Thursday, 29 December 2016

British Books Challenge 2017

New year, new reading challenge! After what can only be described as an epic fail with my 2016 Goodreads reading challenge (reading 100 books in a year sounded perfectly doable back in January), I'm going to have a go at the British Books Challenge. Hosted this year by Chelle Toy over at Tales of Yesterday, the challenge aims to get more people supporting and reading books by British authors. Hopefully I'll do better at this one than I did my 2016 challenge!

I'm pretty rubbish at planning my reading ahead and I have to confess that I'm not particularly savvy when it comes to sussing an author's nationality, so I'll be on the look out for recommendations. As for the books I'm planning on reading in 2017 . . . well, the list is pretty sparse to be honest, British authors or otherwise, just because I'm so underorganised, but these are a few that spring to mind. I'll be adding to the list here and on Goodreads so it's a work in progress.

The Scarecrow Queen - Melinda Salisbury 

I loved The Sin Eater's Daughter and The Sleeping Prince, books #1 and #2 in this series, so I've had this book on pre-order for what feels like forever. I'm still hoping for a happy ending, I'm ever the optimist!

Heartland - Lucy Hounsom

I read Starborn last year, purely because I loved the cover! I've been confused about the release date for the next book in the series because Amazon seems to move the date every time I check. But Lucy Hounsom assures me that it's out late next year (August from memory), so I continue to wait with bated breath!

Paper Butterflies - Lisa Heathfield

I read Seed by Lisa Heathfield for Ally at Reading in the Rain's online book club. I loved it, and Paper Butterflies immediately went on my tbr list. Unfortunately I never got round to reading it, so it can count towards my British Books challenge in 2017.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

I read The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness for Ally's book club (we've read some great books!) and this one ended up on my list too. But, like Paper Butterflies, I just never got to it in 2016.

The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge

A near miss in my monthly book group. I voted for this one, but most of the guys picked A Year of Living Danishly instead. Still, The Lie Tree immediately went on my ever expanding TBR.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Songs of Everealm #3 - Song of Sorrow

Nothing has gone according to Princess Sarita's plan. From near drowning to almost plummeting off the side of a mountain, she has had to face many obstacles that have dared to come between her and her quest for magic. Unfortunately, the challenge she must face now is the desires of her own heart.

A crazy scheme could be the answer to everyone's dreams or the end of them...

Two disclaimers to get out the way before I start this review.

First up, I was given a free copy of Song of Sorrow by author J D Wright in exchange for an honest review.

Second, I recently started watching Atlanta on FX, reawakening my obsession with Donald Glover that I thought I'd got over when I stopped binge-watching Community. But now it's back with a venegeance, so this review's GIFs are all Donald Glover, all the time. Enjoy!

It's no secret that I love the Everealm series (you can check out my various reviews of the seven books in the series here).

After a failed expedition to gain magic, Princess Sarita has returned home to Junacave, resigned to the idea that she will never have magic. It's not all bad though. Because in Everealm people with magic can't be a king or queen, Sarita's now free to pursue her relationship with King Cassidy without having to consciously abandon her dream. Except it isn't that simple. Cassidy's still determined to make her follow through on her plan, even if it costs him the girl he loves. It's a plot that could be resolved with a five minute conversation. But it isn't. And that's not a bad thing, because it means we get another Everealm book.

That said, the characters need their heads banging together! Honestly, it's a little infuriating to read another book of aguing between Sarita and Cassidy (and to a lesser extent, Gabby and Oliver), when it's not entirely clear what they're fighting about. Everyone's acknowledged their feelings to themselves, but they're still holding out. And just when you think the characters are on the verge of confronting their emotions and having a conversation, they immediately begin arguing again. Why aren't these guys coupled up? What's the problem?

Song of Sorrow is one of those journey books, where the purpose of the trip takes a backseat to the trip itself, and that's totally fine with me. Bickering aside, I really do enjoy reading road trips, where the plot sees characters out exploring their world rather than confined to a castle, and this book has plenty. Granted, there's more than a hint of repetition from earlier books in the series (this is now the third magical stone that Princess Sarita has gone on a quest for in as many books), but J D Wright mixes it up a bit this time out and I was glad to get the first sea voyage of the series and start moving into new kingdoms and realms rather than revisiting old ones. Not a bad thing necessarily, but at book #3 (or #8 if you count the 5 Everealm books), some new blood is definitely needed. I love the sense of boundless possibility in this series, even if realism - if there is such a thing in realm of magic and fantasy - takes a backseat at times. I mean, Cassidy is supposed to be a king, but yet frequently disappears out of his kingdom for weeks on end, usually without so much as a single personal guard with apparently no consequence. You think he'd be busy doing ... I don't know ... royal stuff.

I got on board with the new couplings in this book. Yes I saw them coming a mile off, but yes I still really liked these ones. Despite a sprawling cast of characters, there are none whose chapters/paragraphs I skim read, and there's only one I actively dislike. I said in my last review about my issue with the character of Calista, and these are still very much present and correct in Sorrow. I've come around to the pairing of her and Jake, even if the two people who hate each other are forced together and fall in love cliche isn't my cup of tea, but she's just such an ungrateful moaner. After running away from Jake and being rejected by her mother, Calista - somehow - finds a man to take her in, letting her stay at his house for free while he feeds and clothes her, and rather than showing any gratitude, she buggers off with Jake at the first opportunity without so much as a thank you to the guy, then makes all sorts of spiteful comments about how boring and dull the man was. I'm sure you weren't exactly a picnic to live with either, sweetheart!

It would be nice to see Calista embrace her magic and discover some sort of inner strength and independance, but alas this doesn't happen here. Luckily, there's relatively new - at least to the narrative - character Jo around to up the independent women quota. Her sort of relationship with Gabby's ex-fiance Garrison was incredibly sweet. It even managed to win me over after a few early eye rolls and pursed lips. The contrarian in me finds the tidy pairings in this series a little bit too convenient at times, but these guys were cute.

It was great to see the story starting to expand out into new parts of Everealm, with new kingdoms and families and creatures starting to make an appearance - although I wish most of them hadn't appeared so near the end of the book! The story ends so abruptly that I thought my copy was missing a chapter or two. Come on J D Wright, you can't leave me hanging like this until book #4/#9!

