Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna – ARC Review

Thank you to Hodderscape for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

This book was so warm and comforting and such a wonderful read. I read the whole book in one night because I was completely hooked and I absolutely adored this charming story and the wonderful cast of characters. A story of finding your people and belonging and it was just so beautiful and heartwarming.

There is someone out there who will accept you as you are, who will allow you to just be Mika.

We meet Mika who is a young woman living on her own and has spent her whole life alone and now struggles to let people in and build emotional bonds and attachments because she thinks everyone will leave anyways. She answers an ad for a witch wanted, thinking that they can’t possibly know that she truly is a witch and this changes her whole life. 

I loved seeing Mika grow and learn to accept people into her life and be able to love deeply and be loved in return. Her story touches on how childhood trauma can impact your adult life but it is possible to work through that and choose a better life for yourself. I loved seeing her relationships with each of the children and how different they were and how each of them had a different reaction to Mika coming to live with them and teach them to control their magic. I also loved seeing her with the adults in charge of the care for the children and how they had built a close loving family and how starkly different it was for Mika growing up.

He was the purest alchemy, lead to gold.

Jamie is the book loving, nerdy, socially awkward love interest and I loved him so much! It was so refreshing to read a story where the man openly expresses his love and affection the way he does towards the family he has and especially the children under his care. He loves deeply and fiercely and will do everything in his power to protect those he loves. He doesn’t initially trust Mika but soon realises she wants nothing but the best for these children and he eventually learns to trust her and falls pretty hard for her. He is very grumpy at the beginning but secretly he is an absolute cinnamon roll and the quiet ways in which he cares for Mika and helps her see that she can be loved was just so beautiful to read.

She had never felt so welcomed and included, so much a part of something and she couldn’t rid herself of a lifelong fear that it was too good to be true.

The family dynamics and how each of the characters love and care for each other, and how Mika becomes part of their family and is accepted completely and entirely as she is was so wonderful to read. Being accepted and accepting all of yourself was a theme that ran through the story for most of the characters and showing the children a better life so they don’t have to suffer the way they did. I just loved it all so much!

If you love grumpy/sunshine, found family and a cosy, heartwarming story, I highly recommend picking up this book. I read this in one sitting and it’s a story that will stay with me for a long time.

Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi – ARC Review

Thank you to Harper Voyager and Netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.

Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.

Clear is the blood of the slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.

Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But when Sylah and Anoor meet, a fire burns between them that could consume the kingdom—and their hearts.

Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution. And when she joins forces with Sylah and Anoor, together these grains of sand will become a storm.

As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.

I went into this book with high expectations but unfortunately I ended up disappointed. While the premise of the story was interesting the actual story felt really slow and dragged a lot especially the first half where not a lot happened. This meant the ending where everything started to happen felt rushed and I just felt that this is the part of the story that should have been more fleshed out. 

There are three points of view in the story where we see the world through the eyes of three people from different social standings because of the colour of their blood. I liked that we got to see the way people are treated and the realities of their lives from different aspects but at times I felt that the povs weren’t very distinct so I would be confused when there was a sudden change though later in the story it became easier to differentiate. 

Sylah the main point of view we saw with Hassa and Anoor not getting as much though I liked her point of view least and wished we had gotten to see Hassa a lot more as she was the most interesting character for me. Her bravery and resilience despite how she has been treated to help and protect the most vulnerable people. I hope we get to see more of her in the sequel.

I enjoyed the second half of the book a lot more especially when the pieces started falling in place and the three storylines started to merge and we get to see how things aren’t as they seem. There was some revelations that I did not see coming and had me shook. I am looking forward to seeing what the outcome of the events at the end of the book will have in the next book.

Overall I did enjoy the story but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would but I am still looking forward to reading the sequel.

Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah – ARC Review

Thank you to Orbit Books and Netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

This book has already become one of my favourite reads this year. I loved the story and the characters so much. 1001 Arabian Nights are some of my favourite stories and I loved how Chelsea wove those stories with her own twist into the main arc of the story. We see the story of Scheherazade and the Sultan, the 40 thieves and more and it just made me so nostalgic as I remembered reading them when I was younger and especially being told these stories in urdu by my grandparents.

