Book Review

  • Blog Tour,  Book Review

    Midnight Strikes by Zeba Shahnaz | Book Review

    Midnight Strikes by Zeba Shahnaz
    Release Date: 14th March 2023
    Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★.5
    Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound

    Seventeen-year-old Anaïs just wants tonight to end. As an outsider at the kingdom’s glittering anniversary ball, she has no desire to rub shoulders with the nation’s most eligible (and pompous) bachelors—especially not the notoriously roguish Prince Leo. But at the stroke of midnight, an explosion rips through the palace, killing everyone in its path. Including her.

    The last thing Anaïs sees is fire, smoke, chaos . . . and then she wakes up in her bedroom, hours before the ball. No one else remembers the deadly attack or believes her warnings of disaster.

    Not even when it happens again. And again. And again.

    If she’s going to escape this nightmarish time loop, Anaïs must take control of her own fate and stop the attack before it happens. But the court’s gilded surface belies a rotten core, full of restless nobles grabbing at power, discontented commoners itching for revolution, and even royals who secretly dream of taking the throne. It’s up to Anaïs to untangle these knots of deadly deceptions . . . if she can survive past midnight.

    I’m a huge fan of time loop and time travel stories so when I saw that Midnight Strikes was that AND a fantasy story, I was immediately intrigued. The idea of the main character looping again and again in order to save herself and others was *chef’s kiss*.

    I think the time loop part of this book was handled well, although you could definitely argue that it went on for a little too long. This didn’t bother me as I’m a huge fan of the trope, but I think others might get a bit bored as the main character took ages to really learn anything. I had also recently read another time loop book and so I was already in the correct headspace for this.

    As I find often with YA books, the romance was just fine. I find it difficult to get attached to ships nowadays and I think it’s mostly a me problem. I didn’t feel loads of chemistry between the main character, Anais, and her love interest Leo. Maybe younger readers would enjoy it more, though, because you definitely get a lot of tension and drama with Leo not remembering the previous loop each time!

    Overall this was a fun fantasy timey wimey story, and I’m really happy that I picked it up. I think it’s a strong debut and I can’t wait to see what Shahnaz brings out next!

    I received this book from NetGalley as part of the TBR and Beyond blog tour! Check out the rest of the bloggers and Instagrammers on the schedule to read their thoughts.

    About Zeba Shahnaz

    Zeba Shahnaz writes fantasy full of political intrigue, twisted romance, and a healthy dose of existential angst. A proud Pakistani-American, she translated her love of storytelling into a graduate degree analyzing national identity, culture, and cinema in South Asia. She grew up in New Jersey, which she has yet to fully escape (though not because of a time loop). MIDNIGHT STRIKES is her debut novel.
    Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

  • Book Review

    Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah | Book Review

    Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah
    Release Date: 23rd January 2020
    Genre: Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    All Beth has to do is drive her son to his Under-14s away match, watch him play, and bring him home.

    Just because she knows her ex-best friend lives near the football ground, that doesn’t mean she has to drive past her house and try to catch a glimpse of her. Why would Beth do that, and risk dredging up painful memories? She hasn’t seen Flora for twelve years. She doesn’t want to see her today, or ever again.

    But she can’t resist. She parks outside the open gates of Newnham House, watches from across the road as Flora and her children Thomas and Emily step out of the car. Except… There’s something terribly wrong. Flora looks the same, only older. As Beth would have expected. It’s the children. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then.

    They are still five and three. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt – Hilary hears Flora call them by their names – but they haven’t changed at all.

    They are no taller, no older… Why haven’t they grown?

    Haven’t They Grown was a very weird book with an intriguing premise. I finished it last night and I’m not really sure what to make of it. What initially drew me in was the mystery of how Flora’s children could still be the same age, when they should have aged at least ten years since the main character, Beth, had last seen them.

    I had all sorts of theories running through my head, and I did manage to sus out what was happening (kind of) by the time the big reveal came, but honestly this book was all over the place. 

    Beth was acting like a full on stalker at points and I really didn’t understand where her obsession with finding Flora in the first place came from. Sure, they used to be best friends and very close, but I feel like after a decade of not speaking you should just move on and let people live their lives.

    It was nice seeing Beth and her family team up to solve the mystery, though. I feel like too often in thriller and mystery books the woman or wife or mother is made out to be mentally unsound and her partner or husband doesn’t want to help out. That wasn’t the case here, and Beth’s husband and daughter got involved in various aspects of the case with her.

    The ending was really quite out there. Like I said, I figured out what was happening but the amount of things that would have to come together to make the ending happen was immense, and I’m not sure it was entirely realistic. Actually, it wasn’t realistic at all. It would have needed much more fleshing out to actually work in my eyes. 

