Book Review: Love at First

Love at First is the latest novel by Kate Clayborn. I absolutely couldn’t wait get my hands on this book after loving her previous book, Love Lettering, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. It’s one of those really emotional stories that has found family that crosses multiple generations, mixing sadness, happiness, friendship, romance and laughter in the perfect recipe for a romance novel to give you all the feels.

Star rating: 5 stars

Love at First follows Will and Nora, two characters that almost met when they were teenagers only to be re-united as adults. Will has inherited the apartment of his late Uncle Donny, having been estranged for all of Will’s life due to family arguments. Will, who has past trauma with this particular apartment, doesn’t want to live there and decides to rent it out in short-term lets. The only problem is, the rest of the building aren’t too keen on the idea. Nora is the youngest of the building residents, working remotely from the apartment she spent her childhood summers in and now owns after her Nonna passed away. The other residents are her found family, and she will do anything to protect them and their wellbeing, even if it includes fighting Will’s ambition to let out Donny’s old apartment.

I’ve got to say it, I loved these characters. Nora is kind of anxious and awkward – that is until she’s helping one of the residents or organising an event for them. Will has his own anxiety, but spends his days as a Doctor known for his charm and impeccable bedside manner. Both characters had childhoods where they weren’t the focus of their parents’ attention, and they connect through their shared experiences. Grief is a central theme in the novel, as Will and Nora are both grieving for lost relatives though the circumstances are entirely different. As expected, both characters have strong emotional reactions to events, but what I loved was their ability to self-reflect and apologise.

I adored the interactions Will and Nora had with the side characters. Will’s boss, Dr Gerald Abraham, is a tricky character at first but the two begin to open up to each other making it become one of my favourite friendships in the book. They even had me crying my eyes out at one point! The friendship between Nora and the other residents is also really heart-warming, Nora helps them and they help her, it’s so adorable! I really liked that both Will and Nora had advice from older people in their lives.

Overall, this is a romance novel that will spark a whole range of emotions. I honestly wasn’t expecting to cry at the end but here we are! If you want to get in your feels, I’d highly recommend picking this one up.

Book Review: Ace of Spades

Okay wow…I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger U-turn on my opinion of a book as I just had with Ace of Spades. What starts is a book with annoying teenage characters at private school becomes something much more impactful and gripping that I was actually glued to it. I was not expecting any of it, it was much more sick and twisted than I could ever have imagined – consider my completely shocked.

Star rating: 5 stars

Ace of Spades is fundamentally a thriller set in a fancy private school. It is told in two points of view: Chiamaka, Head Senior Prefect, the girl everyone wants to be, and Devon, scholarship kid with a less than perfect background but wicked intelligent with grand musical ambitions. Chiamaka has done everything she can to make sure she’s the best and to increase her chances of getting into Yale. Devon has Julliard in his ambitions, and is trying to put together his audition piece. The only two Black kids in school don’t really hang out with each other, but when both of them are targeted by new anonymous school-wide texter Aces, their futures are put on the line and they only have each other to count on.

Let me get this straight, I didn’t like this book to begin with. I thought it was going to be some petty Gossip Girl inspired drama with lots of girl-hate and homophobia. But at some point it began to change my mind as it became something I’ve never read before, was disgusted and horrified by and suddenly had me routing for our protagonists more than I ever thought I would.

Honestly though, I can’t review much without spoiling things (and trust me, you do not want to be spoiled). Some general things that I enjoyed were Chiamaka and Devon’s growing friendship, Chiamaka ditching the jerks in her life, and Devon’s relationship with his mother. It also has great diversity, going into Devon’s experiences as a gay, Black teen and Chiamaka’s first time finding another girl attractive.

Overall, this book is an absolute banger. It slaps hard. I had no idea of the depth of the plot when I went into it – it will be interesting when I re-read it to see all of the foreshadowing and clues that I missed. I actually can’t believe this was a debut, I can totally see why its getting rave reviews. Have you read Ace of Spades? Let me know what you thought!

