YA Review: Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

Title: Gwen and Art Are Not In Love
Author: Lex Croucher
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

YA Review: Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

Arthur and Princess Gwendoline have known each other all their lives. They were betrothed at birth in a bid to unite Gwen’s family (her father is the King of England) and Art’s, and while they have only seen each other during Art’s short visits to Camelot, the only thing they can safely say is that they truly hate each other.

Gwen feels the pressure from her family to be the perfect princess – to turn up to events, to dress and behave appropriately, and never to risk her reputation, or that of her father. Art is everything she detests – a habitually drunk young man who delights in provoking her, staying out all night, and spending his days lounging about and nursing his inevitable hangover. To Art, Gwen is uptight and judgemental, and he has no idea of the expectations she struggles with every day.

To prepare for their wedding, Art arrives at Camelot with his friend and manservant Sidney, who promptly falls for Gwen’s Lady in Waiting. Before long, Gwen discovers Art kissing a stable boy, and Art uncovers Gwen’s diary, complete with wistful passages about Lady Bridget Leclair, England’s only female knight. As much as they hate each other, Gwen and Art agree to keep each other’s secrets, and grow into allies as the book progresses. But Art and Gwen are not the only people affected by their forbidden feelings. As Art finds himself falling for Gabriel, Gwen’s older brother and heir to the throne, and Gwen’s relationship with Bridget develops, they need to decide what to do about their wedding – and the rest of their lives.

What can I say about this book? I loved every moment! Gwen, Art, and Sidney are beautifully written, strong-willed and witty, and their constant banter and snark sparkles on the page. Lady Bridget is a tough young woman, competing alone in the man’s world of tournaments and fighting, where she is not welcome. Her bravery, independence, determination and loyalty make her the perfect fit for Gwen, who finds her own life of formality and etiquette suffocating. Gabriel is the bookish older brother, fiercely intelligent and never happier than when he’s studying in Camelot’s library – and definitely not ready to be king.

While the early stages of the book are immensely enjoyable, with verbal sparks flying every time Gwen and Art are forced to spend time together, their relationship matures as the story progresses. Their banter becomes less about one-upping each other, and more about navigating the political expectations around their marriage. There’s a tense build-up as their secret relationships develop, and an exciting finale where I genuinely feared for everyone’s safety.

I loved the pseudo-Arthurian setting, in a country where King Arthur and his knights are revered historical figures, and Camelot is still the seat of power. The castle and the town are vividly imagined, and every step along the corridors and the streets feels completely real. Gwen’s restricted life contrasts beautifully with Bridget’s dare-devil adventures, and of course the book addresses homophobia and the process of finding out who you are – and what to do about it.

Come for the inconvenient arranged marriage trope, be drawn in by the constant smile-raising banter, and stay for the genuine against-the-odds love stories. An unequivocal five stars from me.

Have you read Gwen and Art Are Not In Love? What did you think of their story? Did the characters grab you as much as they grabbed me? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: Finale (Caraval #3)

Title: Finale (Caraval #3)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: Finale

The plot twists continue in the final book of the Caraval trilogy, and both Scarlett and Tella have narrating roles throughout the story. With a new Emperor about to be crowned, the city of Valenda is in a holiday mood, but revelations about their family and their love interests lead both sisters further into danger.

It’s hard to review Finale without dropping all sorts of spoilers. Scarlett and Tella find themselves deeply involved in the struggles of the immortal and dangerous Fates while navigating the complexities of relationships they can’t control and the safety of people they care about. The story is darker than the previous books, and the stakes are higher. There is no Caraval to bring a sense of order and reward to their actions, and failure would mean consequences for the entire Empire.

It’s a complex plot, and I confess to losing track of some of the threads at times, but Scarlett and Tella’s relationships keep the pages turning. While their strong personalities drive the story, each sister learns to adapt to a rapidly changing environment – Scarlett becoming more daring and brave, and Tella drawing closer to the people around her. There’s an exciting climax and a satisfying ending, and an Encore chapter that had me grinning as I turned the final page.

The Caraval series is an exciting – and exhausting – journey through magic, danger, deception and love. I cared deeply about Scarlett and Tella, and about where they might end up, and I’m pleased I finally picked up their story. The series would be a excellent beach or holiday read, and a perfect place to escape to when you have plenty of time to relax with a book. Definitely worth stepping into Caraval and allowing yourself to be swept away.

Have you read Finale? What did you think of the final book 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!

