Sunday 25 February 2024

REVIEW: A Grim and Sunken Vow by Ashley Shuttleworth

Format: Hardback
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: November 28th 2023

The die is cast.

The era of Spring is over.

Riadne’s bloody coup on the Summer Solstice changed Arlo’s life forever. In one fell swoop and a fool’s bargain, she lost both her family and free will to the newly crowned High Queen. Now, with Arlo forced to use her powers as Luck’s Hollow Star to help summon the rest of the seven deadly sins, Riadne stands closer than ever to achieving her dark goals.

And Arlo isn’t the only one trapped in a frightening new role. Her ex-Fury girlfriend, Nausicaä, is determined to do whatever it takes to stay by Arlo’s side, even if that means becoming Riadne’s pet assassin. Aurelian and Vehan, torn apart, struggle to survive on their own.

Meanwhile, Celadon has been revealed as Riadne’s illegitimate son—and heir to both Spring and Summer, the ultimate offense in the faerie world. But the High Prince has secret plans of his own, plans made all the more complicated when the beautiful and deadly immortal Hunter Lethe takes an interest in him…

Five budding legacies will need more than luck if they hope to stand a chance against the greatest adversary the Courts have faced. For nothing’s more dangerous than a faerie tale… except the one who tells it, and maybe what they’re going to need is no longer that story’s hero but its villain.  

I,,,, don’t even know where to start. This book??? Was written for ME. I’ve been in love with this series since I first got my hands on A Dark and Hollow Star, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this latest instalment. Especially because it’s more focused on two of my favourite characters. A certain two people on the cover. 

And oh boy, was I treated after my wait. 

A Grim and Sunken Vow picks up immediately after the harrowing events at the end of A Cruel and Fated Light, throwing us right back in the middle of all the drama. There is a time skip after a few chapters, which I LOVED because it had me stressed and curious at the same time to see what had changed.  

How do I even begin to describe the love I have for these characters? I mean, Arlo is a fellow pansexual, so naturally I would die for her. Nausicäa is so my type it’s painful. Vehan and Aurelian have that oh-so-special 'we’ve been secretly in love with each other forever and now we’re figuring out how to be more than best friends' thing going on. Which is a GOD TIER trope, btw. And then,,, there’s Celadon and Lethe.  

As a Lethe enjoyer from the very start of this series, I feel SO validated right now. You know how much I’m an absolute sucker for a villain who actually might be a big softie and only has their awfully traumatic past to blame for the way they are. Getting to discover more of his backstory was such a long-awaited treat. Even though it ripped my heart into tiny pieces, I adored every damn second of it.

The slow-burn romance that builds between him and Celadon literally had me climbing the WALLS. I love them so much and I don’t know how I’m going to cope without them. HOW CAN ANY OTHER SHIP COMPARE?     

  • Found family at it’s finest. I say found but some of them are actually related. Either way, the bond between these characters is *chef’s kiss*. Even though some of them get torn apart through the course of this story, there’s very little angst between them. They talk things THROUGH. Which is something we all need to be reading more of in books, actually.   
  • NO LOVE TRIANGLE!!! God, it’s so refreshing to read a YA fantasy series that doesn’t have a love triangle.  
  • The Moon. That's all I need to say. 

So, yeah, too many thoughts for a simple little blog post. I will be thinking about these characters every single day until we get the final book. I am NOT okay after that ending. 

Sidenote before I wrap things up: for anyone who isn’t aware, the UK publisher dropped this series after the second book, meaning we have to ship our physical copies in from overseas. I just want to say how utterly disappointed I am in the publisher for not seeing this series through to it’s end. It has so much important representation weaved in amongst the plot, and it’s made me feel so seen. All I can do is thank Ashley for writing such a beautiful story - I'll finish the series no matter where I have to ship it from.

Royal Rating: 

Monday 19 February 2024

Meeting Alice Oseman!

If you know even the slightest thing about me, you’ll know that I absolutely adore Alice Oseman. I’ve been a fan of their stories for so long now, they’re practically part of me. There hasn’t been a single other author who has made me feel as seen as Alice has. There’s just so many aspects of their books and characters that I relate to on a personal level

So when I found out they were going to be doing a book signing at my favourite bookshop, Queer Lit, I got a ticket immediately. 

my copy of heartstopper volume 5 with adorable freebies from the shop

As I’ve already established on multiple occasions, I am an anxious mess. I’ve gotten better over the years, and meds have helped enormously, but I’m still way more terrified than the average person when it comes to events and speaking to people – especially people who’s books have quite literally changed my life. 

But one thing I was determined to do was take the Heartstopper jacket I painted a few years ago and ask them to sign. 

