Diverse Books, YA Books

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao – ARC Review

Thank you to Rock the Boat and Netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

This book was a phenomenal read! From the first page we are thrown into this incredibly vivid world that Xiran has created and I loved every second of it. Zetian has become one of my favourite characters and I love the trio so much, they are pure chaos and I am here for it!

This is set in a world where women are considered worthless and only there to sacrifice themselves for the male pilots or to be good wives and mothers. By good I mean silent and obedient. Zetian has had enough of this and after the death of her sister she vows to get revenge and does so in the most spectacular fashion and in that moment I fell in love with her.

I loved seeing Zetian and how she battled against the  systemic injustice that women are subjected to on a daily basis and the pure rage she felt. I related to her a lot; I understand her rage. I loved how it was shown in the book and through her. She has every right to be angry but what I loved most was watching her opinions and thoughts about how to become empowered changed and grew as she learnt more and interacted with different people in different situations. How that impacted how she fought for herself and for women’s empowerment everywhere. This book is honestly such a powerful read and had me feeling all the emotions.

I especially loved her internal conflict of how can she fight for empowerment and yet love and care for a man and be vulnerable with them. Her learning it isn’t an either or situation, she can have both. There is so much depth to her character that we see more and learn more about her as the story goes on and I just need everyone to read this book.

The discussions on misogyny and patriarchy are done so incredibly well and we see just how deeply these views have impacted women in so many ways that are completely invisible to men. There’s also discussions around how the powerful and wealthy just continue to grow in wealth and the poor become poorer. Honestly there was so many interesting and nuanced discussions in the book but it didn’t take away from the plot and suspense of the story. It just added more layers to it.

I loved the mechas and the battle scenes, I would love to be able to see this in a film, I think some scenes would have some breath-taking visuals and it was all described so vividly that I could picture everything. We learn about the world through Zetain, Shimin and Yizhi who all come from different situations in life. All three characters are morally grey and despite some of the awful things they do, you can’t help but root for them. Especially as everyone seems equally monstrous.

The build up to the ending had me on the edge of my seat and the second half especially had me completely hooked and I thought I knew what was happening but the ending still left me completely shook and I was left screaming! I am ridiculously excited to read the sequel and honestly I don’t know how I’m going to wait a whole year for it.

Diverse Books, YA Books

Fire With Fire by Destiny Soria – ARC Review

Thank you to hodderscape and netgalley for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.

I loved this book so much! The sibling relationship and the growth of both sisters was so wonderful to see in a book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.

Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.

I loved this book so much! I love seeing sibling relationships in books and this one had such a complicated nuanced relationship. I loved both sisters and their individual arcs as well as how they were together. I related to each of them in different ways and it was so great to see a story where sisters are the main relationship we see.

Dani is  the younger sister and always feels like she can’t live up to her “perfect” older sister. She also doesn’t want to take on the family  legacy which I related to a lot. It’s like when your parents have their own dreams for you but what you want is different but you don’t want to hurt them either but hers is way more intense! Her character growth throughout the book was also so great to read, how she learned to balance her family and what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to also call out the parts that she knew were wrong and shouldn’t just continue the same way just because that’s how it’s always been done.

Edan, the older sister, yet feels like she will never be truly seen as she always feels overshadowed by Dani and this makes her strive for perfection. In trying to impress her parents she neglects all other parts of her life to her detriment. She also has anxiety and had panic attacks which I felt were showed really well. I really appreciated how they were shown in the story and especially her journey to coming to terms with this part of herself. She thinks this is a weakness and makes her less and just wants it to go away but she learns to see it as a strength and that she is more than capable even with her anxiety. She doesn’t need “fixing” and I thought that is such a important thing for young people to read in books. I just really loved seeing it in the story.

Their relationship with each other was also so great to see. They were close but there was also walls up because they both thought they can’t live up to the other. I loved that Dani did everything she could to help Edan and how they finally started to accept each other for who they are.

There was also some wonderful side characters that I am really looking forward to seeing in the sequel especially that potential love interest for Dani. Tomas was adorable and a wonderful best friend to Dani like seriously this is the type of friendship I love to see in books. I also loved seeing Dani intereact with Tomas’ family and how his mum would force her to take food home. It reminded me of the Asian aunties who insist on doing this too and I think it’s such a wonderful part of the culture we got to see.

I also loved Nox who is the dragon that Dani meets and how sassy and sarcastic he is. His relationship with Dani was so great to see too and how they both learned to accept and trust each other. I am really looking forward to learning more about the dragons.

The story was so much fun to read even though it was dark at times especially in the second half of the book. It’s also fast paced and I couldn’t stop reading once I started, often reading late into the night. And after the ending of the story I am absolutely dying to read the sequel!

Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri – ARC Review

Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire. 

TW: Discussions of being burned alive

I really loved the story though it was really dark at times. The world that Tasha has created was incredible. I loved that it’s inspired by Indian/Desi culture and all the things that was so familiar to me. From things like the clothes and food to the architecture and language, it was just so wonderful to see it in the book.

The discussions of how colonisation and the oppression of the indigenous populations and erasure of their culture and history was written into the story so well. It was a complex nuanced discussion which we see through both the oppressed and the colonisers and how it has impacted different people and communities. How the oppressed have lost their language and culture how they have become the most vulnerable and poor, unable to live safely and peacefully. How people will have different definitions of what resistance looks like and what lengths people will go to, to put an end to the occupation.