YA review: Legendary cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Legendary (Caraval #2)

Title: Legendary (Caraval #2)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: Legendary

Scarlett and Tella Dragna are back, and this time Tella has the chance to narrate. With the more daring sister steering the story, this book ramps up the danger and brings complications and plot twists for both sisters, their family, and their love interests.

The Empress has commanded Legend to run another Caraval in honour of her seventy-fifth birthday, so the company travels to the capital, Valenda, to prepare for the game. Scarlett and Tella, having escaped from their father, travel with them. Neither intends to participate in another Caraval, but Tella owes a debt to a stranger and Scarlett is revelling in her new freedom.

This Caraval promises to be more than a game. The Fates, powerful beings imprisoned for centuries, are fighting to return – a disaster that would threaten the Empire, and turn everyone into their playthings. The players are charged with finding the magical object that will destroy the fates and safeguard the future of the Empire. Tella and Scarlett are drawn into the game, only to discover that the solution is more personal than they imagined.

Legendary is a maze of a book, with truth and deception twisting around Scarlett and Tella as they follow their paths through their second Caraval. It’s a story of fear, pain, and surprises, and the lengths Tella, as the younger, bolder sister, will go to to protect her family. The relationship between the sisters remains key to the plot, but both sisters find themselves entangled in love triangles with potentially deadly consequences.

Once again, the final chapter opens up an entirely new facet of the story, and I had no choice but to keep reading …

Have you read Legendary? What did you think of Tella’s 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!

YA review: Legendary cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Caraval (Caraval #1)

Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: Caraval

The Caraval trilogy has been sitting on my Kindle for ages, and finally made it to the top of my eBook TBR. Why did I wait so long? The story is captivating, the characters interesting, and the setting is literally magical.

The first book of the series follows seventeen-year-old Scarlett Dragna, the older of two sisters, as she prepares for her wedding to a mystery suiter selected by her cruel father. Scarlett is the sensible sister, constantly trying to protect her younger sibling and making sacrifices to keep them both safe from their father’s obsessive controlling behaviour.

But Scarlett has a secret. Since she was eleven, she has been writing to the mysterious Legend, the magical master of Caraval – an annual immersive game where participants experience illusions and puzzles at the hands of Legend’s group of actors, and compete for valuable prizes. She knows that Donatella, her impulsive younger sister, has always wanted to experience Caraval, but Legend never responds to her letters.

Ten days before her wedding, everything changes. Legend writes back, inviting Scarlett, Tella, and Scarlett’s fiance to participate in an invitation-only Caraval on his private island. Tella is desperate to go and never come home, but Scarlett is determined to take her sister with her she gets married, and keep them both safe from their father. Her plan fails, and Scarlett finds herself heading for Caraval with Tella.

Separated from her sister, and accompanied by the sailor who brought them to the island, Scarlett must negotiate the games and illusions of Caraval. Desperate to find Tella, Scarlett has no choice but to engage with the game, and attempt to see past the magic to discover who she can trust, and who might be working for Legend. Along the way she finds love, loss and impossible choices, and experiences everything Caraval has to offer – wonderful, mysterious, and terrifying.

While the magic and mystery of Caraval is gorgeously described and entirely captivating, the heart of this book is its characters. Even with their contrasting personalities, Scarlett and Tella are entirely believable as sisters, used to protecting each other from an abusive father. Scarlett is sensible, careful, and afraid of letting Tella down. Tella is impulsive, confident, and always on the look-out for thrills and danger. Much of this story centres around Tella, but telling it from Scarlett’s point of view invites the reader to care about the younger sister, and fear for her safety as Scarlett does. It’s a clever twist, and it kept the pages turning as I needed to find out what would happen to both sisters at the end of the book.

The short epilogue kick-starts another stage of the story, and I couldn’t help reading on into Legendary, book two of the series.

Have you read Caraval? What did you think of Scarlett’s 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!

YA review: Caraval cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Mage Quest

Title: Mage Quest
Author: Julia Blake
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

YA Review: Mage Quest

The sequel to Erinsmore is here! Book Two of the Erinsmore Chronicles brings new characters, old friends, and three spirited dragons.

It’s been six years since Ruby returned from Erinsmore, leaving her sister Cassie behind. When she eventually finds a portal and takes the opportunity to slip between worlds, she inadvertently brings thirteen-year-old Finley with her. Twenty years have passed in Erinsmore. Everyone she left behind has aged without her, and she’s surprised to discover that she is aunt to a seventeen-year-old princess (and heir to the throne), and her twin brother.

