ARC Review: A Pho Love Story

I haven’t really known what to expect from YA romance novels lately – they’ve been a bit disappointing. But A Pho Love Story by Loan Le gave me all the feels, honestly I felt like I had tears in my eyes for the last quarter of the book. If you want a book where you’ll care for all the characters, that has a deep, emotional plot, and will make you very, very hungry, then this is the story for you.

Star rating: 5 stars

The book has two points of view – the teenage kids of rival Vietnamese restaurant owners with businesses across the street from each other. Bao moves through life with no aims, assuming that he is destined for mediocrity. Linh has goals – she wants to be a painter, but her parents, Vietnamese immigrants, do not want her to have a hard life like they did and so disapprove.

Both characters had such strong stories and journeys that I couldn’t help but read this book in one sitting. Their parents both have different attitudes towards their kids, Bao’s just want him to have something, but Linh’s want her to have a secure career and life. One thing their parents do agree on is that they should avoid each other – and they often try to outcompete each other as restaurant owners. But is there more to these families than just being business rivals?

What captured me the most about this story was the family dynamics. Both Bao and Linh learn so much about their parents’ histories and it helps a reader see the disagreements from all perspectives. When Linh and Bao decide to put rivalry aside and get to know each other, as they tried to as young children, it really makes for a heart-warming story of growth, forgiveness, love and friendship.

With divine food descriptions (I really want to try Vietnamese food now), and a story I felt with every word, A Pho Love Story is not one to miss. It’s so much more than a love story, it’s the story of escaping war and wanting what is best for your kids, of realising they might not always be who you expected them to be and accepting it.

Will you be picking up A Pho Love Story? I truly believe this is a great book choice for teens and adults alike.

ARC Review: Malibu Rising

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s ability to create such rich, character driven stories made Malibu Rising one of my most anticipated reads of 2021. I’ve loved every book she’s ever written so I wasn’t even a bit nervous going into this. Again, she has created an emotional story with characters that just evoke all sorts of feelings in a reader – they all have detailed back stories and a million dimensions to them. Not to mention that Taylor manages this in a story that takes place over 24 hours (albeit with flashbacks included).

Star rating: 5 stars

If you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, you’ll be familiar with Mick Riva, the overnight husband. This is not his story, but rather the story of the wife and four kids he abandoned multiple times.

Nina is the oldest, the responsible one, the one who does anything for her family including becoming a swimsuit model which isn’t exactly her thing. Jay is next, a talented up and coming surfer, followed around the world with his brother, Hud, an amazing photographer. Finally, there’s Kit, the youngest, always being looked after, never treated like a grown up even though she’s 20 now. Together, they are the Rivas, having made their own way despite their deadbeat superstar father who left them alone.

I was definitely drawn to the female characters in this story the most. Nina’s sense of responsibility was heart-breaking, Kit was so confused about who she wanted to be in life. We also get flashbacks about their mother, June, Mick’s first wife. Basically, Mick Riva can choke for what he did to his family, he evoked a lot of hatred from me!

Between the flashbacks and the activities of the present day, there is so much going on but it is also easy to follow. I cried at the end of this story of complex family dynamics. The tension builds all the way through to the stunning conclusion. There are also random insights into side characters’ lives that were a little odd – I’m still not sure how I feel about them but it didn’t take away from my love for this story.

Overall, another 10/10 for Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’m not sure it’s my favourite novel of hers, but it’s 5 stars all the same.

Have you read any Taylor Jenkins Reid? She is probably my favourite author.

ARC Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Talia gave us Chloe Brown’s book, then Dani’s. Now it’s youngest Brown sister Eve’s turn, and I was excited to get stuck in to the final book in one of my favourite romance series. This book is grumpy and sunshine at his best, Eve is probably the sister that I relate to the most, and it has neurodiversity representation.

Star rating: 5 stars

Eve can’t seem to stick with one career. She doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. Her latest attempt at wedding planning was fun but an incident with some doves leads to a bad review, putting an end to that one. Her parents are very frustrated and give her an ultimatum. Eve, furious, leaves the house and finds her way to a B&B – which happens to be looking for a new chef. Is it meant to be?

