YA Books

Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco – Book Review

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from goodreads:

After selling her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, Emilia travels to the Seven Circles with the enigmatic Prince of Wrath, where she’s introduced to a seductive world of vice.

She vows to do whatever it takes to avenge her beloved sister, Vittoria… even if that means accepting the hand of the Prince of Pride, the king of demons.

The first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. With back-stabbing princes, luxurious palaces, mysterious party invitations, and conflicting clues about who really killed her twin, Emilia finds herself more alone than ever before. Can she even trust Wrath, her one-time ally in the mortal world… or is he keeping dangerous secrets about his true nature?

Emilia will be tested in every way as she seeks a series of magical objects that will unlock the clues of her past and the answers she craves…

I really enjoyed Kingdom of the Wicked so I was looking forward to reading the sequel but unfortunately I did not enjoy this book at all. It was a hot mess.

This book takes place just after the events of the first book and while the first book had an interesting plot that kept me reading one more chapter this book is mostly Emilia trying to be smart and scheming but not actually doing much at all. You could read the last couple chapters and move on to the third book and not miss anything of importance.

This book is also aimed at younger YA and yet it is not appropriate at all for them. There is romanticisation of sexual assault and violent behaviour. One scene where Wrath gets Emilia completely drunk to the point she can’t even feed herself so she unable to consent and then later tells her he was doing it to teach her how to protect herself. Later in the book, Emilia comments that some people like violent behaviours when it comes to romance and this is such a dangerous thing to normalise for young people. I honestly don’t know how this was all included in the book.

Emilia also annoyed me to no end in this book, she acted like she was being so smart and badass but she was not, she was just plain stupid and unable to work anything out that every single person around her already knew. But at least she did it with confidence, I guess. She repeatedly said the same thing again and again and yet all we see from her: no thoughts, head empty, only horny. I don’t have an issue with romance in general but this was just not it. It felt very toxic and Wrath withheld important information from her regarding who she is actually supposed to be marrying and it just felt ick.

Wrath was just as annoying and after him basically assaulting Emilia in the name of training her, I just did not like him at all after that. This wasn’t addressed at all in the book at any point and I really need these scenes to stop being shown in books aimed at young teens.

This book is also very romance heavy and the plot suffered because of it, in fact there was very little plot at all. We make zero progress throughout the whole book and then right at the end all the reveals happen together and in the span of the last two chapters which were also generally very obvious to everyone except Emilia.

The ending of this book was really underwhelming because there was so little plot and everything was so vague and just I was barely interested by the end because I was so irritated by having to get through a whole book to end on THAT ending when the ending of the first book suggested we would get a lot more information but we got very little.

I’m so disappointed because I actually enjoyed the first book and this book was a mess.

Diverse Books, YA Books

The Girl Who Fell Beneath The Sea by Axie Oh – ARC Review

Thank you, Hodder and Stoughton, for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking… 

I was instantly drawn to this book because of the absolutely beautiful cover and the story is just as beautiful. This story takes place under the sea in the spirit realm and Mina has to try to end the curse that is not only causing destruction to her home but also in the spirit realm.

This book is magical and enchanting and honestly I was not expecting the story to be like this but I ended up loving it anyways. I love the world we get to see and how the culture and traditions are shown in the story and how those in power may not be the right people for the job and then there are others who would sacrifice everything to help those around them.

I loved all the characters and especially Mina. She is brave and kind and caring and smart. She does not stop doing what is right because it is difficult or because she is scared. She makes the sacrifices again and again to save and help those she loves. She is also reckless at times and often putting herself in danger but is helped by her friends that she makes in the spirit realm. I just really loved her and the relationships she builds with others. Her love for her brother, so that he isn’t separated from the woman he loves, she takes her place instead and that alone is a huge sacrifice and yet she continues to be caring and kind and helping others even putting her life at risk for them. It doesn’t make her bitter and angry and I really loved seeing that.

Shin was a bit more of a mysterious character and it took me a little longer to warm up to him but by the end when we learn more about him I loved him too. I loved his friendships and how he protects everyone. I think my main issue with the book is that the romance felt a little rushed and I wasn’t completely sold on how suddenly they developed these feelings for each other but I was rooting for them by the end.

I loved the discussions around fate and whether we can change the fate that others decide for us and I loved seeing the women who were sent as brides before given more thought. Mina thinks about how they didn’t have a choice and whether they wanted this for themselves. She also has a huge decision to make in this story, whether she will tie her fate to the sea god or follow her heart. And I really loved going on this journey with her.

This book is whimsical and beautifully written and I highly recommend everyone read it!

Diverse Books, YA Books

The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman – ARC Review

Thank you to netgalley and Hot Key Books for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power.

They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good. 

This book has become a favourite read for me! I fell in love from the moment I started reading. We get the point of view of all four siblings which I loved because it gave each of them so much depth but it never felt like there was too many views to keep track of. Each voice was distinct and I loved seeing their internal monologue especially compared to how the others perceived them and how they saw themselves.

Memories only have power over us if we let them.

I love all four siblings and how the dysfunctional sibling relationship was one of my favourite parts of the book. I love seeing sibling relationships in books and I wish we got to see more of these. We see that they used to be really close but as they got older and their circumstances changed they drifted apart but now they have to work together to save their home but they each have their own motives too that would mean betraying their siblings.

I loved seeing how they each had their own strength and weaknesses, and they knew that they had to trust in the one who had the skills to complete the task which meant they had to start trusting each other again. One of my favourite things was watching them bicker over the smallest things which was so funny and reminded me of me and my sisters when we were younger.

“Would it kill you to act as though you liked people?” “I don’t,” Ronak said. “And I see no reason to pretend.”

