YA Review: Viper (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #1)

Title: Viper
Author: Bex Hogan
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Right from the start, I loved this book. The first chapter wastes no time, throwing the reader into the blood-soaked life of the protagonist from page one, and building a strong character in a very few pages. There are no wasted words, no unnecessary descriptions, and no unimportant events. Chapter one introduces violence, conflict, fear, and betrayal, setting up the themes of the book. By the end of chapter two, all the pieces are in place for a thrilling pirate-based adventure.

I know I have a soft spot for pirate stories, seafaring tales, and strong female protagonists, and Viper brings all these things together with some vividly described settings and plenty of action. The main character, seventeen-year-old Marianne, is intelligent and brave, facing her fears and learning how to survive as the daughter of the Viper – the most feared ship’s captain on the ocean, and defender of the Twelve Isles. While the Viper is committed to training Marianne to follow in his bloodthirsty footsteps, she has other ideas, refusing to kill for him and turning her attention to stories of magic from the lost Western Isles.

There’s triumph and tragedy, friendship and betrayal, fear and strength, and some gorgeous settings. I wanted to visit the Twelve Isles, and by the end of the book I felt as if I had set foot on several of them. The descriptions are intriguing, and every time Marianne steps onto land the reader can feel the sun, smell the flowers, or wince at the sharp rocks underfoot. The descriptions of the ocean are just as vivid, evoking a sailor’s respect for the power of the sea.

Strong friendships and stronger betrayals are a theme of the book, as the loyalties of the Viper’s crew are tested, and Marianne uncovers her father’s plans for her future. A romantic subplot brings plenty of surprises, with the relationships developing in unexpected ways. The main characters are sympathetic and interesting, and the story is relentless, pushing through danger and nail-biting action to a satisfying conclusion.

This is an effective piece of escapism, which draws the reader into the world of the Twelve Isles, and sets everything up for the rest of the trilogy. I loved seeing the world through Marianne’s eyes, and I can’t wait for Book Two!

Have you read Viper? What did you think of the story? Are you looking forward to Venom – Book Two in the series? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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Battle Ground Wins Bronze!

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Battle Ground, Book One of the Battle Ground Series, has been awarded a BRONZE MEDAL in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards!

Huge thanks to the Wishing Shelf team, and to the YA readers who put us through to the finals – we’re so happy you enjoyed the story! Congratulations to all the winners – you can find the full list here.

If you haven’t read Battle Ground, download it now for 99p ($1.49) and lose yourself in an award-winning book today!

Social Distancing YA Book Recommendations

Are you self-isolating? Social Distancing? Looking for something to fill your time?

Read any good YA recently?

Share your YA reading recommendations in the comments, and help us create a winning TBR list for the next few weeks! Check back and see what other people are recommending, and tell us what you love about the books you post.

And whatever you’re doing – filling time at home, or working on the front lines – stay safe, and keep in touch.

Our recommendations, with links to our reviews:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)
The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky (Mackenzi Lee)
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Mackenzi Lee)

Rebel of the Sands (Alwyn Hamilton)
Traitor to the Throne (Alwyn Hamilton)
Hero at the Fall (Alwyn Hamilton)

Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)
Crooked Kingdom (Leigh Bardugo)

The Museum of Second Chances (AE Warren)
The Base of Reflections (AE Warren)

Rose, Interrupted (Patrice Lawrence)

With the Fire on High (Elizabeth Acevedo)

Night Swimming (MT McGuire)


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YA Review: Rose, Interrupted

Title: Rose, Interrupted
Author: Patrice Lawrence
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Seventeen-year-old Rose is not at home in London. She’s used to the unbending, patriarchal rules of her tight-knit religious community, but when her family is excluded from the sect, she has to figure out the new rules by herself.

Rose embraces life outside the sect. She can finally read the books she wants to read, wear what she wants to wear, experiment with makeup, and hook up with boys. She has a plan for decommissioning herself from the expectations she has grown up with, and she launches into college and dating with enthusiasm. Her younger brother doesn’t share her desire to leave the rules behind, and in spite of surviving a horrific incident in the religious community, he desperately wants to return. It’s up to Rose to encourage him, and help him to adjust.

Throw in family complications, problems with meeting the rent, and Rose’s total inexperience of relationships; and the unwritten rules of a life of freedom, boyfriends, and smartphones threaten to trap Rose and her brother – and draw attention to the secretive community they left behind.

