The Unbroken by C.L. Clark, ARC Review

Every Empire Demands Revolution.

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

My Review

The Unbroken is an undeniable beautiful tale that depicts colonization and its heartbreaking and horrifying impact on people in a real, authentic, and unapologetic way that gets under your skin and never leaves.

That is what I love the most about this book. How unapologetic it is. It speaks the truth and all its ugliness without mincing its words.

It is told in two perspectives, of Touraine and of Luca. It is a wonder how the author told the story using two characters from opposite sides: the colonized, and the colonizer. To be honest, I found Luca hard to like a lot of times. She sees the impact she and her country inflict on Qazāl, yet it’s almost as if she lives in a utopic world, where once she ascends the throne, she’ll be able to make things better by giving them more freedom. As if they didn’t already live in their own land. But the beauty of storytelling comes in, and the author makes Luca not likeable but understandable. Don’t we all think that we’ll do this and that once we gain power? Don’t we think that everything is going to be fine as soon as we get control? We do. However, power and control and Luca’s morality don’t negate the fact that they are in Qazāl illegally. Luca understands that, and that’s what made me not dislike her. She knows that it’s wrong. Yet, she is the heir for the Balladairan throne, and when loyalties are tested, ultimately, everyone chooses their country. Moral, not, but understandable *to a degree* yes.

Touraine has my soul. She is definitely one of my all-time favorite characters. There were times she made me, Now darling why would you do that?, but everyone makes mistakes. We all mess up, sometimes more royally than others. But Touraine gets up. Every single time. No matter how bad things are and how they get, Touraine gets up. She is the ultimate survivor, and my respect for her has no bounds. It’s quite easy to tell her how she should be, how she should act, whose side she should be on. But that’s what everyone has ever done. They stripped her off her will and her identity. They stole her life and her freedom, her country and her language. And once someone takes everything from you, and then they start giving back you snippets, you may feel anger but you also may feel gratitude. A spark of hope. And that can take you far. That can help you survive, and faulting someone for surviving, no no. Touraine feels torn between countries and sides, yet her loyalty for her soldiers never falters. Because they’re like her. I loved her for this. Her loyalty made her mess things up *quite epically* but it’s her people, it’s her family, and at the end of the day, family comes first.

And as if the amazing characters, spectacular world-building, and excellent plot weren’t enough, The Unbroken is also queernormative, with sapphic main romance. Not to give away any spoilers, but there was a scene where a character could choose a wife or a husband, and both options were portrayed as valid and possible, with no judgment or anything. You marry whom you want, no problem. That scene made me sniffle, because I haven’t seen enough queernormative fantasy books that clearly indicate that bi- and pan-sexual people are valid.

This is adult fantasy at its very best.

The Unbroken is undeniable. Compelling. Enthralling. Captivating. It is a work of art, and I wish everyone could read it. The author’s voice is unapologetic and grips your heart in a vice. The quality of storytelling is astounding, and I cannot believe this is a debut. It depicts the raw brutality of colonization and shows authentic, realistic characters whom you either hate, love, or respect.

The Unbroken is needed. And frankly, it’s exceptional. One of the best books I’ve ever read.

A big thank you to Little Brown Book Group UK and Orbit Books for allowing me to read this in advance. It is as amazing as the bloggers of color said it was on Twitter. I already ordered the hardcover, and cannot wait to read the final version and be encompassed by this story once more.



Read the first two chapters here on Orbitbooks!

Add it to your TBR on GoodReads

Amazon | Amazon UK |Indiebound | Bookshop | Bookshop UK | B&N | Google Play | Apple Books | Kobo

Praise for The Unbroken

“Clark’s precise, thorough worldbuilding allows this remarkable novel to dive deep into the intricate workings of colonialism, exposing how power structures are maintained through social conditioning and exploring the emotional toll of political conflict. The result is a captivating story that works both as high fantasy and skillful cultural commentary.” PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY Starred Review

“A perfect military fantasy: brutal, complex, human, and impossible to put down.” —Tasha Suri, author of EMPIRE OF SAND

“Get ready to fall in love with Touraine and Luca in one of the best fantasy debuts I have ever read!” —Matt Wallace, Hugo-award winning author of SAVAGE LEGION