Jacob put his heart and soul into his B&B, but when his chef wins the lottery and leaves him stranded before a big event, he starts looking for a new one. Then Eve Brown walks into his life with her sunshine attitude. He thinks she’ll be an absolute disaster, but when an accident leaves him indisposed, he has little choice in the matter but to hire her…

Honestly, I loved the characters in this book so much – Eve in particular. I related to her struggles in passing her driving test, having to listen to music to concentrate, fear of failure and difficulty making friends. She also cares a lot about people and has a really strong empathetic nature. Jacob is also the perfect grumpy in the pairing – I loved his passion for the B&B, how he did so much to make his guests comfortable (even offering weighted blankets which was a nice touch). He’s also really comfortable with his autism diagnosis.

The romance is probably my favourite of the series! I love how considerate the characters are towards each other. Both characters get a point of view and I enjoyed both. The plot is also good – not too much drama which is always appreciated. It was good to have Chloe and Dani cameos too, I miss those two and now I want to re-read.

Overall, a perfect final book in this trilogy and probably my favourite overall. I was so happy that it also had autistic representation, especially in women. I wish their was a fourth Brown sister because I’m really not ready for this to be over!

Have you read any of the Brown sister books? I love them all, if you like adult romance you should definitely check them out.

ARC Review: Winter’s Orbit

This was a science-fiction romance novel that I didn’t know I needed. Everina Maxwell has created an excellent book with a rich military and political influence – I very much enjoyed the small details included. The romance is cute, the plot is fast-paced and intriguing and the characters are just out of this world.

Star rating: 5 stars

Kiem is the prince with a reputation for partying in causing trouble. He’s all over the news for his outrageous antics, but he uses his people and diplomacy skills to get himself out of trouble. One day, the Emperor, his grandmother, arranges a marriage for him to a representative from the planet Thea, in order to save a treaty. Jainan is the exact opposite of Kiem – he’s academic, socially awkward and quiet. He lost his previous husband and has to marry Kiem to save the treaty that keeps Thea part of the Iskat Empire. Will it be the case of opposites attract?

I really loved the way this book handled sexuality – each culture had their own way of expressing gender which was super cool. It was up to the people to choose what they expressed and nobody challenged it. The romance is also adorable – these two guys are absolute disasters but both of them are so cute in their own way.

The plot is very fast-paced and includes plenty of opportunities for Kiem and Jainan to showcase their unique skills. I loved how the characters supported each other’s differences. The side characters are also great – I particularly enjoyed Bel, who is Kiem’s personal aide. She was very no nonsense and definitely kept Kiem in check!

Overall this is a really heartwarming story, though it does contain some darker elements such as domestic abuse. I really liked the integration of military with politics, it made for a realistic alternative universe. Really happy I got approved for this arc, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this good!

ARC Review: Liberté

I was super excited for the sequel to Enchantée by Gita Trelease and I felt like this follow up was as strong as the first book. The book has a more feminist focus than the debut, re-uniting us with Camille, Sophie and Lazare whilst also introducing new characters in The Lost Girls. In a world where France has ordered all magicians to be killed, Camille must do what she can to survive.

Star rating: 4 stars

After the events of book one, Camille and Sophie are living in Seguin’s mansion, no longer struggling to find food and pay rent. Sophie is still making hats that are in demand across the aristocrats, and Camille finally has her printing press. One day, Camille saves a flower seller, Giselle, from a man who wishes to hurt her. After this, she is introduced to The Lost Girls.

I really enjoyed the introduction of The Lost Girls and the stories that Camille prints about them. Their story made for a good plotline in addition to the magician hunting too. I wish The Lost Girls had a larger role to play in the story!

Gita writes so beautifully – I loved the continuation of the romance between Camille and Lazare. The other side characters also return such as Chandan and Blaise. There are some really heartbreaking moments in the story, amplified by Camille’s strong emotions.

Overall, this was a solid finale to this duology (at least I think it’s a duology, it wrapped up very neatly). I enjoyed the ending a lot, and can’t wait to see what else Gita writes in the future.

ARC Review: Winterkeep

When I found out Kristin Cashore was releasing another book in the world of the Graceling series I was ecstatic – it was one of my favourite series as a teen, with Fire still being on my all time faves list. So, what did I think of Winterkeep? Well, I read all 500 pages in one sitting, that’s what.