The heir to Erinsmore’s throne is expected to find the mage who will be her lifelong companion and guide. Most heirs discover their mages early in life, but the princess has never felt the presence of hers. She will be using the traditional tour of the kingdom when she turns eighteen to search for her companion.

With their eighteenth birthday only days after Ruby’s arrival, the twins invite their aunt and her accidental companion to join them on their quest. The plan is to visit every major settlement, and for the princess to meet her future subjects. With the help of Lord Merric, Protector of the Royal Children, three awe-inspiring dragons, and a mysterious healer named Xem, the group sets out to tour the kingdom, and search for the heir’s mage.

But something is rotten in Erinsmore. Evil is rising, and strange and frightening creatures are terrorising the people. The quest becomes more dangerous, and the evil forces stronger, as the group travels north. Working together, can they track down and defeat the dark forces – and will the quest lead the princess to her mage?

This is a long-awaited and exciting return to the world of Erinsmore. While Ruby is older and wiser, and thrilled to see her sister again, thirteen-year-old Finley provides the sense of wonder as the newcomer to a place where magic and dragons are real. The reader rediscovers Erinsmore with Ruby, while seeing everything for the first time with Finley. It’s a great way to balance the wonder of the magical world with Ruby’s six-year exile and her wish to return.

When Ruby and Finley have found their feet and been welcomed into the castle, the story takes off (literally, on the backs of dragons), and the quest begins. Strange creatures, evil pirates, hidden mermaids and mysterious dark forces lie in wait for our characters, and they must work together to keep each other out of danger.

It’s a gripping story. The tension builds as the group draws closer to the dark power infecting Erinsmore, while the princess’s search for her mage brings unexpected leads and crushing dead ends. I was on the edge of my seat as the end of the book approached. I won’t spoil the story, but it grows more emotional and more exciting as the pages turn.

Julia Blake has written another fast-paced, engrossing novel that drags the reader in and begs to be read in one sitting. Dive in for a fantastic tour of Erinsmore, a mystery that builds as the story progresses, and just the right mix of romance, danger, friendship, and action.

You’ve waited long enough. It’s time to go back to Erinsmore.

The Mage Quest ebook will be published on May 16th, and the gorgeous illustrated paperback is available now. Thank you to the author for the ARC copy.

Have you read Erinsmore and Mage Quest? 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!

YA review: Mage Quest cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Stolen Heir

Title: The Stolen Heir
Author: Holly Black
Edition:
Hardback
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: The Stolen Heir - Holly Black

I have been waiting for the next instalment in the story of Elfhame, and I managed to pick up a gorgeous hardback copy of The Stolen Heir on the day of release. I wasted no time finding a comfortable place to start reading, and jumped straight in.

This book did not grip me in the same way as the Folk of the Air trilogy, possibly because of the hype around its release. That said, I still enjoyed the story – and Holly Black’s trademark dark characters, plot twists, and betrayals. There are plenty of exciting twists, and plenty of delicious betrayals in this first book of an Elfhame duology.

After the events of The Queen of Nothing Suren, daughter of Lady Nore and child queen of the Court of Teeth, leaves Elfhame to find safety in the human world. Oak, heir to the throne of Elfhame, seeks her out to join him on a quest. Suren and Oak were betrothed before the the betrayals of the Battle of the Serpent, and Suren cannot be sure of his intentions. Suren has her own reasons for helping Oak, and returning to the home of her childhood nightmares. As they travel together, their constant suspicion and inability to trust each other add to the dangers they face. It’s a tense and exciting read, with Suren and the reader constantly questioning Oak’s motivations, and trying to unpick the truth from the things Oak doesn’t say.

Oak is seventeen, and utterly charming. Suren is a feral child, surviving in the woods, out of sight in the human world. Both are fae, and neither of them can lie, but they can deceive. Like Suren, I found myself constantly questioning Oak’s words, looking for loopholes and omissions in everything he said. It makes for an intensely exciting story, and the tension between the characters only increases as they approach the end of their journey. The final betrayal is exquisite, and I can’t believe I have to wait for the next book! I can’t wait to go back to Elfhame.