Book Review: The Atlas Six

I have been curious about The Atlas Six for a while now and finally decided to read it after my friend Paragraphs and Pages read it and loved it. The blurb gave me big dark academia vibes (and I absolutely love this theme in books) and I was not disappointed (I read it in two sittings!). With its masterful execution of 6 points of view and addictive plot, The Atlas Six is sure to be one of the books that I re-read to figure out more about what actually happened. I do love books that blow my mind.

Star rating: 5 stars

The Atlas Six brings together six unique and powerful individuals as they are offered a chance to compete for positions in The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge all of whom lead lives of wealth in positions of power. The blurb summarises the characters better than I ever could:

Enter the latest round of six: Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona, unwilling halves of an unfathomable whole, who exert uncanny control over every element of physicality. Reina Mori, a naturalist, who can intuit the language of life itself. Parisa Kamali, a telepath who can traverse the depths of the subconscious, navigating worlds inside the human mind. Callum Nova, an empath easily mistaken for a manipulative illusionist, who can influence the intimate workings of a person’s inner self. Finally, there is Tristan Caine, who can see through illusions to a new structure of reality—an ability so rare that neither he nor his peers can fully grasp its implications.

The Atlas Six, Blurb

I absolutely loved the structure of the multiple points of views, we not only get insight into how the characters view themselves but also in how they view each other (and therefore see where perceptions are inaccurate…or too accurate). This execution of the character dynamics makes for such a spectacular read, as new parts of the plot are revealed through different individuals who choose who they share the new information with, leaving some in the dark. The competition element is thrilling and the characters form and break alliances, working out who they can use, who has powers that mesh well, and who is outright dangers to them all.

The world-building itself is very unique, with the magical talents and abilities of the characters unlike most I have seen before. Every character in this book has a purpose, the reader is just left to work out what that purpose is. I found everything to be unpredictable despite having read similar books, which was definitely a pleasant surprise.

I can’t say I have a favourite character. In terms of their abilities, I was really drawn to Callum and Tristan, both whom have an air of mystery about them through intent or simply because they don’t know what they’re capable of. I related a lot to Libby, who appears anxious but steps up under pressure. Parisa is probably the character I wanted to know more about the most, and I am very curious where her story goes in the next book. That leaves Nico, who I admired a lot for his loyalty. The side characters are also fascinating, from Atlas the Caretaker, to Dalton a previous competitor and Ezra, Libby’s boyfriend.

Overall, a fascinating that is executed very well. If you like books like may be a bit confusing but still capture your attention throughout, then this is definitely something you should pick up soon. I actually can’t wait for the next book to see where this goes after a drama filled ending with plenty of story left to go!

ARC Review: The Soulmate Equation

The Christina Lauren duo were after my heart with this one. A mathematics / statistics based romance novel? Got to love it. This is only the second book I’ve read written by them and I absolutely adored this story. It had squeal-level cuteness throughout and my heart just melted at the romance. Sure, it’s a very romantic view of genetics and love, but I enjoyed it all the same. Jess and River had my heart right from the beginning!

Star rating: 5 stars

Jess is a freelance statistician and single mother who doesn’t really spend time on herself in between looking after her 7-year old daughter Juno and her grandparents, and her job. She and her best friend Fizz have been frequenting the same coffee shop for years, along with another regular customer they’ve nicknamed Americano. When the two finally speak to him, they realise Americano is the creator of a dating app with a twist – it uses DNA of happy couples to predict whether a new couple are meant for a long-term relationship. In a moment of desperation, Jess sends off a sample only to find she has a 98% compatibility score with Americano himself, who’s actual name is River.

Where to even start with these two sweethearts. It’s obvious from the beginning that their two scientist brains are on the same wavelength. Both of them are curious about what 98% means though Jess is reluctant to bring River into Juno’s life. River convinces her to see what it’s all about. I absolutely adored Jess’ character, she was just such a strong, sensitive person who I ended up really respecting. Same goes for River, who was definitely socially awkward and made some errors but you could tell her really cared about Jess and her family.