This is an emotional book. Rose and her brother are sympathetic and believable, and even when you’re shouting at the page, you know their decisions are based on innocence and naivety, and not malice. I found myself extremely frustrated with the adults around them, who either assumed that they understood the unwritten rules, or failed to offer them help when they asked. There’s an interesting message about power and manipulation, and how to recover your power if someone has abused your trust.

All the characters feel real – rounded, individual, and flawed – and most of them are simply doing their best in challenging situations. It would be easy to set up the other members of the sect as evil and dangerous, but even they are shown to be acting honourably according to their own rules. It’s a story about intentions, and unintended consequences; about finding yourself and your place in the world; and about navigating an unfamiliar culture without a rule book.

It’s a story about being human, and growing up, and learning how to fix your mistakes. It’s an emotional read, and it grabbed me and didn’t let me go. Definitely recommended.

Have you read Rose, Interrupted? What did you think of the book? Do you think you could survive in today’s world without understanding the rules? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Title: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Edition: Hardback
Rating: 5/5

At last – the sequel to ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’! Monty and Percy are back, but this time the narrator is Monty’s sister, Felicity. Readers first met Felicity in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’, where she provided the no-nonsense, clear-headed balance to Monty’s reckless drinking, gambling, and womanising. Through her brother’s eyes, she was portrayed as a brave and intelligent travelling companion, always ready to ask the obvious questions, make sensible plans, and stitch up wounds without drama – including her own. She was a strong, inspiring character, hiding her interest in medical science so that she could continue to read and study without interruption, keen to avoid the finishing school her parents had lined up for her.

First-person Felicity is still strong, brave, and sensible, but in this book the reader sees inside her head. The bravery and determination are still there, but we also experience her insecurities, doubts, and disappointments. Telling the story from her point of view makes her at once more relatable and less together than she seemed in the first book. We don’t see someone getting on with something dangerous because it is the right thing to do – we see someone weighing up the options, acknowledging the danger and her fear, and then doing it anyway.

Felicity’s story is no less dramatic than Monty’s in Book One. She is desperate to earn a place at medical school, but as a woman in the eighteenth century she is automatically excluded. Undeterred, she reads medical texts disguised as romance novels, and petitions medical schools in Edinburgh and London without success. When she discovers that her childhood friend is about to marry one of her medical heroes, she travels to Stuttgart to attend the wedding and ask for a job. Of course things don’t go according to plan, and she soon finds herself breaking the law to protect her friend. On the run with two very different female companions, Felicity starts to challenge everything she has come to believe about femininity, strength, and survival.

Mackenzi Lee presents us with three models of female strength. Felicity, with her ambition, and her lack of interest in traditionally feminine social roles; the friend, whose survival depends on being the perfect society lady, throwing the best parties and wearing complicated fashionable clothes; and the headstrong Muslim travelling companion with a mysterious past and a disastrous disregard for the law. As all three women come to understand each other, and work together, they use their strengths to support each other – and to come up with a solution to the central plot point that would never have occurred to the men.

As with ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’, there are strong fantastical elements to the story, but not enough to fully transform the rules and expectations of eighteenth century Europe. As in Book One, the characters challenge each other’s expectations of love, marriage, and relationships, and of what constitutes a successful and fulfilling life. This is an empowering book. Seeing inside Felicity’s thoughts and feelings brings extra dimensions to her character. She becomes more relatable, particularly for readers who might have been told that they are not a proper girl if they don’t enjoy stereotypically feminine activities, wear makeup, or dress in certain ways. But that’s not the only message of the book – Felicity also learns not to discount the girl in the party dress, or the girl in the headscarf, and to find her own way to reach her goals.

I’m looking forward to Book Three in the Montague Siblings trilogy!

Have you read The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy? What did you think of the story? How much do you adore Felicity? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Foul is Fair

Title: Foul is Fair
Author: Hannah Capin
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

A revenge thriller for the #MeToo generation, this book is uncompromising. From the calculating actions of the abusers to the absolute destruction dealt out by the central character and her loyal friends, the plot is unwavering in its drive for payback and revenge.

