It's time for a brand new Turn The Page episode.
This month, our episode is all about #ownvoices books and authors.
We'll be chatting about our favourite own-voices books and authors, giving our recommendations and asking for yours.
As always, we'll also be reviewing our recent reads, chatting about what's up next on our TBR, and discussing our book club selection for April, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron.
Rating: 4 STARS
How I got this book: Bought
It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.
Review by Sophie.
TW: Physical (domestic) abuse, homophobia, kidnapping, slavery (selling people), death/murder
Rep: F/F romance. Black, lesbian and gay characters
I’ve been wanting to read this for a while and was so glad when we chose it for the Turn the Page Book Club this month. This is my first fairy tale retelling and honestly, I didn’t know what to expect!
“Do not be silent. Raise your voice. Be a light in the dark.”
The book has a really strong opening, and the author does a fantastic job of setting up this dark and cruel, almost dystopian, world where women have no rights, no freedoms, and their only purpose is to serve and obey the men of Lille. In Marseilles, if you’re a woman, your fate is sealed at an annual ball where girls are presented in the image of Cinderella to be chosen as a wife. For these girls, there is no one to turn to and no escape.
We meet our main character, Sophia, sneaking around, hiding from guards and trying to find the girl that she loves. Queer relationships are forbidden in Lille and the two girls face a prison sentence or death if caught. Straight away we learn that Sophia is loyal, headstrong and not afraid to fight for her rights as she tries to convince Erin to flee before the ball.
“I was twelve when I told my parents that I would much rather find a princess than a prince.”
Sophia, like all the other girls her age, is expected to attend the annual ball, so that she can be chosen as a wife. Those who aren’t chosen after the third time are considered forfeit and disappear, never to be seen again. The atmosphere in the story really builds as we begin to see the oppression of Lille's women and hints of something more sinister at play.
“The palace underestimates the resourcefulness of women forced into a dark and dangerous place.”
Soon, Sophia is on the run. Aided by her very sweet friend, Luke, she escapes the ball and seeks refuge in Cinderella's tomb. Here' we're introduced to the mysterious and seductive Constance, who I loved, even though I had my suspicions about her character!
The two then set off on a journey to uncover the truth about the Cinderella story in an attempt to free the women of Lille.
“That you try to flatter me when I have a blade at your neck makes me want to slit your throat and spare the world your ignorance.”
Constance is totally badass, and I actually love her! I love how sassy she is, but also how collected she is too. She always seems to have it together. She’s quirky, fun, loyal and caring, and she’s got style.
Together, Constance and Sophia make a great team, and author does a great job of building their relationship over the course of a relatively short period of time, in a fairly small novel.
When we're introduced to Amina, the sarcasm and constant bickering between her and Constance had me laughing out loud, and I loved it. I really enjoyed how the writer created moments of fun and happiness during dark and difficult times.
“The pockets,” she says. She puts her hands in them and gives a little twirl. “I love pockets.”
I wish there was more of Constance in this story. Yes, she was one of the main characters, but I still kind of feel like I was missing a huge part of her in the book. I wish there was more about how badass she was, and more of what she was doing with her time before Sophia.
The same goes for Amina. I loved her character and her personality, and even though I didn’t agree with all of her actions, I thought her character was brilliant and witty and funny.
The ending was a little predictable, but all in all I loved this queer, feminist story. The writing was strong and compelling, and I loved the dark, twisted plot.
Cinderella is Dead, was a great read and has set the bar for me regarding fairytale re-tellings. I can’t wait to discover others and can only hope they draw me in and capture me as well as this tale did.
Rating: 3.5 STARS
Genre: Adult Fantasy/LGBT+
Series/Standalone: Magic of the Lost #1
How I got this book: Bought (Illumicrate - check out my unboxing!)
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet's edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren't for sale
TW: rape, racism, slavery, torture, violence, gore
Rep: physical disability, queer
I've been ruminating on my review of The Unbroken for a couple of days. My head was a little all over the place when I finished reading it and I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about the book.