My sister and I arrived early as the bookshop is also a café, and they stock some of my favourite tea. So we sat with some drinks for a while before the signing time started. We were also given the opportunity to write out our favourite Heartstopper moments onto a postcard, to potentially be shared on a podcast by The Proud Trust.

the gorgeous pride fan we given after handing in our postcards

When the time came for the signing, of course everyone wanted to chat to Alice, so things ended up running behind. Even though I’d arrived early and wasn’t that far back in the queue, they had to start limiting the amount of books people got signed to three instead of the originally planned five. 

It was completely fine by me because I’d only brought two other books with me – I don’t live locally, and I have a back injury at the moment so I wouldn’t have been able to carry more anyway! Since a copy of Heartstopper Volume 5 was included with our tickets, I decided not to have that signed in order to ask about my jacket instead. 

When I got to the front of the queue, even though the lovely assistant told me that they were only doing books today, Alice had already seen the jacket at that point and had decided to sign it anyway since I only had two books - I was so unbelievably grateful! 

I also got my US hardback edition of my favourite Alice novel signed, I Was Born For This, and my original copy of Solitaire. It’s a bit of a throwback, but I still adore this version. It’s a book that’s been through the wars with me and I’ve annotated it too, so it means a lot. To have it signed makes it even more special!

Alice was super lovely, which put my anxious self at ease. The shop was running Heartstopper episodes on the screen behind the signing desk, and my picture with Alice was perfectly timed, don’t you think?

I’m so incredibly grateful to Queer Lit for organising the signing and doing their absolute best, even when things got stressful. I had such an amazing time and I will treasure my books and my jacket!

Have you ever met a favourite author?

Wednesday 7 February 2024

COVER REVEAL: Cursed Under London by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Hello, fellow bookworms! Today, I have the honour of helping to reveal the book cover for Cursed Under London by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

This is the first in an Elizabethan romantasy series, set in a world where certain historical events have unfolded differently from what we know. It sounds exactly like the type of story I’d pick up in a heartbeat. Isn’t the cover just gorgeous? We all know how much I love a pink book. 

The year is 1599. Fang, a grumpy, heartbroken traveller from the Ming Empire, awakes from death to discover he’s not quite human any more. Nor is he a zombie, vampire, werewolf or any of the other supernatural beings who roam the segregated cities of Upper London and its dragon-ruled underground counterpart, Deep London. 

He stumbles upon Lazare de Quitte-Beuffe, a people-pleasing popinjay of an actor afflicted with the same strange mysterious curse, which means neither of them can die. Thrown together by immortality, the two strangers set out to reverse the spell, traversing the dangers of Deep London and encountering vampires, ghouls, ogres, poets, púca, magical talking swans and the zombie of Christopher Marlowe, all the while trying to ignore the intense connection between them. 

As they are drawn further into the shadowy world of Deep London, they unearth a dangerous plot which they appear to be right in the middle of. Needing to reverse the spell and get on with being dead, the worst thing they could do, right now, would be to fall in love…
I am SO excited to read this one. The book is due out on July 4th, so make sure to add it to your TBR! You can also pre-order it here

Tuesday 16 January 2024

A Bookish Moment in London

Hello my dearest bookworms! Welcome to my first post of 2024! I know it’s a tad late, but the first couple of weeks of the year were spent planning a little trip to London. 

For Christmas, I got tickets to see She Stoops to Conquer at the adorable Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. I was super excited because it was my first play (I’ve seen one musical before but it was years ago and I was right at the back). I loved the small and intimate setting of Orange Tree because it helped the play feel more personal and it made for some wholesome audience interaction. I had the absolute best time! 

Since I was going all the way to London (I live near Liverpool and can’t travel often) I decided to visit some bookshops, naturally. I didn’t have much time because I had to get the train back, but I managed to squeeze in a few stops. 

First up was The Alligator’s Mouth, an adorable little place in Richmond that focuses mostly on children’s books but has a section for YA and Adult novels too. It was close to where I was staying so I was thrilled to discover a bookshop nearby. It was SO cute in there. 

Next up was Foyles! There isn’t a Foyles anywhere near where I live so whenever I get the chance to travel to London, I’m always excited to visit. The flagship store on Charing Cross Road is gorgeous and I had a great time browsing the huge YA/NA shelves. 

Just before I had to catch my train, I had enough time for the place I’d saved till last. My personal favourite, Gay’s The Word. It’s a no brainer that I love this bookshop with my whole heart. I can’t go to London without buying a book there.

This time I managed to get my hands on a copy of Love Letters: Virgina Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Oh, to be tending a castle garden whilst sending love letters to one of the best writers of all time. 

As I made my way back to the station, I passed by one of the homes of J. M. Barrie. How are we all feeling about Peter Pan finally being in the public domain?? I’m excited for what stories it brings because I’ve always been a sucker for Peter Pan retellings. I’ve been planning my own story (based more on Hook 👀) for years now and I’m hoping that 2024 is the year I’ll actually get it written. 