I really enjoyed this book, much like Song of Sovereign and Sparrows, it's a fantastically enjoyable read. After a spate of violent and somewhat mean-spirited fantasy reads recently, it's nice to read a lighthearted story that doesn't wallow in tragic backstory or pile misery onto the protagonist. But there is an undeniable feeling of deja vu in this book from the previous ones. The quest, the arguing, the pairings, I loved reading them the first time around and I certainly don't object to reading them again, but it does feel a bit like the story's going around in circles rather than moving forward. I'm hoping for a bit of backlash to the events at the end. Without giving too much away, a relatively small and seemingly sweet event could have huge implications for the relations between kingdoms and the potential for new enemies and obstacles to come into play (I've said it before and I'll say it again, no one's come close to matching Silas for menace and epic villainy!), so bring on Song of Shadows!


It's a thumbs up from me and Donald Glover!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Feature & Follow #12

I've been neglecting my blog a bit lately thanks to being up to my eyes in work and studying. But I'm hoping to get back into the swing of it - and actually read a book again since I haven't picked one up for weeks - with Feature & Follow Friday!

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. It's a really cool way to find out what people are reading and connect with other bloggers. Added bonus, the aim of a blog hop is to follow others. You follow me, I follow you. Wins all round! I'm happy for followers on GFC, Twitter, Bloglovin', Goodreads, whatever works for you. I guess I'd prefer Bloglovin' follows if I had to pick one. Make sure you leave me a comment so I know you're a new followers, I'm kind of scatty with keeping track of new followers!

The post prompt:
What's Your Book Betrayal Story? (Someone borrowed a book and destroyed it? Waited for a book for forever and it was terrible?)

Hmmm, a tricky one this week! 

In terms of a destroyed book, most people know better than to touch my books, much less destroy them. But I did once lend a copy of A Man Called Ove to someone in my book club and they returned it with dog-earred pages, highlights and annotations, much to my annoyance. 

There have been a few books that I was super excited for, only to find them to be a colossal letdown. Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers is the most recent one I can think of. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch (hmmm, maybe I should just stay away from authors called Sara!) was another. I didn't hate either of them as such, I just had really high hopes and they both turned out to be sort of ... meh. 

But my biggest book betrayal is probably Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I try to refrain from bitching about books, even if I didn't really enjoy them, but I HATED THIS BOOK SO MUCH! From the terrible pacing, the lack of story, the personality transplants the characters seemed to have undergoing and THAT ending, that book was the closest I've come to actually feeling betrayed by an inanimate object. And after I enjoyed Divergent and Insurgent so much, it seemed like an extra kick in the teeth.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Into The Light - Blog Tour

A big thank you to author Caroline T.Patti for answering my Q&A as part of the Into The Light blog tour!

1. What inspired you to write Into The Light?
Into the Light is the follow-up to Into the Dark. I wanted Mercy’s story to come to a satisfying end because I knew this would be the last in the “series.” I’m not sure if you can consider two books an entire series, but for lack of a better word, that’s what I’ll call it. At the close of Into the Dark Mercy made a pact with Isadora, aka the villain, in an effort to protect her family and friends. Into the Light certainly had to address this conflict, but I also wanted a great deal of the story to be about Nathaniel. To me, he became the most interesting and complex character. He’s certain not very likable in Into the Dark, though he is quite delicious at times. I wanted the readers to be able to fully understand his motivation, to know the reasons for why he is the way he is. I focused on that while writing Into the Light and Mercy’s story came together and, in a way, overlapped with Nathaniel’s.

2. Have any elements of your life made it in to the story?
I don’t include huge aspects of my life into my writing. What I do like to include are Easter eggs, if you will, for those who know me personally. Lyla’s last name is McCrimons, which is the same last name of one of my closest friends. When I was a kid and my dad made pancakes, he always cut it into little squares and then ate the middle piece himself. I included this in Into the Dark when Jay and Mercy in Lyla’s body make pancakes. When picturing Mercy’s high school, I did picture my own, which I’ve never done before, so the layout is exactly the same.

3. If you could go back in time and give yourself one bit of advice before you started writing Into The Light, what would it be?
There is so much pressure for sequels. Way more pressure than a first book! Readers are engaged, they have expectations, and the idea that I could somehow fall short of those expectations is really scary. What happens, though, when I let those thoughts into my head is I start thinking too much about the reader and I question every single word. I made things way too difficult for myself in the early stages of writing. At some point I had to resign myself to the fact that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Readers of Into the Dark will end up #TeamGage or #TeamNathaniel, and they might never be okay with the choice Mercy makes in Into the Light. I have to be okay with that. When an author publishes a book there’s this odd change of ownership and the characters belong to the readers and therefore they feel they should control the outcome. Of course their outcome might not match up with mine, and for that they may end up disappointed. And while I feel for them, I have to remember that this is my story with my characters and so long as I’m proud of my craft, that’s all that really matters.

4. Which books/authors inspired you to start writing?
I wanted to be a writer before I truly understood what an author is. I knew I wanted to write books, to tell stories from the time I was five, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t quite grasp the concept of authors just yet. Once I did, however, Lois Duncan had a huge influence on me. I gobbled up her books when I was young, and when I set out to be a “real writer” I sent her an email. She was so kind to reply and to wish me well on my journey.

5. Who's in the fantasy movie cast for Into The Light?
I hope you don’t hate my answer. The truth is, I’ve given it no thought. This is not to say that I don’t want my books turned into film. I would be honored. But I’ve never thought of who might play the characters because right now they only exist in my imagination and no one is going to resemble them enough. I’d much rather have someone else’s vision when it comes to casting because I think their argument could persuade me. I’d love to know who readers would want to cast, and then I’m sure I
could get behind their choice.

6. Sum Into The Light up in five words.
The real enemy is revealed.

7. Do you have any writing rituals?
I’m kind of a neat freak, so I try to make sure my house is clean first. Of course, if I’m on deadline, I have to forgo this ritual because I simply don’t have time. But for the most part, I like to know things are taken care of around the house so that I can devote all of my attention to the story. I will listen to the same two or three CDs on repeat until I’m finished with a book. It’s amazing that I don’t get sick of the music, but I honestly don’t. As soon as I’m plugged in, and the notes are playing, I’m transported right into the story and the rest of the world melts away. When I’m in the thick of it, I write every day, and I try to get out at least 1700 words. I do not write every day. I’m a wife and a mom to teenage daughters—there’s just no way to write every day. While editing Into the Light I watched a lot of That 70s Show. I don’t know why; it sort of became like a soundtrack. It was awesome.