“A compelling and persuasive reimagining of both heroism and heroics.” —Evan Winter, author of RAGE OF DRAGONS and FIRES OF VENGEANCE

“C. L. Clark’s epic fantasy debut reveals all the ugly, painful, deeply personal complexities of revolution against empire, captured in shimmering pointillist detail. I’m in awe!” —Shelley Parker-Chan, author of SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN

“An unflinching story of colonialism and revolution and the people caught between. The Unbroken grabs you by the collar, breaks your heart over its knee, and mends it. An astonishing debut.” —Andrea Stewart, author of THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER

“High adventure on a human scale—don’t miss it.” —Alix E. Harrow, Hugo award-winning author of THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES

“A bold and exciting work that helps steer the evolution of the genre into the next decade.” —Marshall Ryan Maresca, author of THE MARADAINE SAGA

“A riveting epic fantasy about a city on the knife’s edge of rebellion.” —K. A. Doore, author of THE CHRONICLES OF GHADID

“The Unbroken is something special. I’m going to need book two ASAP.” —David Dalglish, author of SOULKEEPER

A Queen of Gilded Horns, by Amanda Joy, ARC Review

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The publisher kindly offered me a reader copy via Edelweiss. Yet, this is an honest review of the book expressing my own opinion.

This series has resided in my mind ever since I read the first book back in early December, 2019. When I say “resided in my mind”, I mean I’ve been thinking about Eva and this world constantly. I have read maaaaany YA fantasy books. I love a lot of them. But some series are special in the way they resonate with your soul, so deeply they’re a part of you, and that when you have a bad day, you think about it and smile with nostalgia and reminiscence. This is what this duology means to me.

Eva is such a strong role-model. I love how strong-willed she is and how opinionated she is. She holds on to her beliefs, admits her flaws and wrongs. She grows from them, she learns from them. It isn’t that she isn’t afraid. It’s her need to make things right that drives her, and that is not only admirable, but also rare.

My favorite kind of antagonist is the misunderstood one. The one who does ‘bad things’ but doesn’t necessarily have ‘bad’ intentions. That has always been Isa for me, and she doesn’t disappoint. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She struggles with what she wants, yet she knows who she is, flaws and strengths. That is also rare.

Aketo, Falun, Bacchia as well as Mother Ysai and Anali complete this magnificent cast. Everyone with their distinct personalities and quirks, they are all so well developed that if you give me a line, I’d be able to tell you who would say it.

The world-building and setting are one of the lushest I’ve ever read. With every page that I read, I kept wondering, How Did Amanda Joy Come Up with So Many Details???? They were expertly weaved into the narration and the story as if they belonged there, like a thread that if you pulled, everything would unravel. The intricacy in this novel blew my mind away, but Bacchia’s humor and Eva’s wit drew me back to the story. That and the feeling of being chased by thousands of the Queen’s Guards.

Myre feels like home to me. Part the characters, part the spectacular world-building, part the excellent writing. But I think what really did me in was the themes. As a person who comes from two countries and cultures, the reoccurring theme of having one foot in one identity and the other foot in another, that went straight to my heart. Amanda Joy weaved that theme so well that I felt understood. A country that was taken from its rightful citizens, freedom stolen away. People who did the best they could to survive and sacrificed so much for a brighter future. The themes in this book make my heart ache in agony for what they went through and smile at the characters’ light and perseverance.

The book does follow a semi-unusual structure, as in we’re moving all the way until 90% in the book. We do receive a well-done and well-deserving resolution. I loved all decisions pertaining the ending. As a huge fan, I got my closure with tears in my eyes as I knew that this is the final book. But I’d have liked to have at least one more scene with Isa to see her thoughts at the end.

Eva, Isa, Bacchia, Aketo, and the others are one of the most delightful casts I’ve ever read. This world, the author’s choices, as well as the core of the story (sisterhood and the beauty of who you are no matter what you look like) make this book stand out from miles away.

A Queen of Gilded Horns is an outstanding conclusion to a mesmerizing duology that will forever hold my heart and thoughts. And the author is an instant-buy for me. I don’t need to read the summary of her next book. I’ll buy it and continue on my merry way, knowing I’ll love the journey.