Star rating: 5 stars

Winterkeep expands the universe the series is set in, through new lands to explore and a mix of new and old characters. We are re-united with Queen Bitterblue (5 years after Bitterblue the book ended) and Giddon, and introduced to Lovisa, a teen from Winterkeep.

After two of her men go missing, Bitterblue and Giddon head to Winterkeep for the first time – a nation that has advanced technology beyond their wildest dreams. What happened to her men? What can she learn? Will she see her ex-lover Katu over there since he hasn’t been in touch?

Lovisa is a new character – she’s studying politics at Winterkeep’s school being the daughter of two prominent politicians, uniquely from opposing political parties. I enjoyed Lovisa’s character, but I won’t say too much because of spoilers.

My absolute favourite part of this book was its love of animals and the environment. There are telepathic foxes (one even gets a point of view), seal like creatures called silbercows that can communicate through images, cats, poodles and farm animals. I loved it, it was so comforting and made me happy cry in places.

So while I may have not had the same attachment to the characters as I did in Graceling and Fire before this, I loved the world-building so much. Overall, this is such a great follow up in one of my favourite series (thank you Kristin!)

ARC Review: When Life Gives You Mangoes

Middle grade isn’t normally my thing but When Life Gives You Mangoes is a heartwarming, authentic story about friendship, family, loss and grief. UK people better mark 1st October 2020 in their calendars because this special book deserves to be pre-ordered right now. Also, doesn’t it have the cutest cover? (P.S I think it releases in the U.S on September 15th…go,go,go!

Star rating: 4 stars

Clara is 12. She used to love the sea and surfing, but now she can’t even step in the water. She can’t remember last summer at all, and is acting out of character. This summer, Clara wants to have the best time with her friend Gaynah, and maybe get to know the new girl Rudy. Clara goes on such a journey in this book, having to come to terms with her trauma. What she goes through at 12 is so tough, and I love that her parents stand by her when some of the other people in the village are critical of her behaviour. I also really like Rudy’s character – she was such a fun, unique girl with great style, and I think she was such a good friend for Clara.

I loved Sycamore, the imagery Kereen Getten gave me from her writing was spectacular, with mango trees and Clara’s Uncle’s home being standouts.

The ending is super sweet and it definitely made me tear up a bit. Sometimes that happy sadness feeling is a great feeling, you know? Anyway, I’m really glad I gave this a go because it was nice to be transported back to the life of a 12 year old, and it really gave me a feel for Sycamore. Thanks Pushkin Press for the eARC.

Will you be reading When Life Gives You Mangoes? I highly recommend it for all ages as it’s a complex story with a wonderful central character that you can’t help but want to protect.

ARC Review: Poisoned

We love feminist fairy-tale re-tellings on this blog. In this stunning version of Snow White, Jennifer Donnelly treats us to a book about the strength of kindness. Sometimes the villains in stories are not what they seem – this story is the kind that brings out a reader’s empathy. Love, friendship and the power of being softhearted are all strong themes – if you’re looking for a feminist spin on a famous fairy-tale then Poisoned is the book for you.

Star rating: 5 stars

Sophie’s soft heart is not enough for her cruel step-mother Queen Adelaide. She must find a strong husband to help her rule when the time comes. Queen Adelaide is harsh and vapid, but there’s more to her story than meets the eye. In this book there is a different adversary, and Queen Adelaide has made a terrible deal.

Sophie’s the kind of girl that rescues puppies and saves wolves. When she is hunted down by the Queen’s huntsman, her heart is stolen. She is saved by 7 brothers who have a sad history of their own. From then on, she goes on a journey – both literally and figuratively. For the first time in her life, she has real friends, but will she ever love herself enough to be strong enough to win back her heart?

I loved Sophie’s personality – and this book’s spin on the 7 dwarfs. The romance was also really touching and slow burn, just how I like it. It is fast paced with plenty of action mixed in with great character development. Adelaide’s story was one all too familiar of fairy-tale villains and I really enjoyed this version of an even step-mother.

Overall, this book is worth every star in it’s 5 star rating and I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Donnelly does next.

