Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza


“Was there really so much hatred in the universe, so much prejudice, even among people who claimed to be unbiased? Had this always been true?”


Honestly, Sci-Fi isn’t always my go-to genre; I have always been an avid Star Wars fan, but I tend to be quite wary of sci-fi novels as I really struggle to find ones that I can connect with, or that don’t info dump too much (in my opinion). However, when Empress of a Thousand Skies was announced, I jumped straight on the hype train along with everyone else. All I knew about this book was that it was a YA sci-fi, centered around a Princess set on vengeance, full of diverse characters, and I had high hopes for it. I’m happy to say that this book didn’t disappoint. 
Empress of a Thousand Skies switches between two POV’s – Princess Rhiannon Ta’an (Rhee), the last survivor of the Kalusian dynasty. Rhee is approaching her sixteenth birthday and coronation, but is determined to out her family’s murderer before she is crowned. The second POV character is Alyosha, a Wraetan refugee who has found fame in a DroneVision show, The Revolutionary Boys. When Rhee is attacked during her journey to her home planet a few days before her coronation is planned, the galaxy assumes her dead, and Alyosha is blamed – a scapegoat in a universe still full of prejudices against Wraetans. 

For me, what really made this book was the incredibly relevant social commentary. Alyosha struggles daily with being Wraetan and being famous – he feels as though his actions will reflect the actions of everyone from Wraeta, his home planet which was destroyed in the last war with Kalu. Despite the treaty between the Kalusians and the Wraetans following the war, tensions are still high between them both, and Alyosha is determined to prove the often racist and stereotypical opinions that the Kalusians have of the Wraetans wrong. However, when he is framed for Rhee’s murder, all of his carefully done hard work goes awry, and war flares back up across the galaxy. Alyosha also has an incredibly emotional backstory, focusing on his journey away from Wraeta before it’s destruction, and his feelings of displacement ever since. I felt as though Alyosha’s story particularly is so relevant to the world we’re currently living in, and it was easy to see the parallels despite him being from a completely fictional planet. 
Rhee’s side of the story is far more fast paced, and is much more of a coming of age story as she delves into the secrets surrounding the murder of her parents and sister, as well as coming to terms with the differing opinions of her being on the brink of taking the crown at such a young age. Both Rhee and Aly’s stories circle each other and join together in such a perfect way, making the overall plot of this book full of cliffhangers, surprise twists and heartbreaking scenes. 

I often struggle with world building in sci-fi novels, however the world building in Empress was both easy to follow and complex enough to flesh out the galaxy at the same time. Each of the characters visited multiple planets, moons etc throughout, which I thought really added to the overall plot – why stick to one planet when you have a whole galaxy in your reach? There was also a map and a little glossary at the front – two things which are bound to start a book off on the right foot!
If I were to have one criticism, it’d be that I would have liked more character development. I felt as though I could have connected to Rhee more than I did, and hopefully I’ll be more emotionally invested in her story in the second book. 
Overall, Empress is truly unlike any other sci-fi book I’ve ever read – it’s culturally relevant to our time, whilst remaining fast-paced enough to keep you interested, and is set across a whole galaxy that I can’t wait to see more of in the sequel. I’d definitely recommend this book! 
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love Becky @

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


Every now and then you come across a book that within mere chapters, makes you think this is so important. Those were my thoughts when reading If I Was Your Girl by the wonderful Meredith Russo. We follow the story of Amanda, a transgender girl who goes to live with her father. She falls in love, makes new friends and learns to love the body she should have been born with. The novel switches between present day and flashbacks all the way through Amanda’s childhood to her attempted suicide and finally, her transition. This is a YA contemporary with all our much-loved themes but having it told by a transgender woman makes the story so much more important.


