Review: Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash & Bramble
A prince.

A ball.

A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.

The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.

But it is not the true Story.

A dark fortress.

A past forgotten.

A life of servitude.

No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

Oh my gosh, I can't stop thinking about this book. Not because it was lawless and the best book I've ever read - that's not true - but because it takes fairytale retellings and turns them on their head in a way reminiscent of Cinder, just without the sci-fi. In Ash & Bramble, the fairytale is the dark force our protagonist is running from - the story that has been decided for her, and that makes for a fantastic read.

I nearly gave up on Ash & Bramble near the beginning. The start was brilliant and had me hooked, but the run away sequence and Pin waking up as Penelope slowed the pace down and I nearly gave up at that point. I pushed through though, because I so desperately wanted to love this book and thankfully Prineas didn't let me down. The pace doesn't pick up massively until later in the book, but the storyline itself built up so I was interested again, then I was hooked again, then I had to go to sleep because I was at work at 6am and couldn't stop thinking about this book until I got home. It was brilliant - it just crept up on me.

Now I'm not saying that the book was perfect, flawless  or any of those things. It was lacking in some areas and there were some things which I didn't find necessary. The love triangle? I get why it was there, but it seemed not needed. I knew what the only outcome could be. Also things that annoyed me throughout the book, like why didn't Pen just restore her own memories instead of being ton between Cor and Shoe, that would have resolved the situation pretty quickly. I also feel like the end felt a little rushed which I didn't appreciate after all the time waiting for action to happen.

That being said, Ash & Bramble was still a brilliant book, and I am so torn because I don't know what to rate it. I'm going middle of the range. This was an engaging, interesting, gripping read which had it's flaws but still stands out to me as a book in the YA-fantasy-fairytale subgenre. If you like books that turn a genre on it's head, read this. It's great.

Overall Rating: B+

Book released 15th September 2015 by HarperTeen
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: Gilded by Christina Farley

Gilded (Gilded, #1)
Sixteen-year-old Jae Hwa Lee is a Korean-American girl with a black belt, a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows, and a chip on her shoulder the size of Korea itself. When her widowed dad uproots her to Seoul from her home in L.A., Jae thinks her biggest challenges will be fitting in to a new school and dealing with her dismissive Korean grandfather. Then she discovers that a Korean demi-god, Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she's next.

But that’s not Jae’s only problem.

There's also Marc. Irresistible and charming, Marc threatens to break the barriers around Jae's heart. As the two grow closer, Jae must decide if she can trust him. But Marc has a secret of his own—one that could help Jae overturn the curse on her family for good. It turns out that Jae's been wrong about a lot of things: her grandfather is her greatest ally, even the tough girl can fall in love, and Korea might just be the home she's always been looking for.

I am what may be called a koreaboo - one of those annoying white westerners with an unhealthy obsession with Korean culture. It starts with K-pop, but doesn't end there because I now love korean mythology and history and all of that. Therefore, it seemed only right that I snatch up the chance to review Gilded. It's weird, because as a reader I really enjoyed this book. As a reviewer, I found some flaws in it that I can't quite get over.

Let me talk about the good first: I loved the plot of this book, and the action never stops. Despite a few flaws with Jae Hwa (and the way she treated people at times), she actually got off her feet and did stuff and I did as a whole like her character. I think the interpretation of Korean myths was well done and Farley had clearly done some research because the execution was well done and well explained. I enjoyed the book as a reader, but when you start to look deeper there are some problems.

Farley is a good author; the writing flowed and the dialogue felt natural for the most part. However there are some similes and phrases that she uses that make me think she was trying to always remind us that Jae Hwa is korean. The constant references to kimchi - at points Jae Hwa compares herself to Kimchi - and the fact that Jae Hwa is a black belt at Tae Kwon Do are just a few of these things, but they are always there. That being said, there is a lack of Korean people in the book. The love interest is called Mark, her best friend is another American-born Korean called Michelle... where is the culture immersion!? Not to mention the fact that Jae mentions missing her friends back in the US... does she once call them or skype them or email them? No.