Have you read The Stolen Heir? What did you think of Suren and Oak? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: The Stolen Heir cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Thorn

Title: Thorn
Author: Intisar Khanani
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Reluctant princess Alyrra is on her way to an arranged marriage in a neighbouring kingdom when she is given an unexpected chance to escape. Her mother expects her to involve herself in the politics and intrigues of her new home, and to happily marry a man she’s never met. Everything she’s heard about life in the foreign court leads her to believe that her safety there may not be guaranteed. When her identity is stolen by sorcery, she seizes the chance to disappear and live as one of the servants. She is given the job of helping to take care of the geese, and finds friends among the other servants.

But she makes enemies as well, and the woman who stole her identity is making the most of her new royal status. While Alyrra would be content to remain a goose girl, and make a home with her found family, her duties as the true princess weigh on her mind. When the imposter realises she needs Alyrra’s help to survive in her new role, the goose girl must decide which life she is willing to live, and what she is willing to give up to help her friends.

I first came across Intisar Khanani and her books at the #AtHomeYALC online event in 2021. She gave a talk entitled ‘Three Tips for Writing Mighty Girls’ (which you can find on the YALC YouTube page), and introduced me to the concept of the Heroine’s Journey as a structure for storytelling. This book follows that structure, instead of the more recognisable Hero’s Journey, and I really enjoyed the differences in pace and theme.

Alyrra is a ‘mighty girl’, but not because she’s a kick-ass protagonist or a solo heroine. Her strength lies in her moral compass, and in the connections she makes with the people around her. Before long in her role as goose girl, she has surrounded herself with friends among the servants, but also in the wider community. She defends herself from people who threaten her, but she also negotiates co-operation between characters who would otherwise draw their weapons on sight. It’s a powerful characterisation, and the author explores the story of this more emotional, co-operative protagonist while making sure there is plenty of action, peril, and heartache to keep the pages turning.

And the pages do keep turning. From the initial setup to the conclusion, the author keeps us guessing. What will Alyrra do? How will she react to danger and threats – to herself and her friends, and to her family and kingdom? You won’t find the beats of the standard Hero’s Journey here, but you will find an alternative way to tell a story, to empathise with a heroine, and to bring all the threads together at the end.

Full marks to Hot Key Books, whose back-cover summing up of the story in four words reads ‘Betrayal, Injustice, Sorcery, Geese’. They’re not wrong, but I’d add ‘A Mighty Girl’ to the list. Definitely worth a read.

Have you read Thorn? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the heroine’s journey structure? 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: Rule of Wolves

Title: Rule of Wolves
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Even more Grishaverse! Even more Nikolai! Even more Zoya! Even more Nina!

I’m so happy that the paperback edition of ‘Rule of Wolves’ has finally arrived, and I’m thrilled to have had the chance to read the end of the story that began in ‘King of Scars’.

The poison of The Fold is spreading, throughout Ravka and beyond. No one can predict where the blight will strike, leaving cursed dust in its shadow and wiping out crops, towns, and people. The Fjerdan army is massing on the northern border, and the queen of Shu Han is plotting her own moves against Ravka. Threats to the King and his people are growing, and Nikolai has few places to turn for support.

This book follows the fallout from the events of ‘King of Scars’. Nikolai and Zoya are constantly on the move, calming unrest in Ravka, directing troops on the front lines, and seeking diplomatic solutions to their disastrous situation. A mission to Shu Han attempts to minimise the threat from the queen, and Nina’s undercover work in Fjerda becomes more dangerous as she finds herself entangled with the Crown Prince and the inner workings of the Ice Court.

Where the first book developed each character’s story, focusing on Nikolai’s attempts to keep his curse concealed, and to forge a political partnership to protect Ravka, ‘Rule of Wolves’ is a much more strategic book. Reading it is like watching a very clever game of chess, as each country and player seeks to out-manoeuvre their neighbours, and find a way to increase their power and influence in the world. It’s a nail-biting plot, with constant twists and surprises – including a moment when I couldn’t decide whether to cry or throw the book at the wall, and a moment of air-punching brilliance near the end.

I loved the relationship between Nikolai and Zoya, struggling to keep their feelings hidden for the sake of Ravka, and each other. The roles of King and General ask so much from the characters, and their bravery and constant self-denial was heartbreaking to read. Yes, Nikolai is still my book boyfriend. I adore him – his quick wit, his refusal to give up hope, his acceptance of his role, and his sincere but impossible feelings for Zoya. He’s a wonderful character, and I hope we see more of him in future Grishaverse books.

While the plot is shaped by political decisons, there are plenty of fantastic action sequences, and several heart-stopping events that keep the pages turning. I loved the story (in spite of the book-throwing and tears), and the ending, while unexpected, is big enough and bold enough to complete the duology – while setting up for a new story, which I can’t wait to read!

