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

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne – ARC Review

Thank you to Orbit Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Everyone knows the tale of Rapunzel in her tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there?

Haelewise has always lived under the shadow of her mother, Hedda—a woman who will do anything to keep her daughter protected. For with her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, Haelewise is shunned by her medieval village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.

Then, Hedda dies, and Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother used to speak of—a place called Gothel, where Haelewise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.

But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the Church strives to keep hidden. A secret that unlocks a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known…

I love the story of Rapunzal and so I was very intrigued by this retelling but from the point of view of Mother Gothel. I have not liked her in any version of the story but this story had me rooting for her!

This is a wholly unique take on the story where we see her from childhood to adult and all the events that led her to becoming the Mother Gothel we know in the story of Rapunzal. I really loved how Mary gave us the perspective of Haelewise who is always known as the villain and yet in this story she is so much more than the evil witch who stole Rapunzal. Her going to seek refuge in the tower of Gothel is the catalyst for how her story goes from her being an insignificant peasant girl to the legendary Mother Gothel and yet in this story we question whether she was truly the evil witch the people made her out to be.

Even as young as ten, I understood that men make up reasons to get rid of women they find disagreeable.

The story has a slow start but I really enjoyed seeing who she was and how she grew into who the legends say she was. She is fierce and cares deeply for those she loves, she is an angry woman who has been put into difficult situations just because she is a woman. I related to her a lot which surprised me but I ended up really loving her and her reliance and perseverance through everything. 

It was so interesting to see how we see a pagan religion fighting to survive in a community that called them witches and would kill anyone for practising it. How a secret society was built through a network of women where Haelewise finally found companionship and acceptance. She works as a healer and women who have nowhere else to go come to her and I just really loved how she cared so deeply for these women and did everything she could to help them.

“Will you come?” He met my eyes. “I would go with you anywhere.”

We meet Haelewise as a young girl who has fainting spells and so is shunned to the edges of the community and yet makes a friend in Matthaus. This quickly blossoms into something more but circumstances keep them apart and yet they find their way to each other again and again. I really loved seeing their story and how despite everything they keep finding each other. 

I do wish we could have seen more of her story as an adult and especially her story after she took Rapunzal to the tower and how that story wove into hers but is only a small part of her life and yet that is what she is remembered for. I would especially have loved to see more of adult Haelewise and Matthaus. 

A woman doesn’t have to be pure to be good. Girls get angry. Mothers fight for their children.

I really enjoyed this story even though it was something really different to what I was expecting and once I started I flew through the story and was completely invested in her story. The ending was a nice little twist too!

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.

Adult Books, Books by Muslim Authors, The Daevabad Trilogy

The River of Silver by S.A. Chakraborty – Audiobook Review

I have been dying for more Daevabad content ever since I finished The Empire of Gold and Shannon certainly delivered! This book was everything I wanted and more!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

TW: suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, self harm, torture, attempted rape

I am completely enthralled by the Daevabad trilogy and so it was bittersweet when I finished The Empire of Gold but then Shannon blessed us with these stories. Stories of love and hope and even the darker parts were balanced with lighter elements. A perfect collection to see so much more of the world and characters in these stories.

So first about the audiobook itself, I love listening to the trilogy and was so glad that the same narrator was narrating this too. I love listening to her and how she brings the story to life. I think that even if you aren’t a huge fan of audiobooks this will be okay to listen to especially as we are already familiar with the story and characters.

Some stories Shannon had shared before on her website so I was familiar with some but some were brand new and I especially loved Duriya and Hatset’s stories. How these women carved a place for themselves in a world that barely made space for them. That they showed strength and bravery and fighting for something better. It was amazing to see these glimpses into the past, the younger versions of the characters we all know and see how they may have been different and what may have caused them to become the characters we see in the books.

My favourite stories were of course the ones of Alizayd, the scene we see set just before The Kingdom of Copper was so funny and we get more of a glimpse of him using his abilities and just more of him trying not to implode when girls throw themselves at him which is always hilarious to read.

But my favourite scene was of course that last story that Shannon had vaguely hinted at before and it was everything I wanted and more. It was such a beautiful story about love and taking that step to be vulnerable with someone you love even if it terrifies you. It’s about trust and respecting each others decisions and boundaries and it is about building something on a strong foundation of friendship and care.

It was the perfect story to end on especially as this is the last story we will be getting of these characters and we end on a note of hope and joy and love.

I have already listened to it multiple times especially that last story and I know that I will be coming back to these stories time and time again.

My reviews for the trilogy can be found here: The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, The Empire of Gold