The Unbroken is unlike any book I've ever read. It's a very dark, adult fantasy, and while it is fiction and contains magic, it feels very real as the author deals with very heavy, unpleasant topics.
The book centres around two characters, giving us a dual POV from Touraine, a conscript taken from her home as a child and raised as a soldier by the empire that took her, and Luca, the would-be queen.
We meet Touraine as a lieutenant of the conscripts (the Sands). She's loyal to the empire that raised her, despite the hardships she and her soldiers face at every turn, but now she's met with new, unexpected challenges as she returns to the country she was taken from as a child to help quell the rebel resistance.
Unlike her fellow soldiers, Touraine has no interest in defaulting or making connections in her homeland, knowing only too well the consequences for desertion and fully believing that if she works hard and is loyal, the empire will reward her.
But things quickly go awry as Touraine prevents an assassination attempt against Princess Luca and finds herself surrounded by enemies and suspicion.
Luca is a princess trying desperately to claim the throne from her uncle, who doesn't see her as a capable ruler and has sent her to stop the rebellion as a test of her abilities. Struggling to make allies and work around her uncle's military, Luca turns to books and strategic games to forge peace and unlock the country's secrets to win back her throne.
“What is war if not a complicated web of mathematics and charm? Luca thought.”
One thing I love most about this book is the gender roles. When being introduced to a person in a position of power, you almost always come to expect a man, because that's the general rule in life and in fantasy. When you hear General, Lieutenant, Sir, you typically expect the person to be male, but that is completely not the case in this book and it was very refreshing. I absolutely love that this book centres around violent women in positions of power.
Not only that, but the characters are all morally grey, there is no good and evil here, there is complexity and drive that makes each character harder to like while also giving deeper reasoning and motive behind their actions.
On the surface, Touraine and Luca couldn't be more opposite, Touraine is a hardened soldier whose every other word is a curse. Luca is a princess, a would-be queen, who spends her time pouring over books and research. But when you look deeper, both Touraine and Luca deal in death, and they're both doing what they feel is necessary to protect that which they care about. For Touraine, that's the Sands, her family, and for Luca, it's her throne and her empire.
The characters are so complex, and that's such a fantastic element in this book. Honestly, it's so difficult to decide whether I like or support certain characters because at first, they seem to go in one direction and then they make choices that, while it makes sense to the character, just made me want to scream at them.
The supporting characters are also fantastic. They add a lot to the story and to the overall tension and politics. Personally, Touraine, the conscripts, and the rebels are my favourites, while I found it much harder to like Luca and the other Balladairan's.
"We just die, and when we die, we're not even worth the wood to burn us.”
This book is sapphic, the queerness is a quintessential part of the book, and I love that it's just present and there with no explanation needed. However, saying that, I had a problem with the romance element in that it felt really rushed. For me, there wasn't quite enough chemistry between the two characters to justify their actions, so I just wish there was more of that build-up.
The world-building was fantastic, I loved the description of the land where the story takes place; it felt extremely real, and there is a magical element to this story, which is really quite dark, I just would have liked to see a bit more of this. It came through more towards the end of the story though, so I'm guessing that will feature more heavily in book two.
My biggest issue was the pacing, which felt a little all over the place. It starts slowly, then there's some action which speeds things up, and then things slow down again as the characters deal with politics and planning, before the action comes back and speeds things up, and repeat. Some sections just felt a little too rushed, when it would have been nice to have more development, and then some scenes/chapters dragged and felt as though not a lot happened. The pacing wasn't bad, it was just really mixed.
Overall, I think The Unbroken is a really interesting first novel in an adult fantasy series. It's laid a lot of groundwork in terms of the politics and the bloodshed that we can expect from the rest of the series. I love the gender-role reversing and the queerness of the characters, but just wish the romance had more time to develop and that the pacing was a little quicker.
I think fans of dark fantasy and violent, morally grey female characters will love The Unbroken by C.L. Clark.
"Be the rain."
Hello book lovers!
How did April treat you?