I have adored all the Grishaverse novels, and I’m already wondering what happens next.

Have you read Rule of Wolves? What did you think of the story? And what about that ending? 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 Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)

Title: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)
Author: Josie Jaffrey
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Inspired by the legend of Atlantis, The Wolf and the Water is the exciting first instalment in Josie Jaffrey’s first non-vampire fantasy series.

Kepos is an isolated city, surrounded by impassable cliffs and the Eastern Sea, and protected by a high wall at the head of the valley. The Priests maintain the wall – the barrier, they say, between the valley of the living and the souls of the dead. Kepos is ruled by the Dekocracy, ten aristocratic families who share control of the wealth, power, and politics, from the respected Tauros clan to the tenth-level Glauks. Their children are expected to marry into other aristocratic families, and raise their status if they can.

Kala has two disadvantages in Kepos. She’s a Glauks – the lowest of the Dekocratic families – and her damaged leg means that she walks with a cane. The other Dekocrats would have disowned her, but her father refused. Instead, he taught her to read, and recognised her intelligence and humanity. Everyone agrees that she will never be able to marry. As a disabled girl from Glauks, she knows that none of the other families would allow the match. She spends her time in her father’s library, or escaping to swim in secret, sustained by her relationship with Melissa, one of the Glauks slaves.

When Kala’s father is killed, everything changes. As his only child, she is the Glauks heir, and a possible marriage partner for the younger son of another family. Her mother’s remarriage casts doubt on her status, and brings a cruel stepfather into her house – along with a new step brother and sister who both embrace Kala as a full member of their family.

But Kala is preoccupied with solving the mystery of her father’s death. She suspects the priests, and her questions bring her closer to the wall that protects everything she knows. Is it really holding back the souls of the dead, or is there something more dangerous behind it? Discovering more about her own family only raises more questions about Kepos, its place in the world, and the threat building behind the wall.

It’s a complex story, with plenty of effective worldbuilding and character development. Kala is a sympathetic protagonist, and following her journey from rejected child to Glauks heir and beyond is an emotional experience. Her relationships – with Melissa, with her mother, and with the new members of her family – are vividly drawn and entirely engrossing. She faces constant danger from the other Dekocrats, and constant uncertainty about her own status and safety, but her determination to survive matches her determination to find a place for herself in Kepos in spite of her disability.

The action and the tension build throughout the book, coming to a heart-stopping climax as Kala puts the pieces of her story together. The books ends on a spectacular cliffhanger, opening up enticing possibilities for the rest of the series. I can’t wait for book two!

Have you read The Wolf and The Water? What did you think of Kala’s 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: On The Edge (Dwelling Hunter #1)

Title: On The Edge (Dwelling Hunter #1)
Author: MJ Glenn
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Ebony Wick is a highwaywoman. She grew up in a cruel orphanage in the Dwellings, escaping to join the city’s street gangs at the age of ten. Now she lives alone in the forest, raiding carts and coaches for goods she can sell to survive. With the help of a friend who drives the carts, and the fairies who visit her campsite, she makes a living and evades capture by the Snatchers, whose job it is to send her back to the orphanage until she comes of age.

There’s a legend about the Shadow, a demon who lives in the woods, and Ebony uses the story to frighten the victims of her raids. She enjoys her reputation as the Shadow, and the effect it has on the people she robs. She is determined to survive alone, and avoid the orphanage, but when a stranger arrives at her hidden campsite, the life she has built is threatened.

On The Edge is an exciting YA fantasy with a strong, independent female lead. Ebony is an intriguing protagonist. She knows nothing about her past beyond the orphanage and the sadistic man in charge. She is clever, resourceful, and strong, and it is easy to sympathise when her carefully guarded life is challenged by an intruder.

From the first nail-biting page to the last, Ebony’s story twists and turns through friendship, loss, acceptance and betrayal. As she learns more about her past, she must decide who she can trust to protect her from the Snatchers, and whether she is willing to give up her independence in exchange for the protection of another gang. Working in a group might offer safety, but she will need to learn to work as part of a team. If she stays alone, she might lose the opportunity for revenge on the man who runs the orphanage. It’s an agonising decision – is Ebony ready to choose?

Book two in the series is coming soon, and I can’t wait to read it!

Have you read On The Edge? What did you think of Ebony’s 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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