8. Who was your favourite character to write?
Nathaniel. By far. I love a good complex character. I love the idea that it’s possible to love someone and hate someone at the same time. He’s tortured and he’s very hardened when we first meet him in Into the Dark. Originally, he was going to be the villain, but then his story unfolded and my heart went out to him. All he wanted was to be in love, and when he was denied that opportunity because loving a human was against the rules, he changed completely. I wanted to give him the chance to change back. I can’t promise that he does, but I at least wanted him to make the effort. And I wanted him to think of someone else besides himself.

9. How different is this version to the one you sat down to write?
Night and day. Seriously. The first version only moderately resembles the completed version. This happens to me a lot. I tend to dump a first draft knowing that I’m going to go back and revise. Maybe some writers think of this as a waste of time, but it’s part of my process. I get it all out, sort of verbal vomit style, and then I hone and tighten the story until it’s the way I want it. In early drafts I tend to make things too complicated. So during revisions I try to find the simplest, most direct way to tell the story. And I always keep Quentin Tarantino with me when I’m revising. I like to follow his format of jumping right into the action, and going back and explaining later. This means that during the revision process I might flip the entire book if necessary. I’m better at the back half then I am the start, so sometimes I’ll make the back part the beginning part and go back in time if necessary. Now that I’ve typed this all out, I realize it sounds a bit nuts, but what can I do? It is what it is.

10. How did Into The Light make the journey from your head to print?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I had an agent. And I pitched that agent the idea of Into the Dark, which was then called Seven Days. She loved the idea, but my writing wasn’t where it needed to be. We ended up going round and round for years. YEARS. And then I “met” Georgia McBride through Twitter. She ran #yalitchat, and she did freelance editing. I begged her to please help me pull Seven Days out of the depths of despair. And she did. But not without listening to a lot of whining from me about how I should just give up the whole thing and write something else first. Eventually, my agent dropped me, as happens to lots of folks and Georgia founded Month9Books. I remember being so nervous to ask her if she might consider publishing what was now called Into the Dark. She gave me the green light to submit, and Into the Dark went through the same process as any other submission. Into the Dark was published in August 2015, and I finished writing Into the Light by December 2015.

Into The Light
Mercy’s family is back together and the threat of danger appears to have passed. But any relief she feels is short lived as she is ripped from her body and thrown in jail. Gage and Nathaniel’s plans to break Mercy out won’t exactly be easy. Stuffed full of a chemical binding agent, Mercy is trapped inside the body of a convict without the ability to breach and set herself free. Unfortunately for Mercy, being trapped in jail becomes the least of her problems when she meets her evil twin, Justice.

BAM | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | TBD

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Friday, 26 August 2016


In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Where to start with Nevernight?

The blurb for this book is slightly deceptive. It sells it as something of a cliched "teenage assassin seeks revenge for the death of her family", but it's so much more than that! It actually follows through on its talk of death and murder, rather than glossing over it or, worse in my opinion, romanticising assassination. It certainly delivers on the gory goods, and isn't afraid to show the consequences of its violence.

I don't think this book is correctly categorised as YA (although I'm not precious about labels, so call it what you will). There's plenty of gore, no sunshines and rainbows, and a couple of pretty graphic sex scenes with a good few pages devoted to both male and female oral sex - although props to Jay Kristoff for some incredibly well-written heat and a refreshingly healthy and realistic attitude towards sex.

Mia's introduction to the Red Church and the lessons and tests that she and the other acolytes face are suitably cruel and lethal. Think Hogwarts if the Potions teacher actually poisoned the class and whatever Defence Against The Dark Arts professor Harry had that year actually chopped off limbs. The line between bloodlust and the regular kind is blurred, the powerful intimacy of both sex and death intertwined . Many an F-bomb is dropped, and a few C-bombs too (although Mia and Tric's discussion on why she'd rather be called said C-bomb than an insult named for the male anatomy is absolute writing gold!). This book certainly isn't one for the faint-hearted.

Mia was a bit of an odd one as a character. She alternates between ruthless killer and scared little girl (albeit not very often!), a little bit of who she was occasionally bleeding through into who she is. There's a lot left to be explored with her backstory, and I loved her creepy power over shadows (think Ephemera from Bloodrayne 2 for my fellow gaming nerds). I was a little bit disappointed that the author went down the route of having her beautified as part of her indoctrination into the Red Church. It made sense in the grand scheme of the story, but it was a bit of a shame that our unique and badass protagonist veered a little bit towards cookie-cutter. I'm not sure how I felt about her admiring her new boobs either, it had a little bit of a "taking off the bandages after plastic surgery" vibe to it which I wasn't feeling. The supporting characters were brilliant too, so well written that I could read another book just telling their backstories! Mia's father-figure/trainer Mercurio was great, his attacks of conscience over the path he was setting her on betraying how much he cared about his little Crow. The sadistic teachers, from the poison-weilding Spiderkiller to the limb-chopping Solis, were Harry Potter turned up to 11, and the fellow students vying for a place as Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder were wonderful - if a little thinly sketched. Ash was my favourite, her banter with Mia was fantastic and the dialogue crackled with energy whenever they were together!

Oh Tric! My poor, beloved Tric! His peversely sweet relationship with Mia was one of my favourite parts of the book. I'm not entirely sure Mia deserved him, but whether they were cursing each other, slicing each other up, having sex or having a rare but very sweet cute moment, I adored this pair. Although it's pretty obvious there's no future for them, and Jay Kristoff never attempts to hide this for a single second, I kind of hoped they'd get a happily ever after. I mean, come on man! Way to rip out my heart and stomp on it!

I've heard a few people say they couldn't click with the writing style and found the book too hard to get into. It's certainly not a light read, but my god, it's so worth it! The asterisks found on most pages that offer supplementary info on the world and characters can be skipped without harming the story itself, but I urge you to read them! The history lessons and narrator interludes alternate between incredible attention to detail and being incredibly funny. Kristoff's brutal takedowns of the standard teenage assassin tropes had me laughing out loud! My personal favourite was the mentions of a man who went by the name "Pigfiddler" or something similar. The asterisk beside his name led to a note from the narrator to tell me to grow up and stopp giggling.

At the risk of paraphrasing Kanye West, this book is a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy. From the lyrical writing to the lush descriptions and not one, but two gorgeous world maps, Nevernight was a joy to read from start to finish. Jay Kristoff's writing is wonderful and be TBR list now includes everything he's ever written. 

Nevernight is easily one of the best books I've read this year. It's a gripping, captivating, ambitious read. It's as dark as it is beautiful, and as brutal as it is heart-wrenching. It's as quotable as a Tarantino film, with world building to die for and a cast of absolutely magnificent bastards. If you're looking for clean-cut "assassins" who don't spill a drop of blood throughout the entire book, happy endings or a light, easy read, then you should probably look elsewhere. But otherwise, for the love of all things bookish, read Nevernight!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

How far will a book take you?