Instead of the usual Sunday book tag, today I'm wrapping up the books I read in April.
Like March, April was another great reading month for me. I read four books in total, a mixture of YA and Adult Fantasy, with one contemporary YA. It was great to get back to the Grishaverse with Shadow & Bone, and I loved watching the Netflix adaptation!
I'm really hoping to read a few more books in May as I've got a few Arc's to get through as well as some new releases I'm really excited for.
I feel so lucky to have received two FairyLoot boxes this month, it feels like this one has come early since the last one was delayed, but I have a feeling that this one is going to have to keep me going for a while as both FairyLoot and Illumicrate have reported delays with the May boxes due to the Suez Canal blockage.
I'm not going to waste anytime jumping into this one because I am too excited!
So, let's just have a quick recap of the April theme:
You might think you know who someone truly is, but what if they are keeping a secret? A secret that could change everything… for the better or for the worse? As Phaedrus wisely said, “things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many”.
In this box you can expect items inspired by The Shadows Between Us, The Lord of the Rings, The City of Brass, Flame in the Mist and a foiled bookmark set inspired by the following fandoms: An Ember in the Ashes, The Poppy War and Blood Heir. For now, we won’t be revealing any item artists but we will say that we are featuring an item in this box that we have NEVER included before!
Our featured book of the month is a dark fantasy filled with unforgettable characters, intrigue, magic and a dash of swoon-worthy romance. We were hooked from page one and all of the plot twists still have us reeling! This FairyLoot exclusive edition will have an EXCLUSIVE COVER, STENCIL & SPRAYED EDGES, ARTWORK ON THE REVERSE OF THE DUST JACKET by @alicemariapower, FOIL EMBOSSING ON THE CASE by @talia.nobel, BONUS CONTENT in the book and will be SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR.
Okay, let's do this!
As always, there will be spoilers beyond this point so look away now if you don't want to see what's inside this box.
Happy Sunday book lovers! Instead of the usual book tag post, I decided to try something a little different today.
I've never done a book haul blog post before BUT given the recent re-opening of local bookshops, I figured now would be the perfect time to celebrate my recent book hauls along.
Before I get to the books themselves, I can't tell you how much I've missed book browsing and book shopping. We have one major bookshop in my town (Waterstones), a couple of smaller shops that stock a few books i.e. (The Works & WHSmith) and one charity bookshop. So, this week, Sophie and I decided to get out to as many as we could, and it was bliss (minus the masks blocking that beautiful bookish scent and our usual coffee and cake as it was far too cold to sit outside)!
Right, I'll kick off with my books for now and Sophie will add hers lower down. As always, I'll include links to the books on Goodreads and The StoryGraph so you can easily add to your preferred TBR.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
How I got this book: Bought
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda goes to Italy in Arvin Ahmadi's newest incisive look at identity and what it means to find yourself by running away.
Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy--he just didn't think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?
Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature... until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.
TW: Racism (racial profiling), bullying, homophobic behaviour and language, blackmail
This book has been on my TBR for a while now, and I was really excited to read it. The writing and 'voice' of Amir instantly drew me into the book and his character. He's an instantly likeable narrator, and Ahmadi's writing style is easy to fall into.
That being said, this book didn't really read like a Young Adult novel, or at least not a modern YA. It felt a little more classic and 'grown up' than the typical YA, more so than Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Neither was better or worse than the other. This just felt a little more adult and also hugely autobiographical, which after reading the author's acknowledgements makes sense.
I really liked Amir, his voice and his story are immediately gripping, and it's so easy to understand why, when caught between blackmailing bullies at school and a family he's certain won't accept him, he feels the only solution is to run away.
When Amir finds himself suddenly in Rome, the overwhelm and the feeling of being lost is extremely clear, but I absolutely loved the 'found family' element of the story as Amir makes new, albeit much older, friends and is welcomed into a new circle of people where he's able to be himself for the first time in his life.
“The thing about bigots is they always go out of their way to acknowledge my fabulous existence, when I hardly notice theirs.”
