Monday, March 30, 2020

March Wrap-Up

Well, this month has been a bit of a crazy one!
I hope you're all doing ok!

Here are the books I wanted to read this month:


 The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow - eARC - 3.5/5 stars - read my review here.
The Beautiful (The Beautiful, #1) by Renée Ahdieh - eARC - 2.5/5 stars - read my review here.
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren - library paperback - 3/5 stars.

 The Rage of Dragons (The Burning, #1) by Evan Winter - eARC - DNF at 12% (1/5 stars) - read my review here.
Jinxed (Jinxed, #1) by Amy McCulloch - ecopy - 3/5 stars - read my review here.
Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee - paperback - 3.5/5 stars.

Warcross (Warcross, #1) by Marie Lu - library paperback - 3/5 stars.
Kingdom of Souls (Kingdom of Souls, #1) by Rena Barron - eARC - 2/5 stars - read my review here.
Wildcard (Warcross, #2) by Marie Lu - library paperback - 2.5/5 stars.


 These are Kindle copies that I got for £0.98 each. Bargain!

I was very lucky to be approved all these NetGalley books, some of which are for blog tours I'm on:




The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heap by H.G. Parry

What did you read in March?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Blog Tour + Interview + Giveaway - Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Find the tour schedule here.

 Thorn by Intisar Khanani
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release Date: March 24th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retellings, Romance, Fairy Tales


A princess with two futures. A destiny all her own.

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.

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How did you come up with the idea for Thorn?

I wrote the first draft of Thorn my senior year of university, in large part just to see if I could. I had always wanted to write a novel, so I set myself the challenge to write a chapter a week, and chose a fairytale I loved as the bases. As such, Thorn is a retelling of the Grimm’s tale, “The Goose Girl.” It’s both dark and whimsical, packed with sorrow and hope. It’s a tale of betrayal, and injustice, and sorcery, and learning to be strong in who you are and fight for what you understand to be right.

Did you do any research for Thorn?

Definitely! Thorn went through around 16 or 17 drafts, over about 18 years. Yeah, my mind is blown too. But, over all that time, I’ve forgotten a lot of what I researched. I worked into the story, and then lost track of what I always knew and what I learned on the job, so to speak. I do remember having to research horse expressions, and how horses show emotions. After all, there’s a talking horse in Thorn (as in the original fairytale), as well as a rather ornery regular horse. I wanted to get them right. I also researched different types of architecture, and what sorts of plants grow where (this story takes place on the plains) and in what season. 

Do you have a favourite character in Thorn?

I love Princess Alyrra (aka Thorn) deeply, and she is by far the character I have wept with and laughed with the most. I mean, she’s also the point of view character! But my favorite character is actually a rather ill-mannered, unfriendly horse named Moonflower who only shows up in the second half of the book or so. Moonflower has her own history, and I love how her response is to bite at people, and glower, and only slowly trust them. I love that she is passionately protective as a horse even if she won’t quite admit it to your face. As ridiculous as this might sound, I intend to keep writing companion novels until I manage to give Moonflower a happy fate. ;)

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Set yourself reasonable goals; work as consistently as you’re able (figure out what works for you!); and finish your projects. No matter whether you do anything or not with a particular story, learning to finish what you start will make a major difference in your ability to keep developing and writing new stories. (That said, if you can’t stomach working on something, it’s also okay to change gears – just make sure you are finishing something.)

What's your favourite book/series?

It’s impossible to pick a favorite! So instead, I’m going to rec two authors who have also written fairytale type adaptations that I’ve absolutely loved. W.R. Gingell’s Two Monarchies sequence begins with Masque (hookline: Beauty met the Beast and there was . . . Bloody murder?) and is so much fun! And Kate Stradling’s The Legendary Inge takes a seemingly throw-away moment from Beowulf, genderswaps the main character (yay girl power!), and builds a fabulous story from there. Definitely an original fairy tale, and one of the few reads I’ve enjoyed so much I flipped back to start over again the moment I finished. 

Thanks so much for having me on the blog!

About the Author

 Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.

Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s debut novel, Thorn, was picked up by HarperTeen and will be re-releasedin Winter 2020. In the meantime, she’s hard at work on the remaining books of The Sunbolt Chronicles.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Review - Kingdom of Souls (Kingdom of Souls, #1) by Rena Barron

Title: Kingdom of Souls (Kingdom of Souls, #1)
Author: Rena Barron
Pages: 496
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Release Date: 3rd September 2019

Blurb from Goodreads:


Arrah is a young woman from a long line of the most powerful witch doctors in the land. But she fails at magic, fails to call upon the ancestors and can't even cast the simplest curse.

Shame and disappointment dog her.

When strange premonitions befall her family and children in the kingdom begin to disappear, Arrah undergoes the dangerous and scorned process of selling years of her life for magic. This borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal and a danger beyond what she could have imagined. Now Arrah must find a way to master magic, or at least buy it, in order to save herself and everything she holds dear.

An explosive fantasy set in a world of magic and legend with a twist you will never see coming.

My Review:

*I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to HarperVoyager and NetGalley*

Powerful witch doctors run in Arrah's family, so she isn't the only person disappointed that she has no magic herself.