A million stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Amanda Joy
Publisher: Penguin Teen

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

About A River of Royal Blood (Book One)

My Review

https://athenagreyson.wordpress.com/2020/12/15/a-river-of-royal-blood-by-amanda-joy-review/

Important Links

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Reaper of Souls (Kingdom of Souls #2) by Rena Barron, ARC Review

WOW!!!!!!!! 😍 😍 😍 😍 (I still don’t know if my brain can form coherent sentences, but here it goes.)

The publisher kindly offered me a reader copy via NetGalley. Yet, this is an honest review of the book expressing my own opinion.

If I had to sum up this book in a phrase, it would be, Oh, Arrah. It’s not easy being Arrah. Not when she doesn’t have what she wants, and not when she has it, either. This girl has the burden of the world on her shoulders, and a huge crisis to solve–a crisis her family contributed to quite actively.

I also haven’t seen this many plot twists in a book. My jaw was dropping, and I was gasping every few pages. Rena Barron has created a masterful book, weaving plot threads like a Goddess of Writing, and thus creating one of the best sequels I’ve ever read. Most second books in a series aren’t as good as the first book. But this one, oh this one delivered exquisite magical adventures with different casts of characters (depending on your POV) that had me in awe.

The richest of world-buildings. We traveled a lot. We saw many different places, in many different ways, and I never felt confused or lost. The writing kept me in that place, and Arrah propelled us forward.

A main character who you root for and empathize with. I love Arrah. She’s my girl. I winced every time she hurt, and I wanted to hug her so many times.

This is a multi-POV book, in case you’re interested in this information. Arrah, Rudjek, and one more that I’ll keep a secret. I’m not a fan of multi-POVs, but this one I loved. All three POVs are necessary to deliver this multi-layered story, and you’ll end up liking them all, like I did. Having said that, in the first 40% of the book, there are some scenes that could have been cut. I personally enjoy this world so much that it didn’t bother me, but I did find some scenes that could have been omitted.

This series is spectacular. One of the best fantasy book series out there. Please, please, buy it and spread the word. Reaper of Souls is a showcase of masterful writing, plot-threading magic, deep character developments, and beauty all in all–even in the cruelest moments.

100+++ stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Rena Barron
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperVoyager

Some helpful links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Target

(Release date: February 18th!)

TIPS! Rena Barron is doing a pre-order campaign so check her social media for more details! The pre-order gifts are STUNNING!

One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite, ARC Review

The publisher kindly offered me a reader copy via Edelweiss. Yet, this is an honest review of the book expressing my own opinion.

For the sake of this book, I will try my best to make this review as coherent as possible. I could make a “clever” word play with the title and say, This book is definitely one of the great ones, but the meaning of the title is too important, too sacred to diminish it to a word play.

I’m not exaggerating when I confess that this book took my heart from the first page, broke it into a couple million pieces, and gave it back to me along with some hints of hope. Because it did. It had my nerves coil, my stomach clench, and my eyes were full of unshed tears the whole time.

It is as compelling as it is heartbreaking. The voice is undeniable and draws you in like a thousand-pound magnet. I knew this was a special, precious story from the very beginning. It’s one of those classics you rever at.

It is told in 4 perspectives, though the two main ones are of Happi and Kezi. One of the other two perspectives is set in the past. At first, I didn’t understand the importance of it (I’m also not a big fan of multi-POVs in a book) but in the second or third time we went back in time to that character, I got it. Every POV serves a purpose, a higher calling that complements the story. The four POVs put together transcend the story into a whole new level of literary and cultural brilliance.

This book reflects the reality and history of a Black American family in the US in such a heartwrenching way. I’m a white non-American/European, and while I know the basics, it is not nearly enough. This story not only makes readers question what it means to be an ally, but what it means to be a human being and a decent one, at that. It never preaches. It shows. It questions. It challenges. It pushes you to be better and question what that might entail.

I feel honored to having been approved of this ARC, and I will be recommending this book to anyone who listens. This book is a heartbreaking treasure that needs to be read and experienced.

This is not only one of the best YA contemporaries of the year, but ever. The voice has grit and power. The themes and messages are loud and vital to society. This is an example of brilliance in all aspects.

A heartbreaking and much needed perfection. That’s what this book is.

