REVIEW: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

At seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to marry a man she did not choose, a man who is the son of the Emperor. But her journey is cut short when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan – a group of bandits and thieves who were hired to kill Mariko before she could reach the palace. But Mariko survives and vows revenge on those who want her dead. Disguised as a peasant boy, she infiltrates the Black Clan, becoming one of them, impressing them with her wit and ingenuity. But as she gets closer to her enemies, Mariko begins to discover a web of lies and a history of secrets that will change everything she thought she knew.

Flame in the Mist is set in Feudal Japan but there’s also some magical elements in it too. I really in the liked how the historical was entwined with the magic and myths, both seemed very groundedses characters reality. When this book first came out I heard it was a Mulan retelling or inspired by Mulan, and it’s really not. The only similarity to Mulan is that the main protagonist is a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to further her aims. Mariko’s goals are very different to Mulan’s. Mariko is very smart in terms of academia and alchemy, but is incredibly naïve when it comes to life outside her gilded cage. She doesn’t know how to hunt or cook or fight and often gets into verbal sparring matches with those around her to try and hide her failings.

Mariko likes to think she’s good at reading people, and has learnt to be underestimated, being a daughter of a prominent Samurai, but when she meets Ōkami she has a much harder time getting a read on him. The dynamic between Mariko and Ōkami is an interesting one and they bounce of each other really well, managing to intrigue and unsettle one another at the same time. Ōkami is just the sort of character I end up really liking. He’s slow to trust but loyal, has a deadly set of skills and is smart. He and Mariko make an unconventional partnership.

Flame in the Mist was a bit slow to pull me in. While it kicked off straight away with the attack on Mariko’s convey, I found it took a while to connect with her and her story. As the story progressed, more characters began to reveal themselves, their political aspirations and loyalty, slowly showing that Mariko was caught up in plots much bigger than herself. The second half of the book sped along though. There was a lot of action, fights and secrets revealed and it became a proper page-turner.

Flame in the Mist is the first book in a duology so natural there’s a lot of threads left hanging, though there was some good character stuff throughout the book. While I won’t be rushing out to get it as soon as it’s released later this year, I will be picking up Smoke in the Sun at some point as I did end up enjoying Mariko as a character and am interested to see how all the plot threads are wrapped up, especially the political ones. 3/5.


REVIEW: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah has everything figured out. She’s on her way to study computing and coding at Stanford and has no interest in her mother’s attempts to find her the “Ideal Indian Husband.” When the opportunity to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers arises, her family must know what her principles and goals are really… right? Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when he hears from his parents that his potential future wife will be heading to the same summer program as he is – he’s totally on board. But when the two of them end up meeting, it doesn’t go the way either of them thought possible.

One of the things I was worried about going into this book, was that Dimple and Rishi wouldn’t be on equal footing because he knew something she didn’t and there was the risk for it to become a bit creepy and manipulative. I’m so happy that wasn’t the case. The first time they meet, right at the very beginning of the book, Dimple learns what’s been going on, so they are on the same page from pretty much the outset. This allowed their potential relationship to develop on their own terms, spending time with one another as friends (or more than friends) and actually getting to know each other in an organic way.

Dimple is a great character. She’s headstrong, focused and smart, though she can appear to be a bit selfish but that’s mostly down to her belief that she can’t have it all – that it’s impossible to have both a successful career and a fulfilling and loving relationship. Rishi on the other hand, is so soppy and romantic, wanting to please his parents and being a huge follower of tradition, that it’s almost a surprise when he shows some backbone. I think that’s the interesting thing about Rishi, he grew on me as the book progressed. He’s not just someone looking for love, he’s caring, smart and protective. Dimple and Rishi look like opposites on paper, but their personalities end up complimenting each other.

Dimple’s friendship with her roommate Celia is wonderful. They are a friendship of today, meeting on the internet and arranging to room together before they’ve even met face to face! There’s a quote that I absolutely loved that came from a conversation between Dimple and Celia; “But I still want to be your friend. I think we should still stick together and be each other’s moral support. But maybe it’s okay if we’re not friends with each other’s friends.” I thought it was brilliant because it’s true. You can be friends with someone but not really be friends with their friends, and it’s quite a mature way of looking at relationships and recognising their differences.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet, delightful story. It’s a bit predictable in the romance but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It’s a rom-com in book form and it embraces all the usual clichés that come with that. That being said, the characters and their relationships are wonderful and you fully root for them by the end of it. When Dimple Met Rishi is a fun quick-read, but it probably won’t be that much of a memorable one for me. 3/5.

November’s Illumicrate Box

This months Illumicrate box arrived this weekend and I when I opened it I was so pumped! But first things first, let me do the usual spiel at the start of a subscription box unboxing. Illumicrate is a quarterly UK based YA subscription box that unlike some subscription boxes doesn’t have a theme each time so you can get a real eclectic mix of goodies in the box each time. It costs £29.99 per box, with free shipping to the UK, it ships internationally but it does have a shipping cost that varies depending where in the world it’s travelling to. There’s always at least one book (though the last few boxes have included an ARC) and 4-6 goodies.

