Book Review: XOXO

This is the first time I’ve read a K-Pop romance and I absolutely loved it? XOXO by Axie Oh is an adorable YA romance with music and dance at the centre – right up my street. I was mostly drawn to the beautiful cover art, which is also printed on the naked hardcover; amazing. But the characters and plot drew me in and had my heart from start to finish. It was cool to be drawn into the world of young K-Pop stars and getting the perspective on it from a Korean American girl in Seoul for the first time.

Star rating: 5 stars

Jenny Go is a young cellist with big music conservatory ambitions. When her grandmother falls ill, Jenny and her Mom move to Seoul for a few months to look after her before and after surgery, with Jenny enrolling in a Seoul performing arts academy, which is also home to the next generation of K-Pop idols. And the twist? Jenny met one of them back in L.A. before she knew she was moving to Seoul, and it’s risky for his career for them to be seen together in a romantic way.

I really enjoyed this book! I liked all of the characters, loved how Jenny really came out of her shell after making new friends at her new school, including her roommate Sori. Jenny and Sori’s friendship is one of my favourite elements of the book, so adorable. The romance is cute, as Jenny and Jaewoo get to know each other better and learn that they can’t stay away from each other despite the risks to Jaewoo and his band XOXO. I really liked how the band members got a long so well despite being put together, they really had each other’s backs and each one had a role to play in the group.

The book focuses on Jenny learning to have more fun and life experiences which her Uncle reckons will give her music a spark. I liked that she made friends even though she was in a new country, and loved with her whole heart. It was good to see her meet her grandmother, and develop her relationship with her mother after gaining some new perspectives.

Overall XOXO is a great, light read that ties together really well. I loved every bit of it, and appreciated the lack of drama. You don’t even have to know anything about K-Pop to enjoy this book – just immerse yourself in the amazing setting and food descriptions and have fun on the journey.

Book Review: The Maidens

The Maidens is a murder mystery / thriller set at Cambridge University, with the clues and plot rich in Greek mythology. I listened to this book via audiobook and it definitely raised the hairs on my arms, that’s for sure. There’s something even more eerie about listening to a book rife with psychological thrill than reading the words. The Maidens is a book centring on the psychology of its characters, particularly women who grow up with narcissistic men and psychopaths.

Star rating: 4 stars

Mariana Andros is a group therapist widow who lost her husband in a tragic accident. A year or so later and she’s still struggling with the grief. Her life is quiet with few friends, but one of her patients Henry is becoming particularly attached. When her niece, a teenager she is a guardian for, calls from Cambridge university suspecting that her best friend has been murdered, Mariana drops everything to support her, but the case is too tempting and Mariana gets drawn into a web of clues rooted in Greek mythology, involving a group of girls called The Maidens and the professor who brought them together, Edward Fosca.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of this book the most, it really did its best to create a tense, eerie version of Cambridge University where none of the characters could be trusted. Edward Fosca is Mariana’s prime suspect in the murder investigation, and with good reason. It was interesting to see the psychological changes in Mariana as the investigation progresses – we see the investigation from her point of view only which makes it difficult to read between the lines. I liked the side some of the side characters. Niece Zoe is intriguing, having lost her parents as a youngster followed by the death of her Uncle Sebastian. Physicist Fred who takes a romantic interest in Mariana also made me curious. Other side characters such as The Maidens and Edward Fosca almost try to make you dislike them.

Thrillers are hard to review with spoiling the mysteries, so I’m going to keep this review short. If you like books that have a lot of subtle psychological detail then I would recommend this one to you. The ending was both surprising and not surprising, but it didn’t take away from its impact. Overall, an interesting book that works well in audio format.

ARC Review: The Gilded Cage

After I finished The Prison healer I was beyond excited to get to reading its sequel, The Gilded Cage. In general it did not disappoint, even if it took a different turn to what I was expecting. I enjoyed the complex politics and character dynamics, the continuation of Kiva’s journey and getting to know new characters in both the royals and Kiva’s family of rebels. This middle book focuses on Kiva’s torn loyalties which made for some really interesting storylines.

Star rating: 4 stars

We are re-united with Kiva after the big bombshells dropped at the end of The Prison Healer. She is really Kiva Correntine, has healing magic and has been given a way into the royal family that the rebels could only have dreamed of. But Kiva’s loyalties are torn between her family and the royals who have taken her under their wing. Jaren, the Prince and heir to the throne, trusts her with the biggest family secrets and Kiva has to decide what she will or won’t do with this acquired information. Re-united with her siblings, they have ten years of catching up to do and not everything is as it seems anymore.