My big loves are books and travel. But short of reading abroad or reading travel book, the two have remained separate entities in my life. Most of the books I read are set in fantasy lands, which is great and makes for some beautiful world maps, but it's not like you can pack your bags and pay them a visit (as much as you sometimes want to).

I loved Kate Mosse’s Languedoc trilogy; Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel. They’re worldwide bestsellers, and with good reason. Set in Carcassonne, the mix of fiction and history, along with engaging heroines and a sprinkling of the supernatural, this series is an instant win in for me, and I’ve read them time and again over the last ten years or so. And when I was browsing SkyScanner the other day, I suddenly had an idea. Why not go to Carcassone?
So when it came to choosing the next destination for the next Gray mother-daughter trip abroad, I actually came to the table with a suggestion as opposed to our usual method of selection – putting a bunch of ideas in a jar and picking one at random. My suggestion was Carcassonne.

Mosse’s books have been such an inspiration, that I felt I owed it to the stories I've loved so much to see the place where they were born. That, plus the fact that France is a mere hop, skip and a jump from the UK and there are an abundance of cheap flights (thanks Easyjet!) and Air B&B deals made this one a no brainer. Plus, after the UK's questionnable decision to leave the EU, I feel like I should get all the hassle-free eurotravel in while I can still swan through immigration under the European freedom of movement law.

This is one of those wonderful times in my life where I can actually use the phrase "the book made me do it". Handily, Mosse’s books also come with a mini tour guide in the back of them, highlighting the spots where key scenes take place.

You're a better woman than me if you can resist this!
I'm so excited to finally see this beauty in real life! It's going to be a patchwork of flights, train transfers and remembering to drive on the right-hand side of the road whilst trying to not crash the hire car, but I can't wait! How I will fit three large, hardback books in my backpack remains to be seen...

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Songs of Everealm blog tour

It's no secret; I loved the original Everealm series! I've devoured all five books in the series in under a year and when I finished Dynasty a few month's ago, I was on the lookout for my next bookish obsession. Turns out I didn't have long to wait, as author J.D.Wright announced her new spin-off "Songs" series shortly after. So when the blog tour came up, I didn't miss the opportunity to jump on a spot (thanks to YA Bound Book Tours!) and the chance to dive back in to the world of Everealm.

I was only down for a promo post for this tour, but I got review copies of each and wasted zero time in blasting through them. This blog post is already kind of long, so you can check out the reviews for Sovereign and Sparrow in their own posts.

I have so much love for this series! Magic, castles, lands far far away, knights, faeries, sex, romance and princesses who take no shit ... suffice to say, I'm hooked

Song of Sovereign (Songs of Everealm #1)

Princess Sarita has everything. Loving parents, a castle fit for royalty, fine clothes, loyal friends, and an exciting job as a scholar of magic. At eighteen years of age, one might think that she would be content with her position. But one thing has always been missing from her life... full magic, itself.

When a strange old woman gave Sarita a secret spellbook as a child, her entire life was changed. The book contains spells, songs, and stories. But most of all, it provides a path to gaining full magic, the only thing that Sarita still needs to feel complete. And now, she has finally prepared to leave her home in search of the Stones of the Divine, the final ingredient she needs to gain magic.

Gabrielle has been known as the sister of a knight and best friend of the princess for as long as she can remember. Now an experienced healer's assistant, she is desperate to find her place and purpose in Junacave. An adventurous mission to help Sarita locate a mystical stone may be just the change in her life that she is looking for.

King Cassidy is still alone, but not for a lack of trying. His attempts to convince the Princess of Junacave to marry him over the past ten years have been for naught. And being twenty years old, with no heir, he is running out of time. If he can't win the heart of the princess, he may have to face a future without the love of his life.

Adventure, romance, and magic await as we travel through Everealm with royalty, wizards, fairies, and more, in the fantasy-romance Songs of Everealm, a five book series by J.D. Wright, author of the Everealm Series. Songs of Everealm Series is the second series set in the fantasy-filled Everealm. It begins 8 years after the conclusion of the first series, the Everealm Series.

Cassidy smiled, walking toward her. He leaned against the table closest to her desk and studied her. She was so beautiful. He thought she looked a lot like her mother, but she had Rowan’s soft brown eyes. Her long and slightly curly hair was still blonde, though. It hadn’t turned auburn like Bree’s or brown like Rowan’s. It stayed blonde all through her childhood and to now. And it suited her other soft features. To most, the princess might appear delicate. He had angered her enough to know that she wasn’t. And she was just remarkable when she was angry.
Her gown was plainer than the ones he usually saw her wearing, but he rarely entered her space when she was working during his visits. He figured she would probably change into something more formal before supper. And she would be just as striking in an elaborate gown as she was in her riding clothes. Which reminded him…
“I wanted to know if you were up for finishing our race. I brought Stallion with me, this time. So think carefully before you accept. I would hate to make my princess cry when I leave her in my dust.”
Sarita narrowed her eyes at him, then stepped closer.
“I am not your princess and Stallion will never win against Dragonfly. My horse practically flies, hence the name.”
Cassidy snickered. “Does she fly like a dragon or like a fly? Because one doesn’t exist and the other is a giant nuisance.”
She smirked at him. Well played, Your Majesty. “Either one would be faster than your precious Stallion.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. I think we both know that you will be the one in my dust. I hope you choke on it.”
“I love it when you wish harm to come to me.”
“Then you should be the happiest king in the realm because I wish harm on you almost every day.”
“Oh, I am insanely happy. Especially, right now.”
Sarita’s eyes widened. She suddenly realized just how close she had gotten to him. She wasn’t sure how long she had been standing there or when he had put his hands on her waist. Yet, looking down, almost her entire body was pressed against him. She quickly backed away and turned toward her desk.
“I will take that as your agreement to my challenge,” he said, turning to go.
She stared at him as he walked out of the room. When she was alone, again, she sank into her chair and dropped her head onto the desk. This was going to be a disaster. Sneaking away before the tournament was over would be nearly impossible. She wouldn’t get far before Cassidy would realize she was gone.

Song of Sparrows (Songs of Everealm #2)

The journey across Everealm to find the magical stones has not come without its challenges. After being plagued by unwanted guests, disagreements, and accidents, Princess Sarita is beginning to wonder if her dream of gaining magic is a fantasy that can't come true.