Now onto the box! I loved everything in this box – the goodies and the books(s) are all great and just the sort of thing I will actually use/appreciate.

First the goodies – and all but two of these things were Illumicrate exclusives. The first thing I saw was a bookish tea towel designed by Evannave Illustration which is lovely, and I will be taking it with me when I move to a new place in a couple of weeks. Then there was a print with a quote from J.K. Rowling from Nutmeg and Arlo and a moon and stars necklace from Oh Panda Eyes, which I’ve given to a friend because I knew she’d love it. There was a candle from Meraki Candles called Reading in Bed and it smells of hot chocolate and is a pale yellow with pink glitter on it and it smells divine. There was a 2018 Unicorn Journal from Prism Of Starlings which I will definitely be using. It’s a week per page (just how I like my diaries) and what’s really cool is it not only has the usual holidays already printed on the right day, but it also has various authors birthdays printed in it which is a nice touch for a book lover. There were also two samplers on for This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada and one for Iron Gold by Pierce Brown.

Now onto the books. The first book I saw was an advanced reader copy of The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty. I’d seen this book a bit over Twitter recently and I like how it’s set in eighteenth century Cairo and has magic and spirits. I’m looking forward to reading it even if it’s a big chunk of a book! Now the other book got me seriously excited! It’s Artemis by Andy Weir! I adored The Martian so much and I’ve been looking forward to Artemis a lot but because I don’t pre-order books I hadn’t realised it was now out. This copy is an exclusive Illumicrate edition with black sprayed edges and it also came with a bookmark and a travel brochure which I thought was a very nice touch. I honestly can’t wait to read Artemis and it’ll probably be my next read.

I really love everything in this quarters Illumicrate box and I definitely think it’s worth the price tag. I may have to cancel my subscription as I’m moving to a flat and while I know there’s post boxes for each flat, I’m not sure what happens to parcels – but I have three months to figure that out.

October’s FairyLoot Box – Villainous

This months FairyLoot box arrived on Monday – after some confusion with a lack of tracking number (my email with a tracking number actually arrived after my parcel did) this month’s box still arrived in good condition and I couldn’t wait to open it. I love a baddie so was looking forward to seeing what sort of goodies and book(s) (yes books plural!) were inside.

The first thing I saw was an exclusive candle from Meraki Candles, it was named Maleficient after the witch from Sleeping Beauty and smells and looks great. It’s lime green in colour and has purple glitter in it too (I may have spilt some of this glitter when I first opened it, I’m not used to glitter candles) and smells of jade orchid and lotus blossom – it’s a really subtle, fresh smell. Then there was an enamel pin in the shape of the Dark Mark of a Death Eater from House of Wonderland that is surprisingly cute for something so evil. There’s a pocket mirror made by Little Inkling Designs with a quote from The Young Elites by Marie Lu – a series I’ve been meaning to try forever! – and a coaster inspired by Moriarty made by Evie Seo. There was another goodie from Evie Seo, a print featuring a quote from The Aeneid by Roman poet Virgil, and a second art print inspired by Night of Cake and Puppets by Lani Taylor.

Now onto the books!

The first book I saw was The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo. This an exclusive edition of the book, it has red where there’s normally gold, and it looks gorgeous. From what I can gather this is a collection of short stories, or fairy-tales, set in the Grishaverse. I’ve read Six of Crows but as of yet haven’t finished that duology nor read the original trilogy. Still, this is a gorgeous book with some wonderful illustrations on just about every page and I’m looking forward to delving into this world again. Especially as you don’t need to know anything of the main story to understand these tales. The book also came with a set of postcards featuring art from the book.

The second book was Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao – a book whose cover I’d seen on social media a lot but hadn’t really looked into it much before. It sounds intriguing though, with it being a retelling of the Evil Queen from Snow White’s story but set in Eastern Asia. I’m always interested in retellings, seeing how they’re familiar to what we know but if and how they forge their own narrative. The books came with a letter from the author and a signed bookplate as well.

I was really impressed with this months FairyLoot. I don’t get a box every month, instead seeing what a theme is and purchase a box if it’s a theme I’m interested in. I liked that the goodies were varied, my favourites are the pin and the candle, and that there were two books this month! I’m looking forward to reading them both (hopefully) very soon.

REVIEW: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is fed up. She’s fed up with her school’s sexist dress codes, the gross comments from boys in class and how her teachers let it happen. Viv has had enough. Inspired by her mum’s youth as a punk rock Riot Grrrl, Viv creates Moxie, a feminist zine she distributes anonymously to her classmates. Moxie becomes its own thing as girls start sharing it and come together to spread the Moxie message. Before she knows it, Viv has kickstarted a girl revolution.

I adored this book! Moxie is about teenage girls learning about how feminism isn’t a dirty word and that they can stand up to casual sexism in a place where they’re supposed to be safe – school. Seeing Viv and her friends slowly learning what feminism means, that yes it’s about equality but it can also offer a sense of unity, is wonderful to see.