I honestly expected this story to take a completely different turn after the reveals in book one! Kiva came off as such an unreliable narrator but it seems she was more reliable than I thought. I loved watching Tipp and she integrate with the royals who take them in without a second thought. Kiva and Jaren’s relationship intensifies, and the family are not concerned with it at all. Kiva’s magic also keeps rearing its head, tired of being shoved down in the deepest parts of her. But if she reveals her magic, the royals will imprison or either kill her, as she is their enemy. I liked the expansion of the magic, both in terms of the royal elemental powers and Kiva’s healing ones. I still think there is room for it to grow!

It was good to be introduced to Kiva’s siblings, who have changed since she last saw them ten years ago. Her brother is kind and a little disenchanted with being a rebel, where as her sister is a little harder around the edges having been put in charge after the death of their mother. Kiva also meets her grandmother, and eccentric old woman with plenty of secrets herself. I loved this character! She is the best Correntine. Getting to know the royal family more was also great, and I was particularly drawn to Queen Ariana who is battling a drug addiction. We know from Jaren that the drugs make her cruel but it was so heart-breaking to see all the sides to her.

The ending was reminiscent of The Prison Healer with more bombshells and reveals. Makes me excited to see what will happen! Overall this wasn’t a bad follow up to The Prison Healer. It has the same life or death moments that keep you on the edge of your seat, but it didn’t quite grip me in the same way. I am sure the ending will be completely explosive!

Book Review: The Poppy War

This is the third time I’ve read The Poppy War and it gets better and better every time. And more devastating. It is rare to find a book that manages to pull off such vivid military depiction alongside characters that make you feel all kinds of emotions. What starts as a young girl pulling herself out of a miserable life ends with explosive power and all kinds of questions around ethics and morality. War changes people, and we see it happen at its most horrifying through the eyes of Fang Runin.

Star rating: 5 stars

Fang Runin, known commonly as Rin, is about to be married to a man old enough to be her father when she desperately tries to get out by testing into the most prestigious military academy in the whole of Nikan. She works harder than most people could even imagine, brute forcing her way to a top score only to turn up at Sinegard academy and realise her journey is only just beginning. Rin is not safe yet. She has to navigate the judgement and hatred of the elite, the majority of whom resent her presence. Bullied by students and teachers alike, Rin pushes herself to success through sheer determination, but with war on the horizon, the pettiness at the academy is nothing compared to the horrors that are to come.

This is definitely still a book of two halves for me. The first focusses on Rin’s development and her time at the academy. Her competitiveness and sheer force of will get her through and eventually her unique perspective catches the eyes of the academy Masters, not least Master Jiang, an eccentric who never showed up to teach class. Through Jiang’s instruction, Rin not only becomes physically stronger but learns there is much more to the world around her than she could have imagined. She is the only student to understand this, and has nobody but Jiang to explore it with. Rin’s time at the academy explores class issues and colourism, with Rin often isolated from the other students. Her one friend, Kitay, is a light in her life but her friendship with him does everything to highlight their differences and inequalities.

The second half of the book brings in the real world military events into Rin’s life. Forced to become a soldier too soon, her classmates are now not rivals but a team, even Nezha, the leader of her previous tormentors. Allocated to their new roles, the Sinegard students are separated, and Rin’s character progression really begins to take off. It is an electric conclusion to a first book, with more horrors than I’ve ever read about before. It’s even more sickening when you realise so much of that horror is routed in history that happened for real. It is rare that I’ve been so invested in a protagonist’s journey and Rin’s is one that can only end in heartbreak.

Overall, The Poppy War is a book that will always stand out as one of the best I’ve read. It is not happy. It does not have a romantic ending. There is only devastation in its path. But you will come out of it having had so many questions and so many observations, and possibly many, many tears.

Have you read The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang? This time I’ve been reading it alongside my sister and her friend, but I skipped ahead because I couldn’t put it down.