Likes

+ Amanda. A transgender main character in a YA novel? Yep. Not only that, it’s also written by a transgender author. This is so important for young readers, regardless of the story itself. For Amanda to lead the life that many YA characters live – to fall in love, have family issues, meeting a new group of friends but also have such a traumatic past. She is brave character and incredibly strong. She tells us her story from present day but also switches between years and months ago, from a very young age when she knew that she should have been born a girl. There’s this amazing parallel scene in the book – in one chapter, Amanda tells us of the time she took pills and tried to end her life but then we also experience the moment she took pills that began her transition and the two scenes – one heartbreakingly sad and the other heartbreakingly joyous really stood out for me. Amanda is definitely one of my top favourite female characters after reading this book. 
+ Familial relationships! Amanda has a very strong bond with her mother, despite the fact that she is living with her father during the events of this novel. Her mother is the one who helped her after her suicide attempt and accepted that she is transgender. Her father, however, is less accepting at first and so the two go on a journey of acceptance. I like that there were strong family ties in this novel but still maintained complications. It’s realistic and it showed not only Amanda’s journey through transition, but also her parents. The two ultimately care deeply for their daughter. 
+ Female friendships!! I recently posted a blog post about my favourite fictional female friendships and I wish I had read this book before I compiled it because Amanda’s friendship with Chloe, Anna and Layla was really lovely. They accept her from the very beginning and they all maintained such a healthy relationship, especially Anna who is very religious and has a very religious family. I mean, Chloe pulled a loaded gun on Parker to save Amanda. Friendship goals.

50/50

+ The romance between Amanda and Grant. Okay, so I went from loving these two, loving their healthy relationship (he asked if he could kiss her rather than just kiss her without consent when she was babbling on and this is something that is important to me), he says that he would accept her no matter what and even refuses to read a letter she writes to him explaining everything etc etc butwhen he discovers Amanda was transgender, he wandered off and was nowhere to be seen until the end of the book even asking the question, ‘does that make me gay?’ However, he agrees to hear Amanda’s story from the beginning but this is how the book ends!! Does he accept her? Nobody knows. I’m all for books that don’t have everything tied up in a little bow at the end because that’s real life but this didn’t sit well with me. Their entire relationship would have changed in my eyes if he still didn’t end up accepting her, especially as he ‘loved her no matter what.’ 


Dislikes

+ Character treatment. So a character in this book, Bee, is bisexual, something she openly admits. She is also in a secret relationship with Chloe, another of Amanda’s friends. Bee is the first person Amanda trusts enough to tell her she is transgender as the two form a quick friendship and play a game in which they tell each other secrets about each other. What seems like a strong bond quickly turns sour when Bee attempts to kiss Amanda, gets kindly rejected and then proceeds to stand on stage and reveal secrets about pupils, including outing Amanda and Chloe. It was awful and I feel as though it came from nowhere? I feel like Bee’s character was ruined here and for no reason and also nothing comes of it after. She was such an interesting character, she was a good friend to Amanda, openly bisexual and also a rape victim and I feel like outing everybody was very OOC for her. 

+ Unnecessary attempted rape scene (trigger warning for this!) At the end of the novel, after the events of Homecoming, Amanda is apprehended by Parker, a friend of Grant who she turned down at the start of the novel. He offers her a ride home but when he is rejected, he goes on to verbally abuse her, punch her and attempt to rape her when only a few chapters ago, he was apologising for any hard feelings between them. Luckily Amanda is helped by her friends but once again like the Bee situation, nothing comes of it and Parker isn’t mentioned again despite this horrific crime. I felt like it was unnecessary and it made me extremely uncomfortable.


**

Overall, this book is important and no rating will change that. Having a YA contemporary novel that has a transgender main character is unfortunately very rare despite it being 2016 so every one we get is a must-read. Amanda was an amazing character, she was brave and strong but most of all, she was happy in her body and that was so beautiful to see considering she spent so long in the wrong one. This is another book that I would encourage to be compulsory reading in secondary schools, both for the cisgender and transgender communities.
Love,

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

She brings the snow with her touch,
they think she’s gone, but we know she will come again,
she will reign in his stead,
she will bring down the world on his head,
oh come, snow, come…