This story starts with the siblings alone and they have to put past differences aside and come together to work together and complete the quest. It gave me Indiana Jones vibes but make it desi! I love that this quest was connected to their parents and that they never truly gave up hope in being able to work out the truth of their history.

I don’t think anyone loses any part of themselves just because they embrace another aspect of their identity.

I also loved how immersed in desi culture we were. The clothes and architecture to the customs and traditions. It was so great to see. I especially loved all the food! Food that I had grown up with eating and had my mouth watering at the barest mention of kachori’s and so much more!

This book was such a wonderful read and I cannot wait for the sequel especially after the way things ended in this book! I highly recommend picking up this book, it had me hooked and I was up late into the night reading.

Diverse Books, YA Books

The Righteous by Renee Ahdieh – ARC Review

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Pippa Montrose is tired of losing everything she loves. When her best friend Celine disappears under mysterious circumstances, Pippa resolves to find her, even if the journey takes her into the dangerous world of the fae, where she might find more than she bargained for in the charismatic Arjun Desai.

This is the third book in The Beautiful Quartet and each book just keeps getting better and better! These books can be read in any order but I do recommend reading them in the order they are released to get a rich experience.

I absolutely adored this book and I was so happy to see that we would get to see Arjun and Pippa’s point of view as they were my favourite side characters in the first two books. We also see more of Celine, Bastian, Michael and Emilie from the first two books.

Each book expands the world of The Beautiful more and more and in this book we get to spend a lot more time in the world of the fey, we see how they live and how different they are from the human world and we see their politics and the rising tensions between the summer and winter courts. It was so interesting to see this world though I did miss the New Orleans and especially the court of lions. Maybe we will see them again in the next book.

Love was for the foolish. And Arjun Desai was no fool.

This book has a marriage of convenience, only one bed scene and multiple interactions between Arjun and Pippa where he calls her a term of endearment in Urdu and she doesn’t understand! Every time he did I would just have a big goofy grin on my face because it was the sweetest thing ever! I loved the dynamic between Pippa and Arjun so much and how well they compliment each other. How they understand each other so well in such a short time and the secret pining for each other almost killed me! They notice the smallest things about each other like how Arjun promises to not let her ever go hungry in their marriage vows when she reveals that she often went hungry growing up.

Conquering a man’s country does not mean you have conquered his soul.

I loved their development throughout the book and one of the things I loved most was that Arjun was not afraid to call Pippa out on her colonialist thinking and her white privilege and Pippa took the time to listen, apologise and learn from it. We do see this discussion happen throughout the series and it is so well done.

One of my favourite things about these books is how we get fae and vampires but they’re people of colour and their cultures are shown in their courts. It was so nice to be able to see that in the story especially when we usually see fae and vampires they are always white but now we get to see people of colour and ourselves in the story.

Men had been given access to power all their lives. It was their so called birthright. Maybe it was time for them to see what a woman could do.

We also see more of Celine and Bastian in this book and it’s so interesting to see how Celine is the one who is drawn to power and Bastian doesn’t want it. Bastian has always had power, but Celine hasn’t and now she realises she can have that freedom and choice she is often denied because she is a woman. The ongoing discussions around women and how the patriarchal society pushed them down and caged them in certain roles is one I have loved seeing throughout the books. We also see how the patriarchy hurts men too, like Bastian and how he must unlearn so many toxic ideas.

We get a few chapters from Michael’s point of view too in this book and let me just tell you that I completely and entirely hate this man. He has nothing but the audacity and if Celine doesn’t slap him, I will. In the first two books I was indifferent towards him but now we see how entitled he feels and how he puts blame on others instead of taking responsibility and it infuriated me.

The writing and the story is absolutely incredible and had me completely and entirely hooked to the point where I was up late at night to read just one more chapter. The tension that built up slowly throughout the book and then chaos ensued at the end with the ending being left on a cliffhanger left me screaming. And a cameo from one of Renee’s previous books that left me shook and so incredibly happy to see!

I need everyone to go read these books because they are incredible and deserve all the love.

Diverse Books, YA Books

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le – Book Review

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

This is a cute fun story of two teens who despite being from rival family restaurants end up secretly dating after they are paired together to write reviews for local restaurants. I really liked both Linh and Bao. I also really liked their friends and how they supported and helped each other.

Although this has a cute romance there are also some more serious discussions that happen in the book too. Discussing the difficulties of growing up in a country that isn’t safe to live in, becoming a refugee and then having to start over in a completely new place. The racism that they face and this is something that both Bao and Linh also have to deal with.

Some of the things that Bao and Linh have to deal with this throughout this book was so relatable as a child of immigrant parents. Choosing between doing what you love and what will pay the bills and can they both be the same thing. Pursuing your passion which may disappoint your family or living up to their expectations. Surviving the gossip of the community and reducing yourself so that you aren’t the next target or living life on your own terms. I loved seeing these discussed in the story.

The first half is a little slow but the story picks up a lot in the second half and we learn that there could be more to the family rivalry than just rival restaurants and this added layer just made the story even more interesting. Linh and Bao both have their own individual arcs too in learning more about themselves and what they truly want from life and if they’re willing to take the risk to fight for it. I loved that their arcs wasn’t solely their romance.

But their relationship and how it slowly built was absolutely adorable. They helped each other in their lowest moments and also pushed each other to fight for their dreams. Bao especially stole my heart because he was so sweet, kind and thoughtful. Linh’s passion for art was so wonderful to see and how her teacher encouraged her to pursue it. How she really spoke through her art and showed the emotions through her it. I could picture it in my head.

I cannot forget to mention the food. All the food. The Vietnamese food was described throughout the book and was a big part of the story and it left my mouth watering. I loved how food was such a big part of both their lives and how it’s more than just food. It brings the community together and it is comfort and more.

Overall this was a great read and one that will stay with me for a long time.