A fantastic thing about Amir is that he's not at all perfect. His decisions are in the heat of the moment, rash and at times disastrous. He's a messy character, but this only serves to make him more realistic as he struggles to find his place in the world. However, it comes with a slight downside in that the plot and character development didn't always feel as though they were moving as much as they could have.
Amir's story takes us across Rome and feels at times like part YA coming-out story and part Italian travel guide as we're taken along to various landmarks and treated to a full tour of Rome, both the tourist attractions and the LGBT+ scene.
Amir's new crowd is flamboyant, with complex characters who bring life and colour to Amir's story and add new depth through their own challenges and relationships.
For me, what made the book really powerful were the interrogation room scenes, which run throughout the novel as Amir and his family recount the events that lead to them being there. Amir's father's scenes were particularly brutal and heartbreaking as he had to deal with being detained and separated from his family while trying to come to terms with the love for his son battling the ideals he'd been taught.
The representation of Iranian culture and characters felt authentic. However, the portrayal of the Italian characters felt a little on-the-nose and cliche. Most of the characters Amir meets in Italy are American and the only Italian characters he meets are stereotypical, somewhat problematic (an unhappy, unfaithful, semi-open relationship) or almost an afterthought, added only to benefit a particular scene or moment.
I had some questions at the end of the novel, particularly the references to the previous time that Amir ran away, which wasn't really elaborated on, and so I would have liked a bit more information there. I did like the ending, but it was much more of a mellow, uplifted feeling than the overjoyed, positivity I'd almost expected.
Overall, I think young and older readers would enjoy this poignant coming-out story as Amir is a character who feels accessible to all ages and walks of life as he reminds us that the most important thing in life is to own your own truth.
"The ship is turning around. It will be a stormy ride, but we are going to make it through this journey together. All of us."
This month, I was incredibly lucky to win a free book box from Book Box Club, so it's time to share with you my unboxing.
This is going to be my last box for a little while, because money (Ugh!) and the next theme isn't really my thing.
Before we get started, here's a quick reminder of the April 2021 theme reveal:
Fellow survivors! ⚠️Grab your emergency gear & prepare for apocalyptic adventures aplenty! Our April theme will be THIS RAVAGED WORLD and will celebrate the heroes (and bandits!) battling to save the planet & dodge disaster.🌍🔥🌊
About the books (there are TWO!):
BOOK ONE is set in a capital city on the brink of being swallowed by a terrible flood. When a powerful leader abandons her position, her young maid servant is thrust into a world of politics, lies and big decisions. But can this unlikely heroine, save the people, pets (!) and world, before water bursts through the city walls? 🌊
BOOK TWO is an action-packed tale about a future England where floods, gunfights and monsters have created a dangerous land.🔫 In this strange new world (think wild west meets dystopia!) the fates of two outlaws collide. Suddenly a runaway criminal finds herself saddled with a new partner in misconduct: a hapless boy companion, guarding dark secrets of his own...
Both books are new release YA paperbacks, filled with gutsy characters, apocalyptic vibes and dark humour! If you love Dystopian fiction like Red Rising, Handmaid's Tale and The Hunger Games - you will adore this box. Both books will arrive beautifully gift-wrapped with a signed bookplate from the author.😄👍
Our April box will be crammed with exclusive goodies designed to pamper our members and to be kind to our own ravaged world🌍! They'll be gorgeous eco-friendly gifts galore created by artists and small businesses.
I won't lie, I'd actually skipped on this box as I'm not too excited about the theme, but I was really surprised and grateful to be one of three photo-challenge winners last month, with this box as the prize.
So, who's ready to jump in?
Obviously, there will be spoilers for this box beyond this point, so stop reading now if you don't want to know what's in this one. ⠀
Happy Sunday bookworms!
Sunday is book tag day here on the My Endless Shelf blog and this week, in honour of the much-anticipated Shadow & Bone Netflix adaptation next week, I decided that the Grishaverse Book Tag would be the perfect choice this week!