A million stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite
Publisher: InkyardPress at HarperCollins

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy, Review

I cannot begin to explain how much I love this book. The words float around me as my mind is stuck on two thoughts:

1. This book is MAGICALLY UNEXPLAINABLY exceptional.
2. Where is the sequel and how can I read it?

It was the book featured in Fairyloot’s November box, and I read it as soon as it arrived, sometime in December 2019. Now it is December 2020, and I can honestly say that this book, this story, this world, and this heroine hasn’t left my mind since. I have included this book in annual blog post series: My Best of 2019.

A River of Royal Blood is simple undeniable. The world-building is extraordinary and as lush as it can be, and possibly even more. The main character is a role model, a friend, a relatable version of ourselves that we can’t help but root for. The romantic sub-plot feels real and authentic and oh so compelling.

Truth be told, I have lost count of how many times I’ve recommended this book on Twitter. The only reason why I didn’t post my review earlier, is that I couldn’t put my feelings into words. How does one express their raw adoration of a book in a couple of hundred COHERENT words?

This is me trying, and I sincerely hope that you pick up this gem because A River of Royal Blood is one of the best YA fantasies I have ever read.

A River of Stars and Love from me to this book.

Check it out on Goodreads or Amazon or Book Depository

More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn, Blog Tour with ARC Review & Excerpt

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ABOUT MORE THAN MAYBE:

Growing up under his punk rocker dad’s spotlight, eighteen-year-old Luke Greenly knows fame and wants nothing to do with it. His real love isn’t in front of a crowd, it’s on the page. Hiding his gift and secretly hoarding songs in his bedroom at night, he prefers the anonymous comfort of the locally popular podcast he co-hosts with his outgoing and meddling, far-too-jealousy-inspiringly-happy-with-his-long-term-boyfriend twin brother, Cullen. But that’s not Luke’s only secret. He also has a major un-requited crush on music blogger, Vada Carsewell. 

Vada’s got a five year plan: secure a job at the Loud Lizard to learn from local legend (and her mom’s boyfriend) Phil Josephs (check), take over Phil’s music blog (double check), get accepted into Berkeley’s prestigious music journalism program (check, check, check), manage Ann Arbor’s summer concert series and secure a Rolling Stone internship. Luke Greenly is most definitely NOT on the list. So what if his self-deprecating charm and out of this world music knowledge makes her dizzy? Or his brother just released a bootleg recording of Luke singing about some mystery girl on their podcast and she really, really wishes it was her?

In More Than Maybe, Erin Hahn’s swooniest book yet, Luke and Vada must decide how deep their feelings run and what it would mean to give love a try.

 

My Review:

The publisher kindly invited me to the blog tour and offered me an advanced reader copy via NetGalley. Yet, this review reflects my unbiased opinion.

More Than Maybe is a book that speaks to the soul of the reader and another precious YA contemporary by Erin Hahn. In case you’re new to this author, she has also written You’d Be Mine, which is superb and perfect if you love country music like I do. The author is excellent at writing perfectly relatable characters and creating a narrative that could very well be real, and not fiction.

I truly enjoyed reading More Than Maybe. I don’t think I’ve read a book with two main characters that I identify with so much. Luke is an adorable introvert (like me!) who knows what he wants to do but isn’t sure how. Vada is the ambitious girl with big dreams and a clear path as to how to get there. She has also had a strained childhood, with a dad being M.I.A. or causing trouble when he’s not M.I.A.. Not to overshare, but I was Vada. I also had a Phil-like figure in my life, but damn, Phil is the one in a million stepdad. These two characters were so me that it felt like I was reading a story based on my life. It was a shock, a relief, and a delight at the same time.

I loved the characters. I also loved how the romance wasn’t the center of the story. It was about two teenagers finding their way towards their dreams and the future they want to achieve. All the characters are fully fleshed out and well-developed. I do believe relatable characters is the author’s specialty, so she definitely didn’t disappoint!

There wasn’t a thing I disliked about the book. The pacing and plot line were a little too slow for me, and I didn’t feel an urgency to resume reading the book. But this was just me.

Other than that, the book is great, and I am really glad that this book will be out in the world. I strongly believe that this story and these characters will touch and resonate with many readers and teenagers.