Along the way, new friends and rekindled sparks between old flames have caused quite a stir within the group. As a new wizard joins the effort and gives the princess a reason to continue, the quest for the next stone ensues...

As the sun rises over the ridge, our story continues into the Song of Sparrows!

About the Author
Writing has always been a hobby of mine, beginning as a young child. It was a way to cope with losing my father at seven years of age. I started with poetry and was featured several times on the amazing poetry blog, Autumn Leaves, by Sondra Ball. My love for poetry soon led to writing songs in middle school and beyond, which I still do occasionally. Music has always been an important part of my existence, so writing songs came naturally to me. In high school, I started my own novel, however, life got in the way and I never finished it.

Fast forward many years later and I find myself married with three children, absorbed in my busy life with commitments to my family, work, school, church, and charities, among other things. One day I came across my old binder, with notes from my first novel, and it was with those notes that I conjured up the elusive Everealm.

I write to please readers such as myself, who have a love for fantasy and romance, but like a little danger and sex in their reading. I wrote the book with a mature audience in mind, who can appreciate a hearty imaginary world with magic and the unknown, but want more than fluffy love stories with wizards in them. They want the romance, magic, and danger, all wrapped into one.


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Book tour organised by

Songs of Everealm #1 and #2

So, I was pretty excited when I heard about this series! I've loved the Everealm series from book one. Well, book two actually, but only because I read them the wrong way around. So just as I was starting to get the shakes as book five, Dynasty, was coming to a close, out came the announcement for J.D.Wright's spin-off series, Songs of Everealm, and all was right in my bookish world once again.

Set some eight years after the last Everealm book, it follows Princess Sarita in her quest across the realm to gain magic. It's definitely time to follow the new generation of characters, but it's still nice to see a few mentions of the guys and girls of Everealm mark 1. Sarita was one of my favourites from the "old" series, so it was wonderful to follow her adventures. Yes, the idea of getting magic from some vaguely named stones scattered across the realm is pretty straight-forward, and there's a lot of walking around without actually finding anything, but it's refreshing to read a simple story that's well told. Sovereign is less about the destination than the journey, and the "road-trip" makes for an enjoyable, easy read.

Joining Sarita is best friend Gabby, her ex Oliver and Sarita's admirer/borderline stalker King Cassidy. Their chemistry and believable banter were a joy to read, although Cassidy's insistence on calling Sarita "his princess" when she repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) told him not to wore thin. There's a fine line between the act of flirtation and the act of being a sex pest, and that line was crossed on occasion. Gabby and Oliver's respective partners, Garrison and Calista, were along for part of the ride, although they seemed a bit surplus, and Calista in particular grated on my nerves. But one of the great things about this series is that it's so sprawling that if you don't like a character, you don't have to wait too long to be back with one you do like. I've always loved author J.D.Wright's ability to write life into characters and interactions that could be incredibly boring. And not once was I bored even though there was a lot of riding and camping and bedding down for the night. Seriously, how many authors would put their manliest male characters in nightgowns for a couple of scenes?

This boundless world and character building is one of my favourite things about this series and this adventure does have the same feeling of liberated freedom.

J.D's books tend to err on the adult side of things, so I was a bit concerned about how I'd deal with reading sex scenes between characters who were ten years old in the book I was reading just a few months ago. But thankfully this is one of the tamer entires to the series, the only one who really gets any action is Sarita's horse (which to be honest, I could have done without reading!) so it's not a horribly jarring transition.

I wasn't a huge fan of the introduction of faery Emery, just because it felt a little bit rushed. She's a cute character, but her magical mate bond with wizard Asher seemed a little bit contrived. When Sidonie and Dagan were matched up despite their personal circumstances in the first series, it was a love-hate relationship that worked out, but here it just feels like we're going over old ground. It was nice to find out a bit more about Everealm and the lingering animosity between certain magical beings, but it felt a bit like more of the same.

An absolute must read for fans of the Everealm series, but a definite recommendation if you're looking for a fun, easy read in a world set far far away!

And then it was on to book two!

I got both books as part of the tour, and dived right into Sparrows the instant I was finished with Sovereign. Did I enjoy it as much? Not quite.

At three stars, this is the lowest rating I've given any book in this series - even though I still really enjoyed reading it and in no way has it put me off reading the rest - for two reasons.

One; repetition. We had the "magical mates who hate each other but are fused together by magic" plot in Sovereign with Asher and Emery. Okay, they didn't hate each other per se, but him being a wizard and her being a fairy meant that it was a coupling that neither were happy with. And we get another dose of that in Sparrow with wizard Jake and magic-hating Calista. Which brings me to my next issue.

Calista. Urgh . . . just . . . urgh! This foot-stomping, slut-shaming, pain in the ass was a problem I encountered in Sovereign, but she wasn't too prominent so I could deal with her character. I wasn't entirely sure why she was there, but she was pretty inoffensive. Not so in Sparrows. She's front and centre for a big chunk of the book and is just, so, annoying! Just when the story should be dealing with Sarita and the princess losing her fire for something she's been searching for and dreaming of most of her life, it switches to this shining beacon of human idiocy for a loooong time. Sometimes authors do such a good job of writing a character that you find insufferable that they become a pro and a con at the same time and that's definitely the case here. Well written, believable character? Check. Walking annoyance that you'd cross the street to avoid? Check.

Calista's relationship with Jake was a sticking point for me too. Them getting together wasn't the issue, it was obvious from the end of book one, but I'm not sure I'm a fan of these magical pairings that stick people who hate each other together and there's nothing they can do about it. Gabby and Oliver's relationship is lovely because you believe they want to be together. I'd much rather read about characters who are together because they want to be, rather than two people arguing then having sex because magic dictates that they sort of have to. Everything's very neat, with pairs of heterosexual couples and no odd numbers so someone is sleeping alone or same-sex couplings, which is a little bit disappointing given the lack of diversity in YA and the potential for some in this enormous world that J.D.Wright has created. Fair enough, some stories don't have scope for that kind of thing and sometimes it's just not the author's bag - forcing diversity for the sake of it can sometimes be worse than lacking it - but at book seven, I was kind of hoping for something to break the mould.