I also really liked how the book talked about the compatibility app and how it would change approaches to dating. If a couple has a low match, are they already psychologically destined not to try? Like River explains, the app only features the data that is inputted, and can’t really take account of life experiences. If the app was a real thing I’d definitely be a sceptic but for romance novel purposes, this was gold.

Overall, this book made me so happy. I loved Jess’ relationship with her family, and it was so heart-warming to see River fit so naturally into their dynamic. Everything was just so cute and I honestly couldn’t put it down. I’d recommend this for anyone who likes romance really, it’s predictable but an absolute delight to read.

Book Review: Muted

Oh my…this book is powerful, and I am devastated. Wrecked. Destroyed. This novel in verse was so unexpected and I’m in tears. Tami Charles, what have you done to me? I can’t even write properly right now. I feel sick. Muted is a book about the horrors of the music industry and it doesn’t hold back. Read the triggers because this is intense and the writing in verse made it all the more impactful for me.

Star rating: 5 stars

This novel in verse focuses on Denver and her friends Dali and Shak, an R&B girl teenage girl group looking for their big break. They catch the eye of big music star Merc, leading to huge life changes and a split friendship. Denver is the protagonist of this story told through verse. Her whole life revolves around music – she doesn’t consider herself beautiful like Dali or destined for a college scholarship like Shak. She is desperate for the chance to show off her talents and because of this she is so vulnerable. Denver is also figuring out her sexuality, and is starting to consider herself a lesbian.

Everything Merc offers the girls seems too good to be true. Shak’s religious family refuse her the opportunity and she’s not particularly hurt by this. Dali’s family really need the cash, and Denver’s are sceptical. Denver fights back, going against their wishes to pursue her dreams. Denver and Dali are pulled into Merc’s world, isolated in his mansion in Atlanta with no access to the outside world. He pushes Denver to change her appearance, alters her songs to have more provocative lyrics and does not let her see Dali even though they’re living in the same house. Merc is a master manipulator, making Denver feel special with flattery and the promise of opportunity.

The writing is so powerful – the blunt poetic style really makes the dreams and doubt of a talented teenager hit home. Merc uses his position to manipulate girls with ambition in order to steal from them and do horrifying things to them and we experience this through Denver. Separated from her friends and family, she is so alone through realising that her situation is not all she thought it would be. And the ending is something else entirely, I was so shocked at horrified but it felt realistic. This is a very painful book to read.

Overall, Muted by Tami Charles is excellent. Centred on a female friendship each with different backgrounds experiencing the worst of the music industry, it really does make for an impactful story. The writing only enhances the messages. I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages and it absolutely did not disappoint.

Monthly Wrap-Up: May 2021

Hi everyone! Welcome to my May 2021 wrap-up post. For these wrap-ups I include Book Coven book club, fave books you can buy now, books to look out for and books I want to read soon.May was Book Coven’s Taylor Swift Lyric challenge so I actually read some books!

Book Club

Every month the mods of the Book Coven get us to suggest books that make up the book club bracket. We then vote all the way through to a final, and that’s the book we read together over the course of 3 weeks. Then the amazing Paragraphs and Pages asks us some super insightful questions and off we go. This month the club read two books:

  1. The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
  2. Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller

I’ve already read The One’s We’re Meant to Find which was a really thought provoking read, and unfortunately I didn’t get around to reading Blade of Secrets this month, but looks like a lot of the Book Coven members enjoyed it!

We haven’t chosen our next book yet but we had 16 books make the bracket and they’re all LGBTQ+ books as its Pride Month!

Favourites

I re-read Get a Life, Chloe Brown and Take a Hint, Dani Brown (this series is my fave I love it so much). Talia Hibbert’s books always make me smile and these two are no different. They also have the most adorable covers! The books just give me so many feels and I’m in a perpetual state of wanting to re-read them.

