Tuesday 27 August 2019

Review: Unleashed by Amy McCulloch

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 22nd August 2019

When Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital room with no recollection of how she got there, she knows something is up. But with her customizable smart pet, Jinx, missing in action and Moncha, the company behind the invention of the robot pet, up to something seriously sinister, she’s got a lot of figuring out to do. Lacey must use all her engineering skills if she has a chance of stopping Moncha from carrying out their plans. But can she take on the biggest tech company in North America armed with only a level 1 robot beetle...?


'Unleashed' is the second part of Amy McCulloch's brilliant duology which began last year with 'Jinxed'. I was very excited to read this and I wasn't disappointed! It was great to return to the world of Monchaville and to see all my favourite characters again.

If you haven't yet read 'Jinxed' then I would strongly suggest doing so before starting this one. Everything will make a lot more sense to you in terms of the futuristic setting. Basically, society has now evolved to the point that instead of smart phones, everyone has a baku. This is essentially an innovative smart device which is leashed to its owner and comes in the form of different animals. A basic level 1 baku will typically be an insect such as a beetle or a butterfly, a level 2 baku could be a dormouse and they get increasingly more sophisticated in size and technology as the levels go up. The Bakus are designed to make life easier for their owners and so are able to screen messages, display maps, provide entertainment and communication and basically see to their owners every need. I actually think they sound incredible, although it's slightly scary to think that we might not be as far from this kind of technology becoming real as we first assume.

The story picks up a month on from where the previous book left off. The main character Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital bed with no idea of how she got there or what happened to her. The only thing she does know is that her scarab beetle Slick is acting suspiciously and Jinx is missing. It's a good thing that she has Team Tobias by her side to help work out what's going on. Not everything in Monchaville is as it seems and as Lacey and co begin to connect the dots, it seems that something sinister is brewing behind the scenes.

I love the fact that McCulloch depicts a strong female protagonist with seriously good STEM skills. Lacey is an incredible engineer and her ingenuity and tech know-how ultimately help to save the day. This is an area in which teenagers really are the future as they innovate, design and develop some amazing new technology that we may well be using sooner than we think.

Lacey is on a crusade to figure out what is really going on with Moncha Corp and why they are so desperate to get their hands on Jinx. I really enjoyed seeing her and Team Tobias work together to investigate Moncha and the disappearance of their founder Monica Chan. They work like a well-oiled machine and there is no doubt that they have each other's backs. It was great to see more of Lacey's friend Zora in the book too as she has some wicked coding skills.

'Unleashed' unfolds at a fast and furious pace which I think is probably slightly due to the fact that this is a duology and not a trilogy. There's no slow middle book to get in the way, just a whole lot of action and excitement to keep the reader immersed in the story. There are lots of shocks and surprises along the way and I was often on the edge of my seat. I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen to Lacey, her friends and family and I was hooked until the very last page.

Only problem now is that I really want a baku of my own!  

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday 22 August 2019

Review: See All The Stars by Kit Frick

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 22nd August 2019

Then: They were four—Bex, Jenni, Ellory, Ret. (Venus. Earth. Moon. Sun.) Electric, headstrong young women; Ellory’s whole solar system.

Now: Ellory is alone, her once inseparable group of friends torn apart by secrets, deception, and a shocking incident that changed their lives forever.

Then: Lazy summer days. A party. A beautiful boy. Ellory met Matthias and fell into the beginning of a spectacular, bright love.

Now: Ellory returns to Pine Brook to navigate senior year after a two-month suspension and summer away—no boyfriend, no friends. No going back. Tormented by some and sought out by others, troubled by a mysterious note-writer who won’t let Ellory forget, and consumed by guilt over her not entirely innocent role in everything and everyone she’s lost, Ellory finds that even in the present, the past is everywhere.