The story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the paranoia, ambition, manipulation, and murder of the play are all here. Jade, the central character, takes the Lady Macbeth role, with her best friends taking on the roles of the witches. Working together, they manipulate the Lacrosse-playing rich boys who drug and assault Jade at a party, fracturing their friendships and ensuring that they turn against each other. The fear that someone in the group will expose their actions (Jade isn’t the first girl they have attacked together) pits the boys against each other, allowing Jade to orchestrate her revenge while keeping her hands mostly clean – at least as far as anyone outside the group would suspect.

The story – including the ending – is not a direct retelling of Macbeth, but there are nods to the play throughout the book. The best friends confront the boys with threats and prophecies, while keeping their identities hidden. Jade has her ‘out, damn spot‘ moment, and the Macbeth character finds himself entirely under her influence. There are uncanny elements to the story – unanticipated storms, spooky black birds – but it is a thoroughly modern burner phone that allows Jade and the witches to manipulate and threaten the boys and their friends via text message.

After the attack, Jade transfers to the boys’ expensive school, St Andrews, thus symbolically moving herself to Scotland and the world of the play. In an echo of Lady Macbeth’s ‘unsex me here / and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull / of direst cruelty‘ speech, Jade reinvents herself. She cuts her hair and dyes it black (the colour is called ‘Revenge’), changes school, and changes her name from ‘Elle’ to Jade. Her friends support her transformation, and there is no doubt that she uses it to steel herself and prepare for remorseless revenge on her attackers. The boys are named after characters from the play (Duncan, Malcolm, Banks, Duffy, Porter, and Mack), and Mack’s hilltop home is called ‘Inverness’.

As a protagonist, Jade is uncompromising and uncomfortable. Her actions are extreme, but as she relives the events of the party and the assault in chilling and fragmented flashbacks, they are also entirely understandable. The reader can relate to her determination to destroy the boys who tried to destroy her, and this makes for an uncomfortable read. I found myself cheering on murder and manipulation, always waiting for the boys to realise the danger they were in.

The attack itself is described with a very light touch. The reader has no doubt as to what happened to Jade, but her memories are reduced to flashbulb moments by the drugs the boys put in her drink.

This is a challenging book. I found my sympathies shifting between Jade and her friends, and the boys they were so easily and coldly destroying. It certainly delivers revenge, and the ambition and paranoia of Shakespeare’s story. It also asks the reader to sympathise with someone who deliberately makes herself ruthless and cold. As much as I wanted her to succeed, I ended up wondering whether her actions had finally destroyed her, even as she fought to assert her identity as a survivor, and an avenger, instead of a victim. It’s a powerful story, cleverly told, but definitely not a feel-good book.

Have you read Foul is Fair? What did you think of the story? What did you think about Jade, and the coven? And what about the boys? Where did your sympathies lie? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Night Swimming

Title: Night Swimming
Author: M T McGuire
Edition: eBook
Rating: 4/5

A short, mailing-list-exclusive introduction to the K’Barth stories by MT McGuire. Short enough to read in one sitting, but detailed enough to introduce the central character, the setting, and the humour of the series.

Night Swimming is a neat short story. It touches on some serious themes, but the author introduces the characters and the setting with humour and humanity. I’m a sucker for a well-imaged city, and Ning Dang Po has definitely joined my list of fictional places I’d like to visit, if only to witness the night-time view from the Bridge of Eternal Glory (you’ll have to read the story!). An engaging introduction to an intriguing series.

Have you read Night Swimming? What about the other books in the K’Barth series? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: This Vicious Cure

Title: This Vicious Cure (Mortal Coil #3)
Author: Emily Suvada
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

The final book in the Mortal Coil trilogy. The action is back, the stakes are higher, and there’s a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. Emily Suvada brings us another breathless page-turner to conclude her innovative dystopian trilogy.

Given the intense cliffhanger at the end of This Cruel Design, there’s not a lot I can say about this book without dropping spoilers! The fight against the deadly virus continues, with genehackers and scientists working to perfect a vaccine or a cure. But the ability to manipulate DNA comes with unintended consequences, and raises moral questions that threaten to ignite a devastating war.

There’s a strong cast of characters, some familiar locations, and we finally learn the truth behind Catarina’s father’s experiments. This is a satisfying conclusion to an action-packed, fast-paced rollercoaster of a series.

Have you read the Mortal Coil trilogy? What did you think of the final book? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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