I also read A Dowry of Blood – this one is a lyrical retelling of Dracula’s brides and I found the writing to be so beautiful. I only wish it was longer so I could enjoy the writing even more! If you like gothic books that are really going to hit you in the feels then I recommend checking this out, it’s honestly so unique.

For something a little bit different to be normal reads I picked up Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I’m not usually a big mystery reader but this one was really enjoyable as it examined real people’s lives in the context of a mystery. I thought I’d hate the drama but it turned out it gave me a lot of emotions and I loved the way it all wrapped up. On the mystery theme, I also read The Girl’s I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe. This one is about a teenager who grew up as the daughter of a con-artist who ends up in a bank with her friends while it is being robbed. Makes for a really gripping story which I loved!

Last but not least for this post, I read Dear Martin by Nic Stone. This is a short YA that follows a boy called Justyce as he experiences racial profiling first hand and explores what it means for him as he never expected it. There are lots of class discussions at his school that would make for great educational material!

Books to Look Out For

Releasing on June 10th is The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri! I absolutely loved this book – it’s told from two main point of view (f/f romance!) and has other points of view intermingled which give some wider context. Loved the world building in this one, it really is unique and magical.

Hana Khan Carries on by Uzma Jalaluddin was also a huge hit with me – it was so much more than a romance with it’s interesting family dynamics and examination of racism against Muslims in Toronto. I loved Hana’s character so much – she had such strong values throughout.

Next month?

I’m not sure what I’m going to read in June – hopefully lots of LGBTQ+ books for pride! In terms of arcs I am really looking forward to reading She Who Became the Sun and Velvet Was the Night. After loving The House in the Cerulean Sea so much I’m also excited to read Under the Whispering Door.

I’ve also got to read the final book in the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series, I’m really intrigued to find out how Bex Hogan is going to wrap it up in Vulture!

I hope everyone had a wonderful reading month in May – I know I did. naturally work is still hectic, plus I had a little visit to my sister’s new house. June looks to be a bit quieter, and I’m really enjoying the sunshine we’re getting in the UK a the moment. Have a great June!!!

Book Review: Big Little Lies

I haven’t seen the TV show of Big Little Lies but I really want to see it! I thought I would try the book first to see what it was all about. I’ve got to say, Big Little Lies started out as a book I was going to dislike and ended up being one I loved. It’s not a thriller per se, but centres on a big mystery with women at the focus. I honestly had no idea how it was going to end, and for that reason I couldn’t stop reading.

Star rating: 5 stars

Big Little Lies has three central protagonists. Madeline Martha Mackenzie, a mother of Abigail (previous marriage), Fred and Chloe (married to Ed), Jane Chapman (single mother of Ziggy) and Celeste White, mother of Josh and Max (married to Perrie). All of the children go to the same primary school (except Abigail who is fourteen), and so the book follows the politics of being a mother of a child in kindergarten. These women sure do know who to bring the drama.

The plot is told in two timelines – interviews of the people at a school trivia night where someone died, and the months leading up to the trivia night itself. We follow Jane as she navigates being a young mother in a new town, Madeline as she tries to come to terms with being in the same town as her ex-husband who walked out on her when she had a newborn baby, and Celeste whose so-called perfect life is much darker than people think. All three women are friends, but each have their own drama with other mothers at the school – these mothers make up the interviews of the other timeline,

At first I really thought I was going to hate all of the petty dramas of the helicopter parents. They are described as quite shallow, adamant their 5 year olds are gifted, and there is a divide between working and stay-at-home mothers. But I really started to empathise with the protagonists and their struggles. Celeste’s story was the most hard-hitting as her husband is violent with her and she doesn’t know how to leave him, and Jane’s was also an emotional one as she battles past trauma. Madeline’s story is different – but I empathised with her family situation a lot coming from divorced parents.