See All The Stars by Kit Frick book cover
After finishing this book, I felt like shouting from the rooftops that everyone else should read it too. It's really that good. I was glued to the story from start to finish and majorly impressed to discover that this is Kit Frick's debut novel. Holy moly! The story is wonderfully depicted and Frick's writing is gorgeous. I absolutely loved it.
'See All The Stars' is a YA contemporary thriller that keeps you guessing as you're teased about something that's happened to change the main character Ellory's whole existence. Once she was part of a group of four friends who did everything together, told each other everything and were as tight and unbreakable as friends could be. They all gravitated around Ret, the ringleader of their little group and Ellory's best friend. But that was Then. When they enjoyed lazy summer days, flirtations with boys and the heady beginnings of love.
The story switches backwards and forwards between Then and Now. Ellory has been away from school for two months and is finally returning to Pine Brook for her senior year. No longer friends with the other girls, she is a loner who only wants to finish the school year and move on to whatever the future has in store for her. There are hints that something terrible has happened. Something that Ellory is still consumed with guilt about but the big mystery is what?
I really did love this book which was gripping, and compulsive reading. I spent a lot of time trying to guess the twist but I also just enjoyed the way that Frick explored the friendship between the girls and the way in which they are so entangled in each other's lives. It's interesting to see Ret at the centre of the group having brought them all together and the fact that without her, Ellory, Bex and Jenni might not have anything else in common. I liked the way in which this was depicted because I think it's often true of real-life friendships where people end up becoming friends with others through association. The bond between Ellory and Rex is all-consuming and this lies at the heart of the story. There are touches of romance too, with Ellory falling for the alluring Matthias who she stumbles upon at a party but the strongest relationship in the book is the one between her and Ret.     
It was interesting to see the disintegration of Ellory and the struggle she goes through without knowing what has caused it. I felt a lot of empathy for her character but also admiration at the way she tries to rebuild her life and move on.  
If you are a fan of this genre and love YA fiction then I beg you to read 'See All My Stars'. It's a five star read that is absolutely captivating. After just one book, Kit Frick is now on my auto-buy list, so I'm looking forward to reading next her second novel 'All Eyes On Us'.   
If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Review: Sanctuary by V.V. James

Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 8th August 2019

The small Connecticut town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback. Daniel's death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend Harper is the daughter of a witch - and she was there when he died.

Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge - or something even darker?

As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching . . .

When I first heard about this book I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. I'm a big fan of the author's previous YA Dark Gifts trilogy, written under the name Vic James and I love her writing, so I added 'Sanctuary' to my wish list straight away. It turned out to be a really refreshing read because it felt so unique and original and unlike anything else that I'd read recently.

Described as Big Little Lies meets The Craft, 'Sanctuary' takes the reader on a journey where you never quite know where you are going to end up. Each chapter was full of surprises and there were lots of unexpected twists in the story that I didn't see coming. I loved the sense of anticipation I felt while reading it and the fact that I literally had no idea what was going to happen next. The story and the characters really hooked me in and kept me turning the pages well into the night.  

The story is set in the small town of Sanctuary where modern day witch craft is still alive and well. No longer hidden away or shunned by those who fear it, local woman Sarah is a practicing witch who has helped many of the residents of the town with their day to day problems. Her coven consists of her closest friends who lend energy to her spells and with this ability Sarah has helped to change for the better, the lives of those around her. Devoted to her teenage daughter Harper, her only sadness is that Harper has not inherited her abilities.

The catalyst which drives the plot on, is the death of the local star quarterback. Daniel was the son of one of her closest friends, Abigail and his death is the spark which causes everything to start to unravel. Soon Sarah's daughter Harper is under suspicion for his death and the local community start to turn against the witch who lives among them.

The narrative unfolds from the perspectives of Sarah, Harper, Abigail and Maggie. The latter is a detective who is assigned to investigate Daniel's death and determine what really happened to him. Was his death a tragic accident or did someone kill him? I enjoyed seeing events happen through the eyes of different characters who each have their own view on the events of both the present and the past. As the story picks up pace, there are hints about something terrible that happened years ago and which has been kept secret until now. I couldn't wait to find out what it was and I loved the way V.V. James teases us with it until near the end of the book when suddenly I had quite a change of heart about many of the characters in light of this revelation.

The witch craft element to the story was written brilliantly. It felt entirely plausible that magic could still be employed to sort out modern day problems and also that people would eventually turn against something that they couldn't fully understand or comprehend. Sarah becomes the scapegoat for the town and it was scary to see how quickly things escalated near the end of the story. I literally couldn't put the book down!

'Sanctuary' was a gripping read with an intriguing mystery at it's centre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and loved the way that it incorporated so many different genres. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to other readers. 

Sunday 18 August 2019

Review: The Shamer's War by Lene Kaaberbol

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Published: 4th July 2019

The Dragon Lord of Dunark is ruthlessly hunting down Shamers and burning them at the stake. He must be brought down, and so a rebellion is formed.

Rebellions need leaders, and what better choice than the legitimate heir to Dunark, Dina's friend Nico? Nico is reluctant to kill even a rabbit. Still, Dina's considerable powers should help him triumph over the Dragon Lord. But Nico knows only too well that heroes have a nasty habit of ending up dead . . .

