Book Review

  • 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.

  • Book Review

    Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan | Book Review

    Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan
    Release Date: 2nd April 2020
    Genre: Adult, Suspense
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★

    You think you know her…but look a little closer.

    She is a stay-at-home mother-of-three with boundless reserves of patience, energy, and love. After being friends for a decade, this is how Liz sees Jess.

    Then one moment changes everything.

    Dark thoughts and carefully guarded secrets surface—and Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend, and about herself. The truth can’t come soon enough.

    I’ve read Vaughan’s most well-known book, Anatomy of a Scandal, and very much enjoyed it. I admittedly read it quite a while ago now, but I still mostly remember the enjoyment I got from the book and the overall vibes, even if I have mostly forgotten the plot. I went into Little Disasters not knowing much about it, as I don’t typically read blurbs for thrillers, and that is what I thought this book was.

    It is not a thriller. My bad! Little Disasters is more of a domestic suspense, or literary suspense… I’m not exactly sure what the genre would be! It’s a long and slow read, nothing like a thriller book, but nevertheless I enjoyed my time with it.

    I didn’t find much to connect to with this one as I’m not a mother and don’t plan to be, and the entirity of this book is focused on the mums and what they were or were not hiding. That said, I still really enjoyed the mystery of the whole thing. I read this in just a few sittings because I was super curious about the outcome. I wanted to know what really happened to the baby.

    I would recommend looking up trigger warnings for this book because there are a lot of them, mainly involving children and mental health. I didn’t have a tough time but I think some people might do.

    Overall I think Vaughan’s previous book was stronger, but this one was still enjoyable and I’d definitely read more from this author in the future.

  • Book Review

    Gleanings by Neal Shusterman | Book Review

    Gleanings by Neal Shusterman
    Release Date: 8th November 2022
    Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★

    There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.

    Neal Shusterman—along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman—returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

    I should preface this review by declaring two things. First, I’m a huge fan of the Scythe trilogy. I’ve been reading Shusterman’s books since the Unwind days, and Scythe is perhaps one of my all time favourite series for the commentary and theology alone. Second, I can’t stand short story collections. I often find them difficult to read, poorly paced, and I struggle to jump in and out of each one.

    So why did I request and read this book, you might ask? Because it’s a Scythe book! I love the world of the Scythe and after the explosive ending to The Toll I wanted more. I was really hoping we’d get to see more of where humans ended up after the conclusion to the original trilogy, and that’s what mostly kept me going.

    What I didn’t realise, however, is this collection is written by several different authors. I feel like people (and the publisher) haven’t really been talking about this? As a self declared Massive Fan of the original trilogy and of Shusterman’s writing, I found it very jarring to read a story set in such a familiar world but written in such an unfamiliar style. I could tell these stories weren’t written by Shusterman. They had a different style and vibe.

    I did enjoy some of the stories, though. Mostly the ones that Shusterman wrote himself. We got to revisit some of my favourite characters. Scythe Marie Curie got a couple of stories in here, and we also got to see Goddard’s origin story. It was wonderful! My favourite story was actually Cirri, because that’s what I’m now most interested in after finishing the series, but I also really enjoyed the three stories mentioned above.

    There was a really strange story about a Scythe and his dog, which had be chuckling. Readers may feel as though that one could be left out but I honestly disagree.

    I don’t think this is an anthology that everyone absolutely must read. It’s actually just one for massive Scythe fans, like myself, as it spoils all the events in the trilogy. I would recommend it if you can’t get enough of the Scythe world and the Thunderhead.

  • Blog Tour,  Book Review

    Five Survive by Holly Jackson | Book Review

    Five Survive by Holly Jackson
    Release Date: 29th November 2022
    Genre: Young Adult Adult, Thriller
    Source: Publisher, NetGalley
    Rating: ★★★★
    Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound

    Eight hours. Six friends. Five survive. A road trip turns deadly in this addictive YA thriller from the bestselling author of the worldwide phenomenon A GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER.

    Red Kenny is on a road trip for spring break with five friends: Her best friend–the older brother–his perfect girlfriend–a secret crush–a classmate–and a killer.

    When their RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, they soon realize this is no accident. They have been trapped by someone out there in the dark, someone who clearly wants one of them dead.

    With eight hours until dawn, the six friends must escape, or figure out which of them is the target. But is there a liar among them? Buried secrets will be forced to light and tensions inside the RV will reach deadly levels. Not all of them will survive the night. . . .

    Content Warning: guns, death threats, mob violence, death, injury

    A plan must have two parts. You have to make sure either way pays out in your favour.

    Did you know that the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series is one of my favourites ever? No? Why not? I talk about it constantly because I absolutely adore the world that Holly Jackson has created there. The original UK editions are set in my home county of Buckinghamshire and mention places that I’m intimately familiar with, which is probably why I’m so connected to the series. Five Survive is a little different in that the original version is (I think) set in the US. There were no rewrites for this one!

    Due to the setting, Five Survive has a bit of a different vibe to it than AGGGTM. At least, I think so. I’ve not read the US editions of AGGGTM so I can’t say how American readers will feel about the vibe in general. Something about it felt very strange in the beginning and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I was a little disappointed at first because I was expecting to want to devour this book from the start, but instead it took a good fifty pages to grab me.

    Once I was grabbed, however, I was grabbed. I read the entire rest of the book in just one sitting because it was so enthralling and it had me on the edge of my seat. I was racing to find out what was going to happen to Red, the main character, and her friends. I figured one of them would be a bit dodge and I had theories on who it could be, so I had a lot of fun trying to sus out the story and figure out what was happening and why.

    It was love; thorny and complicated and sad and happy. But it was a red feeling too.

    While I was disappointed by the change of setting, I can see why this book is only set in the US in both versions. There is absolutely no way in hell Jackson could have set this book in the UK and pulled it off. Can you imagine snipers shooting at a caravan in Buckinghamshire? I think not.

    Five Survive is certainly not my favourite book by Holly Jackson because there’s no way it could beat her original series. I was very attached to Pip and Red didn’t have the same charm. I was actually a bit confused by Red’s characterisation for most of the book and I do wonder what the edits did to her character. By the end, though, I was quite worried about what was going to happen to her.

    I really enjoyed my experience with Five Survive and I can’t wait to see what Holly Jackson comes out next. I will keep hoping she returns to writing books set in Buckinghamshire because I truly believe that’s what she does best, but this book and setting certainly had its place.

    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 Holly Jackson

    Holly Jackson was born in 1992. She grew up in Buckinghamshire and started writing stories from a young age, completing her first (poor) attempt at a book aged fifteen. ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’ is a YA Mystery Thriller and her debut novel. She lives in London and aside from reading and writing, she enjoys binge-playing video games and pointing out grammatical errors in street signs.

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