I guess overall, Gilded was a good, fast paced read on the surface, so controversially it's getting a higher rating then I should give it, but if you're picking it up solely for the setting and the culture, I'd say give it a miss. Gilded is not much more than a pretty average YA fantasy read.

Overall Rating: C+

Book released 1st March 2014 by Skyscape
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: Emmy and Oliver by Robyn Benway

Emmy & Oliver
Emmy’s best friend, Oliver, reappears after being kidnapped by his father ten years ago. Emmy hopes to pick up their relationship right where it left off. Are they destined to be together? Or has fate irreparably driven them apart?

Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life.

She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared.

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart.

He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

Look. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway was indisputably one of the best book of my mid-teen years. It was entertaining and sarcastic and meaningful in all the right ways. If there was anyone in the world who thought that I was not going to be devouring Emmy & Oliver like a rabid fangirl zombie then they are sadly wrong. Robin Benway has the x-factor and the rest of us are just slaves to her awesomeness.

This book had all of the things that made Audrey, Wait! so darned fantastic and some added bits. It has the boy-next-door romance, some typical best friend drama mixed in with the fact that the main character and her love interest have a very interesting back story. I just loved the way that this story is set up where Oliver has been kidnapped, everyone is worrying about his well-being, it's been like a decade but he is still a big name in the small town. Then he comes back, but he isn't traumatised or anything, he had a good upbringing and everyone is telling him he should be angry but he never knew anything was wrong! It makes for some difficult familial relationships. I love how Benway added the dynamic that Oliver wasn't mentally scarred or anything  yeah he's troubled, but he isn't an abused mess.

Emmy was a perfect character. She was so caring, a great friend and genuinely a good person without coming across as too good. Her friends - Caro and Drew, have their own plotlines that fit well into the book and make them more relatable as well. There was just a very unique cast of characters that worked together and develop through the book and this felt just as much about that as it did about the developing romance.

Overall, I'm not saying that Emmy & Oliver was without it's flaws and it doesn't stand out as much as Audrey Wait! did, but Benway's signature sarcastic, entertaining voice was there and the characters were brilliant. I would recommend this book to fans or Sarah Dessen or Jennifer E. Smith, or anyone looking for a contemp read with that little bit extra.

Overall Rating: B+

Book released 23rd June by Harper Teen 
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

Daughters unto Devils
Sometimes I believe the baby will never stop crying. Sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner fears she is losing her mind. When her family move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, Amanda hopes she can leave her haunting memories behind: of her sickly Ma giving birth to a terribly afflicted baby; of the cabin fever that claimed Amanda's sanity; of the boy who she has been meeting in secret...But the Verners arrive on the prairie to find their new home soaked in blood. So much blood. And Amanda has heard stories - about men becoming unhinged and killing their families, about the land being tainted by wickedness. With guilty secrets weighing down on her, Amanda can't be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or within her soul ...

I am a complete and utter wimp. I hate anything vaguely scary, yet I still subject myself to scary books - I have absolutely no idea why though. Daughters Unto Devils was actually an extremely good read, it was also rather terrifying.

Let me set a scene: Me, 22 years old, reading this book. I started it when it was light out, but days in England are getting short again, by the time I finished it the sky was dark. I'm home alone and feel strangely exposed and vulnerable, I look at the clock - 9pm, but it's a Saturday night, my boyfriend works in hospitality! He won't be home for like four hours. I want a bath, but I'm scared of leaving my bedroom. I need to pee, but I'm terrified. All because I read a freaking horror book! Thanks a lot Amy Lukavics, not like I wanted to sleep this year anyway... 