'The Shamer's War' is the epic final book in this truly stunning fantasy series. Now that Pushkin Press have republished Lene Kaaberbol's series in full, I really hope that they get the acclaim they deserve in the UK. This is definitely a series that has flown under the radar so far but it's ridiculously good and is definitely one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. I'm quite sad that the journey is over now as I've enjoyed enormously reading the books and following the characters on all their adventures.

The final instalment picks up Nico's storyline, as the book builds towards a showdown between Nico and his cousin Drakan. This is something that I've been anticipating and waiting for from the very beginning. It's been simmering away in the background all the time, so it was great to see Nico finally step up and determine to do something to save his people from further bloodshed and loss of life. Plus, as my favourite character, I loved seeing him more involved and active in the central plot.

Dina is right by Nico's side, as she has been from the beginning. I really adore the bond that the two of them share. Although she's younger than him, I always thought I could detect a slight romantic undercurrent between them but I think their relationship has developed more into big brother, little sister. Dina has some difficult choices to make in the book. She now has two gifts: the Shamer's gift and the Serpent gift. She is torn between them and feels like she's lost her path. However, Dina learns a lot about who she is, where she fits and her role in her family. She has always been brave and courageous and those qualities really come to the fore.

The narrative is once again shared between Dina and her brother Davin, who also gets a pretty epic storyline. His character has developed a huge amount since 'The Shamer's Daughter' and it was great to see the arc and the journey that he has been on. He is still suffering after his experience in the Hall of Whisperers but he hasn't lost his overwhelming need to protect the people he loves. There's a touch of romance for him too which I really enjoyed, as I wanted him to find someone special.

Forces converge in the book to bring all the characters together, leading to a nail biting ending which had me on the edge of my seat. The conclusion was actually quite unexpected and Lene Kaaberbol managed to throw in a few last twists to surprise me. I would be so happy if this series could go on and on as I think there's potential for so much more. It's sad to think that I've got to the end of this exciting adventure and it's all over now. However, Dino and co will live on long in my memory and I look forward to rereading the entire series at some point in the future.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday 15 August 2019

Review: The Serpent Gift by Lene Kaaberbol

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Published: 4th July 2019

A watching face in a market crowd, a mist-shrouded figure on the moor, a haunting presence seen only when he wants to be seen--Sezuan, possessor of the Serpent Gift for lie and illusion, is a chilling and ambiguous figure at the best of times.

He is also Dina's father.

And when he comes to claim the daughter he has never seen, the Shamer and her family are catapulted into reckless flight and danger. With nowhere else to turn, Dina must learn to see through her father's deceit and use her own powers to her advantage.

'The Serpent Gift' was another riveting instalment of this wonderful series which is just getting better and better. I think this was my favourite book so far. The plot was packed full of action and adventure, the characters are maturing and becoming like old friends and there was also a lot of powerful and emotional moments in the story.

Dina and Davin once again pick up the narrative reins, as the story begins in their Highland home. The local fair means a time of fun and celebration but all of that is ruined when Dina's long absent father unexpectedly appears. Dina's mother refuses to let him see his daughter and insists that her family leave immediately and secretively in order to escape him. I was very intrigued about Dina's father, Sezuan. We're told that he has the Serpent Gift but it's a little while into the story before it becomes clear what this is exactly. Sezuan wants to know if Dina has inherited his gift as well as her Shamer eyes. I found the father-daughter relationship in the book extremely well depicted and there were some particularly emotional and touching moments between the two. Dina doesn't know anything about her father and isn't sure if he can be trusted but I enjoyed seeing a fragile bond gradually begin to develop.

After having her gift abused in the previous book, Dina is also going through something of a crisis of faith. She has temporarily lost her Shamer ability and starts to question who she really is without it. Even though she may not be able to do what her mother can, she can always rely on her own courage and bravery to put her on the right path which is something I admire about her.

I loved the epic scope of the story and the scenes during the second half of the book which are set in the town of Sagisloc and the Sagisburg prison. Danger and desperation touches everything that befalls the characters and they are constantly having to find a way out of some very hazardous situations. Every chapter feels like it ends on some kind of cliff hanger.

Reading this series, almost feels like watching a big budget fantasy TV series unfold before my eyes. I started this book immediately after finishing the last one, so not having a break in the story has made me feel even more invested in the characters and what happens to them. If I had to be nit-pick anything, then it would just be that I'd like to have seen more of Nico. He is firmly entwined in Davin's storyline but I would even more of him because he's my absolute favourite.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Sunday 11 August 2019

Review: The Shamer's Signet by Lene Kaaberbol

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Published: 4th July 2019

Dina has recently come into her uncomfortable powers as a Shamer, and now even her brother, Davin, no longer dares to meet her gaze.

