomnia) to learn how to destroy the structure from within and bring upon the destruction needed to ruin the Renegades. Introduce Adrian (alias Sketch), Captain Chromium’s son, who wants Nightmare’s blood for her deathly past schemes, and a secret project undergoing at Renegade headquarters, Nova has more to worry about than she first thinks.

Man, I loved this book. It was reminiscent of the Reckoner trilogy by Brandon Sanderson which I absolutely adored, and I found I struggled to put it down. The characters were just great and I appreciated the scope of the world. I had faith in Meyer’s writing and she delivered.

The characters I adored:

– Nova (Nightmare) was awesome. She has light and dark elements to her and even with the moral ambiguity, I still felt a warmth to her. I’m interested to see her character arc in the next book and for us to see her powers more.

– Adrian (Sketch) was just adorable. I’m appreciating that guys in books now are more varied. He was nerdy and cute but smart. He wasn’t arrogant or demeaning – he just saw the best in others. Also, his power was to sketch things and bring them to life. Seriously, how cool is that?

– The Sentinel was a new character that joined the cast, and I liked how he was really ambiguous. Is he good? Is he bad? No side claimed him but he added that extra layer of depth to the book.

– The Anarchists were just awesome. I liked Leroy (Cyanide) the best as I felt he spoke a lot of wisdom and was Nova’s closes ally, but Honey (Queen Bee) was also so quirky and unique. Winston (The Puppeteer) was that comic relief the book needed.

– The Renegade Council held the right stature and demeanour to not make a ‘superhero’ novel seem cringey. They wore capes and superhero costumes but it never felt cheesy or funny. I understood their perspective on things despite seeing things from the anti heroes perspective, and could see they were doing their best to build a safe society with rules.

Only issue:

– Nova’s powers as Insomnia were so similar to Nightmare’s that I just thought it was obvious that they were the same person. Like how did the Renegades not see that? Also, Adrian disappearing mid scenes and coming back as The Sentinel and no one batting an eye was strange too. I just think everyone would have noticed their alter egos.

Overall, I’m really glad I read this book. It was a riveting read with a great set of characters to set the scene. I’m excited for Archenemies to come out to see how the stakes can rise even higher!

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

Genre: YA Contemporary

Rating: 4/5 stars

A heartwarming story crisscrossing over Ireland’s main tourist spots, Love & Luck is that book that you’ll want to curl up with in front of a fire.

Following Addie, the friend of Lina’s we were introduced to in Love & Gelato, we see her go to Ireland for her Aunt’s wedding. She’s suffering from heartbreak after things ended badly with her boyfriend, and as a result, her close bond with one of her brothers, Ian, is tarnished as they were on the same football team. Knowing she’s going to Italy to see Lina soon with Ian, she feels relieved, but all goes to hell when Ian bails before their plane leaves. Introduce Rowan, the Irish friend Ian’s befriended who he’s going on a musical odyssey with around Ireland, and Addie is left to tag along on this journey with them. With her handbook, Ireland for the Heartbroken, on hand, she travels with them around Ireland’s beautiful landscape in the hopes of healing her broken heart.

So I like Love & Gelato just that bit more as it was more ‘romancey’. This book focused more on a sibling bond which was nice with some romance aspects woven through. But I’m realising Jenna Evans Welch writes these great witty books so I’m going to put my hand up for whatever she gives us next.

Some points of interest for me:

– Addie’s internal monologue was so witty and I just loved reading it. Her reactions were everything and I liked how she was depicted: strong willed, ferocious and caring.

– I like the guidebook aspect in the book as it added an extra layer of information about Ireland. The history of some of Ireland’s spots was lovely to hear about and the lady narrating it was so endearing and funny.

– Ian and Addie’s relationship was an interesting plot focus. There’s different forms of love, and seeing a sibling bond play out with all its ups and downs was interesting. I liked how protective her brothers were of her, and how Ian always had her best intentions.

– Ian and Rowan’s friendship bewildered me for a minute. When we first met Rowan, Ian was sneaking off with him and I just remember thinking, “Are they together?” I just felt they had a secret and that them being together would be a plot point. But no, just friends as Rowan and Addie had something throughout the book.

– I liked how the book had this theme about not judging a book by its cover. Ian was meant to get into college through football but really just wanted to get into writing about music. Addie discovered more about herself through her journey and found she was way stronger than she thought. And then Rowan learning how to move on from his parents divorce. We see the characters as one sided but then they gain so much depth the more we read.