Overall this book was excellently executed with a really satisfying ending that I didn’t really see coming. It has its humorous moments as well as it’s emotional ones. I didn’t like a book about petty kindergarten mothers would end up having such a powerful conclusion. If you like books that examine people’s lives and have elements of mystery then I’d recommend picking up Big Little Lies.

Book Review: Dear Martin

Dear Martin is up there with The Hate U Give, but instead of through the eyes of a girl who saw her friend killed, it’s through the eyes of a boy who knows all too well what it’s like to be racially profiled. Dear Martin is direct in what it confronts which would make it great teaching material with plenty of discussion elements. It’s mixed-media approach to story-telling brings lots of perspectives to the table which demonstrates clearly the wrongness of refusing to accept the existence of white privilege, and portrays racism in a variety of forms.

Star rating: 4 stars

Dear Martin follows Justyce McAllister, a boy with top marks and Ivy League ambitions. He’s one of the only Black kids at his prep school, his best friend Manny being one of the others. After Justyce directly faces being racially profiled by a cop, he thinks more deeply about racism as a whole, learning through Martin Luther King. The first half of the book focusses on Justyce and his classmates – from Jared who doesn’t think racism is a problem anymore to Sarah Jane, a Jewish girl who is often used by Nic Stone to be the one who stands up to Jared. Class discussions are presented in a transcript format, which I think was a clever way of portraying perspectives and challenging racist viewpoints. The second part of the book is where the issues hit closer to home for Justyce, and is a turning point for a lot of his classmates too. It shouldn’t take personal tragedy to stop someone being racist but that’s exactly what happens with Jared.

Justyce is a good kid. He’s just trying to figure out who he is, what he wants, and what he stands for. In class discussions he is repeatedly accused of benefiting from being Black when it comes to college applications, and I have no idea how he sat through some of the conversations without hitting someone. Justyce is also confused about his feelings for Sarah Jane, as his mother doesn’t want him to date a white girl – clearly because she is scared for him about what might happen.

Honestly it’s hard to write more without spoiling the entire plot. The whole book made me angry because it is brimming with examples of racism that is so commonplace, some more direct than others. It makes an excellent education source particularly for those who need a place to start. It would have been 5 stars easily but I didn’t like how Justyce’s ex-girlfriend as the only mixed race character was presented – Melo deserved better than being presented as a stupid girl who Justyce only sees because she’s beautiful.

I encourage you to pick this up if you haven’t already. The writing is very accessible and it’s also a short book so won’t take too long to read. It will make you angry and sad and feel all the things. I am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series, Dear Justyce.

Book Review: The Girls I’ve Been

When my friend Jaye calls a book a banger you know it’s going to be great – and she’s not wrong when it comes to The Girl’s I’ve Been. It’s a YA thriller about a con artist told in dual timelines – both of which are so gripping that the book is impossible to put down. With a witty, clever protagonist and a plot that will make you feel things, this is a story you do not want to miss (and yes, it will make a fantastic movie).

Star rating: 4 stars

Nora O’Malley has a lot of secrets in her life but right now she’s trying to deal with still being friends with her ex-boyfriend Wes along with dating her new girlfriend Iris (oh, and all 3 of them are friends now, not to make it any more complicated). Also, we love a bisexual queen! The teens go to drop off some money they raised at the bank, but what do you know? It all kicks off when two thugs try and rob the bank, locking the customers and staff inside. Fortunately for everyone involved, Nora’s got some skills in her back pocket.

Brought up as a con artist, Nora knows a thing or two about starting a new life and playing a new role. In contrast to our first timeline that spans the hours of the bank robbery, the second follows Nora’s life before over many years. Her mother pulls her into conning people at a young age, making them the perfect mother-daughter duo to steal from powerful men with big secrets of their own. I’m not going to lie, these men deserve everything Nora’s Mum pulled on them, but it wasn’t fair to drag Nora into things. Her mother often uses her as a shield and expects Nora to take everything the men throw at her. It’s a terrible life, but the chapters that make up Nora’s previous life take us on a thrilling ride to find out how she got to where she is today.