Skimming over the Calista stuff - it's good news everywhere else. Cassidy has dialled down his stalker-ish tendancies, and is now a much better character, quietly accepting that Sarita doesn't love him and isn't going to marry him (although, do any of us believe that?), retreating to his castle after assigning his mage to guard her. Gabby and Oliver finally, sort of get it back together. It's still a long road, but the pieces are falling into place. Bless my beloved Sarita though! After trekking all over the realm in search of a magic-bearing stone (which doesn't quite work as she intended. I won't go into spoilers, but that plot point had me like . . .)

she ends up defeated and skulking home. She's such a great character that it's sad to see her fire go out, although I'm sure it won't be long before it's back! Her "will they-won't they" (although obviously they definitely will!) relationship with Cassidy is so cute. Neither quite know what they're doing, and sometimes do things that any sane person could see are a bad idea, but it's sweet and believable. I'm quite glad that J.D.Wright left the sex scenes for book two. Jumping straight into them from Dynasty where Sarita and Gabby were ten years old would have been a little too weird, but by saving them for book two of the new series, you've had time to accept that everyone's now much older before anything gets too hot and heavy. I was a bit worried about how this would translate when I first read about this series on J.D's blog, but she conveys the passage of time nicely.

Song of Sparrows is a great read, and dreamily titled, although I did get a little bit of deja vu in terms of the plot. Perhaps it's just because I leapt from book one to book two so quickly that I didn't have time to decompress. And if I hadn't been so averse to one of the characters I'd probably have given it four stars. It's magical and uninhibited and more than a little bit spicy, my kind of read!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

First blogoversary!

Time flies when you're having fun!

In a typical Mikayla-esque instance of being so disorganised that I'm actually organised, I thought that I began my blog in May 2015 and started organising by first blogoversary wrap up. Turns out I actually released it into the wild on 13 July 2015, which makes today my first ever blogoversary! To celebrate, I've got a bookish bundle to give away (open internationally) below and a chance to get all mushy and gush about what a fun year it's been!

It's a testament to how much I love reading, blogging and the book blogging community that I still enjoy it as much now as I did when I started out. I do have a bit of a tendency to start things, only to lose interest after a few months, but I've had such a blast reading and blogging and meeting my fellow bloggers that I've yet to get bored. From skypes, Twitter chats, Goodreads recommendations, comments, weekly features, reviews (both writing and reading), blog tours and release blitz's, I've discovered so many great books and met so many wonderful and enthusiastic people that I really wish I'd started out sooner!

My year!
Posts: 98
Tweets: 2,723
Reviews: 39
Books read: 77
Beta reads: 14
Blogger weekly features: 21
Blog tours: 7
GIFs used: Who knows. Probably too many.
Some of the awesome people I've virtually met: Ally (founder and very lovely host of UK YA in the rain book club) @ Reading In The Rain, Lucy (founder and host of #ukyachat) @ Queen Of Contemporary, Anna @ Enchanted By YA, Jess @ Curioser and Curioser, Lydia @ Something Like Lydia, Carrie @ The Book Goddess, JD Wright @ Everealm, Kiara @ A Nerd And Her Books, Lily @ Sweet Love Books, Claire @ Claire Luana, Jessica @ A Great Read, Ardis @ Pondering The Prose, Emma @ Emma's Bookery. I feel like I'm forgetting more people than I'm remembering, but if I've taken away only one thing from this year, it's that book bloggers are some of the most wonderful and welcoming people you'll ever find! If you've followed me, tweeted me, skyped with me,  e-mailed me, sent me a book rec, commented on a post or anything; you are awesome, and you've made this blogging year for me!

Three Storm Siren-inspired bookmarks (thank you Anna @ Enchanted By YA!),

tote bag and bookmark from Shakespeare & Co in Paris,

a $25 giftcard (or a £20 one for for my fellow Brits!), a hardback copy of Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers and a paperback copy of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. It's open internationally and closes 31 July.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2016


There is no chosen one in this story. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and happened to make a decision that altered her future forever. It happens to all of us every day.

Avery Gray is a size twelve university student with a penchant for dry humour, and she’s as normal as they come. Up until now, the biggest choice she’s had to make was glasses or contacts? At the moment, it’s stay and save, or leave and be saved. 

One rainy afternoon, Avery had to make a choice: go through the alleyway or around it. Two possible options. One would have had her future continue on as planned, the other would ensure that her future never remained the same again. She unknowingly went with the latter.

But change is not always bad. Avery meets Theodore-James Connors, an enigmatic young man who takes her to Hayven, a city separated from the rest of the world, where only gifters – ordinary people with extra-ordinary gifts – can go. She soon finds herself in a close-knit group of friends she’d never have imagined herself in; friends who are diverse in every possible way, from their ethnic backgrounds, to their personalities, from their gifts, to their life stories. Friends who make her laugh, who make her cry, who make her think and who make her…her.

However, change is not always good. The beautiful, golden city of Hayven has its dark side - Cliders. Gifters turned rogue, aka, Cliders are determined to aid fallen Clider, Madrina, return to rule Hayven. They will stop at nothing to make that happen, including harming those Ava has grown to love. Again, Ava is faced with a choice: spend her days finding a way to inhibit Madrina’s return, or walk away. After all, she isn’t the chosen one. Yet, there exists a third option - rig the future itself and make it work for her. 

First off, thank you to J A George for providing me with a free e-copy of Gifted in exchange for an honest review. She was also kind enough to do an author interview, which is one of my favourite things about blogging! I'm always fascinated by the story behind the story, and combined with a free book, I've been looking forward to doing this post. That said, I try and be completely honest in my reviews, so there are no five stars for freebies.

Now that's all out of the way, on to the fun stuff!

The story starts off well, after taking a shortcut home, ordinary girl Avery stumbles upon a dying old woman and learns that she is "Gifted"; someone with a magic power and the ability to flit between the real world and the magical world of Hayven. In Avery's case, her gift is the ability to read minds, as well as the ability given to her by the dying woman of being able to see the future. The opening is intriguing and well-written and Avery is a wonderful character, even if she does feel a little like she's trying to hard to be "relatable" (I don't really need to be told her dress size so many times, if at all to be honest!) and the seeds of the story are sown nicely.

Things get better once Theo (finally!) introduces Avery to her gift and the pair head to Hayven. Hayven is a beautifully described world. There's something magical about the idea of another land hidden beneath the surface, it's very much a Harry Potter vibe which I adore! The idea of people flitting in and out of this world in a flurry of coloured dots, unique to their personality, is vividly imaginative. Avery's "new" friends are a little one-dimensional. Each seems to have one defining characteristics; the mean girl, the womaniser, the standoffish one with a heart of gold, the guide, the one that's just there. Their powers are mentioned and demonstrated, but don't come into play much in the story. With so many characters to juggle though, it's hard to give page time to all of them. I hope they'll come into play more in the rest of the series.