If you want that cute contemporary read to warm your heart, pick up Love & Luck. It balances important themes with the lightness of a contemporary and will make that travel bug in you come out!

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The stakes higher, the lies more bold, Legendary takes what you thought of Caraval and turns it on its head.

The story primarily focuses on Tella this time round, as she searches for her lost mother. Finding a cursed Deck of Destiny cards when she was younger has meant her fate has been written out and her future out of her hands. Each of the Fates on the cards shows her something different about herself, and she is convinced that she’s the reason her mother disappeared. All comes to a head when one of the Fates, the Jack of Hearts, appears in the flesh and promises her mother’s return if she enters and wins Caraval and brings its leader, Legend, to him to have the power to unlock all the Fates. But she’s also told she could destroy the Fates if she locates the Deck of Destiny again and gives it to Legend to end them. Does Tella win and free her mother while simultaneously unleashing all evilness into the world? Or does she locate the Deck of Destiny and give it to Legend to destroy the Fates but lose her mother? Emotions run high and moral dilemmas come into play as Tella must decide for the first time what her fate must be…

So Legendary was a definitive step up from Caraval for me. I wasn’t a big fan of Caraval, but found I warmed to Tella in this book. I enjoyed the magic element in the book but to be honest, still found something lacking. I’ll try and some it up here.

The good:

– Tella held her own. She still had that playful flirtatious thing going on which heavily bugged me in Caraval, but she had her wits this time round and made better decisions. She’s smarter than she appears.

– Jacks. He’s the villain but gosh I liked him. He’s layered, twisted, has a warped perception on things, but I just loved his scenes. I want more of him to see his character arc.

– The magic element was so enjoyable. I was only 20 pages in but felt myself enraptured in the magic of it. The world felt sprinkled with it and Garber’s writing aided in this. The different Fates were also a great addition to the series.

The bad:

– I still don’t know what it is about Dante, but I don’t like him. He’s untrustworthy and I found I just couldn’t make him a book boyfriend. I look forward to Finale to see where he goes.

– There was a lot of repetition with information being related multiple times. We were told the same facts over and over again just to make sure we understood which I can appreciate, but it was done a bit too heavily. It was sometimes two paragraphs in a row saying the same thing but phrased differently.

– There were too many outcomes for the plot and rules were broken to make new outcomes possible. I thought there were only a couple of options when it came to how Tella could save her mother, but clauses were found and new pathways opened up which made me think: anything could happen. But not in a good way. It felt like the easy option was made possible and to be honest, it’s the cheat way of writing a book to do this.

To sum it all up, I enjoyed Legendary for what it brought to the table, but am still feeling like I’m missing something. I look forward to reading Finale to see what happens and for it to hopefully improve the series like Legendary did. Hopefully it keeps going up.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

Genre: YA Contemporary

Rating: 4/5 stars

A book where literally anything is possible, Dreamology encaptures the whimsical sense of being in a dream while intertwining it with the realities of falling in love for the first time.

The story follows Alice, whose dreams have been filled with Max since she was six years old. He’s her boyfriend in her dream state, and they achieve the impossible every night where they go literally anywhere.

All things come to a stop when Alice moves house and goes to her new school and sees Max, in the flesh, in the same classroom as her. Is it really him? Is she going crazy? Does he recognise her too? The lines between reality and make believe start to blur while Alice tries to make sense of it all…

I really enjoyed this book. The premise sounded interesting, and like with most contemporaries, it had depth to it that made me like it even more.

My good points:

– Alice was an exceptional MC. She was so witty and I just loved reading from her POV. She was quirky and out there and I just related so much. Do you know those weird things you think in your head or say out loud? Things people who are socially awkward do? Yep, Alice said them and it instantly made me feel at home.

– Max was sweet. He was shy but you could see his bond with Alice was so strong. They really were each other’s life forces in a way.

– Oliver was a great side character. He was troublesome and charming with the ability to lighten up Alice’s life. He’s the kind of friend you want as he really could turn your frown upside down.