The storytelling had me completely hooked and sucked into the story and I could truly imagine the story in my head as I read. The writing is beautiful and has such a great flow that you just want to continue reading even as your eyes are literally closing. (Yes this did happen to me several times as I read.)

These characters have my whole heart, Loulie and Mazen were such wonerful characters. So different from each other but they had such great chemistry together. Qadir fast became a favourite, he gave me tired dad chasing after his hyper daughter vibes with Loulie and I am here for it. I really loved seeing their relationship develop thoughout the story. Aisha was a surprise and even though I was wary about her, she still won me over. All four of them had some great banter and I especially loved when they were sassy and sarcastic with each other.

However my favourite thing was that Mazen was the single sunshine amongst this group of grumpy travellers. All he wants is to see the world and hear all the stories and somehow he gets dragged into this quest with Loulie and is completely out of his depth in every way but still perseveres. His older brother Omar is the leader of the 40 thieves and yet Mazen can barely swing a sword. It was an interesting contrast to see that between the brothers. When we first meet Mazen he is escaping the palace in search of a storyteller that has come to the city and that causes a domino effect where he ends up fighting ghouls in the desert with Loulie and the others. I loved his character development throughout the story and how we see him change and become braver, though I do think he is brave in a different way, and always the optimist that also showed the others that they were more than the labels given to them.

Loulie is a thief and con artist and very good at her job, so much so that she has created a persona for herself which quickly becomes famous and results in the sultan sending her on the quest. Her story arc was so heartbreaking to read and you can see why she does not trust people and only relies on herself but I loved seeing her slowly learn to trust the others as the story progresses.

Throughout the story through the events and the wonderful short stories within the story we learn of the history of the world and how and why the jinns are hunted and killed, this is lead by Omar  and his thieves. It was such an interesting backstory and honestly I could read a whole book about the jinns before they were almost exterminated by humans.

This book is fast paced and action packed we are thrown right into the story from the very beginning and we slowly learn more as the characters learn more. Once I got about halfway I could barely breathe because the revelations and the plot twists left me screaming! I was stressed and absolutely terrified for these characters, the neat death experiences one after the other and it did not stop until the very end. I absolutely need the next book immediately after that ending and I don’t know how I will wait a whole year for that sequel.

Diverse Books, YA Books

My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth – ARC Review

This book has fast become one of my favourite books ever!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Nerds are so hot.
Especially battle robot building nerds.

Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn’t seem to like her either.

Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they’ve built more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made space for each other and themselves.

I did not know what to expect when I started reading but this book is utterly phenomenal and I loved every single second. But first can I mention that for the first time ever, I saw a character that had my name, MY NAME! I have never read a book with a character that has the same name as me and she was a STEM girl!

Take up your own space, Bel. Don’t let other people tread over it.

This book has my whole heart, it discusses all the things I am passionate about and we get all the nerdy banter too! Through Bel and Teo we see how misogyny creates barriers for women to succeed in STEM careers and how much harder they have to work to get even a tenth of the recognition that the men get. How Neelam is constantly dismissed and belittled, how she is made to feel inferior to Teo and how hard she has had to fight for her place and even then her ideas are ignored. Even the teacher and how his language changes depending on whether he’s speaking to the girls or the boys. How this is so normalised that speaking against is seen as making a fuss. I felt this all deep in my soul.

You don’t have to make the world perfect just so people will love you.

Another really great discussion was how as teenagers when we barely understand ourselves, we are expected to have our whole life planned out and that it is seen as failure if you haven’t. The pressure that we and the adults put on ourselves to know what we want to do and yet so many of us just don’t and that should be okay too. It was also great to see how socioeconomic factors affects how “prepared” a young person is by 18 to have their lives mapped out. If we have been denied opportunities and a better education because we can’t afford it then how is it our fault that our choices are limited and we don’t know what it is we want to do. Combine that with expectations from parents and it can be very stressful for the person. I loved seeing this all discussed in the story without it becoming too heavy.

If I want the world to recognise what I am truly capable of, I have to show them.