The story did suffer from some pacing issues, and the first half drags a little bit. It's lovely to read about the world of Hayven and meet the characters but, plot-wise, not a lot happens besides some uneccesary conflict between Avery, love interest Theo and his mean-girl girlfriend Summer. There's a definite sense here that the author tried to get away from the insta-love cliche, but unfortunately, Avery and Theo's relationship does read very much insta-love. I just didn't see why she was so interested in him, especially with everything else going on around her, or why Theo didn't just come out with the truth about his relationshp with Summer. It's the kind of plot device that doesn't feel genuine, just of a way of generating conflict.

The crux of the story, the introduction of big bad Madrina and her followers, Cliders, happens very late in the book. As a result, they never come across as a credible threat. It's a really intriguing prospect, and the stories of Madrina's near takeover of Hayven sets her up as a great villain! So I was surprised to see that I was almost 60% through the book and hadn't seen much evidence of the plot the blurb above promises. It's a tricky one, because the first half of the book is so well-written and sets the world and characters so well, it's almost to the detriment of the actual plot.

I had to knock a star of my rating right off the bat for the simple fact that this book doesn't stand alone. It's the first in a series, so by all means end on a hook, but the story just sort of ... stops. It has a beginning, a middle, and - just when I was glancing nervously at the remaining page percentage on my kindle - no real end. It just stops. Just as it was getting going! It's a frustrating trend these days for YA books to end on not so much a cliffhanger as a dead end.

I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series, The Silver Orb, but I can't shake the feeling that this book feels like the set up for a story, not a story in itself. It's a shame, because this leaves a bad taste in my mouth right at the end of what had been a great read. I'll probably round this review up to 4 on Goodreads and Amazon, but since I can half star on my blog, I have to go with my gut and give it 3.5. I really did enjoy the story, and I'd recommend it to contemporary and fantasy YA fans alike, but I just felt that I didn't get the entirety of what I was promised by the blurb. And I'll have to read the next book in the series for that.

All in though, Gifted is a well written book with some fantastic world building and colourful characters, and if it had followed through a little bit further, dropping some early exposition and ramping up to a not too rushed climax, this review would have been raves. Still, this book has me hooked. Bring on the next!

And now, the interview!

1. What inspired you to write Gifted?
I wanted to read it. I wanted to read a contemporary YA fantasy novel that didn’t feature instant-love, that didn’t feature a chosen one and didn’t centre on a girl born into a dystopian society. I just wanted to read about someone normal, someone I could relate to. Someone who worries about the way she looks, but never says it out loud, has a sense of humour, thinks about the small stuff. Then I wanted to take her and place her in a world she never thought existed before adding a dystopian element. I wanted to explore real young adult relationships, friendships and modern-day topics such as, body weight issues and cheating in relationships. Hmm, GIFTED is a lot less sombre than it sounds. It’s actually a fun read, I promise!

2. Have any elements of your life made it in to the story?
Unfortunately not. I don’t have any “supernatural” gifts…yet. I’m patiently waiting on it, though.

3. If you could go back in time and give yourself one bit of advice before you started writing Gifted, what would it be?
Write for yourself. Definitely, without doubt! I spent the first two years of Gifted trying to write a book I thought readers would like. It ended up being a book I wouldn’t read, even if it was given to me for free! And that’s saying something. However, two years later, I decided to write for myself and that decision resulted in the second edition of Gifted, which I can honestly say contains maybe 5% of edition one of Gifted. I’m sure that speaks volumes. It was a lot of time wasted, but at least I now have a book that I would not only read, but pay for. However, I am biased.

4. Is there a place or time that most closely represents Hayven in your mind?
I don’t believe so. Perhaps there is a city in the world that resembles Hayven, but I haven’t visited it yet!

5. Which books/authors inspired you to start writing?
Roald Dahl! I never knew how much Roald Dahl influenced me until I realised his theme of extraordinary things happening to ordinary people is something I’ve been mentally carrying around with me for a long time now.

6. Who would play Avery in the movie version?
Oh, I’m not sure… If I could cast Avery, I’d love the opportunity to give someone new a chance to have their acting dream come true, so most likely someone you haven’t heard of.

7. Sum Gifted up in five words.
Ordinary people with extraordinary gifts.

8. Do you have any writing rituals?
I like to write with a bar of chocolate by my side. Yet, I also like to read with a bar of chocolate by my side. And watch a movie, hang out with friends, bake and study with a bar of chocolate by my side.

9. When did you start writing Gifted?
Late 2013. I was sitting cross-legged on my bed when I suddenly decided to write this novel.

10. How different is this version to the one you sat down to write?
Unrecognisably different. Like I said above, this edition contains about 5% of the edition I sat down to write. But the dramatic change has been for the better!

11. How did Gifted make the journey from your head to print?
It took a lot of notebooks, a lot of computer time and a lot of chocolate. I really appreciate authors now, any author, because writing a book really isn’t easy. When you read a good book, you think it must come effortlessly to the author – I don’t believe it does! It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of effort and a lot of determination.

Bottled Release Blitz

Friday, 8 July 2016

Pre-read reviews

The other day I went to the movies with a couple of friends. I really wanted to see The Shallows, but I was outvoted. The reason? The verdict from the group was "because it's rubbish!"

When I asked if anyone had seen it, they all said no. So I had to ask how they knew it was rubbish. No one really had an answer, and we ended up seeing Independence Day instead (which really was rubbish), but no one seemed to have a problem passing judgement on something they'd never even seen. That bothers me. It's like everyone announcing online that the new Ghostbusters movie sucks, months ahead of it being wrapped, promoted or viewed. I had no idea there were so many crystal balls in existence!

And it's the same with books. On Goodreads yesterday, I found a book (I'm not saying which one, that's a can of worms I'm not going to open right now!) that had hundreds of five star ratings so I had a little look, thinking that it might be a read for me. But it quickly became clear that a lot of reviewers hadn't read the book. Hell, many of them had left five star reviews before the damn thing was even published!

Which brings me, finally, to my point. Why do people leave reviews, whether it be five stars or one star, for a book they haven't even read? Sure, you could argue that they're expressing their anticipation for something they're dying to read, but what if they hate it? That five start review suddenly looks a bit silly. When I tweeted my puzzlement, Goodread responded - which I appreciated, and this rant is in no way aimed at them! - that they allow pre-rating so people can show that they'd looking forward to a book. But that's what the "want to read" shelf is for.