4 stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

Buy this book: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250231642 

Excerpt: 

I slip my phone back in my pocket, and the door opens again, causing my heart to flip-flop in my chest. Luke Greenly walks in, looking wet and harried and straight from my nerdiest daydreams, carrying his longboard under his arm and a cardboard coffee cup in his hand. Luke and Cullen aren’t identical twins. Cullen is tall and wiry with dark hair. Luke’s broad shouldered and fair with longish pale blond hair, currently plastered to his forehead despite the hoodie under his black leather jacket. He’s also got light gray-blue eyes behind bold black frames, contrasting his twin’s un-spectacled dark brown ones. Yet somehow, when they’re together, they look the same. They move in a similar way. And, yeah, their accents are yummy.

(I would never, ever admit it, but I play their podcast recordings before bed. Luke’s voice is extra soothing. Deep, lyrical, and crisp.)

The owner of those golden vocals approaches, and I duck, prodding at my nearly empty cup in an effort to hide my flaming cheeks. The Loud Lizard is my territory, and I am cool and calm and not at all flustered by Luke Greenly. We’ve spoken exactly nine times since Christmas and I’m, regrettably, still nervous around him. Also, I’m still counting. So, that’s . . . annoying.

“Hey-hey, Vada.” Luke clears his throat.

“Thought we wouldn’t see you tonight. Didn’t you have plans?” Cullen asks.

“I did, yeah. But Kazi didn’t show.” Thank God Kazi is reliably unreliable. No need to mention my Marcus drama to the Greenly twins.

“Shocking,” Cullen says drolly.

“Yeah, so I’m here. For a little longer anyway.” “Well,” says Cullen, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. The music dies down as the band wraps up their set. Unless it’s a special occasion, our live music usually ends early on Sundays, which is convenient for the Greenlys. The sound booth isn’t exactly soundproof in this place. “D’you need a ride home?”

I shake my head and lean into him. “Nah, I brought my mom’s car since I planned to meet my dad. Wanted a quick getaway.” That part’s true anyway.

Luke’s full lips twist in a half grin, and he removes his frames to give them a swipe on the dry edge of his hoodie.

I pull out the keys Phil left me and lead Luke and Cullen down a dark hallway, away from the noise of glasses clinking and instruments being loaded up. I unlock the sound booth and flick on a light.

“All yours, boys.”

Cullen leans down and smacks a kiss on my cheek. “Thanks, doll.”

I don’t know the Greenly twins super well, but Cullen is definitely the outgoing one. He’s also very, very gay. He’s been with his boyfriend, Zack, for so long they won homecoming kings this past fall by a landslide. Maybe that’s why I can talk to him so easily. Or maybe that’s just Cullen. His superpower is making people comfortable.

But it’s rare for me to see Luke without headphones or even hear his voice in person. I give him my best smile, but he only nods shyly as they pass. I inwardly sigh, all lust and longing and whatever else alliterative pining I can come up with. You know it’s bad when I’m the social one. I wait for them to get hunkered down at the mics before I close the door with a soft click behind me.

Back on the floor, I fill another cup with cherries and settle in to people watch. We have the modern equivalent to a jukebox in the corner that can be fed off debit cards, and someone’s clearly coming off a bad break because a second loop of Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry” has started. I skim the club for the culprit. My money’s on the black-haired beauty with Cover Girl’s Matte #5 stained on her one, two, three straws. “Get it, girl,” I mumble under my breath. Demi is a perfectly respectable breakup diva. See also: Sam Smith and Ray LaMontagne.

The door flings open with a gust of icy air, and Kazi appears in his pale, full-on dread-headed glory. I glance at my watch. Ohhhhh, he’s late. Or, later. Phil’s not gonna be happy.

I pass the keys to Kazi with a bored scowl. “You get to wake up Phil,” I say. He winces, and I don’t bother to hide my smile. “Also, he was expecting you half an hour ago, so.”

Grabbing my jacket from behind the bar and feeling for my keys, I wave goodbye to Ben and head out into the night. My breath huffs out in front of me. I unlock my door with a beep and immediately lock it behind me, turning on the heater and heated seats full blast and letting the ringing in my ears from an afternoon spent in a noisy club dissipate.