    Overall Haven’t They Grown is a very middle of the road book. I neither loved it nor hated it, although I did roll my eyes at several points. On the plus side, it’s very fast paced and I read it in just a few hours before I went to bed.

  • Book Review

    A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham | Book Review

    A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
    Release Date: 3rd February 2022
    Genre: Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★

    When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.

    Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding. She finally has a fragile grasp on the happiness she’s worked so hard to get. Sometimes, though, she feels as out of control of her own life as the troubled teens who are her patients. And then a local teenage girl goes missing, and then another, and that terrifying summer comes crashing back. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren’t really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer?

    In a debut novel that has already been optioned for a limited series by actress Emma Stone and sold to a dozen countries around the world, Stacy Willingham has created an unforgettable character in a spellbinding thriller that will appeal equally to fans of Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter.

    A Flicker in the Dark was such a nice surprise! I meant to pick it up a while back but put it down after a chapter or so. I just wasn’t in the mood. I finally tried it again recently because I felt like reading a fast paced thriller, and the thought of reading about a woman with a serial killer for a father was intriguing. And I loved it! 

    The second time I gave A Flicker in the Dark a go, I was immediately taken in by Chloe and her struggles. She was in a bit of a weird relationship, her brother was hanging around and didn’t get on with her partner, and her father was in prison… so it’s no surprise that Chloe was struggling to handle everything. 

    I found the mystery to be very intriguing. It’s always fun (for want of a better word!) reading about historical cases that might not be what they seem. I was having a lot of fun putting things together and trying to work out what had happened back in the day. Chloe also didn’t know the full story so as the reader I was discovering things alongside her.

    I had so much fun with A Flicker in the Dark and I can’t wait to read the author’s second book that released this year. I might just go and pick it up now!

  • Book Review

    I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys | Book Review

    I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
    Release Date: 4th August 2022
    Genre: Young Adult, Historical
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★

    Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

    Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

    Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

    I always love reading Ruta Sepetys’ books because they manage to teach me something new. I had no idea Romania was living through a communist regime so close to the time I was born. It’s not something we covered in school. So I really appreciate that Sepetys tackles lesser known (to us in the UK or US) events in European history. 

    I don’t feel as though I Must Betray You had the same heart as Sepetys’ WW2 books. I really feel like her passion truly lies with those. Otherwise, I thought this was an excellent book. It was just lacking a certain something. 

    As I didn’t know anything about the history behind this novel, I felt this was a great way to introduce me to Romania’s struggle against a dictator in the 80’s. I enjoyed learning about it through Cristian’s eyes, who was someone who had grown up in this environment but didn’t necessarily agree with it – but he didn’t realise that he could not agree with it. That that was even an option. 

    I felt the ending to this book was a bit rushed. I would have liked to have spent another 40 or so pages with Cristian and in the midst of the revolution, rather than jumping from place to place. After spending so much time following Cristian and his family, I felt like I needed more time to let what was happening to them and their country properly sink in.

    This was another impressive read by Ruta Sepetys, and I can’t wait to see what she decides to tackle next!

  • Blog Tour,  Book Review

    Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim | Book Review

    Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim
    Release Date: 24th January 2023
    Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★
    Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound

    In the hidden desert city of Qalia, there is secret spice magic that awakens the affinities of those who drink the misra tea. Sixteen-year-old Imani has the affinity for iron and is able to wield a dagger like no other warrior. She has garnered the reputation as being the next great Shield for battling djinn, ghouls, and other monsters spreading across the sands.

    Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother, who tarnished the family name after it was revealed that he was stealing his nation’s coveted spice–a telltale sign of magical obsession. Soon after that, he disappeared, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes. Despite her brother’s betrayal, there isn’t a day that goes by when Imani doesn’t grieve him.

    But when Imani discovers signs that her brother may be alive and spreading the nation’s magic to outsiders, she makes a deal with the Council that she will find him and bring him back to Qalia, where he will face punishment. Accompanied by other Shields, including Taha, a powerful beastseer who can control the minds of falcons, she sets out on her mission.

    Imani will soon find that many secrets lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes–and in her own heart–but will she find her brother?

    Spice Road was on my most anticipated list for 2023 so of course when I saw it was available on NetGalley I had to grab myself a copy. I am a sucker for Middle Eastern inspired fantasy and I had great hopes for this one. I loved the sound of the magic system which is somewhat based on tea, combined with djinn and ghouls and all the usual creatures.

    The main character, Imani, is super loyal to her family and also quite powerful. She showed a little of the “not like other girls” trope but I overlooked it to be honest because I was enjoying reading about her relationship with her sister so much and I was willing to forgive.

    Her relationship with the two guys in this book is going to be very hit or miss for readers. I think a lot of people will like Taha, the broody soldier, even if he is a bit much. Qayn was intriguing, but I’m not sure I really bought into him being an actual potential love interest considering he’s thousands of years old.