Have you read any of Jennifer Donnelly’s books? Stepsister its a really great story too. Let me know if you’re going to get this one when it comes out in October!

ARC Review: Legendborn

This book gave me so many nostalgic feelings of 2008/9. It takes a familiar premise and elevates to another level – it is unique in it’s representation of fantasy in YA. The magic system is interesting, but it also explores Black history in a way I wasn’t expecting. It is honest, full of characters that quench curiosity and Tracy Deonn absolutely knows how to tell a story. Legendborn is not one to miss, and I see it being an awesome TV series in the future if handled correctly.

Star rating: 5 stars

Bree Matthews loses her mother at only 16 years of age. Right before she dies, they fought over Bree’s acceptance to an Early College program in Carolina. Still grieving, Bree moves into dorms with her best friend Alice, and they begin their life of independence. While Alice settles into her academics, Bree is drawn into a secret magical society that is somehow connected to her mother. Built on legacy, she is an outsider who knows too much to ignore.

The magic system is routed in the legend of King Arthur, with family lines driving the future of the society. Nick and Selwyn are Bree’s main companions throughout the book. Nick is set to be the next leader but he doesn’t want to be. Selwyn is a Kingsmage (a Merlin) set to serve Nick. I don’t want to detail the structure of the society too much because of spoilers, but it makes for a great competition and interesting politics.

What elevates this book is its discussions of African American history and slavery, particularly the way it handles the magic system. I loved the flashbacks, the family dynamics. Bree’s personality also works so well with her story, I honestly couldn’t find out what happens fast enough.

Fast paced with a great balance between action and detail, Legendborn is absolutely a book to look out for in the future. I can’t wait for the sequel, and can’t wait to add the final copy of this book to my shelves. Do you think you will read Legendborn? I have a feeling you won’t be disappointed. Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s UK for the early copy.

ARC Review: Queen of Volts

This review contains Spoilers for Ace of Shades and King of Fools.

Oh wow, where to begin? We left King of Fools with the world knowing Enne’s identity as the last living Mizer, creators of volts that everybody fears. She destroyed her relationship with Levi after killing his best friend Jac under influence from the Omerta cast upon her by Vianca. But now, Levi and Enne are free of Vianca’s influence once and for all, but the other, Bryce Balfour, is their new problem. And there’s a new game to play, and not everyone can be a winner. This is a fantastic, twisty end to The Shadow Game trilogy, with more characters and more points of view than before.

Star rating: 5 stars

This is a book with many points of view – Enne, Levi, Sophia, Lola and Harvey all get their own time with the reader now. The gang are more divided than ever thanks to previous events, but they’ll have to work together to overcome the new threats. A new game of cards has pitted them against each other, and it makes for a wonderfully written plot where the reader is never quite sure what these morally grey characters are going to do.

Enne is a great character – but she’s no longer the innocent, sheltered kid from Bellamy. Killing Jac has scarred her, and she’s jumpy and quick to fight. Levi is mourning the death of his best friend but he still has the Irons to handle. Both of them need to decide what to do with the Scarhands and the Doves, both leaderless and either an asset or a threat. Sophia’s parentage is still a big mystery – as is her split talent that she gave to The Bargainer. She is also mourning Jac, and has found herself bound to Vianca’s son, Harrison, through Omerta. Lola is Enne’s second but her friend does something she can’t forgive. Leaving the Spirits, she is now with The Bargainer, who has taken something she didn’t know she was giving up. Finally, Harvey is a confusing character. In love with Bryce, he gave up his freedom to Harrison to save him. The story of where his loyalties lie and the character growth was immense.

I love the diversity in this book – a world where same sex relationships are not treated any differently. There are some really cute romances, which brought some light to a very dark plot. Amanda did a great job and drawing the loose ends to closures, with the book solving mystery after mystery from Enne and Sophia’s parentage to the loyalties of the characters.

Honestly, I really love the concept of this series – especially the family talents, the card games (this final book definitely has the best, most complex game out there). There are many characters to keep track of, but this isn’t made particularly difficult. I’m amazed Amanda managed to fit all of their stories in so few pages (which is probably why it reads so fast).

Are you looking forward to Queen of Volts? It’s published on 1st September 2020 so not long to wait! Thanks to NetGalley and HQ for the eARC.