Book Review: The Prison Healer

The Prison Healer is an addictive YA fantasy novel with a fast-paced, twisty plot and a lot of great characters. It has elemental magic, healing magic and a rebel movement at the centre. Though nothing mind-blowingly unique, the execution of everything that happens in this book is impressive, it’s definitely the first YA fantasy in a while to hold my attention from start to finish. That said, there are a fair few adult themes and moments in the book that felt like they didn’t belong in a book primarily aimed at teenagers due to their sheer brutality. I would recommend only for older teenagers.

Star rating: 5 stars

Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years in the prison built for the worst of criminals, Zalindov. Taken there with her father when she was just a young child, after his death she stepped into his shoes as The Prison Healer. When the Rebel Queen is captured and taken to the prison, Kiva is messaged by her family that she must keep the Rebel Queen alive no matter the cost – and to do that she takes the role as the Rebel Queen’s champion in The Four Trials, a test against the elements that nobody has ever lived through. Amongst the backdrop of a prison rebellion about to spill over, Kiva must navigate relationships with new inmates and maybe make friends for the first time in her prison life.

This book…I can’t even begin to describe it. So much happens it’s quite unbelievable that it fit in 400 pages. Kiva heals new mysterious inmates, she is trying to keep the Rebel Queen alive, she is working out how to survive the elemental trials, she is capturing the attention of royalty, she is trying to work out what is making lots of the inmates sick, she is practically raising a small child called Tipp who helps her in the infirmary. There is a lot going on in Kiva’s life, meaning there is never a dull moment in this book from start to finish.

There is a small cast of side characters that have strong roles to play in this book and I loved them all. Each of them was tantalisingly secretive, and we saw them only through Kiva’s eyes meaning the mystery of their origins was always there. This combined with the thrill of wondering how Kiva would get through The Trials really got me engaged with the plot. Some of the twists were actually wild, I can’t wait to re-read at some point and work out what I missed leading up to them.

Prison life in Zalindov is brutal and unpredictable. It was heart-warming to see Kiva begin to make connections with other people for the first time in ten years, though it was through necessity that this is the case. Tipp, the boy Kiva is protecting, is also really adorable and I loved how much she cared for him, even if it gave me lots of anxiety. I was also really curious about the origins of the Rebel Queen.

Overall, I loved The Prison Healer. I am still spiralling from all the reveals that happened in the last quarter. I have an ARC for The Gilded Cage and you bet I’m going to be picking that right up as soon as I post this review. What a first book – I’m so excited to see where Lynette Noni takes this series. There is so much room to expand the world and the magic and I am so here for it!

ARC Review: Why We Fly

Why We Fly is a cheerleading novel with some big issues at its centre. It follows the fallout after some high school cheerleaders take the knee at a football game through the eyes of a Black and a white protagonist, both cheerleaders on the same squad. I enjoyed all aspects of this book, from it’s realistic outcomes to its gritty, determined characters. If you are looking for a fast-paced YA novel that explores issues around racism and feminism then this will be a good book to pick up when it releases in October.

Star rating: 4 stars

Chanel ‘Nelly’ and Eleanor ‘Leni’ are two high school seniors with big ambitions. Both need cheerleading for their college applications – Nelly has big academic goals and Leni wants to make a good college cheerleading team. Both want their team to make it to a national cheerleading competition. Both Nelly and Leni have their battles – Leni is returning from a serious injury and concussion and Nelly is juggling all her academics and extra-curricular activities. When the cheerleading squad is inspired to take the knee at a football game, they have no idea how much it is going to change their lives and the way they are viewed.

I like how the authors chose to have protagonists of different race, just like they did in I’m Not Dying With You Tonight. I think this is such an excellent way of showing how people of different race are treated differently and how Black people are disadvantaged. Nelly is treated way more harshly for the team’s decision to protest than any of the white girls on her team. She’s also looked over for captaincy despite being technically the most capable and having the right leadership skills for the role. Leni has to go through her own process – she isn’t particularly aware of her privilege and I wish there’d been a few more pages taking her on more of a journey towards understanding how the team’s actions affected Nelly way more than the rest of them.

One of the things I loved about this book is the realistic way things worked out. From high school romance to the girls discovering the difference between a moment and a movement when it comes to activism, I think the book really hit a high note on what it’s like to be a teenager. The side characters were also intriguing, with the book showing a variety of parenting styles, and a range of friendships and relationships. I liked that romance wasn’t at the centre though there are elements of it throughout. I also thought it was good that it showed the difference between the respect the girls receive and the boys on the football team who are revered.