It would be cool to have a pre-read excitement rating option seperate to the review rating option (I'd love to see some hype ratings vs review ratings), but reviewing books you haven't read can be quite damaging. Nobody - except the publishers perhaps - benefits from a swath of five stars reviews for a product that might not be five stars, even by the standards of those who've left them. It doesn't give constructive feedback to authors just starting out, sets unfair reader expectations and sets the bar unreachably high.

I don't make up my mind about what to read on other people's reviews, but I won't lie, they definitely help sway me if I'm on the fence about a book. A few great reviews can push me off onto the buying side, the same way an incredibly well-written scathing review, delving into some of the plot of the book (and there are plenty of those on Goodreads!) can make me laugh and then realise that perhaps the book isn't for me.

Sometimes it's easy to tell which reviewers haven't read the book, whether it's excessive exclamation points or a simple statement like "I can't wait to read this book", but digging through the reviews for this particular one, it became clear that many of the five stars were left before release. Those posted after seemed to be much lower. It gives a completely skewed view of how people recieved the book and makes me question every good review left for it, many of which may well be legit.

I don't read reviews to know how excited people were when the book was announced or the cover was revealed, I read them to know what people thought of the story and characters. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing at all wrong with looking forward to an upcoming release and raving about how much you can't wait to read it (we've all done it), but reviewing it?

Giving it a five stars, stated on Goodreads as meaning "it was amazing", defeats the entire point of a book rating site.

It seems a little unfair on the authors too. I'm sure most would love a ton of glowing reviews, but if you've got a million ratings at five stars, people are going to expect a lot from your book. Anticipation is one thing, unrealistic expectations are another. A good book seems worse than it really is when you're expecting something completely and utterly fantastic. I'm constantly told in my job about managing expectations; don't promise what you can't deliver and make sure people have a realistic picture of what you can and can't do for them. It's the same with reviews, be it books, movies or anything else that relies on word of mouth and recommendation. It benefits the few but not the many to promise the world and talk a big game, only to fall short of the bar you set. Even if you still did a good job, your promised a great job, and you didn't come through with it.

What does everyone else think about pre-reviewing books? Do you do it yourself?

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Assassin's Curse

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn't really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.

I wasn't expecting much from The Assassin's Curse. I picked up a copy at a book swap, drawn by little other than the dreamy cover. The book blurb sounds like YA fantasy 101, so I wasn't really expecting much from the plot. It turns out I was pleasantly surprised when it started off much better than I expected it to be. Then I was kind of underwhelmed as it settled in to a saggy second act, then just bored by the finale. All in all, The Assassin's Curse is very much a mixed bag.

First up, the good. Protagonist Ananna, who I constantly want to type as Anna, is a brilliant character. The first person pov captures her rough and unpolished inner voice, and she's got attitude to spare. About to be married off to an attractive but dull fellow pirate, she runs away to make her own fortune. The opening few chapters crackle with energy, and it helps that Ananna talks like me after five vodka and cokes when my regional accent starts to come out. It's hard not to get swept away by such a lively and well-written heroine.

The problems start to arise when Ananna meets the titular assassin, Naji. Sent by her jilted fiancee, Naji also brings with him the introduction of magic. Some people have it, some don't, but I couldn't tell you why. There's mention of The Mists and Otherworlds, but nothing really gets fleshed out. The magic in this universe is frustratingly unexplored and appears all too frequently in obvious "because magic" plot devices.

I tried to find a magic GIF, but all I kept getting were Magic Mike GIFs. So enjoy!

It's disappointing, because the writing in this book is so vivid and descriptive, that it's a seriously missed opportunity for some truly amazing world-building. Ananna and Naji are bound together by an impossible magic curse - isn't that always the way? - but all we know about it is that it's magic. And impossible to break. There's something about Ananna saving Naji's life (by killing a snake that was about to bite him, which I see several problems with, but I'm not going to get into them) but unbreakable magic bonds are something of a "get out of jail free" cards for YA fantasy authors, a lazy way of explaining why supposedly strong characters don't just tell their jackass love interest to get lost. Sure, you could argue that with a first person pov, the reader only knows as much as Ananna. Which is what Naji is willing to tell her. Which isn't a lot. But that only compounds the issue of why such a strong-willed character would let herself get dragged across the empire by a stranger for something she doesn't understand.

The obvious answer is; to propel the plot, and this is another issue I had with the book. The pacing. The first third, where Ananna runs away from her family and ends up bound to Naji? Great. The story zips along, showing Ananna to be brave, resourceful and determined. I loved it. The middle act, where the pair cross the desert to find Naji's old flame who might be able to break the curse? Ok, a little dull, lots of walking and pretty-girl hate, but there's a bit of action and some new information to be gleaned. The finale, where Ananna and Naji end up stranded on a magical, floating island, trying to find a wizard who might be able to help them? Boring. Really boring. Pages and pages are spent starting fires, looking for water and building shelters. And then the book just ends, like a damp firework that promises a big bang but doesn't deliver one. Whether you believe the journey is more important than the destination, or the other way around, this book fails to deliver on either count.

Perhaps if there was more to go on, I'd have felt more invested. But I fail to see why Ananna would give a damn about the assassin who tried to kill her, and I can't buy in to a plot thread that isn't explained. I need more than the fact it's an impossible curse and no one really understands it to go on. I don't think that every plot detail needs to be spelled out, but "because I said so" isn't a reason that I'm willing to buy. Extra details are added at random too, like Naji will be in pain if he's too far from Ananna, and her being in danger (which is another incredibly vague definition) seems to injure him, which doesn't help my sneaking suspicion that the author was making things up as they went along. And ultimately that makes it harder to get invested in the stroy because the rules can change from one chapter to the next, and suddenly the game has changed without the story or characters earning it.

I was torn between two and three stars for this book. The plot is pretty standard YA fare, and the second half didn't hold my interest, but Ananna is such a well-written character, I persevered and saw the book through to the end. Will I pick up the sequel? Probably, and that's entirely down to the strength of the protagonist. I could have done without her hatred of Naji's old flame Laila (Ananna doesn't like beautiful people you see) based almost entirely on the fact that she's pretty, but the author is certainly all about equality on that front, because Ananna hates her fiancee for being too handsome (#firstworldproblems). Naji is a fairly bog standard love-interest, although the hints of romance don't really get going in this book (I'm guessing that's material for book two), but he's too cold and detached to really get invested in. Other characters come and go, but none - save for ship navigator Marjani - have much of an impact.

Sadly, this is a book where the sum of its parts is greater than its whole. With pirates, assassins, magic, deserts, maybe sort-of witches, the ingredients are all here for an epic read, but The Assassin's Curse doesn't quite reach the bar it sets.