I spotted this tag on Berries and Books and it was originally created by Rebecca Books.
No mourners, no funerals. Let's do this!
Rating: 3 Stars
Series/Standalone: Shadow and Bone Trilogy #1
How I got this book: Bought
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
As always, I'm late to the party! I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom a couple of years back, only to realise that I should have read this series first. (Oops!)
Although, I don't feel like reading those two books has spoiled anything for me in Shadow & Bone.
I really, really wanted to love this series, it's so popular and we have the Netflix adaptation coming out next week, so I'd convinced myself it was going to be a great read.
So, what the hell happened?
In the first 11 pages of the book, I counted 3 fat jokes (like, really?!). The whole tone of the book at the beginning felt really immature, not what I'd expect from a YA by a prominent female author.
Alina, our chief character, is a bit dull. She's plain-looking, which I liked (although the casting director for the show clearly missed that because the actress they've cast is gorgeous), but other than her obsession and unrequited love for Mal, her childhood companion (I hesitate to say best-friend because their whole relationship dynamic screams that they literally only stuck together because they had no other choice), she doesn't have a great deal else going on.
She's an orphan (because of course she is) training to be a cartographer in the first army, I can't really remember if there was a reason they're both in the army, I think they just are, but she doesn't seem to have any real desire to do anything other than cling to Mal's side.
As the book progresses, it's also clear that her heart is a fickle thing indeed.
Mal is incredibly annoying. He's a womanising playboy with an immature streak and constantly blames/belittles Alina. He honestly drove me mad and I can't understand how he's a legitimate love interest; why would Alina want to be with this guy after constantly hearing him brag about the women he's "bedded"? I guess I just don't understand the appeal.
So far, this doesn't seem like a 3 star read, so let me round up the things I DID like about this book:
- The world-building - while confusing, it was interesting. I liked the idea of the shadow fold, this area of complete darkness that's separating the lands, making crossing nearly impossible, and the volcra, creepy creatures that live within the fold and basically eat anyone who dares enter.
- The magic - the magic system is again very confusing, but pretty unique, I think. I liked the concept of the different Grisha and that their powers are reflected by what they wear. My biggest issue with the Grisha is that they're all children (or at least they all act like children) yet they have these incredible powers but don't really use them.
- The Darkling - This character feels like he has potential. He's a villain, and he does many villainous things, but he is compelling and I think he has an interesting story to tell. There were moments when I felt conflicted, because I did honestly empathise with him, but then he'd turn around and do something dastardly. I just hope he doesn't become a two-dimensional 'bad-guy' and that Bardugo actually gives him some depth and character development.
“The problem with wanting," he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, "is that it makes us weak.”
- Genya - I LOVE Genya. She's a great, complex character, and a hell of a lot more interesting than Alina.
Once I got over the first few chapters, the pacing did kick up a notch and I enjoyed the story a lot more. I think Alina's journey was much more interesting than Alina herself. Her struggle to tap into and control her own power, while predictable, made for more compelling reading than her lack of character.
I'm really hoping that, as the series progresses, Alina grows more of a spine and actually does more for herself and becomes a stronger character. Fingers crossed she also ditches Mal and we get some new, interesting (hopefully diverse) characters.
Overall, I enjoyed the world-building, the magic system and the side-characters, but I felt the main character needed a lot more development and that some aspects were more confusing than they needed to be. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series, because the potential is there, I just hope that it picks up and lives up to the hype.
“The Darkling slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”
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About Kayleigh (She/Her)
Book addict, film mad, music lover, business owner, writer and mum (not necessarily in that order), living in the UK.
About Sophie (She/Her)
Sophie loves books (obviously). She has a passion for photography and spotting wildlife, and is interested in anything made with passion and creativity.
THIS BLOG IS SPOILER FREE!
5 Stars - AMAZING!!
4.5 Stars - Almost perfect!
4 Stars - I really loved it
3.5 Stars - I liked it alot
3 Stars - I liked it
(I don't typically review books that I rate below 3 stars)
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