Overall Why We Fly is a great novel that has a number of important messages. It managed to integrate these messages with a fun story about cheerleaders with big ambitions, breaking high school stereotypes. I can highly recommend this book!

On Repeat: Recommendations based on my current song obsessions

Hi everyone! My friend Janel had this cool idea where they chose book recommendations based on songs from their Spotify On Repeat playlist, so I thought I’d join in and do the same thing. So I’m going to pick 5 songs from my On Repeat playlist (Janel didn’t use repeats, and I’ll try to do the same where possible but honestly I usually get obsessed with an artist and listen to them and only them for months at a time). Shall we get started?

Mood Ring by Lorde

This song is a satire jam that I’m obsessed with right now. In fact I’m obsessed with the whole of the Solar Power album but there we go. It is difficult to choose a book that I enjoyed that fits with this one to be honest, but I think thematically the best one would be Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, which I didn’t love but plays on the whole wellness vibe.

You’re Not Special, Babe by Orla Gartland

This song is just really comforting. It sounds like it’s going to be dis track but honestly it’s more about how everyone goes through ups and downs in life and it’s just a good reminder that some things don’t last forever. For this song I’m going to recommend The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue because Henry’s story is so comforting to me and made me feel less alone, just like the song.

Shade of Yellow by Griff

I guess this song is about having someone who it feels safe to be with when maybe your own home isn’t anymore. I’m sorry I always recommend the same books but I’m going to go with Act Your Age, Eve Brown again because this book feels safe for me. I also feel like although Eve’s home is a safe place she needed to leave to discover more about herself and be outside the shadow of her sisters.

Ill Call You Mine by girl in red

For this one I’m going to go with Honey Girl. This song reminds me of this sapphic book a lot? I don’t really know why to be honest, it’s just vibes. I think it’s because both characters want to be seen and loved, but commitment is a big step for Grace, the protagonist.

Solar Power by Lorde

Here we go, my first repeat artist. I think for Solar Power I’m going to go with The One’s We’re Meant to Find, because this book has big climate change and different energy sources vibes. I mean Solar Power is a happy song really, but this book is not so, but for some reason I associate the two. So here you go!

There we go, here’s my first lot of On Repeat recommendations, hope you like them. What music are you listening to lately? Let me know in the comments. (And check out Orla Gartland’s album, Woman on the Internet. She released it independently and I love every song.)

Don’t forget to also check out Janel’s blog!

Six for Sunday (Books you could / will re-read)

Hi everyone! This week I’m participating in Six for Sunday, a meme hosted by Steph at A Little But a Lot. This month, the focus is 2021 books, and this week’s topic is: Books you could / will re-read. Looking forward to putting some of my faves from this year out there!

1) She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan. This book is definitely one of my favourite books from 2021, I was so glued to it. I will definitely be re-reading sometime soon, and definitely before book 2 comes out!

2) The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. Everyone who reads this blog knows I am obsessed with Becky Chambers and honestly I can’t wait to read this final book in the Wayfarers series because it’s so wholesome.

3) Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert. OK so this is probably my favourite romance of all time. I already re-read the first books in the trilogy this year, so I’m definitely going to read Eve Brown again as it’s my favourite of the lot!

4) The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. Absolutely heartbreaking and brilliant from start to finish. This might be my favourite re-telling ever. Just so good.

5) Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. Ah this one is similarly heart-breaking to The Witch’s Heart. I knew nothing about this Greek myth before reading this book so it’ll be interesting to see what I think the second time around.

6) Finally, I think I’ll go with Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Taylor is one of my favourite writers and I devour every book she releases. I’ve re-read a few of the others already so I’m for sure going to be re-reading this!

It was actually so hard to choose only 6 books from 2021 that I’ll be re-reading. There are so many good ones, I didn’t even mention The Unbroken by C.L. Clark, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne, A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J Maas…there are loads more too.

What do you think? Which 2021 books are you excited to read again?

Book Review: Children of Fallen Gods

I was wary of Children of Fallen Gods after absolutely loving Daughter of No Worlds – partly because I was hoping the enjoyment would still be there after the master/apprentice story was no longer that dynamic between Tisaanah and Max. But I shouldn’t have been worried because this sequel was every bit as gripping, brought in some new elements and gave characters some more back story. I can’t wait for the final book, which should be out later this year thankfully!