When Snow was five years old, she attempted to walk through a mirror, cutting herself to shreds. Ever since, she has lived in the Whittaker Institute – a mental hospital in New York. When she is banned from seeing her closest friend in the hospital, Bale, she devises a plan to escape with the encouragement of a strange new boy who appears in her dreams, encouraging her to find him beyond the tree. Snow soon finds herself in a world unlike her own, full of witches, magic, and snow-wielding kings – and it just happens to be the world that she had been born in. Now, she must uncover the secrets of Algid to help her find Bale, whilst trying to learn how to control her new found powers and come to terms with her royal heritage.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC of this book!
First off, I just want to point something out – a lot of people seem to think that this is a Snow White retelling (and I did, too, before I started reading it). Although Snow White’s dwarves are mentioned, this is when Snow is talking about the fairytale, not reliving it. This story is, if anything, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Frankly though, if you’re looking for a retelling of that fairytale, I would honestly recommend sticking to watching Frozen. Really though, I think the world retelling is getting thrown around a bit too much now. This is a novel about a girl who has snow related magic and also happens to be a long lost princess, and we’ll leave it at that.
Anyway. Stealing Snow was certainly an experience. And when I say that, what I mean is I had no clue what was going on for the majority of the book.
At the beginning of the book, when Snow was still inside the institution, I was really interested. I wanted to know more about her life there, why she had been put there, about the other teens living there. Once Snow was outside and running around Algid, however, I lost interest quite fast.
Snow is taken to Algid by Jagger, wanting to find Bale, but then gets caught up with a river witch, a girl with a penchant for magic who was so insignificant that I can’t remember her name (Gaude, maybe?) and this girls sort of brother Kai, who is essentially the epitome of male YA stereotype. I have never read a character who is so unnecessarily melancholy. So, let’s review. We’re probably not even 25% into the book at this point, and we already have three love interests. When reading YA, I would expect one, if not two, love interests. But three? What? For a start, Snow has literally just met two of these boys – one of whom she believes kidnapped her first love interest, and the other who is nothing but awful to her. Second, I just don’t see the need? I didn’t think that whatever she supposedly “had” with Kai impacted the story in any way – it was completely unnecessary. 
So after Snow has had her run in with Kai and co., she meets up with Jagger again who takes her to meet a bunch of robber-girls who live in a castle, creating spells and changing their faces. You’d think everything would improve at this point, and the plot was definitely getting more interesting, but I still just didn’t care. I just can’t connect with a book if I don’t care about either the plot or the characters. 
Overall, Stealing Snow wasn’t an awful book, and I have definitely read worse. It’s real problem was that it didn’t make me feel anything. Often when I dislike a book, it’s made me really angry, but this didn’t even do that. In my opinion, there was no world building, no plot or character development, and no explanation for anything that happened in the plot (for example, how was it that Snow’s powers just happened to appear? Hadn’t she ever accidentally frozen someone as a child or something? Where did they come from?!)
This book does seem to be getting a lot of mixed reviews, so I would definitely encourage anyone who had been thinking about reading it to try it for themselves. Everyone has different opinions, after all!
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Have you read Stealing Snow yet? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!

Love,

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Thanks to HarperVoyager for the ARC of this book! This review will be spoiler-free.
If you survive, you shall be a force to be reckoned with in this world. But first you will be unmade. First, you will be broken.
+
A Torch Against the Night kicks off right where An Ember in the Ashes left off – with Elias and Laia fleeing for their lives, on their way to rescue Laia’s brother from Kauf Prison. In order to reach Kauf in time, they must avoid detection from the Martials and the Commandant – but can they really trust those who they think are on their side?
The Empire has taken an even darker turn under Emperor Marcus, and Helene Aquilla must face his atrocities firsthand with her new role as Blood Shrike. When her loyalty to Marcus is questioned, she is forced to take on a mission in order to keep those she loves most safe – even if this mission destroys her.
 
+

I think it’s quite easy for the second book in a trilogy to never quite live up to the thrill of the first book, however, A Torch Against the Night is definitely an exception to this. This book was just as amazing as, if not better than, An Ember in the Ashes. Once again, it was action packed from the start and there wasn’t a slow moment. I was worried that it would have a lot of filler material, and although a lot of the plot was definitely building up to something bigger coming which I assume will appear in the third book, everything was still relevant to this book’s storyline, and I definitely didn’t expect one of the big twists at the end.
As with the first book, Torch was written from one point of view; however, I feel as though where Ember was very much Laia’s story, Torch focuses a lot more on the stories of Helene and Elias. I have always loved Helene, but after this book, she’s definitely my favourite character from this series. All of the characters grew so much in this book, but I think Helene did most of all – and she certainly made me cry more than once.