    Anyway, the romance wasn’t the main draw at all and I pretended none of it happened.

    I found the beginning of the story to be incredibly info-dumpy. The reader is given Imani’s entire backstory, the history of the world, and Imani didn’t actually uncover anything like the synopsis suggests. However! Past the 20% mark things really got going and the whole thing was a lot more interesting. I thought the world building was very intriguing and contained themes of colonisation, secrets, and betrayal.

    Overall, this was an intriguing debut and I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

    I received this book from NetGalley as part of the TBR and Beyond blog tour! Check out the rest of the bloggers and Instagrammers on the schedule to read their thoughts.

    About Maiya Ibrahim

    Maiya Ibrahim is the debut author of SPICE ROAD, publishing January 24, 2023 from Delacorte Press and Hodder & Stoughton. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Technology Sydney. When she isn’t writing, reading, or spending time with her family, she enjoys video games, gardening, and expanding her collection of rare trading cards. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

    She is represented by Peter Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media, Claire Wilson of RCW Literary, and Mary Pender-Coplan of United Talent Agency.

    Website | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest

  • Book Review

    The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett | Book Review

    The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett
    Release Date: 19th January 2023
    Genre: Adult, Mystery
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★

    Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police?

    Everyone knows the story of the Alperton Angels: the cult-like group who were convinced one of their member’s babies was the anti-Christ, and they had a divine mission to kill it – until the baby’s mother, Holly, came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than go to prison, and Holly – and the baby – disappeared into the care system.

    Nearly two decades later, true-crime author Amanda Bailey is writing a book on the Angels. The Alperton baby has turned eighteen and can finally be interviewed – if Amanda can find them, it will be the true-crime scoop of the year, and will save her flagging career. But rival author Oliver Menzies is just as smart, better connected, and is also on the baby’s trail.

    As Amanda and Oliver are forced to collaborate, they realise that what everyone thinks they know about the Angels is wrong, and the truth is something much darker and stranger than they’d ever imagined.

    This story is far from over – and it won’t have a happy ending.

    I loved The Appeal and didn’t care much for The Twyford Code, so Hallett’s books have been very hit or miss for me. I’m a massive fan of the format for her books, though, which is why I was keen to give The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels a go.

  • Book Review

    Home by Cailean Steed | Book Review

    Home by Cailean Steed
    Release Date: 19th January 2023
    Genre: Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    Someone has broken into Zoe’s flat. A man she thought she’d never have to see again.
    They call him the Hand of God.

    He knows about her job in the cafe, her life in Dublin, her ex-girlfriend, even the knife she’s hidden under the mattress.
    She thought she’d left him far behind, along with the cult of the Children and their isolated compound Home – but now he’s found her, and she knows she must go back to rescue the sister who helped her escape all those years before.

    But returning to Home means going back to the enforced worship and strict gender roles Zoe has long since moved beyond; back to the abuse and indoctrination she’s fought desperately to overcome.

    Going back will make her question everything she believed about her past – but could also risk her hard-won freedom. Can she break free a second time?

    One – My name is Zoe
    Two – I am here to rescue my sister Amy
    Three – Nothing anyone says here is true
    Four –
    Four –
    What is my fourth true thing?

    Home caught my eye due to three things: 1) it’s about a cult, 2) it’s a debut and I love supporting debut authors, 3) the cover is pretty cool. I think it had a lot of potential and I was really excited to read it, but I unfortunately came out of it feeling pretty meh overall.

    I think the concept was a good one, but the execution was a let down. The story is told in alternating chapters between Catherine in the past as she’s just learning that her community is a cult and not normal, and Zoe in the present after she has left the cult but is suddenly having to go back in.

    This style really didn’t work for me, as a lot of the tension from Catherine’s chapters was lost because we knew she would escape, only to have to go back in. And while Zoe’s chapters were a little more exciting due to the task of rescuing Amy, we were immediately flung back into the cult setting without much build up.

    I think this could have been improved by telling the story in parts rather than alternating flashback chapters. Part one could have ended as Catherine was escaping the cult, and part two could have Zoe already settled and going back in, with flashbacks to show her coming to terms with society and the real world.

    I didn’t hate Home by any means but it was fairly average. It was fast paced and intriguing, yes, but I think it should have been structured differently to make the most out of the setting, the characters, and the plot.

  • Book Review

    The Hiking Trip by Jenny Blackhurst | Book Review

    The Hiking Trip by Jenny Blackhurst
    Release Date: 12th January 2023
    Genre: Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    The trip of a lifetime ends in murder

    Maisie leaves her precarious home life in the UK to hike the West Coast Trail in Canada. She meets brother and sister Sera and Ric, and what begins as a fun-filled experience in a beautiful secluded setting quickly turns sour.