Yet in these dangerous times there are far worse things in store for the young Shamer, who is kidnapped and forced to use her gift as a weapon against innocent people. Dina must get free. Can her brother help her escape?

'The Shamer's Signet' is the second book in The Shamer Chronicles. I loved the first instalment of this series, so I couldn't wait to get stuck into the rest of the main character Dina's story. After facing extreme danger in the previous book, Dina and her family have started a new life in the Highlands. After fleeing from the evil Drakan, the Dragon Lord at Dunark, it seems that they might finally have found some safety to try and rebuild their home and their lives.

This time the story is told through the alternating perspectives of not only Dina but her older brother Davin too. He's finding it hard as he faces the transition from being a sixteen year old boy to a man. He wants to protect his family from future danger but doesn't really know how. Without a father to look up to or to help train him in defence, he looks for other ways to learn sword skills and how to handle a weapon. I liked seeing more of Davin, as he didn't feature very heavily in the first book. He doesn't have the gift that their mother has passed to Dina, so it was interesting to see the role that he tries to adopt in their family. He's very torn between his family and his own desires.

The story splits into two paths when Dina is kidnapped by someone that wants to use her gift as a weapon and it looks like her only hope of rescue is from her brother. As a reader, it was interesting to see how Dina attempts to survive her ordeal, as well as getting to enjoy the more action driven part of the book, with Davin attempting to find her and bring her home. The contrasting chapters ensured that I stayed engaged in the plot and kept my interest high as I enjoyed the exciting adventure.

I really loved getting to return to the incredible world that Lene Kaaberbol has created. It was great to see different geographical areas outside of Dunark and I adored the epic nature of the story. It feels like it has real width and breadth with all the ingredients for a majorly exciting and winning series.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday 8 August 2019

Review: Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Publisher: Piatkus
Published: 8th August 2019

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?

I can't believe that 'Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating' is the first book I've read by Christina Lauren, the pen name of writing partners Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. It's even more extraordinary because I love the contemporary romance genre, so I don't know how this author has escaped me so far. This was a sweet, funny romance with lots of touches of comedy along the way. I read it in one day and now I'm going to be hunting down the rest of their back catalogue.

The story is about the friendship turned romance between Hazel and Josh who have known each other since they were at college together. Hazel has always admired Josh's perfection and has a history of always ending up in embarrassing situations which he has been witness to. Ten years after their college days have ended and not having seen each other in all that time, they finally meet again. Hazel is now an elementary school teacher and her best friend turns out to be Josh's sister. What is so great about these two characters is that they are complete polar opposites who find that they actually provide balance and support for each other. Hazel is wild, impulsive, funny and pretty zany. She does her own thing and she doesn't care what people think of her. Josh on the other hand is more serious and reserved but still incredibly thoughtful and kind. Each chapter provides their alternating point of view as they become best friends and then possibly something more.

But romance isn't on the cards for them yet. First, they have a go at double-dating with other people. I thought all the scenes in the book when they are trying to set each other up with blind dates were so funny. There are some really great comedic moments in the story and I found myself laughing out loud at times. So many things end up going wrong for them but their experiences ultimately bring them closer together.

Josh is part of a Korean family which gave me an interesting insight into a different culture and his extended family. I really liked his sister Emily who is influential in bringing Hazel and Josh back into each others lives and I thought Josh's mother was very sweet too, particularly her need to provide constant amounts of food for her children.

My absolute favourite thing about this book was the super sweet epilogue. I can't say anything about it because I don't want to provide any spoilers but it was written to perfection and made my heart sing. If you enjoy contemporary romance then you need to get your hands on this book. It's a light, fun filled escapist read which totally swept me away.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.

Tuesday 6 August 2019

Review: A Dress for the Wicked by Autumn Krause

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Published: 6th August 2019

Nothing much happens in the sleepy town of Shy in Avon-upon-Kynt. And for eighteen years, Emmaline Watkins has feared that her future held just that: nothing.

But when the head of the most admired fashion house in the country opens her prestigious design competition to girls from outside the stylish capital city, Emmy’s dreams seem closer than they ever have before.

As the first “country girl” to compete, Emmy knows she’ll encounter extra hurdles on her way to the top. But as she navigates the twisted world of high fashion she starts to wonder: will she be able to tailor herself to fit into this dark, corrupted race? And at what cost?


Autumn Krause's debut novel 'A Dress for the Wicked' combines both fashion and politics in the fictional city of Avon-upon-Kynt. I have to admit that the first thing that attracted me to this book was the luscious cover. The artwork is simple but striking and oh so pretty. It really made me want to pick it up and start reading.