I loved Bel from the moment we meet her but Teo took me a few chapters to really like, he seems like the usual arrogant boy who thinks he deserves all the special treatment but as the story progresses we see that he isn’t actually like that, though he does have some prejudices towards how he treats Neelam. I loved how much he changes and grows throughout the story and learns to let others in and help him and that he can trust other people and even how he views Neelam.

I loved seeing Bel grow throughout the story too as she finally finds something she truly enjoys and is passionate about and how she fights for it. I also loved the conversation between her and Neelam near the end of the story where we finally see why Neelam was hostile towards Bel at first and they learn to understand each other better. I also loved seeing a teacher that truly saw Bel’s potential and guided her without shaming or guilting and spoke to her respectfully, we all need teachers like this in our lives.

I think about how much I want them all to succeed in life; to go far, as far as possible, until every girl who succeeds is a beacon of light for all the others.

One of my favourite things was seeing the female friendships and women supporting women. How Bel and her friends truly want the best for each other and don’t try to stab each other in the back to progress themselves because there is space for all of them. I just truly  loved that we see this in the story, it brought me so much joy.

This book is absolutely incredible and once I started I could not put it down reading well into the night. I loved these characters and that epilogue was everything! I really hope we get to see more of them in the future.

Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake – ARC Review

Thank you to Tor Books for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation.

Enter the latest round of six: Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona, unwilling halves of an unfathomable whole, who exert uncanny control over every element of physicality. Reina Mori, a naturalist, who can intuit the language of life itself. Parisa Kamali, a telepath who can traverse the depths of the subconscious, navigating worlds inside the human mind. Callum Nova, an empath easily mistaken for a manipulative illusionist, who can influence the intimate workings of a person’s inner self. Finally, there is Tristan Caine, who can see through illusions to a new structure of reality—an ability so rare that neither he nor his peers can fully grasp its implications.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have one year to qualify for initiation, during which time they will be permitted preliminary access to the Society’s archives and judged based on their contributions to various subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, life and death. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. The six potential initiates will fight to survive the next year of their lives, and if they can prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, most of them will.

Most of them.

This book blew my mind! Every single time I thought I knew what was happening a plot twist came and left me reeling! This book is very character driven and we get to see the point of views of all six characters. Each and every character is absolute chaos and I love them all so much. My favourites however are Nico and Libby, I absolutely loved their dynamic.

No one here is good. Knowledge is carnage. You can’t have it without sacrifice.

This book follows six people who have some incredible abilities as well as being some of the smartest minds on the planet. I loved every single one of them, they’re all so unique and each have their own story within the main story of them fighting for a spot to be part of the society. They each have their own strength and weaknesses and they have to learn to work together despite not trusting each other. When they get to the decision of who is going to be eliminated it was so interesting to see it from each of their point of views.

Really there was nothing more dangerous than a woman who knew her own worth.

Libby was one of my favourites because although she is incredibly smart and very capable, she has anxiety which shows in how she is constantly needing to prove herself and the way she fidgets all the time and it was so relatable. Nico is so caring and loyal to his friends and I loved seeing his friendship with Gideon. I also loved Parisa and how confident and smart she is and uses everything to her advantage even the fact that she incredibly beautiful which always makes others underestimate her. Tristan’s ability was also really interesting and one of my favourite scenes is of him and Libby working together to protect the library. Callum was one who I didn’t like until the end which honestly surprised me.

Either you believe you’re worthy or you don’t, end of story.

Right from the beginning I was completely hooked and stayed up late at night to read just one more chapter because I just needed to know everything! Every time I thought I had figured things out, I was left reeling because I did not in fact figure things out and it was such a wild ride! There is a lot of science in this and when I’m reading I felt like I was sitting in class with them listening to the smart kids talk about advanced science that had me feeling like I was not as smart as school had convinced me I was.

But princesses can be monstrous at times

I loved reading this book and the interactions between the characters especially Nico and Libby and their bickering but also knowing each other so well. The last part of the book were we finally start to see all the pieces fitting together and figuring out what everything has been leading up to was so satisfying and it had me screaming. Then we get to the end which was intense and an absolute wild ride and now I am dying in anticipation for the sequel because I need to know what will happen next.