Yes, this book was scary. I digress though, because Daughters Unto Devils was a well written read. It's historical, and sort of had the feel of a suspense horror by Stephen King or the Paranormal Activity movies - you know something terrifying is going to happen, but it builds up until it reaches it's peak in the absolutely terrifying final part of the book. Horrifying, I tell you! I have to give it to this author - she really knows how to build the atmosphere. This was a tense read!

I also really like that historical aspect that I mentioned before I went off on one - the setting at the start of the book read a little like an old Virginia Andrews book (I love those books), back before everything went a little of hilter - I also liked the things that Lukavics threw in - Amanda's pregnancy and the alienation from her sister. It was brilliant.

If there is one - one - problem that I had with book (aside from the fact that I am now living without sleep), it's that Lukavics mentions Amanda's history and how she went a little but insane the previous winter but doesn't elaborate much. I think it would have really helped to set a scene if there was more of that, but maybe that is just me.

Overall though, I think we can say that Daughters Unto Devils is one of the best horror books I have ever read. It had the atmosphere, the suspense, the isolation and the terrifying climax that really worked together, and I would read anything from this author again - though maybe making sure I stock up on sleep before I do so!

Overall Rating: A+

Book released 1st October by Simon and Schuster UK
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn

The Shadow Behind the Stars

Chloe is the youngest. Hers are the fingers that choose the wool, that shape the thread, that begin it. The sun smiles upon her. Men love her without knowing who she is. She has lived forever and will live forever more. She and her sisters have been on their isolated Greek island for centuries, longer than any mortal can remember. They spin, measure, and slice the countless golden threads of human life. They are the three Fates, and they have stayed separate for good reason: it is dangerous for them to become involved with the humans whose lives they shape.

So when a beautiful girl named Aglaia shows up on their doorstep, Chloe tries to make sure her sisters don’t become attached. But in seeking to protect them, Chloe discovers the dark power of Aglaia’s destiny. As her path unwinds, the three Fates find themselves pulled inextricably along—toward mortal pain, and mortal love, and a fate that could unravel the world.

The Shadow Behind the Stars was one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It was written in a way that mythology books need to be - lyrical, gorgeous and enthralling. The storyline itself was also all of those things, and I am a sucker for books that dare to be different - this was one of them.

The book follows Chloe, one of the three fates and her sisters in their journey to save the world in a way... it isn't their story though, it's Aglaia's - our narrator is actually just an observer. I really dn't know how to describe it, but it worked. The reason it works so well is because we come to care for Aglaia as Chloe does, so this makes everything feel more authentic. 

The book is simple and does feel slow paced, but it feels like it worked. There are some moments when the pace picks up and I will admit that for a lot of the last 20% of the book, I didn't always know what was going on. That being said, Chloe doesn't, so it also sort of works.

I think there are some readers that will struggle with the tone and pacing of The Shadow Behind the Stars and that's understandable - if you want things to happen this isn't the book for you. if you're looking for lyrical prose and something that feels like something special, give this book a go. I don't think it's for everyone, but it definitely worked for me.

Overall Rating: A

Book released September 1st by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: Stranded by Melinda Braun

Stranded

Plagued with guilt after surviving the car accident that took her sister’s life, Emma ventures into the rugged and mysterious wilderness of the Boundary Waters in search of some much needed peace. But when a freak windstorm kills her guide, Emma and a handful of other campers are forced to fend for themselves. Lost, hungry, and exhausted, the small group must rely on their survival instincts as they travel through the forest towards Lake Superior.

But the Boundary Waters is vast and unpredictable, and as the days drag on, it becomes clear that the group is no match for what Mother Nature has in store—and time is running out.

As they continue to battle the elements, Emma realizes that nature isn’t her only threat: there’s one camper who will do whatever it takes to make it out of the Boundary Waters alive. Even if he’s the only one…

Stranded was a clear DNF. I made the decision about 30% into the book when I realised that no matter how much I pushed it through it just wasn't getting any better.

For that reason, this is going to be a pretty short review.