The setting of the book is based on aspects of Victorian London with its class structure and rules of etiquette. It doesn't however fit within the historical fiction genre. I find it quite hard to say exactly which genre I would slot it into, as it combines so many different elements: historical, fantasy and even dystopia. There is a strong political undercurrent running throughout the story. The main political party in the book are the Reformists Parliament Party, who every year grant an arts budget to the Crown. The Crown then pass on a large portion of this to the Fashion House which is run by the inimitable Madame Jolene. The Reformists now want to cut the arts budget and create cheaper fashions but there is a lot of opposition to their plans.

The main character in the story is Emmaline Watkins or Emmy as she is known, who gets a place in the prestigious Fashion House competition. She gets the chance to compete against a number of other girls to become a design apprentice - a position that she aspires to. Emmy becomes the token 'girl from the country', with no one expecting her to rival the other competitors, who are more privileged and well connected. She does not know who she can trust and does not even appear to have the support of her Publican mother, who has remained behind in Shy.

The plot reminded me a little bit of 'The Hunger Games' but with dresses and definitely not as deadly. There are however high stakes involved with each girl having different reasons for taking part that are gradually revealed throughout the story. I did find the start of the book much slower than I was expecting and it took me a good few chapters before I got used to the style and rhythm of the writing. It definitely improved as the story progressed and I found myself enjoying it more and more. There is a lot about fashion in the book which wasn't something that particularly appealed to me, although it was interesting to see Krause's take on using fashion to reveal the character and personality of the main players. I also liked the way that she provided a nod to the real fashion world, with her imagining of what the first fashion show could have looked like.

This was a book that started with a slow burn but really grew on me. I thought that there was a lot of interesting character development in the second half and even some romance to keep me happy. After reading the ending, I assumed that there was going to be a book two to look forward to but I believe that currently this is a standalone novel. I do hope that Autumn Krause gets to return to the world of Britannia Secunda and the district of Avon-upon-Kynt because I would really like to know what happens to Emmy next.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please considering purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.

Sunday 4 August 2019

Review: The Demon World by Sally Green

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 1st August 2019

After narrowly escaping the fall of Rossarb, Princess Catherine leads a rag-tag group of survivors into the barren wasteland of the Northern Plateau.

With the Brigantine army snapping at their heels, Edyon and Ambrose become separated from the group, while demon hunter Tash leads Catherine and March to an unlikely refuge - the hidden tunnels of the demon world itself. They soon find that the tunnels hold their own dangers and, while Tash travels deeper, hoping to learn more about their mysterious inhabitants, Catherine and March must return to the surface to resume the war.

But the world above is in turmoil. King Aloysius's army has captured the Pitorian prince, Tzsayn, and is poised to overrun the whole country. To have any hope of challenging her father's tyranny, Catherine needs to form her own army, but when danger lurks at every turn, how can she tell an ally from an enemy? What Tash discovers in the demon tunnels could change everything, but if the message doesn't reach Catherine in time, the war might already be lost . . .

'The Demon World' by Sally Green is the follow-up to last year's 'The Smoke Thieves'. I had a rocky relationship with the first book in this fantasy series. There were some aspects of the plot that I really enjoyed and it definitely finished on a high note but I had issues with the use of multiple narrators making the story feel slightly disjointed and the overall slow pace of the book. I therefore approached the sequel with some trepidation, although I was intrigued to see how Green was going to continue the characters' stories.

The book picks up immediately after the events of 'The Smoke Thieves', with the characters fleeing to the Northern Plateau - demon country. As the group end up being separated from each other, the story divides as each person has a different path they must follow. It took me a little while to recollect everything that had happened in the previous book but soon I was back up to speed and sucked into Green's world. Once again, I particularly enjoyed seeing the stories of Catherine and Tash unfold as they are my favourite two characters in the series. I like strong, female heroines and both of these women are on challenging journeys but still manage to stand tall amidst the chaos. I found myself really looking forward to their chapters in the book and getting impatient when the focus switched to some of the others. Now that I'm more familiar with all the characters in the series though, I did find that the narrative was less disjointed and flowed a lot more smoothly.

The action was constant throughout the book and the pace rocketed along, drawing the reader in for the ride. Green keeps you wanting more with clever storytelling and lots of carefully placed surprises along the way. There were several times when I was wrong-footed by the characters or by plot twists but that made the book even more fun to read.     

The ending of 'The Demon World' was shocking and the book finished on a big cliffhanger. It feels impossible to have to wait to find out what happens next but that's exactly what readers will have to do. Roll on book three in the series! 
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