    Twenty-five years later, a woman named Laura is panicked to learn that a body was found near the trail and the police suspect they’re the bones of Sera. The secret she’s been hiding for a quarter of a century is about to come out – and someone is determined to make sure she tells the truth, and pays the price, as she should have done back then. But what lengths will Laura go to in order to protect her carefully constructed family life?

    The Hiking Trip could have been worse, but it also could have been a whole lot better. My main issue with this book was the dual timelines, as I don’t think they worked very well with this kind of story. This was partly due to the author’s writing style, as she constantly ended the present day chapters with a dun dun DUNNNNN cliffhanger that had me rolling my eyes after the third one in a row.

    I was a lot more invested in the flashback storyline where Maisie was hiking on a Canadian trail. I thought this book would have more of that, to be honest. I wanted to see more camping, more atmosphere, more struggle. Instead the book seemed to heavily rely on the present day chapters to build suspense, and I didn’t really care about a house wife from Reading with a mysterious past.

    The Hiking Trip was alright, but I wouldn’t reach for it if you’re looking for a survival wilderness thriller, because this is definitely more of a UK domestic.

  • Book Review

    The Fraud Squad by Kyla Zhao | Book Review

    The Fraud Squad by Kyla Zhao
    Release Date: 17th January 2023
    Genre: Adult, Contemporary
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    A working-class woman who infiltrates Singapore’s high society to fulfill her dreams risks losing everything in the process—including herself—in this propulsive novel by debut author Kyla Zhao.

    For as long as she can remember, Samantha Song has dreamed of writing for a high-society magazine—and she’d do anything to get there. But the constant struggle to help her mom make ends meet and her low social status cause her dream to feel like a distant fantasy.

    Now Samantha finds herself working at a drab PR firm. Living vicariously through her wealthy coworker and friend, Anya Chen, is the closest she’ll get to her ideal life. Until she meets Timothy Kingston: the disillusioned son of one of Singapore’s elite families—and Samantha’s one chance at infiltrating the high-society world to which she desperately wants to belong.

    To Samantha’s surprise, Timothy and Anya both agree to help her make a name for herself on Singapore’s socialite scene. But the borrowed designer clothes and plus-ones to every glamorous event can only get her so far. The rest is on Samantha, and she’s determined to impress the editor in chief of Singapore’s poshest magazine. But the deeper Samantha wades into this fraud, the more she fears being exposed—especially with a mysterious gossip columnist on the prowl for dirt—forcing her to reconcile her pretense with who she really is before she loses it all.

    Whew, the beginning of this book was rough. I picked up The Fraud Squad because I love Rich People Drama. I’ve loved it ever since I was younger, because rich people get themselves into such messes. And a book about a working class woman infiltrating the ranks of the elite and potentially taking them down sounded very appealing.

    I really struggled through the first quarter or so of The Fraud Squad. The writing felt very unpolished, almost juvenile, and I found myself at times wondering if this was actually a YA book that I was reading, or whether the author had dabbled in YA before. The characters just felt so young. It was a struggle to get past it.

    Eventually, though, I managed it, and the book really improved in its second half. By then I was really interested in Samantha and her journey, and I liked reading about her friendships with Daisy and Anya, and also Rai of course. I didn’t feel much chemistry between Samantha and the love interest, Timothy, but they were still cute. I wish I could have seen more moments between them in the build up to their romance.

    I also really enjoyed the way The Fraud Squad ended. Not to spoil anything, but often this kind of book ends in a particular way, and I enjoyed that the author did something a little different here. It was refreshing!

    I would recommend The Fraud Squad to readers who are looking for a more lowkey Crazy Rich Asians. It has a lot of the glitz and the glam of Singapore, but it’s not as in-your-face and the characters aren’t quite so ridiculous.

  • Book Review

    Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert | Book Review

    Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert
    Release Date: 3rd January 2023
    Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.

    Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption–yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)

    These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.

    Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?

    Readers, I don’t think Talia Hibbert’s books are for me, and I’m SAD ABOUT IT. I tried reading Chloe Brown a couple of years ago and thought it was trash, but I thought maybe Hibbert’s YA debut might be better. And, I mean, it was, but it was still just alright.

    I thought the romance was cute. I’m always here for ex-best friends to lovers, and Hibbert wrote the trope well. I liked the characters individually but I thought they both sounded pretty similar as I was reading them. I didn’t love the snark or the dialogue in this – I had the same problem with Chloe Brown so maybe my humour just doesn’t mesh with Hibbert’s?

    One thing I really liked and appreciated was the portrayal of OCD. According to the author’s note, Hibbert has recently been diagnosed with this, and Bradley’s character seems to be an exploration of how Hibbert could handle her own OCD in the future. I thought it was a very thoughtful, respectful, and caring portrayal, and I really liked it.

    Overall this was just okay, and I’ve probably got to give up on Hibbert’s books now because I have a feeling this it the best it’ll get.