I’d probably say that the one disappointing thing about this book was that the Commandant didn’t appear much. In the first book, I found her to be such a strong presence, and she’s definitely one of my favourite antagonists. I mean, when she did appear in Torch, she lived up to her reputation and was crueler than ever, but I think she definitely could have been around more. I’m hoping she’ll be a bigger character in the final book of the series!

Despite this, I’d still give A Torch Against the Night a strong five stars. Bring on book three!

A Torch Against the Night is released in the UK on the 8th September 2016 and in the US on the 30th August 2016. Are you excited to find out what happens after An Ember in the Ashes? Let us know in the comments!
 

 

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

“Wouldn’t we all look guilty, if someone searched hard enough?”


Dangerous Girls is a contemporary mystery thriller. It’s the story of Anna, a girl who is away in Aruba for Spring Break with a group of friends, when one morning they find her best friend Elise stabbed to death in her room. Anna is immediately labelled as the prime suspect. The book follows Anna’s desperate attempts to prove her innocence, and as the mystery is unravelled further, it grows clear that some members of the group are hiding things from the night of Elise’s murder… 


Angharad:



Okay, I just read this book in one sitting and now my eyeball hurts. I am in too much shock to form a coherent review so I’ll do some bullet points. Okay? Good.


THE COMPLEXITY OF TEENAGE GIRLS AND THEIR RELATIONSHIPS. Were Anna and Elise more than just friends? Probably. Does it matter? No. I think we will all have our opinions about the nature of their relationship but deep down, it is two girls with an obsession with each other. And obviously, if you’ve read the book, obsession isn’t always a good thing. 


The entire justice system. I wanted to scream because it couldn’t be real but at the same time, yes it is. We see this happen in real life, like Anna says, it is all like a well-constructed play and everybody has their parts. It doesn’t always matter whether a person is innocent or guilty. Also the whole media coverage?? It really makes you think how much is real.

Anna is such a complex character? I can’t get too much into my thoughts about her because she is just one big mystery but woah, her character was so amazing to read. She was so unpredictable and also relatable to me. 

– Overall, this is a book that you will start and within a few pages, will become hooked by. I just wanted to get to the end (in a good way) so I could find out what happened. The novel includes transcripts, phone logs and even a floor plan which makes you feel so much more immersed in the story and trial itself. I haven’t previously read any of Abigail Haas’ work before but I definitely will from now on. I’m so annoyed that this book has been on my shelf for so long. 

– Go and read it!

– But prepare to have your mind blown!




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Becky:
Dangerous Girls is such a compelling read. I loved this book so much that I finished it in just a few hours – it drags you in and keeps you captivated throughout its entirety. I couldn’t put it down as I had to know who had killed Elise – I really couldn’t concentrate on anything else until I’d found out! Then, when I did find out, I was so shocked but at the same time, so happy. This book had such a perfect ending. 

Everything about this book was so complex, from Anna and Elise’s relationship and what their possessiveness over each other entailed, to Anna’s character in itself. I loved the way that the story unfolded, starting with Elise’s death, and how the reader was allowed to see more and more of ‘behind the scenes’ and flashback moments as the book went on, as well as floor plans of the holiday home and other pieces of evidence used in the trial. It allowed you to form your opinion on each character and on who committed the murder, change those opinions constantly as the book went on, and then have your mind completely blown when you reach the end and find out that everything you thought you’d worked out in this book was a lie.

I can’t recommend Dangerous Girls enough – I’m not always a fan of contemporaries, but this beautiful little contemporary mystery-thriller just blew me away. I can’t wait to read Dangerous Boys!




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Have you read Dangerous Girls? Let us know what you think of it in the comments! 

Girl in Pieces Review

We were kindly sent an ARC by Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review.