So, a short and sweet bookish wander around the capital for me, but I enjoyed every second of it. If I lived closer to London, the bookshops would never be rid of me. 

What’s your favourite London bookshop, or one you’d like to visit?

Wednesday 11 October 2023

books i've loved and loathed│SMALL THOUGHTS #1

Hello, my fellow book enjoyers! It’s been a while since I’ve updated the ol’ blog – life has been a bit hectic. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! In fact, I’m having one of my strongest reading years in a loooong time. It’s just that I haven’t been able to sit down and properly type up my thoughts. Whilst I will, of course, get back to full reviews very soon, I thought I’d do my own take on the classic Mini Review, just so I can share some of my opinions on books that might get lost in my ‘to-review pile’. Especially because I tend to focus on YA/NA books here, this is perfect opportunity to have a little chat about the other books I enjoy as well. So, here’s a little run down of some of the books I’ve been reading lately! 

Fence: Redemption 

Return to the thrilling world of high-stakes, competitive fencing with a brand new story featuring the beloved cast of characters from the original hit series. 

Are Seiji and Jesse really through? The rumors around Halverton, the prestigious fencing training camp, have spread like wildfire, but it’s not long before a mystery fencer arrives–one who may finally pose a threat to the #1 spot. 

Will Seiji’s unquenchable quest for rivalry be what finally makes him leave Nicholas behind?
For those of you who don’t already know, Fence is my absolute favourite comic series. These characters own my whole heart, and I’ve been anxiously waiting to see what happens next. The Redemption arc contains four short comics that were published across four months, and they have NOT disappointed after the wait. I feel like we’re finally reaching some of the plot points we’ve been waiting for all these years and I’m so excited. 

Royal Rating:

Darkhearts by James L. Sutter

When David quit his band, he missed his shot at fame. For the past two years, he’s been trapped in an ordinary Seattle high school life, working summers for his dad’s construction business while his former best friends Chance and Eli became the hottest teen pop act in America. 

Then Eli dies. Suddenly David and Chance are thrown back into contact, forcing David to rediscover all the little things that once made the two of them so close, even as he continues to despise the singer’s posturing and attention-hogging. As old wounds break open, an unexpected kiss leads the boys to trade frenemy status for a confusing, tentative romance—one Chance is desperate to keep out of the spotlight. Though hurt by Chance’s refusal to acknowledge him publicly, David decides their new relationship presents a perfect opportunity for him to rejoin the band and claim the celebrity he's been denied. But Chance is all too familiar with people trying to use him. 

As the mixture of business and pleasure becomes a powder keg, David will have to choose: Is this his second chance at glory? Or his second chance at Chance?
Ah, boyband novels. One of my favourite genres. I am a sucker for a story that revolves around bands, especially when there is a romance within said band. It just makes for a juicy plot. And Darkhearts sounded like it was going to be everything I’d want in a book. A band torn apart. Friends turned enemies, slowly becoming lovers. It should have been great. I wanted to love it - I really did! But it just didn’t deliver what I was hoping for, and there were actually parts of it that made me mad, if I’m honest. 

The main character was just irredeemably selfish and misunderstanding. I preferred Chance, so maybe it would have been more enjoyable if it was split POV. The building of the romance between them was nearly interesting enough to warrant three stars because there were moments that had me hooked. I just wanted David to open his eyes and realise he was just as much at fault for the mistakes that had been made in their past. Even when he did have a slight realisation of that fact, he still reacted terribly. He was just too much of an unlikeable protagonist for me. 

Royal Rating:

Arthur and Teddy are Coming Out by Ryan Love

When 79-year-old Arthur Edwards gathers his family together to share some important news, no one is prepared for the bombshell he drops: he's gay, and after a lifetime in the closet, he's finally ready to come out. 

Arthur's 21-year-old grandson, Teddy, has a secret of his own: he's also gay, and developing serious feelings for his colleague Ben. But Teddy doesn't feel ready to come out yet – especially when Arthur’s announcement causes shockwaves in the family. 

Arthur and Teddy have always been close, and now they must navigate first loves, heartbreak, and finding their place in their community. But can they – and their family – learn to accept who they truly are?
Oh, this one was adorable. Told in split POV between Arthur and his grandson, we see the two of them come out as gay to the people around them. It was interesting to have the story told by completely different generations, showing us the changes in the queer community and how far we still have to go. I actually enjoyed it way more than I thought I would. Arthur’s story is so important, proving that it’s never too late to live your life they way you deserve to. Everyone should be loved and accepted whilst living openly. If you need a pick-me-up book, then definitely give this one a try. 

Royal Rating:

Spell Bound by F.T. Lukens

Edison Rooker isn’t sure what to expect when he enters the office of Antonia Hex, the powerful sorceress who runs a call center for magical emergencies. He doesn’t have much experience with hexes or curses. Heck, he doesn’t even have magic. But he does have a plan—to regain the access to the magical world he lost when his grandmother passed. 