My bad points:

– The direction of the plot was kind of a let down for me. I thought it’d follow Alice seeing the guy from her dreams in real life, and him not know her. She’d have to get to know this new Max whilst also convincing him they’re perfect for each other. This sadly wasn’t the plot. Very early on Alice sees Max and it turned out they both dreamt of each other. A company called the CDD (Centre for Dream Discovery) became part of the story as they both went there when they were younger to help with nightmares they were having. A mix up in therapy, and they both started dreaming of each other. A bit out there, I still think I’d have preferred a slow mystery for the romance.

– Alice’s relationship with her mother wasn’t explored enough. We see Alice at the end write to her mother to see her, and her mother respond by saying she didn’t have time to. It was heart wrenching and awful, but Alice’s response was hardly conveyed. I also felt her mother’s departure from the family wasn’t explained enough either.

Overall, this book was the cute read I was after. The characters were really likeable and I just loved the premise. Give this one a read if you like a bit of make believe in your life!

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

A Little Mermaid retelling at heart, To Kill a Kingdom encompasses the essence of a beloved fairytale but for me, didn’t steer far enough to hold its own.

The story follows Lira, a siren, who takes the heart of a prince every year in her birthday month. She’s the daughter of The Sea Queen, who rules over their kingdom and holds the power in the ocean. Never meeting her mothers expectations, Lira is always disgraced in front of her, and one fateful day, is punished. Made into a human, her only way to get back in her mothers good graces is to cut the heart out of Prince Elian, a renowned siren killer. But he has plans of his own, and the lost human he picks up on his ship might hold the answers he’s looking for…

So I liked the book. It was dark, had interesting concepts, and to be honest, it was a great retelling. But I had this overwhelming feeling of meh when I finished it. Did I need to have read it? Why isn’t this living up to the hype for me? And I think I can pinpoint it: it felt generic. Already done. I’ll try and summarise these thoughts because there’s good and bad:

– Lira is a badass character. I’m appreciating that authors are writing more assertive characters these days and Lira fit into that category. She never holds back, fights her own battles, but also has the emotional scale for a character to relate. She should be more savage, but she has empathy, and it’s reassuring to read that. After all, a character should have a scope of emotions and portray them accurately.

– Prince Elian. He’s where I had issues. I’m never one to fall in love with a prince in a book and here’s why – they’re all the same. Arrogant, has everything at their whim, in constant doubt over their loyalty to the crown and wanting ‘a life of their own’. Reminding you of anyone? Dorian, Nikolai or Maxon? Elian just was so generic. I empathised with him but I’ve read him in a bunch of characters before! I want something different!

– The world was interesting. I’d like to give other underwater tales a go as the scope or worldbuilding just enlargens! Finding out about sirens, mermaids and all their folklore was interesting and seeing how it fared against the humans was as well. The human kingdoms and their mythology added to the story, and I appreciated seeing a taste of the cultures that separated them. More if this would’ve been nice but in a standalone, I was happy.

So overall, their were highs and lows. I appreciated the world that was built and the set of characters introduced, but would have liked more originality. This story could have had the essence of The Little Mermaid, but still create a new sense of wonder which I was looking for. A halfway book for me, I’m left wanting more.

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

Genre: YA Contemporary

Rating: 4/5 stars

One boy. One girl. 14 different perspectives. Lets see how they fell in love…

A Little Something Different was a cute quick read. The story follows Gabe and Lea as they navigate from friends to lovers through the ups and down of life. They both take the same creative writing class, order the same take out, and know the same pop culture references and it seems everyone knows they should be together except themselves. Told from fourteen perspectives (never Gabe or Lea’s) the book was able to give a lot of information without feeling bombarded.

Here are my main points:

– I thought with fourteen perspectives it’d be overwhelming but trust me, it wasn’t. Key characters got more page time, and I actually enjoyed the change in characters throughout. We had the creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, Lea’s friends, Gabe’s friends, and we even got viewpoints from a squirrel and the bench the characters sit on! It somehow all worked.

– I liked Gabe as a character. He’s hella shy and it was nice to see a guy genuinely awkward around someone he likes. His backstory played a big part of his character and I enjoyed seeing some depth to him. Everything isn’t what meets the eye and I liked finding out more about Gabe.

– Lea was a nice character to read. She was understanding, kind but was also able to hold her own.

– For a quick read, I felt everything was spaced out and it didn’t feel rushed. I didn’t need anymore than I was given (maybe a bit more of Gabe and Lea together at last!) but overall was pleased.

Overall, if you want a cute contemporary read, pick this one up. It’s a light read for those who want some brightness in their life, and a set of characters to keep you on your toes.