I loved Viv from the very beginning. She’s always been the “good girl who follows the rules” but when the small little jabs that happen day in, day out at school, something inside her ignites and she acts. I can feel Viv’s frustration, fear and excitement with this Moxie movement she almost unwittingly starts. She is kind of making it up as she’s going along and that makes it all the more exciting. I also really liked her friends and how they didn’t always agree on everything, they may have small disagreements, but they still support each other.

The great thing about Moxie is that it tries to show the different sides of feminism. There’s instances where Viv see’s injustices but not all of them as she’s white and it’s not till a girl who’s black explains it to her that she realises where she may not have been as inclusive before and does her best to change her attitude. Another thing was that while it never took the outlook from Viv and the other girls, it took a moment to show how decent guys just don’t always get what it’s like, even when they are nice and don’t like other boy’s sexist behaviour. There’s so many great quotes in Moxie but one of my favourites is “I know all guys aren’t dicks, I get it. But the thing is, when there are so many dickish dudes around you, it gets hard to remember that, you know?” It’s a pretty perfect response to the #NotAllMen argument when women speak out about what they go through.

Moxie is a fantastic book. Seeing the girls of a high school, with all the usual cliques coming together across the social divides that are usually there in high school, is wonderful to read about. It gave me this funny feeling in my chest because so much of what Moxie is about felt so real to me. I loved that it offers this sense of hope and unity, so much so that I ended up getting teary-eyed as I finished Moxie. I loved it so much and it’s currently my favourite read of 2017. 5/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Diana is desperate to prove herself to her warrior sisters but when the opportunity comes, she throws away her chance and instead breaks Amazon law to save one mortal, Alia Keralis. With this single act Diana not only puts her home, Themyscira, in danger but the entire world. Alia is a Warbringer – a descendent of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of conflict and pain. Diana and Alia will face enemies, mortal and divine, determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. The only way they can save the world is to stand together.

I had some trouble getting into Wonder Woman: Warbringer to start with. I think it was because I had both the film and the various comics featuring Wonder Woman I’ve read in my mind at first, where Diana was an adult and more respected and experienced with her abilities compared to the seventeen-year-old Diana featured in this book. But after 50 pages or so I got used to it and found myself falling in love with this Diana and her story.

It may sound a little cheesy but this book is about the power of friendship and girls sticking by one another. The friendship Diana and Alia forge in the face of such differences and with pretty much everything else against them is admirable. Also, Alia’s best friend Nim is great, she’s opinionated and doesn’t really have a filter but she’s so incredibly loyal. It’s the interactions between Diana, Alia, Nim, Alia’s brother Jason and their friend Theo that really makes this story. Through banter between them all you get to see what connections are already there and how they grow and adapt when Diana comes into the picture.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer is a great blend of action, drama and humour with a sprinkling of Greek mythology. While there are some fantastical elements, it always feels grounded. It’s an intriguing mystery that ends up with a thrilling finale that I couldn’t put down – I ended up reading it in just two days!

In the end, Wonder Woman: Warbringer gave me the same feeling as the recent Wonder Woman film did. It’s all about finding your inner strength and believing in the best in people and what they could potentially achieve. It’s a fast-paced adventure that I feel is perfect for both new and old fans of Diana. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he has too much fun for that. Neither being kicked out of the finest boarding schools in England nor his father’s disapproval can stop him drinking, gambling or waking up in the arms of women or men. As Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, along with his best friend Percy (who he may be in love with) and his younger sister Felicity, he has one final year of fun until he must return home and to be a part of his father’s business. But things go awry when Monty’s usual recklessness turns their trip abroad into a manhunt across Europe, putting himself and those he cares about in danger.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so much fun. It’s set in the 1700’s which allows for a different kind of travelling adventure. They can’t get money easily, there’s now quick communication to back home if things go wrong so when you encounter highway men or pirates you’re on your own with just your wits.

Monty, Percy and Felicity are a great trio of characters with interesting dynamics. Felicity was the one I loved straight away. She’s a young lady due to go to finishing school when all she really wants to do is go to the school’s her brother has been kicked out of. But due to her gender and the times that’s not possible, no matter how smart and eager she is. Percy is the nephew of a nobleman but he has never really fitted in to high society due to his Barbadian mother. Even though his childhood must’ve been difficult he is warm and kind and cares about Monty a lot. Monty took longer to grow on me as the problems he ends up facing really help him grow and learn more about himself. He’s selfish and only thinks about how other people’s issues affects him, he’s a charmer and doesn’t think before he acts – all qualities that are often simultaneously infuriating and endearing.

Monty’s voice shines through in the writing, making this 500-page novel fly by. Also, the fact that Monty ends up in almost non-stop escapades definitely helps make it a book that’s difficult to put down. From England, to France and beyond their adventures and the mystery they uncover often verges into the absurd but it’s all told with such charm and wit that it ends up being quite brilliant. Along with all the excitement and threat of danger, there’s still quieter moments between the characters that show they aren’t necessarily cut out for this kind of thing but being together makes them stronger and better.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great historical adventure story with a bisexual main character, an engaging romance and a colourful cast of characters. 5/5.