Girl in Pieces tells the story of seventeen-year-old Charlie, a girl who is no stranger to pain and loss. In order to cope, she self-harms to the point that we meet her at a rehabilitation centre where she is on her way to recovering. She shares her experience with a bunch of other, complex females and it all seems to be on the right track until Charlie is told that she is being released. Faced with the reality of living on the outside again, she must find her way alone but is she ready to let people back in?
The first thing that struck me about this book is its format. The author breaks the first few pages of the book into ‘pieces’ which I found genius. At the start of the novel, Charlie is metaphorically in pieces and the writing reminds us of this. As the story continues, the chapters get longer as Charlie has more to say. When she is in a bad way, the writing gets choppy again, it is quite literally linked to Charlie’s state of mind. As for the writing itself, it reads like a poem, it flows together. There are lines so heartbreakingly beautiful that they will take your breath away.
This isn’t just a story about self-harm – the author focuses on addiction, abuse, homelessness etc. Every character in her book has a story and none of them are ever made to feel unimportant, they all have a voice. Charlie comes into contact with many different people during this book – the girls at the hospital, her colleagues at work and even the people who live in her apartment block. This isn’t just a story about Charlie, it’s a story of all the people she meets and how they affect her.
My heart ached for Charlie. I haven’t felt that much sympathy for a character in a long time. Every time she found solace in her art, I wanted to cheer for her and I love that her art style changed as she healed. She is a survivor, she endures and sometimes she gets knocked down, but she gets straight back up. She starts off not talking and yet as she found her voice, she began to find herself. She starts the journey to loving herself and not being ashamed of her scars, she lets people in and she pulls herself away from rock bottom. I’m proud of Charlie, I’m proud that I could get to know her.
Kathleen Glasgow isn’t afraid of delving into the dark world of mental illness. She doesn’t skirt over Charlie’s self-harm, Riley’s addiction or Linus’ alcoholism. Although these aren’t light-hearted subjects in themselves, she still manages to maintain a layer of hope throughout the novel. She makes you root for Charlie and the other characters, hoping that they can heal and keep going. Nothing is romanticised in this novel and I am so grateful for that. It is evidently clear that Kathleen Glasgow put her heart and soul into this book. 
This novel reminds me that we need to extinguish the stigma that is attached to mental illness. It should not be a taboo subject and it’s heartbreaking that it is something that is so common and I include myself in that. Charlie is a young girl who lost her father and her best friend, has an abusive and distant mother, is almost the victim of sexual assault, experiences homelessness and hunger but keeps going. She survives it and although her journey to recovery is far from over, she shows that you can do it. You can pull yourself out of it and I think that is such an important message, especially to the younger generation. 

This book will be released on September 6th and keep tuned because we will be posting an interview with the author herself soon!

This Savage Song – V. E. Schwab


This Savage Song is the story of Kate and August, the heirs to the two men in charge of either half of Verity, a city torn by monsters that are formed from the violent acts of sinners: the Corsai, formed of shadow and feeding on flesh; the Malchai, the blood drinkers who roam the streets; and the rare Sunai, the coal-eyed, human-like soul eaters. Kate and August, through family feuds, should be enemies. This is what happens when their lives collide. 

Disclaimer: 
we were both sent this book by the publisher, Titan Books, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are our own.


Becky’s Thoughts:

This Savage Song is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and it was right up my street. A dark urban fantasy written from two points of view, some amazing badass characters, an ending full of suspense and leaving me needing the sequel already, and on top of that, monsters?! This book was amazing! I feel like I’ve read so many books about vampires, werewolves, fairies, angels and demons, chimaera, even zombies, but monsters seem to be often sadly left out of fiction. I’m officially putting out a call to action for more monster related books to be written. 
Anyway, this book. it was perfectly written and laid out, with the sections being titled as verses, and the idea of the story being a song was prevalent throughout. 
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal.
Sing you a song and steal your soul.