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

Genre: Post apocalyptic/dystopian fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

If you want to be fully immersed in a world with all of your senses, pick up The Wolves of Winter. It’ll do just that.

The story follows 23 year old Lynn Mcbride who lives with her remaining family in the sparse deserted land in Yukon, Canada. The world has gone to hell as continents clash and fight, with an eventual flu outbreak leaving the world’s occupants scattered to fend for themselves. Things are dire as Lynn and her family hunt to survive and deal with the possible idea that they’re the last of humankind. The story changes pace when Jax, a lonesome traveller, shows up with more questions that need answering…

I quite enjoyed this one. I always appreciate some adult fiction from my normal YA as the character’s ambitions are quite different, and the writing style is more to the point.

Some positive notes:

– The world portrayed was so vivid. The snowy landscape felt so real and I could imagine how cold they all felt. The harsh landscape paired with the driven characters made a formidable novel.

– Lynn was a great protagonist. She’s strong, to the point and knows her worth. It was so nice having an assertive lead who took the reins of her life and went after her own goals.

– The family dynamic added that emotional tether needed in survival fiction. With a father deceased, Lynn’s uncle became the father figure to their makeshift family of Lynn, her mother, brother and family friends son Ramsey. They bonded and worked together to survive, and made a great team against any opposing threats.

Some negative notes:

– I felt the ‘flu pandemic’ aspect that was introduced as part of the conflict wasn’t original enough. The first half of the book started as a realistic post apocalyptic war zone, but the introduction of the disease outbreak, whilst also realistic, made this novel lose its unique appeal. I’ve read too many novels with the outbreak storyline and the ‘perfect cure’ being the only answer. I just wanted something a bit different.

– The romance, whilst quite innocent, wasn’t 100% necessary for me. Trust me, I like romance in a book, but I always wonder in dystopian/survival stories how the characters have time to develop feelings and act on them when their world is going to hell. I understood Lynn and Jax’s romance, but also cringed a bit.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. The stakes were high and I was definitely on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. If you want an intriguing plot, pick this one up!

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 2.75/5 stars

With an abusive male crushing the main character’s spirit at every turn, The Cruel Prince definitely lived up to its title.

I am sad to say that The Cruel Prince didn’t meet the hype for me. From only a couple chapters in, I could point out its flaws and see the gaping gaps no one looked at fixing before publishing it.

Here are my main problems:

1. We have a set of very unlikeable characters. I’m all for morally corrupt characters as they’re interesting to read about, but man, this book’s characters had no redemptive qualities. This made it hard as a reader to connect or root for a character.

2. The word building was shabby. It did interest me, but wasn’t adequately depicted in some areas, whilst bombarding me with too much information in other areas – like its vast population of different faeries. Too many characters equates to a reader not being able to attach themselves to significant characters.

3. Jude as a main POV was questionable. She was constantly abused and made to feel inadequate, leading her down a dark path. She accepted scraps and I felt this wasn’t highlighted enough as a bad character arc.

4. Prince Cardan has to be the worst love interest to ever have been written. I honestly can’t believe Holly Black thought it was okay to write an arrogant, abusive and spoilt male lead and try and make him appealing. He’s disgusting. He sneers, humiliates and abuses Jude, making her question her worth. They eventually develop feelings and he feels shame in it as it’s against his better judgement. Ugh! The passage where he talks about wanting to hurt her over and over again is enough of a sign that this guy should be locked up.

5. It’d be wrong not to mention Locke. Almost as bad as a perpetrator, a bystander of abuse who somewhat revels in the occasional taunting deserves just as much flack as Cardan. Locke stood by as Jude was hurt and had the sheer audacity to romance her – which she sadly fell for. His character was mind boggling at best as he never really liked Jude, and I felt disgusted once again that he was made to look charming like Cardan.

6. The scene that undoubtedly shook me was when Jude was drugged with Faerie fruit. In real life, someone drugged by a group of people and made to do inappropriate things, and then to develop romantic feelings for their perpetrators, is seen as horrific. But in a fantasy world, no one cares or notices this.

Overall, despite my interest in the storyline, I was unhappy that the abuse was normalised and that as a reader, we were meant to find Jude’s and Cardan’s relationship reasonable. Abuse is never okay and unfortunately, this book left a sour taste in my mouth.