The present day story is full of tension. It was hard to see Nora switch back to her old self, plotting and scheming away out of a situation that could leave her and her friends dead. But the process seemed to help her come to terms with who she is and to realise that she’s not an awful person, she’s just been groomed to have awful skills. Yet without those awful skills, people will die. The dynamic between Nora, Iris and Wes was also fantastic and definitely reminded me that they were just teenagers dealing with ordinary teenage dramas even though each one of them has trauma in their past. Not to mention Iris also suffers from endometriosis, which I might have to go to the doctor about myself at some point.

Honestly this book was great and so well executed. I think the only issue I had was that it was so fast that sometimes I didn’t quite feel connected to the characters. The ending is dramatic and satisfying, but the action got a little bit messy at times. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and if you like revenge stories with protagonists that will have you crying and laughing, this is a book for you.

ARC Review: The Jasmine Throne

Tell me there’s a new f/f fantasy series and you know I’ll be keen. Especially when it involves unlikely allies. The Jasmine Throne is the first in a new fantasy trilogy inspired by the history and epics of India, written by Tasha Suri (Empire of Sand, Realm of Ash). Tasha’s debut, Empire of Sand, was great so I was so excited to see her growth. In The Jasmine Throne I’ve found a book where I love the characters, love the magic, and love the way the story is unfolding – this is such a unique story!

Star rating: 5 stars

The central protagonists in The Jasmine Throne are Priya, a maidservant (with a big secret) who is one of a few that make the terrifying journey to the top of the Hirana every night where Princess Malini is imprisoned. Malini defied her cruel brother, now the emperor, and for that she is paying with some isolated reflection. Her only companion is a cruel woman who drugs her every night to keep her sedated, until Malini and Priya meet for the first time. Both of these women are wicked smart and have their own journeys throughout the book. Malini must recover from her trauma and return to her strongest self in order to fight her brother, and Priya must learn how to put her anonymous life behind her and step into her true self.

I loved the contrast between Priya and Malini – Priya is still working out who she is and how she will use her power after lying to herself for so long, but Malini already knows she is powerful even though being a woman in this world holds her back. This contrast made their relationship really exciting to see develop as they figure out whether their feelings for each other are real or if they are using each other for personal gain.

Other characters have points of view scattered throughout the book, sometimes only occurring once or twice. Key to the story are Ashok, a rebel looking to take down the emperor, Bhumika, a woman from Priya’s past who is now the wife of the regent of Ahiranya, and Rao, a man who’s true name holds a prophecy that carries the weight of more than his own future. I really enjoyed the depth that these points of view gave the story, particularly when Priya and Malini were co-located. I particularly enjoyed Bhumika’s character – she is smart and no-nonsense and I grew to love her as the story progressed. The mystery of Rao’s name also had me completely invested!

The world-building and politics were incredibly gripping. The magic surrounding the Hirana and the deathless waters was so unique, I’ve never read anything like it. The rebel movement in the conquered Ahiranya led by Ashok grows to free itself from control of Parijatdvipa (whose emperor, Malini’s brother, is cruel and extremist). It’s really up to the women in the story to use their power wisely and bring reason to the men who will destroy each other to get what they want. The threats don’t just come from the people either – there’s a magical disease called the rot to content with, and it’s spreading wider than where it originated. I’m sure there will be more nuanced thoughts on the politics when more people have read this story when it releases.

Overall, I love that this book gave us a full story but with room to grow in the rest of the trilogy. I feel satisfied by the progress and eager to see how the world and magic will be expanded. Malini and Priya both have a long way to go on their journeys and I’m really excited to see where they end up.

Big thanks to Bertie from Luminosity Library for buddy reading this with me, it was great to have someone to share the excitement with! You should definitely check out their blog to see their review of The Jasmine Throne when its published!