I was so hooked on this book that I was genuinely counting down the minutes until I could carry on reading it whenever I wasn’t able to. I connected with the characters so well, and a relatable character is one of the main necessities in a book in my opinion. 
First, there’s Kate, the daughter of crime lord Callum Harker who runs one half of the city. She was a character who I fell in love with straight away. She distances herself from others and shrouds herself in anger in an attempt to impress her father, but has deeply hidden secrets and problems that she buries. August is the adopted son of Henry Flynn, who runs the other side of the city. August is a monstrous boy who just wants to be normal. I loved both of these characters, as well as their interactions with each other and the way that their friendship developed through the book. They are completely different, but complement each other perfectly, and this development and their journeys, both separately and together, are at the heart of the plot. The story also revolves around the idea of looking at who is truly the monster in the situation; those who are called monsters, or the men who use and control them. 
As I said earlier, this book is so unique and I did thoroughly enjoy it. It’s not even been released yet, and I’m already anticipating the sequel!

Angharad’s thoughts:


+ V.E. Schwab can do no wrong when it comes to writing monsters. She takes the concept of them (which has been done so many times) and turns it on its head. This novel doesn’t only explore monsters vs monsters but more importantly, the roles humans play in showing that not all monsters are monstrous and not all humans are good.

“It hurts,” he whispered.
“What does?” asked Kate.
“Being. Not being. Giving in. Holding out. No matter what I do, it hurts.”
Kate tipped her head back against the tub. “That’s life, August,” she said. “You wanted to feel alive, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re monster or human. Living hurts.”

+ I love that at the heart of this story is the friendship between Kate and August. Yes, you heard me, friendship. Whether or not their relationship develops in the sequel remains to be seen but at the moment, I am so happy with their journey as friends. I think authors can forget the strength in friendship. Kate and August are polar opposites (not just because they are different species) and yet they come together to form a mutual trust and a formidable team. They sacrifice a lot for each other and I’m exciting to see where their journey takes them.

“I read somewhere,” said Kate, “that people are made of stardust.”
He dragged his eyes from the sky. “Really?”
“Maybe that’s what your made of. Just like us.”
And despite everything, August smiled.

+ Kate Harker is a wonderfully written character. We meet her as she is burning down her boarding school’s chapel. Yep. After the death of her mother, Kate’s father sent her to six different boarding schools, all of which she purposefully got kicked out of. Her goal is not just to live with her father but to be like her father. Kate commits cruel acts but she has a good heart. She thinks this is the only way to win her father’s approval. She is brave but lonely, automatically isolating herself as she doesn’t want to do anything that will make her father class her as weak. She finds solace with August who doesn’t judge her because she is the daughter of an important (but assholish figure.) 

Kate smiled at the praise, even if it was an act. She’d show him. She could be strong. She could be cunning. She could be cold.

+ August is one of the three monsters in this book. He is a Sunai, a creature that is able to lure victim’s towards them with music only to kill them by feeding on their soul. He sounds scary right? Nope. August is a little golden retriever. He dotes on his adoptive family, wishes he was normal and has a very good heart. I loved his relationship with his sister, Isla (who I want to see a LOT more of in the sequel) and he is proof that not all monsters have a monstrous heart.

I am not a monster, that’s what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t. He hadn’t found a way to make it true.

+ One thing that I loved in this book was the mention of disabilities. Kate has lost her hearing in one ear and that is never mentioned and then forgot about a chapter later. It hinders her a lot but she still pushes on. August, due to the hunger that he often experiences, develops moments of sensory overload. As a person on the autistic spectrum, I too suffer with this and V.E. Schwab described these episodes in perfect detail. People just don’t get it when I can sometimes shout “It’s too loud!” so it’s so refreshing that this is explored. 

August cringed; the overhead lights were too bright, the scraping of chairs too sharp. Everything was heightened, like the volume on his life was turned up but not in an exciting way. Noises were too loud and smells too strong and pain — which he did feel — too sharp.

+ Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I did enjoy Vicious more so that’s why I’ve knocked off half a star. I can’t wait for the sequel so I can lose myself in the world V.E. Schwab has created. If you want a book with a strong friendship, flawed but wonderfully written characters and monstrous worlds, then this is the one for you.


This Savage Song is released on the 7th June in the UK and the 5th July in the US.