Children are disappearing and Arrah decides to do something incredibly dangerous - she gives years of her life in order to have magic.

Arrah uncovers dark and terrible secrets that will threaten not only the lives of her family, but also the kingdom itself.

Can Arrah save the children, her family and the kingdom?

The main reason I wanted to read Kingdom of Souls was for the witch doctors, but they weren't in the book as much as I expected.

Arrah was a likeable protagonist and I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her father who she was close to. It must have been so hard for Arrah being a disappointment to her mother and other people for not having magic.

The setting was interesting and I liked the concept of the different gods/orisha.

The plot was quite slow to get going, but I did enjoy it to begin with. However, after a while I found myself becoming bored and I struggled to stay interested in what was going on. I did consider stopping reading, but I was hopeful that the pace and storyline would pick up. I did end up finishing the book, but have to admit that I did skim-read several pages. There was a twist that I didn't see coming, but by that point I wasn't invested in what was happening and just wanted to get to the end, which is a shame as I was looking forward to reading Kingdom of Souls and am disappointed that I didn't enjoy it more.

The writing style was easy enough to follow, but it failed to grip me and hold my attention.

The concept was interesting, but it didn't reach its potential for me.

I won't be continuing with this series.

Overall, this was an okay read.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Review - Jinxed (Jinxed, #1) by Amy McCulloch

Title: Jinxed (Jinxed, #1)
Author: Amy McCulloch
Pages: 323
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK
Release Date: 9th August 2018

Blurb from Goodreads:

Lacey Chu has big dreams of working for the company behind the  'baku' - a customizable smart pet that functions as a phone but makes the perfect companion for its user. The only problem is, she's just been rejected from Profectus Academy - the elite academy for cutting-edge tech. 

Then Lacey meets Jinx... Jinx is an incredibly advanced cat baku who opens up a world that Lacey never new existed, including entry into the hallowed halls of Profectus. But what is Jinx, really? His abilities far surpass anything written into his coded. He seems to be more than just a robotic pet.

He seems ... real.

My Review:
*I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK Children's and NetGalley*

Lacey Chu lives in a version of Canada where, at a certain age, everyone gets a 'baku' - a robot pet crossed with a smartphone.

Lacey dreams of working for the company that makes bakus, but her dreams are left in tatters when she doesn't get approved for a place at the Profectus Academy.

Then Lacey encounters Jinx, a cat baku who does things that normal bakus don't.

Suddenly Lacey's dream is back on track after being accepted into the Profectus Academy.

Lacey will need to be careful to avoid Jinx catching any unwanted attention, especially as he seems to have a mind of his own.

What is Jinx?

Who made him?

The concept of bakus intrigued me and I can definitely imagine people having something similar in the future. I would definitely want one.

Lacey was a likeable and relatable protagonist. I thought she handled things pretty well.

Jinx was probably my favourite character. I liked how sassy he was at times.

The plot was interesting and held my attention, but I wasn't gripped or blown away. 

At the moment I don't think I will be reading the sequel as I don't feel that I need to.

The writing style was very easy to read and I found myself reading quite quickly.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Blog Tour + Interview + Giveaway - Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

Find the tour schedule here.

 Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 3rd 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT, Queer


Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer's motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, andDayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don't stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that's impossible to put down.

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How did you come up with the idea for Witches of Ash and Ruin?

I have always been drawn to witchy women. There’s something inherently magical about women in general, I think, and when you add an element of sisterhood, like a coven, it only seems natural they should be involved in something fantastical.
In fact, I often sit around in coffee shops with my friends and wonder when the adventure is going to begin. We are magic, after all.
I’ve always loved Celtic mythology too, so it seemed perfectly natural to put together my love of witches and women, with ancient Irish gods. And ancient gods do tend to complicate things, so the story really began to come together after that.

Did you do any research for Witches of Ash and Ruin?

I did mean to take a trip to Ireland the year I was editing it, but travel plans were complicated by being very pregnant at the time. I did do a lot of research into the Celtic mythology, which was fascinating because what we know about it is completely filtered through Christian monks and very skewed by their biases at the time, so we really don’t have a complete record of the myths and legends, not the way we do with Greek or Norse mythology.
It was a challenge.

Do you have a favourite character in Witches of Ash and Ruin?

I love morally grey characters, so it was a lot of fun writing Cora. She’s clearly Slytherin and a very Sick of Your Bullshit type person, which I always appreciate in a character.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Learn patience. Patience with yourself (your first drafts are allowed to suck). Patience with the industry (yes, a month to hear back on a query is standard). Patience with your fellow writers (let them rant as much as they’d like, you’ll need them to return the favour eventually).

What's your favourite book/series?

Anything by Maggie Stiefvator, Neil Gaiman or VE Schwab. I especially love The Raven Cycle series, it’s one I return to whenever I’m in a writing slump. There’s something about it that makes it feel like magic is probably real after all, it’s just something you need to look for a little harder. Like, you just catch it out of the corner of your eye every once in a while. It might be faeries, or witches or dead Welsh kings but you can’t be sure, because it’s gone when you look right at it. Maybe it was just a trick of the light?
It’s very inspiring.