I felt like this book was just event-event-event and there was absolutely no time for me to actually care about what was going on. I found the whole thing implausible and it was meant to be this really atmospheric, heart-pounding read and instead it felt stagnant, emotionless and unbearably boring. I can't even think of any of the character's names, even after reading a third of it and even the writing and narration was stodgy...

Overall Rating: DNF

Book released August 25th by Simon Pulse
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: City of Fae by Pippa DaCosta

City of Fae



From the moment Alina touches London's hottest fae superstar, breaking one of the laws founded to protect all of her kind, her fate – and the fae – close in.

Below ground, the fae High Queen plots to claim the city as her own and places her pawns, ready for the battle to come. A battle she cannot lose, but for one small problem – Alina. There are four ancient keepers powerful enough to keep the queen in her prison. Three are dead. One remains … And to fight back, Alina risks sacrificing everything she has come to love.

I've never really been into the whole New Adult thing, but the idea of City of Fae was just too good for me to deny. I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would, it was actually a really absorbing storyline even if the pace was slow at times and some of the story was difficult to keep up with - especially after the big reveal when things got a little confusing and convoluted. Despite this, City of Fae still managed to keep me absorbed.

I think that what really sets this book apart from other faerie books is the way that the fae exist in this modern day world - people are aware of their existence and our main guy, Reign, is a famous rockstar fae. It meant that our main character, Alina, is learning new things but their existence isn't a big surprise for her.

I really loved Alina, she develops so much throughout this book from headstrong but a little nervous and shy to this kick-ass heroine. She has an understandable existential crisis later in the book but deals with it. Yes, she makes some bad moves as the plot develops but she is still pretty likeable. Our pretty boy bad boy Reign is also pretty awesome -I've heard him descried as a Fae Christian Grey but I totally disagree with that - Reign is actually pretty heroic and caring - and I definitely enjoyed their developing relationship.

The plot itself wasn't anything brand new in the realms of fae books, but I still found myself absorbed and loving it, so it wasn't too bad The end, as mentioned before, did get a bit rushed and confusing, but this wasn't too big a deal. Maybe it could have done with being paced out a bit better but I still was hooked.

Overall, City of Fae was an absorbing read with a plot which wasn't massively original but did have me hooked. I loved the characters and would still recommend it to fans of paranormal books.


Overall Rating: B

Book released 7th May by Bloomsbury Sparks
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: The Revenge Playbook by Rachael Allen

The Revenge Playbook




Don’t get mad, get even!

In the small town of Ranburne, high school football rules and the players are treated like kings. How they treat the girls they go to school with? That’s a completely different story. Liv, Peyton, Melanie Jane, and Ana each have their own reason for wanting to teach the team a lesson—but it’s only when circumstances bring them together that they come up with the plan to steal the one thing the boys hold sacred. All they have to do is beat them at their own game.

When I first picked up The Revenge Playbook, I didn't really know what to expect. To sum it up, here is my short blurb for the book: Four girls who each have a reason to be angry at the town's so-called 'golden boys'; the star football players, get even by sabotaging an annual team tradition, and find themselves in the process.

It was a solid good book, it was relatable, dealing with real-life issues such as slut-shaming and doube standards in an effective, realistic way. The characters were diverse and realistic, each one had their reasons for doing what they were doing, even the boys on the team! I genuinely felt that I really connected with all of the characters and that it really sold the message it was trying to sell.

The thing is, The Revenge Playbook isn't just a sassy, fun book. There are parts of the storyline which really hit me in the feels. Ana, for example, has a past which isn't all rosy and happy. I had so much heartbreak for her at times and I loved how the plot unravelled for her.

Overall, The Revenge Playbook  was a fun and exciting exploration into girl power and the double standards that all girl have to live with and thoroughly enjoyed it. Rachael Allen is definitelu one to watch in the contemporary scene!