Antonia is…intimidating, but she gives him a job and a new name—Rook—both of which he’s happy to accept. Now all Rook has to do is keep his Spell Binder, an illegal magical detection device, hidden from the Magical Consortium. And contend with Sun, the grumpy and annoyingly cute apprentice to Antonia’s rival colleague, Fable. But dealing with competition isn’t so bad; as Sun seems to pop up more and more, and Rook minds less and less. 

But when the Consortium gets wind of Rook’s Spell Binder, they come for Antonia. All alone, Rook runs to the only other magical person he knows: Sun. Except Fable has also been attacked, and now Rook and Sun have no choice but to work together to get their mentors back…or face losing their magic forever.
It’s safe to say F. T. Lukens is an auto-buy author for me at this point, and Spell Bound might be my favourite of their books so far. We don’t have nearly enough light-hearted, standalone YA fantasy stories. The characters in this are absolutely adorable, and it had just the right amount of romance between them. The world building was easy to understand, whilst still packing in plenty of interesting info. I’d say that this book is perfect even for people who don’t read a lot of fantasy because the chatty writing style and character driven moments give it a slight contemporary feel. I’m still missing these characters after finishing the book months ago. Especially Sun – they’re an absolute delight!

Royal Rating:

So there we have it - that's just a small selection of the books I've been reading lately! I'll be back to full reviews soon but I'll definitely keep doing some mini reviews so I don't pressure myself to write a full review for absolutely everything I read. But if you'd like to keep tabs on all my bookish thoughts, then feel free to head over to my Twitter, where I unashamedly scream about books. 

Until next time, my bookish friends!

Tuesday 21 March 2023

REVIEW: Boy Like Me by Simon James Green

Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQ+
Release Date: March 2nd 2023
TW: Homophobia

It's 1994 and thanks to Section 28, there can be no mention of gay relationships in schools. When a school librarian leads Jamie to a disguised novel in the library that reflects his own confused feelings towards boys, he notices that he's not the only one who has checked the book out. In the margins of the pages, he and another student start to leave messages for each other, and Jamie starts to believe that he's not alone ... and maybe also has a shot at finding love. That is, until the secret novel is discovered by the head teacher and all hell breaks loose. 

THE SCENE: it’s 11pm and I’m sobbing in bed after finishing this incredible novel, in awe of how Simon James Green has managed to outdo himself once again.     

A love story that starts in the margins of a book? I was already in. But upon finding out this story took places in the 90s, a time when Section 28 was still a law, I knew this was going to be one of the most important stories I’d read this year. And I was completely right. 

When a hero librarian gives our main character, Jamie, a book about two boys falling in love, he discovers that another person who’d read the book had left a note inside. So, with his questions about his own sexuality, he starts a conversation with the mystery boy. 

My own high school years started during the year that Section 28 was abolished, so I wasn’t aware of the damage it had caused and the depths of its censorship until I was much older. But even throughout my five years, I only recall coming across a single LGBTQ+ story on the shelves of my own high school library. Section 28 ending didn’t cause a bunch of queer books to magically appear on our shelves. It was still down to the hard work of librarians and campaigners, and many regular people who spoke out for something they believed in, which Boy Like Me celebrates and highlights the importance of.  

GOD I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS SO DAMN MUCH. Jamie is the perfect main character. He has so many questions about who he is and what his future might look like. Though I’m a bit younger, it still reminded me of my own experiences growing up in the 90s and early 00s as a kid who was on the outside, not quite finding a place to belong. Though this story isn't always a happy one, it shows us that no matter what, there is always hope for a brighter future. 

I won’t mention the mystery boy by name because SPOILERS, however I can confirm that I love him DEARLY. His growing relationship with Jamie is adorable. I also can’t not mention the librarian in this story. What an absolute gem she is.  

  • FOOTNOTES. Including footnotes in this story was a genius move on Simon’s part. Not only did a lot of them give me a good giggle, but it made for a great way to give us little glimpses of the character’s futures. One of them had me in tears.   
  • CONNECTION. This story and these characters feel so real. It’s completely immersive and will wreak havoc with your emotions.  
  • 90’S REFERENCES. Am I making a playlist full of the songs mention in this book? Why yes, yes I am. 

This book took on a different tone from Simon’s other stories, but it’s easily become my favourite one yet. I was sobbing my heart out during the final few chapters. I know I am always telling you to read Simon’s books, but if you’re going to let me persuade you into picking up one, make sure it’s Boy Like Me

My own footnote: my sister and I searched absolutely EVERYWHERE for some Fruit Polos to include in our pictures of this book. The closest we came was a Post Office telling us they do, in fact, still stock them. They just have no idea when.

Royal Rating: 

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