This book has some incredible female characters from Malini who can be ruthless to achieve her goals and kind hearted Priya who will always look out for those she loves and Bhumika who’s powerful in her own way despite people thinking she is weak because she cares for the poor and vulnerable. I loved seeing how women can be powerful in their own way and there isn’t just one “right” way to be strong and powerful.

I loved seeing the different points of view and how these women made a difference in a society that holds little value for women and how they are in many ways better and more resilient than the men in their lives. I am so excited to see where the story will go next after the ending of this book. I am especially looking forward to seeing Malini taking down her brother!

I think my one issue with the story was that I felt the romance between Priya and Malini felt a little forced, I just didn’t find they had chemistry or depth in their relationship past the attraction they had to each other and that they were both fighting for an end to the oppression of their people.

I am still really excited to read the next book especially because I completely fell in love with the world building and the story had me hooked from the beginning and I cannot wait to see where the story will go next.

Diverse Books, YA Books

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta – ARC Review

Thank you to Macmillan and netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to the sequel!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from goodreads:

The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.

As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…

This book was fast paced and action packed and I really enjoyed reading! I loved both the main characters and how they both spent their lives trying to take down the oppressive system but in vastly different ways.

This book starts with Eris being captured and taken to one of Godolias prisons where she meets an unlikely ally in Sona who is a windup pilot and who helps her escape and goes with her back to the rebel base. There Sona helps the rebels and joions Eris’s team of gearbreakers to overthrow the oppressive regime that is Godolia. But can a small team of teenagers do enough to overthrow a tyrannical regime that has wealth, power and resources not available to them and then there’s also the issue that not everyone trusts Sona.

There are some incredible heart racing, action packed scenes of gearbreakers fighting and taking down the giant machines sent to kill all rebels and the descriptions are so vivid that you can truly imagine the whole scene as it happens. Then you also have the wonderful fun scenes between team mates and the family they build for themselves. The squabbling and fighting and yet they all look out for and care deeply for each other.

We also see a slow burn romance bloom between Eris and Sona and how they slowly learn to trust each other and protect each other. I am looking forward to seeing more of them in the sequel and what will happen to them especially after that ending!

This is a wonderful action packed story with a great found family who fight an oppressive regime to be able to live freely and safely.

Diverse Books, YA Books

Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon – ARC Review

Thank you to hodderscape and netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book and it was great to see Jaya and Grey too!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Caterina LaValle is determined to show she’s still the queen of St. Rosetta’s Academy. Sure, her crown may be slightly askew after her ex-boyfriend, Alaric, cheated on her, but she’s a LaValle. She’ll find a way to march right back in there, her hands clutching the strings to the whole puppet show. This time, she’s going to be untouchable.

Rahul Chopra knows that moment he shared with Caterina LaValle at the winter formal meant something. Surely she feels it, too. He’s a little uncertain how someone like him (socially inept to a point way past “adorkable”) could fit into her world, but he’s loved Caterina for years. He knows they’ll find a way.

When Caterina finds out Alaric is taking a supermodel to the upcoming gala, she knows she cannot arrive without the perfect date. But the thought of taking another superficial St. R’s boy exhausts her. The solution? Sweet-but-clueless Rahul Chopra and a mysterious pot of hair gel with the power to alter the wearer into whatever his heart desires.

When Rahul tries it, he transforms instantly into RC—debonair, handsome, and charming. But transformation comes with a price: As Rahul enjoys his new social standing, the line between his two personas begins to blur. Will he give up everything, including Caterina, to remain RC? Or will this unlikely pair find their way back to each other?

I really enjoyed this story and especially as we got to see more of Rahul who I loved in Of Curses and Kisses. This story is a Princess (Caterina) and the frog (Rahul) retelling and it was so wonderful to see a new retelling. One of the things I loved was that we get to make up our own minds about whether there is any magic or not. Is the hair gel truly magical or does simply implying it is magical give Rahul that confidence boost to become more socially adept?

The story may seem as though it is a fluffy romance also deals with family relationships and how living up to your parents expectations can affect someone and what can happen if the parent rejects us. It also deals with friendships and how having real deep friendships make a big difference in our lives. People who we can truly be ourselves around and not have to put on a front to protect ourselves.

I enjoyed learning more about Caterina who at first seems like your typical queen bee but we learn there is more to her and she struggles just like everyone else. She has no real friends because she keeps everyone at arms length because of how her father raised her. I liked seeing her change over the story and realise she can let people in to have a more meaningful relationship.

Rahul is socially awkward often not realising that he should not have said something until it’s too late but he transforms with the hair gel and becomes more like the boys he sees around him. Charming and funny and able to understand social ques but does that make him a better person? Is he changing too much of himself to fit in and does that make him better? These are all things he learns throughout the story which was great to see.

I liked seeing Caterina and Rahul together, they were cute and brought out the best in each other. The plot twist was interesting to see too although I can’t say much without spoilers! But it will be interesting to see what happens with that in the next book. We also get to see more of Jaya and Grey which I loved seeing as I really loved their story so it was great to see them being as cute as ever. I also loved how despite Rahul not having the best relationship with his friends in this book they came through for him and helped him when he had no one else to turn to.

This was a fun, cute read and I am looking forward to seeing what the next book will be about!