But I don’t like the silence. What I want is to walk back into the bar and perch on a stool and listen to breakup songs and banter with Cullen and let Phil preach at me. I want to help Ben pour drinks, cast dirty looks at Kazi, and wait for the moment Luke leaves and see if I can’t earn one last shy smile from him. I want to stay here. I want to delay the moment when I have to face my hurt feelings—or worse, my mom’s hurt feelings, because even after all this time, Marcus is still breaking two hearts with one drunken accusation.

After a minute, I release a slow breath and reluctantly pull my seat belt across my lap, backing out of my space to drive home. My real home, and not just the place that feels like it.

*Copyright 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of Wednesday Books.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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ERIN HAHN is the author of You’d Be Mine and More Than Maybe. She teaches elementary, would rather be outside and makes a lot of playlists. So many playlists in fact, that she decided to write books to match them! She married her very own YA love interest who she met on her first day of college and has two kids who are much, much cooler than she ever was at their age. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, aka the greenest place on earth and has a cat named Gus who plays fetch and a dog named June who doesn’t.

 

Author Links: Author websiteTwitter| Goodreads | Instagram

 

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Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales, ARC Review

The publisher kindly offered me a reader copy via NetGalley. Yet, this is an honest review of the book expressing my unbiased opinion.

 

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Only Mostly Devastated is a delightful YA contemporary with an authentic and thrilling voice that captured my attention from page one. Nowadays, many YAs don’t feel like they were written for the audience they were meant to, but Only Mostly Devastated is fresh and vibrant and vivid and simply one of the most authentic YAs I’ve read.

*coughs* We have excellent bi AND gay representation!!!!!

Ollie is such a kind soul with a very interesting and funny mind. Will is so misunderstood yet so sweet once you get to know him. I loved them both so much. Their chemistry and their arguments all felt so real as if they were my friends and I was reading their romance diary. I also loved their friends. They all had different personalities and were multi-faceted people, which I loved. The author not only managed to make these people fit together in a friends-group but also allowed them to grow throughout the story. Nothing in this book felt stilted or forced and static.

Only Mostly Devastated is full of life. And that means both the good and the bad. Not everyone goes to Ivy Leagues universities. Not everyone’s hobby is their life. But no one ever gives up. I loved this message the author chose to convey. It made the book and the characters all the more real and authentic to me.

I loved Only Mostly Devastated. It’s a book every teen deserves to read. Straight, questioning, queer; this book will make you feel and be seen and understood and also help you understand others. It’s fun and real. I strongly recommend this with all my heart.

5 stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Sophie Gonzales
Publisher: Wednesday Books / St. Martin’s Press

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon, ARC Review

The publisher kindly offered me a reader copy via NetGalley. Yet, this is an honest review of the book expressing my unbiased opinion.

 

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

 

This book is like a soothing balm for the heart and soul. It healed my very stressed, very tired heart and filled my brain with optimism and hope.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this book in terms of genre. To clarify, this is a YA contemporary/romance with a single fantastical element–the curse. It’s a modern diverse retelling of Beauty & the Beast set in a boarding school. And I loved it. This comes from a person who isn’t a big fan of retellings, but Sandhya’s story felt new and fresh.

I loved Jaya and Grey. Jaya was bright like the sun, while my poor, sweet Grey was like the stars asking for permission to shine. My heart broke for him, but Jaya was there to fix the problem like the smart, competent princess that she is.

The characters were a little different than usual but in a great way. They had more emotional baggage and grit, yet the author permeated the story with her adorable, cute, loving style. When I reached the end, I took a deep breath, relieved and happy for my characters because I love them too much. I should also say that the side characters were all incredible and well-developed, and I can’t wait to read their stories in the future.

Sandhya Menon has this way of bringing people together and wrapping them up with love and tenderness–even when they’re battling curses. I am a huge fan of Sandhya Menon. I have read and loved every book of hers, but this feels extra special. Jaya and Grey will always have a place in my heart.

I promise you that Grey will melt your hearts.

5 stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Sandhya Menon
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

The Archer At Dawn by Swati Teerdhala, ARC Review

The publisher kindly offered me an advanced reader copy via Edelweiss. Yet, this is an honest review of the book expressing my unbiased opinion.