Overall Rating: B+

Book released 16th June by HarperTeen
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: The Leveller by Julia Durango

The Leveller (The Leveller, #1)
Nixy Bauer is a self-made Leveller. Her job? Dragging kids out of virtual reality and back to their parents in the real world. It’s normally easy cash, but Nixy’s latest mission is fraught with real danger, intrigue, and romance.

Nixy Bauer is used to her classmates being very, very unhappy to see her. After all, she’s a bounty hunter in a virtual reality gaming world. Kids in the MEEP, as they call it, play entirely with their minds, while their bodies languish in a sleeplike state on the couch. Irritated parents, looking to wrench their kids back to reality, hire Nixy to jump into the game and retrieve them.

But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career. Wyn Salvador isn’t some lazy kid looking to escape his homework: Wyn does not want to be found. And he’s left behind a suicide note. Nixy takes the job but quickly discovers that Wyn’s not hiding—he’s being held inside the game against his will. But who is holding him captive, and why?

Nixy and Wyn attempt to fight their way out of a mind game unlike any they’ve encountered, and the battle brings them closer than either could have imagined. But when the whole world is virtual, how can Nixy possibly know if her feelings are real?

I have played a lot of MMORPGs in my life. I like to think I'm a bit of an aficionado there, so that's why I was so excited about The Leveller. Unfortunately, it just did not work for me, not at all. This MEEP game is the main point of the book, but I didn't feel like it as  where was the technology, the world building, the explanations? Why is Nixy this amazing character when she has all the cheat codes from her Mum? I just didn't get it, the book didn't click with me, and I was not engaged in any of the characters.

I thought Nixy was going to be this super badass character, she's meant to be the best at the game, but she was just too good  she easily gets through trials that other people have failed at even though she can't use her cheat codes there. The thing is, we don't get amazing explanations about how she achieves these feats so for me it was all just too convenient. I couldn't connect with her. I also couldn't connect to Wynn, none of the characters really promoted themselves to me.

I think it had absolutely amazing potential and some parts were great, like the bit about Wynn's dad and the risks to those playing on MEEP, I really enjoyed those bits. For the most part though, I didn't really enjoy The Leveller. I didn't really feel anything for it.

Overall Rating: D

Book released 23rd June by HarperCollins
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: The It-Girl by Katy Birchall

The It-Girl
Everybody wants to be a famous It Girl. Don't they?

Anna Huntley's aims in life:

1) Must keep my two lovely new (and only) school friends by not doing anything in usual manner of socially inept dork and outcast.

2) Train Dog (my labrador) to high-five. This is probably the most ambitious life goal on this list.

3) Do not set the school's Deputy Queen Bee mean girl's hair on fire (again).

4) Work out whether 2) and 3) constitute being socially inept or outcastish.

5) Go to Africa and give out rice.

6) To hide in a cupboard FOR LIFE with Dog now Dad is engaged to one of the most famous actresses EVER, the paparazzi want to spash my face all over the papers and everyone in school (and The World) is soon to discover the level of my social ineptitude.

7) Is rice a bit done now? Maybe I can give out chocolate in Africa too. I do like chocolate. Must work out how to do it from the cupboard...

This is such a quirky book for tweens and teens, and even those of us in our early twenties who love to read these super fun contemporary, taking a break from my boring reality type books.

Anna is your typical, everyday, slightly dorky teenager, her life is pretty boring. She has her typical adolescent worries, like boys, and avoiding the queen bee at school. Her life was fun to read about and it just gets even more fun when her dad gets engaged to the biggest actress in the world. She's thrust into the spotlight and now everyone wants to know her. I loved how she reacted to all of this, and all of the funny things that she goes through.

Anna goes through growth as a person, adding some depth to a book that doesn't really need it but does benefit from it. I'm not saying that this book is a deep read or anything surprising or amazingly amazing, but it made me giggle and I really loved it for that.

It's often so necessary to have a book like The It-Girl if you review YA books - most are pretty dark and heavy and dramatic.

Overall Rating: B

Book released 7th May by Egmont
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review