About the Author

E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was recently nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively. 

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, will be released Spring/Summer 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Blog Tour + Interview + Giveaway - All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

Find the tour schedule here.

All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: March 17th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary


This thrilling debut, reminiscent of new fan favorites like One of Us Is Lying and the beloved classics by Agatha Christie, will leave readers guessing until the explosive ending.

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill ... or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

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How did you come up with the idea for All Your Twisted Secrets?

One day my husband and I started speculating the shortest timespan you could set a book or movie to, throwing ideas back and forth. Could an entire book take place over just fifteen minutes? No way, that’s not enough time to accomplish anything. But what about an hour? What if you locked a group of people in a room for an hour? What if someone died at the end of the hour? What if the trapped people killed one of them? What if they had to choose someone to kill, or else they’d all die? We exchanged this look that was like, “Bingo,” and I raced to my desk and started scribbling down ideas for characters I could put into this crazy situation.

Did you do any research for All Your Twisted Secrets?

Oh gosh yes. I regularly got lost down the Google rabbit hole as I was writing. Sometimes I’d need to look up something specific I didn’t know, like what USC’s application requirements and deadlines are (that’s where Amber wants to apply to music school) or what sports reels look like (Robbie needs to create one so a college baseball team will recruit him). For the scene including Fortnite, I learned to play the game and watched hours of streamers’ videos. That was fun research.

Other times I incorporated a lifetime worth of unintentional research — for example, I’ve been obsessed with movie scores for as long as I can remember, and a huge part of Amber’s life is her aspiration to become a film score producer. That part was easier to write!

Do you have a favourite character in All Your Twisted Secrets?

I’d be epically betraying my protagonist Amber if I said anyone other than her! Amber is a 17-year-old aspiring film score producer who arrives at an invite-only dinner and is locked in with five other students. They uncover a tray with a syringe of poison, a bomb, and a note that reads: “Within the hour, you must choose someone in this room to die. If you don’t, everyone dies.” Determined to get everyone out alive, Amber is the one who orchestrates friends and foes alike to work together — her jock boyfriend, her nerd crush, her former best friend, the queen bee, and the stoner. But as the bomb’s timer ticks down and their panic rises, she has to contend with their clashing personalities, and making sure everyone survives might be easier said than done.

Amber’s quirky voice crystalized in my mind very early, and her dreams, hopes, fears, and motivations shaped the events both in the room and in the alternating flashback chapters. Those flashbacks track her struggle to win over the intimidating queen bee Sasha (who’s drama club director) to score the school play and get into her dream music school. This is the heart of the story: her relationships with the others and how she deals with many of the pressures teens face today, from bullying to college admissions to losing a loved one. I loved writing her, and now that the novel’s out in the world and out of my hands, I miss her.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Craft advice: Throw away the notion of writing a perfect first draft. Revising is where the real magic happens. Just like you wouldn’t solve a jigsaw puzzle by pulling pieces out of the box and setting them down in order, from left to right, one at a time — you don’t write a book that way, either. Instead you scatter all the pieces on the table and start working on the edges of the puzzle (the outline, or the framework of the novel) and then you tackle one section at a time (one plot thread, or one character arc, or one red herring), building and building until it all finally fits together. It can be overwhelming to conceptualize a book all at once, but when you break it down and take one element at a time, it’s easier to manage in your brain. At least, that’s how it works for me!

Publishing advice: Get ready to be in this for the long haul. It’s easy to find success stories because you’ll first look up the publishing journeys of authors you know, who obviously have reached some level of success. So it’s easy to set your expectations sky high. And when reality doesn’t meet your expectations… that’s when your heart gets crushed to bits. So be aware that most of us aren’t overnight successes. Most of us take years to get published. Even after that, most authors take several books to “break out,” if they ever do (some authors earn their income across a dozen or more books without a breakout hit). You need to have determination and perseverance in this industry. Also, make friends with other writers; join writing groups, swap stories, exchange notes, encourage each other, vent together… be there for each other. Connecting with other authors has been one of my absolute favorite parts of this publishing journey, and I’d highly recommend it!

What's your favourite book/series?

I feel like it’s a bit cliché to say Harry Potter, but it’s true — reading and re-reading those books got me through some dark times while I was growing up; 9/11, bullying at school, and all the other stress I was under at the time. I’m re-reading the series right now as well — I tend to pull out these books whenever I need some comfort.

As a teen I also absolutely loved all of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books, many of which I also re-read numerous times. I enjoyed getting scared and lived for his twist endings. I also admired how each chapter ended on a cliffhanger, so you couldn’t stop reading. I incorporate cliffhanger chapter endings into my own writing as well — I learned from the best!

 About the Author

I’m Diana Urban, and I write dark, twisty thrillers for teens including All Your Twisted Secrets (HarperTeen, March 17th 2020). When I’m not torturing fictional characters, I’m a marketing manager at BookBub, a leading book discovery platform. Outside the bookish world, I live with my husband and cat in Boston, and enjoy reading, video games, fawning over cute animals, and looking at the beach from a safe distance.

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