The first book in the trilogy was great, and I loved it so much I couldn’t wait for the sequel. But let me tell you that The Archer At Dawn is phenomenal. Along with Holly Black’s The Wicked King, The Archer At Dawn is one of the best and most enthralling sequels I’ve ever read.

The book is told in Esha’s and Kunal’s points of view, and we have gay representation which I squealed over!! It was wonderful to see that perfect pair coming together.

The world-building was stellar, as always. The setting descriptions were vivid and full of life; I could see the Pink Palace and taste Esha’s mangoes. This series features world-building (in all aspects) at its best. Folklore and tales and mythology, all weaved together in a sweet package that makes you want more.

After some big changes in The Tiger At Midnight, our group of characters are adjusting, both emotionally and practically. It was a delight to see their growth. The way the characters interacted with each other, the banter, the wit, the giving and taking, the challenges they presented for each other was magnificent. If I had to pick one favorite thing from this book, it will be the outstanding ensemble cast and their interaction with each other. I loved them all. The overprotective Bhandu, the charming Harun, the firecracker Arpiya, and some characters that surprised me like Alok and Farhan.

Esha was magnificent, as always. She struggled with some decisions and made other hard choices, but her intellect and drive for justice remained true and fierce. Esha is everything I love in a main character. I’d follow her anywhere. I’m Team Esha all the way.

Kunal struggled the most with the changes, and I don’t blame him. His thoughts and his perspective never dulled, however, and they always made sense. He changed a lot, but at the same time, he stayed true to who he is at his core, and I loved how the author managed this. It’s another sign of how masterful the author is when it comes to character development.

Overall, I have nothing else to say except BUY THIS TRILOGY. Excellent world-building, incredible story-lines, amazing characters, blades, and mangoes. I swear you’ll be as obsessed as I am with this series. I have the ARC, but I’ll definitely preorder the hardcover to match The Tiger At Midnight. Swati Teerdhala is an author you don’t want to miss.

5 stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Swati Teerdhala
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, ARC Review

The publisher kindly offered me a reader copy via Edelweiss. Yet, this is an honest review of the book expressing my unbiased opinion.

I’m trying really hard to come up with words to type in this review. Star Daughter is pure magic. It’s as heavenly as the skies and the palace in Svargalok. There are so many things I loved about this book I’m having trouble gathering them into a cohesive train of thought. But here it goes…

First of all, the representation!!! It is inspired by Hindu mythology! It has a f/f relationship! Desi people, gather round because this beauty is all about you, for you.

Second of all, there’s a love interest for the main character, Sheetal, and we’ll see that relationship evolve throughout the book, but I really loved the fact that it wasn’t the focus of the book. This story is about a girl who has never felt like she belongs, who has always needed to hide who she is. This story is about a girl coming to terms with who she is and her place in the world. As a person who has felt like she was torn between countries and cultures, Star Daughter means the world to me because it captures that reality and reflects that tipping point: “Am I this or am I more of that?”

Third of all, all the side characters give nuance to the story and every single one of them feels well-developed and fully fleshed out. Sometimes, especially in fantasy books, you get the feeling ‘We didn’t need that character. They could go.’ But in Star Daughter, the characters only make you want more. You want to learn more about them.

In other words, you want to be part of the star court. You want to BE in that world. Which brings me to the fourth and perhaps most outstanding of all–the world-building. Holy moly, Shveta Thakrar is a world-building mastermind. She weaves Hindu mythology and culture into her own fantasy world effortlessly like the brilliant storyteller that she is. I never felt like the setting descriptions were too much or too little. I just consumed every detail with grace and gratitude. I’m not a setting-fan as a reader or writer, so for me to say how amazing, creative, incredibly well-written it was, it speaks volumes. I always felt like I was there, almost close enough to touch the stars–literally.

Also, as a writer, I’ve studied story structure a lot, and as a reader, I’ve read a LOT of fantasy books, but Shveta really is a brilliant storyteller with a distinct way to tell a story who twists and tweaks the rules and guidelines of all these craft books.

It’s only January, but I feel confident enough to say: If you only read one debut this year, READ STAR DAUGHTER.

5 stars – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Shveta Thakrar
Publisher: HarperTeen/HarperCollins