Star rating: 5 stars

This book picks up right where we left off at the end of Daughter of No Worlds. On their way back from Threll, Max and Tisaanah discover that they have been betrayed by the Arch Covenant and find he has taken the role of King of Ara. Now they must fight his war as Tisaanah agreed in her blood pact. Still occupied by the strange magical weapon that is Reshaye, Tisaanah must navigate the balance between using its power and not letting it take over completely, and Max must investigate the new power he has discovered with himself, and manage a new leadership position he unwillingly took on.

So much happens in this book – I mean it is 666 pages long and really fast paced. We are introduced to a new protagonist, Aefe, a disgraced daughter of Fey King with the ability to take magic from others. Humans attack their world and the Fey groups must unite to try and figure out what happens, so the King sends Aefe as his representative where she must manage the conflicting desires of herself and her father. I loved that this point of view gave us insight into the Fey that had only briefly been mentioned before. Aefe is a huge part of the story and I was genuinely surprised where her arc took her.

I enjoyed Tisaanah and Max just as much as in the first book. There journey together happens to be even more emotional than in the first book which is actually incredible. I love that they still have their inside jokes. It was hard to read about them being apart at first but I enjoyed their true to character letters to each other, and that they re-united reasonably quickly. It gave Max a few bonding moments with Moth, the young apprentice who joined the military whilst his master was away.

We also get a lot more of Nura’s background in this book, which didn’t really make me warm to her any more but it did make me appreciate where she was coming from. I honestly think Nura is such a great character because I can’t work out where her story is going to go! I hope she gets a strong arc in the final book.

Overall, this was a great middle book. There is an enormous amount to wrap up in the final book so I’m very excited to get my hands on it. Carissa Broadbent has set up what could be a stunning finale with all of these characters, all I hope for is lots of romance, lots of action and some cool magic!

Book Review: Daughter of No Worlds

Kindle unlimited really brought the goods with this book. I think it might be my new bookish obsession. I adore the master / apprentice trope generally (when done well) and this one played into it so good I can’t even begin to describe how much I loved every moment. With it’s addictive writing, somewhat wholesome romance and most amazing, stubborn protagonists, Daughter of No Worlds exceeded all expectations I had for it and then some. I immediately downloaded the next book.

Star rating: 5 stars

Tisaanah was made a slave when she was a small child, becoming the favourite of a man who abuses her. She dances and creates illusions with her magic for money, and on the day she finally raises enough money to buy her way out, she barely escapes with her life. Her destination is The Orders, a place where she can take on an apprenticeship to join their ranks. One of their members has fed her hope and stories for a number of years and she can’t wait to enact revenge on those who have wronged her and other slaves. When she arrives in Aran, she heads straight to the Order of Midnight in hope that she can join their ranks, but apprenticeships were allocate six months ago and she has nowhere to go. Allocated to Max, a reclusive man who has removed himself from the Orders, Tisaanah must use all her brute force to get him to teach her ready for the evaluation she must pass to progress.

What can I even say about this book? It is ridiculously addictive, I flew through all 500+ pages in no time at all. Tisaanah is captivating – I was enamoured with her desire to brute force her way through everything with sheer determination. It’s a phrase I use to describe my approach to maths problems so it was welcome! This woman has had so many traumatic experiences and she still hopes to do good in the world. Tisaanah is a character you can’t help but root for and be drawn to.

Max, who gets his own point of view in the second half of the book, is also a really fascinating character. He also has a traumatic past that he can see repeating itself when the Orders acknowledge Tisaanah’s strength. Honestly I couldn’t love and want to protect this character more, once he gives Tisaanah the training she deserves the two are an unstoppable combination of characters that honestly gave me so much joy in the mist of all the horrors they experience. The romance is slow burn but it is fantastic, I was hanging on to every slightly romantic moment with everything I had.

I was also really enraptured by the plot, so much happens and the book never falls flat at any moment. From Tisaanah’s training montage to putting her new skills to use, I enjoyed the simplicity of her transformation. There’s also some interesting politics going down in the Orders which I’m looking forward to exploring more in the second book. Honestly, there are a whole cast of side characters that I’m excited to learn where they end up!

Overall, this is an excellent fantasy romance that makes for an enjoyable read even though it touches on some really dark experiences of the characters. I think I’m going to read the second book immediately afterwards because I am that ensnared in this story.

Have you read Daughter of No Worlds? If you like fantasy romance and don’t want something too complicated then I recommend you pick this one up.